Over the past month, Northampton has been spooked by a grown man dressing as a clown. He seems to be harnessing the image of the scary child-killing monster Pennywise from the Stephen King novel It.
This character keeps a Facebook page and claims not to want to frighten the town’s residents, despite creeping around their streets in the dead of night, knocking on their doors, and staring at folks until they run away. Some think his creepy antics are amusing, others accuse him of exploiting Coulrophobia (yup, there’s a scientific term for the fear of clowns). People have been worried that he may be disturbed and gathering attention in advance of doing something …worse (a la every serial killer on Luther). He even has his own vigilante. Fun or foe? Here is a film of him so you can make up your own minds.
Anyway, around this time each year, I dig out another Stephen King novel, Salem’s Lot to reread while the nights are steadily drawing in. I’d thoroughly recommend it – very atmospheric and scary (the first time I finished it, I had to ring a few people up to make me less frightened – at 4.30 in the morning. You’re welcome). Now it is an autumnal ritual, the same as pumpkin carving, sloe collecting and the Halloween Tree.
Anyway, here’s the vampire bit…
So yeah, you’re probably wondering where I’m going with this. Salem’s Lot is about vampires – and not the simpering Twilight model-ish, veggie ones. We’re talking back to basics, bad-ass, soulless demonic entities (click here if you dare *). We have so many variations on what a vampire is these days that the air of fear at the prospect of a human acting like an animal and biting us, has pretty much become extinct.
But back in January 2005, it returned for a while in the Birmingham neighbourhoods of Ward End, Saltley, Small Heath and Alum Rock. Reports of a man who attacked a family on Glen Park Road in Alum Rock by biting them on December 19th 2004, apparently led to a police report being filed. In the following weeks many more ‘incidents’ were alleged to have taken place.
The suspect was supposedly a Somalian man in his mid-20s, and each time the incident at Glen Park Road was reported, new embellishments were added; that he’d started his feeding frenzy by a biting a fully grown man before working his way through the family and then biting a chunk out of a female observer, that he was just after the Bangladeshi community, that he was just after women and children.
Suddenly it was in all the local newspapers, then the nationals, the Beeb and Sky News, and even Richard and bloody Judy. Worried parents at local schools plagued the head teachers with phone calls, in case the vampire had rabies and went after the ‘little ’uns’. Imams and priests were being asked to speak out against the fear engulfing their communities.
Here’s the thing; the police had never had any reports of people being bitten, not one. Neither did any local hospital see any bite victims coming through their doors. Nor were there any reports of nut-cases with biting fetishes on the loose.
Since there were no victims on record, the authorities had no idea what the vamp looked like. But when did that ever stop people making crap up? Lots of forums had fun with this one. The Birmingham Evening Mail in typical ‘crazy human interest story’ style, dispatched one of their number to the scene of the alleged crimes armed with garlic and a crucifix, to scrounge for more witnesses.
But try as they might, there was nothing to latch onto. Because it was a hoax. At least the people of Northampton have concrete footage of their creepy psycho, not for them the desperation of the urban myth. But as urban myths go, this was quite a good one, just plausible enough to keep people looking behind them on those dark winter nights. And just imaginative enough to fill the yawning gap we have for a little carefully contrived fear in our lives.
*I actually find the 1970s TV version (directed by Tobe Hooper of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist fame) quite creepy but you may just find it quaint. Anyway, just try the book, it is properly scary.