Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Vampire Tapes


The Vampire Tapes, by Arabella Randolphe
April, 1977 Berkley Medallion Books

This is one goofy vampire novel. The fun starts already when you check the copyright page, and find that "Arabella Randolphe" is really Jack Younger. But then, after a bit of research online, I found that "Younger" itself is a psuedonym! It appears then that this novel was actually written by Russ Jones, a guy who churned out many horror paperback originals under the "Younger" psuedonym. It's also easily apparent that this novel is "in the tradition of" Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire, even down to the (fake) female author -- even the name of the fake female author being similar: Anne Rice/Arabella Randolphe.

I'd also wager good money that The Vampire Tapes isn't just "in the tradition of" Rice's 1976 bestseller, it's also a spoof of it. It covers the same era of history, recounting the lurid tale of an English maiden who becomes one of the undead and then proceeds to hop about Europe for a few centuries, hobknobbing with various notables, before finally ending up in the US. And there's the same homoerotic overtones, but instead of male on male we have here my friends a genuine tale of lesbian vampires. Actually our undead protagonist, Angela (later to be named Viola and then Violet), is moreso bi, as she starts off the tale fully in love with a young Frenchman, so it's obvious our author wanted to cover all of the gender-seek bases.

I say it's a spoof though because the novel is so over the top bad that it has to be a spoof. Don't get me wrong, it really excels in the lurid quotient, and it's fun as hell throughout, but dialog, pacing, narrative, the works, all of it is so juvenile that it has to be intentional. The novel in fact comes off like the literary equivalent of a 1950s E.C. horror comic, right down to the exclamatory tone of the narrative:

With a strength that could have been born only of mortal fear, or supernatural power, Soma wrenched one of the swords loose. In a continuous motion he whirled around! The full force of the blade caught Thompson at the intersection of his shoulder and neck. The radio announcer's head lifted slowly into the air at a slight angle from the pudgy body that ran forward a few more steps before it fell. Gushes of blood pumped from the severed neck!

You can almost see the artwork of Johnny Craig (or even "Ghastly" Graham Ingels) illustrating the scene. The construction of the tale is pretty convoluted: it's a tale within a tale within a tale, one of the tales being recounted via audio tape, hence the title. However it's all written in third person, with Angela (aka Viola, aka Violet) occasionally breaking into the narrative in italicized first person. So then the reader is treated to three interlocked storylines, with Angela's backstory providing the meat of the tale.

In the first storyline, a grizzled Long Island sheriff investigates a mass-murder in the mansion of a wealthy recluse who has recently passed away (Violet); the bodies of several people have been found there in various states of mutilation, causing even hardbitten cops to stagger away puking. One survivor emerges from the horror, a young woman so shocked that she is basically in a trance. Since she is the only witness, the sheriff orders that the girl be dosed with sodium pentathol. This takes us into our second storyline, in which the young girl is called to Violet's mansion, a place she worked several years ago, before hauling off to NYC to pursue an acting career. A host of people have also been called here, to listen to Violet's will, however none of them know each other or even why Violet asked for them. Violet's will has been recorded on audio tape, and the lawyer plays it when all are ready; this takes us to our third storyline, which is the story of Angela, a young English maiden in the time of Shakespeare who eventually became Viola, star of the 19th century stage, and finally Violet, wealthy Long Island recluse.

But again it's Angela's storyline that takes center stage. Escaping England due to the religious persecution, she shelters with fellow Catholics in France and falls in love with a young man. However trouble follows them; bounty hunters, usually English, hunt down escaped Catholics and return them to England for summary punishment and execution. Angela and her beau go on the run again, on into rural France and into Germany, where this guy calls on the forces of the night to belay their attackers. It turns out he is the member of an occult sect who congregate in the castle of a German baron who is otherwise noted for his friendly relations with the local Catholic overseers.

Here we have a great sequence of pagan worship (it appears to be Celtic derived) with lots of nude revelers and sacrifice and of course the mandatory orgy. Here also Angela encounters the female love of her life, an Amazonian beauty, nude and painted head to toe in green, who presides over the ceremony. We eventually learn her name is Odessa, and she soon falls in love with Angela. This culminates in an enjoyable sequence in which the two make love while Odessa turns Angela into a vampire. But trouble soon darkens the lesbian bliss, as the sadist who has tracked down Angela finds her (male) lover, kills him, and informs the Catholics that a group of cultists lurk in the baron's castle.

Everyone scatters, including Odessa, and Angela is captured by the sadist. She goes along meekly, allowing him to have his way with her; he eventually falls in love with her. Only then does Angela carry off her cruel revenge, torturing the bastard for weeks until he begs for death. Now begins Angela's centuries-long odyssey through Europe. Randolphe glosses over most of European history, skipping forward a hundred years or so with a single sentence. Eventually Angela becomes Viola, "French" star of the stage, who finally returns to her homeland of England. There she attempts to collect her share of her family's fortune, posing as a long-lost descendant, when in fact she is truly the daughter of the man who started the business empire centuries before.

After making friends with Bram Stoker -- and giving him pointers on how to write Dracula -- Viola tires of England and makes her way to the US, where she again rules the stage. But weary of her immortal life, she decides to take a break for a while, and, now named "Violet Court," buys a rolling estate in Long Island in which to retire. (She solves the issue of her ageless beauty by applying make-up to make herself look elderly.) Here the storylines finally converge, as the various people called to hear Violet's will finally discover why exactly she has called them together.

Since the reader already knows the fate of these people, the reason why Violet has called them is the true mystery, and it turns out to be a goofy one. But as stated, the entire novel is goofy, and it's all the better for it. It's hard to be critical of a novel that tries so hard to be so dumb. And to tell the truth, I'd rather read this again than ever read Anne Rice's better-known original.

2 comments:

adrien said...

Can't help but wonder if the pseudonym "Jack Younger" is a nod to Anthony Hinds' pseudonym "John Elder". As John Elder he scripted most of the classic Hammer horror films of the 1960s.

Saffron Moon said...

Hello, I loved your review and I am huge fan of this book. Thought you might like to know that Russ Jones was the creator of the magazine Creepy for Warren Publishing.