Shock Theater

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Shock Theater (marketed as Shock!) is a package of 52 pre-1948 classic horror films from Universal Studios released for television syndication in October 1957 by Screen Gems, the television subsidiary of Columbia Pictures. The Shock Theater package included Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man and The Wolf Man as well as a few non-horror spy and mystery films. A second package, Son of Shock, was released for television by Screen Gems in 1958, with 20 horror films from both Universal and Columbia.

Horror Hosts[edit]

Shock Theater usually aired on late night television on weekends, and in many markets was introduced by a costumed horror host;[1] a well-known example was Zacherley (John Zacherle) on Philadelphia's WCAU-TV (as 'Roland') in 1957-58,[2] and New York's WABC-TV in 1958-59. Prior to Zacherely's arrival at WABC-TV, Shock Theater was hosted off-camera by ABC Staff Announcer Scott Vincent and three other ABC staff announcers who worked in rotation. Shock Theater continued the American tradition of horror film television shows that originated with Vampira (Maila Nurmi) at Los Angeles KABC-TV in 1954-55. Shock Theater programs in major cities were often introduced by local hosts in the style of Zacherley or Vampira such as Terry Bennett's Marvin on Chicago's WBKB-TV.[3] With the varying lengths of the features ranging from the 58 minutes of The Cat Creeps to the 99 minute Son of Frankenstein, the host's sequences could pad out the broadcast to a standard time slot.

One of the most innovative of the series was produced during 1962-63 at the Los Angeles Television station KTLA-TV which was owned by Gene Autry. Autry brought in Bill Aken as musical director and overall producer. Aken re-vamped the commercial breaks making them as entertaining as the films themselves. With spooky music and actors costumed as monsters such as Frankenstein and Dracula, the commercials for sponsor Baldwin Chevrolet took on a whole new aspect. Host Joe Salazar was driven onto the set in an ambulance carrying a coffin which Salazar would emerge from to start the show. Joined by 'Monsters' in all the Chevrolet commercials, with a special theme song, the show garnered an avid fan base all over the Los Angeles area during the two years it was on the air.

Screen Gems acquired a 10-year lease of the television rights to 550 Universal Pictures features in June 1957, with the intention of packaging them by formats and stars, including horror, crime, and comedy.[4] The first Shock package was an instant success nationwide. Viewership measurements in five key television markets (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, San Antonio) showed the program boosting ratings anywhere from 38 percent to 1,125 percent.[5]

Shock Theater stimulated interest in the classic horror films and actors, evidenced by the launching of Forrest J Ackerman's Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine in early 1958.

Since 1957, Shock Theater has become a generic term, referencing either late night television showings of horror films in general or the genre of early horror films with their emphasis on spooky mood and implied horror, as opposed to the explicitly graphic horror films that followed.


Shock Theater[edit]

Films sourced from the book Universal Horrors.[6][7]

Son of Shock[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Night Harbingers of Horror", Life, May 26, 1958, p. 63.
  2. ^ William Grimes (October 28, 2016). "John Zacherle, Host With a Ghoulish Perspective, Dies at 98". The New York Times.
  3. ^ Okuda, Ted & Yurkiw, Mark ''Chicago TV Horror Movie Shows from Shock Theatre to Svengoolie Lake Claremont Press 2007
  4. ^ "SG to 'Program' Universal's 550", Billboard, June 17, 1957, p. 18.
  5. ^ "Huge Ratings Jumps Show Dialers Flocking to 'Shock!'", Billboard, Oct. 14, 1957, p. 8.
  6. ^ Weaver, Brunas & Brunas 2007, p. 585.
  7. ^ Weaver, Brunas & Brunas 2007, p. 586.


  • Weaver, Tom; Brunas, Michael; Brunas, John (2007) [1990]. Universal Horrors (2 ed.). McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0-7864-2974-5.