Yesterday (Halloween) was more than just a horror fan’s favorite holiday. It also marked the premiere of AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” a series dedicated to one of horror’s favored sub genres – zombies!
After the curfew of trick-or-treating had arrived, I eagerly set to the task of gathering up the kids’ costumes, straightening up the house, and sending the children to bed. By 9pm CST, Halloween’s “adult swim” had commenced at Fuentes house and I was ready to partake in this monumental occasion.
I was not to be disappointed. The show’s main character, Officer Rick Grimes (played by Andrew Lincoln) is shot in the line of duty and sent into a coma. Similar to the film 28 DAYS LATER, Grimes awakens in his hospital room only to discover that the entire world has been turned upside down. Instead of infected madmen, however, the planet has been overrun by members of the “walking dead.”
I have to say that, judging by the show’s first episode, this has the potential for being a GREAT series! I really enjoyed it and thought that the actors were credible and the zombie effects well done. Since I have become disgruntled with TV’s “Supernatural” of late, it is nice to see another television series “arise” for us genre enthusiasts.
“The Walking Dead” was not without representation at the 2010 “Rock & Shock” convention. Signing photos while meeting potential fans was Melissa Cowan. Those who watched last night’s show will remember her as an unnamed member of the walking dead or, as in her case, crawling. Cowan’s zombie was seen dragging her dismembered torso across the grass, much to the horror of the now sufficiently traumatized, Officer Grimes.
Cowan, herself, was quiet yet pleasant. I believe it is safe to say that she is a genre fan as well since moments before our meeting she had visited the table of THE EXORCIST’s Eileen Dietz for a fan photo. For those scratching their heads, Dietz supplied the visage of the demon, caught in brief increments during the iconic film.
There is little doubt that Dietz’s unique features led to the choice of her casting. In this, Cowan may have found a kindred spirit. Though I applaud “The Walking Dead’s” special effects, creating an emaciated zombie from her bony frame was far from an achievement.
A world overrun by the undead is a motif we can all credit to the “Godfather of Zombies” himself, George Romero! Therefore it was fitting that we had met Cowan soon after communing with him. Having accomplished the majority of our set goals at “Rock & Shock,” there was no longer any excuse in evading his consistently long line.
Eager Romero fans wrapped the length of the convention hall entrance, breaking only to allow guests to enter the washrooms we were glued in front of. These would include on occasion celebrities looking for quick “relief” including, at one point, Romero and actor David Hess – who joked with us as we suggested he use the “last stall on the left.”
Standing in line over two hours afforded us plenty of opportunity to “people watch.” David and I spent lots of time commenting back and forth about some of the fan costumes, tattoos, and overall appearances. None, however, were more fascinating to us than a vendor from The Gemini Company, inc. who looked like a horror host in desperate need of his own show!
Romero, as always, was extremely personable to his legion of fans. I had him sign a photo capturing my first meeting with him back in March at the Indianapolis Horrorhound Convention. “How long did you stand in line for this one?” Romero asked. After I told him that it was over four hours he threw up his hands and said, “Oh God! I am so sorry! NOBODY should ever wait that long just to see me!”
I assured Romero that he was WELL worth the wait while again telling him how big a fan I am of his work. I posed for another photo, this time utilizing a “brain” I had purchased from our friend at The Gemini Company.
This was David’s first meeting with Romero and, while the line had taken its toll on his bad back, he was thrilled to be in his presence. David talked with Romero a bit but, due to the unceasing line now behind us, had to keep it brief. Both of us were under the impression that, had time allowed, Romero would have had no trouble talking about his films a great deal more.
As we parted from Romero he continued issuing apologies to me about the time I spent in line to see him at Horrorhound. As if! Romero has more than deserved his following and, although the premiere of “The Walking Dead” beat out many of his latest zombie entries, one can not appreciate one without the other!
“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.
There are many films which I would deem long overdue in terms of getting an official DVD release. Of that list of rare gems, DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW was always listed near the top. This made-for-TV thriller premiered in October of 1981. I was eleven years old at the time, and an avid fan of horror. Unfortunately in that pre-VCR/cable and “too young to see R Rated films” world, there was little to satisfy my appetite. I remember seeing the television previews and being determined not to miss it. A full hour before the movie started (courtesy of CBS) I had carefully laid blankets on the floor of my bedroom while positioning my 13 inch Black & White television for optimum viewing. My efforts were not in vain as I was totally blown away by this film!
The film stars Larry Drake as the developmentally disabled “Bubba” – not to be confused with “Benny,” his other mentally challenged character on “L.A. Law.” As his character’s name would imply, this film does indeed take place in a Southern, rural town. Bubba spends his days in farm country making flower necklaces and singing songs with a young, local girl named Marylee (Tonya Crowe). This comraderie doesn’t sit well with some of the townsmen, particularly their diabolical mailman – Mr. Otis Hazelrigg (played by Charles Durning at his most despicable).
Mr. Hazelrigg, aside from peeking at his neighbor’s mail, enjoys nothing more than tormenting poor Bubba while riling up his less intelligent cohorts. He is convinced that the relationship between the thirty-something year old man-child and grade school girl is perverse. It is implied during the course of the film that it is, in fact, Mr Hazelrigg’s interest in the girl that is far more unsavory than Bubbas.
While trespassing in a neighbor’s yard, Marylee is viciously attacked by the family’s canine. Bubba saves the girl and carries her unconscious body back home to her parents who, quite understandably, flip out. Rumors quickly spread that Bubba killed her (think “Of Mice and Men”) prompting Mr. Hazelrigg to summon his redneck troops. Before the truth is revealed, they shoot Bubba to death as he unsuccessfully tries to conceal himself via the body of a hanging scarecrow.
The men are tried in their local country-fried judicial system that is so skewed you’ll find yourself humming the classic hit, “The Night the Lights went out in Georgia.” As the guilty-as-hell men are all set free, Bubba’s irate mother screams that there are other kinds of justice in the world. It is with this line that the stage is set for each of the perpetrators to meet their untimely demise. Until the dramatic last moments of the film, you are never sure if they are being killed off by the pissed off District Attorney or perhaps by something far more supernatural.
I didn’t know it at the time but this “revenge from the grave” tale was a throwback to those fabulous EC Comics that prospered in the 1950′s. “Tales from the Crypt,” “The Vault of Horror,” and “Haunt of Fear” were titles that routinely dealt with poetic justice doled out by the hereafter. Before their eventual demise at the hands of the Comics Code Authority (CCA) they provided some of the most amazing and graphic stories that still gain my appreciation today. Fortunately, by my teenage years I was able to buy their reprints at the local comic book shop. Until that time, however, DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW and John Carpenter’s THE FOG were the only taste I had of this truly entertaining sub genre.
I was able to view the film again (this time with that amazing feature known as “color”) on cable channel TBS and, later, after it received a limited VHS release. Although I later had a digitized copy, the picture was less than stellar and not much better than the first time I had watched this movie.
A couple years ago I picked up my first copy of Horrorhound magazine and learned that the film was not only going to finally be released on DVD but also receive a digital upgrade. The article contained photos showing the film’s dramatic new face-lift along with a retrospective story. The film’s writer, J. D. Feigelson, had been tirelessly working on giving DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW the send off it so richly deserved and it’s release was all but guaranteed. Unfortunately, a year passed and nothing happened. DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW, now boggled down with release issues, seemed destined to fall back into the abyss.
I was quite pleased when I entered the main hall of the Indianapolis Horrorhound Convention last March and had my first celebrity encounter with Mr. Feigelson himself! He proudly stood by a mask replica of Bubba’s iconic scarecrow/death shroud while greeting his fans. I was happy to recount for him the story of my first viewing and to tell him how much I admired the film to this day. He signed a DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW poster for me and happily posed for pictures wearing a mailman’s hat. I asked if that was the actual hat worn by Charles Durning and he said, “Oh, no! The one in the movie was actually part of an official Postal uniform and had to be returned to the local Post Office after filming.”
Before leaving him I mentioned how much I wished the film would finally get it’s DVD release. “Your wish is about to come true,” he beamed. “It’s being released this Fall!” I am happy to say that the day after my fortieth birthday, the event did come to pass. I look forward to taking some time out of the upcoming weekend to watch it. This time, however, while sitting in a comfortable sofa and on a digital, wide screen set. Growing older, it seems, does have its perks.
If you mention “horror host” to someone randomly on the street more than likely the response will be Elvira. If you mention “horror host” to a fan chances are you will get a whole list of classic characters, including Vampira, Zacherley, Svengoolie, Morgus The Magnificent, The Ghoul, Sir Graves Ghastley, Dr. Paul Bearer, Ghoulardi and many, many others. Even names like Bob Wilkins and John Stanley may be mentioned. Though many of these hosts have come and gone, one is still going strong in the Washington, DC area. His name is Count Gore DeVol.
Count Gore made his debut in 1973 on WDCA with his show Creature Feature. Dick Dyszel, the man behind the makeup, also played Bozo The Clown in the morning and Captain 20, a Spock-like character, who would host cartoons in the afternoon. Initially Creature Feature ran from 1973 until 1979. Then, through persistance, he was able to revive it for a 2nd run from 1984-1987. By this time, WDCA was doing what most stations around the country were doing…cutting costs and getting rid of locally produced shows. Since then, the Count has reappeared online with his own weekly internet-based web cast, being the first horror host in history to do this! You can check out his show here.
I myself didn’t become aware of the Count until just a few years ago when someone sent me copies of his show. I was immediately drawn to the Count’s character and loved his innocence and charm. He was someone who tried so very hard to succeed but just couldn’t seem to catch a break, especially with the ladies. The show oftentimes seemed ad-libbed which made the show more fun and it seemed to flow more naturally. He wasn’t afraid to make fun of himself and if something went wrong it was common for the footage to be left in and there were times you would see the Count start laughing. Even though he was usually showing the cheesiest of the b-grade monster flicks, he always managed to give them a degree of respectability. Because of his love of the movies, as well as his love for the Count, Dick Dyszel created a show that is often imitated but never duplicated.
To show how loved and respected Count Gore DeVol is, one only needs to look as far as his fellow horror hosts. There was a time when hosts were very territorial and possessive of their characters and shows. Now, thanks in part to the Count and the Horror Host Underground, these hosts are helping each other by promoting each others’ shows and even making guest appearances on each others’ programs. It certainly is a great time to be a fan of horror hosts! I spoke with a few hosts, all of which were more than willing to contribute to this piece with their thoughts on the good Count. This is what they had to say…
“Count Gore De Vol represents everything good about the horror host. He was part of the heyday of the hosts in the past and was responsible for bringing the hosts back to the spotlight in recent years when he was the first to have a weekly show online. He loves his fans as much as they love him and even after all these years he is as warm and friendly as ever. He has affected more peoples lives than he will ever know and I am grateful that he continues to do that voodoo that he do so well.” – Ormon Grimsby, host of Monster Creature Feature
“Count Gore is the Grandfather of the Internet Horror Host. Tales From The Graveyard Shift owes its start on the internet to Count Gore!” – Dr. Pureblood, host of Tales From The Graveyard Shift
“When I began tinkering with the notion of doing this hosting thing, I was searching for movie sites on-line and the first hosted one I came across was Count Gore DeVol’s. Seeing a real horror host doing his thing on the net gave me the motivation to go ahead with my planned project of doing an internet based show of my own. My top-hat is off to the count for being such a pioneer! It’s truly amazing that he began doing internet stuff in 98. Especially when you consider how “new” the whole internet idea was to all of us at that time!” – Sigmund Zoid, host of Alternative Realities TV
“I consider myself very lucky to have “grown up” during the 1970′s…having a TV host like Captain 20, and Count Gore De Vol, to educate and entertain. The influence of Dick Dyszel’s marvelous characters, reached almost a million kids in the DC area at the time, and it’s something that made television really special. You had to “be there” to watch it, there were no repeats, you couldn’t buy a tape, and there was nowhere else it could be seen. Kids were literally glued to their TV sets every afternoon for Captain 20 and Saturday nights for Count Gore. The fact that he is STILL doing his act on the web, is such a great thing for me, and all the people who grew up watching, as well as the people all over the world, who now get to literally “be involved” in the show, thru the internet on Creature Feature: the veekly veb program !!!!…Long may the Count continue to creaturize the country !!!!!!!!!” - Karlos Borloff, host of Monster Madhouse
“The man sucks blood–but oozes charm. People who’ve never even seen his show are drawn to him and the ladies fall down at his feet like a sack of wet phone books. Mr. Lobo sees him in action and thinks about possibly trying on some make-up and a cape…” – Mr. Lobo, host of Cinema Insomnia
“To me, Count Gore De Vol represents the ancient… er, classic Seventies era approach to Horror Hosting, and is the genuine relic… um, article, and a great deal of fun to watch, even if he is one of the 3 worst Horror Hosts in the history of the genre. Seriously, I have a great deal of respect for the man, no matter what goes on in his hotel rooms at these conventions with all of those underage Campfire Girls. And, his camera operator’s smokin’ hot!” – The Bone Jangler, host of The Bone Jangler’s Daytime Dungeon
“The word “legend” is tossed around a lot in the entertainment world. Well, Count Gore honestly and truly is a TV legend. While his talent, skill and professionalism absolutely play a large part in his status as a Horror Host icon, that isn’t all there is to it. You see, Count Gore is also a great guy – as in friendly, down-to-earth and approachable. A lot of people in the entertainment world would do well to take their cues from the Count. I am honored to call him a friend.” – Penny Dreadful, host of Shilling Shockers
“I met Count Gore DeVol at the National Haunters Convention over the summer. It was my first official outing as a brand-new horror host and Count Gore DeVol was just wonderful and charismatic! If only I had any more money left I would have wanted to walk away with one of everything at his table. Count Gore DeVol is an inspiring influence for both aspiring actors and horror hosts.” – Roxsy Tyler, host of Roxsy Tyler’s Carnival Of Horrors
“I have met Count Gore once and He is a true gentleman. He deserves a ton of respect not only for his many years on television but the fact that he gave birth to the whole “internet Horrorhost” genre with his website… a true visionary.” – Marlena Midnight, host of Midnight Mausoleum
“Count Gore DeVol is an original. He pioneered the web movement. CGDV is one classy sucker!” - Ms. Monster, host of Hel On Ice
“Count Gore DeVol is a true pioneer of the horror hosting genre! He has endured the test of time! He started out on TV in the ’70s then made the venture online in the ’90s to be the first Internet horror host! He is a real inspiration to me! I’ve met Count Gore at several conventions and he has alvays been very gracious and supportive tovards me. I had the opportunity to interview The Count at the recent HorrorHound Weekend Convention in Indy and learned even more insight about his background. Recently, a documentary vas made about his long career that included his other notable characters Captain 20 and Bozo! Gore is simply one amazing talent and a Cool Ghoul!” – Count Sam Gregula, host of Count Gregula’s Crypt
“I truly, truly admire the man. He’s been the most supportive individual in the world as a friend, and a true professional in all my horror host efforts! I mean, he could be using all of his energy to promote his own show, for chrissakes, but he’s taken time to help me with Spooky Movie Television as well. He still has no idea how hard it is not to to have a fanboy moment and go, “YOU’RE MY HERO! Ohmuhgod!” I never want to say, “I grew up watching you!” I don’t want to date either of ourselves! HAHAHAH!” - John “Doctor Sarcofiguy” Dimes, Spooky Movie Television, and author of “There Are No Bad Movies! (Only Bad Audiences)”
Over the last few years there have been a few horror host documentaries released, like AMERICAN SCARY and VIRGINIA CREEPERS. Though both are highly recommended only one was released dealing solely with the man of the hour, Count Gore DeVol. In mid 2010 the Count Gore documentary EVERY OTHER DAY IS HALLOWEEN was released on BrinkDVD. Needless to say, this much anticipated release did not disappoint and it is highly recommended for any horror host library. It was actually seeing this DVD that prompted me to write this piece! If you don’t have a copy you can order one by clicking on the image of the cover artwork below.
And now…what you have all been waiting for! My interview with Count Gore DeVol!!!
ME: Were you a fan of monster movies growing up? If so, what are some of your favorites?
COUNT GORE: I liked scary movies, some with monsters, some without. I grew up in the 50’s so I got to watch a lot of big bug films….atomic radiation was all the rage. I also liked films about outer space, most of which had monsters included at no extra charge.
ME: Did you have a favorite horror host growing up? If so, who?
COUNT GORE: I watched “Shock Theater” with Marvin on Channel 7 in Chicago. He was a beatnik with thick glasses and a tall, curvy wife whose face we never saw.
ME: What made you decide to be a horror host?
COUNT GORE: Too much beer. The general manager of the station, another co-worker and myself were watching a bunch of demo movie open packages very late one night after way too many beers. An open for a horror showcase came up and I yelled in my best Transylvanian accent, “That’s what we need, a horror host!” The GM turn around and said, “You’re hired!” the rest, as they say is history.
ME: What were your inspirations for the character of Count Gore De Vol?
COUNT GORE: Once it became obvious that the GM was serious, I looked to my closet to define the character. I had a tux, a cape (this was the 70’s) and could roll my Rs with the best of them. So I decided on a vampire. Besides, it gave me an excuse to bite the necks of pretty young girls (this was still the 70’s)!
ME: You are obviously very supportive of other horror hosts in that you have them on your show all of the time. Who are some of your favorites today and why?
COUNT GORE: Yes, in this global environment, there’s enough room for everyone who wants to be a host and the only way to find out if you are any good is to work at it and let the public decided. Once the Internet came about, I met and became friends with such hosts as A. Ghastlee Ghoul, The Bone Jangler, Laslo, Butch Cleaver, The Son of Ghoul, Karlos Borloff, Dr. Sarcofiguy, Mr. Lobo and Penny Dreadful, to name just a few. I really like to hang with them because they are so talented….and I hope some it rubs off!
ME: You have taken your show CREATURE FEATURE into an all new direction by having it online. Would you ever want to go back to network television?
COUNT GORE: My general response to that question is, “Why would I want to do that? I now have the whole world as an audience. Why would I want to go back to just one market?” The answer that I rarely give is, “For money!!!” The Internet is a great place but few people make a living by offering entertainment. So, if a station or network made me an offer I couldn’t refuse…I wouldn’t!”
ME: I loved the documentary of you EVERY OTHER DAY IS HALLOWEEN. Do you have plans of releasing any of your shows on DVD?
COUNT GORE: I’ve had shows and compilations out since 1998!!! The Legacy series covers studio segments from my TV days without the movies. The Classics series has the public domain films I showed on TV with the local segments…..just like they appeared on TV, but without all the cheezy commercials. they are available from my web program or at conventions I attend.
ME: What made you leave your native Chicago for Washington, DC. According to Wikipedia you are living back in Chicago now…is this true? Are you a fan of Chicago horror host Svengoolie?
COUNT GORE: See, you can’t believe everything you see on the Internet. I’ve been back in the DC area since 2005. I did spend 10 year back in Chicago, which is where I grew up, But for me DC is really home. On a recent trip back to the Windy City, I did finally meet and have lunch with Svengoolie. What a great guy! He is one of the last and best major market TV horror hosts and I hope to have him on my show someday.
ME: You have always been one of the most innovative of horror hosts…first to host NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD unedited, first to air in stereo, first to utilize the web…do you have any big plans for the future?
COUNT GORE: Actually the next “first” will be a show that is fully mobile compatible. As you know Apple products do not show video encoded with Flash. But, beginning on Step. 18, all of the video I produce for the web program…including the movies with be viewable on your iPod, iPhone, iPad, or any other iDevice Apple comes up with….and I do make some interesting guesses as to what they may be…as part of the movie showcase!
ME: You mentioned in your “Rue Morgue” piece (issue #103, August 2010) that back in the day horror hosts were territorial with each other. Did you have any contact with any of these hosts back then? Do you still find them to be territorial?
COUNT GORE: No, the only host from the “old” days that I actually met was the late Dr. Shock from Philly. Remember, it was very hard and expensive to move video tape around back then. Heck, it was only after the Internet came about that I finally saw some of Elvira’s shows! I guess in some ways we are all still a bit territorial when it comes to our work…no, I think protective is a better word.
ME: Do you watch any horror hosted shows?
COUNT GORE: From time to time I catch clips that are posted on various horror host forums. I really don’t have a lot of time to sit back and watch and enjoy movies. Besides being a horror host, I do have various other business interests that keep me very busy.
ME: You have had guests on your show but never a sidekick. Why didn’t you opt to have a sidekick like many of the hosts have?
COUNT GORE: When I was working on Washington TV, I was a union performer at a union station. The station wasn’t about to pay for a sidekick. So, I learned to work within that environment. We did have guests, but guests didn’t have to be paid. I’m still a member of the union and after 35+ years, doing a solo act is both natural and expected. That being said, however, I do have an annual sidekick in the form of the lovely Countess Von Stauffenberger, played by the talented author Eleanor Herman. Every New Year’s Eve she comes on the show for our annual date and every year the universe finds a new way from keep us from becoming….an item! My black heart gets broken again and again.
ME: Do you still feel that BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS is the worst movie ever made?
COUNT GORE: ABSOLUTELY!!!! Although I have seen a few new first time efforts that do give it a run for its money.
To show how popular horror hosts have been getting lately, you really only have to look at your newsstand these days. SCARY MONSTERS MAGAZINE regularly covers the horror host world and even recently HORRORHOUND MAGAZINE and RUE MORGUE have jumped on the proverbial bandwagon (and of course, who can forget the amazing HorrorHound Weekend in Indianapolis this past March 26-28th that featured the largest horror host gathering ever attempted to date?). Luckily for us the horror host world is going strong and it doesn’t look like it will be letting up anytime soon! Lucky us!
At this point I really want to express my thanks to ALL of the horror hosts that contributed to this piece. Not only has their support of Count Gore DeVol be great but their support of this website has been overwhelming. Also, I am extremely thankful that Count Gore DeVol himself took the time to do the interview with me…he is a true gentleman and I really appreciate it!
On the final day of the convention, we packed our belongings and loaded the car before making a final sweep of the main hall. The Vampira Tribute began mid day and I stood in line to enter the event. In the distance, I could see all the hosts talking and joking around with each other. After spending the previous days moving about the convention, attending to all their individual commitments, this was the moment that would bring all the participating hosts together.
Before the event began, eerie music played while images of deceased horror hosts filled a large screen featured on the center stage. Included in this montage were such memorable hosts as Bob Wilkins, Dr. Paul Bearer, and Dr. Shock to name but a few. In between these images, glimpses of footage depicting Vampira’s famous walk down a smoke filled corridor would appear. This presentation concluded with Vampira reaching the foreground, screaming in terror, before quickly reverting to a wry smile.
As the screen went dark the hosts marched in, single file, carrying a single lit candle. After reaching the stage they dropped there candles into a hanging cauldron before taking their seats. The ceremony opened with an introduction delivered by Dr. Shocker a.k.a. professional actor Daniel Roebuck, who has appeared in the recent Rob Zombie HALLOWEEN remakes. “I am overjoyed to be here with all of you…,” he proclaimed, “as we pay tribute to the mother of all horror hosts alive and dead today….the great Vampira.” His introduction was as moving as it was humorous, generating lots of laughs particularly when sharing his observations of the characters before him.
The first hosts designated to share their thoughts on Vampira were Ms. Monster and Doktor Goulfinger. The former credited Vampira with bringing “sexy, sultry, and sassy, to a whole new genre.” The blue-hued beauty, a featured contestant on the 2007 reality show “The Search for the next Elvira,” has certainly done her part in taking these attributes into the new age. As if to prove this point, she generated great applause by freeing the microphone from its stand and intimately sharing her appreciation for the many unsung contributions of Vampira.
She then handed the mike to the man she referred to as “a walking encyclopedia of horror hosts” (a title I have since learned is far from an exaggeration). His warm feelings towards Maila Nurmi evident, Doktor Goulfinger gave an incredibly moving tribute made even more powerful by his soft-spoken, methodical delivery. Goulfinger urged listeners to ponder the fact that for generations only a select group of Los Angeles viewers had ever actually heard the voice of Vampira. Most people (myself included) had only witnessed her mute performance in the infamous PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE or seen her photo in horror themed magazines. Goulfinger pointed to this as evidence of how powerful an artist Maila Nurmi was, having generated such influence via “the sheer, seductive power of an image.” He also asked that everyone take a moment to really think about Vampira and the importance of her work.
The next speakers who took to the stage were former TNT host, Joe Bob Briggs and (from my home state of Illinois) The Bone Jangler. Joe Bob reminded us of Maila’s Finnish heritage, characterized by a bitterly cold and harsh climate. This has, no doubt, contributed to one of the most important attributes for any horror host to embrace; the ability to be “tough.” He also credited her for breathing new life into films that Hollywood had long since labeled as “unwatchable and unplayable,” a unique role that horror hosts still carry out to this day.
The Bone Jangler opened his speech by stating how “indebted” he felt towards Maila Nurmi for “setting the template” as well as the “tone” by her appearance and style. He referred to his fellow hosts and hostesses as his “brothers and sisters,” while reminding them that they, like Vampira, are all “artists.”
The final duo to share there thoughts on Vampira were Penny Dreadful and Count Gore de Vol. Penny, accompanied by her companion Garou, reminded listeners that Maila Nurmi , aside from a horror host, was also “an independent woman…fearless in her convictions and in her thinking.” She went on to say that, “While Vampira is surely the black cloth from which we’ve all been cut, the memory of Maila Nurmi the artist and woman should embolden us to shed the shackles of main stream society’s constraints..” Creating loud applause she urged everyone to “drink a Vampira cocktail” in her honor. I must say that of all the hosts I’ve had the privilege of experiencing, Penny Dreadful reminds me the most of Vampira…even over The Mistress of the Dark who had initially been modeled after her.
Count Gore de Vol opened his speech with an invitation to his followers to “think about” the impact of Vampira who had appeared on a single station during a span that reached a paltry “14 months.” Despite this fact, Count Gore reminded the hosts, she is responsible for creating the ” legacy for which we all dibble our lives and careers.” This paved the way for himself, and fellow hosts, to go on and create their “own legacies.” Something that the Count knows first hand having created his own hosting dynasty.
As this was a horror-themed tribute, there could be no better way to conclude the show without actually raising the dead. Horror magician Ron Fitzgerald took to the stage and called on the lifeless body of Vampira (portrayed by horror hostess Evelle LeChant) to “rise.” Slowly she lifted herself up from her black altar, walked towards the crowd, and mimicked the famous scream for which the tribute began.
As light illuminated the chamber, the hosts gathered together for a group photo. While waiting for everyone to snap this priceless image depicting the largest massing of their kind, a few broke into song – belting the ending of The Beatles hit, “Hey Jude.” I almost dropped my own camera from laughing, though the scene was much more reminiscent of the cover of “Sgt Pepper.”
As I embarked on the journey back to Chicago I couldn’t help but reflect on the past few days. I had arrived at Horrorhound ignorant of Vampira, aside from the image of her walking as a zombie in PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE and the subsequent portrayal of her by Lisa Marie in the film ED WOOD. I can honestly say that I left with a much greater understanding of Vampira, as well as the mysterious woman behind her.
I knew that I had just experienced the most amazing convention of my life. There could be little doubt that it was the congregation of hosts (the ultimate horror fans) that had raised it to these heights. I couldn’t help but feel an immense sense of gratitude towards, not only them, but the woman who had made it all possible.
Several moments passed as I pondered Maila Nurmi and how wonderful my childhood had been enjoying one of the benefactors of her work, Svengoolie. Without Vampira there would have been no Svengoolie parodies, raucous laughter from Zomboo, or my daughters new appreciation for older films via Wolfman Mac. I can no longer discount the importance of Vampira as I, and my children, continue to enjoy these things. Doktor Goulfinger would be pleased.
Wolfman Mac has the honor of being the first local horror host I’d ever watched after Svengoolie. Last January I was thumbing through YouTube clips when I stumbled upon “Wolfman Mac’s Chiller Drive-in.” Although Mac is a fellow Midwesterner (Michigan), it was the other Dave in Rhode Island who had access to his show via a cable channel called RTV (Retro Television). I asked him to send me some copies and he was happy to oblige.
Mac has the distinction of being the favored host among my two daughters, Leia and Jade. In fact, they absolutely adore the guy. Every time a package arrives at the house they immediately ask, “Did you get more Wolfman Macs?” Last Saturday they watched THE BAT with Vincent Price from beginning to end. It’s probably a good bet that Jade is the only one in her 3rd grade class to have sat through an entire Vincent Price film, willingly. It’s an even surer bet that I’m one of few dad’s who gets filled with pride by saying this. Regardless, it has been great sitting back and watching vintage monster movies with the kids without having to bribe them.
Yes, I was definitely looking forward to meeting Wolfman Mac and was worried that, with all the activities going on at Horrorhound, I’d end up missing him. Prior to the convention, I did have some positive interaction with both Mac and his show’s producer, Vicki Vanderkolk. These were in the form of Facebook comments and a fan letter I sent him. When I arrived at The Chiller Drive-In booth, Mac was surrounded by a full television crew while busily interviewing people from a gathering crowd.
While Mac was busy on camera, I formally met Vicki and found her to be as genuine and pleasant in person as she was on Facebook. She introduced me to her husband, Raymond Dean Vanderkolk, who writes for the show. I was very happy to shake the hand of the person responsible for the show’s memorable skits. The next day I bumped into Mr. Vanderkolk again. This time he was clad in his own costume – that of a witchdoctor!
While talking to Vicki she said, “You’ve got to let Mac interview you for the show!” I waited my turn before finally meeting the man himself. He was a lot of fun and the same off screen as on. Definitely a “salt of the Earth” type…despite his affinity towards a full moon. I recounted the story of how a guy from Chicago became a fan of a host up in Michigan and then we howled together on camera which was lots of fun.
Mac signed a Chiller Drive-n Promo poster for both myself and the other Dave. After the convention I had it professionally framed and it is now prominently displayed over my desk at home.
After the convention I submitted a fan piece about “Wolfman Mac’s Chiller Drive-in” to “Scary Monster Magazine.” I really hope that it will see print. If my children are so taken by the show, it’s a good bet other kids out there will be as well. During G-Fest, I hand delivered some episodes of the show to Dennis Druktenis (publisher of “Scary Monsters Magazine”). He later wrote and thanked me for them. Not that I’m above bribery, but I really did want him to see the show for himself.
The only other cast member I saw from The Chiller Drive-in was the “Son of Froggy,” though we never formally met. I am hoping that I can someday meet the whole gang, perhaps at a Michigan based convention. It’s a trip I won’t be making alone…
After I had all my pictures from Horrorhound developed, my kids weren’t in the least bit impressed with my photos of Elvira, Romero, nor Savini. When the shot of Wolfman Mac and I popped up, however, they jumped up and down screaming, “I can’t believe you met Wolfman Mac!!!!” while telling me how unfair it was that I should be so lucky. They were right; meeting Wolfman Mac was one of my favorite memories from Horrorhound.
NOTE: Wolfman Mac’s third season premieres on September 4th and promises to the best ever! If you don’t receive RTV with your cable package, contact your provider and see what can be done about it!
(Horrorhound memories will continue in our 7th and final chapter…The Vampira Tribute!)
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)
Meeting Elvira: the Mistress of the Dark had been one of my top goals for Horrorhound! I had been unable to attend the 2008 Flashback Weekend here in Chicago; an event in which she shared a stage with Svengoolie. Missing that historic moment was something I never forgave myself for and I was determined to finally meet her.
Elvira is, without question, the most recognizable horror host in the country. Whether she was selling products such as Coors Beer, making numerous media appearances, or even starring in her own feature film, she remains an indelible figure of 1980′s popular culture. Women admired her brassy, valley girl attitude while men liked her for entirely different reasons. Her low cut dress and celebrated cleavage were the source of many a man’s fantasies as well as providing her character with infinite laughs. Although I haven’t actually counted, I would venture to guess that her self-titled first film contained more “boob” jokes than any others to date.
After our local Son of Svengoolie was canceled, Elvira became our only option. Although nothing like Svengoolie, I found her highly entertaining. As a teenager, I purchased all of her “Elvira Midnight Madness” videos and still enjoy them today – easily watching SHE DEMONS and FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER about 50 times. I also loved her Halloween CD’s – “Elvira’s Monster Hits” and “Revenge of the Monster Hits.” Those tunes, particularly my favorite – “Monster Rap,” still receive regular play in my household throughout the month of October.
A friend of mine had shared a story of his meeting Elvira at a convention some years back. Apparently the line to greet her was so long she would sign autographs only and take no photos. Negotiation was futile as her female assistant had enough muscle tone to bench press ME. I had a lot of anxiety that history would repeat itself at Horrorhound, especially since it had attracted such a large number of visitors. I was relieved when I saw that the line was relatively short and that she was allowing photographs. Now was definitely my chance!
She was very friendly and took a couple photos with both my friend and I. Although I had missed her performing with Svengoolie LIVE, I did get to see the event courtesy of Rich airing it on his own show along with a photo taken of the two together. Since he was unable to attend Horrorhound, I asked Elvira if she would sign something I could send to him. It was at that moment when she looked up and noticed I was wearing my Sven shirt. She beamed a big smile and said, “I really enjoyed working with him.” I asked her if she was familiar with his work prior to Flashback Weekend and she responded, “Oh, definitely!” During his HD presentation of THE BIRDS, Svengoolie showed the autograph and mentioned the meeting (though he was off on the correct year).
Before leaving her booth, she delighted us by doing a video introduction for our home movie, introducing the “Dave and Jason Horrorhound video” as if it were her own. She ended with her famous exit phrase, “Unpleasant dreams….” while waving goodbye. You could not have asked for a better way to cap our first night at the convention!
On Sunday, right after the Vampira Tribute (an event I’ll be covering soon), we passed by her booth a second time. No longer in character, she was signing as her alter ego, Cassandra Peterson. We decided that the opportunity to get a photo both with and without make-up was too good to pass up. The line was short and we went back for another meeting.
After Horrorhound, I remember reading some complaints on the magazine’s fan forum regarding Elvira’s choice not to participate in the actual Tribute. Those aware of the history between these two women surely understood. Maila Nurmi (who had retained the rights to her Vampira character) had worked with producers in creating a “new” Vampira for the 1980′s. She shared the design of her black costume, details of her former set, along with her famous walk down a dark corridor to a Victorian couch. A short time later, the producers kicked her out of the project and created “Elvira.” This, naturally, caused great stress to Ms Nurmi who unsuccessfully tried to sue Cassandra.
Regardless of what your thoughts are on this matter, there are two things I believe; 1) those television producers definitely screwed over Maila Nurmi and 2) while Elvira was obviously modeled after Vampira, it was ultimately Cassandra’s personality that made the role so successful – particularly for an 80′s audience. I bumped into a fan of Vampira’s at Horrorhound and asked him, “What do you think Maila Nurmi would say if she knew Elvira was participating in her tribute.”
“Oh…,” the man said while removing his glasses to wipe a lens, “I imagine she’d be in her grave doing a complete 180 degree spin!” He then placed the spectacles back on, giving a faint smile. While some chided Elvira for being “disrespectful” for not attending the tribute with the rest of the hosts, I believe in lieu of the circumstances she was being more respectful by bowing out.
For my part, meeting Elvira remains one of my Horrorhound highlights. I am also thrilled at the news that Elvira will be returning to hosting movies with all new episodes of her “Movies Macabre” later this year. We can also look forward to new “monster” music courtesy of “Elvira’s Gravest Hits,” and see her appearance in a film called ALL ABOUT EVIL. Regardless of her roots, Cassandra Peterson is a force to be reckoned with, and the success of Elvira must be credited to her.
The main hall of the convention was immense. Locating the horror hosts required careful navigation through crowds of people to reach the opposite side. Once there, you’d find an entire section dedicated to them, along with a schedule roster listing their availability. As many of them were also filming excerpts for their own shows or even entire web casts, catching them all would require frequent visits.
The first host I had the honor of meeting was Doctor Destruction from Wisconsin. My friend and I saw him earlier that evening while dining at the hotel’s restaurant. It was actually a comical moment; in walked the good doctor wearing full make-up, along with his assistant, Eyegore (photo below). I should mention that Horrorhound was not the only convention taking place at our hotel. A smaller group of Veterans had also convened that weekend, creating a bizarre mix of gore hounds and conservative, senior citizens. When Doctor Destruction entered the restaurant, you could of heard a pin drop as all the elderly patrons suddenly stopped conversing and began staring, awestruck. To ease the tension, I called across the room, “Hi Dr. Destruction!” He nodded in return, though I have no doubt he’d grown used to being stared at.
Prior to formally meeting him in the main hall, I had watched some of his “Crimson Theater” shows and enjoyed them. I approached his booth and introduced myself. He was very personable and I was thrilled that, along with his autograph, he was selling copies of his work. He asked which of his episodes I had seen and I responded, VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE. “Oh God, that’s so old!” he said. He pointed to a stack of DVD’s assuring me that, “These are much more current.” I went through them, buying just about every single title. After Horrorhound, I popped in one of these shows and was shocked at how much his program had evolved since VARAN. The sound quality had noticeably improved and he had expanded his empire from local public access in Kenosha, into Milwaukee, Racine, and Muskego via a local, commercial station.
Dr. Destruction has grown quite popular up in Wisconsin with a growing number of fans referred to as “Ghoulies.” He certainly warrants a closer look and will be featured in an upcoming Horror Host Spotlight.
The next host I had the privilege to meet was none other than Penny Dreadful herself! This New England hostess was the winner of the 2007 Rondo Award for “Favorite Active Horror Host(ess).” She was also one of six hosts featured in the latest issue of “Rue Morgue.” This is one witch whose ascension can not be credited to a mere broomstick! Smart and savvy, she has used more than an ample bosom to distinguish herself among her horror host peers (though tongue-wagging, male fans won’t be disappointed in that regard either). She will be covered in much greater detail in my next Horror Host Spotlight.
Penny was joined by her partner (both on and off the screen) the werewolf, Garou. They were both a lot of fun and delighted me by signing her season 5 box set of “Shilling Shockers.” Garou was a bundle of energy and actually very funny. After I left Penny, I was so enamored with meeting her that I left my autographed photo (duh)! True to his character, Garou tracked me down to bring it to me, which was very nice of him.
Prior to Horrorhound, I had watched Penny’s latest, 7th season. My kids and I decided to present her with a gift basket worthy of a witch; rubber creepy crawlies and potions courtesy of the local trick shop. I also included some Svengoolie clips I had burned onto a DVD and the WCIU promo card Svengoolie had signed for her the night before. She graciously reciprocated and that autograph (along with Count Gore de Vol’s) was aired on a recent episode of Svengoolie.
In an effort to support the “home team,” I wore my Svengoolie shirt that first night in the hall. This attracted the attention of another host, and fellow Illinoisan, The Bone Jangler. He was very warm and, despite being an imposing figure, immediately put us at ease. Clearly he loved his status as a horror host as well as being among his peers. I had recently watched his Web presentation of BLOOD FREAK and we talked about that as well as how disappointed I was at not being able to meet his co-host, Nocturna, who was appearing at another event.
Later, I saw The Bone Jangler conversing with the legendary, Son of Ghoul. He noticed me and used the opportunity to introduce me to his famous friend. I thought that was an incredibly nice gesture on his part and I was thrilled to meet the Ohio legend. Son of Ghoul is celebrating his 25th year on commercial television and has legions of Midwestern fans. I found him to be very down to earth and anxiously purchased a stack of his shows. I was alarmed when I heard that he recently suffered a heart attack , but am comforted at the news that he is recovering well. I know there are countless Ohio horror fans that feel the same way.
Others I met included Web hostesses Marlena Midnight and her co-host, Robyn Graves from “Midnight Mausoleum.” We also met Helena the Hussy. I had not viewed any of their works prior to meeting them but they eagerly sold me some episodes to rectify the matter.
As the night waned, I left the convention hall feeling a great sense of accomplishment. Little did I know, however, it was about to end on an even higher note. Exiting the hall, I noticed a VERY familiar face signing autographs to my right. My evening’s finale was about to be served up…..courtesy of The Mistress of the Dark!
(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…..)
Last March, I attended my first (but definitely not last) Horrorhound Convention. As mentioned in my previous post, Horrorhound Magazine definitely ranks as one of my favorites. Like FANGORIA, they sponsor their own conventions too - attracting some very impressive guests! For the past few years, Horrorhound has done two conventions annually; one in Indianapolis (March) and another in Cincinnati (November).
I had planned to attend the Ohio show last fall, intent on meeting Tom Savini and Elvira: Mistress of the Dark. I ended up canceling these plans, telling myself that I would attend the March show, come hell or high water! I’m very happy that I did. This convention, without question, was one of the BEST.
Joining me on this trip was my old pal, Jason. Although neither of us were sure of what to expect, we did have very specific goals about what we hoped to accomplish. Jason (a musician) wanted to acquire some rare horror music – particularly the scores to some Italian, gore classics. I, on the other hand, was thrilled at the prospect of meeting a number of the horror hosts who would be attending (more on that next time).
Both of us wanted to add new reference books, along with some rare 1980′s slasher films, to our collections. We were also anxious to meet some of the featured celebrity guests. These would include George Romero, Tom Savini, David Hess, and Elvira – to name but a few. I am happy to report that we not only met, but surpassed, ALL of our objectives!
We belted KISS parody songs all the way to Indianapolis, making the trip seem MUCH quicker (though it’s a wonder I could still speak after growling like Gene Simmons for four hours). When we pulled into the parking lot of the Marriott hotel, we saw horror host, Karlos Borloff (obviously, another fan of Simmons) outside enjoying a cigarette. There was no doubt, we had come to the right place.
Tom Savini was the next celebrity we met. He was sitting at a table with an interesting statue of a zombie eating Cheerios out of George Romero’s head. I found Savini to be a bit of a cold fish during this first encounter. I’ve been a huge fan of Savini for over twenty years and was anxious to have an opportunity to meet and talk with him. I started by telling him how much I loved THE GRINDHOUSE films and how happy I was that they had made a feature film of one of its faux trailers, MACHETE. He didn’t give eye contact and responded with a deadpan, “yeah.” He was slightly more communicative when I asked him about the Blu-Ray release date for his version of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1990), stating that it should be at the end of this year after they add in some lost footage (cool!). Jason was gushing compliments left and right and he still barely cracked a smile. That initial meeting left me disappointed but, fortunately, the next meeting would be much better.
Our next celebrity encounter was with actor, David Hess. Hess starred in the original LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT as well as the 1980 Italian alternative, THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK. He also starred in HITCH-HIKE, SWAMP THING, and the rare Italian slasher BODY COUNT.
Hess’ co-star in THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK was Italian actor, Giovanni Lombardo Radice. Despite not being a fan of horror (particularly gore) movies, Radice has the distinction of starring in some of the gruesomest films ever made. These include Lucio Fulci’s CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD as well as Umberto Lenzi’s highly controversial, CANNIBAL FEROX. Hess was selling numerous photos at his table but the one that quickly caught my eye featured Radice and Hess together. It was more expensive than the other photos but was pre-signed by Radice himself. I was happy to add both autographs to my collection.
The 2010 Horrorhound Indianapolis Convention was a definite zombie paradise! On hand were plenty of representatives from Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD and DAY OF THE DEAD films. There was only one in attendance from his original, 1968 NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and that was Charles Craig. Mr. Craig played the radio announcer in the horror classic (as well as a zombie extra) and was happy to pose with us using an actual microphone as a prop. He was a very nice guy and seemed genuinely surprised at the attention he received. I just felt bad that he was stuck handling money transactions while his “assistant” snoozed away!
I thought it was great that the original DAWN OF THE DEAD’s, Mike Christopher, appeared at the convention wearing his Hare Krishna zombie costume. I couldn’t believe that after 30 years he looked exactly the same as he did in that movie! We grabbed a beer off of the table (belonging to his irked assistant) and handed it to him for the shot. I hope I can meet him again so he can sign this photo! Jason returned to his booth on Sunday and we snapped a shot of him without the make up too.
On Saturday, we stood in line for about four hours to meet George Romero. It was well worth the wait. Mr. Romero is every bit as warm and ingratiating to his fans as we had heard. He signed a DAWN OF THE DEAD poster for Jason and a DAY OF DEAD one for me (I prefer DAWN to DAY also but Jason was lucky to snag his last available poster). We asked Romero if he wouldn’t mind doing an intro for our home made video. He said he would but kept flubbing the lines. It was actually pretty comical. Each time he’d mess up, he’d insist on being given another chance to get it right. So we not only received a video plug from Romero, but also plenty of bloopers!
The convention was very crowded and I heard a lot of complaints from fellow participants. I’m not sure if it was our careful planning or just blind luck, but we wouldn’t have changed a thing. We drove home constantly uttering the phrase, “I can’t believe we did it!” It was just an amazing experience and one we’ll never forget. Believe it or not, you’ve only heard ”half” the story. This convention also featured a special tribute to the late Maila Nurmi - Vampira. It would see the largest gathering of horror hosts from across the country. Little did I know at the time, my Svengoolie-centric world was about to bust wide open!