Good news everyone! I just checked and so far Dread Sonnets has been downloaded 43 times and is currently ranked 16 on the Amazon Top 100 Free Poetry Ebooks. Thanks to everyone who has downloaded it so far and I hope those who haven’t downloaded it yet will. The book will be free tomorrow until 12 A.M. at which point it will revert back to its list price of $0.99. It will stay $0.99 until after Halloween at which I will raise the price a little further, so take advantage of the discounts while you can.
I know I said I was going to do all the Universal Monsters but I’m afraid I’ll be stopping short of Frankenstein because I don’t own a copy of the movie; I’m trying to save money, so I won’t be buying it. However, the rest of the month will be devoted to my favorite horror movies, especially the ones that have and continue to scare the bejeezus out of me.
When I was but a wee lad, my brother or I made the mistake of asking my mom to tell us a scary story. She proceeded to tell us about a scene from Salem’s Lot, a movie she found extremely scary, specifically the scene where a little boy named Danny huddles in his bed whilst his brother, now a vampire, hovers outside the window, clawing at the windowpane; my mom scraped her fingernails on a metal filing cabinet that stood near the bed for added effect. Needless to say, my mom is the coolest and I love her very much; I’m not being sarcastic when I say that this memory is one of my fondest childhood memories vis-à-vis the horror genre. However, my mom is not entirely to blame for making me fear vampires for the better part of my childhood. No, that distinction largely goes to an episode of a wonderful television series called Are You Afraid of the Dark? The episode is called “The Tale of the Midnight Madness” and it’s about a couple of kids working late at a night at a movie theater who have to deal with a vampire, Nosferatu, who climbs out of the projection screen. I remembered the image of the vampire coming out of the screen and of the manager of the theater lying face down with two bloody holes in his neck. I’m positive that this scene is responsible for me being passively afraid of vampires for most of my childhood. I say passively because I don’t remember worrying about vampires often, but I always pulled the covers over my neck to prevent it from being bitten by a vampire as I slept; I don’t even remember when I broke the habit of doing this because it lasted so long. Years passed before I really became absorbed in the horror genre. By the time I got to Dracula, granddaddy of all vampire films, if you ignore Nosferatu, I had high expectations built up from my childhood fears. Needless to say, I was disappointed the first time I watched Dracula.
Dracula has been adapted a zillion times – literally, I counted all the adaptations to a zillion – so I’ll only summarize it briefly. Dracula possesses Renfield. He moves to London. He bites Lucy. He bites Mina. Dr. Van Helsing is suspicious and finds out Dracula is vampire. John Harker and Van Helsing try to protect Mina. They chase Dracula to Carfax Abbey and stake him to death. Mina’s fine again. The End.
When I first watched it, I was disappointed, but it was because I was being nitpicky about things like the fake rubber bats and more importantly because I was watching it from the perspective of someone who’s immersed in a culture absolutely saturated with movies and characters influenced by Dracula. For all intents and purposes, Bela Lugosi’s depiction of Dracula is Dracula. When people say, “I vant to suck your blood. Bleh!” they say it with Lugosi’s eastern European accent; I actually don’t know where this quote comes from because it’s not in the film, but I’ll be damned if I haven’t heard those same words repeated in various TV shows and movies. At first, it was hard to see this film with new eyes, paradoxical as that may sound, because I was expecting it to be scarier, which is unrealistic for an old Universal monster movie, and I was judging it based on over 70 years worth of hype built up by numerous adaptations and parodies, which made me more critical than I might otherwise be.
Upon watching it a second time, I can only find reasons to praise it. Lugosi’s Dracula is a smooth aristocrat, which fits his powers of manipulation and makes his vampirism a little creepier. Renfield, played by Dwight Frye, serves as a foil to Dracula. He’s completely unhinged; even his laugh makes him sound deranged. He describes eating insects, spiders, and rats with great relish and there’s a particularly great shot of him crawling on the ground over a maid who’s fainted; the scene changes before we see what he does. The whole movie is appropriately gothic, especially the two villains and the decrepit settings like the castle and abbey. It’s more moody and atmospheric. As a kid, I would have found the whole thing pretty spooky. However, there’s one dangling plot point that seems scary even now. Dracula bites Mina’s friend Lucy. We forget about Lucy for a little while until we learn that a mysterious woman in white has been going around biting children on the neck; one child reports that the woman lured her with promises of chocolate. Mina makes the connection between Lucy and the woman in white when she recounts an evening where she woke up and talked with Lucy, who was wearing a white dress, before remembering that Lucy had died recently; upon Mina’s realization, Lucy departed. Although Mina is cured of her incipient vampirism when Dracula dies and we may be able to assume that Lucy reverts back to a corpse, it’s really creepy to think that for the most of the movie there’s a vampire stalking kids in the background and she’s never caught… I might be sleeping with the covers over my neck tonight.