Svengoolie doesn’t just wear one hat.
Well, yes, it’s true, MeTV’s retro movie host does wear a top hat during his Saturday 8 p.m. show, to go with his tuxedo, satin-lined casket and horror-face cake makeup.
But figuratively? One is nowhere near enough. Svengoolie may do a solo act, but he plays like an orchestra.
Let us explain. Around the ad breaks of movies like Oct. 21’s “Tarantula,” or Oct. 28’s “Brides of Dracula,” Sven tells bad jokes about the monstrous film that viewers are watching. But who writes that cringe-inducing awfulness? Some doofus named Rich Koz. He also delivers it in Sven guise. So right there, he’s wearing two hats.
Koz, the longtime Chicago radio-TV personality took over years ago when Windy City originator Jerry G. Bishop gave up the Svengoolie ghost. Bishop had played Svengoolie 1970-1973, when local-hosted weekend “creature features” were still a thing. He was Chicago’s version of Los Angeles’ pioneering Vampira (seen in Ed Wood’s famously dreadful 1959 film “Plan 9 From Outer Space”) and New York’s Zacherle. Koz initially played Son of Sven, after sending gags to Bishop and being taken under his wing. In 1979-1986, the Son got his own show, with Koz graduating to full “gool” with 1995’s revival at Chicago’s Weigel Broadcasting-owned station WCIU. When Weigel’s MeTV (Optimum Ch. 33) went national in 2011, so did Koz, wearing those performer-writer hats.
The early “Svengoolie” presentations were rudimentary, Koz recalls in a phone interview, providing local break wraparounds for films like “In the Year 2889,” a 1967 dud with ex-“Donna Reed” teen Paul Petersen that marked Koz’s first appearance. “Even low-budget ones now aren’t that low,” Koz says. His own contribution was simple, too. “There was almost no editing done with it. There was no such thing. It looked like it was basically live, and we really could’ve done the show live.”
Not these days. Saturday night “Svengoolie” is now a televisual extravaganza. Koz’s makeup and jokes are augmented by his detailed factoids about the vintage films’ stars, director and production history. Who do you think does the research on that? Koz. So that’s three hats. And somebody has to make the film and the funny fit into that two-hour slot. Koz suggests needed movie trims, making it four hats.
There’s also a weekly original song. Sven and his on-screen keyboardist, Doug “Graves” Scharf, adapt some old ditty with lyrics to cleverly mock that week’s movie’s plot, presentation and (if we’re lucky) cheesiness. Who do you think writes that? Now it’s five hats.
Don’t forget those audio-clip retorts that deprecate Koz’s awful jokes — “self-critic,” he boasts of that role — making six hats. On the visual side, director Chris Faulkner figured a way to digitally insert Sven’s face into movie frame-grabs that appear after ad breaks, setting up whatever the film’s next line of dialogue is. “And that’ll spur a lot of ad-libbing,” Koz says, so let’s count a seventh hat for improv. Did we mention he’s also the Svengoolie social media guru? Writing the svengoolie.com website’s fun blog adds an eighth.
Lucky Midwesterners can attend Koz’s personal appearances — nine hats? — at local museums, fantasy conventions and costume parties, He’s got a dozen lined up this Halloween month, limited only by the 65-year-old Koz’s physical capability. Remember, as executive producer Jim Roche interjects, “We still have a show to do.”
Ah, yes. That. “Svengoolie” has shown most of the old-time horror classics since MeTV acquired the Universal gems, from ’30s monsters (Frankenstein and Dracula) to ’50s aliens (“It Came From Outer Space”), the original American fantasy oeuvre. These days, Koz often adds new segments-corrections (or better film prints) to previous greatest-hits programs. He estimates he does around 20 new shows a year, “depending on what’s available to us. We do have some new stuff coming in for 2018.” (He’s not ready to reveal what.)
In the meantime, “Get set for underwater terror with ‘Barracuda’!” booms Koz, hyping a November premiere in his best promotional voice. Yes, he also does promos for MeTV/WCIU, where younger staff tap him as a mentor. How many hats are we up to? Ten? Eleven? “I was also a De-mentor when I worked with Harry Potter,” quips Koz, unable to help himself.
He’s also a merchandise monger — that’s an even dozen, right? — whose Sven action figure sold out in a week. The Svengoolie site also offers glow-in-the-dark T-shirts, pin-on buttons and magnetic stickers.
Hey, a guy’s gotta make a living. All those hats don’t come cheap.
THE WALKING DEAD (Oct. 22, 9 p.m., AMC) The eighth season starts with the hit series’ 100th episode (directed by effects king Greg Nicotero). Followed by a live two-hour “Talking Dead” from Los Angeles’ Greek Theater.
CROW’S BLOOD (Oct. 28, 6 p.m.-midnight, El Rey) Japan horror hit airs in English and Japanese (with English subtitles), as part of channel’s Horror by Numbers marathon.
MARATHONS “Treehouse of Horror” tales from “The Simpsons” (Oct. 23-31, FXX); ’60s Gothic soap “Dark Shadows” (Oct. 28-30, Decades); vintage sitcom “The Addams Family” (Oct. 31, Antenna); John C. McGinley’s “Stan Against Evil” (Oct. 31, IFC).
TCM MONSTER OF THE MONTH (Sunday nights) Dracula portrayals in British ’60s Hammer films (Oct. 15, 22, 29). Also, more horrors Tuesday nights (with all-day terrors Oct. 31).
13 NIGHTS OF HALLOWEEN (Oct. 19-31, Freeform) Included are film franchises like “The Addams Family” (Oct. 19) and “Monsters Inc.” (Oct. 28, 29). Also, Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (Oct. 23).
AMC FEARFEST (Oct. 23-31) Movie series include “Halloween” (Oct. 23, 30, 31), “Child’s Play” (Oct. 24), “Leprechaun” (Oct. 28).
OTHER MARATHONS- “Hotel Transylvania” (Oct. 29, FX); “Stephen King’s The Stand” (Oct. 30, Chiller); “Hocus Pocus” (Oct. 31, Freeform); “Ghostbusters” (Oct. 31, Movies!); “Saw” (Oct. 31, IFC); “Halloween” (Oct. 31, IFC).
TV-MOVIE PREMIERES “Psycho In-Law” (Sunday, Oct. 15, Lifetime; Katie LeClerc); “Stickman” (Saturday, Oct. 21, Syfy); “The Watcher in the Woods” (Saturday, Oct. 21, Lifetime; Anjelica Huston, directed by Melissa Joan Hart).
IT’S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN (Oct. 19, 8 p.m., ABC)- Peanuts perennial from 1966 is followed at 8:30 by 2013’s “Toy Story of Terror!”
MICHAEL JACKSON’S HALLOWEEN (Oct. 27, 8 p.m., CBS) New hour animates the entertainer through Halloween night frights.
THE DAVID S. PUMPKINS HALLOWEEN SPECIAL (Oct. 28, 11:30 p.m., NBC) Tom Hanks and Peter Dinklage in new half-hour based on “SNL” sketch with Mikey Day and Bobby Moynihan.
SUPERMANSION: DRAG ME TO HALLOWEEN (Crackle, up now) Seasonal special from the animated house of superheroes.
LORE (Amazon, up now) - Popular podcast anthology now explores urban legends in six video episodes, mixing drama, narration, docu-footage. With Robert Patrick, Adam Goldberg, Kristin Bauer van Straten.
STRANGER THINGS (Netflix, Oct. 27) - Season 2 of the hit ’80s-set creepfest.
— DIANE WERTS