Friday, December 14, 2012

A Visit From The Ghost Of Horror Past: The Complete Bob Wilkins' Creature Features

With it being Christmas season and all, I guess it’s apropos that none other than The Ghost of Horror Past recently visited me.  He awoke me from my slumber and showed me visions of what horror entertainment was like in the old days in an effort to convince me to change my ways.  “Why Nathan, whatever are you talking about?  What ways of yours could possibly need mending?” you might ask.  Well Cellmates, I have a confession to make.  One area of genre history where my knowledge is frightfully lacking is classic horror hosts.  You know, the regional kind.  I’ve never lived in a market where we had one.  Here in Atlanta we had my hero Joe Bob Briggs in the mid to late 90’s, but that was on TNT, so it was national.  Every now and then I’d see Elvira, but Movie Macabre was syndicated.  Now don’t get me wrong, my idol and my dream woman are the two greatest horror hosts in history, but there’s something about the mystique of the local horror host.  By the time I became a horror fan, the golden age of the horror host had passed.  Atlanta (or North Carolina while I lived there) never had a guy like Ghoulardi in Cleveland, Zacherle in Philly and NYC, or Morgus the Magnificent in New Orleans.  Hell, I’ve toyed with the idea of trying to become one myself.  I always say I’m gonna further my education about the men and women who chilled the late night airwaves, but I will admit to being remiss on that.  I know, I know.  Bad Son of Celluloid.
Well The Ghost of Horror Past, in the guise of November Fire Recordings, bestowed upon me a wondrous gift.  Yes, by the way, that’s the same November Fire of badass t-shirt fame.  Anyway, they sent me a killer DVD entitled The Complete Bob Wilkins Creature Features.  What?  You’re not familiar with Bob Wilkins?  Don’t feel bad, I wasn’t either.  Let me give you a little introduction. 
This is Bob Wilkins.  He was a horror host.  Everybody say “Hi Bob.”  In 1966, he began hosting “Seven Arts Theater” for KCRA in Sacramento.  He became so popular that it was renamed “The Bob Wilkins Show” and ran until 1970.  He showed horror, sci-fi, and fantasy movies; along with comedy segments, Outer Limits episodes, and interviews.  He then moved to KTVU out of Oakland, where he hosted “Creature Features” from 1971-1979.  He handed over the reins to John Stanley and went to KTXL, once again in Sacramento, where “The Bob Wilkins Horror Show” ran until 1981.  In the ensuing years, Wilkins would host quite a few one off specials and appear at many conventions.  Horror kids in California, Oregon, and parts of Nevada all grew up on Bob Wilkins.  He is beloved among the west coast horror faithful that were lucky enough to catch his show, and it’s not hard to see why. 
Simply put, this guy is f’n awesome.  Wilkins had a very unique style.  Whereas most horror hosts are over the top characters, he was a normal, soft spoken, unassuming guy in a rocking chair with thick rimmed glasses and an ever present cigar.  I like that unique approach.  He had a dry wit.  A very dry wit.  Bone dry.  Mummy’s desert tomb dry.  Drier than a nun’s…well, you get the idea.  Despite this low-key manner, he had an magnetic charisma and an affable screen presence.  He’s just plain fun to watch.  Creature Features showed a lot of stinkers.  When showing fare like Attack of the Mushroom People, Sampson vs. The Vampire Women, or Vengeance of Fu-Manchu; Wilkins, much like Elvira, would constantly joke about how bad the flicks were.  It’s hilarious listening to him, calmly and matter-of-factly, describing how he decided to retire after having to put you, the viewer, through Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter and Billy the Kid vs. Dracula in the same night. Luckily his family talked him out of it because they didn’t want him to return to their car wash. The flicks weren’t all bad though.  He also showed some of the greats, including a lot of 50s sci-fi gems, Universal monster classics, and Hammer films.  In fact, he presented Night of the Living Dead uncut on Sunday January 1st 1972, just 27 months after its release, making him the first horror host to show it. For what it’s worth, I’ve also heard Count Gore De Vol claim to have been the first.  No matter if the flick was a winner, or if he was telling you not to bother staying up because that week’s movie wasn’t worth it (he knew you were gonna stick around anyway), he always encouraged monster kids with his motto “Watch Horror Films – Keep America Strong.”  Also, for the record, he had a bitchin’ theme song.  Here, check this out…

See? Good stuff, huh?  I told you.  If what you just saw made you laugh and say, “Wow, I bet that was a cool show,” then you definitely need to see The Complete Bob Wilkins Creature Features.  This is not a documentary, as I originally thought it was going to be.  Instead, it’s more of a video scrapbook.  It’s an awesome collection of clips from the show, interviews with Bob, Bob’s interviews with the luminaries of horror, vintage horror trailers, and various other images and videos from Wilkins’ entire television run.  While all of this is going on, a list of every episode, its original airdate, and the movies shown is constantly running on the bottom of the screen.  More than once I found myself thinking, “What?  It took me forever to track that flick down, and these lucky bastards got to see it on regular TV?”  It really is a fun watch.   
The interviews are probably my favorite part of the package.  We get to see Bob conduct what might have been Boris Karloff’s final on screen interview.  That particular interview is made even better when Wilkins tells the story behind it.  We also get to see the absolutely dumbfounded look on William Marshall’s face when Bob asks him to reassure people that there are, indeed, some white people in Blacula.  Marshall has absolutely no idea what to make of Wilkins, and it’s gloriously awkward.  I think my favorite interview, though, is from a press junket for Animal House.  Bob interviews John Landis, John Belushi, and Donald Sutherland.  He starts asking Landis about Schlock and Sutherland about Castle of the Living Dead and Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors.  They both try to steer the conversation back to Animal House repeatedly, but Bob pretty much ignores Belushi (except to tell him that his show is on opposite SNL). As he continues promoting Landis’s The Incredible Shrinking Woman and Sutherland’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, you can see Belushi get angrier and more agitated as the interview goes on.  I laughed ‘til it hurt.  It was interesting, though, that when asked where he goes after being in a Spiderman comic book, Belushi prophetically replies ““Nothing. That’s it for me. Death.  A horrible death.”  Um, wow.
For those who grew up with Creature Features, obviously this will be a fun nostalgia trip.  That kinda goes without saying.  I didn’t grow up on Creature Features though.  Hell, I was only one year old when it ended.  My lack of a frame of reference didn’t make it any less entertaining.  In fact, it added a whole new level to the viewing experience; it was a history lesson in the way horror movies were once presented on TV.   Since receiving this DVD from November Fire, I’ve watched it multiple times, and I pick up on something new with every viewing.  This DVD carries the Son of Celluloid’s highest possible recommendation.  Watch The Complete Bob Wilkins Creature Features, and keep America strong.  Two severed thumbs up.  Nathan says check it out.  

 Oh, I almost forgot.  You can order it HERE.

1 comment:

Craig Edwards said...

Thanks for the heads up! My best friend in high school in Illinois had gone to elementary school in Oakland - and told me about this guy 30 years ago! Thanks to your heads up I'll finally get to see him in action! I name checked you on the order form too! Cheers!

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