Somewhere between the Great Dismal Swamp and Virginia Beach, Virginia, lies the sleepy little burg known as Pungo, famous to locals as the home of the popular horror host Dr. Madblood. The good doctor's address is 13 Idle Hour Road, where he resides in the majestic Madblood Manor. Life at the manor is far from idle, however, as Dr. Madblood conducts his medical practice and his occasional experiments. The rejects from the latter occupy the basement and are affectionately dubbed the monsters, even though some of them, like Ernie and Waldo, have names.

The doctor also has lots of friends and neighbors who drop in, such as the wisecracking Brain, who strongly resembles a car-washing sponge. Some of the doctor's other friends are equally unusual, like the boxer Kid Exorcist, the Widow Bacon, the sinister Grinfield, the vampire Count Lucudra, and Dusty the crop duster.

Viewers haven't seen too much of Dr. Madblood in the last decade as his weekly show went off the air in 1983 and didn't return until the spring of 1989. But to many locals, just mention Pungo, and they'll think Madblood. And while Pungo does exist, Idle Hour Road, Madblood Manor, and all the rest are simply the brainchildren of the doctor, better known in real life as Jerry Harrell. Harrell, a former Bozo who was once an interpreter in the Air Force, thought up the character when he was the creative services director for WAVY-TV 10 in Portsmouth, Virginia. Also a professional magician, he left Channel 10 in the early eighties to start his own firm, Harrell Productions, which produces many local TV commercials, such as the ones that feature Harrell as Rusty, the cheerful delivery man from Rent to Own. A few years before, he could also be seen performing magic tricks as Gandalf, the AMC Wizard of Latenight, to promote midnight movies at local AMC theaters. And recently he produced a documentary about the John Walker spy case. He also hosted Club 33, a kid's show. Most longtime Tidewater residents think of him as Dr. Max Madblood.

Harrell's original inspiration for the Madblood show occurred when he started working at Channel 10 in 1974. He realized that there was no local TV of genuine creativity, and he hoped to remedy the situation. It wasn't until Halloween 1975, however, that Dr. Madblood's Movie debuted as a one-time holiday special. The show was set in a TV studio so that viewers could see what one looked like, and a trivia question was asked. They had only one receptionist to answer the phones. To everyone's surprise, the studio was swamped with calls. After this initial success, the show went weekly, which was convenient since there was a late-night horror movie on Saturday nights anyway.

Harrell put a great deal of thought into the creation of Dr. Madblood, who was originally a very different character. Tired of the traditional vampire horror host, something Harrell felt had been done too often and lacked versatility, the original character was to be a Jekyll and Hyde personality. The catch was that he would be played by two actors. Harrell would play the mad-doctor side, Jekyll, and his partner, Mark Young, would play Mr. Hyde---as a game-show host! Eventually it was decided that having the doctor turn into a game-show host would get old fast and become a one-joke show. So they settled on just a regular mad doctor and his assistant. Mark played the assistant, Volley, until he left the station a few years later to be a weatherman in Miami.

Volley was a charming character. What made him special was that he never spoke, and he wore a little monk's robe with the hood over much of his face. Young also played the role on his knees, giving Volley the stature of a dwarf. About all one could see of him were his hands. Nevertheless, he was a lovable little guy. In the third year of the show he was frozen. The character was later sent off to medical school.

Many characters have passed through the corridors of Madblood Manor in the years the doctor has been on the air. In an effort to make the show technically well done, characters were developed and refined over the years. This is most true of the fuzzy gray-haired and bearded Madblood, who orginally spoke in a German accent. The accent gradually disappeared as more and more Madblood became the normal father figure around who the others revolved. Harrell, who wrote most of the show, often introduced new characters to fit cast members or plot needs or even to tie in with the week's movie. One example of the latter is the vampire Count Lacudra, played by local radio personality Mike Arlo. The character made his debut during the showing of Son of Dracula, in which Lon Chaney, Jr., portrays Dracula, but he calls himself Count Alucard (Dracula spelled backward). Lacudra was supposed to be Dracula spelled sideways. Likewise, Queen Mum (Donna Stam) was introduced during the showing of a mummy movie.

Dr. Madblood almost made his appearance in a different place. Instead of being a resident of the very real Pungo, the doctor was to live in the fictional Shadow Wood. But somehow the name Pungo intrigued Harrell. After seeing that it was a very real place, and just the sort that would have an Idle Hour Road, it became the home of Madblood Manor.

One couldn't find a more fitting spot for a mad doctor to live than the sleepy little crossroads of Pungo. It's located between Virginia Beach and the Great Dismal Swamp. Idle Hour Road most likely runs along the swamp, as Madblood Manor is surrounded by swampland. A few years ago it was reported on the local news that campers had seen Bigfoot-Yeti creatures near the swamp. Madblood viewers, however, most likely assumed that perhaps one of the monsters from the basement was on the loose again.

Another Madblood trademark dear to fans is the Madblood theme music, which is really "Green-Eyed Lady" by Sugarloaf. Many people fail to recognize it though, because none of the vocals are heard. Originally it was meant to be used on the show only as incidental music, but Harrell realized it was too powerful. It offically became the theme in 1977.

Originally, each Madblood episode opened in the doctor's lab, with him greeting the viewers and introducing the movie. Since Harrell has long been a fan of fantasy films, his introductions were usually informative. Unless, of course, the movie was particularly bad, like Shriek of the Mutilated or Frankenstein's Daughter. Such movies were labeled "schtinkers." Often the Madblood episodes, which always told a story, would echo the plot of the movie. For example, during The Incredible Shrinking Man, Madblood found himself the incredible shrinking horror host as the result of a potion.

The shows also contained various comedy bits that weren't connected with the plot, like comic newscasts and parodies of current movies. Two such movies that were effectively spoofed were Star Wars (1977) and Star Trek---The Motion Picture (1979). Another one was the Star Wars sequel, which became The Umpire Strikes Back and featured the puppet alien Yokel from the Bogg Planet.

But sometimes the Madblood shows were just as scary or even scarier than the movies. These were the four or five episodes that dealt with the Madblood curse. The curse began as a locked room in which Madblood discovered a mirror. In the mirror was the mirror image and evil side of Madblood, know as Doolbdam. This doppelganger takes Madblood's place, and the curse is eventually traced back to ancient Egypt. Other serious episodes, which led to the character development of Dr. Madblood, included one that dealt with his past as a doctor in Vienna whose family was killed by his nemesis, Dr. Raider. A romantic and poignant story was the one based on a local legend---that of accused witch Grace Sherwood. She was sentenced to be dunked to prove her innocence or guilt. Unfortunately her survival of the test left her branded a witch. The event is marked by a road in Virginia Beach known as Witchduck Road. In the episode inspired by Grace, a young woman of that name knocks on the lonely doctor's door one night. They pass the rainy evening together and find comfort from each other. But later it seems that she was only the ghost of Grace Sherwood.

For most of its run, Dr. Madblood's Movie was on after Saturday Night Live, which meant starting at 1:00 AM. Then, in 1979, the show moved to Saturday afternoons for a time. In January 1982, the doctor changed channels to appear on the local PBS station, WHRO, Channel 15, with his new show, Dr. Madblood's Night Visions. The new time slot was Sunday evenings at 11:00 PM. He showed many fascinating movies like The Lost World (1925), White Zombie (1932), and the awful Devil Bat (1941). It was also on PBS that he showed the positively dreadful Monster a-Go-Go (1961), which is not only one of the worst movies of all time but also the most boring. Madblood and company did manage to liven it up a bit though, through the use of humorous captions superimposed on the screen. These captions were also used with some success in Devil Bat. During a scene showing mad doctor Bela Lugosi with his killer bat, which hung off a metal apparatus, one read, "What, you hung a forty dollar bat on a wire hanger?" Sort of a tribute to Mommie Dearest.

Unfortunately, even though Night Visions was seen on other PBS stations in the state, and on cable in Massachusetts and Connecticut, the ratings were low. It was a far cry from the doctor's heyday on WAVY-TV 10 when the ratings peaked at 52,000. Night Visions lasted for only a year on PBS. Harrell also tried self-syndication, but it proved quite difficult, so Dr. Madblood went into retirement for a while.

Then, on Halloween 1984, Dr. Madblood returned to WAVY with Dr. Madblood's Halloween Howl. The whole Madblood gang was back at Madblood Manor, festively getting ready for the doctor's annual party. The story was completely integrated into the movie Brides of Dracula (1960), and for the first time Madblood characters appeared in the film. The premise was that Count Lacudra's coffin had been discovered by vampire hunters and he had disintegrated in the sunlight. Dr. Madblood was trying to find a way to restore Lacudra so he could attend the party. This was all cleverly interwoven so that it appeared that Madblood's friends were skulking around the movie sets. And each time a large bat was seen in the movie, a cutaway would show that it was really Ernie and Waldo with their "bat on a rope." This bat was actually a teddy bear with wings for arms.

Dr. Madblood didn't return to television until two years later, this time with Doctor Madblood's Halloween Film Festival. The three films shown were The Omen, Damien, The Omen, Part II, and The Fury. Dr. Madblood hosted not from Pungo but the Videorama Monster Store, which sponsored the show. The show began at 12:30 AM and was cohosted by deejay Mike Arlo, who did most of the Videorama ads. Madblood tried to keep viewers awake with clips from his old show. The Brain also made an appearance, along with three of the monsters. Since it was a monster store, Brain tried to sell the monsters. Even Ernie and Waldo got carried away with video fever and tried to buy VCRs with their Monster Charge cards. There were also celebrity interviews from recent local science-fiction conventions.

Then the residents of Madblood Manor once again slipped away into the realm of memories. Mike Arlo could still be heard on WNOR-FM 99. In fact, he even became the legendary "old man" of the station, old being over 35. Jerry Harrell still runs Harrell Productions. During 1987 he even taught a course for the local "Fun U," which features short one-night instruction in things like wine tasting and meeting people. Area experts serve as teachers. Harrell's classes were about how to buy and use a VCR. He also occasionally appeared as Dr. Madblood at science-fiction conventions to judge the traditional costume contests.

The character lived on. Pungo, Green-Eyed Lady, the swamp---all served as gentle reminders of late, bleary-eyed nights long before, nights spent before the ghostly glow of the cathoid ray tube, nights enduring the dreadful Twiggy's Jukebox show. All to spend a few hours alone with a friendly fellow called Madblood. For two hours each week we were a part of his gang. Late nights were not the same without him.

Then it happened. Dr. Madblood returned to TV in early April 1989. This time it was on WTVZ, Channel 33, part of the Fox Network. Airtime, 11:00 PM. The place, Madblood Manor, Pungo. All the gang was there: Brain, the monsters, Audio Shadow, and the irrepressible Mike Arlo as Dusty the crop duster, Kid Exorcist, and Count Lacudra. New to the cast was the lovely Nurse Patience Dream. Madblood even started the new show out with a bang by taking a trip to Hollywood. Brain snuck along for the ride while we viewers got to see the highlights, such as the Universal Studios tour and Forrest J. Ackerman's memorabilia, housed in his home, the Ackermanion. Dr. Madblood and Forry even let us eavesdrop as they chatted.

And things are still quite lively at Madblood Manor. Brain has long since upgraded from his fishbowl to a 10-gallon aquarium, but he remains as sassy as ever. Audio Shadow still checks in occasionally, expecially "to see the stars go slumming," as Tony Curtis does in the ridiculous film The Manitou (1978). Dr. Madblood had a lot of fun with that one, which concerns an ancient Native-American medicine man reincarnating himself by growing in Susan Strasberg's neck.

And of course there is the usual endless supply of wacky visitors. Among them, Dr. Roach, a Percy Dovetonsils-like insect specialist; Salman Rushdie's cousin, Rusty Rushdie, author of The Catatonic Verses; and dueling Renfield-alikes. The latter were competing for the job of servant to vampire Lacudra, and they sang a song, "Identical Servants," to the tune of the old Patty Duke show theme song. And even Perry Mason (Craig Adams) showed up during the showing of Godzilla 1985, claiming to represent the "scaly behemoth," Mr. G. himself.

As for Jerry Harrell, he seems quite pleased with the return to late-night television, especially after "having recently moved back into the number one position in the ratings." And he hopes to add more classic horror films to his show by using fan-mail requests as "ammo for our efforts."

Dr. Madblood also continues to remain a part of the local science-fiction convention scene by sponsoring conventions, appearing at them, and taping them for his show. Not only does he show the highlights of the costume contests on the air, but he also features interviews with the guest stars. These have included both Denise Crosby and Michael Dorn from Star Trek---The Next Generation.

himself muses that "television has changed dramatically since the late seventies when our particular brand of foolishness first aired." And it is true that the advent of the VCR and the availability of cable TV have certainly given the viewer more options. But it has not destroyed the appeal of the horror host.

And while Dr. Madblood may have a new show at a new time on a new station, not everything has changed. When the episode ends for the night, old Max still glances up casually and says, "Thanks for turning us on."

Doctor Madblood
, the feeling is mutual. Welcome back.

by Elena M. Watson Television Horror Movie Hosts: 68 Vampires, Mad Scientists and Other Denizens of the Late-Night Airwaves Examined and Interviewed; McFarland & Company 1991

ISBN 0-89950-570-8
McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers
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