Each host developed unique features for his or her show. Solomon’s Crematia held contests that fostered community participation. At one point, Solomon invited her youngest viewers to write a scary story. The grand prize winners would get a night on the town with Crematia, complete with happy meals, a tour of the station, and a limo ride to haunted houses in Kansas City. Another favorite competition was the scary Christmas ornament contest. Crematia trimmed her tree with spooky objects sent in by viewers, including an angel tree-topper with a skull.
“I always wanted to do things to get the kids to look at the movie in a different way, to look for the in-jokes in the movies, and get them to write, read, and all that,” Solomon says.
Most horror hosts enjoyed a limited celebrity at the time of their broadcast. They presented Frankenstein, Godzilla, Geidra, and Gamera to their respective communities, but collectively, they instituted weekly movie-viewing for legions of families and friends. That is, until cable changed broadcasting and rearranged the face of horror forever.
“With the coming of cable television in the ‘80s, we saw a decline in the need for syndicated packages of movies,” Stanley says. “The movies go to the specialized movie channels. They now provide us with so many movies that the regular media, which was originally just three or four channels, no longer has a need for those movies.”
Save for the occasional local outlet, television ceased to be a viable medium for the horror hosts.
Still, the tradition continues. The internet has allowed new and old entertainers to develop creative, inexpensive shows that reach further than local networks ever could. Dyszel was the first of the seasoned hosts to develop an online show. Last year, he celebrated the 10-year anniversary of “Creature Feature, the Weekly Web Program.”
“[Internet] was the future,” Dyszel says. “It became really obvious, real quick, back in the mid ‘90s…You simply could have the random access and the on-demand scheduling that everyone had tried with cable unsuccessfully.”
What’s more, internet access afforded veteran hosts and a new generation of presenters the ability to connect with one another. Horror enthusiast Curtis Prather created the Horror Host Underground (HHU), an informal web ring that congealed the current horror host community.
“Suddenly, you got to see what other people were doing, “Dyszel says. “[You start] sharing some ideas, finding out that you’re all nuts together, and then you start doing conventions together…The internet has been great for that. It just allows for the creativity to expand.”
The internet remains a rich breeding ground for active hosts, but horror and sci-fi conventions and festivals give hosts, filmmakers, and fans the opportunity to celebrate the long-lasting American tradition as a community. After a 17-year hiatus, Solomon made an appearance as Crematia at a Wichita film festival in 2007. The impression the larger-than-life hostess made on even the scariest-looking horror fans was striking.
“I just love it, because these big, scary-looking, pierced and tattooed guys were like 9-year-olds,” she said. “They were so reverent in the way they approached [Crematia], and I do miss that dynamic. It’s almost like Santa Claus; Crematia was like Santa Claus. The kids were so cool, because they would look at her like, ‘This is the coolest thing I have ever experienced in my whole life!’ I do miss that, because it was a very sweet role to play in all these kids’ lives.”
It’s plain to see that the horror hosts created characters just as beloved and memorable as those appearing in the films they present. Hosts ranging from the most recent webcasters to the 91-year-old Zacherley play an active role in horror fandom, frequenting conventions in character to remind viewers of the excitement they once felt watching horror films. At this point, the hosts feel more connected than they ever felt in previous years.
“All of the hosts were heroes of their time,” Stanley states. “Zacherley, Ghoulardi, Elvira, and there are so many others…We’re all a part of that nostalgic, childhood memory of growing up in the home atmosphere. That’s sort of what it’s all about.”