My all-time favorite thing about Halloween is the lead up to the holiday itself, a time frame where just about every network features scary movies from the past. Creepy movies such as Persecution starring Lana Turner on a bender to mediocrity, or Vincent Price in the amazing Dr. Phibes Rises Again, a film featuring my favorite actress turned artist, Valli Kemp, as the hypnotic Vulnavia. Movies like these evoke a sort of spooky charm, enhancing the holiday mood and causing everyone to huddle just a little closer, keeping the skin-crawling tradition alive in a bizarre holiday that started 2,000 years ago.
The best part of the horror movie tradition was the host. The host was usually some scary, makeup covered character that represented the local affiliates of network tv. They would introduce the film and inject a boat load of personality into doing it.
One of those legendary hosts that are seeing a huge boost in popularity is none other than New Jersey’s own Karen Scioli, better known as the tawdry Stella from the CBS Philly (WKYW) show, Saturday Night Dead.
Scioli’s career as horror host actually started in comedy. Karen tells us, “I actually auditioned for the role. It was sort of like Gone With The Wind, only they were looking for the Man-Eater from Manayunk. I was living in New York and my mom cut out the newspaper ad and sent it to me. I was doing stand-up comedy at the time so I thought, ‘What the heck?’ They brought out every ghoul and vampire and crazy person that came out for it. I think that because I was doing comedy, they figured I could be helpful with the writing, so I got the part. The show enjoyed an extremely popular run from the early 1980s till 1990.”
But that’s far from the end of her dealings with the devil, as Karen has since enjoyed success as production kingpin on her online, gothic soap series called Goth Mothers Of Transylvania, a modern and decrepit take on the concept of housewives in the afterworld.
I recently had a chance to communicate with Karen, where I asked her a couple of my creepier questions. The conversation is below:
What was the idea behind Saturday Night Dead?
Once upon a time, a tv station in Philly, KYW-TV, bought a bunch of old, spooky horror movies, and decided the best way to air them was with lots of cleavage; or as I like to call it, the birth of the boobs.
Stella and Saturday Night Dead follow a tradition for horror hosting, starting with the grandfather of horror hosts himself, John Zacherley. Then there was Dr. Shock, who was on for 10 years in Philly. Then along came the man-eater from Manayunk from 1984-1990. Stella was Philly’s first female host. Channel 3 saw how popular Elvira was (she was gaining fame in L.A. at the same time) so the station decided to go for the cleavage. Which I had plenty of…
Has Facebook and other social media played a big part with introducing you to a new generation of stalkers?
Absolutely! It’s hard for the current generation to grasp that there was no such thing as social media back in the ‘80s, not even a cellphone, so all my stalkers had to physically write offensive letters, put them in an envelope, stamp them and get the letter to a mail box. Downright primitive.
Now my stalkers can send me obscene messages and photos instantly no matter where I am—in church, at the library, in the middle of breakfast, during an ob-gyn visit—anywhere, anytime. Fan mail has certainly taken on a whole new format.
Now my fans can write and say, “I used to fantasize about you all the time, Stella. And here’s a photo of me fantasizing about you now.” So much more personal, don’t you think?
Did you ever think that Stella would ever see the light of day again after the initial time frame?
No, I did not. And there was a long period of time that Stella was tucked away in the dark recesses of her dungeon at the haunted condo in Manayunk. Then someone invented YouTube (Al Gore?) and suddenly Stella was popping out (literally) all over the place again.
Also, there was a documentary made called American Scary about the popular, cultish tradition of horror hosts across the country and throughout the decades. Stella was part of this documentary. Suddenly, horror hosts became American tv folk art.
I think the attention Stella got from this documentary helped in bringing her out of the dungeon. Now I’m referred to as “old school.” I like that term; has a much nicer ring to it than has-been.
How did you get involved with Goth Mothers Of Transylvania?
Once I realized Stella was gaining new attention, I decided to dust her off and try to become something of a horror entrepreneur. Unfortunately, I found out I could not sell DVDs of the old SND shows, so a lawyer told me, “So create something new.” I was really annoyed at this statement at first (“YOU go create something new!”) but thought that I should push myself and come up with something that was mine.
To kick off the creative juices I thought a fun, gothic soap opera would give me a chance to wet my whistle again. The Bravo series of Housewives was (and continues) to be popular, so why not visit with the elite dead women of Transylvania? But now I’d like to take the web series in a more gothic comedy soap opera direction.
Sort of like The Munsters meet The Office. I love that mocumentary format, but I also love the good old fashioned sitcom, too. I always saw SND as a demented Carol Burnett show. Now I get to explore more of that. And the bonus is working, once again, with my buds—Glenn Davish, Bob Billbrough, and the wonderful actors I’ve worked with throughout my life.
I know a lot of funny, talented women, and it’s a gift to be able to gather them together and do something. I also am so lucky to know some of the best, top-notch production professionals around, so the production value of Goth Mothers Of Transylvania was way more than I had ever hoped it would be. And it helps to be sleeping with an amazing editor (Rick Rydell!).
I heard you were inducted into the Horror Host Hall of Fame…
Biggest. Honor. Ever. Actually, it’s also sponsored by HorrorHound and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. That’s right! Stella will be in Ripley’s! I wish my mom were around to enjoy this.
The induction was held this past March in Columbus, OH, during the huge convention, HorrorHound Weekend. Rick and I made the road trip and we had a blast. I got to meet a lot of my Facebook fans and some of the funny, creative, and popular online horror bloggers like Terror From Beyond The Daves and The Monster Channel.
13 of us were inducted this year, including Elvira. We each had our own inductor. Mr. Halloween Jack (an online horror host and creative director of The Monster Channel) inducted Stella. That entire weekend experience was surreal. I was truly treated like a grande dame of horror hosts and what more can a girl want in life? I felt very much part of a big, friendly dysfunctional and scary family. I have a plaque, but we were promised an actual statue of some sorts. Can’t wait! I hope it’s a dripping, gilded body part or something.
If you had to sleep with one entity in order to prolong the taking of your soul, who would it be? The North Jersey Devil, Big Red Eye, Jersey’s own Big Foot or… Al Roker?
Stella has already slept with two out of the three mentioned above. Big Red is next. But I’m intrigued by the whole prolonging of my soul being taken. Sounds like a demented spin on my nightly little girl prayers; “if I should die before I wake, I pray to God my soul to take.” That prayer always terrified me. But I like this new spin; “if I should die before I wake, I pray to Al Roker to prolong my soul to take…” Doesn’t trip off the tongue as easily, but it’s just as haunting.
Stella will be appearing at the Collingswood Cloud Lodge on Oct. 27 from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. for her annual “Stella’s Blood Drive.” The Cloud Lodge is located at 790 Haddon Ave, Collingswood, NJ. For more info on Stella and her buxom bevy of creepy goodies, slither over to maneaterfrommanayunk.com or visit her at facebook.com/stella.desire.