Okay, sure. Technically, Halloween’s over for another year. But then Halloween never really ends for me.
A few days ago, I re-watched the 1931 Universal adaptation of “Dracula,” and realized that the Borgo Pass scene was shot at Vasquez Rocks (using a matte painting of the castle). Perhaps this is what prompted me to visit Red Rock Canyon, an hour north of Vasquez on I-14, in Kern County, CA. Just as Vasquez Rocks doubled for rural Transylvania in “Dracula,” Red Rocks doubled as Egypt in Universal’s “The Mummy” (1932). And it’s not hard to understand why. The site is even more spectacular than Vasquez.
Film historian Richard J. Schmidt recently wrote an in-depth article on the location shoot in the Spring 2007 issue of “Monsters from the Vault” magazine. Schmidt has also written the definitive book on films shot in Red Rock, which includes countless westerns and a trio of Michael Crichton adaptations. A plague-infected jet pilot is discovered here, in Hagen Canyon, in “The Andromeda Strain” (1971). Robot gunslinger Yul Brenner chases tender-footed tourist Richard Benjamin along the Scenic Cliffs in “Westworld” (1973). And paleontologists Sam Neill and Laura Dern lead a fossil dig here, on the Iron Canyon trail, in “Jurassic Park” (1993).
Standing in front of these otherworldly rock formations, it is easy to forget the films, which are tiny by comparison. Films and photos can only diminish the grandeur of the sight. This is a place you’ll just have to visit for yourself. And, when you go, I recommend that you stop and visit Robin at the local Bureau of Land Management and Mary at the Jawbone Café.
On the way back to L.A., we took a detour through the western part of Antelope Valley – in search of an even more random monster movie location. Shea’s Castle (also known as Castle Ranch) was built in 1924 by a New York real estate developer in the hills east of Lancaster. It has been home to cinematic bloodsuckers in Al Adamson’s Z-grade cult film “Blood of Dracula’s Castle” (1969) and in TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
According to one website, this property is currently “being sold for subdivision into a housing development.” Too bad… because this mock-Irish castle really is a sight to behold, nestled in the golden hills of a fairy tale setting. Not far away are a couple of vineyards and the idyllic community of Lake Elizabeth – hidden secrets in the Antelope Valley that will hopefully be able to resist the westward expansion of urban Lancaster.
If this landscape looks ominous to you, there's a reason... it's where Brad Pitt found Gwyneth Paltrow's head in "Seven."