When horror movies were still black and white, your Saturday night movie theater experience often included a spook show.
Magicians and actors performed, putting on seances and macabre skits, making the spook show a provocative thrill for generations of American teens. But as movie theaters changed and a lot of those monsters began to appear on local TV stations, the spook show, or ghost show, went the way of Vaudeville.
But the coffin has creaked open and the spook show — if ever so briefly — is back from the dead.
Halloween Every Night talked to writer David Lucarelli about his new project, a full resurrection of the spook show called Doctor Zomba’s Ghost Show of Terror, playing Saturday nights in June at the Complex in Hollywood. Crowds have been enthusiastic.
Halloween Every Night: The spookshow was a long-dead and wonderfully old-school approach to having a good time through a scare or two. What intrigued you so much about it that you decided to resurrect it with your bare hands?
David Lucarelli: I stumbled upon Mark Walker’s Ghost Masters, an excellent history of the Ghost Shows, and was instantly fascinated by this almost completely forgotten bit of spooky Americana. I was especially intrigued by the blackout sequence at the climax, where the audience is plunged into total darkness and surrounded by supernatural phenomena they can see, hear & feel. Since almost nobody is still doing ghost shows these days, I figured the only way I’d get to experience one was to write and produce one myself.
HEN: Here’s the obvious question — why do people need to experience Dr. Zomba’s Ghost Show of Terror?
DL: Doctor Zomba is both the last vestige of vaudeville, and a half century after its inception, still on the cutting edge of immersive experience. A lot of shows translate to television or film, but to fully experience the ghost show, you have to experience it in person.
HEN: Tell me about your experience writing and putting the show together.
DL: It was hard to write at first, because even though I had a general idea of what I wanted to happen during the show and what the plot was — yes, there is a plot. Doctor Zomba is both a ghost show, and a play about a ghost show — I wasn’t sure exactly what tricks we’d be able to pull off. Once we cast our star, David M Beach, everything fell very quickly into place. I was able to write the show to fully capitalize upon his many strengths and talents. David was actually hand picked to be the successor to Doctor Silkini, one of the original ghost show masters, by producers that were looking to resurrect his show some years ago. While that revival didn’t end up happening, we count ourselves lucky to have David as our Doctor Zomba!
HEN: I’m not knocking modernity, but do you think there are simpler pleasures we’ve lost over the years — especially when it comes to scaring ourselves?
DL: There is that old cliché, ‘everything old is new again.’ I grew up a monster kid, who loved celebrating Halloween, haunted houses, TV horror hosts and Rocky Horror. What I didn’t realize as a kid, was that all those things owed a lot to the ghost shows.
HEN: If the show is a success, are there any plans to extend the show or to bring it back in October?
DL: We would love to bring it back around Halloween, and if that’s a success, make it an annual part of celebrating Halloween in Los Angeles.
Tickets are $15. Seats for the 11:15 p.m. Sat., June 16 show or the 11:55 p.m. Sat., June 23 show are still available at Hollywood Fringe