Regular readers of Balladeer’s Blog are familiar with my fondness for bad movies and for movie host shows.
Here is a salute to some of the most influential figures who made hosting bad and/or weird movies the time-honored American folk art it is today. This list features hosts who had crossover appeal into the culture at large or broke ground in the “so bad it’s good” element.
7. MAD MARVIN (Real name: Terry Bennett)
Program: Shock Theatre
Run: 1957 – 1959
Home Base: Chicago
Comment: Long before Jerry Bishop’s more well-known host Svengoolie and his even more famous “son” played by Rich Koz, Mad Marvin brought late-night b-movie fun to the Windy City. Marvin was a mad beatnik and was described in contemporary accounts as ” a combination of Charles Addams, Ernie Kovacs and Jack Paar.”
Bennett’s program was so popular in Chicago that celebrities like Sammy Davis, Jr, Jerry Lewis and Burt Lancaster made guest appearances. Terry’s wife Joy appeared on the show as “Dear”, and also joined him in co-hosting the Mad Marvin spin-off show The Shocktail Party.
Musical tie-ins: Mad Marvin’s show had a house band called the Deadbeats, Zombie jazz musicians who boasted Patrick Ferrari himself as a member.
6. VAMPIRA (Real name: Maila Nurmi)
Program: The Vampira Show (NOT Chiller Theatre)
Run: 1954 – 1956
Home Base: Los Angeles
Comment: Vampira is the woman whose sex appeal and sense of humor is credited with ensuring the long life of movie hosting and for its initial explosion of popularity, though there is evidence from Virginia and elsewhere that she may not have been the very first such figure as is generally believed.
Vampira’s charm and charisma enabled her fame to eclipse that of contemporary host Zacherley the Cool Ghoul, despite his much-longer run. Nurmi’s appearance as herself in the film The Beat Generation and as the undead wife of Bela Lugosi’s character in Plan 9 From Outer Space have kept Vampira’s face and name in the public consciousness.
Musical tie-ins: In 1986 Maila Nurmi appeared in the Punk Rock musical Population: 1.
5. GHOULARDI (Real name: Ernie Anderson)
Program: Shock Theatre
Home Base: Cleveland
Comment: Ghoulardi the beatnik mad scientist was the figure most responsible for the “so bad it’s good” mentality taking hold in movie hosting. Anderson went far beyond his predecessors like Vampira, Zacherley and Mad Marvin when it came to poking fun at the schlocky nature of the movies presented on his late-night program.
Not content to just ridicule the films before and after commercial breaks like other Movie Hosts, Ghoulardi often edited himself into the movies to offer sarcastic comments or to clown around in the background of scenes. Replacing background music in the flicks with polka instrumentals was another trick favored by Ernie. Ghoulardi’s Friday night show was so popular it actually beat Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show in the Cleveland area ratings.
Musical tie-ins: Anderson used jazz and blues as background music during his Host Segments despite the disapproval of station management. Many Cleveland area bands like the Cramps, the Electric Eels and the Mirrors were often called “the Ghoulardi kids” because of their fondness for his program and for their way of carrying the Ghoulardi attitude into the music scene.
4. MOONA LISA (Real name: Lisa Cark)
Programs: Science Fiction Theatre, Moona’s Midnight Madness, Fright Night
Home Base: San Diego, St Louis, Los Angeles
Comment: Halfway between the eras of Vampira and Elvira there was Moona Lisa, who had one of the most original schticks in Movie Host history. Moona Lisa hosted her campy and schlocky movies from her private Moon Base, from where the Earth could usually be seen in the sky through one of the windows.
This lovely lunar maiden could be found in various sultry and seductive poses reclining on her furniture made of moon rocks. She would relax and offer wry commentary on the films being shown, and on her show in 1969 she inserted images of herself greeting the astronauts into footage of the Apollo moon landing. After several years hosting San Diego’s Science Fiction Theatre Moona Lisa moved over to Los Angeles to replace the iconic Larry Vincent, aka Sinister Seymour, on his b-movie show Fright Night. A run with Moona’s Midnight Madness in St Louis capped off the trifecta of movie shows hosted by the incomparable Lisa Clark.
Musical tie-ins: Moona’s show added a Beatles parody band called the Roaches as recurring characters during the British Invasion of the 1960s.
3. Randy Clower and Richard Malmos
Program: The Texas 27 Film Vault
Home Base: Dallas
Comment: Before Joel and Mike there came Randy and Richard! Before Devil Dogs and Deep 13 there were cellumites and Level 31! Plus the T27FV featured a POV shot of multiple vault doors opening at the beginning. Okay, this duo means that technically this is a list of the EIGHT most influential movie hosts.
Randy and Richard were Film Vault Technicians First Class, or FVT1’s in military terms. The pair served in the fictional quasi-military outfit called the Film Vault Corps – “the few, the proud, the sarcastic”. The Film Vault Corps protected subterranean film vaults containing the kind of schlock movie classics that Movie Host programs always show. “Defending America’s schlock-culture heritage” as the show put it.
Within this pioneering format Randy and Richard would mock the b-movies they presented, would interview special guests like Vincent Price, and would have comedic sci-fi adventures defending their duty station from giant rats and celluloid-eating monsters called cellumites.
Since the show was two and a half hours long R&R would also show EVERY episode of old Republic Serials like Radar Men From the Moon and Canadian Mounties vs Atomic Invaders. T27FV, as the show is known to us fans, aka “Vaulties”, deserves to be remembered as an important show in the evolution of movie hosting. *** See the link below for my Randy Clower interview ***
Musical tie-ins: For the Christmas season of 1986 T27FV showed the 1965 Cinammon Cinder Show Christmas Special with Sonny and Cher, the Royale (sic) Monarchs and Bob Eubanks himself! In addition, when showing films that featured oddball songs (movies like Star Spangled Rhythm, Change of Habit, Just Imagine and others) Randy & Richard would provide comical lyrics at the bottom of the screen instead of the lame real lyrics to those songs.
FOR BALLADEER’S BLOG’S EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH RANDY CLOWER CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2011/12/22/randy-clower-balladeers-blog-interviews-a-movie-host-legend/
2. ELVIRA (Real name: Cassandra Peterson)
Program: Movie Macabre
Run: 1981 – 1986, 2010-2011
Home Base: Los Angeles
Comment: Elvira’s success launched a new explosion in popularity for Movie Host shows, a category of local programming which had been undergoing what I jokingly call “an existential crisis” since 1975. A sizeable number of the b-movie shows of the past had occupied Saturday night timeslots after the local news. In 1975 NBC’s Saturday Night Live began to make the late-night Saturday airwaves its own personal fiefdom. Many stations dropped their Movie Host shows completely, moved them to 1AM slots after SNL went off the air or simply dropped the hosts and kept showing old movies in a stand-alone format.
Elvira’s Movie Macabre became the most popular Movie Host show in the country during its run and inspired many local stations to keep a host of their own or launch their own Movie Host programs, either imitating Elvira’s approach or trying a different type of host. Cassandra Peterson’s sense of humor was the REAL secret of her success, because her many lame imitators proved you can’t just put an attractive woman in a slinky outfit and score huge ratings. The schlockers shown on Movie Macabre featured frequently edited-in shots of Elvira making sarcastic comments about the film. Peterson engaged in this practice to a degree not seen since the days of Ghoulardi and proved a comic genius.
Musical tie-ins: Cassandra Peterson’s singing ventures could fill an entire article on their own.
1. SON OF SVENGOOLIE (Real name: Rich Koz)
Programs: Son of Svengoolie, The Koz Zone, Svengoolie
Run: Son of Svengoolie: 1979-1986, The Koz Zone: 1989-1990, Svengoolie: 1995-present
Home Base: Chicago
Comment: Balladeer’s Blog is loaded with articles praising Rich Koz for his comedic brilliance and his importance in Movie Host history. Koz got his start as a writer for Jerry Bishop, the original Svengoolie, who hosted Screaming Yellow Theatre from 1970-1973. Bishop’s Svengoolie was a hippy vampire complete with an intentionally bad Transylvania accent. Svengoolie’s irreverent approach to the b-movies shown on Screaming Yellow Theatre and his incredible sense of humor made the show such a hit that celebrities like Bette Midler, Gabe Kaplan, Mort Sahl and countless others appeared on the show as guests.
In June of 1979, with Jerry Bishop’s blessing Rich Koz debuted as Son of Svengoolie, the original’s vampire son, wearing a mortician’s outfit and sporting the same campy accent. Taking the “so bad it’s good” aesthetic to new heights, Koz’s show became a legend winning 3 Chicago Emmies and inspiring many future Movie Hosts. Son of Svengoolie, or “Sven” for short, revived all the schtick of his predecessor and blazed a trail with plenty of new gimmicks of his own. Koz brought a wry drive-time DJ’s sensibility to the format and single-handedly churned out so much brilliant comedy material for each show that it’s easy to see why Sven is so revered by us younger generations of bad movie fans.
In 1989 Rich Koz returned with The Koz Zone, hosting newer horror films mixed in with the usual schlock classics like Attack of the Mushroom People. He took advantage of advances in video technology to edit himself into the flicks with giddy abandon, offering his typically hilarious commentary on the b-movies being shown. He also revived “Sven” for several episodes of The Koz Zone. In 1995 Sven returned to the air sans accent and as just plain Svengoolie this time, showing and mocking movies with veteran panache. Believe it or not the indefatigable Sven is still going strong to this day.
Musical tie-ins: Rich Koz and his musical director Doug Graves (real name Doug Scharf) made parody songs an integral part of the show. Using the tunes of popular songs the duo would write new lyrics to tie in with the movies being shown. Godzilla’s Back was sung to the tune of My Boyfriend’s Back during a Godzilla flick, Blob of Red to the tune of Barbara Ann during Son of Blob, Going to the Castle to the tune of Going to the Chapel during Bride of Frankenstein and many, many others. Youtube is crawling with the songs from Sven’s old AND new show if you’re curious.
JOE BOB BRIGGS (John Bloom) – Long before he replaced Penn & Teller hosting TNT’s Monster Vision Joe Bob was a cable tv hit with his 1980s Movie Channel show Joe Bob’s Drive In. Bloom took advantage of the looser restrictions of pay cable to show the more cutting-edge schlockers that commercial tv would have shunned. TRIVIA: Joe Bob himself informed me that Joe Bob’s Drive In was filmed in the same Dallas studio that Texas 27 Film Vault originated from.
STELLA ( Karen Scioli) – Stella hosted Philadelphia’s Saturday Night Dead from 1984 to 1990 during which run her outrageous sense of humor (think of a Goth version of both Patsy AND Edina from Absolutely Fabulous) and her more-buxom- than Elvira body made her a legend. It wasn’t a drop in ratings that eventually caused this sultry red-head’s show to be axed, it was Scioli’s irreverence toward station management, and even public protests from fans couldn’t get Saturday Night Dead off the slab.
DR MADBLOOD (Jerry Harrell) – Virginia Beach, VA was home to the fictional Madblood Manor, home of the mad scientist Dr Max Madblood. From 1975 to 1983 Dr Madblood’s Movie presented schlocky films, wry commentary and comedy sketches in Virginia’s Tidewater region. Jerry Harrell frequently used pop-up on-screen blurbs to insult the movie, like the pop-up blurbs on Pop-Up Video but decades earlier. Dr Madblood’s Movie returned for a brief run in the late 80s and for several Halloween specials.
FOR FULL-LENGTH ARTICLES ON THESE AND OTHER MOVIE HOSTS CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/category/movie-hosts/
© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.