Sunday, August 15, 2021

Dracula Never Dies a passionate, eloquent read, provides unique assessments of Bela Lugosi, Hollywood

Review by Doug Gibson

Picture this passage from author Christopher R. Gauthier's new novel, Dracula Never Dies: The Revenge of Bela Vorlock," (Arcane Shadows Press, 2021): 

Our protagonist, Vorlock, one-time horror film star, reduced to poverty row through two decades of abuse and betrayal by fellow actors, family members and media hacks -- who rival Ayn Rand's "Ellsworth M. Toohey" in evil -- believes he is to receive a peer appreciation award for his decades as "Dracula" and other roles.

It turns out to be an elaborate, cruel joke. At that last minute the award is snatched away and instead given to a well-fed, successful acting rival, one who has abused Vorlock, and his immediate family, personally. With much laughing and sniggering, the Toohey-like MC thrusts a jester's cap on Vorlock's head.

It is an indignity gone too far. But I don't want to give away too much of Gauthier's excellent novel, part one of a planned trilogy). 


I have a blurb on this edition's back cover, and I have read earlier versions of Chris' draft that total several hundred pages. Dracula Never Dies is nearly 300 pages. An appropriate one-sentence summary of the novel is an elegant primal scream of abuse, survival, more abuse, justice, and revenge

There are no chapter breaks once Dracula Never Dies gets going. The narrator describes a life -- with prose -- that moves from passion to emotion to anguish to anger to regret to survival to despair to grief to irony to love to hate to gothic horror to revenge to resignation, and to perhaps 20 other emotions.

In an Amazon review, Robert Cremer, biographer of Bela Lugosi (Lugosi: The Man Behind the Cape), notes how Hollywood, its dreams and schemes that can destroy dreams, contributes to the gothic horror of the novel. (Cremer also has a blurb on the back cover.)

Cremer also notes a plus to the novel, that genre fans will recognize many references to characters, and events from the times of Bela Lugosi. 

And, of course Dracula Never Dies' protagonist Bela Vorlock is Bela Lugosi. This is an alternate biography of Bela Lugosi existing in another multiverse, with much of the plot including Lugosi's times and life in our universe.

The plot -- and I wish to reveal very little of particulars, more for the reader to enjoy -- involves Vorlock's youthful escape from patriarchal tyranny, an interlude of happiness and love, a period of success in the entertainment world, and his efforts to endure and survive while suffering personal and professional setbacks/betrayals.

Gauthier's prose is magnificent. Expression is a key strength of his writing. Although their styles are different, Gauthier's word craftmanship reminds me of the satisfaction of reading a good novel from E. Annie Proulx, author of "The Shipping News" and "Brokeback Mountain." 

Dracula Never Dies' text demands to be read carefully. If it is glossed over the reader will get lost. Careful reading will provide a rewarding long, satisfying read. 

After finishing the final two score of pages (in which a character who Ed Wood and Lugosi fans will recognize is included) I am already eager to read the next installment of Gauthier's trilogy. Alas, it may be a while. I'll be patient. Dracula Never dies is priced relatively inexpensively. I hope I can add a Kindle version to the dead tree edition I own.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

The Invisible Ray, with Lugosi and Karloff


The Invisible Ray, Universal, 1936, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Frances Drake, Frank Lawton. Directed by Lambert Hillyer. 3 stars - One of the classic 1930s Universal pairings of Karloff and Lugosi. A trailer is here.

This film is unique in that it is a science fiction film, rather than a horror film. Karloff and Lugosi are scientists who travel to Africa to find "Radium X," who Karloff has proven crashed into earth millions of years ago. 

"Radium X" is discovered, but contact with it turns Karloff radioactive, and deadly to the touch. Lugosi prepares medicine that counters the poison, but when Karloff's wife, (Drake) leaves him for an adventurer, Lawton, Karloff, going slowly insane, shirks the medicine and goes on a killing spree. Violet Kemble Cooper is creepy as Karloff's mother. 

Easy to buy and usually on TCM once a year.

-- Doug Gibson

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

The 'Gruesome Twosome' is HGL grindhouse fare!


By Steve D. Stones

This 1967 Herschell Gordon Lewis feature has the unique distinction of having one of the most bizarre openings in low-budget horror cinema history. After editing, the film was short in length. As filler, Lewis added two wig blocks with construction paper faces talking to each other during the opening. One of the wig blocks is stabbed as blood gushes out everywhere. Even after inserting this opening sequence, the film only runs 72 minutes.

Crazy Mrs. Pringle and her mentally challenged son Rodney run a wig shop near a Florida college campus. The wigs are advertised as 100 percent real human hair. The shop also rents vacant rooms to college co-eds. The renting of rooms is only a disguise for Pringle to lure young women to the shop so Rodney can scalp and murder them. Pringle often talks to her stuffed cat named Napoleon, adding to her craziness. \

A college girl arrives at Pringle’s wig shop to inquire about a room for rent. She is lured into a back room to be scalped by Rodney. The girl’s friend, Kathy Baker, investigates to try and find the murdered girl. During her investigation, other girls are scalped and murdered. Kathy follows a janitor home who buries bones in his backyard from a campus garbage can. She suspects he has something to do with the murders, but discovers the bones are for his dog.

A number of scenes pad out the length of the film with shots that last too long and don’t tribute to the plot of the film. An unrelated sequence of spectators watching a car race is one example. Another example is a scene of college girls in their dorm room dancing on beds in pajamas and see-through nighties while eating Kentucky Fried Chicken — an attempt at product placement. Colonel Sanders would make an appearance in Lewis’ next film — Blast Off Girls (1967).

The police eventually catch up to Mrs. Pringle and Rodney, and arrest them both. A trailer for the film shows Pringle hamming it up for the camera as the police carry her away in handcuffs.

Director Lewis often combined dark humor and horror in an attempt to make gore and over-the-top violence look silly and unsophisticated. His early “Blood Trilogy” films — Blood Feast (1963), Two Thousand Maniacs (1964) and Color Me Blood Red (1965) are all good examples of this. Too extreme for most mainstream theatres, these films played on 42nd street grindhouses in New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Blood Feast changed motion picture history forever as being the first film to introduce extreme violence and gore to the movie screen. Anyone with a weak stomach is not encouraged to view these films. See them at your own risk.

Happy viewing