|Horror films were a key part of my childhood. A great number of my contemporaries were weaned on Dark Shadows, a very imaginative daytime horror soap opera with the best werewolf ever, bar none, filmed live (so you sometimes saw Barnabas Collins, the lead vampire played by Jonathan Frid, sneaking out the door as the credits rolled).
Like Dynasty, Dark Shadows revolved around an extended family who were -- er, a little dysfunctional. It ran the gamut with werewolves, vampires, time travelers, witches, warlocks, devils and lots of famous stars getting their feet wet.
But the horror icon who really got into my blood (pun intended) was Ingrid Pitt. Pitt, a buxom beauty from Poland, starred in only two horror films from the infamous Hammer Studios in England, but became one of Hammer's favorite daughters and a sensation with fans.
As a kid, I wanted to float down the stairs in a Gothic house in a transparent white negligee, bright red lipstick and chase some poor Village wench or preacher through the woods at night like a wolf. But (sigh), at the dawn of the women's liberation movement, the vampire lesbian hellcats in the 70's always had to be beheaded by a smug prince who reclaimed his virgin betrothed.
Pitt made her incredibly sexy vampiress in The Vampire Lovers sympathetic and her heavy Bela Lugosi accent and deep voice gave her an other worldly, alien distinction against the other English roses in the cast, perfect for a vampire. "You must die, everybody must die," she snaps at one of her future victims, tears rolling down her face.
When I interviewed her for a piece on the Hammer hellcats, she reflected: "I thought The Vampire Lovers was a nicely restrained film with a great atmosphere. We did have a few little problems. In the scene where I bite Kate O'Mara, my fangs kept leaping out of my mouth and zeroing in on her cleavage. The crew were very good. All the males offered to retrieve them. . . Basically I'm not a horror buff. But working in a horror film is wonderful. So over the top most of the time."
Another woman who left a huge impact on me as a kid and became my all-time favorite star as an adult, inspiring me to write a comprehensive book about her, was Joan Crawford.
The sight of her sneaking into her bedroom to chop off the (obviously wooden) heads of her husband and his lover with an axe -- then wrestling with a doppelganger -- in Strait Jacket was unforgettable. Murderous aunts, etc. with axes cropped up in my childhood writings for years and Joan remained permanently in my imagination and heart.
Ah, yes...exorcists, evil ventriloquist dolls, hatchet murderers, vampires, and werewolves -- I can't get enough of them, can you?