Saturday, August 17, 2013

Review: 'The Z Files: Treasures from Zacherley's Archives'

When I was a kid, my dad would creep down into the basement and unearth his copy of Spook Along with Zacherley every October 1st, which then served as our household Halloween carols for the rest of the spooky season. I was born too late to actually have seen Zach’s act on the classic monster movie showcase “Shock Theatre” or the Rock & Roll dance party “Disc-O-Teen,” but the record was all I needed to get him. The photo of him in frock coat and cadaverous make up on the cover. The silly songs about the Transylvania P.T.A., a Ring-a-Ding Orangutaun, and the return of Frank and Drac he crooned in a very un-Rock & Roll bass-baritone. As a devotee of “The Munsters,” “The Groovie Goolies,” and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, the corny songs resonated with me even though I never got the chance to see the Cool Ghoul step on screen in the middle of Dracula’s Daughter to explain that the burns he got while dragging the Count from a funeral pyre prevented him from attending a cocktail party in his honor. Since TV archiving wasn’t super meticulous in the early sixties, I’m still unable to see much footage of Zacherley in action. Fortunately, there’s The Z Files: Treasures from the Zacherley Archives to provide a bit of a simulation.

Published last year, Richard Scrivani and Tom Weaver’s book collects a King-Kong’s ransom of choice artifacts from Zach’s personal collection. There’s a complete script of his Dracula’s Daughter show (which admittedly doesn’t read as well as it probably played on screen). There are scripts for three of his WOR-TV shows (ditto). These are neat, but I really loved the weird miscellany leading up to these major pieces: a stereotypically hyperbolic juvenile delinquency article about some kids who broke into a mausoleum to steal a skull for their Zacherley Club House, the angry letters from “Shock Theatre” viewers who didn’t appreciate his intrusions on their favorite movies, a letter from the New Jersey Television Broadcasting Company warning Zach’s cameramen to stop zooming in on the dancers for “bust” and “fanny” shots, an article about a Zacherley impersonator who’d been arrested for public drunkenness, and so on and so on. There’s also a good selection of B&W Zach pics, several of them displaying sweet-faced John Zacherle without his ghoulish get up. Apparently, there is also an accompanying DVD in the works, which hopefully will include whatever surviving footage there is. Until that emerges from the crypt, The Z Files fills the gap well.

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