WHAS-11’s “Memories of Monsters”: The Show That Scared a Generation of Monster Kids!

In the mid 1980’s, WHAS-11 attempted to revive the concept of the locally produced late night horror program for a new generation. Join us as we dig up the bones of a lost but not forgotten classic!

My first memories of experiencing fear and the resulting jolt of adrenaline that follows are forever linked to Saturday nights at my grandparent’s house watching WDRB TV-41’sFright Night” horror movie program hosted by the sinister, but dry witted Fearmonger, who was played by Louisville actor, Charles Kissinger.

Kissinger’s low lit face would hover mysteriously across my grandparent’s television set below the rabbit ears antenna as spooky music played in the background. The Fearmonger would appear at 7 PM every Saturday night from 1971 to 1975 to host a double feature of classic, black-and-white chillers featuring Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy and the Frankenstein Monster amid a licensed package of schlocky science-fiction films and forgotten thrillers.

“Fright Night” was the gateway drug that started me down the lifelong path of loving, reading about and collecting monsters and all things creepy.

Unfortunately, none of the locally produced segments of “Fright Night” and the Fearmonger were saved for posterity, as the show was considered low budget “time filler” and not historically significant to the burgeoning local channel. It wouldn’t be until many years later that the legacy of “Fright Night” would become apparent in a whole generation of Louisville Monster Kids raised on the program.

The audience share drawn by “Fright Night” under such low budgetary constraints did not go unnoticed however, and by the mid 1980’s regional horror hosted programs like “Elvira’s Movie Macabre” were becoming popular with both kids and college students. WHAS-11 decided to try their hand at the horror business with the nostalgically titled “Memories of Monsters.”

It was just over a year ago that I reached out to 33 year veteran WHAS Director, Jim Ghrist, for any information he could provide about “Memories of Monsters,” thus beginning an exhaustive search of the archives at WHAS. After several weeks of searching the video archives and inquires put out to all of the appropriate longtime staff at the channel, it began to look like nothing from “Memories of Monsters” was saved for the sake of history.

It was the “Fright Night” curse all over again.

People have been asking me about “Memories of Monsters” since I started writing this column, and I’ve always wanted to provide some information about its history, but my own memories of the program were just too fuzzy to hold up to standards. If I had nothing to show to go along with my research, I felt there really was no point in going forward with the article.

The story would have ended there if not for a chance conversation that took place in the Facebook thread of a local film fan, but I’ll get to that in just a bit.

WHAS director, Jim Ghrist, remembers the “Memories of Monsters” production very well.

“Memories of Monsters was produced by Louisville Productions, which was the commercial production arm of WHAS-TV in the 80’s,” says Ghrist. “They did some fine work. They disappeared about the same time that the Bingham’s sold off all their media properties in the mid 1980’s.”

“The shoot was at night at the Brennan House, which is located on Fifth Street just a block from WHAS.”

The Ronald-Brennan House, just across the street from the Courier Journal parking lot and just around the corner from the Louisville Palace, was built in 1868 by tobacco merchant Francis Ronald and sold to Thomas Brennan in 1885. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

“At that time, Louisville Productions used in-house made fog machines that were essentially fifty gallon drums with water and dry ice inside and a hose affixed to the side,” says Ghrist. “A handle on top pushed the lid downward and forced the fog out in great quantities.”

“The wonderful voice overs were done, I’m pretty sure, by an actor named Ray Fry who was Scrooge in Actor’s Theatre’sA Christmas Carol’,” remembers Ghrist.

Indeed it was Actors Theatre’s 24 year company veteran, Ray Fry, who played the mysterious host in the opening segments of “Memories of Monsters.” Fry, who passed away at the age of 86 in 2009, became a local holiday icon in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’A Christmas Carol,” a role he played for a full ten years.

That brings us to the EXCLUSIVE “Memories of Monsters” footage you see here today, possibly the only surviving footage of the late night horror program that exists, saved on VHS for nearly 30 years not by WHAS-11, but by a fan.

Beau Kaelin, former Manager and Midnight Movie Programmer at the Baxter Avenue Theatres in the Highlands and current Biology and Science Teacher at Bullitt Central High School, was baptized into the world of terror by “Memories of Monsters” in the same way my generation was thunderstruck by “Fright Night” a decade earlier.

“I was six or seven when the program began airing,” relates Kaelin. “My Saturday morning ritual as a kid was not the typical one,” he explains.

“My mother would tape ‘Memories of Monsters’ for me on Friday nights because she didn’t permit me to stay up until the time it aired.  On Saturday mornings, after breakfast, I would go to the basement, turn out the lights, draw the curtains to the tiny windows, and watch the episode she’d programmed the VCR to record. I would time it so that I’d be finished with it by the time Super Scary Saturday (hosted by AlGrandpa MunsterLewis) came on TBS at 12:05.”

“Afterwards,” Kaelin continues, “I would spend Saturday afternoon hanging out with the neighborhood kids, three of them who also had parents that did the same thing for them.  We’d all talk horror movies and about what creeped us out, etc.”

“My introduction to and love of the Universal Monsters is due to the series,” Kaelin admits. “My recollection is that ‘Memories of Monsters’ focused more on classic horror while Grandpa on ‘Super Scary Saturday’ would show schlock.”

One of Kaelin’s most vivid memories is of an episode that featured “The Blob” (1958) starring Steve McQueen.

“It was aired during the summer, and on summer nights my mother would leave the windows to the home open,” he recalls. “I would sit in the dark and my mind’s eye would cringe at the thought of the Blob squeezing through the screen on the window.  In fact, one of the most frequently reoccurring nightmares I have to this day is going back to that house in Fairdale, walking down into the basement and ending up as the Blob’s victim!”

“As time went on, I found less and less people in town knew what the hell I was talking about when I mentioned the show,” Kaelin admits. “It surprises me that it has gone on so unrecognized in town when to me, it was my world every Saturday morning for the years it ran.  I’d say it’s safe to say that had it not existed, I’d likely not be the horror fan I am today.”

The footage provided here isn’t complete. It’s missing the opening exterior shots and it cuts off before the closing sequence is over, but it’s very likely the only footage that still exists of this haunted piece of Louisville broadcasting history. Included for your nostalgic viewing pleasure are the opening sequence, bits of that nights’ feature film, “Tarantula,” the local “Memories of Monsters” bumpers, the closing sequence and all the vintage 80’s commercials that aired during this particular episode.

Louisville Halloween and I, The Phantom of the Ville, would like to thank everyone who made this bit of time travel into local horror history possible: Jim Ghrist at WHAS-11 for the local broadcasting history lesson; Beau Kaelin for not only providing the footage and his expert testimony, but for the time spent editing this lost treasure for our enjoyment; Antonio Pantoja for his video expertise and hosting assistance; and last, but certainly not least, Beau Kaelin’s mom for loving and understanding us Monster Kids enough to tape “Memories of Monsters” every Friday night.

The Phantom of The Ville

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