Saturday, October 31, 2015

31 Days of Halloween: Every Other Day is Halloween

It was a different age of television. Channels were far more often than not locally run, and most stations had their own smaller studio production facilities where actual programming was made for broadcast. This wasn’t simply your six o’clock news either. Back in the day you would get local morning shows, children’s game shows and programming, and special event presentations starring the local talent and geared for the regional audiences. But the favorite amongst the local programming in many areas was whatever show featured a horror movie and a horror host. Back in 2009 C.W. Prather’s labor of love, Every Other Day is Halloween, looked at a slice of this bit of television history by focusing on Dick Dyszel, a man known throughout the DC area and beyond as Bozo the Clown, Captain 20, and, most importantly, Count Gore de Vol.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve never seen Dick Dyszel, Gore de Vol, WDCA 20, the city of Washington DC itself, or even a single horror host ever, Prather crafted a documentary that anyone can (and most everyone will) enjoy. While the subject matter is a specific man, a specific time period, and, to a degree, a large dollop of nostalgia, the heart of the documentary is showcasing creative people doing the things they love. Not only is the joy of much of that period still so evident in the interview subjects in the film that it’s infectious, but, as some in the audience said after its San Diego Comic Con screening, it has the power to make you nostalgic for something you never even had. 

The documentary opens in the present day era, showing Dick Dyszel dressed as Count Gore tricking the neighborhood kids on Halloween evening before treating them to a plastic pumpkin full of candy. From there the documentary quickly takes us back to a bygone day where we’re guided through events that happened by a number of the people who were there. We get a look at the ups, the downs, the hard work, the joys, the Penthouse Pets, the giant events that brought fans in from sometimes hundreds of miles away, and more. We also get a look at the impact that these men had back then to influence and inspire others- people ranging from kids who grew up to be hosts themselves to popular genre creators like horror writer Steve Niles. Niles even wrote a graphic novel directly inspired by growing up watching Gore, receiving the additional fanboy highlight of having the introduction written by Gore himself.   

The tales that are told about what went on back in the day– televised gerbil races, kids coming in to show off their beer can collections, never ending video game challenges, and specials where everyone was more than a wee bit drunk by filming time to name but a few –would seem beyond belief to many if it wasn’t for the large amount of surviving footage tracked down by Prather for the documentary. What might also seem beyond belief to many is the number of hours these people put into doing these things, often for little or no additional pay. What does make it believable and even enviously understandable are the interviews that Prather captures for the documentary. This was hard work, but it wasn’t work at all at the same time. It was fun, and it was a labor of love for all involved. 

We unfortunately, maybe even infuriatingly, get a look into the time that was the final days for local programming and horror hosting on WDCA. While focusing only on Dick Dyszel and Channel 20, what’s documented in Every Other Day is Halloween as playing out there at that time was playing out in television stations around the country. Truly local stations were largely, and rather quickly, becoming a thing of the past. Deregulation allowed for large corporate entities to come into towns and snap up stations left and right. Before long, your local station was being run and programmed by people who lived thousands of miles away, and out of state bean counters replaced local decision makers.

Production facilities were shut down. Local programming wasn’t wanted by new owners who owned their own syndication packages. Ratings might dip, but costs would be reduced enough that more profit might still be made. The late night home of the horror host could be replaced with the infomercial block, so 30 minutes of paid for advertising “shows” pushed out even the most cheaply made horror hosts shows in most markets. For those in the middle of the change, it was a dark time.

But Prather and Dyszel don’t let our documentary viewing experience end on a downer in large part thanks to Dyszel’s own amazing work ethic and tenacity when it comes to his own labors of love. Count Gore de Vol may have been kicked off of the television by the corporate powers that be, but Dyszel had other plans for the good Count that did not involving going quietly into that good night. 

In 1998, with the technology barely up to the task, Dyszel took Count Gore to the web, becoming the internet’s first horror host. As the streaming and internet technology grew, so too did Gore’s web presence. The show became the centerpiece for a full website keeping up with genre news and conventions, and giving other contributors a place to bring new and old books, magazines, movies, and games to the attention of Gore’s legion of fans. He had also become something of an ambassador of the horror hosting profession; starting the Horror Host Underground and bringing many hosts who might otherwise have never know each other together.

We also get to see something of the new generation of hosts in the DC and Virginia area who grew up on Count Gore de Vol and were inspired to become for a new generation what he was to them all those years ago.  We’re also left with people commenting on how he seems like he’s having more fun than ever and hoping he keeps going. Something you won’t know from the documentary is that he has done exactly that. He may be bigger than ever with an internationally viewed internet show, convention appearances, and live event gigs such as hosting classic horror movies in theaters around DC and hosting other large events in the greater DC/Maryland area.

It doesn’t matter if you never saw Count gore de Vol (or any other host) before now, you will love this documentary. It was a labor of love about another man’s labor of love, and that comes through in every scene. It’s also a wonderful look back at a Golden Era of local television and the effect it had on the people who grew up with it. 

As of the time of this writing, Every Other Day is Halloween is streaming (Free!) on Amazon.

It can also be purchased through online sellers like Amazon. My recommendation is getting the DVD. Even if you watch it on streaming, there are quite a few fun extras on the DVD that more than make it worth picking it up rather than just taking a look on streaming.

Count Gore de Vol can be found at his internet home here. He’s got new content up every week. Some of that new content is new and original content in the form of his New Blood Showcase where he promotes short films from talented indie filmmakers.

As for the people involved in the documentary both behind and in front of the camera, they can almost all be found at events and conventions. If you see them, say high. They’re all just good as people as they come off in the documentary. 

Jerry Chandler is a serious horror host geek. When not watching horror hosts, he can sometimes be found helping to make horror movies with his filmmaking family in NC, Adrenalin Productions. He loves Halloween slightly more than Christmas, and almost as much as Dragon Con. When not writing here, he can be found at his other homes on the web by looking at his own blog, his Twitter, and his Facebook.

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