Wednesday, May 19, 2010

American Scary

American ScaryAmerican Scary
Directed by John E. Hudgens
DVD released: Feb. 17, 2009
After watching American Scary, I want to be a horror host – which is probably the ultimate metric for judging a documentary.

King Kong (1933) aired on television in 1956 and demonstrated the viability of televised horror films. This led to a flood of TV releases, but gems like the classic Universal horror films came were packaged with B-movies or worse. You had to air the bad if you wanted the good, and horror hosts made even the worst films palatable.

Skipping ahead to the early 1980s and I was a young kid who hurried home from Palm Springs Elementary everyday to catch the 2:00 horror show aired on a pre-Fox WFLX. The Bat People (1974), Frankenstein: The True Story (1973), The Fly (1958), and Dracula (1979) are the only titles which come to mind – more memorable was the horror host.

Our horror host was a mad scientist and his sidekick, who spent the movie slowly simmering in a cauldron. Thinking back now, it seems likely that the sidekick was probably a prop, not a person. Introduced with Napoleon XIV’s “They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!,” the horror host was the right mixture of cheese and creepiness whose intros, outros, sketches and asides both set the tone for movie and took its edge off.

Penny DreadfulPenny Dreadful
Let me explain how I watched horror movies. I sat an arm’s length away from my small, black and white TV with my hand on the volume. The secret to watching horror movies – especially ones late at night – was to have the sound just loud enough for me to hear and the ability to silence any screams which might draw my mother’s attention.

So this became a ritual – but one that faded as we got cable and a VCR – events happening on a larger scale across America.

American Scary is a documentary about this phenomenon starting with “Lights Out” on the radio and reaching to the Internet horror hosts of today. It’s a talking heads documentary about talking heads, but the heads who talk, know what they’re saying. Vampira, Zacherley, Ghoulardi, Svengoolie and many other horror hosts are covered – and you get a great sense of the role they played as local celebrities (sadly, Barb Billens Program Director for WFLX tells me ours was syndicated).

Sir Graves GhastlySir Graves Ghastly
Providing context are the likes of Leonard Maltin, Joe Bob Briggs, and Neil Gaiman (who talks about his horror hosting of FX’s 13 Nights of Fright). American Scary also connects horror hosts to MST3K, so Joel Hodgson appears leading to fun moments like Tom Savini gushing over the show.

So I asked Barb if WFLX was interested in restarting this and was told that “with all the cable channels and other movie services, we air very few movies on our schedule” which is the case all over. However, if another local station is interested, I’m ready to be your horror host.