Monster Smash #3: Kurt Barlow
by Annie Riordan
“He’s not handsome. He’s not suave. You wouldn’t want to go to the opera with him.”
~ Maitland McDonagh on Nosferatu, 1922
Yeah yeah yeah, shut up, I know this article isn’t about 1922’s silent masterpiece Nosferatu, starring the cadaverously pale and repugnantly plague-a-riffic Max Schreck as the equally cadaverously pale and repugnantly plague-a-riffic Count Orlac, aka Count Dracula, aka Nosferatu. But this observation, offered by Maitland McDonagh in 2004’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments, has always stuck with me. Perhaps because my first and most visceral reaction to it was “I WOULD TOTALLY GO TO THE OPERA WITH NOSFERATU!” Him in a cape with a jeweled walking stick and ascot, me in a ballgown cut to show off my ample boozums. I’d like to think we’d be sitting in a balcony watching Tosca and sharing a pair of dainty little opera glasses.
But I never even saw Nosferatu until I was in my twenties, and by then I’d already given my weird, gross little heart to another cadaverously pale and repugnantly plague-a-riffic Vampire Count:
Name: Kurt Barlow, aka Kurt Breichen, aka The Master.
Species: Type 1 Vampire, Austrian Nobility.
Height: 6 foot something-or-other
Weight: Light as a plume of black smoke, heavier than an ornate, hand carved coffin lined with lead and frozen in a block of icy mud and wormy gravedirt.
Hair: None. Not a single follicle.
Likes: Antiques, blood.
Dislikes: Weaksauce priests, wooden stakes, David Soul.
I first met Kurt Barlow via Tobe Hooper’s 1979 miniseries Salem’s Lot when I was 9 years old, so my love for him was, is and has steadfastly remained a purely romantic courtship. At age 9 (especially back in the still somewhat innocent 70s) one didn’t really envision S-E-X. Well, I didn’t anyway. No, I just wanted Mr. Barlow to pick me as his princess, his special prize and heir to the title of Queen Vampire and All Around Beautiful Butt-Kicking Badass, Guardian of the Ugly Undead.
I even went so far as to rewrite the story, doing away with prissy little Mark Petrie and replacing him with a young teenage girl whose name I have since forgotten. She was dark, solemn and much more intelligent than her peers, eschewing boy bands and popular fashion trends for high collared lace blouses and cameo broaches. Her parents had no interest in such a strange and melancholy child, so she would frequently sneak off to the old abandoned Marsten House on the hill, filled with lacy cobwebs and neglected antiques. She would even create a living space for herself there, smuggling her favorite books and possessions into one of the more grandiose bedrooms. When her living arrangements were compromised by the arrival of Mr. Straker, she presented herself at his antique shop, straightforwardly asking to be hired on as a shop assistant. Though quite young and utterly unqualified, Straker agrees, realizing that she would be a perfect protégé for The Master.
So rather than joining forces with male cameltoe model Ben Mears, she instead teams up with Straker, and really doesn’t give a single honey badger shit when Barlow finally appears in her kitchen and skull smashes her parents (whom I based on my insufferably condescending uncle and aunt) to their simultaneous deaths. In fact, she barely notices. She’s too busy smiling up at her savior who enfolds her into his voluminous black robes and whisks her away forever, far from the superficial world of corporate slogans and Star Wars sequels.
My fascination with Mr. Barlow was also due in great part to the mystery of the actor beneath the blue paint and golden contact lenses. His name was not listed in the credits, nor was there any such thing as the internet when I was a kid. Nowadays, 0.3 seconds on a google search engine will provide you with everything you ever wanted to know about who played who in what movie, when they were born, when they died, who they fucked and whether or not they included the stuffing of cheese curds into their navels among their many hobbies. But back in the 70s, 80s and even part of the 90s, the identity of the actor who played Kurt Barlow remained a mystery.
When at last he was unmasked, I fell immediately in love with the facially disfigured, bisexual, multilingual former cabaret performer/Apache dancer named Reggie Nalder, who worked with both Alfred Hitchcock and Dario Argento, appeared in The Manchurian Candidate at the insistence of Frank Sinatra, and hated Bill Cosby before hating Bill Cosby was a generally accepted Thing.
Also, Nalder loved the opera, and Tosca was his favorite. So yeah, with all due respect to Lady McDonagh, I would totally go to the opera with the Nosferatu-inspired Kurt Barlow. Fuck to the Yes, I would.