Remember the good ol' spooky days with 'American Scary'
By G. Michael Dobbs
Two very entertaining DVDs are in this week's review column.
My parents always watched the "Today Show" when I was growing up and I have a vivid memory of something that didn't make any sense to me until I was much, much older.
I was probably either in kindergarten or the first grade when I saw "Today Show" sportscaster and comic relief Jack Lescoulie interact with a very strange looking guy he called "Zacherley." What particularly struck me was what appeared to be a giant amoeba - in reality a huge piece of Jell-O in a cheesecloth bag.
The memory has stuck with me for years and it wasn't until 20 years later then I learned about horror hosts men and women who presented horror films on local television stations most often appearing as a spooky character ready to mock themselves and the films. Zacherley, "the Cool Ghoul," was a fixture in the Philadelphia, Pa., and New York, N.Y., markets for years and was among the best known of these performers.
There were literally dozens of them in the 1950s and extending even to today in markets large and small, and the new documentary "American Scary" affectionately explores this show business niche.
Shot in 2006, the film only recently made it to DVD and for any horror fan who grew up watching a horror host this will be nostalgic viewing. I had hoped that the local host "Svenghoolie," who presented films late on Saturday nights on WVIT TV-30 from Hartford, Conn., would be among those profiled, but unfortunately he wasn't.
Interviews with John Zacherle, the late Maila Nurmi, who played "Vampira" in Los Angeles, Calif., and the late Ernie Anderson, whose "Svenghoulie" character became a media sensation in Ohio, are among the many horror hosts covered in the film. Even superstar author Neil Gaimen, who had a stint hosting a series of horror films, is interviewed about this experience.
Interestingly, every host was really a comedian, although the material they were presenting was supposed to be frightening. Like the cast of "Mystery Science Theater 3000," many of the hosts openly mocked the films and audiences would watch the show more for their contributions than for the movies.
The film recreates a time in which local television stations actually produced local programming beyond their news. In many areas, a newscaster might double as a horror host or the star of a show for kids. Those days of locally produced content are, as we all know, very much in the past.
I love little documentaries such as this one and "American Scary" is well worth finding.
The IT Crowd Season Two
Not too long ago, I wrote about the first season of this amazing British comedy created by Graham Linehan, the man responsible for the equally funny "Father Ted" sitcom.
Now the second season of the show has been released on home video and I'm happy to write it is as funny as the first season.
"The IT Crowd" centers on the technology department of a large British corporation. Roy and Moss are the two techies who might know their way around a computer but life and relationships are beyond their grasp. Their reluctant boss Jen doesn't know a thing about computers and is only marginally better at dealing with people than they are.
Although the geeks and Jen view themselves are superior to each other, by the end of the episode they generally are forced to acknowledge they are more alike than they would liked to admit.
The extras include a feature on the taping of the shows as well as a blooper reel.
There are only six episodes in season two and American audiences may not be used to the British model of television production you emphasize on quality rather than quantity.