josh hadley | the shadows of pop culture | jan. 2018
Mr. Lobo and “Cinema Insomnia" might not be household names in terms of oddball programming but that may be changing.
While we had “Ned the Dead" here in Northern Wisconsin, Mr. Lobo was among a vast swath of "horror hosts" around the country. Pretty much every market had their own ghoul or gal bringing the fringe of cinema to the locals on Saturday night and with Mr. Lobo based in the California area, he soon became a national figurehead not unlike Elvira or Joe Bob Briggs had years prior. In Wisconsin we got to see “Cinema Insomnia" on MATA 14 and 96 in Kenosha, WITI 6 in Milwaukee and any AMGTV or UATV affiliates via satellite like WEZY-LP, Tomah or KQEG, LaCrosse.
Why should you care about Mr. Lobo, “Cinema Insomnia" or the awesome channel it's on, OSI 74? Well, because Mr. Lobo is fun, “Cinema Insomnia" is a different way to see a movie and OSI 74 is not a typical channel.
I talked to Mr. Lobo about his "humble" beginnings and how he became Mr. Lobo and he had this to say:
"I grew up watching local “Creature Features" host Bob Wilkins on TV and always loved sci-fi, horror and fantasy — and humor. Bob often quipped that the movies were delivered to the studio in a 'brown paper bag.' Planet-X magazine produced a live tribute to 'Creature Features' at a local dinner theater hosted by Bob. I was asked if I would produce the show since we had done some other live film shows with vintage 16mm films — I wrote jokes and wore stupid costumes. I met with Bob and wrote material and made props. On the night of his performance, he said, 'You should get out there in a chair and host movies.'"
Bob Wilkins, by the way, was a famous horror host from the 1970s and 1980s who served as the inspiration for many of the "monster kids" of that era. If you want to see why Wilkins was so influential, check out the documentary "Watch Horror Films, Keep America Strong!" of which Mr. Lobo is actually one of the talking heads.
After filming a pilot on weekends with his friends called "Insomniac Theater" Lobo (his real name by the way) got a menial job in the production engineering department of a local ABC TV station KXTV 10 where he quickly asserted himself and talked them into letting him goof around between the segments of the 3 a.m. movie on Saturday nights.
“Insomniac Theater" evolved into “Cinema Insomnia" and not wanting to grow stagnant, Lobo eventually submitted the show to public access.
"After a year I was able to produce the shows at my home studio and we pushed for syndication," says Lobo. “We started to talk with other stations outside the state. We were picked up in Norfolk, Va., on local cable, Monroe, La., on UPN and other places teeth and shoes were scarce. Then we signed with a syndicate who put us on a large satellite network UATV that had broadcast affiliates across the country."
Getting picked up by a PBS station in the San Francisco Bay Area (the original “Creature Features" market) Lobo and “Cinema Insomnia" was “embraced by a lot of 'Creature Features' fans from Bob's old market as well as new fans and for a few years, enjoyed a big audience close to home as well as across the country."
Why was “Cinema Insomnia" unlike the traditional "horror host" show? For one, it didn't just show you a movie, CI would edit the movies to be more fun than they normally would be. Inserting old commercials, strange bumpers and, of course, Mr. Lobo's antics.
“Cinema Insomnia" was also a hit on DVD and even BitTorrent. “Cinema Insomnia" was not afraid of the internet as they had worked for a while with streaming horror channel ZOM-BEE TV on Roku and finally decided to just start their own channel, OSI 74.
"We started our own channel with all our independent producer pals called OSI 74 and now we are ramping up for a 16th season!"
Full disclosure: This very writer is one of those producers; so yes, I have a noticeable bias.
Mr. Lobo is also one of those guys who understands his place.
"Most of Cinema Insomnia's audience is smarter than Mr. Lobo. My fans work for ILM, SETI, Apple, NASA, they are college professors, artists, performers, writers, filmmakers, animators, computer programmers, IT guys, comedians, technicians, conspiracy experts, archivists, race-car drivers, collectors, indoor kids."
One of the reasons the on-camera Mr. Lobo is so much fun is he is not that goofy "horror host" but is more like a parody of one.
"I'm sort of satirizing the whole idea of a host. Mr. Lobo is what would happen if you gave Rod Serling's job to an incompetent."
Not just that but most "horror hosts" rip into the movies due to the generally low quality of what is available for 3 a.m. broadcast but Mr. Lobo takes a different approach which the CI tagline, "They are not bad movies ... just misunderstood," exemplifies.
"I also have a different approach to the movies. I don't tear them apart. You validate these films by showing them. It's not about taking the ugliest girl to the dance to make fun of her. I'm a misfit. I'm an underdog. I know how hard it is to make a movie — any movie. Making a TV show is damn hard, especially if you are an outsider. And in a lot of ways it's harder to make a bad film than a good one."
With a shocking 16th season coming underway, Mr. Lobo is using the fans to not only engage with but also allow them to be part of the show.
"This season the fans themselves are boosting the budget on Patreon for the season. They are telling us how many shows we should make, what movies we should host, what movies we shouldn't host and what sort of perks they want! We are casting fans in roles; they are earning credits on the show. We are revealing behind the scenes stuff, live cams, podcasts ... [things] never before attempted with the show."
Mr. Lobo has a committed group who has helped him so many times: director Aaron M. Lane, Paul Sanders of Bestow TV and wife, Dixie Dellamorto.
Model, comedian and actress Jessie Seeherman; musician Scott Moon and horror host, animator and producer Ormon Grimsby are teaming up to soup up the intro for the show's 16th season.
There is also the OSI 74 channel, which is growing every week. OSI stands for Outer Space International, "A creative collective of independent producers specializing in the distribution, promotion, and marketing of unusual fun and fantastic media projects."
The channel was created by Lobo and Dellamorto. OSI's free Roku channel has a retro-futuristic UHF-TV vibe and is home to shows like “Cinema Insomnia," “Creatrue Features" and this writer's own “1201 Beyond," as well as featuring cult movies, vintage sleaze, Saturday morning cartoons and more.
Not content to sit back and allow Cinema Insomnia and OSI 74 to float on their own, Mr. Lobo gets out and does a lot of legwork. For instance, his work on the “Plan 9 from Outer Space" remake. Yes, they remade Plan 9 a few years ago and Mr. Lobo got to play the enviable role of Criswell.
"Ed Wood directed the ultimate so-bad-it's-good movie: “Plan 9 from Outer Space." It starred Vampire, the very first TV horror hostess, as a ghoul and it was presented in a horror host fashion by Criswell, a psuedo-famous TV psychic.
Criswell narrated several of Ed's films and was one of his players along with his drinking buddies like the late great Conrad Brooks. Crudely cut into the film is the last footage of Bela Lugosi — originally shot to raise money for proposed projects like “Tomb of the Vampire" or “The Ghoul Goes West." It was called the worst film of all time by the Golden Turkey Awards, which added to the legend.
I was canonized as a saint in the church of Ed Wood for presenting his films. In 2008 I was tapped to be the new Criswell. Conrad Brooks, the last surviving Wood player, who only recently passed away, gave his blessing and appeared in the film as his character Jamie from the original film. It was a true Ed Wood film; the budget was tight. Though my travel and expenses were covered, I still lived in California at the time, we slept in a big empty flophouse that they rented and I did the film for half the amount that we originally agreed. I was also stranded on the east coast until my check arrived — but that's another story."
The Plan 9 remake is not a straight remake, however, as this time it's more of a traditional zombie film. Other changes were made as well.
"I expected to be a just another narrator (like the original film), but this Criswell ends up shooting zombies and doing action hero stuff! The character has quite an arch; I start off as a potty-mouthed bitter jerk. I was out there for three weeks and I have more scenes than any other character in the film."
Mr. Lobo is not just a horror host you should watch but for me he is also a friend. I have known him for nearly a decade now and he has always helped me out when I needed him and never asked for anything in return — that is a rare commodity these days.
Check out OSI 74 on Roku and go to the Cinema Insomnia Patreon to be part of season 16.
A fiercely confrontational and arrogant critic whose stubborn nature makes him immanently readable and equally angering, Josh Hadley is a writer for magazines such as Hustler, Fangoria, Paracinema, Shadowland, Grindhouse Purgatory and Cashers du Cinemart, as well as a radio host on Jackalope Radio. Find more from him at 1201beyond.com, a website that only the most anti-social personalities would engage.