Tag Archives: Gothic horror

CITY OF VAMPIRES (1867)

Halloween Month moved another notch today. Balladeer’s Blog continues its month-long celebration with a look at another neglected gem of horror fiction.

Vampire city 2LA VILLE-VAMPIRE (City of Vampires) 1867 – Written by the accomplished and prolific Paul Feval, it’s Village of Vampires, or City of Vampires or, if you prefer, Vampire City (Wham, bam, thank you ma’am! Va- va- va- Vampire CIT-EEE! … Had to be said.)

Paul Feval’s heroine in this story is the young Ann Ward, who went on to be Ann Radcliffe, pioneer of Gothic Horror through such works as The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian. Ann’s friends Cornelia de Witt and Ned Barton depart for the continent with their new acquaintance Otto Goetzi.

Vampire CityGoetzi turns out to be a vampire who lures Cornelia and Ned deeper and deeper into a trap. Back in England, Ann Ward deduces all this from odd letters that she receives from her friends and from horrific premonitions which come to her in nightmares.

Ann and a much older family servant called Grey Jack cross the English Channel to come to the rescue of Ann’s friends. Soon the trail leads to Belgrade and then to a dismal city called Selene by outsiders but known as the Sepulchre to its inhabitants, all of whom are vampires.    Continue reading

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THE CENTENARIAN (1822): GOTHIC HORROR

CentenarianTHE CENTENARIAN (1822) – Written by THE Honore de Balzac. Thirty-one days of Halloween continue here at Balladeer’s Blog! The Centenarian or The Two Beringhelds was one of the “quickie” novels that Balzac wrote in his early career, this one under the pseudonym Horace de Saint-Aubin.  

Balzac himself looked down on The Centenarian and other early works that he churned out for quick money like the Pulp writers of a century later. Still, this work has value, just like the early Pulp stories from writers like Tennessee Williams, Dashiell Hammett and others. Plus I’m a Napoleon geek so I love immersing myself in the time period in which the novel is set.

The title character is really Count Maxime Beringheld Sculdans. The Centenarian was born in 1470 and led an adventurous life, supposedly even serving as a ship’s doctor when Columbus visited the New World. During his wanderings across the globe Count Maxime studied all the medicine and related sciences that he could.

Under the Rosicrucians the Centenarian learned various secrets of alchemy, including universal healing powers and immortality. Those last two secrets often worked hand in hand: Maxime would use his powers to mystically withdraw the illness or injury out of a sufferer but his “fee” was the draining of the life essence of another person in return. 

Honore de BalzacThe Centenarian leeches out the vitality of his victims but NOT by sucking out blood like a vampire. He drains their life force via alchemical means with his “medical” equipment. By the time of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, Count Maxime has grown a bit weary of his eternal life in typical Gothic style.  

In recent centuries our title character has devoted himself to secretly watching over his family line, mysteriously saving their lives or killing off their enemies at crucial periods. The Centenarian has most recently intervened in Spain during the Wars of the French Revolution, saving the life of his descendant General Tullius Beringheld.

Intrigued, Tullius seeks out information on his enigmatic savior and eventually learns the Centenarian’s true identity and about his supernatural nature. By this point (the 1790s) Maxime’s body is misshapen. His arms are emaciated but his torso and legs are thick and muscular.

He is unusually tall but the skin on his head is so thin that his  scalp and facial features resemble a living skull. He smells of the grave but his powers of healing make others treat him with fear and respect despite the awful fee he demands.  

The Centenarian’s additional powers include immunity to hanging and other forms of mortal injury. He has superhuman strength and his fiery eyes can induce fear, paralysis or death. He can read minds and teleport as well.   Continue reading

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LE DIABLE AMOUREUX (1772): HALLOWEEN STORY

Balladeer’s Blog’s month-long celebration of Halloween continues with this look at a neglected Gothic Horror tale.

Le Diable AmoureuxLE DIABLE AMOUREUX (THE DEVIL IN LOVE) – Written in 1772 and translated into English in 1793. This story was penned by Jacques Cazotte and is a forerunner of the type of fantastic, oneiric horror stories that E.T.A. Hoffmann would specialize in.

The tale’s protagonist is Don Alvaro, a Spanish military officer serving in the army of the King of Naples in the 1750s. Don Alvaro is a swashbuckling young man with a cavalier irreverence toward organized religion and a fascination with the forbidden thrills of occultism.

Some of our hero’s fellow officers grow annoyed with his lack of piety and resolve to teach him a lesson in the dangers that can be unleashed by diabolism. They provide him with a Black Magic spell and tell him that if he wants a real-life experience with the supernatural he must go to creepy, neglected ruins in the countryside and recite the spell. Continue reading

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MALDOROR: A NEGLECTED MASTERPIECE OF SURREAL HORROR

“Maldoror and His Smile” by Lord Orlando

Balladeer’s Blog has done a comprehensive examination of The Songs of Maldoror, often referred to as just Maldoror. The original 1868 French language work by the self-designated Count de Lautreamont (real name Isidore Ducasse) was in verse form, which is great for poetry geeks like me but if you prefer prose there are plenty of prose translations available. 

This work of surreal horror was so far ahead of its time that the author himself, in one of the few existing copies of his correspondence, expressed fears that he might be jailed or thrown into an insane asylum and requested that the publisher literally “stop the presses.” Just 88 copies of the book were completed in that initial run and for a few decades The Songs of Maldoror languished in obscurity.  

By the 1890s those few copies of Maldoror had been circulating among the more adventurous literati of the time period and the work began to be hailed as a forgotten masterpiece by Maeterlink, Bloy, Huysmans and de Gourmont. This new acclaim ultimately resulted in a new run of copies – this time in the thousands instead of dozens like the first run. This also accounts for why some reviewers mistakenly refer to The Songs of Maldoror as an 1890s work, despite its original publication date of 1868. Continue reading

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ASK BALLADEER: DARK SHADOWS (1966-1971)

Dark ShadowsQUESTION: Recently you recapped the saga of Laura Collins the Phoenix from the old Gothic Soap Opera Dark Shadows (1966-1971). Do you plan to review any of the other story arcs from the show?

ANSWER: At this time I don’t but I would emphasize that the original series is always fun to watch for people who like horror, sci-fi and fantasy. Like early Doctor Who episodes, part of the charm comes from the unrefined, seat-of-their-pants, low budget nature of the 5 day a week Dark Shadows.

Even people who aren’t fans of the show seem aware that it featured a vampire, a witch, ghosts and a werewolf. There were also warlocks, a Dorian Gray figure, mad scientists, zombies, an artist whose works came to life because his canvases were made from enchanted wood, plus lots and lots of time travel.

In addition to the aforementioned Phoenix and other tales, Dark Shadows featured two other fun storylines which I’ll summarize briefly:

masc graveyard newThe Leviathan Cult: The supernatural Collins family clashed with what was basically an imitation Cult of Cthulhu. Dan Curtis (creator and guiding creative force behind Dark Shadows) made the undersea entity worshiped by the cult be Leviathan from the Bible. (“Try suing us NOW, Arkham House!” I’m kidding.) Other serpentine figures from world mythology were tied to the Leviathans, too, like Nagas. 

You know the drill: the Leviathans ruled the world long before the dawn of humanity and wanted to rule it again with the help of their human cultists. The thwarted Leviathans punished Barnabas Collins by returning the curse of the vampire upon him. (In a disastrous move that was up there with New Coke, the show’s creative team had actually had Barnabas cured for a while, but babes just didn’t go for the less-than-smoldering Jonathan Frid without his fangs.)

Even the witch Angelique had given up her evil pursuit of Barnabas for a time and had settled down with wealthy publisher Sky Rumson (Geoffrey Scott of First and Ten). When it turned out Sky was really one of the Leviathan worshipers, the heart-broken Angelique was once again free to stalk the re-fanged Barnabas. 

The second of the two storylines came by way of Mary Shelley – Continue reading

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DARK (SHADOWS) PHOENIX

masc graveyard newThe latest attempt at cramming the X-Men’s lengthy, years-long Dark Phoenix storyline into one movie is now in theaters. With everybody reviewing that cram course Balladeer’s Blog will instead take a look at the female Phoenix character from the original 1966-1971 run of Dark Shadows.

Amazingly enough, I often encounter people who claim to have never heard of the Gothic Horror soap opera Dark Shadows. Not the original 5-day a week cult series (still available in reruns), not the movies, not the attempted reboot in 1991 and not the ongoing series of audio plays set in the 1970s onward. If anything they’ve heard of the incredibly lame Tim Burton comedy version of the show starring Johnny Depp.

Laura the Phoenix paintingDecades before Bella Swan was torn between a supposedly hunky vampire and a supposedly hunky werewolf in the Twilight novels, female readers of Tiger Beat magazine were torn between Dark Shadows‘ horror heart-throbs. Jonathan Frid’s vampire Barnabas Collins was one and David Selby’s werewolf/ warlock/ Dorian Gray-figure Quentin Collins was the other.  

Diana MillayIn terms of female horror heart-throbs from Dark Shadows, Lara Parker’s evil witch Angelique is the best known, but obviously this post will address the unusual supernatural menace the Phoenix, aka Laura Collins, played by Diana Millay (right) on the original Dark Shadows.      

In Dark Shadows lore Laura Collins was sold to a Phoenix Cult in Egypt in the 1700s by her evil lover, for whom she had abandoned her husband back in America. The cult used Laura as an offering/ guinea pig, transforming her into a supernatural figure called the Phoenix. Continue reading

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1899 MUMMY STORY: PHAROS THE EGYPTIAN

Balladeer’s Blog celebrates Halloween all month long. For today here’s a look at an 1899 mummy tale.

Pharos the EgyptianPHAROS THE EGYPTIAN (1899) – Written by Guy Boothby, who was better known for his Doctor Nikola stories about an evil genius in the mold of Dr Mabuse and Fu Manchu.

Cyril Forrester, a successful British artist, is approached by an enigmatic and sinister-seeming old Egyptian named Pharos. This figure tells Cyril that a mummy he (Cyril) inherited from his Egyptologist father is the dead body of Pharos’ ancestor from over 3,000 years ago. 

Pharos 2That ancestor was Ptahmes, whom we’re told served as a magician for the Pharaoh Ramses during the mythical Exodus. Pharos is angry over the desecration of his ancestor’s remains so Forrester obligingly returns the mummy to the old man.

And so begins a danger-filled supernatural adventure to return the mummy of Ptahmes to his tomb. Cyril is suckered along into following Pharos because he is attracted to – or as we’re supposed to pretend in fiction, he is “in love with” Valerie, a beautiful Hungarian violinist who is in thrall to the old Egyptian. Continue reading

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