Horror Host Icon: Sir Graves Ghastly

It’s 1967 in Detroit.  It’s Saturday, and the time is 11:30am.  You rush home from playing with friends to turn to channel WJBK TV2 because your favorite Horror Host is about to show a spooky or cheesy horror film and you can’t wait.  That host is Sir Graves Ghastly, and this scenario was real life for many kids and adults who grew up watching Sir Graves. This update to Rotten Ink will be all about Sir Graves Ghastly, a host that also spread his hosting humor from Detroit to Cleveland, Ohio as well as Washington D.C.! So wear some garlic and bring a cross because we are going to be looking at the vampire of goofy fright as Rotten Ink is proud to bring you Horror Host Icon: Sir Graves Ghastly.

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For those of you who don’t know who Sir Graves Ghastly is, I must first say shame on you.  Second, he is a fun loving vampire who, while a blood drinker, was an over all nice undead being who had a deep voice and an iconic laugh that went like this “Nyaaa-aaaaaah”! He would start and end his show in a coffin and would be joined by all types of wacky characters with the upside down singing mouth on the moon, aka The Glob, being his most popular. Sir Graves Ghastly’s back story is that he came from an Italian family who moved to England during the time when the Romans controlled it.  While there, Graves got into an argument with The Queen who had him hung in the Tower of London, and when this didn’t work he returned as the tongue in cheek vampire we all love! Many Horror Hosts have also been inspired by Sir Graves like fellow vampire Dr. Pureblood of Tales Of The Graveyard Shift from Tennessee. Sir Graves’s impact on television in the Detroit area can still be felt to this day as many people were influenced by and idolized the funny vampire. Sir Graves’ appearance always had him in a long black cape, gloves and a black suit. His hair was always slicked back with a Superman curl in the front; he also rocked a goatee and a curled mustache. While Sir Grave has been off the air for many years now, nothing can take away his impact to the world of Horror Hosting.

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Sir Graves Ghastly was played by Lawson J. Deming, who was born in Cleveland Ohio on April 23 1913 and got his first big break in media via the radio as a freelance worker and eventually an announcer for a Florida station. Radio was a great gig, but in the late 1940’s TV caught his eye.  Upon returning to Cleveland, he began working for an NBC station and hosted a movie show called “One O’Clock Playhouse” all the way until 1956.  By the early 60’s he also took work as a puppeteer and voice actor for a local Cleveland kids show called “Woodrow The Woodsman” as he lent his voice to many of the animal puppets as Lawson had mastered 27 dialects thanks to his radio work. When the NBC Cleveland station did away with locally made kids’ shows in 1965, WJBK TV2 in Detroit picked up Woodrow The Woodsman in 1966 and also offered Lawson a time slot to become a Horror Host, filling the time that super iconic horror host Morgus The Magnificent use to air at on Saturday afternoons.  This was the birth of what was originally called “Sir Graves Big Show,” and Lawson and his wife came up with the goofy vampire character Sir Graves Ghastly to be the show’s main host. The show took off, and Sir Graves became a well loved Host and lasted for 15 seasons as well as several specials including Halloween ones. Detroit’s TV watching public seemed to be drawn to the silly vampire and his odd sidekicks, and Sir Graves became popular not just with kids but also adults who enjoyed his humor. Also during this time in the 70’s Lawson offered the show idea to Cleveland and Washington D.C. and changed the character’s name to Count Alu Card, and while they picked it up, the show didn’t capture the magic it did in Detroit and was dropped. In 1983 TV had changed, and college football games were starting to air on Saturdays.  This marked the end of Sir Graves Ghastly, who was cancelled officially in 1983 but had been put on hiatus in late 1982. After the show ended, Lawson went back to doing voice work for a few years until he retired from show business and moved near the Styx River in Medina Ohio. In 1989, he returned to TV to do an interview for a Detroit morning talk show called “ Kelly & Company” where he was able to speak about his long career as a Horror Host. Sadly in 2007, the world lost Lawson J. Deming at the age of 94, but while he is gone, his work as Sir Graves Ghastly lives on in the hearts of those who watched him and fans of Horror Hosting. In 2011 Sir Graves Ghastly joined the first class inducted into the Horror Host Hall Of Fame forever honoring his legacy as a Horror Host.

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So when you look at the moon, what do you see? Well those who watched Sir Graves Ghastly saw The Glob, a face on the moon who loved to lip synch to silly songs like “King Kong Stomp” and “ I Want To Bite Your Hand” with style and cheeseball grace.  Sir Graves had many sidekicks like his maid and somewhat girlfriend Tilly Trollhouse, the gravedigger and caretaker Reel McCoy among others but none were as popular as The Glob! I am sure you’re wondering who played The Glob, well let me tell you, it was Lawson J. Deming who would lay flat and tilt his head back and paint eyes and a nose on his chin and would lip synch the songs as the blood would rush to his head…now that’s a man who loved the art of Horror Hosting! In fact I should say that Deming played most of the characters in the show, even Tilly as he would dress in drag to play the part. So here is to you, The Glob and other sidekick characters!

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I had always heard the name Sir Graves Ghastly when talking to fellow Horror Host fans and even hosts that I have been friends with for years, but besides small clips on Youtube, I couldn’t seem to find any full broadcast shows to learn more about him. I really learned a lot about the character thanks to the documentaries American Scary and Virginia Creepers.  I don’t know about you, but I really enjoy learning all I can about Horror Hosts and enjoy hearing stories from fans about growing up watching their home town host or even their favorite syndicated one. So I am going to have a friend of mine tell you a little about growing up watching Sir Graves Ghastly!

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As as I mentioned above, Horror Host friend of mine Dr. Pureblood was inspired by Sir Graves Ghastly, and he was nice enough to write a little something about him so enjoy.

Horror Host Dr Pureblood

I grew up in Monroe, Mich. And no matter what I was doing Sat I made sure when it was time for Sir Graves to come on CH 2 I was glued to the TV set for 2hrs. I remember getting upset every time Sir Graves was not on Sat for some dumb baseball game. When I created my host character he is based about 95% on Sir Graves. A original die hard fan that grew up watching him can see the similar stuff during the show. I wanted to keep the same spirit of Sir Graves showing movies for kids 9 months to 99yrs old. And kind of show a little of Sir Graves to the generation that missed out on seeing him. Yes Sir Graves influenced me as a child. So when I got the chance to be a host I wanted to pay back what he gave to me in the same way. My most prized part of my Sir Graves collection is 2 autograph pictures from him. Plus I still have the special CH2 Sir Graves presents KING KONG iron on transfer, that was only a mail in giveaway, still in the original CH2 envelope. If I only knew the TV station didn’t save any of his shows I would of hooked up a vcr and recorded every show.”

Thanks, Dr. Pureblood, for sharing your story about growing up and trying to never miss an episode of Sir Graves.  I agree with you, I should have taped every Commander USA episode when I was a kid! That’s one of the sad things that we host fans always have to face is the fact many of our favorite hosts episodes are missing and were taped over or thrown away by the stations that aired them. But I always have faith that many of these Horror Hosts who have shows M.I.A. will be found on 2” Quad Tapes, Beta or even VHS and guys like The Northeast Video Hunter are proof that they can be found as he has unearthed Fort Wayne Indiana’s own The Shroud of Nightmare Theatre hosting the Universal Monster film The Deadly Mantis! So here is to hoping that more episodes of Sir Graves Ghastly will see the light of day and land in the hands of fans.

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One thing that I find interesting is the fact Sir Graves changed his name to Count Alu Card and went to different markets with his show. It’s clear as day he had to change the name because his parent station owned the trademark or so he thought. And since Sir Graves did this, it makes me wonder how many other horror hosts have changed their name and character.  Off the top of my head I can think of Count Shockula who became Dr. Paul Bearer…but I know several others have.  So if you’re a fan of Horror Hosts and know a Host who has changed their name and character post it in the comments below.

Update: According to Sir Graves fan and Horror Host Lon Madnite, he can remember both Sir Graves Ghastly and Count Alu Card being on in Cleveland at the same time and that the two hosts while played by the same person had a sort of feud with each other! I could only imagine how magical that must have been for viewers watching the two vampires take tiny pot shots at each other, and then it makes you wonder if sides were chosen and if some kids didn’t watch one show cause of the rivalry? But thanks Lon for bringing this cool tidbit to my attention.

Count Alu Card

So we are at the point where I cover the episodes I have of the Host, and while I do have two “episodes” of Sir Graves Ghastly, I hate to say they both are very poorly put together fan reproductions that cut in the lip synching segments from the show’s original airings and this footage of the singing is all of the original material that is known to exist right now from Sir Graves Ghastly’s show run. So let’s get ready to hang out with Sir Graves and all his zany friends!

Sir Graves Ghastly Return of the Vampire DVD

Sir Graves Big Show: The Return Of The Vampire
Starring – Bela Lugosi & Matt Willis      Not Rated    1944

Host: Sir Graves comes from his coffin, welcomes us to the show and ushers us into the tale of terror! We start off with two little guys singing a song about hillbillies. Then Sir Graves joins in and lip synchs a silly song, The Glob sings about King Kong! Puppet Skeletons dance to classical music. Then Sir Graves once more comes in and swoons the viewers with another lip synched creepy classic song and ends the episode.

Movie: In 1918, an English family are terrorized by a vampire, until they learn how to deal with it. They think their troubles are over, but German bombs in WWII free the monster. He reclaims the soul of his wolfman ex-servant, and assuming the identity of a scientist who has just escaped from a concentration camp, he starts out on a plan to get revenge upon the family.

Sir Graves Ghastly Shock DVD

Sir Graves Big Show: Shock
Starring – Vincent Price & Lynn Bari    Not Rated    1946

Host: Sir Graves comes from his coffin, welcomes us to the show and ushers us into the tale of terror! What follows is Tilly Trollhouse sings a love song to us as well as tells us a story about three bats, and a few more silly songs one, even having to do with Dracula! Sir Graves joins in the music fun and plays a musical coffin trick and later The Glob sings about King Kong! Puppet Skeletons dance to classical music and throw in a few more tiny lip synch music numbers and you have this fan reproduction.

Movie: A psychologically distraught woman is committed to a private sanitarium by the man whom she witnessed commit a murder.

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It’s sad these very poor fan reproductions are all that is available for fans at this time.  If you have any complete broadcast episodes of Sir Graves, please contact me! Sir Graves Ghastly is a legend in the world of Horror Hosting and his silly antics meant so much to so many people and have helped inspire people to become horror hosts themselves as well as inspired the young and young at heart to enjoy a cheesy horror flick every week. This update is dedicated to Sir Graves and all his fans out in the world who remember the impact he had on TV airwaves all those years back. I also want to thank Dr. Pureblood again for sharing his memories with us as well as my brother Bryan and Stumpy Discs for hooking me up with the fan reproduction episodes. In closing I must say Sir Graves Ghastly is one vampire who truly deserves to be called a Horror Host Icon. Our next update is about another type of icon but not in the Horror Host world rather that of the cartoon world as we take a look at the rascally rabbit Bug Bunny and some Whitman comics I have starring him.  So until next time, support your local Horror Host and read a comic or three!

Bugs Bunny Logo for Rotten Ink

Horror Host Icon: USA Saturday Nightmares

Welcome back to Rotten Ink.  Today’s update will be about that wonderful Saturday night block of horror known as USA Saturday Nightmares! I know many of you are saying how can this be about a Horror Host when the films and TV shows were aired with no host? Well simple, while no host was shown, the iconic voice of Alan Kalter would welcome us to the night’s fears and even give an introduction to the nights film making the show feel like a horror host program. So it’s truly my honor to present to you my readers and friends Horror Host Icon: USA Saturday Nightmares.

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Saturdays when I was a kid were a fantastic time for TV.  Not only was the day packed with classic cartoons all morning but it also was swamped with some great horror host programs like Commander USA’s Groovie Movies, Super Scary Saturday with Grandpa Munster and USA Up All Night. But one horror themed program that my brother and I looked forward to every Saturday night was Saturday Nightmares on USA.  It was like clock work as we would beg our parents to let us watch the night’s horror film and as an extra bonus they would show such TV shows as The Hitchhiker, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Werewolf and Ray Bradbury Theater making for one spooky themed night. This is the place I first saw many great b-movie horror films like The Video Dead, Zombie Nightmare and Forever Evil and is also the place I got to see such classics as Friday The 13th and Prom Night. My brother and I would plant ourselves in front of the living room TV with a bowl of popcorn or potato chips as our parents would go watch TV in their room, and we would be sucked into the eerie terror glowing from the TV screen as most the times we would turn off the lights to add to the atmosphere and mood of the night’s feature movie. The block of programs was very simply formatted and would start at 8 pm with the intro to the show that would act as a way to show you the plot of the film as well as the two shows with a amazing voice over.  The most famous intro consisted of a haunted house with the camera going down a hallway where the pictures on the wall would morph from say Dracula to Frankenstein and the next from Freddy Kruger to Jason Voorhees. During breaks they would have a title card with the show’s logo and the voice intro-ing us in or out of a commercial break. Sometimes if the movie was running a little short on run time, they would fill in with a short horror film, the most popular being The Dummy that was also shown many times on HBO. Saturday Nightmares began in 1986 and would run till 1994 before USA would pull the plug on their horror block on Saturday nights.  This was a sad day indeed because by 1989 Commander USA was off the air and Up All Night only lasted 4 years more when it went off the air in 1998. Nowadays USA is a shell of what it used to be and now mainly focuses on Law and Order and C.S.I. reruns making for some boring and over played viewing. I will say that USA does still air WWE Raw as well as makes their own shows, but they are far from “America’s Favorite Cable Network” like they use to be.

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That’s something TV nowadays is really lacking, the horror program blocks that were so popular in the 80’s and 90’s, and when USA dropped the ball, TNT picked it up when they introduced Monstervison in 1993, but that series will be held for another Icon update. DATV in 2013 tried to make a great horror themed line up called Saturday Night Nightmares that showcased Baron Von Porkchop’s Terrifying Tales of The Macabre as well as Andy Copp’s cult movie review show Neon Madness and his “mix tape” style show called Psychotic Feed. But sadly the program block was too hard for them and myself to keep up on a weekly bases with new and fresh “cult” style shows so as quickly as it started it ended. I really wish USA Network would bring back Saturday Nightmares as well as Commander USA and Up All Night; I think it would surprise them on just how many people really do miss and want these shows back on the air. Shows like Saturday Nightmares was a great place for kids to watch and learn about horror films that were not in the mainstream as well as those were.  While many would say that they can learn about these films via the internet, nothing could take the place of sitting in front of the TV with your favorite snack and watching horrors unfold before your eyes on your TV screen. In fact when I was a kid, I can remember kids talking about some of the films we all had watched on USA Saturday Nightmares and comparing what part we got chills from and what deaths shocked us.  It’s a shame that this kind of enjoyment is taken away from the youth of today.

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So below are some USA Saturday Nightmares I own on DVD-R, and while no host segments are present, I still will take the film descriptions from IMDB so you can see what types of horrors as I kid I got to witness. And as an added bonus I will also include the horror films from the 80’s and early 90’s that I have that were taped from USA Network. So sit back and relax and welcome to my Saturday Nightmares!

USA Saturday Nightmares curse of the cat people dvd

Saturday Nightmares:  The Curse Of The Cat People
Starring – Simone Simon & Kent Smith      Not Rated      1944

Movie: This mostly unrelated sequel to Cat People (1942) has Amy, the young daughter of Oliver and Alice Reed. Amy is a very imaginative child who has trouble differentiating fantasy from reality, and has no friends her own age as a result. She makes an imaginary friend though, her father’s dead first wife Irena. At about the same time, she befriends Julia Farren, an aging reclusive actress who is alienated from her own daughter Barbara.

USA Saturday Nightmares friday the 13th dvd

Saturday Nightmares:  Friday The 13th
Starring – Betsy Palmer & Adrienne King    Rated R      1980

Movie: One summer at Camp Crystal Lake, a group of young counselors begin to get ready to lead campers. Unfortunately for the former, someone isn’t happy about what’s going on in the camp and enjoys playing kill the counselor. As bodies fall to the ground in the camp, no one is safe.

USA Saturday Nightmares spookies dvd

Saturday Nightmares:  Spookies
Starring – Felix Ward & Dan Scott      Rated R    1986

Movie: Taking a wrong turn, travelers find themselves trapped in a mysterious house. One horror after another threatens them as the sorcerer who lives within needs sacrifices to give eternal life to his beautiful bride.

USA Saturday Nightmares tourist trap dvd

Saturday Nightmares:  Tourist Trap
Starring – Chuck Connors & Tanya Roberts    Rated PG      1979

Movie: A group of young friends stranded at a secluded roadside museum are stalked by the owner of the place, who has the power to control his collection of mannequins.

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Saturday Nightmares:  Werewolf
Starring – Chuck Connors & John J. York      Not Rated      1987

Movie: Young Eric has been bitten by a werewolf. However, he’s not particularly thrilled by this turn of affairs and wishes to escape his curse.

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Saturday Nightmares:  The Dummy & Living Dolls
Starring – Carrie Vickrey & Park Dougherty      Not Rated    1982/1980

Movies: The Dummy – A woman is trapped in her apartment alone with a murderous ventriloquist dummy. Living Dolls – Melvin is a henpecked worker in a Bridal shop. To get way from the nagging women, he retreats to a storage room filled with mannequins where he vents his frustration. The only problem is, the mannequins upstairs offer something more horrifying than Melvin expected.

So while your blood is still chilled from all these nightmares, I should also take a moment to highlight some great horror films that aired on USA during the 80’s and early 90’s that I happen to own on DVD-R and VHS, cause I would never get the chance to speak about them any other time that would be as fitting as this update! The main regular none Nightmare or Groovie Movie USA Network airing of a horror film I remember has to be the George Romero zombie epic Day of The Dead.  They did a great job of promoting the premiere, and my brother and I were so hyped to watch it and were not let down after seeing it. I happened to get a copy of an 80’s USA Network airing of Day of the Dead from my pal Jason Young who taped it off TV when he was a kid.  He edited out the commercials but left the amazing intro that showed clips of Night of the Living Dead. So a big thanks goes to Jason for letting me watch the USA Network TV print of my favorite Romero Dead film again. So here are a few of those films that also scared the young viewers at the time of airing.

USA Network Day of the dead dvd

USA Movie:  Day Of The Dead
Starring – Lori Cardille & Joseph Pilato      Rated R      1985

Movie: Zombies rule the world, except for a small group of scientists and military personnel who reside in an underground bunker in Florida. The scientists are using the undead in gruesome experiments, much to the chagrin of the military. Finally the military finds that their men have been used in the scientists’ experiments, and banish the scientists to the caves that house the Living Dead. Unfortunately, the zombies from above ground have made their way into the bunker.

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USA Movie:  Child’s Play 3
Starring – Brad Dourif & Justin Whalin      Rated R      1991

Movie: Chucky, the doll possessed by a serial killer, returns for revenge against Andy, the young boy that defeated him and has since become adult.

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USA Movie:  Psycho III
Starring – Anthony Perkins & Jeff Fahey        Rated R      1986

Movie: Norman Bates is still running his little motel, and he has kept the dressed skeleton he calls mother. One of his guests is a young girl who has left the convent where she lived. To get some help he employs a young man. One day a nosy journalist comes to see him to ask questions about his past.

Note From Matt: I was lucky to get this 1995 USA Network Broadcast of Psycho III thanks to my friend Mike Ritchie who taped it off TV during the cool marathon they were having called “Psycho Saturday”. The film is complete with commercials that is highlighted by advertisements for WWF Monday Night Raw, Duckman and Tekwar. I found another tape at his house that had only a small part of Psycho IV taken from the same marathon but it was taped over with WCW Monday Nitro…yeah he has a lot of wrestling tapes.

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While we are on the subject of USA Network, I should also take a brief moment to talk about a syndicated show they used to air called “Kung-Fu Theatre” because otherwise I never will be able to. The show would feature some really cool martial arts films, many made by The Shaw Brothers exposing viewers to the vast world of Kung-Fu films. The show aired in the early 80’s and disappeared by the mid 80’s and made room for Commander USA as well as all the other movie themed broadcast that followed. One thing I remember that USA did one summer in the early 90’s was called Kung-Fu June where they would play some really cool martial arts films one being called Chinese Super Ninjas, a film I still love to this day. I can remember thinking that this June long fun event would happen every year and was let down when it did not. But as you can see USA Network back then did not just cater to the horror fans they also were delivering action to the Martial Arts fans…those were the days. Below are some screen grabs from Kung-Fu Theatre, so check em out and enjoy.

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I happen to have two episodes of Kung-Fu Theatre from the USA Network thanks to my horror host pal Dr. Pureblood, so why not showcase them a little as well while I have the chance.

kungfu theatre ninja exterminators

Kung-Fu Theatre:  Ninja Exterminators
Starring – Lung Chan & Lung Ching      Not Rated    1980

Movie: A ruthless rapist and jewel thief and his gang are brought to justice by a cop and a young avenger.

kungfu theatre showdown at the equator

Kung-Fu Theatre:  Showdown At The Equator
Starring – Lieh Lo & Nora Miao      Rated R      1978

Movie: An undercover detective uses a restaurant targeted by harassment by a criminal gang to infiltrate the gang and arrest its members.

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USA Saturday Nightmares meant a lot to me growing up, and spending Saturday night watching a cheesy horror film as well as horror related TV shows with my family was what I called a perfect weekend night. Looking back at USA Network as a whole, back then the whole station was iconic to me as I would watch Commander USA’s Groovie Movies, USA Cartoon Express, WWF Monday Night Raw and so many other great programs that all entertained me. If you grew up in the 80’s and 90’s and had cable I am sure you also watched many of these shows, and if you were into horror I am sure you watched Saturday Nightmares and know what I mean about how awesome it was to watch. I should also note that I am looking for more taped off TV Saturday Nightmares movies and if you have some please contact me as I would love to watch them! So as this Horror Host Icon update comes to an end, I think our next update will be based around the world of pro wrestling’s most dominate tag teams and the mini comic series based around them and of course I am talking about The Legion of Doom! So until then make sure to support your local horror host and watch a horror film or two, cause you never know maybe you’ll have your own nightmare.

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