Midwest horror host "Madd Frank" haunts Bemidji pub
BEMIDJI - Horror fans and graveyard groupies worldwide have spent many a fright night with Elvira, the Crypt Keeper and Mystery Science Theater 3000.
One Wednesday evening, patrons of Brigid's Irish Pub in Bemidji came face to face with a man who made Friday and Saturday nights a little more spooky in the Red River Valley -- Madd Frank.
"Madd Frank Presents" aired from 1985 to 1995 on KVRR-TV Channel 15 in Fargo. The program, which showcased and critiqued horror movies, was syndicated on American Independent Network, with the potential to reach millions of viewers in about 40 states. However, Madd Frank was also picked up by several satellite signals, extending the show's reach even farther.
Madd Frank, also known as Del Dvoracek, was in Bemidji, working on a two-hour documentary with Mike Bredon, executive producer of UpStream TV. The film "Madd Frank Presents Madd Frank" is planned to debut at the Fargo Film Festival in March.
Bredon first saw Madd Frank on TV after he moved to Bemidji in the early 1990s. As a new kid in town, he said he found a childhood hero in Madd Frank.
"He became my first friend in Bemidji," Bredon said. "Everything I've created within the horror genre was launched through Madd Frank."
The Madd Frank character was created by Dvoracek and past Fargo-based KVRR-TV producer Kent Lien in 1985.
"At the time Madd Frank started, Elvira was the top personality," Dvoracek said. "I had no idea what I was getting into."
In the original show, Madd Frank was joined by a cast of characters, including a casket named Harvey, a doll named Miss Frizzy and George the Skull candle. Some of the more animated characters were interviewed for the upcoming documentary -- Vanilla White (Judy Rae), Ichy Bodd (Martin Jonason), Billy Jabber (Dave Prentice) and the Madd Programmer (James Erickson) are fixtures in the Fargo area. Interviews will be interspersed between clips of the show for the documentary.
"Usually, the movies were so bad, we would pan them," Dvoracek recalled of the show's lineup. "I'd say, 'This is a really bad movie, but I'll be back in 13 minutes.' "
Bredon said the show's footage was aging and dying until fans started archiving clips and posting them online. Bredon credits Tony Tilton in Fargo with saving Madd Frank's old clips. The footage was digitized and transferred to an external hard drive. Bredon's company, Arcadian Productions, and Madd Frank Presents will be producing the documentary.
"The documentary is being edited now," Bredon said. A 30-day Kickstarter campaign will be launched July 10 with a goal of raising $12,000 for the project.
The documentary has been in the works for two years, but it won't be completed until it premieres. Additional footage will be filmed at the film festival, which then will be added to the debuted production, giving fans the opportunity to be part of Madd Frank's film.
"Mike was really the guy who took it by the ropes and ran with it," Dvoracek said.
Dvoracek said he doesn't anticipate a retro-cult following of Madd Frank, but Bredon believes a resurgence in Madd Frank's popularity may erupt. Dvoracek's wife, Verlene, still has some vintage posters from the Madd Frank heyday.
The man behind the mask
"The Frank comes from my grandfather, and this is a mad character so I suggested Madd, with two D's," Dvoracek explained.
In the beginning, Madd Frank's ghoulish persona was created with stage makeup. Later, a mask was made. Dvoracek still has his costume, although he confessed it might not fit quite as well as it did in years past.
After serving in the Air Force, Dvorcek studied German at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., in the 1960s. It was in college when he began acting in plays. He met his future bride in German class at Augustana.
Dvoracek earned a master's degree in German at the University of Nebraska and taught the language for seven years at Minnesota State University Moorhead.
He and Verlene married in 1967 and moved to Fargo in 1969. Verlene, "Mrs. Madd Frank," recalls dressing up in a cape, grey wig and hat for trick-or-treaters on Halloween when Madd Frank would be traveling to appearances. The couple still live in Fargo.
Dvoracek ran an advertising agency, including starring in the commercials he would make, before hosting his horror show. It was a natural fit, he said, adding that he's seen more than 300 horror flicks. Dvoracek confessed his personal favorite is the Stephen King-based movie "Christine."
Recently, he's been watching "The Walking Dead" and the "Fargo" television series, he said.
People interested in seeing Madd Frank in action can view archived episodes of "Madd Frank Presents" on YouTube.