Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Bread and Vampire Circuses

Is there anything better than a circus of vampires?

The mere idea is pregnant with bloody, sensual possibilities.

My journey to this circus was a circus and an ordeal combined, and I would encounter creatures as hideous as those found in the movie.

The British House of Hammer magazine was the much more serious cousin of Famous Monsters.

I had to ride my bike five miles to pick up each monthly issue. My local newsagent didn't stock it. Why? I was told by the owner's wife that "the covers scare people". I was "people", too, wasn't I? I was paying "people", a guaranteed sale each month.

"No. We're not stocking THAT anymore," she told me with smug satisfaction.

Fine, so I'd hop on my bike every fourth Monday afternoon and ride along the creek for four miles, often encountering the dreaded "Monkeyface" along the way. Then I'd ride the final mile in traffic.

What Nelson Muntz is to Springfield...

...Monkeyface was to Mt. Waverley, my home town.

I have never understood how, but Monkeyface, who was a good five years older than everybody he harassed, was, like Visa, "everywhere you wanted to be", only you didn't want him to be there at the same time as you.

To me, he'll always be tall and towering because he'll always be older. His face had a pointed, pinched appearance, similar to that of a monkey.

A good looking version of the real Monkeyface.

It was as if an invisible hand were pinching his nose and pulling his whole face forward. His eyes were pink, pus-filled slits, and his face...

Jesus, his ... face ...


It was a living pepperoni pizza of weeping acne. It was his greatest weapon of intimidation.

When he came for you, he came with red, blazing sores, and a forehead that was a petri dish of every skin infection known to man. From his skull hung a mop of straight, greasy hair that partially obscured his eyes. This seaweed-like mass was surely responsible for spreading his acne and infesting his eyes with diseases usually reserved for Third World hellholes.

Although he operated under the name of Gary (last name unknown), the "Monkeyface" moniker was issued to him by my brother and I after a close encounter at the local creek. He'd spotted us and chased us for a mile on his 50CC minibike.

A bike similar to Monkeyface's war machine

We'd deserted our pushbikes and taken off into the swamp-like surroundings. Whenever we'd pop our heads up from our hiding place, we'd see the acne-ridden face of our pursuer bobbing above shafts of gently wind-blown sword grass.

It was Onibaba Meets The Zit Monster.

If you got off the train at Mt. Waverley station, Monkeyface would be there. If you decided to walk along the train tracks in the direction of Jordanville, an area notorious for its thick infestation of Skinheads and Sharpies, Monkeyface would be there, hanging by the tracks placing rocks on the silver rails.

The Mt. Waverley train line where Monkeyface
held sway in the 70's.

He was like Santa. If he saw you, you'd better run. He wasn't one to let bygones be bygones, even if those bygones didn't exist. His motto seemed to be: If I see you, you're fucked!

A reasonably accurate police sketch
of Monkeyface.

On many occasions, Monkeyface would be accompanied by the area's local cripple, "Hoggy Hitchhiker".

Hoggy (also first name Gary) suffered from a debilitating bone disorder that gave him a severe limp. When he walked, his right arm would swing like a pendulum in front of him, giving him the appearance of a spastic hitchhiker attempting to thumb a ride.

Although it was clear that Monkeyface had turned Hoggy at some stage, the guy didn't elicit much sympathy, even when he was working solo.

One incident defined his reign of neighborhood terror. My brother and I had been playing a game of cricket at the local park. Some other boys had joined us. The game ended in a fight, as usual, and someone got branded on the head with a cricket ball. Cricket balls hurt a lot.

Take your pick. They all deliver
a serious headache.

Collecting my brother's football (which we'd been kicking around before we had enough bodies to play cricket), we left the park. We walked home, but decided to stop by the Milk Bar for some lollies/candy. As we turned the corner to head down a narrow alleyway, we found it blocked by a massive piece of lumber held by Hoggy Hitchhiker. We froze in our tracks, not even thinking to back up and run.

Hoggy was an intimidating figure of menace. On top of his limp and hitchhiking swagger, he was cross-eyed. Not just a little bit cross-eyed, either. He was the Cross-Eyed Poster Boy. This prick's eyes did tricks that would have Jim Rose beating down his door today. He'd be screaming at me, but his eye would be tilted to to the sky. Or he'd look at me directly while ordering my brother to "Shut up or die!" Those eyes were godless.

So we froze and almost pissed ourselves. "What the fuck are you two doing?" Hoggy inquired, struggling to hold the road block he'd stolen from a building site.

"Nothing."

"Bullshit!"

Hoggy almost dropped the lumber on his foot and reached down into his pants to pull out a massive loaf of unsliced bread. He had a rep for doing that.

His was a thick, fresh tube of white bread just purchased from Miss Coffee at the Milk Bar. It had a serrated pattern on it. I knew this type of loaf well because my mother often sent me to get one. Hoggy gripped it in one hand and stabbed the end of it with his filthy fingers. He reached into the doughy body and started excavating clumps from it. He mashed them into his face as he eyeballed both of us. We didn't run. We didn't hide. We didn't apologize for living. We just stared in shock as Hoggy ate the entire loaf in front of us.

Hoggy's arsenal of intimidation.

When he was sated, his eyes danced about and he staggered forward. He raised his hitchhiking hand and pointed to the football my brother was carrying.

"What's in the football?" he asked.

"What?"

"What's in the fuckin' football? You got drugs in that football?"

My brother was speechless and confused.

"Huh?"

Hoggy raised his fist and his eyes turned inward to his nose.

"You want a bashing?"

"No."

"Then tell me what's in the football?"

"Nothing."

"That's bullshit!!!" Hoggy spat bread and saliva on us both. "Give it to me."

"No."

This was a touchy moment. My brother loved that football. He'd already lost one to Monkeyface. Now there was a second one heading for their clubhouse of ugly criminals.

Hoggy shook his head, his eye finding mine as he spoke to my brother. "Give me the ball or I'll bash you silly, freak!"

Reluctantly, and on the edge of teardom, my brother surrendered his allegedly drug-laden football to Mr. Hitchhhiker. Then he dropped his head in anticipation of the ball's fate...or prayer.

Hoggy's goofy eyes darted all over the place as he held the ball in his slippery grip and reached into his jacket for something. It was a long, mean blade.

It scared the fuck out of us.

"What are you going to do?" I asked Hoggy.

Kill you if you don't shut up, his look told me.

Hoggy dropped to his knees and placed the ball on the ground. He raised his knife, as if getting ready to stab it.

"I'm cleaning up drugs in this area," he said. "I don't like drugs."

Hoggy was lying on two counts:

#1 Drugs were as common in Mt. Waverley as Times Square hookers, and

#2 If anybody liked drugs, it was Hoggy and his mate Monkeyface

My brother and I watched helplessly as Hoggy thrust the knife downwards, bursting the ball open instantly with his hitchhiking power.

We watched in horror as the rubber bladder inside the oval-shaped football deflated and made a final, argumentative whistling sound.

Hoggy cut the bladder open and checked it for drugs.

Finding nothing, he stood, dropped the ball (which now resembled a giant's used condom), picked up the massive piece of lumber, and re-blocked our path.

"You can go now," he said. "But I don't want to see any drugs around here."

Hoggy turned the lumber ninety degrees to let us through.

We forgot all about the lollies.

As I rode those four miles beside the creek each month to pick up my copy of House of Hammer, the journey was fraught with the possibility that I would encounter Monkeyface and Hoggy Hitchhiker. These creatures from a circus of their own making ruled Mt. Waverley. The only person who didn't know that was the Mayor.

When I did finally snag my monthly copy of House and returned home safely with it, I savored it just that little bit more because I'd run the Monkeyface gauntlet and survived.

I'd disappear into my bedroom and post a "Do Not Enter" sign on the door. Hastily scribbled.

This edition, # 17, with a female vampire from Vampire Circus on the cover (art by Brian Lewis), looked like a winner from the get-go.

I wasn''t wrong.

Traditionally, the mag featured adaptations of popular Hammer films (past and present) in comic form.

It was a great way for its juvenile readership to get an illustrated taste of movies they weren't old enough to see.

The comic adaptation of Vampire Circus ('72) was a bottler, featuring magnificent, kinetic art by Brian Bolland:

When I was through, I was shaking with excitement.

I HAD to see this film.

A couple of problems presented themselves:

A) It wasn't on in Australia yet, and

B) It was probably going to be rated R

The first one I couldn't do much about, but I could work on the second.

Several months later, my Thursday morning routine of reading the new film listings delivered me a gift from the pulp gods:

Vampire Circus had started, and, yes, it was R-rated as expected.

However, it was double billed with a cartoon. A cartoon! Cartoons were for kids, right?

But, hang on, this cartoon was also R-rated. What? Surely that was a mistake.

Why would a cartoon be R-rated?

"We're a new breed of cat, baby!" was all the ad said.

How my ten year old mind read that was: "We're a new breed of cat-baby!" My entire childhood is compromised of warped misunderstandings of things I'd read.

So the film was about a cat-baby? A baby that was half a cat? Or a cat that was half a baby?

Why would that be rated R?

It didn't matter.

I now had a clever angle for approaching my mother.

Positive outcomes in my negotiations could usually be attributed to the time of day they occurred and the place. The ideal time was after dinner. The ideal place was the kitchen sink. I was the family's chief dish and bottle dryer, so I chose to pop the question when I was almost done drying the night's dishes.

"Mum, can I see a cartoon?"

My mother kept washing. "Where's it on?"

"At the drive-in."

"I don't know."

"It's about cats."

I mentioned cats because my mother loved cats. We had one called Tiger at the time, and we'd buried several over the years. Most were found squashed like pancakes on the road.

"I haven't heard about that," my mother said.

"It just started," I explained. "It's only on for a week."

"We'll see."

That wasn't good enough for me. We'll see usually meant No.

I finished the last dish and began stacking them in the cupboard.

"We could see the cat film on Friday or Saturday night."

"See what?"

"The cat cartoon."

"It's a cartoon?"

"Yes."

"What's it called?"

"Fritz The Cat."

The name didn't register with her.

"Never heard of it."

"He's new."

My mother shrugged and took off her smelly, rubber gloves.

"It starts at seven-thirty. It's on at Burwood."

I mentioned Burwood because Burwood was the closest drive-in. And my most beloeved.

The Burwood Drive-in in its heyday.

"Where's the paper?"

Finally a bone was thrown my way.

I'd already cut the ad out and pasted it into my scrapbook, so I went and got it quick.

I laid it on the table and opened it. My mother watched and said: "You've already cut it out?"

"Yeah."

My mother looked angrily at me: "What if somebody wanted to read that page?"

I wasn't prepared with an answer.

"The people over the road get the paper, too," was all I could manage.

A shaken head was her reply to that. It was a common reply, actually.

I flipped to the page where the Fritz The Cat/Vampire Circus ad mat was pasted.

"Where is it?" she asked.

I pointed to the ad.

"THAT'S the cat film?"

"Uhuh."

"What sort of film is it? It looks like a cartoon."

"That's what I told you."

My mother took a closer look at the ad.

"It looks ridiculous," she said. "What's it about?"

"It's just about cats."

"Is it?"

Silence fell on the conversation.

"But it's rated R."

"Huh?" I did my best to feign ignorance.

My mother looked at me long and hard.

"Yes," she said slowly. "It is."

"That's a mistake," I said. "Lots of kids are going to see it."

My reply was yesterday's fish and my mother wasn't buying it.

"What kids? Anybody I know?"

I fumbled for a response.

"Just some kids at school. Their mother's taking them."

"Name one. I'll call her and have a chat."

This was going badly.

My mother shook her head in exasperation. Clearly, doing the dishes had done nothing for my credit with her.

She inspected the ad again.

"And what's on with it? It's not some vampire thing, is it?"

I took a close look at the ad and shrugged. "I dunno."

"Vam-pire Circus," she said. She shook her head. "Good Lord, it sounds terrible!"

And that, folks, was that.

I didn't see Vampire Circus in its entirety until I was thirty years old.

Despite my mother's rash assessment of the film, it turned out to be the opposite of terrible.

I loved it so much.

It even had Dr. Who's Mrs., Lalla Ward, in it. She strips off everything in a very erotic dance scene and plays a beautiful vampire

Old Darth Vader himself, David Prowse, turns up as a muscleman, too.

It's almost perfect, a brilliant concept, and it was a refreshing diversion for Hammer.

The Region 4 DVD, "Hammer Horror Collection", also includes beautiful prints of Hands of the Ripper and the wonderful Twins of Evil, one of my absolute favorite erotic vampire flicks; those Collinson twins are double every kind of possible fun.

I don't know what happened to Monkeyface, and I lost track of Hoggy Hitchhiker, too.

I do know they no longer rule Mt. Waverley.

Now the Mayor can sleep at night.

3 comments:

  1. "Hoggy almost dropped the lumber on his foot and reached down into his pants to pull out a massive loaf of unsliced bread. He had a rep for doing that."

    Oh God I thought that was a horrific euphemism at first. I was so relieved that it was just bread but then horrified again at where he kept it.

    For a moment I was terrified that your mom would come to see Fritz with you.

    Man, they don't do artists like Brian Bolland anymore.

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  2. I did consider the euphemistic aspect of this description as I was writing it and thought I'd let it go through to the keeper, anyway.

    I'm sure Hoggy did pull other things out of his pants when stalking local "ladies".

    He wasn't big on moral compunctions.

    Yeah, that Brian Bolland art is really beautiful.

    He went on to do great work on The Spirit and Superman.

    I like his horror stuff the most, though.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I laughed, I cried, I was inspired to watch "Vampire Circus" again! A marvelous post in a blog full of marvelous pots, Phantom.

    In Creepy True Coincidences News, I JUST bought a copy of that issue of "House of Hammer" last Saturday. Cue the eerie music...!

    ReplyDelete