Like many Northeast Ohioans, I grew up watching horror hosts. Ghoulardi was a bit before my time, but I had Hoolihan and Big Chuck (later Big Chuck & Lil’ John), Superhost and the Ghoul warping my mind with schlocky movies and cheesy comedy sketches. Half the time, the movies would suck, and I’d just be waiting for the breaks to come so I could watch the Ghoul put Froggy into a blender or see one of Big Chuck’s “Certain Ethnic” skits. Other towns across America had hosts of their own, too, each catering to the particular sensibilities of their region. Of course, this was before cable TV homogenized everything. A few hosts still hang on (including Canton’s Son of Ghoul), but for the most part the tradition is fading. American Scary, now available on DVD, takes viewers back to an era when local personalities could be huge stars in their hometowns by putting on fake beards or vampire teeth and acting goofy.
It begins with the original horror host(ess), Los Angeles’ Vampira, and then hops through time and space in an effort to convey just how prevalent horror hosts were. Cleveland’s Ghoulardi and “Big Chuck” Schodowski, New York’s Zacherle, and Bob Wilkins and John Stanley of San Francisco’s “Creature Features” all get sizeable chunks of screen time, and deservedly so. It’s a real shame Elvira wasn’t interviewed for the film (apparently she was asked, but never responded), and a little more on Joe Bob Briggs and Commander USA would have been nice given their nationwide impact, but overall I’m impressed at just how much is crammed into the hour and a half running time. My biggest complaint is the way director/editor John Hudgens has structured American Scary, lumping hosts together into sometimes awkward categories. A chronological approach would have made more sense to me. Still, it’s nice to at least hear these people (some of whom have since passed on) telling their stories, and to see clips of them in their prime. And my gripes aside, there’s no doubt that Hudgens has made this film with a genuine affection for the subject, and that counts for something. You can get more information at http://www.americanscary.com.