Many cities can boast their own late night horror film hosts (in theaters, on local TV, at events, etc.). But strangely, New York never had its own Vampira or Elvira… until this particular creature materialized, that is! Sharply droll and ghoulishly blue, Unkle Spooky first made left his bloody mark when he pitched his cave in many of our city’s favorite queer spaces. And nowadays, certainly no plague will stop this Spook from disbursing his hilarious hellfire across the interwebs! [Cover photo: Scott Bek]
Thotyssey: Greetings Unkle Spooky! Thanks for chatting with us this mid-Spooktober afternoon! Normally this is the month that you are out and about spreading Halloween cheers and chills… but now you’re sending the screams from home! Has that been a challenge to adapt to?
Unkle Spooky: Not really… not as much as I thought it would. Once I discovered Zoom, it was easy-peasy. I quickly figured out all the pros to doing a show from your own home, and I’ve been having a great time with it.
I had the pleasure of joining your Zoom viewing of Halloween III (“the bastard of the franchise,” to paraphrase you) last night! Wow, that was a strange one. And so surprisingly anti-Irish, the way only an early ’80s movie can be, lol!
Ha! Right? When they put out a casting call for extras, they specifically only wanted gingers. But they couldn’t scrape up enough of them, so there’s a couple blonds and dark haired fellas in there. It’s a fun movie–a little stupid, but classic Carpenter with his heavy synth soundtrack and stinger jump scares.
Yes! And a great child murder… but that little shit kinda deserved it!?
That kid’s death is iconic in my circle!
You had a cadre of viewers in the Zoom chiming in with messages: texted observations, plus some audio quips before and after the feature. Are these fans you picked up during the Zoom shows, or loyal folks from your live viewing days? Or both?
A lot of them are cross overs from the Spookorama live shows–veeeery loyal fans. And then, word of mouth from them brought over some new faces, and it’s a consistently great group of people.
On that note, who exactly is a “typical” Unkle Spooky fan?
Most of them are horror purists who live for, or work in, horror. They just love horror movies. I’d say a typical fan is usually a fun, knowledgeable horror enthusiast who has probably seen the movie I’m screening 100 times. It’s great fun when there’s a member who hasn’t seen the flick yet. We all get very excited.
Where are you from originally?
Born and raised in Queens NYC, baby!
Was a love of horror and the macabre always there?
Always, always there… I’m thinking, from a baby. We used to have a family photo of my older sisters and a 2 year-old me wearing too-big-for-my-mouth plastic vampire fangs, watching the old 60’s horror soap, Dark Shadows. I have no memory of watching the show, but I believe something was imprinted in my DNA way back then. A couple years later, my parents let me stay up late to watch Vincent Price in The House on Haunted Hill. My jaw hit the floor, and there was no turning back. I couldn’t get enough. I bought every horror magazine and comic, and just devoured all I could on it.
What’s your favorite of decade for horror films?
I gotta go with 70’s-80’s, as those were my most impressionable years. To me, there is something comfortingly safe about films from 30’s-50’s–good movies to introduce a kid to horror, if you can get them to sit through black and white. With the 60’s being book-ended by Psycho, and Night of the Living Dead, the times were a changin’ and the films got more dangerous. By the 70’s, nobody was safe in a horror movie: they’d kill off the kids, the moms… the pretty girl you knew would survive didn’t. With the 80’s came slashers and gore–two of my favorites.
So what is the origin of Unkle Spooky?
I always loved the idea of a horror host, but I never grew up with one. Most towns and cities across America would have their own local horror host. Here in New York, we had Chiller Theater–which had no host, but did have a very effective 6-fingered Claymation hand that would rise out of a quicksand swamp and snatch up the Chiller letters. So I didn’t really know what a horror host did. Elvira came around in the 80’s and blew up, but I don’t remember watching her either.
So fast forward to the early 2000’s: I’m visiting San Francisco, and went to a midnight Halloween screening of Night of the Creeps at the Castro. A beautiful blue-skinned ghoulette by the name of Ms. Monster and her monster melons–big fluffy melon puppets–were hosting the film. She was fun, and it added a lot to the movie experience. I didn’t know then, but that night a seed was planted.
Jump another 10 years and I’m working in [New York] nightlife… mostly at the doors collecting money, that sort of thing. Me and a couple of guys decided to throw a Halloween party at The Eagle–a big costume contest, as well as a little haunted walk we crafted around the back pool table (which to this day I’m very proud of). I needed a look, and instinctively knew what I wanted to look like: blue face, dark under eyes, and a tux with a red bow tie. Nothing really groundsbreaking, but when I put it on that Halloween night… something clicked inside, and it just felt right.
From there it was, “how and where can I be Unkle Spooky?” And for years it was very frustrating, because besides once a year there really were no opportunities to be Unkle Spooky. I tried standup, but standup is hard enough; doing it in blue face just confused the audience.
But ultimately, you found your niche!
I got together with Michael T (downtown club denizen and performer) and threw a double feature scary movie night at Eastern Bloc, a seedy bar down in the East Village. And those were the first live shows: introducing the films, kind of mingling about, but with not much else to do. So I started “Blood Bingo,” which I guess would be “movie scene bingo”–a bingo board for people to play along with in their seats, keep them invested in the film. Winners got to stick their hand into “Unkle Spooky’s Basket of Secrets” and pull out a surprise. It was loads of fun, and we did it for a couple of years until they closed the bar and relaunched it as a cabaret, and it was time to move on.
From there, I lucked out with gigs at a LIC coffee house called Communitea which really set me up nicely, and then added a weekly at The Ice Palace in Cherry Grove, Fire Island. Both were great fun for me, and excellent learning experiences. I was very lucky.
Can you recall any particular movie you showed that got, or gets, the biggest audience reaction?
Re-Animator and From Beyond and Zombie were all big hits. Lots of audience laughing and screaming and retching… very lively. That’s one thing you lose with the Zoom. You don’t actually hear anybody screaming (which is like fuel for my soul). You just see their mute closeup faces contorting silently in horror, which is nice. I guess its a trade-off.
So what is the plan now, going forward, for your virtual viewing parties?
Since the pandemic began, I’ve been doing a twice a week “Stay At Home Spookerama,” Tuesdays and Fridays at 8pm, and I’m proud to say we haven’t skipped one yet. I ‘m thinking I’ll keep going with that schedule until we are back to normal, or I run out of sky blue creme makeup… which I’m burning through pretty fast! Even then… if tough times call for it, I’ll probably just smear on a Queen Helene green mud mask and carry on.
Folks who want in on the Spookorama should contact you for the Zoom link! So now at last, it’s time for our very important final question: what’s your favorite Halloween candy?
Jeez, I love it all. I’m gonna go with a Baby Ruth: caramel, chocolate, salty nuts. It’s a chewy party in your mouth. Followed by a Sour Patch Kid, and a Twizzler. It’s a wonder I have any fangs left.
Happy Halloween, Unkle Spooky!