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Vampire weekend read

A new book takes a bite out of an old subject

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The Dead Travel Fast

By Eric Nuzum. 256 pages. $23.95. Published by Thomas Dunne Books.
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    Book review by Steve Fiorilla

        Sometime in the early ‘70s my father points out an article in the Sunday paper about tours to Transylvania and Castle Dracula. I clip and save it, but we go to Disney World instead. In the ‘80s I see Raymond T. McNally, author of A Clutch of Vampires (1974), introduce a screening of Daughters of Darkness (1971) at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Massachusetts. The ‘90s find me attending a meeting of a University of Boston film class to discuss the possibility of a syndicated children’s show produced by Butch Patrick, who played little Eddie on TV in The Munsters. While in Boston, Patrick hawked an expensive “Woof Woof” doll at a record shop appearance, but the kiddie show went on hold indefinitely. Shortly after the turn of the century, I’m at Buffalo State College where biographer Arthur Lennig (author of The Immortal Count—The Life and Films of Bela Lugosi) screens F.W. Murnau’s Faust (1926). I arrive early and Lennig graciously shows me slides of his recent trip to Romania. All of which means that Eric Nuzum, author of The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula, is correct when he says that vampires are an undeniable part of our culture.

        Nuzum’s timely marketing venture for October 2008 at bookstores should have appealed to readers with a special place in their hearts for that month’s holiday. Trivia footnotes keep pace with the author’s semi-wild ride through ubiquitous vampire lore. Staking out several topics of concern, Nuzum weaves his adventures into more or less a lengthy article befitting Smithsonian magazine. His trip to Romania with a quirky bunch of American tourists—Butch Patrick acting as ‘celebrity host’—highlights the more mundane horrors of packaged tours to Eastern Europe. Patrick seems to sleepwalk his way through most of the trip, but one day he should receive some kind of award for squeezing as much as he has from a lousy two-year sitcom career.
        The book’s factual history of Vlad the Impaler and the area traveled is lightened with humor, but it can’t hold a crucifix to the richly detailed research of Jean Marigny’s text in Vampires: Restless Creatures of the Night (Harry N. Abrams, 1994). Likewise, Nuzum’s attempt to track down every vampire movie he can on tape and disc fizzles out, as do any conclusive remarks on the undertaking. A vampire film expert named Ralph he meets on the Romanian jaunt clues him in on the esoteric subgenre of vampire porn (Spermula, Gayracula, etc.), as he carries a frightening knowledge of every bloodsucking title that’s out there. Ralph should’ve penned this aspect of vampire pop for Nuzum; meanwhile, for a thorough account of stage and screen Draculas, you’d be better off with David J. Skal’s delightfully obsessive Hollywood Gothic (W.W. Norton, 1991).
        Arranged over the internet, a meeting with a group of self-proclaimed modern day vampires takes place at a restaurant but pits us with a clique of cringingly boring alternative lifestyle poseurs. (For a more thorough examination of contemporary vampirism, check out Piercing the Darkness: Undercover with Vampires in America Today by Katherine Ramsland [HarperPrism, 1998].)
        Nuzum’s own role as a vampire in a Halloween haunted house attraction, a marathon viewing of Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes, and attendance at a Dark Shadows Hollywood convention—the saddest and most revealing event in the book—round out an easy read for anyone who’s tired of squinting at similar info that’s readily available on the internet. The Dead Travel Fast is missing both an index and photographs, but dig that toothy cover art by Lou Brooks!

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    Copyright © 2008 by Steve Fiorilla