*sigh* But Halloween this year comes with a caveat; it’s our first without Ron “The Ghoul” Sweed. As is well known by now, the horror hosting legend passed away on April 1st of this year. For countless fans, including yours truly, it was of course an incredibly sad event; I’ve sorta gotten used to it by now, but for months, it was so hard to realize, and sometimes still is, that he’s really gone. It’s a strange feeling; even though we’re now over 20 years for much of his WBNX TV-55 run, time has passed by so fast, and by and large those shows don’t feel that old to me, that yeah, sometimes it feels like “but he was just on TV, he can’t be gone!”
So, as a final tribute to the host that colored the lives of so many in Northeast Ohio and Detroit, let’s do one more Ghoul Power post before the year is out. Is there a more appropriate time than October 31st? I posit that there is not.
You may be looking at that header and wondering “why do an episode from September 8 for a Halloween post?” A fair question, to which I have two answers: 1) I strongly feel that horror host material from any date on the calendar works for a Halloween post because, uh, it’s a horror host. 2) Even though this originally aired in early September, there’s a strong Halloween vibe to the proceedings, even beyond what there would normally be, which we’ll see as we go along through this episode recap.
There’s an additional reason, too: there was no proper Halloween episode for the show that year. Indeed, this was the penultimate show of his ‘prime’ run on 55; from his debut on the channel on July 10, 1998, The Ghoul ran at 11:30 PM Fridays. At the time of this airing, that would continue for exactly one more week, and then starting on September 24, he’d be moved to Sundays at midnight (technically Monday mornings, so September 25 if y’all wanna get technical), and his movie selections greatly (but not always) altered drastically. As such, this was one of the last times Northeast Ohioans would be able to see him on the day/time that was a natural fit for him. (I could review his final show at 11:30 PM Fridays on September 15 for this article, but I’ll save that for a theoretical 20th anniversary post next year. No promises though; there’s always the chance I’ll have tired of this blog by then.)
You wanna know what The Ghoul got to run for Halloween 2000? Alice in Wonderland. As in, the Disney movie. No sound effects, no drop-ins, just the movie straight; obviously it was in 55’s movie package and subsequently foisted upon the Main Maniac. Even though there were some Halloweeny host segments, they still didn’t really make the episode feel ‘right’.
That was all in the future however; for the time being, all we knew at home was that The Ghoul was where he belonged, running the kind of movie that belonged, and all of it marinating in the vibes that was and is Northeast Ohio in the fall. (Okay, okay, technically it wasn’t fall yet. It wasn’t officially fall until September 22, 2000; yes, I looked it up. But c’mon, August was over, schools were back in, for all intents and purposes that’s fall!)
So anyway, this episode. After the show’s opening theme, the episode started with a computer animated sequence in which a Ghoul-shaped spaceship…flied through a black hole? I’m really not sure how to describe it, and screencaps won’t be of any help. So instead, let’s first talk about the movie: 1963’s The Terror. We’ll get to The Ghoul stuff afterwards.
The Terror has long been a public domain staple. Over the decades, there have been countless home video releases, and needless to say, numerous television airings. With a big name cast and crew and colorful Gothic scenery, it’s a natural fit for horror hosting. A Roger Corman product, the movie was hastily filmed to take advantage of the still-standing sets from The Raven (the story goes they were basically being torn down *during* filming), so it sure looks better than it has any right to. The plot leaves something to be desired, but there’s something oddly entrancing about the movie nevertheless.
Jack Hill and Francis Ford Coppola (!) were apparently among the uncredited directors for the flick, but it’s the two stars that really raise the figurative eyebrows (and make this a natural for releasing/televising over and over and over…not to mention that whole public domain thing): Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson! Easily the most immediately visible aspect of the film, the two big name stars (well, later-to-be big name star, in Jack’s case) basically carry a film whose plot is kinda awful.
Set in the 1800s, the movie concerns Napoleonic officer Andre Duvalier (Jack, in a role I like to imagine he’s pretty proud of), who, while following a mysterious girl, happens upon the mansion of one Baron Von Leppe (Karloff). It seems the girl Duvalier was following is some sort of apparition, the consequence of the Baron’s murdered wife 20 years prior…or something like that. Also the Baron isn’t really the Baron, and then there’s a flood in the mansion’s crypt, a witch that gets struck by lightning, and…and… Look, just go and read the the summary in that Wikipedia link, okay? It explains things better than I ever could. (Luckily, since the movie’s public domain, I don’t have to fret too much about fair use and details here!)
For years I hated The Terror, for the simple fact that it was seemingly everywhere. Too many TV airings, enough VHS releases to trip me as I walked down the street, and a movie I didn’t like enough to make me okay with any of that. The Terror was an ever-present thorn in your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter’s side, man.
But you know, in more recent times I’ve come to gain some kind of appreciation for the film. No, it’s not very good technically, but somehow, it manages to be entertaining nevertheless. The plot is what it is, but that sumptuous early-60s color, terrific Gothic scenery, generally ‘spooky’ atmosphere, and of course Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson, it all combines to create a film that just works, inexplicable as that may sound. To me it’s more of a flick that you let ‘wash over’ you than one you seriously sit down to watch (if that makes any sense), but that’s to its benefit, not detriment.
(And besides, no matter how bad you think The Terror may be, Karloff made worse. Seriously, I watched House of Evil – one of those U.S./Mexican productions released after his death – a few months back, and bluntly put, that film is unwatchable crap. The Terror manages to attain a weird level of endearment, if for no other reason than because of who it stars, how it looks and the fun backstory behind it. House of Evil has no such qualities; even Karloff couldn’t save it, and that’s not a statement I make lightly. The Terror is a five star tour de force compared to that garbage.)
Whatever plot issues The Terror may have had in the first place were only exacerbated when this film showed up on The Ghoul Show. I’ve said this before, but at that time, you didn’t really tune into The Ghoul to watch a full-fledged horror flick. With all of the editing that could hit a given movie, and with numerous (and often quite lengthy) host segments littering the breaks, the film sometimes seemed like an afterthought. Add in all the sound effects and drop-ins and such that The Ghoul employed, and frequently you got less of a movie and more of a random patchwork of scenes – and rest assured, that was part of the fun!
The Terror certainly didn’t make it through unscathed, either. Why would this film be an
exception? The plot, or what there was of a plot, was made even more incomprehensible with all the cutting to fit more Ghoul stuff in. (Good!) One sequence, a somewhat-disturbing falcon attack, was excised entirely, for example.
But like I said, that was part of the fun. And, things were made all the better with the sound effects, music, and as you can see here, humorous “fact bubbles” (not unlike Pop-Up Video; remember that show?) that The Ghoul would throw at a given feature. That was also, needless to say, part of the fun, too!
The Terror isn’t exactly Night of the Living Dead when people think of “classic Halloween movies.” At least, I don’t think of it as one. And yet, it somehow still ‘fits’, even beyond the genre it’s a member of. The look, the feel, heck, even the title, it just seems like the kind of flick you’d have playing in the background of a Halloween party, or as you wind down the night in front of the TV, or what have you. Like I said before, this episode aired on September 8, 2000, but given this film and some of the Ghoul material we’re about to look at, it feels like a good match for today. Well, it does to me, anyway.
Okay, now it’s time for The Ghoul stuff!
All though they could be mixed in at any time in the show, typically the first commercial break lead-out sketch was a blow-up segment – one of the chief hallmarks of The Ghoul. Going back to the Ghoulardi days, people would send in models and the like to be blown up on-the-air. I wasn’t around for Ghoulardi, but in The Ghoul’s case, usage of “the boom-booms” was practically an art form. A noisy, destructive, funny art form.
This time around, someone sent in a werewolf riding in what appeared to be a hot rod (and complete with a cool full moon back drop to boot). As would occasionally happen, the first boom boom was a dud, leading The Ghoul to come back in the shot to try again. The second one worked, obliterating the wolf, but the rod seemed relatively unscathed. I always kinda preferred it when every part of whatever was being blown up was, erm, blown up (i.e., leave no piece un-destroyed!), but the werewolf was obviously the main attraction here, so mission accomplished.
The first proper host segment was an example of my favorite kind of Ghoul bit; there was an actual purpose behind it, but mainly The Ghoul was just messing around. I always like it when a host is more ad libbing and shooting the breeze with the crew than ‘doing’ something, and, well, The Ghoul was pretty good at that sort of thing. Here, he takes the opportunity to superfluously throw a (lit) boom boom on the floor, dance around, take some good-natured digs at Wilma Smith (the channel 8 anchorwoman was a favorite target of The Ghoul), mention an article on Jungle Bob, comment on the bottle caps used for bottles of Ghoul Brew (evidently they weren’t all twist-offs!), all before getting to the real point of the segment: that coming October 7th, The Ghoul would be appearing at the 3rd annual “Pumpkin Chuckin'” event in Madison, Ohio, in which pumpkins were catapulted high into the air to the delight of all. Evidently this is a real, nationwide thing, which I honestly did not know until I went looking to see if this Madison, OH event still happens. (I couldn’t tell. I don’t think so?) In addition to showing some footage of the chuckin’ from the previous year, The Ghoul mentions he and the crew would be there all day, there would be a Ghoul lookalike contest for the kids, and a pumpkin eating contest. I imagine a general air of frivolity, too. Honestly, it sounds pretty awesome and something I’d actually consider going to. As you can plainly see, despite the September air date of this episode, the Halloween festivities were already in motion.
Footage from The Ghoul’s appearance at this Pumpkin Chuckin’ event would air on the show that October…after it had been moved to Sunday nights. What was the movie that night, you ask? A 1990 made-for-TV drama starring Rue McClanahan and Patrick Duffy titled Children of the Bride. Yes, really. If you read my 20 year Ghoul Power tribute article (linked at the start of this article), you’d know the Sunday/Monday era of the show could hold some surprises, some of them pleasant, but then, there were other times when movies like that had to be shown. No sound effects or drop-ins either. Suddenly Alice in Wonderland don’t seem so bad no more!
Even though this episode is more of an autumnal piece, because it took place so soon after summer, there’s a lot of looks at places The Ghoul went and things he did during that time. (It was also a reminder that the school year had just started, not an ideal situation for kids like me!) Much of this footage is interesting, if for no other reason than to see The Ghoul out and about – something that sadly can’t happen anymore – but it’s not very conducive to an episode recap. So, I’ll probably power through much of it.
First off, The Ghoul and crew stopped at a basement sale, which appeared to be not unlike your common yard or garage sales…except in a basement. From sounds of it, this was a genuine surprise to (I surmise) the home owner, who nevertheless got a kick out of it. The Ghoul also carried the big giant “Kielbasi of Wisdom” (a big plush kielbasi) around for much of this on-location stuff, which is just such a Ghoul thing to do. They got a big kick out of the home owner’s ecstatic declarations that this is “the real Ghoulardi,” so much so that they repeated the audio as the segment fades to break.
The next segment found The Ghoul fiddling with a pair of wax vampire lips, because according to him, “Halloween comes and goes so fast, you better start celebrating while you can. So that’s why we’re doing it now!” (See, told you this review was a fit for today!)
That’s followed by declarations of “Osaka!” which then led into them playing of “Who Stole the Kishka?” not unlike whenever “Parma?!” was yelled. (Something else that went back to the Ghoulardi days.) According to The Ghoul, this was for the benefit of their new viewers that were now seeing the show in Japan; I forget the genesis of this but methinks this was just a running gag. I mean, unless there was some wacky satellite hookup or something, could they really get the show in Japan? I don’t think the show reached outside of Northeast Ohio, let alone Japan! (Still, the “Osaka!” declarations are funny, and again, such a Ghoul thing to do.)
There’s some footage of The Ghoul performing on-stage at some event (I’m a little unclear on where, but it looks like an actual house party that The Ghoul & Mr. Classic (of WNCX’s Saturday Night House Party program) showed up to. The Ghoul did a little emceeing and performing, and it’s fun but not really conducive to screencapping.
HOWEVER, the next bit of personal appearance footage, from the Parma location Daffy Dan’s, has a really great moment that I wish I could have simulated. Someone actually asked The Ghoul to sign their car! Now that’s awesome! I wonder what happened to the car? Do they still have it? Did they put a protective coating over the signature? I’d hope that if they got rid of the vehicle later, they at least kept the door!
There was more fun to be had at Daffy Dan’s too, this time at the Lakewood location. (There used to be several Daffy Dan stores, though near as I can tell there’s only one left, which is a shame considering what a Cleveland institution it was/is. The only one left seems to be in Lakewood; same as this one here?)
It seems like this appearance is where he first got the giant “Kielbasi of Wisdom,” so of course he took the opportunity to pummel Froggy with it. (Footage of The Ghoul tossing the kielbasi at Froggy and knocking him down was later used in the intro to the Sunday/Monday shows, later in 2001 if I recall correctly.)
The Froggy abuse is fun, but what I’ve really got my eye on here is in the top screencap: lookit all that Ghoul merch! Daffy Dan’s was one of the local places they got to regularly stock his stuff back then, and just from this clip alone I’m seeing bottles of Turn Blue Ghoul Brew and Froggy Squeezin’s, plastic travel mugs, and t-shirts. *sigh* If I could only go back in time…
(No kidding, I collect broadcasting-related mugs and glassware and such, as you well know, so my failure to get one of those plastic travel mugs, or swanky glass mugs they also sold around that time, was a serious mistake on my part.)
Next segment had The Ghoul with the kielbasi on the set, waxing on the possibilities it opens up. “It just sort of, uh, creates a plethora of adventures to do stuff with!” Funny!
Also on the docket: The Ghoul got a new stool. “It swivels?!” He seemed pleased by the addition.
There was also a very brief look at the then-new Ghoul Power bumper sticker, which I believe was still available up until maybe a year ago or so? Again, if I could only go back in time…
(This is all followed by more on-location footage, including some at the start of the next commercial break, that quite frankly I don’t have much to say about. It’s neat, it’s interesting, but out of context, I’m sort of at a loss for words. The abundance of location shots is, I’m guessing, why some of the regular features of the show at the time, the vintage clips via The Vault of Golden Garbage and Jungle Bob’s animals segments in particular, weren’t present in this episode. The Vault would occasionally be skipped when there was a lot of extra material, but Jungle Bob rarely was. Or maybe JB was just busy that week, I don’t know, it’s not like I was there.)
Interspersed throughout all of the personal appearance bits is one more legit host segment, including a reminder for Pumpkin Chuckin’ (I wonder if they knew the show was heading towards Sunday nights, and that’s why they were pushing the event so much, even though it was just under a month in the future? Take advantage of the more visible slot while they could?). Also something that’s really, really cool, despite being beyond common at the time: The Ghoul showing off Turn Blue Ghoul Brew. Not one, but two this time. The Ghoul: “Drinkin’ in stereo, boys and girls!”
(For those unaware, Turn Blue Ghoul Brew was, obviously, The Ghoul’s very own beverage, a non-alcoholic concoction that was basically blue root beer. It was tasty, and it really turned your tongue blue! I still have some unopened bottles, which I liken to expensive wines but far cooler, cause, uh, blue. Later, Froggy Squeezin’s were released, which was a green lemon-line drink, also non-alcoholic, and also tasty, though I only had it one time. The story behind that is in my 20 years tribute article that was linked to earlier.)
And finally, the outro segment. It’s a pretty long one, over 8 minutes, and after showing off the giant sub the crew had for after the show, some random goodies, and yet another reminder for Pumpkin Chuckin’, it was time for The Ghoul to bounce on out of there for the week, as he customarily did at the end of each show.
It was never fun seeing the show end, but it takes on an added, bittersweet air now. Not just because The Ghoul has since passed, but also because, frankly, we just wouldn’t be able to watch the show like this for much longer. Next week was it. (The following week’s movie was 1940’s The Ape, also starring Karloff, but unlike The Terror is a film I genuinely love – though it took me years to warm up to it, as well.) While there were definitely some highs to the Sunday/Monday era (and, though I had stupidly checked out for virtually all of it, I assume the Friday night/Saturday morning 3:30 AM era that started in fall 2002, too), this was pretty much it for ‘prime’ Ghoul Power. Despite having the longest run of any of his stints on Cleveland television (about 5 1/2 years), The Ghoul’s stay on WBNX as people think about it was just about over here.
I didn’t know about the move to Sundays beforehand; it was announced the following week, almost casually, though The Ghoul obviously wasn’t happy with it. Did they know about the slot move, was it something they were hoping could be resolved in time, or was it sprung on them like it was the viewers? I just don’t know. I was gutted when it happened, though time and nostalgia and an objective mind has allowed me to greater appreciate much of what came after, much more than I did back then. Nevertheless, something special was in the process of passing on September 8, 2000, whether anyone knew it or not.
All that said, this was a good, ‘solid’ episode. Maybe it didn’t do anything earthshaking in the context of the series as a whole, but the on-location footage was a nice reminder of when The Ghoul really got around town. Furthermore, the in-studio stuff was, as always, entertaining. I’m guessing there was a loose framework to what he wanted to talk about, but it seems that The Ghoul would just ad lib most of his material, which of course was a big part of the atmosphere. Add to that a classic (well, “classic”) movie that lent itself well to the program, despite the butchering it received, and yeah, a real solid example of Ghoul Power. There’s an additional note of sadness: just over a year later, the world would go mad, and that indefinable aura of innocence we had beforehand would be gone forever. But that was in the future; for the time being, no such worries haunted the general populace. Or at least, they didn’t haunt the grade school kids like me who rabidly looked forward to these Friday night sojourns into lunacy.
And with that, our big Halloween post comes to a close. Have a happy and safe holiday everybody! Depending on how industrious I feel in the future, well, I’ll see you when I see you!