American Scary (2006)

Reviewed by Melissa Garza

As stated previously while reviewing “Elvira: Mistress of the dark,” I am a huge fan of her work. Growing up, having a host introduce horror films and entertain during breaks was common. I recall enjoying Commander USA every Saturday afternoon.
American Scary delves into this unique entertainment industry by paying homage to these special individuals who relied on charisma, wit, and bad jokes told well. Though the gimmicks used by the hosts, in any other forum would be cheesy and awful, with horror it worked. The sideshow freak element added something special to the production.

First, horror fans (myself included) are often proud weirdoes. We enjoy the dark and mysterious. The odd and strange sides of human nature appeal to us. Haunted houses and spooky hayrides capture our attention. Horror conventions which celebrate the actors who brought to life the most unique characters always draw a large crowd.

Whereas any other style of movie (with the exception of science fiction which shares the same type of fan) wouldn’t work with a host, horror productions do. American Scary details the history of horror hosts. It began with channels wanting to ensure that the showings of movies on their network could easily be differentiated from those being shown elsewhere.
As a woman, I am always most intrigued by the female horror icons. Old footage of the original sexy scary gal, Vampira is shown. The production is also lucky enough to interview her. She had her own television show in 1954 where she would be dressed in a black Morticia-style dress. She had the thinnest waist recorded and sported long black hair and perfectly designed eyebrows. She was the epitome of beauty and no doubt inspired many female gothic icons who came later.

The oldest footage is by far the most interesting to watch. So much of it I had never seen, and so many of the early horror icons I had never heard of. The entire history of the art and each host is fascinating and definitely worth watching.

The documentary shares interviews with both modern hosts, critics, and entertainment buffs but also captures interviews with the classic hosts. It is really interesting to see the originators and then those who were inspired. One thing which is interesting is that the older generation by many standards were not as in-your-face as the younger crowd. They dressed like ghouls, goblins, and oddities. The women were seductresses but relatively low-key. Though they often used slapstick comedy, there was a certain level of class they brought to the table. There was an integrity and believability to the productions.

The recent hosts seem to be much more into an over-the-top image. Most seem to be 100% tongue-and-cheek and all credibility is lost. Admittedly, the hosts always had a certain amount of absurdity, but they weren’t affected. There was sincerity about the work they accomplished. That seems absent in recent days. The easiest comparison is that of old school pro-wrestlers and modern wrestlers. Though the show was always choreographed and the characters they portrayed were all created, the old school wrestlers took it seriously. Yes, there was comedy and a levity to the show but it was entertaining and popular because those involved were giving 100% and focused on the entire production rather than making themselves a star (with the exception of the talentless glory hound Hulk Hogan).

It would be an excellent treat to have someone who shared the talent and sex appeal of Vampira, Elvira, or Crematia take over a late night Saturday show and deliver old-school horror movies with fun commentary in-between.
Overall, America Scary is a documentary for all horror fans to enjoy. The old school footage is by far the best part of the show.

Scared Stiff Rating: 7/10