Can Las Vegas Find a Home in Horror?

Foreclosed zombie houses aside, is our city a good fit for a bloody landscape?

The Sinister Minister and his Altar Girls

The Sinister Minister and his Altar Girls

Oh, we’ll do comedies for days. Heist movies? Obviously. Where else are you going to rob casinos—Atlantic City? We’ll even dabble in your Oscar-baity miserablist drama occasionally. But when it comes time to roll up the sleeves and get down to the gritty business of disembowelment, Las Vegas is notably lacking from the horror landscape.

We’ve only had one recent major horror movie set here: 2011’s Fright Night remake. The less said about apocalyptic SyFy original Blast Vegas the better, and Hostel III—about a bachelor party gone bloody—was a direct-to-DVD dead-horse franchise beater. Yet we’re a town willing to fully embrace terror-based attractions such as the Las Vegas Zombie Run, Fright Dome, the Freakling Brothers haunted houses, Evil Dead: The Musical and regular Jay Leno bookings.

But is Las Vegas really a good fit for horror? There’s nothing inherently spooky here. No crumbling, Victorian mansions, no century-old cemeteries, precious few abandoned mental asylums where mad scientists conduct experiments best left unspoken. If a shambling, reanimated monster that’s an affront to God Himself started terrorizing Summerlin, I’m not even sure you could rally more than a dozen pitchfork-wielding villagers.

Halloween Fright Night Las Vegas

Fright Night

Still. What casts a darker shadow than the brightest light of the Luxor? There’s a natural juxtaposition in Vegas-based chillers that would fit well with, say, Rob Zombie’s trash-horror sensibilities. The Jenna Jameson vehicle Zombie Strippers at least taps in to the spirit of that aesthetic, even if it was set in Nebraska. It’s workable. More than workable, if you think the horror fan is driven by the same thrill-seeking impetus that fuels half of our cultural institutions.

Maybe it just takes time. Horror deals in the eternal—the deathless zombie, the ageless vampire, the … timelessly moistened … creatures from various black lagoons. Which is something we’re on short supply of (both longevity and moisture, really).

If the departure of Goretorium taught us anything, it’s that we’re not exactly ready to support horror year-round (though a 365-day haunted house is, admittedly, a tough nut to crack). But aside from the 2009 Fangoria Trinity of Terrors, we aren’t even getting much in the way of horror conventions, despite Las Vegas’ role as a go-to destination for cons great and small. Most of that action is in the Midwest and on the East Coast.

What may not thrive as big headlining pieces can always find a home in niche, low-budget entertainment. For the last 10 years, there’s been The Midnight Massacre Theatre, a good old-fashioned late-night creature feature hosted by The Sinister Minister. Sean L. Smith plays the Minister—a gruff-voiced wiseass who dresses like the devil-worshippingest member of KISS. He’s accompanied, movie to movie and location to location, by his Altar Girls, a pair of Gothed-up, corseted ladies. Because Las Vegas.

“My character fits Vegas well because of the adult-theme humor, and the girls with the cleavage pushed up to their chin,” he says. “Me being a native of Vegas, that’s just how I think. I wanted something eye-appealing like Elvira. So I took two girls.”

There’s a grand tradition of horror hosts, going all the way back to Vampira in the 1950s. They’re the late-night kings and queens of the basic cable interstitial, popping up at opportune moments with a well-placed eye roll that undercuts the sometimes grisly, frequently corny fare they can get their hands on. The horror host holds your hand through the haunted house.

While Elvira stands alone as the titan of the field, the phenomenon is at its best when it wallows in the public access ghetto. That’s when it gets delightfully weird, regionally specific and where it serves as a bellwether for the health of the genre.

Like most horror hosts, Smith combs the ranks of public domain films to give them the Mystery Science Theater treatment. His show goes further than other regional hosts are often willing to do, trading in ’70s Eurosleaze flicks and the like.

After a couple of years of Halloween one-offs, Smith started doing regular Midnight Massacre shows in 2005. He bounced around networks, even picking up some national distribution in 40 markets in 14 states until landing on KTUD, Vegas TV, six months ago.

Hostel III, Halloween Las Vegas

Hostel III

Which was unfortunate, given that KTUD shut down on October 10, just a few weeks before Halloween. Still, Smith said he’ll find another outlet for the show, and KCLV Channel 2 will air an episode on Halloween night.

In the past, he’d done a live event at Underworld—now the recently renovated-by-Bar Rescue zombie apocalypse-themed The End. He’d intended on doing another one this year until the Vegas TV departure.

There’s a natural marriage there—classic horror staple paired with au courant boozy manifestation of our zombie Renaissance. If we’re not going to get a regular infusion of high-profile horror treats, the least we can have are a couple of torch-bearers. You might need to borrow one when we all go chase the Summerlin Frankenstein.

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