Béla Lugosi’s Dead


I am a huge fan of horror fiction in its many forms.  My first exposure to the genre truly goes back to reading Stephen King novels in elementary school.  I wasn’t as avid of a movie watcher back then, so King’s work brought the fantastic and terrifying into my life with a vengeance.  I read everything I could get my hands on that he authored – which sadly wasn’t really all that much for a child without a steady income.  However, I managed to collect various works from someone – who I cannot recall…oh, anonymous source of literature…thank you!  Things like Carrie…Christine…Cujo…It…Four Past Midnight…his work penned as Richard Bachman…it all fascinated me.   

Eventually I began to get more into movies as well, and ventured into the horror genre.  When I was quite young, I recall being genuinely frightened by a few creatures and characters from children’s film…namely The Jabberwock (Alice In Wonderland, 1985), the Goblin King Jareth (Labyrinth), and the creatures of Mommy Fortuna’s Midnight Carnival and the Red Bull (The Last Unicorn).   

Yeah I know. The greasy puppet monster, David Bowie in tights and a cartoon bull gave me nightmares.

 

As I aged a bit more, I realized that these characters really weren’t all that scary, and that I could probably handle a bit more of a challenge when it came to horror.  So I moved onwards and upwards…sadly, I did not truly find interest in anything other than psychological horror until the late 90s.  Oh sure…The Exorcist was a classic, and films like Seven and Silence of the Lambs had great stories to tell, but I was looking for something more.  I wanted monsters…creatures of the night…the undead…  And so, my love of vampires and zombies was born.   

Classics like Dracula (1931), White Zombie, Nosferatu and The Phantom of the Opera were frightening in their day.  Actors like Béla Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney built their entire careers out of the genre films.  The acting and films of early part of the 1900s paved the way for more daring horror stories to develop.  The Last Man on Earth, The Thing from Another World, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and Night of the Living Dead (1968) began to move out of the entertainment realm and into political and social commentary.  These films allowed people like Christopher Lee, Vincent Price and George Romero to become synonymous with horror.   

I can’t remember when I first saw Night of the Living Dead (1968), or the 1990 remake, but when I did, I fell in love with it.  I eventually was able to see its sequels Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead (1985), and early parodies like Return of the Living Dead.  On the vampire end of the spectrum, movies like The Lost Boys, Near Dark and The Hunger were good indicators of where this type of horror mythology were heading.  Humour was subtly being integrated into the genre.  Variations on the “rules” that governed creatures of the night were introduced to try to spark new life in the same old storylines.  By the late 90s, Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, Interview With The Vampire, From Dusk Til Dawn, Blade, John Carpenter’s Vampires and Bordello of Blood among so many others boosted the numbers of vampire films in existence.  From 2000 to the present, Blade sequels, a couple more attempts at Dracula, 30 Days of Night, Daybreakers and the love-it-or-hate-it Twilight series have ushered the way for vampires to make another resurgence to the small screen as well.  On the zombie end of things, new forms of zombies – referred to as infected – have shown up in 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, [●REC] and Zombieland, as well as the new trend of very fast zombies, such as those found in the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead.  A quick glance of at Wikipedia shows almost 300 zombie movies from 2005 to those announced for release up to 2012.  This fall marks a new zombie series on television as well. 

It is certainly safe to say zombie and vampire stories are running wild.   

You might wonder why I’m concerned.  Let’s refer back to the beginnings of these creatures on film.  The evolution of vampires and zombies on film has come so far from the time of Béla Lugosi that we may well not even recognize the creatures.  In essence, Béla Lugosi is dead…again.  In the figurative sense, the creatures brought to “life” by Lugosi, Chaney, Karloff and their contemporaries have passed on – truly never to be seen again.  Never will we be able to take the traditional vampire or zombie serious.  After all, who couldn’t escape a zombie that lumbers, or a vampire who stalks so damn slowly?   

Béla was not a sparkly vampire. (Credit: Canoe.ca)

 

 Are the directions we’re going with zombies and vampires all bad?  No, I wouldn’t say so.  The faster zombies are certainly frightening, and bring a new element of fear back to moviegoers.  However, certain storylines for our friends, the vampires are turning them into a new, sad, former shadow of themselves – I’m looking at you Stephanie Meyer.  The Twilight series has completely turned vampires into pussies.  Pining over high school teens is not something that a traditional vampire is hard-wired to do.  I recognize that most recent vampire mythos is not even on par with that of Bram Stoker, but the vamps I know and love are all about violence and sex.  As a rule, there are no “vegetarian” vampires…they don’t abstain from anything.  They don’t have to.  And don’t get me wrong…I love True Blood…but I love it because it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Sure, there are characters that have moral dilemmas, but for the most part, they’re still killing for sustenance and taking advantage of the pathetic humans that fall at their feet.  But I digress…there is still a lot of violence in both vampire and zombie movies…even if the movies happen to be comedic in nature (e.g. Shaun of the Dead).   

I suppose that there’s room for a return to the more traditional styles of horror films, where vampires burn in the sunlight and zombies only go down when you shoot them in the head.  And until they do, I’ll keep seeking out locations to hole up in when the zombie apocalypse begins and stocking up on silver and UV flashlights for when the vamps come out of the coffin.  Maybe I’ll get lucky and just run into one of those sparkly ones…  

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