Welcome to the first installment of The Horrors That Grew Me. Each month for as long as I can come up with ideas, I will be posting a blog about specific authors, actors, books, movies, and maybe even some personal experiences that have fascinated and led me down this dark and spooky path I now walk as a horror novelist.
Not long ago I wrote a blog called Why I Love Horror where I tried to explain WHY I love and prefer horror over romances, sci-fi, and other genres. Since then, I’ve given a lot of thought to being more specific because, believe it or not, not ALL horror appeals to me.
Some of my earliest and fondest memories involve sitting with my mom on a Saturday afternoon enjoying a show called “Monster Movie Matinee”. They showed all the Universal Studio classics, Frankenstein with Boris Karloff, Dracula starring good old Bela Lugosi, and Lon Chaney Jr. in The Wolfman. They were the first to bring me The Blob starring Steve McQueen, and Them a tale about giant ants. In a nutshell, as the show’s title implies, Monster Movie Matinee specialized in MONSTER movies. My favorite monsters? Vampires!
If you were to ask anyone who knew me as a teenager what I was interested in, one answer they’d surely give you is, vampires. Vampires, vampires, and more vampires. I couldn’t get enough!
Count Dracula takes the throne, but there were so many other books and movies out there about vampires other than those involving dear old Vlad. Everyone knows about Dracula and Bram Stoker. Though I wonder how many of you have read his follow-up Dracula’s Guest that was published in 1914, two years after Stoker’s death. Odd as it may seem, I never thought of Dracula as a monster. He was the misunderstood bad guy. I always cheered for him to escape whatever method of destruction was being employed. This is probably why I was also a huge fan of the British Hammer Films starring Christopher Lee as the immortal count. They may have killed him at the end of one movie, but someone always found a way to resurrect him for the next.
And talk about sex appeal. Oh. My. God. For as much as I love Lee as Dracula, I must confess that Frank Langella’s version of the count certainly made my teenage blood simmer just a wee bit more. Here’s a little secret for you, especially any of my classmates out there reading this who asked, “Don’t those books scare you?” to which I’d dreamily reply, “No, not at all.” Dear friends, do you have ANY idea how much sex goes on in vampire novels? Yes, even back in the 1970s and 1980s when I was doing the majority of my vampire novel reading, the vampire genre was chock full of the sensual. Hell, even Dracula was considered damned racy in its day with the wanton and buxom women going down on their knees and licking their voluptuous lips. But enough about the Count, let’s move on.
Everyone reading this has probably heard of Anne Rice’s Interview With The Vampire (1976) and all the books that followed. Frankly, I got my fill of Lestat after Memnoch The Devil and haven’t read much beyond that of the Vampire Chronicles. I’d even bet the majority of you are aware that Stephen King wrote a vampire novel back in 1975 called ‘Salem’s Lot, so that’s all I’m going to say about either of those.
I have a little book of short stories that was published in 1967 called A Feast Of Blood that contains my all-time-favorite vampire short story, Blood Son (aka Drink My Red Blood) written by Richard Matheson in 1952. Matheson always penned I Am Legend (1954) which I first saw as a movie titled The Last Man On Earth (1964) starring Vincent Price. I still prefer it to the Will Smith version. I loved Blood Son so much that for my pubic speaking class final, I chose it as one of my readings for my final … in a dark room, with a red spotlight. Jules, the young boy featured in the story, is totally obsessed with vampires. I found the story completely relate-able. The first time I read the ending I got all goose-bumpy.
In 1975 Fred Saberhagen came out with a little something called The Dracula Tape. Love! This is Dracula told from the perspective of the Count on a series of cassette tapes found in the back of a car owned by Arthur Harker of Exeter, England. As mentioned above, another story that spoke to my sense of Dracula not being the horrible monster everyone makes him out to be.
I have the short story Pages from a Young Girl’s Journal in the 1977 collection by Robert Aickman called Cold Hand In Mine, although I believe the story itself first came out in 1975. This is the tale of two journeys. The first is a journey of the traveling-across-land kind. The “young girl” in question, who is English, is touring with her parents in Europe, mainly to Italy, in the mid-1800s. The second journey, and the far more interesting one, is the mental and physical transformation of the girl from one of an innocent virgin into a creature of the night. As with Jules in Blood Son, the character’s thoughts and desires were completely relate-able to me as a vampire-obsessed young girl.
Anne Rice wasn’t the only author back then working her way through a series of vampire novels. I was equally as enthralled with Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s leading man, Saint Germain. The thing with St. Germain is, he’s based on a real person. The legend of Saint Germain is explained in Wikipedia as:
“St. Germain, as one of the Masters of the Ancient Wisdom, is credited with near god-like powers and with longevity. It is believed that Sir Francis Bacon faked his own death on Easter Sunday, 9 April 1626, attended his own funeral and made his way from England to Transylvania where he found lodging in a castle owned by the Rakóczi family. There, on 1 May 1684, Bacon, by using alchemy, became an immortal occult master and adopted the name Saint Germain and became one of the Masters of the Ancient Wisdom, a group of beings that, Theosophists believe, form a Spiritual Hierarchy of planet Earth sometimes called the Ascended Masters.
Thus, according to these beliefs, St. Germain was a mysterious manifestation of the “resurrected form” (or “resurrection body”) of Sir Francis Bacon. Some write that his name St. Germain was invented by him as a French version of the Latin Sanctus Germanus, meaning “Holy Brother”. In the Ascended Master Teachings (but not in traditional Theosophy), the Master R, or the Master Rakóczi, also known as the Great Divine Director (a term introduced by Guy Ballard in the 1930s) is a separate and distinct being from St. Germain – the Master Rakoczi is regarded in the Ascended Master Teachings as a name used by the Great Divine Director when he was functioning as Saint Germain’s teacher in the Great White Brotherhood of Ascended Masters.”
Whether or not he was Sir Francis Bacon aside, there was a man named Comte de Saint Germain who was an adventurer in Europe during the 1700s with a very obscure birth and history. He was also an acclaimed occultist. Wikipedia has a pretty good biography on him to get you started if you’re curious about the real man behind the legend and the books of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Count of St. Germain – Wikipedia
What Yarbro did was make him into a vampire and with that she follows him on his various adventures through the ages and around the world. Starting with Hotel Transylvania in 1978 she published five St. Germain novels that were followed up with many, many other shorter works in later years. Wonderful stuff, though be prepared to read a lot of description. Yarbro likes to put a lot of detail into what people are wearing and the world in which they live, at times, a bit too much. But still. She and her hero were certainly main contributors to my love and understanding of vampires.
A lesser-known George Romero movie called Martin is like no other vampire movie out there. Honestly, and I’ve seen hundreds! Martin’s parents have died and as part of his uncle’s family-duty, Martin is sent to live with him and his cousin, Christine, in Braddock, PA, a small town just outside Pittsburgh. His uncle believes the young man to be cursed and immediately sets to work hanging up garlic, crucifixes, mirrors, and even arranges an exorcism, all of which Martin, rather sadly, shakes his head at, sighs, or just ignores saying, “It’s not like that.” The ending was a real gut punch. At my first viewing I just sat there, stunned into being able to utter only one word, “No,” with tears trickling down my face. It really is a must-see.
It’s hard to even fathom it’s been 30 years since The Lost Boys came out! Talk about my dream movie! Vampires on motorcycles! Who could ask for more? I was riding my own motorcycle back in those days (1985 Honda Rebel, for those who are curious) so may have done a bit of day dreaming about such things while on the road. Not a huge fan of Kiefer Sutherland, but I’ll make an exception in this case. He was pretty hot as the lead vampire.
Finally, and to serve as a segue for next month’s Horrors That Grew Me, I must mention Fright Night starring Roddy McDowall and the oh-so-sexy Chris Sarandon as the vampire Jerry Dandridge. As with Frank Langella in his role as Dracula, Chris Sarandon was, um …yeah. Is it getting warm in here or am I just having a hot flash? I’m feeling a little light-headed now, too, so we better stop there. You get the idea.
I could go on forever. Once upon a time I had no fewer than 200 vampire novels and research books on my bookshelves. In recent years, I’ve whittled that down to about thirty of my all-time-favorites while keeping all the research material. Although my totally obsessive days may be behind me, (to which my mother is surely saying, “Thank, GOD!”) vampires played a huge leading role in The Horrors That Grew Me. I’m in the early stages of re-writing a vampire novel I first had published close to ten years ago and look forward to sharing it with you sometime soon. It’s time to release my own vampire bad boy back into the night again.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this first installment. I look forward to writing again next month on the actor I so adore and his role in growing my love of horror – Roddy McDowall.