Monday, January 2, 2012

Terror! Theatre (1957)

KCOP-TV, 1957
Cast: Dan Riss (Dr. Diablo)

Terror! Theatre was a television program that featured old horror-thrillers hosted by a 3000-year-old, dark and sinister-looking character named Dr. Diablo. The show aired every Tuesday night at 8:30 pm from September 3 - December 3 of 1957 on L.A.'s local television station KCOP (Channel 13).

The grim Dr. Diablo was played by hard-working actor Dan Riss (Two Lost Worlds; Ma Barker's Killer Brood), sporting a dark cloak, long moustache and goatee that complimented the diabolical persona. Dr. Diablo's favorite pastime involved poisons and he had a vulture for a pet. Unfortunately, very little else is known about the mysterious host and the obscure show itself since it ran live on the air and only lasted a mere three months.

At the time when Terror! Theatre made its debut, horror movie hosting was a new concept for television, having only been attempted previously on Chicago's localy popular Murder Before Midnight at WBKB (1950-1953) and with the highly successful Lady of Horrors (a.k.a. The Vampira Show) on KABC (1954-1955) and Vampira on KHJ (1956). Additionally, many of the films -- like Revenge of the Zombies, The Vampire Bat, The Face of Marble, etc. -- that were shown on Terror! had previously been hosted by the mystical Swami at WBKB and aired as part of the glamour ghoul's own line-up over at KABC and KHJ.

There are many possibilities that could have contributed to the abrupt cancellation of Terror! Theatre and why it quickly ended up as a forgotten piece of television history. For one, the show's date and air time would have best been affective during the weekend and/or at a later time when there would have been little competition from other popular programs. Instead, Terror! was forced to compete with The Big Story, Broken ArrowCity Detective, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Meet McGraw, and The Red Skelton Show. Perhaps the biggest hindrance to Terror! Theatre occurred on October 1, when a competing station, KTLA (Channel 5), debuted its own horror movie program Nightmare! (1957-1958) The rival show's host was a demented but delightful old woman, played by Ottola Nesmith (Invisible Ghost; The Wolf Man) and showed a much more popular array of horror pictures like Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), The Invisible Man (1933), and Werewolf of London (1935). Nightmare! also had the advantage of airing an hour later after Terror! Theatre's timeslot. At 9:30 pm, Nightmare! had less competition to worry about and fated Terror! and Dr. Diablo to a hasty demise. Other contributing factors that resulted in Terror! Theatre's cancellation can also be attributed to a poor budget and very little advertising or promoting.

1. King of the Zombies (1941). Dr. Diablo makes his debut with this chilling zombie favorite. "New to (13) is Dr. Diablo, a mystery character who'll introduce horror films of olden days." 9/3/1957
2. The Ape (1940). Story of a country doctor (Boris Karloff) who tries to cure a paralyzed girl (Maris Wrixon) by killing people and tapping their spinal cords. 9/10/1957
3. The Face of Marble (1946). A mad scientist (John Carradine) and his assistant (Robert Shayne) invent electric machine to bring back the dead. 9/17/1957

4. Revenge of the Zombies (1943). Scott Warrington (Mauritz Hugo) and a hired detective (Robert Lowery) investigate the mysterious death of Scott's sister Lila (Veda Ann Borg) and discover that she and many others have been turned into zombies by a mad scientist (John Carradine) working for the Third Reich. The zombies, however, seek revenge against their creator. 9/24/1957

5. Doomed to Die (1940). When shipping magnate Cyrus B. Wentworth (Melvin Lang) is shot dead, the prime suspect turns out to be his daughter's fiance. But famous detective James Lee Wong (Boris Karloff) and meddling reporter Roberta Logan (Marjorie Reynolds) have their doubts as Mr. Wentworth had a lot of enemies. 10/1/1957

6. The Strange Mr. Gregory (1946). Master illusionist, Mr. Gregory (Edmund Lowe), falls for another magician's wife (Jean Rogers). Mr. Gregory fakes his own death and has the young man framed for his murder and places the married woman under his spell. 10/8/1957
7. The Mad Monster (1942). A mad scientist (George Zucco) is discharged from a university when he is caught transferring the blood of wolves into the veins of men. The grotesque creature which results from the experiment roams the countryside killing and bringing terror to all. With Anne Nagel and Glenn Strange. 10/15/1957

8. The Living Ghost (1942). Investigator Nick Trayne (James Dunn), hired to find a lost millionaire (Gus Glassmire), runs into hair-raising adventures on his job. 10/22/1957

9. The Panther's Claw (1942). Police Commissioner Thatcher Colt (Sidney Blackmer) tries to solve weird blackmail case. With Rick Vallin and Lynn Starr. 10/29/1957

10. The Devil Bat (1940). In the village of Klineschloss, people begin to die from what appear to be vampire attacks. Police Inspector Karl Brettschneider (Melvyn Douglas) investigates and seeks the truth behind these mysterious deaths. Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, and Dwight Frye also star. 11/5/1957

11. Voodoo Man (1944). A mad doctor (Bela Lugosi) kidnaps young women and reduces them to a zombie state. With John Carradine and George Zucco. 11/12/1957

12. The Black Doll (1938). A quivering tale deals with the practice of ancient voodoo rites. Donald Woods, Nan Grey, and Doris Lloyd star. 11/19/1957

13. The Vampire Bat (1933). Horror tale centering around a series of strange deaths in a German village where the victims were found with tiny puncture marks in their jugular veins. Starring Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, and Dwight Frye. 11/26/1957

14. The Phantom Fiend (1932). An account of murders committed by an escaped lunatic (Ivor Novello) whose victims are all women. With Elizabeth Allan and Barbara Everest. 12/3/1957

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