Monday, December 18, 2017

Detroit's Shock Theater


In 1957, Universal Pictures syndicated a television package of fifty-two classic horror movies released by Screen Gems called Shock Theatre. The package included the original Dracula, Frankenstein, Mummy, and Wolfman movies. Shock Theatre premiered with Lugosi's Dracula in Detroit on WXYZ channel seven at 11:30 pm on February 7, 1958.

Each syndicated television market had their own host. Detroit had one of the first horror movie personalities in the country. The show was hosted by Mr. X--Tom "Doc" Dougall--a classically trained actor who taught English at the Detroit Institute of Technology and moonlighted as a vampire on Friday nights. Unlike later horror movie hosts who would spoof their roles or riff on the movies they showed, Dougall was grimly serious and set a solemn tone for what was to follow. What most people don't know about Professor Dougall is that he co-wrote several Lone Ranger and Green Hornet scripts for WXYZ radio.

The opening of the show was memorable, but I was only nine years old when I started staying up every Friday night to see the classic monsters and mad-scientists--The Invisible Man comes to mind. This is how I remember the opening:

The show's marquee card came up with ominous organ music and a crack of thunder in the background. Replete in vampire grab with cape, Mr. X walked slowly on screen holding a huge open book announcing the night's feature in a scary voice. Next, he would say, "Before we release the forces of evil, insulate yourself against them." With a sense of impending doom, Dr. X continued, "Lock your doors, close your windows, and dim your lights. Prepare for Shock." The camera came in for an extreme close-up of Dr. X's face, more lightening and thunder effects, and finally his gaunt face morphed into a skull. Then the film credits would roll.

There was something positively unholy about the show which made it an instant success with my generation of ghoulish Detroit Baby Boomers. The show's ominous organ music set the mood for the audience. The piece was listed only as #7 on a recording of Video Moods licensed for commercial television and not available to the public.

No video link to Detroit's Shock Theatre's opening has surfaced, but the above newspaper ad for the show gives an idea of the facial dissolve special effect. If anyone knows where I can find a link, Gmail me so I can add it to this post. Thanks.

Detroit's Baby Boomer Kid Show Hosts:
https://fornology.blogspot.com/2017/12/detroit-baby-boomer-kids-show-hosts.html

7 comments:

  1. I STILL CAN'T BELEIVE THAT AFTER ALL THESE YEARS, NO TAPE OR FILM OR KINESCOPE EXISTS OF MR.X AND THE SHOCK OPENING...CERTAINLY HAS BEEN A VOID IN THIS LIFE AS IT HAD SUCH AN IMPACT ON ME AS A 7 YEAR OLD...IS THERE ANY HOPE THAT SOMETHING WILL SURFACE??? PLEASE DON'T STOP LOOKING...I PROMISE I WON'T EITHER...Michael dePrisco

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  2. How many time did I adjust the rabbit ears to watch on the black and white TV for and with my Dad and I to watch Mr X - Shock theater show. I remember my mom saying it is time to go to bed and my dad saying let him stay up. I was 7-8 back in the day. There I was watching classic Horror TV shows.
    As I remember I think there was also a coffin that opened up also.

    Another great TV show was crated called the Soupy Sales show with White fang and black fang. But that is for another post.

    I remember hopping on a bus in Detroit and going downtown to see Psycho (1960) I was 10 years old. Saturday matinees were I think .50 cents to get in and buy popcorn for 15 cents a box and at the start of the movie when the lights went down the whole theater would Frisbee/ collapse there popcorn boxes and helicopter them at the screen.
    oh man; thanks for the good memories of my chid hood

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  3. My brother and I would stay up late to watch this show while my parents were out bowling. One night the show was so scary I started crying and beg my brother to turn it off. He wouldn't. I ended up calling my parents at the bowling alley and they had to have him get on the phone so they could scold him and tell him to turn off the show. I don't think he ever forgave me, LOL! I still remember some of the movies that we saw and a couple I even bought on DVD in later years so I could watch them again. The Ape Man comes to mind.

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  4. I remember this show so well. I was 8 at the time in Toledo and was able just get reception. I waited anxiously all week to see what the next movie was and didn't care how many times I watched Dracula, Frankenstein, etc.. I became a great fan of Bela Lugosi because of Shock Theater and 2 weeks ago on a trip to CA I was able to visit his grave. Thank you Gregory for publishing this article.

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  5. I have the same memories as Mr. Tompkins. It was the thrill of the week to watch this show. It didn't matter what movie was being shown; it was the fun of staying up late, preferably alone in the dark in the living room. If my mom had made some popcorn, it was even better. I miss that TV program so much!

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  6. Epsillon, I have the same memories as you. Don't know how I managed to stay up so late to watch this show, but I did. And our other TV was in the dark basement which added to the effects. Great childhood memories for sure. I think it came on around 11:30 or midnight on Fridays.

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  7. I attended the Detroit Institute of Technology back in 1967 and took a speech class from Dr. Dougall. Sometimes he would come to class drunk and we could get him to recite "Lock your doors, close your windows, and dim your lights. Prepare for Shock." It was a gas because I remembered how frightful he made me feel when the show aired. I remember my cousin and I would sit behind the TV to watch Shock theater and peeking at the screen ever so often when movies like Frankenstein or the Mummy were on.

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