Born in late 1974, I was raised by a young single mom who loved horror movies, but didn't quite have the sense to know which ones her young boys should and shouldn't be watching. Which means for every half dozen or so classics we'd see on Saturday afternoon TV (such as FRANKENSTEIN or BRIDES OF DRACULA), we'd also get a nightmarish dose of something like DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE or THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE at the Bel Air Drive-In on Saturday night (on 8 mile, now long since demolished). She meant well, and neither my brother (a year older) nor I have become serial killers, so.
|The Bel-Air endured from the summer of 1950 until 1986.|
We couldn't afford cable TV until the mid-80s, so like most people at the time, we had 5 or 6 channels to choose from, and if we were lucky a couple of them might be showing old movies. Nearly every Saturday afternoon from around noon until 4 or 5 pm, the three of us would be glued to the TV set, watching Thriller Double Feature or Creature Feature (on dueling UHF channels, WXON 20 and WKBD 50—there was always a choice between a couple of horror movies beginning around the same time).
Before those shows had come along, there'd been legendary horror host, Sir Graves Ghastly, who'd only lasted until I was 7 years old but comprises some of my earliest memories. Sir Graves (Lawson J. Deming) had a spooky opening—and I mean hair-raising to a little squirt like me—and every Saturday afternoon he would sing (in drag) and do strange vaudeville-esque bits with puppets in between commercials and the movie, as well as showcase the artwork of his youngest fans. The movies he showed were mostly classic and B horrors from the 30s, 40s, and 50s, and this wonderful man and his show were really the start of it all for me. Sir Graves was a beloved institution on Detroit television for fifteen years, and I had been fortunate enough to catch the tail end of it.
Just as Sir Graves had bellowed his trademark laugh for the final time (in November of 1982), along came this guy calling himself Count Scary, who occasionally hosted horror movies on local TV at night—and certainly made himself known. Every time it was announced he'd be hosting something, it was an event unto itself, regardless of the movie he was showing. He took the funny vampire shtick a step further, going almost purely for laughs, and (I'd swear it) often succeeded. To an 8 year old monster kid with a strange sense of humor, there was no greater talent in the world—and I still think the man (local radio legend, Tom Ryan) was brilliant, but what do I know?
Here's an early intro to The Count, from the summer of 1982:
By 1986, Tom Ryan had become something of a local cult hero with Count Scary:
By the late mid-80s, cable TV and videotape happened (to us), which changed everything, but that's a story for another time. I had seen it all—even managed to make it through THE EXORCIST without incident (though, yeah, nightmares over that one), and if Christopher Lee himself were to come tapping at my bedroom window by the moonlight, I'd have known exactly how to handle the situation...