THE RETURN OF COUNT SCARLOCK
by Ray O'Bannon
I was doing sound work for StarBlossom Productions at the time. Which means it was, without question, the lowest of the many low points in what I sometimes call a career. If anyone would have told me at the time that my next project would make cinematic history, I’d have laughed in their face. That’s the thing about karma… it lets you laugh and then it laughs back.
I was actually excited about the upcoming film. It was a ridiculous story, featuring Bradley Vegas, the star of several porn films, as a fearless vampire hunter. The rest of the cast were complete unknowns and the budget was comical. But the project’s director, Malcolm Blanch, had actually once enjoyed a reasonable amount of success in the industry. And the film would be including Jacob Skorch as the legendary Count Scarlock.
Many years before, Malcolm Blanch had made his mark in the movie industry with the release of ‘Count Scarlock ’. The vampire, played by a then unknown method actor named Jacob Skorch, had been surprisingly chilling. There was just something that set him apart. I’ve always thought it was the slight smile.
But for whatever reason, after viewing the film at the age of twelve, I could never take any other actor very seriously in the role of a vampire. I had many a nightmare in which Count Scarlock’s cold pale hands reached out for me, the signature moonstone bracelet on his wrist gleaming in the moonlight.
There had been plans of a sequel to ‘Count Scarlock’, but one thing or another had kept it from ever happening. And then the public’s attention moved on, leaving the dreaded Count to be forgotten by all but a few. Jacob Skorch was now 94 years old and would only be appearing for a few moments in the film’s final scene, but I found myself nearly shaking with anticipation.
My memories of the filming are for the most part rather vague, just a somewhat bored crew and cast going through the routine of making a movie. What I recall most clearly is how fussy Malcolm Blanch turned out to be. If there were eggs on the table, they had to be fresh eggs. If the scene required rain, it had to be real rain. The arguments between Blanch and the producer just never ended. But somehow everything got finished and we finally found ourselves preparing for the final scene.
I remember that morning like it was yesterday. The scene called for the rising sun to appear through a window, so naturally Blanch had everyone assembled and ready hours before sunrise. The set included a real window with heavy drapes, as well as a coffin that looked as though it might have actually been disinterred. The room had way too much reverb so the microphone placement was driving me crazy. We were all feeling tired and cranky, grumbling and snapping at each other, when the studio doors slammed shut with a hollow clang and we found ourselves gazing at the elderly form of Jacob Skorch.
A nurse stood at his side, adjusting some sort of small electronic device. On his other side was a younger man of perhaps forty, helping to steady the old man as he stepped forward. I remember being struck by how instantly likeable he seemed, just a jolly old man happy to be included in things again. But every few moments something would remind me… an oddly familiar expression, a twinkle of the eye or a glimpse of that moonstone bracelet… I was standing in the presence of the famous Count Scarlock.
He shuffled off to the dressing rooms and we somehow managed to get everything set up and ready for the shoot. When Jacob Skorch emerged in full costume to rejoin us around the coffin, you could have heard a pin drop.
There wasn’t a trace of that friendly old man in evidence. This man who now stood before us seemed younger, stronger, and somehow crueler in his every mannerism. There was an aura of power about him, and his voice was harsh, unforgiving. I think we were actually a little frightened of him until he glanced over to his nurse and bellowed “Well, Marcia, are you going to help my ancient arse up into this coffin or must I fly into it?”
Jacob then smiled that irresistible old man smile of his and everyone chuckled as his nurse and his assistant both stepped forward to help him into the casket. His advanced age was now more apparent as his helpers struggled to get him situated properly. Bradley Vegas and the film’s starlet, Valery Chayn, made their entrance and looked rather petulant when nobody noticed.
A stage hand began to close the coffin lid, but Jacob motioned for him to wait. Then the old man rose up to face everyone, except it wasn’t him anymore. The cold hard eyes of Count Scarlock gazed at each of us in turn as his harsh voice filled the room.
“Our time is fleeting. Take care in all you do, for by these things you shall be remembered.”
We stood staring as the coffin lid slipped closed. You could almost believe it, almost believe the Count was real. Everyone was starting to think this might actually be a really good scene.
Bradley and Valery took their places, Bradley holding the wicked looking wooden stake he would be attacking with, the starlet standing ready by the curtain. The scene called for the vampire hunter to creep forward and slowly raise the coffin lid. Then a quick close up of the vampire’s eyes opening, a mid shot of the vampire hunter standing hypnotized as the starlet begins screaming, and finally a long shot as she steps backwards and pulls down the curtain, flooding the room with sunlight.
Malcolm Blanch motioned everyone to silence. One of the lighting guys would give the signal from outside when the sun first became visible on the horizon. Then we would roll. Until then we had to wait.
And the wait seemed endless. As I sat by my sound board, absently rechecking levels, I happened to glance over to my left. Jacob’s nurse was studying the little electronic thing she held. I now noticed it had a little view screen with a pulsing blue line moving across it. My immediate impression was that it was a heart monitor of some sort. A split second after my having noticed it, the little blue line stopped pulsing and became flat. I remember hearing the nurse gasp softly. And then came the crash.
The lid of the coffin had been hurled upward hard enough to slam into the studio ceiling, shattering into fragments that came raining down on us. Several lighting racks toppled, lamps bursting with hollow pops. The starlet was screaming and Bradley, who had been standing nearest the coffin, was lurching back with a stunned expression, his right arm clearly broken. And then it rose from the coffin.
I’m not sure how to explain this. There arose from that coffin something utterly foul and completely inhuman. It wasn’t Jacob Skorch. It wasn’t Count Scarlock. It was something wrapped in darkness, something that made you instinctively want to run, yet left you powerless to move. Being anywhere near it felt wrong on a gut level, as though a jagged hole had been ripped in our reality and something dark and evil had somehow squirmed through, something that should never exist in our world. As I stared in shock, it turned towards me and I saw its eyes.
It’s difficult for me to continue this. I find I’m trembling.
A moment, please.
I saw its eyes. And then it turned away and began to drift towards the starlet, who was still screaming. Lots of people say Bradley was trying to protect her when he got between them, but I think he was just trying to get off the set. In any event, the creature threw him aside like a rag doll. He hit the wall with a sickening crunch before falling unconscious to the floor.
And then it was reaching towards Valery. Her screams were replaced by a dry choking sound as it grasped her throat. She stumbled backward, her arm tangling in the curtain as she fell. The rest is history.
To this day, people wonder how we managed that spectacular ending. Some theaters even refused to show the film because that final scene was so unsettling, so convincing. The way the vampire screamed when the curtain was torn down, the way the foul creature crumbled to ash, the way it fell apart.
Malcolm Blanch retired from film making that year. Bradley Vegas quit acting and became a math instructor. Valery Chayn had a short career in television before running for office, she became a senator. And, as most horror fans are well aware, Jacob Skorch was never seen again.
‘The Return Of Count Scarlock’ was sold to a major studio, which reshot everything except the ending. The film was a smash hit, and the name of Jacob Skorch became legendary.
Of course, all this was many years ago. You can probably still find a copy of the film if you look around, although very few of the people involved in its creation are still living. The truth was never made public because, after all, who would ever believe it?
But I’ve never been able to forget. In fact, I still have the moonstone bracelet. I don’t know why I picked it up. I found it repulsive at the time and I still do. But I did pick it up and I’ve had it all these years. It’s in that cabinet over there in the corner.
To be honest, I’m sometimes tempted to put it on. I’d never actually do that, of course, but sometimes it almost seems that it’s calling me, singing to me. And I consider putting it on, just for a moment… just to see. You know?