In an age before YouTube, before on demand streaming and ultra 4k blu-ray releases of classic horror films, your viewing options could be limited to say the least. Sure there were video stores but they weren’t going to carry “trash cinema” and B horror classics. If you wanted to see an old black and white monster flick or some grindhouse masterpiece of exploitation horror, you had to wait until the wee hours of the morning. It was only then that the television would beam all of that blood and gore and terrifying creatures made out of foam rubber into your living room from the local public access channel. Ghoulish characters, horror hosts, would introduce the films and talk about their production, sharing facts and trivia about the movie you were watching and usually putting on quite a show themselves in the process.
For us kids of the late 90’s and early 2000’s growing up in Nashville, we had none other than the physician of fright himself, Dr. Gangrene. From his lab on Shackle Island and with an assortment of assistants and wild characters like Monterey Jack, Oogsley, and Nurse Moan-Eek, he’s added to the colorful tradition of the late night horror host for 20 years and continues to be a huge part of the horror community in Nashville. Larry Underwood, the creator of Dr. Gangrene, is more than just an actor. A Rondo Award winning horror host and author, columnist, musician, and drive-in movie enthusiast, Mr. Underwood is also an authority on the history of horror hosting on film and television.
And I finally got a chance to talk to him back in February! So now, without further adieu, I present to you…
Danno - Nashville’s known for a lot of things but horror isn’t usually what people think of. How did you become interested in horror and horror hosts?
Larry Underwood - I’ve been a fan of horror movies for as long as I can remember, going back to when I was a kid. The show was just an extension of that love of the genre. Here in Nashville we had Sir Cecil Creape, in the 1970s, and he was the first horror host I became aware of. My own show was an attempt to bring to the airwaves the type show I wanted to see.
Danno -What made you decide to finally become a horror host in Music City?
Larry Underwood - I had previously run an independent comic book company with my partner, Chuck Angell. We had called it quits and I was sort of looking for another creative venture, and the opportunity to do the show on cable access kind of presented itself. The only show that interested me was doing a horror host show.
Danno - Tell us about Dr. Gangrene. What were your influences for the character and how has he evolved and grown over the years?
Larry Underwood - The influences range from the aforementioned Sir Cecil Creape to Vincent Price (particularly his performance in House on Haunted Hill) and Alice Cooper. All three of those were big influences on me growing up. The character kind of evolved out of an odd coincidence; When I began planning the show the TV show ER starring Anthony Edwards was at the height of its popularity. I work in a hospital and was getting stopped regularly in the halls and told by people that I looked like, “That guy from ER.” Of course, they were talking about Anthony Edwards, who plays Dr. Green on that show – so Dr. Gangrene is a play on words. I like to think of Dr. Gangrene as a twisted version of a medical doctor, just as the name is a twisted version of the TV character’s name. Instead of treating people he treats monsters, and the cure usually involves prescribing some old horror movies.
Danno - As an expert on the topic, what makes for a “good” creature feature?
Larry Underwood - A lot of monster time is always a good start. Nothing is worse than a boring picture, and we’re here for the monster, so give the people what they want!
Danno - As well as horror host, you’re also a drive-in cinema enthusiast, author, and film historian?
Larry Underwood - I love going to the drive-in. When I was a kid we never went, unfortunately, but when I had kids of my own I took them regularly from an early age. There’s something unique and charming about the drive-in, and I’m fortunate that I live in an area where there are 6 different ones within an hour’s drive in different directions. The one I go to the most often is the Franklin Drive-in, in Franklin KY. I write a column for Scary Monsters Magazine and am constantly researching and writing about various horror movies for it as well as my own blog and YouTube videos for my Dr. Gangrene YouTube Channel.
Danno - Tell us about Dr. Gangrene’s Horror Hootenanny. How did you end up the headlining MC for this yearly event?
Larry Underwood - That started as a fundraiser for my TV show back in 2003, started by a guy named Jeano Roid, who is the guitarist for The Creeping Cruds. It’s a big rock n roll Halloween bash (although the first one was held in July, ironically) emceed by Dr. Gangrene, with bands, movies and other assorted craziness. We had so much fun with it that we just kept it going, and it’s become a Nashville tradition every October. Last year was our 15th year.
Danno - Jumping back to movies and horror hosting, with the arrival of streaming services and a renaissance of sorts happening with independent and low budget horror, where do horror hosts fit in to this new world? Do you think there’s still a place for them in the current entertainment landscape?
Larry Underwood - I certainly think people still enjoy it, look at the popularity of Svengoolie and Joe Bob Briggs. Hard to argue with their success. But of course, they’re nationally broadcast shows. On a smaller scale it’s becoming both easier and harder. With the rise of the internet it’s easier than ever to do a show and put it out there, but there’s so much traffic that it sometimes becomes harder for people to find it through all the noise. There are other platforms, like Roku for instance, that provide a way to deliver content, and more will continue to pop up as time goes by. I think in some capacity there will always be a place for horror hosts, it just might not be on TV.
Danno - What advice would you offer to those looking to become horror hosts?
Larry Underwood - Do the type show you’d like to watch. Try and have fun with it and remember, it’s not a competition. Don’t worry about what other folks are doing, and don’t try to do the exact show that someone else is doing. Just do your best and stay true to the ideal of what you’re trying to do. If you enjoy making the show that enthusiasm will show through and you’ll find your fan base.
Larry Underwood and Dr. Gangrene have bridged the gap between late night public access horror and the new frontiers of online streaming while carrying on a long tradition. We cover a lot of independent cinema here and I think a lot of folks who enjoy the indie horror scene owe a debt of gratitude to horror hosts. Movies are art, even the bad ones, and art should be seen, appreciated, and enjoyed. By sharing films like The Killer Shrews, Buckets of Blood, so many classics of the past, horror hosts have kept these films alive and given audiences a chance to experience them once more. As horror continues to proliferate on film it’s important to have characters and creators who continue to help introduce us to these amazing, terrifying, and sometimes ludicrous films.
On a personal note and as a way to close out this article I want to tell you that doing interviews is always a combination of nerve wracking stress and incredible excitement. I don’t want to fanboy too hard but writing this particular interview is a bucket list item for me. I’ve been a fan of Larry Underwood since I was a high school freshman watching Chiller Cinema late at night and getting to talk to him briefly about horror has been so cool. Special thanks to former Chiller Cinema writer Dan Johnson --who I’ve been fortunate enough to write with at PDI Press-- for introducing me to one of my horror heroes. Check out Dr. Gangrene’s YouTube channel and pick up or download Larry Underwood’s fiction collection Tales from Parts Unknown.
Hopefully I'll get the chance to pick the good doctor's brain again about horror. In the meantime, just keep making that scary and keep looking for scares wherever you can find them.
Dan Lee is an author, editorialist, podcaster, and horror culture & lifestyle correspondent from the Southeast. You can find Dan's stories at Danno of the Dead Blog and through PDI Press.