With a heavy, deliberate accent, I bid you welcome, to this week's Shock-O-Rama. After that famous, stone stairway entrance, Bela Lugosi and Count Dracula would be forever linked together. Fired like a cannon into the public pop stratosphere, where Lugosi would plant the roots of our cultural vampiric obsession, and the monster, in turn, would ensure we could never forget the Hungarian stage actor. I'll admit that I haven't watched Dracula ('31) in quite some time; I still own the VHS clamshell release. And, while I've certainly gotten bit by the bug and want to view it again, we're now so close to the release of the Universal Classic Monsters: Essential Collection Blu-Ray, that it only makes sense to hold off. To have my hunger for these films sated in 1080 is almost as satisfying as experiencing them in 35mm or 16mm.
With all this bouncing around in the hollow of my noggin, a vivid recollection played across my memoryscape. Our most fondly remembered film experiences usually have something else going on; some other factor simmering just below the surface which exponentially increases our enjoyment. My eureka moment came in the shower (don't laugh; I do my best thinking in there). I was going over my mental todo list for the day, including calling my mom to say 'hi'. This, in turn, reminded me about my grandfather, Chris Leone. Unfortunately, he passed on not so long ago, but not before being an awesome grandfather, and giving me some cherished memories. I can hear you wondering what this all has to do with horror and Bela Lugosi (because I'm in your head; would it kill you to dust once in a while?). Well, I'll tell you.
My grandfather bore a strong resemblance to Mr. Lugosi, which I'm sad to say, I did not inherit. Certainly there were differences, such as ethnicity; my family's Italian with no hints of Hungarian. Being from Sicily, Chris was barely pushing five feet in height, whereas Lugosi was over six feet. But they both shared dark eyes, shaded purple at the sockets. They also both had prominent noses, distinctly characterizing their look. And, most importantly to my story, they shared a penchant for playing the price of darkness.
My mother was the youngest of four children. Donning a black cape, pulled across his mouth and nose, my grandfather would chase his children around the house. Accented threats of "blah!" and "I vant to suck your blood!" would echo off the walls as my aunts and uncle would scramble for safety. Their salvation was the same every time: the bathroom. As the only room in the house with a lock on the door, it provided the only protection from "count Dracula". Of course, being much younger, smaller, and (as to be expected) slower than her siblings, my mom would never make into their panic room. Locked outside with the monster closing in, she'd pound on the door, begging to be let in. My aunts and uncle, not bothering to hide their laughter, would not risk it; she'd be trapped. And my grandfather, always feeling a bit sorry, would slow down in his menacing chase. "Ceilie, I'm going to get you!" he would pause to say in a faux Lugosian accent. Really, he was giving her a moment's warning to flee, but she was too young and terrified to realize it.
Later, when I was a kid, he would laughingly perform lines from Dracula for my sister and I, but never did we face the caped terror of his particular prince of darkness ourselves. He'd say that he no longer had his cape, that we were too fast for him, or that it wasn't close enough to nightfall (it was too risky for him to transform during the day, you see). Still, the wistful smiles from my mother and her siblings told us more than we needed to know. It told us that we missed something unique and wonderful, a thing which we would only see the surface of in his laughter filled retelling.
I miss my grandfather a great deal; he used to take me to see movies as a child. We were film buddies. He usually even let me choose the flick, right up until I had him bring us to Tank Girl (I was 14. What?). Whenever I watch a Bela Lugosi film, I'm transported back to my childhood, hearing that story, listening to the laughter of those who lived it, and I miss my grandfather just a little bit less. It's as though he's right there on the screen. We all have personal links to certain films, something that brings a smile to our eyes at the mere mention of a title. Mine most prominent one is with Dracula, which helps me fondly connect the dots to a more innocent time in my life. What's yours?
Saturday Shock-O-Rama Streaming Suggestions
Want to watch something schlocky right now? Try on a few of these suggestions, available right now from the listed service (most of which are FREE!).
Netflix - Dracula - Horror(1931)
Crackle - Bram Stoker's Dracula - Horror (1992)
YouTube - Dracula vs. Frankenstein- Horror (1971)
Archive.org - Nosferatu - Horror/Silent (1922)
Hulu - In Search Dracula - Documentary (1975)
And if you simply can't get enough horror happenings here on Mania, might I humbly suggest checking out Tuesday Terrors? It's got all the shocking news to keep you current (and possibly help you survive until the credits roll).
Chuck Francisco is a columnist for Mania writing Saturday Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a horror co-host of two monthly film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA (home of 1958's 'The Blob'): First Friday Fright Nights and Colonial Cult Cinema.You can delve further into his love of all things weird and campy on his blog, The Midnight Cheese or hear him occasionally guesting on eminent podcast You've Got Geek.
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