Archive for Hammer Horror

Update 04/22/2020: Quarantine Blues IV

Posted in Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Bandcamp, Black Sabbath, Blood Ceremony (band), Countess Elizabeth Báthory, Deep Purple, Georges Franju, Gianna Maria Canale, Guy Rolfe, Hammer Horror, Jesús Franco (director), Mario Bava, Morbidezza, Mr Sardonicus, Puppet Master (franchise), Ricardo Freda, Spectral Realms, The Dark Young, Thriller TV Series, Tony Iommi, William Castle with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Well, these are indeed proving to be strange times. The usually bustling midtown Phoenix, where I live, looks like a perpetual Sunday morning, yet when I turn on the radio or take calls at work, I hear stories from across the country and around the world of hardship and loss of life that sound like wartime newsreels. It’s a bit surreal, to say the least.

Across the street from my apartment complex is a Seventh Day Adventist church that has a message board where they post inspirational messages and times for service. Passing by the other day on my Sunday stroll through the surrounding picturesque neighborhood, two things caught my eye; for one, they had Sabbath school, which of course inspired visions of a classroom full of wide-eyed, sable-clad kiddies being instructed on how Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi lost his fingertips only to find a new music genre. Also on the board was the message “Trust the Lord and wash your hands”, which I found amusing, in a portentous way.

Anyway, back to distractions! For the sake of completion in my Bava-thon, I watched two movies that were originally attributed to director Ricardo Freda, but are now generally accepted as having mostly been the work of his cinematographer, Mario Bava: I Vampiri (1957, The Vampires), and Caltiki, il mostro immortale (1959, Caltiki – The Immortal Monster). The former is a story of a Countess (played by Freda’s wife, model/actress Gianna Maria Canale) who keeps herself young by having her henchmen procure the blood of local girls for a serum, created by her besotted cousin, that keeps her eternally youthful. As time goes on, the serum’s effectiveness wears off quicker and quicker, as the body count rises. In the interim, the Countess alternates between dual identities, choosing at once to hold court as her beautiful “niece” Gisele, then hiding from the world when her face reverts to that of a crone. Her fixation with her youth as well as her pursuit of a local journalist who reminds her of his father, who was once the object of her obsession, prove to be her downfall. I enjoyed this film a lot with its atmosphere and allusions to not only the Gothic tradition, but also the mad scientist genre; the apex of which is (in my eyes) the film Les Yeux sans visage (1960, Eyes Without a Face), by Georges Franju. I Vampiri reminded me somewhat of the Hammer film Countess Dracula (1971), only set in contemporary times. Both were loosely based on the Blood Countess, Elizabeth Báthory. Director Ricardo Freda acknowledged Edgar Allan Poe‘s Fall of the House of Usher as another influence, which is evident in the depiction of the dreary castle Du Grand. I Vampiri was the first major Italian horror film since the silent era and was a false start for the golden era of Italian Gothic films which really took off after the success of Bava’s Black Sunday. Two things of note: the opening scene with the body of a young woman being fished out of a lake has been repeated in several movies of the period. I noticed similar scenes in Hammer’s The Maniac (1963), and Jesús Franco‘s Gritos en la noche (1962, The Awful Dr. Orloff). Secondly, the film was released in 1960 in the US as The Devil’s Commandment which had some new scenes added, not in the original film. The movie went by largely ignored at the time, but has since become a classic of sorts due to its association with Bava.

Promo still from The Devil’s Commandment edit of the film.

Caltiki, il mostro immortale is the Italian answer to Hammer’s The Quatermass Xperiment (1955), a more thoughtful Gothic sci-fi film in the vein of the Blob. Caltiki includes a faux Mayan Apocalypse myth, and an obviously choreographed Caribbean style ritual dance which probably wouldn’t track with a savvy modern audience, but it’s a fun film anyway, and the earliest I’ve seen that bears the Bava look. I think this is because he finally had free reign to use all his special effects shots using painted glass and mirrors, etc., along with his great mood lighting. It is also a bit graphic for the time period, featuring a few grisly shots which were excised from the American release of the film.

Promo still from Caltiki il mostro immortale (1959).

As a palate cleanser after the Italian Gothics, I decided to watch some of the Puppet Master movies from the collection my buddy Zach gave me. I had seen the first movie before, but I must have seen an edited version on cable because I didn’t recall all the sexy stuff. In fact, the first three movies were full of softcore scenes and bloody puppet violence. After that the puppets went from being evil to chaotic good for the remainder of the franchise. The fourth and fifth films seemed to try to clean up the series a bit, perhaps to widen their commercial appeal, and start a new origin story using actor Guy Rolfe to portray the anti-hero Puppeteer André Toulon. However, by the 7th film, the quality really drops as the films lose focus and rely a lot on stock footage and flashback clips from earlier films. They also keep revamping the origin story, which is confusing and disrupts the continuity of the Franchise. Rolfe also appeared in Dolls (1987) and, of interest to me, I realized (after the fact) that he also was in the Terror in Teakwood episode from Thriller, and he played the titular villain in William Castle‘s 1961 film Mr. Sardonicus.

Guy Rolfe (1911–2003)

INTERMISSION (wherein I talk briefly about other stuff)

I realize that I haven’t mentioned anything about my writing in a while. To be honest, I haven’t done much creative writing in the last few weeks because it is difficult to focus on anything when all this virus craziness is going on outside. That said, I have worked a little on a few different stories. I reworked the mid-section from Nativity in Black so that the action flows better, and I have been coming up with ideas for some new tales, one of which is another installment of the Morbidezza saga. I sent a message to Hippocampus Press to update my contact info, but got no response, but I was able to get in touch with S.T. Joshi through his blog and he responded, saying he’d keep me in the loop when they have contributors update their bios for Spectral Realms 13, which I believe is slated for a late August or Early September release. I have 3 poems that are supposed to be included in that issue.

Listening to Blood Ceremony‘s rockin’ cover of Loving You, by Iron Claw, I am reminded of the cover my old band, The Dark Young, once did of Bloodsucker, by Deep Purple. Our arrangement features a baritone sax in lieu of an organ solo. I would love to see that made available on our Bandcamp page some day, if we could ever get the rights cleared for it. We have both a live and a studio version which are excellent, if I do say so myself.


I know I promised to talk about Bava’s giallo films, but I have already said so much in this post, I think I shall stop here for the moment. Next week I shall cover all that as promised. Till then, be safe…

Update 04/15/2020: Quarantine Blues III

Posted in A. Lee Martinez, Antonio Margheriti, Barbara Steele, Black Sunday (1960), Boris Karloff, Bram Stoker, Carlo Rustichelli, Christopher Lee, Contes cruels, Count Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy, Cryptozoology, Denisse Montoya, Doom Metal, Dracula, Full Moon Features, Giallo, Gil's All Fright Diner (2006), Guy de Maupassant, Halina Zalewska, Hammer Horror, I tre volti della paura (1963), Johanna Sadonis, John Langan, Kiss (band), La frusta e il corpo (1963), Lamberto Bava, Lucifer (band), Lucifer III (2020), Mario Bava, Motörhead, Paul Stanley, Puppet Master (franchise), Rue Morgue Magazine, The Fisherman (2016), Tim Lucas, Updates, Zachary Strupp with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Well I believe it has been around a month since I have visited either family or friends. My only social interactions are with co-workers and the staff at my local coffee shop, both of which are necessarily brief. I cannot wait till this is all over and done with; although, as I told my cousin when I called her this weekend to relay my good tidings for the holiday, even when they lift the quarantine edict, I am not sure that I will feel safe enough to see anyone right away. We’ll see what happens whenever they do.

A colleague at work made me a mask, but I am having issues with the fastening buttons, trying to get them into the thread loops. I am just not that nimble with my arthritic fingers anymore. I may have to attach a safety pin or something the get it to stay in place. My friend Denisse says she is going to try to procure some quilter’s cotton, which apparently is good for filtering out the virus. If she does, she promise’s to hook me up with a mask. Fingers crossed…

In the interim, I try to stay connected through calls and text, as I have none of the gadgets that people are using to keep in touch. My good friend Zach Strupp sent me a care-package, which I received Saturday. It was loaded with goodies: first off, there were two novels which he wanted me to read, one is Gil’s All Fright Diner (2006), by A. Lee Martinez, which he has been trying to have me read for some time, and the other is The Fisherman (2016), by John Langan, a weird tale about two widowers and their encounter with a figure called The Fisherman. I started reading the latter, since he was anxious that I should do so, so we can talk about it. So far I am wrapping up the 3rd chapter, which is the set up. The action is supposed to begin in the 4th chapter, which begins the second section of the book.

The Fisherman, by John Langan (2016, Word Horde).

Also in the box were two notepads, both a red and a black pen, 3 issues of Rue Morgue magazine (one of which was one of their special themed publications-from their Rue Morgue Library-this one featuring the creatures of cryptozoology), a DVD of the Puppet Master franchise from Full Moon Features, various supplies and paper products and, last but not least, some plastic Easter Eggs filled with little malted egg candies! Zach has begun a blog where he talks Horror films and various other topics which you may find at Also, if you’re looking for a fun read you can check out his Killing Heart book series available on Amazon in both trade paperback and eBook formats.

Rue Morgue Library: Monstro Bizarro.

Saturday I picked up (curbside; a popular service these days during the lockdown) a CD I ordered from Zia records of the latest album by Johanna Sadonis & co., Lucifer III. The sound is a continuation of the more streamlined, 70’s rock sound from the previous album replete with Johanna’s customary occult themes. Sadly, it seems the Doom Metal of Lucifer I is definitely a thing of the past, but once one accepts that, it’s not a bad album. In fact, I rather like the song Midnight Phantom, which is featured in one of two videos made to promote the album. There is no new ground treaded here, but overall the quality of the remaining album is consistently decent if not exactly revelatory. What can I say? I just Like Johanna Sadonis. Oh, by the way, she is now Johanna Plowtow Andersson, having married her writing partner, drummer Nicke Plotow Andersson.

Lucifer 2020 (l to r): Harald Göthblad (bass), Martin Nordin (guitar), Johanna Plotow Andersson (vocals), Nicke Plotow Andersson (drums), Linus Björklund (guitar).

Caveat emptor , I have seen several reviews of the LP on Amazon where customers complain about the album sleeve being a bit flimsy and either arriving damaged in the mail or falling apart once they open it. As usual, there are multiple collectible versions  featuring colored vinyl, a copy of the CD, and a black and white version of the above photo with autographs by the images of the respective bandmembers. As with their previous albums, there are several singles and non-album b-sides accompanying this release. Apparently Lucifer were part of some challenge where groups were asked to write a song in the style of Motörhead, the results of which were made available as part of a subscription promotion for a Swedish music magazine. The resulting single, Fire Up & Ride can be heard on YouTube, but the 7″ single was limited edition in 111 copies, presumably long gone. I rather like it and wish they’d make it available for order on their site. I have also found a recent recording of a Paul Stanley song, Take Me Away (Together as One). The cover is okay, but the song isn’t especially exciting for me. I have never been a Kiss fan, and their solo work even less so.

Fire Up and Ride single by Lucifer

I spent most of my past week and this weekend watching Italian Horror films. I have several on Blu-ray, but my player shit the bed a while back, so I turned to my DVDs, beginning with Antonio Margheriti‘s I lunghi capelli della morte (1964, The Long Hair of Death), featuring my beloved Barbara Steele. In the 15th century a woman, Adele, is put to death for witchcraft, by Count Humboldt whose advances she spurned. Her daughter Mary (Steele in one of her infamous dual roles) tries to sway him but as he takes advantage of her offer, the mother is burned in a public execution. In her dying breath, she curses Humboldt and predicts the fall of his house. When Mary finds out about his betrayal she runs, but is overtaken by the Count and pushed off a cliff into a running stream where she perishes.

Adele’s youngest daughter, Lisabeth is taken in by the Count and raised within Humboldt castle, where she grows to be a lovely, but very sober woman. This role as well as that of Adele, is portrayed by the actress Halina Zalewska. The count’s son, Kurt, has his greedy eyes on Lisabeth and hounds her till she reluctantly consents, under some duress, to marry him. He is a cad, and is abusive with her and continually forces himself on her until the arrival of a new face… or is it? This is another plague movie by the way. I seem to keep coming across these nowadays. The Long Hair of Death is sometimes dismissed as a second tier movie because of it’s deliberate pace, but I believe it’s worth wading through the slow build up to fully appreciate the devastating climax. Besides, there is plenty of Gothic atmosphere and Steele is her usual uncanny self.

Barbara Steele as Helen Rochefort, eyeing her prey.

I then moved on to a Mario Bava-thon, beginning with my favorite, La maschera del demonio (1960, Black Sunday). As I have stated before, this Gothic fantasy is unequalled in it’s decadent visual style and in Steele’s performance in the dual roles of Princesses Asa & Katia Vajda. She is lovely as the mild and innocent Katia, but it as her wicked ancestor, Asa that her infamy rests. Her mixture of passionate eroticism and vile grotesqueness are positively mesmerizing. The opening scene, featuring her execution through having a spiked mask pounded onto her comely countenance, is as graphic as anyone had seen in a film of this type previously. Neither Bava, nor anyone else for that matter, ever topped this film, within the genre, for it’s visual splendor and grotesque beauty. A final note: I especially love the scene where her identity is discovered by the romantic lead to be that of the witch and not the ingénue and we are treated to a view of her not-as-yet regenerated torso which harkens the cover art from the penny dreadful Varney the Vampire, with the titular vampire’s exposed ribcage.

Asa uncloaked.

I then watched the Italian cut of I tre volti della paura (1963, Black Sabbath). My only complaint about this version is that it doesn’t have most of the intros by Karloff, nor does it have his incomparable vocal performance  (being dubbed into Italian). That said, this version does contain the original running order of the shorts as well as the preferred edit of the giallo segment The Telephone, that dispenses with the convoluted supernatural pretense and also shows the true nature of the relationship between the two women. The Karloff segment, The Wurdalak, is loosely based on the Family of the Vourdalak (1839) by Count Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy, although it also owes a bit to Guy de Maupassant‘s story, La peur (1882, Fear) which tells the story of the traveler coming upon a home where a family is held prisoner by fear of the avenging revenant of a felled villain. Bava scholar, Tim Lucas believes Karloff’s look, as Gorca the paterfamilias, is reminiscent of Bram Stoker‘s description of Count Dracula. Perhaps, I don’t know whether that was intentional or just happenstance. It does have some genuinely creepy stuff that might not fly nowadays, like Gorca preying on his grandson. That aside, Karloff is brilliant, and this version contains some gory scenes (for the time period) that AIP cut out for the American release. The third segment, The Drop of Water, which ends the American release, yet begins the Italian cut, is based on a story accredited to Anton Chekov,  yet was later discovered to actually be based on a story called Dalle due alle tre e mezzo by Italian author Franco Lucentini. Basically, the story is about a woman who comes to prepare the body of a deceased medium for burial. The medium, who apparently died of an attack of some sort during a séance, is left with a ghastly grimace on her face, which spooks the woman, but not enough to keep her from pilfering a ring from the dead medium’s hand; an act that will incur dire consequences. I recall being terrified by this segment when I first saw it, many moons ago. Bava’s son, Lamberto Bava, says that since seeing this segment he cannot sleep at night if there is a dripping faucet anywhere in his home. The face was made by Bava’s father, sculptor Eugenio Bava. An unnamed actor wore it in the scene where the corpse rises from it’s repose, but the rest of the time it was affixed to a dummy that was rolled around on wheels to give the effect of it floating, rather than walking towards its victim.

The corpse of the medium with it’s ghastly grimace.

Next up was Operazione paura (1966, Kill, Baby, Kill). I have always felt that this film was a bit weak, although seeing it again now, I really enjoyed it. It doesn’t have any stars like Barbara Steele to recommend it, but there are some great characters, like the Baroness Graps (portrayed by Giana Vivaldi), a noblewoman fallen on hard times in the mode of Dickens’ Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. The Baroness’ daughter Melissa perished 10 years prior due to the negligence of her neighbors when she was run down by a carriage and they ignored her requests for help. Now her vengeful ghost keeps the villagers in constant fear of her deadly visitations. Melissa was actually played by a boy, Valerio Valeri, who gave her a creepy quality. Despite his androgynous look, one can tell in the murk of one’s mind that something is a bit off. This usage of a child as the instrument of evil has since become a common cinematic trope in the genre.

Creepy Melissa Graps and her dolls.

The last of the Bava Gothics I watched was La frusta e il corpo (1963, The Whip and the Body) featuring Hammer Horror star Christopher Lee and Israeli actress Daliah Lavi. This is a strange movie. Lee is Kurt Menliff, an estranged son returning to his family castle to stake his claim on his inheritance and bring discord to his brother’s recent marriage to his former lover, Nevenka (Lavi). Nevenka claims to hate Kurt, but is obviously obsessed with him and the film depicts in frank terms their sadomasochistic relationship, which upset a lot of people when the movie first came out, causing it to be seized for charges of obscenity, which were later dropped.

Kurt is killed early on and buried, but Nevenka claims to be haunted by his ghost, who comes and whips her in her bedroom when everyone else is asleep. These scenes were cut from the American release, which made the movie very confusing for viewers. All this however, has been restored in the respective DVD/Blu-ray releases from Kino Lorber. Although upset that he wasn’t asked to do the voice dub for the English version of the film, Christopher Lee was very proud of his role as Kurt, and he seems to really relish lording over the exquisite Daliah Lavi,  who gives a passionate performance as the harried Nevenka, whose true feelings for Kurt, despite her constant declarations of her hate for him, are betrayed by her ecstatic response to his flagellate ministrations: “You haven’t changed, I see. You’ve always loved violence.” Kurt growls as he lashes her.

Kurt and Nevenka (Lee and Lavi: note the whip in her hand.)

The film is dripping with Gothic atmosphere and tropes and has an Anne Radcliffe type twist ending that has some minor plot holes but one may forgive them when weighed against the great performances from the lead actors. The celebrated film score, known as the Windsor Concerto, by Carlo Rustichelli, who also scored The Long Hair of Death and Kill, Baby, Kill, is very lush and brings to mind the grandiose Romantic piano concertos of the late 19th century.


Next installment: Bava goes Giallo!




Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla”

Posted in Bram Stoker, Carmilla, Christopher Lee, Collinson twins, David Henry Friston (illustrator), Dracula, Emily Gerard, Hammer Horror, Ingrid Pitt, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Juan López Moctezuma, Karnstein Trilogy, LGBT vampires, Lust for a Vampire, Madeline Smith, Michael Fitzgerald (illustrator), Morbidezza, Peter Cushing, Robert W. Chambers, Roy Ward Baker, Shout! Factory, Thalía, The Dark Blue (magazine), The King in Yellow (1895), Transylvania Superstitions (1885), Twins of Evil, Vampire Fiction, vampire novellas, Yutte Stensgaard with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

At some point in my life I became fascinated with the Victorian Vampire tale and sought out every extant instance of it that I could find. I haunted my local bookstores and purchased from mail order catalogues specializing in Dark Fantasy and Horror (obviously this was in the days before the Internet) but after a while I began to see the same stories and after reading them, there were only a select few which I ever felt compelled to return to. Such a one is Carmilla, the infamous novella by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. It is largely known nowadays as the story that spawned the genre of sexually ambiguous  vampires, but it is so much more than that and deserves to be acknowledged as one of the greatest Gothic Horror stories ever written.

“…I saw a female figure standing at the foot of the bed, a little at the right side. It was in a dark loose dress, and its hair was down and covered its shoulders. A block of stone could not have been more still.” (David Henry Friston, 1872)

It was originally serialized in the short-lived literary magazine, The Dark Blue, from 1871-1872, with illustrations by Michael Fitzgerald and David Henry Friston (respectively). It is presented as an account written by the protagonist, Laura, 10 years after her encounter with the eponymous vampire. (SPOILERS AHEAD!)

Basically, Carmilla is an aristocratic teenage vampire who plays on social etiquette to wheedle her way into the homes of the gentry where she woos and feeds on the young women of the household. To keep herself fettle during her protracted courtships she creeps out at night and drains the village daughters. It is this emphasis on same sex seduction that has given the tale its notoriety. Hammer studios exploited this in their 1970 film, Vampire Lovers, which alternately boosted and doomed the career of the curvaceous Polish born actress Ingrid Pitt. Although in her 30s at the time, her mesmerizing portrayal of the predatory countess is so iconic that it guaranteed her an esteemed place through posterity in the Horror film annals alongside her male counterparts, like Christopher Lee.

The movie was basically Hammer’s attempt to spice up their brand with a saucy new franchise, which came to be known as the Karnstein Trilogy, named after the family of vampires from which Carmilla was one of the lone survivors. Surprisingly enough, the film follows Le Fanu’s story fairly closely, although they do play up the erotic aspects of the tale and even have Ms. Pitt frolicking naked with co-star Madeline Smith (who plays Emma, the film’s equivalent to Laura) and seducing anyone and everyone (male or female) who has the arguable misfortune to come within her path. She is very charismatic and has a sensual allure that is very like her literary counterpart and, like her, when it comes time to vamp out, she is genuinely terrifying.

The film did well enough to spawn two sequels, however Ms. Pitt declined to renew her role for fear of being typecast, and subsequently the follow-up film, 1971’s Lust for a Vampire, was a weak link in the series. The story had some good plot ideas but was marred by the cardboard acting of Danish model turned actress Yutte Stensgaard and an emphasis on lurid, puerile softcore scenes. The 3rd installment, Twins of Evil (also 1971), had a better script, the delectable Collinson twins, and a grave performance by the recently widowed Peter Cushing, to recommend it.

Magazine promo featuring the ladies from Vampire Lovers. Ingrid Pitt is in the top row, dressed in blue.

Oddly enough, in the  featurette on the Blu-ray release of Vampire Lovers, from Shout Factory, the director, Roy Ward Baker, as well as many of the others involved with the movie claimed they never saw the Sapphic subtext in the Le Fanu story. I find that hard to believe; either they’re being coy or they are willfully ignoring the obvious. That said, I don’t think Le Fanu intended for his tale to be salacious, as he never stoops to tawdry titillations in his descriptions of Carmilla’s heated declarations and osculatory embraces. A modern reader must understand that in the Victorian mind, homosexuality was considered an unnatural transgression and a damning affront to God; this can be seen in Laura’s adverse reaction to Carmilla’s advances, which she initially tries to dismiss as “mysterious moods”. They trouble her greatly, but Carmilla’s glamour of preternatural beauty and persuasive powers have a way of softening her aversion.

There is great Gothic atmosphere in the story as well as some genuinely creepy moments that are brilliantly written, like when Laura describes her spectral visitations; the first visit from Carmilla as a young child is particularly vivid and disturbing. I was also blindsided by the implication that Laura is distantly related to the Karnsteins. It made me wonder, is Carmilla trying to bring another family member into the depleted Karnstein family vampire coven? Laura’s mother died young and I believe she may have been taken or at least an attempt was made to take her, although this isn’t fully explored in the tale. Carmilla hints at such a thing, and more, in this telling passage from chapter 4 wherein I believe she hints at her vampiric nature, which she claims even she cannot control, and that, once initiated, Laura will bring others into the fold as well:

She used to place her pretty arms about my neck, draw me to her, and laying her cheek to mine, murmur with her lips near my ear, “Dearest, your little heart is wounded; think me not cruel because I obey the irresistible law of my strength and weakness; if your dear heart is wounded, my wild heart bleeds with yours. In the rapture of my enormous humiliation I live in your warm life, and you shall die—die, sweetly die—into mine. I cannot help it; as I draw near to you, you, in your turn, will draw near to others, and learn the rapture of that cruelty, which yet is love; so, for a while, seek to know no more of me and mine, but trust me with all your loving spirit.”

Although not the first literary vampire, Carmilla did help establish many of the tropes we expect nowadays from our vampires, like returning to their place of burial each night, their mesmeric power, pointy teeth, the ability to shapeshift (Carmilla turns into a great shadowy cat), and even the ability to breach locked doors without effort.

Bram Stoker appears to have been familiar with the story, as there are some analogous scenes and details in Dracula (1897). In fact, before he discovered Emily Gerard‘s treasure trove travel essay Transylvania Superstitions (1885), he was going to have the novel take place in Styria, the Austrian state where Le Fanu’s tale takes place. I also suspect that perhaps the Baron Vordenburg, who is the vampire authority in the tale, could have been an inspiration for Stoker’s Abraham Van Helsing.

I wonder as well whether the tomes Le Fanu mentions as coming from his library which, after an unfruitful precursory search, I assume are fictitious, might not also be considered precursors to the imaginary grimoires of the Lovecraft mythos, predating even Robert W ChambersKing in Yellow.

Nowadays, any time someone writes an erotic vampire tale, especially if it hints at lesbianism, the character of Carmilla is bound the make an appearance at some point. The Karnstein name has been bandied about in many Horror and exploitation films over the years, and Carmilla has appeared in countless comic books, cartoons, video games, you name it. In fact, despite never having  quite become household name, she is probably the most famous literary vampire after Dracula.

Both stories are heavily plundered in the exploitation film Alucarda, by Mexican director Juan López Moctezuma. A few scenes are taken directly from Carmilla, like the scene with the hunchback who tries to sell the girls charms, and the bit where they enter the crypt and find Alucarda’s friend reposing in a coffin overbrimming in blood.

Lastly, I have been smitten with Carmilla for decades. Her story has definitely had an influence on the development of my own vampire women, Thalía & Morbidezza, and I reckon I’ll continue to be in her thrall until the day I stretch out for a dolce far niente in my own narrow house, to dream of bats, blood, and fair fey women amidst the crumbling tombs of the Karnstein family crypt.




Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)

Posted in Amicus, Frankenstein, Frankenstein: The True Story (1973), Hammer Horror, James Mason (actor), Jane Seymour, John Polidori, Mark Maddox, Mary Shelley, The Vampyre (1819) with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2019 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Spanish poster for Frankenstein: The True Story.

As I am sure I have mentioned before, I have been a life-long fan of all things Frankensteinian. Growing up I watched any movie or TV show that featured Mary Shelley’s monster. Over the years there have been a few that professed to portray the definitive faithful adaptation of the influential novel, but none have truly depicted the story as it was written. One such production is the two-part TV miniseries Frankenstein: The True Story (1973).

Add for 1st episode, presumably, from TV Guide.

Adapted by novelist Christopher Isherwood, it does portray events and characters from the 1818 novel not usually portrayed in other filmic adaptations, but it still takes several liberties with the story. One of the biggest changes was the inclusion of Dr. Polidori, who seems to be a stand in for the character Dr. Pretorius, from Universal’s The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Dr. John Polidori, in reality, was Lord Byron’s personal physician and traveling companion, and he was present during the fateful evening at the Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva in Switzerland when 18 year old Mary first conceived of the grisly tale which has fascinated scholars and fans of macabre and fantastic fiction for centuries. Polidori, only 21 at the time of the celebrated soiree,  was hardly the gaffer portrayed by English actor James Mason. He is known nowadays mostly as the author of The Vampyre (1819) “the progenitor of the romantic vampire literary genre” (, retrieved 02/21/2019).

John William Polidori, by F.G. Gainsford (floruit 1805-1822), given to the National Portrait Gallery, London in 1895. ( retrieved 03/05/2019).

It’s been decades since I read Ms. Shelley’s novel so I couldn’t quite cite specifics, although there are some obvious ones which bear mentioning. For starters, the role of Victor Frankenstein’s boyhood friend Henry Clerval (played by a young David McCallum, a/k/a “Ducky” from the TV series NCIS) who for some reason in the mini series is the instigator for Victor’s experiment and the source for the creature’s brain. In the novel, he is just a good friend who is later murdered by the creature. There is also the creature itself who in the miniseries starts out as a handsome young man then deteriorates into a gnarly walking corpse. The biggest change I think is the bride, who in the novel never gets created. In the mini series, she is created using parts from Agatha, daughter of the blind man the creature befriends. The bride here is played by actress Jane Seymour, who looks stunning and plays the bride as a rather coquettish, bourgeoning femme fatale. Her death scene is the one bit that stuck in my head from when I first saw it as a boy on it’s original run.

Jane Seymour as Prima (the Bride).

Overall, I can tell what the makers of Frankenstein: The True Story were going for, but I think they missed their mark by a longshot. They had an all star cast but the script was weak and some of their plot choices are befuddling to say the least. There are some interesting ideas and images, however, and I can now watch it will a little less antipathy than I was wont to in the past.

DVD for Frankenstein: The True Story.


Apparently, the fanzine Little Shoppe of Horrors The Journal of Classic British Horror Films, which specializes in Hammer Horror, Amicus and related Gothic Horror films, featured an in depth article on the making of Frankenstein: The True Story in their 38th issue. The artwork by Mark Maddox is quite striking.

Detail from artwork for The Epic Untold Saga Behind Frankenstein: The True Story by Mark Maddox for Little Shoppe of Horrors #38.






Watercolor Macabre

Posted in Classics Illustrated, Edgar Allan Poe, Horror Art, Jerusalem's Lot, Night Shift book, Stephen King, The Raven and Other Poems, watercolor painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 17, 2015 by Manuel Paul Arenas

While rummaging through my storage locker, I found a plastic bag which contained some watercolor paintings I had done in the 90’s. Prior to that, I hadn’t played with paints since I was in grade school, and I am not 100% certain what prompted me to take it up at this moment, but I did and the results were interesting, if not spectacular, and definitely macabre in theme. Unfortunately, the best of the lot, a depiction of Madeline Usher in the climactic scene from Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher”, seems to be missing. My parents had it hanging on the wall of their study for years but it seems to have been misplaced and they could not locate it last I asked them about it. The eight remaining paintings are a mixed bag, but each have their things to recommend them. The first is “The Conqueror Worm”, inspired by the Poe poem of the same name. I believe somewhere in the back of my mind was the Gahan Wilson illustration for the same piece, from the Classics Illustrated version of “The Raven and Other Poems”. Looking at it now, it also brings to mind the worm from Stephen King’s “Jerusalem’s Lot” story in “Night Shift”.

“The Conqueror Worm”

Next is “Kiss of Death”, inspired a little by “Death and the Maiden”, which I believe was an alternate idea for a title name. Note the blood smear on the young maid’s lips; she has just received the fatal smooch. Kiss of Death Here is another graveyard scene. I think “Ascension” when I see this one, although it’s really just a ghost rising from a fissure in the cemetery grounds.


This one is called “The Monster & the Crucifix”. It was inspired by something I’d read about a scene which was never shot for James Whale’s “The Bride of Frankenstein” (1935), with Boris Karloff. In it, he has just escaped imprisonment and is racing through the local graveyard when he comes across a life-sized crucifix. Seeing the crucified Jesus, he runs to help him and pull him off the cross. The censors said “no”, but I said “yes”. I made the monster look different because I wanted to make it my own interpretation. Besides, I wasn’t sure I could do ole Boris the proper justice in reproducing his image.

“The Monster & the Crucifix”

This one is called “The Lair” and was partially inspired by the Munster’s pet dragon, Spot, which lived under their stairwell. In the lead-in to the show I believe they have a flash of his eyes lighting up as he breathes fire in the darkness.

“The Lair”

This one I think I’ll call “Vampyre”. I realize this is the second redhead to appear here, but they do not represent anyone in particular. It was partially an aesthetic choice because red contrasts better with some of the other colors I used in the paintings. Also I believe I had in mind the idea that in the Old World, redheads were usually associated more with witchcraft and the supernatural. I think this one has a bit of the Hammer Horror feel to it. My vampire here looks like she could be one of the Hammer Glamour Girls with her red hair, colorful cloak and dress, as well as her prominent cleavage. Her victim is an attempt at portraying myself as I looked at the time. I never get me right.


This next one is pretty gruesome. I suppose I’d call it “Burn”. For some reason I was going to do a series of paintings related to dungeons, torture, and execution,  and this was the first. The most notable things I see here are the thickness of the flames and the detail of his eyes having been burnt. Perhaps he saw something he wasn’t supposed to?


The last painting, “Inferno” is probably the most striking one. Intended as part of my aforementioned series, I decided to make it take place in some underworld dungeon. The victim is hanging upside down, suspended by a chain which is held by nothing. The torturer is blue, perhaps a demon of some sort. He is expressionless. The victim seems to be smiling, but I intentionally made his muscles droop to show he’d been hanging in that position for a very long time. His parchment yellow skin was inspired by an early promotional photo of the group Iron Maiden taken in the torture room at Madame Tussaud’s  Wax Museum, where a corpse in a gibbet sports a similar hue.


Of course, aside from the shocking full-frontal torture scene, the most striking thing to my eye is the fiery backdrop. I made a point of making it look as hot and bright as I could. The rights to all of these images are mine, so if you want to re-post them, just ask for permission and let me know what you intend to use them for, and I shall be glad to give my consent. In the same batch of artwork I found some colored pencil illustrations I did for various poems of mine, here are links to their respective pages:

“The Author” another botched attempt at drawing myself (the author) and some of the creatures from my poetry. Featured here are my “Flower of Evil”, “Gargoyle”, “My Friend Boris”, and the symbol from “Conjunctio” an esoter-otica poem I am too skittish about to publish publicly.

Flower of Evil:

Early Poems (Coup de Corps / The Necromancer / My Friend Boris):

TV, Monsters and Me

Posted in Black Light Verse, Carolyn Jones, Chiller Theater, Count Chocula, Creature Feature, Dark Shadows, Don't Touch That Dial, Dr Paul Bearer, First Studio, Franken Berry, Frankenstein, Goth Girls, Groovie Ghoulies, Hammer Horror, Lara Parker, Mistress of the Dark, Monty Python's Flying Circus, Morticia Addams, Richard Bledsoe, Scooby Doo, The Addams Family, The Dark Young, The Grimoire of the Dark Young, The Hilarious House of Frightenstein, The Munsters, Trish Justrish, Under Television Skies, Universal Classic Monsters, Vampira, You'll Die Laughing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 16, 2015 by Manuel Paul Arenas
Ad for Shock!

Ad for Shock!

In 1957, Universal Studios gave leave to allow their films to be shown on national television stations distributed in their Shock! package which included sixty odd films from their archives, including such classics as Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, et al. as well as their respective sequels. Thus began the monster craze of the 60’s, which has never died out completely ever since.

The Chiller Theater opening segment. The hand would rise from the pool of blood and drop the letters spelling "Chiller".

The Chiller Theater opening segment. The hand would rise from the pool of blood and drop the letters spelling “Chiller”.

When I grew up in the 70’s, I lived for monsters. I didn’t care about sports athletes or super heroes, I lived and breathed monsters. My cousin Jason and I would watch shows like Chiller Theater and Creature Feature, which featured movies from the aforementioned Shock package along with some other monster movies like the Toho Kaijū films (i.e., “Godzilla” and “Mothra”) from Japan, but I always preferred the Gothics. Creature Feature was hosted by Dr. Paul Bearer, who started my interest in Horror Hosts and whose bad puns and macabre humor can be found in my current stage persona.

Dr Paul Bearer host of Creature Feature on WTOG St Petersburg, Florida from 1973-1995.

Dr Paul Bearer host of Creature Feature on WTOG St Petersburg, Florida from 1973-1995.

My cousin was obsessed with Dracula, and I Frankenstein. We ate Count Chocula and Frankenberry cereal, watched Scooby Doo and the Groovie Ghoulies and collected anything and everything monster related, especially if it featured one of our two favorite monsters.

Monster trading card from the You'll Die Laughing series featuring Lon Chaney Sr in the Phantom of the Opera (1925). Notice that Mary Philbin's face has been replaced witn an unknown. I have read that this was done for copyright reasons, but it only seems to be on this run of cards from the 70's, as the later versions did not seem to do this.

Monster trading card from the You’ll Die Laughing series featuring Lon Chaney Sr in the Phantom of the Opera (1925). Notice that Mary Philbin’s face has been replaced with that of an unknown. I have read that this was done for copyright reasons, but it only seems to be on this run of cards from the 70’s, as the later versions did not seem to do this.

When I rediscovered “Dark Shadows” in the 90’s, my mother informed me that I used to watch the original show with her back in the day and even had a thing for a witch, whom I can only assume must have been the character Angelique, played by the lovely Lara Parker.

The lovely and mysterious Angelique, as portrayed by Lara Parker on the original Dark Shadows series.

The lovely and mysterious Angelique, as portrayed by Lara Parker on the original Dark Shadows series.

One crush I do recall, however is Morticia Addams, as portrayed by the exquisite Carolyn Jones. Even before I knew what sex was, I found her mesmerizing. Morticia Addams paved the way for my infatuations for Vampira, and Elvira, and, to this day, I hold her directly responsible for my fixation with Goth Girls.

Carolyn Jones as Morticia Addams, circa 1964.

Carolyn Jones as Morticia Addams, circa 1964.

Aside from my obsession with it’s matriarch, the “Addams Family” show was also a lot of fun, better than the broader comedy of “The Munsters”, which I also liked to some extent, and I really took to heart the Addams Family message of acceptance; it was okay to be eccentric and to walk on the dark side without being outright evil. Herman Munster always tried to get his family to fit in with their neighbors, whereas the Addams Family embraced their weirdness.

Along with my dark interests and fetishes, I can trace my entire creative persona to one children’s show. On my return visit to my beloved Boston in 2010 to record the vocal tracks for the long overdue sequel to the debut album by my old band, the Dark Young, our drummer, my good friend Geoff Chase, showed me a video of a Canadian children’s show called “The Hilarious House of Frightenstein”. The main premise was that the Count, a vampire, and his trusty servant, Igor, had been banished from Transylvania, and could only return when the Count revived Bruce, a Frankenstein monster. Every show they would try, to no avail.

What is significant about the show are two featured segments. Now anyone who knows what I do, or more importantly, what I’ve done, is aware that since the late 1980’s I have been creating what I call, my Black Light Verse; essentially, light verse on dark topics and have honed my craft as a performer, mostly during my tenure with the Dark Young, doling out these dark ditties with servings of dry humor and droll anecdotes. During my stint with the Dark Young, I created an onstage persona, a sort of Gothic Alistair Cooke, with my long hair spilling out over my velvet burgundy smoking jacket, sporting a cravat and a pentacle, I would sit in a chair with a cloth-bound tome, the Grimorium Iuvenis Oscurum (the Grimoire of the Dark Young), from which I would read my poetry and tell my stories.

Me onstage with the Dark Young, circa 1994.

Me onstage with the Dark Young, circa 1994.

Well, as I watched the show, I was surprised to find that I was already familiar with it. Memories of watching it as a child flooded back very quickly. Then came shocker number one, when Vincent Price came on (his spot was a regular feature on the show) and recited a bunch of spooky poems in his usual witty and urbane manner, the possible progenitor to my Black Light Verse, then came shock number two, when “the Librarian” came on.

Billy Van as the Librarian from the show "The Hilarious House of Frightenstein".

Billy Van as the Librarian from the show “The Hilarious House of Frightenstein”.

Played by Billy Van, who also played the Count as well as various other characters on the show, the Librarian was an old man with a shock of long white hair, and a mustache, who wore a suit and sat in a chair to read cute little nursery rhymes and fables in a dreadful tone. The joke being that he found them terrifying, and couldn’t understand why no one else was moved by them. So there on this children’s show, which I had all but forgotten, was the template for my adult stage persona; it was alternately a blow for my ego and a piece of the puzzle put in place.

Over the years, I have continued in my love for monsters, graduating from the iconic Universal Monsters to the Hammer Gothic exploitation films of the 60’s and 70’s, but it wasn’t all monsters and femmes fatales for me. For instance, Monty Python’s Flying Circus is mostly responsible for my love of wordplay and mixing high brow culture and low brow humor. In fine, if it weren’t for television in general, I might not have become the black bard that you all know and loathe today.

Ad for show

On January 16th, 2015, I read this entry to an audience at the First Studio in downtown Phoenix. It was for an event called “Don’t Touch That Dial”, which tied in with the art exhibit “Under Television Skies”. Host Richard Bledsoe and several local poets and performers read works and performed pieces which celebrated the early days of Television.  Below is a picture taken by Mr Bledsoe during my set, and next is a photo of me helping out with artist Trish Justrish.

Me, stressing a point.

Me, stressing a point.

Trish Justrish and Me

Trish Justrish and Me

The Karnstein Trilogy Part 3: “Twins of Evil”

Posted in Carmilla, Hammer Horror, Karnstein Trilogy, Peter Cushing, Twins of Evil with tags , , , , on July 18, 2012 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Twins of Evil poster (1971).

“Twins of Evil” is the last installment of the so-called “Karnstein Trilogy”, by Hammer Films. It bears little resemblance to the series’ original source material, J.S. Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” but rather seems to try to portray a sort of “prequel” to the infamous tale. Despite its place in said series, it is actually a slight improvement over its predecessor, “Lust for a Vampire”, which was arguably risible. What saves it is an interesting plot concept and good supporting actors. Well, that and of course the Collinson Twins.

October 1970 issue of Playboy featuring the Collinson Twins.

Madeleine and Mary Collinson are identical twins from Malta whom, jointly, had made a splash as Playboy’s first twin Playmates of the Month for their October 1970 issue. Apparently, producer Michael Style saw their layout in said issue and approached writer Tudor Gates about changing their Current project, “The Vampire Virgins” (a/k/a “Village of the Vampires”, a sort of Witchfinder-General-meets-the-Karnsteins story) and convinced him to tailor the script to include the twin sisters.
What we end up with is an interesting juxtaposition of the evils of deviltry and debauchery compared to the evils of austerity and religious zealotry. The story opens with Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing in the most intense role of his career), a sort of Witchfinder General and leader of a band of Puritan zealots in nightly raids where they accost young women on the roads at night or invade the homes of people whom they deem as devil worshippers (i.e., mostly unmarried women who are sexually active) and “…purify their spirits so they may find mercy at the seat of the Lord—by burning them!”

Lobby-card for “Twins of Evil” (under its Stateside title of “Twins of Dracula”) featuring a young woman being “purified” by Weil and his band of miserable men.

The one person they cannot seem to touch and yet want the most is the Count Karnstein, who is openly debauched and defiant but is protected by the emperor. He is also a descendent of the great cacodemonic Karnstein clan (try saying that quickly three times in a row!) and pines for the bygone days when his ancestors were worshiping Satan and wreaking havoc on the land with impunity. His manservant, Dietrich, tries unsuccessfully to find amusements for his “Excellency”, but always seems to come up short.

Ultimately, he presents him with a faux-satanic ritual, which is interrupted by the Count himself, who denounces it as a charade and the participants as charlatans then sends them all away, minus the sacrificial peasant girl whom he sacrifices for real in an off-the-cuff oblation to the Lord of Darkness, after giving Dietrich a quick verbal lashing and family history lesson about the infamous depravity of his ancestors before dismissing him for the night.

Initially, his offering seems to go unrecognized, but after he gives up and retires to sit by the hearth, he is visited by none other than his foremother, Mircalla (a/k/a Carmilla) Karnstein, who makes love with him (does that make her an “in-cestor”?) and turns him into a vampire then disappears from the rest of the movie. This cameo role was offered to Ingrid Pitt who so notably portrayed Carmilla in the first entry in this series, 1970’s “Vampire Lovers”, but she refused it, which is a shame, as I believe that she would have given it a gravitas that actress Katya Wyeth does not seem able to impart to the role, brief though it is. Even so, the scene depicting her transmogrification from wisps of smoke rising from the sacrificial slab into the shrouded specter which assails the dejected and unwary Count is quite effective.

A shrouded Mircalla Karnstein is sent in response to her descendent’s entreatment.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town…

Gustav Weil comes home from a night of burning innocent women to be greeted with the sight of his fashionably attired nieces (the Collinson twins, with vocal overdubs—their Maltese accents were apparently too thick for Hammer’s liking– as Maria and Frieda Gellhorn) who have come from Venice to stay with him and his wife Katy (actress Kathleen Byron, who is renowned for her role as the insanely jealous Sister Ruth in 1947’s “Black Narcissus”, taking things down a notch for this role as the worrisome aunt) since the death of their parents. Upon seeing them in their matching green velvet dresses and feathered hats he says “What kind of plumage is this…for birds of Paradise?” After which he proceeds to admonish them for not showing more respect for the memory of their recently deceased parents, reminding them of the 4th Commandment’s advisement to honor one’s parents. Maria, the gentler of the two is obviously hurt by the whole incident, but Frieda is defiant setting up the dynamic for the rest of the film. Essentially, Frieda quickly tires of walking on eggshells around her overbearing uncle and decides to seek out Count Karnstein and live the wanton life she hears her Uncle Gustav railing against to Aunt Katy in the kitchen at night, whilst sweet and demure Maria cowers under her bed sheets.

Mary confronts Frieda upon her return from Karnstein Castle.

Frieda gets what she wants and becomes a vampire and runs amok with Count Karnstein draining everything that crosses their paths but keeps her conversion a secret from Maria and gets her to lie for her when she is found to be away at night. Maria even pretends to be Frieda and gets two beatings (one intended for Frieda and one for letting Frieda sneak out). Eventually, once Weil gets wise that one of his nieces is a vampire, Frieda tries to swap places with Maria so that she can keep from being executed but the village schoolmaster/heartthrob, Anton, falls for the sweet Maria and tries desperately to tell Weil that not only does he have the wrong girl, but he is going about things the wrong way…

“Burning purifies!” shouts Weill.

“Not if you know anything about vampires!” counters the schoolmaster, before schooling him on the varied ways to dispose of the undead.

Gustav takes Frieda’s head.

Eventually, Weil takes his advice when he confronts Frieda, the Count and his mute bodyguard, Joachim, and although he does seem to have a moment of clarity near the end of the movie, neither he nor his most dedicated cronies get away scot-free with all of the suffering they caused with their witch hunting.

All in all, the movie is successful as an entertaining Gothic yarn if not entirely as a sequel to the original “Karnstein” franchise and especially not as a historically accurate account of the era. To my knowledge, there was no notable Puritan community in Austria, as they were British in origin and were marginalized after the Great Ejection of 1662. Puritanism was alive and well at this time, however, across the Atlantic, in New England, where Cotton Mather (of Salem Village) was unsparingly sending convicted “witches” to the gallows.

However, if you can suspend your belief for the duration of the 90 odd minutes it takes to get through this final entry in the Karnstein Trilogy, I am betting you will have a fun time marveling at the Collinson Twin’s coy portrayals as the very embodiment of Sigmund Freud’s Madonna-Whore Complex, and the overall Gothic atmosphere of one of Hammer’s last great films before they fizzled out a few years later ere the close of the decade. Synapse Films has just released a handsome Blu-ray/DVD combo with a restored and remastered print of the movie which is full of extra goodies and for you folks that like to read your movies, in 2011 British Horror writer Shaun Hutson wrote a novelization of the screenplay, which seems to have gotten some decent reviews.

Synapse Films Blu-ray / DVD combo set for “Twins of Evil”.