The Horror Host is a narrator
who presents harrowing tales to his audience. This eerie character first appeared on radio serials, creating continuity between otherwise unrelated stories. They then spread to horror comics, most notably EC Comics
titles like Tales from the Crypt
. Soon they appeared in movies, and then television.
During the 1950s and 1960s, a horde of Horror Hosts haunted television viewers across North America. There were hundreds of local presenters on low-budget shows based around cheap B-Movies
. Sometimes, the host trope was used to tie together otherwise unrelated material into a single episode for broadcast. By the 1980s, the genre had nearly died out completely — possibly due in part to changing audience tastes, but more likely due to general cost-cutting that resulted in the end of most
locally-produced non-news programming in favor of syndicated fare.
The Horror Host often takes a sadistic glee in the events of the story, and cannot resist making the implication that the reader might meet a similarly dire fate. He may become an Interactive Narrator
, but is usually content to stay at home, whether it be a tomb, a featureless void hung with paintings, or a broom closet with a cardboard coffin. The Horror Host may be grotesque in some manner, possibly with a backstory of his or her own, but ultimately most Horror Hosts are presenters, not protagonists. Their personalities are revealed in various skits, often featuring Black Comedy
, morbid props, and the Incredibly Lame Pun
. These asides usually comment on the themes and morals featured in the episode, making this an example of a Framing Device
Instead of a Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant
, the presenter may be The Stoic
, and remain aloof. The one thing they won't
be is scared.
In a Live Action TV context, the Horror Host is often the mock-sinister antithesis of the Excited Kids' Show Host
. More recently, this character has been fictionalized, appearing as a 'type' in films and movies, or being parodied by characters within a show, often as the introduction to a Halloween Episode
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- EC Comics was probably the Trope Maker, at least for comic books:
- Examples from DC Comics, most of whom went on to be supporting characters in The Sandman:
- Cain and Abel in House of Mystery and House of Secrets
- Lucien in Tales of Ghost Castle.
- Destiny in Weird Mystery Tales
- Cynthia, Mildred, and Mordred, The Three Witches, in The Witching Hour
- Eve in Secrets of Sinister House and later Weird Mystery Tales
- The Mad Mod Witch in The Unexpected.
- Judge Quentin Gallows in The Unexpected (who wasn't used by Neil Gaiman, but did appear as an antagonist in a Len Wein story within the Spin-Off series, The Dreaming)
- Charity in Forbidden Tales From Dark Mansion (who also wasn't used by Gaiman, but did go on to appear in James Robinson's Starman)
- Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (see below) was the licensed host of House of Mystery in The Eighties (no, she didn't appear in The Sandman either.)
- Death (not to be confused with Dream's sister from The Sandman) hosted Weird War Tales, usually in the form of a skeletal soldier or The Grim Reaper.
- Squire Shade, who briefly hosted Ghosts, was visually identical to the DC supervillain known as the Gentleman Ghost.
- Warren Publishing's black and white comics magazines had several:
- Uncle Creepy in Creepy
- Cousin Eerie in Eerie
- Vampirella for the first eight issues of Vampirella, after which she was reinvented as a lead character.
- From Britain's 2000 AD:
- Judge Dredd character Judge Edwina Strange in "Judge Edwina's Strange Cases"
- Henry Dubble in "Tales of the Black Museum"
- Sabrina the Teenage Witch briefly served as an EC-style Horror Host in the 1972-1974 Archie Comics series Chilling Adventures in Sorcery As Told By Sabrina. It was actually pretty strong stuff for Comics Code-approved material in its day, and especially for Archie Comics — straight-up horror, albeit still drawn in the Archie house style.
- The short-lived 1969-1970 magazine Web of Horror (published by Major Publications, best known for Cracked) was hosted by Webster the spider.
- Marvel Comics had a few:
- Headstone P. Gravely (alongside his cohort, Roderick "Digger" Krupp) hosted stories in Tower of Shadows and other titles.
- None other than Stan Lee himself served as a "fill-in" host for Headstone P. Gravely for a story in ''Chamber of Darkness''.
- Captain America, of all people, could be considered one, albeit only on a technicality. The last two issues of his Golden Age title were retitled Captain America's Weird Tales, because horror was selling and superheroes weren't. Cap didn't actually introduce any stories "on panel," though. In issue #74, he appeared in a regular Captain America story (albeit one with horror aspects, as he fought the Red Skull in, literally, Hell.) He didn't appear in #75 at all, except in the title.
- Charlton Comics had an especially large and colorful stable of Horror Hosts:
- Impy the Imp, a tiny ghost in an all-white costume, hosted Haunted.
- Dr. M.T. Graves (usually just "Dr. Graves") hosted stories in several titles, including The Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves. A heroic ghost hunter, Dr. Graves sometimes starred in stories of his own.
- Mr. I.M. Dedd of Ghostly Tales, despite his horns and pale blue skin, was rather dashing and handsome by the standards of Horror Hosts.
- Baroness R.H. Von Bludd, an Expy of Vampirella, was a beautiful redhead vampire who hosted Scary Tales.
- Professor Cyrus Coffin hosted Midnight Tales with his lovely niece Arachne.
- Winnie the Witch was a beautiful young woman with deep blue skin and a penchant for "mod" fashion. She hosted Ghost Manor.
- Baron Weirwulf hosted Baron Weirwulf's Haunted Library.
- Even more obscure Charlton Horror Hosts include Mr. Bones, Colonel Whiteshroud, the Old Witch, Mr. Dee Munn, and Mortimer Tishin.
- Dr. Death, the cadaver-like host of This Magazine is Haunted, a series published by Fawcett Comics and then Charlton Comics (which purchased most of Fawcett's properties when Fawcett got out of the comics business), in the 1950s.
- Jack Kirby had Horror Hosts for his series in the abortive "Speak-Out" line of adult-targeted magazines that he created for DC Comics in the early 1970s:
- Dr. E. Leopold Maas, a parapsychologist, was the host for Spirit World, which featured tales of the paranormal.
- In The Days Of The Mob featured Real Life stories about gangsters such as Al Capone. But its host, Warden Fry, nevertheless qualifies for this trope, because he's literally the warden of Hell.
- More recently, the horror comic, Bela Lugosi's Tales From The Grave, published by Monsterverse, features the legendary actor himself (back from the grave!) as its host, alongside beautiful vampire groupie, Nosferina, and Hugo, a deformed dwarf.
- IDW Publishing's book of pre-code horror comic reprints called Haunted Horror is hosted by two all new hosts: Forelock The Warlock and Mr. Karswell.
- Boris Karloff hosted Black Sabbath as an unhinged version of himself. He also starred in the second of the featured short films.
- Fright Night. Peter Vincent was the host of the Show Within a Show with the same title, which consisted of him introducing horror movies to his TV audience.
- The Creeper from Creepshow2 qualifies, alrhough he barely showed up in the first film.
- Gremlins 2: The New Batch featured an in-universe horror host named Grandpa Fred (whose look was lifted directly from Grandpa Munster) who hosted Z-grade horror movies at Clamp Cable. When the plot starts to pick up momentum, he teams up with an excitable Japanese(ish) cameraman to report on the activities within the building and keep the outside world informed.
- Dr. Francis B. Gröss, the narrator/host of the infamous Shockumentary Faces Of Death. Like the film itself, "Dr. Gröss" had a number of imitators. In the Faces of Death series itself, Dr. Gröss was succeeded by "Dr. Louis Flellis," who claimed (in separate installments) to have accidentally killed Dr. Gröss on the operating table, or that Dr. Gröss committed suicide after having been driven insane by witnessing so much death.
- Brain Damage, the mascot of Brain Damage Films. A few of their releases have an intro by him, and in them he's played by company founder Darrin Ramage. As an example, here's the one for Terror Toons.
- Terror Vision: A 1986 horror film features an in-universe busty horror host called "Medusa" who perfectly fits the Gorgeous Gorgon trope.
- Balan from Murder Collection V.1, a Genre Throwback to the shockumentaries mentioned above.
- Plan 9 from Outer Space has Criswell addressing the audience directly and introducing them to "the shocking facts about grave robbers from outer space."
Live Action TV
- Big Chuck and Li'l John
- Elvira, Mistress of the Darknote
- Ghoulardi, who spawned The Ghoul, The Cool Ghoul, Son of Ghoul, and Paul Thomas Anderson.
- Vampira, the 1950s Los Angeles inspiration for Elvira also infamous for her appearance in Plan 9 from Outer Space.
- Rod Serling was one of the rare examples of The Stoic host on TV, in both The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery.
- SCTV's Count Floyd was a Horror Host parody. In-Universe, he was Floyd Robertson, co-anchor of SCTV News, who moonlighted as the host of Monster Chiller Horror Theater.
- Washington, DC station WDCA-20 had Count Gore DeVol hosting Creature Feature from 1973 to 1987. Played by Dick Dyszel, who also appeared as the Spock-eared alien Excited Kids' Show Host Captain 20 in the daytime.
- In the TV series Freddy's Nightmares Freddy Krueger himself served as host.
- Mystery Science Theater 3000 provides an unusual take on the trope, as Joel Robinson/Mike Nelson and the bots might be considered unusually genial Horror Hosts, while Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank could be considered more typically sinister Horror Hosts of the Show Within a Show that the Satellite residents are forced to watch.
- The Hunger had two of these, one for each season. Terence Stamp did the honors for Season One. Season Two went further by casting David Bowie (who had a key role in the movie that inspired the show) as an original character: Mad Artist Julian Priest. Unusually for a Horror Host, his backstory is complicated enough that the first episode of the season ("Sanctuary") is devoted to telling it, so he doesn't address the viewer until the final sequence. Subsequent episodes use traditional bookends as he muses over the themes of the stories in question, with touches of Black Humor here and there. He's rather elegant and melancholy for a horror host too, but that only makes his sadistic (and sometimes masochistic) moments all the more unnerving.
- The Munsters features an episode with a fictional Horror Host named Zombo, who, to Eddie's disappointment, isn't a blood-thirsty ghoul outside of his television show.
- Balrok and No Name, effectively a pair of frat boy demons, are two newer examples of B-movie horror hosts with the San Francisco-based and now nationally syndicated Creepy KOFY Movie Time. Besides running a public domain film each week and making the usual variety of jokes about it, their host segments feature a house band, some scantily-clad lovelies, chats with contemporary B-movie makers, and a guest stand-up comedian.
- Salem the cat was a horror host during certain Halloween episodes of Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
- TNT Monster Vision's Joe Bob Briggs.
- Alfred Hitchcock himself provided the hosting duties for the eponymous Alfred Hitchcock Presents, airing from 1955 to 1965 on CBS and NBC. Hitch's macabre drollery and frequent use of props such as guillotines and gallows makes him a classic Horror Host, and colorized footage of his introductions were used in a 1985 posthumous revival.
- Roald Dahl presented the first two series of Tales of the Unexpected. His quiet, avuncular manner and comfortable surroundings (overstuffed armchair, cozy fire, knit cardigans) usually managed to make the audience feel more disturbed, thanks to the contrast between his introductions and the bizarre stories that usually followed.
- Boris Karloff's tenure on Thriller.
- Raymond of The Inner Sanctum, he of the creaking door, Hurricane Of Puns, and final wish of "Pleasant dreeeams?" Often bantered with his Mandatory Plug co-host, the Lipton Tea Lady.
- The Mysterious Traveler, voiced by Maurice Tarplin, who told his stories on a train.
- The Strange Dr Weird, also voiced by Maurice Tarplin, and who was based in "the house on the other side of the cemetery".
- The Man In Black, voiced by Valentine Dyall in The BBC's Appointment With Fear and The Movie The Man In Black. And by Mark Gatiss in The Remake of the radio series The Man In Black.
- The Whistler of the same show, known for his eerie whistled theme tune and always having one last twist revealed in The Stinger.
- The Shadow started out as the host of a crime-drama series, but became a character in his own right when audiences found him more interesting than the stories that unfolded. Not strictly a horror host, but his voice was chilling.
- Every now and then, a somewhat creepy storyteller-narrator character appears on Jack to tell disturbing stories. He often gives his own thoughts while the story is in progress. At the end of the last arc to feature him in that role, he revealed that he was in hell and so is the reader.
- In the Homestar Runner toon "Doomy Tales of the Macabre", Strong Sad plays this role, suggesting various horrific fates to befall his friends.
- Atop the Fourth Wall's 2012 Halloween segment "Longbox of the Damned", reviews of horror comics were conducted by the undead Moarte (a Bela Lugosi parody with occasional outbreaks of the original Toblerone), always greeting viewers with "Hello My Children!"
- For TGWTG's fifth anniversary special, an anthology of shorts called The Uncanny Valley, the host is The Webmaster, played by none other than Nash Bozard.
- Phelous Blip channel is also home to Halloweenie who is HORRIBL— Halloweenie who is AWF— Halloweenie who is a horror host.