Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Crestwood House: All the Good Stuff is at 791

When I was a kid in Central Texas I didn't just love the library, I loved sections. You know how we complain all the time today that thanks to the Internet, people can spend every day, every hour sealed into their own universe-- Battlestar Galactica or CSI or DailyKos or Little Green Footballs, what have you? Newsflash: we have always been able to limit our own options for input. In the library your niche was a three-digit code. In my case, I stuck heavily to 791.

791? Actually, more like 791.43-- the Dewey Decimal code for the place where the cool books about movies would be.

Books about the greatest horror movies of all time? Here. Danny Peary's books on Cult Movies? Right here. And if you drifted around that shelf, you were right near performing arts and comics. But if what you wanted was yet another book on Dracula, it was here.

I mention this because not long ago I got a discarded copy of the DRACULA book from the Crestwood Monster series. I loved these books because they were written for kids but did double duty, providing a blow-by-blow of a favorite film (the Dracula edition went through the Lugosi classic) and then spent the rest of the book surveying the rest of the field. There were the same stock shots and publicity photos you'd find in Famous Monsters of Filmland-- a magazine I love, of course-- but without the cheesy puns. Even at 10, I knew those puns were cheesy.

What I find fascinating about the Dracula is that it neatly records where Dracula, the film icon, stood in 1977. Think of it: Hammer Studios was running out of steam. Christopher Lee's Dracula, appearing since 1958 and still turning up in new films the 70s, was no longer put to good use, and Robert Quarrie's Count Yorga, Vampire was as state of the art as it got. 1977, you're three or so years into the post-gothic renaissance brought on by The Exorcist and the Omen. Two years before the Langella and Kinski Summer of '79. Years, seemingly eons from the vampire renaissance of Anne Rice and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro-- eons from Stephenie Meyer's Twilight, God Knows.

You know what they spend extra time on here? Blacula, a film almost no-one remembers. And the Night Stalker. (In the interest of disclosure, I have published Night Stalker short fiction myself.)

I love dated film books because it's useful to find an unvarnished reflection of what people were thinking at the time, and what they could not anticipate. Opening one is like cracking a time capsule. You just have to find a dusty-enough 791.

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