Halloween Haunts: Horror Hosts by David Sharp
One of my favorite parts of the Halloween season is watching horror films. Ever since I was a kid in the 80s scouring Fangoria magazine for October releases to find the newest spooky films and video tapes, I have been a hardcore fan. And the experience was always cooler with a horror host, someone to talk about the films and even make light of them.
The ritual of a night with a host is something I have enjoyed over the years. Decorating for Halloween, lighting the candle inside the Jack-o-lantern, and settling in for a guided night of horror all set to a dark tone and spooky mood during one of the best times of the year.
Back in the 80s, there were fewer channels on TV, but some of them would program classic monster and horror movies, especially late at night. A couple of networks would do marathons, at least a couple of films a day, leading up to All Hallow’s Eve and there was also the utter strangeness of Night Flight and Groovie Movies on the USA Network on cable.
Growing up in Houston, Texas, I was not lucky enough to have a local horror host—there were no imitators of Svengoolie, Chilly Billy, or Zacherly whom I had read about—but Elvira certainly set the bar high with her Gothic sensibility and burlesque humor. Elvira’s delivery was campy but always a lot of fun. I remember seeking out her show, Movie Macabre, on syndicated TV and also renting her Gorgon Video hosted series on VHS. She has become a fixture on Halloween every year since.
Joe Bob Briggs was also on the Movie Channel during that era with his informative, trashy, and funny Drive-in Theater. Some of the other Halloween specials of the time included horror hosts like the amazing Vincent Price, Al Lewis from The Munsters, and even Stephen King. And there was no escaping Robert Englund as Freddy Kruger, usually on MTV. Freddy was the anti-hero for the decade, having transitioned from A Nightmare On Elm Street to host of his own series, Freddy’s Nightmares, as well as numerous specials and video blocks.
There was something about the 80s and horror-comedy that really worked, making the laugh a release from the tension of the scare. No matter how twisted the subject matter was, there was always a sense of fun. Being a monster kid, it also brought a sense of belonging with others who shared my enthusiasm for the genre.
Horror is cyclic, and nostalgia has brought back and reevaluated lots of horror from the 80s. Nowadays, Joe Bob’s The Last Drive-In is back on Shudder, Elvira is still amazing at 70 with her 40th anniversary special and biography out last year, and the rest of the horror hosts can be found streaming or in the dark recesses of the internet. So, even today, the fond memories take over as I seek out a host to guide me into the Halloween spirit.
David Sharp is a writer who grew up identifying with the outsider from his teenage punk years onward. His horror works include Modulator, Anarchy: Strange Tales of Outsiders, Escape from Dolphin Street, and Under the Moonbow—which granted him membership in HWA. www.davidsharpwriter.com