Professor Ghoul’s Horror School Is Back in Session!
Professor Ghoul has this in common with Don Draper, at least: He keeps his fans waiting for new material.
The wait ends at 10 p.m. Friday (Feb. 1) when “Professor Ghoul’s Horror School” begins its so-called second season on WKNO-TV Channel 10, with a screening of 1972’s “Horror Express,” about a frozen troglodyte-alien that thaws on the Trans-Siberian Express and attacks Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Telly Savalas (really). The new episode repeats at midnight the next night.
A resurrection of the TV “horror host” tradition made famous in Memphis in the 1960s and ’70s by Sivad (the late Watson Davis), the “monster of ceremonies” on WHBQ-TV’s “Fantastic Features,” the locally produced “Professor Ghoul’s Horror School” debuted June 1.
Thirteen episodes of the program were produced during Season One, showcasing such public-domain horror movies as “House on Haunted Hill” and “Bucket of Blood,” introduced and occasionally interrupted by a pedantic mad scientist, Professor Ghoul (Mike Degnan), and his vampiric puppet sidekick, Shotzi the Cat (created, voiced and manipulated by Bard Cole). Area actors, celebrities (Amy LaVere!) and people with alleged name recognition (incuding yours truly) made guest appearances, in skits relating to each evening’s film. (For example, Chris Davis of The Memphis Flyer and I appeared during the Professor’s screening of “Theater of Blood,” in which aggrieved actor Vincent Price murders the critics who panned his performances.) The Ghoul School sketches were directed by Peter Richards, who returns for Season Two.
The show developed something of a cult following, leading to a spinoff “Professor Ghoul’s Horror School Halloween Special” on WKNO-TV in October, and live (so to speak) horror-themed appearances at the Orpheum. For the most part, however, fans had to content themselves with watching the first 13 episodes over and over — until now.
For Season Two, the Ghoul School welcomes two new students, Patrick (AJ Bernard) and Alexis (Shakiera Sarai). Other guests include a substitute teacher, Mr. Gleekman (Austin King), and chancellor Julius Grimm (Vincent Astor).
As usual, the Professor is showing some great films, although the transfers of the prints provided to WKNO sometimes appear as worn out as the monsters do by the end of the movie.
On Feb. 8, the Professor delivers one of the all-time classics, the fairy tale-like “White Zombie,” from the greatest year in horror movie history, 1932; the film presents Bela Lugosi, a year after “Dracula,” in one of his most impressive roles, as a master of a Haiti zombie plantation.
The Feb. 15 film is “Mill of the Stone Women” (1960), an atmospheric and creepy Italian mood piece about a mad scientist. The month ends with Francis Ford Coppola’s ax-murder shocker “Dementia 13” (1963), the first legitimate feature from the director who a decade later would become one of Hollywood’s most honored and powerful filmmakers, with “The Godfather.”
“Professor Ghoul’s Horror School” screens at 10 p.m. each Friday, and repeats at midnight Saturday, the next night.