Horror is a tree of niche that only occasionally grows branches long enough to reach the rest of the forest, so it's no surprise that "The Horror Hall of Fame," an award and tribute show for that topsy turvy genre debuted in the '90s and died in the '90s. Still, the fact that a horror awards show hit broadcast television at all is an achievement. Best describing its annual airing as a sort of Oscars for the horror community, the shows were crudely produced, kind of cheesy and kind of trembling into the "wow, this is really stupid" category. And that's why we loved them.
EDIT: I feel like I should take back that niche tree and branch business. What drugs was I on?
A reader donated this tape to me last year -- it's The Horror Hall of Fame III, which aired in 1991. I don't know that that year's show definitely did, but at least one of the Hall of Fame events aired on Halloween night. That's so cool. People went out, got candy, broke a few eggs and returned home with smeared facepaint to settle in with three pounds of fun-sized Almond Joys and a horror-themed awards show. Toss in a thunderstorm after dusk, and we're talking about the perfect Halloween.
The Horror Hall of Fame III was shot at the Universal Studios theme park in California, and apparently made good use of passerby vacationers to fill its audience space. No A-listers in that crowd, and from the looks of 'em during the many camera pans, there was just no way that these people were hardcore horror fans. I guess, even if it's a two hour tribute to horror movies, people still always go for the ride with the shortest line.
Even now, watching the show excites me. It's full of tremendous retrospectives on various classic and neo-classic (then, at least) horror movies, most featuring behind-the-scenes movie footage and exclusive cast interviews. Listening to Veronica Cartwright wax disgusting about the chestburster scene in Alien holds up just fine even today. Though most of the awards were of the "lifetime achievement" brand (they didn't even bother having people accept...they'd just show a prerecorded featurette and tack a graphic of a grim reaper-shaped trophy on the end), we at least got a legit "best horror movie of the year" category with a real acceptance speech and everything. Of course, I wouldn't be writing about the special if that's all it had; no, The Horror Hall of Fame III packed enough head-scratching moments for your scalp to blister, pop and expose your bloodied brain. See? I'm in the spirit.
Making the most of what they had, recycled props, dark lighting and camera tricks helped make the show look like a bigger production than it really was. The stage was covered in spooky-colored lights that beamed horrific shapes against small gothic staircases that didn't particularly lead anywhere. As far as star talent went, well, I can count the number of human beings who appeared onstage on one hand, assuming we're not counting costumed Universal Studios monster characters. And even then, I could do it on two.
Because it would only call for what was surely a bored studio audience to stay in their seats for 15-20 minutes, most of the special was comprised of prerecorded video featurettes. Like, 95% of it. But you never really notice this when you're watching the special, because the featurettes are either good or so good they're bad, and when the action actually took place onstage, you got shots of Freddy Krueger unmasked reading bad jokes about the IRS off a cue card. When it comes to complaining, you've gotta pick your spots.
Yup, Robert Englund hosted The Horror Hall of Fame III, and II and I for that matter. I still think fans are disappointed when they see how mellow Englund is compared to the character that he made famous and vice versa and reversed viercesa; hell, my friends and I met him at that horror convention last year, and while totally amicable and funny, I'd almost call him "passive." In other words: No, he didn't do any Freddy Krueger impressions. So determined was Englund to bring a little class to the event, that even when the show was coming off a long Elm Street movie clip, he'd move onto the next topic without so much as an aside about "how that guy looked PRITTEY familiar." I credit his devotion, but God damn, it's not like the Horror Hall of Fame was respected as something legit by anyone, not even crazy ass horror movie fans. Put on the damn sweater and glove and give me a weasel war dance, you rabbit.
My hunch is that Englund never saw a script, because this thing probably didn't have a script until the executive producer showed up on set and asked someone for a pen and a napkin, Making up history as I go, I say that he was only familiarized with the show's content by way of the cue cards. This didn't leave Freddy with much time to bitch to the director about his stupid lines. He does what he can with the material provided, but whenever the cue cards decided that they knew comedy, Englund sunk.
Seriously, it was stuff like, "This next character shocked audiences with his brutality and mercilessness...no, I'm not talking about my ex-wife's lawyer..." TOMATOES, ROBBIE! TOMATOES AT YOU!
Having been in a lion's share of movies that technically sucked, Englund developed several career survival tactics. I caught onto what he was doing after a while...whenever he had to read a really bad joke, he'd very subtly squint and focus his eyes, as if to tell the audience and those watching at home that the only reason he kept saying these things was because a piece of thirty-nine cent posterboard from the local pharmacy told him to. Robert Englund is awesome and so is his soft foam podium.
The first of many retrospectives paid tribute to Frankenstein's bitch in all of her many wonderful incarnations, complete with many molehill-into-mountain hyperbole fests from the likes of Leonard Maltin, other critics, then-current horror movie directors and stars, and people who for whatever reason didn't get name card graphics when they appeared, leading me to believe that they were nobody-specials and just won local radio contests to appear as television panelists. Delightfully free of the snarkiness that would likely infiltrate such retrospectives airing these days, the video tributes were full of love, respect and sincere admiration. And really bad skeleton hand transition graphics that got us from one scene to another. An example. I saw that stupid skull hand five hundred times during the show, and yes I really counted.
Ghostbusters and Pet Sematary II, appeared throughout the special to host these dumb "Scare Tactics" segments, teaching viewers at home how to make movie quality scars and gashes for their Halloween ensembles. While I've no doubt that I would've loved learning how to make myself look dead as a preteen, the segments are pretty grating. Steve opened with a series of goofy visual tricks (we see his head spin, we see his head detached from his body, and basically, by the end of it, I was really bored of Steve's head), introducing scream queen Linnea Quigley as both his co-host and as his foxy foil for whenever he wanted to show the masses how to use rubber cement and markers to transform attractive women into crotchfaces. As for Steve, I guess it's not so much that he was uncomfortable on camera; I was just uncomfortable on couch.
Upon the minute's worth of research I was willing to afford Steve and Linnea, I was surprised to find out that they were actually married at the time. They divorced that same year, and I don't think we can say that these two items are mutually exclusive. Here's why:
Some would describe Linnea's participation in the show as that of a test dummy, but I got more of a "he's kicking the living shit out of his woman right on my television" kind of vibe. What you see above -- Steve's tutorial on how to give people monstrous forehead flesh lumps -- is just the beginning of a long line of progressively more painful experiments on the woman who called him honey. I know that clay warts don't seem like much, but trust me, it gets divorce-level worse for Linnea as the special goes on.
Of all the onstage performances, of which there were TWO, the crowd seemed most into "The Amazing Johnathan." My extent of knowledge on the subject of this guy is limited to me knowing that he spells it like that -- "Johnathan." And as much as I keep fucking up trying to type it that way, I will push forth and persevere. Johnathan's act -- now exclusive to Vegas -- is a blend of standup comedy and gross-out magic tricks, ranging from an illusion where he stabs someone in the head with scissors to a pretty neat deal where he appears to swallow a bunch of razor blades. He was good enough to deserve a mention here, but I don't have much else to say outside of "The Amazing Johnathan was at the show." I could make fun of the headband, but the guy looks like he's 6'8 and I'm afraid he'll hurt me.
1992 was not going to be a good year for horror films, at least going by the "World Screamiere" sequence, which featured goofy graphics and clips from movies I nor you nor anyone else living or dead has seen or will ever see. The only movie I'd heard of in the lot was Dr. Giggles, which makes me so sad, because Larry Drake reeled me in with his good-natured short bus act on L.A. Law and made me sick to my stomach by revealing himself as a sadist who collected fingers in Darkman. Larry Drake became horror producers' go-to guy for whenever they needed someone that was a name, but someone who wasn't really a name and thus would agree to play people like Dr. God Damn Giggles.
I do love that "World Screamiere" graphic, though. The thought of a big castle up on a hill that opened its doors to people willing to sit through Dr. Giggles is going to be my happy thought when I lay down to sleep tonight. I picture the castle's concession stand having a menu of things like "Naughty Nachos" and "Posthumous Popcorn" and "SodAHHHH." Oh my God I can't wait to go to bed now.
The tribute to Alien was impressive. Not only did they show all of the best scenes from the film, but most of the cast gave interviews, and we got all of these cool shots of the creature halfway built. Won't bore you with the trivia, because if you cared, you already know it.
The Tales From The Crypt tribute was even better, tracking the franchise's printed start to the 1970's film and, later, the television series. If you've never seen the old film, you're really missing out. Set up like a Creepshow or a Tales From The Darkside movie, I found this one to be the creepiest of all the horror anthology films. Particularly one "part," The Monkey's Paw, in which a wife wishes her dead husband alive, only to resurrect him as a funeral-processed body screaming in pain as filmabehide eats away at what's left at him. Then she chops away at his body to put him out of his misery, but since she wished that he'd be alive "forever," he survives that and screams even louder as his diced intestines beat away. (/spoilers) So, so awesome.
Because the world demanded it, we return for some more "Scare Tactics" from Steve and Linnea. This time, Steve wants to show us how to make our mouths look like crap. Linnea is his canvas, of course, and he treats his canvas's gums like buttons that only work when you press them really hard. I can't believe that Linnea Quigley, a woman who has surely turned down roles that even Julia Roberts wasn't considered for, took part in this. Again, I probably would've been into these segments if I saw this 1991 TV special in 1991, but God, they're bad. I feel like I'm in one of those "various quirky programming" montages from UHF. Steve's no Raul.
I gave a lot of love to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre in this giant-sized movie review, and still, I don't feel like I've quite given it enough. Years of liking something with a passion that becomes progressively more in tune with that of a normal person's passion can provide people with a new perspective, and I'd now classify the movie more as an effective one than an outright good one, if we can say that there's a difference between the two. It's not an artistic masterpiece, that's fo sho. It's a rare case of limited production finances actually serving the product, because with a real budget, even movies like this can't help themselves from trying to look slick -- a mistake that has been made and will continue to be made in hundreds of movies meant to either scare us or creep us out. It was so gritty and shoestringed that you almost had to believe people were getting chopped up, because actually chopping people up costs less than faking it.
That the movie has become such a cult thing has benefitted it in a thousand ways, from an exaggeration of its quality to money money money, but I can't help feeling that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre would've been even more effective if it was just some obscure no-name that people happened to catch late night on cable television. I'm not sure if this observation deserves to be here, but it doesn't seem to care what I think.
I'm glossing over the various movie tributes because they're not exactly exciting to write about or read about, but this one felt a little bigger. With rare appearances from cast members as they look today, or at least, as they looked in 1991, it's a great look at the production of a movie that seemed to be as horrific behind the scenes as it was onscreen Either that, or all of these people are just making too much of the fact that Marilyn Burns got a few cuts on a sticker bush while filming. Settle down, sister. You weren't carrying the cross.
And then, the moment we'd all been waiting for -- the award for Best Horror Film of 1991! Somebody hit Ric Flair's music.
Throughout the event, they were showing clips from the six nominated films, which included The Addams Family, Child's Play 3, Alien 3, Freddy's Dead, The Lawnmower Man and Pet Sematary 2. Of those movies, a win to certain entrants would've forever marked The Horror Hall of Fame as a B-level event. I assumed that Freddy's Dead would take the trophy; not that it was a great movie, but how could Robert Englund present the award for something he was nominated in and not win? What was I supposed to think -- that he actually hosted these things for fifty bucks and a free hotel stay with access to the concierge lounge?
The trophy was essentially a grim reaper garden ornament, but this was a victory more about the honor than the material take-homes. After all, this was the event that gave out cotton spider webs and plastic vampire fangs in its celebrity swag bags. I really wanted Child's Play 3 to win. I was going through a massive Chucky ROOLZ phase at the time, because I had so many friends and things to do.
Freddy rolls up his sleeves and yanks a certificate from a too-obvious black envelope, and, do my eyes and ears deceive me? Did The Addams Family really win? Indeed it did! While calling The Addams Family a horror movie is a bit borderline, I can at least acknowledge that it was the best of the six films nominated. And who would be accepting this top honor in the 1991 Horror Hall of Fame? Raul Julia? Angelica Houston? Christopher Lloyd?
Nope. Lurch. Lurch! LUUUUUURCH. LURRRRRCCCH!! Going by his pseudonym of Carel Struycken, which sounds like a one-shot character from Growing Pains intended to be an amazingly twin-like acquaintance of Carol's, picked up during a very special "the gang goes to Germany!!!" episode and also played by Tracey Gold using the spliced footage trick, Lurch lurches onstage doing all kinds of goofy bends and "I'M A MONSTER" mannerisms, leading everyone to believe that he'd be accepting the award in-character. But he doesn't. He plays it straight. He played it so straight that I wanted to kill him. Come the fuck on, Lurch! Don't try to be proper over such an illegitimate award. Have some fun with it. Give us some of your movie lines. Pretend to bash Englund's head in with the trophy. Talk about how Ryu named one of his best attacks after you. Anything. Jesus.
And then...the graveyard smash. "Monster Mash" is one of my favorite songs ever, and not just during the Halloween season. Perhaps it's because the song was featured on every last spookified "party hits" album that has ever come my way, or maybe it's because "Monster Mash" was the background noise for every costume party scene on every Halloween episode of every sitcom ever. Though the song was considered off-color by some in the very different world of 1962 (its debut year), I've come to regard it as something so squeaky clean and innocent -- I can't help feeling like a much nicer person by listening to it. That's a mean feat for a song about Dracula and Frankenstein.
Co-written and sung by Bobby "Boris" Pickett, who amazingly still performs to this day, I have to believe that Pickett's gig at The Horror Hall of Fame III was by far his most thematic. This was the real dog & pony show for the curiously off-target crowd in attendance, and Englund gives Boris the kind of introduction one might expect for the kickoff show on a Pink Floyd reunion tour. I'm not sure if the crowd would've responded with such vigor if Englund didn't ring him in like a ringer-inner who was paid 200 bucks extra to snort a pound of cocaine so he could ring people in with extra oompf.
The show was loaded with hot pyrotechnic action, but they were really toned down and frequently silent. There's fireworks and explosions going off constantly during the performance, but every single one of them feels like it fizzed out halfway through and didn't do what it was sent out there to do. It's also interesting because, well, "Monster Mash" doesn't have a lot of breathing room. As far as novelty holiday songs go, this one is pretty damn wordy. So poor Boris, poor Boris who correlated the success of this one specific performance with his desire to go on living, had to plow through this calm, low energy melody and try to sell it harder than the god damn Independence Day bayside fireworks show going on behind him.
On the other hand, when I watch Boris's eyes as he's shakin' his groove thang, I can so totally tell what he's thinking: "I got fireworks? Coooool!"
I'll be honest. The real reason I'm doing this article is because I wanted to talk about Boris's backup dancers. Everything before this and after this, I was completely "yeah yeah blah blahhing" myself through. Here, I'm happy. After the first "big" explosion, the Wolfman and Beetlejuice wander onstage, and it's so much more hilarious when you get to hear the crowd response to their surprise appearances: Zilch. The crowd didn't cheer, didn't clap, didn't yell "BEETLEJUICE BEETLEJUICE BEETLEJUICE!" Sooo sad. The characters were borrowed from an existing show at the Universal Studios theme park, so maybe the audience was just used to seeing them and couldn't muster the pretense that their worlds were still being rocked.
I'd like to believe I made up for some of that apathy as I watched the show last week. When Beetlejuice sauntered out, creeping around like a repo man near his target car at night, I jumped off the couch, stripped and did the Charleston. The only other things I strip and do the Charleston for are raffle wins and oranges that surprise me by being seedless.
It's not just the Wolfman and Beetlejuice, though -- Frankenstein's Monster and The Bride of Frankenstein also conjure up some rhythm, with Frank's head being ridiculously large and round for no reason, and Frank's woman looking like a slimmed down version of one of those two fat ladies from Amen. At first, the creatures kind of just skulk about, but they eventually fall into a doo wop backup dancer pattern that sent shivers down my spine, because if there's anything Beetlejuice shouldn't be doing, it's gyrating his hips and making that "1 point 2 point 3 point 4!" hand gesture towards Bobby Pickett. I'm not saying that Beetle wouldn't have appreciated Pickett's artistic tastes; it's just that he's not the kind of guy who'd share "second fiddle" position with one of the fat ladies from Amen.
Late in the song, they start cutting to shots of the crowd, who by this point have been coerced at gunpoint to make with the having-a-good-time. Then again, they seem pretty genuine, because I can't imagine people letting themselves look like such asses if it wasn't genuine. I mean, there were girls in the crowd doing the Bushwhacker stomp and shit.
By the end of the performance, all of the monsters surround Pickett and start picketting at him, and there's a hundred explosions happening five feet away. This made Bobby's big finale a challenge, because if you've heard "Monster Mash" enough times, you know that it ends with all of that snarling, and that stupid "OH Igor, you impetuous young boy" bullshit. I don't know why Pickett incorporates that bit into his performances, because it just doesn't work live. He's doing different characters conversing with one another. Hearing it is one thing -- seeing it turns "Monster Mash" into a bad Gollum/Smeagol impression.
Despite the few parts of the performance that fill you more with pity than bippity bippity bo ditty, Pickett brings it around town and ends to big cheers from the crowd. The cynic might say that the crowd noise was added in post production, but they did a pan -- I saw them cheering. I bet Dracula poured a barrel of red Gatorade over Bobby's head when he got backstage. You just had to feel good for the guy.
Oh yeah, then there was the big Steve & Linnea finale. This time, Steve starts beating the piss out of Linnea's head using fistfuls of hair gel and cement. You know how some barbershop hair washer people treat your head like a joystick? Steve treats Linnea's head like a joystick that stopped working during the battle with the final boss on Level 16. On the plus side, if you're the type of kiddo who likes strolls through the cemetery in Doc Martins with a throwaway camera, Linnea comes out looking like your sex dream. You fucking loser.
After a final commercial break, Englund waltzes out to the awesome foam gothic podium -- I will never get tired of that podium -- and cheekily warns the crowd that he'd be back to host The Horror of Hall of Fame IV, which may or may not have ever happened. To end the show on an amazing note, Englund pretends to chop his thumb off and screams before a totally irrelevant and separate white smoke bomb goes off somewhere in the vicinity of one mile away from the podium. I'll never understand that particular twenty seconds of television programming.
The Horror Hall of Fame was an excellent treat for the kind of people who generally were not given treats on such a grand platform. Before the Internet had a chance to let people do what they do, horror nuts had few methods of letting their voices be heard in unison. If there was a market for this sort of thing, it wasn't easy to point to. These days, with fans so virtually riotous and cinematic trends built upon that, I could almost, almost see something like this becoming a new reality. It wouldn't be much like the old The Horror Hall of Fame shows, though. It'd be funny, tongue-in-cheek, filled with faces that didn't belong there and catering to an audience that didn't actively support it. This junk was really for the fans.