Thursday, March 23, 2017

Black Kiss 2 – review

Author/artist: Howard Chaykin

First published: 2015

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Nearly 25 years ago, Howards Chaykin brought the '80s to a close, and comics to the brink, with his landmark erotic thriller, Black Kiss. Now, after years of anticipation, he's back with Black Kiss II, telling the story behind that legendary story — like the original, in glorious black and white. And really, now — does it have to be so dirty?

The review: knowing that the second Black Kiss trade paperback was written after such a gap and was a prequel I expected this to be concentrated on Beverley (it is) and her decent into vampirism in the 20s.

The story actually starts before then, highlighting the impact of cinema (and devolving into a strange hentai-esque show in 1906). It then shows how her husband to be, Charles “Bubba” Kenton”, was turned himself – on board the sinking Titanic – as he is raped by an hermaphrodite succubus.

Having established such a backstory (and also established that, like the first Black Kiss, this is most definitely not for children or the easily shocked) I expected the full length of the graphic to follow Beverley (or Eunice, as she is originally called) as she is seduced by Kenton but that happens speedily and the tale is more vignettes moving forward through time – with very little solid plotting – just sex and blood.

Of course, given she was human, I didn’t expect Dagmar to be part of the tale but it turns out that Dagmar was the fourth Dagmar who Beverley kept as a thrall and one lost some of the suspension of disbelief as Beverley found transgendered thrall after thrall who was willing to serve her and become her new Dagmar, and also looked just like her.

The artwork is of the same basic style and the content as wildly deviant as the original but I expected more of a solid plot and was not as impressed with this return to the world of Black Kiss. 6 out of 10.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Honourable Mention: Amethyst

Amethyst came to my attention as it was on Amazon Prime and, watching the trailer, I was sure there was a vampire aspect – I was right. But this is an unusual beast and there is no doubt about that. Definitely psychedelic (and given the subject matter that is no surprise) and absolutely dialogue silent and, bar one card that we see the writing on and a warning sign, the film has virtually no intertitles (there is a prologue title telling us this is based on true events and one at the end as a coda piece).

The Jared Masters directed film is indie and relies on filters and effects and has some problems with the photography. Yet I was entranced as I watched it, for the most part.

Ember at the door
So, the film starts with a house and a girl, Ember (Valerie Miller), approaches the door and knocks but there is no answer. She walks to a stone wall and places the box she carries and a card on it. Opening the box she takes a vial out with an eye dropper and drips one drop onto her tongue.

the note
Ember is no longer at the house and another girl, Amethyst (Grace Klich), finds the box and card. She puts down the apple she is eating and opens the card, which is from Ember wishing her a happy 17th birthday. She opens the vial and downs the contents. Then she sees the rider on the bottom of the card “PS Just one drop”. She walks into the garden fascinated by the statues and roses as Ember returns and starts looking for her. At this point I noticed that some of the following cameras were unsteady and juddered slightly and a steady cam would have been preferable.

Grace Klich as Amethyst
Soon the trip kicks in – as the contents are clearly LSD. Amethyst meets a variety of characters under the influence. Ember does find her but, at one point, her face becomes painted with a mask eliciting a violent reaction. Amethyst also meets a character called (in the IMDb credits) the Eunich (sic) Bridgekeeper (Derrick Biedenback), who to me actually seemed more like the Piper at the Gates of Dawn (and the Pink Floyd connection there makes a nice link given the subject). She also meets Junius Licinius Balbus (Jared Masters) – again according to the IMDb credits – and that does not end well.

things turn darker
However, in much of this I could see a young girl’s sexual awakening being explored – however, that does seem that I am reading too much in to the silent narrative. But because of this I was reminded, to a degree, of Valerie and her Week of Wonders. I was also reminded of the work of Chris Alexander, due to the silent element, and also some Jean Rollin, because of the fantastique element. But what, you ask, of the vampires?

a vampire, bound
As the trip turns darker and darker still, Amythyst crosses a “do not enter” sign into a graveyard. She seems to collapse, her eyes suggesting a seizure, perhaps? Then she stands, her dress gone and replaced by a gossamer thin nightdress (of the atypical vampire film standard). She explores the graveyard, whispering secrets to a stone cherub. She sees a cloaked woman (Olivia Yohai) tied to a tree and unties her. As Amethyst does this we get a brief flash of her still holding the flask, in the place where the trip kicked in.

vampire and spectre
The woman starts to follow her through the graveyard and, at one point, we see a hideous spirit moving with her. She eventually vanishes, appears behind Amethyst and bites her, for she is a vampire woman. Following this Amethyst explores more of the graveyard, we occasionally get coloured smoke (coming from graves/crypts) and then Amethyst meets Ember, holding a chalice, which she drinks from. When Ember also drinks from it we see the chalice contained blood.

That is our vampire bit, and in context of coming of sexual age we can see that the vampire often can be used as a metaphor for the blossoming sexuality, virgin to the sexually active. There are obvious budget issues, there was a vial continuity error (that could be explained away by the fact it is a trip) and there was some juddery camera issues as I mentioned. I said it kept me entranced, for the most part, but towards the end the 70-minute film did start to outstay its welcome a little. The soundtrack was really well chosen.

A 70 minute budget exploration of a young woman’s trip with no dialogue won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but we do get a vampire’s fleeting visitation.

The imdb page is here.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Guest Blog: When Your Support Characters Become Protagonists

Today we welcome author Catherine Green to TMtV as she tells us a little about her characters and how they seem to come to life within the writing process. Catherine has written several vampire orientated novels, including the Vampire of Blackpool.

It is surprising the number of characters you will discover when you finally write your manuscript. Originally you might begin with a hero or heroine, and perhaps one or two supporting characters. Then they begin to interact with each other, and they bring in their own friends, acquaintances, colleagues, family members, and before you know it there are a lot more people to write about.

Identifying your characters doesn’t just mean knowing who they are and why they fit that particular story. You have to understand why they developed, what makes them important to you, and maybe sometimes if their story could be told in a separate novel, perhaps as a spin-off.

Take my Redcliffe novels as an example. I have a vampire character called Marcus Scott. Originally he was a vague, supporting character. Somewhere along the line he became more important, both to my heroine Jessica Stone, and to me, the author. As a result I wrote him a separate novel telling the story of how he became a vampire, and what it is that causes him to act the way he does. That novel is The Darkness of Love; a Victorian vampire romance with Gothic undertones.

Ultimately, your characters develop because they are very special people in their own right. Sometimes you have to be strict with yourself and decide whether it is really imperative that you give them so much space in your novel. Maybe you could compromise, and put them somewhere else. Perhaps you could include them in a sequel, and give them the story time they deserve.

Always remember to look at your manuscript from the point of view of your readers. Will they be confused? Will this cause them to give up on your books? Above all, do not abandon a character simply because you don’t know what to do with them. They might give you that big break into the world of fame and fortune… you never know!

Did you enjoy this article? Join my tribe today, and I will send you a fabulous FREE book to get you started… (be warned, my vampires do not sparkle, and my wolves will bite!)

Author’s BIO:

Author of British paranormal romance series The Redcliffe Novels, Catherine Green was raised on books from a young age, and has happy memories of Saturday mornings spent in her small local library, devouring the contents of the shelves. Catherine has always been fascinated by the supernatural world, and it feels natural for her to write about vampires, werewolves, witches and other mystical creatures in her contemporary stories.

If you sign up to Catherine’s newsletter, she will send you a free copy of her Redcliffe short story, It’s Complicated, to introduce you to her fictional supernatural seaside town in Cornwall, England.

More recently, Catherine released her contemporary English Gothic novel, The Vampire of Blackpool. These novels will show you the darker, sexier side of our favourite British seaside resorts!

You can find Catherine in the following places: Facebook, her Author blog, Twitter, the Pagan Housewife Blog & Instagram.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Zombie Emperor – review

Director: Ying Hua*

Released date: 2016*

Contains spoilers

I stumbled across this 1 hour long kyonsi (not zombie) movie on YouTube and at the time of review can find precious little in the way of details about it. There does not seem to be an IMDb page nor the equivalent in the Hong Kong movie databases. I cannot find a DVD release of it on the usual Asian DVD sites. Hence the release date and director details may be incorrect. In fact even the title might be inaccurate.

It was hard-subbed in a Chinese language and English but the English subs were literal and made following the dialogue challenging to say the least. However it was possible to follow the film enough to review it – even though some of the nuance will have been lost in translation.

the swordswoman
It begins with two brothers in a pit arguing over who dug it. They retrieve something that seems to shine and, we discover later, that it is the pearl that holds the soul of the town. They run off with their prize but are chased down by a swordswoman, who kills one brother and is trying to get the second one when a swordsman intervenes. The fallen brother has a tattoo of a swastika (called in subs a black fork and is symbolic of a tantric cult).

The two face off (allowing the brother to escape) when a kyonsi in a golden robe appears (there is suggestion he is an emperor but the state of the subs don’t allow me to be 100% clear on the point). He bites the swordsman. Suddenly a monk, Mao, intervenes and puts a prayer scroll on the kyonsi’s head. It doesn’t remain there long as the kyonsi blows it off and escapes. The swordswoman runs off into the night and Mao brings the swordsman back to his hut.

sucking energy
To try and counter the vampire venom Mao administers snake venom and then binds the wound with, what looks like, sticky rice. However the infection is too strong and the swordsman is not restored to humanity until his soul is captured and put back in his body. As for the kyonsi we see him sucking energy (from what appears to be another undead) and he gets stronger and stronger. The three mismatched characters need to work together to get the pearl back (which the kyonsi is tied to). Other than that it is a very simplistic plot.

prayer scroll
It came across as quite silly in tone (especially around the kyonsi, who seemed to have a comedic element) and the plot twist was fairly obvious from the get-go. What I didn’t pick up on was any tangible atmosphere that would raise the film up and its short length didn’t allow it to be too convoluted in any satisfying way. That said I would like to see it again with decent translation. 3.5 out of 10.

At the time of review there is no IMDb page.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Mona the Vampire: Brainwash Boogie – review

Director: Louis Piché

Co-director: Jean Caillon

First aired: 2000 – 2001

Mona the Vampire was originally a series of children’s books written and illustrated by Sonia Holleyman and adapted for television over five seasons that ran 1999 to 2003. The Brainwash Boogie DVD takes its name from the first story in the set and consists of three episodes, each episode containing two stories, the first from season 2 and the other two from season 3.

Now, Mona the Vampire is something I have not featured on TMtV before and it was something not falling out of my childhood, thus I had no rose-tinted wish to revisit it, and not something my son particularly watched as a child. However, this was a DVD for sale at a car boot sale in Whitby when my family went there with friends in January 17. I spotted it but ignored it.

Later that day my friend Paul texted me to say he had purchased the DVD with the sole intention of giving it to me so I had to review it. I appreciate the good-natured humour behind the gesture but, you know what, this is vampire material and plays a part in the mainstreaming of vampires – I will explain.

Mona and Fang
The series primarily follows Mona Parker (Emma Taylor-Isherwood), a young girl, and her friends Lily Duncan (Carrie Finlay) and Charlie Bones (Justin Bradley, Eternal & Being Human US). In their play they become Mona the Vampire, Princess Giant and Zapman. Mona’s cat, Fang, wears a pair of bat wings. In these personas they keep their local town safe from evil (such as the vampire Von Kreepsula – who features in a story on this disc). It shows kids using their imagination and this, of course, is important.

the gang
However, from a genre point of view and like Sesame Street character Count Von Count, this brings a vampire character (even if only a make-believe one) into the living room for kids and makes it the character they identify with. This then mainstreams the concept of vampires and the kids who watch shows such as these are hopefully the filmmakers of the future, keeping the vampire alive (or undead at least) in media. Arguably this mainstreaming is also partly responsible for stripping away some of the horror aspect of the vampire figure as well but that is a whole other debate in itself.

Von Kreepsula
The animation for Mona the Vampire is bright and colourful. The voice acting clear and consistent and the stories imaginative (as they should be, given that they are based on the imagination). For younger kids this will be a great little set. However you might find the score a little strange today as I am not giving my normal out of 10 score. After all, the disc was provided, with a tongue firmly in cheek, in order that I would have to watch and review the material and as such I’m going to give it a score of “Paul out of 10”!

The imdb page is here.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Blood Demon Rising – review

Director: Harry Tchinski

Release date: 2012

Contains spoilers

For a low budget film to use as much CGI as Blood Demon Rising (AKA Grimises Rising) uses is very brave but just a tad foolhardy. The unreality it adds could have been avoided by using some physical props in small ticket items. The set/backdrop CGI looks a tad odd and out of place. However I can understand why it was used.

The film starts with a broken weather vane atop the tower of a castle/gothic pile. All this is done in cgi and doesn’t look half bad to be fair. Within the building we meet a group of Satanists. The leader, James (Norman Newkirk), has a book and the occult sigil on the front is in CGI that visually slides on the cover and would have looked better if they had printed the sigil out and glued it on.

satanic ritual
There is aim to perform a sacrifice and one of the Satanists rings a CGI bell – which again looks odd. The rite is designed to release the demon Grimises (Stephen Lestat), which breaks from a statue and bites the sacrifice. However she is no virgin and the demon is poisoned. James locks the doors off as the demon attacks the congregation, buying itself time in the mortal realm. The demon’s cgi tongue again looks odd. The demon wants two Christian girls and James vows to get them.

Simone Leorin as Father Samuel
Father Samuel (Simone Leorin) is a Jesuit priest called to meet his superior to be told that there is a suspected rising. He is given a dagger (the Judas Dagger, forged from Judas’ silver pieces) that is the one thing that can kill the Grimises Demon – which was the one who possessed Judas. It is said to be a blood demon, a vampire demon. So the demon is our vampire but he also creates more traditional vampires.

crazy kids
James’ plan was to open up a haunt in the castle. Many of his exhibits are real tortured people (not recognised as such by the punters) and it offers a feeding ground for the demon. Four crazy kids from the local Christian college go to the haunt. They are Dave (Jareth Hixon), Shawn (Logan Littlefield), Joanna (Ronee Collins) and Vicky (Chelsey Tillich). The girls go in first and the boys are stopped. They can only enter two at a time (and the girls have now been separated off). As the boys look for the girls, the girls are captured by James and the boys end up outside and dateless.

Stephen Lestat as Grimises
James visits the demon who is taking a blood bath with his two female vampire minions. He picks a sore on his chest and produces two demon worms. James is instructed to put them on the bellies of the two girls and it will make them susceptible to the demon’s seed (indeed it would seem the worms are that seed). This is done and Joanna (the virgin) becomes pregnant with a baby that will be the demon’s host (as his demonic body is falling apart due to the bodged rite). Vicky was not a virgin and she is dying until Grimises gives her his blood and turns her.

curing vampirism
The two lads break in to the haunt to find their girls and Father Samuel is also going in. The two guys are verging on comic relief and Logan Littlefield as Shawn is encouraged to offer cheeky looks to camera and gets some lines that work rather well (the quip "bad Vicky", as the erstwhile girlfriend of Dave tries to bite him, might not look that special in type but is delivered with good comedic timing in film). A special papal coin can cure vampirism.

The film isn’t the greatest but it isn’t bad. One of the issues is probably them throwing too much into the mix but the CGI can also be off-putting and some of it is truly awful (a cgi diner location, complete with badly constructed CGI truck, just looked terrible). The filmmakers could have still used CGI but made some wiser decisions or merged physical props and cgi less and relied more on CGI to get a more graphic novel feel. As I said at the head it was a brave move but low budget filmmaking is never going to have access to flawless cgi that a bigger budget effort can boast. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Vamp or Not? A Fool There Was

I have internally debated whether to look at this as a ‘Vamp or Not?’ on and off through the years, indeed I have vacillated with regards the answer also.

Whilst this Frank Powell directed 1915 film popularised the term vamp to mean a femme fatale and, indeed, leading actress Theda Bara is classed as cinema’s first vamp*, it is not normally classed as a vampire film. To explore the question, I believe we must look back before we look at the film itself. (*As an aside Musidora, who played the femme fatale Irma Vep in the serial Les Vampires later in 1915 is often classed as the first vamp of European cinema.)

Philip Burne-Jones' the Vampire
The film itself was based on the Rudyard Kipling poem of the same name published in 1897 (the same year that Dracula was published) and, in its turn, the poem was based on a painting by Philip Burne-Jones, titled The Vampire, itself unveiled in 1897. However the idea of an energy vampire that might be called a prototype for the female vamp featured in an 1868 volume by G. J. Whyte Melville entitled Bones and I; or, the Skeleton at Home. I actually got the urge to look at the film whilst I was reading another novel, C W Webber’s 1853 volume Spiritual Vampirism: The History of Etherial Softdown.

destroying the roses
All of which serves as a pre-amble to the film itself. The filmmakers were intensely proud of the film’s connection to Kipling’s poem and apparently had it read in its entirety before showings. Intertitles offer quotes from the poem during the film’s length. It should be noted that by the standard of some silent films this is rather short coming in at just 67 minutes (compare that to the 1921 Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler, which is some 4 and a half hours (Murnau Foundation restoration)). As the film starts we see a man, John Schuyler (Edward José), with roses and then the vampire (Theda Bara) take the roses from a vase and rips the petals off.

The vampire and her victim
The film proper starts with a sunrise over the sea and then introduces the players. None are named, so Schuyler is credited as the husband and his spouse (Mabel Frenyear), called Kate in film, is credited as the wife. Theda Bara’s character is referred to as the vampire and is not named in the film. She is with one of her victims, Reginal Parmalee (Victor Benoit) and he seems to be drunk. The vampire sees Kate and her sister (May Allison) playing with Kate’s daughter, Baby (Runa Hodges). She tries to speak to them but is ignored by Kate and so says, as they walk away, that she’ll pay for that. John is piloting a boat and comes ashore to his family and friends and as the sun sets an intertitle suggests that it is the “sunset of happiness”. Already the film has suggested that the vampire is evil and we have stepped into the realm of the night.

Edward José as John Schuyler
But perhaps I am being unfair calling the vampire evil? After all this is very much a morality play built on Edwardian values and a strong woman would be a threat to the patriarchy. This is all true but she is depicted as thoroughly evil, as we will see. John is a lawyer and is appointed, by the Secretary of State, as a special envoy to Britain. His family are set to travel with him to the UK until his sister-in-law swoons and falls out of a slow-moving vehicle and Kate decides she must nurse her sister. Meanwhile the vampire has read about the appointment in the newspaper and decides to travel overseas in order that she might ensnare him. She is a gold-digger (John is later described as a millionaire) but we mustn’t forget that she has sworn vengeance on Kate for the slight she has perceived.

the previous victim
Reginal realises she is leaving and confronts her, saying that she has ruined him and is discarding him, but she lies and suggests her travel plans are only a ruse to test his love. Satisfied, he leaves the room but she has his wallet and continues to pack. In a moment of superstition, if not a decidedly supernatural moment, Kate notices that the skies have darkened and a storm gathered and wonders if it is an omen. The film then cuts to the dock and the ship the Gigantic and we see more of the vampire’s character. There is a destitute man opening car doors for a tip, which Kate gives him. When the vampire arrives, he reveals himself to be a previous victim and it is she who has left him destitute. She has the cops remove him. When Reginal subsequently arrives, the man reveals himself to be Reginal’s immediate predecessor and the victim before both of them, Van Dam, rots in a jail.

We see the Vampire on deck and her mere presence causes one man, with (we assume) his wife, to have his head turned – such seems to be her pervasive aura. Reginal confronts her with a gun, turns it on himself and commits suicide in front of her. A steward, witness to the event, tells John that she (who has left the scene) was “standing there and laughing like a devil”. The body is taken away, Kate and Baby disembark having said their farewells, and the ship sets sail. It might seem odd that an on-deck suicide does not see the ship held whilst the police investigate, with our modern eyes, but we must remember that this is a morality play. Whilst the ship is pulling away from dockside the vampire manufactures an excuse to meet John, flash some ankle and have his reserved deckchair placed next to her.

in thrall
The film cuts forward two months and John is clearly in her thrall. She lies on a chaise longue and he lies on the floor before her. Strangely there are palms but it is revealed that they are in Italy (presumably holidaying) not England. She is angered when he receives a letter from Kate and he grabs her throat, a gesture that amuses her and his demeanour immediately changes to one of longing. I read this as her being able to direct and transform her victims’ anger into passion. Unfortunately for him, the family doctor (Frank Powell) and his new wife (Minna Gale) are honeymooning and see them (she is so scandalised by his actions that she won’t stay in the hotel). There is some degree of attacking the patriarchal/misogynist status quo within the film, not only in the scandalised bride's reaction but later Kate says “You men shield each other’s shameful sins. But were it a woman at fault, how quick you’d be to expose and condemn her.” These moments are drowned by the idea that Kate will not divorce him (she speaks to a lawyer but is reminded of her vow “till death do us part”) and tries to redeem him by staying dutiful even when he installs the vampire as the new mistress of their town house.

in his cups
So we see his descent, his standing lost by the scandal. He even makes the gossip columns back home and the language in the newspaper article should interest us. It suggests that John (not referred to by name) “has fatuously fallen under the spell of a certain notorious woman of the vampire species”. Not only is it suggested to be a spell but they actually make the suggestion that the vampire a different species. John is fired from his position as special envoy because of the scandal and we see him become a drunkard. However, whilst the vampire has been said to cast a spell I have not mentioned anything that would specifically draw vampirism to mind… yet.

a brazen kiss
John becomes a drunkard but he also ages. Now, alcohol can have an ageing effect but this is marked and over a relatively short number of months, In fact I read his alcoholism as symptomatic rather than the source of his symptoms. He walks in a more stooped way, his hair becomes white and his eyes become sunken amongst dark circles. It is as though all the vitality has been sapped from him. Eventually the vampire is thought to have left him and Kate goes to him, but on hearing this the vampire returns and kisses John in front of Kate who leaves as the vampire offers an evil smile (remember she is getting revenge on Kate). This scene suggests that John has no will of his own and the vampire’s presence draws him. Desperate Kate actually takes Baby to the town house but even that cannot separate John from the vampire.

 the most of him died
John has some self-loathing it would appear and smashes a mirror, which might be a deliberate play with the idea of vampires and mirrors introduced by Stoker 18 years before, whilst twisting it so it is the victim who doesn’t want to see their own reflection. He then seems to fall and die though, like the victim of a traditional vampire, the poem (in intertitle) tells us “some of him lived, but the most of him died”. This is a curious quote and does sound like the victim who dies but then rises undead. The vampire scatters rose petals on his corpse as the film ends.

Theda Bara is the vampire
There are elements within this – the almost supernatural ability of the vampire to ensnare a man, the power of fascination she seems to wield and the description of a spell (and references to omens) – which draw me to the idea that as well as a femme fatale type of vamp she really is a vampire. However it is the marked impact on his health and vitality that utterly draws me to my conclusion that she is an energy vampire, though I am not sure as to whether that is what the filmmakers were aiming for. Of course, in terms of a morality play, this is purely metaphorical but isn’t the vampire, as we have come to know him and her within a media sense, often a metaphor; it is the strength of the archetype. My verdict on A Fool There Was is that this is Vamp.

The film is available black and white and tinted on YouTube, with and without sound, and is also available at The Archive. The imdb page is here.