By Siobhan Hagan
As the Halloween and Dia de los Muertos weekend draws to an end, I feel satisfied with my celebrations and am ready to move forward. After all, it isn’t every October that you get to talk to a local TV legend on the phone! I am unfortunately just too young and missed the heyday of local television horror movie hosts. However I do feel lucky enough to have basic cable right around the time that Comedy Central picked up Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K). I was a member of the fan club; I watched every Saturday at 10am. While MST3K added its special sauce with the wise-cracking robots overlapping with the original movie soundtrack, the show still followed the horror host formula: cheaply licensed B-horror/Sci-Fi features introduced by an equally cheaply swathed host and set, typically of the dark, other-worldly, or just damned odd variety. Check out the trailer for a fantastic documentary a college professor of mine recently made about one of TV’s first horror host, Vampira.
Next up I want to watch this documentary on the history of horror hosts in America:
Who was Maryland’s horror host? Count Gore de Vol filled that roll for decades at WDCA-20, a Washington, DC, station that most TV sets in the Old Line State were able to receive. The Count was created by Dick Dyszel, who initially started his broadcasting career in Kentucky, where he learned how to produce in a small TV market and could try lot of different things: it was there that he created the “MT Graves” character, his first vampire horror host. According to Dyszel in a recent phone interview, MT came about from too much beer and a late night, when the General Manager of the station heard Dick’s Transylvania accent: the station at which he worked had just bought the “Universal Shock Package” and needed a host to introduce the classic B-movies.
When Dyszel moved to D.C. in 1972, it took some major convincing, but he was eventually allowed to recreate MT Graves into Count Gore de Vol. The Count was the host for CREATURE FEATURE, which was broadcast every Saturday night on WDCA-20. It was the first show to broadcast the uncut version of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) and amazingly beat SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE in local ratings in 1975 (and those were the glory days of SNL!). CREATURE FEATURE ran weekly from February 1973 through 1980, and then once a year from 1981 through 1983 during Halloween. The show picked up regularly again in 1984, airing weekly until Memorial Day of 1987 when new station owners decided to cut all local productions.
In 1998 Dyszel brought the Count back to life at http://www.countgore.com/, turning him into THE first horror host of the World Wide Web (we now know this as the “Internetz”). You can purchase copies of the older shows on DVD from the above website: Dick Dyszel has fortunately held onto any originals that survived and has also digitally reformatted them. “No one is going to give a darn about your legacy if you don’t,” Dyszel wisely stated. MarMIA cares, Dick!
Here is a quote from Donna Mucha about CREATURE FEATURE from the book Weird Maryland: “…the name Count Gore de Vol is a part of the history of Maryland and will remain in the hearts of all the adoring fans who remember moving rabbit ear antennas late at night to get a clear picture of the Count working his magic on UHF Channel 20”. And one of MarMIA’s Move Maker profiles, Eric Krasner, had this to say about the show: “I can’t remember the first time I saw horror host Count Gore De Vol’s Creature Feature on WDCA, Channel 20 showing classic horror films, but I spent many a Saturday night in the 70s, laughing and often times groaning at the Count’s shtick.”
Please enjoy the Count’s more recent program on his Vimeo Channel, and happy 40th anniversary of your undeath!