Occasionally, as in The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, by Jimmy Breslin, gangs are treated with humor. (The police and the New York and Chicago branches of La Cosa Nostra also refer to the midwest and east coast gangs' Los Angeles counterparts as the “Mickey Mouse Mafia.”) Most of the time, though, they’re treated with respect and fear. Although most people don’t think of the Mafia as a gang, considering them, instead, to be members of “organized crime,” they are, of course, a gang--or several loosely associated gangs, actually--by definition. The Hell’s Angels, like other so-called motorcycle clubs, are also gangs. Any organization, big or small (except the IRS and the federal government in general), that uses illegal methods, including extortion, intimidation, violence, and weapons, to effect compliance from victims for any reason is a gang.
According to The Mafia Encyclopedia, 2nd edition, by Carl Sifakis, one of the most violent gangs was the Westies, who lived in, terrorized, and controlled New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen. When a Mafia loan shark, Ruby Stein, visited their neighborhood to collect some debts, the Westies murdered him and took over his collections. One member of the gang, Patrick (“Paddy”) Dugan, found this enterprise so lucrative that he continued to rob loan sharks even after the Westies had aligned themselves with the Gambino crime family. His fellow gang members overlooked his peccadilloes in this regard, as did Carlo Gambino, the godfather for whom, ostensibly, the Westies now worked as hired hit men. When Paddy killed a friend of the Westies’ leader, Jimmy Coonan, however, he’d finally gone too far, and Dugan himself was murdered. His body was cut into small pieces and distributed over a large part of the city, a piece here and a piece there, except for his fingers, which Coonan kept in a bag, along with those of the gang’s other victims, to intimidate people and to frustrate the police’s identification of the dead. The Westies had liked Paddy, however, and they honored his life with a wake. They took his decapitated head with them to a tavern, set it atop the bar, and plied it with drinks, even lighting a cigarette for what was left of their friend, placing it between his lips so Paddy--or his head, at least--could enjoy a last smoke. It was only when Coonan met John Gotti, who’d murdered Gambino so that he could take over the crime family that the previous godfather had led, that the Westies’ leader met “a grease ball tougher than we are.”
Given the record of such gangs (and those of many others), it’s no wonder that gangs have appeared as bad guys in several horror stories (mostly TV series or movies, rather than novels).
An early film with the unenviable title I Was a Teenage Vampire brings Dracula’s teenage son to America, where he feeds off the Vandals, a street gang, before coming to an untimely end from a severe case of sunburn as he flees on a motorcycle to the safety of his grave in the local cemetery, but is caught by the rays of the rising sun as his bike crashes into the cemetery’s gates. The Vandals reappear in another movie with the unfortunate title The Teenage Frankenstein Meets the Teenage Werewolf. (At least the studios knew how to market their products to a targeted audience!) In a previous film The Teenage Werewolf, a mad scientist-cum-hypnotist transformed Tony Rivers into a werewolf, but the teen wolf died in a fall. In this sequel, he’s back, a revenant risen from his grave, and he joins the Vandals. The gang attack a hunchback, Gregore Frankenstein, who happens to be a descendant of the original monster maker. Having acquired the remains of his ancestor’s creature, which he keeps in a woods, Gregore revives the monster, and it attacks the Vandals. In the ensuing fight between monster and werewolf, a forest fire is ignited, which consumes the monster while the werewolf escapes to the safety of a river. (See? We told you that teenagers and young adults are dangerous!)
In “Becoming,” an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, an outlaw motorcycle gang of vampires arrives in Sunnydale to party and terrorize the local citizenry, having heard that the slayer herself has been slain. (Unknown to them, Buffy’s friend, Willow Rosenberg, a powerful witch, has brought the dead slayer back to life).
A street gang of vampires also stars as the villainous protagonists of The Lost Boys, one of whose members, Michael Emerson, attracted to the gang’s sole female member, Star, drinks blood, which he thinks is wine and is himself transformed into one of the undead. A novel by the same title was written by Craig Shaw Gardner for release with the film. The movie was part horror, part comedy, as its tagline indicates: “Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It's fun to be a vampire.”
In Gangs of the Dead, rival Los Angeles street gangs join forces with one another--and the police--to fight off an army of zombies born, so to speak, of an extraterrestrial virus that arrives courtesy of a meteorite. President Ronald Reagan once observed that the threat of war by an extraterrestrial species would unite the warring nations of the earth against a common threat. For street gangs, an army of dead men walking seems to work, too.
“Everyday Horrors: Gangs” is the first in a series of “everyday horrors” that will be featured in Chillers and Thrillers: The Fiction of Fear. These “everyday horrors” continue, in many cases, to appear in horror fiction, literary, cinematographic, and otherwise.