October 27, 2020 § 9 Comments
Every year in October this blog devotes an entry to a Halloween theme. Many of you have told me you enjoy the post because you are into the season’s festivities, or because you learn about other cultures. Some just like it because it brings back nostalgic memories of your childhood or hometown. In the past we have talked about the Day of the Dead celebrations (https://rpstranslations.wordpress.com/2019/10/); Halloween traditional foods around the world (https://rpstranslations.wordpress.com/2018/10/); some of the scariest books ever written (https://rpstranslations.wordpress.com/2017/10/); the scariest movies in all languages (https://rpstranslations.wordpress.com/2016/10/); horror legends and stories (https://rpstranslations.wordpress.com/2015/10/); and America’s favorite monsters (https://rpstranslations.wordpress.com/2014/10/). This time we will remember those weird-looking, sometimes goofy characters that kept us glued to the television when we were kids.
Hosting horror movies on TV is no easy task; the person doing it has to be entertaining, charismatic, and funny enough to act as a safety mechanism to relieve some of the tension created by the suspense of the movie with some humor. These hosts and hostesses have the apparently impossible task of keeping hyperactive children of all ages from changing the channel despite most horror’s showing are cheesy and absurd. The horror movie host role is born when TV stations, often with low budgets, showed the old classic horror movies produced by Universal in the 1930s and 1940s. Many of those movies were good, featured well-known actors and were very scary. Unfortunately, since there are not enough of these movies to keep a weekly TV show running for too long, TV stations alternated these classic films with very bad, poorly produced “B” movies by unknown actors and directors dealing with nonsensical stories and the worst makeup and special effects. Many of these movies never saw a movie theater, and those that were shown had a run shorter than a blink of an eye.
Incredibly, many of the “B” movies became cult films and they are now considered “classic” in a category of their own. A big part of the credit for this success has to go to the hosts and hostesses who, like DJs on the radio, showed them until they were hits. I do not believe too many of us would have ever watched “Santa Claus conquers the Martians” without the sales pitch of a horror movie TV host or hostess. Today, we take a trip down memory lane and remember some hundreds of actors who, for many years, put on a costume and makeup to get into a character. You will recognize some names, you will learn of some for the first time, but they all gave kids the thrill of a horror movie right in the living room of their own homes somewhere in the world.
Boris Karloff. This legendary British actor, known as the monster in the original 1931 Frankenstein movie, and also the narrator in Dr. Seus’ animated film “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” hosted a horror shown in the early 1960s: “Boris Karloff Presents” or “Thriller.” An American anthology TV series where he introduced a mix of macabre tales and suspense thrillers.
Count Gore de Vol. A TV horror host who appeared on a Washington, DC station from 1973 to 1987, played by Dick Dyszel. He was a pioneer of the genre when he became the first host to show on TV the unedited version of “The Night of the Living Dead.” He frequently had Penthouse Magazine models (“pets”) as his guests.
The CryptKeeper. Not all hosts are human; sometimes a puppet can become a star on its own. That is the case of the CryptKeeper, a puppet operated by puppeteer Van Snowden and voiced by John Kassir that hosted HBO’s “Tales from the Crypt” and appeared in the opening segment as the storyteller. Later, he would return for the closing segment to offer sardonic commentary or to provide a cynical moral.
Deadly Earnest. He was a late sixties popular “B” horror movie host on Australian TV, first in Perth, and later nationwide. His show: “Deadly Earnest’s Aweful Movies” was so successful that he even presented the “Worst Movie of the Year” award.
Dr. Morgus the Magnificent. Sidney Noel Rideau played the mad scientist on New Orleans TV and performed science experiments live on the show between horror movie segments. Famous for his mad genius eyes, he once said his character was inspired by Cervantes’ Don Quixote, and his loyal assistant Chopsley was his “Sancho Panza.”
Elvira Mistress of the Dark. Cassandra Peterson gained fame on Los Angeles television by playing a character wearing a revealing, black, gothic, cleavage-enhancing gown while hosting “Elvira’s Movie Macabre,” a weekly “B” movie show in the 1980s. Elvira became a household name, bringing Peterson fame, fortune, a movie, videos, and many TV guest appearances.
Emily Booth. This British actress has starred in cult movies in England, and among many other roles as a presenter, she has hosted several TV shows related to cult films, including “Shock Movie Massacre.”
Ghoulardi. A fictional character created by DJ Ernie Anderson to host the horror movie show: “Shock Theater” in Cleveland, Ohio during the 1960s. His costume was a long lab coat covered with “slogan” buttons, horned-rimmed sunglasses with a missing lens, a fake Van Dyke beard and moustache, and a messy wig. He was famous for criticizing celebrities on his show, such as bandleader Lawrence Welk and the Mayor of Cleveland.
Grandpa Al Lewis. Al Lewis reached world fame through his Grandpa character in the 1960s TV series “The Munsters,” and he decided to wear the “Count” outfit again as a host of a TV horror movie show for Superstation WTBS in the late 1980s: “Super Scary Saturday.” Besides introducing the feature “B” movie, Grandpa was often visited by WCW superstars of wresting who would share with him their opinion of the movie shown that evening, and discuss their favorite monsters.
Juan Ramón Sáenz. In the mid-1990s, Juan Ramon Sáenz hosted the radio show: “La Mano Peluda” (“The Hairy Hand”) in Mexico City. At the beginning of the show, the host would suggest a horror, paranormal, or supernatural topic, and listeners would call and share their stories aided by music effects and scary narration. The show was so successful that eventually moved to TV under the name: “Excalofrio.” Sáenz wrote five books about the theme of the show, and he died young. Mexican audience will always remember “La mano peluda…aquí se respira el miedo.” (“the hairy hand… you breathe fear over here.”)
Mystery Science Theater 3000. Joel Hodgson’s show about the last surviving human, Joel Robinson, living in the Satellite of Love with his three robot sidekicks (Crow, Tom Servo and Gypsy) spend their days watching “B” movies and talking over the film, or taking brakes from watching and performing hilarious skits. MST-3000 has been around on and off for the last 3 decades and still has a big following.
Narciso Ibañez Serrador. From the 1960s to the 1980s, Narciso Ibañez Serrador hosted “Historias para no dormir” (“Stories to keep you awake”) where he presented a horror anthology of scary tales written by him on a variety of themes. Even now, viewers in Spain remember this show as a scary classic.
Rod Serling. He had gained fame from world famous “The Twilight Zone” and served both, as on the air host of the show and as a major contributor to the scripts. Serling viewed “Night Gallery” as a logical extension to “The Twilight Zone,” but unlike its famous sister show, that dealt with science fiction, the 1970s “Gallery” focused on horrors of the supernatural and unexplained.
Ronald “The Cool Ghoul”. In 1957 John Zacherle was cast in the role that would set the course of the rest of his career, Ronald, the undertaker host of Philadelphia’s “Shock Theater.” Dick Clark gave him the name “The Cool Ghoul” when the show moved to New York City. Zacherle’s character wore a beret and a goatee, and showed the classic Universal horror movies from the 1930s. His Halloween Day marathons were also a favorite of viewers on the East Coast.
Rubén Aguirre. Long before he was “Profesor Jirafales” in Mexico’s sitcom “El Chavo,” Rubén Aguirre hosted “Tele Terror,” a horror movie show for the now defunct Televisión Independiente de México network on Friday nights during the 1960s. He introduced the movies, sometimes classic Universal horror films, other occasions “B” horror movies, and then he closed the late Friday night show, with some scary remarks about the film just shown.
Sinister Seymour. Larry Vincent was an American actor who presented horror movies in Los Angeles during the 1970s run of “Fright Night” as Sinister Seymour. His style of criticizing the movies was famous. He would appear in a small window which would pop up in the corner of the screen, tossing a quip, then vanishing again. Sometimes he would also appear in the middle of the movie “interacting” with the characters. When he died, he was succeeded on the TV station by “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.”
Svengoolie. Chicago’s own horror movie show, originally starring Jerry G. Bishop, and from the late 1970’s by Richard Koz. Before and after commercial breaks, Svengoolie presents sketches, tells jokes, throws around rubber chickens, and performs song parody spoofs related to the film shown that evening. The show is still on nationwide every Saturday evening on MeTV.
The Damned Witch. “La Bruja Maldita” was a Mexican horror TV show in the 1960s starring Russian actress Tamara Garina as the Damned Witch presenting the weekly horror story when stirring a potion in the cauldron while laughing hysterically and screaming: ¡Mentira! (“it’s a lie”) in Spanish. She would come back after the story for a preview of next week’s episode, and end the show laughing and screaming ¡Mentira! once again.
Vampira. Maila Nurmi, in the early 1950s, a Finnish-American actress was the first horror movie TV show hostess ever. The Vampira character was born when pale-skinned Nurmi attended choreographer Lester Horton’s Bal Caribe Masquerade in a black outfit inspired by the New Yorker Magazine’s cartoon character Morticia from the Addams Family. Each show opened with Vampira gliding down a dark corridor with dry ice fog. Vampira would come to a stop, and looking into the camera she would let out a horrid scream. She would then introduce the feature film while reclined on a skull-encrusted couch. Vampira would invite viewers to write her asking for epitaphs instead of autographs. She came with her loyal pet spider Rollo.
There are many other hostesses and hosts who have used the small screen to introduce millions of viewers to horror movies and “B” movies in general. These are just a few of the better-known. Most left the airwaves long ago, but on Halloween we remember the evenings we spent with them in our childhood. I now invite you to share with the rest of us your horror movie TV host or hostess memories, or if you prefer, tell us of that horror movie you remember every Halloween.