According to IMDb, Bela Lugosi was born today in 1882 in Lugos, Hungary.
As one of my childhood heroes (along with Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney), I thought I’d pay tribute!
Someone’s created a great page where you can look up the most popular book from the year you were born. Being born in 1971, I was pleased and surprised that that year’s was William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist.
My grandmother had a copy of the book and I’d secretly read a chapter or two each time I stayed over at her house. My parents didn’t like me reading horror books, so this was something that I usually only got to do if I took myself to the library on a Saturday when I could peruse the adult section without a teacher pushing me back toward the children’s books.
The Corgi Books edition that I got to read had what was, for me, the creepiest cover ever. There’s the strange outline of a face, taken almost like an x-ray image, or even a negative version of the Shroud of Turin. It just looked like a real image of a possession, a scientific recording, rather than a piece of art. I’d read a chapter or two and then place the book cover down before I attempted to get any sleep.
Apparently it was created by Frederick Cantor, about whom I’ve been able to find out very little, but who created a masterpiece of creepy design.
I’m raking in the coals of memory again.
An aunt had given us books as presents for Christmas. I got Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
They were all abridged versions, and must have been from one of those cheap imprints where the classics cost a pound each. The covers were off-white and upon opening, already had that musty, ancient book smell – they must have sat upon a shelf in a warehouse for some time.
But the enchantment contained therein was rich and potent. I had classics in my hand and I would read them all. I would smell them and read them, and stare for what seemed like hours at the cover images before I even dared to open them and suckle at the dark nipple of gothic romance.
And, despite what christians will tell you, Dickens’ Christmas classic is the ‘Greatest Story Ever Told’ – a tale of self-discovery and redemption that never gets old, and which is constantly re-told and re-invented. Stephen King’s utterance on books being a kind of ‘portable magic’ never rang so true as in my days and weeks with those volumes.
While visiting my parents, I found two of the books amongst dozens, possibly hundreds from my childhood on some shelves in the basement. They were part of the ‘Minster Classics’ range, and my missing version of Frankenstein is still available online second-hand (just ordered myself a copy!).
Another realisation (for classic horror movie fans only), is that the cover image the Minster edition of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde seems to be a combination of Fredric March’s Dr. Jekyll from 1932, and John Barrymore’s Mr. Hyde from 1920 – currently available to watch for free.
So, George A. Romero and Martin Landau both gone within a day or so of each other: the former played a big part in my teenage years as a horror movie fan, with Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, and Creepshow among others. All were VHS staples in my house, and all were probably well worn out by the time I got to replace them on DVD.
The latter was a hero earlier in my childhood as Commander Koenig in my favourite childhood sci-fi TV show (apart from Doctor Who), Space 1999.
Landau of course, won an Oscar for his betrayal of another of my heroes, Bela Lugosi, in Ed Wood.
Zombies and sci-fi – there goes my youth!
Surely one of the most attractive aspects of much of dystopian fiction is that, in putting ourselves in the place of the protagonist, we secretly wish that significant numbers of other people will not survive. This is especially true of the zombie holocaust or pandemic type scenario. It’s almost as if the exploration of death and hastened entropy allows nature to reclaim her dominion, and that those who survive are the lucky ones despite their deprivations.
Of course Richard Matheson went a bit too far in his I Am Legend novel. Too few people are no fun. No-one wants to be completely alone, we just want enough of the world to ourselves to create our own kingdom.
I suppose that friends and family (for the most part) would get a free pass. But even then, they’d have to occupy a different part of the world/game map. They can survive, but mustn’t interfere or harm the illusion of survival and self-suffiency.
And there, I suppose is the truth of it. A ruined world is a great fantasy, but is best lived from an armchair isn’t it. I don’t think I could really kill a wild boar to survive, do you? I could make it stop living with a sharp stick or a found gun, but then I’d have no idea of how to actually butcher it.
No, tea and biscuits in the commercial break during The Walking Dead is more my style of survival horror. I suspect it’s the same for all but the most deluded urban survival nuts.
Is that why the prospect of dystopia is so comforting? Because, rather than frighten us about a horrible future, it prompts us to look around at the comfortable present? Naturally I speak of ‘we’ in the cosseted First World. Does dystopian fiction exist or look different in the developing world?
More personal research needed on the subject…
…from me and Caravaggio!