[from Cut Out and Keep]
To be more precise and less clever, I take my coffee black. And yes, I can hear you wiseacre Airplane! fans finishing that sentence for me. I'm a big fan of almighty caffeine and the wonderful ambiance of the coffeehouses, diners and cafes that it especially calls home. I hope that in some tiny way that appreciation was, before I was old enough to drink coffee, once influenced by a little TV show on NBC that was cut down before its time: NIGHTMARE CAFE.
I'm notoriously shy around celebrities, so I often have to work up the courage to talk to them, think of interesting things to say, and psych myself up just to get an autograph. Once many years ago, I went to a horror convention and pre-purchased autographs from both Robert Englund and Heather Langenkamp.
I was extremely nervous, but I had a great idea of something a little different to say to Robert: I was going to tell him about how much I liked NIGHTMARE CAFE, and that I used to watch it with my dad. I doubt I'm the only one of his fans that remembers the show, but it probably does not come up as much as all the film roles that have made him such a legend.
I was happy with this plan. I thought it was a great idea. I was sure he would be delighted. I didn't count on completely freezing up. By the time I reached his table, I was barely able to greet him, never mind utter anything I had planned to say about NIGHTMARE CAFE. I was disappointed and angry with myself, enough that it thawed me out in time to talk to Heather Langenkamp.
To this day, the brief conversation we had is one of my favorite horror celebrity stories. She was extremely nice, and since I had loosened up I told her about how traumatized I was by the bathtub scene in NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. We had a really great talk about how when they were filming them, she would have never guessed that scenes such as that one would have become iconic for so many fans.
So, it worked out wonderfully regardless of my botched plan. And I still have it sitting in my back pocket for a future run-in with Robert. Maybe it just wasn't the right time.
In 1992, NIGHTMARE CAFE, created by Wes Craven and Thomas Baum, ran on NBC for half a dozen shows before it was cancelled. While it's not ludicrous to suggest my dad and I might have watched them together when I was a mere 10 years old, I suspect we instead saw them when they ran on the Sci-Fi Channel, whenever that happened. It was like a new TWILIGHT ZONE, the episodes being a mix of horror, sci-fi and fantasy in which characters who had made mistakes in their life were given a second chance to right them, or to atone- willingly or not- for terrible things they had done or would do. Good people were given opportunities, bad people were punished.
Throughout all of this, there were three steady characters. Blackie, the owner of the cafe played by Robert Englund, Frank, who ends up as the cook, and Fay, who takes a job as a waitress. Frank and Fay are initially drawn to the cafe after a supposed "brush with death"- too bad they didn't make it out alive. So they take jobs at the cafe and watch themselves, or others, deal with their problems, botched wishes, foolish decisions, etc. through a TV inside the establishment.
I really miss this type of format for a TV show. It's difficult to tread on ground that has been done so well before-- Not only by THE TWILIGHT ZONE, but shows like OUTER LIMITS, TALES FROM THE CRYPT, stories that explore human beings, their flaws and failings, and what happens when time and space warps to either punish, terrorize, twist, baffle or teach them something important. Is there anything like that out there anymore? I'd love to be reminded if there are!
Nightmare Cafe Episodes via VGuide.com
Nightmare Cafe in TERROR TELEVISION via Google Books
Nightmare Cafe via IMDB.com