If you wax nostalgic for the old late-night TV hosts who dressed up like ghouls or vamps and wisecracked about that night's horror quickie during the commercial breaks, then American Scary is for you. The first feature-length documentary from director John E. Hudgens and writer/producer Sandy Clark whose prior collaborations have been short Star Wars spoofs, American Scary digs up a cavalcade of horror hosts to reminisce about the gory days (that's the end of the puns, promise).
Horror hosting was born May 1, 1954 when Maila Nurmi (1922-2008) appeared as the camp-vamp Vampira on KABC-TV in L.A. Three years later horror hosting exploded nationwide when Universal bundled 52 of its horror flicks for TV. Horror hosts padded the time to fill the programming block, eased young viewers' fright, and provided a welcomed distraction for the adults.
Horror hosting reached its peak in the '60s, diminishing as local stations increasingly turned to syndicated programming. It got a shot in the arm in the '80's with Cassandra Peterson's portrayal of Elvira Mistress of the Dark's syndicated horror show Movie Macabre. Horror hosting sired countless bastard progeny from Mystery Science Theater 3000 to TBS's Dinner & a Movie. With the internet age has come a renewed interest through online fora and fan sites, spawning a new generation of horror hosts on local public access and streaming media.
American Scary is a competent, uncritical, conventionally-structured fan documentary that intermixes archival footage with new interviews. Dozens of horror hosts past and present including luminaries Maila Nurmi, John Zacherle ("Zacherley"), Jerry Bishop ("Svengoolie"), Ron Sweed ("The Ghoul") and Keven Scarpino ("Son of Ghoul") are interviewed. While publisher Forrest J Ackerman (1916-2008), Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator Joel Hodgson, critic Leonard Maltin, author Neil Gaiman, and actors Tim Conway and Patricia Tallman are among the better known fans interviewed. The only living ex-host notably absent from American Scary is Cassandra Peterson ("Elvira") though the filmmakers did spring for an archival clip.
This Cinema Libre release is presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1). Shot on video, the new interviews look soft and suffer slight aliasing, but are still a cut above average for documentaries of this kind. The cropped or zoomed archival footage is of varying quality with early '70s video naturally looking the most atrocious.
The 2-channel stereo mix is adequate with mostly clear dialogue and no dropouts or distortions, though the music is mixed a bit high.
No subtitles are provided on this release.
A spot check of the audio commentary with filmmakers John E. Hudgens and Sandy Clark suggests it would be no less entertaining than the film itself. Unfortunately, the DVD's audio engineer failed to sufficiently diminish the volume of the feature film on the commentary playback. If you listen closely you may be able to follow the commentary despite the background chatter, but it'll be an uphill slog. More easily enjoyed is an additional half-hour of deleted scenes and trailers (two for American Scary and one each for American Zombie and American Shopper).
American Scary is probably best enjoyed at a horror convention or festival with an enthusiastic crowd that's been warmed up with the promise of a post-screening Q&A with the filmmakers and a couple horror hosts. Nevertheless, fans of this niche should still get a thrill from seeing this one at home, though it's unlikely to attract anybody not already enthused over the horror host shtick.