MonsterVisions of My Youth

In honor of the launch of Under Worlds Austin (a Horror Sidebar to Other Worlds Austin) each OWA staff member has written about the Horror movie moment that had the biggest effect on them. Write us a comment with your own Horror movie moment! And if you’ve made a Horror film, submit it now to Under Worlds Austin!



The Horror Movie Moment That Changed My Life
By Reid Lansford, Programmer & Registration Director

I wish it were as simple as having the one, definitive Horror movie moment that changed my life. That one “eureka” moment that explains all of my flaws in the third act. But it’s not just one moment. No, it’s rather the result of having grown up with cable television in the 90s, having an interest in movies, and not much to do on the weekends. (The more things change…)

You may not realize it if you came across it today, but TNT and USA used to be amazing cable channels. Before the corporate mergers, before the 24/7 LAW AND ORDER marathons, before we “knew” drama, each one was just looking for something to fill the days and nights. And it’s the nights specifically that helped shape my youth. Each channel had its own late night programming block, usually aired on the weekends, that focused on the finer things in life: Horror, SciFi, Exploitation. It was great.

USA had USA UP ALL NIGHT, the one that was sadly a bit before my time and was winding down its run in the mid-late 90s. UP ALL NIGHT usually began around 10 PM and aired until an undisclosed time in the following morning hours, featuring a double or triple feature that could alternately be a campy slasher, a teen sex comedy (with all the fun parts blurred out; even in this wild west era of cable programming, there was just some stuff you couldn’t get away with) or a low budget SciFi epic. I vividly remember UP ALL NIGHT providing me with my first glimpses of the CHILD'S PLAY series, KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE, and what seemed to be the entire library of the late, great Wes Craven’s B-sides: SHOCKER, THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW, and the woefully underappreciated SWAMP THING. UP ALL NIGHT had been airing since the late 80s and gone through a cycle of hosts, but by the time I picked up with it, it seemed the series was on its last legs and usually just featured the movies, minus the wraparound segments. Still, it was because USA had to air something from 10 PM until 4 AM that I was introduced to these classics.

The real cornerstone of my youth was TNT’s MonsterVision, hosted by the brilliant Joe Bob Briggs (as portrayed by John Bloom.) No matter what you think of Ted Turner, before the AOL merger forced him out and turned TNT and its sister station TBS into… whatever it is they are today, his networks were 100% percent him. His vision, his tastes. Being born too late to have my local Horror host show public domain monster movies every Saturday night, I instead had Joe Bob, the (slightly) bigger budget, basic cable version. He sat in front of a trailer set in a lawn chair and introduced that night's line up of films, which could be anything from an all-night FRIDAY THE 13TH marathon, to a John Carpenter double feature (my first viewings of THE THING, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, and CHRISTINE were through MonsterVision) to a George Romero-themed lineup (first saw NIGHT, DAWN, and DAY OF THE DEAD here) to even classics accepted by the public at large (THE OMEN and ROSEMARY’S BABY, to name a couple.) Joe Bob could discuss the more widely respected films like that, but it was obvious what he really enjoyed was the less revered films. The series’ greatest running gag was Joe Bob’s Drive-In Totals, where he ran down the films body count, how the characters happened to get it (“Chainsaw-fu, garden shears through the eyes, etc.”) and the total number of boobs present and accounted for. He would then immediately lament that even though it was late on a Saturday night and no one was watching, Ted Turner wouldn’t let them completely show the aforementioned gory deaths or nudity. He added such a sense of fun to watching these films, and obviously took a great sense of pride in hosting this series. 

It’s genuinely impossible to imagine USA or TNT ever showing great Horror programming like this again. Television programming has changed so much and so quickly in the last 20 years, and it seems the sense of fun and adventure that accompanied these programming blocks are a permanent thing of the past… until I went down a YouTube wormhole and found hours of USA UP ALL NIGHT and MonsterVision footage, ripped and uploaded straight from VHS tapes. It brought back the best sense of nostalgia. Seriously, go to YouTube right now and type in “TNT MonsterVision.” And then, as Joe Bob would say “Check it out.” 

Or you can check out the Horror offerings we'll be offering as part of our new Under Worlds Austin section at this year’s festival. We've long wanted to add an official Horror companion piece to our festival, and we can't wait to tear the heart out of your Saturday (as well as Thursday, Friday, and Sunday nights) this December.