Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Dr. Madblood – Still Crazy After All These Years

Jerry Harrell as "Dr. Madblood"
I have always been a fan of monster movies. Having grown up in the olden times before the internet, even before VCRs, it was difficult to get my monster movie fix. There were three options,  number one was to wait for a movie to play on TV,  the second option was to see it first run in a theater and third was by attending a film festival or science fiction convention (these were the days before the horror-con). The television was always my first and best option because of cost (free to me, thanks' Mom) and accessibility. Each week I would pour over the new TV listings hoping to find a movie that I had been pining to see on that week's schedule. I had books and magazines, "Famous Monsters of Filmland" in particular,  about monster movies and the images and titles burned into my brain like myths and legends and I had to see every one of those flicks no matter how bad they were. When I was ten years old, I once stayed up until 1:30 am to watch the "The Giant Gila Monster", a film so bad and unintentionally campy that it might be worth watching the trailer on Youtube, but not the entire film (unless you've never seen it). So against this adverse backdrop, it was with much joy when I discovered the local NBC station had a regular Saturday late night horror film show called "Horror, Inc." that showed a steady stream of Universal monster movies. It was a simple show with a basic opening video of a side shot of a coffin slowly opening and a hand creeping out with the title supered over and then to the movie, but you never got to see who was getting out of that coffin. Fast forward a few years and my family had moved to Norfolk, Virginia where I quickly found a local TV horror film show called "Dr. Madblood's Movies" which featured a host of character's and involved skits that were intercut through out the entire main movie. I felt as if I had stumbled onto some secret club for nerds, back in the day when it wasn't cool to be a nerd. The show was irreverent and hip, but still paid respect to the movies and actors of the genre and I was hooked.
My autographed Madblood Mini-Con souvenir from 1978

In the summer of 1978 came a fateful Saturday in July when Madblood fans congregated for the first time at a "mini-con" (small convention) on the second floor of "The Magic Shop" (head shop in the front, real magician's props in the back) on Granby Street in downtown Norfolk. It was a fine event, with all the cast members there to sign autographs and they even showed a twenty minute Super8 reel from "The Creature From the Black Lagoon" in 3-D! The most important thing that happened that day was I found my tribe, a group of people that had the same passion for the weird stuff. I made friendships that day that have endured through the years, particularly my friend Colin. When we were teenagers, we'd take turns sleeping over on Saturday nights so we could stay up and watch Madblood and laugh together. These days we still get together for "Bad Movie Nights", and have a world of monster and sci-fi movies to pick from through Netflix and Amazon streaming, often hunting down movies we've been dreaming of seeing since the old days. We no longer have to stay up until midnight on a Saturday and Dr. Madblood only comes around once a year now, but the laughter and camaraderie are the same and it doesn't get better than that.

You can catch “Dr. Madblood’s Halloween House!” Saturday, October 26th at 10:30 PM Eastern Time on local public television station WHRO-TV and streaming live on the internet at http://www.whro.org/home/html/drmadblood/.

Here's an article that I wrote for the October 2013 issue of VEER Magazine. This is the "Director's Cut" version of the article and runs a good three hundreds or more then the print edition. Enjoy.

Dr. Madblood – Still Crazy After All These Years

I saw my old Doctor
On the tube last night
He was so funny
I just had to smile
He had that same wacky crew
That has been making me laugh
For all these 38 years
Still crazy after 38 years…
(With respects to Paul Simon)

            My old doctor would be none other than Dr. Maximillian Madblood and he still does make house calls, though now it’s only once a year around Halloween. For thirty-eight years Jerry Harrell has been donning the good doctor’s lab coat and shaggy, gray wig to host a horror movie program called “Dr. Madblood’s Movies”.  Through the many years and television stations, the show has also been called “Dr. Madblood’s Night Visions” and this year’s special is “Dr. Madblood’s Halloween House Special” (airing Saturday, October 26, 2013 - 10:30 p.m. WHRO-TV). 
            But wait, I can see that some of you are confused.  In this high-speed, digital, streaming to my smartphone YouTube era, what is a “Horror Movie Host”? Why would a horror movie need a host? Is that like a commentary track or something? I am glad you asked. See, once upon a time, there was no Internet or smartphones or even VCRs (those videotape machines before DVDs. Ask your Dad about it.), so if you wanted to see a particular movie, then you caught it in the theater or at a film festival or you waited for it to play on TV and then you had to watch it when it came on because there was no way to record it. Shocking I know, but true, things were much harder back then, for example, most homes only had one telephone and you couldn’t play “Angry Birds” on it, though I knew a kid that could play the theme from M.A.S.H. on a push button phone, but that’s another story.  In an effort to boost ratings and give underworked weathermen something to do, television stations added hosts to their late night horror movie shows. The format was simple, the host often dressed as a vampire or ghoul would introduce the movie, maybe provide a few tidbits of background information and mix in a bad joke or two. The first hosted horror movie show, “The Vampira Show” appeared in the mid-1950s and featured a shapely vampire woman played by Maila Nurmi. Vampira became nationally known and even later had a role in the Ed Wood cult classic “Plan 9 from Outer Space” .  The format was a ratings winner and became something of a phenomenon through the 1960s and 1970s spawning such popular hosts as Zacherley and Elvira Mistress of the Dark.
            Madblood began in 1974 when Jerry Harrell was working at WAVY-TV 10. He and his partner, Mark Young, began brainstorming an idea for a horror movie show to be hosted by a character called, “Dr. Madblood”. A curious name and interesting origin as Jerry tells it;

“I have since the age of about twelve, been a serious student of the magical arts. There was, a very long time ago, an item called the “Madblood Rose”. It was a magician’s prop that was an ‘appearing rose’ and Madblood Roses were very highly thought of among professionals. When I needed to come up with a name for the character, Madblood came into my head from having had some of those roses as a working magician.”

            Originally, Dr. Madblood was to be the Dr. Jekyll half of a character with the Mr. Hyde half to be played by Mark Young as a game show host! Although it was a funny idea, the pair understood the joke could not be sustained, so they kept the mad scientist, Dr. Maxmillian Madblood and Mark Young played his assistant “Volley”. The first show aired on November 4, 1975 on WAVY-TV 10 and featured the 1944 Universal classic, “House of Frankenstein” starring Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr. Viewers were encouraged to call in and answer a trivia question and the station receptionist was quickly overwhelmed. Come Monday morning, Jerry found out that the final caller count topped four hundred and Madblood was made a regular part of the weekly schedule following some new comedy show called “Saturday Night Live”.  Dr. Madblood took the basic horror host formula to a new level with full-blown storylines, often satirizing popular movies of the time like “Star Trek The Motion Picture” and “Star Wars”.  These tales played out against the backdrop of the dilapidated, old Madblood Manor on Idle Hour Road in Pungo, Virginia, in reality a Monty Pythonesque cardboard cutout against a painted background.
            Through the years, Madblood Manor has hosted a bizarre cast of characters played by friends and colleagues. I asked Jerry what has favorite thing about doing Madblood is and he said, “People ask me why we’re still doing it after all this time and it’s because it gives me a chance to get together with all these people.” 
Mike Arlo with Dr. Madblood
Mike Arlo, local celebrity DJ from FM 106.9 Classic Rock has been playing popular regular characters, “Count Lacurda”, “Kid Exorcist” and “Dusty the Cropduster” since 1976. In 1989,  “Nurse Patience Dream” played by the lovely Penny Marcialis joined the gang. Carter Perry started playing “Ernie” one of the monsters that live in the basement of Madblood Manor, in 1977. He also serves behind-the-scenes as sometimes producer, director and special effects artist. He shared this scary tale from the set:

“For a while at WTVZ we would try to rattle the lady who was handling the audio by saying weird things during mic checks. After a quick dinner of a new york hot with chili and onions, putting on the Ernie mask and waiting, I decided to belch my mic check. The mask filled up fast.”

Craig T. Adams plays the other basement monster, “Waldo” and characters “Dr. Roach” and “Uncle Felonious” and also is the voice of “Brain” (a sponge in a bowl).  Craig and his wife, Debra Burrell own “Fuzz and Stuffing Puppets” and it was their puppeteer skills that brought them into the Madblood fold:

“In 1979, a friend of ours introduced me to Jerry Harrell. I took a bunch of puppets to the meeting and a year later, we were asked to be on the show and bring our sci-fi themed puppets, for a spoof of "The Empire Strikes Back". I was also asked to do a space bounty hunter character, Bubba Fat, and something about the voice I used resulted in my being asked to join the company as the new voice of "Brain”.

Debra Burrell continues to serve behind-the-scenes as either (or both, depending on the situation) “Continuity Goddess” or “The Ninja Script Woman of Death.”  She got to get in front of the camera once:

“… I did get to play an evil nurse. Well, the evil incarnation of the nice nurse. Patience Dream accidentally ingested some “Pretty Mean Stuff” (PMS, get it?) and turned into the evil nurse Edie Hyde. That script was written by my darling husband, but I actually begged for that role. It was so much fun.”

There are many more crazy characters that have appeared through the years and a complete list can be found on Dr. Madblood’s web site (www.madblood.net). 
            Anyone familiar with Dr. Madblood will immediately think of the striking, psychedelic music from the show’s opening often referred to as “Dr. Madblood’s Theme”, but in reality the song is “Green-Eyed Lady” by the band Sugarloaf.  Harrell first heard the song one day while driving to work and decided to try it out and the music proved to be a perfect fit. About a year after using the theme, Harrell got a call from Jerry Carbetta himself, Sugarloaf band member and the song’s co-writer. “I assured him that we were paying the proper licensing fees,” Harrell told me Carbetta said, “…No, that’s fine, I just wanted to check and see if that was the case.”
            The story for this year’s show is pulled straight from the headlines and tells the tale of “P. Bradley Botts”, a billionaire, tech guru, played by local actor Terry Jernigan, who wants to move his data storage from the cloud into the swamp and needs to buy Madblood Manor to accomplish the task. The good Doctor has no interest in selling and the drama begins.
            This year’s movie is “The Satanic Rites of Dracula” (1973) the last Hammer Production to feature Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in a story set in 1970s swinging London that features a devil-worshipping ceremony and motorcycle chases mixed in with the usual vampire antics. There is one scene with some nudity that Jerry assures me has been creatively dealt with by inserting Waldo and Ernie at key moments.
            In all the thirty-eight years that Madblood has been with us, I asked Jerry if he had a favorite memory from doing the show:

“A story that I’ve never told anybody before, is when I was doing the show on WAVY, Frank Gorshin was appearing at a nightclub in Virginia Beach and I went out to see him. I was sitting in the audience and Frank Gorshin says, ‘I was watching TV last night and there was this guy on there who was really funny and he was going Li-Dee-Di-Dee-Di!’ and I thought ‘I’m sitting in the audience and Frank Gorshin is doing me!’”

You can catch “Dr. Madblood’s Halloween House!” Saturday, October 26th at 10:30 PM Eastern Time on local public television station WHRO-TV and streaming live on the internet at http://www.whro.org/home/html/drmadblood/.

Dr. Madblood on the web:

Me, my wife and Dr. Madblood from the 2012 Halloween show