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Welcome to the Crypt!

Enter the Crypt as John "The Unimonster" Stevenson and his merry band of ghouls rants and raves about the current state of Horror, as well as reviews Movies, Books, DVD's and more, both old and new.

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From the Desk of the Unimonster...

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13 June, 2009

DVD Review: AMERICAN SCARY: A Tribute to the Golden Age of Horror-Hosts

Title: AMERICAN SCARY: A Tribute to the Golden Age of Horror-Hosts

Year of Release—Film: 2008

Year of Release—DVD: 2009

DVD Label: Cinema Libre Studios

It may be hard for today’s television viewers to imagine, accustomed as we are to hundreds of digital channels delivered via satellite to our homes every second of the day, but there was a time when it wasn’t quite so easy to take TV for granted. A time before round-the-clock network feeds, nationally syndicated broadcast packages, and hour-long commercials. A time when TV was live, local, and groundbreaking.

A staple of television in those early days were movies. Movies in the morning were often presented with a viewer call-in contest, and soon became known as the “Dialing-for-Dollars” format. Matinees were in the afternoons, and of course, the “Late Shows” which came after the 10 or 11pm newscasts. Among the more popular formats was the Horror Film, usually with a costumed Master of Ceremonies playing host.

Nearly every town large enough to have a TV station had such a program. Cleveland had Ghoulardi, Atlanta had Bestoink Dooley, Pittsburgh had Chilly Billy Cardille—these and many others served as our late-night escorts into a world of Horror and Sci-Fi Films. All were broadly similar yet uniquely local. All were underpaid, overworked, and quite often far more entertaining than the movies they aired. And all are owed a debt of gratitude from those whose love of classic Horror Films was born in front of a massive console TV with a 19” screen, watching their local Horror-Host introduce DRACULA or THE WOLF-MAN.

At last, these men and women are receiving their due recognition in the form of AMERICAN SCARY, a new documentary out from Cinema Libre Studios. Written and directed by John E. Hudgens and Sandy Clark, this film is a loving tribute to the people who brought these shows to life each week, as well as a salute to the days of live TV in which they thrived.

AMERICAN SCARY is a true documentary, composed primarily of interviews with those who were Horror-Hosts, those who were their fans, and those who carry on their legacy. Interspersed with the interviews are clips from the shows themselves; not as many as this reviewer would prefer, but still a very pleasing assortment. Especially so are several minutes devoted to the women who have been hosts, most notably Vampira and Elvira. Often forgotten in the company of such great hosts as Zacherley, Ghoulardi, and Svengoolie, women have made tremendous contributions to the history of Horror-Hosts… including being the first such character.

The movie conveys a wealth of information about the history of the craft of hosting Horror Films, but it does so unevenly, with a huge block of time devoted to hosts in the Cleveland, Ohio area, but little mention of hosts in the Southern or Western parts of the country. And very little attention is paid to those hosts working today. While Jerry G. Bishop receives much well-deserved praise as Chicago’s original Svengoolie, scant mention is made of Rich Koz, who this week is celebrating his thirtieth anniversary since assuming Bishop’s mantle.

But those are minor quibbles, ones that in no way detract from the quality and value of this DVD. This is without question a must-buy for those who consider themselves fans of Horror-Hosts or of Horror Films in general. These men and women exposed generations of children to the joys of the Monsters, and to the thrill of being scared… if only a little bit. What’s more, they inspired thousands of us to keep those joys and thrills alive long past our childhoods.

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