Photography by Lesha Patterson
If you’re looking for Dr. Shock, don’t bother lifting coffin lids or poking around cemeteries after dark. Ditto for the old WTVC studios in the Golden Gate Shopping Center, home of the original Shock Theatre. Shock’s current lair is in a suitably funky former hair salon on an appropriately shadowy block of a less-traveled downtown street. The windows are blacked out and a sign on the door alludes to the mischief within: “Nobody gets in to see the wizard. Not nobody. Not no how.” Just knock, goes the saying, the bell is out of order.
Most likely the Wizard of Odd will answer. That would be Scott Fillers, a local magician, horror movie enthusiast and yet another in a growing consortium of Friends of Shock Theatre who have lent their time, talent or, in this case, storefront to the recently revived horror host. Inside, a wall filled with Filler’s kitschy horror movie collectibles shares space with the set pieces that form Shock’s makeshift studio—cobwebbed stone pillars, a coffin, skulls and furniture that would not be out of place in Norma Desmond’s Sunset Boulevard home.
Before Shock himself appears, I regard his button-eyed puppet sidekick, Dingbat, in repose across the crushed velvet couch. When Shock enters from an anteroom, he is shocking only in his lack of Shock-ness: No cape, no dark eye makeup, no dangling cigarette, the latter a signature prop—along with the skull-topped cane—of the original Dr. Shock. “I had to quit smoking,” this Shock says, apologetically.
Shock is in street clothes, in this case his mortal form’s casual attire. Local musician Jack Gray is still feeling the weight of the cape and finding his footing a year after accidentally ascending to the role. But it’s surprising how much Gray, a heavy-set man with hound-dog eyes, a weary smile and an easygoing manner, resembles his predecessor, the late Tommy Reynolds.
Bob Brandy, Miss Marcia and, most notably, Dr. Shock, are figures who still exist in the nostalgic, gauzy memory of those who lived in the region during the 1960s and ’70s. With the exception of Miss Marcia, who still appears on local TV, most have died, as have the shows that propelled them into the hearts of viewers. Reynolds, a longtime program director at WTVC/Channel 9, earned cult celebrity status in 1970s Chattanooga as host of Shock Theatre, the station’s campy late-night horror movie fest that aired on Saturday nights from 1968 to 1975. Abetted by his curiously disturbing puppet sidekick Dingbat (created and voiced by Dan East) and the curvaceous Nurse Goodbody (Patricia Abney), Reynolds single-handedly introduced the genre to the local market.
At first, Reynolds—who began his on-air career as Shock in the 1960s hosting Science Fiction Theater on WTVC—adopted a camp Dracula persona, introducing and ridiculing a series of mostly low-budget horror and science-fiction movies during commercial breaks. He took the show to a new level when he began lobbing satirical bombs at local politicians, the Lookout Mountain elite and his fellow media personalities along with sometimes risqué comic bits that flew over the heads of youthful viewers but quickly caught older fans’ attention.
The pair would often push the envelope, straying into controversial territory, getting Reynolds and East got into hot water with station management, writes longtime local TV and radio personality David Carroll in his book Chattanooga Radio and Television. But their sometimes-naughty behavior just served to boost ratings—and advertiser response—Carroll recalls.
“Starting out as a radio deejay at that time, I can tell you that getting your name mentioned on Shock Theatre, even as part of a fake news story or other comedy routine, was huge,” Carroll says.