That's not just Penny up there, of course. She's the witch in the middle, but she's flanked by whacky neighbor and monster hunter Dr. Manfred von Bulow (on the left) and her werewolf husband Garou (on the right). Though Penny's clearly the star, these three host Shilling Shockers as a team.
But backing up a sec... When I learned that there was a horror host show called Penny Dreadful's Shilling Shockers, I was won over without ever seeing a minute of footage. "Penny dreadfuls" and "shilling shockers" were (for those of you who don't know) names for cheap, tawdry fiction in Victorian England. Poorly-written and printed out for the masses in serialized format, on cheap paper and even cheaper printing presses, penny dreadfuls were the precursors to pulp magazines, comic books, and of course the very types of B-Movies most often shown by TeeVee horror hosts. In other words, everything we love most here on the Dork Forty.
And we love this show, as well. They've done seven seven-episode seasons since 2006, appearing on cable access stations (and I believe PBS) throughout New England and elsewhere. Penny's a versatile and extremely charismatic host, able to move from gothic spookiness to broad humor in the blink of an eye. That transition's one of her best tricks, in fact, as you can see in this storyline recap clip... after the jump.
That's from the opening of season seven, in which they try something I don't think I've ever seen done on a horror host show before: a continuing storyline. The Shilling Shockers host segments tell a story in every episode, usually a little horror sit-com sort of thing reflecting the subject of that week's movie. But the seventh season opens with a four-parter, centered on the story outlined above. I know that Dr. Madblood (my personal childhood horror host) did a couple of two-parters back in his show's heyday, but this Shilling Shockers four parter is impressive stuff.
But the show's not always so ambitious, or so macabre in tone. Here's a clip from season three (when they taped in black and white) that shows the general tone a bit better. This one features my favorite supporting character, Luna 13 (played by the show's director and general creative genius Rebecca Paiva):
There are lots of Shilling Shockers clips on the YouTube, but they generally only make one host segment per episode available for viewing. They treat it as advertising, it seems, which is fair enough; they sell DVDs through their website. One movie is ten dollars, but a full season will only cost you 35 bucks. Which is a pretty good deal if you like this sort of thing. I've bought several seasons over the last two or three years, and they never fail to entertain. Plus, Penny tends to pick good flicks. There are horror host standards like House on Haunted Hill or Attack of the Giant Leeches, but she also shows silent movies (the upcoming season eight will be almost all silents, I understand), and I've been exposed to some great B films I'd never seen before through the show. She ran the first of the Coffin Joe movies, for instance, some of the Paul Naschy werewolf flicks, and of course a little Mario Bava.
Speaking of which... In the Black Sabbath episode, Penny's been afflicted with a terrible pox that looks much like the facial scars borne by Karen Black in the movie. Manfred says he has a great home remedy for such blemishes, but when Penny applies it...
And that's all the Penny I have time for tonight. Check her out, though; you won't regret it. But even still, Penny's only my second-favorite of the current generation of horror hosts. The man to beat in this field, for my money, is...
Mr. Lobo is not your run of the mill horror host, and Cinema Insomnia is not your run of the mill movie show. Working out of California since 2001, Mr. Lobo is a "guy-in-a-suit" host. Which is to say, he's not a vampire or ghoul or any other kind of supernatural weirdo. He's just a guy. In a suit. Who knows a lot about B-Movies. Inspired by classic California host Bob Wilkins, Mr. Lobo also takes more than one page from the Rod Serling playbook, delivering his dialogue in an intense, clipped style and with an inflated (some might say egomaniacal) sense of his own importance. It's a good gimmick; rather than the cheesy-cool approach of most horror hosts, Mr. Lobo comes off as a sort of hipster-dork, which makes him unique in the field.
The show's host segments play less like skits than like a mock documentary. All the action is intercut with vintage commercials, giving the show a unique feel, and... I'm not explaining this very well. Check out this clip to see what I mean:
...And that should give you the feel of the show pretty well, I think. Here's another extended clip, from the Cinema Insomnia showing of The Wasp Woman:
Mr. Lobo's movie choices aren't as... classy... as Penny Dreadful's, but they're every bit as eclectic. One of my favorites is a 1970s Bigfoot documentary hosted by Peter Graves, for which Lobo puts on his own counter-documentary in the host segments. I can't find a clip from that one on the YouTube, but that's okay, because running as part of a continuous streaming video loop on the Cinema Insomnia website: http://www.cinemainsomnia.com/s_cilive.php. This, I've found, is the best way to experience the show. Put it on, and just absorb the groove.
And before we go, here's one of my all-time favorite bits from the show...