I submit for your approval…one of my favorite scenes from the classic Dracula, :
I submit for your approval…one of my favorite scenes from the classic Dracula, :
There are creatures that can crawl up a wall, head down, in an upside down position (like a spider), turn themselves into bats, rats, moths, mists, and clouds of dust. They ‘live’ by sucking the blood of a live person. We call these demon-like beings vampires. They would not make very good neighbors, although, I’ve lived next to people who can do pretty much all these things…but that’s a another story.
A vampire can’t do everything (although in modern days, they can do much more than tradition tells us, i.e., go out into the sunlight.) They cannot cross running water (movie lore), and they cannot enter a room without being invited. A vampire abhors garlic (a recent addition to the lore)…but it’s the Crucifix that will usually stop them in their tracks.
Vampires are hot these days…or should I say cold. The adventures of the Undead, as a role model for teenagers, started long before “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer”. “My Best Friend is a Vampire” probably was released around the time that “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” made a big star of Michael Landon. My first experience of a vampire on the big screen was a re-release of “Dracula”, with Bela Lugosi (1931). In the mid to late 1950’s, came the Hammer Films series that starred Christopher Lee as the Prince of Darkness. I believe it all started with the 1957 “Horror of Dracula.” It was followed by sequels, one of which played up the sensual/sexual nature of the vampire/victim relationship so clearly, it was not released in the USA for quite a few years.
For those of you who disdain vampire legends and have not done your homework, you will need this brief outline: The novel that popularized the character of Dracula was the book of the same name, written by the Irish writer, Bram Stoker in 1897. He based the main character on a real person in history. This would be Vlad Tepes III, Prince of Wallachia (1431-1476). He was nick-named “Vlad the Impaler” for reasons I won’t go into here. Use your imagine. But this guy was real. He did unspeakable things (refer back to his nick-name). He lived in the part of central Europe that has long been known as Transylvania, in central Romania. I cannot give the details about a woman who was a real-life counterpart to Vlad. She was a Baroness or something in a small region, probably Transylvania. She felt that to keep her beauty and youth, she needed to bath every so often in a tub of virgin’s blood. So she sent her henchmen out to locate and kidnap the virgins of the village. I’ll go no further in a description of what she did with the young girls and how she bathed in their blood…let’s just say she managed. Between her and Vlad, she kept the female population of a fair number of villagers from ever reaching womanhood. Together, they made Jeffery Dahmer look like Bobby Flay. (Maybe Bobby’s last name made him a bad choice to use here).
I wish I could remember the name of this woman…but it’s getting late in the afternoon…the sun is low in the sky. So I must hurry to finish this before darkness descends on the North Country. Too bad I used the last of the garlic cloves in a pesto sauce last night. I wonder if garlic powder will work?
From books I’ve read, the belief in vampires still exists in remote villages in this region. In fact, there are accounts of vampires who lived and “worked” here in America…and quite recently. Google it.
A defrocked priest (now, that’s always worth a story to look into) named Montague Summers wrote many books on werewolves, witches and vampires. His 1929, “Vampires and Vampirism” is a classic. Anne Rice popularized the genre with “Interview With A Vampire” in the 1970’s.
[Vlad the Impaler in a historical painting]
[Brad Pitt from “Interview With A Vampire]
Why have I chosen vampires as one of my Halloween posts? I think it’s pretty obvious. But, most the most amazing fact about these fictional (?) characters is that people did and still do consider them as real! If you find yourself wandering through an old cemetery and you come upon a caged grave, it’s a good chance that the deceased that lie here were thought to be vampires. The cages were put in place around the grave to keep them in.
[Please note: The idea that graves were caged (like these in Edinburgh), were to keep the dead in has recently been debunked by scholars. Now it is claimed that it was more to protect the recently deceased from grave robbers. Other details concerning Vlad have also gone through historical revisionism. I like my versions better. Like I say, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”]
What makes the vampire legends compelling to me? It’s the fact they represent the ultimate in true tragedy. What was once a human soul…cannot die! To wander the earth until he or she is standing at the Gate of Judgement must be unbearable. And this brings a second aspect of tragedy: a vampire can be released (killed) by having a stake of “white wood”, ash, or oak driven through the heart. And, there is the third element of tragedy. Who does this deed? If it’s a loved one, imagine the anguish one must go through to “kill’ someone you love so that they can find true death (and happiness).
It’s a good thing these are facets of fiction…or are they?
What is shown below is not a toy box. It’s a real 17th century vampire hunter’s kit. (If this is something you would buy your child, you need to seek professional help immediately.)
So, after you’ve read this post, make yourself a hot toddy. Soak in the hot tub. Get a good book (one by me, perhaps). Check your windows…are they locked? Are all the doors bolted? Is you’re cell phone by your bed? Are you ready to sleep?
Do you hear something? A creaking, a groan, clanking of something metallic?
It’s only your house settling down for the night.
Since it’s creeping, day by day and night by night, toward Halloween, it’s time to consider the movies. I’m not talking “Mary Poppins” either (although dancing with penguins can be pretty scary). No, I’m talking of the Great Horror Movies of the Century. Some of the most blood-curdling scenes on film were written by gifted authors, directed by geniuses, acted by theater legends and perfect excuses to wrap your arms around your sweetheart and pretend you were brave and protective. I did this, and all the while, missing key dialogue and scenes. Try watching Lon Chaney through narrow slits of nearly closed eyes? Try turning away from some demonic brain surgery scene…your girlfriend will think something is wrong with her left ear or a strange woman on your left will call the usher because you’re staring at her right ear. It’s not easy.
I’m not a screenwriter. I think we know that. But I love the visual quality of films and the style of writing. I think this comes from listening to the radio when I was a child. Shows like “Inner Sanctum” and “The Shadow” forced me to imagine the faces and scenery. With movies, you’re given everything. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Classic images constructed by Hollywood are like perfect novels…not a word could be changed…not an image could be different. For example: Lon Chaney getting the mask ripped from his face in “Phantom of the Opera”, or Elsa Lanchester’s jerky head as the “Bride of Frankenstein”. Or, perhaps one of my all-time favorites, when Bela Lugosi stands on the stairs of his castle and, after hearing the wolves, says: “Listen to them-the children of the night. What music they make!”
Let’s get to the point. You need great scenery, deep and meaningful dialogue, professional acting, and a strong plot. For my money, only a handful of movies fulfill those stringent requirements. I’m thinking of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (the original, of course), “Freaks”, “The Beast of Yucca Flats” and, of course, the All-Time Greatest Horror ever put on celluloid: “Plan 9 From Outer Space.”
Directed by the legendary genius, Ed Wood, it is a true masterpiece by any standards. Ed Wood knew how to write and direct a film that will be a classic for all time. “Plan 9” was filmed in and around Hollywood. It was released in 1959. The running time is 79 minutes. And it had a staggering budget of $60,000. Wood also had a major movie star on his contract, Bela Lugosi. Sadly, Lugosi was, at the time, a drug addict. Legend has it that Wood would drive Lugosi around L.A. to find drug dealers willing to supply them with enough morphine to get Lugosi through the next few days shooting schedule.
Then a slight problem arose. Bela Lugosi died only a few days into the filming. To Ed Wood, that presented no big problem. He simply found some out-of-work actor to ‘stand-in’ for Lugosi. Recognition problems? No way. The actor simply held up a cape (Dracula fashion) and hid his face. Brilliant!
The scenery (and props) were also something to behold. If you watch the tombstones as the main characters walk through the cemetery at night, some of them flap back and forth. Who needs marble when cardboard will work just as well?
The ‘flying saucer’ at the beginning of the film resembles a garbage can lid. It probably was.
But the writing was extraordinary. And I mean that literally.
Consider the following speech given by Criswell at the very beginning:
Criswell: Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future. You are interested in the unknown… the mysterious. The unexplainable. That is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing to you, the full story of what happened on that fateful day. We are bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony, of the miserable souls, who survived this terrifying ordeal. The incidents, the places. My friend, we cannot keep this a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty. Let us reward the innocent. My friend, can your heart stand the shocking facts of grave robbers from outer space?
Now that’s writing.
Other noteworthy dialogue includes:
Criswell: At the funeral of the old man, unknown to his mourners, his DEAD WIFE was watching!
Lieutenant John Harper: It was a saucer.
Policeman: A flying saucer?
Air Force Captain: Visits? That would indicate visitors.
As you can read, the dialogue left much to the imagination…like great film dialogue should attempt. There’s nothing left for the imagination with a toss-off quote like, say, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” But that’s another movie…
Something else should be mentioned here. One of the main characters, played by an ex-professional wrestler, Tor Johnson, makes a classic return from his grave. That face, that image was to become the all-time best-selling Halloween mask in history. [I can not confirm this fact…it was something I read years ago. I would think that the more recent images like “Freddie”, the “Halloween” monster and the “Scream” figure are probably more popular now.]
This is the make-up artists model:
This is the actor, Tor Johnson:
So, get the film on Netflix. Sit back and enjoy.
Finally, I want to add that I first saw the film in the mid-1980’s while living in Norwalk, CT. It was being shown at a local movie theater as part of the “Golden Turkey” Awards. The ‘worst films ever made’. I have to say, I don’t agree. The real horror movies are those that exploit women, children, gays and glorify violence and war. Nothing is glorious in those things. And, I can’t help but feel that the real ‘horror’ of this movie was all behind the camera. Ed Wood was gay. That must have been a nightmare in itself in Hollywood in the late 1950’s. And, the sorrow I felt for Bela Lugosi, once a great actor, seeing him sinking so low in his personal addictions that he agreed to make this film to just get through another day. Now that’s real terror. That’s real scary. I poked fun at this movie in this post, but I don’t laugh so loud now at the inane dialogue or fake tombstones. I feel sorrow for the lives being played out…where I can’t see them. Off camera, on dirty street corners and in lonely hotel rooms, when the actors go home to whatever sad lives they had.
Remember the saying: “For all the bright lights on Broadway, there are a thousand broken hearts.”?
These days, for every Brad Pitt, there’s ten thousand waitresses, waiters, barristers and really lonely people who are miles away from their farm in Ohio and their worried parents.