Friday, May 22, 2015

Susan Sarandon embraces change for DEEP RUN documentary

Susan Sarandon is re-visiting her ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW roots to raise money for a documentary she's helping to produce.

The film is titled DEEP RUN and tells the story of Cole Ray Davis, an Evangelical transgender teen living in rural North Carolina.

“Cole was a young queer Christian who defied all of my expectations of what an Evangelical believer could be," explains director Hillevi Loven. "When I met Cole in 2008, Cole was the first gay girl to come out in a remote rural high school. He was adamant about standing up for himself and others, as a young visible queer, and adamant about his faith in a loving God despite condemnation from his community and church leaders. When Cole eventually came out as a transgender man, and assumed a male identity, he was met with further hostility."

Sarandon has loaned her likeness to a ROCKY HORROR-themed shirt to help raise money for DEEP RUN. The "Embrace Change" shirt is available for just two weeks, ending June 5.

Visit for details.

Monster Serial: SALEM'S LOT


My name is Nancy and I am a horror movieholic. I glory in this.  I had, in my mind, the advantage of growing up in a 200 year old haunted house, originally built by John Dickinson of the Declaration of Independence fame.  I never saw a physical manifestation but many times heard the heavy, measured sounds of footsteps in the attic in an otherwise empty house, save for me.  That creepiness was not enough for me: I delved into the world of vampires, ghosts, mummies and monsters courtesy of Universal Pictures and the family television.  One Christmas, my parents bought me a huge poster of Bela Lugosi posing in his famous role as Dracula.

I bought every issue of the FAMOUS MONSTERS magazine.  I was doing all the fangirl things.  At that time, vampire films were my movies of choice.  SALEM’S LOT rocked my world, first as a novel then the miniseries.

I was in high school when Stephen King’s second novel, “Salem’s Lot” was published in October, 1975. I was mesmerized.  A haunted house? And a vampire?!  How could I NOT like it?  King was riding the wave of new success with his first published novel, “Carrie” a paperback best seller.  It was already being made into a major motion picture.  “Salem’s Lot” became a blockbuster best seller, a novel inspired by King’s time as a high school teacher, teaching “Dracula” to his science fiction fantasy class.  King wondered what would happen if Dracula came to the 20th century and landed in New York City.  He toyed with that for a while until his wife, Tabitha, opined the setting should be a small town.  It would offer a more intimate setting and a chance to integrate the fantastic story into a small town and all its gossip, dirty secrets, certainly a microcosm of the antics in the big city, but with a horrifying intimacy.  Drop Dracula into that mix and you can have one hell of a vampire novel. “Salem’s Lot” is one hell of a vampire novel and the 1979 adaptation actually improved on the story in a number of ways.

I stress the year 1979 as there have been several adaptations of the novel.  Warner Brothers snapped up the movie rights soon after the novel’s publication.  The BBC produced a seven-part radio play of the novel in 1995.  TNT aired the second television adaptation in June 2004. (I have not seen that version but I do know they updated the time period from the mid-1970s to the 2000s.)

King originally titled the novel “Second Coming” but he and his wife thought that would make the novel sound like a bad sex story.  He re-titled it “Jerusalem’s Lot” but then there the concern it was too religious sounding.  Thus, what would become King’s favorite came to be called “Salem’s Lot.”
The novel and the film each represent a unique experience.  I highly recommend both.  King’s novel, as he said himself, was muddled in spots and its structure not the best.  That said, once you get into the unfolding horror it’s hard to put the novel down.  There is much more horror in the book than in the movie which includes a horde of creeping kiddie vampires on a school bus.  That would probably have been too much for a primetime television audience.

So, what’s the story? you ask.  The film opens with a prologue featuring writer Ben Mears and the orphaned teenager, Mark Petrie.  They look dirty and unkempt.  That’s because apparently they have fled from Salem’s Lot in Maine, seeking some kind of sanctuary.  Now in Guatemala hiding out in a church, they have raided the holy water and are pouring the holy water into several small bottles.  One of the bottles suddenly starts to slowly glow and Mears tells the teen “They've found us again.”

We can surmise from this prologue that something or somethings are after these two.  If you know your horror movies, you can pretty much guess the supernatural entities in question are probably vampires.  What to do, what to do.  We are transported back two years to the small town of Salem’s Lot, Maine.  Ben Mears (David Soul) is a moderately successful writer returning to the Lot where he had spent a few years as a child.  His time there left an indelible memory on him, primarily because he saw something very scary at the local haunted house on the hill, known as the Marsten House.
 The story of the Marsten House is much more involved in the novel than in this teleplay, the start of seeing how this script has streamlined the 400-page novel by editing together or editing out certain characters, and simplified the story enough for coherency.  This had been the stumbling block in getting a script at all back when Warner Brothers bought the rights for the purpose of making a movie.  Numerous screenplays had been written — and rejected — and then the format was changed to television.  

Mears wants to write his book about the Marsten House in the now empty house but learns that it has recently been rented out to another newcomer named Richard Straker (James Mason).  Straker, along with a mysteriously absent partner Kurt Barlow (Reggie Nalder) are in the process of opening up a high end antique store in town.  Barlow’s absence is explained away as his being on a buying expedition in Europe.  Everyone is curious about Mr. Barlow.

Ben winds up moving into a boarding house and while knocking about town meets Susan Norton (Bonnie Bedalia) with whom he develops a romantic relationship.  He confides in Susan his belief that the house is evil and he wants to get to the core of it.  She isn't sure if he is nuts or not, but likes and supports him.  Ben seeks out a teacher who inspired him the time he was living in the Lot, Jason Burke (Lew Ayres).   Susan takes Ben home and he quickly bonds with her father, Dr. Bill Norton (Ed Flanders).

Then, strange things start happening.

A large, very cold crate, is brought to the Marsten house by two delivery men recruited for the job.  They are supposed to use previously-supplied chains to lock the basement where they have brought the crate and some other entrances to the house.  But they are so creeped out by the crate, which seems to have something alive inside, they toss the chains and make good their escape.

A local boy, Ralphie Glick, disappears one evening after he and his brother, Danny, visited horror movie fan, Mark Petrie (Lance Kerwin), at his house.  Danny disappears soon after. Inquiries are made: Ben Mears is a suspect as is the other newcomer, Richard Straker.  But we know Straker killed the boy in anticipation of Mr. Barlow’s arrival.  We see Straker carry a small, unmoving bundle into the basement and lie it almost gently down on the flat slab.   A meal for the Master.  (In King’s novel, it takes over 100 pages before any talk of vampires.)  In one of the best and scariest scenes ever, Ralphie Glick literally floats in a fog outside of his brother, Danny’s, bedroom begging him to open the window.  Danny does and is bitten. He lingers a short while but a repeated visit by Ralphie kills Danny.  Danny likewise comes back as a vampire, infecting everyone he can, even his own parents.  People start disappearing or become weak and lethargic.  It’s as if a virus has swept the town.  Danny comes to Mark Petrie’s window, beckoning him to let him in but Mark realizes what Danny is and repels him with a cross.  See? Being an expert in horror movie lore can come in handy.

Mears convinces Burke, Susan and eventually Dr. Norton that the culprit is a vampire who is now making more vampires.  A priest sits down with the Petries one evening only to have it interrupted by a visit from none other than Mr. Barlow.  This marks the first time we see Mr. Barlow.  Here is a key change from the novel, and a change that really makes the movie.  In the novel, the vampire is a charming, almost courtly dark-haired figure along the lines of a Barnabas Collins or even Lestat.  Scriptwriter Paul Monash thought there had been too much of that type of vampire already and instead created Mr. Barlow to be in the order of Nosferatu.  He certainly makes a grand entrance into the movie and is appropriately hideous.  Mr. Straker refers to him as “Master.”  Barlow kills Mark’s parents by banging their heads savagely together.  He turns on Mark who is able to repel him long enough to escape.  Mark is now hell-bent on killing Barlow and heads for the Marsten house where he runs into Mears, Susan and Dr. Norton.  They are looking for Mr. Barlow’s coffin so they can drive a stake through his heart.  Mr. Straker tries to prevent this, of course, and in a superhuman show of strength throws Dr. Norton with such force that the good doctor is impaled and dies.  Jason and Mears manage to kill Straker with a gun, and Susan disappears.  She eventually is also turned into a vampire.  Mears has the unpleasant task of having to stake the woman he loves.  They find Barlow’s coffin in the basement, kill him, and discover there are other vampires in the cellar – townspeople.

Mark and Mears set the house on fire and we hear the terrifying and eerie sound of vampires screaming.  Presumably, the fire is heading towards the town to destroy it and the plague that has engulfed it.  Are all the vampires destroyed?  Apparently not given the first scene of the movie.
Producer Richard Kobritz decided to use the television format for the property as the final, much-liked script was still a little over three hours long, which was too long for a feature film.  Two actors were on his wish list from the start: James Mason and Reggie Nalder as Mr. Barlow.  Mason readily agreed to be in the project and asked if his wife could have a role.  She played Mrs. Glick.  Reggie Nalder endured a lot of discomfort in playing Mr. Barlow having to wear special eye contacts, fingernails and heavy make-up.  He was an inspired choice for the role.

This column is among those featured in
 BRIDE OF MONSTER SERIAL, a collection of 
horror essays written by contributors to 
Buy it today on Amazon!
Paul Monash’s choice to make the vampire a truly ugly thing inside and out is what makes this film so memorable for me.  King was very pleased with this decision.  Monash had vast experience in television and film as a writer and producer and was known for having a good eye for scripts (He created PEYTON PLACE, too.)  He had produced CARRIE and was thus familiar with King’s material.  He was fortunate to get Tobe Hooper to direct.  Kobritz saw a screening of Hooper’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and as a result, asked Hooper to director SALEM’S LOT.  The styles could not be more different.  SALEM’S LOT is subtle, dark, and eerie.  What makes putting this two-part, three hour production on television daring is that it was unheard of that a horror movie would be made into a mini-series.  That was more in the realm of historical dramas such as ROOTS and CAPTAINS AND THE KINGS, not Nosferatu-like characters.  SALEM’S LOT was nominated for three prime-time Emmys including Outstanding Achievement in Make-Up and Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition for a Limited Series.  Paul Monash won the 1980 Edgar Award for Best Television Feature or Miniseries.

SALEM’S LOT first aired on CBS on November 17th and 24th, 1979 in two 2-hour installments.  I was riveted and after seeing the first installment, it was agony waiting for the second.  In 1980, an edited, single broadcast aired also on CBS.  Based on the great success of SALEM’S LOT, a 112-minute edit of the miniseries was given a theatrical release in Europe in the 1980s.  In this edited version, there are alternative scenes, new musical cues.  Deleted scenes included Susan’s being turned into a vampire and subsequently killed and the opening scene and epilogue in Guatemala with Mark and Ben.  Warner Brothers put the full-length miniseries on VHS, and later DVD.  The DVD had extras including the alternative scenes that were part of the European theatrical release.

SALEM’S LOT is a must-see for any horror movie fan.

Nancy Kersey is a retired professional actor and producer with 500 productions under her belt. She retired to focus on freelance writing and recently co-edited a book on Jonathan Frid.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

IT! arrives on Blu-ray!

IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE was released on Blu-ray this week. I haven't had a chance to check out the hi-def transfer yet, mostly because distributor Olive Films shot down my request for a review screener. I'll win your love or die trying, Olive Films!

1979's ALIEN is usually my favorite movie, which pretty much means I love IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE.

Thanks to the aggressively diverse cinematic selections of syndicated television during the 1970s, I was exposed to a lot of kooky films in a short span of time. IT! was one of those movies, which I caught on television one Saturday morning in Norfolk, Va., a few years before ALIEN hit the big screens.

IT! is widely considered to be the prototype for ALIEN, but that's a field with a lot of competition. Writer A. E. van Vogt thought ALIEN looked enough like his 1950 novel, "The Voyage of the Space Beagle," to file a lawsuit. And the similarities between ALIEN and Mario Bava's 1966 film PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES is difficult to dismiss, as well.

But IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE got to the theaters first, and it's a pretty special film. It's mixes TOM CORBETT, SPACE CADET-style high adventure with monster movies. Below is a selection from ephemera from the movie's release, including display ads from IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE presskit and the original, hand-drawn art used on some of its posters. Enjoy!

Police investigate Spook Show prop, 1960

There are few places in the world where the discovery of an empty coffin won't prompt questions.

The shower room of a public park is not one of them, which was the case in a Pennsylvania town in early 1960. A small-ish coffin, described by the press as being sized for "a child, a woman or a small man," was discovered during the demolition of roller rink adjacent to swimming pool showers. If that wasn't mysterious enough, the pink-lined coffin had not been at the scene a few days earlier when construction workers began to arrive at the site.

Naturally, people lost their shit.

Unfortunately (at least for those of us who are connoisseurs of hysteria) that panic was short lived. The following day — before accounts of The Phantom Casket had even been properly reported in the press — investigators had already settled on an explanation: The coffin was a prop used by a "spook show" at the Pocono Drive-In in Bartonsville, Pa.

While the name of the drive-in is not mentioned in the newspaper account, there appears to only have been one drive-in theater in the community. The Pocono Drive-In closed sometime in the early 1960s, according to Cinema Treasures, probably a victim of the same construction project that led to the discovery of the coffin.

There are a few unanswered questions in the official narrative, though. First: Why was there a sudden need to move the coffin in January, a time of year that drive-in theaters are not traditionally open? And why was it dumped in the showers of a public swimming pool?

Also: when did this "spook show" take place? The previous Halloween, the Pocono Drive-In show the un-terrifying YELLOWSTONE KELLY, an adventure film starring man-mountain Clint Walker. While it's not impossible that the theater held a spook show during a less Halloweeny month of the year, I'd be curious to know how the coffin had been spending its down time.

Below is a newspaper account of the event, as published Feb. 4, 1060, by the Pocono Record.

Coffin Without Body Traced to Spook Show
By Don Allen

A casket found in Stroud Township yesterday by State Police and county authorities was revealed last night as a prop for a “spook show.”

State Police closed their investigation of the case after Stanley Lecinsky, Stroudsburg RD 3, operator of a drive-in theater at Bartonsville, told investigators he placed the coffin in the shower room of the CLU Park in Stroud Township.

Used by Lodge

Lecinsky told troopers he obtained the casket from a trash collector. It was believe it had originally been used in lodge initiations prior to the collector’s acquiring it.

Daniel C. Warner, Monroe County coroner, said last night he will destroy the coffin.

An investigation was started after James Allam, 47, Stroudsburg RD 3, reported discover of the casket, with the lid lying on the floor beside it, yesterday.

He told Troopers Alexander G. Kearn and Peter A. Walsh that he had noticed it in the building several times since Jan. 20, but attached no particular importance to it.

Not There Jan. 17

Allam said he was in the building on Sunday, Jan. 17, and that it was not there then. Three days later, the Peter Zuck contracting firm of Belvidere, N.J., began tearing down the Stroud Roller Rink, a few feet from the shower room, and the casket was discovered by Allam.

The coffin’s size, about five feet long by 16 inches wide on the inside, indicated it may have been used to bury a child, a woman or a small man.

Trooper Ralph Cameron, a State Police photographer from the Hazleton barracks, was called to the scene to photograph the casket. Warner planned to ask an expert from a Scarnton casket manufacturing company to examine it.

Several hours later, as word of the investigation spread throughout the community, came the first hint that the coffin was not as old as it appeared. Investigators at first estimated it was about 50 years old.

Pink Lining

Two of its four handles were torn off and were lying beside it. The other two were falling from the box. Brass on the casket had turned green, while other fastenings were rusted.

The lining was pink-hued, apparently faded by age. This led investigators to believe a woman might have been buried in it. The lid appeared to have been forced off.

The shower room was formerly used in conjunction with the park swimming pool. It has not been used by the club since the 1955 flood destroyed most park facilities.

The last time the adjacent roller rink was used on Jan. 17, the date Allam inspected the shower room for the last time before the casket was found.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

DARK SHADOWS audio dramas nominated for two Scribe awards

A pair of DARK SHADOWS audiodramas from Big Finish have been nominated in the "Best Audio" category in this year's Scribe Awards.

The Scribe Awards are presented by the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers to recognize licensed works that "tie in" with other media such as television, movies, gaming, or comic books. This year, the IAMTIW has nominated Mark Thomas Passmore's "The Devil Cat" and Nev Fountain's "The Darkest Shadow."

Also nominated were:
All five a Big Finish productions, for those of you keeping score.

The Scribe Award winners will be announced at ComicCon San Diego in July. Click HERE for a full list of nominees, a list that curiously features the no loner living Mickey Spillane.

Fountain previously won a Scribe for the 2012 DARK SHADOWS episode "The Eternal Actress." That episode starred Donna McKechnie, who also appears in "The Darkest Shadow."

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Dead Men Tell Tall Tales: May 17, 1967

"To me, horror is when I see somebody lying. I mean a person I know. A friend. And he's telling me something that I accept. And then suddenly, as he or she is telling it, there's something that gives them away. They're not telling me the truth." Jonathan Frid, 2001
Jonathan Frid cemented his place in television history 48 years ago this week.

At the time, he'd been a part of the cast of DARK SHADOWS for just a month, making his 12th appearance on May 17, 1967. There's very little in the way of "action" in this episode. While the word vampire was more than a hundred episodes away from first being uttered on the show, the audience already knew who — and what — was responsible for the mysterious illness of Maggie Evans.

Unfortunately, the viewers at home weren't in a place where they could be of any use to the show's characters. When resident vampire Barnabas Collins decides to pay a visit to Collinwood in this episode (in the middle of a thunderstorm and power outage, no less) there's already a sense of tension in the air. He arrives to find Victoria Winters and Carolyn Stoddard alone in the drawing room, a lit candle as their only source of light.

And then the show really begins.

Barnabas decides to entertain the ladies with a tale from Collinwood's past. While her name isn't used, the tale clearly details the death of Josette Du Pres, Collinwood's most perky spirit. The pretense is that Barnabas' tale is a product of his fascination with history. The reality is that he's relating it from personal experience, omitting his own involvement (and culpability) from the narrative.

This is Barnabas Collins is full bloom, suddenly more awkward and vulnerable than Carolyn and Victoria.Throughout much of the tale Frid positions himself between both of his audiences. The performance is as much for Victoria and Carolyn as much as it is for us, and has to work on both levels. He positions himself throughout the scene to face his two audiences, turning away from the ladies when compelled to lie, revealing to us which elements have been altered. For a few minutes he plunges Collinwood into the past. Here's a sample of his dialogue:
"There was a night such as this. A night when a young, beautiful woman was pressed to the limits. She could no longer accept what the future held for her. She knew she had to destroy herself before she became something she did not want to be. She had quarreled with her lover. She tried to send him away, but he would not be put off. He tried to put his arms around her, but she broke away from him and ran out into the stormy night. Her white dress contrasted against the darkness. He ran after her as she headed for the one place on earth that seemed to be designed for the termination of life. Rain drenched her, the winds buffeted her, blowing her long hair wildly. Her clothing was torn by the low branches. Her small white feet were bruised and mud-stained with the stony cruel pathway to the summit of the cliff. The shouts of her lover were lost in the wind as he moved swiftly after her."
The script is credited to Malcolm Marmorstein. If you're thinking Barnabas' dialogue runs a little too purple, that's entirely the point. DARK SHADOWS was originally conceived as a modern gothic romance, the sort featuring dark haired women fleeing old mansions on their covers. Victoria was the pulp heroine of DARK SHADOWS, a thinly sketched analog for ABC's (presumed) audience of housewives in need of mystery and adventure in their lives.

What this episode also makes clear is that Barnabas was designed to be a suitor for Victoria. She was a blank slate, a character reaching into the past to find some clues to her real identity. Along comes Barnabas Collins, reaching out to Victoria from the past. And his dialogue sounds if it was ripped from the very pulp novels that inspired both her character and DARK SHADOWS.

The threat is not that Barnabas is going to turn his unwanted attention toward Victoria; It's that she's going to invite this corruption into her life. Barnabas makes it clear in this scene that Josette's history will almost certainly repeat itself, if for no other reason than his own lack of self control.

''You're a clever girl" he tells Victoria at the close of the scene. "Just be careful that what happened to Miss Evans doesn't happen to you.''

But don't take my word for it. Watch the episode below on Hulu!
Note: The quote at the top of the page appears in "Halloween Candy," a collection of interviews and essays by Thomas M. Sipos published in 2001.

Bela Lugosi: "They won’t all be children scarers," 1939

(Editor's note: THE MORGUE is a feature that usually runs on Sundays here at The Collinsport Historical Society. But this interview with Bela Lugosi from 1939 was just too good to sit on until the weekend. The text is presented here exactly how it was printed, complete with archaic punctuation, the incorrectly spelled "Igor," etc. There's also a bit of unintentional sadness in the conversation because of the dark turns his later life would take. But let's not dwell on that, 'kay?)

Broadway Newsreel by Hy Gardner
April 5, 1939

(In which Columnist Bela Lugosi outscares Bogey Man Gardner)

Bela Lugosi and Hy Gardner
LUGOSI: You know, you remind me an awful lot of Eddie Cantor …

GARDNER:  Except for s slight difference.

LUGOSI: What’s the difference?

GARDNER: About $260,000 a year and five daughters.

LUGOSI:  Have a cigar, Mr. Gardner. My cigars have no nicotine in them. The doctor says nicotine makes you nervous …

GARDNER:  Fine thing. You worried about getting nervous … And after the shivers you’ve give 130,000,000 Americans, too. Tell me, if you don’t mind my asking the questions, when you were a little boy were you afraid to sleep alone in the dark?

LUGOSI: That’s the first time anybody ever asked me that question. I never had a chance to be scared when I went to sleep because I came from a poor Hungarian family and there were too many of us in the house to be alone or to be frightened. BUT I found out that I was afraid to be alone when I first went to Hollywood.

GARDNER:  In other words, you didn’t agree with Greta Garbo’s policy of being alone?

LUGOSI:  I don’t know about Greta, but I do know that I moved into a very large house all by myself and thought I have a couple working for me they lived in a different wing of the home. And when I went to bed at night I never could fall asleep — It was so dreary and never-wracking. I’d read and read and read until the coming of the dawn. That seemed a little friendlier. 

GARDNER:  Well, when did you finally get over it?

LUGOSI:  I got over it when I married my first wife.

GARDNER:  What do you mean your “first wife?”

LUGOSI: I’ve been married four times.

GARDNER:  Don’t tell me that Tommy Manville’s been making those Dracula pictures!

LUGOSI: No, the name is still Lugosi. I got married the first time because I was lonesome and I needed companionship and I got it for two years.
Bela Lugosi concocts a Dracula' Cocktail for actress Majorie Weaver in New York City, 1940.
GARDNER: What about your second wife?

LUGOSI:  I was married to her for 14 days, and before you go any further let me tell you that that was a long time compared to the duration of my third marriage.

GARDNER:  Well, how long — or how  short a time did that last?

LUGOSI:  Exactly three days …

GARDNER:  In other words, you’ll almost be a Broadway columnist as long as you were married to your third wife. Would you call her a guest wife?

LUGOSI: I don’t know what you’d call her, but I think that marriage is like everything else. It’s a matter of a good break, and I finally found a woman six years ago who is a mother, a goddess, a watchdog, a secretary and a wife all combined. She was Lillian Arch before she became Mrs. Lugosi, and we’re now on our seventh year together.

GARDNER:  That would seem to indicate that “4” is par on your matrimonial course, huh?

LUGOSI: “Pa” is right … I became a daddy 14 months ago and I’ve never been happier.

GARDNER:  I understand that Boris Karloff had a baby girl about the same time.

LUGOSI: Yes, he did. We often get together and talk about when our children grow up and how nice it would be if they fell in love with each other.

GARDNER:  That would be a fine romance … The son and daughter of two bogey men.

Lugosi as "Ygor" in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, 1939.

LUGOSI:  Talking about my son — If you saw the picture “Son of Frankenstein” you will remember I was Igor, the fellow who was hung for murder but who lived with a broken neck. The part was difficult and I had to keep my neck and shoulder in a vice for so long that for six weeks after the picture was finished I still walked around with my head and shoulders bent to the left. Lillian made me stay away from our little boy for a while because he began walking round-shouldered too — she thought he might think that was the proper way to walk.

GARDNER: What do most people say to you when they meet you?

LUGOSI:  Most people are very nice and I think that just as many of them that say “hello” also say “Come now, Bela, scare us.” Nevertheless, they look upon my parts of Dracula and Igor just as characters and don’t confuse it with my own personality.

GARDNER:  What clubs do you visit when you are in New York?

LUGOSI:  I don’t go to clubs very often. My favorite place is Zimmerman’s Budapest … I love to sit and eat Hungarian food and I could listen to Hungarian music all night.

L. Zimmerman Budapest Restaurant was located at 117 W. 48th St. in New York City.
GARDNER: Can you play any instrument?

LUGOSI: I can play the piano a little

GARDNER: Do you think you’ll ever get a chance to play the piano in a picture?

LUGOSI: I don’t know. That’s up to Universal. I just signed a contract to make eight pictures for them and they promised they won’t all be children scarers.

GARDNER:  I understand you’re going to England. What are you doing there?

LUGOSI: I’m just going there for a trip — to make a picture out of Edgar Wallace’s story, “The Dark Eyes of London” … I should be back here on April 21.
GARDNER: You came from Hungary. Are you a citizen of the United States.

LUGOSI: Yes, thank God … I’ve lived here for 20 years and I have been a citizen for 10 years. I hope I am a good one. I know I don’t take it for granted. I feel I am an awfully lucky person to be an American and I think that every naturalized American and every person born in this land should kneel on his knees every morning and utter a prayer for being an American.

GARDNER:  That’s one of the most potent punch lines any column ever had — so thanks, Dracula, for a happy ending …

Monday, May 18, 2015

Barnabas, Quentin and the Body Snatchers


(Not the real book cover.)
BARNABAS, QUENTIN AND THE BODY SNATCHERS. This book is legend. It’s basically a 1950s B sci-fi movie set in Collinsport. It’s amazing. It’s so amazing, in fact, that it deserves better than a review. It deserves commentary. And I am here to provide that service to the community.

The book’s set-up is a woman named Marjorie Gray and her space scientist father Murdoch going to Collinsport on an invitation from his old friend Roger, who has been replaced by a body-snatching alien (this is all on the back cover). That’s really all you need to know.

Our story begins with Murdoch trying to talk Marjorie into joining him on his trip to Maine, during which he reveals that the space project he’s been working on, planning a mission to the planet Velva, has made a shocking discovery: life!
“But what are the messages about?”

Her father’s face clouded. “We have not been able to decode the messages yet. We’re working on them now.”

Marjorie’s eyes widened. “I know! They’ve discovered your project and resent it,” she exclaimed. “They don’t wish to be invaded by us.” (Ross, 10-11)
Page 10 and Marjorie’s figured it out. Way to kill the suspense.

Meanwhile Marjorie happens to be dating a pop star named Jim James (no, not Jim Jones) who her father doesn’t like and who is definitely Quentin. He’s not thrilled with the Collinsport thing, but has to go do pop star things, so he warns her about Barnabas and gives her a ring before leaving her to her fate.

Only after she waved back did she take the time to examine the engagement ring he’d slipped on her finger. And she saw that it was a perfectly shaped wolf’s head of gold, containing two diamond eyes which seemed to glare at her menacingly. (Ross, 17)

Quentin, we need to talk about your taste in jewelry.

Here we get a bit of an interlude with Elizabeth and Barnabas talking about their impending guests, some weird noises Elizabeth heard, and doesn’t Roger seem a little off?

“I’ve become obsessed with the thought that some sort of plane did land in the fields near here that night. And that there was someone on it who entered this house and took Roger captive. Then this mysterious someone had Roger sent away on that plane while he installed himself here in his place.” (Ross, 21)

Because Collinsport is the kind of town where that’s the only logical conclusion.

But aside from Roger clearly being an evil alien impostor, things are going pretty well right up until Marjorie, within a couple of hours of arrival, is attacked by Barnabas. Because it wouldn’t be a Ross novel if Barnabas didn’t go straight for the heroine without thinking through the consequences of his actions. But Carolyn talks her out of telling anyone about the incident, so whatever.

When the light came on, [Carolyn] discovered it was her cousin Barnabas Collins standing there in the corner of her room in his caped coat.

“Did I frighten you?” he asked.

“Of course you did.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You attacked that girl! Our visitor!”

“I’m sorry about that, too.” (Ross, 36)
Yes, I’m sure you are. The remorse here is truly heartfelt.

I want to take a moment to talk about Ross!Barnabas. He is very much his own character. While he does seek out a cure for his vampirism, he’s a lot less tortured about it. He was never locked in the casket, so he’s spent the past century and a half or so being slick, charming, and more overtly sinister than his counterpart on the show. It gives the novels a different vibe.

Later on in the Carolyn conversation, we get the following exchange:

“But then why all the stories?” [About Quentin]

“I could ask why all the stories about me.”

“You mean they aren’t true?”

“I mean they are only partly true,” Barnabas said. “A great deal of what is told about us is pure legend. Or maybe libel would be a better word. I don’t say we are benign characters going around doing nothing but good. We have our compulsions. Occasionally they get the best of us.”

“As yours did with Marjorie tonight,” she reminded him.

“I’ll admit it,” Barnabas said calmly. (Ross, 38)
He can be pretty sanguine about the whole living dead thing, honestly. He says he hates his cursed existence and would like a cure someday, but if anything he seems more offended that the villagers hate him. In some of the books, including Body Snatchers, he seems about one bad impulse away from becoming a villain and he isn’t much of a romantic lead. It’s an interesting, more horror-esque, take on the character.

But of course the plot thickens, as Murdoch is kidnapped by the aliens and, per the back cover blurb, replaced by a body snatcher.

Roger Collins told the still transfixed and staring Murdoch Gray, “I am no more Roger Collins than my friend here is you. But we will take your places and do our work here until we have destroyed any chances of your rocket landing on Velva.” (Ross, 43)

So, basically, Marjorie really did figure the whole thing out back on page 10.

What we get for the next while is a lot of Murdoch and Roger acting like creeps who are either having an affair, possessed, and/or aliens (you never know). We also are introduced to Carolyn’s sort-of boyfriend, Donald, who likes speedboats. It’s not the most subtle bit of foreshadowing ever, but not bad. The ladies go off to hang out, but no one in the Collins family knows how to act normal and the conversation isn’t exactly light and fluffy, up to and including an encounter with the body snatchers, who are terrible liars.

And then it’s time for Marjorie to meet Barnabas properly! Which goes about as well as you might expect. He pokes around in her life, accuses her boyfriend of lying about his identity, kisses her out of nowhere (sure, why not?), and when all is said and done she doesn’t seem all that sold.
“You’re a strange person. I can’t decide about you. You’re a mixture of good and evil.”

“Isn’t everyone?” he asked lightly.

“The separation is clear with most people,” she said. “They have made their decision to be on one side or the other. I don’t believe you have.” (Ross, 64)

Well spotted, Marjorie! My opinion of you has risen.

Except she turns right around and defends Barnabas to her father, insisting that he’s charming and not evil at all. So maybe not. Her feelings on the whole Barnabas subject are awfully conflicted considering they’ve only spent about 15 minutes in each other’s company.

As we continue moving right along, the next day Marjorie actually gets to meet Donald and he’s normal and uninteresting, which clearly means he’s slated for death. But we do get a truly fantastic moment of dialogue:

“Did you know some UFOs have been seen here?”

“UFOs?” [Marjorie] echoed, not understanding.

“Sure,” he said. “Unidentified flying objects. Like from Mars or something.”…
She smiled ruefully. “I don’t believe [Murdoch] accepts that there are such things as UFOs.” (Ross, 74)

Marjorie. Your father is responsible for a planned mission to a planet from which there have been what are obviously messages. And UFOs are off the table? Seriously? What the hell is wrong with you people?

But you know what’s not off the table? Vampires. Because Marjorie, in her quest to explore the inexplicably massive Collins estate, lets herself into the Old House cellar, finds Barnabas in his casket, and, despite the narrative saying she’s shattered by the revelation, takes it in stride. She’s way more upset by Roger showing up and acting crazy than by the fact that the guy who came on to her the night before is a member of the living dead. But she chases Roger off with a candle (more foreshadowing, perhaps?) and then heads back to Collinwood. As one does.

Barnabas, Quentin and the Body Snatchers (Part Two)

(The real book cover.)
Previously on BODY SNATCHERS: Murdoch and Roger have both been replaced by aliens (and apparently lying just isn’t a thing on Velva because they’re terrible at it), Marjorie has conflicted feelings about Barnabas, and, while vampires are totally believable, UFOs are beyond the pale.

But now, in a unique twist, Elizabeth heads off to Wyncliffe to see Julia, who usually isn’t a character in this series. And we promptly learn that everyone really does know what Barnabas is. Why and how? I have no idea. We’re more than halfway through this trip and I’m just going with it.

[Elizabeth] recalled the brave fight Julia Hoffman had made to cure Barnabas of his vampire curse. She had almost met with success in her experiments and then had a last-minute failure…Perhaps the saddest thing of all was the fact that the romance was a one-sided affair. Barnabas liked Julia but had never been in love with her. (Ross, 80)

None of that happened in the novels. Go home, Ross, you’re drunk. But I do feel strangely vindicated by this agreement with my take on Barnabas and Julia. Never mind, Ross, you can stay.

But the real reason for Elizabeth’s visit is the fact that Roger is clearly an alien impostor and that’s kind of a problem. Julia suspects he’s had a mental breakdown and reluctantly says she might be able to take an overnight trip to Collinwood to see what she can do. She’s really going because she wants to see Barnabas, but whatever gets her out there.

There’s more creepiness at Collinwood and Roger and Murdoch head out to check on their prisoners, who they’ve stashed in the convenient Collins swamp (if you walk long enough the Collins estate probably has a desert, too) along with the spaceship. But then, right about the time you were going to forget he was even in this book, not-Jim Jones rolls into town.

“They say he takes spells and looks like a wild animal. It’s my opinion that crazy people should be locked up and kept locked up.”

“That would never work here in Collinsport.”

“Why not?”

“It would mean about half the village would be under padlock constant.” (Ross, 88)

Seriously, how does everyone in Collinsport know so much? Is there a newsletter?

Meanwhile at Collinwood, Marjorie brings up Barnabas’ issues with Carolyn, who admits to knowing all about that non-secret. Marjorie has been surprisingly cool, but when she goes to meet up with Jim, she sees him turn into a wolf (just because, I guess) and faints. But Jim tells her she imagined it (dude, give it up, she’s handling the vampire thing with aplomb) and they talk about what’s been going on.

“I feel the only one I can depend on is Barnabas.”

“I warned you about him.”

She nodded. “I know his secret and I’m sorry for him…he fights against the curse as best he can.” (Ross, 95-96)
Marjorie, you have literally had one conversation with him ever. Oh yeah, and he attacked you the night you arrived. Just in case you forgot.

So now we have a pretty solid ensemble cast coming together. Barnabas and Quentin are officially both in town, Julia’s on her way, and we have two aliens in place. But we know there’s a third, having witnessed Roger and Murdoch talking to it, and the big confrontation can’t happen until all parties are accounted for. And that’s where Don comes in! The aliens sabotage his speedboat in a race and he dies, so they can replace him with a body snatcher.

Don Ardell replied firmly, “There will be no body. I was there with him until the last moment…And when the explosion came there was nothing left for him to be identified by." (Ross, 109)

That’s … surprisingly awful, actually. Couldn’t they kidnap him, too? But with the third body snatcher at Collinwood, the scene is set. Time for Barnabas and Quentin to put aside their unexplained differences and conquer the aliens.

The Barnabas and Quentin scenes are something Ross consistently does well in these books and the interaction between them is always fun to read. It’s a mystery why there’s so much animosity between them, but their barbed conversations are a joy, so it doesn’t matter.

“Your attack on [my landlady] nearly sent me to jail.”

Barnabas met his gaze directly. “It was not meant that you should be blamed.”

“But that was what happened. Fortunately Ms. Vale recovered quickly and made it clear to the sheriff I was innocent.”

“Had she not done so I would have found some way to clear you.”

“How generous of you!” (Ross, 116)
Did Barnabas attack her just to mess with him? I feel like he did.

But then they talk about the real problems at hand and Barnabas reveals that he found the alien spaceship out in the swamp and knows that Roger and Murdoch are alive in a cave. Quentin logically asks why he hasn’t done something with this information, but apparently Barnabas has a realistic assessment of his ability to act alone. Now he (reluctantly) is joining forces with Quentin and they’re heading off to check out that swamp, so you know it’s on.

Back at Collinwood, Carolyn has noticed that Don is different in a bad way, but since everyone thinks he survived a very near death experience, she’s trying to be understanding and let it go. Their relationship was already doomed, though, because out of nowhere we get a twist.

“You think Don is too reckless and headstrong for me?”

“I do,” Barnabas said. “You deserve much better.”

“I know,” she said earnestly, staring up at him. “Barnabas, when this is settled, please take me away with you. Marry me and take me away!” (Ross, 128)

Carolyn. Look at your life. Look at your choices.

But for a change, Barnabas is not down with ill-advised and creepy romance and gently tells her it’s not going to happen. So at least he has that going for him. It’s not a good night for romance, though, because at the same time Quentin is breaking Marjorie’s heart with the revelation that, yes, he really is Quentin. He distracts her from that bit of bad news with the even worse news that her father, Roger, and Don are aliens. Well played, sir.

As it turns out, everyone is having a bad night at the Collins estate because off in the swamp the aliens are struggling with Murdoch’s science notebooks (not feeling so advanced now, are you?) and Murdoch lets them in on a secret he should have told them days ago: that whole mission to Velva? Yeah, it’s not actually possible. Why that wasn’t the first thing he told them, I don’t know, but he waited so long that the aliens don’t totally buy it.

Fortunately for poor Marjorie, who’s about to be kidnapped, Barnabas has a plan: dinner by torchlight. No, really, that’s the plan. And Julia has arrived just in time for Barnabas to reject her, too. Love is just not in the cards in this book.

“I’ve been hoping you’d come to Wyncliffe. I’ve been doing some interesting work at the clinic.”

Barnabas showed a look of melancholy amusement. “Perhaps I’ll do that one day.”

“You don’t even try to sound convincing, do you?” (Ross, 147)

Hearts suitably broken, it’s time for that bit of fiery foreshadowing to come into play, as Barnabas and Quentin terrorize Roger and Murdoch with torches and accuse the body snatchers of being body snatchers. Roger tries to bluster his way out of it, but this is Collinsport where people are willing to believe crazy stuff, so Barnabas just goes for it and kills him.

Marjorie still gets kidnapped, though (of course she does), so the chase is on! This is the inevitable point in a Ross novel where everything happens very quickly. The books are never more than 160 pages and every time the whole thing wraps up in about five. Barnabas rescues Roger and Murdoch, the remaining alien uses Marjorie as a human shield so he can get back in his ship and take off, and there’s a moment when it seems like maybe Quentin is dead, but of course he lives on to break hearts another day.

“Take me with you,” [Marjorie] said, staring up at him.

“Not this time,” he said. “Maybe later. I’ll phone you when I reach New York.” (Ross, 155)

Translation: you will literally never hear from him again.

But hey, with the exception of Don and the three aliens, everybody lives!

Now, having walked you through the whole novel with a lot of snarky commentary, how do I really feel about it? True love. It’s so unique and special and, even when it makes absolutely no sense (why are UFOs so hard to believe, again?), it’s just fun. And fun is what I’m looking for in this series.

BODY SNATCHERS hits a lot of the usual Ross highlights: great dialogue from Barnabas and Quentin, a quirky premise, consistent character voices. It also does some things that are different and I like that about it. Barnabas is not the romantic lead–Marjorie is in love with Quentin and finds Barnabas simultaneously charming and (rightfully) creepy. Julia is actually in it, if only for maybe a dozen pages. There’s no strong central love story. The villains really are evil aliens.

When I said before that this book seems to take place in a pocket universe, I wasn’t kidding. It feels a little bit experimental, like Ross was trying to merge plot from the show (Julia trying and failing to cure Barnabas) with the rest of the book series (Barnabas never having been locked in the casket) with a B movie from the ’50s. I never figured out how and why the whole town knows everything about the Collins family, but eh, that’s fine. Internal continuity isn’t something this series has ever done very well.

Would I recommend reading this masterpiece for yourself? Yes, yes, and more yes. If you are a DARK SHADOWS fan, you should experience it firsthand. There are some dull books in this series, which I will continue to review as a public service (conveniently consolidated right here for your reading pleasure), but this one is a great time. I’ve spent hours with it and it was time well spent.

ALEXIS LATSHAW is a Seattle-based writer and editor who uses her background in literary academia to write essays about TV shows. She blogs about DARK SHADOWS at Josette’s Music Box.
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