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WRITTEN REVIEW: American Scary

The horror host is an unusual phenomenon. It happened in a time when television was still separated by local districts and yet it seems to have happened all over the country. None of the participants really knew about one another and yet everyone adopted similar personae. And no matter what region of the country it was in, they all seemed to garner a huge cult following.

American Scary documents the popularity of television horror hosts throughout the decades, starting with the early pioneers like Vampira and Zacherley to the golden age of Svengoolie, Stella and the great "Chilly Billy" Cardille. It even gives recognition to the hosts that broke away from local popularity and made it into the national spotlight. Elvira and my favorite, Joe Bob Briggs both get special recognition. The city of Cleveland gets a special shout-out because there seems to be an unusually high number of horror hosts from that region. Ghoulardi, The Ghoul, Son of Ghoul and Big Chuck & Li'l John are all honored. I don't know what it is about Cleveland's high turn-out of horror hosts, but it might be something to do with the city itself. Cleveland has always been a little off-center and it's citizens always had a slightly self-deprecating sense of humor. That in and of itself might be the popularity of horror hosts: they're ghoulish, but also a little silly, they never take themselves seriously and there's always a wink and a nod to the quality (or lack thereof) of both their show and the movies they present.

Well, after talking about the golden age of horror hosts I must now discuss the bad news. After the national consolidation of the local TV stations, the horror host (and local programming in general) became a thing of the past. Why would the networks want to waste money on locally produced television when they could just run syndicated sitcom episodes or the occasional paid infomercial? In makes sense from a business standpoint, but its sad to see it happening. Television stations today are sorely lacking in local flare and everything in TV today seems so mechanical. I should know; I work in a local TV station and a few years ago for Halloween we got permission from the network to show Night of the Living Dead instead of national broadcasting. We got to shoot little intro segments with our local talent, including one anchor made up like a zombie. It was a lot of fun, but sadly those outbursts of creativity are very few in today's local TV market.

It isn't all bad news though. Public access TV is still going strong on unused analogue channels. I always try to catch Offbeat Cinema on Buffalo's public access every now and then. Plus the Internet is huge output for such creative shows. Somehow, the creative outsider will always find a way. If it wasn't for the Internet, Slaughter Film would probably just be on Erie's community access channel.

However, if you want to look back on a time when television was still a maverick enterprise, American Scary is a lot of fun. There's not much to it; just various hosts talking about some of their favorite episodes, but it's a blast if you remember those glorious days of old.


★ ★ ★ ½