Tuesday, March 17, 2015

All Hail the Horror Host - Part 2 by Jerry Chandler

Before picking up where I left off in Part 1, looking at how horror hosting evolved to survive the television purge, I’m going to look at my hosts first. And, with at least one of them, that actually leads into talking about that evolution in a rather substantial way.

When I was very young, sometime in the 1970s, I had the Bowman Body (Bill Bowman) on WRIC TV 8 out of Petersburg, VA for a little while. To be honest, for the longest time I only had the vaguest recollections of his show, and I really didn’t understand what a horror host was at the time I was watching anyway. Everyone else did though. He spent over a decade as a local icon, getting, as I mentioned in Part 1, recognized by the Virginia General Assembly and having a sandwich named after him by an area restaurant.

Years later, in the 1990s, I had Dr. Gruesome and Skeeter on Channel 35 (later to be Fox 35) out of Richmond. This was a duo comprised of a mad scientist and his rainbow haired hunchback sidekick. Their comedy, which came across as one part horror movie mad scientist setup, one part Monty Python skit, and one part Road Runner short, was made up in large part of skits centering around the many ways to torture poor Skeeter. The two guys who were doing it, Mark Bartholomew and Matt Pak respectively, were young guys when they got thrown on the air, and they were allowed to do whatever amused them. The result was a show that amused most of the viewers in the greater Richmond area as well. Despite being forced off of the local airwaves back in the 1990s, they’re still popular enough that they occasionally come out of their forced on-air retirements to host specials.


But, for me, while I love Dr. Gruesome and Skeeter and have come to have old memories jarred loose and love The Bowman Body again thanks to documentarian Sean Kotz’s Virginia Creepers and Hi There Horror Movie Fans, I really only have one host I truly think of as “my” host, and that would be Count Gore de Vol. Although, when I first saw him, I was so annoyed with him that I wanted to throw something at the TV. That changed quite a bit obviously.

I turned 13 in 1983, and my parents had just recently moved into a little town that was just south of Richmond, VA. Unlike a huge chunk of the surrounding counties and towns, this place was serviced by a then relatively small cable provider who, unlike the then giant (Comcast) in the Tri-Cities area, carried programming out of Washington, DC. It seemed a bit odd to me at the time as neither of the two DC channels were known as major players on the growing national cable scene. I just assumed that the cable company couldn’t afford bigger channels and kind of mentally wrote them off. That changed one very late evening towards the end of 1983 or around the start of 1984.

I’ve always been a night person by nature. I could never fall asleep until close to 3 am on a good night. It used to be absolute hell on me in school. But it was on one of those late nights that I channel surfed onto WDCA Channel 20 and into an old b&w horror film that I’d seen before and remembered liking quite bit. I put the control box down (calling it a remote control by today’s standards is a total joke) and settled in. I’m not going to lie; I honestly can’t remember the movie. Knowing me at the time, it was probably a rubber suited Japanese monster movie or a giant bug movie.

The movie went to a commercial break, and I went after either a snack or a drink. I walked back into my room a couple of minutes later and found… something… on my television that wasn’t the something I had been watching a few minutes earlier. Rather than my nice little monster movie picking back up right where the action left off a few minutes earlier I was confronted by some strange looking vampire on a wobbly dungeon set going on about something while the pipe music of a bad church organ was fading out in the background.

I had no idea what this silliness was. Why were they screwing with my movie? Why were they wasting my time with this? I was not a happy camper.

I was less happy when he went and did ‘it.’ He made fun of the film. You have to understand, I was a geek who, at least for those few years, was in a bad town to be a geek in, and I felt like I caught enough grief over the things I liked at school. Why in the hell should I put up with it from some bargain basement Dracula with a bad accent when I could just flip the channel to something else?

And then… something… happened before I could change the channel. I honestly don’t remember if it was something that made me laugh or some really interesting bit of trivia that I was previously unaware of that he mentioned about the film I was watching, but I suddenly found the guy on the screen a little less annoying. By the end of the show I even found myself liking the guy. Sure, he took a few jabs at the film, but they were playful jabs which had more fun with the film than being at its expense.

The next week I didn’t channel surf into the program that I now knew as Creature Feature with Count Gore de Vol. I instead went straight to Channel 20 at the start time listed in the paper’s TV guide section and got ready to enjoy another film hosted by the good Count. This went on for several weeks before the TV listing was for some odd little film that I had never heard of before. I mean, I had flat out never heard of it before anywhere.

That gave me pause. I didn’t know what this film was, most of my friends had certainly never mentioned it before, and it had never played on the good cable channels that aired all the classic horror films. Would I give up SNL or a good movie elsewhere for some nothing horror film that nobody had ever heard of while having no idea if I would even like the thing? Yeah, I would. Why? Because the guy hosting the film was easily as much fun as the films (if not more so) that he was showing, and, not that I had realized it yet, I had become more a fan of Count Gore de Vol than I was of Creature Feature’s features. All I remember about the film was not liking it all that much at the time, but Gore had me snickering like a fool at each and every break during that forgettable film.

That happened a lot actually. Creature Feature played some great old films in its time, but it also fleshed out its bones with what most sane people would consider some real stinkers. When I first started regularly watching him, I viewed Gore as the icing on the cake when they were showing some of the great old films from the classic age of horror, but my still developing (and occasionally slow) brain started to realize that this guy was the cake every bit as much as the good films were. He was just a weird kind of pineapple upside down cake to go along with a good film’s rich chocolaty goodness. Even the shows featuring the bad films were cake thanks to Gore; they just didn’t come with that extra slice of chocolate cake. So, yeah, I was hooked as a loyal fan.

He even made grade z level stinkers out there that were more often than not made with no budget, no time, no studio support, no quality equipment and, sometimes, no discernible talent whatsoever behind or in front of the camera fun. No, he didn’t just make his skits fun and thus his part of the show fun, but he sometimes made the bad stuff in the film seem fun. Whether it was with interviews with people who knew what went on during a film’s creation, trivia that let the viewer at home know what was going on and how that may have kneecapped what was the final product, or whether it was making fun of aspects of the film in a lighthearted and very occasionally loving way, he showed you that some of the bad old films had a charm to them that you weren’t going to see in them if you weren’t willing to look.


Watching the show made you realize as well that you were watching a guy who loved his job, even if he didn’t love all of the films that he showed, and could, by what seemed sheer force of will and the amount of joy and fun he was able to convey through that little TV screen, infect the viewer with that sense of fun. He could make you at least a little bit of a fan to some degree or another of even the “bad” films that he aired, and, in the way he presented and hosted some of the films Creature Feature had to show, you really did see the charm in some of the films that you would have otherwise just written off and turned off.

These days I’m absolutely a fan of good, quality horror films, but I absolutely love the so bad they’re good films as well. I have huge soft spot in my head for many of them. There’s a small DVD store worth of films on my shelves that I know, love, and enjoy now that most sane people would pass up in a heartbeat. And that’s actually been a good thing in my life. I’ve corresponded with, met, and, in many cases, become friends with a lot of people because of conversations started about films like Oasis of the Zombies, The Vampire Happening, Manfish, White Pongo, The Devil Bat, Son of Ingagi, Zaat, The Brain that Wouldn’t Die, and other films that have titles that simply cause confused looks on the faces of most “normal” people whenever mentioned in polite conversation. And, thankfully, the people who I’ve met and become friends with don’t fit the negative stereotype of the type of “geek” that most people hold in their minds. They’ve come from all walks of life, they’ve all had their own interesting and different life paths, and they’ve all been people that have enriched my life in some way or another.

I’d like to think that I would, as a proud horror geek, have gotten there on my own, but I didn’t have to. I had a fine teacher in appreciating the art of the bad film. I had Gore de Vol leading the way and showing me what fun these “bad” films often really were or at least how to have fun with them. Along the way he kept me constantly entertained as his show was filled with a parade of colorful characters, interesting trivia, enlightening interviews and the occasional Penthouse Pet. It was, not even just due to that last one, in many cases then unknown to my 13, 14 and 15 year old mind, also crammed with more innuendo than you could believe could be packed into such small segments. All I knew at the time was I was always enjoying myself when Creature Feature was on. I was a full blown addict, and anyone wanting to suggest a 12 Step program for my addiction issues could go to hell.

It seemed that I wasn’t the only one either. Gore ran contests and promotions on his show that seemed to get huge responses from the people of the Greater DC, and his Halloween bashes, giant parties held at various locations around DC, seemed to draw huge crowds from all over every time out of the gate. Man I wanted to go to those so badly that I was an absolute brat about it. I never got to go, but not going eventually gave me a funny story to tell in later years that I’ll tell it a bit later here.

It’s safe to say that I was ready to go well into my late teens as a rabid Gore fan, and I would be getting to those bashes on my own as soon as I could drive a car. Likely with or without a legal driver’s license.


And then they did it. My parents moved to a new town in 1986, and I was now without a cable provider that carried WDCA Channel 20. I went insane. I was a one teen letter writing campaign and I bombed the local Comcast office with bags of letters and tons of calls. They had to pick up WDCA Channel 20. They just had to. There was no discussion in the matter. Somehow, unfathomably, they were unmoved by a really annoying kid insisting that they had to get a TV channel on their lineup just so that he could watch Creature Feature with Count Gore de Vol every Saturday night. Yeah, I can’t understand their reluctance to go along with it either.

So, sadly for me, my association with the good Count had been finally and, what I believed at the time, fatally severed by the financial needs of my parents and the unreasonable bean counters at Comcast. Eventually I told myself that it was time to move on.

It didn’t quite work out that way though. Elvira was well on her way to national fame, and lots of people I met who liked cheesy sci-fi and horror were well acquainted with Commander USA from the USA Channel and/or Joe Bob Briggs and his Drive-In Theater on The Movie Channel. Kids I knew were talking about these hosts around the lunch table at school, and I, of course, was there to say that there was this guy in DC who just blew them all out of the water he was so good.

Not only did I talk about him, but I swiped from him as well. As time went by, in between talking about my favorite horror host and outright stealing his gags when talking about films, I hit a point where I actually remembered more about Gore than I did many of the films he showed. Hell, there were actually things from his bumpers that I remembered for years while being completely unable to tell you what film was on when Gore was doing his gags.

Even if there would have been any doubt about it before, it would have been clearly dispelled now. I was a fan of Count Gore de Vol over and above many of the movies he hosted. If you gave me the option of seeing a film uncut and uninterrupted VS seeing the same film cut, edited and hosted by Gore, well…

Good evening and welcome to Creature Feature…”

Fast forward somewhere around fifteen years. I’m having my at least twice a year discussion with someone new about how much fun this guy in DC used to be while the general topic was cheesy horror films, and, as a shortcut to explaining, I hit the Google. As the internet had grown and more and more people got on the information superhighway you could be rest assured that someone someplace was putting just about everything somewhere on the web. I’d actually been lucky before and hit on some good pictures and even the odd bits of old video. Well, this one time something interesting popped up in the Google search. There was actually a site out there getting enough hits to be on the first page of the search. The site was called www.countgore.com. I clicked on the link expecting to find a really nice but kind of small fan site. What I found instead was Count Gore himself.

It seems that through the countless new owners and the changing times where bean counters where becoming the program directors rather than people who knew how to program a local station that the good Count had gotten a fairly large stake through the heart only a year or so after I lost access to Channel 20. The new owners of the station decided that local programming was just so much unwanted waste of money. Hey, why be local, unique, and supported in the community when you can be the same as 50,000 other stations across the country?

But, in classic b-movie vampire tradition, Gore went to ground, regained enough strength to crank that big ol’ toothpick out of his chest, and returned with a vengeance. In 1998, he became the web’s first weekly horror host, and he’s coming up on his 17th anniversary of the internet program as you read this now. Well, unless you’re reading this far removed from early 2015.

And he has been a very busy little undead body it seems. Getting into everything he’s done for the horror host community and its fans would at least triple the length of this post, but we’ll hit a few highlights. www.countgore.com became several things early on. It gave him a creative outlet, a place to still do the thing he enjoyed, but it also became an inspiration for others. He helped to start the Horror Host Underground, a way for hosts, old and new, to better connect with one another. Those two things combined together actually gave other hosts the idea of turning to the web.

He’s continued to grow his site over the years as well, turning it into a source for many things. He tracks conventions, he has other writers do reviews for books, comics, or games, he has contests, and, of course, he airs a weekly show that uses both whatever public domain horror films are available as well as new films and shorts from up and coming independent artists. And he’s not always alone. Popping up for the fun can be people like longtime Scream Queen Leanna Chamish, writer, occasional History Channel commentator, and longtime fan Eleanor Herman, or even guys like writer Steve Niles. Yeah, that Steve Niles who grew up watching Gore, cites him as one of his inspirations, and even wrote a story about a horror host with a foreword by the Count himself some years back.


And the man gives his old fans the opportunity to get a great nostalgia kick. He owns all of the Gore de Vol material from back in the day. That means he can take any film that is in public domain that he still has the bits he did for the WDCA airings of those films (like The Brain that Wouldn’t Die) and he can put them together into a DVD that is, in pretty much most respects, the original show as it aired minus those pesky things that break up the fun by trying to get you to buy something else that you really don’t need. And thanks to those DVDs and others, I, or rather my parents, scared the crap out my wife.

That comment way up above about “a funny story to tell later” is about to get latered.

About eight years ago now my wife and I had our first child. To say I was stressed and freaked would be understating it in the same way as saying that the Marianas Trench is a little bit of a dive. At one point I think I actually stressed myself into a worse condition than my wife was in right after the birth. So she looked at me, told me that we had some extra money that she wouldn’t hold against me spending on something that I might enjoy or might want to do, and told me that I should go ahead and just do something for myself.

Low and behold, Gore was having a sale on his website. For what was really a steal by any standards he was selling off 8 DVDs (16 shows) of the web program, 4 shows from the classic WDCA days, 4 DVDs known as the Legacy Series that are basically Gore’s best bits from his TV days, an autographed glossy, a really nice t-shirt, and a replica of the old Channel 20 club card for what was a really great price.

With everything else that had been going on I had passed up spending the money on his DVDs before, but with my wife’s blessing I grabbed this sale priced fan pack in a heartbeat. Glad I did too. The web program discs from that set are no longer being sold. There are other classic programs on DVD now though, and I have made a point of keeping my collection up to date. The lesson my wife has learned? Never start an addict back down that road.

Long story short (too late) they arrived, and my wife and mother-in-law discovered that my wife was actually stuck being married to a giddy 13 year old boy in a man’s body. I did a Creature Feature bender that would have driven most sane people stuck around me at that time to thoughts of my murder at their hands. But, hey, I was happy.


I started with the Legacy series. Again, the movies may be good, but I figured out a long time ago that I was more of a fan of Count Gore’s than I was of the films. Little did I know what effect that would soon have on my wife.

My parents, now with their first and then only grandchild to coo over, were just about daily visitors at that time. They were visiting while I was playing the Legacy DVDs one day and the topic on the disc at that moment was one of the big Halloween bashes that Gore threw. I jokingly jerked my thumb in the direction of the TV and reminded my mom and dad that it was still the great tragedy in my life that they wouldn’t drive all those hours from just south of Richmond up to Washington DC just so that I could be there in person.

My father rolled his eyes and went on to tell my wife that they’d been hearing about this thing, this complaint about how they had let me down so horribly, absolutely ruining my life by not taking me to some DC party to see some guy who dressed up funny and showed bad movies for 25 years. He emphasized that number several times, doing so with great aggravation (almost only jokingly) coating his voice. Yeah, my wife knew she had wed a nut for sure by that point.

Fast forward just shy of two years. I get an update email from Gore’s site about some little documentary being screened at the AFI Theater in Silver Springs, Maryland on the 27th of June. The subject of the doc was one Dick Dyszel and his long career as Washington, DC’s Bozo the Clown, Captain 20 and, most important of all to me, Count Gore de Vol. The tickets were only $10.00 a pop and, on top of the movie, there would be a chance to chat with the man of the hour and see some memorabilia from good old days.

My wife took one look at it and said “NO” in a very firm voice that made it clear that no argument would be allowed on the matter.

No,” she quite adamantly repeated, “I am not putting up with 25+ years of you complaining about that to me, like you did to your parents. Buy the tickets right now, and we’ll stay the weekend with my sister up near there. But I plan to be married to you for at least 25 years, and I am not putting up with 25 years of complaining about not getting to go and see Gore de Vol in person and how it was all my fault like you’ve done to your parents since you were a teenager.”

So, despite a bout with an insanely aggressive poison ivy reaction (that actually worked in my favor with extra days away from work) early in the week, and more road construction than I thought you could drive through in one trip that short, I found myself there on the evening of the 27th of June, 2009.


It was a great film by the way. As much as I loved American Scary I found this one to be better by far in every way. I don’t know if that’s just because it really was so much better or because I have been a fan of the subject of the film for so long, but, between the great doc and the really fun Q&A, it was just a great way to spend an evening in a theater.

And going on over half a decade later, Gore is still going strong. His site is as busy as ever, he makes appearances at conventions throughout the year, he appears at and acts as patron saint of The Spooky Movie International Film Festival held each year in around the DC area, he continues to promote other hosts on his show as well as appearing on the shows of other hosts from time to time, and he even packs movie theaters around Silver Springs, Maryland by doing live hosted showings of such horror classics as Scream Blacula Scream. And I’m still as big of a fan as ever, and will be even long after he finally decides to hang up the cape.

In Part 3, we’ll look at the recent years, and maybe the future.


Jerry Chandler is a lifelong geek, dabbling in just about every genre but finding science fiction and horror to be his primary comfort zones. He has also had a lifelong devotion to that form of entertainment known as professional wrestling. When not worrying that his coworkers are going to inflict bodily harm onto him over his sense of humor, he enjoys hitting the convention scene or making indie films with his friends. He also finds talking about himself in third person to be very strange.


1 comment:

  1. Fantastic and heartfelt article Jerry, I grew up n Sven (via cable) when I was a kid.

    ReplyDelete