Unlike the last few years, 2013′s March Horrorhound Weekend featured only a sparse number of horror hosts which, in many ways, seemed like a “last stand.” After the Vampira Tribute in 2010, Jason Hignite continued the Horrorhound Weekend/Horror Host tradition with a Zacherley Tribute in 2011 along with “inducting” at least ten horror hosts into the Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Horror Host Hall of Fame. The tradition of choosing ten random hosts for induction would continue in 2012 and, despite the lower turn-out, took place again this year.
While it was the National Horror Host, Svengoolie, who is indirectly responsible for bringing the Daves together as friends, it has always been our stance that TERROR FROM BEYOND THE DAVES was really the bastard child of the 2010 Vampira Tribute and SCARY MONSTERS MAGAZINE. In reality, the two are complimentary of each other. Within the pulpy pages of the world’s only “REAL Monsters Magazine,” classic monsters as well as Horror Hosts have always been featured side-by-side. And why shouldn’t they be? For many of us adult Monster kids, it was the classic commercial hosts who introduced us to all the greats be it Godzilla, The Universal Monsters, the films of Hammer Studios, the wonderful “B” movies of Roger Corman, as well as those from directors who were slightly…ahem…less gifted.
This year’s Indianapolis HorrorHound Weekend was noteworthy for featuring multiple events centered around the art of horror hosting. Perhaps the most significant of these was the addition of horror hosts to an actual “Hall of Fame” sponsored by “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.“
HorrorHound events organizer, Jason Hignite, oversaw this ceremony and his devotion to horror hosts can not be overstated. Any horror host able to look outside their own personal interests can not deny that his making one of the country’s largest horror conventions a venue for them to not only feel welcome, but also an opportunity to share their work with a larger audience, has helped rejuvenate this nearly extinct art. It has also encouraged younger fans to appreciate the work of commercial hosts from a bygone era, as well as introduce those of us who did grow up with a host to become acquainted with some of the other personalities our fellow fans were watching across the country. Perhaps none of the host-related events at HorrorHound best illustrated this than the Hall of Fame Inductions.
Mr. Hignite also works with a sister website of HorrorHound called G.O.T.H.I.C. (Gathering of Television Horror Hosts – Internet – Cinema). Though no official plaque design has been created for the awards, G.O.T.H.I.C. will be holding a contest for this express purpose and we’ll definitely keep you posted on how to get involved with that. Once created, the awards will see their way to their proud owners while those who have passed away will have their awards housed at Ripley’s.
This year, thirteen horror hosts were to have the honor of being the FIRST Inductees to the Horror Host Hall of Fame. They are Vampira (Maila Nurmi), Zacherley/Roland (John Zacherle), Marvin (Terry Bennett), Sammy Terry (Bob Carter), The Cool Ghoul (Dick Von Hoene), Dr. Morgus the Magnificent (Sid Noel), M.T. Graves (Charlie Baxter), Count Gore deVol (Dick Dyszel), Ghoulardi (Ernie Anderson), Sir Graves Ghastly (Lawson J. Deming), The Bowman Body (Bill Bowman), Svengoolie (Jerry G. Bishop), and the recently deceased Dr. Creep (Barry Hobart) in one of the evenings most emotional moments.
The first host inducted was, appropriately enough, the very first horror host. Ms Monster had the honor of inducting Vampira whom she described as “The first mythological creature of the Atomic Age.” Maila Nurmi’s Vampira began hosting in 1954 and, last year, was the subject of her own HorrorHound Tribute (covered in greater detail HERE). A few years later, hosts would be popping up across the country! This was due to the “Shock” movie package – a collection of over 50 classic monster movies given to 142 media markets across the country.
The addition of a horror host was something that could benefit the station on two major points; for one thing, nervous TV execs weren’t sure how these movies would play to a general audience (this was the 50′s/60′s after all). Not wanting to literally scare their viewers away, a comical host might help alleviate anxiety a bit by providing some cheesy laughs. Hosts could also serve to help fill up some time on movies that ran shorter than their program slots provided.
As a result, the late 50′s/early 60′s saw some memorable, classic horror hosts enter American popular culture. These men and women were professional broadcasters who, by exercising their versatility, afforded them a bit of job security along with a relatively cheap method for promoting these old films.
Cinema Insomnia’s Mr. Lobo (who had the privilege of inducting Count Gore de Vol) also pointed out that the “Shock” package of films weren’t alone in creating a legion of hosts. “The Creature Feature” package brought about some of the most legendary names (such as Bob Wilkins in California) as well as happy monster memories for young fans like myself across the country who saw these films both with, and without, a host.
Because these hosts were fairly isolated, it is unlikely that anyone (outside of a horror host buff) would be familiar with everyone inducted at this ceremony. Even many of the presenters themselves, inducting individuals clearly before their time, had only a vague understanding of whom they were honoring.
TERROR FROM BEYOND THE DAVES isn’t going to pretend to be any more savvy…and we’re certainly not going to pretend to be older. We would, however, like to offer a special post to each of the inductees and, when possible, gain the perspective of an actual fan of the host’s as well. Anyone reading who may have their own memories of the aforementioned classic hosts, please contact either Dave via our contact link.
Count Gore De Vol, like Vampira, was covered in more detail in an earlier piece which you can read HERE . The remaining inductees, however, will be given spotlights in the coming weeks. When possible we will share pictures, clips, and fan anecdotes. We’d like as many folks as possible to contribute so PLEASE send those memories and help us give these Horror Hosts the tributes they deserve!
* Basement Boy is not only a Horror Host but, as you can see, a talented Graphic Designer! If you are in need of a branding campaign, promotional posters, business cards, assorted graphics for your host shows (need a fake beer label or custom packaging for a fictional product?) please contact him at BasementBoyDC@gmail.com!
Since delving into the world of horror hosting, I have come across many diverse points of view. Debates regarding who is worthy of the title of “horror host,” who’s the better and most original host, or whether or not true hosts even exist in a post local TV world often come up. This is not surprising since hosts and their fans are, above all else, human beings. Despite all these varying opinions, I was surprised to discover that there was one thing just about everyone agreed on -
Horror hostess, Penny Dreadful is the one to watch!
What is it about Penny Dreadful that has earned such strong admiration from her peers? What sets her apart from her public access brothers and sisters that even the few remaining “classic” hosts turn their heads and nod in approval? To find the answer, one has only to meet her alter ego, Danielle Gelehrter.
“Penny Dreadful’s Shilling Shockers” has been entertaining New England horror fans for nearly five years. Prior to this, Ms Gelehrter was a classically trained actress who, ironically, found inspiration to become a television witch while performing as one on-stage. While portraying the mythological “Medea” from Ancient Greek literature, the seeds of Penny Dreadful began to slowly take root backstage. “I joked with the cast during a rehearsal,” says Penny. “The thought of this vengeful sorceress from a Greek tragedy making morbid puns seemed very horror host-like.” Leaving her fellow cast members in stitches, Danielle realized that she was definitely on to something.
Like many of us, Penny grew up a fan of classic horror. Although she did not have the privilege of having a horror host/hostess of her own, she was not without a facilitator. Her own Uncle Valdemar encouraged her love of the genre by feeding his niece a steady diet of “Famous Monsters of Filmland,”classic Universal horror, the film’s of Hammer studios, low-budget/Roger Corman classics, the literary works of Edgar Allen Poe, and television’s “Dark Shadows.”
It would not be until the 1980′s that Gelehrter would witness an actual horror host via 1980′s cable sensation, Commander USA. While she enjoyed this program, finding it “a lot of fun,” she was to discover her true inspiration via a New York cable access program called “Ghoul a Go-go.” The show has been described as “American Bandstand with monsters” and, as Penny states, “Combined elements of horror hosting, kiddie shows, 50′s educational films, and 60′s rock n’ roll.” I have since previewed some of these shows courtesy of my friend Larry Gibbs (a.k.a. horror host underground archivist – Uncle Lar), and the shows are indeed LOTS of fun.
“Ghoul a Go-go” illustrated to Penny just how far an independent, public access show can reach. Realizing that her home state of Massachusetts (famous for it’s Salem witch trials) has never actually had a witch hostess, the decision to assume the mantle was, in her words, a “no brainer.”
One might consider a witch to be a relatively easy character to assume. Not so in the case of Penny Dreadful, who is far from simplistic. In fact, she has one of the richest character mythologies I’ve seen applied to any host.
Penny Dreadful XIII is a 600+ year old witch who retains her youthful beauty courtesy of a supernatural elixir (addressed in more detail during her show’s seventh season). A fan of motion pictures, the ambitious Penny decides that she would make for a wonderful screen legend herself. Not wanting to bother with such mundane tasks such as screen tests or the dreaded casting couch, Penny concocts a spell designed to grant her instant fame. Unfortunately, the spell doesn’t work out as intended and she is transformed, instead, into a horror hostess – destined to show cheesy movies for the rest of her long years.
Thus, “Penny Dreadful’s Shilling Shockers” was born (eliciting no complaints from us mere mortals). Aside from the premise, Gelehrter also carefully selected the names of both her character as well as the show by taking a nod from 19th century literature. During this era, horror stories were often sold in chapter installments for the price of a cent. These stories, referred to as “penny dreadfuls,” were often quite lurid, containing graphic illustrations to accompany it’s gruesome subject matter.
Later on, similar stories were released (containing fewer illustrations) called “shilling shockers.” After choosing the name Penny Dreadful for herself, Gelehrter felt that calling the show “Shilling Shockers” was a logical choice. Making its debut in 2006, it was originally featured on public access channels located in New Bedford, Boston, & Salem Massachusetts as well as Providence, Rhode Island. It has since spread (as Penny describes it) “like a plague” across the United States, currently airing in over 150 cities nationwide!
Many horror hosts are accompanied by supporting cast members and Penny Dreadful is no exception. Joining her on the show is her werewolf companion, Garou (played by her real life husband Magoo Gelehrter). Garou adds humor to the show while also serving to humanize his wicked witch co-star. ”He’s just fantastic with all the facial expressions and physicality,” says Penny. “I thought he’d be great as a sort of funny, growling werewolf sidekick and he just completely took to it and made that persona come to life.” Having met Garou at the Indianapolis Horrorhound Convention, I’d have to concur with Penny. That meeting, along with Penny’s, is covered with greater detail in an earlier post (Horrorhound Part 3).
Other regular cast members (not present at Horrorhound) include Penny’s foil, Dr. Manfred Von Bulow, and her insane friend, Luna. Dr. Von Bulow (played by Ivan Bernier) is described by Penny as “a funny, cranky Van Helsing type.” He is a vampire hunter who reluctantly assists Penny on her many misadventures – despite his aversion to the underworld. It’s always great fun watching Dr. Von Bulow and Penny volley sarcastic jabs at each other during the course of each episode.
The insane Luna is played by real life friend, Rebecca Paiva. Ms Paiva often makes appearances on the show playing various supporting characters when required. My favorite of which was during an episode where she plays Dr. Von Bulow’s mother-turned vampire. Chiding her bachelor son as his ring-less hand thrusts a stake into her heart, her last words are, “When are you going to marry a nice girl?!?!” Most of Ms. Paiva’s work, however, is done behind the camera. A talented cinematographer, she is also the show’s esteemed director and editor.
During the shows early years, episodes featured skits that played throughout each night’s presentation. Penny welcomes her viewers, whom she refers to as her “Dreary ones,” before setting the show’s premise – often designed to compliment the movie. In one of my favorite first season shows, HORROR HOTEL, Penny Dreadful visits downtown Salem, Massachusetts. While enjoying the sites, Penny (a “real” witch) encounters a statue of Elizabeth Montgomery as her iconic character, Samantha, from “Bewitched.” While hilariously trying to contain her disgust, she is suddenly accosted by a disgruntled group of Wiccans. Displeased with her stereotypical (and less “empowering”) image, they bring the Salem witch saga full circle, by having Penny stand trial for her “negative energy.”
Both situations were handled with great comedic flair and showed, early on, the potential of its hostess/comedienne. “I was half expecting Wiccans to get annoyed about my on-screen persona…,” says Penny. “Instead we have quite a number of Wiccan viewers who get a kick out of the show.”
Despite Penny’s growing popularity and demography, she has retained a strong connection to her New England home. This has been particularly fascinating for me (a Midwestern guy) to be introduced to this region’s rich culture and history. Penny accomplishes this by flawlessly blending local history within her own fictional story lines.
During the seventh season, Penny discovers that her aforementioned youth elixir has been stolen. Without her frequent dosage, she quickly begins to revert back to her true age. With time as a factor, Penny realizes that she’s better off trying to recreate the potion first, as opposed to locating the culprit. Needing the blood of a vampire to complete the potion, she heads to real life Rhode Island cemetery, The Baptist Church of Exeter, to locate the remains of Mercy Brown.
Mercy Brown is prominent in New England lore as being a documented case of vampirism (in truth, most likely a victim of tuberculosis, but let’s not ruin the fun). Without the benefit of modern science, Brown’s body was exhumed and remains (no pun intended) one or the few documented cases where an undead ritual was performed in the United States.
For those interested in horror hosts, one of Penny’s finest contributions was her 2007 special which paid tribute to the hosts of New England. I found the show fascinating (having watched it several times) and particularly enjoyed seeing the work of deceased host, Simon (Gary Newton), from “Simon’s Sanctorum.”
Penny Dreadful’s versatility and innovation will be further illustrated in her highly anticipated eighth season. Boldly treading where no horror host/hostess has before,” six of the season’s seven episodes will feature classic silent films such as Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS. Penny hints that, during this season, her character may even make a trip into the future. There is little doubt that as far as this hostess is concerned, it’s destined to be a bright one.
Critics of public access hosts have, no doubt, been struck silent themselves at the genius of Danielle Gelehrter. Through her own brilliance and drive she has created a character that will leave as lasting an impression on New England as the infamous Salem witch trials themselves. Far from a modern day Elvira, her seductive cunning is matched only by the great Vampira herself – whom Penny sites as an influence. Like the great Maila Nurmi, Penny Dreadful is a rare combination of beauty, brains, and savvy that should inspire all of her fellow hosts. She is, to use one of her own terms, simply Hex-cellent!
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.
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.
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!