AMERICAN SCARY is “a nostalgic homage to the glory days of the late night horror shows”, from the legendary Zacherley and Vampira, through Ghoulardi and Svenghoolie all the way up to Elvira and Joe Bob Briggs in the 80’s and on to the latest crop of ‘fright night’ hosts like Professor Anton, Son of Ghoul, Joel Hodgson from MST3K, and even author Neil Gaiman, who hosted a series on Fox Movie Channel.
The film is a lightweight documentary, compiled entirely of ‘talking head’ interviews with hosts , archival footage of the shows in question and archival interview footage in the case of a few people no longer with us, like Maila ‘Vampira’ Nurmi and Ernie ‘Ghoulardi’ Anderson (who was also the voice of the ABC network throughout the 70’s and 80’s and was one of the most recognizable voice-over artists in TV history). Basically laid out chronologically, from the advent of horror shows in the 50’s through the resurgence in the 60’s and 70’s of late night programming and into the 80’s and 90’s cable programming, AMERICAN SCARY covers the progression of the strange animal that is a ‘horror host’ from it’s humble beginnings in local TV to the latest internet incarnations.
The quality of a lot of the archival footage is pretty rough, but it is still quite interesting to see old-school weirdness like Sir Cecil Creepe and the proto Bill Gates-look of the hosts of Creature Features in San Diego mixed with the creepy camp of Zacherley and Vampira, and the cheeseball comedy of Ghoulardi and Svenghoolie. Skit comedy and Halloweeny shenanigans combine to create a very compelling look at a subculture that is far from lost and is, in fact, heading towards another resurgence in the age of YouTube, blogs and podcasts… just look at Eyecrave Net’s own MIA weirdo Ramone! To get an idea of what I mean…
The extras on the disc are a mixed bag, with a prolonged ‘horror host marriage’ item that is hard to hear and is, basically, just home movie footage of a wedding ceremony peopled by horror hosts. On the flipside, the extra interview segments and original pitch reel are welcome additions.
Filmmakers John E. Hudgens and Sandy Clark obviously have much love for their subject and it comes through admirably in the process. Weird things are afoot and it is easy to see the appeal of watching these people riff on bad movies, goof on gore and mock the conventions of horror, sci-fi and other genre flicks. The people included in the interviews are equally interesting, especially when you realize how prevalent the culture was, and still is, in certain parts of the US. Almost makes you want to rush out to the local cable access channel and start your own Count Floyd ‘Monster Chiller Horror Theatre’ show.