Short of the Day
A hapless horror host triggers a domino effect of bad luck.
The majority of our readers are undoubtedly too young to remember the days of the horror host, those affiliate-station, after-hours guides to genre films. Elvira is the most famous, of course, but to an extent she isn’t a pure horror host as much as she is a parody of horror hosts. The real guys had no tongues in cheek, they were seriously ghoulish aficionados of all things that go bump in the night, and they brought their love of the cinematically macabre into hundreds of thousands of homes, usually accompanied by over-the-top costumes, set dressings, and personas like Vampira, Count Scary, Dr. Creep, Svengoolie, Fritz the Nite Owl, Joe Bob Briggs, and Ghoulardi (Paul Thomas Anderson’s dad, for real)
It’s this world – that of the horror host – that’s the setting for The Horrible Life of Dr. Ghoul, a dark comedic short from writer/director Don Swaynos. Dr. Ghoul is, as you might have guessed, not a doctor at all but a horror host who starts off a chain of bad luck when he rips his cape while leaving a bar. From there the hilarious mishaps compound like a snowball rolling downhill, eventually splattering the patience and poise of the good doctor. To go into more detail would be to rob you of discovering the pratfalls for yourself, but suffice it to say, Swaynos has managed to deftly create a film that honors the tradition of horror hosts while eliciting boisterous humor. Shot in black-and-white, the cinematography is crisp and atmospheric and easily establishes a world just left of center from our own, an absurdly-believable space where the events can unfurl in a delightfully-amok manner. Chris Doubek is the titular host, and delivers a buoyant performance that propels things at a jaunty pace.
After all the sentimental media you’ve devoured over the holiday season, The Horrible Life of Dr. Ghoul is the perfect palate-cleanser: devious, decidedly wicked, and devilishly amusing. Give yourself a chuckle, and a fright.