‘The Time Has Come for Scary Things’
September 6, 2013 1:28PM
Acme Design Inc. artist Ryan Guenther stands in a prototype Svengoolie coffin he created at the Elgin manufacturer. The new coffin will replace the original built in the 1970s. | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media file
Updated: October 8, 2013 6:07AM
It is nothing less than a landmark moment in Chicago television history: The return of Svengoolie ... and the debut of his re-mastered coffin.
“FINALLY! See the NEW Sven coffin — learn how it was made by Acme Design Inc.!” Sven (and/or his alter ego, Rich Koz) announced via Facebook and Twitter on Friday, Sept. 6.
He added that the unveiling would be wrapped around a viewing of “The Mad Ghoul” Saturday, Sept. 7, at 9 p.m. on the Me-TV Network (seen in the Chicago market on WCIU).
A cross-generational base of Svengoolie fans has been waiting and hoping for good news since learning last fall that the man behind the makeup had been sidelined by a heart attack.
After months of reruns featuring semi-classics like “Curse of the Werewolf” and Sven’s rickety 30-year-old coffin — watch closely and you’ll notice how the door nearly drops off its hinges when it opens and closes — a new day is dawning.
Or, to put this in a more appropriate way, a new full moon is rising.
Anyway, no one will enjoy the moment more than Ryan Guenther, the Lake Villa native and Antioch High School graduate who helped sketch and construct the new coffin with the aforementioned Acme Design.
“We had the prototype ready last October, and then we got word at the beginning of November that Rich had a heart attack,” he said Friday.
“All of our hearts sank. But we kept plugging along, and we got word that Rich was going to be all right.”
When The News-Sun checked in with Guenther last fall, he discussed how the “rubbery” prototype had been brought to the Svengoolie studio, and the final fiberglass version was under development.
That finished product was delivered this summer, and Guenther revealed some of the finer details that sharp-eyed viewers can look for this weekend:
• The headpiece at the top is a skull that serves as an homage to the one seen on “The Vampira Show,” the 1950s Los Angeles-based horror program that inspired the Svengoolies of the world.
• Speaking of skulls, the main portrait on the upper lid is a skeletal version of Svengoolie’s head, painted in the multicolored style of artist Basil Gogos, who was described by Guenther as “famous in the classic horror circles.”
Guenther added that the skull’s eyes can move 360 degrees and its jaw can be articulated from within the coffin, which by the way is lined in purple satin with a spider-web pattern.
• The heraldic shield that Sven has used to ward off rubber chickens over the years is updated on the lid with a fresh coat-of-arms, with symbols that include a television, a film camera, a chicken holding a shepherd’s crook, and a spider with a lucky horseshoe on its abdomen.
• Enscribed on lid are the words “Tempus Revus Horrificus Adfuit,” which Guenther said is “the closest Latin translation for, ‘The Time Has Come for Scary Things,’ which is how Jerry Bishop opened his show.”
If you have to be told that Jerry G. Bishop was the original Svengoolie on WFLD back in the 1970s, then you didn’t pay attention in the classroom of Chicago pop culture.
There are also bat faces mimicking the comedy and tragedy masks of Greek theater, a Chicago skyline, and handles shaped like chicken feet.
All of this, Guenther said, was “made from scratch just for Rich.” He was asked if this truly custom job could ever be topped in his design career.
“You always hope to keep doing new and different things,” he said, “but this is definitely up there.”