Do the names Vampira, Elvira, Count Gore De Vol, Joe Bob Briggs, Zacharly, Sir Graves Ghastly, and Ghoulardi mean something to you? What? They do? They you probably are part of that slice of Americana that grew up Horror Movie hosts playing on Friday nights on your local UHF channel. I know I did. My favorite was Washington DC’s own Count Gore De Vol, courtesy of local UHF channel 20. The good count (Dick Dyzel) is still active today, albeit on a web broadcast. These were the intrepid guides to the world of bad horror films– the Creature Features, the Midnight Movie shows, etc. that played on most local television stations in most major markets for most of the 70s and 80s on broadcast television. Subsequently, they were banished to the nether hells of basic cable, where they live, and mostly thrive, today.
What delighted me as a kid wasn’t the movies so much– they were all Grade Z and below stuff- safely in the public domain, and thus eligible for broadcast. What I liked was the antics of the host, who was usually someone from daytime who was dragooned into working the horror show gig for some extra cash. There was a nascent art form there, and many local hosts were great at it.
Arguably the first American Horror Show TV host was “Vampira”, aka Finnish actress Maila Nurmi. She was a hostess for a local Los Angeles station for a relatively short period of time (1954-1955) but her impact was enormous, and she spawned many imitators, including (as she maintains)
Elvira, Mistress of the dark.
Television was more fragile then, so a lot of the recordings associated with the early films have dissolved into ruin. There are still a few recordings out there, and SnagFilms just released a historical documentary on the subject, which you can view for free. Just click on Vampira’s face,below.