Paul Fitzpatrick: Transylvania, May 1897
I remember the evening like it was 50 years ago…. an evening that would change my life….
My Dad had just brought home a film projector….
A slice of Hollywood was coming to our humble suburban abode and life, surely, would never be the same again.
I had visions of Mum serving up choc ices and Kia-ora as I sat on the family sofa with my chums watching all the new releases… Planet of the Apes, The Graduate, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid…. there would be a blockbuster every week.
Deveron Road was about to turn into Hollywood Boulevard… all we needed was a red carpet and a popcorn machine.
Setting the contraption up, my Dad explained that he’d got it from a friend who had kindly included a couple of reels of film to get us started.
The first reel was a home movie featuring the family who’d previously owned the projector, frolicking in the Clyde at Wemyss Bay where they lived.
Not exactly The Poseiden Adventure but we had to start somewhere and at least it helped us to get all the settings aligned.
We sat in eager anticipation as he set up the next reel and to give us a clue he mentioned that the upcoming feature was a ‘classic black & white movie’.
“Laurel & Hardy?” I suggested…. “It’s a Wonderful Life?” my Mum volunteered….
I’m sure I spotted a wee smirk on his face as he turned the lights off and pressed start.
The room and the screen were in complete darkness before the title appeared, accompanied by the eeriest church organ music known to man……
There were to be no kind-hearted Angels earning their wings in this horrendous feature….
Nosferatu, was a terrifying German-Expressionist horror movie, made in 1922….. the first film ever in fact, to be based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel.
The protagonist, Count Orlok wasn’t your run of the mill, tall-dark & handsome gigolo of a vampire with slicked back hair either…. ala Christopher Lee or Vincent Price… he was the spookiest, creepiest, most chilling looking dude I’d ever laid eyes on in my young life.
I was transfixed with fear…. I didn’t want to watch it, but I wasn’t going upstairs to bed on my own either… lying there in the dark, listening to that horrific organ music, allowing my vivid imagination to run amok!
I always thought of myself as a pretty robust kid….
True, the Singing Ringing Tree (SRT) had given me a few sleepless nights when I was 7 or 8 but this was a whole new ball game…. the SRT was like Andy Pandy compared to this carnage!
I don’t recall getting much sleep that night.
In fact for what seemed like the next couple of years, I had a pathological and (admittedly) illogical fear of vampires.
Vampires were supposed to be a myth, but not to me… and I went to extreme lengths to protect myself from them… I wasn’t taking any chances.
I kept a bible on my bedside table.
I ‘borrowed’ a silver Cross from my Mum’s jewellery box, that I wore at night.
I ‘borrowed’ a little vassal of holy water from an Aunt which I kept under my pillow.
And the piece d’resistance…….
A wooden stake (carved then ‘borrowed’ from the school woodwork lab) kept under my bed, in case I had to go full Van Helsing on the Count’s ass.
I should also add that I tried my best to acquire some garlic but every time I added it to the weekly shopping list, I got the strangest looks.
I know it sounds ridiculous, but I dreaded night time… daybreak just couldn’t come fast enough.
Looking back, I fully related to George Clooney’s character in the excellent From Dusk till Dawn when he said….
“And I don’t want to hear anything about not believing in vampires.
Because I don’t f***ing believe in vampires!
But I believe in my own two eyes!
And what I saw is f***ing vampires!“
(it’s funnier when he says it, watch clip below)
If there was a Hammer House of Horror movie on, (and there seemed to be one every Friday night) I’d creep downstairs and covertly sit on the bottom step of the landing, to listen to it.
I knew I was tormenting myself, but at least I wasn’t upstairs on my own, thinking the worst.
My Dad, (a non-believer!) thought this was all a big joke so one Friday night when I’d been chased from the bottom step back up to my room, he thought that it would be a jolly jape to throw pebbles up at my bedroom window from the back garden.
Thinking, quite reasonably, that it was a Vampire (in the form of a bat) trying to get into my room I jumped out of bed, ran downstairs quicker than you could say “I have crossed oceans of time to find you“, only to find my Dad pissing himself laughing and my Mum chastising him…
“you’ll give the poor lad a heart attack Joe!“
Reflecting on my ‘wimpish past’… apart from the Singing Ringing Tree the only other thing that had given me the heebie- jeebies prior to this monstrosity of a movie was an episode of the ‘Alfred Hitchcock Hour’ called Final Escape, about John, a convicted bank robber.
Determined to escape his sentence, John befriends an inmate named Doc, who’s in charge of the prison infirmary.
They hatch a plan to hide John inside the coffin of the next inmate who dies.
The coffin will then be buried and dug up by Doc after the gravediggers and guards leave.
It all goes according to plan, until Doc fails to dig John up.
A terrified John learns why, when the shroud slips off the face of the corpse sharing the coffin with him: It’s Doc, who died of a heart attack the night before….Ahhhh!
I’m not sure when I ‘grew out’ of my Vampire phobia, I think it probably just got ‘trumped’ by The Exorcist which was much scarier and even more realistic.
I remember at the time you couldn’t pick up a newspaper without reading about some poor sod being possessed…. ‘an exorcism being performed in a town near you’…. or some other form of paranormal activity.
Fast forward a couple of years when the movie Jaws was breaking box office records and guess what? From nowhere, shark attacks started to be tabloid front page news with shocking regularity.
“Great White seen at Helensburgh pier“
Life imitating art or just a way to sell more papers?
Of course Vampires are uber cool now so no one’s stocking up on bibles, or wooden stakes anymore… instead, windows are left wide open and saucer’s of blood are left on the ledge to beckon the undead….
Yesterdays persona non grata has become today’s big poster boy.
Anyway, give me the old-school ghouls any day of the week, at least Count Orlok was a scary looking mo-fo… not like these pretty boys below!