Back in 2015, I wrote a retrospective on the first 24 episodes of Count Gauntly’s Horrors from the Public Domain, the public access television series I produce and host in Fairfax, Virginia. At the time, I selected ten episodes I thought represented our best work to date. Now, more than three years later, we’ve produced sixty-four episodes total, and I figured enough time had passed that you might indulge me one more trip down memory lane.
While plenty of newer episodes are highlighted below, several selections from the earlier list still rank highly in my mind (for whatever that’s worth), and I didn’t want to exclude them entirely. So for episodes #1-24, I’ll refer you to the article linked above, while in this piece I’ll simply address why their ranking has endured or changed. In part to accommodate these older hangers-on while still addressing plenty of new content, I’ve expanded to a roster of 20 episodes rather than 10. I hope you don’t mind. My boundless ego won’t.
20. Episode 33: “A Rat’s Mass“
Gauntly’s third Christmas special includes one of our best-received segments to date, a long single-take performance of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” I had wanted for years to witness firsthand a “full” realization of the Twelve Days lyrics, with gifts accumulating each day (1 + (1 + 2) + (1 + 2 + 3)…). While I still don’t quite have the budget for 42 swans and 30 golden rings, I was able to substitute fittingly Gauntly-esque items. Thrill as we pile up VHS tapes, leftover Halloween candy, silly hats, and sketches of shambling sidekick Ogrot, all while repeatedly forgetting what order to list them in. Keep an eye on Thelonius’ mustache, which he loses more than once in the cumulative chaos. Keep an ear out, too… this scene had the assembled crew volunteers laughing more audibly than usual.
Beyond the 12 Days nonsense, there’s a lot more to love. Highlights include appearances by Dickens’ Christmas ghosts, an eerie performance of “Jingle Bells” in reverse, and Tchaikovsky’s Rat King explaining his desire to kidnap a girl and “share her with my rat friends”… which even Ogrot acknowledges is “a little creepy for us.”
Favorite moment: Those unforgettable twelve days, obviously. But specifically near the end, when FreakSlice yells “BOOK” instead of “film.”
19. Episode 54: “Transylvaliens”
I make a conscious effort to up the ante for Halloween shows. “Transylvaliens,” our fifth such special, stands as one of the most ambitious episodes to date. Seeing as it’s the most recent episode completed (I only just finished editing the Roswell and Action Max sequences to my liking), I feel I can’t accurately gauge its place within the Gauntly canon in terms of objective “goodness.” Based on the variety and dedication on display in the different segments, though, I expect it will go down as one of the greats.
For one, this episode represents, by a considerable margin, the furthest we’ve traveled to shoot material for the show. I knew we would need to go somewhere extra special for the fifth annual Halloween travelogue, and my initial thought was it would be really cool to journey to Transylvania. However, dreading a steep ticket price and not knowing Romanian, I was deterred and chose something stateside. Imagine my surprise when my friend Teddy contacted me in July to let me know he just happened to be traveling to Transylvania with his family. What can I say? Networking pays off.
This episode marked another milestone as well. Pretty much since we began preparing bizarre and disgusting foods on Count Gauntly‘s, I had been trying to find a way to (safely) drink blood on camera. It seemed like the obvious goal, the “end game” to which all our other entrail entrees would ultimately lead. While my reading indicated cow blood was essentially harmless to humans, especially when freshly collected, my only sources were far from fresh. And knowing that human blood would undoubtedly pack more of an emotional effect on the audience, I ultimately decided to go with the blood supply most readily available to me… my own. Some squeamish naysayers tried to dissuade me, put I pressed on undaunted. And at long last, I managed to rope in a friend with phlebotomy credentials to do the deed and draw my blood on TV. To the curious among you: It tasted significantly better than expected. Salty, almost like chicken soup. But perhaps that’s no coincidence (see #15).
Favorite moment: The “player” blasts vampires and aliens in an experimental interactive segment inspired by the Action Max.
18. Episode 51: “Insectual Healing“
Episode 50, “Music of the Fright,” was meant to serve as a series finale, or at least a temporary sign-off. But in the words of Michael Corleone, just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. It just so happened that my former college professor contacted me early the next month to say he would soon be leading a William & Mary program in DC focusing on “New Media.” He asked if he could bring his class to a taping of Gauntly… and with the prospect of the largest audience / talent pool we’ve ever had, I couldn’t say no.
It turned out to be the highlight of my 2017. At first, I felt a little silly speaking in the role of “media professional” to college students soon to be seeking employment in the field. Doubly so when we reconvened a week later and I was asked to serve on a panel alongside an editor for the Discovery Channel. But at the New Media wrap party at the end of the month, I was blown away when nearly every student approached me to say that the Gauntly taping had been the best part of the program. One student even based his final project, a short screenplay, on the public access experience, and we acted it out together. Others told me about their collections of old films, or asked me to opine on my favorite trilogy.
I had some of the best conversations of my life that night.
It all started right here. The co-eds and college men (including William and Mary’s student body president) display an infectious enthusiasm, even after I bust out the cricket shish-kebabs in the cooking segment. My teacher himself turns in a star-making performance as Professor Cosmos, who haplessly books Gauntly’s abandoned studio for his space-themed science series, only to be ousted by the Count’s disgruntled fan club. Watching him sadly ask his large prop astronaut “What are we going to do, Neil?” in an ersatz British accent stands as one of the show’s most hilariously surreal “exchanges” yet.
Favorite moment: The reinvigorating aftermath.
17. Episode 18: “A Pirate’s Strife for Me“
I covered this one in my 2015 review, and it still stands out from the crowd for the same reasons: A large cast. A wide variety of settings. “Cinematic” action that flows from one setpiece to the next. And of course, Ogrot grunting and screaming to elicit the aid of passing sea creatures. As I went about preparing this list, episodes which earned a slot tended to be those which best exemplify what Count Gauntly’s has to offer. In other words, the episodes I’ll show you a clip from completely out of context if you come up to me and say “so I hear you have a TV show.”
And yeah. There’s a good chance this is that episode.
Favorite moment: Aside from Ogrot chatting up the marine life, FreakSlice’s sea shanties also float my boat.
16. Episode 37: “Apocalypse Soon“
Similar to broadcasting from Transylvania and drinking blood on camera, one of my earliest distinctive visions for Gauntly was a scene in which someone is drenched in a barrel-full of blood the same way a coach gets doused with Gatorade by a victorious football team.
In our fourth season premiere, we made that dream a reality.
Well, sort of. True, the red liquid on display here is mostly water and food coloring, with about 8 bottles of corn syrup failing to thicken it much. But I did throw in a good pint or so of actual pig blood to add a little verisimilitude.
Aside from the extended ending, the best part of this episode has got to be the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, one of whom (War) turns out to be a literal horse-man. Truth be told, I was hoping I could get Famine looking a bit more skin-and-bones, but he wouldn’t take off his shirt. Actors!
Luckily, Ogrot joyously vomiting blood after feeling the effects of Pestilence more than makes up for any shortcomings in wardrobe.
Favorite moment: The blood (and memories) on display in the retrospective ending.
15. Episode 3: “Wizard of Jaws“
I addressed “Wizard of Jaws” in the previous incarnation of this list. It’s fallen back some in the rankings, but only because we’ve covered similar ground subsequently, eating even grosser things – and in higher definition – as the years have passed. However, I can’t simply ignore the debut appearance of Soup Beer, the noxious mixture of warm chicken noodle soup and cold root beer that still haunts the memories of those who witnessed it. I mean it… mix some up and give it a whiff. It could seriously be used as a crowd deterrent, not unlike tear gas.
Oh, and this is also the one where we literally eat testicles. So there’s that.
Favorite moment: In a scene I’m sure he’ll be pleased to be name-dropped for, Earn This editor Dan hoists his tankard of Soup Beer aloft and takes a big ol’ swig.
14. Episode 59: “The Other End of the Rainbow“
I met Jack Lanouette last Christmas eve, while touring the “Polar Acres” display at his home in Falls Church. Lanouette specializes in “soft sculpture,” crafting dozens of life-size elves, reindeer, Santa Clauses, pigs, and even squid from scratch. He was more than happy to show us around the grounds, and actually gave my brother and me a look inside his basement workshop… which happened to be the temporary home to all his Halloween creations, from spooky trees to mutant pizzas. When he said his dream was to own acres of farmland to really let his freak flag fly (offering hayrides through the holiday madness for a nominal fee), I knew I had met a kindred spirit. I needed to get him on the show.
In our episode-length interview, Gauntly’s first with a guest artist, Lanouette explains his sculpting process, and gives a rough rundown of his yearly decoration schedule. Most interesting to me, however, was his opinion of art school. He rails against his classmates for insisting that art must have a “deeper meaning” to be worthwhile. Even without offering social commentary and pushing for political change, he argues, art can be appreciated at face value simply for the fun and feeling it inspires in the beholder. And that’s what Gauntly is all about.
A sculpture may be “just a leprechaun,” but if it continues to draw crowds year after year, Lanouette is doing something right. Kookily, wonderfully right.
Favorite moment: Gauntly and Lanouette discuss how adding a Santa hat to a gargoyle or vampire is enough to “make it Christmas.”
13. Episode 41: “Show me the Mummy“
As I try to keep these blurbs to a merciful length, this may not be the time or place to bring this up. But… do you guys remember Great Adventures? Maybe I’ll get around to writing a full tribute article someday. For now, let it suffice to say that Fisher-Price’s Great Adventures series was arguably the greatest toy line of all time. It consisted of large setpieces – the original castle was the centerpiece of my 1994 Christmas loot – populated by sturdy yet whimsical action figures perfectly sized for little hands. From late 1994 to about the beginning of 1999, I collected every single Great Adventures product in the lineup. I mention this here because, looking back, the series stands as one of the biggest influences on my taste in entertainment, and by extension, the things that Count Gauntly’s aspires to be. In particular, Great Adventures colored my understanding of genres: The line was broken up into multiple realms, with a new landmark playset and associated figure line debuting every year or so. These sub-series included knights, pirates, cowboys, and Robin Hood.
Though it could be argued I was growing out of the series’ demographic by 1999, what really turned me off of the franchise that year was Fisher-Price’s decision to relaunch the castle, this time with “magic” electronic effects. Up to this point, everything the toys did had been battery-free: springs, levers, ramps, and the good old imagination powered the action. The introduction of lights, sounds, and a consumable power source left me largely disenchanted. I was therefore a bit out of the loop when Great Adventures debuted their Egypt lineup, a last hurrah which admittedly turned out pretty cool, sound effects aside.
All this preamble to say, while I knocked out cowboy, pirate, and knight episodes early on (to cover my perceived “essential” genres), it took me a while to get around to Ancient Egypt. When I finally did, though, I tried to really cover the bases. Here you’ll see firsthand the ancient Egyptian embalming process, with my old college roommate playing our less-than-willing cadaver. A coworker of mine likewise shines as the queen of Egypt. My own dad even got into the act as Anubis. In fact, this episode features such a wealth of new blood, I can’t actually remember who the heck that is playing the royal guard. He didn’t even get listed in the credits. Oops.
Canopic jars, the heart-chomping Devourer, a plague of frogs, and an impromptu “Sphinx” who looks more than a little like Krampus. It’s all here, brought to you as only Gauntly can. ‘Twas a Great Adventure indeed.
Favorite moment: When the “removed” brain drops off the nose hook and splatters on my roommate’s face.
12. Episode 31: “Season of the Witch Doctor“
For a long time prior, I had marked Episode 31 as a possible ending point for the series. After all, it would be a Halloween episode, and Halloween always falls on October 31st, you see. As such, I planned to pack a lot into our “final hour.” I recruited a live band from another show I’d volunteered for, and looked into hiring a Jack Hanna-style animal showcase act… though I ultimately just had FreakSlice bring in his pet snake.
Then of course there was the annual trip to consider. It too set a distance record: We would travel to Salem, Massachusetts, about a nine hour drive away. But since we went by minivan in a whirlwind weekend excursion, Ogrot and FreakSlice were able to join me (and play Super Smash Bros. Melee in the car all the way). Having my sidekick and an accomplished cinematographer along for the ride greatly enhanced the production value of the sequence. And even though we rolled into town a bit later than I’d planned, something about the trip seemed charmed. We found the perfect parking spot, the Witch Museum stayed open later than indicated, and we managed to hit everything on my itinerary in rapid succession. Our only setback was being unable to film inside “Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery,” a wax museum specifically dedicated to horror film history… but just seeing it was really cool. We even stumbled across Salem Public Access and shot a scene in front of the building. After filming atop the grave of a witch trial judge and visiting the memorial to the hanged victims, we wrapped the night with Thai food of all things (I ordered the “Black Magic,” of course, which the Thai proprietor seemed to find hilarious). Then it was off to the hotel, where we shared pumpkin beer and bourbon cider, and watched the Brendan Fraser Mummy from 1999, which we all agreed was “not bad.” All in all, it was the best day-and-a-half in recent memory.
Finally, for this episode a new visitor joined us in the Crypt. John Monsul, host of the same show I’d poached the band from, appears here as Snake Doctor, an ornery old warlock who busts in on our Halloween festivities because he “wants to see some magic, doggone it!” His earnest yet absurd delivery is hilarious. Luckily, this wouldn’t be the last time we’d see Snake Doctor.
And why didn’t this episode turn out to be our last? Well, because despite all my planning, I didn’t expect the station would abruptly make the long-awaited transition to HD the day before we were to shoot. I had no time to procure the special drive we’d need to store HD footage, and so we awkwardly scrambled to convert the HD signal to record on our old, standard definition tapes. The result is frankly pretty crappy. At least our Salem footage still looks good. But with the prospect of proper HD looming, I couldn’t very well leave things here. Gauntly would go on.
Favorite moment: Snake Doctor’s soliloquy near the end of the episode. My script notes said Snake Doctor wants to see magic… and that’s a point he drives home with aplomb.
11. Episode 28: “Jurassic Lark“
Occasionally, I’ll theme an episode to correspond with a big blockbuster movie coming out, to serve as a sort of schlocky antithesis. In July of 2015, we channeled Jurassic World in one of our most ambitious “effects” shows yet. Over the course of the episode, Gauntly travels to the Glorious Leader’s icy home of East Tiberia, where the two crack through the permafrost and plummet into a cavern populated with prehistoric creatures. Pterodactyls soar through the air (you almost can’t see the strings!) and FreakSlice actor Paul appears as a “saber-toothed caveman.” There’s even a Rampaging Horror, played by Teddy in a Halloween costume intended for a large dog.
Ok, so we may not have had Jurassic World‘s budget. But imagine what we could pull off if we did…
This episode also features the very first dinosaur blockbuster, 1925’s The Lost World. Stop-motion maestro Willis O’Brien breathes life into those terrible lizards of old, eight years before he would create his most enduring contribution to film history: the mighty King Kong.
Favorite moment: The Glorious Leader authorizes a nuclear strike to eliminate the Rampaging Horror, and the undead Gauntly is left standing in a blasted wasteland.
10. Episode 19: “Gauntly’s Hauntly Halloween Special“
“Gauntly’s Hauntly” got some love in the earlier list. But was it enough? Though our very first Halloween episode, number 7, packed in plenty of quality content (one of the few episodes to consist entirely of original footage), our second spooktacular outing was the first to feel really ambitious. The sequence in Sleepy Hollow – with a stopover in Amityville – remains one of my favorite in the series’ history. And that wasn’t even my only road trip this episode, as I also traveled to
Chuck’s Butcher Shop in Maryland to procure some severed heads.
There’s just a unique je ne sais quoi that’s palpable here. From Washington Irving’s grave to FreakSlice’s hot guitar licks to the weirdly intense tune “Halloween Night” that accompanies the credits, the last third or so of the episode has a real sense of flow. Seasonal vibes abound. Breathe it in, and be at one with Halloween. This is one bit of Gauntly that’s aged like fine wine.
Favorite moment: Still the singing severed heads.
9. Episode 11: “Ogrot: Casanova of the Crypt“
This episode saw one of the most significant drops among those honored in the previous list. But as you’ll see, that’s only because Ogrot’s love quest would ultimately lead to something even more spectacular.
All the same, I couldn’t neglect “Casanova” completely. This episode marked the first time everyone on set cracked up simultaneously, as Ogrot’s side-splitting improv drove us almost to tears. As he interacts with the bachelorettes vying for his affections, he asks perhaps the most important question for establishing a lasting romance: Do you like to eat sand?
The speed dating segment also introduced Ogrot’s affinity for rust, which would become one of his most-referenced character traits.
All in all, this episode is maybe the only, and definitely the best, episode to feature Gauntly in a more minor role. Sometimes it’s fun to stand at the periphery and just let the actors do their thing. It certainly paid dividends here.
Favorite moment: Still the extended speed dating scene. But my favorite detail might be the lone van parked on the beach in one of the quickly-changing backgrounds.
8. Episode 43: “Voodoo You Think You Are?“
If our Salem trip was fortuitous, we struck the jackpot in New Orleans.
We journeyed to the Big Easy for our fourth Halloween show, in which Dan attempts to reconnect with his “zombie roots” by embracing voodoo history and culture. To plan our itinerary, I drew mainly from two New Orleans-themed bits of spooky media: the third season of American Horror Story and Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island. I knew we would need to hit the mansion of monstrous slave-torturer Delphine Lalaurie, the tomb of Marie Laveau (a prominent figure in the establishment of New Orleans Voodoo), and any other places with voodoo ties or aspirations we could find.
Unfortunately, many of the places we stopped adamantly refused to let us film inside. The woman presiding at the “Voodoo Spiritual Temple” was particularly hostile to our cameras, and many establishments displayed prominent “NO PICTURES” signs. New Orleans Cemetery #1, site of Marie Laveau’s tomb, even forbade visitors altogether. But fate (and capitalism) smiled upon us, and we were able to get in and film by greasing a few choice palms. Hooray!
We had still more luck at the Museum of Death. The proprietor granted us an interview in the museum lobby, showing off a collection of preserved eyeballs in jars and a line of t-shirts themed around notorious serial killers. As a… um… bonus, he even gave me a free Jeffrey Dahmer lapel button.
Our biggest breakthrough came when we visited the “Historic Voodoo Museum,” where we met Madam Cinnamon Black. With a flamboyant wave, Madam Black proudly indicated the only “CAMERAS WELCOME!” sign we saw all weekend. Trip Advisor seems to suggest the “museum” – three relatively sparse but undeniably creepy rooms – is typically quite crowded, but we had free run of the place. Black even agreed to play a role in the show, bequeathing a campy bone necklace to Dan to mark the completion of his zombie quest. She wished us “Happy Halloween!” with a mighty cackle as we exited the museum, and I was heartily glad to have finally met someone so willing to play ball.
The trip is only part of what makes this episode so special. Don’t miss the music video we made for “Dance Upon Your Grave,” a spooky number from my cousins’ bluegrass band… it features arguably the highest production values of any Gauntly project thus far. Also unforgettable (if not as production intensive) is a shambling dance Gauntly does with a fetal pig strung up like a marionette. Ogrot even shotguns soup beer out of a bong shaped like a spinal cord.
So yeah. There’s a lot to unpack here. If nothing else, it’s a full hour of original Gauntly content, in all its gory glory.
Favorite Moment: Our run-in with Cinnamon Black.
7. Episode 25: “Scareborough Faire“
As I said in my blurb on Great Adventures above, the setpieces and tropes of the “medieval” genre were ingrained in me early, and I knew that if Gauntly lasted long enough, viewers would eventually see some swords and sorcery somewhere along the line.
“Scareborough Faire” spent a couple months purely in the planning stage, and that may be why it’s so near and dear to me. This episode arguably includes the greatest number of “effects” shots of any to date, and I definitely sketched out more storyboards to prepare for this episode than any other.
Guilty pleasure confession time: I’ve recently been watching “My Knight and Me,” a less than stellar animated series from France. But it’s tongue-in-cheek medieval fantasy and it’s on Hulu (which doesn’t show ads during kids’ shows), and as such it’s right up my alley. Anyway, as I watch the show I’m repeatedly impressed by just how many tropes we worked in in this single Gauntly episode alone. There’s a fierce dragon, a terrible giant, a bard, a king, a witch, and a knight who all have parts to play in the unfolding story. Then there are Gauntly and Ogrot, thrust into the medieval mix by an unseaonal Santa Claus. That’s right… in addition to everything else going on, this episode introduced unexpected Santa appearances and the concept of ever-expanding “Santa powers,” which, like Ogrot’s rust fixation, would become a key part of Gauntly lore.
Episode 25 let our core actors try out some different roles, and Dan in particular shines as Little Chad, the reluctant “Giant-Slayer.” His tale of toppling a giant while drunkenly “ghost-riding my donkey” stands as perhaps the funniest bit of extended improvisation since Ogrot’s speed dating.
Favorite moment: Algor the giant grabs our bard, hoisting him into the sky before stomping away. To the uninitiated, that’s a nearly unrecognizable Al Gore mask he’s wearing… hence the name.
6. Episode 40: “President Evil“
Episodes 4 and 16 were both 4th of July-themed, but the highly politicized climate of the 2016 election season seemed like a good time to return to the format. Since we already had a few Gauntly-world politicians to draw upon, I framed the episode around Governor Thelonius’ own bid for the White House. He is joined by Gauntly and a team of special guest advisers: two of my college friends who happened to be visiting, and the triumphantly returning Snake Doctor.
Truth be told, I made “President Evil” coming off a rapid-fire Netflix binge of the entire West Wing. The dialogue on display here may not exactly be Sorkinesque, but I did do a pretty good job of recreating the opening credits to kick off the episode.
Other highlights include a powerhouse performance from Snake Doctor, who advocates for resurrecting dead bodies to bloat Thelonius’ voter base. Also not to be missed: Supremely strange embodiments of the two dominant political parties. I’m not sure if the pink elephant toting a bright orange shotgun is more political satire or fever dream, but I’m content in my ignorance.
I also feel like I deserve credit for selecting especially poignant films this episode. “Don’t Be a Sucker,” an anti-Nazi 1943 short, would go viral more than a year after being featured here, when commentators trotted it out in the wake of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. I just wish some of the thought-pieces had thought to include a Gauntly shout-out. The opening of 1932’s “Betty Boop for President,” with the two parties standing to applaud monolithically, and never in agreement with the other side, also eerily mirrors the Congressional reaction to President Trump’s first State of the Union.
The show closes with a final appearance of the Gauntlymobile, riding off into the night to take Thelonius to Washington. It was the perfect end to a memorable summer night.
Favorite moment: Snake Doctor explains his master plan, sending out his snakes to “sniff the bodies.”
5. Episode 20: “Cleave It to Beaver“
How succinctly can one summarize Count Gauntly’s Horrors?
So far, I’ve got it down to four words:
We cooked a beaver.
This one jumped up a bit in rank from the last list. That’s because it so perfectly embodies what Gauntly is “about.” To acquire this episode’s repast, I journeyed to Chuck’s Butcher shop in the appropriately named Bryans Road, Maryland (source of the severed heads from “Gauntly’s Hauntly Halloween Special”). It’s difficult to express in words the emotions involved in traveling 45 minutes either way to bring back a months-old dead beaver in a cooler and force feed it to my unsuspecting friends. But here we are. A bacon-wrapped beaver has been eaten on public access television, and we have preserved the memory for posterity.
Other high points this episode include Dan’s transformation into a (typically pretty healthy looking) zombie, and Thelonius’ inspired bits of whisk-themed improv. On top of all that, this episode features our only double-length runtime to date, to facilitate showing Night of the Living Dead, the crown jewel of public domain horror films. Check out the credits for an understated Living Dead location tour, as well as the most thematically appropriate ending song I’ve yet come across, “Set a Place at Your Table for a Zombie.”
Favorite moment: Like I said, we cooked a beaver.
4. Episode 50: “Music of the Fright“
As I mentioned above, I had had Episode 50 pegged as a likely ending point for the series for quite a while ahead of time. And what can I say, I’m a sucker for musical productions. I knew Gauntly wouldn’t be complete without getting in at least one musical. Since Ogrot just happens to be a recreational composer, it wasn’t too difficult to goad him into scoring this would-be finale. Ultimately, he contributed six original tunes, to which I penned the lyrics. FreakSlice even turns in a remote performance, “transporting into your brain” with a ridiculously impressive semi-improvised number.
This episode gave me the chance to depict (and confront) three of my spooky musical forebears. The Phantom of the Opera, Sweeney Todd, and Seymour from the Little Shop of Horrors all happen to be characters in the public domain (it’s probably no coincidence they got musical adaptations in the first place), and finally seeing them share the stage with Gauntly just feels right.
I wish our song together hadn’t gone so wrong. We had a lot of ground to cover in three hours of studio time, and I didn’t even receive the music for the number which would become “Nice Guys,” the Phantom / Sweeney / Seymour song, until an hour into our block. I whipped off some lyrics I’m still reasonably happy with, but then my brother had to awkwardly transcribe an approximation of the music (we only had an audio file) in essentially no time. It’s therefore not surprising that it came together, um, imperfectly.
The most successfully realized sequence dramatizes the meeting of Gauntly and Ogrot… largely because we got to do multiple takes, outside the studio. That’s another thing: Just like our previous “last episode,” #31, “Music of the Fright” was plagued by recent studio changes. They had just ripped out the greenscreen wall, essential to nearly all of our special effects, and replaced them with a grid of colored lights that, as of this writing, still doesn’t really work.
Can you tell I’m a little bitter?
I see potential in mounting a Gauntly musical again at some point in the future. With a more fleshed-out storyline and a bit of actual rehearsal, I think it could really be something special. And yet, there’s still plenty to enjoy here. Knowing (Expecting? Hoping?) that this would be the end for a while, I tried to rope in all the main Gauntly players. Tracking down Ogrot, Thelonius, FreakSlice, and the Glorious Leader in separate times and places to get their footage involved more complex logistics than go into the typical episode as it is. Add in a suite of custom showtunes, some giant tribal masks borrowed from a local community theater, and the first appearance of Gauntly’s deluxe wooden coffin (a gift from fellow horror host Karlos Borloff), and this episode just about feels worthy of the dramatic sendoff it gets in the credits. Obviously, I went with a song from Uncle Neptune, who crooned the first ending tune I ever appropriated from the Free Music Archive.
Favorite moment: That ending sequence, including a retrospective with material from all 50 episodes.
3. Episode 21: “Have Yourself a Gauntly Little Cryptmas“
Clocking in at #1 on the previous list, “Gauntly Little Cryptmas” still has a lot going for it. The extended caroling sequence is a highlight not just of this episode, but the show as a whole. When Ogrot first switched on that ridiculous Casio beat, we knew we were in for something really special.
Throw in some ambitious “shoulder angel” special effects and an appearance by Krampus more than a year before his solo Hollywood vehicle, and you’ve got a recipe for prime Gauntly goodness.
Favorite moment: If not the resplendent carols clip, probably the moment screenshotted above, when Santa, disgusted by FreakSlice’s offering of dried squid, pushes him off his lap and FreakSlice falls out of frame onto the floor.
2. Episode 38: “The Newly-Deads“
The actor who plays Ogrot has been one of my best friends since freshman year of high school. And as long as I’ve known him, we’ve joked that he lives a double life. He can turn his “weird” on and off, switching between the Ben who plays cello and is an NCAA championship swimmer, and the Ben who can smoosh up a big block of cheese in a ski hat and carry it around asking people to feel inside (one of the first things I ever saw him do).
Over the last fourteen years, I have figured more into the weird side of Ben’s life. I expect he sometimes walks in circles where Ogrot goes unmentioned. But the show, and our friendship more broadly, offers an outlet for his pent-up weirdness. I wonder, is Count Gauntly’s Ben’s dirty little secret? A macabre mistress to fulfill his offbeat impulses?
This dichotomy is at the heart of what makes Episode 38 so special. In 2014, another of my closest friends and his soon-to-be wife asked me to get legally ordained and officiate their wedding. It stands as one of the greatest honors of my life so far. People who know me also know I love an audience – and being offered one at such a pivotal moment for a couple shows trust in me greater than I generally have in myself.
Frankly, I did not expect Ben to extend the same invitation. It seemed unlikely that I would be brought before his more posh, respectable friends to stage manage the ceremony. And so I kind of took destiny into my own hands. Knowing the wedding was set for May, I pitched a wedding-themed episode to tape in April, which would be on the air the month of the “real thing.” Somewhat to my surprise, Ben and, more importantly, his fiance were on board with the idea. She and I even toured the local thrift stores together to shop for a wedding dress.
People also turned out in force to attend the momentous occasion. Wedding guests included the Demon King, a livelier than usual Shelly the skeleton, and a robot we once taught to love. Glorious Leader was there, in full Class A uniform. FreakSlice strummed out the wedding march on his guitar, and the revered Snake Doctor was even on hand to officiate. And as we gathered around to share the all-food-groups-at-once “prison loaf” wedding cake, the motley crew posed for our greatest cast photo to date.
“The Newly-Deads” serves as testament to my friends’ enduring loyalty, and a willingness to make fools of themselves while the cameras roll. Looking back, it’s hard to fully express my emotions in that moment, but here is a try:
One Christmas in high school, I gave Ben a mummified frog lovingly preserved by some intrepid Etsy merchant.
Years later, I was surprised and touched to find that on a shelf above his bed, two treasured items sat: an NCAA trophy… and that desiccated frog.
This episode gives me that same feeling for the better part of an hour.
And I wouldn’t trade that for any number of trophies OR frogs.
Favorite moment: Snake Doctor’s sermon. Remember, “You’ve got to have permanent, permanent love. It’s got to be FOR REAL! That’s what we do in the underworld. We don’t mess around! It’s love forever! And the real true love is the love a man has for his serpents.”
1. Episode 30: “Beneath the Headstone“
As with the Halloween shows, I generally try to do something special “on the tens.” Episode 20 was our first double-length program. Episode 50 would be our musical spooktacular. But our thirtieth outing eclipses them all. #1 on this list earns its spot at least in part for the sheer amount of hours I poured into it… we filmed in August 2015, and the episode wouldn’t be complete until the following May.
What kept me busy almost nine times longer than normal was the format. Episode 30, you see, is our documentary.
A Behind the Music homage, “Beneath the Headstone” melodramatically charts the rise of Count Gauntly and his gang of ghouls to “public access super-stardom.” Although inspired largely by The Simpsons‘ own spoof, I did watch the original Behind the Music (specifically, the Duran Duran episode) to make sure I got the style right. I’m particularly pleased with my recreation of the opening theme sequence.
To heighten the sense that this was an episode of an existing, non-Gauntly television series, I recruited a narrator who had never previously been involved with the show. Guest host “Horrible Schway” guides us through the triumphs and tribulations of the various crypt-dwellers, interspersed with interviews of the main players themselves.
Gauntly taping sessions are rarely a model of efficiency, but here we acquitted ourselves admirably, cranking out nine interviews in rapid succession. All the interviewees did an excellent job, providing plenty of hilarious lines and off-the-cuff worldbuilding. But Teddy as the Projectionist / Santa Claus really went above and beyond. His earnest “recollections” of joining the Gauntly crew, quitting after feeling unappreciated, and then rising to prominence by battling a horde of rival Santas and “consuming their hearts to absorb their power” kept making me crack up in the editing booth months after the fact… even as Teddy himself remains the picture of Keatonesque stoicism.
Indeed, the editing booth is where I spent the bulk of this episode’s abnormally lengthy production time. After chopping up the interviews, structuring the narrative, and writing and recording the narration, I had to gather B-roll material from all 29 previous episodes, as well as 16 public domain films. I guess I’m just bragging at this point, but it was no small feat.
In the end, I think the extra work paid off. “Beneath the Headstone” flows far better than standard Gauntly fare. Whenever I start watching it, I almost inevitably find myself sticking around for the whole 45 minutes.
Fittingly, “Beneath the Headstone” marked the final episode shot in standard definition on old-school cassette tapes. It marked the end of one era, and ushered in another. To date, nothing has quite outshone it. If you’re looking for a sampling of Gauntly to “get you through those long, lonely nights,” look no further than here. Put simply, it’s our best.
Favorite moment: Teddy’s deadpan delivery of the line “I do intend to become the king of the Santa Clauses” has me in stitches every single time I hear it