There was a time during the history of television when much more program was locally originated than is the case these days. With smaller budgets and lots of time to fill, channels aired lots of movies which they could buy inexpensively. Sometimes stations would hire “hosts” to introduce the films, talk a little bit about them, and maybe even pop up before or after commercial breaks (kind of like a precursor to Robert Osborne's job). They were, usually, goofily dressed and more humorous than terrifying. The new documentary American Scary delves into the history of the group of hosts who were hired to introduce horror films.
The piece is a truly fascinating one, which features more than a few horror hosts, film critics, and other talking heads. They all delve into the history of the horror host in general, and in the hosts' cases, how exactly they got started down such an odd path. The answer is, very often, similar among any group of hosts. Older hosts tended to already working at the station and the station needed someone to introduce these movies. Later hosts seem to have gotten into it out of a love of watching those who came before them.
The film, more or less, follows the story of horror hosts from their initial appearance in the 1950s straight through to the present day. It does a fairly adequate job of examining how the idea came about to where it's headed in the future (the internet seems most likely).
Ironically, the film lacks and desperately needs exactly that which they examine – hosts. American Scary eschews a host and even an omniscient voiceover person to help make things clear to the audience. Instead, it relies solely on the talking heads being interviewed, and cutting together bits and pieces of their interviews to help tell its story. For the most part this works, it's almost as if there is a single, well-established among those in the know, history of the horror hosting phenomenon. However, there are a few occasions in the film where the interviewees seem at odds with each other (which host appeared first), and where things get a little murky. Having a narrator would have made the through-line far more easy for the audience to grasp at these moments.
Scary also features one thing it most definitely should not – background music seems to be playing through the entire documentary and quickly becomes obnoxious. Judicious use of music would have helped underscore certain points and have made transitions easier to grasp, particularly with the lack of a narrator.
The DVD release features an audio commentary track, a “pitch reel,” some extra interview footage, a discussion of national TV horror hosts, and footage of a horror host wedding. That's right, during the filming of the documentary two horror hosts got married in full horror host regalia and with folks in the audience dressed up too. It's clear why the wedding didn't make the film itself (it's not really on point), but it's still intriguing to watch.
Much of the footage of the older horror hosts doing their thing is of rather low quality (as one would expect), but despite that, and the lack of a narrator, anyone interested in television of a bygone era will find themselves intrigued by American Scary. It doesn't really break new ground, but it's a fascinating 90 minutes nonetheless.