TV’s Horror Hosts: 70 Years of Screams and Cheese

Vampires, demons, Michael Myers — in horror, many issues by no means die. One Cleveland tv station is betting there’s one thing else that’s immortal: the urge for food for horror hosts.

Halloween evening brings the third episode of “The Big Bad B-Movie Show,” a brand new locally-produced schlock horror film sequence on CW43, town’s CW affiliate. It’s hosted by Zachariah Durr, 40, and Laura Wimbels, 37, who play Leopold and Lenora, two dapper, wisecracking ghouls trapped in a vault. The 2 are a part of a brand new technology of horror hosts, these late-night cheeseball M.C.s who complement horrible motion pictures with wink-wink sketch comedy and goofy gags, delivered in accents that land someplace between Transylvania and the Catskills.

What’s uncommon about “The Large Unhealthy B-Film Present” is extra than simply “the 2 weirdo folks” who host it, as Durr put it. Most horror hosts at present stream completely on-line, and it’s often too expensive for a neighborhood broadcast station to supply a brand new weekly horror sequence. (It additionally streams online after the printed concludes.) However in Durr, a video producer for CW43, the station lucked out: He eagerly agreed to host the sequence as a labor of affection.

“We’re all trapped in our cities,” he mentioned. “We would as properly be producing one thing enjoyable.”

Horror hosts have been (mildly) scaring followers because the 1950s, first on broadcast tv after which on-line, the place they remain ubiquitous. The system — a hammy host, a B film, hokey skits — has barely modified. Neither, actually, have gender roles; males are typically humorous, girls are often vamps.

This Halloween, Leopold and Lenora are two of many horror hosts serving to to feed the pandemic-bred urge for food for nostalgic comfort viewing, a welcome distraction for households with children who will spend Halloween at house due to coronavirus restrictions.

In Austin, Tex., Joseph Fotinos, a neighborhood host often known as Professor Anton Griffin, kicks issues off with an after-midnight special within the wee hours of Halloween morning on town’s CBS affiliate. Within the Quad Cities market, overlaying southeastern Iowa and northwestern Illinois, Marlena Midnite will host a Halloween evening double feature of “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die” (1962) and “Lady Frankenstein” (1971) on a MyTV station.

Cassandra Peterson — higher often known as the vixen horror film hostess Elvira — mentioned that when real-life terror turns into overwhelming, a family-friendly B-movie introduced by a chummy ghoul will help take off life’s scary edge.

“Horror hosts present you comforting issues out of your childhood that you just watched with your loved ones or buddies,” she mentioned. “That these issues have horror themes is neither right here nor there. It simply feels good to return to that place.”

In accordance with Stacey Abbott, the co-author of “TV Horror: Investigating the Darkish Facet of the Small Display,” the horror host format emerged as native stations searching for low-cost content material purchased packages of outdated Hollywood horror motion pictures to create a programming slot with minimal manufacturing prices. Station staff had been usually enlisted to moonlight as costumed creatures after their night shifts ended.

“It made extra of an occasion of screening outdated motion pictures, and it labored very well,” Abbott mentioned.

The format first clicked in 1954, when a younger Finnish-American actress named Maila Nurmi squeezed right into a cinched black gown and utilized a crimson lip to turn into Vampira, a va-va-voom bloodsucker on KABC in Los Angeles. Three years later, John Zacherle performed an undertaker host on TV in Philadelphia, the place he was often known as Roland, and later in New York, the place he took the identify Zacherley.

The phenomenon took off in different cities, the place hosts turned native celebrities. In 2011, the primary class within the digital Horror Host Hall of Fame included three personalities from Ohio alone, together with Cleveland’s Ghoulardi, performed by Ernie Anderson, the daddy of the acclaimed filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood,” “Phantom Thread”).

Abbott mentioned the format began to peter out within the 1970s as stations moved towards extra syndicated content material and away from paying folks to make unique reveals. However that modified within the ’80s, when Elvira helped usher in a brand new Golden Age by introducing the VHS technology to the horror host format in her present “Movie Macabre.” The gig helped make her a family identify. Quick ahead to the digital age, and anybody with a laptop computer, inexperienced display, classic frippery and pancake make-up can have his or her personal sequence.

A number of long-timers are nonetheless at it. Joe Bob Briggs, a noncreature host, has a sequence on the horror streaming platform Shudder. Dick Dyszel has performed Count Gore De Vol, a love baby of Bela Lugosi and Sid Caesar, because the 1970s and has been on-line because the early days of the web. Svengoolie, a long-running Chicago horror host originated by Jerry G. Bishop and now performed by Wealthy Koz, has a weekly present on MeTV stations that, in accordance with the community, reaches a median three million viewers every week.

Horror hosts even have a documentary about their bizarre world, “American Scary,” streaming on Amazon, and a digital assembly place at EerieLateNight.com, the place horror hosts and their followers chat and watch outdated horror motion pictures across the clock.

What they don’t have is girls and folks of shade as hosts, at the least not within the numbers that mirror the range of horror fandom. CW43’s Wimbels, a contract photographer who’s Hispanic and grew up in Cleveland, mentioned she was thrilled to increase even barely the small circle of feminine hosts of shade.

“I used to be one of many uncool children,” she mentioned. “Rising up, I used to be darkish and caught out like a sore thumb. I used to be adopted. We didn’t have cable. However I watched ‘The Twilight Zone’ and outdated motion pictures and TV reveals, they usually gave me consolation. To get to be a horror host — it’s unimaginable.”

“The Large Unhealthy B-Film Present” is CW43’s first native non-news program of unique scripted content material in nearly 30 years. Erik Schrader, the station’s vice chairman and basic supervisor, mentioned the concept surfaced round July when he wanted to fill the Saturday prime-time slot.

“We requested ourselves, can we present repeats or one thing inventive?” he mentioned. “We went for the inventive angle as a result of we imagine that advertisers are going to be thinking about one thing regionally produced that has an unique power.”

Schrader mentioned he had been on the lookout for locally-produced programming when the chance to purchase some outdated horror motion pictures got here throughout his desk. A fan of “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” he gave “The Large Unhealthy B-Film Present” a greenlight as a result of the concept was a success on the station and since the manufacturing prices had been “not going to rival ‘Star Wars.’” The set — a intentionally cheap-looking basement vault — is a storage room.

That CW43 is keen to spend even a dime on a brand new scripted present throughout a time of appreciable income instability attests to the enduring enchantment of the horror host format, practically 70 years after its start.

Up to now, the gamble appears to have paid off. Schrader mentioned that the preliminary rankings for the primary episode of “The Large Unhealthy B-Film Present” had been larger than anticipated. Viewers suggestions has been constructive. His boss is blissful. Just like the undead, viewers have a starvation for extra.

“Persons are rooting for it,” he mentioned of the present. “I hope it’s round for a very good, lengthy whereas.”

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