American Scary

American Scary

‘American Scary’ is the documentary from John E. Hudgens and Sandy Clark covering ‘the popular [horror] hosts of the golden age of television.’ Consider it the ‘Greatest Hits’ collection of television’s spooky set – Zacherley, Vampira, Ghoulardi, Marvin, Bob Wilkins. All of your favorites and some of the lesser-knowns come together for this presentation, this love letter towards the role of the horror host.

Overall, I think it’s a good documentary. It’s very informative about the early stages of television that led to the birth of the horror host. Universal, in licensing their movies in the Shock Theater bundle, gave local stations all this scary programming. Either local personalities created scary alter-egos in looking for new work, or station managers offered a host to take the edge off of some legitimately scary movies.
Some of the hosts I’ve never heard of, like Crematia Mortem, Stella or Big Chuck & Lil’ Jon, get showcased in the movie. It was interesting to see some other names up there besides the bigger ones and it would be interesting to hear their stories but it’s hard to cover all that in one movie. Zacherley’s story alone is worth a whole film. ‘American Scary’ sticks to the classic characters because if they were to cover everyone, the movie would lose its focus. Many of the newer hosts appear as commentators but their programming doesn’t get showcased as much as the older set. 

The story of the film covers the rise and fall of not just the horror host but local programming in general. The film doesn’t really have an ending moment, one where someone can slap their hands together and go ‘yep. Dead and buried.’ Instead, it seems to disperse out into the ethers, in a bit of nostalgia while sorta acknowledging that there are still some hosts going on. Public access is discussed and it’s established how the newer generation do their shows out of pure love (and often, out of their own pocket.) 

The documentary doesn’t, in my opinion, cover enough of the effect the Internet has in the revival of the horror host. While crediting Count Gore De Vol for pioneering the start of a horror-host web-ring/underground connection, the movie doesn’t discuss any of the younger generation of hosts that put their shows online.

But the movie was made in 2007. Two years is a long time for technology. Digital media has become more prevalent and less expensive, offering an alternative method for programming, bypassing television in lieu of the internet.  Hard to make a documentary about something that’s going on. It’s easier to pin something down when it’s dead.

Overall, it’s a good movie that may set off some interests in horror hosts. There are plenty of supplemental materials out there (books, additional DVDs) but if you want a palatable introduction, you can’t go wrong with ‘American Scary.’


    • John Hudgens on November 8, 2009 at 1:25 am
    • Reply

    Thanks for the great review! One note about the production, though – we actually finished the film in 2006, with most of the interviews happening in 2003 or 2004… as you said, things change a lot these days, and there really weren't that many using the net while we were in production… :)

    • Strange Jason on November 8, 2009 at 12:18 pm
    • Reply

    My goodness. Thank you for the clarification! I thought I've been looking forward to seeing this movie for a while, but I didn't know it was that long!

    It's a very good documentary that should inspire more horror hosts (and hopefully, fund any future docs from you and your crew.) I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope you continue in your movie-making ways, my friend.

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