The Horrors That Grew Me – Vampires

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!

LeeDracCount 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 langelladraccertainly 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.

FeastOfBlood_CollinsI 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.

ColdHand 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:

Count_of_St_Germain“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 HotelTrans 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. Martin 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.


Chris Sarandon as Jerry Dandridge

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.

Movie Review – IT! (1966)

IT! (aka Curse of the Golem) (1966) Directed by Herbert J. Leder. Starring Roddy McDowall, Jill Hawthorn, Ian McCullock & Paul Maxwell

When a London warehouse burns to the ground, an unattractive stone statue is found unscathed amidst the rubble. It’s removed and taken to another museum under the care of assistant curator, Arthur Pimm (Roddy McDowall). On closer inspection, it’s found to be the 16th century Golem of Judah Loew ben Bezalel. Though the statue was meant to be used for good, the insane Pimm, finds the secret to bringing it to life and uses it for his own selfish and deadly reasons. He eventually regrets his mistakes and tries to destroy the Golem. In doing so, he loses what little control he had over it in the first place.

I am a lifelong fan of Roddy McDowall and love to watch him in anything and everything he’s ever been in, but this movie has a lot to be desired. It’s a shame his talents were wasted on the nonsense presented here. The first three-quarters of the film are actually not too bad, with McDowall playing the very Norman Bates-like character, complete with the dead corpse of his mother he talks to and keeps at his home. His unrequited love for Ellen Grove (Jill Hawthorn) and his clear jealousy towards the NY curator, Jim Perkins (Paul Maxwell) could have been used with a lot more depth, yet other than kidnapping Ellen at the end, Pimm really does nothing about any of it. And I’m still not sure why Detective Wayne (Ian McCullock) believed in the power of the Golem so easily and quickly. He took it as just a matter of fact almost without question. His by-the-way, Pimm-has-brought-this-thing-to-life attitude just feels very off and unnatural for a police officer.

The last fifteen minutes are lame and contrived. It was as if the director just ran out of ideas, dropped the ball and made a break for it, leaving the cast and crew to make up their own contrived and ludicrous finale. Sorry, Roddy. You know I love you, man, but this movie would have been best left off your list of acting credits. You’re better than this!

Three of Five Stars for Roddy’s performance. The rest is pretty much rubbish.

Top 5 Scary Movies I Will Never Forget

I still haven’t seen The Conjuring so shush if any comments in some way lean towards spoilers on that one. There are a couple haunted house movies on this list. I pay little attention to what the critics say about movies (or books or anything for that matter) so this is purely my personal list of the Top 5 movies that have scared the be-jeebus outta me over the past oh, 40 years or so.

#5: Aracnaphobia (1990)

I suffer from this phobia (fear of spiders for those who don’t know) and I tell you what, I could NOT bring myself to see this baby on the Big Screen. NO WAY was I going to sit through two-hours of GIANT spiders – in the dark. Instead, I waited until it was available in a rental and even then I was I not thrilled with the idea. A spider as big as my television screen? Are you serious?

Anywho – this Frank Marshall-directed film starred Jeff Daniels, John Goodman and Harley Jane Kozak and involves a spider from South American who hitches a ride via coffin to a small, unsuspecting town. Said spider is highly venomous and breeds with a standard American house spider. TERROR ensues. The two most horrible scenes for me are when one of the GIANT spiders (there is no such thing as a small spider to us Aracnaphobes) is crawling around on the inside of a lamp shade and you can see its cute little (GI-NOR-MOUS) shadow skittering along in there just as a hand reaches up to turn off said lamp. Mega-Spider drops down and that’s that. The other scene took place in the shower. I’m sorry, Norman Bates you ain’t got nothing on this, NOTHING! Another spider is happily skipping along the top of the shower rod while the innocent and oblivious, naked and helpless victim washes up below.  If I didn’t always check the shower walls, ceiling and curtain BEFORE this movie, damn straight I did after seeing it – and still do.

#4: Legend of Hell House (1973)

The screenplay for ‘Legend of Hell House’ was written by Richard Matheson and based on his own book ‘Hell House’ . It tells the story of the “Mount Everest” of haunted houses. In many way this is a classic haunted house tale in which five people walk in and not so many walk back out again. I won’t tell you how many or who makes it back out alive (sane is questionable). 

It stars my all time favorite actor, Roddy McDowall along with Pamela Franklin and Clive Revill.  McDowall and Franklin both play psychics. McDowall is a physical medium and has been to Hell House before. Franklin is a mental medium and foolishly goes against McDowall’s advice to “stay shut off” during the duration of their stay. The scientific mind is portrayed by Revill who is certain he can clear the house off all ‘spirits’ with his handy-dandy electromagnetic destroying machine.  The original owner of Hell House was Emeric Belasco who was well-known for his sado-mascochistic parties that were only made more lovely with excess drug and alcohol use. Belasco mysteriously vanishes after the discovery of a mass murder within the house which sets it up as a prime haunted real estate. It ain’t pretty in Hell House and it’s not portrayed as such. It’s violent. It’s sexual. It’s in your face haunting. I’ve seen it at least half a dozen times and will likely watch it again just as many more before my time here is through.

#3: The Other (1972)

Not to be confused with “The Others” (2001 – starring Nicole Kidman) these two movies have nothing in common but their very similar names.  No, my number three choice is set in 1935 and takes us on a dark ride through the minds of twin brothers, Niles and Holland Perry as they scamper and play tricks on their family and neighbors, deadly tricks.

Niles is the good brother while Holland is the little devil who comes up with all these schemes to scare people literally to death. Not only that, but Niles has come into possession of not just Grampa’s ring but a lovely finger wrapped in wax paper to go with it. Niles really tries to be good and is doted on my his grandmother who teaches him The Game which allows him to see through the eyes of other creatures – most dramatically illustrated when he gets a crow’s eye view of the farm on which they all live. But, something ain’t quite right with the Perry Twins – no, sir, and when their mother finds out exactly what that is she pays the price with a paralyzing fall down the stairs.  You don’t even want to know what happens to that missing baby but you’ll find out anyway!  Chris and Martin Udvarnoky play the fiendish twin brothers with Victor French and John Ritter in supporting roles. It was directed by Robert Mulligan and was adapted for film by Tom Tryon (who also wrote “Harvest Home” from which we got the warm and fuzzy film “Dark Secret of Harvest Home” starring Bette Davis) from his book of the same name. Also a good one but didn’t make the Top 5.

#2: Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

This could very well be where my idea for Blood of the Scarecrow sprang from. “Dark Night of the Scarecrow” was a made-for-TV movie that aired on CBS and scarecrows were never the same to me after.

Bubba is a mildly retarded man who is befriended by a town girl by the name of Marylee and a good number of the town folk ain’t too pleased by this completely innocent friendship. When Marylee is attacked by a dog, Bubba comes to the rescue but is almost immediately accused of not just attacking the girl himself but raping her as well. The Haters quickly form a posse and decide if the law won’t take care of business, they will. Bubba’s mother gets word of this and dresses her son up as a scarecrow and instructs him to stand in the field very still to try and fool his would-be killers. Unfortunately the costume doesn’t fool the bloodhounds and Bubba is shot dead where he stands. The lead accuser, Otis, sticks a pitchfork into Bubba’s dead hand in an attempt to  make it appear as if Bubba was killed with that instead of multiple gun shot wounds.  But, gentle, sweet Bubba isn’t so kind in death as he was in life.  The stalking of Otis Hazelrigg begins and it’s all that you could hope for!

#1: The Haunting (1963)

The 1999 remake of this AMAZING film blows. I’m sorry, but it does and it takes such a HUGE swing away from the Shirley Jackson novel “The Haunting of Hill House” that it doesn’t even seem like the two movies could possibly be based on the same book.  Okay, the characters have the same names  and it’s in a haunted house but that’s where the similarities end.

The original movie stars Julie Harris, Claire Bloom and Richard Johnson and was directed by Robert Wise. It is told from the perspective of Eleanor “Nell”  Lance (Julie Harris) who receives an invitation to help investigate this alleged haunted location along with several others. Nell has spent most of her life taking care of her invalid mother and for her this is the chance of a lifetime, to do something,  to go somewhere and to be someone special. She’s special alright. Upon entry, Nell feels as if she’s finally come home and that may not be such a good thing. The best scene in the movie is when the spirits are walking up and down the hallway outside Nell’s room. Out of fear, Nell and Theo (Claire Bloom) are sharing a room by this point and though we never SEE anything ghostly, we hear it, we sense it, we see what it can do. Your imagination starts to go crazy as the doorknob turns and the door itself bows under the power of the entities on the other side. You know it’s bad when even the wallpaper starts to watch you and when someone you thought was holding your hand, isn’t. I’ve watched this movie many, many times and each time I’ve been spooked by it in some new and wonderful way. Maybe I’m just a masochist  but I look forward to the goosebumps I get every single time I get a chance to watch this.

In conclusion, I hold “The Haunting” on par for all other haunted house movies since I first saw it. I have some serious doubts that “The Conjuring” is going to be able to top it but I’ll give it a shot as soon as I can.