Zacherley, Elvira, Svengoolie, Joe Bob Briggs, MST3K. These are only a few of the dozens of horror hosts that have graced our TV screens over the past 50 years. The concept of the horror host isn’t complex, nor is it one that requires you to reinvent the wheel. The basic idea of having a ghoul or fiend accompany you as you watch a horror film has somewhat of a welcoming charm to it. Regardless of if anyone is physically with you or not, you always could count on having your favorite host watch these great (and sometimes not so great) films with you. The quality of the film wasn’t what kept us as viewers coming back each week. It was the antics and segments between breaks with our beloved hosts that was the real draw in most cases.
1999 saw the end of new episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 on the Syfy (then Sci-Fi) channel, ending a three season run. If you were a viewer of the Sci-Fi Channel back then, then you know that MST3K was (and still is) very popular. Sci-Fi had been eying Full Moon films, and together they would begin taking the steps of making their own original horror host show, “William Shatner’s Full Moon Fright Night.”
We were lucky enough to talk to C. Courtney Joyner, who served as a lead writer for the show, about his stint working on Full Moon Fright Night:
Patrick: Who’s idea was it to develop this type of show for Full Moon?
Courtney: “This was always Charlie Band’s baby; he and William Shatner have a warm friendship – remember that Shatner directed GROOM LAKE for Charlie – and the SciFi Channel (the old spelling!) was really just getting started, and looking for product. They certainly had eyes on Charlie’s library, but I think that they might have wanted something different for a presentation, rather than just showing the movies “straight.” Charlie and Bill Shatner talked about it, and liked the concept of doing something in the line of the Horror Hosts that we enjoyed back in the 60’s and 70’s – and later, Elvira. Bill Shatner is a huge name, and he has a great sense of humor, so pairing him with Charlie’s movies in this kind of “horror host” format was something the SciFi Channel loved, I’m sure.”
Patrick: How did you become involved with the show?
Courtney: “Charlie invited me to lunch and asked me to do it. I said yes between bites. We literally went from the restaurant to Shatner’s office, which was across the street and met with Bill. He was very gracious, and I was intrigued because I wouldn’t be doing traditional scripting, but essentially writing monologues and bits, which is an entirely different thing. I loved trying a new skill – I hardly mastered it (!) – but I got to experiment with a different kind of writing.”
Patrick: What were your duties on the show and how do you feel the production and reception of the show went?
Courtney: “The first step was to look at each movie in the package, and try to design material for Bill based on some element of the film, whether it was a story, or have him menaced by the same kind of monster in the movie, etc. The idea was, like the old horror hosts, each one of Bill’s segments would be unique to the film that was being shown. Once I figured out a concept for HEAD OF THE FAMILY, etc. then I’d write the intro, and they had given me a structure sheet to show me how the movie would be broadcast, and that there needed to be “ins” and “outs” for each commercial break. Those were little one or two-liners (“We’ll be back after this break, so stay re-animated!” – and other classics). There also had to be two longer “bit” segments, carrying whatever scenes we had for Bill to their logical conclusion, almost like he had his own story in each episode. He was great at figuring that out, and had no ego about seeming foolish, etc. I remember putting his disembodied head in a bowl of salad, and he was great about it!
Also, some of the films were a little short for broadcast running time, or had to be trimmed for nudity, etc. and we had to fill out what was missing with new Shatner material. It was a lot of writing.
Then, each show would have a special guest to be interviewed, and I would write those questions, as well. That was particularly fun; I’ve done a fair amount of film journalism, so I’d do some preliminary questions, and then sit with the guest for an hour or so, and revamp them, and then Bill would sit in, and we’d shape the piece. To sit with Bill and Roger Corman talking about THE INTRUDER, or spending a long time chatting with Stan Lee was just wonderful fun, and we all worked together. They treated me very well, and, I got to ask tons of questions that weren’t on the show, just to satisfy my own curiosity.”
Patrick: You were credited as a writer for many of the episodes, How did you approach the writing for the show?
Courtney: “I wrote a script for every single show – all 13 – and then Bill did some re-working with his own writer, and then I would write the final drafts and was on the set for the shooting, and additional revisions. Again, this was an entirely different kind of writing than I was used to, so I was particularly pleased when something – a joke, or special effects bit – seemed to work. Bill came up with great ideas that he’d work into the scripts, and discuss with me. He’d also draw on things he’d done for conventions, etc. that really worked with the fans, and we’d include those references as well, because he knew what the audience for the show would love to see from him.
Also, we had the supporting cast – The Monster Bartender – etc. with great make-ups from Jeff Farley and Chris Bergschneider – so I was working out bits for those characters as well; Jeff’s a great guy, and we’ve done a number of things together, so we’d talk through ideas I had, to see if they were practical in the amount of time and budget we had. For a small show, a lot of elements had to come together in a very tight shooting schedule, including green screen work, special effects make-up, special props, etc. and they pulled it off spectacularly well. Really amazing, and their work really impressed Shatner as well.
Of course, Charlie was directing and it was shot by Adolfo Bartolli, who’s not only a fine friend, but photographed the two movies I directed for Full Moon – so it was friends working in synch, which I think was always Charlie’s plan. He knew if everyone was comfortable, they could get on with their work with fewer delays, and that was essential in a production situation like FRIGHT NIGHT.”
Patrick: Do you feel that with social media as big as it is today, that it could influence a show like FMFN being able to last on television?
Courtney: “There is no doubt in my mind that social media would’ve helped FRIGHT NIGHT; we had a core, cult audience, who loved the old Full Moon movies, and Bill, but now we would be reaching so many more people. Also, this was before Shatner had done BOSTON LEGAL, etc. so we’d be hitting a much wider demographic, other than just the science-fiction and horror fans.”
Patrick: Any unique stories or memories from the shoot of show?
Courtney: “Fred Lincoln came down on the set for a visit. He was great, and we talked about LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, which was very cool. It was a very busy production, with famous faces buzzing in and out of the show at all hours; lots of fun, and Shatner was steady-on the whole time.”
Patrick: Anything else you’d like to add?
Courtney: “What I’ll always love about FRIGHT NIGHT is that it gave me a chance to do something different; I’ve never repeated the experiment – which may be a good thing! – but I got to flex some different writing muscles, and I’ll always be grateful for that – but even more, was the chance to work with William Shatner. He was great with me, and it was exciting, because at the end of the day, I can say I wrote for a TV icon, and I’m proud of that.”
Starring opposite of Mr. Shatner was a (for the most part) silent, bartending monster that was brought to life by Chris Bergschneider, Jeff Farley, and Bud McGrew (all which also handled the show’s special effects). With three weeks to prep, and having to work four 12 hour days, the shoot to get all 13 episodes of the show done wasn’t one for the light hearted.
We asked Mr. Jeff Farley what their jobs entailed, and he in which responded, “Chris and I were contacted by Charlie Band originally and we brought Bud onto the project to handle the bartender characters animatronics. I designed and sculpted the bartender while Chris did the mold making, foam runs and painting/finishing. We also did all of the other props and makeup effects out of my studio. Bud had an existing animatronic head that was refurbished to work as the bartender and he puppeteered it on set while Chris portrayed the character which was named Antoine. With the both of them concentrating on that particular character, I handled all of the other makeup effects and puppeteering on set, played a few other characters and did all of the voices of the characters speaking to Shatner. Russ Herpich came in to portray the Castle Freak in a mask that I sculpted and suit Chris and I put together.”
When asked Joyner & Farley what it was it like to work with a TV legend like Mr. William Shatner, and they responded with the following:
Jeff Farley: “Bill was a joy to work with. Very personable and funny. He took a liking to everyone on the crew and in particular our crew because of the workload we had. I had told him during the preproduction meeting we had with him and Charlie that I had watched a lot of these sorts of shows as a kid and that “You should have fun with the material but never talk down to the audience” which he took to heart. I mentioned that I did all of the other character voices on the show with Bill and on the last day after we wrapped, he walked up to me and said, “You know? You’re pretty good”… That pleased me to no end.”
C. Courtney Joyner: “I didn’t know what to expect from William Shatner, except the “legend” behind the man, with the ego stories and all that. Total nonsense. He was great; he was there to do his job, and he worked very closely with me, and showed respect all of the time. I was very impressed. One thing he did with the scripts, was he would take my first draft, and cut it into pieces, and tape it with new material he’d worked on, or with his own writer, then I’d get that stuff back and work it again. We’ve all heard “cut and paste” – but this was literally what it was! He did interesting things with the monologues, and would ask why certain phrases had to be included – usually as a reference to the film, which he hadn’t seen – and he was fine with it. His assistant was a very nice girl named Robin, and she was great, too.
I never mentioned STAR TREK. We talked about Aaron Spelling, and Spencer Tracy, and his work with Richard Brooks, and PRAY FOR THE WILDCATS (one of my favorite TV movies), but I stayed away from S.T. and I think he appreciated it. He was aware that I knew his career was about so much more, and then he volunteered some TREK anecdotes! So that was very cool, but I didn’t want to fawn over him, and that might have been key.
There was an odd moment during shooting, when the SciFi channel wanted Bill to do a PSA about binge drinking. Bill’s wife had died the years before in that terrible drowning accident, and they sent Bill this script that was in amazingly bad taste. We were sitting together, and he read it over, and handed it to me for my opinion. I told him straight out, and he called them and said he’d do the spot, but only if I wrote it. I went to the office, and wrote a new, serious script for him, and it was shot that way. It ran a number of times, and I always appreciated how he handled that situation. Again, with respect. ”
“Full Moon Fright Night” combines two of my favorite things. Full Moon films and horror hosts. I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Shatner at Fandom Fest in Lousiville, KY in 2013. I was probably the only person there that had him sign a DVD cover of Full Moon Fright Night – Vampire Journals. When I handed him the cover he looked up and smiled. With Full Moon now releasing the 13 episodes of FMFN on their streaming site, fullmoonstreaming.com, maybe there will be a renewed interest in that concept as it relates to the production company. I could easily see the site being a new home for a revived “Full Moon Fright Night,” or similar show that features even more Full Moon Films.
In a time where what was once old is new again, why not take a trip down memory lane. Instead of spending $8.00 – $10.00 at your local theater, pop some popcorn, grab some beers, and enjoy some Full Moon classics with a touch of Shatner added to them!
You can view “Full Moon Fright Night” and other great Full Moon films at: