Halloween Haunts: Famous Monster (Hunters) of Filmland (and Beyond) by Ed Erdelac
The leaves yellow up and the pumpkins sprout faces, the monster movie marathons begin and the spooky books get their own prominent section up front in the library, where they’ll quickly be supplanted by the Turkey Day and Christmas selections, like a rapid succession of Billboard number one singles. Halloween’s come around once again. Blink and you’ll miss it.
Since the nineties there’s been a trend in horror fiction and media towards depicting the sympathetic creature of the night. Nuance is never a trend I mind, but sometimes I do find myself pining for the good old days of the purposeful occult investigator, the regular human guy you rooted for, who only had his knowledge and ingenuity to match against a vampire’s speed or a werewolf’s claws, or the menace of extraterrestrial infiltration. Yes, the regular guy, not the half-vampire (sorry Blade) or the Chosen One (apologies, Buffy).
I’m not talking crossbows and silver bullets either, but the sort of bookish character, a little out of step with his peers, who seems to instantly be able to call to mind the histories of regional phantoms and the intricate rituals you need to enact to appease such and such a rampaging demon. Sure these guys can fall to fighting if they have to, but we’re not talking backflips and cartwheels or two guns blazing, just the well placed stake and mallet here (when the beastie’s sleeping, which is best, thank you very much), or the sprig of night blooming flowers waved at precisely the right moment there, or the handy dandy circle of salt.
For my Halloween blog, I thought it’d be fun to talk about a couple of these mostly uncelebrated fighting scholars of the page and screen, the enlightened few who prefer to stave off the darkness with an illuminated text instead of a flamethrower.
Any glaring omissions are my own.
Egon Spengler and Ray Stantz – You can’t have the Ghostbusters without ‘em. Venkman brings in the money and girls and Winston gets the job done, but ultimately they’re just trigger men. Without Egon and Ray putting their considerable craniums together in the midnight hour over the Twinkie cream bespotted pages of Tobin’s Spirit Guide (or Spates Catalog), there’d be no proton packs, no containment unit, nothing to stop Gozer’s horde of slimy terror dogs from nosediving the property value of upper Manhattan.
Carl Kolchak – Dogged investigative reporter for the Chicago branch of the International News Service, Kolchak chased down stories and headless horsemen alike in his yellow Ford Mustang, faithfully relating all his supernatural adventures to the only listener that would consistently listen; his trusty tape recorder. Kolchak never set out to harry the supernatural world, but neither was he ever averse to hitting the back room books and haunting the new age shops when he ran into a wall. On a cool side note, Darren McGavin was asked to reprise the role of Kolchak, as the mentor and inspiration for another great occult detective, FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder of The X-Files, but he inexplicably (and maddeningly) turned it down.
The Duc de Richleau – If not for Dennis Wheatley’s aristocratic dabbler in the occult, the English countryside would’ve long ago fallen prey to Mocata’s decadent cult dedicated to the Goat of Metis (in his classic The Devil Rides Out, memorably adapted by Hammer Films), and who but the urbane, venerable James Bond of witchcraft could’ve exposed the Nazi astral spy network that was a danger to British convoys in the desperate years of World War II (in Strange Conflict, another of his Black Magic series)? Winston Churchill? Guess again.
Henry Armitage – The number of scholars and researchers who have melted into puddles of impotent, gibbering lunacy when confronted with the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones are probably innumerable. But of the bookmen who neither shirked nor crumbled when going toe to toe with the Mythos, there are less than a handful, andMiskatonicUniversity’s aged head librarian remains the most memorable. The hero of The Dunwich Horror is the only literary creation the notoriously misanthropic and disconnected Lovecraft ever admitted to relating to.
Rupert Giles – Another example of the guy behind the guy (or in this case the girl). Buffy’s the one with her name in the title, but she’s just a superpowered ex-cheerleader without her Watcher, the stuffy Brit researcher Rupert, who can not only not only mentally pick out the needed grimoire with ten times the alacrity of a library catalog database search, but can also hotwire a car and pluck out Behind Blue Eyes on his acoustic.
Velma Dinkley – Speaking of Scoobies, where would Hannah-Barbara’s gang of dog loving de-bunkers be without the nebbish, plucky Velma? It’s true nine tenths of their paranormal investigations turned out to be con jobs, but in recent stories Fred, Daphne, Shaggy, and Scooby have gone up against honest to God monsters and ghosts, and all Velma’s research into folklore and legends has finally proved fruitful.
Special Agent Fox Mulder – Though he got into it for the aliens, Mulder stayed for the X-Files, proving time and time again (mostly to his skeptic partner and foil Dr. Dana Scully) against everything from super soldiers to djinn that one of the most important traits of a truth seeker is the willingness to believe.
Egg Shen – Wang Chi knows kung fu and ‘ol Jack Burton’s got his reflexes, but it’s the wily little bastard sorcerer Egg Shen’s Six Demon Bag that really shakes the pillars of heaven when it comes to the climactic mano a mano with the 2,000 year old phantom Lo Pan and his minions in John Carpenter’s Chinese American fantasy Big Trouble In Little China.
The Doctor – He never starts fights, but he always finishes them. The madman with a box gets a mention here because he does contend with monsters from time to time, and whether because it was part of a century of schooling at the Gallifreyan Academy or just the byproduct of having all of time to study in, he regularly demonstrates an unmatched knowledge of obscure life forms and their various strengths and weaknesses, from the incantational magic-science of witchy Carrionites to ravenous living shadows like the Vashta Nerada, or the blink and you’re dead Weeping Angels. Plus in State Of Decay he drove a rocket through a giant space vampire’s heart. How awesome is that?
John Constantine – Yet another famous British occult investigator (Englandhas a bumper crop of them), the relentlessly cynical ‘blue collar warlock’ and Hellblazer, Constantine is unique in that his expertise has come more from immersion than study. You have to give credit to the wit of a guy who can con the Devil into drinking holy water when he came for his soul.
Professor Bernard Quatermass – The polar opposite of Constantineis the humanistic hero of the Quatermass television serials and movies. The genius behind England’s Rocket Group pitted his mind and scientific expertise against more than a few alien invasions and turned them aside via sheer ingenuity. In Quatermass And The Pit, he uncovers an almost Lovecraftian truth about the origins of mankind, but remains steadfast in his belief that essentially, human beings have the capacity to outshine their own inner darkness.
Sean Crenshaw – The pre-teen leader of The Monster Squad, he was already an expert on monster lore before he got a hold of the journal of Abraham Van Helsing. With its help, he successfully defeated Count Dracula and his brides once and for all, to say nothing of the Mummy, the Wolfman, the Gill-Man, and (more by default) Frankenstein’s monster. I like to think he went on to become the youngest member of the Watcher’s Council, or at the very least, opened his own Ghostbusters franchise.
Edgar And Allen Frog – Say what you like about their propensity for unraveling in the face of the enemy, for the most part, the Frog Brothers (of the 80’s classic The Lost Boys) know their vampire lore and use that knowledge to great effect against the bloodsuckers of Santa Carla. Any gaps in their learning probably come from the fact that they read it all in comic books.
Dr. Strange/Dr. Fate – While we’re on the subject of comic books, here are two sides of the Marvel/DC comics collectible coin. Each keeps a mystic abode provisioned with every book and amulet anybody could ever need (unless the requirements of a story demand it) to keep extra-dimensional entities from causing mischief in their respective universes, each tended to by a loyal mystic servant. I’m partial to Stephen Strange, but Dr. Fate’s got a cool helmet, and his wife Inza is way cuter than Wong.
David Talbot – In Anne Rice’s monumental Vampire Chronicles Louis and Lestat cast a big preternatural shadow which the secretive human investigative order known as the Talamasca actively pursue. What impressed me about the organization’s Superior General who first appeared in Queen Of The Damned, was his agenda of observation rather than extermination. David struck me as a character more tasked with learning about the breadth of creation rather than in wiping anything out of it.
Hellboy – The World’s Greatest Paranormal Investigator (according to Mike Mignola’s comic series), Hellboy has the distinction of being the only demon on this list (albeit he’s technically only half). I was a little iffy about including Hellboy here as the line between scholar and awesome monster basher blurs a bit where he’s concerned, but he does have an innate command of ancient and obscure languages and a demonstrated Batman-esque knack for having the right tools for the right bogey on his utility belt. Plus he’s got the B.P.R.D. to back him up.
Abraham Van Helsing – Last, but far, far from least, is Bram Stoker’s other chief contribution to the horror genre, the character most responsible for setting the tone of the archetype of the scholarly monster hunter, Professor Abraham Van Helsing.
Endlessly depicted and imitated (from Peter Cushing to Peter Vincent) Instructor at the University of Amsterdam, possessing of a literal string of academic letters and titles, Van Helsing is the expert in rare diseases Dr. Jack Seward calls in when Lucy Westenra’s condition baffles his own expertise in Dracula.
Often dismissed as a Christian fanatic and pigeon holed strictly as a vampire hunter, a more careful reading of the original text (and an avoidance of tripe like the movie Van Helsing with its ‘Gabriel Van Helsing’) reveals Van Helsing as a complex character. A man of faith, yes, and dealing with the personal tragedy of a wife in a mental asylum, no more a mere ‘vampire hunter’ by trade than Spider-Man is a beat cop because he responds to burglaries.
In an effort to adjust the public perception of the much-maligned and misrepresented Van Helsing, JournalStone Publishing will be putting out my own exploration of the lesser known career of the inimitable scholar next month, with the release of Terovolas.
An excerpt from Van Helsing’s personal papers collected along with corroborating documents, Terovolas takes place immediately following the events of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Here’s a few pages from the book:
From The Journal Of Professor Abraham Van Helsing (translated from the original Dutch)
Thank God I am sane.
Those were the last words I wrote concerning my previous expedition to theCarpathian Mountains. How much has happened since I wrote those words, and in such a short time! Eight whole months have passed. Where to begin?
I will tell of how I came to be diagnosed with lycanthropy.
Following the series of events which took me away from my teaching at the University inAmsterdamtoLondon, and at last to the mountainous region ofWallachia, I deemed it necessary that I should submit myself to the observation and care of my old friend Dr. John Seward in his asylum in Purfleet. The particulars of my stay I will not here recount. If John has learned anything from his old mentor it is the value of copious notation, and thus it would be mundane to relate here what has probably been more thoroughly documented on his phonographic records.
I know now that the specific reasons behind my decision were conceived in certain deeds which I was forced to commit in my pursuit of Count Dracula. In particular, I believe that the seed of my instability was planted by his wives – those three beauteous ladies with whom I dealt so harshly whilst they lay in their ghastly repose. I do not know how much of my current mental state is the product of whatever preternatural bewitchment almost stayed my hand in their execution, and how much is the perfectly logical after-effect of prolonged mental stress and fatigue.
Whichever, not long after the funeral for our heroic Mr. Quincey Morris, I privately confided in John that I had begun to harbor some very unsettling, violent phantasies centering around our beloved Miss Mina Harker.
I was possessed of an unusually keen paranoia concerning her safety. I could not sleep for wont of assurance that she was at all times secure. I was at the Harkers’ nearly every day, and I am sorry to say I made quite a nuisance of myself. When at last Jonathan spoke frankly to me about my peculiar habit, I took to visiting the Harker home unannounced by night, watching from the silent shadows of the courtyard until the last lamps in the house were extinguished.
I would find myself passing cemeteries which were not on my usual route. A ghoulish compulsion began to grow within me, that I should inter the graves within and subject the innocent corpses to the same maschalimos treatments I had prescribed for the vampires. I took to carrying my implements with me -my mallet and stakes, vials of blessed water, and garlic cloves. I knew the bodies in those plots were not the creatures which my imagination was telling me they were, and yet I was overwhelmed with a desire to do them violence.
I also had terrible nightmares in which I would pry open the tomb of Miss Lucy Westenra-Holmwood, thinking to find Dracula’s favored bride there – the very lovely, dark haired one whose coffin had commanded such a special place in his ossuary. When I flung aside the sarcophagus however, it was always Miss Mina who would leap from the casket, slavering and hungry for my blood. Sometimes these terrors ended with my death. Quite a peculiar thing, for is it not speculated that those who die in dreams die in life? Other times, they ended with her’s – and if it was her’s, it was always a prolonged, bloody end, and my phantasmic alter-ego would perform acts of lustful malice upon her too vile even to recount here.
In a moment of clarity I saw that it would not be long before I was apprehended in the midst of some atrocity which would bring myself and my loved ones much shame. It was with no small relief that I surrendered the care of my body and mind to my friend John.
I have been on extended leave from my teaching for far too long, but I am grateful to the understanding of my colleagues, who have written me with assurances that I can return whenever I am able. It is good to feel needed.
I also take comfort now that I am once again the man that I was, and am pursuing an active role in my emotional convalescence. I feel that my return to these notes, which are evolving into a kind of journal, is somehow a part of it. John tells me that there was a time when I would place this book within a circle of holy water and bury it in sprigs of fresh cut roses, and cower in the corner of my room, not daring to look at it, fearing the entries scrawled within. I have no memory of this, and it seems humorous to me now that I should have been so foolish. I hope that John will share his documentation of my case with his grateful patient one day, if only to amuse an old man.
It was John who diagnosed me with melancholic lycanthropia. I was of course already familiar with the condition. It has been in the physician’s lexicon since the fifth century, though with the advent of modern medicine and the eradication of humoral theory, the melancholic has been mostly done away with, leaving the lycanthropy (the Greek lykos –‘wolf’ and anthropos–‘man’) alone intact.
In folklore of course, it is the name given to the werewolf – the man or woman who assumes the shape of a wolf, usually by night. The means by which this is achieved are numerous, and include everything from wolf-hide belts and imaginatively composed unguents, to the ubiquitous pact with Satan.
In psychiatric terms, lycanthropy refers to the belief of the patient that he or she assumes the form and characteristics of a wolf or other beast. This belief often translates itself into violent and in the extreme, even cannibalistic acts. While it was never in my mind (I do not think) that I should become a beast and eat the flesh of the living (or the dead), I do believe that the acts which I were contemplating were of a potentially bestial nature.
When John first brought his theory to me, I was reminded of the case of the soldier Bertrand, who in 1849 inFrancebegan his horrific career by strolling through cemeteries at night just as I had. Bertrand took to digging up and mutilating the bodies of young women and girls. It took a spring gun trap set into a freshly buried coffin to end his diabolical career at last. I did not want my ailment to progress so far as had Bertrand’s.
But these things are behind me now. The nightmares have ceased, and the barely controlled instincts have abated.
It is most ironic however, to have written this and now to have to tell that I am on a passenger steamer with only the remains of poor Quincey Morris for company.
But I must explain.
Having born the body of our dear Mr. Morris back to London after the end of our travails, it was mutually agreed that as our American friend had made no preparations for his sudden and regrettable departure from this earth, we should let Arthur Holmwood Lord Godalming, who was his eldest and closest friend, decide what should be done with him.
“He was a man at home in so many places, and yet…it seems to me that he should want to rest at home, inTexas. He spoke very fondly of his family’s ranch there. Yes.Texas, I should think.”
This was the proclamation I heard Lord Godalming give prior to my illness, and so far as I knew, it was carried out when I entered John’s care.
Yet when I emerged again, Mr. Morris was still inLondon, reposing in an urn on Lord Godalming’s mantle.
During my recuperation much had occurred in the life of Arthur Holmwood which did not allow sufficient time for a voyage toAmerica. There were many decisions to be made regarding his late father’s estate. Not only were there a good deal of unforseen settlements to be arranged with his father’s creditors, but there was also the managing of the will and the mediation of rival inheritors who were not at all disposed in their shameful avarice to allot to the executor and chief heir time enough to mourn for both a fiancé and a best friend. A miser’s patience is truly as short as his compassion.
With John’s encouragement (he seemed to see in the hiatus some therapeutic value), I offered and was then granted the task to bear the remains and worldly remembrances of Quincey P. Morris home to his native land, which lay in the Callahan County of Texas, United States American.
TODAY’S GIVEAWAY: Ed Erdelac is offering one paperback copy of Terovolas upon its release in early November. To enter post a comment in the section below or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and put HH CONTEST ENTRY in the header. Winners will be chosen at random and notified by e-mail.
Happy Halloween, readers!
Edward M. Erdelac is the author of the acclaimed Merkabah Rider series and Dubaku from Damnation Books, Buff Tea from Texas Review Press, and Terovolas from JournalStone Books. He is an award winning screenwriter and an independent filmmaker. In addition to having fiction in several anthologies (most recently, Danse Macabre, After Death, Fading Light, and Steampunk Cthulhu) and magazines, he has also written for Lucasfilm’s Star Wars franchise, and penned the definitive boxing story set in a galaxy far, far away. Born in Indiana, educated in Chicago, he lives in the Los Angelesarea with his wife and a bona fide slew of kids and cats. He maintains a blog at http://emerdelac.wordpress.com which contains various ramblings, links to his works, and reviews of his extensive home video collection. His books are all available from their respective publishers and Amazon. (Amazon Author Page) http://www.amazon.com/Edward-M-Erdelac/e/B00354P9ZY/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1347386595&sr=8-1