If he had never done anything else, Stephen Volk’s name would live in infamy as the writer of the legendary 1992 BBC special, GHOSTWATCH. The scripted program was presented as a live paranormal investigation, and caused a nationwide panic that resulted in the BBC banning the show from being rebroadcast for over a decade. Volk has since branched out from screenplays, and added short fiction and novellas to his repertoire. His latest, Whitstable, is sure to strike a chord with Horror fans.
The protagonist of Whitstable, Peter Cushing, should be familiar to virtually anyone who has ever seen a film, thanks to his appearance as Grand Moff Tarkin in 1977’s STAR WARS. However, he was already a beloved figure to Horror fans long before that, due to his starring roles in countless genre films in general, and the Hammer films in particular.
Volk’s story opens up in 1971, with a devastated Cushing dealing with the recent death of his beloved wife, Helen. While he wants nothing more than to die so that he can be reunited with her, he attempts to continue some semblance of existence, out of respect for Helen’s wish that he continue to live his life to the fullest until they could be together again. While taking a walk by the shore, Cushing is approached by a a young boy who believes that he is Professor Van Helsing, a role that Cushing played in the Hammer Dracula films opposite Christopher Lee. He plays along with his young fan, but is horrified when the boy asks him to kill his mother’s live-in boyfriend, who he claims is a vampire. Cushing attempts to ease the boys panic, but the story that he tells of nighttime bedroom visitations rings true to Cushing, who soon finds himself, against his better judgment, investigating the man’s past.
While it has the trappings of real-life Horror, Whitstable is actually the profoundly touching story of the love that Peter and Helen Cushing shared, and how her passing left him a hollow shell of a man, who spent the next 23 years waiting patiently for the day when he would be reunited with his beloved wife. Volk gives Cushing’s inner monologues a heartrending quality that will not soon be forgotten, and the quiet, steady heroism that he imbues Cushing with proves that heroes can come in any form.
Whitstable was published to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Peter Cushing’s birth, and I can think of no better way to celebrate the man and his body of work. Highly recommended.
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