Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Undead Apocalypse: Vampires and Zombies in the 21st Century – review

Author: Stacey Abbott

First published: 2017

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Exploring how the figure of the vampire has been infused with the language of science, disease and apocalypse, while the zombie text has increasingly been influenced by the trope of the 'reluctant' vampire, Stacey Abbott shows how both archetypes are actually two sides of the same undead coin.

The review: I really enjoy Stacey Abbott’s work and this academic tome walks a line that would seem an obvious focus in the study of the media vampire – exploring the dynamics between the vampire and the zombie.

Now, of course, the zombie underwent a metamorphosis from unfortunate victim of voodoo to the cinematic phenomena we know today through the work of George Romero and, in particular, Night of the Living Dead (I am aware that there were other examples, but Romero is recognised as the primary catalyst). We also know that the film itself was part-inspired by Matheson’s I am Legend and so the vampire birthed the modern zombie (or at least acted as midwife).

Abbott argues that Matheson made the vampire literally a bacteria within the blood (I have to point out that the name ‘virus’ is used in the book interchangeably but a virus is not a bacteria). Although the book does mention the film later it would have been apropos at this point to highlight that Universal actually got there sooner in House of Dracula, in which the vampirism is caused by (and thus is) a parasite in the blood.

In the second chapter – entitled Cancer With a Purpose – Abbott holds a discussion that touches on the alarmist tabloid headlines that have surrounded outbreaks in recent years and that includes SARS. It would have been fitting to have mentioned the film Sars Wars (as obscure as it is) not only because it has the sars connection but because it was a zombie (or infected) film that gave the creatures fangs. I settled on the idea that it was zompire and that was something I felt was missing from the discussion – that merging of the two creatures. So when we had a chapter on hybrids we looked at more obvious hybrids but not at the zompire. The hybrid section did explore such characters as Alice from Resident Evil and Selene from Underworld and explored the importance of the costuming within the depiction. At that point perhaps a touchpoint with Irma Vep would have been interesting to explore.

The book did touch on the idea that the zombie, on pre-millennial TV, was often a monster of the week, whilst the vampire had its own series. However many of the examples cited were shows that also featured the vampire as the creature of the week in other episodes – not invalidating the premise and argument but worth noting. I did think that suggesting the clawing out of the grave imagery being a zombie trope a misfire as it is as much (if not more) a vampire trope.

I touch these points almost in debate however, as the book was a well written and well researched volume that is well worth a read for both fans of the zombie film and the vampire film if they like to read an academic tome (notwithstanding the very high price tag). 8.5 out of 10.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Heart of the Deep Cave: and Other Romantic Vampire Tales – review

Author: April Drusiana

First Published: 2017

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: • ”Heart of the Deep Cave”: in the depths of Lechuguilla, in New Mexico, a young woman scientist enters a newly-discovered room filled with all the wonders of the earth — but also a sad shock: a handsome young man lies in the sand, appearing dead…

• ”The Call of Destiny”: in 1192, a wounded English Crusader enters the secluded town of Vasaria in Eastern Europe. There he falls in love with the beautiful herbalist who heals him. He vows to repay his debt to the town by slaying the Lord of the looming Dark Tower, who thirsts for blood. When the loyal knight does not return, his betrothed faces a heart-rending decision…

• ”A Vampire in Auschwitz”: in 1944, a young woman raised in an Orthodox Jewish community has decided to increase her chances of surviving the Nazi occupation in a most unholy way: by becoming an estrie. Now in a death-camp, she struggles to maintain her conscience….

• ”Moonlight Meeting”: in medieval Vasaria, the lovers continue their quest to remain together despite the scheming of an evil spirit, and the harsh decrees announced by an angel….

• ”Away from the Light”: in 21st-century Tucson, Arizona, a happily married mother of three suffers a needle-prick from a mysterious patient, then a car accident. After a near-death experience, she discovers that she has undergone a terrifying transformation, to which some people never adjust. Forced to steal blood from sleepers, and longing for true death, she searches for the secret — if there is one — to make her existence fulfilling once again.…

Fans of sympathetic vampires will enjoy this interestingly varied collection of tales. They offer innovative approaches to the “rules” of vampirism and emotionally vivid portrayals of characters struggling to accept their undead condition, to develop successful relationships in the world of mortals, and to find meaning in their dark existence.

The review: Heart of the Deep Cave is a collection of shorts by April Drusiana and the Amazon blurb gives a comprehensive explanation of each story. The stories themselves are concentrated on the sympathetic vampire and, like all collections, has highs and lows (though I’ll stress not too low).

Unfortunately, for me the first story, which offers the volume its title, is probably the weakest of the collection. Of a paranormal romance bent it clearly carries a romance wish fulfilment at its core. However it was the dialogue, often feeling forced and regrettably artificial, that took me out of the story. The story itself was based on an interesting idea – that a vampire sought the depths of a cave system in which to hibernate and is stumbled across by caver scientists. The story lacked a supernatural peril (the basis could have opened into a claustrophobic ten little Indians story, which would have destroyed the sympathetic vampire premise of course. Alternatively, as the possibility of another undead inhabitant was touched on there could have been threat and defence built in) and the reaction of the characters felt too idealised.

My favourite two stories, in reverse order, were Away from the Light and The Call of Destiny. Away from the Light did clever lore things with the turning process, which I definitely enjoyed, and had characters I found interesting. The Call of Destiny was by far the strongest story in the book.

Despite clearly being out of the author’s frame of experience, set as it was in a Concentration Camp during the holocaust, it was excellently written with authentic sounding voices and a strong narrative. Using the vampire type the estrie was interesting. Described in story as the “Spawn of Lilith” and clearly a turned woman, Bane describes the creature as “The estrie is from the lore from the medieval era. Considered a vampiric demon or vampiric spirit, the estrie is a noncorporeal mass of evil that can assume human female form.” It was nice to get a different type of vampire and the idea of using her condition to both survive the camp and help others survive was well realised – as was the issues her condition caused. She was ultra-sensitive to the stench of the camp, her shaved hair grew back way too quickly and the physical change to her genitalia (no longer suitable for intercourse) led to issues, and a brutal sexual assault.

So, as I suggested at the head, a mixed bunch but even the weaker story had aspects to commend it. The stories I haven’t covered were all interesting in their own ways, and I like the way the author radically mixed up the lore story to story, but the volume is worth it for The Call of Destiny alone. 7 out of 10.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Vamp or Not? Raw

Where do we divide the line between vampirism and cannibalism? Beyond the fact that cannibals tend to be alive and vampires are undead; we do, of course, have living vampire vehicles. Some claim that the difference is between the consumption of flesh and blood – but some vampire myths/stories include flesh eating. Indeed, as the definition of cannibalism extends to consuming part or all of another member of your species then blood drinking can only be seen as cannibalism.

To me it all depends on what is underlying the urge. If there is a compulsion to eat (especially a physical one) or a health/beauty dependency then I am more swayed to the crossover. When recognisable vampire tropes are included then I am even more convinced. Welcome to Raw.

Garance Marillier and Justine
A French language film directed by Julia Ducournau and released in 2016 the film begins with a road. There is a figure in the distance walking towards camera. We see a car travel the road, the figure has gone but suddenly darts from the verge, causing the car to swerve and hit a tree. The figure stands and walks towards the car… The film proper follows Justine (Garance Marillier) and she and her mother (Joana Preiss) and father (Laurent Lucas) have stopped for a bite to eat on a journey. Justine asks for mash potato only but when eating it realises there was a hidden meat ball, which she spits out. Her mother goes to complain about her vegetarian daughter being 'tricked' into nearly eating meat.

being hazed
They are taking Justine to the Saint-Exupéry Veterinary School, her mother and father went there and her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) has been there for a year. Alexia is meant to meet them but doesn’t. Justine finds her room and suddenly her privacy is invaded by Adrien (Rabah Nait Oufella) – announcing that he’s her roommate. Justine suggests that she asked for a female roommate and he retorts that she has been given “a fag”. Older students burst in, wreck the place, throw mattresses out of the window and march all the freshers out for hazing. The haze ends in a party and Justine finds Alexia drunk.

rash reaction
Alexia shows her photos of past classes, all doused in blood – including their parents'. Certain students have been 'decapitated' in the pictures – traitors Alexia says, who refused the initiation. That initiation certainly does happen the next day but then the students are expected to eat a raw piece of rabbit’s kidney. Justine is refusing, saying she (and Alexia) are vegetarian, but Alexia denies this and forces her sister to eat the offal. This leads to Justine getting a bad rash (food poisoning, suggests the nurse). However Justine finds a growing craving for meat.

a common trope
This starts with hamburger and cooked meats, moves to raw meat at the refrigerator and slowly becomes something more sinister. The film does two things; it follows Justine going through a sexual awakening (and falling for Adrien) and simultaneously follows her growing desire for meat. So we get familiar tropes such as the sitting before the fridge eating raw meat. This, of course, is a common image/trope during the turning process (either eating raw meat or drinking the myoglobin). It is interesting to note that she has physical symptoms – the rash and, later, nosebleeds.

finger food
Her movement from eating animal meat (cooked or raw) to human flesh occurs when her sister gives her a bikini wax. With the wax firmly not for pulling Alexia gets a pair of scissors, intending to cut it away. Justine kicks out and Alexia manages to cut her own finger off and passes out. Justine calls for an ambulance, tries to find ice for the severed digit but then starts nibbling on it and soon is eating the raw flesh from the bone. Alexia comes round long enough to see this.

sisterly activities
What is interesting is that they both blame the dog (who subsequently gets put down) and Alexia doesn’t seem that bothered. Rather she takes Justine out, does the car crash trick and then goes over to the bleeding passenger and starts to eat. The addiction to raw flesh is a family trait it would seem, with both sisters afflicted (up to that point it might have been a weird side effect of the raw rabbit liver, whereas that is a trigger moment). Alexia, however, is off the rails and Justine is following her down the rabbit hole (if you pardon the pun).

becoming a vamp
Her sexual awakening also contains a degree of her developing a seductive element to her persona, and she seduces her gay roommate. During their sex she has a desire to bite him but ends up biting herself. However the very fact that she can get the man she wants, when he clearly wouldn’t be interested in her, adds in an element of sexuality that seems preternatural. We see her, as the awakening occurs, become quite “vamp-ish” and we also see her, at one point, out of control (due to alcohol) and forced to act in an animalistic way, snapping at the dead flesh of a cadaver (the vet school is next to a med school/hospital).

All in all, we can see a lot of typically vampire tropes (eating raw meat from the fridge, a health benefit to the consumption – or, in this case, staving off ill health, a sexual awakening and a preternatural seductive side). The animalistic moment is perhaps less common and felt a little more like a zombie trope (or, the more zompirish vampire-apocalypse vehicles), but generally she is very intelligent and certainly sentient. Raw is quite strangely built, having a languid aspect to the plotting at times, but this fits the mood of the piece. However on a Vamp level I would say that this has definitely strayed into the vampire camp – albeit on a solid rather than liquid diet.

The imdb page is here.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Gone Fishing

To all my readers, many thanks for stopping by – I do appreciate it. I’ll be having a short hiatus from posting for a week or so but TMtV will be back to normal on the 18/19th June. If you leave a comment then please note that comment moderation is on, but I may not moderate any comments for a few days.

 See you all very soon.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Short Film: Ghost Bride of Dracula

It is perhaps lucky that I changed the policy on short films and stopped rating them as this would have scored very low indeed...

A little background to this would be useful, I feel. In 2014 there was a softcore porn film by Jake Kane entitled An Erotic Tale of Ms. Dracula. This has then been taken by director David Zani, the softcore sex firmly expunged and made into a short film. It has then found its way onto Amazon Prime.

The film comes in at 33 minutes but there really wasn’t 33 minutes of footage and what Zani has done becomes evident in the title sequence as the camera roams over a large house that would appear to be (firstly stock footage, but secondly) a manor house in Britain, complete with overcast skies. The title sequence had a horrible, unsuitable electronica piece over it but also some very interesting dialogue (and I’ll come to the source of that soon enough).

Not LA
He has then cut in footage of the house as establishing footage. However the main film looks like it has been shot in Los Angeles. Certainly, the exterior shots have that sharp LA sunshine, which jars against the overcast establishing shots. The vegetation turns from atypically English to palm trees. It is simply a mess. He has then also cut in scenes, showing on a flat screen TV, from the Paul Naschy film Count Dracula’s Great Love. This is the source of the initial voice overs and presumably included because some of the dialogue talks about Dracula searching for a virgin who will fall for him and one of the characters, Ashley (Allie James), doesn’t want to die a virgin. There is also at least one scene lifted from The Devil’s Wedding Night.

the brides
So, story… very little really when your story scenes are the wraparound for a porn film but, such as it is... Ms Dracula (Alexis Texas) lives in a mansion with Renfield (Romeo Price) and three vampire brides and has kidnapped Ashley. Renfield has created a potion that allows them to walk in daylight and has made them more powerful. Van Helsing (Chad White) has put a reward of $1M for Ashley’s rescue. This has led husband and wife Jonathan Harker (Billy Chappell) and Meena (Anna Morna) – yes they spelt it incorrectly – to infiltrate the mansion, posing as masseuses, and sexual shenanigans follows.

fangs on show
It’s as thin as tissue and the acting… well it’s a wraparound for a porn film, what do you think? I suspect the original version had more integrity in its absolute honesty (it is what it is). This was almost recycling at its worst until I realised that the distributors had gone on to recycle the whole of this version into the 56 minute long anthology film (and for anthology read mess) Halloween Horror at Midnight. The imdb page for Ghost Bride of Dracula is here.

Monday, June 05, 2017

The Darkness of Love – review

Author: Catherine Green

First published: 2013

Contains spoilers

The blurb: Lord Gregory Stockton is a powerful and respected businessman embracing the modern era of the Victorian industrial revolution. He owns a grand and beautiful manor complete with a repertoire of servants and a charming attractive young wife. The only thing he lacks and desires is an heir to the family estate. Lord Gregory knows he can never produce a child, for he is a vampire, and his wife and servants know nothing of his secrets. However, there may be other ways to provide an heir for his estate. Lord Gregory notices the subtle growing romantic attraction between his wife and the handsome young stable hand Marcus Scott resulting in the humans becoming unwitting pawns in a vampire’s game of lust, love and control.

The review: I have already looked at one of Catherine Green’s novels, the Vampire of Blackpool, and knew she was accomplished as a wordsmith. Sometimes that isn’t enough and whilst I read anything within the vampire genre, I do not particularly resonate with all the sub-genres.

The Darkness of Love is, very simply, a romance with a supernatural element (I'm loathe to say a Paranormal Romance as it was, at its heart, a pure romance). It therefore isn’t within the normal arena of genres I’d gravitate to. However good writing goes a long way and the author produces a sprightly prose, which immediately suggested the time period it was in (late Victorian), rather than spoiling itself with idiosyncratic modernisms but, also, without it feeling bogged down in an interpretation of that age. If I had a complaint around the prose it would be that some of the dialogue seemed forced, but this was rare and I am being very critical raising it.

The story itself was very simple – the aristocrat, unbeknown to wife or servants, is a vampire. He notices the attraction between said wife and stable lad and sees something in the lad himself. What exactly he sees is complex; he sees someone who could rise above his station, he sees a sexually attractive man and he sees someone he could turn and make his heir. For reasons not necessarily adequately explored he decides to lead wife and (newly promoted) lad into temptation – the motivation could have done with more exploration but it, in honestly, felt like the enabling of a ‘romance trope’ in the prose.

The vampires are powerful, they can wipe memory, their feed doesn’t necessarily kill but it will leave the victim weak and “ill”. They can walk in daylight, but it saps their supernatural strengths.

It is a fairly quick read and I would be doing it a disservice if I said that it would not appeal to fans of romances and paranormal romances alike. It definitely would. The writing is strong and I can appreciate that even if the genre failed to ring my bell. 6 out of 10 seems fair to me, balancing strong writing, my view of how others will take it and the fact that it wasn’t quite up my street.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Underworld: Blood Wars – review

Director: Anna Foerster

Release date: 2016

Contains spoilers

This is the fifth Underworld film and my thoughts on the other films in the series can be found at the following links: Underworld, Underworld Evolution¸ Underworld: Rise of the Lycans & Underworld Awakening. Unusually this was the first Underworld film I didn’t see at the cinema – because my most local cinema didn’t show it! Therefore I waited for the DVD.

Now I have a bit of a complex relationship with the series. I really like the first two films (despite one of the performances in the first film) as great action films with a vaguely vampiric story (I say vaguely because it is not overt and could actually stand to have more overt vampiric activity). I was somewhat disappointed with the third film because, as a prequel, it had no sense of danger (we already knew the protagonist and antagonist both survived). The fourth film I actually liked more than others – but not as much as the first two. How would film five hold up?

Kate Beckinsale as Selene
Not brilliantly, to be honest. We get a quick resume of the first films (which manages to get part of the story order wrong – or at least the dialogue allowed such an interpretation) and then we are straight into action as Selene (Kate Beckinsale, Underworld films I, II & IV, & Van Helsing) is chased on a motorbike by a group of goons. She is caught and fights, having been shot with (I guess) harpoon like projectiles to try and capture her. She is joined by David (Theo James, Underworld IV) and the goons are revealed to be lycans (or werewolves to you and I) who are trying to capture Selene for new Lycan leader Marius (Tobias Menzies).

Theo James as David
Selene leaves one lycan alive but wounded to send the message that she doesn’t know where her daughter Eve is (as Marius is trying to get to Eve, and her blood, through her mother). David has been shot and Selene gets him to a vampire safehouse (despite the fact that she has a death sentence judgement passed against her) to remove the projectile, which seems to be burrowing into David faster than he can heal. It turns out to be a drill like thing (that stops turning as soon as removed) and is also described (by the lycans) as a tracer. Suddenly vampires are at the safehouse (it was easy to find her they say).

Charles Dance as Thomas
They are from the last great coven – the Eastern coven. At the request of council member Semira (Lara Pulver, da Vinci’s Demons: The Devil & True Blood), David’s father Thomas (Charles Dance, Underworld IV, Going Postal, Viy (2014) & Dracula Untold) has convinced the vampire council to grant Selene safe passage so that she can train a new generation of Deathdealers (lycan killing troops). They leave, Selene way too easily swayed, as a troop of lycans approach the safehouse.

It means nothing to me... Oh, Vienna
What struck me – as we saw the coven (again an attempt to recreate Ultravox’s Vienna video) in their giant, city central (it would appear) fortress and the lycans all hanging around the main railway station, fighting in wolfman form around the boxcars, is just what were the humans doing? The fourth film established that lycans and vampires has been revealed to the humans who had relentlessly hunted both groups down. This seems to have been utterly forgotten. The rest of the film has betrayal, fighting and some not as good as previous films transformations.

a Lycan
However, for me, it was a story too far. It did nothing new and interesting (except – perhaps – around Selene, an aspect I can’t spoil but was notable for not actually exploring what happened satisfactorily). Likewise, as Selene and David go into the frozen wastes to search out the mysterious Northern coven they (presumably) disembark their train by jumping off in the middle of nowhere (this was implied not shown) and then suddenly are riding mysteriously appearing horses – where’d they come from? What could have bolstered the film was the action but when you compare it to the first two films (the second especially) it lacked the big action set pieces that added a wow factor.

Lara Pulver as Semira
Ok, there are worse out there but this was not hitting the mark for me. 4 out of 10 is generous and reflects the fact that I have a soft-spot for the franchise still, even if this didn’t light my fire.

The imdb page is here.