Halloween is a natural time to think about horror movies -- and these days you can see anything you want (practically) on demand. As recently as 20 years ago, though, we were guided by what networks and local TV stations thought was cool. The local TV horror host was a big part of this -- that's how Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, got her start. Michael Monahan and Lon Huber a fascinating look at the history of local TV horror hosts -- such as KTVU's not-as-square-as-he-looks Bob Wilkins, pictured above -- in the book Shock It to Me: Golden Ghouls of the Golden Gate. Monahan and Luber read from the book and show rare clips Saturday (Oct. 29) at the Main Library. Read more about that here in our calendar section. We caught up with the horror host-orians for the spookiest Q&A ever.
What is a horror host?
MM: It starts with theatrical Spook Shows, which were a combination of Grand Guignol [1920s Parisian theater that focused on shock value] and vaudeville; with mad labs and guillotines on the stage, monsters running through the audience and ghosts flying overhead. When the Spook Show magicians added cheap monster movies to their acts, they essentially created the template for the modern TV horror host.
There were also dozens of colorful and creepy hosts who introduced horror stories on the radio, so the TV horror host synthesized the theatrical visual elements of Spook Shows with the music, sound effects, and traditional hosts of radio. Maila Nurmi created the first full-blown horror host when she brought Vampira to television in 1954.What was your first exposure to horror hosts? MM: My mom bought a TV with UHF in 1970. [UHF was where a lot of low-budget, non-network TV stations lived before cable.] The first weekend we had it, I found KEMO-TV 20 and stumbled across Shock It To Me Theater with Asmodeus, who was played by Frank Sheridan. I always loved monster movies as a kid, but this was the first time I'd ever seen anyone as cool as the monsters presenting them. Asmodeus literally changed my life. He had the Universal package, and it was the first time I got to see films like The Bride of Frankenstein and The Invisible Man. And Asmodeus himself was like nothing else I'd ever seen on TV before. How did the book Shock it to Me come about? LH: Mike and I first met when I commented on a post of his at another website about horror hosts. I thought he had a point about a local host wrong, but it turned out he was right, and I learned about a host I'd never managed to see. The conversation never stopped, and six years later we decided to turn some of that dialogue into the book.