There are many films which I would deem long overdue in terms of getting an official DVD release. Of that list of rare gems, DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW was always listed near the top. This made-for-TV thriller premiered in October of 1981. I was eleven years old at the time, and an avid fan of horror. Unfortunately in that pre-VCR/cable and “too young to see R Rated films” world, there was little to satisfy my appetite. I remember seeing the television previews and being determined not to miss it. A full hour before the movie started (courtesy of CBS) I had carefully laid blankets on the floor of my bedroom while positioning my 13 inch Black & White television for optimum viewing. My efforts were not in vain as I was totally blown away by this film!
The film stars Larry Drake as the developmentally disabled “Bubba” – not to be confused with “Benny,” his other mentally challenged character on “L.A. Law.” As his character’s name would imply, this film does indeed take place in a Southern, rural town. Bubba spends his days in farm country making flower necklaces and singing songs with a young, local girl named Marylee (Tonya Crowe). This comraderie doesn’t sit well with some of the townsmen, particularly their diabolical mailman – Mr. Otis Hazelrigg (played by Charles Durning at his most despicable).
Mr. Hazelrigg, aside from peeking at his neighbor’s mail, enjoys nothing more than tormenting poor Bubba while riling up his less intelligent cohorts. He is convinced that the relationship between the thirty-something year old man-child and grade school girl is perverse. It is implied during the course of the film that it is, in fact, Mr Hazelrigg’s interest in the girl that is far more unsavory than Bubbas.
While trespassing in a neighbor’s yard, Marylee is viciously attacked by the family’s canine. Bubba saves the girl and carries her unconscious body back home to her parents who, quite understandably, flip out. Rumors quickly spread that Bubba killed her (think “Of Mice and Men”) prompting Mr. Hazelrigg to summon his redneck troops. Before the truth is revealed, they shoot Bubba to death as he unsuccessfully tries to conceal himself via the body of a hanging scarecrow.
The men are tried in their local country-fried judicial system that is so skewed you’ll find yourself humming the classic hit, “The Night the Lights went out in Georgia.” As the guilty-as-hell men are all set free, Bubba’s irate mother screams that there are other kinds of justice in the world. It is with this line that the stage is set for each of the perpetrators to meet their untimely demise. Until the dramatic last moments of the film, you are never sure if they are being killed off by the pissed off District Attorney or perhaps by something far more supernatural.
I didn’t know it at the time but this “revenge from the grave” tale was a throwback to those fabulous EC Comics that prospered in the 1950′s. “Tales from the Crypt,” “The Vault of Horror,” and “Haunt of Fear” were titles that routinely dealt with poetic justice doled out by the hereafter. Before their eventual demise at the hands of the Comics Code Authority (CCA) they provided some of the most amazing and graphic stories that still gain my appreciation today. Fortunately, by my teenage years I was able to buy their reprints at the local comic book shop. Until that time, however, DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW and John Carpenter’s THE FOG were the only taste I had of this truly entertaining sub genre.
I was able to view the film again (this time with that amazing feature known as “color”) on cable channel TBS and, later, after it received a limited VHS release. Although I later had a digitized copy, the picture was less than stellar and not much better than the first time I had watched this movie.
A couple years ago I picked up my first copy of Horrorhound magazine and learned that the film was not only going to finally be released on DVD but also receive a digital upgrade. The article contained photos showing the film’s dramatic new face-lift along with a retrospective story. The film’s writer, J. D. Feigelson, had been tirelessly working on giving DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW the send off it so richly deserved and it’s release was all but guaranteed. Unfortunately, a year passed and nothing happened. DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW, now boggled down with release issues, seemed destined to fall back into the abyss.
I was quite pleased when I entered the main hall of the Indianapolis Horrorhound Convention last March and had my first celebrity encounter with Mr. Feigelson himself! He proudly stood by a mask replica of Bubba’s iconic scarecrow/death shroud while greeting his fans. I was happy to recount for him the story of my first viewing and to tell him how much I admired the film to this day. He signed a DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW poster for me and happily posed for pictures wearing a mailman’s hat. I asked if that was the actual hat worn by Charles Durning and he said, “Oh, no! The one in the movie was actually part of an official Postal uniform and had to be returned to the local Post Office after filming.”
Before leaving him I mentioned how much I wished the film would finally get it’s DVD release. “Your wish is about to come true,” he beamed. “It’s being released this Fall!” I am happy to say that the day after my fortieth birthday, the event did come to pass. I look forward to taking some time out of the upcoming weekend to watch it. This time, however, while sitting in a comfortable sofa and on a digital, wide screen set. Growing older, it seems, does have its perks.
If you mention “horror host” to someone randomly on the street more than likely the response will be Elvira. If you mention “horror host” to a fan chances are you will get a whole list of classic characters, including Vampira, Zacherley, Svengoolie, Morgus The Magnificent, The Ghoul, Sir Graves Ghastley, Dr. Paul Bearer, Ghoulardi and many, many others. Even names like Bob Wilkins and John Stanley may be mentioned. Though many of these hosts have come and gone, one is still going strong in the Washington, DC area. His name is Count Gore DeVol.
Count Gore made his debut in 1973 on WDCA with his show Creature Feature. Dick Dyszel, the man behind the makeup, also played Bozo The Clown in the morning and Captain 20, a Spock-like character, who would host cartoons in the afternoon. Initially Creature Feature ran from 1973 until 1979. Then, through persistance, he was able to revive it for a 2nd run from 1984-1987. By this time, WDCA was doing what most stations around the country were doing…cutting costs and getting rid of locally produced shows. Since then, the Count has reappeared online with his own weekly internet-based web cast, being the first horror host in history to do this! You can check out his show here.
I myself didn’t become aware of the Count until just a few years ago when someone sent me copies of his show. I was immediately drawn to the Count’s character and loved his innocence and charm. He was someone who tried so very hard to succeed but just couldn’t seem to catch a break, especially with the ladies. The show oftentimes seemed ad-libbed which made the show more fun and it seemed to flow more naturally. He wasn’t afraid to make fun of himself and if something went wrong it was common for the footage to be left in and there were times you would see the Count start laughing. Even though he was usually showing the cheesiest of the b-grade monster flicks, he always managed to give them a degree of respectability. Because of his love of the movies, as well as his love for the Count, Dick Dyszel created a show that is often imitated but never duplicated.
To show how loved and respected Count Gore DeVol is, one only needs to look as far as his fellow horror hosts. There was a time when hosts were very territorial and possessive of their characters and shows. Now, thanks in part to the Count and the Horror Host Underground, these hosts are helping each other by promoting each others’ shows and even making guest appearances on each others’ programs. It certainly is a great time to be a fan of horror hosts! I spoke with a few hosts, all of which were more than willing to contribute to this piece with their thoughts on the good Count. This is what they had to say…
“Count Gore De Vol represents everything good about the horror host. He was part of the heyday of the hosts in the past and was responsible for bringing the hosts back to the spotlight in recent years when he was the first to have a weekly show online. He loves his fans as much as they love him and even after all these years he is as warm and friendly as ever. He has affected more peoples lives than he will ever know and I am grateful that he continues to do that voodoo that he do so well.” – Ormon Grimsby, host of Monster Creature Feature
“Count Gore is the Grandfather of the Internet Horror Host. Tales From The Graveyard Shift owes its start on the internet to Count Gore!” – Dr. Pureblood, host of Tales From The Graveyard Shift
“When I began tinkering with the notion of doing this hosting thing, I was searching for movie sites on-line and the first hosted one I came across was Count Gore DeVol’s. Seeing a real horror host doing his thing on the net gave me the motivation to go ahead with my planned project of doing an internet based show of my own. My top-hat is off to the count for being such a pioneer! It’s truly amazing that he began doing internet stuff in 98. Especially when you consider how “new” the whole internet idea was to all of us at that time!” – Sigmund Zoid, host of Alternative Realities TV
“I consider myself very lucky to have “grown up” during the 1970′s…having a TV host like Captain 20, and Count Gore De Vol, to educate and entertain. The influence of Dick Dyszel’s marvelous characters, reached almost a million kids in the DC area at the time, and it’s something that made television really special. You had to “be there” to watch it, there were no repeats, you couldn’t buy a tape, and there was nowhere else it could be seen. Kids were literally glued to their TV sets every afternoon for Captain 20 and Saturday nights for Count Gore. The fact that he is STILL doing his act on the web, is such a great thing for me, and all the people who grew up watching, as well as the people all over the world, who now get to literally “be involved” in the show, thru the internet on Creature Feature: the veekly veb program !!!!…Long may the Count continue to creaturize the country !!!!!!!!!” - Karlos Borloff, host of Monster Madhouse
“The man sucks blood–but oozes charm. People who’ve never even seen his show are drawn to him and the ladies fall down at his feet like a sack of wet phone books. Mr. Lobo sees him in action and thinks about possibly trying on some make-up and a cape…” – Mr. Lobo, host of Cinema Insomnia
“To me, Count Gore De Vol represents the ancient… er, classic Seventies era approach to Horror Hosting, and is the genuine relic… um, article, and a great deal of fun to watch, even if he is one of the 3 worst Horror Hosts in the history of the genre. Seriously, I have a great deal of respect for the man, no matter what goes on in his hotel rooms at these conventions with all of those underage Campfire Girls. And, his camera operator’s smokin’ hot!” – The Bone Jangler, host of The Bone Jangler’s Daytime Dungeon
“The word “legend” is tossed around a lot in the entertainment world. Well, Count Gore honestly and truly is a TV legend. While his talent, skill and professionalism absolutely play a large part in his status as a Horror Host icon, that isn’t all there is to it. You see, Count Gore is also a great guy – as in friendly, down-to-earth and approachable. A lot of people in the entertainment world would do well to take their cues from the Count. I am honored to call him a friend.” – Penny Dreadful, host of Shilling Shockers
“I met Count Gore DeVol at the National Haunters Convention over the summer. It was my first official outing as a brand-new horror host and Count Gore DeVol was just wonderful and charismatic! If only I had any more money left I would have wanted to walk away with one of everything at his table. Count Gore DeVol is an inspiring influence for both aspiring actors and horror hosts.” – Roxsy Tyler, host of Roxsy Tyler’s Carnival Of Horrors
“I have met Count Gore once and He is a true gentleman. He deserves a ton of respect not only for his many years on television but the fact that he gave birth to the whole “internet Horrorhost” genre with his website… a true visionary.” – Marlena Midnight, host of Midnight Mausoleum
“Count Gore DeVol is an original. He pioneered the web movement. CGDV is one classy sucker!” - Ms. Monster, host of Hel On Ice
“Count Gore DeVol is a true pioneer of the horror hosting genre! He has endured the test of time! He started out on TV in the ’70s then made the venture online in the ’90s to be the first Internet horror host! He is a real inspiration to me! I’ve met Count Gore at several conventions and he has alvays been very gracious and supportive tovards me. I had the opportunity to interview The Count at the recent HorrorHound Weekend Convention in Indy and learned even more insight about his background. Recently, a documentary vas made about his long career that included his other notable characters Captain 20 and Bozo! Gore is simply one amazing talent and a Cool Ghoul!” – Count Sam Gregula, host of Count Gregula’s Crypt
“I truly, truly admire the man. He’s been the most supportive individual in the world as a friend, and a true professional in all my horror host efforts! I mean, he could be using all of his energy to promote his own show, for chrissakes, but he’s taken time to help me with Spooky Movie Television as well. He still has no idea how hard it is not to to have a fanboy moment and go, “YOU’RE MY HERO! Ohmuhgod!” I never want to say, “I grew up watching you!” I don’t want to date either of ourselves! HAHAHAH!” - John “Doctor Sarcofiguy” Dimes, Spooky Movie Television, and author of “There Are No Bad Movies! (Only Bad Audiences)”
Over the last few years there have been a few horror host documentaries released, like AMERICAN SCARY and VIRGINIA CREEPERS. Though both are highly recommended only one was released dealing solely with the man of the hour, Count Gore DeVol. In mid 2010 the Count Gore documentary EVERY OTHER DAY IS HALLOWEEN was released on BrinkDVD. Needless to say, this much anticipated release did not disappoint and it is highly recommended for any horror host library. It was actually seeing this DVD that prompted me to write this piece! If you don’t have a copy you can order one by clicking on the image of the cover artwork below.
And now…what you have all been waiting for! My interview with Count Gore DeVol!!!
ME: Were you a fan of monster movies growing up? If so, what are some of your favorites?
COUNT GORE: I liked scary movies, some with monsters, some without. I grew up in the 50’s so I got to watch a lot of big bug films….atomic radiation was all the rage. I also liked films about outer space, most of which had monsters included at no extra charge.
ME: Did you have a favorite horror host growing up? If so, who?
COUNT GORE: I watched “Shock Theater” with Marvin on Channel 7 in Chicago. He was a beatnik with thick glasses and a tall, curvy wife whose face we never saw.
ME: What made you decide to be a horror host?
COUNT GORE: Too much beer. The general manager of the station, another co-worker and myself were watching a bunch of demo movie open packages very late one night after way too many beers. An open for a horror showcase came up and I yelled in my best Transylvanian accent, “That’s what we need, a horror host!” The GM turn around and said, “You’re hired!” the rest, as they say is history.
ME: What were your inspirations for the character of Count Gore De Vol?
COUNT GORE: Once it became obvious that the GM was serious, I looked to my closet to define the character. I had a tux, a cape (this was the 70’s) and could roll my Rs with the best of them. So I decided on a vampire. Besides, it gave me an excuse to bite the necks of pretty young girls (this was still the 70’s)!
ME: You are obviously very supportive of other horror hosts in that you have them on your show all of the time. Who are some of your favorites today and why?
COUNT GORE: Yes, in this global environment, there’s enough room for everyone who wants to be a host and the only way to find out if you are any good is to work at it and let the public decided. Once the Internet came about, I met and became friends with such hosts as A. Ghastlee Ghoul, The Bone Jangler, Laslo, Butch Cleaver, The Son of Ghoul, Karlos Borloff, Dr. Sarcofiguy, Mr. Lobo and Penny Dreadful, to name just a few. I really like to hang with them because they are so talented….and I hope some it rubs off!
ME: You have taken your show CREATURE FEATURE into an all new direction by having it online. Would you ever want to go back to network television?
COUNT GORE: My general response to that question is, “Why would I want to do that? I now have the whole world as an audience. Why would I want to go back to just one market?” The answer that I rarely give is, “For money!!!” The Internet is a great place but few people make a living by offering entertainment. So, if a station or network made me an offer I couldn’t refuse…I wouldn’t!”
ME: I loved the documentary of you EVERY OTHER DAY IS HALLOWEEN. Do you have plans of releasing any of your shows on DVD?
COUNT GORE: I’ve had shows and compilations out since 1998!!! The Legacy series covers studio segments from my TV days without the movies. The Classics series has the public domain films I showed on TV with the local segments…..just like they appeared on TV, but without all the cheezy commercials. they are available from my web program or at conventions I attend.
ME: What made you leave your native Chicago for Washington, DC. According to Wikipedia you are living back in Chicago now…is this true? Are you a fan of Chicago horror host Svengoolie?
COUNT GORE: See, you can’t believe everything you see on the Internet. I’ve been back in the DC area since 2005. I did spend 10 year back in Chicago, which is where I grew up, But for me DC is really home. On a recent trip back to the Windy City, I did finally meet and have lunch with Svengoolie. What a great guy! He is one of the last and best major market TV horror hosts and I hope to have him on my show someday.
ME: You have always been one of the most innovative of horror hosts…first to host NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD unedited, first to air in stereo, first to utilize the web…do you have any big plans for the future?
COUNT GORE: Actually the next “first” will be a show that is fully mobile compatible. As you know Apple products do not show video encoded with Flash. But, beginning on Step. 18, all of the video I produce for the web program…including the movies with be viewable on your iPod, iPhone, iPad, or any other iDevice Apple comes up with….and I do make some interesting guesses as to what they may be…as part of the movie showcase!
ME: You mentioned in your “Rue Morgue” piece (issue #103, August 2010) that back in the day horror hosts were territorial with each other. Did you have any contact with any of these hosts back then? Do you still find them to be territorial?
COUNT GORE: No, the only host from the “old” days that I actually met was the late Dr. Shock from Philly. Remember, it was very hard and expensive to move video tape around back then. Heck, it was only after the Internet came about that I finally saw some of Elvira’s shows! I guess in some ways we are all still a bit territorial when it comes to our work…no, I think protective is a better word.
ME: Do you watch any horror hosted shows?
COUNT GORE: From time to time I catch clips that are posted on various horror host forums. I really don’t have a lot of time to sit back and watch and enjoy movies. Besides being a horror host, I do have various other business interests that keep me very busy.
ME: You have had guests on your show but never a sidekick. Why didn’t you opt to have a sidekick like many of the hosts have?
COUNT GORE: When I was working on Washington TV, I was a union performer at a union station. The station wasn’t about to pay for a sidekick. So, I learned to work within that environment. We did have guests, but guests didn’t have to be paid. I’m still a member of the union and after 35+ years, doing a solo act is both natural and expected. That being said, however, I do have an annual sidekick in the form of the lovely Countess Von Stauffenberger, played by the talented author Eleanor Herman. Every New Year’s Eve she comes on the show for our annual date and every year the universe finds a new way from keep us from becoming….an item! My black heart gets broken again and again.
ME: Do you still feel that BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS is the worst movie ever made?
COUNT GORE: ABSOLUTELY!!!! Although I have seen a few new first time efforts that do give it a run for its money.
To show how popular horror hosts have been getting lately, you really only have to look at your newsstand these days. SCARY MONSTERS MAGAZINE regularly covers the horror host world and even recently HORRORHOUND MAGAZINE and RUE MORGUE have jumped on the proverbial bandwagon (and of course, who can forget the amazing HorrorHound Weekend in Indianapolis this past March 26-28th that featured the largest horror host gathering ever attempted to date?). Luckily for us the horror host world is going strong and it doesn’t look like it will be letting up anytime soon! Lucky us!
At this point I really want to express my thanks to ALL of the horror hosts that contributed to this piece. Not only has their support of Count Gore DeVol be great but their support of this website has been overwhelming. Also, I am extremely thankful that Count Gore DeVol himself took the time to do the interview with me…he is a true gentleman and I really appreciate it!
“The Chiller Drive-in” is divided into four sets. Across from the concession were three additional venues for Mac and his fellow cast members to carry out their signature story-lines. On the far right was a faux laboratory complete with its own mad scientist. The table was littered with science beakers containing unknown liquids that appeared even more diabolical via illumination.
To the left of this set was The Projector Room, where Mac greeted fans and made numerous announcements. I had seen this room many times while watching the show and always enjoyed seeing the great embellishments that, literally, covered its walls. What I did not know, however, was how much history existed here. While “The Chiller Drive-in” is, in itself, a tribute to a bygone era of our cinematic history (even peppering it’s own show with public domain clips of drive-in advertisements and messages to its patrons), I discovered during the open house that it actually goes much deeper than this.
Sitting in the room is an actual projector from a vintage Michigan Drive-in. As my brain tried to register all the amazing sights in the room, a friendly crew member invited me to come on in and take as many pictures as I’d like. The man’s name was Todd Vierk and he is part of the drive-in’s creative team. While I ogled the enormous projector, Todd explained that it was from the Gratiot Drive-in from Roseville, Michigan (east side of Detroit).
Vicki Vanderkolk shared the following information regarding the outdoor theater…
The Gratiot Drive-in, which opened in April, 1948 was billed as the world’s largest drive-in, featuring free pony rides, merry-go-round and other playground amusements for the kids, a large restaurant that even warmed baby bottles on schedule for patrons, and a living curtain waterfall illuminated by colored lights to simulate Niagara Falls.
The Gratiot Drive-in opened in 1948 and closed down in 1984. “If you drive there now it’s a big Sam’s Club and strip mall, ” said Todd, “it’s really kinda sad.” While the site was demolished a short time after its closing, some of its artifacts live on at “The Chiller Drive-in.” Along with the immense projector, there are also original film canisters containing actual movies shown during it’s 36 year tenure. “We’re not sure what movies these are,” said Wolfman Mac. “For all we know it could be GONE WITH THE WIND and we’re spilling Pepsi on em’ every week.” Mac’s jesting aside, I could tell that he, as well as the entire cast and crew, viewed these items as sacred.
To the left of the projection room, is a smaller set designed as the crypt for the Drive-in’s newest cast member, Scary Grant (see previous entry). Despite its recent addition to “The Chiller Drive-in,” this set boasts an amazing bit of local history itself.
While Ohio’s, The Ghoul (Ron Sweed) enjoyed a healthy tenure on Detroit air waves, Michigan already had a classic host of its own. Sir Graves Ghastly (Lawson J. Deming) reigned supreme from the late 1960′s into the early 1980′s. His legion of fans include many of “The Chiller Drive-in” crew members as well as Wolfman Mac himself.
As Ghastly’s show began, the camera led viewers through a set of iron gates to his signature coffin. These very same gates have been given new life at “The Chiller Drive-in” and are now featured in Scary Grant’s locale (allowing the S.G. initials to remain relevant to this show). Even my refined friend, Michael Monahan (Doktor Goulfinger), lost his composure when I shared with him my picture of the gates. “HOLY CRAP! The Sir Graves gates!?! That is so super cool! I have one of his capes in the vast Goulfinger Archives – but this is just too, too amazing! Wow!…I am so jealous at the moment!”
One of the crew members shared this poignant story. “I’ll never forget when those gates arrived, ” he said. It was at night and many of use were still working. When they carried them in we all stood around it and stared silently. It was an amazing moment for us.”
Tune in next time as I focus on meeting Wolfman Mac, as well as the most talented ogre you’ll ever meet….
Last Thursday, I headed up to Michigan to attend the studio Open House for “Wolfman Mac’s Chiller Drive-in!” Prior to this event, I wrestled with the idea of making a nearly five hour exodus for the value of an evening’s worth of entertainment but, realizing the rarity of this opportunity, decided to just go fort it. In the end, it was well worth it!
“Wolfman Mac’s Chiller Drive-in” is filmed at the Erebus Haunted Attraction in Pontiac, Michigan. This is not only a working Haunted House, but the largest in the country boasting four stories of terror. As I walked towards the entrance I noticed one of the show’s writers, Raymond Dean Vanderkolk, standing outside wearing his witch-doctor costume. I lowered my cap (hiding my face) and slowly approached him from the side. I brought out an 8×10 photo of Dean and I from Horrorhound and innocently asked, “Do you know where can I find this guy?”
We laughed and chatted a bit before I signed us all in on The Chiller Drive-in’s guest registry. Later, Dean signed my 8×10 photo (above) which was really nice.
He then introduced me to the newest cast member of The Chiller Drive-in, Scary Grant the Vampire (Rick Bobier). Thanks to the other Dave, I was able to see the recent 3rd season premiere of “Wolfman Mac’s Chiller Drive-in” which featured Scary Grant in its skit. He was very nice and I really enjoyed talking to him. He told me that he was familiar with the Chicago area and that he had been present the day they filmed the famous “mall chase” scene in THE BLUES BROTHERS. This had taken place not far from where I had grown up. He handed me his business card which was also quite amusing…
After entering, you were treated to some amazing sights befitting a haunted house! The first thing I noticed was a large, hanging UFO complete with alien pilot above. To the right there was an old hearse, television monitors giving a sneak peek at the newest Wolfman Mac episode (HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL) and Madame Nina telling fortunes to those who dared approach.
We had a lot of fun visiting Madame Nina who played her character to the hilt. From Madame Nina, we headed to the left of the entrance towards the main set. Before arriving, however, we were treated to various props used in past episodes of “Wolfman Mac’s Chiller drive-in.”
As we entered the next section, we saw a bevy of Halloween style treats that would make Martha Stewart envious! One look at all those homemade goodies along with spooky, decorative touches instantly put me in the Halloween spirit! In fact, I consider the whole experience to be the ultimate kick-off to my favorite holiday.
After a pit stop in this room, it was time to see The Chiller Drive-in’s “real” concession stand. The stand itself had a vintage feel, representing the golden era of Drive-in cinema. Vicki Vanderkolk, producer of the show, was selling Chiller Drive-in merchandise. It was great seeing her again and she had been so helpful in sending me directions that, unlike Mapquest, avoided a lot of road construction.
Suddenly everyone began heading towards the “projection room” of The Chiller Drive-in. Wolfman Mac had entered the building.
(to be continued)
This Saturday’s Svengoolie is sure to be a special event here in Chicago. Not only does it mark an all new episode of Sven (after weeks of summer re-runs) but also an airing of one of my favorite monster movies – PUMPKINHEAD.
This is a film I have loved since it’s original release back in 1988. After my parents divorced, my mother instituted a weekly event called “family night.” My two siblings and I thought it was the corniest concept ever but, looking back, it does evoke some fond memories. At the time, however, it was torture. Usually instituted on a Friday night, we couldn’t go out with friends and had to spend the evening together (which was always interesting since my brother, sister, and I historically got along about as well as cats and dogs).
On some of these occasions, we would go out together for a movie. Since my sister was eight years my junior, it was rarely anything a teenager, like myself, wanted to see. I’ll always remember PUMPKINHEAD as being one of the few instances where my mother threw “Parental Guidance” to the wind and actually took us to see something cool (even if I would’ve rather seen it with my friends).
Weeks prior to its release, I remember anxiously reading about it in “Fangoria” Magazine. While slashers and aliens were prolific back in the 80′s, good old fashioned monster movies were not. Being a big monster fan, PUMPKINHEAD’s release was a true event for me. Whenever I’d hear the film’s trailer playing during commercials, I would stop whatever I was doing and run to the television to watch.
I was not to be disappointed. Lance Henriksen gives one of his best performances as the gentle, backwoods store owner, Ed Harley, who loses his beloved son due to the shenanigans of a group of reckless (and highly annoying) teenagers. Filled with rage, Harley seeks out the assistance of an old hag (one of the most convincing portrayals of a modern witch in my opinion) who can assist with his vengeance. Via the aid of her dark powers – she conjures a demon of revenge from a cursed pumpkin patch.
Henriksen does well at eliciting viewer sympathy regarding the loss of his son and willingness to sell his own soul to avenge him. It can, however, be argued that the actor who plays his son is so gratuitously cute (with his coke-bottle glasses and “aw shucks Daddy” innocence) that he didn’t have to work all that hard at it. Even the the most pacifistic viewer would crave Charles Bronson-like vengeance against anyone who’d hurt this kid!
Of course, much the success of any monster film rests on the monster itself and legendary creature effects artist, Stan Winston, serves up a winner. This pre-CGI beasty can stand up to most any modern monster of late, including it’s own post-CGI (and god-awful) sequels! As the monster continues his killing spree, he begins to develop the features of Henriksen himself, demonstrative of his own gradual damnation.
The monster is further enhanced by the eerie mountain landscape, one of the most atmospheric I’ve seen to date. There are few people that would want to toil in that pumpkin patch – even if you were with a group of friends!
I loved the film back in 1988 and continue to enjoy it today. It was one of my first DVD’s purchased when the “new” format was available and I ended up buying it a second time upon it’s more recent, and long overdue, WIDESCREEN release.
During last year’s “Flashback Weekend” in Chicago, I had the opportunity to tell Henriksen how much I loved his film – personally. I’m happy to say that he gets a “10″ on the celebrity meeting scale! He was very outgoing and eager to talk with his fans about his work. I told him how much I loved PUMPKINHEAD and that it still stands as one of my favorite monster films. He was genuinely appreciative and agreed that the sequels (some of which he was a part of) weren’t the greatest. I asked him what it was like working with Sigourney Weaver in ALIENS (another favorite of mine). Rather than give a generic, “Oh, she’s great!” answer. He told me, “Sigourney was one of the most fearless actresses I have ever worked with. But, in my opinion, after she had children of her own she lost a lot of the edginess that had made her so great.”
Svengoolie also had the honor of meeting Henriksen that day in a clip he’s shown on past shows. I’d be surprised if it doesn’t gain another airing this Saturday in lieu of his presentation. I hope that it will. Henriksen recognized our beloved host and the two shared a humorous exchange that lead to him granting Svengoolie a rather unique “award.” Either way, I have no intention of missing this Saturday’s show. If for no other reason, I am really curious as to what parody song Svengoolie will do to enhance the experience. What possible lyric or song title rhymes with “Pumpkinhead?”
I have always been a fan of George Romero…ever since I was old enough to see his zombie masterpiece, DAWN OF THE DEAD (1979). After viewing both NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) and DAWN on videocassette I actively sought out other movies by the master of horror. Films like MARTIN (1976), THE CRAZIES (1975) and of course CREEPSHOW (1982) and DAY OF THE DEAD (1985) were always a lot of fun to me.
George Romero has always been a great film maker and an even better storyteller which is why he has such a legion of dedicated fans, myself included. He has perfected making a great film on a budget, in part because his stories are so compelling. Even though his films feature zombies, wannabe vampires, crate beasts and crazy people, the heart of his movies are with the characters that have to deal with these terrors.
In 2003, when word came out that Romero was doing another zombie film I got excited, hoping to finally see one of his movies on the big screen. Though I loved LAND OF THE DEAD (2005) I never had the chance to see it in the theater. My excitement started to dwindle though upon finding out that DIARY OF THE DEAD (2007) was going direct to DVD (similar to how movies in the 80′s that were not good enough for a theatrical release would go direct to video). When DIARY came out on DVD I immediately bought a copy and watched it that night. After the film was over all I could think about was how I wanted that 90 minutes of my life back as well as the $20 that I had spent on the DVD. Though the concept was interesting (survivors of the zombie holocaust documenting everything on video, similar to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT from 1999), the story and presentation was far from interesting. Because the movie was filmed on videotape it gave the whole production a very amateurish look, even though that is what they wanted. I would’ve been fine with that if the actors and actresses had been good and if the special effects didn’t look so cheesy. The zombie makeups are a huge step down from the designs of Tom Savini or KNB EFX Group from the previous dead films. The mandatory gunshots to the head to kill the zombies also looked horrible because they were all done with CGI (CGI on a budget for that matter) and it doesn’t transfer well to videotape. This movie was such a disappointment that I began to wonder if perhaps Romero had lost his touch.
Years later I experienced a sense of deja-vu at the announcement of George Romero making yet another dead movie, to be called SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD (2010). To be honest, I did not have high hopes for this film. Initial reports from people who saw it were not promising. Reviews compared it to DIARY in how bad it was and I was quickly losing hope…it seemed as though the guy who created the whole flesh-eating zombie genre was also going to bury it. Even friends of mine who saw it said to not waste my time. One thing I did know was that I was not going to spend another $20 so I did the next best thing, I rented it on Netflix. Something else that didn’t make it look promising was how quickly I received this movie…most new releases have at least a short wait!
After great trepidation I grabbed a six pack of beer and put the movie in, figuring it was going to need all of the help it could get. Maybe it was because I didn’t have any expectations for this film but I actually enjoyed it! It is far from a great movie but it is still a fun zombie movie and it is certainly better than DIARY OF THE DEAD. Back was decent storytelling. Back was some decent gore effects. Back was interesting characters (by actors who could act) dealing with the undead. Now don’t get me wrong, this movie is far from perfect and it would never make my top 10 list of alltime best zombie movies but it is still worth a shot, and it doesn’t deserve all of the negative press it has received. Once again CGI effects are employed for most of the gunshot to the head scenes (but it transfers better to film than to video so actually works in most cases). I was also glad to see that some of the gore effects were done the old fashioned way!
This film takes place six days after the initial zombie outbreak (would this be right after NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD?). Personally I would’ve preferred it taking place after LAND OF THE DEAD so that we could see zombies in more advanced stages of decay (though I am sure it was done this way for budgetry reasons). It certainly costs alot less to make up people to look recently deceased as opposed to people who have been walking around dead for awhile, decomposing. I also think the zombie makeups in most cases are very poorly executed (I have actually seen better zombie makeups at Halloween haunted houses) which is a real shame because Romero’s zombie films are known for not only their over-the-top gore but also for their amazing zombie makeups.
The story itself deals with two fueding Irish families, the O’Flynns and the Muldoons (sort of a modern day Hatfields and McCoys) who have opposing views on the zombie holocaust. One side feels that the zombies should be destroyed at all costs while the other side feels there is hope to find a cure, bringing their undead relatives back to their human state. There is also a third group of people…the military (or former military as there has been a total breakdown of society) who just want to find someplace safe. The movie does tend to be a bit talky at times but it is essential to the plot and character development and when the the final battle between all 3 groups and the undead happens it does make for some bloody fun viewing. There were also two scenes that initially bothered me…a male zombie driving a car and a female riding a horse. In DAY OF THE DEAD the character of Dr. Ted Fisher (played by Romero regular John Amplas) mentions seeing one trying to drive a car. Since the undead are basically us, it does make sense that they would try to do things that are familiar to them and this scene is basically just a continuation of something established earlier in the series. As far as the horse riding goes, my initial thought was that the undead would not have the dexterity to actually ride a horse. After thinking about this though, I realized that the undead actually do have alot of dexterity, especially when it comes to ripping victims limb from limb (shown beautifully in both DAWN OF THE DAY and DAY OF THE DEAD) so horse riding, especially with a recently changed person, is probably quite possible. To me the dead series will always be a trilogy (NIGHT, DAWN and DAY) but LAND and SURVIVAL are definite highlights in the zombie movie genre. Go into SURVIVAL like I did, with little or no expectations, and you will enjoy it. Give it a shot (and alcohol will help).
DAVID A.’S TOP 10 ZOMBIE MOVIES
10. DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004)
9. CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980)
8. TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (1971)
7. CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1972)
6. ZOMBIE (1979)
5. SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004)
4. RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1984)
3. DAY OF THE DEAD (1985)
2. DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)
1. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)
Now before anyone comes down on me for not including THE EVIL DEAD movies, my list only consists of movies about Romero-type flesh eating zombies (whereas the dead in the EVIL DEAD movies are basically people possessed by demons and they do not eat the flesh of humans).
While it is true that most teens today are far more computer literate than us…well… more seasoned folks, Richard’s expertise goes far beyond that. The 15 year old prodigy is a huge fan of horror and has created some amazing videos paying homage to the genre.
RICHARD’S VIDEO -
Don’t let his age fool you. Richard has been a devotee of horror for as long as he can remember. “The first real horror movie I watched was John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN on television,” says Richard. “After that it was PUMPKINHEAD. These were both on commercial television so they were edited of course, but I still loved them!”
With parents who supported his interests, Richard attended his first Horror convention at the age of 12. The event took place in Eerie, Pennsylvania at the annual “Eerie Horror Fest.” It was at this event that Richard met Dee Wallace, Tom Savini (whom Richard refers to as “his hero”), and cast members of the original DAWN OF THE DEAD (Leonard Lies, Jim Krut, and G. Joe Shelby).
Having attended every “Eerie Horror Fest” since, Richard has developed an extensive collection of horror DVD’s, celebrity autographs, latex masks, props, action figures, and comics. Aside from his tenacity, our young fan is also modest as he adds,”This might not seem like much to anyone, but I think the stuff I own at my age is a great start to my collection.” He’ll get no arguments from us!
Last weekend, Richard attended the “Horrorfind Weekend” in Gettysburg, PA. He met another slew of great guests and will be sharing his own story of these events soon.
I’m happy to introduce Richard Braden to the horror world as he will, no doubt, be a name you’ll hear again. I am truly convinced that this guy has a real future in the industry!
One of the funnest things about doing this site is dealing with the actual people we write about and getting their support. Horror hosts are stars to me and to be able to talk to them and e-mail with them is a dream come true! It was a great pleasure doing my piece MR. LOBO’S CINEMA INSOMNIA and the positive response from both Mr. Lobo himself and his assistant Dixie Dellamorto was such an inspiration. Here I present to you a 10 question Q&A I did with Mr. Lobo and I want to say to him that I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to answer these questions! I really appreciate it!
ME: Growing up, what were some of your favorite monster movies?
MR. LOBO: Movies always fueled my playtime as a kid and I had many favorites. I loved anything with FRANKENSTEIN–I had a Don Post mask and I used to wet it in the sink to make it look more gross. I also wrapped myself up like THE INVISIBLE MAN. THE BLOB was great and I used to squish MATTEL’s SLIME all over my MATCHBOX cars. When RIDLEY SCOTT’s ALIEN came out, I begged to have the 15 inch action figure for my birthday even though I was too young to see that film in the theater—I was terrified of the thing! First, I kept it in my closet–But I couldn’t sleep knowing it was there. Then, I moved it to the hall. Then, downstairs. Then outside the sliding glass door and finally, the garage to hang out with PULSAR and STRETCH MONSTER STRONG! DESTROY ALL MONSTERS was a favorite film as it had GHIDORA the 3 headed dragon VS. all the other giant monsters on Monster Island: GODZILLA, BABY GODZILLA, MOTHRA, RODAN—EVERYBODY!
ME: Did you have a favorite horror host (or hosts) growing up?
MR. LOBO: So many hosts influenced me growing up! (Although, I feel like I’ve only really grown up in years—not in maturity) I was hit hard by ROD SERLING, ALFRED HITCHCOCK, THE PHANTOM STRANGER from DC comics, COUNT FLOYD from SCTV, and I very much enjoyed ELVIRA as a teen emerging into young man-dom. However, my local host BOB WILKINS is my main influence because I had a deeper connection with him. Some of my earliest memories were of me watching Bob on TV. Back then, I was so terrified by those movies! I was the kind of kid who ran in the other room when The Skipper would yell at Gilligan—so Hammer Horror was pure torture! I wanted to be close to my dad who was asleep in the recliner. But it was Bob who was calming me down and talking to me between fits of fright-Not Dad. Bob was a calming presence and as an odd-ball kid who didn’t fit in–Bob was a person who seemed very comfortable being square. He didn’t care how he came off, so he came off as cool. He was the geek he wanted to be—and the geek I wanted to be too! As a fan, I know the kind of impact a host can have…and it’s an impact I strive for.
ME: What made you decide to become a horror host?
MR. LOBO: I always used to “play host” in the mirror or do skits with my friends who ran 16mm films as a hobby. Y’know—come to think of it, I was always “The Narrator” in school plays. Meeting BOB WILKINS as an adult changed my life. He was so unassuming and enormously supportive of everyone he came in contact with. He would encourage you to pursue your dreams and if he thought you were particularly gifted—he’d open a door and kick you in the pants. Bob suggested that I take a stab at horror hosting. I also had a friend named MIKE STRANGE at the ABC TV station in Sacramento, where I worked at for 5 years in the production dept. and he wanted me to do a show also. In July of 2001, there was finally a real opportunity—the station ran a movie at 3AM that ran 20 minutes short every week. I offered to fill the time and nobody stopped me. Eventually, in mid 2002, the show ended at that station and I decided that I wanted to continue…I started making the episodes myself and syndicating them to other markets.
ME: Your character of Mr. Lobo is different from most horror hosts. You are basically just a regular person…no vampire, ghoul or ghost host for you. What made you decide on this personification?
MR. LOBO: Rod Serling was just a “regular”guy but VERY effective as a spectral narrator and guide to the unknown. I never saw that many guys in make up and cheap Dracula capes as a kid. I guess, that’s the Northern California tradition if you look at BOB WILKINS, JOHN STANLEY, WHITEY GLEASON, etc. I didn’t really pick up on the fact that ELVIRA was a costume—I wanted to believe she was like that 24/7. Also, as a kid I couldn’t tell the difference between local and national TV—I didn’t really identify it as a genre. I do believe I have more freedom to show different types of weird movies in different genres and can lend my “character” to other types of projects. However I don’t think of Mr. Lobo as a character–and not really a “regular guy”either. Well, he is and he isn’t. He’s closer to the real me than the person I pretend to be for bill collectors, ex-wives, and most family members. BOB WILKINS, who passed away in 2009, was a regular guy and I began the show as a parody and homage to that kind of host. Bob actively advised me until he was too ill to do so…I continue to take inspiration from Bob’s life–he was a warm, funny, and brilliant man who helped people. You wanted to hang out with him on Saturday Night.
ME: You participated in a Godzilla event with Dr. Goulfinger. Are you a Godzilla fan?
MR. LOBO: Yes.
ME: Do you keep in touch with Dr. Goulfinger (or any other hosts for that matter)?
MR. LOBO: I haven’t heard from the Dok in a long time. I tried to visit his website recently and sadly it was gone. I try to do as many collaborative projects with other Hosts as possible. I have done several events and projects with JOHN STANLEY, MISS MONSTER and WILL THE THRILL—also, I have done several film shows with ELVIRA and PEACHES CHRIST—all in the SF Bay Area. I’ve been on COUNT GORE DE VOL’s CREATURE FEATURE several times and in his biopic EVERY OTHER DAY IS HALLOWEEN, also in the Washington DC area I have been on KARLOS BORLOFF’s MONSTER MADHOUSE and hosted another documentary that covers these two great men and scores of other hosts called VIRGINIA CREEPERS and I stay in touch with many of them. I helped JOSH HADLEY in Wisconsin do several hosted movie shows and we talk frequently. This year, I made a lot of new horror host pals–I taped a show with JEBEDIAH BUZZARD, I hosted BLOBFEST with New York’s GHOUL A GO-GO and Philly’s STELLA and finally met DR. SARCOFAGUY! At MONSTER BASH I hung out with PENNY DREADFUL, GAROU, PROFESSOR VON BULOW and LUNA from Massachusetts and BONE JANGLER from Chicago and got to meet IVAN VON CRYPTOSIS. I wrote a comic book about the current crop of horror hosts with artist BRIAN MAZE called 13 HOSTS and many of them are dear friends!
ME: Who would you say your favorite hosts are, past and present?
MR. LOBO: Some of these I mentioned before, ZACHERLE, SVENGOOLIE, GHOULARDI, ROD SERLING, WILLIAM CASTLE, ALFRED HITCHCOCK, THE PHANTOM STRANGER, COUNT FLOYD, THE CRYPT KEEPER, COUNT GORE DEVOL, BOWMAN BODY, MORGUS, GRAMPA, UNCLE EERIE, KARLOS BORLOFF, DR. PAUL BEARER, GHOUL A GO GO, JOHN STANLEY, MARVIN, VAMPIRA, CRISWELL, MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, RHONDA from USA’s UP ALL NIGHT, ELVIRA and, of course, BOB WILKINS.
ME: You were missed at the HorrorHound Vampira tribute in Indianapolis this past March. Do you plan on doing any big appearances where we may see you at?
MR. LOBO: Thank you. I wanted to be there. It looked like fun. I would love to be booked for next year…I’m like a vampire I have to be invited…and you have to feed me. I did my own personal tribute to Vampira—I wrote her obituary for my local paper—that has been reprinted in several fan publications and I made a small (very small) donation to her burial. I kind of felt there were a lot of glory hounds at that event…that took away from the hosts who were there for the less selfish reasons in my opinion. I go where I am wanted…or needed. When I am at a show making an appearance–I’m not there for myself—I’m there for the fans. If I am not a legitimate draw for the fans then I don’t need to be there. I’ve been doing big events across the country. I love Indiana. I hosted the B-Movie Celebration there in the past and enjoyed it immensely. They brought me out and I worked VERY HARD to give the fans and the organizers their moneys worth. We just did a LIVE episode of CINEMA INSOMNIA at THE GUILD theater in Sacramento featuring THE UNDERTAKER AND HIS PALS to great response. I’d like to duplicate that coast to coast. I’d like to tour the country and tape segments for my show in front audiences everywhere.
ME: I became aware of you through your DVD releases. Where can people see you actually on tv? Any plans on expanding where you can be seen?
MR. LOBO: There are always plans to expand—our goal is every state in the union! Cincinnati, Dallas-Fort Worth, Wichita, Orlando, Vegas…our syndicator AMGTV puts it up on a satellite and it’s available for downlink to more than 150 stations and anyone who still has a big backyard dish. It’s also picked up by 100′s of cable systems and in some areas on dish network. Karlos Borloff and other hosts have aired my material on various stations to spread the love to the less fortunate.
ME: Will you be releasing more DVD’s in the future for those of us not fortunate enough to have you broadcast in their area?
MR. LOBO: We have over 25 titles currently available at http://www.thegrindhouse.net and we put out at least one DVD every month. We also retire titles on a regular basis for many reasons–hard to manage more than 25 CINEMA INSOMNIA titles at a time—especially at shows. Right now, we have a 4 hour DOUBLE DISC DANGER PACK of our 2 episode Halloween special featuring ERIC MILLER’s indy cult film MARK OF THE DAMNED. We have a special signed and numbered limited orange cased edition of CINEMA INSOMNIA’s 2002 BOB WILKINS HALLOWEEN SPECIAL that included 3D glasses and giant pumpkin seeds! THE UNDERTAKER AND HIS PALS and LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS are due out later this year. You can also see CINEMA INSOMNIA episodes on http://www.cinemainsomnia.com via livestream 24 hours a day. And if you still cant get enough Mr. Lobo, I also do a weekly CRISWELL PREDICTS! On YouTube to promote my role in DARKSTONE ENTERTAINMENT’s new PLAN 9 movie.
In closing I also want to thank Mr. Lobo’s assistant Dixie Dellamorto for providing the pictures used in this article!
Just a quick update. I want to thank Mr. Lobo for his kind word about our site on his Facebook page. This is what he had to say:
Mr. Lobo would like to begin by thanking the Daves who worked hard putting the website together and for covering Mr. Lobo in not one but two great pieces. Part one is an article from perspective of a skeptical horror host fan who was won over by Mr. Lobo’s non-traditional approach. Part two is an in depth Q&A Between one of the Daves and Mr. Lobo, where Mr. Lobo was able to talk about his Mentor, his inspirations, and his love of horror movies as well as talk about his favorite Host (himself).
He also had this to say:
Mr. Lobo would to thank David Albaugh for putting together a great two part article. Mentioned in the interview: Will Viharo, Jonathan Morken, Karlos Borloff, Gore De Vol, Ghoul A Go-Go and many others.
Back in July of 2008, the Crown Plaza Hotel in Rosemont, Illinois saw the meeting of two legendary horror hosts. Chicago icon, Svengoolie, was joined on stage by national sensation – Elvira the Mistress of the Dark. This was part of the annual Flashback Weekend Convention, an event that Svengoolie had attended faithfully for years, often acting as MC of their popular costume contest. I was unable to attend this convention and, upon discovering that the two hosts had not only met but actually performed together, became literally sick for missing it.
Fortunately, the occasion was captured on film and Svengoolie proudly presented the footage on his own show, weeks later. He humorously introduced it as “the meeting of two horror legends ….and that’s just her!”
Seeing the two together was, for me, a surreal experience. For many Chicagoans, like myself, these were the only horror hosts they’d ever been exposed to. Prior to the convention, there was some fan trepidation regarding which host was better, why is Elvira entering Svengoolie territory, etc. Call it “King Kong vs Godzilla” syndrome, it has become human nature that we automatically assume rivalry when two titans of the same profession enter the same vicinity. Many of us fans were afraid to admit out loud that we loved BOTH of these hosts and that they each brought their own distinct style to the horror host table. Being one of those individuals, I was thrilled to see them take each others hand and share a genuinely warm moment on stage together.
At the end of Svengoolie’s clip, a shot of the two hosts together was shown along with the tag-line, “The new Sonny and Cher?” Funny as it was, it may not be as far fetched as you think…
While the two may not be sharing the same program, nor singing “I Got you Babe” among spiders and cobwebs – they may, it appears, be sharing the same station here in Chicago
The horror world was a buzz this past summer with the announcement that Elvira would be returning to her original role as TV horror hostess via the resurrection of her show “Elvira’s Movie Macabre.” While The Mistress of the Dark has made numerous hosting appearances on direct to VHS and DVD shows, this is the first time Cassandra Peterson has hosted on commercial television since the early 1980′s.
While reviewing messages from the Svengoolie YAHOO Group forum, I noticed a post from Dan Iocoveli which listed the WCIU Fall schedule. While the Saturday 9pm slot was still firmly in the hands of Svengoolie, a scroll down to the 3am slot was listed as “Elvira.” Dan humorously wrote “I am assuming that is Elvira Mistress of the Dark and not the Spanish talk show.”
It seemed too good to be true that the two hosts would actually share the same station, but this was all but confirmed by an article on the “Fangoria” website which stated (in regards to her new show) “You can catch the new season on THIS! Television as well as KDOC in Los Angeles, WCIU in Chicago, WATL/WXIA in Atlanta, WBGN in Pittsburgh and other stations.”
Some Svengoolie fans may worry about the prospect of Elvira’s Movie Macabre” making its way into the Windy City. However, I know first hand after meeting Elvira that she admires Rich Koz and it is obvious that he feels the same for her. Aside from that, us Svengoolie fans are a loyal bunch. God help any station that dumped Sven for another host, not to mention the unfortunate successor.
I can only hope that the revival of Elvira might inspire other stations to bring back commercial hosts to cities less fortunate than Chicago. I am also thrilled at the prospect that the two hosts, working for the same station, may make yet another appearance together only”officially” this time as opposed to impromptu. When and if that moment ever happens, I will be sure NOT to miss it again!
I just got back from the theater after seeing Robert Rodriguez’s MACHETE. I have been a longtime fan of both Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino and loved their GRINDHOUSE double feature (PLANET TERROR and DEATH PROOF). I loved the whole concept of this movie…the double feature, the scratches on the film and the fake trailers. Alot of people complained about GRINDHOUSE (even though they were getting two full-length movies for the price of one)…the thing is these people just didn’t get it. All of these things were done as a tribute to the old days when you could go to run down theaters and see movies that would be shipped from one theater to another, resulting in the scratches and missing scenes. Back then these trailers were oftentimes as fun as the movies themselves (as was the case with GRINDHOUSE). One of the trailers, MACHETE, was actually made into a movie and it did not disappoint.
When I found out this was being made into an actual movie I got really excited and was loving the hype. My one worry though was that it wouldn’t live up to the hype…believe me when I say it did. Robert Rodriguez delivers the goods and in a big way. One thing that he has not forgotten is that movies should be fun and playful at times and this movie is full of fun and playfullness…as well as plenty of nudity and blood! Danny Trejo stars as Machete, a former Federale who has been set up and wrongly accused of an assasination attempt on a senator (Robert DeNiro). The rest of the movie deals with Machete’s fight for survival as well as bringing the bad guys to justice. This movie has just the right blend of action, comedy and blood to make this a winner. Add to that all of the cameos! WOW.
Michelle Rodriguez plays She, the mastermind behind the underground in charge of helping the immigrants get jobs and housing. Just when you don’t think she can get any sexier she does. Whether she is selling tacos or killing people, she looks good doing it! Not to be sold short, Jessica Alba also has a great part as an agent working for immigration who sides with Machete and She (and can kick some ass herself). One of my favorite cameos in many of Robert Rodriguez’s films are his nieces, Electra and Elise Avellan (aka the Crazy Babysitter Twins from PLANET TERROR). These two beautiful women play nurses in this film who for some reason, know how to shoot guns (and once again, look good doing it)!
Other noted cameos include Cheech Marin (from Cheech and Chong) who plays Machete’s brother, Tom Savini (one of the greatest special makeup effects artists of all time) plays an assasin hired to kill Machete, Don Johnson (in the opening credits he is listed as “Introducing Don Johnson”) plays a Texas hick who decides to take the whole Mexicans-sneaking-into-the-US issue into his own hands, Jeff Fahey (who also appeared in PLANET TERROR and was in the original MACHETE trailer) plays the assistant to Robert DeNiro’s senator character who initially “hires” Machete to kill the senator and Lindsey Lohan plays Jeff Fahey’s character’s daughter in a role that seems to mirror her actual life and lastly Steven Seagal, who plays the drug lord who has a personal vendetta against Machete.
Please, if you are going to see this movie, go into it not expecting anything serious. If you want a serious movie then go see THE AMERICAN. If you want a fun, mindless movie then go see MACHETE – you will not be disappointed and we all need to have some mindless fun once in awhile.
To Richard Braden for sending me an an autograph from the one and only, Adrienne Barbeau! The original version of THE FOG is one of my all time favorite films and this will be a welcome addition to my collection!
Mr. Braden attended the “HorrorFind Weekend” convention in Gettysburg, PA this past weekend and promises to share his experiences which includes meeting a host of celebs including George Romero and going out to dinner with Gary Busey. Jake Busey, J. LaRose, Brian Steele, and the cast of THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE. Way to go Richard!
This Labor Day Weekend I decided to pay tribute to a bygone era in our nation’s theater going history – the drive-in double feature! With two films currently playing that I wanted to see, I carefully selected which theaters had both, along with compatible times.
Unable to watch the films from my car, I was brought back to the same “Ultra” screen theater in which I had seen PIRANHA 3D just a few weeks earlier. This was the locale of my first film choice, the newly released MACHETE, in all it’s 2D glory.
I was a HUGE fan of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s 2007 GRINDHOUSE double feature. Two modern films were created to pay homage to the over-the-top, low budget, exploitation films of the late 70′s/early 80′s. I was too young to enjoy this experience first-hand and relied on the wonders of VHS & DVD to watch them at home. Seeing THE GRINDHOUSE in the theater, along with its complimentary faux trailers, ranks as one of the most satisfying movie-going experiences of my life.
PLANET TERROR (Robert Rodriguez) and DEATH PROOF (Quentin Tarantino), while two very different pictures, were both equally effective at paying homage to this sub-genre. Deliberate “scratches” and missing reels added even further to the overall experience.
Unfortunately, not everyone understood nor appreciated this tribute. As I walked out of the theater, grinning from ear to ear, most of the audience seemed irked and disappointed. I also heard the word “stupid” uttered more than once along with the shaking of heads. Clearly, they had missed the entire point. I was disgusted even further when the film did poorly overall at the box office. I don’t make a habit of being emotionally tied to a film’s financial successes nor failures, but I did have a visceral reaction to this one. So much so, I wanted to hop on the evening news and perform a “Live” editorial on how idiotic the American viewing public was.
You can imagine how pleased I was to learn that, despite the negative reception, one of its phony trailers was to be filmed as a legitimate, full-length feature.
I admit, I did have some doubts. For one thing, I was afraid that with the addition of main stream actors like Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, and Lindsey Lohan – the film would lose the very cheap, grindhouse quality that had made its false preview so appealing. I was happy to discover that these fears were unjustified.
I arrived at a noon showing, with the theater about half-filled. The demographic of the audience was predominantly male, with a few women accompanying their mates. Just like the films from which it was born, MACHETE was presented along with the same endearing “scratches” and drive-in touches. Aside from a couple minor cast changes, it stayed VERY true its original trailer containing most of the same scenes and iconic lines. Non stop action and gore highlighted a storyline that actually added more depth than one would expect. This was via the film’s underlying, though not in the least bit subtle, message regarding the divisive issue of illegal immigration.
One of the big questions surrounding this film was whether or not Danny Trejo, previously only seen in supporting roles, could carry his own film. After seeing MACHETE, I believe the answer is YES, provided of course that it is an action film such as this one. The rest of the cast also did quite well playing their respective parts and I was even impressed with the work of Jessica Alba, whom I was never a fan. Michelle Rodriguez, who plays the taco-vending turned revolutionary “She” (an obvious nod to the historical Che’), gave a great performance, often stealing the show from Trejo, himself.
After the film ended, I heard mixed reactions from the audience. Most of the guys (including myself) seemed to love it. The women, on the other hand, seemed less than impressed. I smiled as I listened to one gal rant about how ridiculous the film was to her partner, as he feigned agreement.
Personally, I had no complaints other than the ferocious taste for Mexican food that I had developed during the course of watching this movie. I’m talking real, authentic Mexican food of course, and not that crap you buy at Taco Bell! After visiting the concession for a decidedly non-authentic order of nachos, I purchased my next movie ticket for THE LAST EXORCISM.
It did take a bit of adjustment going from the huge Ultra-screen to one half its size but, after awhile, I stopped noticing. This movie has been out for a couple weeks now and, while it did quite well financially during its opening weekend, attendance dramatically dropped soon after. This has been attributed to the negative “word of mouth” it received from viewers. The press wasn’t kidding; I noticed soon after the movie started that I was sharing the entire theater with a lone, African American man sitting ten rows ahead.
THE LAST EXORCISM uses the same “point of view” film techniques as THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, CLOVERFIELD, and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. Unlike the previous entries, however, this one is a bit easier on the eyes. Since the premise of the film deals with a professional documentary crew , it doesn’t have the same “unsteady” camera work that incites viewers to take their Dramamine. In fact, the documentary crew is apparently so efficient, they even bring along their own soundtrack. Somewhere during the film’s second act, I noticed the addition of a musical score. This, along with the film’s climax, caused a bit of confusion regarding its overall presentation.
I have to say this is not a bad movie on the whole. A charlatan preacher, who has made his living performing phony exorcisms on misguided believers, decides he’s had enough. After reading that a child had been killed during a similar ritual, he recruits a documentary crew to join him as he makes one final “house call.” Unsure what his future will bring, he decides to publicly expose the entire practice of “exorcism,” thereby preventing any more innocents from getting harmed. The actors are credible in their roles and, through most of the film, the viewer is never sure if the girl in question is really possessed or the victim of her troubled father’s abuse. I think if PARANORMAL ACTIVITY hadn’t come out within the last year, this picture would have had more of an impact. Instead it evokes viewer fatigue over this type of film making.
Most of the complaints dealt with the last ten minutes of the film. While most people stated it was over the top, I found it to be predictable and uninspiring. All in all, this movie is worth a rent, especially if its DVD and Blu-Ray release contains an “alternative ending.”
In an effort to gain “audience reaction,” I caught up with the only other person I shared the theater with and asked what his thoughts were. As we entered the main lobby he winced and said, “That movie? That was some bullshit, there!” While I can’t completely agree with that assessment, I did understand where he was coming from.
Upon leaving the theater, I realized that the best modern “grindhouse” double feature would have been MACHETE and PIRANHA 3D. A year from now, when both films are added to my home movie collection, they will no doubt join each other for an afternoon of mindless fun.
With thoughts of MACHETE still in my head, I drove off heading straight to the neighboring town of Chicago Heights. Somewhere, in this predominantly Mexican neighborhood, there was a taco with my name on it.
For a lot of people, when they think of horror hosts, they think of characters such as vampires, ghouls, werewolves or even mistresses of the dark. They don’t think of horror hosts as being someone basically dressed in a suit and being themselves, a fan of monster movies. This actually doesn’t happen very often…in the past we had Bob Wilkins and John Stanley. Today we have Mr. Lobo!
Being a fan of horror hosts I initially just didn’t know what to make of Mr. Lobo. I was used to hosts such as Zomboo, Svengoolie, Elvira, Penny Dreadful and Wolfman Mac. I always felt a horror host should be a ghoulish character of some kind…not some guy in a suit. I will be honest, it took alot for me to put one of his DVD’s in…I just wasn’t feeling it. C’mon – how good could a horror host be whose co-host was a houseplant named Miss Mittens? Thankfully I was wrong! In my blog on Zomboo I mentioned that some hosts are a step above the rest…Mr. Lobo is one of these hosts!
From the moment the opening credits started I loved this show and his catchphrase of “They’re not bad movies – just misunderstood” really hit home. I have been a fan on monster/horror/sci-fi films since I was a kid and I always enjoyed cheesy movies such as INVASION OF THE SAUCER-MEN (1957) as much as the classics, like John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978). Alot of friends and family didn’t understand how I could spend an afternoon watching Godzilla films, loving every minute of it. It was obvious from the start that Mr. Lobo was my kind of guy and that he has the same appreciation for z-grade films as I do.
“Invasion Of The Saucer-Men” (1957)
I love the whole premise of the show. On those sleepless nights what are you going to do? Watch cheesy movies…that’s what! And what better way to do it then with Mr. Lobo who is staying up watching the movie with you?!? He talks to you, the viewer, like he is right there with you, providing insights into the movie, regardless of how ridiculous the movie is. He doesn’t insert himself into the movies and he doesn’t add sound effects but he doesn’t have to…what he does during commercial breaks is all the show needs. Sometimes he provides phony commercials, sometimes he talks about how bad the movie is and sometimes he will do little skits. Then, halfway through the movie, one of my favorite things happens…it’s intermission time!
Intermission time brings me back to the days of the drive-in movie…with commercials for food at the snack bar and coming attractions. This is a really nice touch. At times Mr. Lobo also includes interviews that he has done at various conventions across the United States. All in all Cinema Insomnia is a very entertaining show and highly recommended by this viewer! Unfortunately his nationally syndicated show is not available on my cable system but I do get to enjoy his shows on DVD, thanks to his website (http://cinemainsomnia.com/). So, if you were hesitant in any way to watch this show my advice to you is: don’t be. Mr Lobo is just like us…a fan and a great person to have around late at night.
Please stay tuned for part 2 of this article: 10 Questions With Mr. Lobo!
I have been a collector of Halloween masks and collector’s busts since the early 80′s. When I used to read FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine one of my favorite parts of the magazine were the Captain Company ads in the back, in particular the ads for Don Post Studios and their amazing masks. I was always partial to the Grey Timberwolf but back then my parents wouldn’t buy me a Halloween mask for $42.75.
Once I started working I could afford the masks I always wanted and thankfully I was not disappointed by any of my purchases. At one time, my collection of masks was over 125 but as time went on I started to notice something. The quality of the masks started to go down and the prices started going up. This really disillusioned me to the whole mask collecting thing…it was no longer fun feeling ripped off everytime I bought something. The box that would arrive at my door with my newest treasure ended up looking nothing like the picture in the catalog or on the website! Very often the masks now looked like they were painted by children and the latex pours were so thin that the masks would collapse on themselves, even when properly stuffed. Who knows, since many of these masks are now being outsourced to China, maybe they are painted by children! Thankfully this is all changing now…thanks in part to some new kids on the block, Trick Or Treat Studios!
I first became aware of Trick Or Treat Studios thanks to a posting on The HMA, the Halloween Mask Association. Though I liked the designs my first thought was “Here we go, another company selling less than stellar masks.” I couldn’t of been more wrong. After an article in HorrorHound magazine (issue number23 from May/June 2010) I gave in and decided to take a chance and bought a witch-type character called Sea Hag. This character reminded me alot of the Old Witch from the Tales From The Crypt comicbooks.
One thing that impressed me right away was that after I ordered, Chris Zephro, the owner of Trick Or Treat, e-mailed me and thanked me for the order. We e-mailed back and forth a bit and it made me want to write this blog. First off, let me show you how the Sea Hag is shown on their website:
And here is what I received:
Honestly? You can’t get better than that! The latex is pretty thick and the paintwork is exceptional. I can’t even tell you the last time I was this happy with a mask purchase…these guys really know their stuff and now I have to figure out what else to buy! Once again the excitement is back…the excitement I used to feel when I started collecting 30 something years ago. Nothing beats the smell of latex when you open up a box with a new mask inside, especially when it looks amazing!
Chris was also nice enough to sit down with me to answer some questions about Trick Or Treat Studios (something else that really impressed me). This is what he had to say:
DA: Did you grow up watching monster movies? What were some of your favorites?
CZ: Yes, I loved monster movies. When I was a kid I would watch the monster creature features every Sunday morning. They’d feature all of the classic monster movies from Universal and a ton of low budget monster movies. I also loved the mainstream features. My favorites were Halloween, The Exorcist and JAWS, all of which I saw in the theater and clearly shaped my board line sanity.
DA: Were you a collector of monster masks as a kid? If so what companies did you collect from?
CZ: Yes. I loved the early Don Post masks of the late 70′s. I also loved Topstone and early Distortions Studio masks. All of these masks were the inspiration for starting Trick or Treat Studios, given that nothing out there today gives off that feel. Fortunately, our amazing Art Director, Justin Mabry, shares the same love and passion for these companies, hence the look of our 2010 lineup.
DA: Currently you have pieces sculpted by great artists like Erich Lubatti and Justin Mabry. Any plans on adding other artists in the future?
CZ: For sure. Justin has put together an amazing team of Artist and Designers. We already have a great Devil face mask from Aaron Lewis and in 2011 we will be adding designs from John Wrightson and Neil Kennemore.
DA: One of the major problems with mask collecting these days is quality. More often than not it seems that what you see in the catalogs or on the websites looks 100 times better than the actual piece you receive. How do you plan on maintaining your quality when larger companies couldn’t?
CZ: This is the primary reason I thought that this venture could work. So many companies made the decision to move all of their production to China and abandon quality for cost savings. Well you see the result. In fact, there is a name for the practice you describe, it’s called “Bait and Switch.” This is the practice of taking pictures of your paint masters and putting them in your catalog and bringing those same paint masters to shows and then sending production copies that look horrible to your customers. What these companies fail to understand is that saving a few bucks per mask is a one time savings, the long term damage of destroying your reputation is far more costly. It’s very short sited thinking. It’s unfortunate, some great companies killed their reputation doing this practice and customers are running from them at top speed. It also makes it difficult for Trick or Treat Studios because customers want to start with a small order and see what the masks look like before they decide to move forward with us.
Currently, we have a partnership with the best latex mask company around and I use the term “Partnership” strongly. We are in this with them for the long term and we are partnering on a number of ventures together. The long term commitment and nature of this partnership will insure our commitment to quality.
It’s also worth mentioning that all of the pictures we use on our site and in catalogs and pieces we bring to shows are production copies. I take this very seriously, hence why we missed the biggest Retailer Trade Show this year in Houston, the production pieces weren’t ready and I didn’t want to exhibit with paint masters.
DA: Trick Or Treat Studios has only been in business for a relatively short period of time. How has the feedback been so far?
CZ: Amazing! We have received a ton of reorders and the feedback from end customers has been tremendous. The quality to price ratio is right on target. In fact, a number of customers have told us that we should raise our prices, but I don’t plan on doing that anytime soon.
DA: One of my favorite pieces that you offer is Gruesome sculpted by Justin Mabry and designed by Eric Pigors from his Toxic Toons Collection (www.toxictoons.com). Will you be offering others from this collection?
CZ: That is one of my favorites as well. Justin hit that design right out of the park, in spite of the fact that a number of other mask companies told Eric that his work couldn’t be made into masks due to the complexity. I was really proud of the design Justin came up with, bring Gruesome into the third dimension. But to answer your question, yes, Justin is working on a Toxic Waste Zombie and Aaron is doing a face mask from Toxic Toons. They should be available sometime early 2011.
DA: Do you plan to do Halloween props in the future or will you be a strictly mask-making company.
CZ: Justin love props and this is something we will be expanding into very soon. Look for a Shock and Radio Active Zombie prop to come out sometime next year.
DA: Will your masks be available in stores for the Halloween season (in places like Spirit or any of the large Halloween superstores) or can they only be ordered through your website?
CZ: Our primary target is retailers, local costume stores and distributors like Morris Costumes. We have quite a few retailers as customers now and that will definitely increase in 2011 with our presence at the Halloween Expo 2011. In addition, we are making our masks available on our site at www.trickortreatstudios.com for those end users that can’t get them locally or on their favorite costume website.
DA: Your 2010 line of full head and face only masks is an impressive start. What can we look forward to for the 2011 season?
CZ: About 15 new masks from new Artist and Designers.
So if you have been hesitant to buy from Trick Or Treat Studios, don’t be. They are, in my opinion, a force to be reckoned with in the mask making business. I will definitely be adding more of their pieces to my collection and I am really looking forward to seeing what they come up with for the 2011 season. Great job guys!
QUICK UPDATE: Just to show you how behind this company I am I immediately purchased a 2nd mask from them. I am not a cheap person when it comes to things I like but I am careful (I have been burned too many times by other mask companies). I ended up getting Gruesome and once again it looks fantastic! Check out the pics!!!
Since delving into the world of horror hosting, I have come across many diverse points of view. Debates regarding who is worthy of the title of “horror host,” who’s the better and most original host, or whether or not true hosts even exist in a post local TV world often come up. This is not surprising since hosts and their fans are, above all else, human beings. Despite all these varying opinions, I was surprised to discover that there was one thing just about everyone agreed on -
Horror hostess, Penny Dreadful is the one to watch!
What is it about Penny Dreadful that has earned such strong admiration from her peers? What sets her apart from her public access brothers and sisters that even the few remaining “classic” hosts turn their heads and nod in approval? To find the answer, one has only to meet her alter ego, Danielle Gelehrter.
“Penny Dreadful’s Shilling Shockers” has been entertaining New England horror fans for nearly five years. Prior to this, Ms Gelehrter was a classically trained actress who, ironically, found inspiration to become a television witch while performing as one on-stage. While portraying the mythological “Medea” from Ancient Greek literature, the seeds of Penny Dreadful began to slowly take root backstage. “I joked with the cast during a rehearsal,” says Penny. “The thought of this vengeful sorceress from a Greek tragedy making morbid puns seemed very horror host-like.” Leaving her fellow cast members in stitches, Danielle realized that she was definitely on to something.
Like many of us, Penny grew up a fan of classic horror. Although she did not have the privilege of having a horror host/hostess of her own, she was not without a facilitator. Her own Uncle Valdemar encouraged her love of the genre by feeding his niece a steady diet of “Famous Monsters of Filmland,”classic Universal horror, the film’s of Hammer studios, low-budget/Roger Corman classics, the literary works of Edgar Allen Poe, and television’s “Dark Shadows.”
It would not be until the 1980′s that Gelehrter would witness an actual horror host via 1980′s cable sensation, Commander USA. While she enjoyed this program, finding it “a lot of fun,” she was to discover her true inspiration via a New York cable access program called “Ghoul a Go-go.” The show has been described as “American Bandstand with monsters” and, as Penny states, “Combined elements of horror hosting, kiddie shows, 50′s educational films, and 60′s rock n’ roll.” I have since previewed some of these shows courtesy of my friend Larry Gibbs (a.k.a. horror host underground archivist – Uncle Lar), and the shows are indeed LOTS of fun.
“Ghoul a Go-go” illustrated to Penny just how far an independent, public access show can reach. Realizing that her home state of Massachusetts (famous for it’s Salem witch trials) has never actually had a witch hostess, the decision to assume the mantle was, in her words, a “no brainer.”
One might consider a witch to be a relatively easy character to assume. Not so in the case of Penny Dreadful, who is far from simplistic. In fact, she has one of the richest character mythologies I’ve seen applied to any host.
Penny Dreadful XIII is a 600+ year old witch who retains her youthful beauty courtesy of a supernatural elixir (addressed in more detail during her show’s seventh season). A fan of motion pictures, the ambitious Penny decides that she would make for a wonderful screen legend herself. Not wanting to bother with such mundane tasks such as screen tests or the dreaded casting couch, Penny concocts a spell designed to grant her instant fame. Unfortunately, the spell doesn’t work out as intended and she is transformed, instead, into a horror hostess – destined to show cheesy movies for the rest of her long years.
Thus, “Penny Dreadful’s Shilling Shockers” was born (eliciting no complaints from us mere mortals). Aside from the premise, Gelehrter also carefully selected the names of both her character as well as the show by taking a nod from 19th century literature. During this era, horror stories were often sold in chapter installments for the price of a cent. These stories, referred to as “penny dreadfuls,” were often quite lurid, containing graphic illustrations to accompany it’s gruesome subject matter.
Later on, similar stories were released (containing fewer illustrations) called “shilling shockers.” After choosing the name Penny Dreadful for herself, Gelehrter felt that calling the show “Shilling Shockers” was a logical choice. Making its debut in 2006, it was originally featured on public access channels located in New Bedford, Boston, & Salem Massachusetts as well as Providence, Rhode Island. It has since spread (as Penny describes it) “like a plague” across the United States, currently airing in over 150 cities nationwide!
Many horror hosts are accompanied by supporting cast members and Penny Dreadful is no exception. Joining her on the show is her werewolf companion, Garou (played by her real life husband Magoo Gelehrter). Garou adds humor to the show while also serving to humanize his wicked witch co-star. ”He’s just fantastic with all the facial expressions and physicality,” says Penny. “I thought he’d be great as a sort of funny, growling werewolf sidekick and he just completely took to it and made that persona come to life.” Having met Garou at the Indianapolis Horrorhound Convention, I’d have to concur with Penny. That meeting, along with Penny’s, is covered with greater detail in an earlier post (Horrorhound Part 3).
Other regular cast members (not present at Horrorhound) include Penny’s foil, Dr. Manfred Von Bulow, and her insane friend, Luna. Dr. Von Bulow (played by Ivan Bernier) is described by Penny as “a funny, cranky Van Helsing type.” He is a vampire hunter who reluctantly assists Penny on her many misadventures – despite his aversion to the underworld. It’s always great fun watching Dr. Von Bulow and Penny volley sarcastic jabs at each other during the course of each episode.
The insane Luna is played by real life friend, Rebecca Paiva. Ms Paiva often makes appearances on the show playing various supporting characters when required. My favorite of which was during an episode where she plays Dr. Von Bulow’s mother-turned vampire. Chiding her bachelor son as his ring-less hand thrusts a stake into her heart, her last words are, “When are you going to marry a nice girl?!?!” Most of Ms. Paiva’s work, however, is done behind the camera. A talented cinematographer, she is also the show’s esteemed director and editor.
During the shows early years, episodes featured skits that played throughout each night’s presentation. Penny welcomes her viewers, whom she refers to as her “Dreary ones,” before setting the show’s premise – often designed to compliment the movie. In one of my favorite first season shows, HORROR HOTEL, Penny Dreadful visits downtown Salem, Massachusetts. While enjoying the sites, Penny (a “real” witch) encounters a statue of Elizabeth Montgomery as her iconic character, Samantha, from “Bewitched.” While hilariously trying to contain her disgust, she is suddenly accosted by a disgruntled group of Wiccans. Displeased with her stereotypical (and less “empowering”) image, they bring the Salem witch saga full circle, by having Penny stand trial for her “negative energy.”
Both situations were handled with great comedic flair and showed, early on, the potential of its hostess/comedienne. “I was half expecting Wiccans to get annoyed about my on-screen persona…,” says Penny. “Instead we have quite a number of Wiccan viewers who get a kick out of the show.”
Despite Penny’s growing popularity and demography, she has retained a strong connection to her New England home. This has been particularly fascinating for me (a Midwestern guy) to be introduced to this region’s rich culture and history. Penny accomplishes this by flawlessly blending local history within her own fictional story lines.
During the seventh season, Penny discovers that her aforementioned youth elixir has been stolen. Without her frequent dosage, she quickly begins to revert back to her true age. With time as a factor, Penny realizes that she’s better off trying to recreate the potion first, as opposed to locating the culprit. Needing the blood of a vampire to complete the potion, she heads to real life Rhode Island cemetery, The Baptist Church of Exeter, to locate the remains of Mercy Brown.
Mercy Brown is prominent in New England lore as being a documented case of vampirism (in truth, most likely a victim of tuberculosis, but let’s not ruin the fun). Without the benefit of modern science, Brown’s body was exhumed and remains (no pun intended) one or the few documented cases where an undead ritual was performed in the United States.
For those interested in horror hosts, one of Penny’s finest contributions was her 2007 special which paid tribute to the hosts of New England. I found the show fascinating (having watched it several times) and particularly enjoyed seeing the work of deceased host, Simon (Gary Newton), from “Simon’s Sanctorum.”
Penny Dreadful’s versatility and innovation will be further illustrated in her highly anticipated eighth season. Boldly treading where no horror host/hostess has before,” six of the season’s seven episodes will feature classic silent films such as Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS. Penny hints that, during this season, her character may even make a trip into the future. There is little doubt that as far as this hostess is concerned, it’s destined to be a bright one.
Critics of public access hosts have, no doubt, been struck silent themselves at the genius of Danielle Gelehrter. Through her own brilliance and drive she has created a character that will leave as lasting an impression on New England as the infamous Salem witch trials themselves. Far from a modern day Elvira, her seductive cunning is matched only by the great Vampira herself – whom Penny sites as an influence. Like the great Maila Nurmi, Penny Dreadful is a rare combination of beauty, brains, and savvy that should inspire all of her fellow hosts. She is, to use one of her own terms, simply Hex-cellent!