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American Scary (DVD Review)

13 Feb, 2009 By: John Latchem

American Scary

Street 2/17/09
Cinema Libre
$19.95 DVD, NR.

The rise of the Horror Host is one of the more fascinating and fun aspects of TV history.

In more-innocent times, before the days of basic cable, local TV markets were largely responsible for their own programming, bringing in a proliferation of personalities to host kiddie shows and introduce movies to their audiences.

But the Horror Host seemed to combine these two concepts, presenting bizarre characters to introduce classically bad scary movies to late-night audiences. Many of them offered sketches and trivia that gave viewers more of a reason to tune in than the movies themselves.

American Scary is a celebration of these goofballs of gore, from nationally known figures such as Vampira and Elvira, to regional celebrities with such names as Svengooli, Zacherley, Chilly Billy, Ghoulardi, Dr. Sarcofiguy, Doktor Goulfinger and Dr. Mor B.S.

In this thorough and entertaining documentary, director John E. Hudgens and writer Sandy Clark cover the trends and personalities that shaped the phenomenon. Included are interviews with fans, such as noted critic Leonard Maltin, and dozens of Horror Hosts themselves, many of whom appear in costume. These are not people who have faded into obscurity. A lot of them are childhood icons, and some achieved even greater fame.

For example, comedian Tim Conway (“The Carol Burnett Show,” “McHale’s Navy”) made a name for himself in the late 1950s writing and starring in comedy bits for the Ghoulardi show in Cleveland, the hotbed of Horror Hosts. And Ghoulardi was played by voiceover specialist Ernie Anderson, father of director Paul Thomas Anderson.

The documentary also covers modern versions of Horror Hosts, including the Cryptkeeper from “Tales From the Crypt,” and the gang at “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” led by Joel Hodgson. “MST3K” took hosting to a new level, ripping the movie while it was playing, not just during the interstitials.

Extras include an affectionate commentary with Hudgens and Clark, extended and unused interviews, and some strange footage of a 2003 wedding involving two Horror Hosts.

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