***CONTEST: Wayne is offering a PDF copy of Night Spoor to one lucky trick or treater! So read on and find out how you may add this fantastic prize to your goodie bag!
The Summer I Spent Battling Dracula (and His Evil Minions) BY WAYNE DUNDEE
It was summer, 1958. I was ten years old.
Two of my older cousins invited me to go to the drive-in movies with them one night. It was some kind of triple-feature spook fest. In spite of my tender years, I was always pretty level-headed so my parents had no objections and no concern that I might in any way be traumatized by the films. After all, I stayed up late to watch Shock Theater on television every Saturday night and nothing there had ever managed to send me screaming into their bedroom.
I only remember two of the movies that played at the drive-in that night. The first was more of a science fiction feature called The Monolith Monsters. It had to do with mysterious black rock fragments shattered from a meteorite that, after coming in contact with water, grew into giant rock columns that rose up only to topple and crush everything in their path. Then the newly shattered fragments would each start to grow and form another destructive giant. An ensuing thunderstorm ended up causing a whole town to be threatened by the advancing wall of crushing rocks before scientists finally figured out a way to stop them. I found the whole thing pretty dumb and not scary at all.
But then came The Horror of Dracula. Even with my Shock Theater exposure I had never heard of Dracula or vampires or any of that stuff before. But boy did I learn in a hurry. This was the second feature ever produced by Hammer Films out of England and it was based on Bram Stoker's original story of the thirsty count. Hammer's plan was to establish itself with a series of classic horror movies, remaking some of the classics earlier done in black and white by Universal Studios back in the '30s and '40s. But Hammer was doing their versions in Technicolor, making the blood a brilliant scarlet and Dracula's menacing eyes a glowing yellow in the nighttime shadows. And when the vampire (or one of his minions) was getting ready to drink, long canine teeth were exposed.
Long story short: The damn movie scared the bejeebers out of me. I tried not to let it show (the last thing a ten-year-old boy wants to reveal is that he might be a scaredy-cat) but if anyone had bothered to look in the back seat, they would have seen me sitting there with eyes as big and round as pizza platters.
What really bothered me was what awaited when I got back home. As long as Dracula was up there on the screen, I figured I was okay. But where would he show up after he'd faded out of the projector beam? The thing was, you see, where we were living at the time was a place out in the country (rented) with an outhouse providing going-to-the-toilet needs. The main house itself was a big old monstrosity, three stories high, that had served as a rural inn back in the day. The inside was still quite nice, with hardwood floors and beautiful woodwork around the doors and in the dining room.
Outside, it was this great old hulk upon which the paint had long ago faded to leave only a dull gray color. Thinking back, it could have practically doubled for the Psycho house.
I didn't give a hang about the main house, though. Inside there, I felt fine. What bothered me was the thought of making that trip back and forth to the two-holer after dark. This involved crossing the driveway, cutting around the corner of an old shed (also faded to gray) that nowadays served as a garage, and then going down a short path surrounded by bushes and low-hanging tree branches to the outhouse. I just knew that I was on Drac's radar and it was only a matter of time before either the old bloodsucker or one of his gang would be laying for me on that path some night. And, even if I managed to "hold" my bodily functions and give in to them only during the daylight hours, there was always the chore of emptying the "baby bucket" that resulted from my year-old sister's diaper changes—it was my assignment to take care of it and it often would be recognized as a need late in the evening, after baby sis's nighttime bath.
One way or another, I was bound to have to make an after-dark outhouse trip sooner or later. And, once again, trying to shirk my duty (or deny my digestive system) by admitting to being a scaredy-cat was not an option.
Okay. So the only solution was to figure out a way to try and protect myself when the inevitable ambush came. I can't tell you why—considering the fact I was attending Sunday School on a fairly regular basis in those days, and the film had made it quite clear that the sign of the cross in some form was a very effective way to ward off vampires—it never occurred to me to simply start wearing a cross around my neck. But it didn't. Maybe my subconscious was already developing an overly dramatic flair by then.
But what did occur to me was to remember how Van Helsing had finally dispatched of Dracula at the end of the film. After the two had engaged in a knockdown-drag out fight in an old library, Van Helsing had snatched from the rubble a pair of heavy iron candle-sticks and, in desperation, held them up in the form of a cross and drove Dracula back into a wash of morning sunlight where he shriveled to ashes and died.
Okay, so lugging around a pair of heavy iron candlesticks—even if I'd had access to any—would hardly have gone unquestioned. What I needed was something similar but something much lighter and smaller … The answer came to me one afternoon when I took a break from the heat and treated myself to a cool treat that Mom regularly kept for me in the refrigerator. Popsicles. Specifally, an orange TwinPop, with two sturdy, flat sticks each about six inches long … Popsicle sticks! I could easily carry a pair of them in my jeans pocket at all times so I would be constantly prepared. Vampire pops up in front of me? I whip out my Popsicle sticks, hold them up in the form of a cross, and that creepy old blood-sucker is off to seek easier prey!
I even practiced my quick-draw with the Popsicle sticks. Got to where I could beat any of the cowboy heroes who were so popular on TV in those days. Double-Stick Dundee, master of the lightning draw and terror of vampire legions wherever they roamed.
So that's how I made it through the rest of the summer. Heck, it got to where I almost looked forward to after-dark trips to the outhouse, just daring Drac to put in an appearance so I could draw my sticks on him. He never did, though. I got through the ordeal with my blood supply intact. Eventually, I'm not sure exactly when, I quit carrying the Popsicle sticks in my pocket and my boyhood imagination carried me on to other concerns and adventures.
But I remain ready should the threat ever return. Haven't practiced my draw in a while, but I think I could get back in shape okay. And, even at my advanced age, I still like Popsicles so (especially with grandkids around) there's always a box in the freezer compartment. I could free up a couple vampire-fighting sticks in no time …
"As is the way of every writer, anything in our lives that makes a significant impact on us stands the chance of ending up in our writing. So it was with THE HORROR OF DRACULA, in addition to being the subject of the foregoing blog. It also led indirectly to an ongoing interest in vampires, to the point of writing my own vampire novel --- NIGHT SPOOR. You can check it out here:"
For a contest, the first reader who writes me at my direct e-mail --- firstname.lastname@example.org --- and tells me the name of the other movie I remember seeing with HORROR OF DRACULA, I will send a signed copy of NIGHT SPOOR. (Hint the answer is in the blog post.) Contest ends when the first person emails Wayne to claim his or her prize. Good Luck!!
Wayne Dundee grew up and spent the first fifty years of his life around the state line area of northern Illinois/southern Wisconsin. Always an avid reader,he decided at an early age that one day he wanted to be a writer himself.