Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Music: That's not how Jonathan Harker remembers it.

In the fall of 1957, television stations all over America signed deals with Universal for access to Universal's massive library of 1930s and 1940s horror flicks. Though often unacknowledged by genre fans who prefer to wax poetic about the more hip grindhouse theaters (which are now more eulogized than they were ever patronized) or the short-lived drive-in B-movie scene, the injection of this archive into the media bloodstream of the nation was probably the single most significant in the history of the American horror film since the filming of Dracula. Suddenly, any boy of girl with a television in their home access to what cold rightly be considered the founding texts of American cinematic horror. Perhaps even more than their original theatrical runs, it was this nation-wide boom in televised horror that permanently fixed certain horror figures and tropes in our collective imaginations.

The return of these long dormant monsters also gave rise to a new kind of horror icon: the horror host. Suddenly in possession of a cheap bounty of fright flicks, many television stations scrambled to create suitably gruesome hosts. Over night, all over the country, the airwaves became the home of funerary funny men and schlock scare-masters.

One of the first of this new breed was John Zacherle, a.k.a. Zacherley, host of WCAU Philadelphia Channel 10's Shock Theater. Once a bit player in a handful of now forgotten TV westerns, the future Zacherley's first horror host gig was under the nom de ghoul Roland. As Roland, the host innovated the "break-in" or "jump-in," inserting himself into the films he was hosting for comedic effect. It was something not unlike that presence of Joel or Mike and the robots in the much later Mystery Science Theater 3000. He also recorded his fist single: the novelty hit "Dinner with Dracula."

Legend has it that "Dinners" lyrics were originally more shocking and weird, but Dick Clark's refusal to play the single on his wildly popular American Bandstand forced Zacherley back to the studio to record a new, more Dick-friendly version. The new version was a charting hit and Zacherley would release dozens of singles and even a few LPs.

Roland hosted WCAU's Shock Theater for nearly two years before jumping to the Manhattan-based WABC and adopting the persona of Zacherley. There he stayed until the end of the creature feature era made hosts like him a thing of the past. However, Zacherley hasn't slipped into dustbin of pop culture history. He regularly cameos in b-grade horror flicks, contributes to the albums of worthy fans, makes the convention circuit, and generally acts the role of spookshow elder statesman. Check out his cool site to get the full rundown.

No comments: