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Bringing Back the ‘B’ in Movies

Reviving the lost format of late-night horror television.

Earth is on the verge of a full-scale invasion from B-movie monsters and, right now, humanity’s only hope for survival is standing in front of a camera, pretending to impale himself and others using a plastic sword. Clouds roll in from the nearby smoke machines; he’s debating the aesthetics of monster outerwear. Real monsters have scales — "Frankenstein is wearing shoes." The countdown to air begins. Cue the theme song, cameras on.

The armed character is Karlos Borloff, host of "Monster Madhouse," a late-night live television program produced by Falls Church Community Television at George Mason High School and broadcasted throughout the county on Cox, Starpower and Verizon’s Fios service. This weekend, Borloff and his band of "Monster Madhouse" misfits will conquer the creatures of horror in a three-day episodic marathon celebrating Earth Day.

That’s right…Earth Day.

"We’re always trying to save the Earth from monsters, so we’re having a ‘Save the Earth’ marathon," said Borloff, played by Centreville resident Jerry Moore, between on-air segments during last Friday’s live broadcast. "The idea is that we are monster hunters."

To Borloff, horror films are "documented, archived footage we found. We’re playing a spoof — we think it’s real."

OF COURSE, THAT’S Moore explaining the Earth Day marathon off camera. Viewers of Friday’s show got a more animated pitch from the character Borloff.

Grouped in front of the three studio cameras, Borloff stands center, surrounded by his "Madhouse" cohorts as he plugs this weekend’s marathon.

"We’re here to save the Earth," he projects, twirling his plastic sword in front of the camera. "It’s, like, 500 hours of Monster Madhouse Marathon. Turn off the TV while you’re watching the movie — it’ll save electricity. Recycle something, turn off light bulbs, don’t flush the toilet."

He and the other characters look as sinister as they do camp. Borloff throws his sword in the air, catches it and postures in attack pose staring, eyes set on center-camera.

The red camera light goes off and Peter Scheps, the show’s floor director, signals the live feed is off-air. This week’s feature, "Plan 9 From Outer Space," comes on the monitor. That means about a 10-15 minute break for the cast and crew. A pizza delivery man is waiting in the hallway. He was watching the last few minutes of the segment from outside of the production studio. A small grin came across his face as the characters exited the studio. Moore, in full costume, pays the bill.

WHILE THE EARTH DAY marathon is an interesting thematic idea, it’s also a chance for viewers to catch up on the rebirth of this lost subculture — one that’s experiencing a revival in contemporary culture. "Monster Madhouse" joins the new wave of late-night horror television shows, a popular format in the 1970’s led by cult-classic celebrities Elvira, Goulardi and local favorite, Count Gore De Vol, played by Dick Dyszel.

Now, shows such as "The Bone Jangler," "Ghoul-A-Go-Go," "Professor Griffin," and "Monster Madhouse" have taken their place at the forefront of the genre. While all the shows vary in age-oriented material, "Madhouse," takes a page from the past by drawing upon the genre’s archetypes, creating the campy characters of Karlos Borloff, The Zombie Cheerleader, Countess Contessa Vanessa, Doctor Elixir, Gizmo Doohickey and Dangerous Dan, to name a few. Throughout each two-hour episode, the cast intertwines live improved skits with vintage public-domain horror films.

According to both Moore and the shows producer, Curtis Prather, "Monster Madhouse" is geared towards viewers of all ages, but it’s the younger crowd they hope to hook. The two grew up watching Gore De Vol and Moore remembers these programs as a "right of passage" for his generation.

After meeting last year, they set out to recreate these memories — devising a show that features the more subtle version of horror, unlike today’s average variety.

"The thing I like about the 50’s and 60’s stuff is you didn’t see the monster’s head come off — now there are slasher movies and it’s really perverse," said Moore.

Prather agrees, adding that they usually stay away from material that’s graphic or overly subversive.

"We made a personal decision that even though it’s on at 10 p.m., we wanted this to be as accessible as possible," he said.

Accomplished by keeping the improv goofy and the movies even more so, viewers can see films like "Omega Man," "The Brain That Wouldn’t Die," and "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde."

From what he can gather by e-mail and phone calls received since the first show in September, 2006, Prather has seen a growing interest from a variety of age groups.

Speculating while sitting in the production room, the Arlington resident believes their audience includes "teenagers too young to go out and parents with kids too young to let them go out." And, of course, those who enjoy this particular genre of film. Prather even heard, second hand, of a woman’s mom living in a nursing home who watches the show regularly.

BUT MORE THAN just a horror show, Prather and Moore recognize "Monster Madhouse" offers something uncommon in today’s television markets— local programming.

"Local programming is gone now and public access is what it’s fallen back to," said Moore. "In 1973 ‘Creature Features’ came on with Gore De Vol. There was no cable — no Blockbuster."

Moore and Prather have now become close friends of De Vol — he even lends movies for the show to air. Friday’s broadcast featured a short film Prather made with De Vol and Borloff. It was shot at the Cinema Wasteland convention in Cleveland and depicted Borloff hounding the Count for an autograph. In two weeks, the Count will appear in a special four-hour long show airing Friday, May 4, beginning at 8 p.m.

While making a name for themselves within the genre is an accomplishment, it’s fitting that the two have come full circle by working with De Vol. Both idolizing the character since they were younger, the collaboration features new local personalities with a veteran of the business.

For Prather, it’s also a grounding experience and a reminder of why he got into horror films from the beginning.

"People who have made some success out of it — by their definition — is just doing a local show," said Prather. "It’s an exercise in having fun."