John Zacherle passed away October 27 at the age of 98. Younger readers may not understand the significance of this, but to Monster Kids like me it’s another reminder of the rapid passing of time. For John Zacherle, under the guise of an undertaker named Zacherley, was the TV horror host who set the standard for all the local horror hosts to come, influencing generations of horror fans to this day hosting public domain flicks on the internet and local cable access channels.
John Zacherle the man was born September 26, 1918 in Philidelphia, PA. After serving in WWII, he acted in local theater companies, until landing a gig as “Roland” in 1957, hosting the city’s SHOCK THEATER package of Universal horror films. What set him apart was the skits he performed on the show, gruesome little comic parodies from his crypt with his dead wife and a lab assistant named Igor (what else?). Roland became somewhat of a phenomenon in Philly, and his good friend Dick Clark (hosting another local show, AMERICAN BANDSTAND) helped him get a record out called “Dinner With Drac”, predating Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “Monster Mash” by four years:
The record hit #6 on the Billboard charts, and Roland’s success caught the eye of TV execs in New York. He soon moved to The Big Apple, changing his moniker from Roland to Zacherely but keeping his ghoulish black humor. As Zacherley, he hosted the NYC version of SHOCK THEATER, followed by ZACHERLEY AT LARGE and CHILLER THEATER. The Cool Ghoul (a nickname bestowed upon him by Clark) even hosted a teen dance party show titled DISC-O-TEEN, as you’ll see in this rare 1967 Halloween clip with The Box Tops (featuring the immortal Alex Chilton!):
Zach was also a radio DJ and hosted rock shows in Central Park and at the fabled Fillmore East. Later in life, he made cameos in cult films like FRANKENHOOKER and DR. TERROR’S EROTIC HOUSE OF IDIOTS, and was a regular on the East Coast Horror Con circuit, interacting with and signing autographs for his legion of fans right up until last year. John Zacherle is gone now, but his influence lives on in horror hosts across America, from Penny Dreadful to Dr. Gangrene to Karlos Borloff to Me-TV’s Svengoolie. I was planning on doing a write-up on one of my favorite 70’s hosts, Simon of Boston’s SIMON’S SANCTORUM until I heard the news of Zacherley’s passing. Simon will have to wait until next year’s ‘Halloween Havoc!’. I’m sure he’d understand.
Here’s the cover of Zacherley’s LP “MONSTER MASH”. I had this as a young Monster Kid (wish I still did!), and besides the title tune and “Dinner With Drac”, my favorite cut was a murderous little ditty called “Gravy (with some cyanide)”. Thanks for helping to warp my impressionable mind, Zach!!!