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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Tuesday Top 10: Horror TV Hosts

Ah, for the days of those groovy ghouls who welcomed us each week to their cheaply decorated and garishly lit studio sets, introducing classic horror films while cramming as many hackneyed puns as possible into every sentence... The TV "horror host" phenomenon was once a big part of local television, particularly in the 1960s, '70s and '80s--before the days of infomercials, when many networks and syndicated channels populated their program lineup with old movies and such.

Alas, although a handful do still operate, the horror host is largely a thing of the past. It seems, in these days when "content" is so compartmentalized on TV into a myriad of specialized channels, and movies are readily available on home video or computers, that those folks who traipsed around in Halloween-store garb while doing Boris Karloff impressions with varying degrees of success, have become moot. Yet for many of us, and many more who came before, these were the people who sparked our interest in horror, introducing us to movies we might never have otherwise seen.

And so, this week, I give you a look at some of the most memorable of the TV horror hosts...

10. Rhonda Shear
Ms. Shear was the host of "Up All Night" on the USA Network in the 1990s, and even though some of the films she hosted were not horror, the late-night program she hosted was very much a basic cable version of the old-school, late-night movie showcases. And the voluptuous Shear, although less goth than many of her female predecessors, nevertheless embodied much of the same vampy aesthetic.

9. Count Gore de Vol
A true renaissance man amongst horror hosts, the Count is best known for his Washington D.C.-area show from the 1970s and 1980s. But in 1998, he truly broke new ground and crossed over into a brand new medium by becoming the first classic horror host to kick off a weekly Internet show. He is also the man behind the Horror Host Underground, whose official website is this year nominated for a Rondo Award.

8. Dr. Morgus
One of the most widely syndicated of the classic horror hosts, Morgus' programming was most prominent in the New Orleans and Detroit areas during the 1960s and '70s. In the 1980s he became exposed to a wide array of markets across the nation, including New York, where I remember seeing him as a kid. For the past five years, Morgus has been back on the air with a cable show in New Orleans.

7. Ghoulardi
One of the most high-profile and beloved of the "golden age" horror hosts, Ron "Ghoulardi" Anderson was an icon for monster kids growing up in the Midwest in the 1960s. His character was more of a groovy hipster than the typical "mad scientist" type, and remains a camp favorite to this day. He left his home base of Ohio in the late '60s and went on to become the major ABC voice-over man of the 1970s. His son is film director Paul Thomas Anderson.

6. Svengoolie
A Chicago institution, the original Svengoolie, Jerry Bishop, hosted a very popular show during the 1970s. His protege, Rich Koz, started carrying on the tradition in the 1980s, and continues to do so to this day--first as "Son of Svengoolie", and now simply as the new Svengoolie. Ironically, he has played the character for much longer than his mentor.

5. Joe Bob Briggs
One of the most recent individuals to keep the horror host format alive, Briggs--a.k.a. John Bloom--is a bit more down-to-earth than his funkier and creepier predecessors. He gathered a rabid fan following as a genre aficionado thanks to his shows on The Movie Channel and TNT in the 1990s, and today works mainly as a straight-up critic, with many books on genre cinema under his belt.

4. Elvira
The Mistress of the Dark, and quite possibly the most famous of all horror hosts. Cassandra "Elvira" Peterson most certainly was the one who became the most mainstream, even getting a motion picture dedicated to her on-screen character. She also had her very own line of VHS horror releases, that predated and prefigured the MST3K phenomenon. She loses a point or two for originality, since her entire persona was largely cribbed from an earlier female horror host soon to be mentioned...

3. Chilly Billy
Chilly Billy Cardille was a Pittsburgh fixture for a couple of reasons. Not only was he the immensely popular host of the Steel City's version of Chiller Theater from the 1960s to the 1980s, but he was also one of the premiere TV announcers in the 1960s and '70s for the WWWF (now known as WWE). He can be seen in Night of the Living Dead as the on-the-spot TV reporter, and his daughter is Day of the Dead's Lori Cardille.

2. Zacherley
Yes, I'm probably biased for having grown up in the Northeast, but Zacherley--a.k.a. The Cool Ghoul--is considered by many as something of a patron saint of horror fandom. He hosted a variety of horror movie showcases on TV in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey in the 1950s and '60s, and even inspired a young boy in Brooklyn who would one day become the father of the writer of this blog. He is also something of an honorary master of ceremonies for the bi-annual Chiller Theatre convention.

1. Vampira
Perhaps the allure of mystery is a big part of Maila "Vampira" Nurmi's continued appeal. Although she only appeared on the air in California during the mid 1950s and almost no footage survives, she is generally credited with being the first true horror host, and the character she crafted has almost become something of a Jungian archetype. She famously appeared in Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space, and has inspired a look which endures to this day (most notoriously co-opted by the aforementioned Peterson). Simply put, Vampira is more than a person, she is a pop culture entity.


* I'm indebted to the Rondo-nominated E-Gor's Chamber of TV Horror Hosts for being such an invaluable source of precious info in putting this list together.

14 comments:

Pax Romano said...

Excellent round up, B-Sol; but for those of us who grew up in the Philly area we had Dr. Shock ( a blatant rip off of Zacherley),who hosted horror films from the early 70's to the early 80's. Then, we had Stella "The Man Eater From Manayunk " who hosted, "Saturday Night Dead"...I guess you can figure what hit show her's followed.

B-Sol said...

There were a bajillion of them back in the day, and everybody had their local favorites, which is why a list like this was so tough to put together!

rvcanuck said...

Sir Graves Ghastly was shamefully left off your list. I demand satisfaction!

http://www.sirgravesghastly.com/

Mike Snoonian said...

This is such a rad post. If nothing else, it reminded me how gothicly beautifully Vampira was.

With the easy access tp youtube and such, and the wider audience the internet can reach, this decade could spark the resurgence of the horror host.

Dr Gangrene said...

This is a great list - I have been planning to do a very similar thing on my blog, and my choices are mostly similar but slotted slightly different. Great to keep the horror hosts memories alive. Good stuff.

Planet of Terror said...

I vaguely recall Al 'Grandpa Munster' Lewis hosting a show in the late 80's. Do you remember it?

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised to see Chilly Billy ranked so high. Not a complaint, I watched him all the time.

Ron

Theron said...

Vampira, Rhonda, Joe Bob and Elvira meant a lot to me; still do...but what about Count Floyd!? Verrrry scarrrrrry!

the jaded viewer said...

Joe Bob was my hero back in the day. He gave you all the info you needed...good list.

oducerproducer said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creature_Features

We had two local hosts! Loved watching it. Oh and Up All Night was great!

cinderelly said...

i grew up watching creature features in the bay area! bob wilkins was terrific, and sadly, he passed away last year.

Mugs said...

Including "Son of Svengoolie" was a nice touch as I grew up watching him every Saturday. I had no idea he was still hosting to this day! Crazy...

B-Sol said...

So tough to pick just 10! Many worthy hosts left off, I'm sure. I never remember Al Lewis being a horror host, but knowing him, he probably did it at some point. As for Chilly Billy being rated so high, maybe it was my love of '70s wrestling nostalgia that biased me a bit.

Christopher Zenga said...

I just want to drop in a mention of Vincent Price for his hosting/poetry duties on The Hilarious House of Frightenstein.

Later days,

Christopher.

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