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Monday, June 29, 2009

Rowing with the Wind

"Why can I never learn to swim?"
"Because you do not want to. You have only to throw yourself into the water and float, then learn to move your arms."

For years I've been fascinated by the Villa Diodati party of 1816-- that famous gathering of Byron, Shelley, Mary soon-to-be-Shelley, her sister Claire, and John Polidori. The party figures in a novel I'm working on, so recently everything I consume seems likely to be drenched in Romanticism. (Literally, my evenings are spent moving from reading THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK or whatever might be requested, to editing and listening to Rob Zombie, to reading Byron and Shelley.)

Curiously, the events of the Diodati Part-- which are told very well in the recent book The Monsters: Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein-- have been made into several movies, all of which came out in the mid-80s. Catch them if you can. The greatest and weirdest is Ken Russell's Gothic, which attempts to capture the fever-dream weirdness of the Haunted Summer. There is one I haven't seen-- Haunted Summer, starring Eric Stolz and Alice Krige, a film now so obscure it's apparently not even being bootlegged anywhere.

But up til last week I was completely unaware of Rowing with the Wind, a strange Spanish-produced (but English-language) version from 1988, starring Hugh Grant as Lord Byron and Valentine Pelka as Shelley.

Unlike Gothic, Rowing with the Wind is not a work of grand vision. (Russell's film is something I need to post about separately.) Rather it's more of a magical realist picture where fantastic and horrible things happen but we understand them to be visions. There is one persistent vision in the film: Mary Shelley's creature, which haunts her. Rowing with the Wind is actually pretty funny-- Hugh Grant was never my idea of Lord Byron but plays the part with deft ironic abandon. He's always either making a cruel comment or screaming to the heavens, and seems to be half-joking the whole time.

(I should note that "Byron's" hair is also quite strange, beginning with a sort of up do that would have made sense in a Thompson Twins video, and finishing the film with some luxurious rock star locks.)

Still, it's a haunting film in parts-- the idea of the movie is that the tragedy of Mary Shelley's life-- an awful parade of drownings, suicides and infant death-- are a curse, a cosmic punishment that follows her for reasons unknown. On this point I can agree; her life was full of most horrendous pain.

Does the movie work, as a movie? Not as well as it should; it drags from episode to episode, sometimes having the feel of a TV biopic. Several of the events are out of context or compressed, a side-effect of any biopic.

On the other hand, the conceit of the creature-- here seen as a disturbing ghoul fairly similar to his description in Shelley's book-- actually following these characters around and cursing them is an interesting one. For one thing, it lets the filmmakers quote liberally from scenes from Frankenstein, especially around the death of William, Mary's son, and the fictional William, Victor Frankenstein's young brother.

I liked seeing the Romantics presented at roughly the correct age -- in 1816, Byron was 28, Shelley was 24, Polidori was 21, and Claire and Mary were 18. Here, only Polidori, played by a late-forties Spaniard, is miscast. (By contrast, in Gothic-- which again is a way more interesting film-- the ages of the actors are completely wrong.) The record will show that after the Summer which birthed The Vampire, Childe Harold Canto IV, and Frankenstein, Polidori would be dead in five years, Shelley a year later, and Byron two years after that. Within eight years, all but Mary and her sister Claire were dead. In between were tragedies no parent should ever endure, and they endured them again and again. The darkness of these things don't play as well against the humor of Byron and Shelley, and it's possible this is on purpose.

See this one back to back with Gothic.

I'm going to post the trailers for each film, with a caveat. The only trailer I can find for Rowing with the Wind is in Spanish. The DVD isn't, but the trailer is. (The movie was made in Spain.) The trailer for Gothic, from the same period, is not in Spanish, though I guess it would have been fun to find a Spanish language version of that one, too.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A peek at the First Draft Process

Friday roundup of projects I'm working on:

ALEX VAN HELSING #1-- this book is due on July 20. I wrote the first draft over a couple of months, using a schedule that required steady work but no more than two or three hours of a writing night, and only a few nights a week. The trick is to schedule it and get it done. I tend to use a writing strategy I call "Astronaut," after the old adage than an astronaut solves problems by taking the time he or she has and parceling it out in a plan. I shorten "Astronaut" into the adage: if you're out of time, schedule it.

So I scheduled the first draft of Alex Van Helsing carefully-- first in a bulleted outline, then an Excel Document outline. Excel outlines are useful because you can set up a column showing whether you've completed the chapter or section. I also set up a reverse counter indicating how long the manuscript was in draft form.

I have a first draft of the novel completed and after taking a few days off, for the last few nights I've been slowly going through the draft the old-fashioned way, with an enormous printout and a pen. The basic progress (I wrote this down recently) goes like this-- I really don't look at the first draft much until I have the whole thing done, then I do a lot of reading:
  • a quick read-through to catch big mistakes
  • another to start adding in missing scenes ("pickup scenes") that establish certain things you may have forgotten to establish
  • another to really fix up sentences and sometimes perform major surgery, removing scenes or changing descriptions, or making some major change, like changes of locale or removing/adding subplots. If I decide Alex has a fixation on mermaids (he doesn't) then that must pepper his speech-- a change like that has ripples all through the book.
That's before you actually turn the book in and deal with revision requests from the publisher. So right now we're about in Bullet #1.

Meanwhile, I notice MTV has an article up on the new "Nazi Kill Calculator" in Wolfenstein, a game I was a consulting writer on. I did some dialog punch-ups as a deep, deep fan of this series, so naturally I'm very excited.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Nadja on DVD

I watched Nadja over the last couple of days-- if you don't recall it, this is a vampire movie in the same sense that Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary is a vampire movie-- which is to say it's an art movie first and a vampire movie someehere about ninth. Look, this should settle it for you: Nadja is in black and white and was produced in 1993 by David Lynch. Sound like something you'd like? I'll bet you already know.

For vampire fans there is indeed some wonderful stuff here. At the heart of the film is Elina Lowensohn as Nadja, a vampire in New York. Lowensohn is completely entrancing as the vampire-- sexy but almost unassuming and even innocent in her delivery. She is a sort of slow-talking manic pixie dream girl they build romantic comedies around, except that eventually she is going to kill you. It's a riveting performance; the movie loses some steam anytime she's not onscreen.

Nadja is, in fact, the daughter of Dracula, whom Nadja senses has died and whose death has sent Nadja into paroxysms of existential angst. This is the kind of movie where existential angst involves a lot of dancing to house music and slowly walking through Manhattan to Portishead. The look of the film is mesmerizing; the beauty of black and white sometimes leads me to wonder if a lot of films wouldn't play better this way-- would THE THING be better if you turned off the color? What about HALLOWEEN? Nadja picks up lovely young bride Lucy and falls in love with her, but unfortunately Lucy is already married, and her husband hangs out with an uncle named Van Helsing.

The rest of the cast is playing bonkers material with expert deadpan. Peter Fonda turns in his kookiest performance ever, playing Van Helsing as a thoroughly mad vampire hunter whose slow delivery and matter-of-fact discussion of vampires and the need to hunt him deflect from his own insanity. Between the hunter and the hunted are the young, troubled couple Jim and Lucy, played by Martin Donovan and Galaxy Craze.

Nadja cannot be watched as straight narrative because it's too much a movie about vampire movies, or about the idea of vampire movies, I think. The dialog is generally ironic and played entirely straight (early on, Nadja tells the mortuary attendant: "We have come for the body of Count Voivoida Armenios Ceau┼čescu Dracula. I believe there is a wooden stake in the heart. You will take us to him.") In the trailer, these lines sound hilarious, but in the movie the humor is much more muted, daring you to laugh.

Two very interesting ideas in amongst all the angst, which when you get down to it is the same angst every vampire movie references, although here it's much more beautifully done. But besides the angst we get this:
- first, this movie owes a great deal to DRACULA'S DAUGHTER almost to the point of being a remake, both in basic plot and many visuals, especially the garb of Nadja and her languid servant. Here's the trailer for that lovely film

- second, I'm fascinated by the presentation here of Dracula, recently dead, here presented as having been tired, washed up, "like Elvis in the end," sad and confused and so prone to being killed that he must have been suicidal. It's interesting to hear of Dracula dying of ennui.

Haunting and sometimes slow to the point of sleepiness, Nadja is perhaps the best genuine art house vampire movie ever. If that sounds like something you would appreciate-- it's certainly something I appreciate, although it's fun to switch from this to something more traditional like HORROR OF DRACULA-- then I recommend it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Podcast review of Sword of Dracula at Midnight Podcast

I have no idea how I missed this, but over at Midnight Podcast, at the end of April, host Corey reviewed (extensively) the original Sword of Dracula, and it was a really great review-- since Midnight Podcast is dedicated to zombies, this was a review straight up our alley-- after all, at the end of SOD: Season 1, you have skyscrapers full of zombie, and downtown Dallas turned into Hell on Earth. Check it out, and be sure and give the whole podcast a listen. This is a dedicated, enthusiastic zombie resource, complete with segments on how YOU will survive-- or not-- after the Zombie Holocaust.

Alex Van Helsing in Sword of Dracula: Flashback

Working on finishing the rough draft of Alex Van Helsing #1 this week, but here's a fun flashback-- a reminder of the role Alex played in the original Sword of Dracula series, from Line of Fire, April 2004.

Alex Van Helsing, Ronnie’s brother, has a strange premonition that causes him to call his sister. This phone call causes Ronnie to go about freeing Dracula. His escape from his capsule is very, very cool. It is a squence that you have to see – Belk’s art is really good and it shows in this sequence. Why does Ronnie let the king of the vampires go? Well, we’ll have to wait until the next issue.

In that scene, Alex was an adult, years after the events of Alex Van Helsing #1, which will be out next Summer.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Blood of Dracula

This weekend I came a few thousand words closer to completing a rough draft of Alex Van Helsing #1, so after a decent writing session I kicked back and watched the glorious 1957 "Girls Gone Vampiric" movie Blood of Dracula AKA Blood of the Demon AKA Blood is My Heritage.

Mind you, this is not a Dracula movie and it probably would have done better had it gone out under a name similar to the earlier works of the same crew, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein and I Was a Teenage Werewolf. But who cares? Halfway through this movie, when a Fabian-like "bad" boy interrupts a girls'-school pajama party to croon a mildly rock & roll number ("Puppy Love," but not the one you know) I turned to my wife and said, "this is officially the best 1950s girls' school vampire movie ever."

The plot? Teen Nancy is a girl with some behavioral issues and a nasty dislike for her new step-mom, so in true 1950s movie fashion, Nancy's Dad ships her off to the Sherwood School for girls, led by the well-meaning and long-suffering Mrs. Thorndyke.

No sooner does Nancy arrive at Sherwood but she is harassed and then recruited by the girl gang called "The Birds of Paradise," who are monstrous, monstrous girls engaged in such well-known gang activities as flirting, having sleepovers and going on scavenger hunts. Also, the gang leadership demands they clean up after themselves and is a respected teacher's assistant. Somewhere these rebels have missed the concept, but luckily Nancy is a genuine rebel with genuinely anti-social tendencies, so naturally Nancy is soon under the close study of Mrs. Branding, a psychiatrist who has some kind of theory about unleashing our inner demons, or something. Did I mention that Nancy becomes a vampire?

This movie is fantastic. Yes, it's full of leaden performances, a plot that makes no sense, and stupendously stupid dialogue. But I couldn't take my eyes off of it-- it's easy to make fun of movies like this, but it's impossible to make them boring.

(Note-- the images in this entry are all from that amazing source for teenage horror movie information, the American International Pictures TEENAGE HORROR FACTORY. DO check it out.)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Arise, Sir Dracula! Queen knights Christopher Lee

From the Associated Press, we have news that the greatest Dracula of the movies has become a knight of the British Empire. Lee changed the way the character would be regarded forever-- before Lee, horror fans had Lugosi only to contend with. Since then, it's been Lee and Lugosi neck and neck, with no challenger unseating them yet.

Great timing for Lee's followers, as the Prince of Darkness' cape is expected to be auctioned at Bonham's tomorrow.

Arise, Sir Dracula! Queen knights Christopher Lee

By RAPHAEL G. SATTER – 2 days ago

LONDON (AP) — The Lord of the Undead is now a knight of the British Empire.

Christopher Lee, whose sonorous voice and burning black eyes made him a memorable arch-villain in films from "Dracula" to "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith," was given one of Britain's highest honors Saturday by Queen Elizabeth II.

Golfer Nick Faldo, captain of Europe's 2008 Ryder Cup team, was also promoted to "sir." He can add the title to his six major championship wins.

Among the others receiving royal honors: Tony-award winning actor Alan Cumming, for his work in films such as "X2: X-Men United" and his gay rights advocacy; celebrity hairdresser Vidal Sassoon, who lent his name to a worldwide brand of shampoos and salons; and U.S. economist David Blanchflower, who accurately predicted Britain's recession during his tenure on the interest rate-setting committee at the Bank of England.

Celebrity chef Delia Smith, whose recipe books adorn kitchens around the world, was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, or CBE, for her help in teaching the country how to cook.

Poetry also got a boost, with Andrew Motion and Christopher Ricks both awarded knighthoods. Motion was Britain's Poet Laureate for a decade until he was replaced by Carol Ann Duffy earlier this year. Ricks steps down from his post of Oxford Professor of Poetry later this year.

Lee, 87, who made his name in Britain's low-budget Hammer Studios horror films, is one of cinema's consummate bad-guys, appearing as everything from Bond villain Scaramanga in "The Man With the Golden Gun" to the disreputable Russian mystic in "Rasputin, the Mad Monk."

More recent turns include the evil wizard Saruman in "The Lord of the Rings" movies and fallen Jedi Count Dooku in two of George Lucas' "Star Wars" prequels.

Faldo first picked up a golf club at age 14 and has gone on to win more than 40 tournaments. His six major victories include a triumph at the U.S. Masters in 1996 and the Nissan Open in 1997. The 51-year-old has since made a series of entrepreneurial moves — into fairground design and television commentary, among others.

Cumming was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, or OBE; Blanchflower and Sassoon were both made CBE.

Lee, Faldo, and the rest are among 984 people honored in Queen Elizabeth II's Birthday Honors list.

In descending order, the main honors are knighthoods, Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and Officer of the Order of the British Empire, OBE, and Member of the Order of the British Empire, or MBE.

Knights are addressed as "sir" or "dame," while recipients of CBEs, OBEs and MBEs have no title but can put the letters after their names.

The honors are bestowed twice a year by the monarch, but recipients are selected by committees of civil servants from nominations made by the government and the public.

Although sportsmen, politicians, and artists regularly top the list, more than two-thirds of the honors go to people out of the limelight, especially civil servants and those with long service to their communities.

This year's recipients include a former elementary school janitor from Aberdeenshire in Scotland and an information desk assistant at Belfast International Airport in Northern Ireland.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Dracula's Cape at Auction


Christopher Lee's Dracula Cape is to be auctioned off Tuesday at Bonham's in London.

So, what cape are we talking about? We're talking about this one-- seen here in a 1958 trailer for DRACULA.

At article at the Evening Standard has this nice tidbit:
The highest estimate is for the Dracula cape. It was only identified by Lee two years ago after becoming lost in the cavernous Angels warehouse, which has eight miles of clothing rails, in Hendon.

Soon after Dracula was made in 1958 the garment was accidentally mixed up with other capes and hired out, without fanfare, to producers looking to dress extras in medieval or nativity scenes.

Lot details from the auction page:

Lot No: 251†W
Christopher Lee as Dracula from Dracula (aka Horror of Dracula),
A black opera style cape, of wool, being full length, with collar, with silk effect rope tie to neck, together with a letter signed by Christopher Lee, on Angels headed note paper, dated 15 May 2007, stating "To Whom It May Concern, This is to certify that the black cape presented with this letter is an original from the Hammer film Dracula - 1958. Christopher Lee", and a still image of Lee wearing the cape as Dracula

Estimate: £20,000 - 30,000

Place Bid or Track Lot

View all items in the Sale

Contact the Specialist to discuss this lot or sale
Email: Stephanie Connell
Tel: +44 (0)8700 273 620

Contact the Specialist to discuss selling in a future sale
Email: Stephanie Connell
Tel: +44 (0)8700 273 620

To subscribe to or order a Printed Catalogue quote ref: 16808
Tel: +44 (0) 1666 502 200

Christopher Lee is regarding by many as the definitive Dracula. This cape featured in the 1958 film, which was Lee's first appearance as the character and is a classic of the Hammer horror genre.

The cape was missing for over 30 years and discovered within the Angels collection in 2007.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Blood Ties cont.-- review

-- I promised to follow up with a review of Blood Ties once I had a chance to watch it, and so here we are.

At the start of Blood Ties, someone-- possibly a vampire-- is killing people in Toronto, and three different investigations are underway: one led by copy Norman Bridewell, slick and blond, one from Vicki Nelson, PI, a former cop whose bad vision caused her to leave both the force and her affair with Norman, and one from Henry Fitzroy, a Jim-Morrison-attractive, dark-haired vampire whose casual life of charm and seduction has been interrupted by a fear that humans will decide to hunt him down over crimes he didn't commit. These three investigations soon meet, and form the cornerstone of the series, which is a nice blend of genres-- a crime show with a unique female lead, and a vampire story that treats its vampirism with a matter-of-factness we might call innocent.

In the universe of crime shows, PIs have authority that they generally don't in real life-- they talk tough and bartenders give up information readily. It's the way these things work-- Vicki is that kind of PI, except that her blurred vision, glasses and neatly drawn-back hair are a charming departure from the norm.

The DVD Set includes the whole first season, but Episodes 1 and 2 form the Pilot, which means the action has to serve the double duty of telling an episodic story (in this case, about a small-time nerd who's discovered how to summon a murderous, slightly bigger-time demon) while also introducing the world and the main characters. This leads to a lot more explaining in the dialog than you will ever have again-- though the story Henry tells of how he became a vampire is earnest and compelling and marks the point at which the characters come into their own-- supernatural naturalism.

I like that Vicki is immune to Henry's mojo, at least the kind he uses for the Jedi-mind-trick style questioning and suggestion he likes to pull on the random people he meets. When Henry he tries to hypnotize her as they first meet, Vicki snaps, "You might want to take that hand off my arm before I snap it off at the wrist."

This is popcorn, pure and simple, but as any fan of SLINGS AND ARROWS who also watched STUDIO 60 will tell you, there's usually a Canadian "version" of your favorite show that's probably better, and that goes for popcorn, too.

Of course vampire stories are evergreen, which is why creators get to use them in so many ways; we have romance vampire stories, terrorist vampire stories, superhero vampire stories. BLOOD TIES is a surprise-- an exciting mesh of crime drama and supernatural romance with a cool heroine at its center.

Blood Ties on DVD

I've just gotten Season 1 of vampire crime-drama Blood Ties on DVD-- just released-- but have yet to review it. I promise to get a review up soon!

In the meantime, here's a cool fan-made trailer for this vampire show, with one of my favorite songs:

The Blood Ties Announcement is below:

Eagle Rock Entertainment To Release


First Season Of The Smash Lifetime Series On 4DVD Set

~June 2, 2009~

New York, NY -Although Eagle Rock Entertainment are best known for releasing outstanding music DVDs, their audio-visual entertainment programming also includes film, television series, comedy specials, and documentaries. This summer will kick off with the release of the acclaimed Lifetime series Blood Ties – Season 1 on June 2 (Retail Sales Price $26.99, Pre-book Order Date May 13).

This impressive 4DVD set features the original 13 episodes of the series. Bonus material includes a behind-the-scenes documentary and trailer. Blood Ties is based on the book series written by Tanya Huff, which is currently in its 17th printing. Touted as “A Crime Series, With Bite,” Blood Ties follows the wild success of other vampire dramas, such as Twilight and True Blood. Blood Ties is not your typical crime drama, and the release of this 4DVD set is the perfect opportunity for the rabid vampire fans to sink their teeth into a captivating and engaging drama.

The story revolves around private investigator Vicki Nelson (played by Christina Cox), who witnesses a violent murder one night in the streets of Toronto. This is no ordinary murder, and as she searches for the truth, more and more evidence suggests demonic involvement. The investigation leads to an encounter with the suave and alluring Henry Fitzroy (played by Kyle Schmid), who just happens to be a 470-year-old vampire with a vested interest in the case. The two collaborate, and their relationship starts to bloom into something much more than the mission at hand, which interferes with Nelson’s current relationship with ex-partner Detective Mike Celluci (played by Dylan Neal). As the season progresses, Nelson and her cohorts are pulled into an unpredictable swirl of romance, action, and supernatural activity.

To view a trailer, please visit http://www.eaglerockent.com/downloads/Penguin/bloodtiestrailer.mov.

Eagle Rock Entertainment is an international media production and distribution company operating across audio visual entertainment programming. Eagle Rock Entertainment works directly alongside talent to produce the highest quality programming output covering film, general entertainment and musical performance. Eagle Rock Entertainment has offices based in London, New York, Germany & France.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Lost Anime Dracula

-- that is, lost for a reason.

Tonight I was working on Alex Van Helsing #1 and letting the classic '31 Dracula play on DVD (with the excellent Philip Glass score, but more on that another time.) But after a writing session I had to unwind, and sometimes that requires complete trash.

So, thanks to a reminder from Tony Salvaggio (not just the co-creator of Psy-comm but also a brilliant anime columnist for Comicbookresources.com), I decided to pop in the 1980 anime DRACULA: SOVEREIGN OF THE DAMNED, also known as THE TOMB OF DRACULA: LORD OF THE VAMPIRES.

Now, I know some of you are shouting, wha? An anime based on Tomb of Dracula, Marv Wolfman's legendary take on Dracula, that introduced the world to a regal Dracula and a bunch of familiar new characters like Blade and Lilith, Daughter of Dracula?

Yes. And some of you are also shouting, I thought that thing was buried forever with the Star Wars Holiday Special.

That second group is more familiar with this work. Hey, I didn't come by my copy easily; I had to buy it from a bootlegger near a loading dock in Dallas, (and by near, I mean, you know, in the dealer room at Wizard World at the Arlington Convention Center, which has a loading dock.)

This is an astonishingly over-wrought movie that tries to adapt the comic into a feature-length video. It begins with a cosmic overtone, in which a breathless narrator goes on about how life is made up of opposites while showing us cosmic vistas and, I think, the surface of the sun.
"A chaotic clash of opposing forces ... the very elements of nature itself are in constant upheaval! An eternal compbat of opposites, light against darkness, heat against cold! Love and malevolence!"

Moving on to malevolence, the narrator brings us to Castle Dracula, and now it gets arty, as we listen to harpsichord music and pan slowly across the gargoyles. But we don't see the count, apparently we're here for a break after that exciting intro about cosmic opposites. The narrator tells us that, whoops, Dracula isn't here anymore, he's headed West, and into the plot.

The plot involves Dracula horning in on the action of a group of Satanists. ("They met in a church! But their form of worship was an unholy desecration!" says the narrator, who is starting to sound more unhinged than Criswell.) Drac runs off with the woman who is intended to be his sacrifice, and then the movie warps through more plot you would expect from one extraordinarily dull anime: Dracula's love with the woman, an anime version of Janus, Son of Satan, an anime version of Marvel's various vampire-busters. Dracula is a hero. A villain. A lover. A rebel. On and on the movie drones.

I mean, seriously-- Zoltan, Hound of Dracula is silly, but it's one story told in a reasonable amount of time. This movie is nine stories told in a strangely-dubbed jumble. I'd give you more details but-- oh, for Pete's sake. Trust me.

So there: the 1980 anime Dracula. I have seen it so that you don't have to. Next time you see this one at the loading dock, you can skip it in favor of that 1978 Doctor Strange.