Published on October 30th, 2013 | by PJ Montgomery2
When Horror Invades…
Horror gets everywhere at this time of year. The shops are full of skeletons, cinemas show classic horror films (as well as a number of rubbish new ones), and Krispy Kreme and Gregg’s are both serving scary-yet-delicious doughnuts. You’ll also find a number of non-horror television shows and comics suddenly putting out a Halloween special (The Simpsons has been doing this for the best part of a quarter of a century at this point, with their annual Halloween Special often being a highlight of that years season). Of course, these aren’t confined to Halloween alone, and a horror themed episode of your favourite show can strike at any time, such as the infamous The Bela Lugosi Blues, a 1995 episode of daytime favourite, Diagnosis: Murder, in which the killer turns out to be an actual vampire, who ends up staked by Dick Van Dyke. The ridiculousness of the situation, in a show which otherwise tries to ground itself in something approaching reality, has led to it being probably the most talked about episode of the shows entire run.
Much more successful are the times that horror has invaded other genre shows, comics and films, something which it does with more frequency than you might imagine. We can ignore examples like Alien and The Terminator, which are clearly horror films disguised as science-fiction, which then led to action sci-fi film series with their bigger, louder sequels.
The obvious place to start looking at this phenomenon is Doctor Who. A family show which has been scaring children of all ages for fifty years now, it will occasionally do so by slipping into the conventions of out and out horror, even if it is wrapped up in a pseudo-scientific explanation. Take State of Decay, a serial first broadcast from November to December 1980. In this story, the second part of The E-Space Trilogy, the Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana (Lalla Ward) take on a group of vampires, ancient enemies of the Time Lords. Of course, these vampires are actually aliens, who have visited many worlds and gave rise to the vampire myth on Earth, but most of the standard vampire lore is there, including the blood drinking, bats, a gothic castle and a group of villagers living in fear. The story, written by perennial Who favourite Terrence Dicks, was originally pitched by him for the 1977 series, but wasn’t made because it might clash with an adaptation of Dracula the BBC were producing at the time. Dicks reworked the story three years later. He also wrote the serial which would replace his vampire story in 1977, Horror of Fang Rock, in which the Doctor and Leela (Louise Jameson) encounter mysterious deaths in the Victorian era at a lighthouse enshrouded in fog (a few more horror tropes there), which turn out to be the work of a Rutan, a glowing green alien blob, whose race is the ancient enemy of the Sontarans. Of course, State of Decay is well known for another bit of horror it inflicted on Doctor Who. It was the serial in which Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) became a full-time companion.
Vampires would reappear in Doctor Who a number of times, most notably in The Curse of Fenric, a serial which was to be the first one of the final series, but was actually held over as the penultimate story instead, so that it could be broadcast over the Halloween period in 1989. They may call them Haemovores in the show, but they monsters are so clearly vampires that you wonder why it’s not commented on. Vampires were also the focus of 2010’s The Vampires of Venice, but they turned out to be giant fish.
Vampires aren’t the only horror creature to show up on Doctor Who either. The show also took a crack at the story of Frankenstein in 1976’s The Brain of Morbius, in which the mad scientist Doctor Solon (Philip Madoc), with the aid of his deformed helper, Condo (Colin Fay), seeks to resurrect the Time Lord terrorist Morbius (Michael Spice) by building him a new body out of cadavers. The Brain of Morbius ends with a psychic battle between the Doctor and Morbius, something you definitely won’t see in Frankenstein, but the influences are there.
Doctor Who would also give us ghost stories (The Unquiet Dead, Hide), werewolves (Tooth and Claw) and creepy killer dolls (Night Terrors), but they always turned out to be aliens, or time distortions, or any number of traditional sci-fi explanations.
But then, Doctor Who is known for being scary, at least among children (seven year old me couldn’t handle Survival in 1989, and had to stop watching halfway through the second episode). What’s more surprising is that Star Trek has had the occasional dalliance with horror as well. The Borg are properly scary, or were in Q Who (1989), The Best of Both Worlds (1990) and Star Trek: First Contact (1996). In these appearances, the Borg were an unstoppable army of nightmarish cyber-zombies, who would convert you into one of them if they caught you. Star Trek would later ruin them by completely defanging them when Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) began defeating them on a seemingly weekly basis in Star Trek: Voyager.
But Star Trek also has a small handful of episodes which were very definitely of the more traditional horror variety. During the second season of the original series, Psycho author Robert Bloch contributed the episode Catspaw, which was originally broadcast on October 27th, 1967, making it Star Trek’s only Halloween episode. In the episode (based loosely on Bloch’s own short story, Broomstick Ride) Captain Kirk (William Shatner) sends a landing party composed of Scotty (James Doohan), Sulu (George Takei) and Red Shirt Jackson (Jimmy Jones) to investigate the lifeless planet, Pyris VII. The Enterprise soon loses contact with the party, and when Red Shirt Jackson returns to the ship, he dies right there in the transporter room. His corpse then announces that the Enterprise is cursed. This naturally leads to Kirk, Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Doctor McCoy (DeForest Kelly) beaming down to the planet to investigate further. Once there, they encounter three witches, a medieval, cobweb infested castle, a black cat, and their own crewmates enslaved as mindless zombies. The Enterprise itself is also subjected to what appears to be voodoo magic, with a model of the ship held in a candle causing the temperature on the actual ship to soar. Of course, the whole escapade turns out to be two aliens from another galaxy having fun with a device called the Transmuter. Kirk destroys the transmuter, killing the aliens, and shattering the illusions. Still, for Star Trek to even go anywhere near gothic horror must have been a surprise for audiences in the sixties.
Star Trek: The Next Generation would also flirt with horror, most overtly in its seventh season. In the episode Sub Rosa, the Enterprise-D travels to the home planet of Doctor Beverly Crusher’s (Gates McFadden) grandmother, who has just died, so that Beverly can attend her funeral. Once there, Beverly falls in love with her dead grandmother’s younger lover, Maturin (Michael Keenan). Maturin turns out to be a ghost, who manipulates the device which regulates the planets weather so he gets a constant dark and stormy night, then attacks Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart), before reanimating the corpse of Beverly’s grandmother and using that to attack Data (Brent Spiner) and Geordi (LeVar Burton). Thankfully, the ghost turns out to be a non-corporeal alien who lives in a candle, or something. I forget. It was rubbish. And probably explains why Star Trek mostly left horror alone after this.
Horror themed role-playing games have long been available, but perhaps oddest one is Ravenloft. A Dungeons & Dragons campaign released in 1990, it allowed you to transport your characters to the gothic world of Ravenloft via a mysterious mist, where you’d encounter numerous horror based characters and situations. The mists of Ravenloft could appear in any D&D world, meaning any players on any campaign could dip into it. It also led to a series of spin-off books, which were to Ravenloft what the Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms books were to D&D. There was also some crossover with the Dragonlance series when, in the 1991 Ravenloft novel, Knight of the Black Rose, popular Dragonlance villain Lord Soth, the Death Knight, travelled through the mists to Ravenloft, and battled against Ravenoft’s chief bad guy, the vampire, Count Strahd Von Zarovich.
And it’s not just Dungeons & Dragons which has gone down the horror route. The Fighting Fantasy series of gamebooks has numerous horror themed books set on Titan, the world where the majority of its more traditional fantasy gamebooks are set. These include Beneath Nightmare Castle, Vault of the Vampire, Legend of the Shadow Warriors, Moonrunner and more. Look for these to be covered in future Fighting Fantasy Flashbacks right here on Sidekickcast!
But what of comics? Horror has been popular in comics for a long time, with a particularly large, if brief, boom in the early fifties, thanks to the (temporary) decline of superhero comics. However, it wasn’t really until 1971, and The Amazing Spider-Man issue #101, that the worlds of horror and superheroes would start to mix. Horror comics were dead at the time, with the Comics Code Authority effectively stamping them out, deeming them unsuitable for children, after the publication of Frederic Wertham’s book, Seduction of the Innocent, and the subsequent U.S. Congressional hearing into the comics industry. No longer were vampires, demons and monsters allowed in comics. However, Marvel found a loophole when, in the pages of Spider-Man, creators Roy Thomas and Gil Kane introduced Morbius, the living vampire! Doctor Michael Morbius was turned into a vampire not by mysticism, but by science, and he also wasn’t one of the undead. Even though everything else about him screamed “vampire!”, the scientific origin given to the character was apparently enough for the Comics Code Authority let it pass without problem.
The popularity of the issue, and Morbius himself, led to a relaxation of the rules governing horror in comics, and suddenly horror was everywhere again. Tomb of Dracula debuted from Marvel in 1972, featuring the titular vampire lord in the lead role (headlining what would go on to be the longest running comic to be headlined by a villain in Marvel’s history). It would also feature the debut of Blade, Vampire Hunter in issue #10 (1973), though he’s practically unrecognisable in that first appearance when compared to the character appearing in the comics today (a lot of that has to do with the movies). Marvel would introduce a lot more horror characters in the seventies, including Werewolf-By-Night, Man-Thing, and their own version of Frankenstein’s Monster, as well as beginning their own (incredibly faithful) adaptation of Bram Stoker’s original Dracula.
Of course, it wasn’t long before these characters began interacting with the rest of the Marvel Universe, with Dracula himself coming into contact with Doctor Strange, Spider-Man and, most famously, the X-Men. These days, Dracula is a major player in the Marvel Universe, which naturally means he’s featured in a number of their other media projects. The character first made the transition in Dracula’s Revenge, a 1979 episode of the animated series, Spider-Woman (not, as this writer once believed, and claimed on this very site, in the 1983 episode of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, The Bride of Dracula). He’s also gone on to appear in The Super Hero Squad Show, Avengers Assemble and Ultimate Spider-Man. We’ll ignore Blade: Trinity because it’s awful.
Marvel don’t have a monopoly on Dracula though. DC have also featured the character, most prominently in the graphic novel Batman & Dracula: Red Rain, an alternate universe story published in 1991 in which the Dark Knight takes on the King of the Vampires, and defeats him, but not before being turned into a vampire himself. This was followed by Batman: Bloodstorm and Batman: Crimson Mist, two graphic novels which told the story of a now vampiric Batman feeding on the criminals of Gotham City. The animated movie, The Batman Vs Dracula, is mostly unrelated, but does use one or two elements from the graphic novels.
The horror genre is as popular as ever these days, with barely a week going by without another film appearing in the cinema. As long as horror remains popular, in any form, it’ll be invading other genres when you least expect it. As is, of course, only right.