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12 January, 2008

Horror-Host Review: Penny Dreadful's SHILLING SHOCKERS

Program: Penny Dreadful’s SHILLING SHOCKERS

Host/Co-Host(s): Penny Dreadful XIII; Garou & Manfred von Bulow

Location: New Bedford, MA

Carrier: NBTV-95 Public Access Cable; Various throughout New England

[Ed. Note: This is the first of what I hope will be a long-running feature here at the Crypt, reviews of some of the Hosted Horror Film shows that are available around the country. I’ve spoken before of my love for this type of show, one of the few MonsterKid touchstones that my youth was lacking. I’m making up for it now, though, by watching as many of this type of program as I can.
If you happen to host such a program, and would like to see it reviewed here, please contact me at: unimonster64@gmail.com.]
Nearly two years ago I reviewed this program for the Horror-Web, and as I recall, was quite impressed with it. Shilling Shockers was different, most notably in that the host was actually a hostess, Penny Dreadful XIII, a 600-year old witch; and while she wasn’t the first female horror-host, they are certainly few and far between. With her werewolf husband Garou, and a monster-hunter named Manfred von Bulow, she haunts televisions in the historic town of New Bedford, Massachusetts.

In that earlier review, I remarked upon the fact that, while the basic formula for the show is essentially the same that has existed since the Cool Ghoul himself first frightened viewers in the ‘50’s, the strengths of this show were found in where it deviated from the pack. Though some of what I enjoyed so much about those 1st Season episodes has been changed, overall the feel of the program hasn’t altered.

The three 4th Season episodes that I reviewed are Carnival of Dolts, featuring Herk Harvey’s 1962 low-budget chiller CARNIVAL OF SOULS; Dig it, Squarewolf, with the Roger Corman classic A BUCKET OF BLOOD; and Intangible Terror, with Mario Bava’s I TRE VOLTI DELLA PAURA ~aka~ BLACK SABBATH. As is the case with all such programs, the movies contained within are incidental to the interstitial segments, and are not a factor in my reviews.

One thing that stands out as having improved over time is the way the interstitial segments are more closely tailored to fit the episode’s feature. That was a weakness highlighted in the previous review, and the concept and execution of the host’s plotline is much tighter now.

Also, the style of the segments is subtly altered to work with the featured film. For the best of the three, Bava’s superb thriller BLACK SABBATH, Penny was alone in the attic, and the humor, though present, is more subdued, allowing the quality of the film to carry the episode. In contrast, for the episode featuring Corman’s A BUCKET OF BLOOD, the interstitials, featuring Penny, Garou, and series director Rebecca Pavia as a new-age Beatnik, are played much more broadly, imitating the plot of the movie. With Carnival of Dolts, we see yet another style employed, as the entire cast of regulars—Penny, Garou, and Manfred von Bulow—visit locations throughout the area, virtually and in person, as a creepy stranger stalks them silently in the background. Shot in black & white like the featured CARNIVAL OF SOULS, it captures perfectly the bleak despairing look of the film, while successfully injecting the trio’s morbid sense of humor.

The cast, led of course by Penny Dreadful, has definitely improved over time. Each seems more comfortable and assured in their roles, and the characters evince some pleasing development since the 1st Season. Garou, who had previously performed well in this difficult, non-speaking, role, has only improved in his ability to convey meaning using only grunts, growls, and howls. Dr. von Bulow, the erstwhile monster hunter of the group, was used sparingly, appearing in only one of the review episodes. Still, he too seems to have progressed somewhat as a character. And as for the leader of this motley crew… Penny is ‘Perfect’!

While Svengoolie is without a doubt my favorite Horror-Host, followed closely by Zacherley, I think it’s safe to say that neither of them can compete with certain… attributes, which Penny Dreadful possesses. While it would be inaccurate to say that the reason I enjoy this program so much is that the host is an attractive woman, it would be untrue to say that it wasn’t a factor at all. As I said earlier, it is where this program departs from the norm that reveals it’s true strengths, and that is certainly a departure from the norm. It’s not the only reason I like this show; it is just part of the whole.

And the whole is a most entertaining program, one I can heartily recommend. The show can be seen in six states throughout New England, or you can purchase DVD’s from the show’s website at: http://www.shillingshockers.com/. Either way, if you enjoy curling up on a dreary evening with a good host and an often bad movie, give Shilling Shockers a try. I think you’ll be glad you did.

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