Friday, October 24, 2014

Singing TV Horror-Show Hosts

In 1953, the late Maila Nurmi aka Vampira invented that beloved American tradition, the TV horror host. Did other countries pick up on this concept? Low budget local stations filled their late night or weekend afternoon slots with crappy old movies, usually, but not always, of the monster variety. The shows were hosted by a smart aleck in a costume traipsing about a cobwebbed castle/ laboratory/etc set, interrupting the proceedings to make jokes, perform in skits, read letters from viewers, perhaps interact with other cast members/puppets, or, in the case of Cleveland's Ghoulardi, blow things up. And many of them made records: Vampira, her bastard offspring Elvira, John "The Cool Ghoul" Zacherle, and the lass featured below, who made one of the most perfect 45s ever.

This interview with the author of a new book about Vampira makes the case that Nurmi was the ultimate hip chick, a bad-ass beatnik who was just too hot for mainstream tv audiences to handle. After listening to the podcast (not too long, even at an hour's length), I rented "Vampira And Me," a documentary from last year based on interviews with Nurmi. The late '80s/early '90s L.A. band Satans' Pilgrims are featured. I'd long known about the records they made with Vampira, but didn't realize that most of the 'lyrics' were taken from found religious tracts. "Tribute to Elvis," however, is Nurmis' own recollections of her friendship with The King, one of many celebs entranced by her proto-goth beauty.

Why did so much insane music come out of Ohio in the '70s? David Thomas of Pere Ubu cites the influence of a popular Cleveland horror host. Ubu, The Dead Boys, Devo, the Cramps (especially The Cramps), etc. were the Ghoulardi generation, kids weened on Ernie Anderson's anarchic character who played wild garage rock records, and would blow up things with firecrackers on the air, much to the dismay of the station management. Oddly enough, my first-hand memory of Anderson is after he quit Ghoulardi to be the ABC network announcer - that was his leering voice announcing "The Loooove Boat." (Filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson is his son.)

The tradition lives on. Elvira's comeback show in 2011 was great, but short-lived, even with Jack White contributing a theme song, and even a brief on-air appearance.

Quoth Ghoulardi: "Stay sick!"

Horror Hosts - A MusicForManiacs Collection

01 Ghoulardi - "Intro"
02 Vampira - Genocide Utopia (with Satan's Cheerleaders)
03 John Zacherle - Dinner With Drac (the still-living/performing New York host made quite a few records; this was his most popular)
04 Tarantula Ghoul and the Gravediggers - Graveyard Rock (Portland's answer to Vampira was originally known as Tarantula Girl)
05 Bill Cardille - Chilly Billy's vamp (1971 Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater host)
06 Dr. Sarcofiguy - My Girlfriend Is On Fire (a few years ago we wrote about this contemporary cat)
07 Elvira - Zombie Stomp (from 1995)
08 Ghoulardi - "cool it with the boom booms"
09 Vampira - I'm Damned (with Satan's Cheerleaders)
10 Tarantula Ghoul - King Kong
11 John Zacherly - Monster Monkey
12 Count Floyd - Treat Her Like A Lady (parody of a '70s disco hit; the great Joe Flaherty playing the host of the fictional SCTV network's "Monster Chiller Horror Theater")
13 Ghoulardi - "acid "
14 John Zacherly - Come With Me to Transylvania
15 Elvira - Zombie Killer (with Leslie and the Lys)
16 Vampira - Tribute to Elvis (with Satan's Cheerleaders)
17 John Zacherly - Happy Halloween

"Screaming relaxes me so..."


soylent lorne greene said...

This is fiendishly fun...Thanks!

Timmy said...

Great stuff. Never forget Svenghoolie.

Mr Fab said...

I've been watching Svenghoolie lately! His show airs on some odd little channel here in LA on Sat nites. I just don't know of any records he made.

(Soylent Lorne Green really is the greatest name)

AmericanSamourai said...

Thanks, Mr. Fab!

Konrad Useo said...

These are a lot of fun.
My fave is king kong. It really made me lol with her sudden unrelated exclamation of the title!