There once was a time when the word “vampire” conjured up something entirely different from its modern iteration. A lot of younger readers won’t understand this, but yes, at one point in time vampires were actually quite horrific.
When vampires speak—if they speak—they ought not to have very good personalities. What I mean to say, is, the function of speech should be perfunctory at most, and serve as a desperate means to an end to get blood, and nothing else, because that is what makes them terrifying. And that is what has been lost for so long that people forget that vampires were once considered—for most, for many years, in fact—the ne plus ultra of the horror monster. The alpha-evil. They aren’t anymore, not even remotely. That vein collapsed long ago.
You can blame this on any number of factors and influences, but it really all boils down to money. When vampires became big business in the 80’s (with the popularity of Anne Rice’s books) and again with the more recent “Twilight” series, their popularity had a built-in watering down effect, as it were. There is no way either author would’ve enjoyed so much success without changing things up and appealing to a cross-over audience (that wouldn’t normally gravitate towards horror), and in that sense their popularity served to homogenize the entire subgenre, to make it all that much more palatable, and, in turn, unrecognizable. And so they have ceased to be truly frightening for many years. Prior to 1980, there were a good many blood-chilling takes on the vampire legend in movies, television, and books. Beyond that point, I can recall very few (beyond the printed page), and even those are debatable.
|Okay, I'll give FRIGHT NIGHT (1985), and Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys), a pass.|
And so I submit to you a new benchmark, so to speak—which also happens to be the old benchmark—
SALEM’S LOT, the CBS
miniseries directed by Tobe Hooper (director of the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE), based on the 1975 novel by Stephen
King. If horror fans are ever going to
reclaim vampires, to resurrect them from a most ignominious fate, we should
start by taking a good look at the last time somebody got it right. And so let me take a moment and pay my regards to the true face of horror—the vampire.
It doesn’t take great intelligence or dazzling special effects (or blood-soaked gore) to emphatically frighten people, but rather a simple, rigid set of principles and a keen understanding of horror itself. Horror is all about the fear of the unknown. When you get too chummy with your monsters, they cease to be scary (something viewers of THE WALKING DEAD are all too aware of).
|Ralphie Glick (Ronnie Scribner) pays back older brother, Danny (Brad Savage), for all those atomic wedgies.|
But get down, it does...
The story involves a small town in Maine, the recent arrival of a writer (David Soul) working on a book about the infamous Marsten house, which just so happens to coincide with another arrival—that of the house’s new owner, the inscrutable Mr. Straker (James Mason), who is opening an antique shop in town with an as-yet unseen partner, a Mr. Barlow. I won't get too bogged down into typical plot summary territory on this one, because it is beside the point.
Amid the newcomers, freshly delivered from
Europe, is a
vampire. Now, this vampire—which we
rarely see and never utters a word throughout—carries with it the absolute
essence of evil. It doesn’t harbor
romantic notions or feelings of persecution—or any feelings, for that
matter. It simply must feed, and in the
small town of Salem’s Lot
it has found, for the time being, an ideal hideaway and hunting ground.
And one by one the townsfolk begin to succumb, vanishing or appearing to die outright, a scourge aided by the bafflement of the local doctor, who chalks up more than one of these mysterious deaths to pernicious anemia (and a couple of others to heart attack). By the time anyone begins to suspect something foul or evil afoot, it’s all but too late.
Too late, because these people aren’t really dead; at least, not in any traditional sense. And with nightfall and the uneasy sleep of the grief-stricken comes a gentle scratching or tap-tap-tapping at the window…across from your bedside.
And what might at first appear to be your dearly departed loved one can, upon closer inspection, cause your blood to curdle and the hairs on the back of your neck to stand at full attention.
|Mark Petrie (Lance Kerwin), monster kid extraordinaire and one of the enlightened few in Salem's Lot|
|"Mark...open the window."|