"Rasputin--LOCK THE DOOR!"

Long ago, radio and TV stations actually had to come up with their own programming a lot of the time. Today, if you scan the radio dial at night, on AM you'll hear many stations broadcasting identical syndicated talk shows; the only difference is which such show they run when. Before, each station would carry a local show, only merging on hour boundaries for network news. On TV, if you scanned the dial at night, you'd find a lot of stations showing movies actually selected individually at each station... and on Saturday nights, chances are those movies would be SF or horror movies with a host who would appear at the beginning and end, and around commercial breaks.

Each station had its own host, who often was a local celebrity of sorts (if only the sort depicted by Roger Miller in his song "Kansas City Star"). Alas, the earliest hosts, such as the incomparable and sultry Vampira, were before my time; my initiiation to late night horror movies was at my paternal grandparents' creaky house watching KVOO (Tulsa, Channel 2) with Fantastic Theater and its eerie synthesized theme music, watching films like Frankenstein 1970 and Attack of the 50-Foot Woman. (Trudging up the stairs in the dark after hearing that music always scared the heck out of me.) Later on in Oklahoma City, I grew up watching the witty and fun Count Gregore on Nightmare, who got to do things like hang out with the Green Slime Girls back when Green Slime first came out (remember the cheesy Green Slime theme song?) and sing "Some enchanted evening, you will meet a strangler..." When I went to Chicago, I discovered the joys of Son of Svengoolie's Saturday night horror movie program.

My favorite horror host, though, was on the air after I returned to Oklahoma in the early 1980s. For reasons known only to the folks who ran the Norman cable TV system at the time, they carried Kansas City channel 41, and there I discovered Creature Feature, hosted by Crematia Mortem.

Creature Feature showed many so-bad-they're-good movies: Invasion of the Star Creatures, The Incredible Melting Man, The Devil's Rain, and a shaggy cannibal story featuring the hit "Popcorn" by Hot Butter, Shriek of the Mutilated. Crematia would comment on and make fun of the movie before and after the commercials, have little subplots and running gags going on through the show, and would read viewer mail (which one sent, of course, to the Dead Letter File). It didn't at all hurt that Crematia was not only witty, but also gorgeous (and if you check out the web site where Roberta Solomon, who portrayed Crematia, advertises her excellent voiceover work, you'll see that she still is). I was among those who wrote, and I wish to heck that I had videotape of the shows, especially when she showed the address I'd done up in blackletter and the portrait I drew of her.

She'd call out to her assistant, Rasputin, to lock the door at the beginning of the show and unlock it at the end, though I don't think many viewers had any urge to leave or change the channel.

Sad to say, Norman cable TV dropped Channel 41, and paid our protests no heed. Creature Feature went on for a few more years, but fell prey to the homogenization of American commercial media.

There are some horror movie hosts still on the air (notably Chicago's Svengoolie), and I suppose that for a time USA's Up All Night sort of carried on the tradition--but for the most part, they are gone, replaced by the output of the sausage machine that is today's commercial mass media. I post this as a belated thanks to all those eerie folk who made my childhood more fun (when I wasn't risking bodily injury running to bed when the lights went out) and were equally enjoyable later in life. Count Gregore, (Son of) Svengoolie, and Crematia Mortem, affectionate thanks to you all.


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