Halloween used to be a scary sight on television in Toronto.
In addition to eerie mood music and anchors wearing costumes on October 31, most channels programmed horror movies and eerie shows that captured our collective imagination before Netflix.
Local TV legend Elwy Yost was in front of two of the best movie shows in Toronto, Magical shadows (features compiled into 30-minute pieces, screened daily) and Saturday night in the cinema (double bills Saturday night).
Both celebrated Halloween each year by showing a gruesome abundance of classic scary movies, ranging from Hammer Horror to The haunted, The night of the demon, Psycho, and the classic Universal Monster movies.
While focusing on Magical shadows and Saturday night in the cinema was not limited to any single genre, Elwy certainly knew and loved horror.
He often hosted guests to discuss horror movies and their appeal to the masses, including Toronto horror director David Cronenberg, and SCTV comedy God John Candy (makes Dr. Tongue, nothing less).
Broadcasters have abandoned the old stunts that used to make local television so strange and wonderful, even after Halloween. But there was once a time where this type of programming was everywhere.
Horror hosts became a staple of North American television stations in the 1960s, with characters such as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, Ghoulardi and Svengoolie showing black-and-white monster movies and horror titles with sketches or other fillers without a budget.
Usually, it was a local station weatherman or the local car dealer in a silly costume who brought a Halloween vibe to each weekend’s late movie castle.
SCTV ‘s Count Floyd was a forgery of a horror host, portrayed by Joe Flaherty, there was moonlight as effervescent newscaster Floyd Robertson.
His series Monster Chiller Horror Theater (which also featured John Candy as Dr. Tongue and Eugene Levy as Bruno) was a tribute to Chiller Theater as Flaherty saw his upbringing in Pittsburgh.
The cult around horror hosts has grown over time: the concept was the focus of a documentary from 2006, American scary, and endless debates about what was the strangest.
For viewers in Toronto, the horror host legacy started in earnest when Adam Keefe dressed up as a vampire for WKBW Buffalo’s Fright Night Theater, which was broadcast from 1963 to 1969.
Monsters we know and love
Toronto had its own bona fide horror hosts, though their legacy has largely been forgotten. Citytv’s Monsters we know and love launched in 1974 with Gene Taylor and Art Nefsky as Igor.
The show featured Euro-horror and Japanese monster movies along with bizarre music tracks and lip-syncs.
Before Brian Linehan, JD Roberts and Jeanne Beker, Gene Taylor was probably the first breakout star on Citytv. He was at the forefront of the channel’s daily call-in public affairs series Talk easy, and a range of offers from Sea World.
He was also the first host of their legendary disco dance party Boogie, saw the headline of a bizarre 90-minute breakfast show, Bazaar, a precursor to Breakfast television.
Monsters we know and love movies included Assignment Terror, Son of Frankenstein, She Wolf of London, The Spider Woman Strikes, Blood of Dracula, Black Sabbath, Beast of Morrocco, War of the Monsters, Eye Creatures, The Terror, Day of the Triffids, Graveyard of Horror, Tombs of the Blind Dead, Dracula vs. Frankenstein, The Demon Planet, The Attack of the Mushroom People, Beware the Blob and Gamera vs. Monster X.
The all-night show
Even though it’s more than forty years since the series ended its one-year TV switch, many in Toronto are still occupied by the horror host Chuck the Security Guard on Channel 47’s The all-night show.
Channel 47 Cable 4 (then known as MTV – Multicultural Television, now OMNI) was launched in September 1980 and used The All-Night Show to become the very first television station in North America to program 24 hours a day.
Composed of a rag roof of young comedians and science fiction boffins – the cast and crew included, among others, Chas Lawther as Chuck, voices of Jim Carrey before Hollywood, Maurice LaMarche and modeling work by Michael Lennick.
The show fried a million local synapses rebroadcasts of offbeat TV series such as The external boundaries, Catch and Twilight Zone from kl. 02.00 at dawn, with bizarre sketches and direct phone calls between the programs.
Horror titles and themes were universal, and their one (and only) Halloween special, aired on October 31, 1980, featured a preview of George Romero’s zombie classic Night of the Living Dead (1968), which went off track due to technical difficulties.
Voices of horror
In the 1980s, Citytv’s actual horror hosts turned into radio stations.
Few will forget Mark Dailey’s mischievous deep basso when he dropped the warning “Viewer discretion advised” before some of the more delicate titles shown by Citytv’s Great Movies at the time.
Last days with cable
The late 1990s / early 2000s was perhaps the last big gasp in cable television in Toronto (all over North America, really), before the Internet largely hijacked the distribution and proliferation of wholesale entertainment.
Before CHUM was swallowed up by the CTV / Bell empire, CHUM launched a truly incredible digital channel called Drive-In Classics, which specializes in all kinds of celluloid sleaze.
This breathtaking mix of Horror, Sci-Fi, Kung-Fu, Biker, Sexploitation and Monster movies was really held together by a series called Salem’s Lot, with the great Toronto Star entertainment reporter and B-movie nut Rob Salem in front.
Salem was the last true TV horror host before such efforts migrated online to places like YouTube, Twitch and TikTok (in extremely cut portions, of course).
This Halloween, you can no doubt program your own giant horror marathon, but you will not find anyone dressed up on TV inviting you to a composite mix of strange and trashy titles you had never heard of or could have dreamed of in a million years.
RIP, Horror hosts.