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Friday, October 28, 2011

The Horror! The Horror! Creep Show Historians Talk About Local TV Hosts in Shock It to Me

Posted By on Fri, Oct 28, 2011 at 9:30 AM


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.

What surprised you the most when researching the book?MM: Terrence, the host of Nightmare on KRON-TV 4, had a big student following. When he showed the classic movie Dracula back in 1957, the campus erupted with bonfires and 1,000 students chanting and howling at the moon. One paper referred to it as a "Dracula Fracas." The following week, some kid set off bombs on campus after a broadcast of The Mummy. It went on for weeks. That was power of live, local TV. LH: The big surprise for me was seeing how the technology of the time made it inevitable that the viewers would be exposed to films outside their usual areas of interest. With only a handful of channels to pick from, there might only be two or three movies to pick from. If you ended up watching whatever was on, it was sometimes something you might otherwise never have watched at all. I was exposed to a lot of odd European films that way. Tell us about some of the neat things you'll show at the library Saturday -- like maybe rare and/or awesome clips that our readers will kick themselves if they miss? MM: We will be presenting clips of The Cool Ghoul and Asmodeus that haven't been seen in over 40 years. We'll also have vintage clips of The Ghoul from the '70s, The Son of Svengoolie from the 80s and rare Creature Features material. Shock It to Me</em> starts at 11:30 a.m. Saturday (Oct. 28) in the Latino/Hispanic Meeting Room at the Main Library, 100 Larkin (at Grove), S.F. Admission is free. ------ Sherilyn Connelly is a San Francisco-based writer. She also curates and hosts Bad Movie Night at The Dark Room, every Sunday at 8pm.

Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF (follow Sherilyn Connelly on Twitter at @sherilyn) and like us on Facebook.

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