FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – For 10 years and 300 episodes, Rob Gruesome Graves has welcomed guests to the Haunted Hotel.
It’s a show that has been airing in Fort Wayne since Oct. 31, 2012– Halloween night. And over the past decade, viewers- referred to as “Children of the Grave”- have become acquainted with the host of horror.
WELCOME TO THE HAUNTED HOTEL
Through the television screen, the audience is welcomed to the hotel lobby, and they meet Graves as he steps out of a creaky coffin. Graves, dressed in black from hat to shoes, introduces himself as the night manager in a deep, booming voice.
Graves is accompanied by his “bell beast,” Fang, who is said to be camera shy. Viewers get a glimpse of Fang in each episode, usually just a furry arm reaching on screen to grab room key 13. While the bell beast is off to prepare the room- or, the tomb- Graves begins a “deadtime story.”
Graves includes commentary, trivia and plenty of spooky puns to bookend a classic horror or sci-fi film audiences can look forward to every Friday night.
The detailed setting viewers see on screen is the hotel lobby with Halloween décor to stay on theme. There’s a table covered in cobwebs with a rat, affectionately named Ratatouille, and two spiders– one lounging on an orange-colored brain named Ribcage, and another hanging from a gong, named Fred.
The show’s creativity was inspired by Graves’ lifetime love of horror, and knowledge of the film genre.
“I have a bunch of useless information running around up here– it’s a pleasure to finally be able to use it,” Graves said, pointing to his head, always concealed beneath black cloth to protect his identity.
Graves chooses to keep his identity private so the audience can focus on the show itself rather than on him.
THE MONSTER KID BEHIND THE MADNESS
Graves said he grew up in 1960s and ’70s, and it’s that same era of horror films he tends to choose as a host, introducing a whole new generation to movies he’s always enjoyed as well as many he’s watching for the first time.
At 10 years old, when Graves was a “Monster Kid”, he watched his first horror host on television. The Fort Wayne native said his future was particularly inspired by two local hosts– Asmodeus on Shock Theatre and The Shroud on Nightmare Theatre.
But Graves said being a horror host got put on the backburner after childhood and he pursued a more “practical” career.
Fast forward to 2012, when Graves said he went to a Monster Bash convention catered to his generation of Monster Kids. There, he met Penny Dreadful, a horror host who would soon become his mentor.
Graves came home from the convention with advice from Penny on how to become a horror host. Now retired from his day job, Graves could finally invest in his childhood dream.
He soon got connected with Access Fort Wayne, a multimedia production studio at the main branch of the Allen County Public Library.
“They have been behind us 110 percent,” said Graves, who now calls the crew family. He refers to them as the “dead-itor, die-rector and camera fiends.”
BEHIND THE SCENES AND SCREAMS
Graves credits Kristine Sprunger, his “dead-itor and die-rector”, with creating the magic behind the show.
Sprunger works with special effects, like at the beginning of each episode when a skeleton materializes into the tall, black figure known as Graves. Sprunger also created from scratch the backgrounds displayed on the green screen– eerie settings like the hotel lobby.
Sprunger edits other shows at Access Fort Wayne, but it’s the Haunted Hotel that she really has the power to bring to life.
“This is the one where I have the most creative input,” Sprunger said.
A decade into production, Graves and his crew have found a rhythm. Graves said six shows are usually taped at one time in the studio, and the editing process takes about three hours for two shows.
“I’m sure there’s a lot of people who don’t realize how much work there is to do,” said Mrs. Graves, the host’s wife who also works behind the scenes.
Graves comes up with the commentary and trivia through extensive research of each film’s characters and behind-the-scenes stories to share with the audience.
“It’s a process, but it’s like a treasure hunt sometimes,” Graves said.
Graves said he’s been asked many times how much money he makes filming the Haunted Hotel. His answer: “Not a dime. It’s a passion.”
“If I can pass anything along to the next generation of Monster Kids, that’s enough payment for me,” Graves said.
10 YEARS OF DEADTIME STORIES
At times serious, mysterious, and hilarious, Graves has found a balance for his on-camera personality between being comedic and, well, being grave.
“Doing this, I’ve realized the connection between horror and comedy,” Graves explained. “You laugh, and you get rid of the fear and the tension.”
That balance is one reason why the audience spans generations.
Although he doesn’t get recognized often without his signature black suit, Graves remembers a time at a convention where he was wearing a Haunted Hotel t-shirt. He said a little boy came up to him, hoping he was Graves, and they took a picture together. The father thanked Graves and said he made the young fan’s day.
“I love talking to fans, and I will talk their ear off if they give me the chance,” Graves said.
Fans can look forward to two special shows celebrating the 10th anniversary and 300th episode of the Haunted Hotel.
The 10th annual Halloween special airs at 8 p.m. on Oct. 31., and longtime fans can expect a nostalgic episode.
“We’re going to commemorate and celebrate that with something similar to our first ‘deadtime story,’” Graves said.
Learn more about the upcoming release of the 300th episode, and stay updated with the Haunted Hotel, on the show’s Facebook page.
“There’s room in the coffin for everyone,” Graves said.
Viewers can make a reservation at the Haunted Hotel by “tombing in” Fridays at 10 p.m. on Comcast channel 57, FIOS channel 27, or streaming on the library’s website.
Don’t forget to “tomb in”, and as Graves would say, creep it real.