It is with a very heavy and bloody heart that we lament the passing of a true icon of horror, the legendary John Zacherle, aka, Zacherley, the Cool Ghoul. Zach died in his Upper West Side apartment in New York City on Thursday at the age of 98. Radio and TV host, DJ, actor, recording artist and all around super nice guy, Zacherley was as beloved as they come. He’s been the face of the Chiller Theatre Toy, Model and Film Expo in New Jersey since the beginning, and countless devoted fans have been thrilled to meet him and watch him perform with Chiller’s house band, the Dead Elvi, over the years. Kevin Clement, Mr. Chiller himself, had this to say about the man:
The CHILLER staff would like to take this time to offer our sincerest condolences to
his family. To say that he was an icon is a bit of an understatement. This man, this wonderful
man, was a force of nature who lived it up with fans well into his 90s. There will never be
another like him and we were lucky to have him haunting us for as long as we did.
He will be dearly missed by all!
John Zacherle began life in Philadelphia on September 27, 1918. After growing up in the neighborhood of Germantown, Zacherle earned a degree in English literature from the University of Pennsylvania (not Transylvania, as some had believed). He then enlisted in the Army during WWII where he served in North Africa and Europe, ultimately achieving the rank of major. Upon returning home to Philly, Zacherle joined a local repertory theater group known as the Stagecrafters, and eventually found his way to television where he became a regular player on the local WCAU-TV live Western serial, Action in the Afternoon. It was here, portraying the town undertaker, where he first donned the long black coat that would ultimately become his trademark.
In 1957, Zach began hosting Shock Theatre for WCAU as the eccentric “Roland,” who lived in a crypt, introducing B movies and classic Universal horror films, performing creepy bits using fake blood and severed heads. It was during this time that Zach sang/spoke on the darkly humorous, “Dinner with Drac,” which included lines like, “What a swimmer is Dracula’s daughter, but her pool looks more red than it oughter.” It reached #6 on the Billboard charts, and landed Zacherle appearances on American Bandstand, where he even filled in for host Dick Clark at times. It was Clark who came up with the moniker, “The Cool Ghoul”, one that would remain attached to Zach like warm, sticky blood for the rest of his life. In September of ’58, Zach moved to WABC-TV in New York, where he added a “y” to his name and became “Zacherley” to host their version of Shock Theatre. Zach would move on to WOR-TV in New York where he did a promotional stunt, running for President, and WPIX-TV, channel 11 in New York, where he served as host of the treasured Chiller Theatre. Later in the 60’s, he switched channels to radio where he rocked the airwaves at WNEW-FM and later WPLJ-FM. Zach would continue in various forms of TV, radio and music far too numerous to mention here, but he would also find his way onto some memorable films.
In 1988, Zacherley would provide the indelible voice of Aylmer, the brain-attaching, mind-altering parasite in Frank Henenlotter’s notorious Brain Damage. Henenlotter would use Zach once again, this time as a weatherman for mad scientists, in his 1990 classic, Frankenhooker. In 2004, Zacherley would play himself, because who else could ever even attempt to undertake such a role, in Paul Scrabo’s sci-fi, B-movie send-up, Dr. Horror’s Erotic House of Idiots. Starring iconic scream queen Debbie Rochon, Trent Haaga and the late, great makeup f/x master, Michael R. Thomas, Dr. Horror gave Zach the opportunity to perform a memorable song-and-dance routine, and was a great gift to his legion of fans. This Gore 4er considers it a tremendous honor to be able to say he appeared in the same film as Zach, albeit nowhere near worthy enough to be in any of the same scenes.
In 1990, Zacherley began an association with Kevin Clement and Chiller Productions that would last for pretty much the rest of his life. Zach would serve as a sort of emcee for the twice-a-year conventions in various locations from Secaucus to Parsippany in New Jersey. In addition to meeting fans, taking photos and signing autographs, Zach would join the Dead Elvi on stage on Saturday nights to entertain the crowds with his hit, “Dinner with Drac,” and his cover of Boris Picket’s “Monster Mash.” These performances were always amongst the highlights of the convention’s weekend. And it was only last year, at the age of 97, that Zacherley made his final appearance at Chiller, helping to celebrate their 25th anniversary.
In May of 1993, Zacherley would join his friend Forrest J. Ackerman to commemorate the 35th anniversary of Forry’s renowned Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. Zach was joined by other such luminaries as Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Ray Harryhausen, John Landis and Joe Dante in honoring Forry and his landmark publication. He even joined Forry on stage for a dynamic duo rendition of Monster Mash. Zacherley remains as the only horror host to grace the cover of Famous Monsters more than once.
2006 saw release of the book, Goodnight, Whatever You Are!, by longtime associate and friend, Richard Scrivani, which marked the first-ever, in-depth chronicle of the life and career of the Cool Ghoul. It made its debut at Chiller‘s October convention. This was followed up in 2012 with The Z-Files: Treasures from Zacherley’s Archives, by Scrivani and Tom Weaver, which compiled scores of articles, memorabilia and photos from Zach’s personal collection. Fans of the cadaver man will surely want to check these out to learn more of the storied life of one of horror’s most influential and cherished souls. Though he was best known for his deathly visage, Zacherley added life to every program or event he participated in. Thanks to Kevin and everyone at Chiller for bringing Zach to the fans for two and a half decades. This Gore 4er will always remember times spent with Zach, and talking about our favorite team, the Yankees. While Zacherley, the Cool Ghoul may be gone from this mortal coil, his memory will continue on for generations of Chiller fans and more. We’ll leave you with a couple of this Gore 4er’s personal memorabilia – an eerie encounter at a past Chiller, and a treasured, signed copy of Dr. Horror.
— remembrance by Brian de Castro