Greetings from the Macabre Republic…

Featured

…Home of the red, black, and blue; where there’s a darkness not just on the edge of town, but all along Main Street; and where the heartland lies deep within October Country.

This site is an outgrowth of the blog Macabre Republic (constituted in 2010), which was devoted to the celebration and appreciation of the Gothic in American literature and culture. My goal here is not merely to construct a platform for my own written work, but to build a community of fellow aficionados–all those who feel right at home on the nightside.

Think you might fit in nicely? Here’s a quick citizenship test:

Continue reading

Skin Fic: Clive Barker’s Books of Blood Tales, Ranked–#6, #5, #4

[To read the previous countdown post, click here.]

 

6. “The Forbidden” (from Vol. 5, In the Flesh)

This tale of inner-city squalor proves harrowing long before the supernatural element shows up (or before the setting gets transplanted to Cabrini Green in the Candyman film adaptation). With its “drear canyons” and “grimy corridors,” its infestation by rats and “pharaoh ants,” its devastation by vandalism and crime, the Spector Street Estate housing development is an absolute urban nightmare. But it’s the omnipresent graffiti, not to mention the narratives of “murder and mutilation” shared by local residents, that catches the attention of grad-student protagonist Helen. Because the Candyman character (thanks in large part to actor Tony Todd’s portrayal) has been ensconced in the horror-monster pantheon, it is easy to forget that Barker’s original story develops much of its tension from the figure’s doubtful existence (as Helen wrestles with the question of whether she has stumbled onto an insular world of urban legend). Ultimately, Helen pays for her skepticism: “He was legend, and she, in disbelieving him, had obliged him to show his hand.” Assisted by his conspiratorial “congregation” of fearful worshippers at Spector Street, the hook-handed, beehived grotesque manifests to Helen and seductively seeks to make her “immortal in gossip and graffiti.” The “screaming man” turns out to be much more than a terrifying wall portrait, and his successful victimization of Helen in the fiery climax echoes the conclusion of the classic film The Wicker Man. A haunting work of mounting dread, “The Forbidden” also forms a metafictional reflection on the purpose and import of horror stories.

 

5. “The Book of Blood” (from Vol. 1)

This general prologue to the Books of Blood combines Bradburian carnival darkness with stunning Boschian vision. I’ve already written extensively on the story (for my “Anatomy of a Weird Tale” feature), so rather than encapsulate here, I will just link readers to that blog post.

 

4. “The Body Politic” (from Vol. 4, The Inhuman Condition)

Barker begins this mind-blowing piece with a fiendish premise: our body parts possess their own “secret lives” and sentience. Human hands become plotters of rebellion against the biological collective, seeking not to take up arms but instead to amputate themselves from them. It’s an arresting development when one stops to consider it; as the comrades Left and Right communicate: “A man resists with his hands. His hands will be in revolution against him.” The manual antics steadily escalate from testicle-squeezing, throat-strangling, and mouth-suffocating to grisly declarations of independence (woe to anyone who stumbles within reach of a kitchen knife). Bodily bedlam ensues as the five-fingered beasts amass new recruits (the scene in which a YMCA is overrun is one of the great set pieces in the entire Books of Blood). Besides offering a fantastic literalization of the “body-in-rebellion syndrome,” the story also probes the underlying dread of disease onset and spread, as seen when the beleaguered protagonist Charlie frets about “this cancer at his wrist.” “The Bodily Politic” is a bold testament to Barker’s mastery as a scare scribe, showcasing his unique ability to bring intelligence to the splatter narrative. Lesser authors likely would have reduced the proceedings to bloody farce, but in Barker’s deft hands the tale is shaped into a wild and witty critique of tyranny, messianism, and violent revolt alike.

 

The Spider Inside

Arachnophobes beware: Stephen Graham Jones’s story “Hairy Legs and All” (published in this month’s issue of Nightmare magazine) will make your skin crawl. Jones takes an act as mundane as slipping on a shoe found in the back of a closet, and turns it into an inciting moment of terror. The narrative’s impact is heightened by its structure: most of the 1500-word story is comprised of a single run-on sentence that creates a frightful sense of immediacy (in his Author’s Spotlight interview on the piece, Jones aptly describes it as “a burst of a moment, a string of clauses, a word snowball rolling faster and faster downhill, getting larger and worse”). And just when the reader might think that matters couldn’t possibly get any more nightmarish, the author offers a climactic twist that posits a fate even more awful than the one anticipated. Highly recommended for fans of short-form horror in general, and of Jones’s literary magnificence in particular.

 

Lore Report: “Loyal Companion” (Episode 164)

But not every animal companion has been viewed as friendly. And if you dig through the past long enough, you’re bound to uncover a surprising fact. For one short chapter of human history, animals were seen as something more: some, it seems, were servants of the devil.

Episode 164 of the Lore podcast goes to the dogs (and cats and birds and rabbits). The topic is witches’ familiars–supernatural creatures believed to provide assistance/protection to practitioners of magic. Host Aaron Mahnke gives a fine overview of such otherworldly figures before bringing the discussion out of the realm of pure folklore and showing how (alleged) familiars have played an integral role in historical events. Mahnke details how familiars factored into the infamous Salem Witchcraft Trials (somewhat surprisingly, no reference is made to the cat Salem in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), but he devotes most of the narrative focus to British examples (including a nobleman’s dog demonized by printing press propaganda during the English Civil War). A well-structured and fast-moving episode, “Loyal Companion” serves up a real treat to faithful followers of the podcast.

 

Skin Fic: Clive Barker’s Books of Blood Tales, Ranked–#9, #8, #7

[To read the previous countdown post, click here.]

 

9. “The Midnight Meat Train” (from Vol. 1)

With its body-as-meat conceit (a killer working like “efficient abattoir operative” turns hapless passengers into “shaved, bled, slit slabs of humanity…ripe for devouring”), this is arguably Barker’s most splatterpunk piece in the Books of Blood. But the narrative presents several other facets before the carnage starts. On one level, “The Midnight Meat Train” functions as a satiric critique of pre-Giuliani New York City, a den of depravity that, from the perspective of disillusioned protagonist Leon Kaufman, is “no Palace of Delights. It bred death, not pleasure.” Urban political corruption is also underscored, as the city fathers allegedly endeavoring to bring the tabloid-dubbed Subway Killer to justice secretly sanction his crimes: “Mahogany was a protected man, above every law on the statute books.” The middle section of the story (Kaufman gradually realizes he is trapped on the titular vehicle with a serial butcher, hurtling through the dark towards unimaginable atrocity) is a tour de force of suspense. And the extended climax piles up the shocks, starting with the revelation of the gods/monsters who constitute the true City Fathers–gross, Morlockian gormandizers who have charged Mahogany with serving up New Yorkers as provender. Matters turn positively Lovecraftian when Kaufman catches glimpse of the cyclopean marvel that is the Father of Fathers. Tapping into tourist terrors of getting lost in the metropolitan labyrinth and into native lore of mole people lurking in the city’s subterranean tunnels, “The Midnight Meat Train” does for subway riding what Psycho did for showering and Jaws did for swimming.

 

8. “Scape-Goats” (from Vol. 3)

Here’s a tale that evinces the stern morality of an 80’s slasher film. A pair of couples given to hard drinking and loveless screwing pay for their transgressions when they end up beached on a desolate, uncharted islet in the Inner Hebrides. Barker creates a thick atmosphere of dread via an accretion of unnerving details. The surrounding waters sport “a slick film of algae, like sweat on a skull”; the air presents a smell “as wholesome as a roomful of rotting peaches, thick and sickly….A smell like an open drain clogged with old meat: like the gutters of a slaughter house, caked with suet and black blood.” The land itself is littered with oddly unsettled pebbles, but perhaps the strangest aspect of the whole scene is the sight of a trio of miserable sheep imprisoned by barbed-wire fencing. The castaways eventually discover that they’ve landed on a burial mound for wartime drowning victims (and that the sheep have been penned there as a memorial offering), but only after Jonathan–in a fit of drunken savagery–bludgeons one of the animals to death. Nautical hell breaks loose, and the vengeful kills form horrific spectacles. A flying stone sheers off the top of Jonathan’s head, “from the middle of his nose upwards, leaving his mouth still wide, his tongue rooted in blood, and flinging the rets of his beauty towards [his lover Frankie] in a cloud of wet red dust.” A barrage of rocks knock Angela’s body into “small enough pieces to accommodate a shrimp’s palate.” When Frankie tries to escape on the island-warden’s rowboat, she is attacked by a “shoal of corpses” that now includes her battered friend Ray, “spilling threads of severed nerves from his empty eye socket like the tentacles of a tiny squid.” Frankie proves no final girl, but her first-person narration does allow her to describe the “sea change” that leaves her scoured and scarred, bloated and fish-nibbled. At once exceedingly eerie and grimly visceral, “Scape-Goats” fits perfectly with the framing device of the Books of Blood–the idea that these are stories told by restless revenants.

 

7. “The Last Illusion” (from Vol. 6)

In this first appearance of Barker’s recurring character Harry D’Amour, the occult detective is hired to “corpse-sit” the body of the master magician Swann until it can be successfully cremated (only later does D’Amour discover the depths of intrigue complicating the situation: the forces of the Gulfs are hellbent on claiming the deceased Swann, for attempting to renege on their Faustian pact, and for daring to pass off the black magic arts gifted to him “as mere illusions” in his stage act). Barker invokes William Peter Blatty, as D’Amour is haunted by a previous encounter with the Gulfs: an adultery case that took a terrible turn when Mimi Lomax’s lover proved to be a demon in disguise (and who ended up sexually assaulting D’Amour’s exorcist associate: “Six hours they’d sat–Mimi occasionally breaking the silence with laughter or gibberish–and the first Harry had known of [the demon’s] return was the smell of cooking excrement, and Mimi’s cry of “‘Sodomite!’ as [Father] Hesse surrendered to an act his faith had long forbidden him.”). Echoes of Bradbury also can be discerned in the dark carnival of devils D’Amour must deal with, who are wont to transform their victims into human instruments and who arrive on the scene “like a drunken jazz band extemporizing on bagpipes, a wheezing, rambling cacophony.” Numbering amongst the demonic monstrosities are the Castrato (“a mountain of a man with the belly and the breasts of a Neolithic Venus. But the fire in its body had twisted it out of true, breaking out through its palms and its navel, burning its mouth and nostrils into one ragged hole. It had, as its name implied, been unsexed; from that hole too, light spilled”) and the Repartee (“its half-dozen limbs moving in oiled and elaborate configurations to pierce the walls of the staircase and so haul itself up. It brought to mind a man on crutches, throwing the sticks ahead of him and levering his weight after, but there was nothing invalid in the thunder of its body, no pain in the white eye that burned in its sickle head”). Combining tempting femmes, false appearances, and questionable allegiances with harrowing antagonists and stunning supernatural action, “The Last Illusion” seamlessly melds the hard-boiled and the horrific. Unfortunately overshadowed by its film adaptation (Barker’s most disappointing directorial effort, the misguided and miscast Lord of Illusions), this masterful novella begs for a more faithful remake.

 

Super Bowl Burton

Meet Edgar Scissorhands…

Airing during tonight’s Super Bowl, Cadillac’s “Scissorhands 2” commercial features the handy son of Winona Ryder’s Kim Boggs character. The 90-second ad packs in a lot of witty gags in the vein of the classic film. Tim Burton fans are big winners tonight!

 

Lore Report: “Persistence” (Episode 163)

The written language. The light bulb. Space Travel. We people are a lot of things, but persistent is at the top of the list. But every quality has a darker side. Yes, our refusal to give up might have empowered our growth as a species, but it’s also driven us to do things that aren’t as easy to brag about. Because sometimes that persistence has turned us into monsters.

A favorite topic of the Lore podcast is picked up again in Episode 163: the witchcraft trial. Host Aaron Mahnke takes us back to the Massachusetts town of Newbury circa 1680, where a farmer named Caleb Powell (who spoke a little too freely of his knowledge of astrology) was arrested as a wizard. Powell was ultimately spared from execution or imprisonment, but then the woman whose family he supposedly bedeviled, Elizabeth Morse, was herself arrested and put on trial as a suspected witch (during the course of the story, Mahnke also delves into the countermagic practice of nailing a horseshoe above a threshold, and shares the purported origins of such superstitious endeavor). The episode’s overarching theme does feel a bit forced (as is the podcast’s wont), “persistence” here referencing the Newbury community’s commitment to persecution. One also might wish that the discussion of the Marblehead-born prophetess Moll Pitcher (whose history proves richer and more interesting than that of Powell and Morse) wasn’t just shoehorned into the concluding segment. Nevertheless, this anecdote-saturated episode (Mahnke spends little time on historical overview before jumping into the tales) requires no persistent struggle; lore-loving listeners will be eager to follow its narrative path.

 

Hundredfold Horror (A Review of Nightmare #100)

This January has brought the 100th edition of horror’s preeminent monthly magazine, Nightmare. Appropriate to such numerical milestone, Issue #100 goes big: 262-pages-worth of whopping content. Special features include a celebratory retrospective in which staff members and frequent contributors share their favorite items from Nightmare‘s history, and an interview between longtime editor John Joseph Adams and his incoming replacement Wendy N. Wagner–one that furnishes plentiful insight into their personal aesthetics as well as their sense of the current state of the genre.

Orrin Grey is the guest writer of this month’s “The H-Word” column. His “Victims and Volunteers” essay offers a fascinating survey of the horror film’s evolution over the past century. Grey uses the historical marker of warfare–and the shifting public perspective onto such violent spectacle–to trace a key distinction: “If World War I and II were Dracula–a terrible and foreign evil that needed brave souls to confront it–then the war in Vietnam was the Sawyer family in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: random, indiscriminate, and unshakably American.”

The hallmark of Nightmare, though, has always been its horror fiction. Issue #100 forms a veritable mini-anthology, rounding up ten short stories (five original). Considering the reprints first:

The very title of Carmen Maria Machado’s “The Things Eric Eats Before He Eats Himself” boldly announces where the narrative is headed, but the dark joy of the piece resides in the journey itself. While taking Rabelaisian appetite to the bizarro extreme, the story also serves up pointed remark about human rapaciousness.

In Victor Lavalle’s “Up From Slavery,” an Amtrak train derailment sets the stage for greater Lovecraftian wreckage. A revisionist take on the Cthulhu Mythos reminiscent of the author’s lauded novella The Ballad of Black Tom.

Gemma Files’s “Thin Cold Hands” combines dark fantasy with stunning scenes of body horror, and is suffused with the writer’s usual exquisite imagery. Drawing fairy lore into present-day context, Files crafts a haunting first-person tale of maternal love and concomitant dread.

Tananarive Due’s “Last Stop on Route Nine” starts as a wrong-turn/car-horror narrative and then supercharges it with eeriness and vicious witchery. With its deft interweaving of social commentary and the supernatural, “Last Stop” maps out a story that would make for a perfect adaptation as an episode of HBO’s Lovecraft Country.

Sessions with a hypnotist to quit smoking prove anything but commonplace when they transpire in Laird Barron’s recurrent setting of the Broadsword Hotel (which makes The Shining‘s Overlook seem like Shangri-La). A title like “Jaws of Saturn” promises wild carnage in store, and the story’s climax delivers no shortage of slaughter by a cyclopean monstrosity.

In regards to the issue’s five original works of fiction:

Desirina Boskovich’s “I Let You Out” runs on pure nightmare fuel: that quintessential childhood fear of the monster lurking in the closet. Don’t expect a generic setting, though, as Boskovich sketches scenes of distinctly Midwestern horror.

Reading like a podcast transcript, Adam Troy-Castro’s “Rotten Little Town: An Oral History” traces (with richly sinister undertones) a hit occult-western TV series whose broadcast run was shadowed by strange developments and macabre mishaps. The titular show sounds like one that horror fans would flock to, but they wouldn’t want to run into the creative forces behind it.

Maria Dahlvana Headley’s “Wolfsbane” is a modernized fairy-tale/feminist fable that channels Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood. The story scores a slew of critical points against predatorial masculinity, but any potential tendentiousness here is leavened by the narrative’s extraordinary inventiveness (which includes insurrectionist breadmaking).

A con game goes horribly awry in Stephen Graham Jones’s “How to Break into a Hotel Room.” The fun of watching the protagonist operate in the first half of the story is matched by the dread that arises when his past transgressions catch up to him at last. Jones once again proves himself a master of unsettling detail.

For me, the issue’s standout story was Sam J. Miller’s “Darkness Metastatic,” a frightfully timely tale of social-media fearmongering and the incitement of mindless violence. A sophisticated app taps into humanity’s worst impulses, the hatred and dread that cancerously riddles the body politic. In the “Author Spotlight” for the story, Miller admits that he aimed to create a “creepy dread-filled atmosphere” and flat out “scare the shit out of people.” At that he has succeeded brilliantly: this might be the most disturbing, unnerving work of horror fiction that I have read in years.

If ever there was an issue that readers should pay the $2.99 purchase price for (rather than just sampling the magazine’s contents in segments posted weekly to its website), this is it. The bonanza of bonus material makes this a Nightmare that horror lovers can’t do without.

 

 

Skin Fic: Clive Barker’s Books of Blood Tales, Ranked–#12, #11, #10

[To read the previous countdown post, click here.]

 

12. “The Skins of the Fathers” (from Vol. 2)

Appropriately, the desert procession of “monumental creatures” at the start of the story is considered by the viewpoint character “a carnival of some sort,” because Barker’s approach here in “The Skins of the Fathers” is nothing less than carnivalesque. Societal norms are upended and genre expectations are challenged: the narrative–which reads like a prequel to Cabal–clearly favors the so-called monsters over their human antagonists (the intolerant inhabitants of the ironically-named community of Welcome, Arizona, whose sheriff is a “hick-town Mussolini” leading an “army of mean-minded, well-armed people” on a lynching mission against the demonized “savages”). Barker relishes the opportunity to describe the Fathers’ “extraordinary anatomies” and to depict instances of incredible metamorphosis, but he also concludes with one of the most horrifying and unforgettable set pieces in the Books of Blood canon. The overbearing humans get cast down into the literal muck, as the Fathers-induced “rising mire” engulfs the militants and then promptly concretizes. Those who are trapped with parts of their upper bodies exposed become unwilling participants in a terrible tableau (the labels given them–the Torso, the Head, the Mouth–suggest a reduction to the status of freakshow exhibit). They might have escaped asphyxiation, but their partial burial leaves them in an unenviable situation: before help could be fetched from Welcome, “the wilderness would have had the best of them. The sun would have boiled their brain-pans dry, snakes would have nested in their hair, the buzzards would have hooked out their helpless eyes.” In this scene of Boschean nightmare, the human devils get their due.

 

11. “Son of Celluloid” (from Vol. 3)

Barker’s penchant for using the base of crime narrative as a springboard to dark fantasy is once again in perfect evidence. Barberio, a bullet-wounded and unwittingly cancer-riddled escaped prisoner, holes up in a secret niche behind the screen of a Movie Palace; as he dies, the air around him–supercharged by the emotional energy moviegoers have projected toward the film screen over the years–catalyzes his cancer sells and revives him as the titular mutant. Like some glamor-wearing vampire, the Son of Celluloid cloaks himself in movie images and draws vitality from rapt/entrapped viewers: “I need to be looked at, or I die,” he admits. “It’s the natural state of illusions.” The result is one wildly visual (in a perfect world, David Cronenberg would have adapted Barker’s novella as an episode of Masters of Horror) and unabashedly visceral tale. In its guise as Marilyn Monroe, the monster stashes a previous victim’s eyes inside the starlet’s most private part; in its true state, this “dreaming disease” is the epitome of grotesquerie (“It was a filthy thing, a tumor grown fat on wasted passion. A parasite with the shape of a slug, and the texture of raw liver….it brought to mind something aborted, a bucket case.”). There’s substance to go with all the splatter, though, as seen in the story’s jab at Westerns. Harassed by the Son of Celluloid in the form of John Wayne, the character Ricky reacts: “This face, so mockmanly, so uncompromising, personified a handful of lethal lies–about the glories of America’s frontier origins, the morality of swift justice, the tenderness in the heart of brutes.” Nevertheless, a sense of celebration overshadows critique; Barker’s cinephilia (and wit) is splashed all across the page (my favorite moment is when the bogey quotes Bogie–“Here’s looking at you, kid”–as it manifests as “a single vast eye”). The author appears to have had great fun scripting “Son of Celluloid,” creating a delightful frightfest that fans can devour like a heaping tub of buttered popcorn.

 

10. “In the Flesh” (from Vol. 5, In the Flesh).

The mundane is invaded by dark marvel, as the Pentonville prison becomes the site of “spiraling nightmare.” A narrow jail cell proves no safe haven from otherworldly phantoms, as well as a portal to a bizarre dream city in a desert wasteland (the “assemblage of charnel houses” is gradually revealed to be a “murderers’ metropolis”–a hellish realm where dead criminals are forced to occupy the rooms where their violent deeds were committed, and to ruminate on their mortal sins). New inmate Billy Tait, a nascent shapeshifter, has come to Pentonville hoping to make supernatural contact with his notorious grandfather Edgar, a multiple murderer who was executed and buried on the prison grounds years earlier. No willing tutor, though, the ancestral convict instead runs a con game, duping his grandson into taking his place in the necropolis so Edgar can escape into reincarnation. Billy’s cell mate, the protagonist Cleve, doesn’t fare much better. His visits to the dream city haunt him (dooming him to take up eventual residence there) even after he wins his release from Pentonville, because he’s now sensitive to the populace’s omnipresent bloodthirst: “They were everywhere, these embryonic killers, people wearing smart clothes and sunny expressions were striding the pavement and imagining, as they strode, the deaths of their employers and their spouses, of soap-opera stars and incompetent tailors. The world had murder on its mind, and [Cleve] could no longer bear its thoughts.” The novella both hearkens back to “The Book of Blood” (“I read somewhere: The dead have highways,” Billy tells Cleve. “You ever hear that? Well…they have cities, too.”) and looks forward, in its concerns with crime and punishment, with infernal debt and its discharge, to The Damnation Game. Sinister-toned and creepy to the extreme, “In the Flesh” constitutes a masterwork of horripilation.

 

 

Lore Report: “By Design” (Episode 162)

Fairy tales help us dream of a better life, teaching us that brighter days lay ahead. But where there is light, there are also shadows; where there are people, there are problems. And wherever there are stories of happiness, there are also tales of the darker sides of life. Because the deeper you delve into history, the more it reveals a painful truth: not everything’s that enchanted is safe.

Episode 162 of the Lore podcast explores the locus classicus of fairy tale settings: the medieval castle. Host Aaron Mahnke guides listeners on a tour of Europe’s most storied fortresses, including Bran Castle in Romania (popularly, if inaccurately, regarded today as Dracula’s Castle) and Austria’s Moosham Castle (a site associated with both witch trails and werewolves). The episode’s title refers to Houska Castle (in the Czech Republic; pictured above), a Gothic structure strategically built atop an alleged hellmouth so as to serve as a barrier against the nocturnal spillage of demons from the underworld. Mahnke’s narrative also details the castle’s connections to Nazi occultism, but given the episode’s central positioning of Houska Castle, one wishes that Mahnke had expanded the discussion and spent some more time in this dark abode. Overall, “By Design” builds up an impressive list of tales of haunted/haunting castles, and does a fine job of connecting the world of the fairy tale with the folklore that surrounds specific historical locales throughout Europe.

 

The Night Stalker at 49

On this date in 1972, The Night Stalker premiered as the ABC Movie of the Week (garnering the highest ratings for any made-for-TV film up to that time). The movie introduced the world to that bloodhound of an investigative reporter, Carl Kolchak, here tracking the story of a series of killings in Las Vegas in which the female victims have been drained of vital fluids via a bite to the neck. Nearly a half-century now after the initial airing, it’s no terrible plot spoiler to note that the perpetrator proves to be not some psychopath with a Dracula kink, but the real supernatural deal.

The Night Stalker forms an indisputable landmark of televisual American Gothic. With Darren McGavin playing a wisecracking, working class Van Helsing, the film imports Bram Stoker’s classic vampire narrative, reworks it and roots it in a modern urban setting. Stephen King has praised the film in his study Danse Macabre (poignantly dubbing Kolchak “more Lew Archer than Clark Kent”), and The Night Stalker can be detected as an influence on the author’ own fiction (e.g., Salem’s Lot, “The Night Flier”). This hard-boiled/horror hybrid has also proven seminal to the paranormal-investigation subgenre, most notably in the case of The X-Files.

With its fine pedigree (Richard Matheson furnished the script for producer Dan Curtis), The Night Stalker unsurprisingly became an instant hit with audiences. The film also holds up remarkably well to a 2021 viewing. Barry Atwater is a frightful, and decidedly physical, menace as the vampiric antagonist Janos Skorzeny. The film’s protracted climax, in which Kolchak searches the vampire’s Gothic household lair (where Skorzeny’s latest victim is held captive as his personal blood bank), is the quintessence of thrilling suspense.

Thanks to the success of the film, the Kolchak character would develop into a pop cultural icon, appearing in a subsequent made-for-TV movie, a short-running but long-revered TV series, and countless works of fiction. Forty-nine years later, though, it is still The Night Stalker that represents the height of Kolchak’s story-hunting, monster-encountering glory.