I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a horror host. My earliest movie memories revolve generally around horror and specifically around the stuff that was available growing up in Pittsburgh in the 70s and 80s, namely Chiller Theater and Thing Theater. All of this was recently brought to mind whilst rewatching the documentary American Scary which focuses on this pop culture phenomenon. So it’s only fitting that I should give y’all my Top 10 Horror Hosts.
#10 Peter Vincent
Okay, so this one is in fact fictional, but still. Peter Vincent is the horror host from the 1985 movie Fright Night. When Charley Brewster suspects his neighbor is a vampire, he enlists the help of a very reluctant television personality, Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), to help him.
#9 Ghost Host
This is an obscure one. Ghost Host aired, if I recall correctly, some time after midnight on Saturdays on WPTT, UHF channel 22 in Pittsburgh. I don’t ever remember what movies I saw on there. Ghost Host looked like an Igor type individual with werewolf hands. His mouth never moved, so when he “talked” to the audience, it was echo-y voiceover while he looked back and forth from the camera to whatever lab stuff was in his hand.
I’m not a huge fan of Zacherley, but I recognize him as one of the prominent figures in this realm. He certainly pioneered some of the campy and macabre character and audience interaction that we’ll see in later hosts. I especially liked how he routinely talked to his dead wife and used a cauliflower as a brain.
This guy his enjoying a bit of a resurgence right now thanks to MeTV. He’s on every Saturday from 8-10 Eastern. The problem with that is some of the features clock in at well under 90 minutes, so sometimes you end up with a mess o’ filler that isn’t all that entertaining. On the other hand, there’s usually some really interesting factoids and trivia he tosses out to fill the gaps as well.
#6 Dr. Madblood
Dr. M was a mainstay here in the Hampton Roads area for 40 years. He started back in 1975, and his movie show was around in some iteration off and on up to 2007. The show itself is super regional. Madblood Castle, for instance, is in deepest, darkest Pungo which doesn’t really mean anything if you ain’t from round these here parts. More importantly, he never strayed from that 70s late-night feel, bringing in various characters and running gags to intersperse with whatever movie he was showing.
Dead (as it were) center. I have mixed and complicated feelings about Vampira. I adore the character and how Maila Nurmi handled her. Nurmi herself though…in the documentary Vampira And Me, she comes off as pretty self-congratulatory and pleased with herself. On the other hand, she went after Cassandra Peterson pretty viciously about image and intellectual property theft. Kinda rich if you consider what Charles Addams might have had to say about Vampira’s look. On the other other hand (thank you Thing), apparently Nurmi died in relative poverty despite being one of the originators of this entire genre.
#4 Joe Bob Briggs
Man I dig this guy. If I were to order this list based on personal influence instead of nostalgia, he’d be the distant frontrunner. Between Joe Bob Briggs and Roger Ebert, I knew that some day, in some form, I wanted to write about movies. Most of the mediocre-to-dreadful horror cinema I ate up throughout the late 80s/early 90s was on Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater on The Movie Channel. This is where first I saw such classics as Rabid, Rejuvenatrix, Sleepaway Camp, Slumber Party Massacre, Witchboard, and much more. He’s also the primary reason I keep my Shudder subscription going. Incidentally, he didn’t think much of Vampira or Maila Nurmi.
Sigh. I would love to meet Elvira. I doubt I’d be able to speak. I’d probably cry. However, for reasons of nostalgia, I can’t quite put Elvira right at the top either. Of all the horror hosts, though, she’s arguably the funniest. And Peterson herself is one shrewd businesswoman. I mean seriously the woman is a marketing and licensing genius. That’s gotta be at least in part what got stuck so badly in Maila Nurmi’s craw—it’s the boat she tragically missed which is a shame since the image of Vampira commands some serious marketing power to this day. I do love Elvira though. She’s cheeky, funny, deceptively ditzy, endlessly entertaining, and just eternally watchable. I haven’t gotten the book yet, but I’ll likely review it here at some point.
#2 Chilly Billy Cardille
And now for the big 2 nostalgia entries. Growing up in Pittsburgh, Saturday night at 11:30 was Chiller Theater time on WIIC TV, channel 11, and it ran in some form or another from 1963 to 1984. From the age of 10, I discovered 2 things from Chiller Theater—I wanted to be a horror host and that I lllooovvved schlocky horror movies. If you’ve ever wondered, now you know. My special fondness for Chiller Theater also stems from the fact that I spent a good amount of time with my Aunt Mary (my mother’s sister) and her husband at the time, Dave. They were the ones who let me stay up and watch Chiller Theater with them (much to the dismay of both my mother and their mother). But the die had been cast, and here we are. Also, Cardille was a newscaster both in real life and in Night Of The Living Dead. Also also, I had an enormous crush on one of the running characters, Terminal Stare (far left).
Ah, Scorpio, how I loved you so. Chilly Billy may have sparked my desire to one day be a horror host, but Scorpio was the one I would have modeled myself after. Scorpio hosted Thing Theater ever so briefly, 1976-77, at 1p.m. Saturday afternoons on WPGH, UHF channel 53. I dropped whatever the fuck I was doing to go watch it. There was no tellin’ what would show up on here. Toho Godzilla flicks, War Of The Gargantuas, Vampire Circus, Horror Express, Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors, you never knew what glorious spectacle was waiting. To my knowledge, and I have looked, there is zero surviving footage of Thing Theater. Scorpio, the way I remember him, was a tall, thin, fright-wigged, eye-patched, cloaked figure who would introduce the week’s movie and provide some occasional observations/commentary. As far as I know, the image above is the only one around from Thing Theater (though there are a few images out there from Scorpio’s creator, Dann Howard, who apparently had a show for a while called Scorpio…Live).
So there’s my list. As you can see, I did make it to a point where I could write about movies and even share that writing with others who, for whatever misguided reasons, seem to wanna read it. I even try to infuse some horror host elements into it as well. Still, if anyone out there needs a broken down ol’ movie nerd to act as a horror host for you, I’ll be right here.