Monday, January 22, 2018

Constructing Horror in Dracula: Novel, Stage & Screen – review

Author: Wayne Pigeon-Coote

First published: 2016

Contains spoilers

The blurb: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) creates a set of horrors that elicit a range of disturbing interpretations from readers, and in turn the novel poses significant challenges for the shaping of stage and screen adaptations: it is however a durable and versatile cultural commodity. This work identifies the horrors of vampirism in Dracula and how these are constructed to engage with themes of sexuality, disease and race. It shows that Dracula’s horrors are defamiliarizing, foreign and supernatural, yet came uncannily close to home for contemporary readers. It demonstrates the impact of the novel’s violent and sexualized content, and ponderous epistolary form, on the process of adapting it for the stage. It also evidences the tradition of including a love-story component between vampire and victim, and how this impacts upon the construction of horror in film adaptations.

The Review: This reference work by Wayne Pigeon-Coote straddles a line between an academic paper and full-length work, coming in at just 50 pages.

It is perhaps in this limited size that a weakness creeps into the work for the book is unable to fully take in the breadth of Dracula studies (though even a fuller tome would struggle to do that), especially as the author bravely tackles the novel, stage versions and films over the three chapters. Indeed it is difficult in the allotted space to take in the breadth of the topics identified within the blurb, so rich is the material and discourse.

The book is well referenced and the arguments crisp and thought through – not that I agreed with every assertion but I could certainly appreciate the arguments behind them.

When it came to Stoker’s novel, the author’s look at New Woman is interesting, however I would have liked to have seen an exploration of Mina as New Woman as well as Lucy – the two characters offering different sides of the movement’s coin. I’ll add that I subscribe, personally, to the reading of the staking of Lucy as an act of symbolic sexual violence – underpinned by the multiple paganic hammer blows – but understand why this author focuses on it as more of an ordeal for the men, even if my reading differs.

I have to admit that I am less than familiar than I would like with the form of Dracula as a staged production and I found the chapter enlightening. However, I am, of course, very familiar with the films covered. Those being Nosferatu, The Horror of Dracula and Dracula (1992).

Within a thoughtful discussion there was perhaps mileage, when discussing Horror of Dracula and “the enemy within”, to draw the reader's attention to the cultured tones of Lee’s English accent delivering Dracula’s dialogue.

When it came to the 1992 film I think a trick was perhaps missed – whilst exploring the love story side – by not also touching on the 1973 Dan Curtis’ directed Dracula, which introduced the trope of reincarnated love into the cinematic Dracula lore and, itself, sourced that from Curtis’ own Dark Shadows. Perhaps then, just as Dracula (the novel) can be identified as a primary progenitor of the vampire genre going forward, we can also identify Dracula cannibalising aspects of its media children to evolve and develop new tropes?

If I have mentioned missed opportunities, perhaps an area of exploration or two, it is because this work demands a larger study by the author. However, within the self-imposed limitations I was very impressed and it deserves a solid 8 out of 10.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Short Hiatus

Hi guys, Taliesin here.

I'm taking a short blog hiatus for a week. You'll get more toothsome goodness soon.

In the meantime keep the comments coming. Authorisation is on, but I'll be checking periodically whilst on break.

See you in a week.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Strain: Season 3

Directors: Various

First aired: 2016

Contains spoilers

It is true to say that I fell behind with the Strain, having watched Season 1 and Season 2 this season just seemed to slip off radar for some reason.

That has been made up for and I did really enjoy this third outing into the world based on the books by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. I say based on because, more and more, the seasons slipped away from the exact story – keeping the shape but not the detail. This was a deliberate move to keep those who had read the books engaged, I understand, and it works. No character is safe, no character sacrosanct (though perhaps not to the standard of the Walking Dead).

Fet and Dutch
In looking at Season 2 I complained that things felt too stretched out but the balance was that much better in this season with a real sense that society was crumbling and a ride along with those trying to prevent its decent into chaos by any means necessary (in stories that were new to the reader of the novels). As such this worked well. Further, a sidelining of one of the more annoying characters and some deliberate focusing on better characters (specifically the backstory material for the born strigoï Quinlan (Rupert Penry-Jones)) helped carry the viewer along.

core anatomy
There is little to say about the core lore that hasn't been covered in previous reviews – however this season did introduce us in detail to strigoï anatomy – and we get to see how (physically) they are able to hive mind (through a concentrated ball of blood worms in the brain) though ultimately this is a physical manifestation of the supernatural. With the season ending on a cliffhanging plunge into disaster, the dark hue of the programme’s heart is well and truly on show. 7.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Anno Dracula 1895 – Seven Days in Mayhem – review

Author: Kim Newman

Artist: Paul McCaffrey

First published: 2017 (tpb)

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: It is 1895, Count Dracula is Prince Regent and undisputed ruler of the British Empire, his power is supreme and unchecked. The curse of vampirism has spread far and wide through all levels of society and through all ranks of the British government. Now, on the verge of Dracula's 10th Anniversary of rule, anti-Dracula forces in the guise of the Council of the Seven Days are gathering. The Council - a secret cabal of free radicals, made up of vampires and humans alike have sworn to overthrow the Crown Prince of Darkness at any cost. They plan to sabotage the Jubilee with a devastating bomb attack. Now vampire journalist Kate Reed must uncover the truth and unmask the true conspirators behind the sinister plot or risk plunging both human and vampire kind into ruin and disaster from which no side will recover...

The review: I mentioned when reviewing Anno Dracula: One Thousand Monsters that it was good to get back to a nineteenth century timeframe. In this graphic novel we not only do that but also return to Victorian London and spend the story with vampire Kate Reed – a character cut from Stoker’s Dracula, she appears in the author's notes as a friend of Mina, but is made a wholly rounded journalist character through Newman’s series.

We also see Princess Christina Light – a light based vampire – in her revolutionary role that is alluded to in One Thousand Monsters – the hypocrisy of this is touched upon in both this and the prose volume. This, therefore, gives an in-depth backstory for one of the primary One Thousand Monsters characters.

If I struggled at all, it was with the artwork. Not that it is terrible, in fact it is rather good. However it felt a little well-lit, colourful even. In my mind’s eye the Anno Dracula universe was dark, gloomy, oppressive. This never felt so. Clearly Titan (who produced the book) and Newman as author were happy with the direction and it is a very personal gripe but it just took a little away from the whole thing for me. That said, in our brief meeting with Dracula, I was impressed with the look he was given. 6.5 out of 10.

My thanks to Sarah, who bought me this for Christmas.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Anno Dracula: One Thousand Monsters – review

Author: Kim Newman

First published: 2017

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: “There are no vampires in Japan. That is the position of the Emperor. The Emperor is wrong...”

In 1899 Geneviève Dieudonné travels to Japan with a group of vampires exiled from Great Britain by Prince Dracula. They are allowed to settle in Yōkai Town, the district of Tokyo set aside for Japan’s own vampires, an altogether strange and less human breed than the nosferatu of Europe. Yet it is not the sanctuary they had hoped for, as a vicious murderer sets vampire against vampire, and Yōkai Town is revealed to be more a prison than a refuge. Geneviève and her undead comrades will be forced to face new enemies and the horrors hidden within the Temple of One Thousand Monsters…

The review: Kim Newman hit on a fantastic concept in 1992 when he published Anno Dracula, a revisionism of Stoker’s novel in which the vampire won and subsequently married Queen Victoria and vampirism mainstreamed. The first novel took place in 1888 but subsequent novels decamped from the nineteenth century and were based through the twentieth (there were short stories set in the nineteenth).

This novel returns to the nineteenth century (or the very last gasp thereof) and the opening was published as a teaser in Anno Dracula 1899 and Other Stories. It sees a group of vampires, exiled by Dracula, appear as refugees in Tokyo. Offered sanctuary of a sort (the Emperor refused to accept that there are vampires in japan thus there are not) the vampires are taken to Yokai Town, a walled off ghetto where yokai are placed. In this Newman reimagines the various yokai as vampire types (not all blood drinkers, one subsists on tea that he has stolen – and it has to be stolen).

As in his other books in the universe Newman mashes up (alternative) history, mythology, literature and movies – drawing from all areas. Therefore one of the primary vampires in this is Drusilla from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the book contains the origin story of Popeye (not named that) and a kyonsi. The vampire Christina Light is a Princess (originally an American who married into nobility) and a revolutionary. Interestingly her vampire character is light based, being almost luminescent she is described at one point as sparkling. From a Japanese point of view there are appearances of characters/creatures as diffuse as Goke from Goke: Body Snatcher from Hell to various traditional yokai such as kappa, Kasa-obake and Rokurokubi. The primary yokai (though hidden for much of the book) is the Yukki-Onna – the legendary Snow Woman literally consumes heat (sometimes blood, but preferred cold) and the backstory we are given is the folkloric one, which was filmed in Kwaidan. This level of mash-up is a strength but, in this volume, it teeters on being a weakness.

The writing is as crisp as one would expect from Newman but the primary narrative is perhaps less convoluted than in other volumes and this gives more room for mash-up and one felt, just on the odd occasion, that perhaps a level of geek fan-service was being applied too thickly. That is a matter of taste and opinion, of course, and was only a minor grumble. Newman is a fantastic storyteller and strong composer of prose and so for the most part this is all you would wish for in an Anno Dracula book – especially as it moved back into the origin century (even if the setting was somewhat more exotic) 8 out of 10.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Mr. Higgins Comes Home – review

Author: Mike Mignola

Artist: Warwick Johnson Cadwell

First published: 2017

Contains spoilers

The blurb: Preparations begin at Castle Golga for the annual festival of the undead, as a pair of fearless vampire killers question a man hidden away in a monastery on the Baltic Sea. The mysterious Mr. Higgins wants nothing more than to avoid the scene of his wife's death, and the truth about what happened to him in that castle. However, these heroic men sworn to rid the world of the vampire scourge, inspire Higgins to venture out and to end the only suffering he really cares about--his own.

The review: Professor J J Meinhardt and his assistant Mr Knox are heading into the Carpathians to deal with the vampire Count Golga. Their plans discovered. Meinhardt refuses to retreat but the Count Golga – who is due to have his annual Walpurgisnacht celebration – is also concerned and decides to invite the Professor as a guest.

The professor has taken it upon himself to recruit Mr Higgins. Now living as a patient in a monastery, a younger Higgins and his new bride Mary, were ‘guests’ of the Golga’s whilst on their honeymoon, a situation that ended with Mary preyed upon and Mr Higgins become a werewolf. The Professor cuts a deal with him that if he, as a survivor of the castle, leads them to the crypt, then he will give Higgins the death he craves.

This was a beautifully realised short Graphic, with beautiful, appropriate artwork (noting that Mignola produced the cover art but Cadwell’s art comprises a more delicate style that worked ever-so-well) and a story that owed much to the vampire films of yore – especially films such as the Fearless Vampire Killers, to which the story owes a very specific debt and would seem to be a love letter to.

If there was a complaint it would be in the length. Coming in at 49 pages, this is almost a single-issue comic in a hardbound cover. There was much that could have been expanded on but, you know what, I think if Mignola had stretched the story out and lengthened the novel then an essential element might have been lost. Sometimes less is more and this would seem to be the case here.

My thanks to Dave, who alerted me about the volume, and Sarah, who bought it for me for Christmas. 9 out of 10.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Honourable mention: Lore: They Made a Tonic

This was the first episode of the first season of a made for Amazon series (based on a podcast, I understand) and directed by Darnell Martin. It is, going by this episode, a dramatized documentary and this episode roots us into the folklore of the vampire – specifically the folklore (and events) emerging from 19th Century New England.

As it opens a simple animation takes us through the story of Mary E Hart who died but was disinterred (due to a dream, apparently) and was found to have been buried alive – if the scratches on the coffin and the horror etched into her features were to be believed.

The fear (and reality) of being buried alive was fascinating, of course, but had little to do with the case the episode goes on to explore – that of Mercy Brown (played age 10 by Pamela Riley Sauve and age 19 by Hannah Culwell). I assume most readers will know the story but for those who don’t Mary’s mother and sister (Mary Simmons) died of consumption (tuberculosis). Her brother (Connor Hammond) later became ill and was sent away for treatment. Whilst he was away Mercy sickened and died.

Ill again
On his return he became Ill again and her father (Campbell Scott) was approached with the idea that a demon could rest in the heart of a person, kill them and then have them continue to kill from beyond the grave. If the corpse of a recently deceased was found to be fresh – with blood in the heart – then the demon resided there. Reluctantly he allowed his wife and daughter to be disinterred and then they opened Mercy’s coffin, declared her the one (despite, as he points out in the dramatization, that she died after her mother and sister), cut out her heart and liver, incinerated them and gave the ashes in water to the sick brother as a tonic – he died despite this (unsurprisingly).

a spectral Mercy
Mercy’s case made American newspapers and so is rather famous – though the idea that it inspired Dracula is a stretch. Stoker certainly knew about the case (and had a press clipping in his notes for Dracula) but the likelihood is that the writing of the book was well underway when he found the clipping and, whilst it may have played a little into the novel's ideas, its role of “original inspiration” is unlikely. The dramatization does see a spectral Mercy walking the halls and grounds of the family home but the episode does not suggest this is actually happening and is for atmosphere (nothing I have read suggests that her father was anything other than sceptical but resigned about the desecration).

checking the corpse
The actual dramatization moments are well shot but I found the veering off onto concerns about being buried alive to be superfluous. The narration by Aaron Mahnke was nothing special but did what it had to do. There was more that could have been explored around other acts of disinterment of suspected American vampires – the excellent work of Michael Bell indicates this was not an isolated case, just the most publicised.

The imdb page is here.