Hosted Horror on Television: The Films and Faces of Shock Theater, Creature Features and Chiller Theater

McFarland. Jul. 2021. 249p. ISBN 9781476684611. pap. $39.95. TV
In 1957, the production studio Screen Gems offered TV stations a package of Universal Studios movies for syndication. The “Shock Theater” package was mostly horror-based, and Screen Gems suggested an unusual marketing idea: hire a horror host to introduce each feature. Across the nation, late-night viewers soon tuned in to the television debuts of Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy, hosted by the likes of Vampira, Morgus the Magnificent, and Sir Graves Ghastly, who riffed on the movies, offered background info, and padded the short run times with skits. This book documents many horror hosts and their shticks, but Markusen (A Baseball Dynasty) focuses less on the horror hosts themselves and more on the titles they presented. He offers insightful commentary on 150 movies from the initial Shock package and the “Son of Shock” follow-up, as well as later releases. There’s no denying Markusen’s acumen or enthusiasm, but his emphasis on the cinematic history of horror doesn’t explain how the movies connected with home audiences, and his book sometimes diminishes the impact of the horror hosts.
VERDICT Markusen takes a successful stab at horror history, but television historians might feel the cut.
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