Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bloody Irish: Celtic Vampire Legends – review

Author: Bob Curran

First published: 2002

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: ”The bedclothes were gripped and pulled, as though someone was trying to drag me to the floor. A hand—at least, I thought it was a hand—brushed my cheek and searched for my throat…”

Centuries ago vampires cast their dark shadows across Celtic folklore. Bob Curran’s chilling stories reveal that vampires could still lurk beneath the surface of Irish life.

Redmond cuts his hand exploring a Famine Village. It won’t stop bleeding…

Sinéad meets a charming young stranger in the dark woods…

A mysterious collection of ancient ‘treasures’ includes one very sinister item…

Death and suspicion spread through Philip’s small village and into his home…

Read if you dare – but leave the lights on!

The review: I think I was expecting something more engaged with traditional folklore from Bob Curran but, after an introduction that mentions the Legend of Abhartach this book leaves folklore behind and is a purely fiction piece. There is the conceit that “they all contain an element of the darker folklore of the Irish countryside” but in reality you can tell they are pieces of fiction set in Ireland that Curran has weaved together.

That’s not to say that they are bad – indeed there are some interesting ideas lurking within this - it’s just not what I was expecting. The tome is also very short, with just four stories within it. However, for the right price it is a satisfying, if brief, read. 6 out of 10 (bearing in mind the short nature of the book).

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

True Blood – Season 6 – review

Directors: Various

First aired: 2013

Contains spoilers

My thoughts on the earlier seasons can be read at the following: Season 1, Season 2, Season 3, Season 4 & Season 5.

If I felt that the 4th season of True Blood lost its way a little, I certainly think that season 5 pulled it back. We got a very vampire orientated season that showed some powerful vampires acting to excess and ended with Bill (Stephen Moyer, Ultraviolet & Priest) drinking all of the blood of Lilith (Jessica Clark), the first vampire, dying and being reformed. In this season we get almost an opposite storyline as humanity turns on the vampires and many get interned into a prison camp in which they are tortured and experimented on. There is a lot of new lore we get out of this season.

distance sucking
Firstly, with Bill. He soon gets control of himself but not necessarily of his new powers. He is very fast and can fly (as can the older vampires) and his pull when calling his progeny is nearly fatal if they try to resist. He has visions of Lilith and her handmaidens and also visions of events affecting vampires that turn out to be glimpses of the future. He is immune to staking but not, as he nearly fatally discovers, the sun. One really cool new trick is his ability to manipulate both inanimate objects and humans with telekinesis and suck the blood out of a person’s body, via the mouth, from a distance.

Eric prepares to turn a mortal
Through the camps we get a lot of new weaponry; silvered bullets with UV emission, which eats the vampires from outside in, supplement the wooden bullets we already knew about and seem somewhat Underworld. There are now contact lenses available that prevent glamouring and, in the most devastating move of all, the humans have developed Hep V – presumably a variant of Hepatitis D, which was always able to cause up to a month of weakness in a vampire. This is virulent and can kill a vampire rather quickly and painfully.

Rutger Hauer as Niall
The other new lore sits around Sookie (Anna Paquin) and her faery heritage. We discovered in the last season that she had been promised by an ancestor to an ancient vampire called Warlow (Robert Kazinsky). At the head of the season Jason (Ryan Kwanten) is picked up by a man we suspect to be him but it is actually their faery Grandfather Niall (Rutger Hauer, Dracula III: Legacy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Salem’s Lot & the Reverend). He has been hunting for Warlow but the vampire has remained hidden because he was a faery himself, who was turned by Lilith. This means he is able – due to his faery heritage – to walk in daylight. Bill believes this is the key to saving the vampires.

Warlow returns
To be honest there were some downsides to the season. I thought the Warlow and Sookie story was under developed and rushed. This made Warlow flip from bad guy to good guy and back again too abruptly. It was also a shame that Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) was somewhat sidelined – but better that than a poor storyline I suppose. The werewolf and shifter side of the story was very much a mopping up of the previous season’s story. However the vampire story made up for all this and led to some classic moments. Season 7 is planned as the last season and the vampire storyline has lead to an interesting place for that season.

7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Vampire Stories – review

Editor: Alan Durant

First Published: 1998

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Bloodcurdling and bone-chilling!

Bloodsucking vampires and savage werewolves – two of the most petrifying creatures of classic horror fiction brought together in one terrifying collection.

Includes stories by Angela Carter, Arthur Conan Doyle, Anthony Masters, Richard Matheson, Saki, Bram Stoker.

The review: I picked this compilation in a publisher’s clearing house in Whitby but it took me a little while to get around to reading it, though that was for no other reason than a backlog of reading material.

Strangely, for a book whose title only mentions vampires it does have werewolf only stories. However, looking at the vampire side, we have included within Matheson’s Drink my Blood, which lent its story to the film Morticia, as well as a Woody Allen comedy vampire tale about Dracula and the seemingly obligatory Dracula extract.

I was particularly taken by the tale The Vampire of Kaldenstein by Frederick Cowles. In many respects it felt like a Hammer plot but was actually published in 1938. Interestingly, of three vampires, two could be destroyed but the third not – though why was not explained. I was also taken by the Roger Zelazny penned Dayblood, which looked at something that predated upon the predator - though what it was remained a mystery.

Over all it is a short volume – made more so by the fact that there are werewolves infecting the vampiric mix. I'm not marking it down for that – and indeed enjoyed some of the shaggy dog stories – but perhaps reflecting their inclusion in the title would have been good.

There are better compilation volumes out there but this wasn’t bad. 6 out of 10 shows it as containing some goodies but a little laden with obvious and too well trodden choices – especially the Stoker extract and the Conan Doyle.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Kardinal – review

Author: Thomas Emson

First Published: 2012

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: The vampires are rising again and humanity is on the brink. In Britain, the undead’s allies are about to triumph in a General Election, while in Iraq, they seek the god of the vampires so it can be unleashed on the world. There is only one hope:

JAKE LAWTON

But badly wounded, and possibly infected from the very plague he fights, Lawton is haunted by visions and dreams. And they lead him to the resting place of an ancient creature with whom he must forge an alliance if he is to save his friends, his country, and his species.

The review: As I read the first two books of this series, Skarlet and Krimson, I was very struck with the mythology that Emson builds into his books. This is a mythology that brings us a biblical menace of epic proportions, a Babylonian vampire god who was neutralised (but not killed) by Abraham. A history that touches on Vlad Ţepeş, who in this was a hunter of the vampire plagues.

Yet beyond all this it was the social commentary that I founded intriguing, Indeed Skarlet said some very interesting things about immigration that counterpoints the demonization that goes on in the right wing UK press. In this we get a strong commentary on the rise of the far right, the thugs it attracts and the lies it tells to popularise itself. Indeed we get a Britain that becomes a place of terror, with people rounded up and sent off to camps as breeders, workers or food as the human allies, the Nebuchadnezzars, seize control of the country. However controlling a God proves less easy…

Strong writing and a pace that is breakneck at times, this volume does what many writers of a trilogy would hope for. It becomes greater than the sum of its earlier parts and thus the most satisfying book of the series. 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hellraiser Revelations – review

Director: Víctor García

Release date: 2011

Contains spoilers

After I decided that Hellraiser was Vamp, due to the presence and activity of Uncle Frank, I dutifully then looked at the second film as Julia had the same traits to regain her body and skin as Frank did – in other words stealing the blood of victims.

Following this the series ran on and on with a variety of differing quality films with the unifying features of the puzzle box and Pinhead. Sometimes these seemed a little odd – probably because many were non-Hellraiser scripts submitted to Dimension Films, into which the Hellraiser aspect was forcibly bolted on. None of them contained a character akin to Frank and Julia.

Pinhead sneers
That was, until this film was released – the ninth in the series and one that had been widely lambasted and lamented by critics and fans alike (and utterly disowned by Clive Barker). One of the main reasons for this was the fact that Doug Bradley had turned down the script and so did not reprise the Pinhead role. This went instead to Stephan Smith Collins (Suck & Moan) and, to be fair, he does seem out of his depth – possibly due to the scripting, possibly due to the makeup, maybe the direction or maybe just because they were mighty big shoes to fill… On the other hand it may have been just him but let’s have a look at what happens in film before assessing if the film deserved all the derision.

hooked
Steven (Nick Eversman, Vampires Suck) and Nico (Jay Gillespie) are two overly privileged young men who have decided to leave their LA homes (and it sounds like they intend the move to be for good). Steven thinks they are going to Disney Land but, instead, Nico is heading to the border and they are going to Tijuana. We see all this through found camera footage (but don’t worry, the found footage aspect is soon abandoned). We see them have their car stolen and then see footage of Steven opening the box and Pinhead appearing.

Tracey Fairaway as Emma
The footage is being watched by Steven’s mum, Sarah (Devon Sorvari), who has the camera. When Emma (Tracey Fairaway), his sister, comes in she puts it away and won’t discuss what is on it. Dad, Ross (Steven Brand), has sent Emma to tell her that Nico’s parents, Kate (Sanny van Heteren) and Peter (Sebastien Roberts, Being Human US), have arrived. It has been a year since the boys went missing and the parents continue to have dinner parties together but don’t talk about their disapearance. Emma wants to talk about it (Nico was her boyfriend as well as Steven being her brother). The parents had hired a PI, who found Steven’s bag and the camera – the footage has mystified the police.

accidental death?
Emma stomps off and has the box – it was in the bag. She opens it but causes it to shut before it fully opens and suddenly Steven appears – this appearance was, I believe, coincidental to the box opening and, somehow, the aborted opening seemed undetected by the cenobites. Steven talks about not going back and the adults discover that the phone line is down and their cars are missing – this leads them to assume someone is out there. We then get the boys’ story in bits... It involves Nico killing (he says accidentally) a prostitute and being subsequently given the box by a vagrant (Daniel Buran, True Blood).

popping out of the mattress
After Nico is taken by Pinhead, a shell-shocked Steven picks up a prostitute and, whilst roughly taking her, hears whispers from Nico and so he bludgeons her with the box and a skinless Nico pops out of the bed. Now there are a couple of things wrong with this picture, firstly the whispering to Steven from a Hell Dimension seems a bit off and secondly we don’t know that Nico was killed on the mattress – indeed it may be her mattress – but out he pops anyway and goes on to drain her. We see (or actually don’t really see) more killing in the form of another prostitute and her baby (it stops crying off screen and the implication is Nico drains it). Eventually he suggests getting a guy so he can steal his skin but Steven wants out…

the box
So… it was a very simple story and strangely similar to the first film; pleasure seeker gets the box, gets taken to Hell, escapes, sucks blood and wants to escape the cenobites (in this case trading another soul for his). Yet as a film it failed to work. Part of it was Pinhead – truthfully – but part of it was in the general scripting and characters. In Hellraiser we actually cared. Kirsty was drawn as a sympathetic character, Julia a devious vixen and Frank came across, from the very off, as a truly deviant character. Nico comes across as a spoilt child throwing temper tantrums and the remaining families; well frankly we don’t care about them.

Emma is drawn darkly
Actually, the Emma character is drawn with more of a darkness – something Pinhead notes and wants to allow to develop as he believes she will come to him eventually of her own volition – but even that was curtailed and needed developing and following through. The scenario just didn’t ring true – the removal of cars without anyone noticing and the take down of the landline just seemed off, though I could buy them being in a mobile phone dead zone, hence having the landline.

Stephan Smith Collins as Pinhead
However, as off as it might have been I don’t know if it quite deserves the derision that was slung at it… not quite, at least. 3 out of 10 elevates it above the worst of the detractors but it is still very much the weakest link of all the films and was, indeed, a bit of a mistake.

The imdb page is here.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Interesting Shorts: The Skeleton Count, or, the Vampire Mistress

I originally provided this post as a guest blog for Something Wicked This Way Comes. Unfortunately that blog is now defunct and so my article went with it. I have decided to reprint (and rewrite) here as the story is both interesting and controversial.

Why interesting? The Skeleton Count, or, the Vampire Mistress (for reference this is printed in The Vampire Omnibus, edited by Peter Haining, my edition being the 1995 edition) is interesting because it was allegedly first published in the Penny Dreadful called the Casket, in 1828. If true the story by Elizabeth Grey may well be the first published English Language vampire prose by a female author.

However, since originally writing this article, I have been directed to evidence that suggests that the story might be a hoax perpetrated by, none other than, Peter Haining. Details are scanty and it is listed as “under investigation” and you can read the full thoughts around this at Yesterday’s Papers (note the article lists the date 1825 – I was aware of the later alleged publication date).

Be that as it may, let us look at the story.

The story surrounds the Count Rudolph of Ravensburg Castle, who did a deal with the Prince of Darkness for immortality. He is not, however, our vampire. The price for his youth and immortality – we discover later – is that between dusk and dawn he becomes a skeleton. However, as an experimenter in the occult he looks to resuscitate the dead, which sees him using occult and alchemical techniques to raise Bertha (a peasant’s deceased sixteen year old daughter) from the dead.

What he doesn’t know is that the technique raises her as a vampire and, as the two become lovers, she sneaks out of the bed chamber to quench her unholy thirst. Interestingly, though fangs are not mentioned, she does have “sharp teeth” that, when she visits a maiden, “punctured the white shoulder, and the partially exposed bosom of Theresa Delmar.” This is not, however, an erotic attack (though it can be read that way) and she would not have been a precursor to the Sapphic Carmilla. Vampires are known, in this story, for attacking children and young women – probably as they made for easier prey.

At one point she is shot and ‘killed’ but, like Ruthven in the Vampyre and Varney she is restored by the moon and we see “another phase in the fearful existence of the vampire bride! For as the beams of the moon fell on the inanimate form of the being of mystery and fear, sensation seemed to slowly return, as when the magic spells of the Count of Ravensburg resuscitated her from the grave.”

She does not fear sunlight, sitting out with the Count and she sleeps in a bedchamber – when not sneaking off for blood, a task made easier when the Count begins his skeletal transformation. However, we discover she can be destroyed. “Nothing but fire or a sharp stake will kill a vampire” we discover and the stake is to be thrust, not through the heart but through the abdomen.

So, there we have it, Elizabeth Grey, the first female author of a vampire story? The story had some very familiar vampire imagery within its length, in an early nineteenth century way, including the use of the vampire’s tie with the moon (interestingly, when the villagers are speaking of their dilemma we hear that “nothing was talked of but vampires and wehr-wolves, and other human transformations more terrific”, reminding us of the close connection between the vampire and werewolf myths). On the other hand, it may have been written in the 1990s by a man and naughtily offered as a piece of media vampire history.


Thursday, August 07, 2014

A Short Break


For those who don’t know, today is the first day of Rebellion Festival and I’ll be enjoying four days of punk and alternative music.


The festival is actually in my home town but I’m still going to put the blog on hold for a few days. I’ll be back to posting on Monday and in the meantime I'll leave you with the Red Paintings, who I’ll be watching today.