Professor Griffin’s Midnight Shadow Show was broadcast in Central Texas on Friday nights for six years from 2000-2006. His sidekicks Dan-Dan and Usher helped him host monster movies and put on carnivalesque scenarios during the breaks. The good Professor still experiments on the hearts and minds of young and old alike hosting specials, appearing at conventions, and misleading students at a University of Texas class on monsters. This interview was originally conducted in 2006 but was unpublished until now.
Mystic Skull: For people who have not yet seen your show, how would you describe a typical broadcast?
Professor Griffin: Typical? Hmmmm. Actually, very little about the broadcast each week is typical. Hehehehe. Here’s the gist of what I do each and every week. I HOST horror…I exhibit terror, and I display the greatest shockers and chillers ever preserved to film. (Or digital, or whatever media the kids are using these days!) I do NOT mock these films…(well, very seldom). I honor them. Horror entertainment is not something that is reserved for the month of October (despite what some television station managers think); it is as common in our everyday as breathing. Most of the time, we just don’t realize it.
The show itself begins in blackness and with the tolling of a distant midnight bell…suddenly with a CRACK of thunder and a flash of lightning (staples I know, but a classic is a classic) various scenes of horror throughout history are revealed as flickering shadows in this darkness. As this montage of fright proceeds, the VOICE of my boss, Prof. Bruno Lampini begins to intone:
Midnight looms before us and the shadows begin to lengthen. I, Prof. Bruno Lampini, have entrusted ONE MAN to exhibit these shadows: the mad master of the macabre, your host and my protégée, Prof. Anton Griffin. Join him now as he parts the curtains and invites brave souls into Prof. Griffin’s Midnight Shadow Show!
Bizarre carnival music and our theme (‘The Midnight Shadow Show’ and ‘Return to the Shadow Show’) begins next and was actually composed and performed by the very talented Winslow Leech…no…I’m kidding. Tim Giardot is the music mastermind behind the Shadow Show theme(s). Also included in our opening, is an animated sequence that was created to resemble carnival attraction posters and come-ons. Garish and cartoonish, but edgy in an all-too familiar way…Eugene Romero is the animator who graciously created and provided this segment for us. This animated sequence leads into the main title, and the curtains part. The next thing viewers see, USUALLY, is my number one assistant, Usher. She welcomes guests into the exhibition hall, tears tickets, and directs the audience to ‘take your seats, the show’s about to begin…” then she intros ME. I emerge from behind curtains behind an elevated stage and begin to bark…(no, not like Larry Talbot). I describe the horror and the terror they are about to experience…and lead the lucky patrons into the dark.
Usually. That’s the structure as set by Lampini, and countless showmen before me. Sometimes, we take a diversion…but well…that’s show biz! Hehehehe.
MS: Many horror hosts use the template of showing one old movie and doing skits before, after, and during breaks in the movie. Not having seen your show myself, I am curious as to how similar or different your show is from this. I notice in your episode guide, there are descriptive terms like "examination" and "tribute". Do you do discussion of film history that is maybe more "professorial" than the average host?
Professor Griffin: Well firstly, the show is ALL ABOUT THE MOVIE…as every horror show SHOULD be. We pop up from time to time during the running time of the film to offer commentary, discuss behind the scenes trivia, and share in the viewing experience. Usher and Dan-Dan (my other assistant) are with me and usually begin some sub-plot that runs strangely parallel to the feature or special we are exhibiting. We have intermissions from time to time, (featuring classic drive-in snack bar shorts, music videos, and trailers) and Usher usually signals when it’s time to get back to the show.
I do tribute shows as well, where we examine (in a much more “professorial” way as you put it) themes, actors, film series, directors, etc. To date, our tribute shows have honored: Bela Lugosi, Vincent Price, Ted Mikels, Freddy and Jason, Chucky, Christopher Lee, Hammer Films, the Frankenstein themes of Creating Life, Vampire Slayers, Jack Pierce, Universal Horrors, and Lon Chaney. Technically, I am NOT a degreed Professor…that title was afforded to me when I first became an exhibitor. (Can you name the film where THAT line came from?)
MS: What inspired you to go into horror hosting? And were there any specific hosts of years past who gave you ideas that went into developing the character of Prof Griffin?I grew up in Houston, Texas and in the ’70s I used to watch a local host, Harold Gunn. Gunn appeared first on Boo Theatre (as a vampire character) and then in the ’80s he hosted on Captain Harold’s Theatre of the Sky as an air force captain (Gunn was actually an air force Captain). Elvira’s Movie Macabre was another wonderful program syndicated in the ’80s on Houston television, and I used to watch her every single weekend.
Prof. Griffin was created by James Fotinos (my brother) and myself when we were designing a Haunted Attraction in Houston. I used to do that a lot…every Halloween. The attraction was a theme attraction called, Prof. Griffin’s Circus of Horrors…and Griffin was the carnival barker, owner and operator of a traveling show featuring very REAL monsters. He was envisioned as a mysterious blend of Dr. Lao (From The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao) and Mr. Dark (from Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes). A devilish showman with light sensitive eyes and pale skin.
MS: How did you get the great Forrest J. Ackerman to participate in your program?
Professor Griffin: I asked him. Hehehehe. For two years on the show, I referred to my boss…the mysterious Professor Lampini (taken as an homage to George Zucco’s traveling showman in Universal’s House of Frankenstein). Lampini operated on my show as an invisible presence, sending me the films, and from time to time people and things for the show. Truth be told…my actual FIRST choice for Lampini was Ray Bradbury…as he was (and still is) an inspiration and a treasure to me creatively. I wrote a tribute essay for his birthday which he loved and personally wrote me to thank me and compliment me on it. This led to me asking him to play Prof. Lampini. Unfortunately, logistics prevented us from setting a recording session.
Never far from my mind was Uncle Forry… Forrest Ackerman and I had worked together for a drive-in film festival here in Austin, and I had met him at the ’93 Famous Monsters convention in Arlington. I called him up and asked him, and he called me back and said, YES! A dear friend and fellow Horror Host in Los Angeles, The Nightshadow (from the long-running Horror, Kung-Fu Theatre) went out to Ackerman’s home, and recorded his reading of the opening spiel. Now, each and every week, we open with Professor Lampini (Ackerman) introducing the show.
Strangely, mine was the very first horror hosted show in which Ackerman contributed as a character (albeit an off screen voice). He has appeared on many shows, and been interviewed by countless hosts, but for me, he filled the role of my BOSS. And he’ll always be Lampini. He will live eternal on my show…and I am honored and thrilled with the distinction.
MS: You are also accompanied on the show by a beauty and a beast - Usher and Dan-Dan. What do they add to the show?
Professor Griffin: In season one of the Midnight Shadow Show, we had a running gag of Prof. Griffin constantly auditioning assistants (sort of like Murphy Brown always looking for a secretary). The assistant was always related to the movie we were hosting…a hippie for Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, an unfrozen caveman for Horror Express, a zombie for Night of the Living Dead, etc. But in season two we planned to bring on assistants on a permanent level.
Daniel D. Daniels (or Dan-Dan) was discovered living underneath Griffin Manor in cave. Apparently, my home was built on the ruins of Batview Asylum, and Dan-Dan is its last surviving inmate. We’re not sure how old Dan-Dan is, or how he’s lived so long under the house, but we have a sneaky suspicion that it has something to do with riffled graves. Best not to ask too many questions as far as Dan-Dan goes. I felt sorry for the poor guy and brought him up into the Manor to act as my assistant. Sure, he’s psychotic and potentially dangerous, but for the most part, he’s harmless. Erratic and random in speech, intelligence and cohesiveness…Dan-Dan keeps me on my toes. (Dan-Dan is played by Comic Book writer, artist, screenwriter and actor Gilbert Austin. Gilbert also contributed some wonderful animation for the show that we use for the Criswell segments)
Usher on the other hand, was sent to me directly from Professor Lampini. She appeared with a bunch of Hammer Film trailers with orders to work for me. She’s stoic, humorless, pale and deadpan. She’s directly related to the New England Ushers and from time to time falls into a catalyptic trance…I’m not even sure what her real name is…or it might just be USHER. As she stayed, we discovered that she was not without her eccentricities. Usher has a huge schoolgirl crush on octogenarian actor and horror legend, Christopher Lee. She gets a little crazy when Lee appears on our Shadow Show screens…and even sold her soul once to get Chris to notice her. She’s also quite fond of fire. She can dance with it and spit it out of her mouth from time to time. Lately she’s been leaping out of airplanes…of the entire cast of the Midnight Shadow Show, she’s voted most likely to die an early death by fire or dropping from a great height. (Usher is played by the beautiful and talented Kim Shafer. Kim is a costume designer, fire performer, dancer and choreographer. She does in fact leap out of planes.)
MS: How did you acquire Criswell's brain? Ebay or something more sinister?
Professor Griffin: Oh…nothing so sinister. During my hosting of Plan 9 from Outer Space, Prof. Lampini sent me Criswell’s brain. Once connected to the system, turned on and juiced up (with straight vodka) the lushy brain still speaks in that droning monotone voice he’s so famous for…(with a flashing green light and bubbles) and continues to make predictions. These predictions really make no sense, but he’s fun at parties.
MS: You have been on the air for over 5 years now. Has there been a lot of positive audience response that has helped keep it going?
Professor Griffin: Oh yes. I was simply thrilled that so many people really love the show in Austin and other parts of Texas (the show plays in San Marcos, San Antonio and occasionally Houston) Yearly, each and every October, we get a chance to meet with the fans! We are the Goodwill Industries Halloween Costume Spokesmen and each and every year we get a media blitz with Billboards, radio ads, even more TV appearances and in person appearances as well. It’s at these events that we meet so many fans, young and old. The local press has been very kind to us and has given us lots of coverage for our many accomplishments.
MS: Public access television has been very good for the renaissance of horror hosting. Has public access been of help to you?
Professor Griffin: Most definitely. Access gave us the ability to have our stuff broadcast and build a fan base. Prof. Griffin’s Midnight Shadow Show is produced with a partnership with Broom Closet Studios (www.broomclosetstudio.com) and we have our own production facilities and studios and equipment so we don’t use access for any of those things, but we broadcast on an access channel. The simple truth was, affiliate television was interested in us ONLY as hosts on the air in October. They believed (and still do) that horror hosts are a seasonal thing and not something that can work throughout the year. As I said, in October we are asked to host on almost all the affiliates, especially in the week leading to Halloween. But as soon as November 1st rolls along, it’s BACK to Griffin manor and access for us.
We were signed with an independent commercial channel, The Austin Music Network, for some time, and on that channel, we were broadcast on streaming video online and we reached viewers from across the country and even the world. Sadly, AMN is no more, and the online show has ended as well. AMN (The Austin Music Network) lost its channel space on Time Warner to a new entity calling itself The Austin Music Partners. This group consisted of private investors with big money who eyed the channel space on Time Warner and saw the potential for a major commercial enterprise. (Ad space, sponsors etc.) Austin Music Network was a commercial channel, but also co-funded by the city of Austin as a non-profit. In other words, the funds collected through sponsorship and advertising with local Austin businesses went directly into the management and day to day operations of the channel.
We HAVE appeared on Spike TV hosting a Ghouls Gone Wild TV segment last October, and our popularity in Austin has given us many opportunities to make live appearances in conjunction with horror film events. We hosted live at the World Premiere of Freddy Vs. Jason, we hosted an all-night horror movie event with Tobe Hooper as part of the Austin Film Festival and we introduced the premiere showing of IFC’s American Nightmare documentary. My introduction of the panel for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 at the Dallas Texas Frightmare Convention will be included as an extra for the new DVD release…and I am featured in the new horror host documentary, American Scary.
MS: Congratulations on your show being picked up by Fangoria! Do you think nationwide cable channels like Fangoria's will create new audiences for horror entertainment which commercial networks fail to reach?
Professor Griffin: Well, our signing with Fangoria TV was a long, long, long process…and I want to warn everyone reading this. It’s a long story. In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth…and horror was born. The fields of national cable (not satellite) were being sown by two (yes, two) all-horror channels racing towards an inevitable end. The Horror Channel, founded by Hakim Bangash and Nick Psaltos, and The Scream Channel, also founded by Hakim Bangash). HUH?
For many of you, this might be old news, but just in case it isn’t the story basically goes like this: The Horror Channel founders had a very non-friendly break-up and Hakim (Kim) went off and started his own channel. That’s about it. Now, Prof. Griffin was on the plate at The Horror Channel for some time now (as have a number of other horror hosts, personalities and celebrities). The Horror Channel was very interested in Prof. Griffin’s Midnight Shadow Show, firstly to promote Prof. Griffin as a national personality through my writings and of course my show. After two years of writing and communications, several conference calls were arranged with me and Shane Scott (The Shadow Show’s co-producer and director) and things really took off from there. Horror Channel co-founder John Giunti and Steve ‘Uncle Creepy’ Barton were so impressed by the show, they offered us a contract and non-disclosure agreement to secure our presence on the channel.
There was ONE sticking place, and as you can guess, it was MONEY. We asked (quite reasonably) that in year two we could begin making production costs for the broadcast of our show. This is based on the fact that we PRODUCE everything including costumes, sets, equipment, space, writing, talent, make-up etc. We feel that since we are providing them with a fully finished and ready to broadcast product, that meeting our production costs in year two is fair and reasonable. They were a bit uneasy over this, and so the discussions stalled and we never signed. I next contacted my friend John Bloom (aka Joe Bob Briggs) who WAS signed with the Horror Channel but jumped ship and is now with Kim Bangash with the SCREAM channel. After John viewed several episodes of Prof. Griffin’s Midnight Shadow Show he responded, saying that they (he and Kim) would have no problem having us as hosts on the SCREAM channel, but that he believes in paying talent and the budget for kick off on the SCREAM Channel producing three original host shows was used up until second quarter 2005. (The three planned hosted shows on the SCREAM Channel, by the way, was to be Joe Bob Briggs, Dee Snider of Twisted Sister and Strangeland fame, and one of the Survivor finalists who is a horror fan and, more importantly, an investor.) I responded with, if they (THE SCREAM Channel) were willing to put something in writing securing us for the time (with production costs) that we would sign with them and immediately start producing whatever they needed. They seemed happy with that arrangement. That was the last communication with Joe Bob Briggs and the SCREAM Channel.
Meanwhile, ANOTHER channel was announced, Fangoria TV! THIS channel was founded by a THIRD partner in the original Horror Channel days, Thomas De Feo. DeFeo owned his own successful production company, Moe Greene Entertainment, and bought Fangoria and Starlog magazines and decided (wisely) to brand the channel and the output with the most recognizable name in horror. Since we were on the plate of the other two channels for so long, we were asked to talk to Fangoria TV about signing with them. Immediately, I saw that this was the wisest way to go… this was a business operated for success. Even Dee Snider jumped ship from The Scream Channel and joined Fangoria TV. And being associated with the name, ‘Fangoria’ is a real treat. So for over a year, we’ve been signed with them. In latest Griffin/Fangoria TV news, we are working steadily with Fangoria TV to produce the national version of the Midnight Shadow Show and developing lots of new programs and ideas. We recently upgraded all our personal equipment to HD for the second feature film we just shot (The Magnificent Dead) so we have all the capabilities to shoot whatever they need in the format they prefer. (The last three episodes of Prof. Griffin's Midnight Shadow Show are shot in HD and it's funny to see the set and us in High Definition and letterboxed!) Also, Fango TV just flew us up to NYC to shoot trivia and horror history bumps that will be used throughout the channel and quite possibly as podcast/downloadable video. It’s a great partnership but it takes a lot of patience. I believe in the folks at Fangoria and I am certain that the channel will launch and be a success…it’s just taking a little bit of time. That’s ok. We can wait to make sure it’s done correctly.
MS: You show mostly older films, but you have also shown a lot of new, independent horror films. Are there a lot of good films out there being ignored by the big studios?
Professor Griffin: Yes and No. In this day and age, anyone with a camera can make a movie. In the digital world, it’s easier than ever for the average fan to shoot, edit and burn DVDs. But the sticking place is that you still have to have a good story, characters that are interesting, fascinating and compelling…and tell this story in a way that is entertaining viscerally. Pretty simple. But there are a lot of people who get wrapped up in the glossy look and fancy effects, that they seem to forget this basic rule. We get a LOT of independent horror films sent to us to host. We host a lot of them too…and give the filmmakers the exposure they no doubt deserve. Hollywood seems to have run out of new ideas (sequels, remakes, re-imaginings) and would do well to look at the scrappy independents. Some of the ideas and plots are fantastic and original. It would be better than seeing some of the classic horror films of the past, remade and re-invented. It just seems cheap.
MS: What are your thoughts on horror movies being made today?
Professor Griffin: Well, Asian and British horror output is surpassing us in originality and content, and we seem to be enamored with re-making and re-releasing over here. Romero seems to be back in the Undead Harness and new filmmakers like Eli Roth and Rob Zombie are visionaries but certainly are not breaking NEW ground. (Zombie is remaking Halloween for crap’s sake!) Coming soon we have ANOTHER sequel/prequel of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre…and Grindhouse, a double feature horror opus by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. My fondest wish is for filmmakers to return to story. NOT to use so much CGI as it takes from the reality of horror. Sci-Fi is a good place for CG effects, but horror needs to be REAL…and tangible in order to work effectively. CG blood is not shocking. It’s impressive, but no real threat is there. The future of horror is secure and the genre is firmly set. But the methods of reaching a new audience are changing and online broadcasts and video seem to be the wave of the future. I just hope that we get back to the frightening and terrifying. Thank you for your interest in us and for asking us to participate in this interview. We appreciate it.