As any of my friends or family can attest, I love a good vampire movie. In fact, I even love bad vampire movies. (Well, within reason.)
To this day, my absolute favorite vampire movies are the old Hammer Studios Dracula films that appeared in the 1960's and -70's. You can often catch these B-movie gems on late night cable around Halloween. Christopher Lee starred as Dracula, and the role of Van Helsing, Dracula's ever-vigilant nemesis, was played by Peter Cushing. (Cushing, in the role of Grand Moff Tarkin, would later achieve infamy by blowing up Princess Leia's peaceful home-world of Alderaan in the first Star Wars movie.)
These classic vampire movies cling faithfully to a tried-and-true formula: a fetching lass or strapping lad stumbles across a dark, semi-ruined castle high in the Carpathian Mountains. A creepy man-servant offers the lass or lad accommodations for the night. Soon the poor victim meets a toothy end, either at the hands of Dracula (for the lass) or (for the lad) one of Dracula's trampy undead brides. (The issue of Dracula's penchant for bigamy is never fully explored.)
Soon, friends or family, sometimes in the company of skeptical clergy, strike out in search of the missing lass/lad. Friends or family soon meet grisly ends. Some of these unfortunates quickly reappear, now alarmingly long in the tooth. Mayhem ensues.
Just when all seems lost, Van Helsing arrives, and somehow (for example through sunlight, lightning, heart-staking, full-body impalement, or submersion in an icy lake) the malevolent Dracula is dispatched. All is well with the world--at least until the subsequent film, when the next hapless lass or lad appears at the castle and somehow manages to re-animate the evil lord of the manor. Cue the screams, and off we go again.
My dad also loves these old vampire films. As a matter of fact, it was he who introduced me to the world of the celluloid undead when I was no more than five years old. Exhibiting good taste, if questionable parenting skills, my dad often let me stay up late and watch Dracula films with him.
I am being entirely literal when I say these films scared the piss out me. Watching the horrific, snarling Christopher Lee, I was sometimes too paralyzed by terror to scurry down the scary,dark hallway and use the bathroom, and I have vivid memories of wetting myself from fear. This irritated my dad, who had to miss a few minutes of the movie while he put in me in dry pajamas.
Looking back, it amazes me that my mother didn't intervene to prevent my delicate mind from becoming permanently warped by these wonderful films. Had she ever caught a glimpse of the 1970's-era Dracula flicks, where Christoper Lee tended to expose the breasts of the lass he was about to bite, you can be sure my mom would have put the kibosh on our father/son movie night. But my mother, as a good Irish Catholic, wasn't overly troubled by simple, non-sexual, gory vampire violence, even if it did result in a son who, 35 years later, still feels a need to sleep with the covers pulled up tightly around his neck.
Could simply watching vampire movies account for that level of permanent (though in no way debilitating) neurosis?
Perhaps not. But more of the story remains to be told...