Tag Archives: Vampires

“Dark Shadows” trailer brings the Camp Vamps…

Channelling his inner Jonathan Frid to fine effect, Johnny Depp in Tim Burton's none-more-gothic "Dark Shadows"...

Neatly side-stepping the negative chatter online about the closeness of the release date and the absence of a trailer, Tim Burton’s upcoming revision of 70’s gothic soap, “Dark Shadows” now has a trailer available and it’s looking pretty keen.

Separated at birth - Eva Green and Heather Graham. Discuss?

The campy and the scary seem intertwined in this first look – we’ve got flashbacks to the tragic past of Johnny Depp’s Barnabas Collins, some broadly comedic swipes at seventies kitsch (Who hasn’t wanted to destroy a TV when the Carpenters showed up on it?) and Eva Green playing a once-spurned  Witch who won’t take no for an answer (she’s handling the scary quite well – if there’s an actress who was born to do gothic and the ‘alluring/menacing’ dichotomy , it’s Eva Green).

"Vampires sparkle? Stake me now..."

The film opens on May 11th and looks like a must-see for me – I’m just hoping that screenwriter John August and Tim Burton can get the clash of tone between daffy comedy and tragic horror to mesh, because my favourite Burton flick is “Sleepy Hollow” and this seems reasonably reminiscent of that film’s vibe.

Plus, Eva Green.  Like, wow

 

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A Reader Writes…

A cornucopia of reading materials.

As previously noted in a post last week, I went abso-blinking-lutely hatstand whilst on holiday and decided to read like a dervish whilst in Scotland.

Part of this disturbing and wholly regrettable chain of events was down to my participation in Good Reads“50 Books In A Year” challenge and needing to keep pace with the remorseless demands of that near-Herculean task, but much of my enthusiasm for it stems from the realisation that I spent a great amount of my youth reading and very little of my adult life has found time for books.

To me, this seems like a crime and a sad state of affairs best addressed by dipping not a toe but my whole, oversized foot into the cool, clear waters of literature before I end up devoting my waking hours entirely to games, blogging and not watching television (seriously, there’s so much nonsense masquerading as programming latterly that I probably consciously watch five hours of TV a week).

So, to the books.

I first read “Summer Knight” by Jim Butcher, which is the fourth book in his “Dresden Files” series of novels about modern-day wizard/P.I. Harry Dresden.  It was such fun that I promptly hopped on Amazon and bought “Storm Front”, the first Dresden novel and winced only slightly at the long list of Dresden Files novels that I should probably think about catching up on.

Gulp.

Thereafter, I raced through “Allison Hewitt Is Trapped” by Madeleine Roux, which is a very entertaining, page-turning tale of a post-zombie apocalypse journey made by the titular character across a United States beset by the walking mostly dead and human beings who are scarcely any better.  It’s told in blog format – the power/working wireless connection issue is promptly and convincingly dealt with – by a narrator who was a bookseller and now finds herself wielding an axe and trying to keep friends alive in the face of all-consuming horror.

Highly recommended if you enjoyed Mira Grant’s “Feed” or Max Brooks’ “World War Z”.

The only real downer in my reading week was Suzanne Collins’ much ballyhooed young adult dystopian fantasy, “The Hunger Games”, which failed to connect with me on any level.  I disliked the way that Collins went out of her way to riff on the ‘kids-fighting-kids’ plotline of “Battle Royale” and then didn’t have the courage to actually make Katniss Everdeen actually (OMG – SPOILERS!) really kill anybody hands-on (OMG – SPOILERS!) during the titular gladitorial contest.  It’s an unforgivable cheat, really, which reduces the emotionally charged notions at the heart of the plot to an anti-septic, at-arms-length episode of “Total Wipeout” with more dead pre-teens and intermittent fireballs.

That’s without even considering the absurd detour into Doctor Moreau territory which arrives – more or less from nowhere – towards the end of the novel.

Perhaps the film will find a way to fix the shortcomings in the book, but as I won’t be seeing it, you’ll have to advise me if the film makers manage that particular uphill battle.

I dipped into David Wellington’s “13 Bullets” but haven’t really continued with it since the end of last week – it hadn’t done enough to grip me by page 80, which I reached through a sense of duty as much as a desire to continue.  If you like your Vampires in the modern day and feral with it, you might enjoy it but I found it a bit dusty and oddly cliched – essentially like at DTV Steven Seagal flick with a decent budget.  To make up the numbers on my book challenge, I should probably see if it clicks with me a little more, but I have my doubts.

The book that I’m working through now is Charles Stross’ dizzying tale of near-future MMO heists and internet crime, “Halting State”.  Dude has 3,000 ideas a minute and the lion’s share of them are present in this book.  It’s almost guaranteed to blow your mind at least once or twice – Drone Cabs!  VR LARPing! Cops who LifeStream record everything! – and is itching (itching, I tells ye!) to be made into a high-end Channel 4 series or an uber-budget Chris Nolan flick.  I’m enjoying it quite a lot – can you tell?

More books and digressive thoughts thereon to follow – whether you like it or not…

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A Season of Vamps: “Fright Night” (2011) review

A rare remake that's worth your time...

(MILD SPOILERS from herein for the new version)

As noted in my previous post, I’m quite a fan of Tom Holland’s 1985 comic horror gem, “Fright Night.  It was genre-aware long before such a thing was fashionable, scary in the right places whilst never being frightened to bring the funny and had characters subject to memorably unpleasant, feral vampire transformations – not so much a case of sporting one or two pronounced fangs as protagonists suddenly looking, well, like this:

Edward Cullen and his photogenic clan of Gap Bloodsuckers this isn’t.

That said, the new “Fright Night”, as directed by Craig Gillespie finds itself entering a cultural space in which vampires have never been more popular but that popularity has arguably come at the expense of some of their credibility and fear-inducing iconography.  Also the vampire in literature has always been a popular conduit for discussing forbidden desire, repressed sexuality and ideas of body horror, the romantic side of the mythos is quite the thing latterly, whether it takes the form of eternal emo teen Edward in Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” novels , the sexy southern gentleman bloodsucker Bill Compton of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books or the tortured angst of Angel in Joss Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” series.

Where to go, then?  Go into the same territory as “30 Days of Night” and make the vampire an implacable, terrifying, predatory threat or make your anti-hero ruggedly handsome and just hope that there’s enough of a vampire fan base to let your guy chomp his way into their hearts?

Hmm. You would, wouldn't you?

To its credit, this iteration of “Fright Night” manages to make its night walking antagonist Jerry, played splendidly by Colin Farrell, into a threat who is both charming and genuinely dangerous, using his rogue’s persona to good effect as a way of ensnaring victims, entrancing would-be enemies and putting the authorities off the scent.  He’s a rougher, more working class guy than I remember Chris Sarandon as being in the original film – this Jerry is a jeans-wearing and six-pack of Budweiser kind of bloke, a fellow who “works nights” on the Vegas strip.   He’s a world away from the refined, elegantly attired, ‘old world’ blood drinker of the Lestat school – he’s the sort of dude you expert you see working on his car in the driveway of his sub-division home, cranking Alice in Chains on the stereo.

Vegas is another change in this version, which is expertly written by “Buffy”/“Angel”veteran, Marti Noxon, and it’s an inspired choice.  The suburban neighbourhood under threat in this version is out in the middle of nowhere, which makes for some striking photography and compositions by cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe, who intriguingly also shot both “New Moon” and “Eclipse” in the “Twilight” series.

Imogen Poots, as Amy, in "Fright Night".

In many ways, “Fright Night” is the best kind of remake.  It takes a much-loved horror comedy and updates it for a contemporary audience without negating the original’s qualities in any way.  The effects work is slightly more elaborate, as befits the CGI era, without going too far into the realm of Flubber-like virtual characters who suspend the viewers belief immediately.  The script is deliciously smart and multi-layered, giving Anton Yelchin’s Charley an interesting arc and a believable, quite charming relationship with his girlfriend, Amy – the oft-underused but always excellent Imogen Poots.

The alterations made to the characters and their motivations are often inspired, never less so than in the case of Peter Vincent, played so memorably in 1985 by the late Roddy McDowell and in this version by the abso-bloody-lutely hilarious David Tennant.

He’s half Criss Angel, half Russell Brand, somewhat of a fraudulent jackass and a an absolute hoot to watch whenever he’s on screen.  In this version, Vincent is a Vegas theatre illusionist rather than the TV horror movie host he was previously but the change allows for many excellent jabs at the artifice of illusion and the cosplay-like nature of a rock-star wannabe like Angel.

I have no idea whether he is as much of a buffoon as Vincent is in this new version but the influence of the self-described ‘Mind Freak’ is so clear that it’s impossible not to erase him from your mind whenever Tennant’s camping it up in leather trousers and bolting for safety at the first sign of supernatural trouble.

"You have to have faith for that to work".

What we have here is a remake which respects the original film but is never in thrall to it.  It expands the canvas whilst keeping the things which worked and improving on them in some ways.  It has a superb cast, genuine moments of unnerving tension, clever and creepy ideas (the holding cells in Jerry’s house – I don’t know why, but the idea just gives me the proverbial wiggins) and a sense of humour which is both up to date (yes, there is a gentle jab at Stephenie Meyer;s fan base) and genuinely funny.

TL: DR version? If you like vampires, see this.  If you like the principal cast, definitely see this.  If you enjoyed the original, see this.  It’s great.

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A Season of Vamps: “Soulless” by Gail Carriger

Book one of the 'Parasol Protectorate' series.

I believe that, back in the dim and ill-storied  pre-history of this blog, I promised a forthcoming review of this very novel.  My somewhat eccentric grasp of the word ‘forthcoming’ notwithstanding, here is that very review.  Not before time, but why unduly rush a good thing?

Gail Carriger‘s first novel in her “Parasol Protectorate” series of Steampunk/Paranormal Romance/Historical tales concerns the adventures of Victorian spinster Alexia Tarabotti, the unfashionably free-thinking and vaguely tolerated eldest daughter of a well-to-do family who has secrets.

Preternatural, ‘I don’t actually have a soul’-type secrets.  The sort that can really put a crimp in one’s social standing and must be kept under wraps at all costs.  Putting aside the notion that the soul is kind of a nebulous, hard-to-grasp concept that you might not really believe in, making Alexia devoid of a soul does serve a neat, plot-friendly purpose in this novel, as it’s her most effective weapon against the other supernatural creatures walking openly through Carriger’s subtly be-Steampunked Victorian London.

Queen Victoria - she knew the score when it came to the Supernatural Classes.

You see, Vampires and Werewolves are out of the closet in this series and don’t skulk in the shadows as they would in other fantasy novels – they’re tolerated, if not entirely accepted, and quite the fashionable inclusion at society parties, albeit under certain strictures and with the eye of civil service-like organisations always on them.

Alexia’s path towards ignoble and anonymous spinsterdom is interrupted rudely by a vampire attack at a social occasion, a state of affairs made much worse by the unfortunate fact that the vampire in question is a rove (or unregistered) creature of the night.  It’s just not the done thing to have a vampire roaming the streets of London who doesn’t belong to a hive and who isn’t under the strict command of a queen – so the question on Alexia’s lips (after she accidentally stakes the creature with her trusty parasol) is ‘where did he come from?’.

And that’s the jumping off point for the book – somebody in London is very interested in creating supernatural creatures and nobody – not annoyingly sexy Scottish Alpha Werewolf  Conall Maccon, nor socially connected, camp-as-Christmas Vampire Lord Akeldama – knows what’s going on and the local Vampire Hive is acting as only Vampire societies in genre fiction can do (by being uptight, nose-in-the-air ancient elitists who want to handle their own murky business and don’t mind if that means that blameless folk die whilst they get to the bottom of things).

Stating upfront that I genuinely enjoyed the novel – I’ve got the next two books in the series in my bedside reading pile, all ready to go – I do have some minor reservations to address about the book.

A minor thing for me – the male characters are a little too archetypal at times.  Lord Akeldama, Alexia’s vampire confidante, is the camp, fashion-fixated Creature of the Night who is equal parts Perez Hilton-esque, networking gossip monger and scheming supernatural king-maker and is accordingly politely ostracised by the society he finds himself in – too supernatural for the night-time world, not proper enough for the daytime establishment.  If your Character Generator bingo card has Akeldama firmly in the ‘Fabulous, Fierce and Fanged’ category, be sure to tick it off now.

Maccon the werewolf is a rough-around-the-edges Scotsman whose habit for speaking his mind puts him on the outs with the genteel social circles which he finds himself moving in.  He’s a sketch rather than a character, but he does become more likeable as the book draws on – and I enjoyed the way that Alexia’s preternatural talent (she can stop vampires in their tracks by touching them, likewise reversing lycanthropic effects in one so cursed by being in physical contact) prevented him from fulfilling the ‘lusty Celtic rogue’ template which he could otherwise have fallen into.

I had to keep reminding myself that a large aspect of the book is its treatment of romance and relationships in a time where no easy roadmap for such territory existed and perhaps my misgivings are drawn from the fact that I don’t usually read fiction where love and sex (or the confusions which arise thereafter) figure greatly.

One thing which irked me, which isn’t due to my gender or previous reading habits, is some of the language used by characters.   A defensive fan might cite the fact that this novel has a sense of anachronism about it by virtue of having Steampunk elements in play and so some relaxation of concern for the speech patterns and idioms of the characters is fair.

Nice try, but no – as it were – cigar.

Even in this period of time, no British person of my acquaintance would use the word ‘figure’ in the context of discovering or mentally juggling with a complex issue.  We don’t ‘figure things out’ – we work things out or solve a problem.  It’s a minor point but it jumps out at a British reader, particularly as the world being drawn is so particular to our history and sense of ourselves.  I know that Alexia is partly of Italian parentage but we’re never told that she’s had any particular contact with America, Americans or American vernacular so it just seems jarring to have her (and other characters) use linguistic forms which probably hadn’t been devised yet.

I know that this is nit-picking of the most mundane variety but it did distract me and it may do the same for you, too.

That minor issue done and dusted with, I have to say that I really enjoyed and recommend the book to you if you like your adventures fast-paced, romantic and witty.  It’s a very well-paced and energetic novel which has to undertake some world-building  initially but does so in a really fairly subtle, quick way which doesn’t burden the reader with retaining lots of information Which Will Become More Important Later On.

Gail Carriger. A fan of tea. As well she should be.

I’ve jumped into the next book in the series, “Changeless”, and in the 10 to 15 pages that I’ve read so far Ms Carriger has addressed some of the issues that I’ve had with the language and tone of the characters – it reads as the work of somebody who is more comfortable with her characters, with the idioms she’s choosing to work with and knows that she has a readership who is going to follow Alexia Tarrabotti’s adventures wherever they might lead.

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A Season of Vamps: “Blood The Last Vampire”

“Blood: The Last Vampire”  is an object lesson in how to take a promising notion and royally squander it.

Based on the 2000 anime of the same title, this live-action adaptation of the story by Luc Besson protege Chris Nahon is about as flawed an attempt at making an action-adventure horror tale as I’ve seen in my many years actively seeking out new and exciting forms of geekery.

I mean, it takes talent to muck up this premise – last remaining pure-blood vampire hunts down her mutated cousins to get closer to the uber-demon Onigen and slay it once and for all – and render it as boringly and indifferently as Nahon manages to do here.

Gianna Jun, in the nerd bait that wasn't, "Blood The Last Vampire"

The Korean actress Gianna Jun plays Saya, the titular Vampire hunter and in all honesty, she gives the best performance in the film.   Her original work was by all accounts dubbed before release and it’s not really that obvious, which suggests that either Jun did a reasonably good job in the first place or that whomever did the ADR for this film is some kind of voice-over ninja.

She’s not really helped in her efforts by a cast which includes J.J. Feild, Liam Cunningham and the usually very reliable Colin Salmon.  As they’re playing archetypes rather than genuinely fleshed-out characters, it’s highly probable that they didn’t have much of any note to work with – they may as well have had ‘turncoat villain’, ‘gruff mentor’ and ‘doomed authority figure’ tattooed on their foreheads to save the audience time.

Allison Miller - Nice jacket and boot-cut jeans, shame about the annoying character.

I can’t say that any of the main cast are really bad – although the second female lead Allison Miller squeals and screams herself hoarse as quite the most annoying audience identification figure that I’ve seen in a film for a while – but the film that they’ve found themselves is a trying exercise in visual style which can’t even function on that most basic of levels.

The special effects, in particular, are shockingly variable – some fantastic practical make-up work is summarily undercut by some of the most jaw-detachingly inept CG work ever committed to film.  Ed Wood, had he lived long enough to see the advent of digital effects, would probably have thought twice before letting some of the demonic creatures like the ones in this film see the light of film in anything which he made.

Rain Fight!

For one thing, Chris Nahon seems to have forgotten how to stage action in the years between his previous Asian action flick, “Kiss of the Dragon”.   The story calls for its vampire heroine to dust all kinds of night walkers into fine paste during the course of her quest and you would think that this would be a relatively easy task to accomplish in the post “Hero”/“House of Flying Daggers” era.  Get some talented action choreographers from the Eastern cinema stable and a gifted stunt team and have some stage some thrilling, wire-assisted mayhem – it’s not too tough, surely?

Apparently, it is.  The action in the film is choppy, hard to follow and devoid of fun – I don’t know whether budget played a factor in what the film makers could pull off (it certainly looks like it cost a pretty penny, so I don’t buy that argument) or whether the actors were not available to train in advance of filming but the result on-screen is one which doesn’t compare to the likes of the Yimou Zhang pictures noted above.  There’s no flow to the action – it’s cut like a Michael Bay film, for pity’s sake – and has none of the balletic grace of the Wu-Xia films we’ve seen in recent years.

The horror aspect, too, is fumbled.  The vampire mythology extends mostly to Saya having lived for a long time and having a bad case of the red contact lenses when she gets a spot of blood lust going, with the film’s take on the undead electing to eschew the vampire staples like slain night crawlers disintegrating or being vaporised by sunlight in favour of a take on vampirism which positions it as a demonic viral infection.

It simultaneously strives for realism whilst also employing a mythical rationale for events which is symptomatic of this film’s confused state – the story is set in Japan in the 1960’s but feels as though it could be a contemporary American high school where everybody’s seriously into their LARP-ing and cosplaying, as the set decor, costumes and attitudes of the younger actors portraying the military brats attending the local US army base school seem so anachronistic that it can’t help but jar you out of the film.

I could go on but all that you really need to know is that this isn’t a rental choice for anyone but hardcore vampire fans, Gianna Jun’s followers or bloggers who want off-the-beaten track genre flicks to watch for their ongoing series of posts.  Everyone else can stay away and be content in the knowledge that they’re really not missing anything much.

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A Season of Vamps – “Dark Shadows”

I’m not sure how this latest Tim Burton/Johnny Depp Goth Bro-Fest is going to play out, but it at least looks like it has the possibility of being fun.

And when was the last time that you could say that?

I’ve not personally enjoyed a Depp/Burton collaboration since the glorious “Sleepy Hollow” back in 1999 – and I’m hoping that this gothic soap opera adaptation is rather more akin to that film’s loving appropriation of Hammer horror iconography and genuine scares than the pallid, ‘chuck some CG at the screen and see what sticks’ work that Burton’s been turning out for the last decade or so.

The seventies setting of “Dark Shadows” is an interesting choice (I imagine it must seem as far away as the 1880’s to younger audiences) and the cast is to die for, with Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Lee, Alice Cooper, some dame called Helena Bonham Carter all rising from their graves in support of Depp’s curiously-hairstyled vampire playboy, Barnabas Collins.

Come on Tim – make a good film again.

 

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“Underworld: Awakening” is for adults, apparently.

Well, this is a turn-up for the books.

Da Becks.

The BBFC – Britain’s film classification organization, who are like a more accountable MPAA  – have a very useful website which gives consumers information about classification decisions (along with some very useful release date information) and it’s only gone and told me that “Underworld: Awakening” has been passed uncut in the UK with an 18 rating.

It contains ‘strong, bloody violence and horror’, apparently.  If I were a kid today, I’d love a site like this – it would make my film watching choices so much easier, particularly when using the BBFC’s informative and only slightly hilarious Extended Content Information notes, which perhaps work in a fashion different to their intent.  If you want to know what films you SHOULD be watching for sex, violence and the like, the ECI notes are your very best friends on the internet.

Theo James in "Underworld: Awakening".

I’m sure that the good people at Sony and Screen Gems might have preferred a slightly more inclusive rating which didn’t bar tweens and teens from seeing the flick but I have to quietly voice a sigh of calm relief – the ratio of ‘kids ignoring the film and texting their friends’ to ‘nerds who, you know, want to watch the film‘ is going to be that much more biased in my favour.

Hurray for censorship (or not, in this case)!

For those of you who want some more clips and Vamps-vs-Lycans shenanigans, you can check out five clips and some new images at Beyond Hollywood’s preview page.

 

 

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