If you created a diagram of various overlapping youthful obsessions from my early teen years, perched seductively at the nexus would be Rhonda Shear. She was as integral to my early 1990s misspent youth as anyone. Along with Elvira and Joe Bob Briggs, Rhonda served as my introduction to the weird, wild world of exploitation, horror, and B-movies. It’s a world I’ve loved residing in ever since.
|The geek and the bombshell: Gilbert and Rhonda were terrific individually and on those sweet occasions when they teamed up on USA Up All Night.|
Many of us first discovered Rhonda here in the United States circa 1991 while channel surfing, then stopping on whatever late-night B-movie she was hosting on USA Up All Night at the time. Rhonda split weekend hosting duties with the always hilarious Gilbert Gottfried—Rhonda on Fridays, Gilbert on Saturdays. Up All Night was huge, serving as my introduction to such cult classics as Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf, Chopping Mall, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, and Toxic Avenger, to name only a few.
|Rhonda stuffing her face with food was a recurring theme of her Up All Night segments.|
Sometimes the two hosts would team up together, which was always fun. And while I watched both nights religiously for most of the ’90s, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I always preferred Fridays. The programming was great each night, but Fridays had Rhonda. Duh.
|If Rhonda’s serving, we’re drinking.|
Rhonda combined jaw-dropping sex appeal with impeccable comedic timing. Obviously, Elvira is the Queen of that particular combination, but for a few years in the ’90s, Rhonda was right there. Rhonda’s witticisms delivered directly to us the audience at each commercial break, never failed to make these already enjoyable B-movies even better. For an audience full of red-blooded American male teenagers, it certainly didn’t hurt that she dispensed these jokes while rolling around in bed wearing lingerie or while being joined by various B-movie scream queens like Linnea Quigley and Michelle Bauer.
|The luxurious honeymoon suite comes with a fully stocked minibar and Rhonda.|
The show eagerly exploited Rhonda’s hotness to appeal to the base desires of what was likely a largely male audience. These viewers were and in many cases still are avowed champions of lowbrow trash cinema, and what Joe Bob Briggs declared the Drive-In Oath: blood, breasts, and beasts. I’ll let you guess which of those Rhonda supplied, in excess.
|See? More foodstuffs!|
It’s almost unreal how much the show got away with on a basic cable network, but its late-night time slot had to help keep it under the radar. Sure, sometimes the movies’ more explicit scenes were cut down (or out) for cable, but Rhonda’s segments featured sight gags and dialogue that qualified as not only double entendres but often triple and quadruple entendres, too. One of the show’s stranger and seemingly organically generated recurring themes was foot fetishists writing in requesting more “foot action” from Rhonda. Seriously. This was a thing! Weird as it was, she clearly saw it for what it was—harmless fun—and happily integrated it right into the show’s mythology.
|Not a kink many of us will ever understand but foot fetishists loved Rhonda.|
While I may not have understood the foot fetishists, I certainly understood all too well the appeal of Rhonda. Largely because I genuinely respected her effortless comedic skills and boundless enthusiasm for her hosting duties.
|Rhonda was always game for anything, including a pie to the face. And to the chest.|
Okay, okay I also had a crush on her. The teased out, big ’90s hair, lots of makeup, and micro-minis might seem cheesy today, but you have to remember that was a look back then (see also: the queen of said look, Kelly Bundy). And Rhonda knew how to work it.
|Completely appropriate office attire.|
For all these reasons and many more—including that iconic high note she hit on “Up” every time, “USA Up! All Night!“—Rhonda will always hold a special place in my horror/genre/B-movie-nerd heart. She kept me company late at night, at a time when my social life wasn’t just pitiful, it was on life support. It might seem silly, but Rhonda—like Elvira and Joe Bob—just felt like a friend watching crazy movies with me. That’s how good she was at her job.
|Bicycle-kicking her way into ’90s teen hearts everywhere.|
The significance of this can’t be understated, especially for a shy, introverted kid who usually felt most comfortable being alone. But Rhonda was good company for that kid and millions of others, too. She helped turn a generation of viewers like me into B-movie maniacs. No question, she deserves a special place in the ’90s Hall of Fame.
|Don’t mess with Rhonda.|
Rhonda and Up All Night are from a time and a galaxy far, far away—the 1990s—when crudely juvenile sex humor was de rigueur. But Rhonda’s Skinemax-style entertainment was and still remains so endearingly over the top that you really can’t help but love it, especially because the show’s tongue was always planted firmly in its cheek.
|Rhonda and Angelyne. Big hair and small dresses—yup, must be the ’90s.|
At least that’s how I feel. After all, I spent every Friday night hanging out and laughing along with Rhonda. That sort of connection lasts a lifetime.
|Rhonda, telling it like it is, was, and forever will be.|
* You’ll find a treasure trove of Up All Night clips on Rhonda’s YouTube channel, so have at it. And when you’re done enjoying all she has to offer on her channel, flip on over to The Retro Network’s official YouTube channel as well to see what we have going on there! TRN on YouTube
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