A Sampling of
Sci-fi/Horror Movie Hosts
It's interesting to compare the approaches
taken by horror movie hosts to their characters, the movies, and so
on. This is by no means a comprehensive list, just a study of
(nine, actually) horror hosts who I've looked into to varying extents.
Probably the best-known horror host of them all, and with good
reason. She pretty much perfected the format based on personality
alone, and the image of her is a Halloween staple. She made
several movies: her Mistress of the
Dark (1988) and Elvira's
Haunted Hills (2001), a tribute to the Hammer Horror
films. Additionally, she has released a number of compilation
records of Halloween-related songs, including a few originals she
recorded herself. Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cassandra_Peterson
Show title: Movie Macabre (1981-1984, 2010-???)
Movies (style and era): All over the place, from the late '50s
to early '80s. See the episode list.
Character/persona: She's vaguely a vampire of some sort, only
with a valley girl accent that is incongruent with the castle decor.
Set: Gothic, dusty mansion with candelabras. Centerpiece
is her trademark red velvet couch.
Supporting characters: None. Granted, she was strong
enough to carry the show on her own, but she only occasionally brought
in anyone else to play against.
Intro: From the new (2010) show: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GL9rk0zbh1I
Commentary: Mostly bumper segments, although the new version of
her show incorporates pop-ups as well.
Theme song: Campy attempt at spooky music. It's one of the
best themes, however, because its sound and notes are immediately
What she's best at: Being sexy and one-liners.
What she's worst at: Not much, honestly. Although this
isn't my favorite show, Cassandra Peterson is hands-down the most
talented horror host to date.
experience with her:
I only caught a bit of Elivra during her original run in the
However, I have caught episodes of her latest series both on tv and
dvd. Also saw her movies. I have a great memory of a
showing of Rocky
Horror that happened to have the trailer to Mistress of the Dark at the
start of the reel. The audience had seen it before and had
participation lines composed for it as well.
Though he is best known as a horror film host (primarily during the
'50s and '60s; starting out under the name Roland), John Zacherle
(actual spelling of his last name) also recorded the hit song "Dinner
with Drac" and released other albums of music and sound effects as
well as occasional appearances in movies. Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Zacherle
Show title: Shock Theater (1957-58), Zacherley at Large (1959-60)
Movies (style and era): Mainly the Universal monster movies from
the Shock Theater days.
Episode list is not available, but see the list of Shock Theater films as he
Character/persona: Sort of an undertaker character, although he
did any number of sketches and even musical bits to keep things humming.
Set: Castle laboratory.
Supporting characters: Though never seen, there's occasional
(albeit unintelligible) dialogs with his wife, always referred to as
Intro: Not available.
Commentary: None during the film, but one of their best tricks
was to inset shots of Zacherley into the film at awkward moments.
Usually he's reacting to the action onscreen, which was hilarious and
well ahead of its time in an era before media manipulation became
Theme song: Spooky organ/orchestra music.
What he's best at: Improvising on a shoestring budget. The
"pet amoeba" bit is still famous today. You probably know it if
have seen any of Zacherle's show at all, and it's nothing more than
Jell-o and misc. things thrown in (e.g., cauliflower for a brain,
spaghetti for a nervous system, etc.). Additionally, I like that
Zacherle extended himself into other media such as making records and
kids books. It wasn't just marketing; his involvement in so many
aspects of his genre showed how much he loved what he did.
What he's worst at: It doesn't bother me, but I can see how he
over-used some of his trademark catch-phrases such as the "My dear"
bit. Some might find it annoying, but I think of these things as
verbal hooks like the chorus is for a song. His "Goodnight,
whatever you are!" is the best line in the history of horror hosting!
experience with him:
I only heard of him in the last year, and since then I've become a huge
fan. He's the closest to my ideal of a horror host. I've
tracking down all the footage of him I can find on YouTube: archived
bits from his original show, appearances on talk shows, etc. as well as
The original horror host, she was the one who set the standard most
others have since followed, particularly Elvira, who took her idea and
arguably made it her own (The courts will never decide; Elvira was sued
but the case never made it before a judge). She's probably best
remembered for her role in Ed Wood's Plan
9 from Outer Space
(1959). Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maila_Nurmi
and about her show: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Vampira_Show
Show title: The Vampira Show (1954-55)
Movies (style and era): I have never been able to get a complete
list of the films aired, but she show started in 1954, so all pre-date
Character/persona: A genuine vampire or at least someone who
believes herself to be (which is how Nurmi played her).
Set: Gothic castle with all the trappings that go along with
Supporting characters: Unknown. I am not aware of any, but
I could be wrong.
Theme song: Creepy orchestral music.
What she's best at: Being scary.
What she's worst at: Getting syndicated. The show ended
when Nurmi refused to sell her rights and thus reach a larger
audience. The original shows have not been seen in their entirety
since they first aired. As a result, everyone's heard her, but
almost no one has seen any of the show that made her famous.
experience with her: Very little. I knew she was in Plan 9,
which I saw before I had ever heard of her (back when Ed Wood
premiered; it was a double-feature on campus when I was in
would love to track down more footage of her, but there just isn't that
much in circulation.
Most people outside of the New Orleans area (and possibly Detroit since
he played there too) have probably never heard of Morgus, but his show
was a blend of mad scientist sketch comedy with local humor and really,
really bad sci-fi/horror movies (for the most part). I grew up
watching the revived series in the late '80s and still remember a lot
of the films they showed. Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morgus_the_Magnificent
Title: Morgus Presents (1986-88) (I don't have titles for the
Movies (style and era): When I watched the show in the late
'80s, most of the films were from the '70s. The re-revived
version seemed to focus more on "Shock Theater"-era movies (i.e., '30s
through the '50s). Here's a
partial episode list.
Character/persona: Mad scientist, complete with dark circles
under his eyes, unkempt hair, and a filthy lab coat. Every week
he is on the verge of a major discovery that will conquer mankind's
ills and change the world as we know it, only something goes terribly,
Set: A laboratory set up in the upstairs space of an old ice
house. Set includes dusty bookshelves, scientific equipment,
chalkboards, etc., and even a payphone on the wall.
Supporting characters: Choplsey, his mute, bungling lab
assistant in executioner's garb, and E.R.I.C., a computer with a
talking skull on top.
Intro: Short "Good evening" by E.R.I.C. and spooky theremin
Commentary: None. At all. This is my biggest
criticism of the show. You literally could show absolutely any
movie between the bumpers, and it wouldn't make any difference.
In fact, they did this very thing years later when they re-edited the
late '80s series in the '00s to replace the original movies with a
completely new set.
Theme song: None, really. There's some theremin-like
effects with random computer during the show's opening and close, but
it is atemporal, so there's no other instruments like drums. It's
more a sound effect than music, per se.
What he's best at: A thorough backstory and consistent sketches
that run the duration of the show.
What he's worst at: Acknowledging the film he's hosting.
That's completely incidental to the show.
experience with him:
He was the host I grew up watching. His show was revived in the
'80s when I was in my teens, and I used to stay up late watching the
'70s B-movies he hosted. Along with Zacherley, my idea of a
host falls into this archetype of a bungling experimenter, albeit with
more interaction with the film of the week than Morgus ever engaged in.
This show successfully brought viewers around to watching a lot of
forgotten almost-classics and should-be-forgotten trash by bringing the
viewing experience into the post-modern era. Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MST3K
Show title: Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1988-99)
Movies (style and era): Everything from the earliest horror and
sci-fi films all the way to low-budget independent (or small-studio)
films that were nearly contemporary with the episode in which they were
featured (read: skewered!).
See the complete episode list.
Character/persona: In a word: Snarky.
Set: Aboard a spaceship.
Supporting characters: Quite a few. Too much to go into
(from Season 10; others differ)
Commentary: Extremely thorough. The "hosts" are literally
right there for the whole film and so could comment on anything that
attracted their attention. They did everything from substitute
dialog to dissect the filmmaking.
Theme song: Cute and quirky and upbeat. It set the tone
for the show that followed.
What they're best at: Snarky comments. They comment nearly
everything on the screen. Everything from the plot to all the
little details in the backgrounds. They also successfully melded
a premise to the movies. No other show managed to incorporate the
act of watching movies into the backstory as well as this.
What they're worst at: Sketch comedy. I realize there are
fans of this, but I always FFwded through these bits. They
distracted from the movie and I felt like it contradicted the premise
if the characters could walk away from the movie any time they chose.
experience with them:
I caught the last few seasons of the series as it aired on the
Sci-Fi (now SyFy) channel. I always use this show as an example
post-modern media. If I had my own horror/sci-fi hosting gig, it
borrow heavily from their commentary approach and style.
He's been around (off and on) since the '70s, and the show has evolved
over time to something of the TCM of horror and sci-fi films. His
commentary and reverence for film history is unique among horror hosts.
Show title: Svengoolie (1979-present, minus hiatus)
Movies (style and era): Primarily focused on the Universal
monster movies, but also shows bad films from the '50s through the
'70s. An episode list for his earlier show can be found here.
Catch phrases: Berwyn. (Note: Ghoulardi did similar with
Parma during his run.)
Character/persona: It really isn't clear just what this
incarnation of Svengoolie is supposed to be. (The original
version was a hippy zombie or a zombie hippy... from
Transylvania.) Mostly he looks like a goth version of Groucho
Marx who lovingly talks about the backstory of the movie of the week.
Set: Cheap painted-cardboard castle backdrop with a coffin Sven
climbs out of and into at the beginning and end of the show,
respectively. Some faux scientific equipment as well, usually
decorated with fan art and action figures and other movie monster
Supporting characters: Kerwyn, a chicken puppet. Other
unnamed extras feature occasionally (such as unseen characters telling
the "joke of the week)."
The modern version since I started watching it (and at least for the
past six years) has been a CGI animation of flying through a castle
dungeon filled with skeletons fiddling with Frankensteinian scientific
Commentary: It's usually all done as bumpers, but he will
occasionally drop in sound effects or re-dub segments (which he calls
Theme song: It has changed over the years, but the current
version with the bouncy organ works really well.
What he's best at: Reverence for film history. There is a
load of trivia included in each episode giving the background of the
movie. Everything from annotating the resume of the starts and
director to why the film was edited as it was. Additionally, he's
really good at song parodies and phony commercials, both of which tie
into the film and re-use footage from it for laughs.
What he's worst at: Having a backstory. There's simply
nothing character-oriented about the show anymore. We all know
it's Rich Koz dressed up, but he never gets into character. Over
the years, he's lost the faux-Transylvanian accent he put on like his
predecessor Jerry G. Bishop did in the original role, and there's
absolutely no explanation why he's climbing in and out of the coffin,
why he lives in a castle, what's up with the chicken puppet that looks
like a dinosaur (i.e., chickens don't have teeth!), who's throwing the
rubber chickens, etc. My biggest criticism is that needs to be
more of a character and less of a guy dressing up and saying, "I'm a
experience with him:
I lucked out one night flipping through the channels (something I
almost never do, believe it or not; I usually just click straight to
favorite channels), and Svengoolie was airing "The Ghost of
Frankenstein." My then two year-old Stan was fixated. A
born, and we started watching it regularly very nearly every Saturday
night since then.
Although the producers' idea was to capitalize on the success of
Elvira's series, Karen Scioli invented a character that was completely
original. She also eschewed a lot of the clichés up to
that point such as the supernatural elements in her character, set, or
Show title: Saturday Night Dead (1984 to 1990)
Movies (style and era): I have yet to find a list of episodes,
but most of what I've seen appears to have been from the '50s through
Character/persona: She is often mistakenly referred to as a
vampire or some such, but she maintains that the character was simply
an over-sexed human woman, although there were occasional supernatural
elements in the sketches.
Set: Her apartment/bedroom, completely with an overly ornate bed
to go with everything else that was gaudy and ostentatious about her
(including her libido).
Supporting characters: Her butler, a talking bed, and plenty
Commentary: Bumper segments that have little to do with the
movie except to occasionally play joke off the film's content.
Theme song: Burlesque number.
What she's best at: Sketch comedy. Always professionally
composed and delivered expertly, even with amateur actors, usually rich
in one-liners and puns.
What she's worst at: Connecting things to the movie. The
show was independent of the films shown and frankly could have been
re-edited with a completely different film, and no one would have been
able to tell.
experience with her:
I have only been able to find snippets of her show on YouTube.
Unfortunately, there hasn't been a lot released other than what a few
fans have digitized.
He's been around for a while, but his show has never been picked up
broadly around the country. I've only seen it through online
releases on his YouTube channel.
Show title: Cinema Insomnia (2001-2011?)
Movies (style and era): From the '50s through the '90s.
Here's a list of episodes.
Character/persona: He describes his show persona as something of
a retarded Rod Serling
Set: None. Just a bunch of blackness with a chair.
That creates sort of a tabula rasa into which he can make the show into
anything he likes, but it also gives him less to play off of other than
his own personality.
Supporting characters: None, usually. I saw him talk to a
robot made out of a trash can and dryer ducts once.
Commentary: Only bumper segments; nothing during the film.
Theme song: Campy jazz guitar.
What he's best at: Bringing in a variety of retro
elements. One of my favorite features is the collection of old
toy commercials and other kitsch. There's a reverence for the
past that is evident in almost every aspect of the show even though
it's ostensibly ripping on that stuff. He has featured a number
of directors and other horror hosts from the past as well, something
that should happen so much more often.
What he's worst at: Sketch comedy. Not that there's very
much of it since it's usually just Mr. Lobo and only occasionally
experience with him:
He has a few full episodes on his YouTube channel, else I might not
have ever caught much of him at all. He isn't as widely known as
of the other hosts on this page.
More so than anyone else on here, Joe was himself rather than a
character. He liked watching trashy movies and he loved talking
about them to anyone who tuned in.
Show title: Joe Bob Briggs' Drive-In Theater (???; dates
reported online are not consistent) (and later:
Movies (style and era): Mostly recent (for the time) B-movies. Here's a partial episode list.
Character/persona: He was basically a regular Texas guy who sat
around watching movies. He just happened to be very knowledgeable
Set: Lawn chairs in a trailer park.
Supporting characters: None.
Intro: Science equipment.
Commentary: Lengthy intros and bumpers.
Theme song: Nothing memorable.
What he's best at: Delivering pure content. He knows his
movie connections and trivia, and only Svengoolie exceeds him in terms
of being the Robert Osborne of trash cinema. However, Joe Bob
often brought in people from the movie business for interviews.
What he's worst at: Being a character. I don't see him as
a traditional horror host in the sense of playing someone who might
turn up onscreen. Admittedly, he's from a different generation
than most other hosts, so you could make the case that he's something
of a B-movie character out of a '70s or '80s roadhouse flick. I
just seem him playing an exaggerated version of himself. I though
the jokes were usually a bit weak as well. I know that's part of
the "character," but too much time was devoted to bad one-liners, and
it didn't work the way it does for Svengoolie.
experience with him:
I never had cable during the run of his tv series (either of them), so
I only occasionally caught any of him at friends' houses at the
Thankfully his army of fans have digitized a lot of his commentary
entire films in some cases) to YouTube, so you can sample large
portions of this body of work, which is what I have been doing lately.
been asked who my favorite horror host is, but I honestly don't have an
answer. There are traits I would take from each of them if I
could find the formula to develop a series out of their best
bits. For example, I always enjoyed the bumbling "mad scientist"
character like Morgus or Zacherley. But Elvira and the other
female hosts cornered the market on sexy, so there would have to be a
dose of that. I like a rich set full of eye candy and the
potential for surprises. Sketch comedy is nice, but it feels to
me like filler if there's no connection to the film being shown that
week. Serious film trivia and snarky commentary feel at odds with
one another, but what if the latter were delivered by pop-ups while the
former was handled by the hosts? It's fun to tinker with the best
of what has worked within this genre.
admittedly a bit of pre-writing that resulted in the survey of the
hosts above. Some of this repeats from this text, but it's more
of an overview than the series of case studies dealing with each host
- This is a blend of having a recognizable look, mannerisms, and
a whole lot of other intangibles.
- Elvira is full of character, and yet her background is
completely ellusive. I have no idea if she's supposed to be a
vampire or just what? By contrast, there's a whole history to
MST3K and how/why Joel is on that ship watching movies.
Some guys can get by with no set at all. When Jerry G. Bishop
played the original Svengoolie, he got by with little more than a cheap
coffin and occasionally a guitar. Elvira rarely leaves her
couch. Poor Stella had little more to work with than painted
backdrops that were one step above a high school production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town.
On the other hand, there's a lot that can be done within an interesting
space. Zacherley and Morgus had their laboratories and props to
interact with, people coming through the door, etc.
and other comedy bits - You could divide show format into two
camps: The Performers and the Commenters. Performers perform
sketch comedy as bumper segments. They do very little with the
movie. Often ending the sketch with, "Cut back to the
movie!" By contrast, Commenters are there to tell you about the
movie. Even if they're performing "bits," those bits are about
the movie. For example, Joe Bob Briggs often did stand-up comedy
(albeit seated in lawn furniture), but it was related to the film of
the week. Zacherley, Morgus the Magnificent, Stella, and the
MST3K guys often went off on their own and performed scripted
(or improvised) sub-segments, whereas other hosts like the modern
Svengoolie (Rich Koz)
tended to keep the show rooted in the film being hosted.
Svengoolie does a "joke of the week," but generally his sketches tend
to be things like song parodies about the movie. Elvira always
joked about the content of the movie. Because of the unique
format of inserting themselves into the film, MST3K manage to straddle
the line and perform both functions.
- The sketch-oriented hosts like Morgus the Magnificent
and Stella did little to connect their segments to the film being
shown. In fact, the Morgus episodes taped in the late '80s have
been re-edited in recent years to accommodate new films. He never
says anything more specific than, "Okay, you watch this film while I
tinker with my experiment." Any film will do.
commentary - Traditionally hosts have simply filmed bumpers in
which they comment on the films, but Elvira's re-launched show uses
pop-ups to deliver one-liners. The MST3K guys sat at the bottom
of the screen and commented throughout.