Before every television network began airing their very own original dramas, basic cable was like the Wild West. TBS, TNT, and USA would air whatever they could get their hands on, be it shoddy prints of Three Stooges shorts, Atlanta Braves baseball, or made-for-TV movies. And for horror fans who maybe actually had some boundaries at home and weren’t allowed to rent the latest Friday The 13th flick from the video store, basic cable was probably their first introduction to Jason Voorhees. By the mid to late ’80s, the Friday night horror host concept had gone largely by the wayside, but the USA Network kept the Elvira/Svengoolie flame burning with Commander USA’s Groovie Movies and Up All Night. Today being Friday The 13th, The A.V. Club is featuring both hosts introducing films from the Camp Crystal Lake saga.
Commander USA is the second superhero from New Jersey—The Toxic Avenger being the first—and broadcast horror double features from a secret base underneath a shopping mall. The show ran Saturday afternoons on the USA Network and would feature a double feature of trashy cinema ranging from horror, to sci-fi to Mexican luchador movies. Commander USA was portrayed by Jim Hendricks, a working actor who drove a cab on the side to make ends meet. After Commander USA ended in 1989, Hendricks went on to do Broadway shows and even made an appearance on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which, ironically, is what viewers are more likely to see Saturday afternoons on the USA Network these days. Due to issues with licensing rights to the films Commander USA would showcase, there will probably never be an official release of the show on home video, but thanks to YouTube user CommanderUSAFan818, fans can enjoy the bumper segments. In this clip, the Commander introduces Friday The 13th Part 3:
For the night owls, there was USA Up All Night. Gilbert Gottfried hosted Saturday night’s films from New York, but Fridays belonged to stand-up comedian Rhonda Shear. Shear—otherwise known as Miss Louisiana 1975—was a less gothy Elvira who peppered her host segments with bawdy comedy, double entendres, and special guests, including “Jason” himself as seen in this clip of Shear presenting Friday The 13th: A New Beginning and Friday The 13th Part VII: The New Blood. When new management came to USA in 1998, Up All Night was overhauled, the hosts were removed, and the show eventually cancelled. Thankfully, there is no shortage of Suits marathons to run in its place. Rhonda Shear herself has been kind enough to share her host segments with the internet world on her very own YouTube channel:
Thankfully, fans of late night horror still have the El Rey Network to turn to for their particular brand of trash.