Saturday, July 04, 2015

Honourable Mention: Jupiter Ascending

Jupiter Ascending was the 2015 space opera by the Wachowskis and I was very tempted just to run a review as vampirism (in a form) is at the core of the film and the main antagonists could all be said to be vampires (indeed the V word is mentioned in film). Ultimately, however, it is so undersold that I just went for a mention.

That the Wachowskis had a vampiric theme in their film is to be expected – they had one in the Matrix sequels also. That assertion may cause an initial look of consternation but remember that the other media they released at the time was meant to be cannon. The hint we got was in the Matrix Reloaded when the Merovingian guards are watching the Brides of Dracula. However, expanding on this, in the video game Enter the Matrix (that runs parallel with Reloaded) you actually battle those guards and they must be staked when subdued as they are vampires.

Mila Kunis as Jupiter
So, previous connections aside, Jupiter Ascending is about a young woman, Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), whose family are illegal aliens in the US, and who works as a cleaner. She finds herself targeted by the secret off-world elite, including the current owner of the Earth, as she is set to inherit the Earth and much of the known universe. She is helped to survive by one of the persons originally sent to capture her, Caine Wise (Channing Tatum). We are in a universe where the earth is a colony, unaware that it is a colony, and humanity's reach is across much of space. Genetics are all, and a person's will often has a clause set within it for recurrences – people born with absolutely identical genetics to the person who left the will. Jupiter is the recurrence of the (murdered) matriarch of the Abrasax family.

Kalique and Jupiter
So, vampires? Jupiter first meets Kalique Abrasax (Tuppence Middleton) who tells Jupiter that she is millennia old. Jupiter asks if they are some sort of vampire race and Kalique denies it, only suggesting that they are the source of many of the myths. She bathes in a glowy liquid and, when she emerges, she is younger. This is the product that the Abrasax family produce and Kalique suggests it offers more time (by revitalising or recoding genes, which naturally have built in expiration).

essence of human - bottled
Later, with Titus Abrasax (Douglas Booth), Jupiter sees a room full of vials of the product. It is here that she learns that the core ingredient of the product is people, roughly 100 people making one vial. The colony planets are farms, where the humans are left to grow and evolve and – when at a point that the planet can no longer sustain them – they are harvested. The bathing in human essence to maintain youth and longevity, the consumption of others to maintain the self, is clearly a form of vampirism (and, whilst bloodless, reminiscent of the legends of Erzsébet Báthory). There is also a Marxist element as Balem Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne) suggests that the inhabitants of earth are just there to be exchanged into capitol.

the Abrasax children
The film itself is a fun, visually impressive space opera – so long as too much thought was not put into it by the viewer, for instance the common use of English is not explained via a “translator” explanation despite language being mentioned (Jupiter’s family often fall back to Russian and the head of the household insists they use English) and the unknown intergalactic elite being the root of an Earth legend. However, when some 2015 movies realised the heroine didn’t need to be reliant on the male lead (Mad Max: Fury Road), this had Jupiter front, centre and in the title but absolutely reliant on rescue by Caine all the way through.

into the Eye
As I first watched it I was left less with a sense of it being its own vehicle but more that it was an impressive test reel to persuade the world that the Wachowskis could remake Flash Gordon – especially the effects as a space craft enters the Eye of Jupiter (reminding me of the Imperial Vortex). The look of many of the guards, the fact that Mila Kunis reminds me of Ornella Muti and even the idea that Jupiter had to be rescued, by daring flight through weaponry, from a wedding, all fed into this feeling.

The imdb page is here.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Rise of the Vampire – review

Author: Erik Butler

First published: 2013

Contains spoilers

The blurb: Before Bella and Edward; Stefan and Damon Salvatore; and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, there was Lestat and Louis, The Lost Boys, and Buffy Summers. Before True Blood and Let the Right One In, there was Dark Shadows and Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. And then there is the most prominent of them all: Dracula, immortalized by Bram Stoker in 1897. Whether they’re evil, bloodsucking monsters or sparkling like diamonds in the sunlight, vampires have been capturing our imagination since their modest beginnings in the rustic fantasies of southeastern Europe in the early eighteenth century. Today, they’re everywhere, appearing even in movies in Japan and Korea and in reggae music in Jamaica and South Africa. Why have vampires gone viral in recent years?

In The Rise of the Vampire, Erik Butler seeks to explain our enduring fascination with the creatures of the night. Exploring why a being of humble origins has achieved success of such monstrous proportions, Butler considers the vampire in myth, literature, film, journalism, political cartoons, music, television, and video games. He describes how and why they have come to give expression to the darker side of human life—though vampires evoke age-old mystery, they also embody many of the uncertainties of the modern world. Butler also ponders the role global markets and digital technology have played in making vampires a worldwide phenomenon. Whether you’re a fan of classic vampire tales or new additions to the mythology, The Rise of the Vampire is a fascinating look at our collective obsession with the undead.

The review: I have looked at Erik Butler’s previous volume, Metamorphoses of the Vampire in Literature and Film: Cultural Transformations in Europe, 1732-1933 and stated in the review “This is not a book, however, for the casual reader.” This is the reference book more designed for that casual reader, a quick foray through the flora and fauna that make up the media vampire (and a little touch on folklore).

There were moments within where I found myself disagreeing with him. The assertion that in Carmilla Le Fanu “hints at Lesbianism but never shows it” is one interpretation, however I believe Le Fanu showed much – in the dialogue and the scene where he quite obviously has Laura, whilst fed upon, orgasm belies that interpretation. Or interpreting the pure in heart maiden requirement for Ellen in Nosferatu as virginal (and thus her and Hutter having not consummated their marriage) was, I think, interesting but not necessarily the correct interpretation.

One assertion I must mention is that the Rocky Horror Picture Show is a vampire film – I found the logic here thin but perhaps a mention of Anyab, the Egyptian rip-off of the Rocky Horror Picture Show in which the Frank equivalent character is a vampire, might have shored up the argument.

But, hey, no matter what Butler always gives food for thought and is a joy to read. This volume probably is a little too fleet through the subjects but that aids its readability. It is referenced and has an index. 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Honourable Mention: Doctor Who: Journey into Terror

I have featured plenty of Doctor Who episodes on the blog, however this is by far the earliest being part of season 2 of the original Doctor Who and featuring William Hartnell as the Doctor. Directed by Richard Martin and airing in 1965, this was an episode in a 6 episode sequence called the Chase.

The Chase was bizarre in the humour it added into the series. We had stammering daleks who had trouble adding up, for instance, and a *comedic* Alabama resident in New York that was more Beverly Hillbillies than anything else.

the tardis
The basic premise was that the Doctor and his companions, Vicki (Maureen O'Brien), Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), were being pursued by daleks who had created their own time machine that could track the Tardis. In this episode they land in what looks like a gothic monstrosity of a castle. We get a moment with a very crap bat and Vicki suggests it might be a vampire but the Doctor says nonsense, they are South American and the architecture looks European (referencing, of course, the natural bat).

Malcolm Rogers as Dracula
The women are too nervous to explore and so the Doctor and Ian go off alone – eventually finding themselves face to face with Frankenstein’s monster (John Maxim, Dracula, Prince of Darkness). Meanwhile, downstairs, Vicki and Barbara are approached by a man who states that he is Dracula (Malcolm Rogers, the Blood Beast Terror) – he vanishes almost as quickly as he appeared.

the monster
Of course the daleks show up and we get the joy of seeing the Frankenstein Monster grappling with a dalek and Dracula being shot at, to no avail… except they aren’t real. The Doctor has a theory that they have landed outside of time and space and that the place is a construct born of the fears from the minds of humanity. Ian thinks there is a simpler solution and there is – it is a haunted house attraction and the monsters are (I guess) animatronic. It is nice to see the Doctor being wrong, even if he never gets to know this.

Dracula meets a dalek
The monsters are on set so fleetingly that I felt an Honourable Mention was the way forward on this. Plus the episode is actually part of a larger sequence and really shouldn’t be watched in isolation (and the sequence is the form of the DVD release). So, an animatronic vampire but it does have Dracula vs a dalek.

The episode's imdb page is here.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Vampire Almanac vol. 1 – review

Edited by: J-M and Randy Lofficier

First published: 2015

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Stories by Matthew Baugh, Nathan Cabaniss, Matthew Dennion, Win Scott Eckert, Brian Gallagher, Martin Gately, Rick Lai, David McDonald, Frank J. Morlock, Christofer Nigro, Catherine Robert, Dola Rosselet, Frank Schildiner, Michel Stéphan and Artikel Unbekannt.

Featuring Alinska, Elizabeth Bathory, Captain Vampire, Carmilla, Nadine Carody, Dracula, Koschei, Lenore, Orlok, Ruthven, the Vampire City and the Vampires of Mars.

This dual nature of the vampire, stretching between love and death, creates a moral ambiguity which is omnipresent in its literary treatment, incorporating and contrasting seduction and horror, heroism and villainy. It only reflects the nature of life after death, and how it is perceived by its surrounding culture. Is it a desirable dream, or a hateful abomination? A reward or a punishment? And what price must one pay for such survival?

The stories contained in this collection, featuring some of the most famous vampires in literary history, incorporate all of these contradictions; in them, vampires can be both super-human and sub-human, sexual predators and impotent, romantic and passionate, and yet devoid of soul. Ultimately, the vampire is our own face, reflecting in the mirror of our beliefs, the incarnation of our spiritual choices.

The review: Blackcoat Press rapidly became one of my favourite publishers due to the obscure 19th century text they release (for me, of course, especially those centred on the vampire) making translations available often for the first time.

They also publish original material and I have had their annual anthology series, Tales of the Shadowmen, on my wishlist for some time. Whilst I haven’t yet read those, this collection (the first of two) dedicated to the vampire and reimagining many of the Blackcoat stable and others was irresistible. Actually, some of the stories herein were first seen in the Shadowmen series.

There is a wide variety of vampires captured from Lenore (who was not originally imagined as a vampire and, indeed, was not in a vampire poem – but who appears in Matthew Dennion’s Hope for Forgiveness, as a vampire, alongside the Scarlett Pimpernel and Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter) to Dracula himself. I’ve captured in the review some of my favourite moments.

Nathan Cabaniss wrote the story Schodinger’s Blood and features the vampire Alsinka from the Virgin Vampire but it is the clever premise of Alsinka’s curse that captured me, as she avenges the wronged woman, devouring her victim’s blood through Quantum Mechanics as she reaches from the past and drains his blood in the future.

Whilst the book is split into sections based on the primary character that character might also appear in other tales (and very few of the tales follow on one from another so continuity is not an issue). There were three Carmilla orientated stories. Martin Gately’s the Moon Hag needs mention for not only telling the story of Lafontaine’s cousin as mentioned in the original story (“Mademoiselle related that her cousin, who was mate of a merchant ship, having taken a nap on deck on such a night, lying on his back, with his face full in the light on the moon, had wakened, after a dream of an old woman clawing him by the cheek, with his features horribly drawn to one side; and his countenance had never quite recovered its equilibrium.”) but also for the creation of a vampire living in utero, which would emerge from the mother only to feed before retreating back into the womb.

However it was Dola Rosselet’s To Die For that stole the show of the Carmilla tales, for me at least, which makes a beautiful coda to the Carmilla story.

Those who have read Paul Féval’s Vampire City will be aware of the interesting lore of dividuality, where a vampire can absorb a victim and then make them a duplicate of themselves or change their appearance generally, whilst making them part of their collective whole. Brian Gallagher’s City of the Nosferatu interestingly takes this concept and then makes Graff Orlok an abandoned aspect of Count Dracula. Gallagher also has it that if one takes the heart of a vampire and burns it before it is dead (not all the vampires die due to heart removal) you can put the ashes into a bullet to make it a devastating anti-vampire weapon. Later on, in a section introduction, the editor’s describe the Orlok of Nosferatu as an anti-hero, which I think is a stretch – to me he is most definitely a villain.

It is not, however, just 19th century (and very early twentieth century) characters that get a look in. I mentioned the appearance of Kronos and Win Scott Eckert’s Les Levres Rouges is based on Daughters of Darkness. The story Blood and Fire, by Artikel Unbekannt, is based on Vampyros Lesbos and is probably my favourite story in the collection, simply because of the beauty of the prose.

I have barely scratched the surface, there are tales of vampiric possession and there are tales that connect in to the Lovecraft mythos. There are stories of love and stories of hate. This is a fine collection of stories that are based on the characters created by others but that are strangely refreshingly original because of this. 9 out of 10. The Blackcoat Press page for the volume is here.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Strange Blood – review

Director: Chad Michael Ward

Release date: 2015

Contains spoilers

The vampire created by science, it’s a nice route to tread at times. It makes me think back to the vampire bat and deranged experiments involving blood as well as hypnosis and village hysteria. None of which you’ll really find here. Ok, you will find deranged experiments…

It is a film on a budget and it does try to rise above that, yet I was left with some doubts around the plot and a lack of belief in the characters (despite the actors’ best efforts), which all in all left me a tad underwhelmed.

police interrogation
The film begins with the wreckage following a fire. A hard drive is found amongst the debris. In a room (which looked less like a police interview room and more like the dingy warehouse reserved for interrogations by B movie villains) a cop (James Adam Lim) interviews Gemma (Alexandra Bard). She’s not under caution but the cops have found twelve bodies and all paths seem to lead back to Dr Henry Moorhouse (Robert Brettenaugh). Gemma, having been threatened by the cop, tells their story.

Henry and Ella
Gemma starts a job as Henry’s assistant. He was a scientist with a pharmaceutical company (Baxters) but was dismissed due to emotional instabilities. He reveals to Gemma that he took with him Ella. Ella is a genetically created living tissue mass, non-sentient (apparently), that he bred to be able to infect with everything (essentially) and through some mumbo jumbo of pseudo-science back engineer a retrovirus that will be the cure for everything – from the common cold, through cancer to HIV/AIDS. Ella is maturing at a rate that he did not expect.

They begin to introduce pathogens to Ella and it seems to go wrong at first but then she stabilises. However when he tries to extract some lymph fluid she spikes him, injecting his hand with quills that stick him in, the rest retracting back into her mass. He assumes it to be a completely unexpected defence mechanism that has evolved and is even more shocked when she develops hard masses and fluids. Gemma wonders if it is a sign – that humans are meant to become sick, grow old and die. We see that Henry is haunted by the figure of a child (Thomas O'Halloran) and later we hear that it was his son who died of a strain on meningitis. His now ex-wife somehow blamed Henry (and given his ‘haunting’ he also blames himself).

downward spiral
Gemma and Henry go to a diner – already Henry is craving very raw burgers. Gemma needs to leave to visit her father and we later discover that he has Parkinson’s and early onset dementia. Henry’s behaviour becomes odder and odder and here we get an issue with the film. Whilst Brettenaugh displays a man sinking into madness well he has little to work with. The plot becomes secondary to the visual displaying of this downward spiral. We do discover that the spines were not defensive, they were genitalia and Henry has been infected with Ella’s offspring.

It eventually comes around that the (now shaven headed) doctor has been “cured”. He is filled with parasites and he must drink blood to feed them so they don’t consume him. He describes it as being a prisoner in his own body as it now belongs to them. Ella seems to be communicating with him but that might just be his madness. The way he treats Gemma is awful, with violent mood swings and taunts as she is “just a girl” and has confessed that during high school she ended up in rehab. Yet she then strips her pants to let him extract blood from her leg (not realising he’ll drink it), jumps into bed with him (and he gives no thought as to whether these parasites are in his sexual secretions) and gets bitten savagely by him. Yet later she still comes back to his lab! I didn’t buy the relationship at all.

blood spattered professor
He also goes out hunting girls – we see one such encounter and he manages to pick up a girl in a bar by looking at her for just a moment and taking her off for sex in the toilet (it appears). The fact that she went off with this hooded, creepy bloke with dirt encrusted teeth was a real push at credulity. Perhaps if they had suggested that he was able to release powerful pheromones, but they didn’t. The fact that he then killed her in the toilet and managed to leave, covered in blood, and get home left a sour “bad plotting” taste in the mouth.

self mutilation
The other problem was it was the only hunt (bar him killing a PI (Scott Harders) who was working for Henry's erstwhile employers and who came into his home) that we see. We get a flash of dead bloodied women but by missing the hunting of these women (or at least some of them) the filmmakers have missed what might have been the point of the film – horror. Yes, the decent into madness was worth capturing but it shouldn’t have been the only real facet of the film. In fact I wonder how the police tied the killings to him – this was set up at the head of the film but not followed through. As for his vampirism, well he might regenerate - at one point he apparently ripped his own tongue out (or so it appeared) but was able to speak normally thereafter. The only other lore we get, by the way, is apparently sunlight is an issue – but in a blinding way rather than him burning and that might simply be because he was hiding away in his windowless home.

As I say, the two leads bravely did what they could with what they had. Ella looked suitably icky and mad sciencey but perhaps was underused as well (maybe they could have introduced a voice for her rather than just the insect like buzzing that Henry answered – they could have still maintained the “is there communication or is he mad” aspect). This needed something more – and at least part of that was more vampire action. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Brides of Dracula: the legend of Dracula: Book 2 – review

Author: Perry Lake

Release date: 2014

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Vlad the Impaler was once the most fearsome ruler in Europe. His armies marched against both Turks and Saxons until his enemies assassinated him. But Vlad Dracula rose from the dead, ready to wrest control of a new kingdom, that of the undead legions of the Night.

To his surprise, he discovered the Undead of Europe to be bestial, scattered, and nearly mindless; more akin to zombies than vampires. So he set out to replace them with a new breed of Undead, borne of his blood and taken from only the finest noble houses. Thus Dracula became the sire not of warriors, but elegant and seductive noblewomen whom no man could resist: Lady Katya, Countess Elizabeth Báthory, Countess Mircalla Karnstein, Lady Lenore, Countess Ulrica Dolingen, and others.

You've read Bram Stoker's “Dracula”. Now see how Dracula assembled the most powerful and famous members of his entourage. As part of THE LEGEND OF DRACULA trilogy, this book contains thirteen short stories about the infamous Count and his seductive children of the Night.

Vampires are scary again!

The review: If I came across as harsh when I reviewed book 1 of Perry Lake’s Dracula series then I have to say that it is because I see much potential within the series and hoped by being constructively critical that I might help the author tap that potential.

I have to say that, as a collection of shorts, this volume held itself together more than the first volume. I think the narrow focus on the various brides helped. Indeed one short section, Immortal Love, was impressive as Lake changed voice and showed to advantage the skill in prose that the author is capable of. That’s not to say that I don’t still think that some of the stories suffer from brevity, they do, but many are fleshed further and has allowed Lake to develop the characters in a much stronger way and some sections felt more like longer prose than shorts, which was positive.

I am still not impressed with the cod-mediaeval dialogue that we occasionally get (much less in this volume I thought) but the author commented on my previous review that they are to stay and that is the author’s prerogative.

The volume explores Carmilla’s background, which was done in an interesting way and it is worth looking at the volume for this section alone. The cornucopia of references and borrowed characters continued apace.

The improved characterisation and the more focused knitted plotlines pushed this ahead of book 1 in my opinion and made it a more satisfying read. 6 out of 10.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Honourable Mention: Brood of the Witch-Queen

Brood of the Witch-Queen was a 1918 novel of supernatural adventure written by Sax Rohmer, the author better known for his creation Fu Manchu.

The story follows Dr Bruce Cairn and his son Robert as they become embroiled in the machinations of Antony Ferrara, the adopted son of Dr Cairns' colleague and friend Sir Michael Ferrara. Antony Ferrara murders his adopted father through occult means and, as the book progresses, we discover that his powers reach back to Ancient Egypt.

Though Ferrara’s goals through most of the book involve either the marriage to, or death of, Sir Michael’s ward Myra Duquesne he does deviate from this as he turns his attentions to a certain Lord Lashmore’s young wife. Of course the presence of Lord Lashmore, and thus the fact that she is not a wealthy widow yet, stands in the way of his ambition.

Lord Lashmore is directed to Dr Cairn and has scars on his neck that look to have been made by fangs. We discover that in his ancestral seat of Dhoon there is a dark secret. One of Lashmore’s ancestors, the third Baron, brought home a beautiful woman from the continent – a Polish Jewess called Mirza. There was a child from their marriage, Paul Dhoon, though he was passed off as a child of a subsequent marriage after Lord Lashmore despatched Mirza.

At the coming of age the heirs of the family were taken to a secret room in Dhoon castle to reveal the family’s dark secret. In that room was Paul Dhoon’s body, still with flesh on his bones, gleaming “wolf fangs” and an aspen stake driven through him – which was done a whole year after his death.

Cairn concludes that “Mirza… …practised sorcery in life and became, after death, a ghoul—one who sustained an unholy existence by unholy means—a vampire.” She was decapitated by her husband, which prevented her return as a physical vampire as the body was no longer a suitable vehicle but her spirit was bound to Earth. Ferrara discovered that Lady Lashmore was, unbeknown to herself, a sensitive and ensured that the spirit of Mirza could possess the woman – allowing Mirza access to the two things she desired, blood and vengeance against the family Dhoon.

Cairn realises that they have to find a cavern that houses the body of Mirza and finally release her through a wooden stake. Before they get chance to do this Lord Lashmore dies, following an attack where he struck his attacker, realised it was his wife and suffered a fatal heart attack. Whether they subsequently went to the cavern to aid Lady Lashmore is not covered in the book and the entire Lashmore sub-story is dropped and forgotten at that point.

According to the book’s Wikipedia entry, Lovecraft compared this novel to Stoker’s Dracula and Les Daniel deems it Rohmer’s best novel. For the former I doubt I would go anywhere near that far. The book proves itself to be a fair romp but somewhat unsophisticated. The vampire section was interesting but suffered for the lack of conclusion. That said, it is an interesting use of vampiric possession.