Patriotic Horror

This Independence Day finds me working through the copy edits of my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt, which is set roughly this time of year. I have to admit, I thought it would feel strange to work on a horror novel during the height of summer on such a celebratory holiday, but somehow it hasn’t been as discordant as I would have thought. Performing a Google search on “Patriotic Horror” I find a few web sites with suggestions about horror movies for the long 4th of July weekend.

On reflection, perhaps this isn’t so unusual. After all, how many slasher movies essentially start out with people going camping in the woods? Of course, the original summer blockbuster, Jaws, is a thriller set on the beach during summertime, and the story even spans the July 4 holiday. When I spent a summer on Nantucket, where the ocean scenes in Jaws were filmed, not only did we scare ourselves with visions of shark-infested waters, we sometimes thought we could hear the ghost of Maria Mitchell tromping though the observatory named in her honor late at night.

Maria Mitchell Observatory on Nantucket

Maria Mitchell Observatory on Nantucket

Horror and Americana seem strangely linked sometimes. After all, Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, with its New England setting, is not only a creepy story, but takes us back to the early days of the nation. Sometimes even modern authors look back at the past and charge up the reputations of real heroes, such as Seth Grahame-Smith did when he wrote Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter.

One movie on those lists of patriotic horror films stood out to me: The Omen starring Gregory Peck and Lee Remick. It makes the list because Peck played an ambassador to England and the devil’s son, Damien, seems to move himself ever closer to the president of the United States over the course of the movie. This was one of the first horror films I remember watching with my dad and it genuinely terrified me despite my dad’s assurances it was all pretend and his Mystery Science Theater 3000-style ribbing of the film. I certainly hope The Astronomer’s Crypt scares readers as much as The Omen scared me and that it might even provide some good memories for families who share it together.

If you’re looking for some good summer scares, check out my Book Info and Excerpts page for some ideas. May all your scares this Independence Day be imaginary ones and all the ghosts you meet be friendly.

Vampire Games

I discovered the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer through a rather unusual route. I remember watching the original two-part episode when it debuted and it just failed to grab me. For good or bad, I think I was expecting the tone to be more like the Kristy Swanson movie and somehow I felt that new series was taking itself too seriously.

Flash forward about four years and I was walking through a toy store’s game aisle when I saw the Buffy the Vampire Slayer board game. By this point, I’d seen a few more episodes, and though I’d warmed up to the series, I wouldn’t call myself a fan. Still, something about the description of the game sounded interesting, so I brought it home and we tried it out. The game offered four different starting points, with a different set of villains based loosely on the premise of each of the first four seasons.

Buffy Game

We found the game play well thought out. It seemed heroes and villains had a roughly equal chance of winning. The game scenarios were also interesting and made me wonder about the actual stories as they were told in the series. The upshot is that I finally went out and gave the series a fresh chance and the second time around I was hooked right from the start. I watched the series from the beginning to the end practically non-stop.

Last night, we had friends over and introduced them to the game. One of them was not a Buffy fan, but I think the game play engaged her as it once did me. It’ll be interesting to see if she follows up to watch more of the series.

In addition to the game scenarios, the game allows heroes to explore different avenues to win the game. The heroes almost always need teamwork to win. That said, heroes can attempt to win through fighting, magic, or just outsmarting the vampires. Different strategies are useful each session.

When I write, I often feel like I’m in the middle of the best movie in the world. The movie’s playing all around me and I can turn my head and see all the sights my characters are seeing. I can hear what they hear and I can smell what they smell. Sometimes my subconscious surprises me and things happen in the story I didn’t expect. A good game is like that, except instead of your subconscious, it’s the dice roll that creates surprises. Also, if you’re with friends, the team can be more or less effective depending on how well they work with or against each other.

After we finished the Buffy game, we moved on to another horror-themed game. This one was Unspeakable Words which effectively is a mix of Scrabble and the Cthulhu Mythos. I’m not sure those two concepts are all that far separated at the best of times!

Unspeakable Words

So, are there some horror or vampire-themed games you like? I’d love to hear about them in the comments. If it’s one I haven’t tried, I may unleash it on my friends to see what the group thinks!

Finally, I’d like to remind you that I’ll be signing my Scarlet Order novels at Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans, Louisiana this Saturday from 3 to 6pm. Be there if you can. It is an awesome store full of amazing vampire-themed merchandise, including a few games. If you can’t make the signing, please tell any friends who might be interested. Like a good gaming night, I see a book signing as a chance both to make new friends and to get to know old friends even better.

The Hunters of Santorini

Three weeks ago in my post about historical vampire slayers, I mentioned the story of a group of vampire hunters from the island of Santorini in Greece who had a reputation for being experts in vampire hunting. This idea stuck with me, and the vampire hunters of Santorini have been a fixture of my vampire tales. Here we see an encounter in my short story “The Vrykolakas and Cobbler’s Wife” which appeared in issue 66 of Cemetery Dance Magazine. This story is set early in the 20th century and Marina’s husband has been turned into a vrykolakas, a kind of hybrid vampire and werewolf. A stranger appears in the shoe store left to her by her husband.

“Best of luck,” said the man, reaching out for the shoes that Marina handed to him. “Better lock up after I leave,” he said, darkly. “I’ve heard rumors of a vrykolakas in the neighborhood.”

Cemetery Dance 66

Something about the man’s tone kept Marina from simply answering with her usual expressions of concern. “You seem an enlightened gentleman, sir—not the type who usually finds fear in such night creatures as the vrykolakas.”

“I would like to think of myself as enlightened,” said the man, simply. “However, I know all too well that vrykolakas are real. I’m from the island of Santorini, where many of us make a profession of vrykolakas hunting.” The man handed her his card. The name printed on it was Kostis Fasoulakis. “The Prefect of Ilia asked me to come here to find and destroy the vrykolakas that is haunting this district.”

A cold chill ran down Marina’s spine as she wished the stranger good afternoon.

Early on in my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order, the vampires are discussing their upcoming raid on the sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Suleyman the Magnificent. The vampire Alexandra brings dire news about the Hunters of Santorini.

“And, Suleyman is a real threat, given the weakness of Charles’ empire. As such, they call on us to keep the Ottomans contained,” said Roquelaure, turning and putting his hand on Alexandra’s slender waist. He kissed her on the nose, then spun out of her embrace.

Vampires of the Scarlet Order

Looking around at the ruins of his castle, Draco sighed. “At least this campaign should give me enough money to rebuild my home. The books I was able to save are moldering in the tomb. I need to get them back into dry air.”

As the vampires spoke, two others appeared from the ruins with a long table and turned it upright next to Draco and Roquelaure. Other vampires brought wooden chairs and rocks on which they could sit.

Once they were seated around the table, Rudolfo opened the meeting. “So, how do we proceed against Suleyman? He will be heavily guarded.”

“Indeed,” said Alexandra. “I’ve heard rumors that he will be guarded by the Hunters of Santorini.”

“The Hunters of Santorini?” Rudolfo’s eyes narrowed.

“The strongest league of professional vampire hunters we’ve ever met,” explained a stoic Egyptian woman at the end of the table. “You’re lucky you’ve not encountered them yet. Of course, they’ve yet to meet the force of the entire Scarlet Order. Those of us unfortunate enough to know the Hunters have only dealt with them one-on-one.”

“Years ago, there was a particularly imprudent master vampire on the island of Santorini in Greece,” explained Alexandra. “He created many vampires on Santorini and the surrounding islands. They were like a plague. Several humans using the resources of the Greek Orthodox Church made a study of our kind so that they could contain the plague.” Alexandra closed her eyes and Roquelaure pulled her close, protective rather than playful.

Last week, I discussed Larry the Exterminator from Vampires of the Scarlet Order. Later in the novel, the Hunters of Santorini make an appearance and warn that Larry and his wife are employed by forces even more frightening than the vampires themselves.

If you want to read more about the Hunters of Santorini, I hope you’ll read my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order, or check out my story “The Vrykolakas and the Cobbler’s Wife” in Cemetery Dance 66. The hunters even have a cameo in my novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order.

The Exterminator

Ten years ago, I wrote the following vignette, which first appeared in Blood Samples Magazine and then was reprinted in the collection Blood Sampler.

Blood Sampler Cover

Warily, the vampire watched through the old house’s broken window as an exterminator’s truck pulled up. A comical fellow, wearing coveralls and a nametag reading “George” stepped from the passenger side. A plain looking woman in a pantsuit stepped from behind the wheel. George and the woman exchanged a few brief words. She picked up her purse and stalked off, around the corner. “Probably going for a cappuccino,” thought the vampire wryly, “while her husband does the dirty work.”

The vampire watched George unload chemical tanks and spray wands, carrying each to the house. As the vampire considered heading for his coffin, he was gripped from behind by the burning pain of a stake ramming through his back toward his heart. Turning, the vampire saw the woman wiping blood from her fingers with a Handi-Wipe. “We’re the only company in town that exterminates absolutely everything infesting a house.”

Throughout history, vampires have been linked to plague and pestilence. So, to my mind, it’s always made sense to view vampire slayers in the same way as exterminators. I expanded and developed George and his wife for my novel Vampire of the Scarlet Order. There they became Larry and Georgia, Vampire Exterminators.

I was blinded at first. In reality, only about three of the big bulbs on the ceiling were on. It was enough to see clearly in the big auditorium. Mercy and I cautiously peered over the edge of the orchestra pit and saw a man in coveralls making his way to where Alice lay naked and vulnerable on the futon. The man in coveralls carried a spray tank and a wand.

Vampires of the Scarlet Order

“Exterminators?” I asked, my eyebrows knitting.

“It would seem so,” said Mercy. “Weren’t there two of them?”

“Shouldn’t we go and get Alice?” I was more worried about the exterminator we saw than the one working elsewhere. The exterminator we saw didn’t look very threatening. He was of moderate height, clean-shaven with big ears and short, curly hair.

“What’s he going to do?” asked Mercy. “Spray her with bug poison?”

Something seemed wrong about an exterminator striding through the middle of a room. It struck me that an exterminator should work the periphery of the room, where the bugs are, not stalking cat-like through the center of the room. Of course, he may have simply been going to check out the form on the futon.

“We’re safer where we are for the moment,” Mercy said, seemingly agreeing with my assessment. “He’ll see the ‘dead’ body, get scared and run out to call the cops. That’ll give us time to hide Alice.”

Instead of showing signs of wariness toward the body on the futon, the exterminator stopped. He put his tank on the floor and with a brief look around, aimed the wand directly at Alice’s vulnerable form. “Maybe he is going to spray her with bug poison, after all,” said Mercy, raising her eyebrows at the odd scene.

The few times in my life I’ve had to deal with bug poison, I’d been struck by how much the stuff looked like water or mist. Only its strong scent told me it was anything other than water. The mist coming out of the exterminator’s nozzle was definitely not water or any ordinary bug poison. It looked like a fog or even a dust cloud. I would have thought this was simply a new kind of poison, except that the exterminator wore no mask, gloves or other protective gear. Almost like a living creature, the mist enveloped Alice. Alice continued to sleep in her death-like state, unaware that anything was happening.

As it turns out, Larry and Georgia are on a mission for higher authorities. To find out what happens to Alice the Vampire, I hope you’ll pick up a copy of Vampires of the Scarlet Order. You can learn more at: Next week, I’ll introduce you to even more dangerous vampire slayers from the world of the Scarlet Order.

What’s more, I’d like to present some good news. The first edition of Blood Sampler has sold out and the publisher will be bringing out a new edition early next year. Stay tuned for more details!

Cinematic Vampire Hunters

When you look at the movies, it’s easy to find examples of professional vampire hunters. There’s everyone from Blade and Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Jack Crow from John Carpenter’s Vampires and even Abraham Lincoln himself. There’s a wide range of heroes and anti-heroes, and there’s a wide range of storytelling quality.

Peter Cushing

However, the further back in time you look, the more difficult it is to find examples of professional vampire slayers. In the earliest filmed versions of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Dr. Van Helsing mirrors his literary counterpart. He’s a doctor who puts the clues together and hunts the vampire out of necessity. However, as we move into the 50s and 60s, England’s Hammer studios helped transform Dr. Van Helsing and his descendants, as played by Peter Cushing, from an accidental vampire slayer to a professional one.

Perhaps one of the first movies to feature vampire slayers in the title is Roman Polanski’s 1967 vampire spoof The Fearless Vampire Killers. I haven’t actually seen this film, but I’ve added it to my rental queue.

Kolchak in 1972’s The Night Stalker is certainly a candidate for an early vampire hunter. In his case, though, he’s a reporter who fights the supernatural simply because no one else is able to do the job.

Captain Kronos Poster

Another milestone film is Hammer’s Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter released in 1974. In this stylish film, Horst Janson plays Captain Kronos, a swordsman who travels with vampire expert Dr. Marcus played by John Carson looking for vampires to slay. This is also an interesting vampire film in that the film alludes to more than one species of vampire. The vampires Captain Kronos meets in the story are new to him, they drain life energy rather than drink blood and part of the fun of this film is watching our protagonist find a way to slay these particular vampires.

Vampire slaying as a profession really took off in the 1990s. That’s the era that produced Blade, John Carpenter’s Vampires, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer among others. The hallmark of the early vampire slayers was that they relied on their cunning and brains when fighting creatures of the night. More recently, cinematic vampire hunters have relied on a combination of virtual superpowers and technology to do help them.

So, do you have a favorite cinematic vampire hunter? Are there any early professional vampire hunters I’ve neglected to mention? I’m always happy for the recommendation of a good movie!