When Ghoul A Go-Go frontrunner, Vlad Tepis, was unable to appear at this year’s MONSTERBASH it was Shilling Shocker’s Penny Dreadful to the rescue! The crafty New England witch made a spell-binding replacement, all done last minute. Ghoul A G-Go is a popular show combining monsters, laughs, and dancing! They’re regulars of the premiere Pennsylvania Monster event but the absence of Vlad (which Penny jokingly explained was due to his protest of the DARK SHADOWS remake) created a bit of a dilemma in lieu of their scheduled performance. You see, Vlad is the only member of the trio who actually speaks! (NOTE: Out of respect for the wishes of Ghoul A Go-Go, all photos and video are B&W).
It was great seeing my Horror Hosts friends this past weekend at MONSTERBASH! Count Gore de Vol, Son of Ghoul, Penny Dreadful, and Mr. Lobo are regulars there as well as Chilly Billy whom I met for the first time! Check out these pics…
Not long after the premiere of Tim Burton’s DARK SHADOWS, we shared the insights of Dr. Destruction (a life long fan of the show) which you can revisit HERE. Destruction wasn’t the only one eager to share his two cents as horror hostess, Penny Dreadful, also posted her own blog on the subject (see HERE). I suddenly found myself wishing I could sit down with the two of them (metaphorically speaking) and have them answer a few questions regarding their immense fandom of the show. And here’s what happened…
The 2010 Indianapolis Horrorhound Weekend was a plethora of hosts and one of the ones I looked most forward to meeting was New England’s Penny Dreadful! David had already been a fan ever since he saw her show which featured a visit to the grave of Mercy Brown (you can see information on Brown by clicking HERE). He was absent for this event but Penny gladly gave him a shout out (seen in the clip below).
I had seen many of her shows prior to my arrival and new that she was a fan of the art of horror hosting as well as Svengoolie (both Svens). I decided to break the ice of our meeting by creating a gift basket suitable for a witch. My kids helped me put together a collection of potions and rubber insects as well as tossing in some Svengoolie clips for her enjoyment (this was back during the time when Svengoolie only appeared on Chicago TV). She seemed to enjoy it and it would be the first of several meetings and blogs (the Horrorhound meeting can be read along with an overview of her show (that would later lead to an article in Scary Monsters Magazine) HERE).
All in all it was a lot of fun and Garou, as always, was a hoot!
Celebrity encounters at horror fan conventions range from warm and fan-friendly (like George Romero, Robert Englund, & Lance Henriksen) to disconnected/self-absorbed (Linda Blair & Lisa Marie). And then there’s Gary Busey…
By Richard Church~
Please grade on a curve, as I am writing this at 3AM (and I’ve been up since 6AM, yesterday), and these accounts may or may not be completely fabricated!
There’s always a special place in my heart for the big ROCK N SHOCK horror convention that takes place each fall in Worcester, Massachusetts. Back in July 2010, when David Albaugh and I created this site, there had never been any plans for us to formally meet (that story covered HERE). ROCK N SHOCK provided the opportunity and venue for this to not only take place but to also solidify our friendship – turning online pals into best friends. By the time the weekend was over, there was never any question that I would return.
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.
It was hot down in Kentucky for the recent FRIGHT NIGHT FILM FEST which saw the appearance of John Carpenter, Linda Blair, and Henry Winkler – along with a cache’ of independent films to be unveiled to an overheated (it was humid and like 100 degrees, I kid you not) horror audience. Among all these events and “A-list” horror celebrities was a small conclave of horror hosts who were invited by Horrorhound’s Jason Hignite to put on a LIVE show. While nowhere near the number of hosts seen at the Indy Horrorhound, FRIGHT NIGHT was visited by Midnite Mausoleum, Captain Crypt & Fenriz Fatal from Horror Dungeon, and The Count & Countess Gregula. Mr. Lobo & Dixie from Cinema Insomnia also made a stop through (to be covered in a future post) and I am pretty sure I saw Mel Praxis walking around too, but was on my way to the John Carpenter Q&A and never able to formerly meet him.
The plan was that there would be a showing of John Carpenter’s earliest film, DARK STAR and that each host would get up for 10-15 minutes and do a RIFF TRAX like performance, ripping on the lackluster film. The Gregulas carpooled down with me and both they and Dr Destruction (who had to cancel last minute) seemed uneasy regarding what to expect. Despite being familiar with performing, the prospect of getting up unscripted in front of an audience was a nerve wracking one at that. But there was one group of performers who had NO problem performing LIVE – with or without a script…
Atomic Age Cinema – featuring Dr Calamari, Basement Boy, Baron Mardi and Woody the Clown are no strangers to working a crowd and have been doing so for over six years. “It began in 2004 as a fundraiser for the Cinephile Film Arts Organization,” says Calamari. “It was dedicated to helping local filmmakers get their films made and shown. Cinephile eventually transformed into the Dark Carnival Film Festival and the profits from AAC!” I’d met them before at Horrorhound Weekend and always enjoyed talking with Doc Calamari who is not only a great guy but has one of the coolest & original looks. His tentacled face is matched only by his lone silvery eyeball that will have you quickly forgetting there’s a man underneath!
Despite the nature of this site, my original goals for attending FRIGHT NIGHT was less about covering hosts as it was about gathering info from THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW reunion. However, no respectable “Dave” would ever shy away from a horror hosted event and it should come as great comfort to my host friends that I skipped the “nude body painting show” in favor of attending this one. I knew it was slated to begin at 10:30 pm and tracked down a FRIGHT NIGHT attendant to assist me in finding its location. “Uh….I don’t know. Maybe look at the wall and see if there’s a sign?” Gee, thanks Einstein! Listen,when you’re done NOT helping anyone here, maybe you can check out the next room. I think I saw something shiny!
As I looked around for the Gregulas (passing a long line of conventioneers who suddenly had an interest in art) I ran into Jason Hignite. Let me state for the record that, when I die, I am hoping to come back as him. Not only does he get to work with horror hosts and write for Horrorhound Magazine, but he can always be seen at conventions with a cocktail in one arm and an attractive woman (in this case TWO) in the other. I mean no sarcasm when I say this; don’t bother reading a Martha Stewart magazine if you want to know the definition of “Living,” just hang around with Jason!
Hignite saw me and gave a warm greeting (despite neither offering me a sip of his drink nor one of his companions) and pointed in the direction of the show. I followed a winding hallway and, if there had been any question that I was headed to the right place, it was soon squelched at the sight of Woody the Clown pacing by the entrance. “We don’t have a f*cking movie!” he yelled. “No one has a copy of DARK STAR!” Well, at that point, I had no more reservations about missing the nude art show and knew that this was the place to be!
Before the main event we were treated to a screening of Dark Carnival’s DVD featuring The Vampira Tribute from 2010 – HOSTING HORROR: THE LEGACY OF VAMPIRA. Many people don’t realize that it was Dark Carnival who came up with the idea of a Vampira Tribute – eventually finding its way to Horrorhound. In this we should all be eternally grateful. The video features clips from that amazing afternoon as well as interviews from many of the participating hosts; Penny Dreadful, The Bone Jangler, and Karlos Borloff to name but a few. David and I each bought a copy of this video at the last Horrorhound and it has always been sad to me that the “other Dave” wasn’t there to see it LIVE with me. He, like myself, loves horror hosts and I know he’d have really enjoyed it. I appreciate Dark Carnival for creating this DVD – if only so he , and others unable to attend, could get a glimpse of it. Tonight’s venue was a small room but most seats were taken. As I settled in, I looked around and noticed Midnite Mausoleum’s Robyn Graves kicking back in more seasonal attire.
Horror Host “summer fashion” continued with the arrival of The Count and Countess Gregula – Gregula sporting a rather unique vampire look with a T-shirt, overcoat, and shorts. Here’s an interesting tidbit; not long after FRIGHT NIGHT, Gregula was cast for a role in a new NBC Fall series called “The Playboy Club.” I can’t help but think that the casting director may have seen one of these shots from the DARK STAR event before making their decision!
Soon the big moment arrived with a copy of the film arriving just in the nick of time. Showing their mettle as LIVE performers, it should be noted that the gang from Atomic Age Cinema were willing to perform to a DVD copy of ANY movie so long as it was readily available. As the lights went down, the show became less like RIFF TRAX and more like THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. The Atomic Age Cinema guys remained standing while everyone in the audience was encouraged to belt out comments and participate. In this I was at a distinct disadvantage having no alcohol in me, though this in no way stopped The Countess from stealing the show.
I’m here to tell you that she was absolutely hilarious utilizing her dry sense of humor like an artist delves in oil. Many folks believe that vampires have no blood but I can safely say that isn’t true as some of the “adults only” comments flying out of The Countess’ mouth left her counterpart turning a decisive shade of RED. Further adding to Gregula’s chagrin was my suggesting to him that perhaps his wife was the actual horror host and he should start thinking of himself as the sidekick. Gregula looked like I just “staked” him but, rest assured, I meant it only in good fun and they BOTH added a lot to this event.
In between bouts of laughter, and inappropriate comments, were special “games” organized by Atomic Age Cinema complete with prizes. The first of which was a drinking challenge in which Jason Hignite further secured his status as a party god and one we should all revere. As I write this I am making definite plans to start stalking him!
As for the movie it self, what can I say? If ever there was a film in need of the “horror host treatment,” this was it. I’d like to say that it was a rip-off of STAR WARS had it not been for the fact that this film was made a few years before. DARK STAR is definitely not something you’d want to watch again and again but, for these purposes, it was a welcomed attraction. A few members of the audience got so caught up, one eager participant ended up wearing a popcorn bucket on his head before winning a prize for his belly dancing.
The highlight of this event, however, was turning the lights on and seeing the film’s lead cast member, Brian Narelle, sitting amongst the audience! Sadly, the director of the film, John Carpenter was no where to be seen (no doubt sitting up in his hotel room issuing “Order 66″ and the extermination of the Jedi Knights). Narelle seemed to enjoy the show and was given a special Atomic Age Cinema T-shirt for being such a good sport!
As the event ended, everyone left with big smiles on their faces (probably equaling the hang-overs they’d have the next day) and it was clear that, despite recently losing their regular performing venue, Atomic Age Cinema is far from beaten. In the spirit of their new-found solidarity, they would not be confined to a booth at FRIGHT NIGHT and moved freely about the entire weekend. Everywhere they went they brought laughs and smiles at a convention that desperately needed it. This was further illustrated on the last day of the convention when, eager to take advantage of the familiar looking walkway that joined the two buildings of the hotel together, they decided to re-enact the cover of the Beatles’ “Abbey Road.”
I look forward to seeing them again, hopefully at the next March Horrorhound Weekend which, I am told, will take place in Columbus, Ohio this time instead of Indianapolis. We Daves will definitely be there and hope you will be as well!
Now…. if you’ll excuse me, I must hurry on my way! Jason Hignite just “tweeted” that he’s leaving his apartment.
Ever since Vampira cooed to her pet spider, “Rolo,” and the great Zacherly whispered “my dear” to an invisible paramour just outside the camera’s reach, sidekicks have been a common feature of horror hosted shows.
These companions are often as colorful and diverse as their host creators. Some are the skeletal variety such as Svengoolie’s Tombstone or Wolfman Mac’s conniving Boney Bob. Others are even more bizarre and imaginative such as Doktor Goulfinger’s Count Zygote (the world’s first horror host fan), Ms Monster’s..”ahem”.. melons “Tit & Tat,” or even a coy houseplant whom Mr. Lobo affectionately refers to as “Miss Mittens.”
For matters of horror host history, I always seek out my friend, Michael Monahan (Doktor Goulfinger), to supply the answers. I asked him if he had any idea who some of the first host sidekicks were and, expecting him to need some time to ponder the question, was surprised when he responded almost immediately. The following is a list of early host sidekicks the good Doktor shared “just off the top of his head.”
Aside from the aforementioned Vampira, he also listed Kansas City’s The Host – Rodney, Son of Ghoul in the 90′s – Fidge, Sammy Terry – George the Spider, Dr. Paul Bearer – a spider named Spinjamin Bock, Commander USA – Lefty, The Ghoul - Froggie, and Morgus the Magnificent – Chopsley.
Less common were the “living” sidekicks. This was a luxury few commercial hosts could afford with barely enough money in the station’s budget allotted for themselves let alone an assistant. This, of course, is not an issue with hosts working on public access as it is all the labor of love. Good friends, loved ones, and fellow horror fans show their support by acting as supporting cast members.
One should, however, take their time before adding names to their roster. This is a lesson Kenosha’s Dr. Destruction learned the hard way. Once, while hosting a dinner party that utilized multiple sidekicks, an on-air battle erupted between them (apparently jealous over their host’s attention). Destruction, none too pleased at having to interrupt his performance to put an end to the altercation, decided to leave all the footage intact for public viewing. I would like to add that I met his latest sidekick, Deadgar Winters, last weekend and he was one of the nicest, easy going guys you could ever meet. The on-air sidekick battle was clearly before his time.
Behind every great man lies a great woman and this is certainly the case with many other hosts such as Zomboo’s Miss Transyvania, The Bone Jangler’s beautiful Enchantress Nocturna, Dr. Dreck’s Moaner Lisa, Count Gregula’s Countess, and Undead Johnny’s Romania. Perhaps in these instances the word “partner” would be more appropriate than sidekick, though they still serve the same role of enhancing the performance of their host.
Great hostesses can also rely on their men to back them up as well. If not a great man, than certainly a great “wolfman!”As is the case of Penny Dreadful’s partner, both on and off screen, Garou!
I met Garou last March at the Indianapolis Horrorhound Convention and then again at “Rock & Shock” last month. This was the first time David met the wily lycanthrope and he was very impressed with the way he stayed so flawlessly in character.
This was something I had witnessed at Horrorhound and I wasn’t alone. Brian Maze, the fantastic artist who created the horror host illustrations used in our current updates, also met Garou at Horrorhound. Apparently Mr. Maize made the mistake of handing Garou a “silver” marker to sign his autograph, prompting the werewolf to toss the Sharpie while reacting as if he’d just been burned.
Garou is played by Penny’s real life husband, Magoo Gelehrter. While putting together her show, Penny recognized Magoo’s comic potential and asked if he’d mind playing a non-speaking werewolf character. According to Penny, his response was a simple and direct, “Cool, Baby!” And the rest is “Shilling Shocker” history.
With the aid of a werewolf translator, Garou delighted me by taking some time out and answering a few questions….
DAVE: Tell us how you came to be “Garou?”
GAROU: I’m always pulling faces to make Danielle laugh, and when we decided on the witch, werewolf and monster hunter characters, the name Garou, as in Loup Garou, just came to me, and that was decidedly that.
DAVE: I know that prior to Penny Dreadful, Danielle had some experience with acting, had you as well?
GAROU: It has long been my ambition to be a silent film actor, but it’s very hard to find leading parts that don’t have spoken lines. Danielle and I were both in a film called THE ART OF ETIOLATION in 2002. I’ve also been in some plays. Danielle and I were in the play “The Hot_l Baltimore” together a few years ago.
DAVE: Did you grow up a fan of monster movies and, if so, what are your favorites?
GAROU: I used to watch Creature Feature when I was a kid, my favourite then was ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. My favorite classic horror film is of course, THE WOLFMAN but I also love so called “bad” horror films – like Ed Wood’s BRIDE OF THE MONSTER and Herschel Gordon Lewis’ GRUESOME TWOSOME and stuff like THE GIANT GILA MONSTER.
DAVE: What episode of SHILLING SHOCKERS are you the most proud of?
GAROU: This is the hardest question! I love the movie CARRY ON SCREAMING! (Season three). I also have a certain fondness for the Coffin Joe movie we showed in Episode 2 of Season Three, and our hijinks in that episode always make me laugh because we filmed some of it at my wonderful in-laws’ home with Danielle’s mother and her mom’s best friend Mary Lou and they nearly feed Garou until he explodes. They didn’t have prior acting experience but they sure were Method actors! They were really shoving the food in my yap, I was lucky I didn’t swallow my fangs! Seeing them dance with us around the coffee table and seeing little Twinkie the dog chasing us around makes me nearly cry with laughter. And the episode where we show SWEENEY TODD, Garou gets a haircut from Danielle’s since departed grandfather as the barber he was, so having family in the episodes always makes it extra special for me. Those are both pretty early episodes and we do get better technically in the later ones, so those might be more to be proud about. Our director Rebecca Paiva does the hard work of shooting the episodes and editing them, so she’d be the one to ask about what’s the episode to be proudest of. The episode where we showed THE SEVENTH SEAL was a very hard shoot. We shot on the beach in Rhode Island during the summertime and it was hot as blazes and we didn’t bring enough potable water. It is not the only episode where I found myself dangerously dehydrated, but I was really close to the edge when we were randomly saved by beach goers who let us join their picnic and revived us all with their generosity. They noticed we were running around and when we finished shooting they invited us over, and ended up doing a song for us which closes out the episode. They were real lifesavers!
DAVE: You were a lot of fun at “Horrorhound” and “Rock & Shock” – managing to always stay in character. Do you enjoy making public appearances?
GAROU: I love doing appearances! Being in character comes naturally once I am dressed as Garou. At most of the conventions we go to there are kids, and Garou tends to have a Pied Piper effect on them. They can relate to him because they know how it feels to be mis-understood, and to communicate non-verbally, plus he’s funny and not afraid to be silly. And I respect the right of children to enjoy their innocence, so staying in character is a must. I don’t want some little kid to see me break character when I’m Garou, and then start to wonder that if Garou isn’t real, then what about Santa and the Easter Bunny, and then poof- their childhood is over, just like that! I don’t wanna be that guy, the one who kills the joy of simple pleasures for them. Also being in character all day at a convention is a great way to get into character and come up with bits that we can use in the show. Doing a convention before we start a new shooting season really helps get me ready. And much as I love to talk, I really do enjoy communicating with people non-verbally. For me, that is the most addictive part of wanting to be an actor. Though being able to memorize large monologues would be great, and a well delivered line is a thing of great beauty, for me the soul of acting is not what you say, but what you convey when you’re not speaking. One reason I like to watch movies more than once is so I can enjoy watching the people in scenes when they are not the one speaking. That’s where the real acting is, if you can see them listening to the actor who is speaking, that’s where the magic happens.
DAVE: How long does it take to make your “transformation” into Garou? Do you do your own make-up?
GAROU: When the moon is full and the wolfbane is in bloom, it takes no time at all! I had no experience using makeup until we did this show, and I learned everything the hard way! I tried all kinds of different fixatives to apply the Garou nose before I finally found something reliable. But now that I know what to use and how to use it, it only takes about half an hour or so to pull myself together. It also depends on the humidity. The fixatives I use take a bit longer when it is very humid before I can attach the nose and ears.
DAVE: Your comic timing is impeccable. Who would you site as your comedic influences?
GAROU: Thank you for the compliment! I’m sure my answer will surprise very few people: Harpo Marx is at the top of my comedy influence hit parade! But I am also a huge fan of George Burns, he is the all time best second banana ever. There isn’t a day in my life where I am not inspired by his words. I also love W.C. Fields and quote them both at least twice a day. But it’s not for a lack of love of the man that I never quote Harpo! He did it all without saying a word. I also love Mel Brooks, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy. I wish I could do a better Stan Laurel! Along with Burns & Allen, Ace Goodman and his wife Jane Ace were a great comedy duo who are not remembered often enough these days. And I love Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows.” That show had an amazing cast. Aside from Sid with his amazing physicality, he had Howie Morris whom I utterly revere, Imogen Coca, and Carl Reiner. Howie Morris is another huge influence. You might recall him as Professor Little Old Man in Mel Brooks HIGH ANXIETY. My mother took me to see my first Woody Allen film when I was seven and it had a huge influence on me. I hadn’t been too optimistic about my prospects until I saw that film- it let me know it was okay to be a nebbish and a runt, that you could still attract women not only in spite of that, but because of that! I have always loved his physical comedy for which he’s always been under-rated, yet he moves so well. He does some his best physical comedy in SHADOWS AND FOG and ZELIG. I know it’s not PC to like him these days, but funny is funny and he has always made me laugh and to feel less alone in this world. Aside from comedy, I think Lon Chaney Jr. is one of the all time great actors, his pop was no slouch either but I love the humanity Lon Junior conveys without having to say a word. Even in his last roles when his health was failing, he managed to impart incredible pathos. I put him right up there with actors like Cary Grant and George Sanders.
DAVE: I know that Danielle did not grow up with a horror host. Did you?
GAROU: I used to watch Creature Feature when I was a kid, they showed double features, lots of Godzilla movies mostly. They had a voice-over announcer telling us to stay tuned but not a character who appeared onscreen.
DAVE: What advice do you have for other horror host “sidekicks?”
GAROU: It’s okay to occasionally lick the scenery but try to avoid chewing it. You don’t want to drown out your co-hosts when they are speaking or pull focus from them with your antics. Try to find the balance between adding a little color without upstaging the focus.
DAVE: This one I can’t resist. I love the story of how Penny Dreadful, through a misguided spell, became a hostess. What is Garou’s back story and how did a werewolf end up the love interest of a 600 year old witch?
GAROU: I hate to leave you hanging but you’ll just have to stay tuned to Shilling Shockers to find out more about Garou’s past.
Well Dave, thanks for asking all these great questions, you gave me much to consider. I think this is where I should say goodnight but I’ve never been good at goodbyes, so I’ll leave it up to someone else. And to end, since I can’t quote Harpo, here is something one of his brothers once said. Groucho to be specific, though I love them all, even Gummo and Zeppo. Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Chico as well. “Until then, so long, skol, arrivederci, prosit, salud, hasta la vista, a bientot and ciao. (Ciao, in case you don’t know, is an Italian salutation. It is also a breed of dog that will bite your ass off for no reason at all.)”
A little over a month ago, I was having an email exchange with my co-blogger and friend, David Albaugh. He was disappointed that his plans for this October’s annual “Rock & Shock” horror convention in Massachusetts had fallen apart. Attending a fan convention alone is never as much fun as sharing the experience with a fellow enthusiast, especially if you’re looking for a reliable photographer to capture those rare moments of you interacting with your favorite celebs. I genuinely felt bad for him because I knew that, while fan conventions are abundant here in my centralized Midwest location of Chicago, this was much less the case in his native Rhode Island.
This disappointing revelation took place around my 40th birthday (another disappointing revelation) and the wheels in my head began to turn. I called my wife to see if, as a birthday gift, she’d help me purchase a plane ticket to Rhode Island. She quickly agreed and David seemed to accept the idea as well, making what was once deemed an unlikely meeting of the “Daves” become a reality.
This, however, could be a mixed blessing. The Internet is a great tool in connecting with people on a superficial level if not necessarily a meaningful one. I make this statement without judgment but, the fact of the matter is, some online relationships are just plain better off staying there! And, in terms of online friendships, this one was a relatively new one at that.
I had just “met” him scarcely a year ago on the Svengoolie YAHOO Group. The moderator of this group (who goes by the name of Blue Cat) accepted an email from a member while stating that this “would be the last of its kind she’d allow.” A man from Rhode Island was requesting that a Chicago fan send him new episodes of Sven to trade with older ones he had managed to collect over the years. I’d been a member of this group for years and had seen dozens of these type of requests pile up in my inbox. I completely understood Blue Cat’s position and had always ignored these types of messages before. For reasons I still can’t say, I decided to write Mr. Albaugh a reply stating that, as long he supplied discs, he was welcome to anything I had and that I would tape new shows for him as well . My act of “charity” ended up being more like hitting the jackpot! We exchanged lists and he ended up having many more shows than I did. Having missed the first seven years of Svengoolie’s return to television, I had just found someone who could actually help me fill in those gaps. He willingly agreed to send and exchange all requested shows for some of mine, along with the promise that I send him all the new ones that aired as well.
In a couple of weeks our email exchanges graduated to Facebook and we soon discovered that, aside from being fans of Svengoolie, we were about the same age and shared other interests as well. This ranged from movies, the love of nature & animals, photography as well as enjoying a lot of the same books and TV shows too. One day during an email exchange between us, my wife needed to use the computer. I had left our last message up and she began to read it. As I walked back to the computer, she smiled and gave me the weirdest look. “What is it?” I asked. “I just read the emails between you and your friend from Rhode Island. Between your names, writing style, and interests, I can’t tell which one is writing who and it looks like you’re having a conversation with yourself!”
Soon we discovered Michigan horror host, Wolfman Mac, and this led to an email exchange between us in January where I wrote – “It’s so neat to see a totally new host from a different state! Wouldn’t it be cool if we could see the work of other hosts from around the country?” David took this request and ran with it. We now have an enormous sampling of hosts who have, and shall continue, to grace this very blog site.
Still, there were some core differences between us that could not be ignored. I am legally married to a woman and a devoted father to our five kids. David is single and does not have children. The biggest and most profound difference, however, was our geography. Rhode Island isn’t just another state, it’s a whole different region of the United States. Perhaps this distance was contributing to our site’s success and I was now in danger of violating it.
As the plane touched down in Providence, I had a nervous feeling that this was going to be a disaster. I did feel a sense of awkwardness when we finally did meet but we soon (as David would later say) “clicked.” We intended to check out the Roger Williams Park Zoo to enjoy their Halloween lights display. Mother nature, however, had other plans. Tropical storms out in the Atlantic created intense winds for the tiny coastal state. I joked that I was used to it having arrived from Chicago but, in truth, it had been a long time since I had experienced gusts of that magnitude. Regardless, this wasn’t an evening to be spent outdoors and we ditched the zoo plans heading to his home instead.
While on the way, David stopped at the Chestnut Hill Cemetery in Exeter to show me the resting place of Mercy Brown. Mercy Brown was believed to be a vampire and represents the first time an undead ritual was performed on American soil. While this was more likely a case of Tuberculosis, coupled with local hysteria, it has inspired many ghoulish tales and remains one of the most prominent urban mythologies from David’s home state of Rhode Island.
It was a horror host that had brought us together as friends and another that helped break the ice. After spending the next few hours laughing at Nevada’s Zomboo it was as if we’d known each other for years. The awkwardness soon evaporated and the stage was set for an amazing weekend.
The next day (Saturday) we drove to Massachusetts to attend the “Rock & Shock” convention. Last March I believed nothing could beat the 2010 Indianapolis Horrorhound Convention and those who read my earlier blogs depicting the event can easily see why. As you will read in coming posts, however, “Rock & Shock” came pretty damn close! Amazing celebrity meetings along with a chance to, once again, commune with the great hostess – Penny Dreadful (featured in an earlier Horror Host Spotlight) has me already marking my 2011 calender to return next year.
On Sunday we would venture into the town of Salem, Massachusetts and enjoy the best this historical town had to offer. The number one attraction (and highlight of the day) was seeing “Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery” and meeting David’s close friend, James (Jamie) Lurgio. This absolutely phenomenal place was covered by David in an earlier blog though, with all due respect, words can’t really do it justice. Any fan of monsters NEEDS to go there, end of story!
While visiting the Nightmare Gallery, I had a chance to chat with Mr. Lurgio himself who said this of his friend; “David was my mentor and my inspiration for going on to do this. His annual Halloween yard displays were legendary and we had great times working on it together all those years ago. I always site David as my inspiration.”
I understood exactly what James was saying. I had envisioned doing a horror based website for years but never seemed to be able to get the ball actually rolling until sharing my vision with a like-minded individual who readily agreed to join forces.
If there’s one thing I learned from “Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery” and “Terror from Beyond the Daves,” its that hanging around with the best people ultimately brings out the best in YOU. And David Albaugh is definitely one of the absolute BEST.
Next up…..”Rock & Shock”
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!
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)
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)