Before The World Had Elvira, Shreveport Had Evilun
Most people are familiar with Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, the character portrayed by Cassandra Peterson who hosted "monster movies" on TV. Elvira eventually went on to have her own movies, video games, and all-around giant brand. But Elvira wasn't the first of her kind. Many women across the United States helped lay the foundation for what Elvira was able to build on. One of those women even called Shreveport home.
Back in the early 1960s, KSLA-TV launched a Saturday night "horror movie" show called TERROR!, which was hosted by Evilun (pronounced like Evelyn). The character Evilun was played by Shreveport stage actress Ruth Sprayberry.
The show concept was similar to most TV "horror movie features" where a host would welcome the audience to the program, introduce a horror movie, while sending the audience to, and welcoming them back from commercial breaks. In the case of KSLA's Terror!, Evilun was the hostess with the mostess.
Even though by most accounts the show Terror! was short lived, the character of Evilun was influential enough to gain inclusion in the Robert Michael Cotter book "Vampira and Her Daughters: Women Horror Movie Hosts from the 1950s Into the Internet Era". In the book, Cotter talks about the time slot for Terror!, which was Saturday nights at 10:15pm (which would occasionally be a double-feature that could last until after 3am), as well as a classic promotional item from Evilun.
With the show being called Terror!, they decided that the fans of the show would be called "Terrorists"...which didn't age well, but it was great at the time. Fans of the show were given postcards featuring the term of endearment on them...
According to some, KSLA did not retain any of the footage of Evilun and Terror!, leaving us with only a handful of images, and the retelling of stories to keep record of the show, and it's importance to the genre. However, Ruth Sprayberry's son Randy was able to help us find this piece of video:
One source helping to keep the history of horror hosts is the "Holly's Horrorland" blog, which covered Evilun back in 2014. In the post it says:
Evilun (not um) hosted a weekly horror movie program called "Terror!"
It aired Saturday nights on Ark-La-Tex TV station KSLA in the early 60's.
Here's what a fan had to say about her:
"Evilun was portrayed by a very talented local actress named Ruth Sprayberry. She was active in the community theaters of Shreveport,and was a very kind and gracious person.
I watched Terror! every weekend during junior high. The movies were usually not awful, but weren't the best either films like "I Bury the Living" and "Cry of the Wolf". Evilun had a small creepy set with lots of dry ice fog and candles in ornate candelabras. She had a very direct, unnerving presence, made the usual wisecracks, and seemed to be having a grand time with it all.
The Terror! program ran a few years. Many years later, in the mid '70s, I worked at the same TV station as Graphics Director. Going though old files, I discovered a few great publicity photos of Evilun, and a few with Lon Chaney. I found articles and notices about the "Design A Monster" art contest as well. Perhaps that stuff is still stored away in their archives, though the station has had several owners since. It might be fun to try and track some of that down."
The actress behind Evilun, Ruth Sprayberry, passed away in 1995. In her obituary, it reads that Sprayberry was born in Galveston, Texas in 1921. Her family moved to Birmingham, Alabama, where she graduated high school. She married former Georgia Tech football star James Paul Sprayberry in 1944, and the couple moved to Shreveport in 1953. She appeared in stage plays around the region, including "A Streetcar Named Desire", "A Little Night Music", and "Death of a Salesman".
As a fan of classic horror movies, and Universal Monster movies, I've always been drawn to the "late night horror host" genre. As a kid it was mostly Elvira and Joe Bob Briggs, with flashes of Svengoolie and Morgus the Magnificent (a New Orleans original who took the show to Detroit for a short bit, before eventually hitting syndication), mostly on VHS recordings from other cities. I think the genre is important to American pop culture, and I really wanted to get something put together to preserve the memory of Shreveport's gorgeous ghoul, Evilun. Even if its just this post.