For those horror host naysayers out there who think that the time honored art is reserved solely for the G-Rated crowd, allow me to give you a fresh perspective. Tucked in the Nevada desert, lurking in the shadows of Las Vegas’ shimmering lights, is a host who could strike fear into the hearts of even the most hardcore horror fan!
Today, of course, is Halloween. As it should happen, our favorite holiday also lands on a Sunday. What a perfect opportunity to step into horror’s chapel and pay a visit to Midnight Massacre Theatre’s Sinister Minister!
Sean Smith, The Sinister Minister, has been hosting movies for the better part of the last decade. An active musician in Vegas’ Rock Metal scene, Smith became “disgusted” with the music business after the demise of his band in 2003. There’s an old adage that states one must “light a candle rather than curse the darkness.” Smith managed to flip conventional wisdom on its ears by choosing instead to embrace the darkness, thereby creating his own inferno.
The demise of Smith’s band afforded him not only a moment of personal reflection, but the opportunity to take his showmanship to a whole new level. An avid fan of horror, it was during a fit of insomnia that he would stumble upon his inspiration. “I was watching TV and happened upon a showing of WHITE ZOMBIE. Unknown to me at the time, I had stumbled into an episode of “Zomboo’s House of Horror Movies,” says Smith. “Instantly delighted, I made the decision to create my own horror show in that little room, lit by the glow of the television set.” While Zomboo had given him the inclination to become a host, he would draw on his experiences in the Metal world in creating his character and developing his show (as we will delve in with much greater detail shortly). As a fan of both Zomboo and The Sinister Minister, I did notice one similarity that I really appreciated.
Just as Zomboo humorously injects himself into his films (adding comedic commentary) so too does The Sinister Minister. In the case of the latter it is through an impressive array of lightning that whisks viewers from the film into the throne room of our kingly host. Sinister’s wit and hilarious comments make for a highly entertaining experience and give even the most common public access film a fresh perspective. He also delivers them with such gusto, it’s all but impossible for the viewer not to get “fired up” themselves.
On Halloween 2003, The Sinister Minister would make his debut! Using a local “haunt” owned by one of his old band managers, his first presentation was the film NIGHTMARE CASTLE. Not having Elvira nor any other local hosts to draw upon from his youth, Smith then went to the delicate task of creating his own sidekicks. Working as a DJ/MC at a Vegas strip club, he had no trouble enlisting the aid of beautiful women, now referred to as “The Altargirls,” to assist him during one of his “Sadistic Sermons.”
The Sinister Minister delighted me by not only presenting movies that appeal to my darker tastes (such as HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, SEVEN DOORS OF DEATH, and DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE) but also in taking time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions.
DAVE: Just as an initial observation, you appear to look a lot like a certain King Diamond. Is it safe in assuming that he was an influence in the creation of your character?
SINISTER: The connection to my “inner Demon” as I call him is pretty obviously linked to my admiration of bands like “Cradle of Filth,” Dimmu Borgir, Satyricon, and the likes. I am a HUGE Black Metal fan…and there’s obviously an influence from the grandfather himself, King Diamond. Have been a die hard King Diamond fan since I was first introduced to “Mercyful Fate” at the age of 15…the first notes out of King’s mouth on the “Melissa” record sent shivers up my spine and I was hooked ever since! Obviously I took the basic characteristics of the evil Black Metal look and put my own personal twists to it and Voila! The Sinister Minister! That has to be the #1 comment I get from people is that I remind them of King Diamond, which to me is certainly a compliment. So, for those of you who thought that…thanks!
DAVE: But you would credit your inspiration in hosting to Zomboo?
SINISTER: Yes, inspired by Zomboo…well, it’s true…I have a lot of family and friends in Reno so I visit there regularly, I had never heard of him though until I happened upon his show late one Saturday night while unable to sleep. I had already been toying with this idea for a short while, I guess it was fate, I dunno…but as soon as I saw that the version of “White Zombie” that I was watching was indeed a Horror Host show, the Flood ,(or Hell) Gates came crashing open and the whole thing flooded like a torrent into my brain…The show name, the character, the premise, the entire thing pretty much just fell together. Kinda painful, really but hey, it was worth it!
DAVE: As Diamond is an avid Satanist, and your show is developed as a sort of “Black Mass,” would you say that you are also a member of that group?
SINISTER: Yes, the image…I am naturally attracted to the darker aspects of life…always have been as far back as I can remember…Halloween was ALWAYS my favorite Holiday. I loved decorating and wearing the costumes, carving the Pumpkins…the TV specials, just everything! So, when the Minister “possessed” me, so to speak…there was really no other way for him to look, or sound…he kind of just took on a life, or (un- life) of his own. I really never pictured him any different. I want him to take people aback a bit…however, he makes up for his ominous look with his humor. It’s a pretty good balance! As far as Religion, now this is a can of worms that is better left unopened. Let’s just say that I am a spiritual person…I do not agree with nor do I adhere to any one organized religion because religion is a man-made monster, the only civilizations that got it right, as far as I’m concerned is the ancient Pagans. I have done some extensive research into the subject of religion and have attained certain certificates in the field of Anthropology, So I have my outlooks and that’s pretty much that…in fact, I am an ordained Pagan Minister…how bout that? gotta love the internet eh?
DAVE: (Laughs) So do Christian groups ever give you any flak?
SINISTER: I get the religious recruiters at my door now n’ then…If I’m in the talkative mood, I’ll answer the door and lay my spiel on them…they usually leave quickly thereafter. Nothing from Christian groups yet…I guess I haven’t reached that level of popularity as of yet…but hey, I’m still hoping!
DAVE: Well, in terms of popularity, your show has come a long way from that Halloween 2003 show.
SINISTER: I didn’t really actively pursue the show until roughly 2 years later, as I was still dabbling in the world of music, I didn’t fully turn my attention to the MMT til’ Halloween of 2005…Since then I have gotten the MMT aired locally (and briefly….as it was) in Vegas on a small analog station called “KVTE Vegas 35″…a low powered UHF station that only reached a certain area of town, they aired the MMT over the weekends for about 2 years til’ they went defunct. I did, however learn a bit of useful information about the business of TV from them, as well as formed the partnership with the other half of “Dead of Night productions”, Justin Miller, who has done all the Camera work and editing on the MMT since its inception. After that, I moved the whole operation from their studio to the now, “secret location” of the Chap-Hell of Horror! Since then I decided to try my luck in other areas of the country that hadn’t yet seen the show. It was in part due to comments, requests and responses on my MySpace pages and my first version of my own website. So, I started contacting cable access stations all over and many of them were very interested and fortunately, everyone in that field that saw the show, really enjoyed it, and there you have it…15 states and over 40 markets.
DAVE: Tell me a bit about your experiences as a musician.
SINISTER: I spent nearly 20 years in the Vegas music scene…whatever there was of it…Vegas has never really had a “Scene” really, it’s always been a pretty small pool of musicians recycling band after band, it’s unfortunate because there are some really cool and very talented people that are from Vegas and honed locally, but being this is a “tourist town” anything of a local nature gets pushed behind the lure of the neon and glitz that Vegas is so known for. I personally am a Bassist of nearly 25 years. I was a member of a number of bands around here…beginning with “King’s Ransom”, “Legacy”, not to mention my longest running and more successful project, “187″ and finally, a short lived project “Blood Runs Cold”. It was during the year or so that I had formed that latter band that “The Midnight Massacre Theatre” was hatched from my dark, cobwebbed mind…It’s needless to say that I was pretty much raised on Metal! In fact, I’ve actually become involved with another project recently. A good friend of mine who is a manager for a haunt company here, “Freakling Bros.” does a really cool thing he calls “Hellvis”, let’s just say his slogan is…”The King ain’t gone…he’s just dead, baby!” So, that’ll be something to watch for!
DAVE: I was impressed when I went to your site and watched a few of your “Sadistic Sermons.” I really liked seeing Lucio Fulci’s HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY. What are your favorite horror films?
SINISTER: Well, obviously Horror films in all their facets, but I am particularly fond of a good psychological Horror film, or any good Vampire, Werewolf or Ghost story. Among my favorite Vampire films will always be the SUBSPECIES series from Full Moon Features. As well as the masterpiece that is Coppola’s DRACULA. Always on the top of my lists. AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON tops my list of Werewolf films…followed by BAD MOON and of course, THE WOLFMAN…original AND the remake. UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS and SKINWALKERS are also on my favs list. AS for the classics, well…ALL the Universal classics, of course…as well as the Hammer series…many great films came from that franchise. I also greatly admire and respect Vincent Price…everything he did was fantastic! If I had to choose one Price film, it would have to be DIARY OF A MADMAN.
DAVE: Just a few days ago you did a “LIVE” horror host show. Since you were a musician, and obviously have no trouble performing in a public venue, do you think this is something you’d like to explore further in the future?
SINISTER: The “Live” show, well this is something I’ve been eagerly wanting to do for at least the last 3 years. This year, it just fell together…”The Black Door” is a relatively new local hot-spot partially owned by Dave Navarro. It has a really cool atmosphere and I already have a couple of friends that work there, so I brought up this idea and they loved it! So, the first “Midnight Massacre Theatre Halloween Hellraiser” happened on Thursday night, Oct 28th at Midnight…The Altargirls and I hosted and showcased this year’s Halloween show. Events like this rarely, if ever happen here, so I’m happy it was successful. I would like to make this a yearly event at the very least, but if there was a demand for more live screenings throughout the year, yes…I would be very interested in doing more of them.
DAVE: So where can potential new fans catch your show?
SINISTER: More recently, The Midnight Massacre Theatre has been picked up by a fast growing, national digital network called ”TUFF TV” Which is a sister station to “RETRO TV” and is included now, twice a week on the TUFF TV programming line up, reaching approximately 22 million homes in the country. We are also lurking about on the World Wide Web (of deceit) and can be found at our official “grave” site, www.themmt.com
So…DO come and worship with our congregation of creeps and Diabolical Disciples at the Chap-Hell of Horror!!! Every Saturday night at Midnight AND Sunday night at 1 am as we haunt the airwaves of TUFF TV!!!
Anyone that knows me knows that I love horror, sci-fi and monster movies and pretty much watch them all year-long. When it comes to October though there are a handful of movies that I feel I must watch to get me in the Halloween spirit. This list is not in any way meant to be a list of my top 13 horror movies of all time but a list of top 13 Halloween movies. These are movies that may not necessarily be scary as hell…some are just charming and fun! Even if these films do not fall into your top 13 list, perhaps there are some titles here you haven’t seen and may be tempted to watch!
13. HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982)
I know a lot of people didn’t like HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, mostly due in part to the fact that it didn’t continue the Michael Myers storyline from parts 1 and 2. Even though the basic story of this movie is totally unbelievable, on the verge of being ridiculous, it is still a fun movie and if you are willing to suspend your disbelief, you will enjoy it! The cast is fun and the special effects are gruesome enough for most gorehounds. I also enjoyed the limited look at the inner workings of Don Post Studios, who actually made the skull, witch and pumpkin masks used in the film.
12. HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS (1988)
I really enjoyed this sequel and this was actually the first HALLOWEEN movie I saw in the theater. I left the theater feeling satisfied that the Michael Myers legacy was continued with respect thanks to good writing and a suspenseful plot. Danielle Harris playing Jamie, Laurie Strode’s daughter, is excellent in this role and you genuinely feel bad for her and the terror she conveys from what is going on around her!
11. CREEPSHOW (1982)
CREEPSHOW rates up there as one of my all-time favorite horror movies and it is perfect for viewing at Halloween. The stories are short, well written and a lot of fun thanks to the top-notch cast featuring Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Leslie Nielson, Fritz Weaver, E.G. Marshall, Ted Danson and even Stephen King. This George Romero/Stephen King collaboration is a collection of horror stories not to be missed!
10. THE HOWLING (1981)
1981 was a great year for werewolves with the release of two of the most popular werewolf movies of all time, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and THE HOWLING. Though I love both films, THE HOWLING to me is just a tad bit better. First off, I am not a fan of werewolves that walk on all fours and though AWIL is a fun movie, I didn’t find it to be as genuinely scary as THE HOWLING. Rob Bottin’s werewolf creations, in my opinion, still have not been topped and this movie is fun because of the great cast, including many cameos! How many can you spot?
9. PUMPKINHEAD (1988)
I remember hearing about PUMPKINHEAD from Fangoria Magazine and being disappointed that it never played in my area. I also remember renting the videotape of it for the first time…eagerly excited at the prospect of a new movie monster. Let me say that this movie did not disappoint in any way! The story is really good and Pumpkinhead himself is one of the best movie monsters ever created! Stan Winston did an amazing job in his directorial debut creating a movie full of atmosphere and terror! You are truly missed Mr. Winston!
8. THE CROW (1994)
THE CROW is another film that I initially found out through Fangoria Magazine and I still remember hearing the news of Brandon Lee dying as a result of being “shot” on the set. I was devastated by this news as I was quickly becoming a Brandon Lee fan and had so far really enjoyed all of his movies. Other stories were circulating about problems on the set so that when it finally did come out, no one knew what to expect. Though this is not a horror or monster movie, it is a movie dealing with the supernatural and it is done tastefully and with respect! The plot takes place during the days leading up to Devil’s Night, the night before Halloween. The story is touching and timeless and the dedication to Brandon and his wife helped to make it perfect. This is a much recommended classic for the Halloween season.
7. JOHN CARPENTER’S THE THING (1982)
John Carpenter was certainly riding a wave of horror movie hits in the late 70′s and early 80′s! It seemed as though everything he did was a hit and this remake is no exception. The isolation of this film…being trapped in a place with no chance of escape…while being hunted by an alien being that can mimic any living thing, sets up a story of pure terror that cannot be missed! Even though this film is almost 30 years old it still holds up really well and Rob Bottin’s effects blow away many things being seen in today’s horror films! Modern film makers should take note: this is how horror movies are supposed to be made!
6. THE THING (FROM ANOTHER WORLD) (1951)
I have always been a fan of the black and white movies from the 50′s portraying alien invasions and this one is my favorite. This film works on so many levels, even though the actual alien is tame by today’s standards. It is still a force to be reckoned with and the director did a beautiful job with this film, creating just enough tension at the right moments to allow this movie to still work 60 years later! I watch this movie at least twice a year and I now make it a Halloween tradition, thanks in part to it being shown on TV while Laurie Strode is babysitting in the 1978 John Carpenter classic HALLOWEEN.
5. THE FOG (1980)
Here is another fine example of John Carpenter at his best. Not only did he create a genuinely creepy movie but he also created one of the best horror movie soundtracks ever made. The whole concept of vengeful spirits in the fog is a simple one but it is beautifully portrayed here with a lot of atmosphere and suspense. The usual John Carpenter regulars are here too…Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Kyes, Tom Atkins and of course Adrienne Barbeau. Other greats include Hal Holbrook, Janet Leigh and John Houseman. For an even better experience watch this classic in the dark!
4. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)
I suppose any one of Romero’s zombie epics would be great for viewing at this time of year but I have singled out the original for inclusion on this list. This movie is a classic and can be viewed by people of all ages (unless your version has the scene showing a woman’s bare breasts). This is the original zombie film and even today, 43 years later, it is a lot of fun to watch. It is stylish, creepy and very realistic at times! The news reports, professionally done, just add to the realism of what these people are experiencing. For me, this is one of the most believable zombie movies ever made, taking nothing away from DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) or DAY OF THE DEAD (1985) and is a must see not only at Halloween, but any time of the year! Of course you could always watch all three entries and have an awesome Halloween night triple feature!
3. THE MIDNIGHT HOUR (1985)
This hard to find TV movie is a must see at Halloween, especially for kids. I remember seeing this when it was originally broadcast on network television in 1985 and I was blown away by it. This fun movie is very well put together with some great monster makeups and an awesome soundtrack! The attractive cast includes Shari Belafonte, LeVar Burton and Deedee Pfeiffer (with cameos by Kevin McCarthy and Dick Van Patten). Why this isn’t shown every year I will never know and the DVD is now out of print making it next to impossible to obtain, unless you want to shell out collectors’ prices (used copies start at $145.00 on Amazon). I am so glad that I bought this when it came out and it has been an annual holiday viewing tradition for me every year!
2. TRICK ‘R TREAT (2007)
To show how good this movie is, it only came out two years ago and it made it to number two! This is the BEST Halloween movie to come out in a very long time and it still amazes me that it never got released in the theater. This is one of those rare gems that stands up to repeated viewings. The movie features multiple stories with different characters all taking place on Halloween night and they are all connected in one way or another. The character of Sam (as seen in the movie poster), though simple in design, is one of the scariest monsters ever created! He is genuinely creepy and absolutely brutal in his attacks. I do not recommend this movie for kids but hell, if you want to torture them with a scary film like this, who am I to judge?!?
1. JOHN CARPENTER’S HALLOWEEN (1978)
What can I say about this classic that hasn’t already been covered? This is by far not only one of the best horror movies ever made but it is also the best movie to watch at Halloween time every year! What John Carpenter has done is create a masterpiece that doesn’t rely on blood and guts to get a reaction (in fact there is very little blood to be seen at all). What he does do is create suspense and tension that puts you in the movie with the characters…you feel their terror and experience their anxiety as if you are in the room with them. Though this movie was imitated many times in later years, no one has ever been able to duplicate what Carpenter has done here!
So there is my list. I am sure there are going to be plenty of you out there who would disagree with me for whatever reason. Just remember, this is my list and it is in no way set in stone that these are the only films you should watch at Halloween time. These are just the movies that I must watch every October during the week leading up to Halloween. Yes I left out many great films…this was not an easy list to compile to be honest…but it is MY list and I stick to it. Thanks for reading and Happy Halloween (cue John Carpenters “Halloween” theme here).
While many horror fans site 1978 HALLOWEEN as their favorite John Carpenter film, I would not be one of them. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE that movie and would quickly name Michael Myers as my all time favorite slasher. The way I see it, however, Carpenter has three masterpieces; HALLOWEEN, THE FOG, and THE THING. If forced to choose a favorite among these gems, I would easily pick THE FOG.
THE FOG is one of a handful of movie greats I can watch over and over again without fatigue. As you may have gathered from past blogs, I am a big fan of “revenge from the grave” tales and, in that regard, THE FOG is the silver screen’s cream of the crop!
It is hard to pinpoint any single facet of the film that makes it so delectable to my horror palate; the gripping story, the creepy atmosphere, or Carpenter’s amazing score. If pressed, however, I would choose the performance of its star – Adrienne Barbeau! Barbeau plays DJ, “Stevie Wayne,” who runs her own radio station via a California, coastal lighthouse. Between Wayne’s sultry voice and WKAB’s electrifying “elevator music,” its no wonder her Antonio Bay listeners aren’t all wafted to sleep along with peaceful smiles on their faces. Barbeau, however, manages to make even the “squarest” music sound downright sexy. Perhaps this is why her complete on-air unraveling during the course of the film manages to create such tension during the film’s thrilling climax.
Barbeau has made numerous appearances at fan events, but I somehow always missed them. “Terror from Beyond the Daves” friend, Richard Braden, met Barbeau a few months ago at a Pennsylvania horror convention and agreed to obtain her autograph for me in exchange for Linda Blair’s, whom I met at Chicago’s Wizard Con. I had two requests; the photo he chose had to be from THE FOG along with my specifications as to what I wanted her to write. Braden delighted me by not only getting her to do this but by also choosing the perfect complimentary picture to go along with it.
Little did I know, I would be meeting her myself at the 2010 “Rock & Shock” show! As David and I stood in line to meet her, I turned to him and said, “Okay, you’re about to see me do something that I don’t normally do when meeting celebrities. I’m about to completely GUSH all over her!” David, knowing how big a fan I am of both Barbeau and THE FOG, laughed out loud. Whether he took me seriously or not, I did just that when finally standing before her.
I told her that of all the stars at “Rock & Shock” she was the one I most wanted to meet. I told her I liked her in absolutely EVERYTHING she’s been in from CREEPSHOW to BACK TO SCHOOL. “My favorite of all,” I said, “is THE FOG! I can’t tell you how much I love this movie!!!” Barbeau smiled and agreed that people have really warmed to the film over the years. Perhaps she was referring to the lukewarm reception it received upon its release. While mentioning that I also liked her in a recent appearance on the hit cable series, “Dexter,” she also informed me that she is currently acting on the television soap opera, “General Hospital.” I don’t watch soaps but, if I did, I’m sure she’d quickly be my favorite on that venue as well.
David is also a huge fan of THE FOG as well as Romero’s CREEPSHOW. He even enjoyed SWAMP THING in which he sites Barbeau as the main reason. Both of us found the 65 year old actress quite stunning and thought she was a genuinely wonderful person to talk to. Barbeau had an impressive collection of stills available for signing from her vast career as an actress. Of course I had to choose yet another picture from THE FOG and asked her to write something appropriate for the scene.
We joked about how horrible we both found the 2005 remake of THE FOG, a film I found comparable to getting raped with my pants on while watching. She said that she had never seen the movie but has heard nothing but terrible things about it. I said, “Do yourself a favor and DON’T!”
Later on we watched her interact with other fans and commented on how nice she was. At one point she spotted a baby and quickly asked its proud parents if she could hold him. I imagined the child grown up, watching THE FOG, as his elderly parents lamented on the day he was held by “Stevie Wayne.” A smile came across my face as I thought to myself…. “Lucky bastard!”
While George Romero and Danny Trejo were “Rock & Shock’s” top draw, the two guests I most wanted to meet were Dee Wallace and Adrienne Barbeau. Both of these women have substantive careers as actresses that span over 30 years with no sign of letting up.
While standing in line to get pictures of David with HALLOWEEN actress, Scout Taylor-Compton, I watched Dee Wallace interact with guests. I was struck by two things; 1) she is much earthier than I thought/heard she would be and 2) the 61 year old actress is aging quite nicely. The guest that had enthralled Taylor-Compton with his boa constrictor also garnered the attention of Doug Bradley, a.k.a. “Pinhead” from the HELLRAISER films. Wallace couldn’t help but notice and left her table to check it out. Both David and I had heard stories that she had a tendency to be distant with her fans as any actress with her impressive resume’ could afford to be. I am happy to say that nothing could be further from the truth.
Whenever I think of Wallace I think of her as either the mom from E.T. or “Karen White” from one of my all time favorite werewolf movies, THE HOWLING. In these, and many of her other roles, she seems to have a fragile quality that makes you easily see why her character blocked out the werewolf transformation witnessed at the beginning of THE HOWLING. I was, therefore, a bit shocked listening to her drop a few “F-Bombs” while interacting with guests. Then again, this was “Rock & Shock,” not “Disney on Ice,” so my notion of what Dee Wallace must be like off screen is probably testament to her abilities while on.
When it was finally our turn to meet Wallace, she was very gracious and enjoyed talking about her films. I told her that it was amazing to me how AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and THE HOWLING both came out the same year (1981) and neither has been matched in regards to showing a full werewolf metamorphosis, even in today’s CGI world. She completely agreed and showed a genuine pride for the iconic film she was a part of – something that makes genre fans like me very happy. This is one area where the Daves are in complete agreement; We’re fans of both werewolf movies but prefer THE HOWLING – mostly because we believe that werewolves should stand vertically!
I told her that the werewolf she turned into at the end was so cute I wanted to put a leash on her and take her home. “Well, you’d have taken home a robot since that werewolf was animatronic,” she quipped. We laughed and then she went on to say, “At the time I took myself a little too seriously as an actress and wouldn’t allow them to do make-up effects like that on me.”
I asked if her if it was that same pride in her craft that caused her to decline a role in THE HOWLING II. She shook her head disgusted and said, “I told them up front, look I don’t do porn!” We had another good laugh and she happily signed our autographs and took photos.
Dee Wallace gets a 10 on the celebrity meeting scale. She’s fun, enjoys interacting with her fans, and has a great sense of humor!
Next Post: Adrienne Barbeau!
The Rob Zombie HALLOWEEN remakes are a divisive subject amongst horror fans. You either love or hate them - with very few in-between. Remaking a classic such as HALLOWEEN was, from the very beginning, a fool’s errand. Therefore, I give Zombie a lot of credit for not so much “remaking” these films as re-imagining them.
Zombie’s veritable “white trash extravaganza” casts aside all of the originals subtle charms, choosing instead to embrace the darker side of horror. Whereas Carpenter’s version contains very little blood and takes a more “old fashioned”approach, Zombie shows virtually no restraint and succumbs to all out violence and gore. This approach created a sort of “generation gap” in the horror world, as older fans shook their heads in disgust while the younger crowd stood up and cheered.
Despite his lack of restraint (or what appears to be his inability to “edit himself”), Zombie manages to delve deeper into the mind of Michael Myers than any of the character’s previous entries. He supplies a much more complex motivation for his behavior as opposed to Carpenter’s simple, yet effective, “he’s just plain evil.”
Humanizing Michael Myers was an interesting approach, and a bold one at that. It directly violates conventional “slasher” wisdom by involving a plot in a sub genre that has no use for one. Vintage slashers flourished based on two key ingredients: idiotic, horny teens and the creative killer who murders them. Though the original HALLOWEEN was a higher standard than many of the numerous films that followed, it still did not allow itself to venture too deeply. Whether Zombie’s addition of this third element along with heavy use of imagery and symbolism was successful depends on who you talk to.
I, like many other fans of the original, was offended when I first saw Zombie’s HALLOWEEN on its opening day. Since then, however, it has grown on me. By the time I had seen its sequel, HALLOWEEN II, my expectations had already been sufficiently altered enough that I ended up rather enjoying it. Many other fans my age (including my co-blogger, David), however, find it almost unwatchable.
Ultimately, the world of horror is large enough to accommodate both of these versions and it is certainly better than a “blow by blow” updated copy. Unlike other embarrassing remakes (such as 1990′s PSYCHO or 2005′s THE FOG) these films have generated enough of a cult following that they will never fall into obscurity and, like it or not, are here to stay. This could very well be proof that Rob Zombie is, in fact, one of horror’s most misunderstood geniuses.
Bridging the gap between the two HALLOWEEN franchises is Danielle Harris. Harris played the young “Jamie” in HALLOWEEN 4 & 5 who, as Laurie Strode’s orphaned daughter, spends much of those films trying to escape the relentless pursuit of Michael Myers.
Although HALLOWEEN 5 ended with the possibility that the child, herself, would carry on her uncle’s murderous rampage – nothing was to become of it. Donald Pleasance (Dr. Loomis in the first, second, fourth, and fifth installments) said in an interview once that if he had has his way, he would have made Danielle’s character “totally evil” and bypassed Michael Myers completely. This is an interesting and much more plausible spin as the survival of Meyers after the events of HALLOWEEN II stretches even the most vivid imagination. It is important to note that Zombie, from the very beginning, had no intention of allowing Meyers to become “immortal” as the sequel-heavy, original films ended up doing.
Zombie wisely cast the now young adult Harris in his films as Annie Loomis, Laurie’s brazen best friend. This decision immediately attracted the interest of fans from the older series.
When I met Danielle she was smiling and seemed very pleasant. I told her that HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS was the first HALLOWEEN I was able to see at the theater and that I enjoyed both of her entries in that series.
David enjoyed meeting Danielle Harris as well and they had a discussion regarding her autograph which, as it turns out, is every bit as legible as your average physician. She laughed and agreed with this assessment jesting that autograph collectors can take comfort in knowing that hers is one scrawl not easily forged.
Then it was time to meet Zombie’s “Laurie Strode” actress, Scout Taylor Compton. I think this is one area where older fans, like myself, REALLY have a hard time connecting to the newer films. Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode was a responsible, polite “girl scout” whose quick thinking and craftiness not only help to keep her alive but also generates sympathy from viewers. That being said, I was ill-prepared for the whiny, pill-popping, neurotic “basket case” Strode portrayed by Taylor-Compton.
There was a short line (that we would later note, remained steady all day) to see Taylor-Compton. While waiting our turn, we immediately noticed that she appeared to be having lots of fun and, at one point, stopped to admire a large reptile brought in by a fan. David found her to be very attractive (much more so than her HALLOWEEN character) and was also impressed by her amazing personality. I admired how engaged she seemed to be with her guests.
When it came time for a picture, she happily posed with David and I decided to see just how cool she really was. I risked upsetting her by asking, “Why don’t you make that whiny face you made all through HALLOWEEN II?” To my shock, she immediately did so without skipping a beat. It was at that very moment that David and I became instant Scout Taylor-Compton fans. If not as an actress, certainly for her sense of humor.
Ms Taylor-Compton gets a “10″ rating on the celebrity meeting scale because she was fun, didn’t take herself too seriously, and was VERY engaged to her fans!…..either that or she is a far better actress than this blog gives her credit for.
NOTE: Also in attendance at “Rock & Shock” was 3rd Zombie Halloween gal, Kristina Klebe. Unfortunately, Ms. Klebe did not show up that day until much later and, at that point, David and I were firmly set in George Romero’s long line (to be covered in a later post).
On Saturday morning we descended upon the DCU Center in Worcester, Massachusetts approximately a half hour before the “Rock & Shock” convention was to begin. While observing the rather interesting looking attendees, the doors soon opened and we anxiously entered the main hall. It took some time for our eyes to adjust to the kaleidoscope of sights before us, so that we could determine which direction we should head. As mentioned during my coverage of Horrorhound, it is always a good idea to pre-plan your convention experience to ensure that you get the very most out of it. David had wisely printed out an itinerary that listed all the celebrities we wanted to meet by order of priority.
The top two celebs attending this event included the “godfather of zombies,” George Romero, as well as MACHETE himself, Danny Trejo. The line forming for Trejo was (at that time) relatively short, so we opted to start with him instead of Romero. In hindsight this may have been an error in judgment but, never the less, in mere minutes we were standing before one of 2010′s most unexpected leading males.
Danny Trejo comes off as ”tough as nails” in his various film roles and his checkered past would certainly reinforce this image. Still uneasy after my initial meeting with Trejo’s MACHETE co-star, Tom Savini, at Horrorhound, I was happy to see Trejo smiling and genuinely looking pleased while meeting with his fans.
Trejo has a long standing career of playing supporting roles in such horror classics as FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, and Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN to name but a few. After the positive response received from his faux trailer MACHETE (shown during the fantastic Tarantino/Rodriguez GRINDHOUSE films), it was time to turn “fake” into “real” and give Trejo’s character a chance at center stage.
Danny Trejo had some of the best Hollywood still photos available for signing and it was really a tough decision in choosing which one we wanted. Ultimately, we opted for a shot of him posing with PLANET TERROR’s “crazy babysitter twins” (Elise and Electra Avellan). “Ah, GOOD choice!” Trejo grinned while applying his signature. David would later send both of our signed pics directly to these real-life sisters in the hope that they will graciously sign them for us, as they’ve done for him in the past (they had better or David owes me 30 bucks!).
Just as we had observed, he was extremely friendly and seemed genuinely appreciative of all the attention being received from his fans. “You can tell that he is really enjoying all this,” David would later say. As he posed for photos, I noticed him look at what was now a HUGE line of people set to meet him and this appeared to make him very happy – and we were happy as well for not having to wait in it!
Trejo was not the only GRINDHOUSE alumni available at “Rock & Shock.” Sitting nearby was New Zealand beauty, Zoe Bell. Ms Bell was featured in Tarantino’s GRINDHOUSE entry, DEATH PROOF. Fans will remember her as the daring stunt gal clinging to the hood of a car as the psychotic “Stuntman Mike” (played brilliantly by Kurt Russell) attempts to murder her along with her pals via his killer, “death proof” to no one but himself, Chevy Nova.
I asked her if she actually did her own stunts and she assured me that, in the six weeks it took to film the famous car chase scene, it was all HER. Of course this makes sense since Bell was not only playing a stunt woman in the movie but had been one in real life for years. Her work includes playing stunt doubles on TV’s “Xena: Warrior Princess” as well as for Uma Thurman’s character in Tarantino’s KILL BILL films (of which I am also a HUGE fan).
I couldn’t help but notice that my co-blogger appeared to be on “Cloud 9″ just standing in her presence (in fact, I believe he STILL is). Always wanting to make my friends happy, I decided to give something a try. As she got ready to pose for a picture with him I said, “Hey Zoe! Why don’t you give us a picture that will help make his girlfriend jealous?” With that she gave David a full embrace and helped create one of the ultimate fan photos EVER. This is a moment David will scarcely forget and I believe it is safe to say he owes me one!
When it came to be my turn for a photo I quickly gave her a heads up. “Look, I’m gay, so you don’t have to do a shot like that with me.” The saucy vixen then gave a wide smile and yelled, “Well…in that case!” She then proceeded to squeeze me so hard I thought my head would pop of my shoulders. She also kicked up her right leg and straddled me with it. Message too horny genre fans; if you want your female horror stars to give you a little extra attention, you may want to tell em’ you’re gay!
Next up: The Rob Zombie gals of HALLOWEEN!
A little over a month ago, I was having an email exchange with my co-blogger and friend, David Albaugh. He was disappointed that his plans for this October’s annual “Rock & Shock” horror convention in Massachusetts had fallen apart. Attending a fan convention alone is never as much fun as sharing the experience with a fellow enthusiast, especially if you’re looking for a reliable photographer to capture those rare moments of you interacting with your favorite celebs. I genuinely felt bad for him because I knew that, while fan conventions are abundant here in my centralized Midwest location of Chicago, this was much less the case in his native Rhode Island.
This disappointing revelation took place around my 40th birthday (another disappointing revelation) and the wheels in my head began to turn. I called my wife to see if, as a birthday gift, she’d help me purchase a plane ticket to Rhode Island. She quickly agreed and David seemed to accept the idea as well, making what was once deemed an unlikely meeting of the “Daves” become a reality.
This, however, could be a mixed blessing. The Internet is a great tool in connecting with people on a superficial level if not necessarily a meaningful one. I make this statement without judgment but, the fact of the matter is, some online relationships are just plain better off staying there! And, in terms of online friendships, this one was a relatively new one at that.
I had just “met” him scarcely a year ago on the Svengoolie YAHOO Group. The moderator of this group (who goes by the name of Blue Cat) accepted an email from a member while stating that this “would be the last of its kind she’d allow.” A man from Rhode Island was requesting that a Chicago fan send him new episodes of Sven to trade with older ones he had managed to collect over the years. I’d been a member of this group for years and had seen dozens of these type of requests pile up in my inbox. I completely understood Blue Cat’s position and had always ignored these types of messages before. For reasons I still can’t say, I decided to write Mr. Albaugh a reply stating that, as long he supplied discs, he was welcome to anything I had and that I would tape new shows for him as well . My act of “charity” ended up being more like hitting the jackpot! We exchanged lists and he ended up having many more shows than I did. Having missed the first seven years of Svengoolie’s return to television, I had just found someone who could actually help me fill in those gaps. He willingly agreed to send and exchange all requested shows for some of mine, along with the promise that I send him all the new ones that aired as well.
In a couple of weeks our email exchanges graduated to Facebook and we soon discovered that, aside from being fans of Svengoolie, we were about the same age and shared other interests as well. This ranged from movies, the love of nature & animals, photography as well as enjoying a lot of the same books and TV shows too. One day during an email exchange between us, my wife needed to use the computer. I had left our last message up and she began to read it. As I walked back to the computer, she smiled and gave me the weirdest look. “What is it?” I asked. “I just read the emails between you and your friend from Rhode Island. Between your names, writing style, and interests, I can’t tell which one is writing who and it looks like you’re having a conversation with yourself!”
Soon we discovered Michigan horror host, Wolfman Mac, and this led to an email exchange between us in January where I wrote – “It’s so neat to see a totally new host from a different state! Wouldn’t it be cool if we could see the work of other hosts from around the country?” David took this request and ran with it. We now have an enormous sampling of hosts who have, and shall continue, to grace this very blog site.
Still, there were some core differences between us that could not be ignored. I am legally married to a woman and a devoted father to our five kids. David is single and does not have children. The biggest and most profound difference, however, was our geography. Rhode Island isn’t just another state, it’s a whole different region of the United States. Perhaps this distance was contributing to our site’s success and I was now in danger of violating it.
As the plane touched down in Providence, I had a nervous feeling that this was going to be a disaster. I did feel a sense of awkwardness when we finally did meet but we soon (as David would later say) “clicked.” We intended to check out the Roger Williams Park Zoo to enjoy their Halloween lights display. Mother nature, however, had other plans. Tropical storms out in the Atlantic created intense winds for the tiny coastal state. I joked that I was used to it having arrived from Chicago but, in truth, it had been a long time since I had experienced gusts of that magnitude. Regardless, this wasn’t an evening to be spent outdoors and we ditched the zoo plans heading to his home instead.
While on the way, David stopped at the Chestnut Hill Cemetery in Exeter to show me the resting place of Mercy Brown. Mercy Brown was believed to be a vampire and represents the first time an undead ritual was performed on American soil. While this was more likely a case of Tuberculosis, coupled with local hysteria, it has inspired many ghoulish tales and remains one of the most prominent urban mythologies from David’s home state of Rhode Island.
It was a horror host that had brought us together as friends and another that helped break the ice. After spending the next few hours laughing at Nevada’s Zomboo it was as if we’d known each other for years. The awkwardness soon evaporated and the stage was set for an amazing weekend.
The next day (Saturday) we drove to Massachusetts to attend the “Rock & Shock” convention. Last March I believed nothing could beat the 2010 Indianapolis Horrorhound Convention and those who read my earlier blogs depicting the event can easily see why. As you will read in coming posts, however, “Rock & Shock” came pretty damn close! Amazing celebrity meetings along with a chance to, once again, commune with the great hostess – Penny Dreadful (featured in an earlier Horror Host Spotlight) has me already marking my 2011 calender to return next year.
On Sunday we would venture into the town of Salem, Massachusetts and enjoy the best this historical town had to offer. The number one attraction (and highlight of the day) was seeing “Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery” and meeting David’s close friend, James (Jamie) Lurgio. This absolutely phenomenal place was covered by David in an earlier blog though, with all due respect, words can’t really do it justice. Any fan of monsters NEEDS to go there, end of story!
While visiting the Nightmare Gallery, I had a chance to chat with Mr. Lurgio himself who said this of his friend; “David was my mentor and my inspiration for going on to do this. His annual Halloween yard displays were legendary and we had great times working on it together all those years ago. I always site David as my inspiration.”
I understood exactly what James was saying. I had envisioned doing a horror based website for years but never seemed to be able to get the ball actually rolling until sharing my vision with a like-minded individual who readily agreed to join forces.
If there’s one thing I learned from “Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery” and “Terror from Beyond the Daves,” its that hanging around with the best people ultimately brings out the best in YOU. And David Albaugh is definitely one of the absolute BEST.
Next up…..”Rock & Shock”
“Back in the day,” classic horror hosts not only thrived on commercial television but also retained a powerful connection to their local communities. Whether attending a parade, shaking hands at a mall, or giving a birthday message “shout out” on their programs – these men & women endeared themselves to viewers in ways national celebrities could not.
Often their popularity and legacy was never fully realized until many years later when their younger fans would “grow up” and associate them with carefree times, now lost to the stressful adult world they live in today. Filled with nostalgia, these fans develop a strong devotion towards their host that can almost be considered “religious” in nature.
As a Chicago man, I understand this phenomena quite well. We middle-aged fans in the “Windy City” are fortunate to have the same host from our youth (Rich Koz/Svengoolie) still churning out weekly presentations on local, commercial television today. This is an extremely rare situation when looked at from a national perspective and has also created an interesting mindset amongst Chicago viewers.
Frustrating to many “outsiders,” Chicagoans have been living in a proverbial horror host “box.” Svengoolie’s longevity, coupled with our nostalgic devotion, have caused us to become “Svengoolie-centric.” This condition is characterized by not only living under the false belief that Svengoolie is the only horror host, but that he is the inventor of many time-honored horror host traditions such as “Svensurround” (injecting comments and sound effects into the films being presented), the “man at the door” shtick (made famous by Soupy Sales) and commercial/song parodies.
Mentioning to my Svengoolie brothers and sisters that other hosts exist is guaranteed to be met with a mixture of disbelief and scorn, especially if you dare mention that you have come to appreciate their work as well. A local fan, such as myself, who dares to broaden his horizons can quickly be viewed as a modern day Benedict Arnold if not careful. Even the national “Mistress of the Dark,” Elvira, was far from achieving a hero’s welcome when her new “Movie Macabre” debuted a few weeks ago. So far as many Chicago genre fans are concerned, she can place that low-cut, black dress back into mothballs and keep it there. This is despite the fact that she not only shares the same channel as Svengoolie (at a much inferior time slot), but is also able to claim Rich Koz as one of her fans.
This “invisible fence” has successfully kept many ambitious commercial hosts from achieving syndication in Chicago’s powerful media market. It is important to note that this shield is composed of “fans” and not Svengoolie himself. Our patron host, for his part, has never said anything negative about his fellow hosts. In his unique position, however, he really doesn’t have to. So powerful is the fervor of his fan base that I believe it will retain its hold for many years after Svengoolie is (God forbid) no longer on the air. It may be a long time before any new host is accepted, no matter how talented he or she is, unless Svengoolie were to crown them himself. Even in that unlikely event, this would still be far from a guarantee.
But what of the public access hosts who dwell within this barrier? How do you attempt to build your own flock amidst the presence of an active “god” and his fanatical followers who view you as a hapless “wannabe” and interloper? On the Northern edge of Svengoolie’s vast empire, lies the quaint town of Kenosha, Wisconsin. Here you can find another host, whom locals know as Dr. Destruction (Dale Wamboldt). This public access host caught my attention shortly before the Horrorhound convention last March and, upon viewing some of his work, completely fascinates me.
I can only describe his show as a sort of macabre version of the “Tonight Show,” featuring a horror host in place of a regular one. Dr Destruction sits at his desk while having an open, unscripted conversation with his guests. These individuals range from other hosts, a colorful ”sidekick,” or local personalities which may include (but are not limited to) politicians, artisans, Kenosha union workers, or even a Chicago dominatrix. He discusses a myriad of topics but his favorites deal with current events and local politics. Not being employed by a television station gives him the freedom to discuss virtually anything he wants, and Dr Destruction is a highly dogmatic individual.
I drove up to Kenosha to commune with him at the Jerry Smith Pumpkin Farm this past Saturday. It’s about 90 minutes from where I live and I made record time. This fall festival features camel/pony/hayrides, home grown pumpkins, apple cider, and face-painting.
For older fans looking to explore the more sinister side of Halloween, there is Dr. Destruction’s Haunted Forest. This attraction has been part of the festival since 1992 – eight years before Dale would begin work as a host. It’s structure was created by Destruction himself and features many classic monsters of whom he is a fan.
Tickets were to be purchased directly from Dr Destruction (in costume) who sat at the entrance, inside a replica of the old gypsy wagon from THE WOLF MAN. This was also a creation of the Wisconsin host and, as a big fan of the Universal classic, I found it utterly fantastic!
Destruction greeted me before inviting me to go through his attraction. Lots of twists and turns through a corn maze led me to encounter some of the denizens of his haunted woods. Some lucky Kenosha teens have an opportunity to make extra cash by dressing in their own costumes to haunt the visitors. Dale refers to them as his “spooks” and allows everyone an opportunity to make a contribution without being micro-managed. It’s a delicate business dealing with teenagers, but Destruction is careful to treat them like adults, while not allowing them to forget that he is always the boss.
Afterwards, he invited me into the wagon to chat. I was expecting to stay and socialize for about hour, but it would be another four hours before I’d leave. I found the experience to be highly informative, if not surreal. Dr. Destruction’s quick wit, coupled with his unerring ability to “tell it like it is,” played like a “Live” horror host presentation, with me as his only audience and the visitors his unwitting cast.
While most of us genre fans savor and enjoy the Halloween season, Dr Destruction is hard at work at the farm, though still filming his “Crimson Theater” shows every Friday morning. “In many ways I am like a farmer,” said Dale. “I work hard all year round and don’t see the pay-off until harvest time (Halloween season).” When it comes to hard work, Dr Destruction is, hands down, one of the most productive hosts operating today. According to Dale, in the nine years he has been hosting films, almost EVERY week has been a new episode with the word “re-run” scarcely in his vocabulary.
Raised by a blue collar/union worker, Dr. Destruction not only exhibits the spirit of his father’s legacy through his own work ethic but by routinely paying homage to local Kenosha workers (devastated by the exportation of jobs during the current economic crisis) themselves. His show has featured some of these men, many recently unemployed, treating them like celebrities – allowing them a public forum to vent their frustrations while also providing much needed encouragement.
In between customers, Dr. Destruction took the time to chat with me, despite having to manage the ”spooks,” coaxing leery customers into the attraction, and attending to his own personal matters via text messages. It was chaotic, but multitasking is one thing Destruction appears to do quite well and, might I add, humorously.
Despite the laughs, there are issues plaguing the mind of Destruction this day. The local paper, which has for the last several years featured him on the cover of their weekend “Get Out” entertainment section, has decided that, in the spirit of sensationalism, they would pit him against another costumed personality who runs a local haunted attraction named “The Mayor.”
The unusual photo blends the two mens faces together so that they are literally sharing the middle eye ball. Making matters worse, the paper listed a non-existent rivalry by stating “The Mayor vs Dr Destruction.” This was a slap in the face to a man who has a devout love of classic monsters. “Everyone knows that whenever there is a title that shows ’versus” the first one listed is always the one who wins!” says Destruction.
While the paper may have inadvertently declared a “winner,” his public would no doubt disagree. Destruction’s presence in Kenosha is not reserved for Halloween and he has actively plugged local activities on his show while also overseeing many of his own. A student of art, he has worked at art fairs (most recently the “Summer of Lovecraft” featured on this blog), created some of his own amazing paintings, organized a Godzilla festival at a local Dinosaur Museum, mesmerized guests with his “Haunted Bus” attraction, while tirelessly performing with his punk band, “The Dead Leathers.”
It is hard to fathom anyone so creative having the moniker “Destruction” but Dale suggests that the name, held by him since 1980, may be indicative of his own “Jekyll & Hyde” personality. While casting the paper aside he says, “These people don’t understand that there is another side to me and it will come out.”
Ultimately it is the mind of Destruction that would temper any impending violence. Summoning his old friend, and fan of horror hosts, Ari Lehman to provide some star-powered support in lieu of the newspaper’s apparent betrayal. Dr. Destruction is not merely a man in a costume, he is exactly the same person on camera as off. He has built strong ties in the horror/music world and Lehman exemplifies the marriage of both. The actor/musician is most famous for playing the young Jason Vorhees from the original FRIDAY THE 13th. He will forever be remembered by horror fans as the young boy leaping out of the water during the film’s dramatic conclusion. This weekend, Ari Lehman will perform with his band (known as “First Jason”) at the pumpkin farm to celebrate the haunted forest – and Destruction himself.
The ironic part of this situation is that Destruction very nearly became an ACTUAL mayor, having thrown his top hat into Kenosha politics a few years back. For those who find the idea of a horror host becoming mayor far-fetched, I’d like to turn their attention to the town of Chatfield, Ohio run by a certain David Lady. Mr.Lady is not only the town’s mayor but also a horror host, accomplished mask maker, and proprietor of a Haunted Hotel once featured on HGTV.
Dale suggests that he may run again someday, hoping that this time the locals will have become more accustomed with the notion. It is important to note that, despite his political ambitions, he never once violated his public access forum by discussing it on his own show. This could have been no easy feat for a man as outspoken as Dr. Destruction.
Despite his various projects, Destruction asserts that he is more committed than ever to his show. He has expanded his viewership to Milwaukee and, during a recent visit, was inundated by fans he scarcely knew he had. For a man routinely mistaken for Svengoolie, perhaps his future lies here. He is close enough to be considered a local, yet far enough away to no longer be eclipsed under the shadow of a Chicago icon. I have no doubt that a community once home to classic hosts such as Touloose NoNeck and Dr. Cadaverino would be hungry for a new host of their own and can’t think of a better candidate than Dr. Destruction.
As the evening came to a close (a prosperous night for the Haunted Forest in lieu of the beautiful weather) the mood became somber. Destruction leans back, stares out into the now empty festival grounds and laments his own future. “I wonder sometimes where this will all lead. Like 20 years after I’m gone, what will people say about me? Will they even remember who I was?”
Not long before, a young boy seeking admittance to the Haunted Forest pointed to Dr Destruction, beamed a huge smile and said, “You’re that guy on TV!” Unbeknownst to Dr. Destruction, the child may very well have already answered his question.
I have always been a fan of not only monsters but of Halloween. It was only natural for me that in 1985 I combined both loves into a small yard haunt. Each year the display got larger and it eventually got to a point where I had more than 30 people volunteering their time to make sure my haunted yard (known as FRIGHT NIGHT since it was only open on Halloween night) went off without a hitch. It was at this time, in 1989, that I met James Lurgio, another resident of Jamestown, Rhode Island. Unbeknownst to me he was also a fan of monsters and Halloween and after one of my shows he called me and I invited him over to see my collection of masks, props and costumes. We have been friends ever since.
As our friendship grew so did our respective collections. James even started helping me with my annual haunt and oftentimes, when I no longer needed a mask or prop, I would give it to James for his collection. Before I knew it he was doing his own yard haunt and then that developed into a haunted house at the local recreation center. Back in those days, Jamestown (an island that is 9 miles long by 1 mile wide) was very lucky…it had two amazing Halloween traditions to visit each October. I eventually retired from home haunting (though in recent years I have started putting together a small yard display for unsuspecting trick-or-treaters) but James kept going with his love. He eventually moved his haunt to Belcourt Castle, an actual haunted mansion in Newport, Rhode Island (this was featured on the SyFy Channel’s GHOST HUNTERS show) and then he worked with Spooky World in Massachusetts before taking the show on the road to Salem.
Salem, MA, well known for its Halloween tourist season thanks to the infamous witch trials of 1692, is now home to COUNT ORLOK’S NIGHTMARE GALLERY. If you are a fan of horror cinema then this is the place for you! NIGHTMARE GALLERY opened in 2007 and it is Salem’s only monster museum, showcasing over 50 life-sized recreations of the horror genre’s most memorable characters. For most of the year COUNT ORLOK’S NIGHTMARE GALLERY, located at 285 Derby Street, is a walk-thru monster museum but in October, the museum comes to life with startling surprises around every turn and this year, actors William Forsythe and Tony Moran (the original Michael Myers) will be onhand signing autographs (see website for dates and times)! This labor of love really needs to be seen to be believed!
Being a Rhode Island native, I was always discouraged by the 2+ hour drive to Salem to visit the museum but I did do it just recently and I was not disappointed! When I entered the waiting area I was immediately impressed with not only the figures on display but with the elaborate “stonework” that James created. James then took me on a tour through the museum. I do not want to give too much away but the whole set up was amazing, and it brought back so many memories of some of my favorite monster movies, past and present. I give James credit…this is definitely a labor of love. James, like me, lives in Rhode Island and has to make not only the long drive to the museum every day but then he does it again at the end of the day on his ride home, often experiencing Boston rush hour traffic. His efforts show through though with a totally professional and fun monster exhibit.
In between driving back and forth, creating new exhibits in his museum and talking with visitors, James took the time to answer some questions for us.
ME: Were you always interested in monsters growing up?
JAMES: Yes, I always loved monsters and mysterious creatures. As a kid I would get hand me down books having to do with monsters and every Halloween I would go to the stores that had monster masks and beg my mom for a cool monster mask.
ME: What were some of your favorite monsters?
JAMES: I always loved Dracula and Frankenstein and the Hunchback. I had a great cape when I was a kid and I would dress in it whenever possible. I had a green shirt too that I would stuff a rolled up bath towel in the back to simulate a hump and run around the house with half of my face drooped and dragging one leg. That’s normal, right?
ME: Over the years you have amassed quite the collection of masks and busts. How did you get started in this hobby?
JAMES: Ahh, well interesting YOU should ask me this question as I used to collect drug store masks and every now and then there was a cool place in the mall that might have better stuff. My world would always stop there though. There was never anything better than that. That is, until one day. Some time in the late 80′s my friends and I diverted from the normal trick or treating route and introduced me to a neighborhood haunted house. There was a HUGE crowd and I got in line. This tour had a HUGE impact on me. I had never seen this kind of quality before. The monsters looked REAL and the displays were creative and over the top! This was like nothing I’d ever seen before. I decided to call this person sometime after Halloween. I did and his name was David. All I had to do was ask for a tour and next thing you know I was in his house. My older brother came with me to make sure he wasn’t a weirdo and he was! But in a good way! He loved MONSTERS! His room was FILLED with them and then he took us to a room upstairs and that room was filled too! I knew from the moment I saw this collection, I wanted to make this my reality. David was everything you wanted in a Monster Mentor, He gave me some catalogs that day and I started my collecting by saving up my allowance and buying specific monster head treasures when I could. He would take me to a really cool monster shop called the Flaming Cauldron Troll Shop which turned out to be the best place to make the pilgrimage to and hang out throughout my teen years. The collecting continued and I started to do my own local haunted house. Naturally I needed new stuff from year to year so I collected what I could.
ME: What was your family’s and friends’ reactions to this hobby?
JAMES: Reactions? My parents have always been supportive of whatever I wanted to do. I am lucky there. My mother once drew the line at a prop severed head. She said it was too gory. A few years later I had 8 severed head props. Then they drew the line at a real coffin. They said “No More Coffins”. I eventually collected 13. They supported me by helping me in any way with the haunted houses. When I think of all the little chores my parents have done for me over the years….Wow.
ME: Did you always know that your love of monsters would one day lead you to having your very own monster museum?
JAMES: Did I know about the museum the whole time? Kinda. I had this in me somewhere. I knew I wanted to do SOMETHING but I didn’t know what. I suppose a big influence on me was seeing Forrest Ackerman’s legendary collection on TV one night in 1990 during a special called the Horror Hall of Fame. I had a new goal and it was to have a place where people can see this stuff all the time. Maybe even year round. It would be many years and many tries until that would happen though.
ME: Before opening the museum you did annual displays each Halloween showcasing your collection, including one at an actual haunted mansion in Newport called Belcourt Castle. What can you tell us about these experiences?
JAMES: Nightmare Gallery at Belcourt Castle was some of the best haunt years ever. I still can’t believe the Tinny’s let me do this in their home. The owners and I had an agreement which lasted 1999-2001. The owner, Donald Tinny loved this. He had a wonderfully morbid mind and we would walk through the displays together as they were being created. He would tell me of times when he would decorate for Halloween with his own hand made coffins and set up ghoulish scenes. We got to be good friends and the haunted houses became a welcome part of October for the owners and staff. I left Belcourt after 3 seasons because of the new manager. So did the rest of the staff. He was crazy. It was sad but better opportunities were to come eventually after a long 3 season dry spell.
ME: What made you decide to break away from a haunted house-type display to go to an actual museum?
JAMES: Well, NOW I have the best of both worlds. I did eventually break from the haunted house to do a museum for “Hallowscream Park” which eventually became the 3rd incarnation of Spooky World. I did this for 3 seasons. I carted the collection to Boston. I got used to the idea of doing a museum. I didn’t have to worry about giving anyone breaks or anything. It was just me and a couple of employees watching people making sure they behave in the museum.
ME: Why did you choose Salem?
JAMES: Why Salem? A friend of mine owned Spooky World at the time had a place in Salem and encouraged me to visit. Maybe get inspired to get a place of my own. Well that was during the summer of 2007 and I was INSPIRED! My friend talked me through the actual process and that’s all I needed to get me going. I spoke with my parents about it and they were on board in very little time. We figured we’d try it there. Worst case scenario, we’d close if we couldn’t make it work.
ME: Salem has had a long tourist history thanks to the witch trials of 1692. How has the tourist reaction been to a monster museum?
JAMES: Reaction has been VERY GOOD!. You can only tell the story of 1692 so many times before it gets old and un-compelling. My museum proves a welcome distraction from the many witch themed attractions in Salem. We’re so different and welcome we’ve become ranked the #1 attraction on tripadvisor!
ME: What are some of your favorite monster movies, past and present?
JAMES: My favorite monster movies are varied. I love the classics. Pretty much anything with Vincent Price. I like modern movies too. Love the Underworld movies. I kinda feature all my favorite monsters in the museum.
ME: Do you have anything exciting planned for the month of October, the height of the Salem tourist season?
JAMES: Yes, Salem is wonderful in October. We transform into a haunted house on the busiest weekends after 3pm in October and we also have some amazing celebrity appearances we’re planning on too. Check our website for updates! www.nightmaregallery.com
ME: How often do you add new displays to the museum?
JAMES: Yes, we add an average of about 6 new monsters per year-new AND old ones. It’s dependent on our budget for that year and what’s available by certain artists.
ME: Is there a character that you really want to have in the museum that you haven’t been able to get?
JAMES: UGH! Yes, I hate thinking about the characters we DON’T have though. But yes, there are so many characters I’ve wanted to add. but haven’t for some reason or another. We have a list of targeted characters every year. If they come up, great. If not we find another avenue to get them. Recently we hired a house artist who is sculpting and finishing some great characters for us! COME SEE!
ME: Is there anything else you would like to share?
JAMES: Yes, I’m there almost every day. Most people don’t know that they meet the owner when they come in because they’re used to meeting misc. employees at the other attractions. We get a variety of visitors from the folks who have NO idea what the place is to the die hard horror fans who’ve heard about this place through their friends. Nothing makes me happier than seeing people enjoying my collection the way I do. We also are the only attraction that isn’t content with the place the way it is. There are so many attractions in Salem that were built years ago and haven’t been touched since. This is more a passion than anything else and people sense that when they come in. Even as we speak, I’m in the lobby readying some architectural details for the interior. We do this all year. A monster museum owner’s work is NEVER DONE!
As Mac attended to his grateful fans, he would occasionally stop what he was doing to make announcements. This not only fired up the guests but also made it abundantly clear who ”The Chiller Drive-In’s” top dog really was.
Throughout the course of the evening, I was fortunate to inspire two Wolfman Mac “shout-outs.” When we first met up with Mac he thanked us for making the journey and asked how long we had been on the road. After I told him he grabbed the megaphone and yelled, “Listen up wolf pack! Our friend Dave here drove up all the way from Chicago! Four and half hours to see us!!!” My face turned scarlet as the onlookers cheered.
The girls were elated to finally meet their favorite celebrity. While posing next to Boney Bob, I asked Mac if he wouldn’t mind doing his Boney Bob voice for them. He happily obliged and it wasn’t until about a half hour later I realized my error. The girl’s looked at me confused and said, “Wolfman Mac is Boney Bob?” (Doh!) “Uh…yeah,” I quickly backpedaled, “But only when the real one isn’t around.”
Mac was great with the kids and, after posing for a few pictures, became very serious. He grabbed a small book that was sitting amongst his myriad of artifacts and said, “I want to share something with you that I don’t normally let folks see. This is my personal scrapbook.” After he began flipping through the pages, the gathering group began laughing. From his “baby” photos and on through college, normal photos were enhanced with the addition of the cut-out visage of a noticeably “adult” Wolfman Mac.
Prior to getting our turn at meeting Mac a second time, a fan had him sign a copy of the latest issue of “Scary Monsters Magazine.” After he turned to me I informed him that I had been given confirmation from the magazine’s editor, Dennis Druktenis, that the story and interview I had done on Mac over the summer was to be published in the next issue – January 2011. He immediately grabbed the megaphone and gave another “shout out” alerting fans to this fact.
I soon felt a tap on the back of my shoulder and, after turning around, was face to face with one of the show’s supporting cast members, Morbid Melvin. “I know who you are!” he said. I happily took photos with one of my favorite characters on the show.
Later, the girls and I sat back in a booth located in the “The Chiller Drive-in” concession set, enjoying some of the tasty treats put out for the guests. Mac had left the projector room but soon returned along with another, rather interesting, cast member. In walked a hulking creature that was, literally, spewing smoke from his maw. The character was “Oscar the Ogre” and, I didn’t know it at the time, was being maneuvered by its creator – a certain Dave Ivey.
Dave Ivey has actually played multiple roles on the show, both on camera and off. Aside from Oscar the Ogre, he also plays one of the most hilarious characters ever to grace any show, “The Milkman.” This would-be super villain threatened Boney Bob during Mac’s presentation of EVIL BRAIN FROM OUTER SPACE. While Boney Bob laments about becoming a super hero, he is accosted by The Milkman and his band of thugs. “Get him boys!” hisses The Milkman, “let’s show him just how intolerant lactose can be!”
The true talents of Mr. Ivey, however, lie with his ability at making unique and amazing props. Many of the foam sculpts and puppets created for “The Chiller Drive-In”, as well as the impressive demon sculpture highlighting the entrance to Erebus itself, were created by Dave Ivey.
I had actually seen Mr. Ivey before at the Horrorhound Convention last March. On that occasion, however, he was wearing another of his other creations – the mad scientist from television’s “Robot Chicken.” Mr. Ivey used to work with the legendary Ohio horror host, The Ghoul (Ron Sweed), who as mentioned in a previous entry enjoyed success on Michigan airwaves as well. Ivey has kept The Ghoul’s spirit alive at “The Chiller Drive-in” by creating the “Son of Froggy” suit worn by cast member Mike Murphy. For those unaware of the connection, The Ghoul was famous for tormenting a rubber frog on his show (along with routinely blowing up model kits) leading to his own costumed mascot, Froggy (played by Dave Ivey).
Mr. Ivey has worked alongside Bruce Campbell as well as Ted & Sam Raimi. Vicki Vanderkolk told me that at the Horrorhound Convention, mask making icon, Don Post Jr, referred to Ivey as a “Fucking Genius.” I really hope that I can formally meet Mr. Ivey (hopefully as The Milkman”) and shake his hand. He has truly added a lot to the success of “Wolfman Mac’s Chiller Drive in.”
As we walked back to our car, ready to embark on the long drive home, my eldest daughter (who detests car rides even for short distances) exclaimed, “That was SO worth it!” She was right, too. While I had already been a fan of the show I walked away with a whole new respect for it after attending this Open House. I later wrote Vicki and thanked her for her assistance in arriving and for the work she, as well as her fellow team members, do. “The Chiller Drive-In” is interwoven with so much local history and respect from its creative team its future success is all but assured. Proof of this was revealed in one of Mac’s final megaphone shout outs. “Three years ago I was filming in my basement,” said Mac. “Now we’re seen nationwide and next year will be going International.”
Our modest host wasn’t making this announcement to brag. Rather, he was using it as an opportunity to thank the devoted fans who have supported his work these last few years. This night dedicated for his beloved “wolf pack” and, by opening his home and going out his way to make us all feel so welcome, Mac showed that he wasn’t just a good horror host, but a phenomenal host in its classic definition as well.