What was I expecting when I pulled into the driveway: a Victorian Gothic pile looming like the house behind the Bates Motel?
It was a yellow ranch-style house with a tidy lawn. Nothing about its prosaic exterior suggested the Monster lurked here. The villain of so many cult movies lived on a nondescript cul-de-sac in the suburbs.
The man who answered the door did not appear capable of striking fear — unless, perhaps, you were terrified he might fall and break a hip. The beast who had frothed over nubile scream queens and gouged out supporting actors’ organs now stood before me slightly bent, with a cane, wearing a tweed jacket and a matching derby cap.
When I stepped inside, it finally became obvious I was in the home of Allan Karlosi, icon of ’70s horror cinema. He ushered me into a veritable grindhouse museum. Bloody props and lurid memorabilia were lovingly displayed. Posters and lobby cards papered the walls. A faint cigar odor hung over all — a habit he’d never shaken, although he now only allowed himself two a day, a compromise with his doctor.
He showed me to the living room, passing an upright sarcophagus he had likely emerged from at a director’s call of “Action!”
I recognized in a display case the sexy outfit worn by Barbara Ankers in Bat Bitch — the one with the bat-wing frills swooping out from the top of the bustier as if Ankers’ cleavage was about to take flight. Karlosi was the only star name in that horror/sexploitation flick — one of his rare turns not playing the monster: he instead got to plunge a stake through the Bat Bitch’s heart in a scene with all kinds of Freudian subtext, most of it pretty icky.
“Danny, would you care for tea? I also have Coke, if you’d prefer. The kind you drink, mind you.”
I laughed at his little joke and said I would take a Coke. He shuffled off to the kitchen.
I settled onto a couch, kitty-corner to the recliner where Allan would sit and watch his flat-screen TV mounted above the gas fireplace.
The coffee table was piled high with horror magazines.
He returned and handed me a can, saying, “I do not drink… Coke.” Dead-on Bela Lugosi.
I opened my phone’s Voice Memo app and set it down between us on a stack of Fangorias, several covers of which featured Allan’s face under various makeup and prosthetic effects.
His mind was as sharp as ever: He easily recalled names and dates, regaling me with anecdotes that would add color to my story.
After some background, I pivoted to the meat of the interview. How did it feel to be appearing in the summer’s blockbuster film? To suddenly be in demand on the talk-show circuit?
“To feel relevant again, you mean? After years of haunting horror conventions as a washed-up bogeyman?”
He paused, as if poring over quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore in his head. Then he steepled his fingers and spoke thoughtfully. “You won’t understand this. Because of your age, or lack thereof. It’ll make more sense when you’re closer to the grave than the cradle. Perhaps it will pop back into your head thirty years from now… as if I am speaking to you from the grave.”
He flashed his trademark sinister smile. I chuckled nervously.
“Everything moves on. You become one of last year’s leaves, still clinging to the tree. You just haven’t fallen yet. So, to get to do something for the next generation? Most of my generation have already passed into the Great Beyond… unless they’re watching from the shadows, in the wings, which sometimes it does feel like they are…But to do something that speaks to the new kids who occupy the block now? Well, that’s not a bad way to go out. Beats sitting around watching Judge Judy in the Hollywood Actors Retirement Home.”
I wanted to inject some humor into the profile, but I didn’t have the heart to point out his new notoriety was ironic, his recent cameos merely exercises in cultural self-reference. Or that few of my generation who now “occupy the block” were frightened when he emerged from the dark flashing fake incisors. It was more a case of “Heh — look at what scared our grandparents back in the disco days.” A quaint contrast to what frightens us now.
I chose not to say any of this, but he must’ve read it on my face because he raised up a gnarled hand, beckoning for one last word.
“I know I’m cast now mostly for comedic relief. You’ll note I play it straight. That’s the only way it would work. Playing for keeps, with conviction, not some campy self-parody — that wouldn’t be funny. So now I get laughs instead of gasps. That’s okay — humor; horror. It’s all entertainment. I’m still making the audience feel something. I get a reaction; therefore I am.”
As he saw me to the door, past a bust of Vincent Price and that Bat-Bitch costume looking like a vampire’s wet dream, I found myself re-evaluating his surprise cameo appearance in the recent blockbuster. I had to admit: When he emerged from the shadows, his wispy gray hair and wrinkles and age blemishes doing much of the work that make-up effects once did, reaching out with those bony hands… it had elicited a chill, though the mostly teen audience quickly laughed to dispel the notion that this old man could scare them.
And that monologue reminded some critics that Allan Karlosi had been a classically trained actor. “The clock ticks only forward. The sand falls only down. No choice! You are compelled to this journey. Though you regard its end with dread, the journey of the dead is inexorable, universal, and ultimately taken in the dark, alone.”
I’ll confess. His gaunt face, delivering those words in his grave-gravel voice, haunted me all the way home. All I can do… is laugh.
Since his first professional sale 30 years ago back in high school, Nicholas Ozment has contributed to over 100 magazines, newspapers, journals, and anthologies. His first published book is Smoke the Dragon: A Novel of Knight Terrors, a whimsical fantasy. He is a historian and tour guide in Minnesota, where he lives with his wife, daughter, son, dog, and two cats. He is also an occasional blogger for BLACK GATE online.