Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Madblood: The Doctor Is In

So here we are at day five of the Countdown to Halloween, and tonight I'm turning my focus back to the horror hosts. Following Vampira and Zacherley (who I discussed back on day one), local TV stations across America found that having a performer (usually station personnel pulling double-duty) host their weekly late-night horror movie broadcasts boosted ratings. At one time, there was a veritable parade of home-grown vampires, ghouls, and mad doctors out there, all with intensely loyal followings inside their home broadcast area. The shows were cheap affairs, generally, with very basic makeshift sets, and acting that could hardly be called professional. But audiences thrilled to the hosts' macabre puns and irreverent attitudes toward the schlocky movies they were showing each week. If you grew up anytime between the 50s and the 80s, you had a pretty good chance of seeing one of these guys.

I grew up watching a show called Dr. Madblood's Movie. Every Saturday night, I'd creep out of bed, turn the rotor box on my parents' rooftop antenna all the way around to tune in WAVY-TV 10 out of Tidewater, Virginia, and sit back back for the best two hours of my TV week. The premise was simple: Dr. Madblood was a mad scientist who'd retired to the swamps of Pungo, Virginia, to build monsters, conduct experiments, deal with a legion of whacky neighbors, and of course show movies that he tuned in via his Ethermorphic Receiver. Here's the good doctor with a couple of early supporting cast members:

That's Madblood in the middle, flanked by Queen Mumenkara and the lecherous vampire Count Lacudra (that's Dracula spelled sideways, as the Doc was fond of saying). The actor playing Lacudra was local radio personality Mike Arlo, who played a number of characters: Madblood's next door neighbor Dusty the Crop Duster, snooty French painter Tolouse Latrine, Drunken Dave, Lacudra, and (my personal favorite) Father Beerabelli, a punch-drunk priest known as Kid Exorcist. Arlo's a hoot; he can't be on-stage more than 30 seconds before I start laughing. Of course... I am, as I've said before, a very strange man.

More history, and a couple or three complete Madblood episodes, if you hit the link...

Doctor Madblood himself was played by Jerry Harrell, a magician and long-time sci-fi and horror fan who was working in Channel 10's production department. In other words, he's a Dork Lifer like the rest of us. Gooble gobble, Doc! The show got a one-shot try-out in 1975, which was so successful that they put it on after Saturday Night Live soon thereafter. Madblood was the straight man on his show, the calm center around which a world of lunatics circled. In addition to Arlo's League of Chaos, Madblood was backed up by his nurse Velma von Basketcase and the Brain. Brain was literally that: a disembodied brain in a fishbowl. Or, even more literally, a couple of old car sponges they glued together. Brain was a smart-alecky con man, always quick with a zinger at the expense of whoever had the misfortune to talk to him. And so he, of course, was my favorite character as a child.

Other recurring characters included the Reverend Fernwood (upholder of decency and therefore an enemy of Dr. Madblood and his friends), Velma's identical cousin the innocent and eternally-stoned hippy chick Tiffany, and the Widow Paine (who was a "professional" widow, if you get my drift). Speaking of whom...

Here's a condensed two-part episode from 1981 about the Widow, courtesy the You Tube:

Yeah... Maybe you had to grow up with it. But I dunno. I love local TV, personally, and you don't often see it done with the kind of pizzaz the Madblood crew brought to bear. I love the hand-made feel of it all, and the feeling that this was a bunch of people who were having one hell of a good time putting on their comedy spook show for us. Even if I hadn't grown up with the show, I think I'd still love it. God knows I love the other local hosts I've seen, and I didn't grow up with any of those guys.

At any rate. If you're still with me after that, try out this full episode called "The Speeding Ticket." It's got all the early Madblood trademarks, including a visit from the Audio Shadow, and the funniest performance ever from Velma...

Part One:

Part Two:

Madblood was a staple of my childhood, and a few years ago I was delighted to learn that he's still out there! He's been doing the show on and off, on several different stations, for 35 years. Awesome! He's finally more or less retired, limiting himself to only an annual Halloween special for the last two or three years. But he was going strong through the Noughts, with the same core cast: Doc, Arlo, and Craig T. Adams (the voice of Brain, and, in the modern era, Madblood's time-travelling Uncle Felonius). Added to the show in its second incarnation, and still with it today, was Penny Palen, who plays Madblood's nurse, the formidable Patience Dream. Here's a clip from 2004 that features Patience and Tolouse Latrine:

If you still want more Madblood, you can visit his website: http://www.madblood.net/. There's lots of background info on the show, and one of those fancy on-line "interactive tours" of Madblood Manor. Or, if you just want more clips, you can visit the good Doctor's YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/doctormadblood#p/u/3/iYFO_mSLVpw .

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