Vampira, Ghoulardi, Dr. Shock: 20 Classic Creeps Of Regional Horror TV

By Sarah Norman | October 9, 2023

test article image
Left: Finnish-born actor and television host Vampira, a.k.a. Maila Nurmi, circa 1956. Source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images. Right: Dr. Shock and Bubbles on the cover of a TV Guide-like supplement to the (Philadelphia/South NJ) Courier Post. Source: Flickr.

Horror hosts on local TV stations shepherded us through the night, using their quirky, macabre personas to introduce movies that were creepy or terrible, back before cable and streaming. The figure who emerged as the national embodiment of the concept was Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. But Elvira could not have happened without dozens of local heroes who created the genre, including Ghoulardi, Zacherley, Sinister Seymour, and of course, most controversially, Vampira, played by Maila Nurmi.

The movies were often laughable, drive-in fare like The Beach Girls and the Monster, Son of Frankenstein and The Creature from the Black Lagoon meets Dracula’s Daughter. In this pre-internet age, you got what you got -- and if the movie was awful, the host had to make the show worth watching. Local horror hosts on regional TV shows with names like “Creature Feature” and “Shock Theater” portrayed ghouls, mad scientists, and mock-European counts who cracked wise about the movies with a DIY ethos. It was a form of standup or sketch comedy -- except it wasn't always funny. But it was always weird.

From Los Angeles to Cleveland and Detroit to New Orleans, regional horror hosts donned grease paint and inspired their young fans to fall in love with genre films. Some of the most famous, like Count Gore, Zacherly, and Vampira inspired an undying fandom, but the impact of each of these horror hosts from the groovy era can’t be overestimated. 

Vampira

test article image
Source: eBay

From 1954 to 1955 Vampira ruled Los Angeles. Even though The Vampira Show was only on the air for eight months it managed to set the standard for what a late night movie show looked like. Sauntering out of the dense fog, Vampira, played by Maila Nurmi, beckoned to the viewer with her sharp, claw-like fingernails and jabbed them and the films with caustic humor.

Like many of the copycats that followed, The Vampira Show was created as a way to show inexpensive - and in some cases free - horror movies that needed a hook beyond their mere existence. And even if the movies were bad, at least Vampira was fun to watch. 

In 1981, Nurmi had an opportunity to bring Vampira back to TV on the Los Angeles station KHJ-TV. In the process of creating the show, Cassandra Peterson was hired as Elvira, a Vampira-like character, without Nurmi's permission. Nurmi quit, and filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against Peterson.