Thrills, Chills, and Fun with an Under-the-Radar Gem

I was just telling Mr. Four-Finger-Wu how much I enjoy his weekly “Svengoolie” installments, and it brought to mind one of my favorite post-summer traditions...

Along with several other movies and things (almost always the same ones), every October I re-watch American Scary: a fantastic 2006 documentary about American “Shock Theater” television hosts from the 50s all the way through to “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark” in the 80s and 90s.

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Cassandra Peterson (Elvira) announced her possible retirement at SDCC this year, but for many fans, this famous promo shot will never, ever, EVER be retired.

If you’re unfamiliar, horror hosts were a broadcast mini-phenomenon. Back in the days when you only got 4 channels, and many shows were produced locally, most television markets had a weekend late night horror movie program. These programs played films that were gotten on the cheap, so to add variety and a certain panache, a flamboyant host would introduce the film and commercial breaks. These hosts became local/regional celebrities in their own right, “enriching” the viewing experience, and often over-shadowing the films they were showing. Eventually, their shtick was a perfect fit for local-access cable in the 80s. There would be no MST3K without these original horror hosts paving the way for such silliness.

I was lucky enough to befriend a few of these hosts as an adult, and let me tell ya, they were still big stars to me. Heck, to this day, Vincent Price is in my same head space as “Dr. Creep”, “The Cool Ghoul”, and “Sammy Terry”.

Cincinnati’s Channel 19 “Cool Ghoul” was, well, cool! Dick Van Hoene, in addition to hosting “Scream-In” (like “Laugh-In”), was also a news anchor. And the kids had no idea! He moved his show to North Carolina in the 80s, and died at home in 2004
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The classiest of them all: Indianapolis’s “Sammy Terry”, Bob Carter. Bob owned a music store in Indy, and was very active in community outreach and music education. He died a local hero in 2013
The zaniest of them all: Dayton’s “Doctor Creep”. He had wacky puppets, interviews with guest star monsters, and was so popular that he hosted film festivals, charity telethons, after-school cartoon shows, and... the community Easter Egg hunt! Barry Hobart died without a penny in 2011, and was a sweetheart of a man who deserved better.
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If you’re a North American who had a taste for such things back then, it’s darn near guaranteed that your local host pops up in American Scary; from Al “Grandpa” Lewis to Zacherley, they’re all there.

In addition to the nostalgia-bombs, there are also clips of many beloved artists reminiscing about our horror hosts. The late Forrest J. Ackerman shows up, of course. But so do such luminaries as Neil Gaiman, Leonard Maltin, Joel Hodgson, and good ol’ Tom Savini!

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American Scary is apparently out of print, but can be found streaming “free” after a quick Google search (it’s also on Netflix and iTunes). Having said that,I believe many folks will want to “own” the movie and pull it out once a year. It’s not just a nostalgia thing; my kid is 20 and he dug it, albeit from a completely different perspective...

Enjoy, and feel free to mention your favorite horror hosts or October re-watches/re-reads in the comments!

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Trailer:

First ten minutes:

(I know I’m jumping the gun on this October stuff, but it’s 100F in the shade and 90% humidity where I am; I really miss those northern autumns!)

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Cheers, and let’s just pretend it’s chilly and foggy outside.

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