Tag Archives: Salem’s Lot

The Chiller Theatre Horror Convention 2012

8 Nov

November 8, 2012

This year’s Chiller Theatre Horror Convention was held in the Sheraton Parsippany, New Jersey, hotel the weekend before Halloween. This was their first year at that location and, despite being a pain in the neck to get to, the hotel was perfect- from the outside it looks like an old castle.                  You would almost expect Vincent Price to be prowling around the halls, like in an old Roger Corman epic based on one of Edgar Poe’s tales. Well, Price was not there this year, chiefly due to scheduling conflicts with his death, which was back in 1993. But while The Price of Fear may not have made the scene, the Red Death was there in full regalia. 

Death was a popular guest. There was more than one Reaper stalking the halls, and in fact they would sometimes run into each other and wave scythes at each other in a vain attempt to banish the other to the underworld. 

As you can tell from both pictures, Death loves hand gestures. Anyway, this particular avatar of doom would not stop yelling. You wouldn’t know it from the picture but from the depths of his rubbery skull issued the muffled voice of eternity, bellowing out “I am the REAL grim reaper! Visit my website www.therealgrimreaper.com!“  So I went to his website, and discovered that The Real Grim Reaper is a registered trademark. I hope that Pestilence, Famine, and War have protected themselves online as well.

Creepy hand gestures were not limited to the masters but their servants used their menacing digits as well. Barlow from Salem’s Lot was making the scene, and he seemed to be flashing some undead gang signs. 

I have to point out that none of the guys walking around in costumes- and there were many- were guests of the convention. They were just men and women who dressed up and walked around. And though I mercifully took no pictures of them, the scariest of them all were the trannies and drag queens.

I took fewer pictures than you’d expect, but there were two men whom I had to photograph.  First, The Dark Knight. 

While there were three of four Batmen walking around, the others really were Dark Knights, all dark armor and black costumes. This was the only Adam West Batman in the place and was easily the most photographed.

The problem with Batman is that Gotham is never safe with him around. The argument from Gotham’s Mayor is that a loony like Batman invites loony crooks. You never see freaks like Killer Croc in NYC. He may be right, because no sooner did I snap Batman’s picture than did the waddling arch-criminal himself make an appearance, the Penguin. 

Seriously, how many times do you see people dressed up as the Penguin these days? And I have to tell you, this man reeked of cigarettes. I stood next to him and it was disgusting.

There were literally close to a hundred guests at the convention, each charging for their autographs. Boris Karloff’s daughter Sara was there, as were dozens of minor actors from 1950’s B-movies. There was a reunion of the Porky’s cast (what that has to do with horror I have no idea) and Ace Frehley from KISS, the one with the spaceman makeup was there. By far, he had the longest lines for autographs. There were many real names there, like the guy from Perfect Strangers (Balki? Schmalki? Whatever.) But also among the riff raff were people like Danny Glover, Valerie Harper (still not sure what she was promoting, it looked like some fan film about her hair) and believe it or not Penny Marshall, whom I am still sure is too big a name to be stooping to selling her signature at a horror convention. I had no interest in paying $25 dollars to talk to her, though my brother had the perfect opening line: “I always wanted to meet Myrna Turner!”

I didn’t spend much money there, though I was tempted, very tempted. There were hard to find DVDs (and tons of bootlegs), toys, comics, old games, high-end horror merchandise, and tons od t-shirts. In fact, I passed on it all and only spent money on one special autograph, from this man: 

No, no, not him. Although The Hammer was there I am pretty sure he was drunk.

The man whose autograph I got, and with whom I spent about 15 minutes talking with, was famous in the 1950’s and 60’s in horror television circles. 

Yep, the Cool Ghoul himself, John Zacherle. 

Check him out:

The “y” at the end of his name is apparently optional.

This man is 94 years old and is still going strong… as least as strong as he can. We briefly talked about his career, his job on radio, and my brother, who met Zacherle in 1994 and Zach didn’t remember. (Frankly, why would he?) The man was still having fun and was happy to be there. I could have left right then and there, but there were so many things left in the dealer rooms for me to drool over.

How Dark Shadows Ruined The Vampire.

5 Sep

September 5, 2011

I just finished a Dark Shadows marathon. I watched 1,225 episodes, two original cast movies, and the 12 episode 90’s revival in just about a year and a half. On top of that I also listened to four modern Dark Shadows audio dramas and read both a series guide and six novels published as the show ran in the late 1960’s. Throw in the collection of comics by Gold Key and it is fair to say that yes, I know a little bit about Dark Shadows.

For those not in the know, Dark Shadows is a soap opera that ran from 1966 to 1971 on ABC. Unlike nearly every other daytime drama of the time, every episode exists, minus one, but that episode’s soundtrack survives so it is the most complete- by far- show of its type. Compare that to Doctor Who whose shows of that era have almost as many lost as there are still in existence.

The show was a dark and spooky half-hour drama (done on a tiny budget) that regularly featured ghosts, werewolves, time travel, witches, spiritual possession, mad scientists, Frankenstein-like creatures, parallel worlds, immortal Phoenixes, and vampires. And if you know the show there is one name that leapt to mind as soon as you saw “vampires,” Barnabas Collins. 

And he was not just any vampire. Dark Shadows is widely credited with the creation of the modern conflicted vampire. Barnabas Collins was turned into a vampire by a witch’s curse, and instead of destroying him, his father chained him in a coffin. 200 years later he was freed and met a doctor, Julia Hoffman, who cured him. Barnabas would revert back to vampirism a few times over the course of the series, but he was usually a tragic figure, hating what he had become, longing to be human again, and generally becoming the romantic hero of Dark Shadows.

And that is why I hate him.

Until Barnabas vampires were universally characterized as evil. Though Bram Stoker’s Dracula defined the modern vampire, with some help from a few Gothic forebears, the contemporary Twilight vampire and others of that immature ilk all descend from Barnabas Collins.

Take the classic vampire. To be concise I’ll skip the ancient creatures of mythology and proto-religion and move to the 18th Century.

The OED dates the first appearance of the word vampire in English from 1734, in a travelogue titled Travels of Three English Gentlemen. However, the word itself has roots going back to Eastern Europe as early as the 11th Century.

Vampires were usually reported as bloated in appearance, and ruddy, purplish, or dark in color; these characteristics were often attributed to the recent drinking of blood. Indeed, blood was often seen seeping from the mouth and nose when one was seen in its shroud or coffin, and vampires of the Balkans and Eastern Europe had a wide range of appearance ranging from nearly human to bloated rotting corpses.

None of them sparkled.

Gothic writers like Sheridan Le Fanu added beauty and sexuality, and Bram Stoker added class and refinement, but one thing remained constant: The vampire was a creature of unrepentant evil. And more importantly, he was always an animated corpse. Vampires are classically feared as revenants of evil beings, suicide victims, or witches, but they can also be created by a malevolent spirit possessing a corpse or by being bitten by a vampire. Vampires are distinctly creatures of the supernatural or demonic realm.

Dark Shadows was also one of the early (though not the first, Richard Matheson explored this theme too) depictions of vampires being cured through scientific methods, which is totally at odds with the “black magic” or demonic origins of the vampire. It was never really clear, nor did it really make sense, how a series of blood transfusions cured Barnabas Collins’ witch’s curse.

Teenage fiction is full of nobly conflicted vampires, utterly handsome, all needing the love of that one girl to turn him around. They are the rebellious bad boys who really aren’t that bad at all, deep down. Dark both in personality and looks (despite somehow also being pale) and brooding, they are the property now of the teen and adolescent.

And that is a damn shame because the vampire should be the boogey man in your closet who comes out not to whisk you into a fantasy world of delight but to rip your throat open and gorge himself on your blood as it sprays gristly crimson ichor across his face. And that face shouldn’t inspire love or lust, the vampire’s face should inspire extreme fear, panic, and revulsion, but most of all, it should be the last thing you see before you pass out or die.

Vampires are not handsome. They are repulsive and loathsome creatures whose breath reeks of the grave. They have moldy dirt under their fingernails from crawling out of the earth and their skin is more than pale and pasty, it is almost translucent, stretched over their body too tightly and their teeth seem long only because their gums have receded and withered. They are animated corpses.

Vampires are not charismatic. They are cunning like animals, like wolves. They do not throw elegant dinner parties. Like rats, a vampire may crawl on the ground through the mud to bite your ankle and in centuries past anyone asleep in a field kept his shoes on at night lest a vampire suck the blood out of their heels. No romantic embraces for them, for a vampire is past the point of love or romance. They are malevolent killers.


One of the great ironies of Dracula, and one of the great bits of Stoker’s writing (of which I otherwise have many faults) is that Count Dracula arrived in England on a ship called the Demeter. Demeter was the Greek goddess of the harvest, a life-bringer. Dracula brings only death.

I loved every minute of Dark Shadows, even the early episodes where there was little supernatural and the drama revolved around the threat to the Collins family shipyards. And I loved Barnabas Collins, even if he did single-handedly ruin the vampire genre for decades to come.

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