MICHIGAN HORROR SHOW HOSTS #3: Shock Theatre’s “Mr. X” (1958)
Back in the 1950’s, when movie studios like Universal, Paramount, Columbia, and MGM began selling their movie catalogs to television, the most popular package was Universal’s “Classic Horror” films. You know the ones; Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Invisible Man, and all the other spin-offs, sequels, and one-shots. TV audiences – especially the kids – couldn’t get enough of these classic old horror films, so the need for a wrap-around was inevitable.
Thus was born the “Horror Show Host”, a male or female, usually dressed in some kind of scary garb, hosting the evening’s fright flicks and doing shtick between film segments. Puns abounded, making the audience groan, but they loved every second of it.
One of the first – if not THE first – horror shows was a little gem called “Shock Theatre.” The name came from Universal Studios, who had syndicated 52 of their Classic Horror films from the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s under that title.
It began in 1958 in Detroit on WXYZ-TV. The show debuted with possibly the most iconic Universal Horror Classic ever made…..the 1931 Bela Lugosi film “Dracula”.
A few years later, I was eight years old and “Dracula” was going to be shown on “Shock” again. I wanted to stay up late and see what Dracula looked like, as I had heard about this character for years. After begging my folks to let me stay up late to watch “Shock Theatre”, they said “if you wash & dry all the dishes tonight, you can stay up” (no automatic dishwasher at the time). I said OK and did all the dishes.
Finally, everyone went to bed, leaving me all alone downstairs in the dark. I sat right smack in front of the TV, waiting for “Shock!” to come on. Finally, 11:30 arrives. “Shock Theatre” opened with its own host – a guy who called himself “Mr. X.”
Mr. X was a guy named Tom Dougall, an English professor at the Detroit Institute of Technology, who had worked for WXYZ radio writing scripts for the “Lone Ranger” and “Green Hornet” programs.
The show opened with eerie organ drones and Mr. X would come out in his cape, talking about the film you were about to see. No cheezy humor - Mr. X was ‘deadly’ serious when it came to his fright flicks.
As the camera zoomed in, he would wrap up his monologue with the “lock your doors, turn off your lights” spiel, ending with “prepare for…..SHOCK!” and then, with a wisp of smoke – or fog - his head turned into a hideous skull.
I sat there, watching the opening to “Dracula” waiting…with the lights on, natch. Here comes Renfield, to the inn…there he goes off to meet Dracula’s carriage. The scene morphs to the inside of Dracula’s castle…the camera approaches a coffin lying in the castle’s catacombs. A hand slithers out of the coffin…the lid opens…and one of Dracula’s wives sits up slowly.
THAT’S IT! I changed the channel and never got to see what Dracula looked like. I was too scared to watch any more. My sister asked me the next morning what Dracula looked like and I had to make up something that in no way resembled a vampire.
But I always remembered Mr. X. Fans of the show have been looking for video clips of the “Shock” open and Mr. X…but there doesn’t seem to be any available. Too bad, because it was such a popular Friday night show…..so popular, that another version came on right after “Shock” at 1am, called “Super Shock!” that showed more old classics.
Mr. X was one of the very first Michigan Horror Show Hosts and there is extremely little written about this character. To read more and see what he looked like after he morphed into a skull, CLICK HERE. The article includes a newspaper clipping with a picture.
Since no video has surfaced, hopefully someone with connections can find one after all these years.