By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
He leaves the pulpit and swaggers down the aisle. "Give me your wallet," he commands a guy sitting up front. Sheepish, the guy hands it over. Jeffrey, a goateed GenXer, demands that other churchgoers surrender their watches, earrings, even eyeglasses. Most of his victims grin; no one appears remotely shocked or worried. In the 11 years that Jeffrey has been at Second Christian Church, the little evangelical congregation has grown used to Lettermanesque stunts like this. A white-haired lady looks flattered that Jeffrey wants one of the rhinestone Js pinned to her jacket. Rowdier church members don't wait to be shaken down; anxious to horn in on the act, they volunteer their valuables, waving them in the air so that Jeffrey will take them.
Only a Hispanic teenager, sitting near the back, balks at Jeffrey's request. He has demanded one of her butterfly clips. She looks at him blankly for a second, then slowly, reluctantly, removes the clip, pressing her hand against her falling hair as if stanching a head wound.
Triumphant, Jeffrey returns to the pulpit and piles his loot on top of it.
"We Christians," he announces, "are thieves."
By inner-city standards, the congregation doesn't look at all shady. They're mostly working-class, Anglo and Hispanic, either over 60 or under 40. Sunday-morning regulars. Good citizens. Nice people.
Jeffrey continues: "We will steal anything that isn't nailed down."
He's accusing them -- churchgoers! -- of being thieves.
"And that's the way it should be."
They don't look offended or outraged; they're smiling, intrigued, waiting for the punch line. Jeffrey hopes, though, that they're at least a little bothered and confused. He hopes that they're wondering whatever happened to thou shalt not steal. He hopes they're wondering what in the name of God is going on.
But Kate, of course, is very cool, and so, in a vampire-nerd way, was the Turkish Dracula -- far more faithful to the Bram Stoker book than any English-language movie, so faithful that the horror-movie fanatics didn't need subtitles to understand what was going on. The tape was a copy of a copy that a friend of a friend had once taped off Turkish TV. The sound was warbly and distorted, the picture was grainy and black-and-white, and Jeffrey enjoyed it the way only a connoisseur could: as a piece of film history, interesting not by itself, but in context.
Jeffrey is constantly puzzling out the significance of things, looking for insight in unlikely places. He likes explaining the importance of deathly dull passages of scripture, the begats and the dietary laws and the precise boundaries of the Promised Land. He finds enlightenment in Montrose, Houston's little patch of Gomorrah, because it's so gothic, because the contrast between the light and the darkness is extreme; the light is easier to see there than in the suburbs. He even treasures his videotapes of bad Bela Lugosi films -- partly because even Bad Old Bela is still Bela, but partly because Jeffrey especially enjoys mining the dreck for its small, interesting snatches of dialogue, the little flashes of interest buried in the schlock.
Even Jeffrey's stories about his kids have a point. When he watches horror movies at home, his older son, four-year-old Japheth, usually hides in his room. Japheth will watch some of the wolfman movies, too, but only while clutching his little plastic wolfman figurines. Jeffrey's conclusion: It's Japheth's way of controlling the monster, containing the evil.
Naturally Jeffrey can talk at length about the Christian symbolism embedded in horror movies. Werewolves stand for sins of the flesh, the spirit made slave to the body. Monsters like Frankenstein embody the random, uncontrollable dangers that scare us precisely because they're senseless -- cancer, car accidents, hurricanes, evils not so much malicious as unthinking. Vampires represent Satan, and the dark seductiveness of evil.
And in Dracula in Istanbul, he found something more: fodder for his weekly church-bulletin column. Because the film was set in Istanbul, with Muslim characters, the filmmakers couldn't use the standard Christian props. In one scene, the hero was reduced to fending off Dracula not with a cross, but with a puny clove of garlic. The change, Jeffrey thought, drained the imagery of its usual power. Registering that loss, Jeffrey wrote, gave him "a renewed appreciation of what I have as a Christian in the cross of Jesus."