What is it about the Halloween season that takes us back to those late nights as kids when we snuck out of bed to catch late-night horror shows? We would sit enthralled as horror hosts would make macabre jokes and tantalize us as we feasted on b-movie scary movies. And, if we are honest, watching these masters of the ghoulish and darkness were as much of a draw as the films themselves.
Here are ten of the best horror hosts to grace our TV screens.
Vampira was the first horror host to light up the small screen. A struggling actress, Maila Nurmi was hired by an LA TV station in 1954 to host a weekly late-night tv show that showcased b-movie horror films. Modeling her onscreen persona after the Evil Queen from Snow White and Morticia Addams, this daughter of Finnish immigrants delivered her lines with delightful campiness and certain sarcastic wit.
Even though she was only on air for 8 months, she quickly became an icon, especially after LIFE did an expose on her, and set the standard for all the horror host who came after her. She later solidified her cult status by appearing in Ed Wood’s “Plan 9 From Outer Space”. She passed away in 2008.
What Vampira was to the West Coast, Zacherley was to the East Coast. Starting in Philidelphia and then moving to NYC, this wacky and often ridiculous skit performing host reigned supreme from 1957-1960. While Vampira may have been the hight of ghoulish glam, Zacherley looked more like a gaunt, slightly starved undertaker.
He was also a breakthrough star. He recorded a song, “Dinner With Drac”, which broke into the Billboard Top 10. He continued to make personal appearances until his death in 2016, making him one of the longest working masters of fright on this list.
3. Sir Graves Ghastly
This Detroit staple is unique for several reasons. First, his show was on Saturday afternoons, meaning kids and horror fans could laze about while watching his show. It is also one of the longer-running shows on this list, lasting from 1967-1982, and was so popular it also showed it in Washington DC.
And while he passed away in 2007, he easily demonstrates how to make money vlogging, as his skits and schtick are still available, and wildly popular, on YouTube and a website.
Svengoolie is the longest-reigning late-night Saturday creature-feature. Despite having had two hosts over its more than fifty-year run, the feeling and vibe of this Chicago based show have remained the same. On top of showing some of the best classic horror films of all time, there are plenty of laughs, thanks to the parody songs, rubber chickens, and fun skits like “Mr. Robber’s Neighborhood”.
Trust us when we say Svengoolie’s show is like watching a bizarre vaudeville act with a horror film attached. It is well worth a watch.
5. Morgus the Magnificent
From 1959 to 1989 viewers in the New Orleans area could tune in and watch this mad scientist. Every week, the tried his hand at failed experiments and wacky hijinks, complete with his very own Igor-esque sidekick, a dim-witted executioner named Chopsly and a computerized skull named Eric.
Morgus was so popular he even starred in the film, “The Wacky World of Dr. Morgus” and inspired a song. And given that he was in NOLA, the home of some of the most haunted places in America, that is pretty impressive.
6. Count Gore De Vol
This horror host called the D.C. and Baltimore area home during the 1970s and 80s. On top of the typical schtick that went along with hosting Creature Features, he also made tons of fun of politics, mainly given his location. So, there were jokes about Watergate and the Iran-Contra scandal.
He also sometimes had Penthouse Pets play co-hostess to his weekly fright-nights. He also hosted an internet show for awhile. Today, he maintains a busy schedule of guest appearances at horror conventions.
What list about horror hosts would be complete without Elvira, Mistress of the Dark? She delighted weekly viewers in the LA area in the 1980s before being the first to be nationally syndicated. She has appeared in dozens of films, television shows, talk shows, and even a reality show “Search For the Next Elvira”, as if there could ever be another Elvira.
Thanks to her campy humor and sultry looks, she has become one of the most recognizable pop culture icons ever.
8. Bob Wilkens
It’s true, Bob Wilkens doesn’t sound like a name you would find on a list about creature feature hosts. However, this Bay Area late-night horror institution put an interesting spin on the role. With a fantastically dry wit, fairly normal look, and almost encyclopedic knowledge of all things horror related, he kept viewers coming back week after week.
He passed away in 2009. He holds the distinction of being the first person to show “Night of the Living Dead” on television. He left his mark on many Bay Area kids and horror fans.
9. Chilly Billy
Another horror host who didn’t rely on gimmicks or schtick to sell his show, Bill Cardille was so popular in the Pittsburg area that his show aired in the same time slot until 1983. This means SNL was bumped in Pittsburg for the first five years it was on. Sept. 28th is Bill Cardille day in the Pittsburg area.
10. The Cool Ghoul
This Cinncinati host had an orange page boy and did a fantastic Karlof impersonation, which can be useful when you host a weekly horror show. Plus, he had some great parody songs making him a ton of fun to watch.
Horror Hosts Keep Us Coming Back for More
While we may love scary movies, it is really the horror hosts who keep us coming back week after week. Each with their own special schtick makes the classic films they show that much better.
If you are delighted by the odd and marvel at what others consider morbid, be sure to check out the rest of our blog. It is full of marvels of humanity.