Vampira, Ghoulardi, Dr. Shock: 20 Classic Creeps Of Regional Horror TV

By Jacob Shelton
Left: Finnish-born actor and television host Vampira, a.k.a. Maila Nurmi, circa 1956. Source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images. Right: Dr. Shock and Bubbles on the cover of a TV Guide-like supplement to the (Philadelphia/South NJ) Courier Post. Source: Flickr.

Horror hosts on local TV stations shepherded us through the night, using their quirky, macabre personas to introduce movies that were creepy or terrible, back before cable and streaming. The figure who emerged as the national embodiment of the concept was Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. But Elvira could not have happened without dozens of local heroes who created the genre, including Ghoulardi, Zacherley, Sinister Seymour, and of course, most controversially, Vampira, played by Maila Nurmi.

The movies were often laughable, drive-in fare like The Beach Girls and the Monster, Son of Frankenstein and The Creature from the Black Lagoon meets Dracula’s Daughter. In this pre-internet age, you got what you got -- and if the movie was awful, the host had to make the show worth watching. Local horror hosts on regional TV shows with names like “Creature Feature” and “Shock Theater” portrayed ghouls, mad scientists, and mock-European counts who cracked wise about the movies with a DIY ethos. It was a form of standup or sketch comedy -- except it wasn't always funny. But it was always weird.

From Los Angeles to Cleveland and Detroit to New Orleans, regional horror hosts donned grease paint and inspired their young fans to fall in love with genre films. Some of the most famous, like Count Gore, Zacherly, and Vampira inspired an undying fandom, but the impact of each of these horror hosts from the groovy era can’t be overestimated.