[For the previous countdown post, click here.]
1. “Spyder” (1994)
Hollywood history is given a fantastic rewrite in this Partridge vehicle featuring thinly-veiled versions of James Dean and Maila “Vampira” Nurmi (companions who were romantically linked in real life). A large part of the fun here involves catching the various allusions–and appreciating the deviations. The character of Layla (aka “Rigormortia”) isn’t just some cult figure vamping up a persona; she actually possesses occult powers (something the tabloid media irresponsibly accused Nurmi of following Dean’s tragic death). Layla’s black talents include turbo-charging the titular sports car by adding drops of her blood to its carburetor, and resurrecting a dead vintner for a ritual that turns a bottle of wine into a charmed potion. There’s also a memorably atmospheric set piece in which Layla manifests in the fog and hangs wraith-like outside the glass wall of a teetering, Hollywood hilltop home. Layla is a behind-the-scenes Tinseltown manipulator, and she works to give the narrator’s fledgling acting career a boost, but he soon grows leery of her influence. At the same time, he can’t help but lust after the “gorgeous corpsette,” and a complex power struggle unfolds between the two (building to a climax that offers a terrific twist on James Dean’s biography). “Spyder” is not only stocked with dark thrills, but also shines literarily (the narrator references Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon throughout, and waxes philosophical about desire and loss and “the power of legend”). With its unbelievably clever premise, and convincing mix of the mid-20th-Century Hollywood milieu and Monster Culture (alluringly packaged by TV’s first horror hostess), this horror-noir masterpiece lands the top spot on the October countdown of Norman Partridge’s Top 31 Works of Short Fiction.