July 4, 2013


by Ken Johnson
160 pages, Everest Books

Hereward L.M. Proops

I know they're easy to mock, but I've got a soft spot for novelizations of films. Don't ask me why. It's probably no easier to explain than why my dog insists on belching in my face when he's finished eating or why “One Direction” manage to sell millions of records despite having no musical talent whatsoever. The novelization had its heyday in the 1970s, before the advent of home video. Novelizations of popular (and not so popular) films worked effectively as promotional materials but also enabled punters to relive the movie in the comfort of their own homes. Of course, when home video came along, the popularity of novelizations took quite a blow. Now, in the age of digital downloads and simultaneous cinema / DVD releases, the future of the novelization seems even more troubled.

I can easily explain how I came to love novelizations. As a horror-movie obsessed ten-year old, I wasn't able to get into the cinema to see the scary movies I loved. The kindly old man in the local video shop would sometimes allow me to rent a 15 certificate film but drew the line at letting me rent the really gory 18 certificate video nasties I coveted. However, regardless of my youthful looks, I could stroll into my local WHSmiths and buy a paperback novelization of the latest grisly film that was doing big business at the cinemas. I read Jeffrey Cooper's novelization of “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors” on a school trip long before I saw the film and I have very happy memories of reading Alan Dean Foster's novelization of “Alien 3” so many times the book fell apart.

You might not have heard of “Zoltan: Hound of Dracula”. Released in 1978, it is a pretty dreadful B-movie that, by virtue of numerous late-night screenings on cable television, has attained cult status. I've sat through the movie a couple of times and, whilst undeniably crap, it is strangely entertaining. When I found a copy of the novelization on ebay, I snapped it up immediately. The cover has the same blood-drenched image of the snarling devil-dog as the movie poster and has a bold red banner stating “Now a major EMI film”. Trashy? Magnificently so. Hell, the blurb on the back cover even gets the name of main protagonist wrong.

The novelization closely follows the events in the movie. When the grave of dread vampire Dracula (not to be confused with the one from the novel or other films, this one is called Igor Dracula) is uncovered by the Hungarian army, Dracula's faithful manservant Veidt Smit and his vampire-dog Zoltan manage to escape. They travel to America in search of Michael Drake, the last surviving relative of the Dracula family. Unbeknownst to Veidt Smit and his blood-guzzling hell-hound, top Eastern European detective and amateur vampire-hunter, Inspector Vaclav Branco is on their trail and is determined to stop them before they turn Drake into another vampire.

It is an unbelievably silly little story that seems even dafter when read in a novel than it does when you watch it as a movie. The same gaps in logic that are present in the film make it into the book. For example, how does Veidt Smit, a man from seventeenth-century Transylvania, know how to drive a car when he arrives in America? Or why does a bullet to the spine not stop the vampire hounds when a blow to the head does? Of course, a movie such as “Zoltan: Hound of Dracula” should not be taken to seriously or exposed to much detailed analysis. The same goes for the novelization. One glance at the cover tells the reader all they need to know about this. It's got vampires and dogs in it. It won't be subtle and it certainly won't require much brainpower to work through the staggeringly simple narrative. Fun? Well, that depends on what you find fun. If endearingly goofy tales of vampire-dogs are your thing, then you'll probably have oodles of fun with this. If, however, you are into philosophical novels about existential angst, then you are shit out of luck.

Like all good novelizations, Ken Johnson's book adds a little depth to the paper-thin narrative. We learn a little more about the motivations of the enigmatic Inspector Branco as well as some nice background detail that helps to pad out the character of Veidt Smit. For example, we learn that Veidt is a “fractional lamia” - a sort of half-vampire servant who is able to withstand daylight, unlike his wholly-undead master. I very much doubt that this information will add much to my next viewing of the movie but I liked these little additions nonetheless. At a mere 160 pages, Ken Johnson didn't bother to add too much to the novel that wasn't already in the film. This book was never intended to be a prize-winning work of literature but, when all is said and done, it isn't badly written. Johnson's functional prose effectively conveys the growing sense of menace and the action is well-paced and convincing enough. The clunky dialogue – taken directly from the script – is occasionally jarring but, once again, reminds one that this is nothing more than a B-movie.

I have to say that I did enjoy my time with “Zoltan: Hound of Dracula”. I enjoyed reading it for the same reason I enjoy watching bad old horror movies. It is entertainment, pure and simple. I'm not going to go as far as recommending that people rush out and track down a copy of this book (it really isn't worth that much effort) but if you stumble across one in a thrift shop, it'll provide an afternoon's escapism, if nothing else.

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