25 years… Yeah, that’s about right. It’s been a little over 25 years now that I’ve been maybe geekier than even some of my geek friends. But I say that, I should note, in a proud way.
I turned 13 in 1983 and my parents had recently moved into a small little (and for me, mostly useless) town that was just South of Richmond, VA. Unlike a huge chunk of the surrounding counties and towns, this place was serviced by a relatively small cable provider who, unlike the then giant (Comcast) in the Central Virginia area, carried programming out of Washington, DC. It seemed a bit odd to me at the time. Neither channel 5 nor channel 20 were known as major players on the growing national cable scene. I just assumed that the cable company couldn’t afford bigger channels and kind of mentally wrote them off.
Then one late night in late 1983 or early 1984 that changed…
I was always a night person. I always stayed up kind of late. On one of those late nights I was channel surfing for some odd reason. Maybe it was that whatever I normally watched was having an off night or was in rerun. I don’t know. I honestly just can’t remember. All I do know is that I surfed across WDCA Channel 20 and into an old b&w horror film that I’d seen before and remembered liking a bit. I put the control box down (calling it a remote control by today’s standards is just a joke) and settled in.
The movie went to commercial and I went after either a snack or a drink. I walked back into my room a couple of minutes later and found… something… on my television that wasn’t the something I had been watching a few minutes earlier. Rather than my bugged eyed monster flick picking back up where the action left off a few minutes earlier I was confronted by some strange looking vampire on a wobbly dungeon set going on about something while a bad church organ’s notes were fading out in the background.
I had no idea what this silliness was. Why were they screwing with my movie? Why were they wasting my time with this?
I was not a happy camper.
And then… something… happened. I honestly don’t remember if it was something that made me laugh or some really interesting bit of trivia that he said about the film I was watching that I was previously unaware of, but I suddenly found the guy on the screen much less annoying. By the end of the show I even found myself liking the guy.
The next week I didn’t channel surf into the program that I now knew was Creature Feature with Count Gore de Vol. I went straight to channel 20 at the start time listed in the paper’s TV guide and was ready to enjoy another film hosted by the Count. This went on for several weeks before the TV listing was for some odd little film that I had never heard of before. I mean, I had flat out never heard of it before.
That gave me pause. I didn’t know what it was, most of my friends at school had certainly never mentioned it and it had never played on the good cable channels that aired all the classic horror films. Would I give up SNL for some nothing horror film that nobody had ever heard of and I had no idea if I would like the thing? Yeah, I would. Why? Because the guy hosting the film was easily as much fun as the film (if not more so) and, not that I had realized it yet, I was a fan of Gore de Vol more than I was of Creature Feature’s features.
To be honest, I don’t even remember what the film that night was (more on that concept later) and all I remember about it is not liking it very much at the time. But Gore had me laughing like a fool at each and every break in that forgettable film.
That happened a lot actually. Creature Feature played some great old films in its time, but it also fleshed out its bones with what most sane people would consider some real stinkers. Early on I viewed Gore as the icing on the cake when they were showing some of the great old films from the classic age of horror, but my still developing (but occasionally slow) brain started to realize that this guy was the cake as much as the good films. He was just a pineapple upside down cake to go along with the good films’ rich chocolaty goodness. Even the shows featuring the bad films were cake, they just didn’t come with that extra serving of chocolate cake.
So, yeah, I was hooked and a loyal fan. And, and this may sound odd at first, I think I had become a bit of a student as well. Gore did something that was pretty damned unique in my (then, admittedly limited) experience with all of the grade z and lower horror films out there that were more often than not made with no budget, no time, no studio support, no quality equipment and, sometimes, no discernible talent behind or in front of the camera. He made them fun. No, he didn’t just make his skits fun and thus his part of the show fun, but he made the bad stuff in the film fun. Whether it was by interviews with people who knew what went on during a film’s creation, trivia that let the viewer at home know what was going on and how that sorta kneecapped what was the final product or whether it was making fun of aspects of the film in a lighthearted and very often loving way he made you understand that some of the bad old films had a charm to them that you weren’t going to see in them if you weren’t willing to look.
This is a guy who loved his job, seemed to love just about all the films that he showed (but not, I’ve now learned, The Beast of Yucca Flats) and could, by what seemed sheer force of will and the amount of joy and fun he was able to convey through that little TV screen, infect the viewer with that sense of fun about the film. And he could make you at least a little bit of a fan to some degree or another of even the “bad”films he was a fan of. And, in the way he presented and hosted some of the films Creature Feature aired, you really did see the charm in some of the films that you would have otherwise have written off and turned off.
I’d like to think that I would, as a proud horror geek, have gotten there myself. There’s a small DVD store worth of films that I know, love and enjoy now that most sane people would pass up and that’s actually been a good thing in my life. I’ve corresponded with, met and, in many cases, become friends with a lot of people because of conversations started about films like Oasis of the Zombies, The Vampire Happening, Manfish, The Devil Bat, Son of Ingagi, Zaat, The Brain that Wouldn’t Die and other films that have titles that simply cause confused looks on the faces of most people when mentioned. And, thankfully, the people who I’ve met and become friends with don’t fit the negative stereotype of the type of “geek” that most people hold in their minds. They’ve come from all walks of life, they’ve all had their own interesting and different life paths and they’ve all been people that have enriched my life in some way or another.
So, as I said, I’d like to think that I would have gotten there myself. But I didn’t have to. I had Gore de Vol leading the way and showing me what fun these “bad” films often really were. And along the way he kept me constantly entertained. His show was filled with a parade of colorful characters, interesting trivia, enlightening interviews and the occasional Penthouse Pet. It was, in many cases then unknown to my 13, 14 and 15 year old mind, also crammed with more innuendo than you could believe could be packed into such small segments. All I knew at the time was I was always enjoying myself when Creature Feature was on. I was a full blown addict and anyone wanting to suggest a 12 Step program could go to hell.
And it seemed that I wasn’t the only one. Gore ran contests and promotions on his show that seemed to get huge responses from the DC area people and his Halloween bashes, giant parties held at huge locations around DC, seemed to draw huge crowds every time out of the gate. Man I wanted to go to those so badly that I was almost a brat about it. I never did though. (Funny story about that later.) But it’s safe to say that I was ready to go well into my late teens as a rabid fan and would be getting to those bashes on my own as soon as I could drive a car. Likely with or without a legal driver’s license.
And then they did it. My parents moved just after the start of school in 1986 and I was now without a cable provider that carried WDCA Channel 20. I went insane. I was a one teen letter writing campaign and I bombed the local Comcast office with letters and calls. They had to pick up WDCA Channel 20. They just had to. There was no discussion in the matter. Somehow, unfathomably, they were unmoved by someone insisting that they had to get a TV channel on their lineup so that some really annoying kid could watch Creature Feature with Count Gore de Vol every Saturday night. Yeah, I can’t understand their reluctance to do so either.
So, sadly for me, my association with the good Count had been finally and fatally severed by the financial needs of my parents and the unreasonable bean counting of the Comcast suits. Time to move on.
Didn’t quite work that way though. Elvira was well on her way to national fame and lots of people I met who liked cheesy sci-fi and horror were well acquainted with Commander USA from the USA Channel or Joe Bob Briggs and his Drive-In Theater on The Movie Channel. People were talking about these hosts around the lunch table at school and I, of course, was there to say that there was this guy in DC who just blew them all away.
And not only did I talk about him, but I swiped from him as well. That comment way up above about “more on that concept later” is about to get latered. As time went by, in between talking about my favorite horror host and outright stealing his gags when talking about films, I hit a point where I actually remembered more about Gore from the shows than I did many of the films. Hell, there were actually things from his bumpers that I remembered for years while being completely unable to tell you what film was on when Gore was doing his bit.
If there was any doubt about it before it was now dispelled. I was a fan of Count Gore de Vol over and above many of the movies he hosted. If you gave me the option of seeing a film uncut and uninterrupted VS seeing the same film cut, edited and hosted by Gore… “Good evening and welcome to Creature Feature…”
Fast forward well over ten years. Hell, fast forward somewhere around fifteen years really. I’m having my at least twice a year discussion with someone about how much fun this guy in DC was while the general topic is cheesy horror films and, as a shortcut to explaining, I hit the Google. As the net grew and more and more people got on the information superhighway you could be rest assured that someone someplace was putting just about everything somewhere on the web. I’d actually been lucky before and hit on some good pictures and even some video. Well, this one time something interesting popped up in the Google search. There was actually a site out there getting enough hits to be on the first page of the search. The site was called countgore.com. I clicked on the link and expected to find a really nice but kind of small fan site. What I found was Count Gore himself.
It seems that through countless new owners and the changing times where bean counters where becoming program directors rather than people who knew how to program a local station that the good Count had gotten a fairly large stake through the heart only a year or so after I lost Channel 20. The new owners of the station decided that local programming was just so much nonsense and a waste of money. Hey, why be local, unique and supported in the community when you can be the same as 50,000 other stations across the country?
But, in classic b-movie vampire tradition, Gore went to ground, regained enough strength to crank that big ol’ toothpick out of his chest and returned with a vengeance. In 1998, he became the web’s first weekly horror host and he’s coming up on his 11th anniversary of the program as you read this now. (Well, unless you’re reading this some time far removed from June 29, 2009.)
And he has been a very busy little undead body it seems. Getting into everything he’s done for the horror host community and its fans would at least triple the length of this post. You can get the 411 by looking up his site or checking out the great documentary (now on DVD) called American Scary or by waiting for the hugely entertaining, soon to be a DVD documentary on Gore called Every Other Day is Halloween. But it’s safe to say that Gore is as entertaining as ever and has been doing things that have allowed newer hosts like Karlos Borloff and Dr. Sarcofiguy to be introduced to new and old fans alike.
And the man gives his old fans the opportunity to get a great nostalgia kick. He owns all of the Gore de Vol material. That means he can take any film that is in public domain that he still has the bits he did for the WDCA shows and he can put them together into a DVD that is, in pretty much most respects, the original show as it aired minus those things that break up the fun by trying to get you to buy something else that you really don’t need. And thanks to those DVDs and others I, or rather my parents, scared the snot outa my wife.
About two years ago now my wife and I had our first child. To say I was stressed and freaked would be understating it in a major way. At one point I think I actually stressed myself into a worse condition than what my wife was in right after the birth. So she looked at me, told me that we had some extra money that she wouldn’t hold against me spending on something that I might enjoy or might want to do and that I should go ahead and just do something for myself. Low and behold, Gore was having a sale on his website. For what was really a steal by any standards he was selling off 8 DVDs (16 shows) of the web program, 4 shows from the classic WDCA days, 4 DVDs known as the Legacy Series that are basically Gore’s best bits, an autographed glossy, a t-shirt (the one I’m wearing above) with the show’s old logo on it and a replica of the old Channel 20 Gore fan club card for what was really a nice price.
With everything else that had been going on I passed up on his DVDs before, but with my wife’s blessing I grabbed this sale priced fan pack in a heartbeat. Glad I did too. The web program discs from that set are no longer being sold. There is a 5th classic program now on DVD though and I did make sure that it was on my Christmas list last year.
Long story short (too late) they arrived and my wife and mother-in-law discovered that my wife was actually stuck being wed to a giddy 13 year old boy. I did a Creature Feature bender that would have driven most sane people stuck around me at that time to thoughts of my murder at their hands. But I was happy.
(Funny story alert from way above coming in now.) I started with the Legacy series. Again, the movies may be good, but I figured out a long time ago that I was a fan of Count Gore’s more than some of the creatures he featured. Little did I know the effect that would have on my wife.
My parents, now with their first and only grandchild to coo over, were just about daily visitors at that time. They were over while I was playing the Legacy DVDs one day and the topic on the disc at that moment was the big Halloween bashes that Gore threw. I jokingly jerked my thumb in the direction of the TV and reminded my mom and dad that it was still the great tragedy in my life that they wouldn’t drive all those hours from just South of the Richmond area to DC just so that I could be there in person.
My father rolled his eyes and went on to tell my wife that they’d been hearing about this thing, this complaint about how they let me down so horribly by not taking me to some DC party to see some guy who dressed up funny and showed bad movies, for 25 years. 25 years he emphasized; several times. And he did so with great aggravation (almost jokingly) coating his voice. Yeah, my wife knew she had wed a nut for sure by that point.
Fast forward just shy of two years. I get an update email from Gore’s site about some little doc being screened at the AFI Theater in Silver Springs, Maryland on the 27th of June. The subject of the doc, the second of the two I mentioned above, was one Dick Dyszel and his long career as Washington, DC’s Bozo the Clown, Captain 20 and, most important of all to me, Count Gore de Vol. The tickets were $10.00 a pop and, on top of the movie, there would be a chance to chat with the man of the hour and see some memorabilia from good old days of DC’s then locally programmed Channel 20.
My wife took one look at it and said “NO” in a very firm voice that made it clear that no argument would be allowed on the matter.
“No,” she quite adamantly said. “I am not putting up with 25 plus years of you complaining about that like you did with your parents. Buy the tickets right now and we’ll stay the weekend with my sister up there. But I plan to be married to you for at least 25 years and I am not putting up with 25 years of complaining about not getting to go and see Gore de Vol in person and how it was all my fault like you’ve done to your parents since you were a teenager.”
So, despite a bout with an insanely aggressive poison ivy reaction (that actually worked in my favor) early in the week and more road construction than I thought you could drive through in one trip that short, I found myself here on the evening of the 27th.
Great film. Great, great film. As much as I loved American Scary I found this one to be better by far in every way. I don’t know if that’s just because it really was so much better or because I have been a fan of the subject of the film for so long, but it was just a great way to spend the evening in a theater and, from what was said, will be an even better filled out DVD later this year. Even the “poor” wives, husbands and friends that we of the Gore fandom dragged to the show were laughing out loud and loving it. Plus the Q&A was great (I did learn something a bit odd and very funny about my favorite Forrest J. Ackerman interview) and I finally got to thank the man for how much entertainment and joy he’s given me for all these years. So, yeah, 25 years is way to long too wait for some things, but it was worth it.
However, thanks to dinner after the show I’m now committed to taking my wife to several dinners each year at the Tastee Diner in Silver Springs. It seems it’s the first really good “diner” food she’s found since leaving the Jersey zone.
The things my wife makes me suffer through…