By Lars Theriot
What scares you?
It’s an intensely personal question, and the answer changes drastically from one generation to the next. There is a story, perhaps mere urban legend, that during the first screening of Jaws, an audience member was so horrified by the scene where the shark eats young Alex Kintner, that he ran into the lobby and vomited into an ashcan. No doubt the moviegoers who made the Saw and Hostel franchises so popular would fall down laughing if they heard that story, but it’s exactly these kinds of generational shifts in perspective that would leave us petrified with indecision at the thought of writing a book called The Top 100 Horror Movies. Not Gary Gerani — but then Gerani really knows what he’s talking about, having written both Roger Corman’s Vampirella (1996) and Stan Winston’s Pumpkinhead (1988), the latter of which ranks high on the list of horror movies that most petrified me in my formative years.
Gerani’s immersion in horror and popular culture goes back further than the big man with the jack-o-lantern cabeza. If you’ve ever swapped Garbage Pail Kids, Wacky Packages, or Dinosaurs Attack! trading cards during the 80’s, then you’ve handled Gary’s work. You may have even have read his books (Fantastic Television, Top 100 Sci-Fi Movies) or comic books (Bram Stoker’s Death Ship). One way or another, if you’re a horror, sci-fi, or fantasy fan, you’ve definitely been influenced by Gerani’s contributions to the collective fanboy experience. So, what does the man who is arguably more qualified than any other choose as the all-time champ of silver screen horror?
“I chose Hammer’s 1958 Technicolor classic Horror of Dracula as the greatest horror movie of all time. Needless to say, rankings are by their nature subjective, and must be appreciated in the proper context. Why is Horror of Dracula #1? There’s the simple answer, of course; vampires are the most significant fantasy creatures in horror cinema…Dracula is the greatest vampire…and Horror of Dracula is widely regarded as the finest adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel. Ergo, #1.”
Gerani is dead right. There is really only one movie monster who has survived and thrived across three centuries and the shifting horror tastes of generation after generation of fans. That monster is, of course, Count Dracula. And whether he is portrayed literally by Bella Lugosi or parodied by Leslie Nielsen, the man in the black cape has shown remarkable durability.
As to the problem of comparing one generation’s horror penchants to another, Gerani has a knack for knowing how to place memorable moments from one era in context to those of the next and for finding the exact spot on the horror continuum where a movie like Horror of Dracula belongs: “Horror of Dracula is a reality-based, post WWII thriller that managed to update its ethereal protagonist into a genuine character. Christopher Lee’s Count is the Fallen Aristocrat, an inherently tragic and utterly fascinating person who speaks relatively few lines, but whose commanding-yet-somehow-sympathetic mien suggests a back story worthy of Shakespeare.”
As Gerani alludes, with purportedly just 13 lines of dialog in the entire movie, Christopher Lee’s portrayal of the count is considered to be one of the greatest. Gerani tells us, “[Lee’s] transformation from visitor Harker’s vaguely bored yet courteous host into a savage demon from Hell (in bloody close-up) was to 1958 audiences what Linda Blair vomiting pea soup was to 1972 moviegoers. Equally brilliant is Peter Cushing as a smoothly logical, compassionate, charming, sexy, athletic, erudite but un-snobbish Dr. Van Helsing, a true soldier of Christ and perfect match for his opposite number.” Indeed, after starring together a year earlier in The Curse of Frankenstein, Lee’s and Cushing’s performances in Horror of Dracula solidified them as the Martin-and-Lewis of Hammer horror films.
While many folks would choose Tod Browning’s 1931 Dracula (the Bela Lugosi one) as the finest of the vampire movies, it may be they are giving the film extra points just for being first. The truth is that the original Dracula is just too far removed from our modern movie-going experience to be terrifying. You’re forced to enjoy the film from the perspective of a movie-goer in the 30’s, and that’s not very easy to do. By contrast, Horror of Dracula is a much more modern movie, both thematically, and in its basic production values (it has a great musical score). “Horror of Dracula has one thing going for it that all the others simply don’t,” Gerani concludes “it is perfect, the embodiment of our favorite genre in every way.”
Now, a transcendent and classy horror villain the caliber of the Man in Black deserves an equally sophisticated Halloween cocktail. For that, we’ve chosen a libation that literally bleeds from its own heart. Despite our attention to detail and penchant for stories that reflect the history and aesthetics of all things cocktail here at the 12 Bottle Bar, we are anything but snobs. Okay, that’s not true – we’re horrible snobs on many fronts, but when a drink is as perfect as the Bleeding Heart Martini, we overlook that it comes from Martha Stewart. After all, a good thing is a good thing.
Bleeding Heart Martini
Add gin and vermouth to a mixing glass with ice
Stir and strain into a cocktail glass
Garnish with the pickled beet, skewered on a cocktail pick
Featured Glassware: Octavie Martini by Villeroy & Boch
Like Dracula himself, the Martini comes to us from the late 19th century and is the greatest example of its species. Also like Horror of Dracula, the Bleeding Heart leaves the classical structure intact and simply adds a bit of bloody panache. At the base of the drink is a proper gin Martini – with which no one can argue – and it is then embellished with a garnish so perfect thematically, dramatically, and flavor wise – a pickled baby beet which, as it rests in the glass, “bleeds”. Simple yet brilliant. Despite being plastered about on too many sites to count, the Bleeding Heart Martini easily earns our endorsement as a classic, classy, and spot-on Halloween tipple.
That said, we’ve made a few changes to Martha’s original, namely forsaking the “rinse and discard” vermouth method for a proper inclusion of vermouth in the drink. After all, it’s the vermouth that makes the Martini. The second, more minor, yet we feel equally important, change is that we’ve replaced the metal cocktail pick shown in Martha’s original photo with a bamboo skewer – after all, this heart needs a wooden stake in it. Also, we prefer Martinis stirred, not shaken.
In closing, we ask you this: Is there a better pairing for Halloween than the Dracula film ranked the best horror movie of them all and the drink considered the greatest cocktail of all time? We think not, and the Bleeding Heart Martini offers an enticing spin on the perennial favorite that is as Gothic and ponderous as the good Count himself.
ESOTERICA: The old adage says that if you hang around long enough, as Dracula certainly has, sooner or later everything becomes cool again. Back in the Universal days, Dracula never showed his fangs. Horror of Dracula changed everything by being the first actual Dracula film in which the Count showed off his incisors. Now, nearly 60 years later, Stephenie Meyer insisted that her 21st century Twilight vampires have no fangs of any kind.