Friday, June 06, 2008

Things That Went Clunk in the Night

If you were a kid during the period between the late 50s and the early 80s, you probably spent at least a few Saturday nights staying up late to watch horror movies. Every television market had a local horror movie show and in Baltimore, that show was Ghost Host on WBFF Channel 45. The Ghost Host himself was played by George Lewis, whose day job was showing cartoons and Three Stooges shorts to kids after school as Captain Chesapeake. But whereas Captain Chesapeake was a live show, the Ghost Host segments were pre-taped and reused every week for years. Let me explain:

The introduction would start with a blurry graphic of an old house over which the words "Ghost Host" would appear in a typical horror-movie-style font. The graphic would dissolve to George Lewis, the Ghost Host, dressed in some Gothic mad scientist get-up in a cheesy laboratory set. He would bob around and move his lips. That was the standard prerecorded segment which ran every week. Over top of that, they would dub in a new audio track which started with, "Good evening, this is your Ghost Host, inviting you to watch...if you daa-aare..." and then he would say whatever that night's movie would be. Here's an example:

About mid-way through the film, the Ghost Host would return in another stock sequence, this time walking around a graveyard set, complete with cardboard headstones and some straw tossed around on the floor. This is where they would dub in a new audio track each week announcing next week's film. This is how that looked:

When the movie finally ended around 1:30 a.m. and you could barely keep your eyes open, the creepy Ghost Host would return with the stock closing sequence. This one never changed. He would always utter the same words that have stuck with me for decades. He would say...well, let the man do it himself:


I don't know what scared me more: the grainy black-and-white Universal monster movie or the Ghost Host's Tai-Chi movements and out-of-sync lips. Somehow, we felt rebellious staying up and watching Ghost Host. It seems absurd now, but you got to do two things you didn't normally get to do during the week. One, you got to stay up late and two, you got to watch something that might be a tad more grown up and disturbing than The Brady Bunch. Parents usually played along, having already seen these movies as kids and knowing that there wasn't anything all that bad about them. We could feel out of control in a safe, restrained sort of way. Plus, the movies were just plain fun.

Shows like Ghost Host disappeared in the 1980s as home video became the preferred method of watching horror films. Who needs commercials to take you out of the movie just as they got to the really juicy part? Unfortunately, we also lost those wonderful local hosts who tried so hard to add a little extra fright on such a teeny budget. They are missed.

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