For my Father’s generation the ultimate decision of what kind of man you were was decided by a simple choice: Marilyn Monroe or Bettie Page? I believe that for any self-respecting horror fan of my generation that same decision must be faced. It can be decided between Elvira or Rhonda Shear. The early 90s saw the fall of hair metal, the rise of grunge, a dynamic shift in politics as well as television programming. This was an odd time for America. USA Network was taking large strides to market itself as the home of Walker, Texas Ranger, but before that it was Duckman, Weird Science, Silk Stalkings, Pacific Blue and my favorite, USA’s UP ALL NIGHT.
While Elvira will always be the Mistress of the Macabre to me, there was another buxom vixen that was blistering my channel surfing fingers; Rhonda Shear. Often forgotten for her contributions to horror, Rhonda wasn’t as Gothic as Elvira, as zany as Ghoulardi and didn’t even fully embrace the Munsters style of most Horror Hosts. Instead she was flashy and quirky, even annoying to some, but she did all of it with a smile and a wink. Her style was patent leather pumps and stockings ready for a dance floor, a stand-up gig, or hopefully a hot date with yours truly. It was Bon-Bons and bad jokes, men in monster suits, car chases, feather boas, and gratuitous explosions. It was a glorious home for the miscreants that loved these films and the uninitiated youth like myself yearning for more.
Rhonda Shear took over the reins from Caroline Schlitt’s exit in 1990 to host the Friday Night editions of USA’s UP ALL NIGHT for almost 8 years with comedian and voice of the AFLAC duck, Gilbert Gottfried hosting on Saturdays. The show was beyond low budget, serving in a temperance slightly higher than public access and that was what we craved. It was cheap, sleazy, and fun and the hosts embodied that spirit. Rhonda was usually clad in the latest duds from Frederick’s of Hollywood and served as the quintessential eye candy to go with the B-movies that she aired. Everything from Troma’s SURF NAZIS MUST DIE to HAMBURGER: THE MOTION PICTURE nothing was too torrid to be screened for the TV audiences that where spending their late night weekend evenings in front of the television. All the riotous films that were screened were of course highly sanitized with most of the best parts of violence and nudity edited out. But thanks to Rhonda’s sassy sexuality and eye rolling humor, a homestead of horror, schlock, and cult films was built. It’s always a pleasure to rewatch a film I saw from her program that’s uncut and be treated with all the gory goodies I never knew existed. This is where my love of cheesy, sleazy cinema was born and nurtured and I have to thank Rhonda Shear with every fiber of my being for a passion that thrives to this day. Often overlooked, but never forgotten by her fans, it’s a mind-boggling head scratcher why she’s not coming back to the airwaves on the announcement of Elvira’s recent return. As Horror Hosts go, I can’t think of any other persona that embodies the Final Girl and Scream Queen mentality of Horror more than Rhonda.
Rhonda brought a certain element that these films needed. She was a smart-ass, sassy, almost trashy, but never took herself or the films she was showcasing too seriously, often utilizing her comic chops to overcome the low budget presentation of her show. She offered the closest portal to LA nightlife for a kid stuck in Ohio. As soon as I discovered UP ALL NIGHT I was glued to the TV each Friday and Saturday. Being in the midst of puberty my week always started on Friday. My Mother soon couldn’t stand my taste in films, things like ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES and RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, but she would watch them with me and my Dad if they could keep their eyes open that long through these double features. They would sit and make fun of the films and cat call Rhonda, but they would always egg on my need to watch this program. Many promises to mow the lawn and take out the trash were made if I could just stay up a little longer to watch the rest of the show. They soon realized that my love of B-movies and trashy cinema wasn’t a phase, this was something they still taunt me with to this day.
One of the fondest memories of my grandparent’s comes from Rhonda Shear thanks to a sleepover I had at their home on fateful Friday night. My parents were out of town or something that prevented me from being unsupervised and probably for damn good reason. I was marched to my grandparent’s home, which I didn’t mind too terribly. My Grandma (we called her Mommo – pronounced “Mom-moo“) was a helluva cook that always seemed to transform an entire loaf of bread into french toast for any sleep-over. But the panic set in – How would I watch my show?? I asked Mommo if I could watch a “special program” later that evening, very much later that evening. She asked what it was and I tried to explain to a woman that I envisioned growing up without electricity why this TV show meant the world to me. She nodded and said I’d have to check with Poppo (that’s what we called my Grandfather – pronounced “Pop-poo“) if all that was okay. I probably deserved an Oscar for my convincing portrayal of UP ALL NIGHT as something educational and essential for my proper development. I probably even claimed my stunted emotional and mental growth could be blamed on them if I wasn’t permitted to watch.
What followed was nothing short of miraculous. Not only were they going to allow me to watch, they were going to stay up and supervise. From Rhonda’s intro monologue Mommo wondered who this floozy was, but Poppo was as equally intrigued as I was. I would trade 20 IQ points to remember the movie we watched, something with Charles Bronson I think, but none of that matters. The evening was filled with my grandparents witnessing a cinematic car crash. The acting was spotty, the plot questionable, the effects laughable and our time together forever etched in my memory. We shared the most full hearted laughter I’ve ever witnessed from my mother’s parents, but it was different. We shared it as equals. We hooted and hollered at the screen as we passed along popcorn and that candy you only find at homes that also have denture cream. They wanted to turn away, to turn off the TV, to find any excuse to usher me to bed, but they couldn’t look away and they certainly couldn’t deny how much happiness they were sharing with me. The next morning over a loaf of french toast all we talked about was the film and how ridiculous it all was from start to finish. Mommo and Poppo began to realize what my parents probably really meant when I was referred to as their special boy. This very visit was forever used to tease me at family functions and gatherings, but I knew they saw something different in me to enjoy something so outlandish, so brash, so fun.
Years later Mommo laid in hospice care, dying of breast cancer, a former shell of my domestic heroine. Having outlived her daughter, my Aunt Karen, who also lost her struggle with the disease, our family was gathered to pay their last respects as we were in the “eye of the storm”. Mommo was lucid and aware, but it wouldn’t last. She was happy to see me and probably exerted too much energy to give me a kiss, but there was no stopping here despite her condition. We sat and chatted and we recalled that fateful slumber party so many years ago. She said how much fun she had to see me so happy over something so silly. She wondered if Rhonda was still around and if I would come back to visit. I promised I would, but it’s one I couldn’t keep. It seems that life had other plans. Mommo passed away, but forever instilled many memories in me. One of those is that crappy movies, or any passion for that matter, are meant to be enjoyed with the ones you love. The other is you have to expect the female spirit to surprise you unexpectedly and always in the best possible ways. And for that, I’m grateful to all Women in Horror.
You can check out Rhonda’s official website here, where you can find out about upcoming appearances and snag yourself an autographed photo and other goodies. Your unrelenting fan mail can be sent to:
P.O. Box 2488
Beverly Hills, CA 90213
Here’s a little Rhonda then:
And here’s a little Rhonda now: