31 Nights of Horror: An Index

Oct 1: House of Wax
Oct 2: Fascination

Oct. 3: NOS4A2

Oct. 4: Carnival of Souls

Oct. 5: Frailty

Oct 6: Wallace and Gromit in Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Oct 7: Friday the 13th

Oct 8: Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

Oct 9: I Married a Witch

Oct 10: Tower of Evil

Oct 11: Gremlins 2

Oct 12: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oct 13: The Fog

Oct 14: Sinister

Oct 15: The Haunting

Oct 16: Pacific Rim

Oct 17: Warm Bodies

Oct 18: Arsenic and Old Lace

Oct 19: An American Werewolf in London

Oct 20: Something Wicked This Way Comes

Oct 21: Click-Clack the Rattlebag

Oct 22: The Howling

Oct 23: The Conjuring

Oct 24: Pit and the Pendulum

Oct 25: Rosemary’s Baby

Oct 26: Viy

Oct 27: Juan of the Dead

Oct 28: The Halloween Tree

Oct 29: Doctor Sleep

Oct 30: Orson Welles’ Production of ‘War of the Worlds’

Oct 31: Dracula: Prince of Darkness


31 Nights of Horror: Dracula: Prince of Darkness

Halloween has arrived as has the final installment of 2013’s 31 Nights of Horror. Choosing a title for today was actually a little difficult. Fortunately Turner Classic Movies saw fit to provide a solution. While I have previously seen Hammer’s Horror of Dracula, I had not seen its 1966 sequel.

Horror of Dracula ended with Christopher Lee’s Dracula being reduced to ash via sunlight. I suspected that was the end of Dracula, and this sequel would simply ignore the prior film. Not so! Apparently in the 10 or so years between visitors to the ominous castle, Dracula’s henchmen swept up the ashes and kept them in a little box. He then proceeds to lure a few British tourists to the castle. One of them ventures off to investigate a noise and is killed and strung up over an open sarcophagus. The henchmen then drains the guy’s blood into it, mixing liberally with Dracula’s ashes. One misty revelation later, Dracula is returned. The man’s wife goes looking for her husband and becomes bride number one.

The other couple gets away, but in their escape, there is a carriage accident and the wife suffers a concussion. They are taken to the local monastery where they recover where Andrew Keir’s Father Sandor gives the lowdown on what’s going on. Dracula is still intent on gaining his second bride, though and mounts an assault on the monastery. He loses one bride, captures his desired number two and flees into the night back to his castle. Father Sandor and the husband pursue them and reach them just as they arrive outside the castle. The wife is rescued and Dracula meets his fate in one of the more original and rarely repeated ways in the book of vampire lore.

The film is a lot of fun. There is the gloomy castle. There is the bride of Dracula in a flowing evening gown. There’s the knowing priest who is also a man of action. Everything comes together nicely. You can’t top Christopher Lee as Dracula. But interestingly, he has no dialogue in this film. Lee said what was written was rubbish and he refused to say any of the lines. The film’s writer says he didn’t write any. It’s left for us to decide who’s telling the truth.

Given that vampires have been at a new peak in popularity the last few years, I was thinking about the ideas rooted in Dracula. Did Bram Stoker write Dracula as that Euro-trash guy who comes into the bar and leaves with the woman Stoker was trying to chat up? Is his ability to mesmerize women the writer’s crutch for why he couldn’t hold the interest of women when a man with a thick Eastern European accent came into the room? Probably there’s a paper in there somewhere if someone else hasn’t written it.

31 Nights of Horror: Orson Welles’ Production of War of the Worlds

In 1938, Orson Welles scared the pants off a large segment of the USA with his production of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. Welles was at the beginning of his career rising in popularity after his portrayal of the Shadow, the pulp superhero.

His adaptation is worth a listen even today. The program opens with a news report of explosions being seen on the surface of Mars. An interview with a scientist follows. There’s an interlude of music. Shortly the announcer is back with a live report from Grover’s Mill, NJ, where a space ship has landed. Once the ship opens, the visitors make their hostile intentions known. We never hear Earth’s triumph over the invaders, only characters talking about what happened.

I doubt the production still has the ability to scare. How we consume radio and receive our news has changed. Still, the program was inventive in how it mixed news reports and the evening’s normal radio programming to weave a tale that shocked people all over the country. There were few breaks during the program were listeners reminded it was a dramatization when commercials were played. If you missed the announcement, but heard the commercials, the effect of cutting back to an invasion was even more effective. The country was already tense because of the events happening in Europe at the time. Thousands of people were fooled by the broadcast, particularly on the East Coast. Congressional hearings were held, but no punitive action was taken because in the end no laws were broken.

It’s almost a little sad that no media outlet has the reach or reputation to scare us the same way today. Anyone fooled probably felt taken advantage of, but it says something about the strength and reach of the Columbia Broadcast System’s program that people believed that this was happening. I doubt the mix of anxiety about war and quality of production will ever again mix in the same way. That’s probably for the better. Still, history does have a tendency to repeat itself. If you’re interested in reading about the fallout of the broadcast, there are a couple of news items here you can read.

Thanks to Rashmi Sharma for requesting this as 31 Nights of Horror.

31 Nights of Horror: Doctor Sleep

It’s been long enough now that most people have put to the back of their minds that we almost lost Stephen King in June of 1999 when a guy in a van with his dog(s) hit King, who was walking along the shoulder of the road. From that terrible experience, King found a renewed source of inspiration and gave us the conclusion to his magnum opus Dark Tower series. He also continued to write great short stories…the kind that sneak up on you. He experimented with other media via deals with Marvel Comics to adapt the Dark Tower and a particularly enjoyable “motion comic” of “N.” A couple of years ago, he asked his fans whether they wanted another Dark Tower book or to revisit little Danny Torrence. Fandom voted for Roland, but King in his generosity gave us both. We just had to wait a bit longer for Danny to return.

For the uninitiated, Danny Torrence was a boy of young years at the Overlook Hotel in the mountains of Colorado when his dad went crazy and tried to kill his mother and him. There are a lot of small details, but suffice it to say most of the world knows this story from Stanley Kubrick’s methodical film adaptation of The Shining. That film is viewed by many (your author included) as one of the scariest films ever made, although King always preferred his original text over the story that Kubrick told with all its liberties. If you are only familiar with the movie, you will be at ever-so-slight a disadvantage, but Wikipedia and the internet are here to fill in whatever potholes might exist on your highway of enjoyment.

The new book picks up not long after the events at the Overlook, which ended in a tremendous boiler eruption that destroyed the hotel with only Danny, his mother Wendy and the Overlook’s cook, Dick, as survivors. Danny is in a bind because one of the…things from the Overlook has shown up in his and his mom’s bathroom. Wendy calls Dick who talks Danny through his own tortured past and teaches him a technique for creating a box in which to trap these rogue entities.

After this prologue, we find (mostly) adult Danny as a raging alcoholic who just blew his paycheck on cocaine for his date. He’s almost-but-not-quite at the bottom when he wakes before she does, opens her purse and steals all her cash (while rationalizing that if she needs money, she can sell the rest of the coke). Dan leaves town and eventually ends up in Frazier, NH, a quaint town with a kiddie train that’s something of a local attraction and a business that has a use for Danny and his shining talent–a hospice. Dan has a profession as an orderly, but he has a particular gift for helping people cross from this world to the next in as peaceful a manner as possible. Danny manages to fight off the urge to drink for a short while, but at the breaking point, he finds help and a sponsor and starts righting some of the wrongs he’s done.

All is well(ish) until around the turn of the millennium when he finds himself scratching the word “Abra” on his notepad during a meeting. Later, he learns Abra is a young girl with a brighter shine than Dan could muster, but an innocence that lands her in the line of fire for a group called the True Knot, an ancient group not dissimilar from stereotypical gypsies, but with powers of their own and a taste for the essence of kids who shine. Suddenly Dan and Abra are headed for a collision with a woman known as Rose the Hat, a woman who thinks that Abra might not just be a meal for her and her people, but a piece of livestock.

Let me begin by saying that I loved the book, but not without some minor reservations. Among the things I like are that the characters are accepting of what they see once they understand there are things beyond what they know. It always frustrates me when characters must be convinced over and over that there are bad things out there that bear them ill will. Dan’s story arc is pretty amazing. Based only on my experience with the filmed version of The Shining, I wanted to know more about this character and see his struggle. Again, Dan makes mistakes, but when he hits bottom, he is ready to do what he needs to for resolution and redemption. Thirdly, there are some really great supporting characters.

This dovetails into my first criticism: Other than Dan and the villainous True Knot, almost every character is King’s typical New England Yankee. You could easily see the late, great Fred Gwynne plucked from his role in the film Pet Semetery and placed in at least a couple of the roles here with no one noticing a difference. I understand that these are King’s people, but there are probably at least a couple of successful people with family lines coming primarily from outside of Europe. There is one character who is written as being black, and his name is Token. As soon as he was introduced, I wondered if he was inspired by South Park.

Less problematic was that other than one pile of ash, I could see every beat coming in the story. There is, of course, a chance that I am just a genius. More likely, the twists are more like curves. This wasn’t much of a problem, but I would have liked more surprises. Lastly, and in a similar vein, I was never scared. King can conjure images in my head that will tempt me to leave a light on in the room. In this story, the deaths are of a more peaceful sort. At the same time, deaths often seem forced in horror fiction. Here, blessedly, there are no forced deaths. The ones that are here have meaning and a real impact on the story.

Is King becoming kinder and gentler as he ages (leaving more grisly stories to Joe Hill)? Maybe so, but I don’t mind. I’d like to sit down with these characters again. Heck, I’d like to see Dan find the Gunslinger and go on another adventure. Who knows? There will always be other worlds than these.

31 Nights of Horror: The Halloween Tree

According to Wikipedia, The Halloween Tree was originally written by Ray Bradbury as part of a project he was working on with Chuck Jones. That project never came to fruition, but Bradbury repurposed his screenplay into a short novel that was published in the early 1970s. I hadn’t heard of the story until research for one of the prior entries in this year’s 31 Nights of Horror.

The story follows a group of kids getting ready to go Trick or Treating on Halloween night. One of their group, Pipkin, is sick, but assures them he will be there. He had even scouted the route and wants to meet them in a particular spot. When they arrive there, Pipkin is kidnapped and a mysterious stranger, Mr. Moundshroud, arrives and leads the children on a tour of Halloweens past in an attempt to locate and save their friend.

The story is a history of the holiday we celebrate today with stops in ancient Egypt where they see a precursor to Trick or Treating. They pass through ancient Rome and see the Romans bring their beliefs to the Celtic celebration of Samhain. Their final stop is in Mexico for Dia de los Muertos. The kids eventually save Pipkin, but not without giving something of themselves.

The version I enjoyed is what you see pictured on the left–an audio drama produced by the Colonial Radio Theater players. All the actors perform well enough, although I was a bit let down to know that it was a bit of a musical with occasional breaks for song. The program is a great overview of where Halloween came from and why it’s still popular and observed today. Colonial has produced several Bradbury stories. You can find samples and more information here.

from Brian