October 2019 has been a banner month for horror hosts and comic books. We’ve all heard the news regarding Svengoolie joining the DC Universe and the Chicago-gone-national host taking the Big Apple by storm at the New York Comic-Con. Today, yet another horror host has found his way in print courtesy of Dark Horse Comics – Count Crowley! What’s that? You say you’ve never heard of Count Crowley? Well, that’s because he’s the brainchild and alter ego of actor David Dasmalchian. Yes, the co-star of the MARVEL Ant-Man films as well as DC’s upcoming Suicide Squad is not only a big fan of comic books but horror hosts as well. Aside from his current admiration for Svengoolie, he grew up with Kansas’ most beloved horror hostesses, Crematia Mortem! I first became aware of Crematia about ten years ago when I saw the documentary American Scary (now available on Amazon Prime) and have had the honor of seeing some of her old shows through trades. When David reached out to me last month, I was delighted to hear his memories of her as well as his agreeing to an interview. So sit back and enjoy David’s insights on “Count Crowley” and the living horror hosts who inspired him.
Terror Dave: “Count Crowley: Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter” is the culmination of a lifetime of horror host fandom. Tell us about that and how this comic book project came to be.
David: Growing up in Kansas City, I was so fortunate to have the magnificent Crematia Mortem haunting the tube every Friday night for Crematia’s Friday Nightmare. She was an incredible screen presence, very entrancing, and she introduced me to so many of my early monster heroes! I have always felt like there are the “good” monsters who love and who aren’t to blame for their predicaments (think Larry Talbot or Frankie’s Monster) and then the truly “evil” monsters that are set on devouring and destroying us. Crematia had a fondness for the lovable beasts and sparked terror in my heart for the villainous vamps. She had such a great sense of humor and the set was so creepy. I loved everything about it. When I moved to Chicago, I fell in love with Svengoolie. I was so honored to appear on his show a few times and I even got to do dance the “Svengoolie Stomp” with him! Over time, I developed an idea about a monster hunter who hosts a creature feature as a secret identity. As the idea grew and developed, I began to realize all of the creepy and entertaining ways in which I could spin my lifelong love for the “good” and “evil” monsters with some of the ideas and themes that have become relevant and important to me in my life. I told Peter Lenkov (creator of the “MacGyver” reboot on CBS as well as many other projects like “RIPD”, “Hawaii 5-0”, “Magnum” and more) about the idea. He and I have a mutual love for “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” and when he heard my idea for “Count Crowley: Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter”, he was really supportive. He introduced me to the good ghouls at Dark Horse comics and they graciously offered to help me develop and explore the world of Count Crowley and… here we are! It’s been an amazing ride through the haunted mansion thus far.
Terror Dave: What are some of your favorite Crematia Mortem memories? How popular was she in your native Kansas?
David: Crematia was immensely popular in KC and she was the source of creepy entertainment for so many of us misfits and goblins. She had a show that appealed to all different audiences and she was always throwing it back and forth with “Rasputin”. One of my favorite memories about the show, aside from the hundreds of incredible classic films that I got to see, was Crematia’s ghost story contest. She would hold contest often for her viewers to mail in submissions. Sometimes they were trivia contests inspired by the film of the evening. But there was a “ghost story” contest she held in which eager fans like me could write our own ghost stories and mail them into the station. The winner would receive a prize package (which included a Crematia t-shirt, an autographed R.I.P. card, and a personal note) and the story would read ON AIR by Crematia herself!!! I wrote a story about a haunted house, a “dark and stormy night’, all the bells and whistles. I anxiously waited for the days and weeks to go by as we crept closer and closer to Halloween… and I never won! But I LOVED writing my ghost stories. And here’s the best part of it; just a few years ago I had the supreme pleasure of getting to know Roberta Solomon (the one and only Crematia Mortem) and I told her all about my childhood fandom for her. A few months later a strange package arrived on my doorstep. I opened it to discover: A Crematia Mortem Prize Package! The t-shirt, the signed R.I.P. card and even a letter from Crematia herself! You can imagine how I howled like a werewolf beneath a beautiful full moon. It was the coolest.
Terror Dave: What is your favorite classic monster and what are some of your favorite classic horror films?
David: I’m a sucker for a good werewolf flick. I loved “Curse of the Werewolf” the first time I saw it on Crematia’s Friday Nightmare. It scared me and Oliver Reed’s transformations into the Beast gave me nightmares – but my heart also ached for the poor, cursed man. And the same thing happened to me the first time I saw The Wolfman. It’s just such a beautiful film. Lon Chaney Jr. had such sorrow in his eyes and his performance is really heartbreaking. I love it so much. I’d say that’s my favorite. I was disappointed to see a lack of enthusiasm for the Joe Johnston film a few years ago. I just watched the director’s cut (a much better cut than the theatrical release with much more plot, horror, and gore) and I really enjoyed it. I also have a fondness for The Tingler, one of the great William Castle “event” films. There used to be a place in LA that would set up the theater every year with seat tinglers and everything. I want to help curate more events like that.
Terror Dave: How has your love of these movies influenced you as an actor?
David: One of the most important things to any kind of film, regardless of the genre, is for the audience or reader to find engaging characters who take a journey that has a purpose and emotional stakes. When you watch real masterful performances like Lon Chaney as the Phantom or Boris Karloff as The Monster or Collin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein, you get caught up in a story that transports you to another realm, it fills you with emotion and you can get really lost in feelings of terror, empathy, humor, and sorrow. I got addicted to that feeling as a kid. I wanted to experience all the time and that’s why I think I read so many comic books and watched so many great (and terribly great) horror and sci-fi films. When I began to study acting and fell in love with the work of acting, I realized that a major goal for myself would be to achieve the same kind of emotional effect on audiences that my heroes had on me. I want to find the depth and purpose behind even the most sinister and horrifying character. I want audiences to believe me and for my characters to really propel the story that their watching unfold.
Terror Dave: Tell us how “Count Crowley,” the character, came to be. What aspects of him, if any, were influenced by other horror hosts?
David: Aha – I think you are referring to “Dr. Fearless”! “Count Crowley” is the horror host in my comic book and it is the role of horror host and monster hunter that my hero, Jerri Bartman, will assume… if she decides to take up the challenge! But Dr. Fearless is my OWN horror host persona that I created and have been playing with for a while now. I always dreamed of being a horror host in some capacity. When the marketing team at Dark Horse began plans for the “Count Crowley: Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter” announcement, I asked them if they’d allow me to shoot our own little teaser as if I was a horror host introducing a classic movie… but instead of a movie I would find a comic book in the film reel canister! They were so wonderful about it and helped me to make the video. We shot it at the new space for the Bob Baker Marionette theater in Los Angeles. It was a monstrously magical day that I will never forget!
Terror Dave: When did you discover Svengoolie? Tell us about your fandom of him.
David: When I moved to Chicago I was sitting there one Saturday morning watching cartoons and eating Boo Berry cereal (yes, I was in college) and I stumbled across a teaser commercial for Svengoolie. I had seen the image before and heard the name but hadn’t figured out where to find him yet. I watched his show that day and have been hooked ever since. I was in Chicago back in 2014 doing a press tour for my indie film, ANIMALS, and I was at the WCIU station on Halsted Street doing a morning talk show. From across the studio I saw The Svengoolie set and I freaked out! I ran over there and luckily Sven’s longtime producing partner, Jim Roche happened to be there. He gave me his card and told me that I could come by later to meet Rich (THE one and only!). I brought my family back down to the studio later and we had a marvelous time. I try to sneak into the hallowed haunts every time I’m there. They’ve set up an extensive security system but I just keep hopping the fence, swim the moat, dodge the flying chickens and creep into the crypt.
Terror Dave: In lieu of your YouTube performance as DR. FEARLESS, would you consider taking the character from the comics to the screen and hosting your own movies if given the opportunity?
David: I would love to have that opportunity. I have had the honor of appearing a few times on Svengoolie and it’s always been such a kick! In fact, the first time I appeared we did a sketch about Ant-Man (with me playing my character “Kurt” hacking into Sven’s computer) and he happened to be showing The Wolfman. It was pretty amazing. I hope that Count Crowley: Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter finds an audience out there in the weird world of wonders and that I can grow this dream into a bigger and bigger monster! But if these first four issues of the comic are all we get, I have to say that it’s been this creature kid’s dream come true and I will treasure every page from now until they toss me in the tomb.