With only one week left until Halloween, a few friends have dropped by to talk about the creepy, the eerie and the down-right terrifying. Please welcome my first guest, the incomparable Will Graham!
It’s a moment I’ll never forget. My grandfather gave me a copy of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The cover still lingers in my mind; a dark green background, Baskerville Manor in the fog… and the face of the Hound right there in front. (It was a Dell paperback, priced at .40 cents, which tells you how long ago this was!)
I didn’t read that book, I devoured it. I’d never read anything like this in my life. Fascinating and scary by turns, it was the single most amazing book I’d ever read, and it opened the floodgates to an obsession with reading that continues to this day.
A few months later, home in (at that time) Chicago, WGN was running late night movies. One particular commercial for the upcoming Fright Night Friday, was….. yeah, you guessed it. THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, Hammer Studios version, starring Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes.
Negotiating, pleading, begging, pick your word, I was eventually granted Parental Permission to stay up late and watch it. It started at 10pm, way past my usual bedtime at that point. Determined? You have no idea.
So I did.
And it scared me to death.
I don’t mean it frightened me, or made me shiver. I’m talking about stark terror. Even at that age, I recognized some of the differences between the book and the movie (Hammer jazzed up the sexual components in the story, but at that age I was more interested in car chases and exploding briefcases).
I’d never seen anything as outright evil as The Hound, the climactic chase through the Moors was bad enough, but confronting The Hound was something that, to this day, I cannot quite find the words. I slept with a light on for months afterward and, I’ll confess it now, a BB gun under my pillow. It was THAT scary.
Flash forward thirty-plus years. VHS dominated the market, and there was a wonderful store at the time called Suncoast Motion Picture Company in the Mall. One Saturday, browsing the rack, I turned…. and there it was!
THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Hammer Studios, 1959. I was too adult to bellow “Wow!” in the store, but it was in the back of my mind.
According to witnesses, I left a vapor trail when I snatched it from the rack.
I couldn’t wait to get home and pop it into the VCR and re-live it. I knew, I just knew, it would be wonderful and terrific and as amazing and scary as I remembered it.
What I remember now is feeling sorry for the Great Dane they strapped a paper-maché mask on and made run around with over-dubbed growling and snarling on the audio. It was so bad, you can even see the straps holding the mask on the poor dog from some angles.
It’s laughable now, but I’ll never forget the first time I saw the movie. OR the first time I read the book. To this day, it’s a favorite. Somewhere over the years, I lost the copy my grandfather gave me, but there’s an entire bookcase full of Holmesian works.
When I re-wrote SOMETIMES, THERE REALLY ARE MONSTERS UNDER THE BED, once I got a grip on the newest version of it, there’s a moment I remember thinking, “I’m gonna scare Conan Doyle himself with this one, it’s only fair!”
I deliberately wrote the final confrontation in a howling rainstorm with powerful winds bashing the hero and villain about, on a rooftop, vulnerable both to each other and the elements. The setting is a multi-story building in modern times, but in my mind it was set in another time, a long-ago time, on the Grimpen Mire in the Moors, where The Hound bayed at the moon and warned the populace to stay out.
Did it work? I can’t really say. But I’d like to imagine Sherlock Holmes himself might smile kindly about Michael O’Leary and the drastic -- but final -- solution to the mystery….
Will Graham is the pseudonym of a Houston private investigator specializing in computer forensics. Will's latest book Sometimes, There Really Are Monsters Under the Bed is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
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