Sad news. The creator and host of “Monster Movie Matinee,” Alan Milair, passed away at age 81.
“Monster Movie Matinee” was a staple of Saturday afternoon TV viewing when I was a kid growing up near Rochester, NY. Airing from 1964 until 1980, the Syracuse, NY-based show drew thousands of fans and was the first taste of campy horror and sci-fi movies such as “The Headless Ghost” and “The Hideous Sun Demon.” I never knew of a guy named Roger Corman before this show.
Each week’s episode opened with a graphic of laboratory test tubes containing a disembodied hand and adorned with spider webs. The camera would then pan around an obviously fake, but charming desolate graveyard set slowly zooming in on a spooky mansion in miniature. All this while a Wagnerian soundtrack thunders and howling wind greets the weekly viewer.
Cut away to an interior shot and we would see the very impressive set (credited by Milair as selling the show) designed by Joe Turrisi. Coffins, an organ, cobwebs, highback chair with its back facing the viewer, lab equipment (discarded from a local merchant) were some of the props used for the show.
Milair hosted “Monster Movie Matinee” as Dr. E. Nick Witty, the owner of Monster Mansion. Rarely appearing in profile before the camera, Dr. Witty would sit with his back to the “dear guest,” gesticulating with his hand, which was adorned with large rings and manicured with long, black fingernails. That sight alone reportedly frightened some viewers.
His assistant was Epal, played by Bill Lape, who appeared in early versions wearing a suit. However, later incarnations had Epal appearing in much more memorable garb–lab smock, a large necklace adorned with a skull, eye patch, facial scars and always greeting “our dear guest” while holding a candelabra:
Milair’s approach wasn’t the zaniness of someone like Svengoolie. His was more of a laid-back approach. Speaking with an accent like a cousin of Boris Karloff, Dr. Witty was more of the effete aging host, perhaps at one time entertaining hordes of ghouls, but now left to eagerly please the lone guest stopping by for a few hours on Saturday afternoon. But don’t get too comfortable. The trademark laughs–Dr. Witty’s sinister staccato and Epal’s hoarse coughing type–hid a more menacing fate for those who stayed too long.
Milair had a lot of guests and we had a lot of fun. Thanks, Alan!