American Scary (2007)
It's funny the things you remember from your childhood. Like, for instance, I put four years of high school "college prep" English classes under my belt, and few Lit. and Writing courses were attended during my college years....yet if you asked me how to deconstruct a sentence, or what a adjective was...you find me stuttering and stammering a response. But, if a complete stranger were to walk up to me on the street and asked me to recite Green Lantern's oath or what the origin of the Flash was (Jay Garrick? Barry Allen? Wally West? Pick yer poison...), I'd kick that stuff off the top of my head.
Examples: Q: What was your first girlfriend's last name?
A: Um....Gollum? Giggly? Gaffin? I think it was Gaffin...it involved a "geee" noise.
Q: What's your favorite Stones song?
A: "Gimme Shelter", "Let It Bleed" album, 1969.
Q: What's your mother's phone number?
A: It has a three and there's a zero somewhere in there...besides, it's stored in my cel-phone's address book (which also has an entry for my number, the number to that particular cel-phone, so's if anybody should ask me for it. C'mon....how many times do I call myself? Zero.)
Q: Where'd you first see "The Devil Bat" starring Bela Lugosi?
A: Channel 19 WXIX, Cincinati Ohio. May 11th, 1986, after midnight. Hosted by the Cool Ghoul. Sponsored by Hudapohl Beer and Grippo's Potato Chips.
I think one of the things that I miss the most from childhood is the concept of independent television stations. It seemed every summer there were at least two or three popping up on my UHF dial, in various stages of acceptable reception, from snowy static to crystal clear. The really fun thing about these broadcasters was the sheer amount of inventiveness that substituted for production budgets and, in most cases, talent. This is where I learned to love three things: cheezy local kid shows, crazy syndicated television packages... and the truly oddball: late-night horror movie hosts.
Now, I live (and grew up) in Ohio, which has come to be viewed as the "mecca" of this particular breed of on-air MCs, especially in the Cleveland and Cincinatti markets. In my neck of the wood, the south central and southwestern areas of the state, the Cincy stations were king, and the big indy here was WXIX, which began it's broadcast history in 1968. And ask anybody in these parts over the age of 30 who the "Cool Ghoul" is, and you'll be met with a mile-long grin followed by a story that either involves the funniest television viewing experience of their childhood and/or the scariest.
I've heard horror hosts being likened to the Greek Chorus of old, giving commentary on the gruesome proceedings being played out before an audience... but I'd like to think it's something simpler and far more innocent. The primary audiences of horror hosts during their hey-day were children and teenagers, and these ghoulish lunatics, using their on-air charisma, would talk kids into doing something they shouldn't be doing ("Hey, kid! Stay up past your bedtime and I've got all this really cool stuff to show you..."), and while doing it...allow them to watch....GASP!...horror movies, which added to the allure.
Yet....while nudging kids headway into a bad experience with one hand (or hook....or claw...or sometimes a tentacle), every once and a while, they'd stop the whole thing and take a kid under their care with the other arm and provide comfort ("Wasn't that silly? Ain't no reason to be scared... that tentacle is obviously rubber. And that werewolf? Wasn't it a hoot when he banged his head against the boom-mic?"). Kind of like a mischievous imaginary friend who lived on the airwaves, who you had to sneak downstairs and tune in on the magic picture box. But you could only do it once a week... after midnight. When your parents were asleep...
AMERICAN SCARY is a loving tribute to these "imaginary friends" on the airwaves, chronicling it's earliest beginnings, with Vampira (Maila Nurmi,1922-2008) on the west coast, John Zacherle on the east, and near and dear to my heart, Ghoulardi ( disc jockey, voice announcer, and actor the late Ernie Anderson) who later left Cleveland, became the voice of ABC Television for a generation and left his influence on such notable names as former broadcasting partner Tim Conway, Drew Carey (watch for Ghoulardi t-shirts on episodes of his sitcom), rockabilly punk act the Cramps, and his son...director Paul Thomas Anderson, who did a couple little films you may have heard of: BOOGIE NIGHTS and THERE WILL BE BLOOD. P.T.'s production company isn't named "The Ghoulardi Film Company" for nothin'.
After an exploration into the beginnings of the phenomena, we're given a look at some of the highlights of the 1960s and 70s era, with long, loving looks at guys like Bob Wilkins of CREATURE FEATURES, Chilly Billy Cardille (probably most infamous for his appearance as a television newsman in Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD), Chicago's Svengoolie (Jerry G. Bishop), and more hometown boys such as Big Chuck and Lil' John, The Ghoul (Ron Sweed), and my beloved Cool Ghoul (the late Dick Von Hoene... "Bleah, bleah, BLEAAAHHH!") before moving on to more recognizable fare such as Cassandra Peterson's Elvira, Mistress of the Dark and an interview with Joel Hodgson of MYSTERY SCINCE THEATER 3000 fame. All along the way, we're treated to glimpses of folks still in the business via the wonders of the inner-netz and public access television, most notably Count Gore De Vol, portrayed by Dick Dyszel, a favorite of mine.
For a piece of work that looks to have been shot completely on Digi-Cam, it's pretty professional looking. As far as bells and whistles go, disc-wise, it's a pretty tight package. Even though it's an indy release, (and as far as I know, the disc publisher is doing their own distribution, as well, with exception to Amazon), expect to see the now-typical built-in marketing material prior to the the disc's root menu (trailers for two other oddball docs, AMERICAN ZOMBIE and AMERICAN SHOPPER, which looks to be fun and reminds this reviewer of Errol Morris' VERNON, FLORIDA).
- Audio Commentary by Directors John E. Hudgens and Sandy Clark- Pretty interesting stuff, almost as good as the film itself.
- Original Pitch Reel
- Theatrical Teaser and Trailer
- Extended Interviews: Some decent stuff here, with one focusing on the Nashville horror host scene and it's elaborate history, and another doing the same for the great state of Texas...