Last week I read the latest news on the reimaging of Fright Night. For those unfamiliar with the original 1985 classic, a vampire (Chris Sarandon) moves in next door to teenager Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale). Not wanting to face the undead alone, Charlie goes to his local television station to seek assistance from Fright Night horror movie host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell), who he mistakenly believes is a real vampire killer. As implausible as the plot sounds, Fright Night worked and was one of the better vampire films from the 1980s.
So imagine my chagrin when I discovered that the reimaging of Fright Night was foregoing Vincent’s role as a horror movie host for that of a Las Vegas magician because, in the screen writer’s (sadly correct) opinion, today’s audiences would not be familiar with horror movie hosts. Two thoughts immediately crossed my mind. First, am I that old? (To be fair, I say that every time I hear the music I listened to in high school being played on the Golden Oldies station.) And more importantly, where did those icons of my youth go to?
As a monster kid as far back as I can remember, I was addicted to my weekend monster movie highs. The only thing that made the school week tolerable was the knowledge that on Saturday afternoon I could watch Godzilla or some other giant monster lay waste to yet another city on WLVI Channel 56’s Creature Double Feature. Then, thanks to the miracle of cable, I could get an extra fix on Saturday night thanks to Chiller from Secaucus, New Jersey. For us monster kids, when that badly-animated six-fingered hand emerged out of a pool of blood and laid out the show’s logo accompanied by that eerie techno-pop horror climax music, it was like seeing your junkie on the street corner.
However, the best part of the weekend’s monster movie marathon was The Ghoul, the only one we could get in Boston (again, thanks to the miracle of cable). Let’s be honest – the movies sucked. They were the worst of the worst. The scripts were so badly written they seemed to prove the old statistician’s adage that if you put a million monkeys in a room and gave each of them a typewriter, eventually one of them would draft something readable. The acting was so amateurish it made porn stars look like Academy Award performances. And the monsters were so cheesy as to be laughable (I guess seeing a zipper run down the back of the monster’s costume took away its awe). Each week’s selection was pure unadulterated schlock. Today you can buy them for less than ten dollars on DVD compilation packs of fifty movies. But I didn’t care. I rarely watched them, which is sad when a monster movie can’t hold the interest of a ten-year-old boy. They were mostly background noise while I read through the latest edition of Famous Monsters of Filmland or built one of my Aurora glow-in-the-dark monster models.
Yet when The Ghoul came on, my attention was riveted to the TV screen. He always made a grand entrance, either being pushed across stage in a shopping cart, or using a fire extinguisher and roller skaters to rocket on to the set, or using some other imaginative mode of transportation. His antics and jokes were juvenile, which was exactly what appealed to a ten-year-old boy. Who cared how bad the movie was as long as I could watch a model car be blown apart by firecrackers or could get a sadistic chuckle as Froggy, the show’s plastic mascot, was subjected to some form of unique humiliation each week (from being shoved into a dish of ice cream and covered with hot fudge to having tea bags stapled to his head and dunked into boiling water). While the movie plots were abysmal, they could not compare to what came out of The Ghoul’s Vault of Golden Garbage – The Little Rasghouls, Ghoulumbo, and Night Ghoulery.
Like so many monster kids of my generation, I tuned in for the horror movie host, and back then there were plenty of them to satiate our need. Zacherley, "Chilly Billy" Cardilo, Ghoulardi, Elvira, and dozens of others. Each of them had one thing in common – they made monster movies fun. That’s what it was all about for us. Fun.
And now I’m told by Hollywood that no one knows what a horror movie host is. Sigh.
I’m now a forty-something monster kid, and so many monster icons of my childhood that hooked me onto the genre have vanished. The horror movie host has been supplanted by the cable premium channels, which now show the same contemporary slash fest movie ad nauseum until even I get bored of the movie. The local movie theater that once showed the Saturday double feature matinee (Destroy All Monsters and Which Way to the Front? – what a combo) has been replaced by the sterile multi-screen theater complex with its single movie and grossly-overpriced concession stand. And drive-in theaters have become as rare in America as an honest politician.
Horror movie hosts may be on the verge of extinction, but they are not forgotten. At least by this monster kid.
As The Ghoul would say, "Stay sick."
[This post originally appeared on Dawn's Reading Nook on 19 June 2010.]