Tag Archives: horror

Gene Shalit’s Critic’s Choice VHS Series: 1941’s The Wolf Man (1987)

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You know, I had an entirely different, non-seasonally-themed post in mind for this week, until I realized that next week is Halloween. Next week! October is flying by, a realization that is bittersweet for me; I love this month and this time of year, and I hate to see it all zoom by so quickly. But on the other hand, the big day is at the very end of it all, and at least in my situation, you gotta make it through most of October to get to Ghoulardifest. And then there’s Thanksgiving, and then Christmas, and on and on it all goes. I love this time of year!

Anyway, with the season being in the full swing of things, I figured I may as well stick with a horror theme until the end of month (not so hard to do; barring the Tarzan post and Big Chuck & Lil’ John pre-game one, all of my recent posts are more or less seasonally-appropriate. I didn’t plan things that way, it’s just how it all worked out).

On that front, nothing screams “spirit o’ da season!” quite like Gene Shalit’s mustachioed visage plastered all over a VHS release of The Wolf Man. Behold: from 1987, it’s MCA Home Video’s release of 1941’s The Wolf Man, as part of their Gene Shalit’s Critic’s Choice series! It’s not a particularly rare video, it can be had on eBay for a few mere dollars, but any time Gene Shalit himself shows up out of nowhere to tell me to watch a movie, well, that’s worthy of a post. Plus, The Wolf Man, Halloween, it just fits.

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The movie is a classic for sure, but for this particular post, it’s really all about the cover art this time around. Yeah, we’ll take a brief look at the film itself, but seriously, the cover art makes this one.

First off, you’ve got that great image regarding the movie itself: Lon Chaney Jr. as the titular character, gripping Evelyn Ankers, surrounded by fog, foreboding trees, it’s all just great. Really, you don’t need much more to sell The Wolf Man in my opinion. Later VHS releases, including one that’s an illustrated close-up of Wolfie’s face and one that used the original gol’derned poster art as a template, failed to improve upon the spooky vibes emanating from the cover art of this 1987 release.

Annnnnd then, in waltzes Gene Shalit. And make no mistake, it’s all about the Shalit here. Now granted, there was a whole line of these Critic’s Choice tapes for MCA featuring him, some more befitting his image than others, but in the case of this particular entry, it’s just such an odd combination. You’ve got Gene Shalit, longtime Today Show movie critic, with his big giant mustache and even bigger bow tie, busy mugging for the camera while Lon Chaney Jr. is busy committing wolficide mere inches away. You can almost hear him making a pun. “Now that’s what I call a hairy situation!” That’s the kind of pun he used to make, right?

And I love the film strip at the bottom of the cover, showing what I like to call “The Four Stages Of Gene.” From left to right, you’ve got apprehensive Gene, jokey Gene, spooked Gene, and knowledgeable Gene. It’s any kind of Gene for any kind of movie!

Keep in mind, I’m not criticizing any of this, either. I’ve got nothing but respect for Gene Shalit, I think he’s a cool guy, and he was (and is) such a well-known personality that it makes perfect sense to have him pitch what are, ostensibly, his top-home video picks. But like I said before, when it comes to this particular movie, it’s just such a jarring combination. Heck, when I first stumbled upon this video, that’s precisely what attracted me to it. It’s the kind of tape that really could have only come out in the 1980s, and again, that’s not a criticism.

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I give ’em props for Shalit-izing the back cover, too; supposedly he himself write the synopsis, and even if he didn’t, it gives a pretty good idea of his style. Go ahead and click on the picture for a supersized version. Read that description and then tell me it’s not the greatest synopsis The Wolf Man has ever had or will have.

First off: puns! Gene Shalit loved him some puns, and he gets off some good ones here. He totally makes a “hairy” gag (having only glanced at the description beforehand, I promise you my joke earlier was entirely coincidental or subconscious or some crap like that). And “…all howl breaks loose” alone is almost certainly the greatest thing ever written on the back of a Wolf Man release. This is a statement I comfortably make, despite having not read the descriptive synopsis on the back of each and every one of them.

Beyond the patented Shalit style, however, is the fact that it’s just a really great description: there’s enough humor to keep it from being dry, and just enough information to make it sound interesting without giving too much away. Remember, this tape came out when rental stores were the places to go for movies; while it’s hard to imagine anyone not having some idea of what The Wolf Man was about, the truth is that the description on the back of a box could and often did make the difference between what wound up being a weekend rental and what continued to languish on the shelf. The cover art (which, as I said, this release also has nailed) got the people to pick the tape up, but the description could be the swaying factor in a real, honest-to-goodness rental.

Or maybe I’m just totally full of it, who knows.

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Why’d you write your name all over my collectible VHS tape, Lisa M.?!

The absence of Gene Shalit’s name anywhere on the tape itself leads me to believe there was a ‘regular’ VHS release of this movie, and the same tapes were used both for that and this Gene Shalit-branded-sleeve version. (Come to think of it, I wonder if there’s a ranch anywhere that brands their cattle with Gene Shalit’s face. If there’s not, there should be.) But then, looking at online auctions, most of the ‘early’ releases tend to be this exact one; I’m not seeing any non-Shalit version from the time period. Maybe more people bought this one for the exact same reasons that I’m so enamored with it. Or maybe I’m just totally full of it, who knows.

By the way, do you like the way I snapped the picture with Shalit overlooking the proceedings? Totally intentional, yo. I like to imagine those are the stages of his reaction to Lisa M. writing her name on the label. He starts off irritated and then learns to live with it. Seems plausible.

(If you’re reading this Lisa M., I’m just kidding.)

Okay, Gene Shalit may not be on the tape itself, but he is all over the sleeve; dare I dream that he hosts the actual movie as well? Oh I dare. Hey, if Elvira can host movies for home video, why not Gene Shalit too? (He asked as if there’s any real comparison between Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark and Gene freakin’ Shalit.)

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Aw shucks. Bitter sadness: Gene Shalit appears on the VHS sleeve only. Apparently he said all he had to say about the movie on the back cover.

Of course I kid. I didn’t really expect Gene Shalit to pop up on-screen and intro the movie, although the idea of his providing running commentary not unlike Mystery Science Theater 3000 just popped into my head and bizarrely amuses me.

But then, The Wolf Man is a movie that doesn’t need anything extra. This is a genuine Universal horror classic! It’s a terrific, engrossing film, and coming from me, that’s a telling statement.

Why’s that? Well, It may be anathema to admit this, but I’m going to come right out and say it: I’m not a big werewolf guy. Werewolf movies in general I’ve never much cared for (you probably won’t see Gene Shalit lending his mug to Fury Of The Wolfman anytime soon!), and as far as the Universal classics go, for me personally The Wolf Man generally finds a lukewarm place somewhere in the middle. While I always liked The Wolf Man more than The Mummy, The Invisible Man and The Phantom, he’s still markedly below my favorites of Frankenstein, The Gill Man, and Dracula (in that order). Luckily, many of those other monsters that I am more fond of appeared in the sequels to this movie.

That’s the title screen up above, by the way.

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This original 1941 The Wolf Man is really the exception to all that, though. While I’m not as enamored with the character as others are, this movie is fantastic. Unlike the sequels, in which Universal apparently felt Wolfie couldn’t stand on his own, it all works wonderfully here. It’s not a movie I watch terribly often, but when I do, I enjoy it.

The plot as it is may not sound too revolutionary; this sort of thing has been done over and over so many times throughout the years that some of the bite (see, I can pun too HAW HAW HAW) has been taken out of this original film, but if you can overlook that and just watch this one on its own, it’s great.

Lon Chaney Jr. plays Larry Talbot, who is returning to his family home in Wales. His brother has died and he wants to make amends with his father (Claude “I is the invisible mang” Rains). One night he tangles with a wolf, which turns out to be Bela Lugosi (who somehow I totally forgot was in this movie) in the form of a wolf. Talbot is bitten, and, well, you can see where this is going. Larry is now unwittingly a werewolf (whom you can see above in the handy screencap).

Look, if you haven’t seen it, just go watch it, okay? It’s a great flick.

You know, I spend so much time looking at home recorded tapes or ancient budget videos that I forget how clean some movies can look on VHS, and The Wolf Man is one of them. Sure, it’s an old videotape, it’s a little grainy, but it’s an officially licensed MCA/Universal tape. That is, it’s a clean, nice looking print of the movie, recorded in SP mode. It’s not a remastered DVD, I know, but compared to most of the crap I look at, it might as well be. Plus, you know, Gene Shalit on the cover and everything.

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I was actually pretty happy to add this one to my collection. Sure, I usually prefer my Universal monsters horror hosted (see: here and here), but there’s something to be said for (relatively) quirky older releases such as this. By 1987, home video, VHS in particular, was pretty well entrenched in the public consciousness, and tapes like this were what the people wanted; clean, uncut, commercial-free classic movies they could watch any time they darn well pleased. Nowadays we have the film on DVD and Blu-ray, but for a cool late-1980s/early-1990s throwback, it may not be a bad idea to bust out the ol’ VCR and fire this (or any horror flick of your choice really) up this Halloween. Something about it just seems so right. To me, anyway.

Plus, Gene Shalit. I strongly feel Gene Shalit plastered all over movie covers should totally be an ongoing thing. Heck, why’d they stop at VHS? DVD, Blu-ray, digital downloads (somehow), there’s no format not worthy of the Shalit bow tie guarantee of greatness!

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Star Classics Night Of The Living Dead VHS (1985)

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This one comes courtesy of my good friend C, who was thinking of your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter while out hitting up far-away Goodwill Stores (hey, who doesn’t think of me while thrifting?) and kindly brought me back this tape. Thanks C! C’s the coolest.

If y’all will recall this post, you’ll note the mention of my love for old budget tapes of public domain Superman cartoons. Well, unmentioned in that post and unbeknownst to C when he came across this tape, I also get a big kick out of budget copies of the 1968 Night Of The Living Dead, a film that falls into the same murky PD-release arena. There are no shortage of Night Of The Living Dead tapes and DVDs out there, and some of the cheaper ones can be pretty interesting, even amusing. I may not get as jazzed to find a Livin’ Dead tape as I do Supes, but they are indeed something I keep an eye out for, and this particular release is one I would have snapped up myself had I come across it in the flesh (see what I did there?! Flesh! Because the movie is….awww never mind.)

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The side of the box, obviously. Ain’t it cute?

Star Classics put out a lot of stuff on VHS in the earlier years of the format. They were, to the best of my knowledge, strictly a budget label, dealing mainly in public domain flicks. To the best of my recollection, I’ve got this tape, Tulsa, and Godzilla Vs. Megalon (which isn’t public domain now but was, or at least believed to be, at one point) on the label, and they all share a similar, fairly plain, art style. That is, the Star Classics banner across the top, the title and cast above a shot from the film that’s surrounded by lights, while onlookers gawk at all of it.

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Star released a lot of old time classic Hollywood films, and regarding those, the front artwork makes sense. I mean, you’ve got the onlookers, dressed old-school, looking up at a lighted sign that could hold anything from Casablanca to Gone With The Wind to Citizen Kane (not that Star had a prayer of ever releasing any of those those movies). It projects a nice “Golden Age of Hollywood” vibe, is what I’m saying.

Except that it just doesn’t quite work in this case. Night Of The Living Dead, yeah it’s a classic, but it doesn’t really project the same spirit as the movies intended for this kind of art. It’s not the fact that it’s a horror movie, either. Frankenstein? That’d be fitting. Dracula? That would work, too. But Night Of The Living Dead? Ehhhh, not really. There’s some kind of disconnect here, and frankly, it’s that exact disconnect that appeals to my weird sense of humor.

And just so we’re clear, no, Frankenstein and Dracula were never released on the Star Classics label. Not the famous Universal versions I’m referring to, at least.

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It took me far too long to figure out that the logo is a cat with a bow tie and bag full of, I guess, Star’s magic. Besides the fact that Night Of The Living Dead isn’t exactly a ‘magical’ film on par with, say, The Wizard Of Oz, I find it off-putting that my VHS box is subjecting me to a Rorschach test. Don’t judge my precarious mental state, box!

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They eventually moved to regular slipcovers (and a more conventional artwork style), but older Star Classics releases were usually (always?) in larger-than-normal jackets/boxes. As the photos above attest, there’s more air in there than need be. My Tulsa is the exact same way, and my Godzilla Vs. Megalon is in a box just as big, but is actually a flip-lid, rather than a slide-out. This is all important stuff, so pay attention.

Making big ol’ boxes wasn’t unique to Star, though. Lots of companies did the exact same thing. In the days before the innernets and whatnot, many people made their rental selections based on how eye-catching the cover art of a given movie was while walking down the aisles of the video store. The old adage “bigger is better” often applied here, and Star Classics certainly had the “bigger” part down. “Better,” though? The boxes are big, but to be completely honest, they’re also pretty boring. These were budget releases, and they look it. About all they have going for them, besides artwork that’s head-scratching to probably only me, is size.

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The back of the box, featuring the same onlookers marveling at the copyright info. 1985 was a long time ago. Cue some prick telling me it wasn’t long ago at all when this was printed…now.

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WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?!?! WILL SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME?!?! Did they really need to include that little banner? People can figure out that the description on the back pertains to the film within without that extra little fanfare. I’m clearly just being snarky for the sake of being snarky now, because there’s not much I can make fun of regarding the description. The whole “returning satellite” thing in the film was more of a theory than conclusive evidence of why the living dead are, erm, living, but aside from that, it’s a serviceable summary.

High quality VHS? Higher quality, I guess. It was recorded in LP, as opposed to EP, so that’s a good thing.

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With these budget releases of the film, part of the ‘fun’ is to see just how trashed the print is. Public domain and all, yo. You shouldn’t ever go into one of these expecting pristine film quality, and Star Classics release is no exception. It’s certainly not the worst print I’ve come across, but this is a long, long way from Criterion quality.

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Whoa! Did someone drop their cigarette on the film? Most everyone smoked back then, after all (wasn’t it good for you back in the day, too?)

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The print is a bit too bright and contrasty. You could be forgiven for not being drawn to the “Night” in the title and completely missing the car on the road in this screencap.

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Poor Johnny! He’s white as a ghost! Kinda fitting in a horror movie, even if there are no ghosts to be found. His face actually blends in with the car! In fact, it may even be a bit brighter! And the sad thing is, this is all par for the course with these cheapo releases. Don’t get me wrong, I love ’em, but it’s for all the wrong reasons.

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Spot the zombie in this pic and get 100 bonus points. High def this thing most certainly isn’t. Not that anyone should really expect it to be, so where am I even going with this line of reasoning? The print’s not all that great, is what I’m sayin’.

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It may not be the most prestigious of releases when it comes to Night Of The Living Dead, but it is a neat little throwback. Nowadays we have budget DVDs carrying the torch, but the old cheapo VHS’ just seem so much more, I don’t know, innocent? Is that a term that can be applied to a film like Night Of The Living Dead? Anyway, I had some fun with this particular release in this post, but the truth is that I love tapes like this. The old school videos, both big budget or otherwise, of the 1980’s and into the early 1990’s, man, they warms me heart like you wouldn’t believe.

Big thanks again to my pal C for providing me with fodder for my silly little blog this tape!

An Interview With Marty “Superhost” Sullivan.

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Ah, Superhost. Portrayed by Marty Sullivan, he was a bonafide institution on Northeast Ohio television for 20 years. From 1969 to 1989, Mr. Sullivan hosted Saturday afternoons on WUAB Channel 43. Through his program, untold numbers of kids were introduced to The Three Stooges, as well as classic (and maybe some not-so-classic) horror and sci-fi movies. Even those viewers already familiar with the films found an additional reason to watch in Superhost himself. Indeed, my very first glimpse of the Northeast Ohio movie-hosting tradition was through Superhost, specifically the promos featuring him doing “The Curly Shuffle” that aired during the kids’ programming on WUAB. Even if I was a bit too young to “get it” then, the memories of Supe stayed with me, and found a natural place in my heart when I was old enough to “get it.” And the show has really held up. Unlike some similar programs that show their age or are otherwise “had to be there” viewing, I find myself constantly and consistently laughing out loud at Supe.

I recently had the honor and privilege of interviewing Mr. Sullivan for this blog. He couldn’t have been more gracious with his time or more forthcoming with his stories. A true class-act all the way (it’s obvious why he was and is so beloved by Northeast Ohioans). Here, now, is my interview with Marty “Superhost” Sullivan.

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Me: First off, thanks again for allowing me to talk with you.

Marty Sullivan: No problem!

Me: It is a huge, huge thrill for me.

MS: Well I’m glad! Thank you!

Me: When did you first become interested in becoming a broadcaster?

MS: Oh, that’s a question! I was always interested in radio as a youngster. It was the year of The Lone Ranger and all those dramatic radio shows. Inner Sanctum and Lights Out and all those radio shows. And I used to listen to those as a child, and the interest just kept on. I don’t know when I actually wanted to become an announcer, but I think it was not until I was in college. I worked in a little theater group in college, and I didn’t have a lot of nerve to get up in front of people! So…

Me: [Laughs] So, who would you say were your early influences that sort of pushed you into becoming a broadcaster?

MS: I took some psychological tests when I graduated from high school, and they indicated I was not really sure of myself. I was kind of a quiet kid, and they advised taking some public speaking courses to build-up my self-confidence. So, I did. I took a course that was run in Detroit by two local broadcasters, two big time announcers in Detroit. I went to their school and I learned about radio broadcasting from them. So that’s how that happened.

Me: When did you first actually go into broadcasting?

MS: Actually, I finished the broadcasting course, and I was going, also at the same time, to the Meinzinger School Of Commercial Art in Detroit. I had some ability as a draftsman, so I was taking a course in commercial art. And the commercial arts school went belly-up! I had only been there through the latter part of the summer, and one day I went in to attend class, and there was a note on the board that said “Don’t bother coming in anymore!” So, then I didn’t know what to do, so I figured I’d finish the broadcasting course, “maybe there’s somebody that needs a pronouncer!” Somebody at the school told me that this little station down in Indiana might be needing a disc jockey or announcer or something. So, I sent them a tape, and they said “Come on down! You’re hired!” And that’s actually how I got started in broadcasting, it was a little station in Peru, Indiana, WARU, a little AM station. But it was just a daytime station. At night they had to go off the air, because radio waves traveled further at night. So they went off the air at local sunset.

Me: So how did it end up that you came to Northeast Ohio?

MS: I went back and got into Detroit radio, and had a couple stints there. I was working for WJR, the Goodwill station in Detroit at that point in time. And, I got myself fired at WJR! Then one of the chaps I used to work with at WJR, one of the newsmen, had moved to Cleveland as a newsman. And he called me up and asked me if I wanted to be a newsman down in Cleveland. So, I figured “Well, sure, why not!”

Me: Was that WUAB?

MS: WGAR in Cleveland was where I first started as a newsman. Then George left, the guy who hired me in, was news director. He was unhappy there, so he moved to New York, got a job in New York as a newsman. I think it was WNEW New York. And I thought since he left, he was the one who hired me in, I’d be thrown out! Then, I was hired into an advertising agency in Cleveland. It was Ritchie and Sattler, and they specialized in industrial advertising. One of their clients was RicWil, it was a pipe making company down in Akron, I think it was. I stayed with them about a year, but then that’s when WUAB opened up. Somebody told me it was open. So, again, I was canned at the advertising agency, because they knew of a chap who had a client, a big electronics company, that they wanted to get in the office. So they moved me out to move him in, along with his client. That’s when I got in touch with WUAB, the program manager; sent him a tape and he told me to come on in. Put me to work!

Me: You started there as a newsman?

MS: Announcer, newsman, audio man, camera man…

Me: [Laughs] So pretty much everything!

MS: And nighttime switchboard operator!

Me: So how did it come about that they wanted you to host a Saturday afternoon show? What were the origins of Superhost?

MS: This one I know! I’ve recited it several times! I was doing what they call floor directing. That’s where I was wearing a headset, and was talking to the director in the control room. I was out in the studio to impart those directions to people out there. It was kind of like a Dick Clark Show, called Big Beat Dance Party, and they were taping it on a Saturday. I was floor directing, and The Four Lads were coming in to sing “Standing On a Corner.” So, naturally we had a ‘corner’ set there. And they asked me to stand in four different places so they could adjust the lighting, since the Lads weren’t there yet, we were just getting ready. So I’m standing there and the director is shouting at me over the headsets that I’m unzipped! I must have looked very uncomfortable trying to cover up THAT! So Ted Bays, the program manager, happened to be in the control room when all this is going on, and everybody in the control room is laughing uproariously; I can hear them on the headset! After the show was over, Ted Bays came up and asked me if I wanted to come up with an idea for a show for a character to host a movie. And, that’s what I came up with!

Me: Was it a runaway hit? Did you know what early reactions were or how popular it was at the start?

MS: [Laughs] Yeah, it wasn’t popular at all! It took quite awhile for people to discover – back in those days there weren’t any UHF television stations, very few of them. It was TransAmerica that put it on the air, they were taking a big chance with the new technology, the ultra high-frequency television station. Their signal was a little tricky to get around, it didn’t have the coverage that the VHF stations had. So it took awhile for people to discover UHF. And when they did, they discovered the show! A lot of kids liked watching the old science fiction movies on Saturdays.

Me: You said it wasn’t very popular at first. Did WUAB give you any static? Were they complaining?

MS: No, they were selling commercials, so they were relatively happy with it. They were always after me for more ratings, but I did the best I could. But, it just took awhile for people to discover where it was and the fact they liked these old movies!

Me: Did you ever hear from viewers that just didn’t “get it” or that were complaining?

MS: I was doing a public appearance at a store in Cleveland, at that time called Uncle Bill’s. It was like a Home Depot kind of store. So I did a public appearance there signing autographs, and I’m all dressed up in my little super suit, and I’m in the middle of the store. Kids are coming up, signing autographs, and a couple young-ish men, like in their 20’s or so, were walking by. The one guy pokes the other guy, points to me and says “Oh look, there’s the guy that’s on the TV!” and the other guy looked back and said to his friend “Oh, that a-hole!” So that put everything in perspective!

Me: [Laughing] Did you say anything? I don’t know if I’d know what to say in a situation like that!

MS: Well they weren’t talking to me, I just overheard them!

Me: I’d assume that sort of thing was kept to a minimum?

MS: Yeah, that was the only time I ever heard anybody overtly describe me that way!

Me: You showed a lot of the science fiction and horror movies, did you have a favorite? I know the station probably controlled what you played, but…?

MS: They did, the program manager picked all the movies – usually on the basis of how cheap they were! Let me see, there were a lot of good movies. Forbidden Planet, I liked, where The Krell were the monsters. Who was in that? I can’t think of the name of the man now. The comic actor, did a lot of comedy. Anne Francis was the girl in that, I remember her name! Walter Pidgeon was her father in that movie. It was a good movie.

Me: Are there any other films that you particularly like?

MS: There’s been several new ones that I like. One was called The Red Planet. I like Alien and all the modern films, I like them a lot. In fact, I signed up for Netflix so I could watch them without all the commercials!

Me: How about skits? Everyone knows you’ve done some pretty famous skits like “Convoy” and “The Moronic Woman.” Are there any favorite skits you have?

MS: Well, I remember a little background story: I decided to do a little take-off on The Bionic Woman, and I was talking about it to some of the people at the station at night, and one of the cleaning ladies came up with the idea of the long arms. That was the first one, where The Moronic Woman grabbed the bumper and the guy took off in the car and stretched her arms out 20 feet! That was thought up by one of the cleaning ladies!

Me: Would you say that’s your favorite?

MS: I think my favorite bit was The Moronic Woman where she kicked the football and her leg went up over the goal posts!

Me: I was watching the “Convoy” skit not too long ago, and the part I found funniest the last time I watched it was the three guys kicking their feet during the chorus.

MS: [Those guys] all became directors, ultimately. Where they wound up, I have no idea, but they all became directors. The guy that directed the pilot show I did, the station wanted to see a pilot show before they decided whether to put me on the air or not. So we got together one Sunday night and taped it, and the guy was a man named Harry Kooperstein. Harry went on to Hollywood and became one of the biggest directors out there. He directed a lot of the Los Angeles symphony broadcasts and also directed all the Christmas parades out there. So, Harry became a big deal in Hollywood.

Me: Is his name where you got the alter-ego name [Henry Brookerstein] for Superhost?

MS: Well, we had three directors at channel 43: Henry Briggs was one, Harry Kooperstein was the other, and Brooke Spectorsky was the third.

Me: So you just put them all together?

MS: Mashed ‘em all together!

Me: I know you did a couple Big Chuck & Hoolihan/Lil’ John skits. Were you guys friends off-camera?

MS: Oh yeah, they were good guys. We weren’t direct-competition, anyway. They were on Friday night and I wasn’t on till Saturday, so we weren’t at loggerheads. And they’re nice guys; they came over to the station once to do a commercial for their show because it was too busy there at [WJW] 8. And they stole my phone booth as a gag!

Me: [Laughing]

MS: And I think it’s probably still over at channel 8!

Me: Did you ever do commercials for companies/products?

MS: I did one for some boat company in Cleveland. They sold fishing boats and pleasure boats, and I did a few for that guy, but I don’t remember what the name of the outfit was.

Me: Were you in costume?

MS: I’m not sure now. It’s been so long ago! I think I was, but I don’t have a clear memory of it.

Me: Okay, maybe not necessarily a “favorite” moment, but do you have a most-memorable moment from the whole 20 year run?

MS: Well, probably when I finished the last show. Taping the last show, I thought I’d get emotional, and I was doing pretty good. And then we were breaking down the set and I’m walking out and one of the crew members said “How you doing?” and that kinda got to me. Then it all came to me in a rush: this was the end.

Me: I came around sort of at the end of Superhost, I was just a little guy at the end. And actually, the most endearing memory for me, because they would play the commercial during all the cartoons I’d watch, it’s the promo of you doing “The Curly Shuffle.”

MS: Oh, yeah!

Me: I still have it on my old tapes from when I was little, but I guess that was really my introduction to the whole Northeast Ohio movie hosting thing.

MS: Well that’s great, I’m glad you liked it! We always had fun doing the commercials. I remember right in the middle of that I had to go and have triple bypass surgery.

Me: Oh geez!

MS: St. Vincent’s. And of course it took awhile to recupe from that. I remember the first show I did [after that], I made up a great big band-aid out of colored paper and pasted it on me! Everybody was fussing about the surgery, so I had to put them at ease!

Me: The show’s timeslot: The most famous was an hour of Three Stooges and two movies?

MS: Yeah, originally it was two movies and some other stuff. Sometimes it was Stooges, sometimes it was Superman, the live-action Superman with Steve Reeves or George Reeves or whatever his name was. It changed around over the years, but for the first, I don’t know, 7 or 8 years, 10 years, it was like two movies and short subjects on Saturday.

Me: I read that you ended up showing the Adam West Batman series at one point.

MS: Yeah.

[NOTE: And so, a new video hunting obsession is born. Recordings of Adam West Batman hosted by Superhost are now waaaaay at the top of my “really, really want” list!]

Me: What did you think of those programming changes?

MS: Well, ultimately, when my ratings started sagging, just because people were used to it and all the little kids who used to watch grew up and got a job. They couldn’t spend all day watching the movies! So, that was fine with me.

Me: Was it your decision to end Superhost, or was it WUAB’s?

MS: Well, it was kinda mutual in a sense. We had a new station manager who was brought in from the sales department, and he decided that he‘d do away with Superhost because he could do better with putting wrestling on Saturday. So that was what ultimately caused the end of Supe. And I had told the new program manager that I had rather just kill of Superhost than have him die a slow miserable death. So, he agreed.

Me: I was watching that last one not too long ago and it really does have a, I’d guess you’d say, bittersweet ending. You know how it says “Good Luck, Supe!” at the end.

MS: Yeah. That was the director, his name was Paul Nickerson, who added Thanks” or “Goodbye” or “Good Luck” or whatever it was they put on. I haven’t watched that show in a long time. I’ve got it somewhere on a disc, I think.

Me: what did you do after Superhost ended? You stayed in broadcasting for a few more years, right?

MS: I did, yeah. I stayed at channel 43 still doing the announcing. It was about that time that they put in a whole evening news thing at 10 O’clock on channel 43. I was the only newsman they had for years; I would just change out of the super suit and go out there and do 5 minutes of headline news at 10 O‘clock at night. But then they decided to put in a news department – that took about 35 people to replace me! So that made me kinda smile!

Me: You retired in, 1993, was it?

MS: Right, 1993 and moved over here to Oregon.

Me: Can you still do the Superhost voice?

MS: Yeah, sure! “Hello dere! This is Supe!”

Me: [Laughing] Can you do “Gimme dat shoe?”

MS: Sure! “Gimme dat shoe, y’know!”

[NOTE: I don’t mind telling you I was dying with laughter at this point.]

Me: Would you ever consider coming back and doing a one-off special, or is that sort of…?

MS: No, I don’t think I want to bother with that. Besides, the super suit is getting a little tight around the middle!

Me: Is there anything you miss about broadcasting or Northeast Ohio?

MS: Well, I miss Northeast Ohio. I don’t really miss broadcasting. It was a great run while I had it, but that’s over with. I do miss the people in Northeast Ohio. I mean, they’re just the salt of the earth. They were very faithful to me the whole 20 years I was on television. They were supportive, and friendly, and that applies to everybody in Northeast Ohio.

Me: Well, there’s lots of people that still admire you. You’ve still got a ton of fans here that are grateful, thankful for everything that you did. You’re still very much admired!

MS: Well thank you very much! That’s very kind of you!

Me: Well, thank you very, very much. I can’t tell you how really amazing it has been to talk with you. What a huge, huge thrill it was for me!

MS: Well God Bless you! Thank you!

********************

What an honor it was to speak with a genuine Northeast Ohio television legend. I can’t thank Mr. Sullivan enough for taking the time to speak with me. I know I speak for countless other Northeast Ohioans when I say “Thanks for all the laughs, Supe!”

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The History Of The Ghoul Show On WBNX TV-55, As Told Through Old Promos.

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I’ve mentioned before what a faithful viewer of The Ghoul I was during his run on Northeast Ohio’s WBNX TV-55. For the first two years he was on the network (1998-2000), he was on Friday nights at 11:30 PM, and many, many of my weekends were kicked off by staying up late and catching an awful movie with The Ghoul. In the fall of 2000, his show was moved to Sunday nights at 12 midnight, and then later to 1 AM. With the timeslot switch also came changes in the movies and what The Ghoul could-and-couldn’t do.

I taped and still have many of those Friday night shows, though perhaps ironically, I wound up with even more of the Sunday airings; because I usually had school the next day, staying up and watching was pretty much out of the question. So, I’d set the VCR timer and tape each episode, but I always had a hard time catching up, and thus unmarked tapes would just keep piling up. The result was that up until 2011, I had boxes full of tapes with no knowledge of what was on them other than the vague description of “The Ghoul” (if even that). Starting in ’11, I made a concerted effort to dig out and mark each tape accordingly, and while there may be one or two stray tapes (just when I think I’ve found them all, I come across another), the vast majority are now labeled as they should be. I was constantly discovering “new” episodes, the contents of which were occasionally quite surprising.

Anyone that’s read even a little bit of this blog knows what an old commercial/promo junkie I am. Needless to say, any old spots featuring our local horror movie hosts are waaay up at the top of my “want list” whenever I go searching through new old tapes. In the case of The Ghoul, all of my promos come from my personal tapes. WBNX often (but not always) aired one last promo for the show during the final commercial break of whatever was preceding The Ghoul. Since I always I set the VCR timer to begin recording a few minutes before the show’s start-time, I wound up with a good number of Ghoul promos.

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Not counting spots that mentioned The Ghoul was appearing somewhere locally or commercials for local businesses (the Norton Furniture ads, for example), I have 65 episode promos total, 64 of which I have the actual episodes for (we’ll get to why there’s one missing in a bit). Add to that the extremely large number of episodes I have recorded that didn’t have a corresponding promo on the tape, and well, I’ve got a lot of Ghoul saved. Obviously, unless I wanted to have a 3-day long post, I can only spotlight a very, very small portion of all that. So, let’s check out some old Ghoul promos, ranging from the years 1998 to 2002 (he was on WBNX until 2003, but I don’t have any promos from that year). Not only will they give a glimpe of WBNX’s Ghoul advertising, but they also serve to trace the history of the show on the network.

(I should note that describing the promos in detail or transcribing them would quickly become redundant; typically The Ghoul would act “wacky” while mentioning that week’s movie, and then the title and time would be shown. They’re all pretty much the same in that respect. I’ll mention interesting points if need be, but my comments will ere more on the personal and historical side of things rather than a strict review of the promo itself. Indeed, the larger purpose of this article is to trace The Ghoul’s run on WBNX, which actually works pretty well going by promos, believe it or not.)

Frankenstein Unbound Promo (1998)

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Of all of the promos I have, this is the only one I don’t have the corresponding episode for. I almost never taped anything off of WBNX during The Ghoul years except, you know, The Ghoul (though around 2003, when The Ghoul was winding down and/or completely off-the-air, I did find the need to record many Just Shoot Me reruns off the station. Don’t ask me why). In the summer of 1998, for some reason I decided to tape Gold Of The Samurai off of WBNX. It’s a movie I have zero interest in watching nowadays, but recording it did net me this very early promo for The Ghoul on the channel, so hey, no complaints. Aside from the July 10, 1998 premiere promo (which I covered on, well, this past July 10), this is the earliest promo for the show I have. The Ghoul had only been on WBNX for about a month and a half at that point.

Since I don’t have this episode, it’s hard for me to say much about it, but when The Ghoul first came back, most of his segments were made up of his introducing older bits from his 1970’s & 1980’s runs. Shortly into his WBNX run, he began focusing more on new material, with the older bits being relegated to a “Ghoul’s Vault Of Golden Garbage” segment in each show. Don’t quote me on this, but I *believe* it was around the time of this promo or soon thereafter that The Ghoul began focusing on newly filmed bits and whatnot.

Santa Claus Promo (1999)

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Ah, Christmas time with The Ghoul. The holiday season was always a lot of fun on the show, and The Ghoul always went all-out, especially for his second holiday season on WBNX. Not only did he run Santa Claus for the second year in a row, but in the weeks leading up to this Christmas Eve airing, he also ran Santa Claus In Mother Goose Land, which was actually the Santa Claus-less The Magic Land Of Mother Goose (out of all of my personally recorded tapes, my copy of that episode is the only one to have oxidized, for reasons I don’t understand because the other tapes in the box, including The Ghoul’s airing of the ’89 Phantom of The Opera, were fine. As it stands, I still have the tape, but you get sound without picture, and I learned the hard way it clogs VCR heads right quick. So, what the hell?). The 1935 version of Scrooge was also shown during that ’99 holiday season. So yeah, like I said, The Ghoul went all-out.

Anyway, Santa Claus was a Ghoul favorite. I’ve got a total of four separate Ghoul airings of the movie (1998, 1999, 2000, 2001), perhaps the most of any movie during his WBNX run. The 2000 broadcast was chopped up beyond belief, but I’m fine with that, because while it’s become a cult-classic, frankly I can’t stand this 1959 Mexican film. I should be all for it, seeing as it’s incredibly bizarre and twisted. But, meh, Santa Claus Conquers The Martians was always more my speed, anyway.

Godmonster Of Indian Flats Promo (2000)

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Now we’re talkin’! The Ghoul was responsible for introducing me to some very bizarre, very obscure films I probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise. When this film showed up on his online schedule and I read up on it, I was seriously stoked. However, the reasons for my excitement were only partially due to the “out there” movie. Let me explain: During Thanksgiving 1999, The Ghoul ran Blood Freak, in which drugs turn a guy into a mutated killer turkey. It was a wild film, and I had set the VCR to tape it. Problem was, I had pretty well ran that particular VCR into the ground; sometimes it would record uninterrupted, other times stop recording after a period of time and turn off. Unfortunately, Blood Freak was one of those times when the VCR decided to stop, and needless to say, I was salty. By the time Godmonster Of Indian Flats rolled around, I had gotten a new (albeit somewhat used) VCR from a relative, and while I eventually ran that one into the ground too (some things never change! Just ask the stack of screwed-up VCRs sitting in the same room as I am!), for the time being I was good to go.

Godmonster Of Indian Flats may not have completely taken the sting out of losing Blood Freak, but it certainly satisfied the lingering need for a “what the hell is this?” movie. How so? Well, the film details a mutated sheep fetus going on a rampage. Yes, it’s a film about a monster sheep. The scariest thing? It’s not nearly as awful as it could have been. Well, apparently so, at least; The Ghoul airing was so chopped up that the film was rendered completely incomprehensible. However, there are actually a number of positive/semi-positive reviews on it out there. I’m very, very happy to have this episode saved for posterity, but you know what? I think I still rather have Blood Freak. Like John Mellencamp once sang, I ain’t ever satisfied.

Indestructible Man Promo (2000)

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First off, someone goofed: It’s IndestructIble Man, not IndestructAble Man. Hope no one got canned over this monumental, station-rocking error that’s on par with Janet Jackson flashing everybody at the Superbowl. Anyway, this 1956 Lon Chaney Jr. film is a staple of horror movie shows and public domain VHS and DVD sci-fi sets. Even Mystery Science Theater 3000 tackled it once. But you know, I’ve never really liked the movie at all. It should be a lot of fun, but I’ve always found it deadly dull.

So why give this promo a spotlight? Because, I was actually IN this episode. Dad and I took a trip to the now-gone B-Ware Video in Lakewood for a Ghoul appearance, and we ended up in some crowd shots when this episode aired a few weeks later. So, not anything special, it’s not like I was in a skit or anything, but still pretty cool for a 14 year old Ghoul fan. And no, I’m not posting a screencap of me in the crowd; I don’t think any of us looks good at that age, but I will say I’ve aged for the better.

Trading Places Promo (2000)

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Uh oh, we’re getting into the “Sunday era.” Look at that timeslot, and look at that movie. Not very “Ghoul Power,” is it? Not that there’s anything wrong with Trading Places, it’s a very popular comedy, but geez, it’s about the last thing I think of when I think “Ghoul Movie.” Y’see, when WBNX moved The Ghoul to Sunday nights, they also imposed some very un-Ghoul-like rules. Not only was the timeslot just awful, but the movies changed from the horror & sci-fi flicks to an all-around selection. Those types of films still played now and then, but comedies, dramas, action and adventure movies were also now part of the show. Furthermore, The Ghoul couldn’t add sound effects and whatnot to them. And, to make matters worse, The Ghoul’s segments were cut back. This was probably done to avoid the sometimes incoherent editing of the movies during the Friday shows. Sure, ostensibly people were tuning in for the movie, but Ghoul fans know it was more about the overall experience. Yeah, sometimes it was impossible to follow a film’s plot, but that was really part of the fun. The Ghoul would pack so much iinto each show that a lot of the time it seemed the movie was actually an afterhtought. The Sunday move changed all that. Once in awhile The Ghoul would be allowed to show an old-style film with all of the effects and everything, but those instances were few-and-far-between.

I remember the first Sunday show. The change had been announced almost casually (just the week before, if I recall correctly), and needless to say, I was instantly irritated that my Friday night institution was being disrupted. But, that’s what VCRs were for, right? Unfortunately, after seeing that first Sunday show, any hopes of mine that The Ghoul would be the same other than the night he aired were dashed. The movie was the 1993 kid’s flick Remote, and to rub salt in my wounds, not only were The Ghoul’s bits limited, but the movie had no audio dubs, and to further distract people from the fact that this was The Ghoul, the movie actually had it’s own bumpers like it was just any old weekend airing, something that was not done prior (The Ghoul had bumpers for the overall show, but not the movie specifically). I was completely crushed. The whole vibe that the show had established since starting ’98 was largely wiped away in one fell swoop. The Ghoul was very vocal both on-air and during personal appearances about how displeased he was with the move (at one point during the end credits, a line read “Help! Get us off Sunday nights!”). What made it even harder to take was that when The Ghoul did show up on-screen, he was still very entertaining, but that just made the changes all the more glaring.

In The Army Now Promo (2000)

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Yep, even Pauly Shore made it onto the show in that Sunday era. This promo is pretty funny, because The Ghoul very clearly states how much he hates Pauly Shore movies. Can’t say I blame him, because hey, if you gotta show comedy films, they might as well be good ones, right?

In retrospect, I think (and this is just my guess) that WBNX may have been trying to give The Ghoul a more all-around appeal akin to Big Chuck & Lil’ John. At one point they showed strictly horror & sci-fi films, and then that changed to a general film-selection in the early 90’s. Problem with that was that Chuck & John may have been horror hosts, but they didn’t really dress or act like them. The look of The Ghoul instantly placed him as a bonafide horror host, though, and thus the switch-up didn’t work nearly as smoothly.

Alice In Wonderland Promo (2000)

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Yep, even Disney movies were fair-game for the Sunday era. I mean, geez, Alice In Wonderland?! I wouldn’t watch that on my own, and I sure don’t wanna see it on The Ghoul! And to make matters worse, would you believe this was the Halloween show?! Man, let the guy show something appropriate for the season! The Sword In The Stone was also shown during the Sunday era, for the record.

This promo is pretty funny. The Ghoul starts off stating he’d like to say that week’s episode in 3-D…he’d like to say that, but he can’t. It’s the same old “cheap show!”

Blood For Blood Promo (2001)

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The Ghoul told viewers to call the station and ask to get him off Sunday nights. His displeasure wasn’t exactly secret. I know I did my part (well, Mom called for me, same difference). It didn’t help. Instead, he was pushed back an hour to 1 AM. I couldn’t really stay up and watch him either way, of course. Shortly after being moved to 1 AM, he began calling it the “Breakfast Club.” It wasn’t really an “official” renaming of the show, maybe more of a “making the best out of a bad situation” type deal, but The Ghoul did specifically call it the Breakfast Club during promos and the show.

Furthermore, certain segments were produced with a different set than usual. Brick-walled and with a table and usually a couple other guys from the show (Frank-On-Line, etc.) hanging out. You know, a breakfast club. You’ll see more of it in the next promo, but the screencap on the left above gives you an idea of the set. It was definitely, well, different. Also, while The Ghoul started at 1 AM prior to this episode, this promo makes it sound like this is the first “Breakfast Club” show. it’s hard to tell because of the static during this broadcast’s reception (gotta love rabbit ears). So, Blood For Blood (a Lorenzo Lamas film I have no desire to see) *may* have been the first Breakfast Club-branded Ghoul show.

Mark Of The Vampire Promo (2002)

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This is one of those few-and-far-between shows I was talking about earlier. 1957’s Mark Of The Vampire was given the full Ghoul treatment, and this is mentioned prominently in the promo. In that left screencap you can see the regular Breakfast Club set, and notice that the show is now listed as “Monday at 1 AM,” as opposed to the previous promo’s “Sunday At 1 AM.” Make no mistake, it’s the same late Sunday/early Monday timeslot for both. I certainly don’t recall The Ghoul ever airing late Monday/Early Tuesday, at least.

200th Episode Promo (2002)

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Let’s end this with a promo for one of the coolest shows of The Ghoul’s entire WBNX run, Sunday night or otherwise: The 200th Episode. No, the movie in the episode isn’t called Bicentennial, it simply means it’s The Ghoul’s bicentennial. The reason a movie isn’t listed during the promo is because there is no one specific movie. Rather, the show starts off with How To Make A Monster, and after returning from each commercial break, a different movie is in progress, finally ending with the conclusion of Blood Freak (alright, now I’m *kinda* satisfied). As The Ghoul counts off in this spot, there are a total of eight movies. No, it doesn’t make much sense as a coherent movie, but it’s a cool idea and pretty fun, and overall much more memorable than the 100th episode, The Head.

A some point in later-2002, The Ghoul would actually be moved back to Friday nights, but it was at some verrrry late hour. Even with my being a night owl, I still couldn’t really stay up and watch, not unless I wanted to sleep-in until 3 PM Saturday. Even with the slightly better timeslot, the movie selections/restrictions/etc. remained the same. I know for certain that I have the first back-to-Friday show (Yesterday’s Target), and perhaps I may have a few more episodes I’m just not recalling. But nevertheless, it became so hard to keep up with taping (and never getting around to watching), and all the changes were so disappointing, that at that point I fell away from taping The Ghoul. He wouldn’t be on WBNX all that much longer, leaving the network at some point in 2003. In retrospect, I wish I would have kept up, but oh well.

I have a lot of videotapes, and of the many I personally recorded myself, some of my most treasured are the ones featuring our local movie hosts. Obviously, a large part of that collection is made up of episodes of The Ghoul. It’s easy to complain about some of the changes/restrictions imposed on him later in his WBNX run, but even then, when it comes right down to it, it was an entertaining show. I wish some network would see fit to get The Ghoul back on TV; now that Big Chuck & Lil’ John are back and Son Of Ghoul never left, it would be kinda sorta close to the days of the late-90’s/early-2000’s, when this was the TV that absolutely made up my weekends.