In the past, I’ve conducted a pair of Q&A sessions with some of the genre’s top horror hosts.
I recently decided to venture into The Land of the Horror Hosts to once again pick the evil and diabolical minds of even more horror hosts. What I didn’t expect was to have so many hosts eager and willing to have their minds melded with that of my own, therefor what I’ll be doing here on National Horror Examiner throughout this week is publishing individual interviews with each of the hosts that took part in the latest Q&A.
This time on the slab, I’ve hooked Dr. Calamari, of Atomic Age Cinema, up to the stratosphramogram brain matter extraction device and dug deep inside of his brain to find out what makes his twisted mind work.
About Dr. Calamari:
Charlatan, Hack, Quack, Freak, Swindler, Liar, Cheat… Dr. Culprit Calamari has been known by many names in many lands, having traveled extensively with carnivals across the globe. His secret desire however, has always been to host horror films… well, snuff films and monster porn really, but beggars can’t exactly be choosers, now can they?
Now, on with the brain extraction. Igor! Strap him down and pull the switch! . . .
Can you take me back in time, and tell me about your humble beginnings? When/how did your love for the horror genre begin?
Well, when you look like I do, horror’s pretty much what you’ve got. It would not be untrue to say I was brought up to be a monster. I was raised in the carnival as an ‘oddity’. At first they stuck me in with the pickled punks, where it was my job to stay in a large jar, wait until the rubes were staring at me for a minute, then twitch and wriggle and scream. As I grew, I became known as Moliardi, the Mollusk Man. Oh, I was terrifying, rattling the bars, making weird noises that I didn’t normally make and occasionally ‘escaping’.
Later, it was apparent that I had a way with people, particularly the women folk and they thought it would be novel to have me bark the blow-off and the cooch show, often one in the same. So, a taste for what might be considered ‘low’ theatre was, essentially, bred into me. Once the guignol shows started becoming popular, I knew I had found my true calling.
Then, I remember, me and old Rusty Chambers nicked a camera off this sucker in Pinch, West Virginia. We figured out how to work it and started making nudie snuff films for the nickelodeon outside the guignol tent.
When motion pictures came out, they started as a novelty in the sideshow tents, but people freaked out! Reality had officially been split between the image and the experience and things would never be the same again. That was power and I wanted it! I cobbled together a projector after examining how it operated and began dogging down any film I could find. Both Edison’s “Electrocuting an Elephant” and his “Frankenstein” were very influential to me, as was a film called “Maciste in Hell”. However, and this should come as no surprise, the first film that really touched my black, inky heart was the nitrous, amber print of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”.
What is horror to you? How would you describe the horror genre to someone who has never seen a horror movie?
Alright, you’re asking a damned philosophical question and you’re getting a long damned philosophical answer.
Horror is, most often, the story of monsters. Monsters have always been great metaphors. They are constructed around concepts that are rooted deeply within Earth’s oldest mythologies. Their stories have primarily been aimed at children, those of us most apt to learn the lessons they teach. They are representations of our primal fears, the uncontrollable and the unknown. Whether they take the form of you humans, strange creatures or the vastness of the cosmos itself, they are the knowledge that we are all in this alone and, ultimately, must face our fate, our death… alone.
Horror is our simple understanding of the circumstances set out in the universe where we live. We are vulnerable child-beings who must sleep to sustain ourselves. We are condemned to disconnect each ‘night’ from our seemingly stable bodies and dive, head first, into unfathomable waters where unknown things wait for us in the deep. And if we awake, we are still left without reason or meaning as to our predicament, save that which we invent ourselves, while we are spinning on a fragile ball of mud, catapulted at a preposterous speed through incredible reaches of untold space, amid the cold, uncaring, inhuman stars.
Horror is older than we are. Of the range of emotions that we experience, horror is the one we can’t be sure couldn’t exist without us. And, it seems, without horror, we would be missing the point.
Independent horror cinema has always been rich with weird, out of the way corners of existence and concepts that can cause us to confront ourselves and the reasons why we believe the things we do. This is not for everyone. Some people don’t want to examine their belief structures and find them strange. They would rather believe that what they believe is real and that those beliefs should be shared by others. Many will even go to the point of anger or violence, if they have to, to maintain their set of traditional ideas.
What makes the horror genre unique is its ability to encompass all other genres without becoming them. You know as well as I do that the most interesting, challenging and enriching parts of any other genre story are often its horrific or fantastic elements.
A fine example is Charles Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Most don’t regard this as a horror story, yet where would it be without its ghosts of revelation and time travel, without its spectres of death and regret?
I feel it should be obvious to even the humaniest of humans that horror, as a genre of entertainment, is the only one that has it all; from the base to the best, love, sex, weirdness, comedy, tragedy, mystery, heroes and villains, gods and devils… Horror is it, baby! Horror is it!
Two-part question: What, in your opinion, is the best horror film ever made? And the worst?
How can I be a horror host and not give my opinion for the best and worst horror films ever made? Well, this is how…
By substituting a brief discussion concerning why it is impossible to call yourself an American and go on promoting stupid hierarchies of evaluation proclaiming this or that number 1, the “Best!” When you consider that these constant popularity contests limit our general perception of the crucial plurality of impressions, styles, values, feelings and types of sense which make a culture flexible and provide the only avenues for evolution and progression, you begin to see how our obsessive search for number one creates the tunnel vision, down at the end of which we will eventually spot social history’s locomotive of decline, bearing down on us much too fast.
That being said, I like movies like The Haunting, Possession, Videodrome, Eraserhead, Pumpkinhead, Dead Silence and Halloween 3: Season of the Witch. Horror Movies with Sam Neill I always find to be solid. And I thought Monsters sucked ass. The 2010 movie, not the t.v. series. Obviously, the series was awesome.
What’s the difference between a cheesy movie, and one that is just plain bad?
It really all has to do with attitude and respect, I think. From the seed of the initial idea to the personal value we end up attaching to the finished product we see on the screen, an enormous ordeal of compromise is undergone. The horror film does not have the advantage of knowing us as, say the nightmare does and we would not want it to. What the pure idea of the horror film gives us is not fear, but the interpretation of others’ fears. To fully experience it, we must bring our own fears to it or, at the very least, compassion for the fears of others. This is why horror literature is relatively more effective. It allows us to bring our own set of images and ideas relative to our life experience, rather than being given the sights and sounds that others have manufactured for us. Less compromise.
Horror movies are almost never seen as the high art form that they really are and no other genre so consistently incorporates a need for traditional theatre craft and art techniques such as painting and sculpture. They are often the most fun and the most complicated types of films to put together.
So, the attitude of the filmmaker toward horror is extremely important, as well as the attitude toward money. Many of the worst horror films were made by people who had no real respect for the genre and were only making horror for the money or as a jumping off point into a career of mediocrity. The audience, the true audience, can tell. Rarely does a ‘pure’ idea result in a bad film, unless it is made without compassion. If there is love and respect for childhood and monsters and fear and victory, the audience, the true audience, will know. Talent schmalent.
I will say that in my 7ish years of doing Atomic Age Cinema!, over 300 live shows and 4 VHS/DVD releases, we have never once shown a bad movie. That is a scientific fact and could easily be proven in a laboratory.
What made you decide that you wanted to be a horror host?
Horror Hosts give you that certain feeling. You know the one. I’ve sometimes called it ‘that nostalgia for something you’ve never known’. It’s practically indescribable. And they do it with greasepaint, cheap disguises and toys, hand-me-downs, cardboard and tape! Some are smarter than you, many are not and still they educate you as they entertain you. They are with you, watching along, in the night, in the dark.
It has seemed the most natural progression in my life to want to follow in the footsteps of great ghouls like Zacherley, Sammy Terry and Dr. Paul Bearer. I adore horror movies, I love trying to pirate television, I’m a starving artist, a physician, a crook, a philosopher, not to mention what some would call a mad, freakish, flesh eating monster. I have plenty of stories to tell and… free props… if you know what I mean.
As a child, I naturally loved Elvira, and in the Philly area we had hosts such as “Stella, the man-eater from Manayunk” and the great “Dr. Shock”. I enjoyed both Elvira and Stella, but Dr. Shock was the host that entertained me the most. Growing up, who was your favorite horror host?
It would be easier to tell the order in which they entered my life before I became a host, as all of them have enriched my life and influenced my views on the world a great deal. Vampira, Dr. Paul Bearer, Svengoolie and Ghoulardi, Elvira, Commander USA, Sammy Terry, Zacherley. Paul, Sammy and Zach being the biggest influences on me, personally.
Now for a silly little “what if” kind of question. If you could chose anyone, from any era, dead or alive, to appear as a guest on your show, who would you chose?
Helen Kane and Herve Villechaize or Barbara Steele and Tom Waits or George Burns and Olivia Newton-John or Groucho Marx and Vladimir Lenin or any combination thereof.
How do you feel about horror films today, as compared to 20 or 30 years ago?
The same way I did 50 years ago. Independent is where it’s at. That’s where the love is.
Even for our beloved independents though, it’s too easy to seem slick these days. Bad CG effects are way worse than bad practical ones. Even good CG leaves me cold most of the time. I hate the attitude of “that’s ok, we’ll just take care of it in post.” Don’t misunderstand, new tools for the artist are always welcome. Yes, I like to photoshop and do tricky things in after effects, but let’s face facts here. If you’re making a horror movie, it should be because you want to go through the process, you want to live it. There’s a difference between having no money and being cheap. I’m an old man and if it looks like a video game, I’m just not going to believe it. I know the level of that filmmakers’ will to adventure. I may still appreciate the film, but, somewhere, I will hate you for it.
And now we turn the power back on the Stratosphramogram brain matter extraction device. Igor! Release the straps that bind him.
I’d like to thank Dr. Calamari for allowing Igor and myself to subject him to this intense and somewhat painful experiment and I’d like to say thanks for his continued work at helping to promote the horror genre. Keep up the great work.
For more information about Dr. Calamari and Atomic Age Cinema!, be sure to make frequent visits to www.atomicagecinema.org where you can get caught in all the latest merchandising scams…
GIVE US YOUR MONEY!
You can also find the good doctor at www.facebook.com/Dr.Calamari
and it’s usually a sure bet to see him in person at HorrorHound Weekend in Indianapolis and The Dark Carnival Film Festival in Bloomington, Indiana.
Stay tuned here on National Horror Examiner for the next horror host interview coming up soon!
And remember, support your local horror host as he or she is an intregal part of the horror genre.
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