Who were these people? These crazy, mad bastards who emceed the Friday and Saturday night horror movie shows? What drove them to dress up in those ridiculously campy costumes, write up a series of the worst puns you’ve ever heard, and walk us arm in arm through the old movies? With names like “Vampira”, “Zacherley” “Sir Graves Ghostly” and my own personal favorite, “Dr. Paul Bearer”, did they ever suspect they would become such cultural icons, working the graveyard shift at the local TV studios on shows like “Shock Theater”, and “Creature Feature”?
Looking back on those days, I can scarcely remember the movies. But I can recall the six-pack of cokes (in glass bottles, not plastic, thank you) the bag of Doritos, and Dr. Paul Bearer with his scary wall-eyes and his cigarette holder, sitting up out of the coffin with his trademark “I’ll be lur-KINNNNG for you,” in a flat, raspy monotone. Lip-synching to “Poisoning the Pigeons in the Park” by Tom Lehrer, holding up an eyeball to spook WTOG’s current slogan, “As far as the eye can see…”
Wikipedia tells us that these hosts were frequently the weather men or booth announcers, dressed up and punned down, racing to another part of the soundstage to emcee the evening sampling of old Universal horror films, vivisected for mass consumption. Though there were a couple of national icons, most of them were local. “The impact of these friendly ghouls on their young fans cannot be underestimated,” says the article on horror hosts, although I think they meant to say “overestimated.”
In the era of cable and the demise of the impact of local stations, kids today watch their horror films on the Chiller Channel, host-less and alone. The occasional hosts are national in scope, intentionally rather than accidentally campy, and the kids get all the bad puns without any of the love and innocence that went along with them.
But I remember the era of Zacherley, Vampira and Dr. Paul Bearer, and I know that we are less for their passing. So I raise my chalice of blood and drink a healthy, O Positive toast to the ghosts of the hosts. Long may you be undead in our hearts!