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My Year of Scary Movies (Part 4): My Trip To Meet Fritz

by Daniel Hutchens
Part 4: My Trip To Meet Fritz

“Iʼm just happy Iʼm still able to warp your young minds.”

So the question is, why does a 46 year old man suddenly decide to fly to Columbus, Ohio, for the weekend, in order to meet a horror movie host he remembers from the 1970s?

The answer may have something to do with nostalgia, something to do with the notion of meeting a childhood hero, and something to do with the fact that I love a roadtrip. Always have, always will. My rock n roll band used to play on the road upwards of 200 nights a year, and these days the dates are more limited...so I sometimes have to manufacture ways to soothe my Wandering Jones.

Besides, Fritz The Nite Owl is just plain cool, and the fact that a new series of Nite Owl Theatre is being made available online, with each new episode premiered by a screening at the Grandview Theatre in Columbus...combined with the serendipitous onset of my writing a series of “Horror Movie” articles for Swampland...well, all the pieces just seemed to fit. So there you have it. Iʼll stop trying to explain away my obsessive behavior, and get on with the story.

The Grandview Theatre originally opened its doors in 1926 (the same year my Mother was born). It continued to screen movies through the years, until closing its doors in the 1960s. Apparently the Grandview would reopen intermittently for the next three decades, and was briefly converted into an antique store, until finally it returned as a movie house in the early 90s.

Today the Grandview is an unassuming little theatre, a fairly typical collegetown arthouse type venue. The kind of place where you can purchase a beer to drink while you watch the movie. (I wound up choosing a local brew, “Bleeding Buckeye” from Elevator Breweries, a nicely tasty “red” beer.) But the Grandview just happens to be the only place in America where you can walk through the door, shake hands with Fritz The Nite Owl, then go sit down and watch the latest episode of his resurrected Nite Owl Theatre. FOR FREE!

First, I wandered up to the merch table and met Mike McGraner. Mike is the producer/director/editor of the new Nite Owl show, and itʼs apparent that he loves his work. Heʼs happy to talk endlessly about Fritz, or just horror movies in general. Heʼs an open, friendly guy, and heʼs largely responsible for helping Fritz rebound from an unwanted 
retirement. Mike says that he overheard someone talking about watching movies on the internet, and the idea hit him full force: the internet, yeah, thatʼs the way to bring back Nite Owl. You can watch each new episode of Nite Owl Theatre beginning the last Saturday of each month. The guys are producing a top notch show, with the aim of recreating the classic-era Nite Owl Theatre.

McGraner said in an interview with Columbus Underground that, “We figured weʼd bring the Nite Owl back exactly like it was on channel 10, only uncensored, unrestrained, and on our own terms.”Theyʼve done an admirable job. Each episode includes actual vintage 70s and 80s commercials thrown in for good measure, and even the “Late Night Sermonette” style National Anthem played at the conclusion of the film, just like they used to do back when TV stations signed off the air for the night after the late movie.I had checked out the shows online, but now I was standing in the Grandview at the merch table, chatting with the producer of the series, when he said, “Oh, here comes Fritz now...”

I turned around and Fritz shook my hand. When told I had come from Georgia, he asked if I had encountered any of the recent series of tornadoes that had rocked the Southeast. He came across as a genuinely nice man, smart and sincere. In his 70s now but still every inch The Nite Owl, right down to the glasses. He complemented me on my jacket, said, “Thanks for dressing up for the occasion!” Then he posed with me for a picture and gave me an autograph. I had reverted to an unabashed geeky fan, a little boy again, and it felt absolutely great.

The episodes of Nite Owl being screened this particular weekend happened to feature four of my alltime favorites of the “weird black n white movie” genre: Carnival Of Souls, House On Haunted Hill, Freaks, and finally Reefer Madness.

I want to conclude this piece by sketching a short description of each film: Carnival Of Souls, originally released in 1962, has in the last few decades become recognized as something of a cult classic. Itʼs got everything I love in a horror film: enchanting little heroine (played by Candace Hilligoss, the only movie Iʼve ever seen her in), I mean pretty but also just interesting––weird unexpected camera shots and angles, and an absolutely great and creepy musical score...Hilligoss plays the character Mary Henry, who is a church organist, and strangely hypnotic organ music twines all through the film...thereʼs a brilliant scene where Mary is playing pipe organ in a church, pauses a moment to look at her own hands, then continues playing, and the music is gradually growing a shade darker and stranger––the camera cuts to a stained glass window which displays the phrase, “CAST OUT DEVILS”...(is that a state of being or a command? first time I saw this movie, I wrote a song with the same title)...anyway, this scene is truly eerie and sorta beautiful, and so moody and subtle...this movie is definitely in my top 10, and I highly recommend it.

House On Haunted Hill, released 1959 and directed by the great horror movie promoter William Castle...and starring Vincent Price, at the very top of his game, sinister but sophisticated and just plain fun to watch...this oneʼs also in the top 10, an alltime classic “forced to spend the night in a spooky old house” flick...the movie is fairly lighthearted, some dark humor and some outright silliness, but also some really effective shocks and memorable images...

Freaks, released 1932 and directed by another giant of the genre, Tod Browning...a Kentucky boy who literally ran away with the circus, became a stage performer, learned the ropes of filmmaking from none other than D.W. Griffith, and then proceeded to direct a batch of horror masterpieces, including silent Lon Chaney Sr. gems such as The Unholy Three and The Unknown (which both, along with Freaks, feature circus themes that perhaps reflect Browningʼs early days working the tents)...then later the iconic Dracula starring Bela Lugosi, and of course Freaks––a movie about a traveling carnival freak show, and the thing is that the movie starred real circus freaks of the time––the siamese twins, the bearded woman, the human torso, etc. ...and there are just some scenes in this film that burn themselves into your memory. Bob Dylan has listed this movie as one of the few heʼs ever seen that he can never forget...

Reefer Madness, 1936, has of course become a camp classic...originally intended as a serious piece of anti-marijuana propaganda, it has been transformed by audience perception over the years into a piece of high comedy, with its scenes of deranged reefer addicts and cautionary tales of stoned maniacs chopping their families to bits with axes...Iʼve seen this little number many times, but it was never so much fun as this night in the Grandview, being introduced by Fritz The Nite Owl down front on the microphone, telling the crowd, “Greetings, Good Groovers! Earth People! Iʼm just happy Iʼm still able to warp your young minds!”

I looked around at the crowd. Not all young, actually; a nice cross section of the community, old and young, male and female, straight and stoned. Not a sold out house, but damn close. It did my heart good, knowing that Columbus is still coming out in force to support their beloved Fritz. He deserves it; he really is an American Original.

Again, do yourself a favor and check out new episodes of Nite Owl Theatre at:



My Year of Scary Movies (Part One) Bats On My Birthday Cake

My Year of Scary Movies (Part Two) Plan 9 From Outer Space

My Year of Scary Movies (Part Three) Nite Owl Theatre

Memories of Vic Chesnutt by Daniel Hutchens

The Shining And A Long Hustle by Daniel Hutchens

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