We support our Publishers and Content Creators. You can view this story on their website by CLICKING HERE.

Having buried the shade or shadow of Bela Lugosi with the many other ghosts of my past, I have found myself once again haunted by his undead presence in the pages of the recently-published novel, “This Thing of Darkness.”

Many full moons ago, during the decadent days and daze of my youth, I enjoyed dabbling with the diabolism of gothic horror. I especially liked a hit record and accompanying video by a post-punk gothic band called Bauhaus, the title of which was Bela Lugosi’s Dead:

The bats have left the bell tower
The victims have been bled
Red velvet lines the black box
Bela Lugosi’s dead
Bela Lugosi’s dead
Undead, undead, undead
Undead, undead, undead….

For those too young or too innocent to know the dark figure of Bela Lugosi, he was the Hungarian-born actor who became a Hollywood idol for his performance as Dracula in the 1931 film version of Bram Stoker’s novel, the latter of which had been published in 1897. Although this version was not the earliest adaptation, the German silent film Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror being released nine years earlier, Bela Lugosi’s performance as the undead Transylvanian vampire has eclipsed every other portrayal, before or since.

Having buried the shade or shadow of Bela Lugosi with the many other ghosts of my past, I have found myself once again haunted by his undead presence in the pages of the recently-published novel, This Thing of Darkness, co-authored by K. V. Turley and Fiorella de Maria.

The novel is set in Hollywood in 1956, the year of Lugosi’s death, with the aging self-obsessed actor taking centre stage. The support acts are a couple of English expatriates, one of whom, Evangeline (Evi) Kihooley, is an alcoholic war-widow, whose Irish-American husband had been killed a few years earlier in the Korean War; the other, Hugo Radelle, himself a veteran of the Korean War, is the owner of a store selling film memorabilia. These two uprooted English exiles, eking out a life of sorts in the rootlessness of Hollywood, are brought together after Evi is commissioned to write a series of feature articles on the fading life and legacy of Lugosi. Having no interest in film in general, and horror films in particular, she relies on Hugo’s expertise to decipher the fact from the fantasy of Lugosi’s interviews with her.

Each of the characters is possessed by demons from their respective pasts. Lugosi is so narcissistically self-obsessed and self-deceived that he doesn’t seem to be able to distinguish between his real past and the past he has invented for himself. Hating the light, just like the vampire in whose typecast shadow he has been doomed to live, he insists that his interviews with Evi are conducted in the gloom of a room in which the curtains are never drawn back to let in the light of day.  As he tells his life-story, there is the suggestion that his success was bound up with some sort of Faustian pact he’d made as a young man. Although Evi is skeptical, she finds herself drawn into Lugosi’s diabolically darkened world, his demons bringing her own to the surface.

As for Evi, her dreams are haunted by her nightmare past. She had witnessed the horrors of the Nazi bombing of her hometown of Coventry during World War Two in which both her parents had been killed. She is also devastated by the death of her husband and traumatized by her lack of knowledge of how he died. Orphaned and widowed, she is addicted to the alcohol which helps her escape from the nightmare reality she lives when she’s awake and the nightmares that descend on her when she’s asleep. Her miserable existence takes place in a twilight zone between dream-reality and reality itself.

Then there is Hugo, who emerges as a sort of guardian angel, befriending and defending Evi, and helping her navigate the sinister and surreal world in which her close encounters with the shadow of Count Dracula have plunged her. Yet Hugo, for all his polite and gentle English decorum, is haunted by the demons of his own past. Why does he refuse to speak of his own experience in Korea? What does he have to hide? What are the secrets that he refuses to divulge? What intolerable trauma or unbearable sense of guilt is keeping him tongue-tied?

The final character, whose role is crucial to the dramatic tension and mystery of the plot, is already dead. This is Christopher Kihooley, Evi’s deceased husband, whose absence from Evi’s life and his presence in her dreams and nightmares, makes him very much alive. A devout, if not particularly pious Catholic, he had brought Christ into Evi’s godless life, even as his death had crucified her. Somehow or other, the aptly named Christopher serves as the Christ-bearer throughout the story and we know that, in some way or other, his death, and the facts surrounding it, will prove to be an epiphany, revealing truths that had been hidden and casting light where there had only been darkness.

This Thing of Darkness is one of the finest contemporary novels that I’ve read in a very long time. It walks into the night, stepping behind the silver screen to the delusional twilight zone between hell and Hollywood, where dreams become nightmares; yet it also walks into the light at the end of the tunnel, where the lie of the silver screen makes way for the truth of the silver lining.

Is Bella Lugosi dead? The real question is whether he was ever really alive….

The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.

The featured image is in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email