Nice overview of the peculiarly American phenomena of hosted horror movies. In a sense, the topic is ephemeral and much more suited to a visual documentary (when footage exists, which is rare for the older hosts) than a book, but it's nice Ms. Watson took the time to put what information there is together into one package. Good show and worth reading for anyone who spent time as a kid staying up too late watching some scary movie and laughing before the commercial breaks.
UPDATE - I return to theNice overview of the peculiarly American phenomena of hosted horror movies. In a sense, the topic is ephemeral and much more suited to a visual documentary (when footage exists, which is rare for the older hosts) than a book, but it's nice Ms. Watson took the time to put what information there is together into one package. Good show and worth reading for anyone who spent time as a kid staying up too late watching some scary movie and laughing before the commercial breaks.
UPDATE - I return to the tradition of horror hosts when under extreme stress, as it's something I associate positively with my youth and my love of horror movies. I decided to do a piecemeal re-read of this and thought I'd make a few extra notes to my review.
In retrospect, this book certainly isn't perfect. Ms. Watson occasionally repeats herself within a entry, clumsily deploys some information and constructs some sentences poorly. At times, the desire to say something, anything about a particular subject leads to some needless verbiage (for example, an entire overview of "Grandpa" Al Lewis' career, including detailed write-ups of CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU? and THE MUNSTERS, just to set up his [fairly minor] horror-hosting career).
But, in retrospect, Ms. Watson's achievement here is still quite amazing. Realize that she is attempting a record of a large scale tradition of television which, in its earliest manifestations, took place live on an ephemeral media. On top of that, this tradition did not even result in a complete artifact, by which I mean a narrative or performance, but instead occupies a very transient status - hosting of a performance with interstitial appearances. As the medium progressed, these manifestations needed to no longer be live, but were of such a small-scale, local level as to be considered completely unprofitable to the broadcasters and were rarely recorded, and even when this recording was done, rarely saved. Alternatively, in larger markets, the horror host still occupied the lowest rung of the broadcasting chain, being seen as a late-night or weekend-afternoon time-filler. So, again, there was little desire of record keeping. The shows came and went, lasting for years or a couple of months. Outside of Elvira, very few made careers of these characters, moving on to other things.
While Elena Watson does little analysis of the concept of horror hosting, her attempts to rangle up as much information as she can about each host she focuses on is to be commended. After explaining the origin of the concept - a fortuitous meeting of an old radio tradition, a television conceit and the 1957 availability of the Universal Horror Film SHOCK! package to television stations desperate to fill time - and it's progenitor - Los Angeles' Vampira - the book follows a very similar formula for each host. Some of the aspects of this formula are to be expected - the host's real identity, their television background, the details of their broadcast history (call-letters, schedule slot, show name, dates they started and ended, etc.), what types of films they showed.
But what I really came to admire about Watson's book, despite its flaws, were the extra attention she paid to ephemeral details. She attempts to tease out a specific show's "flavor" (remember, this is mostly through interviews with surviving particpants, grown-up fans, and local media coverage like newspaper articles, and rarely through any actual viewing of the shows themselves, in most cases impossible until one reaches the 1980s). So, for example, when possible we get a description of the show opening, of the set, of the host's costume and demeanor, and of sidekicks and other recurrent cast. She attempts to give some idea of the tone of the character and of the show itself (is it spooky-serious? punning? juvenile-delinquent hi-jinks? slapstick? played for children? college level risque humor?). Did the host mock the films, present them with respect, mix it up depending on the quality? Were the jokes mostly verbal humor, prop comedy, commercial parodies or production tricks like insertion into the film itself? Was there a strong local aspect? I partiularly like that Ms. Watson makes a point of passing on any character details of the host that might have been revealed during the show - is he a vampire or ghoul or what? Is he 800 years old? What is the full name of the host character, etc.? Details like this may seem surperfluous, but one has to ask oneself, where else will they be recorded if not here?
As evidenced by such wonderful on-line websites as Egor's Chamber of TV Horror Hosts and The Horror Host Graveyard there were literally hundreds of Horror Hosts throughout the history of the tradition. Ms. Watson's book is the tip of a very large iceberg and as every year passes, memories fade, people die and videotape de-magnetizes. Recent dvd documentaries like AMERICAN SCARY and VIRGINIA CREEPERS: THE HORROR HOST TRADITION OF THE OLD DOMINION have proven that there is still material to gather, interviews to perform. I hope further books and documentaries like these will occur, attempting to document this wonderful, peculiar, local (and mostly American) art form, one of the last manifestatons of "Old Weird America" to occur in the media age....more