G-FEST (Godzilla Festival) is the quintessential celebration of Godzilla and all his fellow Kaiju (Japanese Monsters). I’ve been a fan of Godzilla and Gamera ever since I was a kid. Growing up in the 1970′s, it was via shows like Creature Features or The Son of Svengoolie to bring those movies to me. People who did not grow up with a horror host usually have a hard time understanding why some of us adult fans get so weepy with adulation at the mere mention of our childhood ghoul. Well, when you’re a “monster kid,” surrounded by more “normal” kids who want to play baseball or watch The Dukes of Hazard, the person faithfully delivering your favorite films becomes more than just a TV star, he becomes your idol…one of Godzilla proportions. In my case it also helped that I found my host’s corny humor hilarious and his less than stellar singing voice pitch perfect.
The other day I was at work perusing Facebook during my, ahem, lunch break when a post written on Svengoolie’s wall caught my attention. The negative comment was regarding Sven showing non horror related shows like tonight’s DUCK SOUP as well as suggesting that he change the name of his program to “The Abbott & Costello Show.” Apparently the writer, who felt the need to publicly chide Sven as opposed to sending him a direct complaint (which he would have responded to), had a TV black-out the previous weeks when he aired HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, and THE DEADLY MANTIS.
Dave F: Over a decade before the Svengoolies would become synonymous with Chicago horror hosting, the Windy City’s very first host was a “near-sighted madman” named Marvin! Former Ventriloquist, Terry Bennett, was working for Chicago channel, WBKB, in 1957 when the station received the infamous “Shock Theatre Package” of films. It was Terry, himself, who created the character of “Marvin” and urged television management to allow him to present these films to a Chicago audience.
TERROR FROM BEYOND THE DAVES is pleased to have the recollections of two other notable fans of Marvin who both agreed to share their memories. One is Dick Dyszel, who appears frequently in this blog as his alter ego, horror host Count Gore de Vol. The other is film maker, historian, dinosaur enthusiast, and publisher – Don Glut. After reading Mr. Glut’s memories of Marvin in Scary Monsters Magazine #40, I sought out his assistance in this tribute. He delighted me by not only agreeing to share his memories but some of the great pictures in his collection as well!
DICK DYSZEL (Count Gore de Vol): It was a dark and stormy night in 1957…or at least dark, because it was night…a Saturday night. My parents were asleep as I quietly crept out of my room making my way to the 21 inch Admiral TV in the living room. Turing it on, as quietly as possible, I grabbed a towel to wrap around the tuning knob. Ever so carefully I turned it trying to minimize the “Ka-thunk” made by the mechanical tuner as it went past each channel. Finally it came to rest on Channel 7, WBKB and there in bright and shiny black white was my weekly dose of classic horror on “Shock Theater,” hosted by the most unlikely of hosts….MARVIN; the Near-sighted Madman!
While the 80’s had their ‘punk’ scene and the 60’s had the ‘hippie’ scene, the 50’s alternative social style was ‘the beat’ scene, epitomized by the beatnik. Wearing black, including the ever present shades and/or thick rimmed glasses, the beatniks hung out at coffee houses, digging on the latest poetry…..at least that’s the way I remember it. But on weekends, Marvin brought the ‘beat’ sensibility to the world of classic Universal horror films, exposing young minds like mine to all sorts of alternative possibilities.
Now Marvin, played by ventriloquist Terry Bennett was not alone. His ever present sidekick, and butt of most of his jokes, was Dear - his real life wife, Joy Bennett. She was blond, wore tight clothes and had a couple of points of her own…riding way up high. However, we had no idea what she looked like because she always had her face away from the camera or covered….the ultimate tease.
But even this far out couple was not alone, as Marvin also had his own band, The Deadbeats, that performed live during the breaks in the movie. They also added Orville, a hunchback character and Shorty, a giant monster wearing a Frankenstein mask! Horror classics, beatniks, off beat humor and music…what more could a 10 year old want late on a Saturday night.
The show lasted for only two years. In spite of tremendous popularity and a petition campaign, it was cancelled to make way for boxing! It was during the final show that we finally got to see the lovely face of Dear. The truly sad thing is that there seems to be only one video clip of the show and that was actually shot during a rehearsal session.
DON GLUT: I’d been waiting for the show for a few months. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Paul Malloy had written about the still-unnamed show that would debut on local station WBKB (channel 7) on Dec. 7, 1957, starting with the TV premiere of the original Frankenstein. There was no mention of any host character in that article. So when the show opened that Saturday night at 10:00 PM, Marvin came (to me, anyway) as a total surprise, as did the name of the show Shock Theater.
I became an instant fan, completely hooked on Marvin and the program. Marvin was both ghoulish and funny at the same time. But equally important – to me as a 13-year-old kid – Marvin was cool. Terry Bennett, the guy to created and played him, presented Marvin as a fully developed character.
Shock Theater was an enormous local hit and Terry Bennett was a Big Star to the people that watched the show. When Marvin mentioned “shocktail parties” on the show, such events became a phenomenon in Chicago and the suburbs (I had one myself, dressed as Marvin, for my 14th birthday). And he was popular enough to appear on other contemporary shows. For example, I remember him once hosting the “Outer Space Quiz” on a Sunday morning show running “Flash Gordon” serials.
ATTENTION READERS: Anyone reading this post who has memories of Marvin are encouraged to share them in the “comments.” We would LOVE to hear more!
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!
Saturday promised to be the busiest day of the Horrorhound convention. Wanting to get an early start, I immediately went down to the main hall after breakfast. Due to the large number of hosts attending the Vampira Tribute, I had no illusions about meeting them all. In an effort to stay focused, I created a short list of the ones I really wanted to meet.
As I approached the area designated for the hosts, I was happy to see that one of my “high priority” selections was present. Michael Monahan, a.k.a. Doktor Goulfinger, has the distinction of not only being a horror host, but a fervent fan of the art itself. His work on the documentary AMERICAN SCARY earned him a recent Rondo Award in the category of “Best Independent Film of 2009.” As I mentioned in an earlier blog, this is a “must see” for anyone interested in learning about the history of horror hosts, as well as a look at some of the colorful characters from its golden age.
Michael has since chosen to place his Doktor Goulfinger character on hiatus in an effort to focus on other projects. This includes extensive research on classic horror hosts for an upcoming book. Despite his relatively short tenure, I was able to track down a copy of his work as Doktor Goulfinger prior to Horrorhound. True to form, he not only used his show to perform his own hosting shtick, but also as a means of spotlighting classic hosts. During his presentation of THE DEVIL BAT, Goulfinger proudly shows off a mock candy wrapper used by the late Dr. Paul Bearer. This is just one of many artifacts Monahan has acquired during his years of collecting.
There was no doubt that if I wanted to gain a better understanding of classic horror hosts, I would be wise to seek Doktor Goulfinger’s counsel. Prior attempts at contacting him proved futile as he had shut down the website featured on his program. I couldn’t locate him on Facebook and knew that if I walked away from this convention without obtaining his email address, I’d be making a grievous error.
As I approached him, I noticed he was wearing his signature 3D glasses while holding his character’s cigarette holder. Although he had since shaved off his beard, there was no doubt that it was him. As I did not want to offend my fellow conventioneers, I opted to forgo my sweaty “It Came from Berwyn” T-shirt in favor of “Zomboo’s House of Horror.” This elicited an immediate positive response from Goulfinger who, like myself, is also a big fan of Zomboo. I introduced myself and he gave a warm handshake.
We talked for about 2o minutes but I could have easily stretched that into hours. Most of our conversation revolved around the subject of the Tribute, Maila Nurmi. Doktor Ghoulfinger was one of the few hosts present who had not only met the great Vampira, but also acquired extensive interviews with her during his work on AMERICAN SCARY. I could tell by his eloquence that he truly cared for her as an artist and his insights helped me gain a much greater appreciation for her work. The next day he would provide a moving tribute to her at the event itself (to be covered in a future post).
I am happy to say that I was successful in my goal of obtaining Michael’s contact information and we have kept in touch since the convention. Despite my numerous questions and requests (like allowing me access to the wonderful photos attached to this blog), he is always willing to share his insights and help in any way that he can. Although I had once held on to the hope that he would, once again, stand in front of a camera and host movies of his own, I have since come to realize that his role as historian and preserver of this nation’s classic hosts is far more valuable. His contributions can not be overstated, and I am very happy that I had the honor of meeting him.
As I walked away from Doktor Goulfinger, I noticed a flurry of activity at the table featuring Count Gore de Vol. This classic host is not only a legend in Washington DC, where he hosted movies in the 1970′s and 80′s, but in the world of horror hosting itself. Regardless of his status as a “classic” host, Count Gore (Dick Dyszel) has proven himself downright innovative in our modern world. No longer interested in performing on commercial television, he is now available to the entire world courtesy of the World Wide Web. As Doktor Goulfinger states, “Count Gore actually led the way on the ‘net. He came from years of television, was always attentive and media savvy and saw the changes coming. He’s a real leader.”
To the vast majority of hosts working today, he is a great deal more than that. By using his status to reach out and bring hosts from all over the country together, he has become the ultimate elder Statesman. Dissolving the older practice of horror hosts being solitary performers – protective of their own territories, he now makes frequent appearances on other host’s programs while also encouraging them to support each other. He is the latest recipient of the Rondo Award for “Best Active Horror Host” and was also recently featured in the latest issue of “Rue Morgue.”
Count Gore was a pleasure to meet and, despite the noise of the convention, enjoyed talking about his show. The previous weekend, Count Gore had presented the film BEAST FROM YUCCA FLATS. During this Web-cast, he contended that this film was easily “the worst film ever made,” contradicting conventional wisdom that this honor belongs to the Ed Wood disaster-piece, PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. After watching his show, I found myself in agreement with the Count though, in truth, there are many movies I find less enjoyable than PLAN 9. After sharing a laugh about that, the Count advised me to “be sure and catch next week’s show the night that it airs because there’s a good chance its going to be pulled.”
I was hoping that Count Gore would have had some advanced copies of his documentary EVERY OTHER DAY IS HALLOWEEN to purchase but he said that attempts to get some in time for the convention had failed. “They told me they could get some to me on Monday, but that defeats the whole purpose,” he sighed. He did, however, sign a poster of the film for me as well as a photo of himself to pass on to Svengoolie. That autograph, along with Penny Dreadful’s, was shown on a recent Svengoolie mail segment.
After my conversation with Count Gore de Vol, I saw a professional television crew set up on my left. The night before, I noticed an elaborate booth being set up for “The Chiller Drive-in.” Now, with the addition of its host Wolfman Mac, it was fully operational and the perfect time for a visit….
(to be continued)
Slinking down a dark corridor, illuminated only by the glow of soft candles and dry ice, Maila Nurmi makes her grand entrance. In the unlikely event that her seductive gaze failed in seizing your immediate attention, there is no doubt that her skin tight black dress, accenting the quintessential “wasp” waist, certainly would.
Little did Los Angeles viewers of local channel, KABTV, know it at the time, they were not just witnessing the debut of Vampira but the birth of the American horror host. While the Finnish beauty stood alone in 1954, there were easily over 100 active horror hosts (including commercial television, cable, public access, and Web) at the time of her death in 2008.
Although her tenure was relatively short, her contribution to television can not be overstated. Whether you’re in Chicago (like myself) tuning in to Svengoolie every Saturday night, howling with Wolfman Mac in Michigan, or holding your sides from laughter while watching Zomboo in Reno, you are enjoying the fruits of Vampira. In March, 2010 a cavalcade of grateful, modern hosts descended upon the Indianapolis Horrorhound Convention to pay tribute to this remarkable woman.
For me, the timing could not have been better. It wasn’t long ago that I had been under the false impression that Svengoolie was the only horror host still active today. This past year I was able to experience the work of numerous others from across the country. They include men, women, vampires, witches, werewolves, and mad scientists. Horror hosting, it would appear, is the ultimate equal opportunity job. Some are creepy, some hilarious, and all are quite unique. Learning about them was not only fascinating but also highly entertaining.
The majority of horror hosts today are comprised of passionate individuals, taking their love of horror films to the “next level.” They return from their day jobs only to don make-up and adopt a clever alter ego. They are often joined by an attractive assistant, with their best friends acting as film crew. These dedicated folks air their shows via public access television. They can often be seen doing interviews at local conventions and eagerly selling the fruits of their labor. I always try to support them whenever I can which is probably why I now have over ten different versions of THE GIANT GILA MONSTER.
The rise of corporate television, and consequent near extinction of local channels, has all but killed the “classic” horror hosts that many of us were fortunate to grow up with. These are the ones that cause older fans, like myself, to develop lumps in their throats and become weepy with nostalgia at the mere mention of their names. Some have managed to survive the odds and are still standing today. They are the rarest and most influential in the horror host realm. They would include such titans as Svengoolie, Zomboo, and Son of Ghoul. Like their predecessors, these men are professional hosts working at local, commercial television stations. Their job security is based, like any network program, on ratings and viewership. This is no easy feat when one takes into account the movies that are available to them, and the fact that most people can readily access these same films from Netflix or the $1 DVD bin at Walmart.
Another emerging group of hosts are comprised of those who have taken their shows into the new age via weekly web casts. Classic host, Count Gore de Vol, has evolved into this medium. This year’s Rondo award winner for “Best Horror Host” has been presenting movies since the 1970′s. Consequently, he has developed a huge following of fans, one of which created an amazing documentary EVERY OTHER DAY IS HALLOWEEN. While watching that movie, I found it so fascinating that while I was enjoying the Son of Svengoolie in Chicago, kids my age in Washington DC were sharing the same devotion with Count Gore de Vol.
Representatives from all facets of hosting were represented at the Vampira Tribute. There was, however, one glaring exception. As I checked the Horrorhound website, I noticed that Svengoolie was not listed as one of the attendees. I started feeling like I was being disloyal celebrating horror hosts without my favorite one being present.
As fate should have it, Svengoolie was making an appearance at Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo the day before Horrorhound. As a volunteer of the zoo, I had planned on attending the event anyway (raising money for “Vital Grounds” an organization dedicated to obtaining land for grizzlies) only to have my worlds collide with the announcement that Svengoolie was going to be our guest of honor.
I had met Rich Koz numerous times since 2003, but this visit was a bit different than the norm. This time I was seeking the blessing of my patron host, to fraternize with his peers (yes, folks, I was raised Catholic).
I researched some of the hosts attending Horrorhound and discovered that Penny Dreadful and Doktor Goulfinger were both fans of Svengoolie. When I met Rich at the zoo, I asked him if he wouldn’t mind signing one of his WCIU promo cards for these two hosts. I clenched my teeth, half expecting him to yell “TRAITOR!” while flicking the cards back at me. Instead, he was very happy to oblige. He instantly knew who both of these hosts were and I could tell by his facial expression that he liked them. He also told me he was sorry he was unable to attend the Tribute and wished me a great time. Phew!
My conscience clear, it was now time to meet some of the other hosts……
(To be continued…..)