Tag Archives: movie host

A Ghoul Power Journey, 20 Years On…

APRIL 2, 2019 EDIT: It is with a heavy heart that I must report Ron “The Ghoul” Sweed passed away last night, following a massive heart attack he suffered several months ago. Let this article be an enduring tribute to the man that shaped so much of my sense of humor and outlook on life. I could never thank him enough for the many nights he kept me company, even if it was just from the television screen. RIP, Ron; your Ten Star Ghoul Power Generals will never forget you.

CAUTION: Long, drawn out personal memories forthcoming! (Also, it will probably help if you have at least some working knowledge of The Ghoul beforehand.)

The man himself, during a 1999 book signing.

July 10th marked the 20th anniversary of The Ghoul’s return to Cleveland airwaves, courtesy of our WBNX TV-55. (Yes, I’m well aware the majority of August is now over.) 20 years?! It’s almost shocking how quickly time has passed; it (figuratively) seems like only yesterday that I was writing about the 15th anniversary of the occurrence. I don’t know what troubles me more: the fact I’ve kept my silly blog going for five years now, or that I’ve let 20 years slip by without accomplishing anything of lasting importance.

Nevertheless, allow me now to do some reminiscin’ of Ron Sweed’s legendary late night horror host. The time is right, and besides, while I’ve related some of these tales before, it’ll be nice to present them again in an updated (i.e., better written) manner. Bear with me here group, this’ll be a long one…

Backstory:

Ron Sweed was a young associate of the legendary Ernie “Ghoulardi” Anderson (he of Cleveland horror hosting legend) in the 1960s, and it was by Anderson’s permission that Sweed resurrected the character in the 1970s, albeit with a change in name. Sure, with the fright wig, one-lens sunglasses, fake beard and mustache, and button-adorned lab coat, they looked the same. And yes, with declarations of “Stay Sick,” “Turn Blue” and “Ova Dey” and a similar penchant for blowing things up with firecrackers and adding various drops-in, video and audio, to the (admittedly) terrible movies he ran, they even shared some of the same traits. BUT, The Ghoul developed his own manic persona. His was wild, he was wacky, he was destructive, and his sense of humor was decidedly warped. With his declarations of “Ghoul Power!” he was hero to kids and the hip and enemy to those with supposedly “good taste.” The Ghoul was something special.

He first started hosting horror movies in Cleveland in 1971, on the independent WKBF TV-61, and through the magic of syndication also hit in other markets around the country. Indeed, he was just as big in Detroit as he was in Northeast Ohio. Thanks to viewer complaints and a station on the brink, his first run here came to an end in 1975, though he came back on 61’s successor, WCLQ, in 1982 and enjoyed a few more years in the Cleveland market. Add to that various runs outside of Ohio, and you had a host that really got around across the decades.

That was all before my time, however.

Despite having a vague knowledge of Ghoulardi, knowing of Superhost in my formative years, and having occasionally watched Big Chuck & Lil’ John prior, I was really just learning about the fine art of horror hosting in full in 1997, when I was 11 years old. It was actually a nationally broadcast show out of Minneapolis, Mystery Science Theater 3000 on the Sci-Fi Channel, that introduced me proper to the concept of bad-movie-mockin’, and which in turn led me to The Son of Ghoul Show on The CAT 29/35.

Now, the internet was around then, and we had it (ah, the days of slow, clunky, will-it-or-won’t-it-connect dial-up!), but it wasn’t nearly what it is now. As such, I was very much discovering all of this stuff for myself first-hand, as it beamed from the cathode ray tubes of our television and directly into my brain. In other words, if I didn’t see it aired, I may have had, at best, only the most passing knowledge on a given local subject. To think, there was a time when I wasn’t aware of The Ghoul!

Fast forward to the summer of 1998, when a relative passed along a newspaper clipping that she thought I might find interesting…

The Discovery:

My first glimpse, indeed my first knowledge, of The Ghoul came from an Akron Beacon Journal article covering his return to Northeast Ohio TV. This was fascinating stuff! A new (but not really) host for me to check out! As a 12 year old heavily into this sort of thing by then, this was exciting news! I was also curious; obviously I didn’t know what to expect. How could I? Like I said, this was all new to me.

The fateful newspaper article that led me to Ghoul Power…

You know, one of my favorite things in my entire horror host collection is actually that old Akron Beacon article. As you can see here, it’s yellowed a bit; that’s because it hung on the fridge for awhile. And the picture used wasn’t originally in color; I did that myself some time later prior to, obviously, having him sign it at a personal appearance somewhere (more on those later).

No, it’s not in “mint condition,” and it’s not archival quality in the slightest. I tend to be a perfectionist when it comes to collecting this stuff, but here, none of that matters. Why? Because this article and the history that goes with it, that’s all part of my personal Ghoul Power story, that’s why! Today, it proudly resides in a scrapbook I have dedicated to these sorts of things, and there it shall remain.

ANYWAY, thanks to that article I now had some background knowledge on the man, but I still didn’t know how this was going to play out. I was used to a certain way of local horror hosting, so how exactly was this going to work? It was a curious anticipation, to be sure.

A still from WBNX’s original promo spotlighting The Ghoul’s return.

In the days (weeks?) leading up to the July 10 debut, WBNX began running a promo for the return, and this was my first glimpse of The Ghoul “in action.” There he was, hopping down the street on a bouncy ball, waving at cars, all while the expected “I’m back!” type voiceover gave the pertinent details. Okay, this was different!

So Friday, July 10, 11:30 PM rolls around, and I was…well, actually, I can’t remember if I was there watching it live or if, thanks to the magic of VHS, I first checked it all out the next day. Honestly, I’m remembering it both ways, and I’m not sure which scenario is the truth and which is just my mind playing tricks on itself. And I’ve got a pretty good memory, too!

The first episode was 1993’s Ghost in the Machine, not really my kinda movie but a bit of “B” movie fare typical of WBNX’s offerings at the time. The Ghoul’s segments were a mix of old and new material, mainly his new segments introducing old ones. The following week (1983’s Up From the Depths) continued the trend.

Annnnnd that’s kinda where I dropped off. Over the following months, I’d check in occasionally, but the sad fact of the matter is I wasn’t an instant fan of The Ghoul. It was more of a progressive fandom; the more I watched, the more I appreciated. The good news is, when I finally ‘got’ it, man, I really got it!

The Fandom:

It was in the waning months of 1998 that I really started finding my Ghoul Power voice (I even went as him for my grade school’s Halloween party that year), and by early ’99, I was a young-but-dedicated “Ten Star General in the Ghoul Power Army.”

At a time when I was still very much developing my own sense of humor, The Ghoul displayed to me a “chaotic absurdity.” The destructive tendencies, firecracker-induced or otherwise, humor that was often positively non-sequitur-ish, it was all incredibly appealing to a 12/13 year old kid. (More than a few G.I. Joes met their demise in my backyard thanks to the influence of The Ghoul, by the way.) There was a warped sense of humor running throughout the entire show; even something as simple as using a toilet as a regular seat on his set was, to me, fantastic. Still is!

The man himself, staying sick and turning blue on set!

Like Ghoulardi before him, The Ghoul would often mock fellow local television personalities. News anchorwomen Denise Dufala (and her then-recent CD) and Wilma Smith were regular targets, as were Big Chuck & Lil’ John, who were running directly against The Ghoul over on WJW TV-8 at the time. It’s important to note that this was all in good fun; there was no real animosity there.

Some of my favorite moments were the simple ones, when he was merely sitting on the set, ostensibly talking about something but really just goofing around and cracking the crew up. Like Soupy Sales used to do, when The Ghoul had the crew laughing at something he said or did, it just made things all the funnier. And add an almost “familial” touch to the proceedings, too!

Indeed, one of my absolute favorite examples of this was “egg in a bottle,” from March 1999.

Some weeks prior, The Ghoul had demonstrated a trick in which an egg was sucked into a milk bottle by lighting a piece of paper and setting the egg over the opening – and it worked! Well, a few shows later, he revisited the bit, this time with the goal of not only getting the egg in the bottle, but then getting it out as well.

The problem was that nothing went correctly that second time around. The lit paper would be dropped in, and the egg would start to ‘go’ but then stall. Multiple failed attempts soon devolved into throwing the eggs around between him and the crew and lotsa ad-libbing. After several minutes of failing to achieve the first part of the goal, The Ghoul coolly stated “I don’t care if we don’t show the rest of the movie…” which caused the crew to crack up. And when the paper wouldn’t stay lit afterwards, he wondered aloud if they had any lighter fluid, which got another boisterous response.

Finally, he just pushed the egg down into the bottle and then sucked it back out with a straw, which was the purpose of the bit in the first place. It wasn’t so much the activity itself that was funny, but the interplay and goofing around between The Ghoul and his crew that summed up exactly how much fun this show could be. Even today, the whole segment is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

Froggy being bombarded with some “raven residue.”

Oh, and how could I forget The Ghoul’s nemesis, Froggy! A small frog doll with a red coat and bow tie, Froggy was originally a 1940s & 1950s children show character, and who was later appropriated by The Ghoul for any number of destructive purposes. Summoned by being implored to “plunk you magic twanger, ova dey” and continuously spouting “hiya hiya hiya,” over the years Froggy was subject to being fried, chopped, blown up, immolated, thrown, kicked, stomped, and any other number of indignities The Ghoul reveled in bestowing upon him.

(There was also a full-sized Froggy, as in costumed adult, that appeared frequently on the show.)

It’s also to The Ghoul’s credit that, in the more-jaded late-90s/early-2000s, a lot of the stuff that would have raised eyebrows in the 1970s and even 1980s but would seem tame in the 1990s (especially when compared to, say, professional wrestling or whatever was airing on MTV or Comedy Central) still managed to work. Of course, the guy had been doing this sort of thing since 1971, it was probably all second-nature by that point, and The Ghoul went about it all with such a zeal that even some bits that didn’t quite work were still worth watching.

But you know, I fully realize that The Ghoul was/is a phenomenon that not everyone would get. (Same goes for Ghoulardi, Chuck & John, etc. etc. etc.) Unless you’re from Northeast Ohio or one of those areas that ‘got’ the humor (as Detroit wisely did), there’s a chance that if I were to show you an old episode right this moment, you’d watch and then say “okay…?” The declarations of “Boffo Socko,” “Zowie Scowie,” “Turn Blue,” and constant jabs at news anchorwoman Denise Dufala (“The secret word is DUFALA!”) probably would have left most outsiders scratching their heads.

That was the beauty of regional horror hosts though; their humor was aimed at a specific target audience. Someone in L.A. most likely wouldn’t get it, but they weren’t supposed to. This type of programming instilled a connection, and dare I say local pride, with the audience that, outside of nightly newscasts, seems to be a dying art form nowadays. The Ghoul excelled at it though.

And he fit so well into the vibes of late-90s Northeast Ohio, at least from the perspective of a 12/13 year old. Ernie Anderson’s passing in 1997 and The Drew Carey Show being a comedic force on a national scale, there seemed to be a renewed local interest in all of this stuff that made us, well, us. That feeling seemed to subside as the 2000s dawned and television in general went through increasingly radical changes (even Drew, for his last two seasons, was first moved to a terrible Monday night time slot and then burned off during the summers), but it was a wonderful ride while it lasted.

Over my years with The Ghoul, there were lotsa memorable moments. Beyond the surface stuff of anticipating a new old bad movie and seeing what he had in store for a given week, there are particular high points that stick out in my mind, both from back in the day and in retrospect.

When it began, The Ghoul Show had new host bits with the main maniac, but much of the focus was on the old material from the 70s and 80s. The Ghoul would come on in newly-filmed segments, and then introduce a clip from the past. I was entranced by these moments, and my early reluctance towards the show was almost-certainly due to the fact that the new stuff didn’t look like the old stuff. The material from the 1970s and 1980s, to me, it just looked like how a horror host show should look. The new Ghoul stuff (obviously) had a more modern look, with computerized titles and graphics. These graphics have aged well for the most part, but I wasn’t thinking of that at the time. Anyway, luckily, I came to my senses and realized that all Ghoul Power was good Ghoul Power. That’s why we’re here right now!

When new material took precedence, the 1970s & 1980s sketches were relegated to (usually) a single moment during the show: The Ghoul’s Vault of Golden Garbage. The Vault was a feature going back decades, and given its possibility to introduce me to old bits I wasn’t around for the first time, it quickly became one of my most-anticipated moments each week. (As the years went by, newer 1990s/2000s segments could occasionally show up in the Vault feature; that was always disappointing to me, because, hey, I was probably around for them the first time!)

The Vault, both in that early going and later when it was a separate segment, introduced me to the original usage of the “Ghoulzooka,” Chef Curdle, C. Miller, Froggy destruction, The Ghoul’s MDA telethon Jell-O jump, and other assorted bits of wackiness. I loved so much of it. But, being a Japanese giant monster movie fan, I think my favorite examples were the ones in which The Ghoul interacted with Gamera.

The Ghoul with Gamera, on two separate occasions…

Gamera movies were evidently well-known entities on The Ghoul Show in the 1970s, and The Ghoul took it upon himself to give them some extra-skewerin’ at least twice. The first known to me was the top image to your right: some fans sent in a “rocket powered” Gamera model, which The Ghoul and crew then launched across the studio. It was a very funny bit, mainly because it involved more joking around than anything, including The Ghoul losing it when Gamera’s head fell off during a demonstration of what was going to happen prior to launch.

The second occurrence known to me (but apparently happened first, given The Ghoul’s early set) was even ‘bigger’ and is what you’re seeing in the bottom-right shot: The Ghoul “interviewed” Gamera himself! Another very funny moment, mainly because The Ghoul had to tell Gamera how bad his movies were, much to Gamera’s embarrassment. The segment then ended with The Ghoul pulling Gamera around the set on a dolly, as if to mimic his flying. Simple, goofy, and irresistible. I loved (and love) stuff like that.

Ah, but probably the most memorable moment for me was a then-new one. Understandably, it was the time he opened a package I sent him on the air. I later wrote him emails that made it on, but the first was definitely the biggest and best.

The setting was July 23, 1999, the movie Bride of the Gorilla (a new one to me at the time; bonus!), and following one commercial break, I got probably the biggest thrill I ever got watching the show.

This particular life goal? ACHIEVED.

I had loaded this package up. First was what I deemed a “Parma Yo-Yo,” which was just a cut-out from a box of pierogies with a string taped to it, and which you were supposed to lamely bounce up and down. The Ghoul cracked up, seemed to get a big kick out of it (“And if it don’t do that, you got a bad one!”), but surprisingly I never saw it on the show again.

Then, there was a big “Ghoul Power” banner. I found a huge piece of paper somewhere and had decorated it with a whole bunch of phrases from the show. I think my hope was that it would make it onto the permanent set, and while The Ghoul seemed to like it too, I never saw it again, either.

BUT, the piece de resistance came at the end: I had gotten a cheap, terrible Jackie Chan movie from Best Buy’s fabled $2.99 VHS section, and despite two attempts at enjoying it, it was just too awful. So, what better way to dispose of it than by asking the main maniac to blow it up?

The Ghoul happily obliged, and in spectacular fashion.

I was positively flipping out during all of this. I was cracking up, literally jumping and down, I was so excited. (Hey, I was 13.) It, along with the time Letterman read one of my letters on the air, was probably one of my biggest “TV moments,” even if the two aren’t comparable on a viewership scale. It was, and is, certainly among my top favorites anyway.

Lotsa Time Slots:

As noted, The Ghoul debuted on Friday, July 10, 1998 at 11:30 PM, in what was a 2 1/2 hour time slot. For a good part of that first year, that was how long he ran, and let me tell you, by the time the show ended in the wee hours, it almost felt like you had finished running a marathon or something. It was like a bit that had happened at the top of the show felt like it had taken place eons ago by the time it was all over. It was pretty great.

At some point in 1999, I want to say slightly before the 1st anniversary but maybe slightly after, the time slot was shortened to a straight 2 hours (I recall the 1st anniversary special being 2 1/2 hours and thinking that it was a nice throwback). While this sort of took away the aforementioned “marathon” aspect, the truth is it didn’t hurt the program all that much at all. The Ghoul still packed a ton into those 2 hours, and you know, probably the only real difference was more editing to the movies!

The number of running gags, recurring jokes, and general momentum was a lot of fun to watch build and grow week after week, and by September 2000, the amount of things that had been built upon, expanded, and so on was not inconsiderable. But it was all about to take a serious hit.

Announced on September 15, 2000 (the movie was Karloff’s The Ape) and commencing on September 24, WBNX moved The Ghoul to Sunday nights at 12 AM (technically Monday morning). I had lived for those Friday nights, The Ghoul was such a great way to kick off the weekend, and now, it was being taken away from me! Summer and holidays were one thing, but during the school year (when you needed that dose of Ghoul Power the most!), my staying up for the show just wasn’t feasible. I had a hard enough time getting up in the morning as it was! Still, that’s why they invented VCRs. I was unhappy with the situation, but this was livable – I guess.

Until I saw that first Sunday show, anyway. The movie was 1993’s direct-to-video comedy Remote. There were no sound effects, no drop-ins, and The Ghoul’s host segments were severely scaled back. I was crushed. All that momentum, seemingly gone in one fell swoop. I still remember the day I discovered this; I had to run out to the garage for something, and I have this memory of being in there, sun streaming through the windows, and just feeling totally deflated.

An example of The Ghoul’s changing movie fare and time slot when he was moved out of Friday nights.

If you’ve read this old article (and if you haven’t, don’t bother; it sucks), you’d recall I was pretty down on the “Sunday era.” Now of course it wasn’t like it was when The Ghoul was on at 11:30 PM Fridays, but in retrospect, it wasn’t all bad. While a wider-range of movies was the norm (cheapo action flicks, comedies, dramas, more-modern horror and sci-fi, even the occasional animated fare, most of it without his famous during-movie-drop-ins), some of these actually worked pretty well on the show, especially the “B” action flicks from the likes of PM Entertainment and such. And when The Ghoul got a healthy amount of host segments throughout, it was all the better.

And, once in awhile, he’d do an “old style” show. That is, an old cheapie ‘classic’ loaded with drop-ins and plenty of Ghoul segments. Despite the lack of this happening on a regular basis, when it did occur, The Ghoul hadn’t lost a step.

It was in the midst of that Sunday night/Monday morning era that the world forever changed. I very much tend to look at many things as pre-9/11 and post-9/11, especially things (in this case, television) from the few years both immediately preceding and immediately following the travesty. It seems that pre-9/11, there was an undefinable air of innocence, I suppose, that was taken away afterwards. It was in that darkest of times that comfort was found in those aspects of our life that had become, well, almost a part of us, I guess you could say. I wish The Ghoul hadn’t been so inaccessible to me, a freshman in high school, at the time, because it was shows like his that helped bring a temporary comfort to a world gone mad.

I actually dug out one of my old Ghoul tapes recently, and it featured the episode right before 9/11, and what appeared to be the first one after. The first one was normal enough, but then the one after, where there’s the appropriate tributes and shows of solidarity during the commercials, it was and is heartbreaking. How quickly things can change.

The Ghoul on his “Breakfast Club” set.

It was in that post-9/11 world that the “Ghoul Power Good Morning Breakfast Club” experiment began. On October 8, 2001 to be exact, after the show moved to 1 AM Monday mornings the week prior. Technically a worse slot, though my circumstances didn’t really change one way or the other; I still couldn’t stay up to watch it. The movie was Street Crimes, a low budget action flick from PM Entertainment and starring Dennis Farina that was a good example of what made up a good chunk of The Ghoul’s fare during that time period. It actually worked pretty well with the show – though I suppose your viewpoint on that would largely depend on how tolerant you are of “B” action flicks in the first place.

The gag of the “Breakfast Club” was that at 1 AM, it was Cleveland’s earliest morning show, thus starting your day off right before anyone else. Filmed on a different set and with humorous looks at traffic and weather and guests sharing coffee (typically associates and characters that tended to be on anyway), it was an interesting idea that worked far better than it had any right to, but it only lasted for maybe 6-8 months; certainly by the summer of ’02, the show was back to its normal set and structure.

In September of ’02, The Ghoul was finally moved out of the Sunday/Monday hole and back to Friday nights/Saturday mornings…early Saturday mornings; it was slotted at 3:30 AM! I can’t decide if this was more or less accessible than before. On one hand, it didn’t coincide with a weekday, but man, depending on the movie, you’d be finishing up at around 5:30/6:00 AM. Look, I’m a habitual night owl, but even that goes a little too far for me.

(The final “Sunday era” broadcast was on September 2, 2002 with House on Haunted Hill; one of those “old style” Ghoul shows, loaded up with drop-ins and host segments. When he resurfaced in this new, uber-late time slot, the movie was 1996’s Yesterday’s Target.)

Sadly, and I hate to admit this, it was around that time (fall 2002) that I fell away from watching. Well, taping; the sad fact of the matter was that I kept recording for years, but rarely got around to watching the shows. Heck, I rarely got around to even checking/labeling the tapes! They just kept piling up! Teenagers do dumb things, and in hindsight, I’d have stuck with the program till the end (2003 or 2004, depending on the source), but at 16 years old, I guess you’re not that forward-thinking.

I never stopped liking The Ghoul though. Some of my happiest TV-viewin’ memories are of those Friday nights at 11:30 PM, watching him fool around against that black backdrop with the hazy border or goofing off on that junk-laden set. Indeed, I still have this very clear memory: summer of ’99, relaxing to The Ghoul on a Friday night, all alone, the window behind me open, cool breeze filling my nostrils with the scent of nearby bonfires. It was such a great feeling.

I have memories of tuning in on Sunday nights as well, but they’re not as numerous or as, erm, memorable, for obvious reasons.

I really have no idea why WBNX moved The Ghoul out of Friday nights 11:30 PM or why his movie choices were, to a large degree, altered. Was it a ratings-issue, an attempt at giving him the all-around of Big Chuck & Lil’ John, or…? I just don’t know.

The Ghoul in a local Norton Furniture ad.

A fun addendum to The Ghoul’s 1990s/2000s Cleveland revival: in the mid-00s, he appeared in a few local commercials for Norton Furniture, an establishment that specialized (specializes?) in late night advertising. Often of a surreal nature anyway, the two (I think there were only two) spots featuring The Ghoul had him chasing around store owner Marc with the intent of cutting off his ponytail for a new phony beard. (The second spot featured a cameo by Froggy, too!)

Airing around 2004/2005, these Norton Furniture ads were some of the last times, to the best of my knowledge, that The Ghoul appeared on Northeast Ohio television in a regular capacity. (And lest you think commercials shouldn’t qualify as “regular capacity,” bear in mind Norton Furniture ads were all over late night TV in these parts at the time; if you liked staying up late as I did/do, you’d almost have to be trying to not see one!)

The Movies:

Because The Ghoul was on a channel that regularly picked up movie packages (and was affiliated with the WB Network to boot), his movie choices could really run the gamut. Sure, the usual public domain cheapies from the 1930s through the 1970s showed up, as is typical of horror hosted shows, but ‘real’ movies were also part of the regular rotation. A lot of newer, “B” grade flicks popped up on the station, even outside of The Ghoul. Because I was (am) a movie fan as much as I was (am) of the show itself, it was a real trip seeing so many new-to-me flicks week after week, and the announcement of the next week’s movie was a moment of high anticipation for yours truly. The possibilities were (seemingly) endless!

Of course, you didn’t really tune into this show to see a full-fledged movie; the film was just part of the experience. Because The Ghoul would pack so much material into a show, there were times when a movie would be edited beyond comprehension, and indeed, there was so much insanity going on, the movie sometimes seemed almost like an afterthought. Make no mistake though, that was all part of the fun! For 2-2 1/2 hours, it was like you were tuned into an incredibly weird televised circus – and I mean that in the best way possible.

And naturally, one of the main draws as far as the movies were concerned were the various audio and video drop-ins. Inappropriate and/or nonsensical music, sounds effects (who could forget “OW OW OW! when someone got hurt, or the loud BURP whenever a character took a drink?), silly old film clips inserted into the film, and funny “facts” that would pop-up not unlike VH1’s then-popular Pop-Up Video, all were regularly featured throughout a given movie during the earlier years of the show.

My tastes in movies were all over the place around that time. I liked the pioneering silent films in the horror and sci-fi genres (some of them, anyway), the classics and poverty row flicks of the 1930s and 1940s, and the cheesy sci-fi of the 1950s and 1960s; that’s the stuff I ‘started’ with. By the time of The Ghoul, those tastes were expanding to also include the grindhouse and Eurotrash junk of the late-1960s, 1970s and beyond, and even though it wouldn’t peak until the mid-2000s, looking back I guess I had a slight inclination towards the slashers, too. The Ghoul covered them all, in varying degrees of visibility; only one silent I can think of (Metropolis, appropriately the first show of 2000), a healthy dose of 1940s through 1960s stuff, lots of obscure 1970s garbage, and plenty of low-rent 1980s & 1990s fare.

An example of the type of film The Ghoul would show during his stay at 11:30 PM, Fridays…

Nowadays, I pretty much like what I did in the first place: some silents, the classics and the poverty row offerings of the 1930s and 1940s, cornball 1950s/1960s sci-fi and horror, the giant monster flicks out of Japan. My interests wane considerably after Night of the Living Dead, both because NOTLD is a masterpiece and legitimate contender for greatest horror film of all-time (in other words, how y’all gon’ top it?), and more importantly because later, more ‘extreme’ horror films may have been bloodier, nastier, but they didn’t have the brains or heart behind them, barring some exceptions, such as the original Dawn of the Dead (though I still prefer Night…)

Yep, The Ghoul’s movie selections of the late-90s/early-00s were certainly wide-ranging, and I have plenty of favorites from those years. The 1930s and 1940s flicks featured (alliteration), some being staples of these types of shows, are movies I particularly enjoy. Three Bela Lugosi films come to mind: The Devil Bat, Invisible Ghost, and White Zombie. Also, Boris Karloff’s The Ape (a movie I didn’t much care for at the time but have really warmed up to in recent years) and the 1941 Monogram wartime poverty row opus King of the Zombies. 1950s cornball drive-in fare like Indestructible Man, The Screaming Skull and The Giant Gila Monster and ultra-cheap trash like 1966’s Curse of the Swamp Creature also get high marks from yours truly.

There weren’t many Japanese monster movies shown, and those were/are a favorite genre of mine. But, Attack of the Mushroom People made it on, and that was a big, big one (a far darker film than that American title implies). The 1956 Daiei opus Warning From Space (the second anniversary show movie) also stands out.

From later years, Best of the Best 3, Ring of Fire III, and Street Crimes stick out as favorite low budget action flicks; I genuinely enjoyed all three. And, my first full viewings of Deliverance, Cocoon and Poltergeist came via The Ghoul. Even with the appropriate editing-for-television, they made for great Ghoul Power features.

And when it came to Christmas, The Ghoul went all out, especially in 1999, when the entire month of December was dedicated to the holiday. 1964’s Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is my go-to “bad Christmas movie” flick, and that’s the only time I saw him run it. Also, 1935’s Scrooge, my personal favorite movie version of A Christmas Carol.

Oh, my least favorite films featured (alliteration) on the show? Of the “classics,” try as I might, I could never really get into Gorgo, which was the subject of his first anniversary show. The special effects are terrific, granted, but as a whole it’s nowhere near as fun as a comparative Japanese release. Frankly, Gorgo bores me. Also, and this may be anathema to admit, but House on Haunted Hill (which I believe The Ghoul ran at least three times over the course of his run) is a movie that has just never done much for me. I don’t actively dislike it, but I don’t really like it, either. Even when I first saw it at 12/13 years old (after much hype from family members and when I was an easy audience for this sort of movie), I was left severely neutral on the subject. If it wasn’t for Vincent Price, well…

Nowadays, I don’t like slasher movies at all, so the Leprechaun flicks (if they’re even considered slashers; I think of them in the same territory, if nothing else) are in retrospect not to my personal tastes – though I kinda liked them back then. (The Ghoul ran several entries over the course of his run.) And a lot of the newer movies that made it onto the show such as Pumpkinhead II, Hellraiser IV, Pinocchio’s Revenge, Doppelganger, Ghoulies, the 1989 Phantom of the Opera, my views on those range from severe disinterest to outright dislike. 1985’s Eternal Evil is also a terrible, terrible movie – and not in a fun, Ghoul Power way, either.

A lot of 1970s stuff hasn’t worn well for me, though I took an interest in them then. Mainly the European films; Lots of people love ’em, but I’m not one of them, not anymore. Flicks like Lady Frankenstein were/are so covered in depressive grime, forget wanting to take a shower; I feel like I should go soak in some 91% isopropyl for 17 hours after watching that one.

Also, I know he has his fans, but from a strictly personal standpoint, I just don’t get the love for Paul Naschy movies; every one I’ve seen has been essentially unwatchable. The Ghoul ran Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman, and even he couldn’t save it! And isn’t that considered a top-tier Naschy film? *shudder*

Personal Appearances:

I had the great benefit to meet The Ghoul in person not once but several times. I can tell you, each and every time, he was absolutely phenomenal with the fans. Not only was he energetic and ‘on’ the entire time, but he really spent time with his admirers; he’d talk, he’d joke, he was everything you hope for when you meet a celebrity.

There’s yours truly with the main maniac in 1999; evidently I wasn’t always the suave hepcat I like to imagine myself to be.

My first meeting with him was in 1999, at the Chapel Hill Borders Books where he and Mike Olszewski were signing copies of The Ghoul (S)crapbook, a terrific collection of old photos, information, hate mail and general wackiness. As you’d expect of The Ghoul, basically. (While very informative, it also came off as the warped counterpart to the 1997 Ghoulardi: Inside Cleveland TV’s Wildest Ride book – again, as you’d expect of The Ghoul.)

There was quite a line to meet him that night, and while it wasn’t like I had to stand in it for 8 hours or anything, there was a bit of a wait. When I finally got to meet him, it was obvious why: The Ghoul really gave you his attention, spoke with you, all while staying in character. And you know what? The saying “you can be anything you want to be” is endlessly repeated to us in grade school, but I can tell you from experience that it means so much more when it comes from The Ghoul.

Truth be told, I can’t remember how many times I met The Ghoul. It feels like more than what I’m writing about here, but that might be my memory playing tricks on me – or maybe I really am forgetting an appearance or two. Anyway, the next one that comes to mind is his appearance at B-Ware Video in Lakewood, OH, on April 14, 2000. B-Ware was run by “Sick” Eddie and his wife, both of whom worked on The Ghoul’s show. Man, in those days before anything and everything had been issued (or reissued) on DVD, B-Ware was a haven of weird, out-of-print, obscure horror and science fiction titles on VHS, some for sale, some for rent. Seriously, the only place to get some of this stuff was eBay – and certain titles were selling for mighty dollars at the time. Even though I was only there once, B-Ware was amazing.

In addition to Mike Olszewski, there were even more of The Ghoul’s crew there at this appearance. Froggy, Jungle Bob, Jeff “The Sickie,” even Dinky, the big pink flamingo mascot of Destination, the heavy metal band who did The Ghoul’s opening music at the time (he even gave me a free CD of theirs!). Aside from The Ghoul and Olszewski, it was my first time meeting all these people, and everyone was ridiculously friendly. And The Ghoul, who as I recall it had had not one, not two, but three personal appearances that day, of which this was the third, showed no signs of running out of gas.

I’ll never forget this: he didn’t know me in the least, but when they brought the camera in to film for the show, Olszewski implored me to get up front and get on. I’ll never forget how nice that was of him, and thanks to his insistence, I showed up in the crowd when the bits aired a few weeks later during Indestructible Man (and one of them repeated during the second anniversary special that summer, as well). You don’t get to see a screenshot because I was a goofy lookin’ 14 year old (even goofier than the pic you just saw of me a bit ago), but nevertheless, it was a thrill.

Next: the grand opening of High Point Furniture in the Midway Plaza in Akron, where I met him one night, and then again the next. I could be wrong, but I think it was the fall of 2000; I’m pretty sure this was where I asked him about the whole move to Sunday nights. (His suggestion was a VCR, which, you know, what else could he say?)

[EDIT: This appearance was apparently in the fall of 1999, not 2000, which means I couldn’t have asked him about the Sunday move, as it hadn’t happened yet. I definitely did ask him about it once, and I sure *remember* it as being inside High Point, but unless it was at the appearance you’ll read about after this one, there was another time I met The Ghoul that is otherwise totally slipping my mind.]

This isn’t a pic from that grand opening; I went and snapped it specifically for this article. This Midway Plaza location still stands, but has been closed for a number of years now.

I don’t remember a whole lot about that first night, other than they had free Domino’s Pizza, pop, and a KISS tribute band in the parking lot. I sure remember the second night though, when I went back. (This wasn’t exactly a four hour round trip; Midway Plaza was pretty close by.)

I had a box of stuff for the show that would have been prohibitively expensive to ship (and I had even less money then than I do now), so I brought it all direct to The Ghoul. It really was a bunch of junk, I don’t think any of it made on the show (I wouldn’t blame him if none of it made it beyond the dumpster that night!), although methinks the replica of Rodin’s “The Thinker” mocked up to sorta look like The Ghoul was at least semi-clever.

I wasn’t expecting him to open the box there, but he did, and when he was done sifting through it, he stood up and presented me to the sizable line of people waiting to meet him. Right then and there, he declared me to the crowd as a Ten Star General in the Ghoul Power Army – and they cheered for me! It was an incredible surprise, and to me it sums up just how fantastic The Ghoul was with his fans. He didn’t have to go that extra mile, but he did, and I will always be grateful for it.

The Ghoul promoting Frightvision 2001 on his show.

Finally, there was Frightvision 2001. Now, truth be told, I don’t know if I met him there, I don’t recall doing so, but having been to the previous two Frightvision conventions held in Akron, it was still pretty cool when The Ghoul was announced as host of the third (in Cleveland). Frightvision was my first horror & sci-fi convention in 1999, and by 2001 I had long realized what a bastion of collectibles it was. If I didn’t take advantage of the numerous celebrities in attendance that year (and I didn’t; I don’t think I met any of them at the show), it’s only because I was so focused on netting me some cool winnins from the dealers there.

Speaking of cool winnins…

Memorabilia:

I’m a collector of pop culture, especially as it pertains to broadcasting, television broadcasting specifically. Mugs, glasses, shirts, keychains, assorted promotional memorabilia related to this sort of thing, I’m almost always interested in that – especially when it hails from the 1960s through the 1980s.

While I take an interest in television in general, local broadcasting is a facet that really perks up my ears. I don’t necessarily mean local to me; local TV from across the U.S. is something I find endlessly fascinating. BUT it goes without saying that the area of my greatest interest lies in Northeast Ohio’s television history. And since I’m a big fan of horror movie hosts, that’s the sort of memorabilia I’m always, always after.

That was my long-winded way of saying I’ve amassed a sizable Ghoul collection over the years, both first-hand and online. T-shirts, autographed photos promo flyers, articles, assorted things like that are littered throughout my collection. Here now are just a few of the items that help keep the Ghoul Power burnin’.

Endlessly pushed on the show for much (all?) of his WBNX run, Turn Blue Ghoul Brew was The Ghoul’s very own beverage, and it really turned you blue! Well, your tongue anyway. I got this bottle during the Borders Book appearance, and since he signed it to me, I never had the heart to open and drink it. I did try the stuff though; it was basically blue root beer. Non-alcoholic and pretty tasty, I wish they still made it. They later came out with “Froggy Squeezins,” a green lemon-lime drink. Besides personal appearances, you could only get these at select locations in Northeast Ohio.

Luckily, one of those locations was mere minutes away from me: DeVitis & Sons Italian Market. In fact, during our 8th grade fundraiser for a trip to Washington DC, one of my grade school’s stops was the Acme that was next to DeVitis at the time (it’s a Save-a-Lot now). Ostensibly we were supposed to be selling hots dogs and hamburgers, but I don’t remember really having all that much to do. At one point, I broke away to DeVitis, where I purchased my first bottle of Froggy Squeezins. It was pretty good, but I unfortunately never got another, and I stupidly didn’t keep the bottle. Mistake! I didn’t really like that trip to Washington, but at least I got a bottle of Froggy Squeezins out of the deal.

Turn Blue Ghoul Brew’s bottle went through a couple label variations. Originally it had a simpler label and was in a brown bottle (it looked like a beer), which was then switched to the variant you’re seeing here. (They occasionally sold old “brown bottle” variants, as collectors items, at personal appearances; I’m this sure I got one at Frightvision 2001, but if I did, I can’t find it. EDIT: Of course I found it after this article had been published!) The third label variant (that I know of) switched up the font and added a hypnotic swirl behind the Ghoul caricature.

I really wish they still made this stuff.

Hey, remember how I told you I loved the Vault of Golden Garbage segment on the show? Well, in the late-1990s, The Ghoul released a VHS tape that was nothing but the Vault of Golden Garbage! I had to have it, and as you can see, I did.

I haven’t watched this since probably 2000 and I can’t remember if it was all 1970s material or a mix of 1970s and 1980s, but I do remember it as being terrific. My only complaint? I don’t recall there being any Froggy skits included! I guess I could play it, but knowing my luck, that would be the exact moment my VCR decides to start eating tapes, despite having never shown an inclination for such things prior.

As you can see, I got this signed by the man himself at a personal appearance somewhere. I don’t remember which one, but I’m positive it wasn’t Borders or Frightvision. It might have been B-Ware Video, I know had some stuff with me to get signed, but I’m guessing this was the first night at High Point Furniture. (I take solace in the fact none of this really matters to anyone but me.)

Hey, dig this: an original program and wristband for Frightvision 2001! Yes, as proof that I always saved everything pertaining to this sort of thing (except that Froggy Squeezins bottle apparently), I still have the wristband from this show. Call it hoarder-ish if you like, but since there’s a real possibility that the number of people who still own these number in the single digits and I’m one of them, that means I win. Right?

I’m not going to go through it page-by-page, I don’t think anyone that has stayed with me this whole time (yeah, sure) will care, but I will say they had a pretty great line-up of guests that year. I wish I had taken advantage of that, but I didn’t, and now I have to live with it.

“Hiya gang! Hiya hiya hiya!”

This little (4 or 5 inches in height) Froggy doll isn’t an official Ghoul product, but rather something hailing from 1948! A whopping 70 years old! Yes, this is an original Froggy, made of rubber and fittingly manufactured in (where else?) Akron. Rempel put these out in conjunction with Smilin’ Ed McConnell’s Buster Brown Show, which is what Froggy is originally from. There were two versions of this doll that I know of: this smaller one, and a larger 9″ model. Both were made of rubber and squeaked when you squeezed them, though the squeaky feature of mine is long gone. Not that I really care about that; I just want my own Froggy to plunk his magic twanger whenever I come calling.

My brother actually bought this for himself years ago, and knowing what a Ghoul fan I am, gave it to me for Christmas sometime later. In the years since he first purchased it (it wasn’t cheap, but it wasn’t unreasonable either), these things have really gone up in price, especially if they still squeak and are in decent shape. And if you’ve got the original box, the pricey meal is on you tonight! The larger 9″ one is my new personal chaser; I could pathetically reenact Ghoul skits all by my lonesome with it if I so desired! (Minus the destruction, of course; these guys cost too much!)

This item is something I myself found in an antique store several years ago. They had gotten a load of old magazines, newspapers, and the like. Man, I cleaned up. Music mags with Springsteen on the cover, M*A*S*H final episode tributes, and the big find, this: a 1983 Scene Magazine featuring The Ghoul! This was one of those cases where you find something, and you’re so excited that you immediately become overly-protective of it, as if someone is gonna take it away from you. At least, I tend to get that way. (Is it just me?)

Oddly enough, I still haven’t read the Ghoul article in it; I’ve spent all my time finding a safe, flat place for the issue, with an eye towards getting it framed at some point in the future. Plus, with old newsprint, especially large-sized as in this case, I like to handle with the figurative kid gloves.

I have old promo cards from the WKBF days, but this artifact that popped up on eBay about two years ago is interesting enough to share here. I’ve never seen one before or since, so I had to snap it up. According to the seller, this flyer hails from the Halloween season and the gimmick was for kids to pin them to their costumes while trick-or-treating so they’d be more visible in the dark. Not a bad idea, and since it was The Ghoul, you know, it just fit with the season!

And dig that: “Courtesy of Clarkins.” Talk about a blast from Northeast Ohio’s past! I have no idea what year this flyer is from or how many times The Ghoul appeared at Clarkins (that or any other location), but the WKBF-TV notation is obvious proof it hails from somewhere in the 1970s.

And finally, a small piece of memorabilia, but one that gets more ‘use’ than anything else I’ve just shown you: a 35th anniversary Ghoul keychain, which proudly hangs with my keys. (As you’d expect of a, uh, keychain.) It’s about the size of a quarter, maybe a little larger, and man is it snazzy! (Of course, I have two of them; this one, and one still sealed brand new in its cute lil’ baggie.)

My pic makes it a little hard to see, but these were released in 2006, in conjunction with The Ghoul’s (say it with me) 35th anniversary. He was unfortunately no longer on local airwaves by that point, but nevertheless, he certainly came out with a boffo socko keepsake!

Looking Back:

The Ghoul really exemplified what I like to call “Cleveland Style Horror Hosting.” Sure, there was a general ‘spooky’ look and feel to the proceedings, but unlike many other hosts nationwide who tried to play into the vibes of their look and/or movies they were presenting, here it was all just a vehicle for wacky comedy. Not that comedy was anything new to horror hosting, it goes back to its earliest days, but just like there was a style of Polka music commonly deemed “Cleveland Style” (yes there was), around these parts there was a specific set of ingredients. Yes, there were the sets and the films presented, but underneath it all was a cacophony of (innocent) ethnic jokes, wild behavior and homemade lingo that gave our guys a specific “flavor.”

Sure, that can be leveled at other hosts outside of Ohio, but you know what? We’ve had such a preponderance of them, going back to the revolutionary Ghoulardi, that I’m calling it our own. Your mileage may vary, naturally.

Even though he’s out of Chicago, Rich Koz’s Svengoolie actually does a good job of presenting to a nationwide audience what I’m talking about. Sure, he has the look and movies down (better movies than anyone else, in fact), but comedy is the ultimate goal. It makes sense though; there’s a very real Ghoulardi/Cleveland connection with Sven. The original Svengoolie, Jerry G. Bishop, was a Cleveland disc jockey when Ghoualrdi ruled the town, and when Bishop started Svengoolie in Chicago in the early-1970s, the influence was apparent. He wasn’t a beatnik vampire, he was a hippie vampire. Instead of “Parma,” it was “Berwyn.” And so on and so forth. (I don’t mean to claim Bishop was a copy or rip-off of Ghoulardi in the least, just that Ghoulardi’s influence reached wider than the Northeast Ohio area.)

In fact, while I don’t find much of the current Svengoolie’s humor to my personal tastes, I appreciate that he keeps these ideals in play. Underneath that horrific exterior is a mostly-comedic interior. Also, the fact he keeps things relatively-light (whereas many current internet hosts go for an ‘extreme’ look and feel) recalls the “classic era” of horror hosting, of which he hails from anyway, and that I certainly like.

Anyway, The Ghoul, perhaps more than any other save for Ghoulardi, was a “Cleveland Style” host. At first glance, you’ve got this guy in an appropriately ghoulish get-up, but then you start really watching; he’s wild, he’s wacky, he’s got his own language, his own madcap style, and you realize there’s so much more to him than a “mere horror host.”

I would have loved to have grown up with him in the 1970s and 1980s, when his style of humor wasn’t only hip and dare I say subversive, but also capable of eliciting complaints from certain viewers in that more-staunch time period. When I began watching in the 1990s, no one was going to pitch a fit over blowing up a model car with a firecracker or making a gigantic mess of food as Chef Curdle.

What he instead attained was a level of, as I like to call it, “comforting mania.” It was a welcome respite from the real world, from school life, from more conventional comedy. Tuning in each week was a carnival of fireworks, wacky catchphrases, and terrible movies, and it was irresistible.

I couldn’t be there beforehand, but I’m appreciative of the years I did spend with The Ghoul. He mangled my medulla on a regular basis, and as a Ten Star General in the Ghoul Power Army, I’m grateful for that.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some glass to scratch and walls to climb…

Amvest Video’s Grampa Presents VHS Series: 1942’s The Corpse Vanishes (1988)

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Last year, I started the new year off right with Superhost hosting Bela Lugosi in 1931’s Dracula. Now, I’m starting this year off right, with Al “Grampa” Lewis hosting Bela Lugosi in one of the films he was relegated to doing after Dracula, uh, typecast him somethin’ fierce. Do I know how to live or what!

Hopefully you’ll recall my last Halloween post, in which I looked at Amvest Video’s release of 1939’s The Human Monster as part of their “Grampa Presents” video series of 1988. There was a long line of these tapes, but none of them are all that easily found nowadays, which meant that I really wanted one, any one. I mean, Al “Grandpa Munster in all but official name” Lewis hosting a bunch of cheap, primarily public domain movies? I need that in my life as much as possible.

Fortunately for my video collection (though unfortunately for my wallet), the acquisition of that first tape touched off a severe wave of, well, I don’t want to say obsession, but somewhere around that description. I thought I’d be happy with one or two, but in the months since that initial article, my Grampa Presents collection has grown to include a nice chunk of titles from the series (plus one of the horror movie trailer compilations Lewis hosted for Amvest, which is obviously related but not quite part of the line). Not too shabby considering I only got my first tape in early October, I’d say!

(And truth be told, even ‘regular,’ non-Grampa-branded Amvest releases of these movies have proven to be an area of high interest to me. I’ve managed to gather up several of those, too.)

Much of this had to do with the fascinating backstory, or lack thereof, regarding the line: basically, no one is quite sure how many of these Grampa Presents tapes were actually released. There is a long list of titles attributed to it (which we’ll get to in a bit), but only a portion of those have been confirmed to, you know, exist. Some of them pop up from time-to-time online, but then there’s others that have been confirmed but almost never show up. Even though I’ve managed to acquire a bunch of these tapes since that first one in October, I still stand by my statement in the earlier post that they range from “highly obscure” to “impossibly rare.” And those are just the ones I/we know about!

Anyway, needless to say, the saga continues now, with one of the titles in the series that’s on the easier end of the spectrum to find (relatively speaking), but was nevertheless one of my personal chasers…

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Bela Lugosi’s 1942 poverty row opus, The Corpse Vanishes. Cool winnins!

If you’ve read that Halloween post, you’ll know there were some problems with that first tape: namely, it was recorded in the wrong speed. Thus, the tape ran out out before the movie was over! This hurt me deep, but not as much as it would have had it been a movie I cared more for. I’ve never been big on The Human Monster (aka Dark Eyes of London), but The Corpse Vanishes is a different story; I’ve been fond of the film ever since first seeing it on Son of Ghoul waaay back in 1997 (one of my very first episodes – I had only begun watching Son of Ghoul a few weeks prior).

Because I actually like the movie, your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter was going to be exponentially more irked if there was something wrong with this tape. I’ll say upfront that all is well as far as that is concerned. It played from start to finish without incident, and given the EP recording speed, the picture quality wasn’t exceptional but certainly passable. Considering these videos were strictly budget affairs the whole way around, I was pleasantly surprised.

(Over the course of amassing these titles, and even the non-Grampa-hosted Amvest releases, I’ve learned a lot about the ups-and-downs of them. Indeed, thanks to how much more I know about all of this now, this is probably going to end up being the article I wanted to write last time. I know I’ll end up repeating a few things I said the first time around, so please bear with me.)

The cover art, though simplistic, is appealing. If you go and search out other images of the Grampa Presents line, you’ll see that the artwork can vary wildly from release to release. Some tapes use the original movie posters as a template, some (such as this one) use a real photograph, and others use hand drawn original artwork that can range from okay to, well, lets just say the hand drawn stuff sometimes isn’t the best. Make no mistake though, even the goofier-looking ones I love; these things have charm to spare!

As for this The Corpse Vanishes, like I said, it’s simplistic, but overall still very cool. The Bela image is appropriate, and the red and gray color scheme is attractive…

…Aw, who am I kidding? It’s all about the Grampa banner at the top. It totally takes the cover from “competent” to “I should probably have a poster of it made for my bedroom wall.” I’m seriously considering printing out copies of that “Grampa Presents” header and fixing them to some of my favorite tapes just to make them look better. “Grampa Presents: The Giant Spider Invasion.” “Grampa Presents: The Creeping Terror.” “Grampa Presents: M*A*S*H – Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.The possibilities are endless!

I should be getting a million dollars a week for these brilliant ideas.

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For as good as the front covers (can) look, the back covers are always pretty plain. Indeed, before you actually put the tape in the VCR, that’s where the budget roots of the video are first evident (unless you got one of those particularly cheesy-covered ones, in which case, that’s where the budget roots are first evident). Not that that bothers me in the slightest; budget tape charm and all that.

As far as the movie synopsis goes, it’s not exactly comprehensive or anything, but the one used here for The Corpse Vanishes isn’t quite as perfunctory as the descriptions on these tapes can be. Okay, it’s a straight two paragraphs without any frills, but hey, I’ve seen worse.

‘Course, it’s totally the “Grampa’s Ratings” feature that makes the back cover: three bats and the declaration of “GHOULISH GREAT!” AND it’s topped off with (ostensibly) Al Lewis’ personal signature to let you, the video consumer, know that this has his personal guarantee of quality. That’s awesome.

No kidding, for old public domain flicks like this, there were (and are!) untold multitudes of releases. So, something, anything that could make one particular version stand out from the rest could make the difference between an eventual purchase or continued shelf languishing. And you know, I think that’s another one of the things that I find so appealing about these releases; sure, there are countless ‘normal’ copies out there, but when you’ve got the option to watch the movie with Al Lewis bookends, well, why not take it? Sure, you may have to contend with some tracking issues, and no, the print used for the film won’t be Criterion Collection quality, but the ‘spooky horror hosted’ vibes of the tape easily makes up for all of that.

Also, I totally just thought of “Grampa Presents: Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster.Man that would that be awesome. I should be getting two million dollars a week for these brilliant ideas.

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There’s the cute lil’ tape itself. If you go back to my first Grampa Presents post, you’ll see the difference in the tape casing and reels. The Human Monster was in a more standard case but with thick, white, mega-cheap wheels. This one however uses more standard reels and a casing akin to the kind Memorex used for their late-1980s/early-1990s blank VHS tapes. (Not so unusual there; I’ve seen copies of Batman ’89 with the same casing.) Unlike The Human Monster‘s LP recording, The Corpse Vanishes is, as I said, in EP/SLP.

That anal-retentive description above isn’t just me being particularly pretentious; I do actually have a point to make. And that is: I’ve come to learn that there just isn’t any rhyme or reason to any of this. I’ve got a nice cache of individual Grampa titles, as well as several ‘plain’ Amvest titles, but there’s almost no standard formula to any them. Casings and reels vary between them, and more importantly, so do recording speeds. The majority were recorded in EP or LP, though there are some SP tapes out there, Grampa Presents included (of which I have three). As far as the Grampa versions go, the SP tapes seem to usually have a sticker of some sort on the back stating the fact (like this one), but EP and LP tapes have no such distinction. If you want to know before actually playing the tape, you generally have to look at the reels themselves (and with tapes that have larger wheels inside, that can sometimes be difficult), or gauging the weight of the tape itself (general rule of thumb: the heavier, the better).

Something else you need to be on the lookout for: Grampa’s host segments aren’t necessarily on each and every one. Yep, despite the appropriate “dis got Grampa” packaging, some tapes only feature him on the sleeve; the movie itself doesn’t feature the Al Lewis bookends. Four of my tapes demonstrate all the pomp and circumstance of Grampa, but he’s nowhere to be found on the actual recording (and three of those four are the aforementioned SP-recorded ones, so maybe those were later issues of some sort?).

Since both Grampa and non-Grampa releases of the same movie share identical catalog numbers, and because there’s nothing that singles out one version or the other on the actual label affixed to the tape itself, it’s certainly possible that opposing editions could accidentally be thrown into the opposite box, or maybe even as a substitute when they ran out of the ‘appropriate’ version? I’m just spit-balling here.

Or maybe, and this is just another hypothesis on my part, they didn’t want to pay licensing fees for Grampa’s filmed segments anymore (provided there were licensing fees; I don’t pretend to know how this all initially went down), and began intentionally leaving the host segments off of later tape runs, but kept paying to use his image on the cover for the “name” factor? Remember, the sleeve promises us Grampa’s guarantee, but it never actually says he’s going to be hosting the movie. Maybe Amvest eventually decided to go the Gene Shalit route?

BUT WAIT! Conversely, my Amvest copies of First Spaceship On Venus and Missile To The Moon are plain, no Grampa on the artwork, and yet, his host segments are included on the actual tapes! Surprise cool winnins! So theoretically, any Amvest, supposedly-non-Grampa release from 1988 under their “Vintage Video” subsidiary (which goes back to at least 1985, but those are more reminiscent of the Goodtimes tapes in cover-style from the period, and pre-date the Grampa Presents series by three years anyway) could conceivably be unmarked Grampa titles!

Like I said, there’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Just when I think I’ve got a handle on matters, something comes along that makes me rethink everything I thought I knew beforehand. I’ve had my preconceived notions, and time and again they were dashed.

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Lucky for me, The Corpse Vanishes does indeed include the Al Lewis intro and outro. This is a good thing, because I can easily see this movie as-is any number of ways, and if watching it via a cheapie VHS from the 1980s is the way I wanna go, there are plenty of options available there, too. All it takes is a quick run through eBay and a couple of bucks in my pocket. (Though after getting all these Grampa videos, the latter is decidedly tougher than the former!)

But by now, it’s pretty obvious to anyone taking even a cursory glance at this blog that I prefer my horror movies, uh, horror hosted. Oh sure, I love ’em straight too, but having grown up with all of the Northeast Ohio movie hosts (as well as the enduring fondness for the local hosts before my time, i.e. Ghoulardi), I have a strong affinity for anyone dressing up in cheesy/spooky garb and throwing out hackneyed puns. These movies are just so much more fun that way, at least to me. Plus, it’s an aspect of television broadcasting that has largely (but not completely) fallen by the wayside, making it all doubly-interesting to me.

Needless to say, horror hosting had its roots in television, but by the late-1980s, when home video had not only become entrenched as a de facto part of any well-rounded entertainment center but had also progressed to the point where it was actually feasible to have budget tapes such as this, the genre also found a place on home video. I.V.E.’s Thriller Video spearheaded the concept three years prior with their Elvira-hosted tape series (which we’ve seen here before), and in some ways (I also said this in that Halloween post), Amvest’s Grampa series feels like a more cut-rate version of those Elvira tapes.

Al Lewis’ Grampa was a natural fit for hosting horror and science fiction films, and a year before he started this Amvest series, he began hosting movies for TBS’ Super Scary Saturday, which we’ve seen here before, too. The Amvest Grampa Presents series was quite a bit lower-budget than the TBS show; these segments were shot in front of a green screen, with Grampa superimposed over still-images.

The very beginning of this intro, I hope you’ll recall, I didn’t get to see last time; the start of that tape was basically “in progress,” and by the time the tracking and whatnot had settled to a watchable state, Grampa was already into his pitch. Luckily, it’s all complete on The Corpse Vanishes, though the program starts playing early enough that tracking is still a bit of an issue.

So what did I miss the first time around? Not that much; shots from, I’m pretty sure, White Zombie open the whole thing. Then a two-framed, single-colored bat flies on-screen, neon lightning bolts hit it (to signify transformation, though it doesn’t make much sense when you think about it), and then, there’s Grampa! That’s right, the tape posits that Al Lewis has the power to transform into a cartoon bat at will. That…is pretty fantastic.

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For the Amvest tapes that actually include the Grampa footage on them, these host segments are the same for each and every one. What, you thought Lewis was gonna film a unique intro and outro for each and every title? Nope!

So, after that whole bat-transformation thing (and a few token movie clips, ostensibly from other films in the series), the scene then shifts to a Dr, Frankenstein-like lab. This is where the tape we looked at last time essentially began. It’s basically Al Lewis being Al Lewis; he had his shtick down to a science by that point. So, when he’s forced to banter with an off-screen “Igor” or explain to the audience that he’s not Paul Newman (apparently, people get them confused!), it actually does come off pretty funny. It would have been easy for this all to come off flat, awkward, forced, or what have you, but Lewis is so sincere and energetic that you can’t help but get a kick out of the whole thing.

I love the backdrop for this part of the intro: like I said, it looks like Frankenstein’s lab, albeit a still of said lab, and it’s accented by random neon-squigglies, which, you know, 1988 and all that.

There is one thing different for the respective intro of each tape: at one point during the opening segment, there’s a space where a voiceover (“Igor”) announces the title of the movie and who stars in it, all while Lewis looks on expectantly. ‘Course, sometimes (many times!) they forgot to add the voiceover, which means Lewis exclaims “that’s the one!” to absolutely nothing, which is actually pretty funny, albeit unintentionally (I said the same thing when I reviewed the Human Monster tape, and the trend continues not only on this one, but on several other Grampa tapes I have).

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And that brings us to the movie itself: 1942’s The Corpse Vanishes. I really, really like this movie. Like I said earlier, this tape was one of my personal chasers in the series, and it was basically because of how fond I am of The Corpse Vanishes.

This is one of the poverty row, cheapie horror films that Bela Lugosi was increasingly relegated to doing as the 1930s wound down and the 1940s began. Sure, he still had ‘big’ pictures now and then (1939’s Son of Frankenstein, 1941’s The Wolf Man, etc.), but his output was becoming increasingly less glitzy. I mean, by the last decade of his life, he was starring in Ed Wood movies, which were the very antithesis of glitzy!

It was all a double-edged sword; sure, films like this kept Bela working and in the public eye, but for a performer that started out as a star of big-time, A-list films, it had to sting.

That said, regardless of the source material, Bela was still magnetic. You can’t help but be entertained by the guy. It’s no exaggeration to say that he saved even the least of these films all by himself; a star of lesser magnitude probably wouldn’t have been able to pull it off. It’s the same deal with Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr.; if their names are on something, it’s worth at least a quick look, because they were that good.

Furthermore, many of these low-rent Bela flicks have lapsed into the public domain. The Corpse Vanishes, obviously, but also others (like The Devil Bat and The Ape Man). The good news there is that, back in the day and today as well, there’s always something with Lugosi’s name on it out there on store shelves. Make no mistake, Bela is still a name draw. Sure, these public domain films (with the possible exception of White Zombie) aren’t really the definitive way to introduce someone (or yourself!) to Lugosi’s work, but they’re cheap and readily available, and if nothing else, like I said before, the guy had a magnetism about him that carried even the weakest films in his canon.

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As for The Corpse Vanishes itself, no one will ever claim it to be among Bela’s finest work, but taken for what it is (a wartime, poverty row horror film), it’s definitely an entertaining watch. It’s so simple, quaint, and despite the plot of a mad botanist killing virginal brides, somehow innocent. It almost seems like the kind of movie that could have only come out in the 1940s, with all of the ‘big’ Universal horror flicks of the previous decade to take inspiration from, and all of the sci-fi stuff of the 1950s yet to come. Sure, it’s something that probably could have been made in the 1930s, but it just feels so 1942.

The plot, yeah, it’ll sound like fairly formula stuff. And you know, it is. I’d never argue otherwise. But again, taken for what it is, it’s still fun. Lugosi plays a mad scientist (gee, you don’t say!), one Dr. Lorenz, who has a shrewish, aging wife. Wifey wants to stay young and beautiful forever, so Lorenz concocts a plan wherein he’ll poison the orchids sent to brides on their wedding day. When they collapse from said poison (and appear dead, though they’re really not), he kidnaps the body and takes it back to his lab (hence, “The Corpse Vanishes”). Once back at the lab, he extracts vital fluids from the bride and then injects them into his wife, which temporarily renews her youth.

It’s a scheme that has any number of holes in it (and it doesn’t take much for the viewer to realize that, either), but Lorenz goes ahead with the plan anyway. Eventually, this all attracts the attention of journalist Patricia Hunter, who is eager to get a story out of the deal, and sets off to get to the bottom of things…

Look, you don’t have to rely solely on my word for any of this; this film has been in the public domain for years, so check it out for yourself here. It’s only a little over an hour long, so have at it next time your favorite prime time drama is in reruns!

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Despite the inherent cheapness of the film, it still manages to pull off some pretty cool scenes. I mean, geez, Bela and his wife sleep in coffins! With movies like this, where the budget is obviously on the really cheap side, the idea of the baddies nappin’ in coffins is a good, simple way to get the creep factor going, even though it’s become a pretty common trope. Heck, it was probably a common trope back then.

But, in that small way, the movie even more recalls 1931’s Dracula, and that can never be a bad thing when Lugosi is in the vicinity (even if it does plays into that typecasting that hurt his career so much).

They sleep in coffins, man!

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Another cool aspect: Bela’s basement laboratory.

I really like Bela’s mad scientist lab. It’s not especially expansive, and it’s clearly limited by Monogram’s $5 budget, but at the same time, it’s so sincere. The very presence of a cut-rate lab just adds volumes to the film, though I’d be hard pressed to really explain why. Just seems more ‘complete’ that way, I guess?

Bela’s got a cool lab, man!

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Oddly enough, the ending card is rendered as a still-frame, complete with the dust and whatnot frozen in it, all while the music continues to play. I’m not sure if Amvest themselves did that, or if that’s how it came to them. The who and why of this I couldn’t say, but it’s a little strange.

In addition to countless budget videotape releases such as this one, The Corpse Vanishes was also the subject of an early episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which is probably how many people recognize the film nowadays. Being one of the first episodes of the national iteration of the series, it’s not one of their stronger efforts, though things always go better with MST3K.

‘Course, things always go better with Al “Grampa” Lewis, too…

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Which brings us to the part I was totally begrudged the first time around: Grampa’s outro segment. Like his intro, these were always the same for each tape.

Playing off his whole “comical undead vampire” act, the first thing he says once returning from the movie is “Oooh, that was so scary, it scared the blood right back into my veins!The Corpse Vanishes is many things, but by 1988, I really can’t see too many people finding it genuinely frightening. Was it even that scary back in ’42? Anyway, Grampa then follows that statement up with “Blood and gore, that’s my meat and potatoes!” That applies even less to The Corpse Vanishes, but the dialog absolutely adds to the atmosphere and general theme of the tapes nevertheless.

Plus, the outro segment was the same for every movie presented in the line, so what can you really expect in the way of accuracy?

That said, given the jokey Grampa open and close to the tapes, and most of the titles in the series, much of it is (well, was) pretty safe for the kids to watch. I made this comment last time, but it seems like these tapes would make good TV viewing for those that were too young for trick-or-treating but still wanted a Halloween experience.

Well, most of the movies fit that bill, anyway…

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This is the part I was pretty bummed about not having on my first Grampa Presents tape: after coming back from the movie and goofing around for a bit, Lewis then presents a “complete” list of titles in the Grampa Presents line!

This is important, because this is the only solid listing we have (that I know of anyway) for the Grampa Presents titles. Now, it’s highly doubtful that all of these were released with the Grampa branding; some of these were released by Amvest back in 1985, though with the same catalog numbers as given here. My guess is that all of these movies were, at some point, released by Amvest, but not all of them featured Grampa.

I make that distinction because Lewis himself says that each and every one will be presented by him, which, I’ve got four releases (Monster From Green Hell, Giant From The Unknown, The Living Head, and The Last Woman On Earth) that have him on the cover but not actually hosting. But then, I also have two that don’t mention him on the cover but he does host (the aforementioned First Spaceship On Venus and Missile To The Moon). I said it before, I’ll say it again: there’s just no rhyme or reason to any of this.

Throughout the scroll, Lewis speaks via voiceover, making generic comments such as “Ooh, I remember that one!” When he’s not being generally excited over the offerings, he’s yelling at the unseen (and unheard) Igor about his eating habits; apparently, Igor refuses to learn how to use a knife, fork and spoon.

I said before that this shtick was funny rather than awkward. Mostly, it is. However, for this spot, it’s clearly just filling time. I mean, it makes sense; it was either have Lewis babble in the background or have dead silence as the titles scroll, I get it, but yeah, his dialog here is amusing but pretty much just filler.

The list of titles consists mostly of standard public domain stuff: The Little Shop Of Horrors, The Terror, and so on. But, there are some really surprising offerings, too. Alice, Sweet Alice and The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant are there, and those are both confirmed to have actually been released. (They’re also definitely NOT for kids!) And, there’s a few that haven’t been confirmed to have been released as part of the Grampa Presents series (that I know of) but MAN I hope they were; namely, Night Of The Living Dead, Godzilla Vs. Megalon and Vampyr. You have no idea how badly I’d flip if I stumbled across any one of those three at a thrift store.

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After the scroll finishes, Lewis then goes into where you can actually buy these tapes. You need to look for the tapes with his face, which as we’ve seen, wasn’t quite true, though I doubt Lewis knew that while filming. (In an argument with the still unseen and unheard Igor: “Forget Tom Selleck with the mustache and everything! MY face and the official ratings are on the box!” That’s right, Al “Grampa” Lewis just referenced Magnum while pitching horror movies – now THAT is awesome!)

What’s more, there was a specific Amvest “Casket of Horrors” display for video stores; how cool is that! Given the rarity of most Amvest tapes nowadays (both with and without Grampa on ’em), distribution was almost certainly very limited. I’d like to say for every 20 online listings for a similar title from Goodtimes, there’s only 1 for an Amvest, but even that wouldn’t be true; Amvest tapes are generally few and far between.

Therefore, I can’t imagine too many of these “Casket of Horrors” displays making it out there, and even less surviving to this day. Who knows if any were even produced beyond the one seen in this outro. Nevertheless, it goes without saying that I. NOW. NEED. ONE. Coolest Halloween party decoration ever!

As far as I’m concerned, it just doesn’t get much cooler than the image above. That screencap succinctly sums (allitration) up everything that is right with these tapes and the whole horror movie ideal that they present so vividly. Would it be wrong for me to create posters of that image above and hang them all around my house? Because I’m coming dangerously close to doing just that.

Well, maybe just one to hang up somewhere…

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AND, if you couldn’t find one or any of these tapes in an actual brick-and-mortar store (and odds are most people couldn’t), Grampa gives you the details on how to order direct from Amvest! And even with ordering direct from the company, these were budget affairs; $13 was a pretty cheap price for a VHS tape in ’88. Granted, you wouldn’t be getting something on par with a, say, CBS/FOX release, but still…

Rahway is pronounced “Raw Way,” to which Grampa takes particular delight. “These are our people! That’s the way we like it – raw!” I’ll let you make up your own mind regarding that bit of dialog.

I wonder what happened if/when someone ordered a tape that didn’t actually exist as a Grampa version? Refund? Replacement? Given that this info is shown right after the list of videos supposedly available, while I don’t think each and every title had a respective Grampa Presents version, my guess would be that, at the very least, the person ordering would get a non-Grampa edition. Like I said before, I suspect there were Amvest releases for all or most of these, but which ones were released with some form of Al Lewis involvement is the big question here. I don’t know, and it seems nobody else really does, either.

Anyway, keeping up the act to the very end, Grampa admits that the 4 to 6 weeks delivery time is due to the bats in your neighborhood not flying that fast. Yeah, Al Lewis posits that your tape would be delivered by a bat. How can you not like the guy when he says things like that?

Grampa’s final pitch? Go out and buy Amvest videos, because if you don’t, one night when it’s dark and you think you’re alone, you won’t be – he’ll be there. He then bursts into that famous Grampa laugh as the screen fades out and then into the final image of the tape:

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As a final touch, the copyright info contains computer-generated blood steadily dripping down the screen! And to make things complete, ‘spooky’ music plays in the background! Very, very cool!

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The Corpse Vanishes is public domain, and thus, there is no shortage of varying releases. Mystery Science Theater 3000, Son of Ghoul, any number of other horror hosts out there, any number of cheapo DVDs out there, free and clear online downloads, there are countless options available to you. It’s not even remotely hard to find a copy of this movie.

But, if you want to watch the film in a way that only the late-1980s video era could present, Amvest’s release of the movie via the “Grampa Presents” line of tapes is the best way to go. It’s not perfect, it’s not a restored print of the film or anything like that, but as far as sheer coolness goes, it’s hard to beat. This is a perfect slice of late-1980s budget VHS memorabilia, one that I am absolutely thrilled to have in my collection.

Will I ever do another post on one of these tapes? Well, probably not. Maybe if/when I get the ever-elusive Grampa Presents version of 1922’s Nosferatu, or a previously ‘unknown’ release, but otherwise, I’d just be saying the same things about the Al Lewis segments over and over, with only the movie review portion changing. I mean, you never know, but as of right now, I’m pretty happy with this one as my final word on matters.

I’ve actually wound up gaining a real respect for Amvest. They had a real quirky sensibility, and as these Grampa tapes prove, they occasionally went out of the usual budget video “domain” and did their own thing. When I started collecting these (only a few months ago), I never thought I’d feel that way.

Furthermore, in whatever small way I may have helped unravel some of the questions regarding these Grampa Presents tapes, even through the confusion and disappointments, I enjoyed progressively learning more and more about them. There just aren’t many companies and their associated video releases that I can say that about.

And needless to say, I still want more of these! The search will continue! I won’t rest until I can fill an entire shelf with Al Lewis-hosted cinema!


Hey, wait, hold up! We’re not quite done yet!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the entire list of Grampa Presents titles as given during the end segment of this tape! Besides numbering them and correcting a few grammatical errors, I have also gone ahead and listed the titles that are actually confirmed as being released as part of the Grampa Presents series. Besides what I personally own, I am citing The VCR from Heck (these two pages specifically), VHSCollector.com (this page in particular), the Mike’s VHS Collection page over at Cinemasscre, as well as various online sales I have personally seen. Also, here’s a specific thread on the subject over at the Our Favorite Horror Hosts forum. (And yes, I plan to share what I’ve learned there as soon as this page goes up!) Please check out those sites once you’re done here; there’s a wealth of information not only on these Grampa Presents tapes, but on so many other subjects, as well.

Keep in mind that while this is the complete list of titles as given on this tape, the ones marked as “confirmed” are by no means the final say on the matter. These are just the ones that *I* am aware of. If you know of or even own one that hasn’t been confirmed as existing, hey, speak up in the comments! (Pictures would be helpful, too!)

And of course, the possibility exists that this actually isn’t the complete list of titles; there may well have been further videos released that included the host segments or appropriate packaging. I have no evidence of anything like that ever happening, every title I’ve found or seen has corresponded appropriately to this list, but hey, you never know!

(* = Indicates that I personally own a copy of that title, and thus I know for sure it was released by Amvest in some form at some point. [Confirmed] = Indicates this title was indeed released as part of the Grampa Presents series, either with him on the tape itself, on the packaging, or both. If Al Lewis is present in or on the tape in any way, I’m considering it officially released as part of the series.)

1. VV-430 – Night Of The Living Dead [Confirmed]*
2. VV-432 – The Little Shop Of Horrors*
3. VV-439 – The Terror* [Confirmed]*
4. VV-442 – The Devil Bat* [Confirmed]*
5. VV-443 – Horror Hotel [Confirmed]
6. VV-446 – The Ape Man* [Confirmed]*
7. VV-458 – Frankenstein’s Daughter*
8. VV-471 – Godzilla Vs. Megalon*
9. VV-476 – White Zombie*
10. VV-501 – Ghosts On The Loose* [Confirmed]
11. VV-515 – The House Of Exorcism [Confirmed]
12. VV-516 – The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant [Confirmed]*
13. VV-517 – Spider Baby [Confirmed]
14. VV-518 – Spooks Run Wild [Confirmed]*
15. VV-519 – The Indestructible Man
16. VV-520 – The Corpse Vanishes [Confirmed]*
17. VV-521 – Phantom From Space [Confirmed]*
18. VV-522 – Who Killed Doc Robin?
19. VV-523 – Killers From Space [Confirmed]*
20. VV-524 – The Human Monster [Confirmed]*
21. VV-525 – Scared To Death [Confirmed]*
22. VV-526 – The Vampire Bat
23. VV-527 – Death Race 2000*
24. VV-528 – The Phantom Of The Opera (1925)*
25. VV-529 – Invisible Ghost [Confirmed]*
26. VV-530 – Bride Of The Gorilla [Confirmed]*
27. VV-531 – Carnival Of Souls [Confirmed]*
28. VV-532 – Witch’s Curse [Confirmed]*
29. VV-533 – Snow Creature [Confirmed]
30. VV-534 – Battle Of The Worlds*
31. VV-535 – Dementia 13 [Confirmed]*
32. VV-536 – Alice, Sweet Alice [Confirmed]
33. VV-537 – Vampyr
34. VV-538 – Radar Men From The Moon (Part 1)
35. VV-539 – Radar Men From The Moon (Part 2)
36. VV-540 – The Death Kiss [Confirmed]*
37. VV-541 – Nosferatu [Confirmed]*
38. VV-542 – Yog, Monster From Space [Confirmed]
39. VV-543 – First Spaceship On Venus [Confirmed]*
40. VV-544 – The Crawling Eye [Confirmed]*
41. VV-545 – Giant From The Unknown [Confirmed]*
42. VV-546 – Immediate Disaster
43. VV-547 – The Last Woman On Earth [Confirmed]*
44. VV-548 – The Living Head [Confirmed]*
45. VV-549 – Mesa Of Lost Women [Confirmed]
46. VV-550 – Missile To The Moon [Confirmed]*
47. VV-551 – Monster From Green Hell [Confirmed]*
48. VV-552 – Nightmare Castle [Confirmed]
49. VV-553 – The Robot Vs. The Aztec Mummy
50. VV-554 – Mars Attacks The World*
51. VV-555 – Satan’s Satellites
52. VV-556 – The Island Monster
53. VV-557 – Wild Women Of Wongo [Confirmed]
54. VV-558 – Wrestling Women Vs. The Aztec Mummy
55. VV-559 – Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (Michael Rennie) [Confirmed]
56. VV-560 – She Demons [Confirmed]*
57. VV-561 – Creature From The Haunted Sea [Confirmed]
58. VV-562 – The Ape [Confirmed]*
59. VV-563 – The Phantom Creeps [Confirmed]

———————
Special Compilations:

60. VS-005 – Grampa’s Silly Scaries – Vintage Horror-Themed Cartoons [Confirmed]
61. VS-006 – Grampa’s Monster Movies – Vintage Horror Movie Trailers [Confirmed]*
62. VS-009 – Grampa’s Sci-Fi Hits – Vintage Science Fiction Movie Trailers [Confirmed]*
63. VS-010 – More Silly Scaries – Vintage Horror-Themed Cartoons [Confirmed]

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!