Goodnight, Whatever You Are

Back in the olden days, before the internets, I loved horror movies but seldom had access to them. The only video store nearby had a pretty good horror section that I gradually worked my way through. Unfortunately, a new owner acquired the video store, chucked out all the interesting stuff and replaced it with deer hunting videos and other assorted bullshit.

Needless to say, this represented a seismic upheaval in my young life. All those amazing VHS boxes with carnage and monsters were gone, replaced by videos of beaming, camoflagued, moustachioed retards in the woods. Goodbye Phantasm II and Taste the Blood of Dracula, hello Bow Hunting Tips. I was inconsolable.

We didn’t have cable out in the hinterlands, and digital satellite TV hadn’t been invented. Actually, I take that back. For four easy payments of a kazillion dollars, a team of specialists with union suits reading “Quasar TeleStar 3000” or something would come install this gigantic death ray-looking thing in your back yard. The whole thing would rotate when the channel changed, and certain satellites hosted certain channels, and this huge guide was needed to figure it all out. I think one family in town had one of these things, which dwarfed their little modular house. But they were old, and didn’t want to watch horror movies with a sniveling little shit like myself.

With many years to go before I’d be old enough to get a driver’s license, I began pestering my father to recount the plots of old horror movies to me, which he could sometimes remember, but usually not.

The thing about horror movies is that, usually, there isn’t much of a plot to remember. At all. For instance, I have seen the movie Creature From the Black Lagoon a whole bunch of times, but all I remember is . . . there’s this awesome-looking Creature who . . . lives in the Black Lagoon, and something happens . . . there are people there, and this girl he tries to carry underwater, and—do they harpoon him or blow up the lagoon or what? It’s a mystery. I can watch that movie again, but I’ll just re-forget.

Who cares? No one can remember the plots of horror movies. They’re like murders that never get solved because no one gives a shit about the victim.

“What happened here?”
“I don’t know, he’s dead, there’s a lot of blood and shit —the perpetrator probably—hey man, fuck it. Let’s do something else.”
“Yeah. Coming here was stupid. Case closed.”

However, my father did speak of his admiration of Zacherley, the Cool Ghoul. Back in the day, it was popular for local television stations to feature horror movies late at night, hosted by various and sundry horror personalities. Vampira, who palled around with James Dean and famously appeared in Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, broadcast out of Los Angeles.

On television screens across Ohio, Ghoulardi exhorted his fans (including future members of Pere Ubu, the Cramps, and the Electric Eels) to “turn blue” and “stay sick.”

The East Coast had Zacherley.

It seems that Zacherley was a skinny guy dressed like an undertaker who lived in a castle. His dead wife was interred in a coffin, and their shapeless son Gasport lived in a canvas sack. Zacherley himself stumbled around, told stupid jokes in his basso profundo voice, and sometimes inserted himself into the films. The movies were usually crummy, but Zacherley was hilarious, so people tuned in. Unbelievably, he was friends with Dick Clark, and would host American Bandstand when the Ageless Wonder couldn’t make it.

Back to our story. Time passes. I’m twenty-five years old and looking through CDs at Mondo Kims. To be specific, I was looking through the Spoken Word section. That’s where the comedy CDs are, but also some things that the staff of Kim’s doesn’t really know what to do with. And suddenly I came across a CD that said “Spook Along with Zacherley.”

I hadn’t thought about Zacherley in over a decade. I snatched it up and brought it home and plopped it into the CD player. It was hilarious.

There’s two kinds of songs on Spook Along with Zacherley. The first (and more common) kind of song was a kind of goofy monster a go-go tune. The second kind of song is pretty much the same, but maybe more of a spoken-word piece with musical accompaniment. Either way, there are a lot of stupid puns, lotsa goofy horror imagery, and frequent outbursts of demented Zacherley laughter. Whenever he signed off, he yelled “Good night, Whatever you are!”

There is a whole genre of monster a go-go music, and it’s mostly shitty but great. I’ve heard a lot of this stuff, and here’s the formula—write a generic rhythm and blues or surf tune, add some ghoulish cackling or the odd lyric about . . . you know, horror and stuff, and call it “The Mummy’s Finger” or “Swamp Zombie” or something. Modern attempts at doing this sort of thing are execrable at best, but it was popular back in the day. The most famous, of course, is Bobby “Boris” Pickett, who made his name by singing the Monster Mash.

For a couple of years in the early 1960s, monsters were the shit. Famous Monsters, a periodical devoted to famous monsters, printed issue after issue of monster content. The Munsters and the Addams Family ruled the airwaves. Teenagers flocked to horror movies, still expecting to see more than one movie. Hollywood ground out B-movies to show before the main feature. They didn’t always make a ton of sense, but there was usually a guy in a rubber suit. Thanks to modern technology, a lot of these are preserved to this day. And just like psych bands used to put their weird freak-out stuff on the B-side of 7” singles, B-movies were often brief and nearly incomprehensible.

Horror films shifted over time from stuff like Dracula to films about giant atomic creatures. By the 1960s, American society was pretty fucking precocious, and the Hollywoodoids holding the purse strings understood they were out of touch. They started throwing money at filmmakers, saying “look, we don’t know what the fuck is happening, just make some hippie shit on the cheap, all right?” American horror began shrinking. In England, Hammer Horror began reviving monsters in films like Lust for a Vampire and Frankenstein Created Woman, featuring far-out dudes and groovy chicks in period costume. Horror films gradually became very different.

Against all odds, Zacherley still makes appearances today. He’s in his early eighties, but seems to be doing all right. Let’s hope he’s still having a good time. I listen to his album every Halloween. I recommend that you do so as well.


plankface said...

Is the Creature from the Black Lagoon talking on a cell phone? Talk about updating a classic horror movie ...

Michael said...

Oh my God. I was just going to write the same exact thing about the Creature With the Black Nokia, but plankface beat me to it! Effing aitch.

Rick said...

That's funny. I sort of though it looked like he was suddenly remembering something. Like "Oh, I think I forgot to turn of the iron."

I wonder what kind of reception you'd get in the Black Lagoon?

Michael said...

I don't know about cell phone reception, but I bet the catfish cannot be beat.