American Scary (2006)

One of the many classic devices of American television much of today’s youth will never get a chance to experience is the horror host. Though there are many talented performers keeping the tradition alive, we don’t have a glut of horror hosts as we once had. And it’s a shame because horror movies are ultimately an experience, and the horror host is the persona that keeps us watching and makes the viewing experience worthwhile in the end. “American Scary” is a brilliant and utterly fantastic tribute to the age of horror hosts, and really excels at informing audiences of a once American facet of television that no longer exists.

With the changing face of television and the economy, they’re an extinct breed that lives on in public access networks if you look hard enough. I grew up during a time where cable television was changing its format, so for a brief period I was able to experience the likes of Elvira, Joe Bob Briggs, and Rhonda Shear, three individuals that helped define my love for cult films. John E. Hudgens manages to cover all areas of the horror host arena, tracing much of the tradition back to the days of radio, and pays homage to larger than life individuals like Elvira and Vampira. “American Scary” is one of the many trips in to nostalgia that will touch audiences who grew up with the buffer of a comical ghoul easing the tension of a bad horror movie, and most of the interviews involve anecdotes from loving horror buffs and noted film historians.

No corner of the horror host tradition is left untouched as Hudgens spotlights individuals like Ghoulardi, Zacherley, and Commander USA, all of whom are allowed to speak openly about the conditions they filmed in and how they were inevitably ousted from their jobs in favor of changing dynamics of television and viewer demands. If there are any caveats to the documentary is that Hudgens spends little to no time on John Bloom aka Joe Bob Briggs or Elvira. Bloom appears for a few interviews on other hosts, but there’s no notice of his time hosting horror movies for the Movie Channel on cable and then on Monstervision for TNT in American Cable Television. Meanwhile Elvira is noted but barely given anything of a spotlight.

That may be because many fans note Elvira took much of her shtick from Vampira, but that doesn’t mean Elvira doesn’t warrant a spotlight of her own considering she became something of a cult and pulp icon in the eighties. Meanwhile there is just too much focus on the interviews with internet horror hosts. While they provide an interesting perspective from the fan boys and cult icons, I cared much more for views from folks who specialized in film studies and criticism. Otherwise “American Scary” makes good use of its resources providing glimpses in to the lives of some of the most entertaining horror personalities, and it’s very much worth a watch if you want to take a trip down memory lane. Though a few of my favorite hosts are overlooked and there’s a little too much stock placed in internet horror hosts, “American Scary” is a great look back at an American Television staple that went the way of the dodo. Nostalgia buffs need apply.

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