Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Monster Movie/Horror Host-A TV Legacy

“This is Halloween, this is Halloween, Pumpkins scream in the dead of night” sorry for the song from “Nightmare before Christmas” (1993), but I do enjoy October.

This is my first post of the annual Halloween articles I put out this time of the year. So I hope you will enjoy the Halloween themes for the next couple weeks.

First, if you haven’t already; go back to last year’s posts, where I gave you a gift of a short story; “Trapped in a Zombie World”, Part One  and Part Two.  Enjoy this tale of seeing the zombie apocalypse, through the eyes of one of the undead.

This week, I am going to; as I do every year, write about the monster movie/Horror hosts. I always do this because they had an impact on me growing up, and probably had an influence on me becoming an author.

Let’s go now back to the 1950’s. Possibly, the first of these horror hosts was Vampira.  Maila Nurmi portrayed this host, dressed in a black vampire like outfit. She was “discovered” by wearing a costume at a Halloween party dressed as Morticia  from the New York Times cartoon “The Addams Family”.

Maila Nurmi (Vampia) as she appeared in Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

John Zacherle was another horror host from the 1950’s known as Zacherley, also referred to as the “Cool Ghoul”. His show was popular in New York and Philadelphia in the 50’s and 60’s. He was also a popular radio and TV entertainer, having numerous shows, and also stood in as a guest host on the roadshow versions of American Bandstand for Dick Clarke.

William Robert "Bill" Cardille hosted a show called Chiller Theatre which gave him the moniker, “Chilly Billy”.  He also appeared as a newscaster in the classic Night of the Living Dead. He also was a wrestling host for “Studio Wrestling“, out of Pittsburgh, PA.

Shows above became very popular, so popular that stations around the country copied their format. Now some horror hosts I grew up on and met in my life.

When I was in the Coast Guard Reserves, I had the opportunity to work with Mike Price. Mike Price played Baron Daemon on Channel 9, WHYSR out of Syracuse, NY. He was so successful on this show; there was probably not an opening of a store or car dealership in the area which did not include an appearance from the Baron. With the success of his TV show, he came out with a single, The Transylvania Twist. Read More about Mike Price and even listen to Transylvania Twist Here.

The most notable show I watched as a kid was Monster Movie Matinee which was shown on WSYR Channel 3 from Syracuse, NY. Unlike the previous shows, which sometimes made fun of the genre, or even had comedy involved in the introduction of the movies; Monster Movie Matinee took it seriously.  Dr. E. Nick Witty (played by Alan Milair) and his faithful servant Epal (Willar “Bill” Lape Jr.), introduced the movies.  There show sometimes included serious themes.  These included Epal being infected by a werewolf bite or a hook for hand (later replaced with a “synthetic one”) and the fact that Dr. E. Nick Witty was so terrifying that to view his face could cause insanity (on TV you could only see his hand and hear his voice).  I remember as a kid, leaning to one side of the TV, trying to see if I could get a glimpse of his face on the side of the screen.

Moving to the 1980’s, saw the emergence of Elvira.  Cassandra Peterson portrays a curvaceous version of Morticia, combined with humor, a sharp wit, and a Valley Girl type accent. She was the premier horror host of this period, and her show was syndicated throughout the country. Her unique comedy combined with her reactions to some pretty bad movies, made her beloved by her fans, even today.

Monstervision, was a show on TNT from 1991 to 2000. In 1995 it was hosted by Joe Bob Briggs ( the on air persona of John Irving Bloom), who had previously hosted; “Joe Bob's Drive-In Theater” on TMC.  His character would sit outside (or inside) a trailer commenting and introducing movies as an unapologetic Texas Redneck. He was often joined by Rusty (played by Renner St. John) and by Honey Gregory, who delivered fan mail. Later, instead of showing horror, or fantasy film, TNT started showing “regular” Hollywood films, which may of be responsible for its decline.  

Mystery Science Theatre 3000- Although not what I would call a horror host type theme, it did show many monster/horror movies. One human and two robots stuck in space, sitting in front of a screen while some of the worse movies played before them. There humorous skits, and comments about those movies, have become legend.

We now move onto Svengoolie, who is the current monster movie/horror host of MeTV. Like his predecessors he brings humor, and education to the hosting position. He often has comedic interactions with his prehistoric chicken (including teeth) named Kerwyn, or  Zallman T. Tombstone  a disembodied skull. Svengoolie also sings along with Doug Graves (crew member  and musician Doug  Scharf). 

One part of the show I particularly like is when Svengoolie takes the time to give background information about the movies, and the actors involved, including little known facts about each.  Read about my previous post about the history of this show.

I am glad, that Svengoolie is keeping the art of the horror host alive for the next generation. I wonder if his show will have an impact on some kid today, as it did with me so many years ago.

Next Time:  The History of Halloween.  Since I post so much about Halloween, this month I will be posting more than once a week!
W.A.Rusho is a historian, professional wrestler and author. Visit his website or email him.


  1. Ah, William, having grown up with Chilly Billy, you touched on a lot of memories here. Pittsburgh, and all his fans, were sorry when he passed away from cancer earlier in the summer. Thankfully, his daughter posted on FB and provided an PO Box where folks could send him a card. That was a sweet opportunity.

  2. I remember watching Mystery Science Theatre 3000 while in college. It was funny. I feel that it was the start of the lip-sinking shows and YouTube channels that came about some years later.

  3. The one I remember from growing up in the New York City area in the 60's was Zacherle. He re-emerged in the late 60's and 70's as a deejay at the city's first free-form "progressive" rock stations, WNEW-FM. So the horror night host I watched as a kid became the radio DJ I listened to as a teenager.

  4. We all watched horror movies as kids and loved how they scared us. Frankenstein comes to mind. Since I lived in a house central London, next to Harrods, I'm not keen on Halloween anymore though. Criminals used to come and ring the doorbell and if you opened you were doomed. When they rang my doorbell I was really scared but when I didn't open they left.

  5. Hi William. Elvira rings a bell. Vampira, not so much. Only 2 weeks to go until Hallowe'en. You must be getting excited!

  6. I am from Australia so Halloween wasn't really a big deal back when I was younger which I am really sad about because it seems like such a fun occasion! But it was interesting to learn more horror hosts that have influenced you greatly. Thank you for sharing.

    Emily | http://emilytrinh.com

  7. Oh I grew up on this stuff and have collected quite a few of the classics. One of my favorites is a British film, The Crawling Eye with Sterling Hayden. Time to unpack the videos! :-)

  8. I never watched a lot of monster movies as a kid because I would get too scared. But I do remember Elvira and I think I've seen her on TV in the 2000s. So I think she is still kicking around, though a bit older, of course. I don't know the rest of the people you mentioned but it seems they make for good entertainment.

  9. Svengoolie! Love it! Who comes up with these amazing ideas? Of course you need to have an appropriately ghoulish - yet agreeable - host for horror movie night. I remember Elvira, always wondered how long it took her to do all that makeup. Going to check for the original Vampira on YouTube, I adore Morticia Addams!