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Top 10 TV Horror Hosts
Growing up as a kid I was fascinated with horror movies, from the classics to the low budget stinkers. Most local television channels had a show that presented these horror movies at night or on weekends. These shows usually had a host who was tasked with presenting low-grade films to television audiences. These hosts were most often in costume, and were taken from the ranks of the studio staff.
A few of these horror hosts became icons and gained nationwide, or international, recognition for their roles. However, most of these hosts were local and not recognized outside their local areas, but their characters added to the enjoyment of the movies.
My criteria for the list are that the host must have started as a local program that presented horror movies. All of the hosts on the list, except for one, were presented in costume.
Zacherley was the host of WCAU’s Shock Theater, which debuted on October 7, 1957, and ran for 92 broadcasts, through to 1958. Actor John Zacherle wore a long black undertaker’s coat’s as the character “Roland,” who lived in a crypt with his wife “My Dear”, and his lab assistant Igor. The hosting of the show involved numerous stylized horror-comedy gags that have now become standard on television.
In the opening sequence, Zacherley would descend a long round staircase to the crypt. The producers erred on the side of goriness, showing fake severed heads with blood simulated with Hershey’s Chocolate syrup. The show sometimes featured live “cut-ins” during the movie in which the soundtrack continued to play on the air, while the visual feed switched briefly to a shot of Zacherley in the middle of a humorous stunt, such as riding a tombstone.
Svengoolie is the name of a character from a long-running series of locally produced television programs in the Chicago, Illinois area. Svengoolie was originally played by Jerry G. Bishop and debuted on Screaming Yellow Theater, which aired on WFLD from September 18, 1970, until the summer of 1973.
The show featured various low-budget horror and science fiction movies hosted by horror host Svengoolie, who wore face makeup, a wig and a top hat. In between film breaks, the character presents various sketches, tells corny jokes and presents song parodies spoofing the film being played.
Svengoolie is currently played by Rich Koz, who was originally a fan of the show who wrote in with some sketch ideas. On June 16, 1979, a new series named Son of Svengoolie debuted on WFLD, with Koz in the role of the Son of Svengoolie.
Sir Graves Ghastly was a character created by Cleveland-born actor Lawson J. Deming, for the popular television show of the same name. Sir Graves Ghastly had its longest run on WJBK, TV2 in Detroit, from 1967-82.
Sir Graves Ghastly was a middle-aged man in vampire makeup with a deep voice like Boris Karloff’s. He started and ended the show by climbing out of and into a coffin and showed classic horror films, and gave good background on them. At end of the show he wished viewers “Happy Haunting,” and gave an evil laugh as he lay down in his coffin.
Other characters on the show included Sir Graves’ sidekick, Baruba, a ghostly apparition known only as The Glob, and a cemetery caretaker named Reel McCoy, who traditionally opened each episode by unearthing a movie reel from what appeared to be a grave. The show followed a consistent format of back-to-back horror films, interspersed with brief sketch comedy pieces featuring the many characters. The program was originally billed as Sir Graves’ Big Show, but later became known simply by the character’s name.
Sir Cecil Creape, aka The Phantom of the Opry, was played by film editor Russ McCown, and was perhaps Nashville’s best known horror host. The show was aired on WSMV, channel 4 Nashville from 1971-1973, and was called Creature Feature. During that time Sir Cecil hosted horror movies and always had lots of skits in between breaks. The set was a dungeon, with stone walls and fireplace which always had a picture of Floyd Kephart, local political analyst, on it.
Sir Cecil would descend the stone staircase into his dungeon set to utter the words “Did someone call?” in his unmistakable droll. Sir Cecil wore a dark blue cape with a huge purple collar and a chain mail tunic. He had a hump back and walked in a slow, lurching style. He had a large scar across his forehead and wore a monocle in one eye, as well as a set of deformed teeth. Sir Cecil signed off his show each week by saying “Good night, sleep tight, and don’t let the beddie bugs bite.”
Morgus is a quintessential mad scientist that originated in the New Orleans, Louisiana, television market, and first appeared on late night television on January 3, 1959, in the House of Shock. Morgus hosted the science fiction and horror movies in between experiments, and was created and portrayed by actor Sid Noel.
The doctor was assisted by executioner styled sidekick Chopsley. His well-intentioned experiments typically go awry at the last minute. Dr. Morgus also has an assistant, Eric. In the early version of the show, Eric was a talking human skull. When Morgus returned in the 1980s, Eric had become part of the computer known as E.R.I.C. (The Eon Research Infinity Computer), and holds all the knowledge of the universe in his memory banks.
Dr. Morgus was the first horror host to star in his own motion picture, The Wacky World of Dr. Morgus (1962).
Count Floyd is a fictional horror host who was played by another fictional character, newsman Floyd Robertson, on the comedy series SCTV. Both characters are played by comedian Joe Flaherty.
Count Floyd is the host of the cheesy, and unscary, Monster Chiller Horror Theater. The show was set in a dungeon where he would emerge from his coffin wearing a cheap vampire costume, including a white turtleneck, and speaking in a bad stereotypical Transylvanian vampire accent. Oddly, although he was supposed to be a vampire, he would open each show howling like a werewolf, then start to laugh as he addressed the audience. It’s obvious that Floyd Robertson is embarrassed by his role as Count Floyd and doesn’t enjoy it much.
The movies he would host were fictional and had titles like “Dr. Tongue’s 3D House of Stewardesses,” “Dr Toungue’s 3D House of Pancakes”, “Tip O’Neil’s 3D House of Representatives,” “Blood-Sucking Monkeys from West Mifflin Pennsylvania” and Ingmar Bergman’s “Whispers of the Wolf”.
The Vampira Show aired on Saturday nights at midnight on KABC-TV, Channel 7, May 1, 1954 to April 2, 1955, and the show featured mostly low budget suspense films. Vampira was portrayed by Maila Nurmi, and she is generally accepted to be the first television horror host. Despite the shows short run, The Vampira Show set the standard format for horror host shows to follow.
Each show opened with Vampira gliding down a dark corridor flooded with dry-ice fog. At the end of her trance-like walk, the camera zoomed in on her face as she let out a piercing scream. She would then introduce that evening’s film while reclining barefoot on a skull-encrusted Victorian couch. Her horror-related comedy antics included ghoulish puns and talking to her pet spider Rollo.
Her most notable film appearance was in Ed Wood’s camp classic, Plan 9 from Outer Space, as a Vampira-like zombie, filmed in 1956.
Monster Movie Matinee aired on Saturday afternoons on WSYR Channel 3, Syracuse, from 1964 – 1980. The show opened with creepy organ music and sounds of howling wind as the camera followed a path through a scale-model cemetery, to a bridge and path leading to a haunted mansion on a hill with dry ice as fog. Once inside Monster Mansion you see Dr. E. Nick Witty sitting off camera in an ornately decorated chair in a darkened room. You can only see his arm and it is clad in a black silk smoking jacket with a white cuff, a pale hand with long, sharp, black fingernails and large ornate rings. The doctor’s hand continuously gestures as he speaks. Dr. E. Nick Witty was played by the station’s weather man, Alan Milair. Supposedly his facial disfigurement was too terrible for his audience to ever view. The doctor had a deep baritone voice and unforgettably evil, sardonic laugh.
Epal was the doctor’s assistant. His face was crisscrossed with shoelace-like stitches running the length of his face and forehead, punctuated by an eye patch. Early in the broadcasts Epal had a hook which was later replaced by a metal hand which Dr. Witty built for him. He was played by the late Williard Everett Lape, Jr.
The segments between the movies followed a continuous plot thread drawn out for several weeks, such as finding a cure for Epal’s lycanthropic condition, building a time machine, and Dr. Witty’s attempt to restore his facial features.
MST3K is a cult television comedy series created by Joel Hodgson and produced by Best Brains, Inc., that ran from 1988 to 1999. MST3K originally aired on WUCW, Minneapolis-StPaul, Minnesota, from 1988 to 1989.
The series features a man and his robot sidekicks who are trapped on a space station by an evil scientist and forced to watch a selection of bad horror and science fiction B-movies. To keep sane, the man and his robots provide a running commentary on each film, making fun of its flaws, and wisecracking their way through each reel in the style of a movie-theater peanut gallery. Each film is presented with a superimposition of the man and robots’ silhouettes along the bottom of the screen.
During its eleven years, 198 episodes and one feature film, MST3K attained critical acclaim. The series won a Peabody Award in 1993, and was nominated for writing Emmys in 1994 and 1995, and nominated for a Cable ACE Award.
Elvira, Mistress of the Dark was the host of Movie Macabre, a weekly horror movie presentation on Los Angeles television station KHJ-TV, in 1981. Elvira was played by actress/showgirl Cassandra Peterson. She wore a black, gothic, cleavage-enhancing gown, giving her a vampish appearance, which was offset by her quirky, quick-witted personality, and valley girl-type speech. Elvira presented low budget horror films and made fun of them during the intermissions.
In 1989, Cassandra was sued by actress Maila Nurmi for alleged infringement of her pioneering original Vampira TV horror hostess persona. The case was thrown out when Nurmi failed to appear in court.
Elvira is undoubtedly the most famous and the most highly-publicized TV horror host, ever, both nationally and internationally.