Wednesday, May 21, 2014

NIGHTMARE COURT - The Horror World of the Actors from Night Court

I watched quite a bit of TV as a kid. To say how much would be a nearly unmeasurable statistic that would float around in space and probably fulfill some obligation for a parenting group aimed at reducing the amount of "screen time" kids get today. I didn't always understand the shows I'd watch from Mission Impossible to the Incredible Hulk, M.A.S.H., Columbo and Night Court. Night Court is the reason we are here today to discuss some of the main actors in the ultra-funny 80's television show that guided my sense of humor into a deranged bit of sexually charged, obnoxious, playful banter that it is today. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the program, Night Court ran from 1984 to 1992 and featured a cast of lovable stereotypical character that you might find working in a courtroom albeit at night. Most of the action surrounds Judge Harold T. Stone as played by Harry Anderson as he attempts to walk through deliberations in the cases set before him, moral dilemmas and strange situations that could only happen in a court room that was open for business at night. Through the history of the program the core group stayed the same, grew with us and became a part of us, lovingly entering our blue lit television room with much the same energy and integrity as an uncle or an aunt. I don't pretend to have seen them all. I was scarcely aware that the program ran quite that long being more familiar with the older episodes. There is one thing that has come to light recently which astonishes me and is the real reason for me writing this all down. Night Court features a cast of characters that seems to show up in horror movies. Welcome to the horrific work of NIGHTMARE COURT.

Let's walk through each of the characters in question and introduce you to their horror-side.

Harry Anderson aka Judge Harold T. Stone may have played the leader of the rabble in Night Court, donning a robe and a gavel to pass judgement (though not often judgmental judgement) on the defendants before him, but when he took off the robe he made his way through life in a series of TV programs and one of the more beloved modern day works of TV miniseries horror, Stephen King's IT. In IT he played Richie Tozier, all grown up comedian, Lucky Seven founding member, boisterous and terrified warrior in the fight against Pennywise and the thing behind the makeup. While IT is the place in the horror-verse from which I know Anderson the best he also showed up in an episode of Tales from the Crypt (Korman's Kalamity) and Tales from the Darkside (All a Clone by the Telephone). It's hard to know who I identify with more in Night Court, Stone or our next entrant in the Nightmare Court...Dan Fielding.

Dan Fielding is the quintessential sexual deviant on TV. Played by John Larroquette, Fielding is a prosecutor who is sex obsessed. Each episode finds him in a new predicament in involving some hornball scheme to get his dick wet, though often foiled. He has was often shown to have a bigger heart than he would let on, doing the right thing in challenging situations even if it meant keeping his willie in his pants. Larroquette has a rather startling horror resume beyond perhaps his most famous role in horror history, that of the introductory narrator in the 1974 Tobe Hooper classic, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre which he reprised for the remake of TCM and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. He also has had roles in Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce again as a narrator though not necessarily confirmed, Twilight Zone the Movie, Cat People and Altered States. Perhaps his funniest horror appearance was in the opening wrap segment of Demon Knight as the man behind the madman on the set of mock episode of Tales from the Crypt. My personal favorite Larroquette role has him battling his own in-laws and house "guests" in Madhouse opposite Kirstie Alley... "I guess it's your cocaine, man!"

Then there's the gem. Richard Moll has been in some classic horror pictures. He is known for playing Bull Shannon on Night Court, a bailiff too big and too bald to be unscary, but again, with a lighter friendlier side that made him lovable even in his sheer terrorizing size. His appearance in Evilspeak as Esteban is the ultimate tribute to Paul Naschy however intentional, but he's also been in other works of horror. Last year I was amazed to find him in Night Train to Terror, a movie I had the chance to enjoy on 35mm for the first time at Exhumed Films' Horrorthon but then would go on to rave about given Vinegar Syndrome's exquisite new release featuring a powerful audio commentary by Hysteria Lives! in which they proclaimed the actor dead (he very much isn't).  Moll's other horrific entries into the world of the eternal spookshow include the TV show Monsters (also reviewed just this past year along with the Scream Factory release of Evilspeak and Night Train to Terror), The Munsters Today, Aaahh! Real Monsters, Scary Movie 2 and, perhaps his most famous horror appearance, House as a Big Ben just to name a few. There were a few bailiffs on Night Court. Let's run 'em down.

Marsha Warfield played Roz. A cold hearted bailiff with a hard sense of humor that was the perfect balance to the lighthearted crazy of the rest of the cast. Warfield didn't exactly have a horror history in her acting career though she did show in up the modern day remake of the Addams Family TV show. She was a core member of the bailiff team for quite a few years while Florence Halop was only on the first two season before passing away and played a bailiff also named Florence. Halop had a strong, steady career in TV during its golden age, but her only notable appearance on the Nightmare Court was acting in Alfred Hitchcock presents.  The third bailiff also only had a short appearance on the program. Selma Diamond played Selma Hacker who would also appear in Twilight Zone: The Movie. 

While Charles Robinson played friend Mac on Night Court, a strong reoccurring role that helped balance the zany antics of the main cast, he doesn't have much of a horror career. His role in Sugar Hill and Black Gestapo should be noted for their classic exploitation cinema creds. He continues to work this day and has a strong TV resume. 

Then there's Markie Post... no horror credentials to speak of. Her TV credits are strong and still acts today and will be appearing in 2014's Muffin Top: A Love Story. For some reason this is exactly what I would expect Markie Post to be acting in. Her role as Christine Sullivan, the spunky public defender with a bit of grit was essential to creating the comic tide ebb and flow with Dan Fielding. They were near polar opposites. Of course before there was Markie Post and Christine Sullivan there was Ellen Foley in the role of Billie Young, the even more fierce opposition to the sexual perversity of Dan Fielding. Foley would go on to act in Fatal Attraction, but her performance on the screen is not nearly as impressive as her singing career. She got to perform a duet with Meatloaf on Paradise by the Dashboard Lights. Now that's a credit worth singing exceptionally dramatic about.

It's also important to note that John Astin made a somewhat regular appearance throughout the show's run. You would remember him best as Gomez Addams in the original TV show the Addam's Family or perhaps more recently in The Frightners to name a few.

-Doc Terror

1 comment:

  1. I'm a Night Court fanatic, so I really dug this article. Most of this I was already aware of, but the big shocker is Ellen Foley. I had no idea she did the female vocals on Dashboard Light--or that she had a singing career at all. I've been listening to her stuff on iTunes since reading this and I'm in love! She's amazing. So thank you for that.