American Scary

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(DVD Company: Cinema Libre Studio)
Turning the attention to the world of Documentaries for a change, American Scary is a good look into the world of the wonderful world of the Horror Host. John E. Hudgens and Sandy Clark created a well-made tribute to the legendary group of people who turned many people onto the B-Movies on late night TV, usually on UHF TV stations who had connections to film packages and time to kill in the days before the “Networks” created by the major studios of Modern Hollywood following Fox’s example killed off most of the fun of their programming. With hosts like Vampira and packages such as Screen Gems’ Shock sparking off a few generations of classic viewing, a history of interesting characters and anarchic humor that would entertain the viewers would stand strong for many years, inspiring plenty of new hosts that would show up every now and then or on the Internet, and this tries to capture all the greats even just in tribute in style.

Starting off with explanations from people like Joseph Fotinos (Professor Anton Griffin), George Chastain of E-Gore’s Chamber of TV Horror Show Hosts, and members of The Pleasant Creatures. It starts off pretty low-key before the real show happens, but what is said offers up a fine base for all of this. Producer Michael Monahan (Dokter Ghoulfinger) is in his costume, like several of the hosts in interview here, and hitting the nail on the historical head bringing up the Spook Show connection, a theatrical event that was a fun happening for years, which is backed up by Fotinos and Eric Lobo (Dr. Lobo). There are quite a few Historians and Horror legends, including Leonard Maltin, Chris Gore (Film Threat), Bob Burns, Neil Gaiman, and Tom Savini, to fill in some more historical perspective.

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Maila Nurmi was the trendsetter as Vampira, and the interview with her is great, with an appearance by the Forrest J. Ackerman (RIP, Forry). John Zacherle’s segment is just as informative featuring some classic bits that would make one want to get his video collection of clips and trailers on VHS which exhibits a fine example of how funny his style was. Terry Bennett’s Marvin may not be as well known, but the clips from his show make it look like a good laid back watch with a Beatnik style character with the Wife who’s face you never saw.
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Going to the “Girl’s Club,” it’s a fine show although Elvira was not available for a featured interview (The commentary offers the reason) resulting in only a couple of clips. Roberta Soloman (Crematia Mortem) and Karen Sciloi (Stella) are the main focus in this part, and while they may not be as strong as Elvira, they do offer a dose of Creature Feature personality offered in other cities.
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Things go more into detailed mode when some of the more modern and lesser known hosts get a spotlight, showing the Documentary’s scope. Appearances by Jeanne Deitrick (Joan Cleaver), Richard Dyszel (Count Gore de Vol), Larry Underwood (Dr. Gangrene), John Dimes (Dr. Sarcoifguy), Bob Hinton (A. Ghastlee Ghoul), Jerry J. Bishop (Svengoolie), Evan Davis (Halloween Jack), and John Rinaldi (Li’l John from the Cleveland team of Big Chuck and…) offer some insights. Given this scope, it must have been very stressful trying to get the most representative of the scene in such a limited amount of time, and I can see some thinking that the DVD should have been much longer containing a good amount of footage not used in the final edit, but what is in the film is great with these bits in a good concise form.

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“The Normal Guys” like Bill Cardille (Chilly Billy), John Stanley, and Bob Wilkins get a look into as well. Without any costumes and just playing it straight, and achieving success through either good humor or, in Stanley’s and Wilkins’ style, information, they were great examples of a style that needed a true uniqueness to succeed. Offering a different approach is a big risk, but when one plays it right, the rewards could be great beyond expectation. John Bloom, better known as the one and only Joe Bob Briggs, gives a major support for Stanley and his book.

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Going to Cleveland, with bit of Big Chuck (aka Chuck Schodowski) and Li’l John thrown in, Ghoulardi, the character created by Ernie Anderson, the legendary voice over legend and Commercial and TV announcer who’s the Father of Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights) is featured. Through the Early 60’s, after hosting Ernie’s Place (A show that introduced the Comedian Tim Conway – an LP called Are We On? captured the duo at work), the character who told all of us “Stay Sick” and popularized the words “Turn Blue” was a refreshingly honest and funny persona that became a star in Cleveland, OH before heading off to California in 1966 with one revival happening in the Early 70’s. This revival may have been short lived, as ABC called him to be an announcer (The famed “The Looooooooove Boat!” would be a signature phrase), but once Ron Sweed took over the show with a few alterations as to not to get into trouble including a shortened version of the name, The Ghoul continued the greatness up to the Early 80’s, with a strong fan following including one who can get in the two stations he made shows for in Cleveland and Detroit (WXON was the Detroit station).
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The end is neatly covered up. The interviews said it all – The UHF stations were moving into the “Infomercial” era by the Mid-80’s, which may have generated a profit for the stations, but very little in excitement for the real viewers, and the “Networks” were slowly taking over the rest of the programming, making it easy for the people involved with the stations while shunning off the Local flavor that usually gives a station a unique edge. Thankfully, there will be those to keep the spirit alive, and it has to be admitted that Mystery Science Theater 3000 has a bit of an influence for the Cable generation, and I hope that this film will offer more inspiration for those who seek out the History of Horror.

This is a great DVD with the commentary, some bonus Interview footage, two trailers, and a Pitch Reel. I hope to see more from this team.

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~ by screen13 on August 3, 2009.

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