Legendary horror host John Zacherle passes away

Contributed by
Oct 31, 2016

The man known as the "cool ghoul" has climbed out of his crypt for the last time.

John Zacherle, the legendary New York-based horror TV host who spawned scores of imitators and introduced generations of young fans to monster culture, has left us at the age of 98. He died on Oct. 27, just days before the holiday he embodied and embraced, Halloween. 

Born in 1918, the Philadelphia actor, radio personality and voice talent achieved his greatest fame in the 1950s and '60s as a macabre character first named Roland -- who debuted in 1957 as the host of WCAU-TV horror movie program Shock Theater -- and later reinvented for WABC-TV in New York as Zacherley, where he performed similar duties and also gained the nickname "the cool ghoul" via his friend and fellow broadcaster Dick Clark. 

Starting with Shock Theater, Zacherle -- made up like a cadaver and wearing a long black undertaker's coat -- would introduce the films and then "interrupt" them for jokes or sketches that often played off whatever movie was showing. His "wife" was kept unseen in a coffin in their "crypt," and he often shared the stage with a "guest" hanging from a rope in a burlap bag. His "horror host" persona singlehandedly created a TV format that would endure for decades.

As the years went on, Zacherle worked for other New York TV channels like WOR and WPIX (where he hosted the classic Chiller Theater) and later moved into radio, working at iconic New York progressive rock station WNEW-FM and other local staples like WPLJ-FM and WXRK-FM.

Among his other career highlights, Zacherle cut a novelty record in 1958 called "Dinner With Drac," recorded four albums, edited two short story collections and later moved into acting. His most famous role was voicing the character of the parasitic creature Aylmer in Frank Henenlotter‘s 1988 horror comedy Brain Damage, and he also cameoed in Henenlotter‘s 1990 follow-up Frankenhooker.

Zacherle kept working almost until the end, making appearances at conventions as late as 2015 and still enjoying the adoration of "monster kids" for whom the "cool ghoul" was their guide into horror and sci-fi (visit his official website here). To use his own famous sign-off, good night sir, "whatever you are."

(via Coming Soon)

Make Your Inbox Important

Like Comic-Con. Except every week in your inbox.

Sign-up breaker