Everyone has a cinematic guilty pleasure — the movies you know are really not great, but you love them anyway. For me, it is terrible vampire movies. Their low-budget earnestness often delivers more of what I want out of a vampire movie than any of the big name offerings seem to manage. And, more importantly, they are just plain fun. So, with “fun” as our codeword, here is the inaugural entry in our Terrible Vampire Movies column.
We’re starting with one of my (apologies to Chloe) personal favorites: Ted Nicolaou’s Subspecies.
There are apparently four — soon to be five — movies in this series, but I won’t drag you all that far down the rabbit hole. We will be focusing on the original 1991 film, which I trot out for viewing every October like clockwork. The leaves turn orange, and I have a Pavlovian need to watch it. The basic premise of Subspecies is classic horror movie fare: three folklore students working on their Masters theses come to the small Romanian village of Prejnar to study local vampire stories, only to discover that there is more truth to the legends than expected. So far, pretty much as expected, right? Well, buckle up, friends — it’s going to get a little weird.
My favorite episode of The Twilight Zone opens with a scene that even the narration admits ought to be the end. The audience sees a desolate, windswept village, one that the imagery of westerns has trained us to understand is somewhere in the Southwest, likely New Mexico. A man is gunned down in the middle of the dusty street, the shots fired by several of the village men hiding in doorways. After he falls, his body is carried into the jail, and a witness is sent to fetch the wounded man’s father and sister to be with him before he dies.
All of this happens in just a few moments, and is merely the prologue. As Rod Serling says in introduction:
Normally … this would be the end of the story. We’ve had the traditional shoot-out on the street and the Bad Man will soon be dead. But some men of legend and folk tale have been known to continue having their way even after death. The outlaw and killer Pinto Sykes was such a person, and shortly we’ll see how he introduces the town, and a man named Conny Miller in particular, to the Twilight Zone.
This has been a hectic week, but there has still been time for listening to podcasts! And, I would definitely like to recommend my current favourite to all of you:
The Magnus Archives
The Magnus Archives is a horror series put out by Rusty Quill. The overall conceit is that it comes from the archives of the Magnus Institute, a British organization whose mission is to investigate weird and paranormal occurrences. The most recent archivist (a wonderfully curmudgeonly Jonathan Sims, who also writes the programme) is attempting to impose some order on the chaos left by his predecessor.
The majority of the files are subsequently narrated by Sims himself, whose reading of them is understated in the best possible way. Each is its own short story — with a truly impressive variety of voices and tones — that range from slightly eerie to outright terrifying. Personally, I love the less flashy stories best. The more mundane they seem at the outset, the more they feel very, disturbingly real.
While it is, largely, an anthology series, The Magnus Archives still delivers in effective world-building. As the series progresses, there are names that start popping up repeatedly, and hints that something more is going on. I’m not going to spoil any of it for new listeners. The slow build is definitely part of the fun.
There is always the temptation to compare something new to its predecessors — and there is something SCP-esque about the whole set-up — but it has a flavour and flair very much its own. Fans of the Weird should definitely give The Magnus Archives a listen.
It’s sort of strange how omnipresent H. P. Lovecraft is in horror conversations, even now. The legacy of his particular branch of weird is substantial — and, largely, a conversation we are saving for later on. Don’t worry, there is still a lot to say.
A less well-known figure holds a much closer place in my heart: M. R. James.
On the surface, it is strange to compare these two men. James was the father of the antiquarian ghost story. Lovecraft basically created the genre of cosmic horror. And yet, there really is a great deal of common ground. They were, in fact, contemporaries, and died within a year of one another (James in 1936, Lovecraft in 1937). Both wrote stories that took their sensibilities from earlier time periods. Both have had impacts on the horror genre that they never would have foreseen. Both were solitary men whose sexuality is a preoccupation of modern scholars. And, most importantly, both based their horror in a fear of the Outside, of the arcane, and of the forbidden.
Perhaps it’s best to start with some brief biographical notes.