Throughout the years, we have shared the history behind certain elements of the Halloween traditions we practice and we have also looked at the history behind haunted attractions and last year we looked at the history of paranormal television. We thought it would be fun to focus our history on the Halloween Special on people who helped raise us weird kids who consider Halloween the number one holiday and that are horror hosts. We asked our listeners about the ones they grew up with and the ones that were their favorites and we are going to share many of them on this special along with sharing some true paranormal experiences of our listeners.
Some of the horror hosts we have included aren't technically what would be defined as horror hosts by purists. Diane is a purist, but she's not a tyrant and so she is including some here that listeners suggested that she would not consider to be horror hosts. Horror hosts technically are presenters of low budget B movies of the horror and science fiction genre. Most of these films are nicknamed "Creature Features." Most of these hosts are very campy and take on unique stage names as you will soon hear. The idea of having horror hosts started in the 1950s and it was initiated by Screen Gems who marketed a package of old Universal movies they called Shock! and suggested that a host be used to present the films. Another package was offered in the 1960s called Creature Features. Horror hosts have been such a successful idea that they have continued all the way up until our current time. Most are seen on public access channels and many became well known in the 1980s when UHF channels came into existence. Last year, Diane tried to catch all of Joe Bob Briggs Specials on Shutter during the Halloween season. There are well over 100 notable horror hosts. Obviously, we don't have time to focus on them all, so we will hit on the ones our listeners suggested. We'll do them in order of how many people suggested them.
We share the audio from a trailer for American Scary, a documentary about horror hosts by John E. Hudgens and Sandy Clark.
Vampira (Maila Nurmi) - We cannot start this list without having Vampira. (Vampira) Most of the listeners and us are not old enough to have watched Vampira, but she is the one who started the horror host thing and she inspired them all. We've talked about Vampira before on Ep. 229, Haunted Cemeteries 5 in which we featured the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. We actually got to see her grave when we visited the cemetery in 2018. Vampira was born when Nurmi attended Choreographer Lester Horton's annual Bal Caribe Masquerade in a costume inspired by Morticia Addams in 1953. She made her skin pale white and wore a tight black dress. Television producer Hunt Stromberg, Jr. saw her and knew she would be perfect to host horror movies on the Los Angeles television station KABC-TV. Nurmi's husband Dean Riesner came up with the name Vampira. Nurmi's characterization of Vampira was inspired by the Dragon Lady from the comic strip Terry and the Pirates and the evil queen from Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. She hosted "The Vampira Show" from 1954-1955. She also appeared in Ed Wood’s cult film, "Plan 9 From Outer Space" among other films. She died of natural causes in 2008.
Larry Vincent - We wanted to mention Larry Vincent because his early work would help bring Elvira to us all. Vincent was a horror host who went by the name Seymour and he hosted Fright Night and Seymour's Monster Rally from 1969 to 1974 out of Los Angeles. He would pop up in a little window in the corner of the screen to comment occasionally on a movie and even sometimes used a blue screen so he appeared to be actually interacting within the movie. Vincent served as Knott's Berry Farm's inaugural "Ghost Host," in 1973 at Knott's Scary Farm Halloween Haunt. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1974 and died shortly thereafter on March 9, 1975. Six years after Vincent died, Elvira took over hosting Fright Night and this would eventually become Elvira's Movie Macabre. The horror host in the 1985 horror film Fright Night was named "Peter Vincent in tribute to him. (Vincent)
Dr. Gangrene (Larry Underwood) - Diane heard about this guy from listening to the Monster Kids Radio Podcast. He is from out of the Nashville area. Dr. Gangrene knows his stuff and won the 2014 Rondo award for best horror blog. He is a regular columnist for Scary Monsters Magazine and has written his own short stories. Dr. Gangrene was born on July 1st, 1999 with the persona of a mad scientist when Larry began hosting a half-hour program called Chiller Cinema. The show got so popular it expanded to cable access channels around the country. An updated version of the show called Dr. Gangrene's Creature Feature launched in 2005 and ran until 2010. Larry still has a show that airs twice a week on Nashville's Arts Channel, Ch. 9, and is called Dr. Gangrene Presents. (Dr Gangrene)
The Ghoul - Suggested by Roberta (Ron Sweed) - Ron Sweed's inspiration was Ghoulardi. Jerry Vile who is a Detroit artist, media maker and creator of The Dirty Shown said of Sweed, “He was the Hunter S. Thompson of trash. You didn’t have to be an adult to know he wasn’t playing by the rules. He was everybody’s introduction to anarchy. He influenced a lot of people. He was like the proto-punk. It was true revolution for the hell of it. Blowing up stuff with fireworks — we weren’t supposed to do that. But here he was, doing it on the TV.” Sweed was born in Ohio and he grew up in Cleveland. He got his start in horror hosting when he was thirteen. He wore a gorilla suit to a live performance of Ghoulardi and the man brought him up on the stage and then made him his production assistant. Sweed did that for several years until Ghoulardi headed to LA, but Sweed continued to help the show that took over the spot. In 1970, he got Ghoulardi's permission to revive his old character, but make it his own. In the late 70s , he got syndication to area big cities. He had a good run, off and on, for thirty years and was revived again in 1998 and ran for 6 more years. Sweed had a heart attack in November 2018 and died five months later from complications. (The Ghoul)
Bob Wilkins - Suggested by Gary - Bob Wilkins started in television in 1963 in California. He became a horror host in 1966, moving the show from Sacramento to San Francisco. He never took on the type of crazy persona that many of his peers did, rather he developed some trademarks like always having a cigar, sitting in a rocking chair and commenting about the bad horror films he hosted with a dry sense of humor. He would gain huge success when Creature Features debuted in 1971. And when we say success, the show rated better than Saturday Night Live at the same time. Wilkins eventually went on to host a children's show as Captain Cosmic in 1977. He retired from television in the 1980s and went into advertising. He died in 2007 from Alzheimer's Disease. (Wilkins)
Christine McConnell - Suggested by Frankie - McConnell is not technically a horror host, but she does host a creepy show and considers herself a goth baker. She hosts The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell on Netflix and she is accompanied by a cast of monster houseguests created by Henson Alternative. She whips up some ghastly recipes as she comments with a witty banter. McConnell became famous through Instagram and a creation that most of you probably saw floating around on the Internet. She decorated her parents’ Los Angeles-area home for Halloween with huge fangs and spooky eyes. Some of her baked creations include an edible insect bacchanal and a pastry face-hugger from Alien. (McConnell)
The Cool Ghoul (Dick Von Hoene) - Suggested by Tim -Von Hoene (Hane) got his start working on a radio show out of Cincinnati named "Bob Smith's Monster Mash." In 1969, he developed the Cool Ghoul character and started working on a costume for him that included a white shirt with a vest like shirt over that, red cape, plaid wool hat, smokey eyes, pale complexion and his trademark orange-tinted wig. He at first had planned something scary, but went with this image of Cool Ghoul so it would be less scary for children. He started his television show in the early 1970s, which was called Scream-In, a riff off of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. He could do a wonderful impersonation of Boris Karloff. The show ran for three and a half years, but the Cool Ghoul continued to make appearances publicily and eventually moved to North Carolina in the early 1980s and made fans on the East Coast. He died of a heart attack in 2004 and was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery. (Cool Ghoul - he mentions Sammy Terry)
Sir Graves Ghastly (Lawson J. Deming) - Suggested by Shelley -Lawson Deming was born in 1913 and began his career in radio in 1932. Sir Graves was the horror host for the show Sir Graves' Big Show and this featured Deming hosting horror movies with a group of characters who would do brief skits interspersed through the movies. Sir Graves Ghastly was a vampire with an exaggerated laugh. His sidekicks were Baruba, a ghostly apparition known only as The Glob and a cemetery caretaker named Reel McCoy. The show ran in Detroit from 1967 to 1982, which was a really long run. The show ended up syndicating in both Washington D.C. and Cleveland. He continued to make appearances until his death in 2007. (Ghastly)
Icky Twerp/Gorgon (William Camfield) - Suggested by Linda - Bill Camfield was born the son of a coal miner in Mineral Wells, Texas. He relocated to Fort Worth and began working for TV station KFJZ in 1954. In 1957, the station bought the SHOCK horror film package and Camfield portrayed the host of the show, Gorgon. This character wore a black cape and had a sinister laugh. That show became a hitand even got national attention in magazines like TV Guide, Life, Saturday Evening Post and Famous Monsters of Filmland. The show went on hiatus in 1959, but returned in 1962 and stayed on air until 1964, returned again in 1972 for a while and again in 1976. Halloween specials ran nearly every year with Gorgon. Camfield was also Icky Twerp, which was shortened from "Ichamore Twerpwhistle" and he hosted a kids' show called Slam-Bang Theatre. This was a comedy show and his character had horn-rimmed glasses, striped suit, tousled hair, and an undersized cowboy hat. He died in 1991 of brain cancer. (Gorgon)
Dr. Creep (Barry Lee Hobart) - Suggested by Teresa - Hobart was born in 1941. His interest in the macabre began with his uncle who hosted a traveling monster show and was a horror film make-up artist. Hobart started in television as a camera specialist in Ohio. He eventually suggested to them that they should feature a late-night horror movie show and Hobart auditioned to be the host. His initial offering was a really creepy character with fangs and a horrifying skull face and he called himself Dr. Death. He was hired, but asked to tone it down, which he did by removing the fangs, toning down the make-up and calling himself Dr. Creep. They called the show Shock Theater and it launched in 1972. The show ran for thirteen years. He would make future appearances as well, particularly for charity events. He died in 2011 after a series of strokes and ill health.
Fritz the Night Owl (Frederick Peerenboom) - Suggested by Karen - Fritz, as everyone called him, started in radio in 1959. He started his work as horror host in 1974 hosting Nite Owl Theater in Columbus, Ohio. He enjoyed jazz so his angle became to give humorous commentary over jazz music during movies. The show had a long run ending in 1991. He revived hosting duties in 2010 at the Grandview Theater. On the last Saturday of the month a movie was shown with his prerecorded bumper segments. This was broadcast on the Internet too and moved locations until it ended up at Gateway Film Center. He has won six Emmys for his work.
Ghoulardi (Ernie Anderson) - Suggested by Michelle - Ernie was a disc jockey and actor who was born in 1923 in Boston. He served with the Navy during World War II and worked as a disc jockey in Cleveland. He moved to TV and joined WJW TV-8 in 1961. He agreed to host Shock Theater for them in 1963 and was a huge hit. His character of Ghoulardi was really different from other horror hosts. His character was an irreverent hipster with a costume that included a fake Van Dyke beard and moustache, a long lab coat covered with "slogan" buttons, horn-rimmed sunglasses with a missing lens and messy wigs. Ernie had friends join him on the show in various roles and as we shared earlier, Ron Sweed joined him as an intern. Ghoulardi used catchphrases like "Stay sick, knif" ("fink" backwards), "Cool it", "Turn blue", "Would you believe...?" and "ova-dey" (a regional pronunciation of "over there"). He used instrumental rock and roll music under his commentary. Much of that commentary was telling people that they should just go to bed rather than watch the terrible movies he showed. Ghoulardi was retired in 1966. Anderson died in 1997.
Count Eeflac (Greg Calfee) - Suggested by Jonathan - Count Eeflac hosts Movies From the Tomb on the Hill Country Network, which broadcasts out of Northern Mississippi. This is one of our modern day hosts as his show just started in 2018.
Deadly Ernest - Suggested by Leanne and Anne - This was a character portrayed by many people. Deadly Earnest was a horror host from down in Australia. The character's show launched in 1959 in Perth and continued through 1978. The show was called Deadly Earnest's Aweful Movies and started with VW-7 Perth musical director Max Bostock as the character. Ian Bannerman took over in 1966. The program featured irreverent commentary and even presented the Worst Movie of the Year. The unique thing about this program is that they didn't do the syndication thing in Australia because local versions had to be broadcast without satellite. So Deadly Earnest needed to be portrayed by multiple people which included Bannerman in Sydney, Channel 0 floor manager Ralph Baker in Melbourne, future TV drama star Shane Porteous in Brisbane, and Hedley Cullen in Adelaide. Not much is known about Bannerman with people thinking he died in the 1980s.
Joe Bob Briggs (John Bloom) - Suggested by Jerry of Hillbilly and Aurora - Joe Bob Briggs calls himself America's Foremost Drive-In Movie Critic. This horror host is played by John Bloom who is an actor, author and investigative journalist. He has written nine books, but his role as horror host has made him famous. He has been playing Joe Bob Briggs on the Movie Channel for eleven years and on TNT's MonsterVision for five years from 1996 to 2000. He has gone on to to host The Last Drive-In on the Shudder Network since 2018. Joe Bob is a cowboy redneck-like character who wisecracks on B-movies and was discovered in 1986 during a stage show.
The Midnight Society - Suggested by Lush and Chelsea - We weren't really sure about this one. We believe this is referring to The Midnight Society that hosted the original anthology series "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" that was out of Canada and aired on Nickelodeon in the US from 1990 to 1996 and again in 1999 to 2000. The members of the Midnight Society would gather around a campfire in the woods at the beginning of each episode and one of them would tell the story for that episode after throwing some midnight dust into the fire.
Sammy Terry (Bob and Mark Carter) - Suggested by Suzy, Scott and James - Sammy Terry was a horror host based out of Indianapolis, Indiana. The man who cfreated him was Bob Carter who got his start as a disk jockey. He eventually ended up in television working at WTTV in production. When Universal shopped their SHOCK collection, WTTV bought it and asked Bob to host their Shock Theater. At first the hosting just incorporated still photos with voice over narration during commercial breaks. Eventually, the character of Sammy Terry was developed as a cloaked ghoul with a pale face who rose from his coffin to comment about movies and the show was changed to Nightmare Theater. This started in 1962 and for those wondering how they got the name Sammy Terry, just think cemetery. Terry had a sidekick, a floating rubber spider named George. Bob retired and his son, Mark, took over duties for Sammy Terry in 2010. Bob died in 2013. Sammy Terry still makes appearances on Indianapolis television for specials in October. (Sammy Terry)
Svengoolie (Jerry G. Bishop) and Son of Svengoolie (Rich Koz (Koze)) - Suggested by Kristin, Teresa, Michael and Tracy/Carrie and Lesa - Svengoolie is one of the most popular horror hosts out there and he has endured for a long time. He has been played by two men, Jerry G. Bishop and Rich Koz. The show started its run in Chicago and is now syndicated nationally on MeTV. The first show was called Screaming Yellow Theater. The horror movies presented are not only low budget B movies, but also classic horror movies. The character was originated by Bishop in 1970 and he played it until 1973. Koz took over the character in 1979 and has been doing it since, but under the name Son of Svengoolie. Svengoolie is a Svengali-like person and he wears a moustache and goatee with long black hair. He has skull-like makeup and wears a tuxedo jacket over a bright red shirt. Like other horror hosts, he would present skits during commercial breaks and he would also perform parody songs about the films being aired. He also did something that inspired Mystery Science Theater 3000 and this was Sven-surround, which was Svengoolie talking throughout a film and making funny sound effects. Svengoolie presented Bela Lugosi's Dracula in 2007, which was the first time the movie had been on public television in over a decade. There have been a variety of sidekicks through the years. Doug Graves played music on piano and trumpet. Zallman T. Tombstone was a disembodied skull. Berwyn was a rubber chicken puppet. Zelda was a disembodied skull. Durwood the Dummy was a wooden ventriloquist's dummy. In 1994, Koz became Svengoolie, moving from the Son of Svengoolie. In 2011, the show went nationwide. (Svengoolie)
Robert Stack - Suggested by Drea, Rebecca, Chelsea and Jenny - This is another one that doesn't fit horror host, not even close. Robert Stack was a serious man and he gave us all chills as he hosted Unsolved Mysteries. Stack had a long career as an actor and television host. He got started in acting in 1939 when he was twenty. He began hosting Unsolved Mysteries in 1987. The series aired from 1987 to 2002, but initially started as specials, a couple of which were hosted by Raymond Burr and Karl Malden. Stack was the host for the entire original run. The series revived in 2007 hosted by Dennis Farina and now again on Netflix starting in July 2020. Stack died in 2003 from Prostate Cancer and heart failure.
Dr. Paul Bearer (Dick Bennick) - Suggested by Kathy, Chris, Clyde, Carole and Lynne - Dr. Paul Bearer was a truly creepy horror host and he holds the record for longest-ever continuous run as a TV horror-movie host with 22 years. He hosted WTOG’s Creature Feature out of St. Petersburg, Florida. Ernest Richard “Dick” Bennick played the character. Dick was born in Asheville, North Carolina in 1928. He got his start as a magician and moved into being a North Carolina “boss jock” and teenage dance-party host. He created Dr. Paul Bearer while he was working at a televsion station in North Carolina after he was asked to replace Count Shockula, the station’s first horror host. Dr. Paul Bearer had a truly creepy look because he had a false eye from a car accident and Graves Disease which caused his real eye to bulge. The complete look incorporated an enormous facial scar, disproportionate eyeballs, goatee, thick eyebrows and an undertaker's costume.
He once said of his effort to create the character, "Finding the 'look' took some thought. I went through all these magazines and I picked out what I liked about various characters to design my new character. The beard came from a Vincent Price movie, and quite frankly I can’t remember which one. Parting my hair down the middle I stole from a guy in New York, (TV/radio horror host) John Zacherley. The spats and the frock coat I just thought looked cool. I had to go to a beauty shop and get them to give me hair off the floor that matched my own to make the beard, because in those days they wouldn’t let me grow one. I could never explain the scar, I just kind of liked it and that seemed to make it click.” He hosted Creature Feature on Saturday afternoons and shared his gallows humor, groan-inducing puns and diabolical laugh. He enjoyed telling the audience he would be "luuuurking for you." Bennick brought his character with him to Polk County in Florida in 1973 and he convinced the WTOG station manager to let him host there. He made frequent public appearances, arriving in his decked out 1961 hearse. Dick died during heart bypass surgery on Feb. 20, 1995 at the age of 66. (Bearer)
Crypt Keeper - Suggested by Vicki, Valentina, Rebecca, Jenny, Liz, Angelica, Amy, Nchaa, Jenny, Shantel, Mandy, Jannae and Carrie - The Crypt Keeper is best known as the creepy puppet host of the Tales from the Crypt series. He also is not technically a horror host as the stories he weaves are original and not B-movies. Tales From the Crypt started as one of the most influential and successful horror comics of all time and was adapted to television for HBO in 1989. He was introduced to the public in Crime Patrol #15, and he continued with that magazine through its changes in title and format. He was a frightening presence in those early issues, but became more of a comedic host later and definitely was when the comic book made it to the small screen and he would offer lots of pun-filled commentary and irreverence before a story, during breaks and after the episode was done. When not telling stories, he likes to torture and kill humans. As it was revealed in the episode Lower Berth, the Crypt Keeper was the product of Enoch, a two-headed sideshow freak that was a corpse, and Myrana a 4,000 year old mummy. In reality, he was a puppet handled by Van Snowden and he was voiced by actor John Kassir. His look is that of a decaying man with broken teeth and long stringy hair and he usually wears a cloak. Many people recognize his creepy laugh anywhere and one of his standard lines was "Boils and Ghouls." Plans to revive the series have been stalled by licensing issues. (Crypt Keeper)
Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) - Suggested by Carrie Anne, Jenny, Shantel, Mark, Tricia, Nchaa, Michael, Ginger, Tracy, Pat, Jessica, Kelly and Diane - Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, really needs no introduction. Most of you probably already know that Elvira was created by Cassandra Peterson. Peterson was born in Kansas in 1951 and like all of us, she was fascinated by the macabre from a very early age. She got her start in entertainment as a go-go dancer at a gay bar. Her first showgirl job would come in Las Vegas at The Dunes and she would meet Elvis there and date him for a bit. She moved to Italy in the 1970s and fronted a couple of bands. She returned to the US and toured with a musical comedy act and then an improv group named The Groundlings. She played a Valley Girl character for that group and this would eventually become Elvira. As mentioned earlier, she replaced horror host Larry Vincent, six years after his death. Initially, Maila Nurmi had been asked to revive The Vampira Show, but she gave up on the project when producers would not hire the woman she handpicked to host. A casting call was sent out and peterson won the part. She was given freedom to create the character.
While Elvira was similar to Vampira with her dress and black hair, it was clear that Peterson had created a fairly original character in Elvira. She comes off as campy, rather than spooky or creepy. That didn't stop Nurmi from suing to try to stop Elvira from seeing the light of day. She lost in court. While we like Vampira, we adore Elvira, and let's be honest, both characters are inspired by Morticia Addams. Elvira soon came to be known by her tight clothing and dangerously lowcut dresses that revealed ample cleavage. She would play up this detail quite a bit. Peterson soon had more than a character and horror host, she had a brand that continues today. Elvira's Movie Macabre launched in 1981 and continued through 1986. She starred in the movie "Elvira: Mistress of the Dark" in 1988. Her appearances in films and video and television have continued and she has also found herself in comic books. For twenty years she hosted a Halloween stage show for Knott's Scary Farm. She is as popular today as she was in the 1980s and she really brought horror hosts into the popular mainstream. For us, she is our favorite. (Elvira)
Horror Host hall of fame: http://www.horror-host.com/