DULUTH — As Uncle Clutch, Joe Klander has performed on a reboot of “The Gong Show,” as well as on “America’s Got Talent.” Before that, he had been booed by professional wrestling fans in Japan, where his villainous character was known to eat babies — though there he performed as Kurokumo Clutch.
In his newest incarnation, Uncle Clutch works as an old-school video store clerk with an eye toward hokey frights.
"Bwahahahaha," he evil-cackles in the show's opening scene, bouncing up from behind the counter and rubbing his hands as he introduces the show.
“Uncle Clutch’s Video Horror Shop” is a hosted horror show that will play on public access television Friday nights in Duluth, and will appear on Klander's YouTube page (https://youtu.be/7xvIdUnDrO4), in which the skeletal-faced character, dressed in a tuxedo and bat fez, introduces a public domain movie and offers jokes, side-plots and information about the film.
Sometimes he entertains a guest to the video store. Meanwhile, he gets a little help from a talking VHS named Rentfield, an on-brand play on the name of Dracula's buddy.
The first episode features "Plan 9 from Outer Space," a sci-fi movie from the late 1950s starring Bela Lugosi that has UFOs, vampires and resurrections at a Hollywood cemetery. Best known about the movie: It's bad. Just like Klander likes it.
"(Uncle Clutch) was kind of morphing a little bit, and it was interesting to try to find something new to do with the character, other than wrestling," Klander said.
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Klander and documentary filmmaker Mike Scholtz, who made the short biography "Kinderchomper" about his friend, had been considering the next move for Uncle Clutch. They were sold on him as a hokey movie host, like MeTV's Saturday night special, Svengoolie.
Around this same time, Scholtz found a notice at the Superior Public Library, posted by Peter Luke, cable access coordinator.
"'Horror host wanted,' in big black bold letters and then just the deets," Klander said. "Which was super random because we had already had that specific conversation before."
Klander created the likeness of an indie video rental shop in his basement, the checkout counter with an old computer and movie posters and a bumper sticker that says "Proud parent of a VHS collection." The store's back wall is lined with old movies like "Devil Bat," "Godzilla" and "Graveyard Shift." There are skulls and skeletons and spooky reminders to remember to rewind.
When COVID-19 made it tricky to gather multiple unrelated people in a small indoor space, he moved the checkout counter to his garage, and Scholtz got an image of the backdrop to use with a green screen.
If it looks corny, good. This crew likes when the strings attached to the proverbial UFO are visible.
In this case, they aren't. But the arm attached to the Rentfield puppet, voiced by Scholtz, is.
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Klander grew up on the Iron Range and said he didn't have access to the horror hosts of yesteryear, but he did search the TV guide every week for late-night horror listings. Scholtz, from Fargo, N.D., referenced Elvira on the national level and his town's local horror host, Madd Frank.
"He had a spooky set and puppets and a lot of what Svengoolie is now," Scholtz recalled.
Luke remembered various shows that played on public access in Duluth when he was growing up, sometimes adding a celebrity guest like the late, longtime popular WDIO-TV weatherman Jack McKenna.
"There's a market for it," Luke said. "People remember those shows. I think this will be a kind of cool thing."
The crew has recorded four episodes, so far, to tie to the movies "The Brain that Wouldn't Die," "Horror Express" and "Driller Killer" in addition to "Plan 9 from Outer Space." Luke, they said, passed along a list of dozens of potential picks.
This is a departure for the channel that hosts Superior City Council meetings, church services and bulletin board material, but has also offered an outlet for a local ventriloquist and programming from external sources.
"I appreciate these guys coming forth," Luke said.
"Uncle Clutch's Video Horror Shop" premieres at 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30, on Spectrum channel 180 in Superior and 188 in Duluth. For those outside that viewing area, check out Uncle Clutch's YouTube channel at https://youtu.be/7xvIdUnDrO4.