Hosted movie shows have long been a staple for fans of the horror and sci-fi genres. These series date back to the 50s and 60s when notable hosts such as Vampira and Ghoulardi kept horror fans company while they watched genre films of the time. In the 80s and 90s, Elvira and Joe Bob Briggs kept the tradition going with their Movie Macabre and Monstervision programs. In recent years, the hosted horror tradition has had somewhat of a resurgence with the Svengoolie’s weekly show and Joe Bob returning with his The Last Drive-in series on Shudder to great success.
I recently discovered a lesser know program called Creature Features that is keeping the hosted horror tradition alive with a weekly program filmed in the San Francisco Bay Area that shows an array of mostly B (and often D) movies. Hosted by Vincent Van Dahl, a former rock star, the show is set in his supposedly haunted mansion in Bodega Bay (yes, that Bodega Bay). Vincent is joined by sidekicks Livingston, his soft spoken valet, and Tangella, a mute, sprite-like housemate with a penchant for explosives and skulls.
Creature Features is broadcast on local stations throughout the US and available to stream for free worldwide through YouTube and various streaming devices. Although the mansion where the program is set is quite impressive, it’s apparent that this is a low budget show when it comes to the actual films shown. The vast majority are public domain films from the 40s to the 80s and forgotten made for TV movies. As a result, most of the films are entertaining for their low production values, terrible script, and hammy acting rather than the ability to frighten an audience.
Unlike most other horror hosts, Vincent doesn’t provide a great deal of background on the films they show and quite often hasn’t even seen the films himself prior to the screening. He keeps his rock star persona throughout which makes for strange yet oddly entertaining contrast to the types of films they show. He engages in conversation with Livingston and Tangella about topics often completely unrelated to the film. Guests are usually included on the program but they rarely relate to the films they screen although they are often more knowledgable about the films than Vincent himself.
Some of the more interesting guests included Candace Hilligoss, star of Carnival of Souls who provided commentary on the film which was shown on her episode, and Veronica Carlson who shared some entertaining stories from the Hammer films she appeared in during the 60s and 70s. Another standout guest was Victoria Price, daughter of the late Vincent Price who joined a screening of her father’s film Shock and shared some personal stories of his life and film career.
More often than not, the guests are an eclectic mix of people who were likely just available when they needed them including a woman who makes horror themed soap and a psychic flight attendant. The robot from Lost in Space even guested once. The sheer randomness of the guests seems appropriate given the unevenness of the films shown and continue the so good it’s bad vibe.
Here’s a taste of the films you can enjoy from Creature Features streaming archive:
The Giant Gila Monster (1959)
Using a style typical of many of the low budget sci-fi/horror films of the 50s and 60s, The Giant Gila Monster tells the story of a creature that terrorizes a small town. The “giant” creature is actually just a regular sized lizard placed next to small scale model replicas of the buildings, cars, and even a train set to make it appear menacing.
The monster begins its reign of terror by pushing a car with some unsuspecting teenagers off of a cliff causing the rest of the town to find out what happened to them. The film seems to go off on some tangents with a sub plot of one of the teens trying to become a singer with the lizard lurking in the background, waiting for his chance to attack. I’m not sure how a giant gila monster hides in a small town but it’s really not worth thinking about things too hard in a film like this.
The savvy lizard decides to wait until most of the town is gathered for a sock hop at the local community centre to have its coming out party. It bursts through the wall sending the teens running for their lives. Fortunately the heroic budding rock star saves the day by blowing the monster up with explosives in his car.
When you watch a movie called The Giant Gila Monster, you pretty much know what you’re getting. I was not expecting suspense, impressive special effects, or Oscar quality acting and I definitely didn’t get it. The entertainment came from unintentional comedy of watching the characters pretending to be frightened of an ordinary lizard and in that sense it delivered.
Haunts Of The Very Rich (1972)
I had never heard of this one before it was featured on Creature Features and I’m sure most of the actors in it wished you never heard about it either. Haunts of the Very Rich is a 1972 made for TV movie with one of the most eclectic casts ever assembled outside of Battle of the Network Stars. Film legend Lloyd Bridges is joined by a veritable who’s who of 70s TV personalities including Cloris Leachman, Ed Asner and Mr. Brady himself, Robert Reed.
The plot of this film is almost as bizarre as the casting, following a group of presumably very rich people as they travel to a remote island resort. None of the travellers know each other or where they are going or why they are going there. They are greeted at their destination by a mysterious host who leaves them with more questions than answers.
Each character seems to be dealing with various personal issues which causes tension as they interact at the resort, with the exception of Bridges and Leachman who begin an awkward romantic tryst. Robert Reed plays a priest struggling with his faith while Ed Asner plays a grumpy businessman, desperate to escape the resort to get to an important business meeting. He also spends far too much time in an undershirt.
Strange events happen during their stay and the guests begin to suspect they are trapped at the island resort and eventually decide that they must actually be dead and they are stuck in purgatory. The most interesting aspect of this film is that it was actually made in the first place. How the film makers were able to convince these actors who were all quite popular at the time to appear in this bizarre, made for TV movie is the only mystery worth pondering in this production.
Not to be confused with the hit animated film from 1998, Ants! is another cheesy TV movie from the 1970s. The movie starts Robert Foxworth, Lynda Day George and a pre Three’s Company Suzanne Somers. Film legend Myrna Loy also had a featured role. TV movies from this era often provided stars in the twilight of their career with an opportunity to continue working after Hollywood stopped calling.
The film is set at a resort near a construction site where a whole lot of ants are dug up during excavation. There’s nothing particularly frightening about the ants except that there are a lot of them, they’re venomous, and really pissed off at being disturbed. After attacking the construction crew, the ants make their way over to the resort and begin to take out their anger at the guests and staff.
There’s not much in the way of suspense and the movie is quite slow going as it takes most of the film for the Department of Health to determine that it’s killer ants that are causing people to drop like flies. The film culminates with a “climactic” scene where a couple breathe through tubes as ants crawl all over while they wait for the fumigators to rescue them. As is typical with a TV movie, character development is virtually non-existent so you don’t particularly care who lives or dies.
One thing I appreciate about films of this era is that they use real ants which makes the scenario more real. If this film were made today it would have undoubtedly used computer generated ants which would only have compounded the other cheesy elements of the film. Ants! is a typical made for TV movie from that era but it does provide some unintentional laughs which is really all you can hope for from a low budget creature feature.
These are just a few of many films you can watch on Creature Features. New episodes of the program air every Saturday on stations throughout the US and you can also watch an extensive catalog of previous episodes from the last several years on their website, YouTube. and various streaming devices. It’s actually a great way to watch some obscure films you likely won’t find on any of the major streaming services. Creature Features is not the show to watch if you like critically acclaimed or big budget Hollywood movies but if you enjoy getting a laugh from movies that are so bad it’s good, it’s worth checking out.
This is my contribution to the So Bad It’s Good Blogathon. Be sure to have a read of Michael’s article on the cheesy best of Roger Corman. Also check out some of the other contributors by clicking on the image below. Our thanks to Rebecca of Taking Up Room for allowing us to join in the fun.