Posted by: Necci – Oct 26, 2012
Hi There Horror Movie Fans is a documentary that tells the story of Bill Bowman, a TV host who presented late night horror movie programming on multiple Virginia television stations over the span of nearly 20 years. His character, The Bowman Body, was extremely popular during the era in which he appeared on TV, and still has a local cult following even today. On Sunday, beginning at 1 PM, The Byrd Theatre will present a screening of this documentary, featuring a personal appearance by Bill Bowman himself.
Hi There Horror Movie Fans is essential viewing not only for those with fond memories of watching The Bowman Body on his show, Shock Theatre, but for any horror cinema fans, as well as for those who have an interest in the bygone world of local television broadcasting and regionally-based pop culture. The film juxtaposes extensive interviews with Bill Bowman, his coworkers and fans with plentiful period footage of his show as it went out over the airwaves in the 70s and 80s. In spite of Shock Theatre's immense popularity--at one point, it regularly defeated Johnny Carson's Tonight Show in the ratings--it's clear that the production values that went into making the show were rudimentary, and that the budget for filming the show was always very low. Nonetheless, the high entertainment value of Bowman's nightly introductions and interlude skits is obvious. Shock Theatre brought in viewers of all ages, and broadcast all sorts of different horror films, from classics of the genre to hilariously terrible B movies. The Bowman Body's periodic segments throughout the course of the show helped break the tension and add comic relief in the midst of legitimately frightening films, while helping to keep viewers amused and entertained during the films that were less than enjoyable on their own merits.
The show's rollicking energy was no doubt fueled by its improvisational nature; Bowman admits that nothing that happened on Shock Theatre was ever scripted, while one former viewer explains that, when watching the show, it always seemed as if it might at any second teeter over the edge into total chaos. Indeed, there are some great moments of spontaneous near-collapse captured in the film; especially hilarious is a scene in which a badly thrown basketball sends The Bowman Body, his prop casket, and nearly the entire set toppling over into a heap. During Shock Theatre's second incarnation, on Charlottesville's Channel 29 under the name Cobweb Theatre, The Bowman Body inadvertently ended up with an onscreen sidekick, The Mummy, who only came into existence due to a crew member improvising with a previously-unused on-set prop. The Mummy developed a popular following in his own right--in spite of his communicating only through incoherent grunts, he set in motion frequent plots designed to steal The Bowman Body's place as star of the show. The comical low-budget ridiculousness of The Mummy's persona and costuming was no barrier to his becoming popular, just as it had been no barrier to The Bowman Body in the first place--the important thing was not how much money was spent on the way the show looked, but the fact that The Bowman Body's onscreen charisma, charming sense of humor, and impeccable comic timing resulted in a show that remained reliably entertaining year after year.
Hi There Horror Movie Fans is filled with amazing vintage excerpts from original 70s and 80s broadcasts of Shock Theatre and its successors, as well as entertaining trailers and clips from the horror films that used to be shown on the program. But what really makes it essential viewing is all of the great stories that are told. For one thing, I learned some fascinating information about the ins and outs of local broadcast television in the pre-cable era. But even if you're not interested in the nuts and bolts of TV production through the years, Hi There Horror Movie Fans paints a valuable picture of regional culture in a bygone era. In a time when it wasn't nearly as easy as it is now for people in one metropolitan area to know what was going on in cities a few hundred miles away, locally-based culture was far more dominant. While people outside of Virginia may have had no idea who The Bowman Body was even at the height of his popularity, he was like a rockstar here in Richmond, and would get mobbed by local citizens of all ages when he made his frequent public appearances around the city. It's worth preserving the memory of that time. Hi There Horror Movie Fans does a great job of making clear the sort of unique and worthwhile culture that existed in Richmond in past decades, and that Shock Theatre and The Bowman Body were some of the best things that Virginia had to offer.
Hi There Horror Movie Fans will be shown at The Byrd Theatre, located at 2908 W. Cary St., on Sunday October 28. Doors open at 1 PM, screening starts at 1:30. Tickets are $8, or two for $15. Click HERE for more info.
By Andrew Necci