Kage Baker was, as I have hinted, a monster snob. She had clear ideas of what constituted the classics, and scorned what she considered to be the etrange nouveau. Every now and then, the iron magnolia in her genetic heritage would bloom like a century plant; and whatever had incurred her ire would be consigned to the Outer Darkness where there was no social standing or good china.
A lot of the modern vampires ended up there. Lestat made the cut, at least until Anne Rice lost control of her writing. The Hammer films were not really respectable, but aristocratic Christopher Lee certainly was. She adored Gary Oldman in Coppola’s Dracula. (That film started Kage’s interest in absinthe, as a matter of fact; culminating in the absinthe kit she constructed the year before she died.) But the dyslexic Count Alucard and all his ilk, all those lounge lizards in bad suits and fake diplomatic sashes: no way. And when the Twilight crowd sent in their calling cards, Kage was not receiving.
There was no acceptable Frankenstein’s Monster for Kage, post-Karloff: with the singular exception of Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein. That is such a brilliant and hilarious homage – They shot it in black and white, for heaven’s sake! They used the original lab set! – that she could not resist. Besides, we attended the industry preview (I was working at the Press Club at the time), and so the film came with the proper introduction.
Mummies and zombies: well, let’s face it, until recently they were decidedly second-string.
Besides, mummies were also permanently eclipsed for Kage by dear old Grandpa Boris. He was such a compelling old corpse, and wore that cool fez besides – and the story was so romantic. She turned up her nose at lesser revenants, until 1999’s The Mummy … and what got her there was simple male pulchritude. Brendan Fraser! Oded Fehr! And the enchanting Arnold Vosloo, who was somehow dashing and handsome even while half-decomposed. Not to mention munching down a live scarab beetle with a panache that would have put James Bond to shame.
Zombies sort of fell off the radar, when we were kids. There were some zombie movies, but they were both inexplicable and pitiable – dark Caribbean settings full of rich white people drinking strange cocktails and murdering one another; and then, somewhere out in the darkness, black people walking aimlessly around with faces frozen in a horror we did not understand. And it usually turned out to be a fake, anyway. It was a while yet before George Romero integrated the zombies and made the Undead an open shop. By that time, Kage was older and more squeamish, and couldn’t take the gore.
Books like Jane Slayre and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, movies like Zombieland, came along when Kage was just too tired and sick to get into them. I offered to read PP&Z to her – I read to her a lot, the last few months – but she said, “Naw, I’m too close to joining the cast,” and opted for P.G. Wodehouse instead. So she just about entirely missed the Zombie Renaissance. I think it would have amused her rather more in its present literary incarnation than it did from George Romero.
Werewolves? They just never did it for Kage. Even when interesting werewolves made it to the silver screen – things like An American Werewolf in London, for instance – they didn’t catch her fancy. The Marin County hot-tub werewolves in The Howling were pretty funny, and Jack Nicholson was an all-too-convincing Wolf, but lycanthropes were just not her thing. They were forever the B team.
I don’t think the new crop of those would have changed her mind, either. Mere species ambiguity didn’t bother her, but (as she said) she never went out with a guy prettier than she was.
Tomorrow: more monsters – moomies and zombats