The 13th Floor

Remembering Five Legendary Horror Comic Book Hosts

Let’s just be as real as we can here: The Crypt Keeper’s popularity is virtually unrivaled among hosts of classic horror comics… and classic horror comics are just about essential to the evolution and advancement of story told in both print and on celluloid. Comics predate EC and Tales from the Crypt (which, if memory serves correct, was previously titled Crypt of Terror, Crime Patrol and a few other titles before that), and novels and shorter works of non-illustrated fiction obviously predate comics… but today’s genre landscape owes a lot to vintage comic books. These beauties have inspired and challenged for decades, during which they had lovers of the macabre on the edge of their seats long before iconic fixtures like Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger ever existed.

Nowadays, with horror comics hotter than ever, and the Comics Code a distant memory, creative minds are pretty free to run with their inspirations. We’re still getting fantastic stories in all sorts of mediums as a result of vintage EC, Warren and DC comics… and that’s remarkable. What’s just as remarkable is that the Crypt Keeper’s popularity is still indomitable.

Whether you relate to the haggard storyteller introduced in 1949 (Crime Patrol #15), the surprisingly well-put-together guide through terror brought to life onscreen by Sir Ralph Richardson, or the decrepit corpse that guided fans through nearly 100 small-screen episodes in the ‘80s and ‘90s (and made John Kassir a permanent fan favorite), you likely know the Crypt Keeper over the Old Witch, or the Vault-Keeper.

That’s why we celebrate this ghoulish creation, and openly acknowledge his position at the top of this particular mountain. Without the Crypt Keeper, there are likely a lot of other fantastic hosts out there we’d have never had the chance to meet. Take for example…

The Old Witch

The Old Witch was another great horror host with a knack for comedic lines and a cool, creepy look. One of the beauties of this host is the built-in rivalry she shares with the Crypt Keeper — they’re not entirely at odds, but the gang at EC Comics no doubt had a lot of fun developing a little friendly “beef” between these two. As for personalities, the Crypt Keeper and the Old Witch are extremely similar — no doubt a result of the creative crew behind the book — but there’s a unique charm to each character, which leaves them feeling a bit like chilling old siblings, and that also works as a fine lure for potential readers. Crypt Keeper, Old Witch… as a fan, you’re in good hands, and winning either way.

Boris Karloff

Gold Key was an awesome publisher that gifted us with a few exceptional titles. One of those, while not always fantastically written, was the endlessly entertaining Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery. The anthologically (did I just create that word?) structured book offered a stylistic similarity to pre-existing titles — especially those EC books — which helped in creating a comfort zone for fans, and enough reasons to welcome it into their hearts.

How bad-ass is it that once upon a time, the legendary Boris Karloff was also a host to a genre comic? Also, how bad-ass is it that he’s a real straight-shooter and eloquent gent, much like the extraordinarily similar (on the page) Rod Serling, host of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (another slick property Gold Key snagged the rights to)?

The whole vibe that Karloff brings really works — and at times it almost feels as though Gold Key’s book was good enough to surpass the overall quality of peak EC efforts. Unfortunately, while Karloff was always a successful piece of the puzzle, Gold Key’s book wasn’t always as refined as it could have been… and that slight unevenness obviously made a difference. We still chat up old EC books around the campfire, while I’d bet a huge chunk of the 25-and-under crowd have no clue what Gold Key even was.

Cain

Cain (whose brother Abel hosts House of Secrets) didn’t show up in DC’s House of Mystery until issue #175, but #175 was an important book because it acknowledged the idea to stand by the new visual style introduced on the cover of issue #174 (more than a single book adopted this style), which featured the inclusion of children on their covers. The primeval side of us all respond to that image of children just feet away from paralyzing horrors — those horrors beckoning, hoping to exploit the naivety of youth. I think it was a “statement” book, and that statement was We’re slowly chipping away at the stranglehold of the Comics Code, and we’ve still got a stranglehold on your child’s imagination. It didn’t hurt that the writing seemed to make a noticeable improvement in issue #175.

Between issues #174 and #175, DC made some changes that extended the life of the book… how much of that had to do with Cain is likely little, but he’s an interesting character, and some of his idiosyncrasies and position as caretaker make him feel a little different than many of his peers. (He also seems to have inspired Wolverine’s hairstyle a bit.)

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark

Although we were still getting a dose of horror in the 1980s, the genre boom had slowed considerably. Nevertheless, a few standout horror titles did surface during the decade. Elvira’s House of Mystery wasn’t regarded as a full-on return to the Golden Age (or even Silver Age) of comics, but it was a fun book that didn’t take itself too seriously, and it provided some lighter chills until eventually fading into obscurity as more adult-themed works like Hellblazer and The Sandman began to take over.

Unlike the other handful of hosts in this piece, Elvira often outshone the contents inside of her wraparound narrative; even on the page, the woman is a looker, and she often finds herself a bit more involved in these brief stories than the aforementioned lot. Her character is loaded with flair, and she drops as many zingers as any in the biz — Crypt Keeper included. The gist of it all is this: Elvira’s personality, even in print, is so loud, lovely and boisterous that her very presence goes a long way in negating any sloppy or uninspiring writing featured in the book.

It’s a tough find, but if you can get your hands on any issue of Elvira’s House of Mystery, you shouldn’t hesitate in snatching it up.

 

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