Sunday, April 26, 2009

American Scary

The Spring 2009 issue of VideoScope includes my feature story on the making of American Scary, a documentary about TV horror movie hosts that has been playing the festival circuit for a few years and finally arrived on DVD back in February.

While researching regional horror films, I frequently encounter flicks that feature appearances by local movie hosts -- which only makes sense, since both phenomena originate from the same fount of plucky DIY regionalism that is, unfortunately, rapidly becoming extinct as our media continue to homogenize.

So in honor of American Scary, here is a list of regional horror films that feature appearances by local TV horror hosts. Did I miss any?

Tom Leahy (a.k.a. The Host), Kansas -- Leahy served as "The Host" half of The Host and Rodney on Wichita television for decades, and appeared in two very obscure horror and sci-fi films: Beast From the Beginning of Time (1965), which was never released theatrically, and King Kung Fu (1976), a comedy in which Leahy portrays a very John Wayne-like sheriff hot on the trail of a kung fu fighting gorilla.

George Ellis (a.k.a. Bestoink Dooley), Georgia -- Ellis not only hosted films on TV, but also programmed movies for a local arthouse cinema. You can see a nice pic of him by clicking on his name, and learn more about him at Mike Durrett's blog. He appeared as Bestoink in Legend of Blood Mountain (Legend of McCullough's Mountain/Blood Beast of Monster Mountain, 1965), a film with a production history that's nearly as convoluted as its myriad titles.

Charless Kissinger (a.k.a. The Fearmonger), Kentucky -- William Girdler's favorite actor was also a Louisville area horror host. You can see a picture of him as The Fearmonger here. He appeared in three of Girdler's Louisville horror productions, Abby (1974), Asylum of Satan (1972), and Three on a Meathook (1972), as well as The Zebra Killer (1974), Sheba Baby (1975), Grizzly (1976) and The Manitou (1978). He died in 1991.

Sid Noel (a.k.a. Dr. Morgus), Louisiana -- Noel is one of the few hosts to have a movie made about his onscreen character, The Wacky World of Dr. Morgus (1962).

Richard Dyszel (a.k.a. Count Gore de Vol), Maryland -- The Count was one of the first hosts to take his act to the Internet, where you can still see him in action at He appeared in three Don Dohler projects in the 1980s, The Alien Factor (1978), Nightbeast (1982), and The Galaxy Invader (1985), as well as more recent films like Chainsaw Sally (2004).

J.G. "Pat" Patterson (a.k.a. The Mad Daddy), North Carolina -- Not to be confused with late Cleveland DJ and horror host Pete "Mad Daddy" Myers, Patterson was a magician and Spook Show host who also served as a special effects artist and/or producer on a number of H.G. Lewis, William Girdler and Frederick Friedel films. He starred in and directed The Body Shop (Doctor Gore, 1972).

Joe Alston (a.k.a. The Host), Texas -- Alston was also a kiddie show host, and you can see pictures of him here. He appeared as a demonic apparition in Pat Boyette's Dungeon of Harrow (Dungeons of Horror, 1962).

John Zacherle (a.k.a. Zacherley/Roland), New York -- One of the most famous hosts of all time, and still active today at Although Zach has been in a number of films, his only New York appearances between the late 1950s and 1990 were in Nick Zedd's Geek Maggot Bingo (1983) and Frank Hennenlotter's Brain Damage (1988) and Frankenhooker (1990)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Blood Circus: It Once Was Lost, But Now It's Found!

Stop the presses! The most notorious lost movie made in Baltimore about aliens fighting professional wrestlers, Blood Circus (1985), has been located.

So says the official Web site of Santo Gold, a.k.a. Santo Victor Rigatuso, a.k.a. Bob Harris, former infomercial huckster and Blood Circus mastermind. Rigatuso has announced that the "masters and 35mm negatives" have been located and that "Limited License Rights are now available for Executive Producers to come forward and contact us!"

Code Red, Synapse and Dark Sky -- let the bidding war begin!

Actually, Santo announced his "discovery" last year, but I'm always looking for an excuse to talk about Blood Circus. In the meantime, you can visit Santo's Web site and participate in his talent search, or order the Making of Blood Circus documentary DVD.

You can also listen to some of Santo Gold's music, a portion of which I have helpfully posted below:

For those of you unfamiliar with Santo, he was a Maryland-based personality who sold gold-plated jewelry in a series of outlandish infomercials during the 1980s. Blood Circus, which was filmed in Baltimore by Joseph Ryan Zwick and John Corso, was about invading aliens who challenge professional wrestlers from the U.S. and the Soviet Union to a series of fights. Or something like that. Attendees at the world premiere of the film received a "Scream Bag" that included a coupon for a diamond ring. You can read more about the whole sordid tale at the Santo Gold Museum, which also has links to court documents related to Santo's eventual fall from grace -- allegations of mail fraud.

I'll hopefully have more to share on this amazing story in the weeks to come. In the meantime, Santo encourages everyone to learn from his mistakes:

1. Never hire manufacturers to attempt to make a 24K gold process that would not tarnish when they simply couldn't!
2. Never hire employees to open up your mail-in orders, pocket the cash and throw the orders in the trash cans!

And here are a few other memories of Santo and his movie from the Santo Gold Fan Club on Myspace.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Giant Spider Invasion that Wasn't

We were, needless to say, bummed when we learned that the previously announced two-disc special edition DVD of Wisconsin filmmaker Bill Rebane's The Giant Spider Invasion had been cancelled by MVD Entertainment because of a long-standing dispute between Rebane and RetroMedia's Fred Olen Ray regarding the video distribution rights.

RetroMedia bought exclusive rights to both Giant Spider Invasion and Rebane's Blood Harvest several years ago. The Giant Spider DVD was released in 2002, and included an introduction by Akron horror host The Son of Ghoul, and a reproduction of the comic book originally published to promote the film. Rebane then re-sold the rights again to BCI/Brentwood (in violation of his agreement with RetroMedia), which unleashed Spider in a four-film packaged called "Invasion of Terror," alongside The Black Room (1984), Craze (1973) and Rebane's Invasion from Inner Earth (1974). Ray filed suit against Rebane, and in 2007 courts in California and Wisconsin ruled in RetroMedia's favor.

You can read Rebane's version of events here, and Ray's thoughts on the matter (and supporting legal references) here.

Rebane has been offering a special edition of the film through various channels (including on a DVD-R for some time, and this material was apparently going to be used on the MVD release.

If you REALLY need a Rebane fix, you can always check out some of his other films. Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake (1975) is on an old DVD from Troma under the title Croaked: Frog Monster from Hell. His final feature, Twister's Revenge! (1987) is on the "Drive-In Movie Classics" 50 film pack from Mill Creek, while that same company's "Chilling Classics" collection boasts no less than three Rebane epics: The Alpha Incident (1978), The Demons of Ludlow (1983) and The Cold (a.k.a. The Game, 1984). Mill Creek's "Apocalypse" 20 movie set includes Invasion from Inner Earth under the title They.

RetroMedia issued a special edition disc of the Tiny Tim tour de force Blood Harvest (1987), and Something Weird offers the Rebane-meets-H.G. Lewis classic Monster a Go-Go (1965) on a double feature disc with Psyched by the 4D Witch (1972). RetroMedia also released my favorite Rebane film, The Capture of Bigfoot (1979), on the"Bigfoot Terror" four-movie set, where it makes a nice double feature with the New York lensed Shriek of the Mutilated (1974).

You can view some clips of the bonus material from Rebane's release of the film on YouTube, including a weird segment where a guy reads portions of Stephen King's description of the film from the book Danse Macabre. Click here and here.

Friday, April 10, 2009

What the heck is a regional horror film?

Welcome to "The Dead Next Door", a blog dedicated regional horror and science fiction films from the 1950s through the 1990s (and maybe beyond, if I feel like it). Each week, I'll be posting information on obscure regional horror flicks, profiles of the men and women who made them, news on upcoming DVD releases, and various flotsam, jetsam and various bits of ephemera related this particular back alley of genre filmmaking.

But first, just what the heck is a regional horror film? One of the goals of this blog is to, hopefully, better define the boundaries of the backyard film, but for my purposes I'd say a regional horror film is one that was 1) produced independently; 2) was filmed outside of the immediate vicinity of Los Angeles; and 3) was made with a cast and crew consisting primarily of residents of the state in which the film was shot.

That's a fairly broad definition that covers everything from Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Blood Feast (1963), and The Last House on the Left (1972), to Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966), Don't Look in the Basement (1973), Scarecrows (1988), Invasion of the Blood Farmers (1972) and Woodchipper Massacre (1988).

But just what does "independent" mean in this context? For the most part, anything shot without the support of an established studio or distributor, but I'd also include films that were made by companies that were smaller than AIP, provided they were headquartered outside of California.

So John Russo's Midnight (1982), which was made in Pennsylvania by an established production/distribution company (Independent-International Pictures) would qualify, but Sugar Hill (1974), which was made in Texas by American International Pictures with a cast and crew that hailed mainly from Hollywood, would not. Friday the 13th (1980), which was made independently in New Jersey before being picked up by Paramount, is a regional film; Squirm (1976), which was made by New York filmmakers in Georgia with backing from AIP, is not. Or is it?

There are a few films that I think of as regional productions that actually fall into a kind of gray area. AIP handed some money and a few actors to William Girdler for the unforgettable Exorcist knock-off Abby (1974), but that film looks a lot more like his homegrown Louisville productions than his later, studio-backed films. AIP similarly used Larry Buchanan's crew when it outsourced production of its cheap, made-for-TV horror films (The Eye Creatures, Zontar, etc.) to the Texas filmmaker.

Other films have even more convoluted pedigrees. The same New Jersey production team that brought us the Ginger series went all the way to New Mexico to make Track of the Moonbeast (1976), and New Yorker Robert Allen Schnitzer made The Premonition (1976) in Mississippi.

And there dozens of other strange geographical permutations of this phenomena of the regional horror film, too many to cover in this one post. I hope that, over time and with the help of whoever might wander over to read my musings, I can get a better handle on exactly what is and isn't a regional horror film, while sharing as much information as I can dig up about these often obscure pieces of backwood celluloid.

And what a collection of films we have to dissect! There have been thousands of books written about the horror film over the years, and they've been organized almost every way imaginable: chronologically, by subgenre, by studio, by director, by subject matter, by country of origin, and even by the amount of gore spilled per film, but you will find no other collection of films so odd and vast and varied as when you arrange U.S.-made fright flicks geographically. Some of the most influential horror films of the last four decades were regional productions, along with some of the most excruciatingly awful ones. A number of these films are beautifully shot masterworks; others are so cheap and handmade that they almost qualify as folk art. Suffice it to say that no matter where they were filmed or who made them, they are uniformly fascinating, peculiar, charming and almost never boring.

Okay, some of them are pretty boring. I promise not to dwell too long on those ones.
Finally, why "The Dead Next Door"? I actually stole the title from an Akron-lensed zombie flick made by J.R. Bookwalter, my former editor and a prolific producer/director who was previously and now is once again based in Ohio. I always liked the title, and thought it summed up the spirit of these films quite nicely. For the record, I asked J.R. before I copped the title. Also for the record, he stole the title from a Billy Idol song.

Until next time, here are a few snippets from some of my favorite regional monstrosities: