My First Undead Love: How I Fell for the Horror Genre

Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart
Perfect bedtime far for young children!
Even as a very young child, I had a morbid sensibility.  This may have had something to do with my granddad on my father’s side; his idea of a good bedtime story for me and my sister at ages three and six (respectively) was The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe.  Grandpa read with great flair, building up the tension of the story to a hair-raising degree.  I loved every minute of it. 

My cousins Mark and Amy (on my mom’s side of the family) were also expert storytellers, most notably ghost stories. I’d get Mark in trouble by begging him to tell me a spooky story and then have nightmares after the fact.  I loved every minute of it, even the nightmares.  My guilt over getting Cousin Mark in trouble was never strong enough to stop me from repeating the process. I had great persuasive powers as Mark never refused to tell me a scary story. Er . . . sorry, Cousin Mark! Amy, for some reason, never got in trouble for telling me tales like The Hookman, Squish-Thump, Bloody Mary, or the Scythe Killer. Go figure.

I subsidized my desire to be frightened with Creature Features (hosted by Moona Lisa) on Saturday afternoons with a variety of movies like Them, The Mole People, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, The Tingler, and many more.  Sure, some were really cheesy, but at the time they scared the heck out of me. And . . . I loved every minute of it.  Then Dan Curtis released Dark Shadows and I wallowed in the gothic and supernatural world of Collinwood and vampire Barnabas Collins.  In retrospect the show is even cheesier than The Mole People, with a pace slower than the advance of a glacier, but at the time it gave me nightmares. Of course, I’d always go back for more. 

The library was a place of wonder. I found the non-fiction section almost immediately, needing to know all there was to know about natural disasters, carnivorous animals and reptiles, poisonous plants and insects, witches, werewolves, and . . . vampires.  I was probably one of very few eight year olds who not only knew who Vlad “Dracul” Tepes was, but how one would go about impaling someone the old-fashioned way. Not particularly useful information at that age, but it did help me craft some pretty grisly ghost stories for slumber parties. 

Christopher Lee in The Horror of Dracula
I vant to suck your blood!
I don’t remember where I first came across my paperback copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Probably a yard sale or a used bookstore. I do remember the cover very clearly: Dracula in profile against a dark background, white hair, flowing off his forehead a la Franz Liszt, skin tinted gray, pointed ears, gaze turned towards the reader and fangs showing in a wicked smile. The picture captured my imagination and the fact it was about a vampire? I had to have it.  Read it, then re-read it (my beloved paperback eventually disintegrated from age and multiple readings and I’ve never been able to find a replacement with that particular cover art).  Pretty heavy stuff for a kid, all that sexual subtext, and I didn’t really understand it at the time. Didn’t matter, I was in it for the neck biting and the blood sucking and . . . er . . . look, I thought it was all about the scary stuff, okay?

And then I saw my first Hammer horror film.  Specifically Horror of Dracula with Peter Cushing as Van Helsing and Christopher Lee (swoon) as Dracula.

Oh my.

I was still pre-pubescent at the time, but only by a few months and . . . oh my. I mean, yes, he was fifty-three and I was thirteen.  But I knew it could work.  I would make it work!

Suddenly I had an inkling of what all the sexual subtext was about in the book as I developed my first real crush (okay, technically my first was Roddy McDowell as Cornelius in Planet of the Apes, but I just don’t think it should count). Crush?  Hah. It was a deep and abiding love that lasted into my relatively late teens. I read the TV Guide cover to cover to see if he was in anything from week to week.  If I found a movie blurb with his name, I cut it out and put it in a cigar box. I would sit in my bedroom with the lights off, rocking in my rocking chair and listening to scary music while imagining myself being stalked by Dracula/Christopher Lee. The fantasies never went too far because I still didn’t have much of a clue as far as the mechanics of sex and all that, but they were rich enough to keep me completely engrossed in my own little world for hours on end. 

And this was all before I saw Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers with Christopher Lee as Rochefort.  No one has ever done more for an eye-patch and a rapier in the history of . . . well . . . history. 

But I digress. 

Christopher Lee in The Horror of Dracula
Come away with me and live forever…
Because of my first exposure to the uber-sexy menace that embodied Christopher Lee’s portrayal of Dracula, I was hooked. I watched every horror movie that aired (we had no new-fangled video machines or DVD players back in the Dark Ages), my appreciation for the genre growing beyond my muted adolescent lust for Mr. Lee. 

Zombies eventually surpassed vampires as my monster of choice. I don’t think even Christopher Lee could make a zombie sexy (although I would have been willing to give him the chance to prove me wrong back in the day), but they still work for me on a viscerally scary level that other creatures of the night just don’t conjure any more. Zombies are still capable of giving me nightmares . . . and I love every minute of it. 

Plague Town by Dana FredstiTo enter for a chance to win one of five copies of Dana Fredsti’s Plague Town, make sure you’re a registered member of the site, then log in and leave a comment below. You will know you are logged in if your name appears in black above your comment. If your name appears in red, you are not logged in will not be entered.

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of fifty (50) United States and the District of Columbia, who are 18 or older. To enter, fill out entry at beginning at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) April 17, 2012. Sweepstakes ends at 11:59 a.m. ET on April 27, 2012 (the “Promotion Period”). Void outside of the 50 US and DC and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules at Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010

Dana Fredsti is the author of Murder for Hire: The Peruvian Pigeon. She has also appeared in various zombie/horror movie projects, and worked on Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness as an armourer’s assistant, sword-fighting captain, and sword-fighting Deadite. Her new book, Plague Town, showcases her current undead love: zombies.


  1. James P. Pope

    Christopher Lee was great in that role as Dracula

  2. Dana Fredsti

    Jim, I agree. For me, Christopher Lee was the ultimate Dracula…

  3. Pam Howell

    Partial to Jf/ Barnabas Collins meself – and lets NOT go intop HOW upset I am about the current plans to mutilate my beloved Dark Shadows

  4. Dana Fredsti

    I loved Barnabas, but in an entirely different way… I watched Dark Shadows faithfully when I was a kid. I’m not sure if the current release (or soon to be released version) is going to be better or worse than the remake they did with Ben Cross as Barnabas. That was… bad.

  5. Judy H

    As far as zombie flicks go, I think 28 Weeks Later was particularly well done.

  6. Micheal Shea

    BA, she worked on Army of Darkness

  7. Dana Fredsti

    Is it anal retentive of me to say that 28 Weeks Later wasn’t really a zombie flick as far as having actual walking corpses eating people, but rather infected humans? That being said, it might as well have been a zombie movie other than that… and I loved it! Michael, it’s true… I did.

  8. Clare 2e

    The entire Evil Dead canon can give me some sugar : )

  9. Christopher Morgan

    See my love of horror is a bit different. In my house growing up you could either watch musicals, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was a particular favorite, Westerns, or Horror.

    I would be about 6 or 7 watching things like Poltregeist and anything featuring Jason, Freddy, or Micheal Meyers. Which probably explains a whole lot about my sense of humor…anyway I didn’t come across a monster that scared me until I picked up IT. And even then Pennywise is only scary for so long before he turns into a giant spider…Oh and Kolchak was a staple.

  10. Ronald Marsh

    I have to agree that Christopher Lee was the best.

  11. Lynn Marler

    Frank Langella (back when he still had hair) also made a good Drac.

  12. Angela Bartlett

    I can’t wait to get my hands on this novel. I am such a horror junkie! I can’t wait for the new Dark Shadows, and the new Resident Evil, and . . . well you get the picture.

  13. Shirley Johnson

    Would love to win

  14. Shirley Johnson

    Would love to win

  15. Holly Storm

    I grew up watching any scary movie I could get my hands on! The only movie monsters that still creep me out are Zombies!

  16. Debbie K. Chioffe

    This is my kinda contest! Please include me in the macabre fun!

  17. Jaime Hypes

    Thank you for sharing your love of horror. I am glad to hear I am not the only 3 or 4 year old that was told Poe stories instead of ‘Goodnight Moon!’ Also, thanks for the chance at what sounds like a great new story.

  18. Jeff Tufano

    I’m a big fan of all classic horror films though really, books have become my go to medium for this genre. Count me in. I’m here to win!

  19. Pamela White

    I like classic horror films and books. I hope I win.

  20. Margaret Rushton

    My love of horror began with Dark Shadows and all of the classic monster movies on tv. The black and white films showed no gore, but the atmosphere was so creepy, it was scary. Later, I loved the 80’s horror films that we all love today. Specifically, the Evil Dead Trilogy is my most favorite horror movies now.

  21. ktpotat

    can’t wait for the Poe movie

  22. L L

    Very nice post. The book sounds good.

  23. Darby Lohrding

    “Dark Shadows” had me hooked to this genre along with those spooky movies that would show late at night when I’d be babysitting…and now “Dark Shadows” is making a come back to a theatre in your area soon!!
    Strange but True! ; )

  24. Marjorie Manharth

    When I was a kid, my brother, sister and I walked miles to the nearest theater to watch horror films. Then later, on the long drive from vacation in North Carolina, I got hooked on Stephen King’s The Stand. Yikes – wasn’t even aware of the many miles traveled. Have read everything King and Koontz have written since.

  25. Karen Terry

    I loved horror so much as a little girl. My favorite horror actors were Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, Lou Chaney Jr and Peter Cushing. I would hide behind the sofa, but would still watch.

  26. Melissa Keith

    [b]My first was[/b] [b]Jonathan Frid in Dark Shadows. I would love to read PLAGUE TOWN. It appeals to me greatly! [/b]

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