Welcome witches and warlocks,
I had the great pleasure of attending the recent production Doctor Zomba’s Ghost Show of Terror for the Hollywood Fringe Festival and figured I would offer up some thoughts for my fellow theater enthusiasts. To best describe the conceit, I will turn to the official press release:
“A modern day revival of the “Ghost Show” popular in the 1950’s that features spooky magic, comedy, a séance, and a blackout sequence at the end where the audience is fully immersed in the realm of spirits and monsters.”
Honestly, this concept should not work in this day and age. I mean, low-fi stage magic and groan worthy jokes combined into one show? Who on earth would want to sit through such a throwback?
Then we meet our host. Within the first two minutes of appearing on stage his charm instantly makes all of our cares drift away. His performance guides us ably through everything that is happening and keeps us engaged even if we might be rolling our eyes from time to time. The confidence he exudes while delivering the more campy punchlines makes it hard not to get right into the show as he so obviously makes it clear that he realizes the silliness of the proceedings.
Even though there are a fair amount of ‘bad’ jokes in the mix, they pepper in a few smart ones that got some genuine laughs out of me. The dead body contest was a particular favorite while the all too brief cameo by a classic monster was also an amusing surprise. The mix of eye rolling humor with the more highbrow jokes put me in mind of characters like The Cryptkeeper or Vampira who ably walked the fine line between campy and clever.
As previously mentioned, they do manage to weave some magic into the show, though those expecting a lady to be sawed in half or wanting to see the old levitation trick will be a bit disappointed. The illusions presented are relatively simple, and mostly involve some quick sleight of hand rather than grander set pieces. This actually works in the show’s favor as it means the jokes made about the tricks work because for the most part we all have seen this type of magic a million times before. Luckily, the illusion portion of the show is not too long so we never have the possibility of having it distract or overpower the main story.
The plot as it stands is complete and utter nonsense in the best of ways. Hypnotism, murder, double crosses, and theft take center stage as we come to realize that our host might not be as benevolent or well-intentioned as he first appears. It is the silliness of the story that makes it work as it brings to mind the campy, self-referential movies of the 1970’s and 1980’s that poked fun at the unintentionally hilarious B-movies of the preceding decades.
To top everything off there is the promised black out scene where all the ghouls and ghosts come out to play. This moment actually has a basis in history as ghost shows from the past utilized this to scare the audience. In this day and age it is really rather obvious how they achieve their effect, but it is still fun thanks to a shocking little surprise that is sure to please fans of the works of William Castle. As a finale it served as a good culmination of what came before as its use simple effects perfectly captured the throwback feel of the show.
All in all, this was an amusing throwback that captured the simple feel of the shows of yesteryear. The humor walked the line between high and low, but worked mostly because of the knowing wink given to us by our wonderful master of ceremonies. Fans of horror hosts like Elvira or movies like The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) will find this to be of a similar ilk.