Ah yes, the big day is here once again. From decorations and television programming dedicated to the holiday proper, to the simple look and feel of ‘real life’ outside, I love the ambiance of this day and October in general – and that’s something even stupid dumb COVID-19 can’t ruin. Not totally, anyway.
I know, I know; I didn’t post as much as I had initially hoped to this month. Hey, I did say it’d be iffy! Nevertheless, methinks this Halloween post today will make up for whatever shortcomings I may have, uh, come up short with. Or not; whatever.
As you may have gleamed from that helpful post title, we’re taking another venture into the world of Northeast Ohio television, and horror host, icon Son of Ghoul, played by Keven Scarpino. This isn’t the first time we’ve taken a look at a vintage SOG broadcast, there’s also been this and before that this. But, it is the, erm, latest. As of this posting, anyway.
It’s also almost as far back as I can *personally* go with this subject. Why’s that? Because this was the very first episode of The Son of Ghoul Show I ever taped, that’s why! That’s also why what we’re looking at today hails from November, rather than the more-expected month of October. Although in regards to that aspect, I’d say that aside from specifically Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year/Easter themed episodes, almost any horror host installment works for a Halloween update. Or not; whatever.
And, this does still tie into Halloween, and even the upcoming holiday season, all of which we’re pretty much at right now. As of this posting, anyway.
(Also, hopefully I won’t use that paragraph-ending-repetition-for-ostensible-comic-effect bit too many more times in this article.)
Airing on November 7, 1997, on my much-loved WAOH TV-29/WAX TV-25, this is very nearly my SOG fandom at its very earliest – basically at the start of a journey that continues on to this day in 2020; just about 23 years later! Read on, I’ll explain all of this in more detail momentarily.
First off, SOG’s intro places us squarely in early November, with his announcement of “we have survived Halloween” near the top of it. This was a nice bit of continuity with the previous week’s show, which of course was the big Halloween episode. I know this because, well, that’s where I as a SOG fan entered the picture.
I know I’ve recounted this before so I’m just going to give the shortened account this time around, but that Halloween episode was where I was first actually introduced to SOG. Oh I had seen bits and pieces beforehand, but it was whilst flipping around the TV on November 1, 1997 (back then, SOG ran on both Friday & Saturday nights, same time, same episode. Halloween ’97 fell on a Friday, I stumbled in on Saturday) that I first really watched SOG.
I was hooked immediately. From the skits to the sound effects to the movie (Night of the Living Dead, another first for me that night) to, obviously, SOG himself, at 11 years old I became an instant fan. And, while I didn’t realize it at the time, looking back, this was where my love and fascination with local broadcasting first truly took seed. You wanna know the honest truth? Without SOG, there’s a real possibility you’re not reading this blog right now. Not just because I’m talking about SOG at the moment, but rather because I just don’t know if my interests and hobbies and whatnot would have played out the same without him. It’s entirely possible that they wouldn’t have.
Simply put, that November 1, 1997 Son of Ghoul broadcast of Night of the Living Dead was perhaps the single most transformative television broadcast of my life.
So, less than a week later, I was in front of the TV with the VCR at the ready. I was, as you would say, “chomping at the bit” to further dive into this new thing I had discovered, the results of which you’re reading about this very moment. (By the way, I learned the hard way that both the Friday & Saturday shows for a given week were identical, though this made it handy for recording when one of my eventual letters was read on the air, or if I just particularly liked the movie/episode.)
Anyway, back to SOG’s intro. Along with just some general fooling around (and man, just seeing him on that old set and goofing off, what a trip!), he states that the movie that night “aw man, this is a first run on this show – I hope it’s the last!” Of course that wound up being wildly untrue; most of these movies have been seen repeatedly on the program over the years, though there’s something undoubtedly neat about capturing one of these standbys in its Son of Ghoul debut.
The movie was The Vampire Bat, from 1933. At the time, this was an entirely new flick to me! I was, and am, I serious sucker for these old cheapies, and as a King Kong fan even back then, the mention that Fay Wray was in it only added to the interest.
So yeah, The Vampire Bat. You wanna know the honest truth? I’ve wound up sort of ambivalent towards the movie. I love it for it’s public domain ever-presence and quasi-Universal vibes (it used some of the same actors and sets), and the whole look and feel and the history surrounding it. But as a movie movie itself? Well, I think it’s just okay. Certainly not bad, and I get seriously excited over various cleaner/completer available prints, or even just new-to-me budget home video releases from years past. But yes, the flick itself is just alright in my eyes. Heck, I couldn’t even muster up the enthusiasm to actually re-watch it for this review. (Although I probably shoulda, considering whatever credentials I imagine myself to have.) I’m the same way with another early-30s horror film: White Zombie. I like it fine, it’s not bad, I take a real interest in it, but perhaps conversely, I don’t tend to feel like watching it very often at all.
Of course, The Vampire Bat was a bigger deal to me back in 1997 when SOG was winging it at my face. Like I said, this was new territory. That’s why we’re here now, after all. It was only as the years progressed that I relatively cooled on it.
The plot? Even if you haven’t seen this, you’ve probably seen something like it; it’s an early 1930s horror movie with vampires as the subject, so you can probably guess the gist of it before ever pressing “play.”
The short synopsis: a rash of blood loss has hit a village, so naturally vampires are suspected. Particular suspicion falls on one “Herman Glieb,” because he likes bats. (Glieb is played by Dwight Frye, so you’ve probably got a good idea of his performance
before ever pressing “play”.) However, it’s actually a mad doctor played by Lionel Atwill, who’s draining villagers of their blood for some sort of organism he’s created. Also, Fay Wray is our heroine.
Yeah, I don’t have much more to say about this one. Look, it’s wildly public domain, so if you haven’t seen it, it’s not like it’s hard to do so. Some of the imagery in it, such as Atwill’s cool laboratory set (that’s it above), sticks with me more than anything. As such, it makes for a cool horror host feature and/or something fun to have lazily playing in the background around Halloween, and indeed, it does look appropriately “Halloweeny.” It may not knock me out, but it certainly does its part adequately enough.
Obviously, since this is an episode review, I’m sorta obligated to cover the movie in some fashion. A necessary aspect of this post? Uh, yeah. But if I’m being honest with you (and I am), it’s all about the Son of Ghoul here. And luckily, because I dictate how this article transpires, we’re at that point right now!
I’m not gonna hit each and every last segment aired, just the highlights as I see ’em, but rest assured, this was a pretty good episode of The Son of Ghoul Show. There was plenty of then-new stuff and a couple fun throwbacks, and while someone who didn’t grow up with all this may be a bit mystified by the enamor I’m exhibiting, trust me, as a whole this was (is) some solid SOG.
While I certainly love de facto skits, my favorite part of pretty much any horror host show is the simple host segment; the respective host, sitting on the set, reading viewer mail or just goofing off. Or more often than not, doing both. Such was the case right here, with this fairly lengthy (about 15 minutes total) mail bit.
In it, SOG shows off the poster and promotes a movie he has a small part in: the then-upcoming Little Miss Magic. Also, that past Halloween night, SOG appeared at a party at the Sheraton Suite, along with Big Chuck & Lil’ John. Such things are pretty par for the course nowadays, but back then it was a rarer occurrence. According to SOG, “We had a dynamite time! I mean, the three of us got along just like peas in a pod! Or a pod that took a pee, one of the two; I can’t figure it out.”
But the area of most interest in this segment? My good friend Brett Van Wagner, who has contributed to this site before (including the SOG 30th anniversary tribute; have it again) had one of his early letters to the show read on-air here! Although Brett and I were born like two days apart and grew up loving a lot of the same things (obviously!), he discovered SOG a few months before I did, so he was already in the game by this point. He and I share a common trait where we kinda cringe at some of our early, pre-teen letters to SOG (my first would be in January), although I think that’s probably a personal viewpoint; this stuff isn’t as embarrassing to somebody else watching.
Indeed, I thought Brett’s letter here was pretty funny. He asks for an autographed picture of SOG, but not mailed; he wants it dropped off personally at his house. (SOG just gives a smirk to the camera and moves on.) And when he asks to lend him money for a SOG t-shirt and an extra $50? “Start holding your breath right now.” Good stuff, Brett!
An installment of “Scarey [sic] Tales.” This is an old TV-67 bit; there were more of these older things ran back then than I caught on to at the time, but they still worked, and in retrospect I’m glad they were run. A little Son of Ghoul history for the newbies!
These skits basically amounted to SOG recounting an ostensibly-spooky story with some kind of comic conclusion. In this one, he tells us the tale of Little Miss Muppet; the story unfolds the same as the version we all grew up with, until the end, when Little Miss Muppet decides to eat the spider that sat down beside her, too.
You know, Big Chuck & Lil’ John once did a skit with the exact same outcome. Which came first? Was this an instance of mere coincidence? Does it really matter?
As implied by Brett’s letter, official Son of Ghoul t-shirts were the hot new item of the day, a point driven home directly by this next segment. Here, SOG gives us all of the details on how to order them. For $16.75 ($13 + $3 s/h + 75¢ Ohio sales tax), you had your choice of adult-sized large of extra large. There was still time to order and get them before Christmas, but you had to hurry!
The best way to demonstrate their “wearability,” you ask? Have the late, great Ron “Fidge” Huffman come out and model one! It’s always nice to see Fidge during these old shows. I met him once; very friendly guy.
I myself never got one of these exact shirts; in retrospect, this was a mistake. But then, I wasn’t into that sort of memorabilia back then. I’ve since made up for that over the years, but I can tell you now: if I ever come across one of these vintage versions (or better yet, an old 67-era shirt) somewhere, you just might hear me flipping out from wherever you happen to be.
Another mail segment!
In this one, someone sent SOG a sombrero, which he happily wears for the rest of the bit.
Also, to further illustrate the point that Halloween was just freshly past, a piece of mail is shown wherein someone carved a SOG jack-o-lantern! It actually looks pretty cool, and SOG got some comedy out of it, too. “A nice fat face, just like me…how dare you embarrass me like that in front of family and friends?! Who do you think you are, guy?!” Of course SOG’s just kidding. (I hope!)
Shortly thereafter, there’s another piece of mail that’s legitimate hate mail. Apparently someone was not too enamored by SOG, because he sent a homemade button that had little pictures symbolizing a rather, erm, crude expression relating to SOG. SOG: “I have to tell you, that really hurts my feelings,” after which he proudly pins it to his chest.
Following an after-movie cartoon (a short WWII-era Bug Bunny pitch for war bonds), the show was all over. During SOG’s outro, he mentions that the movie next week would be The Corpse Vanishes.
Now, I actually did tape that one as well. Like The Vampire Bat, The Corpse Vanishes was a new-to-me horror cheapie. I’m so used to so much of this stuff in this day and age that it’s amazing to think there was a time when I wasn’t familiar with a lot of it!
Unlike The Vampire Bat however, I later taped over The Corpse Vanishes. I no longer remember with what, but it (probably) doesn’t matter; this action was eventually revealed to be a big huge mistake, based almost entirely on that flick and it’s extreme poverty row Lugosi-ness. I’m serious; it actually took me years to truly warm up to it, but nowadays I absolutely love The Corpse Vanishes. And, well, you’ve seen how ambivalent I am regarding The Vampire Bat. Not that I’d trade this ep for that ep, there’s still that personal history with SOG to be accounted for. But nevertheless, file this one under the follies of youth or some other stupidly wistful saying like that.
(The above ain’t no joke; I’ll reiterate
to fill space. It did take years to realize, but this is one record-over I seriously regret nowadays. A great cheap movie, airing during the early weeks of my SOG fandom, one that I had and then let go, as it were? Regret. Of course, at 11 years old and with even less money than I have now – which is really saying something – I had to be extra choosy with VHS tape space. Does that make me feel any better? Not really. Do I take solace in the fact that whether I kept this Corpse Vanishes episode or not, my life wouldn’t be appreciably different today? Not really.)
So anyway, there you have it; a quick rundown of The Son of Ghoul Show from November 7, 1997, a week after Halloween for this Halloween.
BUT WAIT! We’re not quite done just yet!
What’s left, you ask? How about a few old commercials! Nothing quite takes you, or at least me, back in time quite like an old commercial. There were several good’uns seen during this broadcast, so real quick now, here are my three favorites:
The Cafe in Stow! As I mentioned in my post on the first of this month (here, have it again), I absolutely love local restaurant memorabilia and the like. Of course that extends to old commercials, which means that I was quite pleased to see this ad for The Cafe in Stow, long a local institution, turn up during the episode.
The commercial itself is simple but effective: a jaunty “Let’s Eat” jingle plays over footage of patrons, erm, eating while a voiceover extols the virtues of The Cafe in Stow. Like I said, simple but effective.
But what makes this really cool is just how local it feels. That was one thing you could absolutely count on from 29/35: a serious sense of local pride. In a lot of the actual programming, sure, but also in the advertising. There were ads for places that you could (probably) only see on 29/35, which only added to the good vibes of the station.
The Cafe in Stow is still open to this day, and while I’ve never been there, it is now absolutely on my “gonna try” list. Why? 20+ year old commercials, that’s why! (Plus, I just like patronizing local establishments like this.)
M*A*S*H on Columbia House VHS! Advertising on 29/35 wasn’t just local; there could also be national-type stuff (sort of like what we saw here). Take this spot, for example. This is just fantastic; a minute-long commercial for Columbia House’s VHS releases of M*A*S*H! As a long, long time M*A*S*H fanatic, you better believe something like this airing during The Son of Ghoul Show is pure icing.
This series of tapes first showed up in the early-90s, but 1997 was the 25th anniversary of the show (can you believe we’re now closer to the 50th anniversary than we aren’t?), so not only were they being pushed once again, but you also got a swanky M*A*S*H 25th Anniversary t-shirt when you ordered! I really like this screencap here; they went all out and included a martini, stethoscope, even some golf balls! That’s dedication! (The $4.95 + s/h seen here was an introductory price; subsequent editions cost $19.95 + s/h, though that was still a small price to pay for some quality M*A*S*H. Plus, you got that shirt.)
In the years before the official DVD sets (and actually, VHS sets too – for the first five seasons, anyway), these Columbia House tapes were the only way to get much of the TV series as official releases. Oh sure, the big huge series finale “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” got a standalone release not long after airing, and of course the 1970 feature film was out there multiple times over, but there was a lot of good stuff in-between all that which could now be owned and watched whenever y’all pleased! Except for the super-long finale, which was naturally also included in this collection, there were several ‘themed’ episodes per tape. No, these weren’t in order from start to finish, and the whole series wasn’t represented either (though there were, I believe, over 50 volumes in this collection released, so you eventually got a good chunk of the show’s run), but does any of that really matter? It was M*A*S*H, a show I’d argue is in the top ten greatest U.S. TV series of all time, officially released on good ol’ VHS!
JC Comics & Cards! Ah, *my* comic place! I was already well familiar with JC’s before discovering SOG; as a young Star Wars nut (a fandom that eventually subsided considerably, though I still like it plenty), JC’s box of $3, loose old school SW figures was a thing of beauty.
Fortuitously, JC was also a sponsor of SOG. Why fortuitously? Because as I’ve recounted before, JC’s was where I first *met* SOG in person! Yep, SOG made a personal appearance at JC’s that coming December, and I was there; it was really the first time I ever felt the need to meet a celebrity, which shows you just what a big deal SOG was to me.
So, obviously JC ads were often seen during the show back then, and something still just feels ‘right’ about it when revisiting these old episodes. This particular spot is a herky-jerky (as in video effect) romp around the store whilst showing off its wares. At one point, a big inflatable Spiderman is seen, which I recall hanging in JC’s front window for years.
JC’s is still there in the same location, and while I’m no longer the Star Wars or comic book guy I once was, I do pop in occasionally, usually to check out the cool vintage toys in stock or to raid the 25¢ comic bins for neat old print advertisements (I’m a sucker for old video game ads, and I generally don’t feel too bad about extricating them from cheap old issues). JC’s is awesome.
And so with that, our big Halloween update comes to a close. Needless to say, I’m still a huge Son of Ghoul fan to this very day, so it’s a trip to go back to when that fandom was in the earliest of stages. I mean, I had just been introduced to the show less than a week prior! It’s amazing to look back and realize all that was ahead of me, some of it good, some of it bad, all of it still TBD at the time. And yet, one constant has been The Son of Ghoul Show; it’s still on the air! And, he had been on the air for 11 years before I even came into the picture! Talk about a local institution! I know nothing is forever, but I’m sure grateful for the time we’ve had, and will continue to have for the foreseeable future.
Have a Happy Halloween, everybody!