Friday, October 15, 2010

Night of the Vampire

One of my favorite contemporary horror novels in the sixties—partly because it was so rare a treat to find *any* new vampire novels in the stores then, several years before the explosion of vampire literature in the 1970s—was NIGHT OF THE VAMPIRE (1969), a paperback by Raymond Giles. The protagonist, Roxanne, has inherited the curse of lycanthropy. Her husband, Duffy, a psychiatrist, naturally scoffs at the label "Wolf Girl" their old neighbors hung on her and thinks the problem is all in her mind, although therapy hasn't made much progress. Roxanne and Duffy return to their childhood home, the backwoods town of Sanscoeurville. They don't know, although the reader does, that they've been summoned home by a Satanist coven led by Lily, who as a teenager had been the object of Duffy's carelessly corrupting attentions. As a result, she has become a minion of the Devil. Roxanne and Duffy become entangled in a series of murders committed by the coven members, who drink blood and transform themselves into giant bats. Lily almost manages to convince the townspeople and Roxanne herself that Roxanne is the killer. The vampire dimension of the plot remains in the background until nearly the end, but the payoff is worth the wait. Not only do we get to watch Lily and her followers subject Duffy to the punishment he deserves, we see Roxanne finally embrace her destiny as the last of the Sanscoeur werewolves. NIGHT OF THE VAMPIRE is a true horror story; evil may be brought to justice, but at dire cost. Although the giant bats may sound a little over the top, in revisiting the novel I still think Giles pulls it off pretty well. I guarantee Duffy's fate in the last chapter will leave a strong impression on you.

Roxanne's struggle with her lupine self's craving for transformation and blood is vividly described. It's easy to sympathize with her emotional agony, especially when she has to deal with her patronizing and not quite faithful husband. She's my favorite type of paranormal character, one who doesn't fully understand her own nature and must learn the truth to survive. Duffy regards the Satanist rites he and the other proto-coven members invented in their teens as nothing but obscene, childish playacting, a youthful indiscretion he shouldn't have to worry about as a mature adult with a solid professional career. The haunting call "Come back to Sanscoeur" epitomizes the weight of the past looming over the characters in the present, one of my favorite fictional themes. I'm also a great fan of small towns with dark secrets, and we find an abundance of those in Sanscoeurville. The flashbacks enticingly unveil the layers of horror bit by bit through both Roxanne's and Duffy's memories. NIGHT OF THE VAMPIRE may not be great literature, but it's bloody good fun.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

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