It wasn’t always that way youngsters. Back in the day (don’t roll you eyes at me, I’m old enough to be your grandfather), we didn’t have Lestat, Jean-Claude, Bella, Edward, Merit or Lily Drake in our books. We didn’t watch movies like Blade, Underworld and Salem’s Lot or television shows like Buffy, True Blood or The Vampire Diaries. We had…Dracula.
We had Dracula the book, Dracula the movie, Son of Dracula, Dracula’s Daughter and the cult favorite, Dracula’s Fourth Cousin Twice Removed. We also didn’t have cable TV, HBO, Netflix, Amazon, DVDs or…ready for it…VCRs. I had my own copy of Bram Stoker’s novel but to see the movies I only had two options. I could catch the Saturday afternoon matinee at the Kayton Theater or I could stay up Saturday night to watch Chiller Theater on TV.
I did both, but the TV option had major challenges. We lived seventy miles away from channel eleven’s transmission tower. That meant on a good night, the best I could hope for was a snowy picture that only allowed me to make out the actors if I turned out all the lights and sat about fifteen feet away from the TV. I dealt with that until I was fourteen and had cut enough lawns to buy my way out of the problem. That entailed riding my bike nine miles into town and visiting the only TV shop within thirty miles. Now that you ask, yes the ride was uphill both directions. Once there, I plunked down the money for a forty foot metal tower on top of which I mounted the biggest TV antenna I could find. Getting it all home was an interesting experience but, when I was done, the snowy picture was gone and I could actually see Dracula’s fangs when I watched Chiller. Life was good.
Chiller was great. It came on at eleven PM every Saturday night and lasted until about two AM when the station turned off for the night. During those three hours they showed two movies. The first one was usually something with large reptiles or flying insects that roared or chirped with a Japanese accent. The second one was a horror show that usually had Dracula, the Wolfman, Frankenstein or the Mummy as a star. Occasionally we got a stray zombie or large monkey, but not often. I was fine with the limited selection as long as I could actually see the actors. That is I was fine with it until one cold western Pennsylvania January night.
We’d had a massive snow storm that day and the winds had blown drifts that were eight feet deep along the side of the house. It’s my story; if I want the drifts to be eight feet deep then that’s what they were. It was still snowing and blowing as I burrowed into a blanket on the couch with a Pepsi and a bowl of popcorn to watch Chiller
The first show that night was The Giant Behemoth, a classic about a giant lizard that couldn’t die. If memory serves, he was Norwegian and spent most of the show battling NATO troops in downtown Oslo. Show two was supposed to be “Horror of Dracula” with Peter Cushing, one of my all time favorites. I watched them kill the lizard (kind of) on the first show and then waited impatiently for the second show to start. Just as the title screen began to roll, it happened; the wind howled, the antenna tower banged against the house and the TV screen went completely snowy. There was no picture at all.
Anguish doesn’t begin to describe what I felt. I ran through the house, threw open the back door and, with flashlight in hand, peered into the snowy blizzard towards the TV antenna. I couldn’t see very well, but what I could see confirmed my worst fear. The antenna lead had broken away from the terminals. Now a normal person would have shut the door, turned off the TV and went to bed. I mentioned that I was a teenager, right? That pretty much excludes normalcy. My solution was to pull on a coat, put a pair of wire strippers, a roll of duct tape and a screwdriver into my pocket and climb forty feet up a metal tower during a blizzard wearing pj’s and bedroom slippers to fix the antenna. For those of you who are wondering, all evidence points to me getting slightly smarter in my later years.
So let’s review the scenario. I’m hanging forty feet in the air with my legs wrapped around a tower that’s swaying back and forth in thirty mile per hour winds trying to reconnect the leads to an antenna with a flashlight duct taped to the side of my head. About halfway through the job I heard the back door open and looked down to see my mother standing on the back porch. She followed my footsteps in the snow to where I climbed the tower and then, unfortunately, she looked up.
“What in the name of God are you doing?” She asked with a tone that only mothers can master.
“I’m just fixing the TV antenna,” I replied, hoping that my matter of fact response would make her magically disappear back inside the house.
“At twelve-thirty at night in the middle of the worst snow storm we’ve had in three years?”
“I didn’t know it was that late. Sorry if I woke you up.”
Silence (which from a Mom is never a good thing). Finally she said, “I’d tell you that you’re grounded, but if you’re half as dim-witted as you appear to be right now you’d probably jump off the tower.”
“Can we talk about that after I fix this?”
“Do I have an option?”
“I’ll see you inside.”
I finished the job, climbed back down the tower and cautiously slipped in the back door. Mom had a way of furrowing her brow a little when she was perturbed. As she stood there staring at her snow encrusted son, I noticed that her brow was actually touching her nose. I’d never seen her that angry before. After a scathing lecture, most of which I don’t remember, Mom exercised her parental authority by cutting out my TV for two months and enforcing a nine PM bedtime. As punishments go, it was survivable. To pass the time, I read Dracula once a week and slipped into town on Saturday afternoons to catch the matinee. When I finally was able to watch TV again, it was with the understanding that all repairs would be done in good weather during daylight hours.
So, as you’re reading ‘Til Death Do Us Part or watching the movie version of The Life and Death of Lily Drake in a couple of years, remember who the pioneer vampire fans were and what we did to pave the way for you. Like vampires themselves, true fans never die; we just get a little long in the tooth.
A Little More About JF Owen:
JF Owen resides in North Carolina with his angelic wife, a lovable cocker spaniel, two mangy cats and a black snake named Herbie who lives under the house. He has a talented, resourceful daughter, a creative, humorous son and three incredibly intelligent grandchildren who are destined to change the world.
He’s spent most of his career as a shop rat engineer machining metal, programming robots and designing automation. If you have an American made vehicle, somewhere deep down inside there’s a part he had something to do with making. Scary, huh.