"If the Central Illinois horror movie host hall
of fame has its pioneer, then Peoria radio-TV celebrity Milton Budd appears
to get the honor." So begins Dan Craft's entry on
Milton Budd in the "Legends of Late Night Horror" article from
the October 26, 2000 entertainment section of Bloomington, Illinois' Pantagraph
Milton H. Budd was born and raised in Peoria, Illinois. In the1930
Peoria High School Crest
(see bottom right), Budd was named "Peoria High's silver plated
tenor". It would continue to be his resonant voice that would
get him recognition.
Not long after graduating, he got work at WMBD radio and eventually became
known for a devilish character he'd do at grid dinners. His creepy,
sardonic laugh was remembered by new WMBD-TV executives when it came time
to find a host for their recently acquired Shock syndicated horror
film package. In 1958 the new television station aired Nightmare
Theater starring Milton Budd as host.
Visually, the program was stark and haunting. Against a pitch black
backdrop, Budd, dressed in black, sat motionless. His face, lit from
below, was about all you saw of him. But it was that voice -- the
frightening tone, menacing words and his cackling laughter that made its
Another memorable aspect of the show was done by experimenting with the
new medium. Engineer Charles Tate was on the controls and used a "negative
polarity" effect on Budd's seemingly floating head to make it all the
more unreal. Another thing Tate would create was a smaller duplicate
head that would appear on Milton's hand. Milton's "son"
"It was all done live, except for the movie itself," Tate
recalled, "He would interrupt the film every seven or eight minutes
to comment on what was happening, and he had this terrible, horrible cackling
laugh...He was a very popular personality."
Nightmare Theater lasted until 196 -?. Milton Budd co-hosted
along with Bob Carlton a drive-time morning radio show on WMBD-AM. Milton
Budd passed away in the 1970s.
Nightmare Theater fan Michael Isenberg remembers the show vividly
having seen every episode from its inception:
" We all waited every saturday night, the anticipation
would start even before supper. In one way I would look forward to it, in
another, I knew that I was going to regret it when it was over and had to
go to bed. Milton Budd was genuinely a very scary individual when the lights
went out and Nightmare came on. Very low creepy music, wierd sounds in the
background, nothing remotely comical or hokey like other shows that came
later with 'horror hosts.' He never said anything grotesque or gory, it
was his laugh and his voice and the look on his face, which was all you
saw. You would hear his low absolutely quintesential ghostly laugh as his
lit up face would appear in the distance of the black screen. NO ONE ever
could top that laugh, it would send chills right up your spine and make
you grip the chair you were sitting in. His voice was low, but mellow and
he would tell a story about the movie before it started, and as the movie
would begin you could see his face fade out a nd that chilling laugh as
he would say 'welcome to nightmare.' He did all of the bits after the commercials
before the movie would resume and no matter what movie they played, HE was
always scarier than the movie, so much so that sometimes you would close
your eyes or turn away. But it didn't matter, his voice was enough to do
the trick. At the end of the film he would return and tell you goodnight,
as if that were any possibility, and fade away again laughing that hideous
laugh. There was a station identification card used that said Nightmare
at the bottom, the background was an artist rendering of a deserted graveyard
with a vulture sitting in a creepy, leafless tree. He had a name for the
vulture, it was his pet. When I would go to bed after the show, no matter
how late I stayed up after it was over, in the darkness I would still see
that lit up, floating face. I went to school with Milton's daughter Beryl,
and one time he appeared 'in character' at one of her birthday parties,
d own in the basement with the lights out and a flashlight pointed up at
his face. He still scared the hell out of the kids, and they knew it was
just Beryl's dad. He was the absolute master of the craft, no one even came
close. Simply legendary."
- Mike Isenberg 52, Hollywood,CA
( formerly of Pekin, Illinois )
Another Milton Budd fan writes:
"I am from Peoria and have been a "monster
movie" fan since about the age of 5 when I discovered "Nightmare"
on Saturday nights at 10:30. This was way back in 1963.....we would always
be at my cousin's house on Saturday night. The "grown-ups" would
be playing cards and we kids, about 5 of us... would be huddled around the
T.V. waiting for Milton Budd to come on and petrify us with greatest intro.
any monster movie host ever did! This guy was genuinely scary with his deep
laugh and "under the chin" lighting. Very, very creepy and very,very
effective. Some years later, I did see the "Acri Creature Feature"
and "Creature Feature" on WGN in Chicago where my family relocated
in 1971.....but nobody ever topped Milton with his downright scary introduction
to those classic old monster movies......all of the classic Universal monsters
with a very occasional sci-fi flick thrown in. Great memories from long
ago and far away!"
If you have a memory of watching Milton Budd on Nightmare Theater,
email drjitters [at] gmail [dot] com, or sign our guestbook.
Craft, Dan. 2000. "Legends of Late Night". In Bloomington
Pantagraph. Getout section.
Watson, Elena M. 1991. "Television Horror Movie Hosts". McFarland
& Company, Inc. NC.
see also: E-gor's
Chamber of TV Horror Hosts entry on Milton Budd.
Jim Knusch's wonderful TV
Horror Hosts and Hostesses where you'll find their appearances
in magazines featuring a link to the March 29, 1958 TV Guide article
'What a Revoltin'