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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Boys Reading YA and the Violence-in-YA Flap: Related, but not the way you think

Mike Mullin, author of the upcoming Ashfall, turns in a new post called Why Don't More Boys Read YA? Mike has lots of compelling thoughts and even draws on tweets from last nights #YaLitChat twitter discussion on this topic. You should read the post because it's very skillful at hashing through this topic.
I've actually puzzled over this question a lot recently, about why boys read less YA than girls. There are a whole jumble of reasons and it's easy to get wrapped around the axle. We could talk about:

  • Boys read less to begin with as the school years wear on, for reasons having a lot to do with conformity
  • The vicious circle wherein more books appealing to girls are published because that's where the market is-- see Mary Kole's amazing post on this. ("We filled our [boy book] slot," reports one publisher.)
  • Covers, see above regarding appealing to girls
But there's something else I wanted to mention. At the same time we're having this discussion, we also had the amazing flap around WSJ writer Meghan Cox Gurdon's column on violence in YA. A nice summary of the flap is here from Ashley Perez. 
I found myself curiously disconnected from this discussion. Generally I tended to think Gurdon's column was a polemic, a screed, in a business daily. She objected to violence in YA novels. The response, I would think, would be a few more screeds in argument. It's rhetoric. In fact, though, the YA community went absolutely bonkers over this column. They went bonkers, I think, because they felt it very personally. Here's a wonderful Laurie Halse Anderson response quoted in the Perez column:
They are afraid of their inability to talk to their kids about the scary, awful, real-world stuff that is out there. And they know, deep-down, that even if their own children are blessed with violence- and trauma-free childhoods and adolescences, their kids will daily come in contact with other kids who aren’t that lucky. So they know they·should be talking about this stuff, but they don’t know where to start. And when their kid starts reading books about subjects that make Mom and Dad uncomfortable, the reaction is to get rid of the book, instead of summoning the courage and faith to have conversations that make them uneasy.
For me: Yes. Got it. Catharsis, growth, healing. Communication. Down with all that.
You know something? That's not the kind of YA I write, and it's not the kind I would read. You know the kind I write?  I write YA where a good guy named Alex Van Helsing constantly gets into and out of scrapes. He stands up for his friends and fights to survive in very James Bond-like adventures. Generally these are not books where we are exploring childhood trauma. These are books to escape your trauma.
And I think there has to be both kinds of books, and I'm going out on a limb when I say I think boys might be more inclined towards one than the other. I turned to heroic books as a boy to show me how to be confident and crafty (though I never had to steal a Wave Runner to break onto a yacht, like Alex Van Helsing does in Voice of the Undead. See what I did there? That is a plug.)
Ah! I hear you say. But we have those books! We have gross-out books for boys! Yes. There are lots of humorous gross-out books. But you know, man cannot live by fart jokes alone. There has to be a higher brow for boys available.
Recently I told someone, I just can't bear to read a book where two people do nothing but remember their past and wonder whether or not they should get a divorce. Now, if they do all that while trying to stop someone from blowing up the Smithsonian, I'm there.
All I'm saying is that I think the Gurdon flap and the why-don't-boys-read flap are related, though not in the obvious way. It's not that boys would agree with Gurdon and object to all the violence. I think it's the flap that's related-- in all the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth over Gurdon, everyone seemed to demand that YA confront us with the selves we are running from in order to survive.
That's a kind of introspection that boys might need in doses, but do not crave in hardback.

Castle Dracula Podcast Now on iTunes! (Voice of the Undead Countdown Minus 25)

With Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead coming out on July 26, I'm counting down 60 cool vampire things. Today:

The Castle Dracula Podcast is Now Available on iTunes! Our first episode, a discussion of Stephen Sommer's Van Helsing, has been added, and our next Episode, Fright Night, should go up the week after July 4th. Give us a listen and let me know what you think, and if there are any topics you'd like discussed!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

NEW Castle Dracula Podcast-- Episode 1: Van Helsing (2004) (Voice of the Undead Countdown Minus 26)

With Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead coming out on July 26, I'm counting down 60 cool vampire things. Today:

Announcing the Castle Dracula Podcast
Episode 1: Van Helsing (2004)

For months I've been listening to favorite movie-related podcasts like Now Playing, and it finally came to this: the Castle Dracula Podcast, a podcast panel show on vampires, vampire movies, and anything cool in the horror genre. And this week, we kick it off with a look at the 2004 movie Van Helsing. The show is hosted by me and with the amazing insights of Drew Edwards, creator of Halloween Man, Tony Salvaggio, columnist and creator of the manga Psy-Comm and Humanoids Clockwerx, and our always faithful/rueful attorney and friend Julia Guzman.

Soon you'll be able to subscribe to the Castle Dracula Podcast on iTunes, but you can hear Episode 1 here:
Castle Dracula Podcast: Episode 1: Van Helsing

Enjoy and leave us a note, comment, or question on the Alex Van Helsing Facebook Page!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Booklist loves Voice of the Undead (Countdown to Voice of the Undead Minus 27)

With Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead coming out on July 26, I'm counting down 60 cool vampire things. Today:

BOOKLIST, the review magazine of the American Library Association, has reviewed Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead!

The review, from Daniel Kraus, is behind the subscription wall, but here's a snippet:
Anyone who thought Alex Van Helsing’s adventures were finished with Vampire Rising (2010) doesn’t know much about bloodsuckers... An opening motorcycle chase leads to monstrous worms, which lead to the fiery destruction of Alex’s school, which leads to meeting a mysterious new girl, Vienna.

I cannot express how excited I am-- just 27 days and Alex returns, and we're starting to get professional reviews. (There's another MAJOR one coming in a few days and I can't wait to share it with you.)

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Art of Hammer: Gothic Vampire Posters from the 50s through the 70s (Voice of the Undead Countdown Minus 28)

With Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead coming out on July 26, I'm counting down 60 cool vampire things. Today:
I recently got The Art of Hammer, a very recent poster book this Christmas that is ideal for any classic horror fan. You've heard me expound on the unique look and feel of Hammer Films before-- I first wrote on this over thirteen years ago-- but here's the short version:
From the 1950s through the end of the 1970s, horror films entered what is now called the Gothic period, defined by a heavy reliance on supernatural rather than science-fiction-influenced themes, and period rather than contemporary settings. The champion of all Gothic horror was Hammer, a British studio that used many of the same cast, crew, and most especially production designers through their horror films. The result is a very recognizable series of films-- you can sit down to watch Horror of Dracula and Curse of Frankenstein, which came out in '57 and '58, and then watch The Vampire Lovers and Twins of Evil, which both came out in the early 70s, and you get the sense that these films are all part of a series and indeed seem to exist in the same world. People have called that world the Hammerscape, recognizable for its color and strange, sort-of-Euro and sort-of-British sets, trees and castle grounds.

These are the movies I play in the background while I'm working. So I was stunned by this book, which is over-sized and reprints posters from around the world advertising Hammer horror. One thing that's new for me here is that it gives me the chance to see the same film promoted in different ways. For instance, here's the first poster for The Vampire Lovers (see my review here)-- the poster is lurid and green (and by the way, isn't it odd to look at this and think, no-one's done a poster for a movie like this in thirty years?)

Whereas here is the American version, done in the style of drive-in movie posters (and in great drive-in fashion, suggests a totally different movie, though I'm sure this one, with its army of vampire women and Roman slaves, would be great too.)

That's just one example. There are alternate poster takes for Countess Dracula, Hands of the Ripper, four different takes on Dracula AD 1972, and on and on. Very cool.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Paranormal Pop Culture Interview (Voice of the Undead Countdown Minus 30)

With Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead coming out on July 26, I'm counting down 60 cool vampire things. Today:
Interview at Paranormal Pop Culture!

Head over to read about Alex Van Helsing, vampires, and what kind of music I listen to when I write!

We are now THIRTY DAYS from the release!

Friday, June 24, 2011

RIP Gene Colan, Best Dracula Artist of All Time

Gene Colan, American artist, has died. I discovered Gene Colan in a grocery store in Oklahoma. Not the kind of grocery store we have today, the kind that takes up multiple city blocks, but the old kind, with linoleum and a small magazine rack.

I discovered Gene Colan and his unique vision, those pencils like no-one else's. Colan re-imagined comic book art as something visceral and alive. His pencils were the medium and the message, so much so that eventually no-one dared ink over him.

Where did your fandom come from? For me, it came from this Colan piece-- Tomb of Dracula Magazine #6, cover date August 1980.

I'm sure I had seen Dracula before-- I was 9 years old-- but this was a riveting rendition of the Count, drawn in black and white by Gene Colan in a script by Jim Shooter.

This Dracula that Colan drew was not the Lugosi Dracula who in 1980 still showed up everywhere on Halloween masks. But this comic-- with its cruel, princely Dracula-- captured my imagination instantly. In the main story inside, Dracula travels across the ocean to be with a Southern Belle he has become obsessed with, and for her hand, offers his military savvy to the Confederacy. (Isn't that great? Dracula in the American Civil War!) And that's not all-- there's a backup story starring Lilith, Marvel's daughter of Dracula, and a feature about vampires from around the world.

I mean, look:

This was the last issue of the magazine. The heydey of black-and-white mags was passing. I had not read the long Tomb of Dracula comic series, and I wouldn't be getting any more of the old Marvel Mags for many years. But the stories here were the beginning of my long obsession with the many facets of Stoker's long-enduring character. It was also the beginning of my appreciation of Gene Colan, who would later be my favorite Batman artist of the 1980s, drawing Doug Moench's street-wise, serious stories.

By the way-- it's easy now. You don't have to go to the grocery store, and anyway, grocery stores don't carry comics anymore. If you want to read *all* the issues of the Tomb of Dracula Magazine series, they're reprinted in an Omnibus version (Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 4) that-- since it's black and white-- exactly captures the original.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Authors as Isolated Crazy People (Voice of the Undead Countdown Minus 33)

With Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead coming out on July 26, I'm counting down 60 cool vampire things. Today:
Sometimes Authors are Crazy
Skyla Dawn Cameron, who blogs from the perspective of both a writer and an editor, tweeted yesterday that she was amazed that writers can do profoundly stupid things, such as (this happened yesterday) pasting a query letter into the comments section of an editor's blog. She linked to a post she wrote a few months ago urging writers to avoid what she called "Only Author Syndrome." She's not alone-- if you traverse the blogs of editors and agents you'll find a lot of frustrated venting. Some of it, like Cameron's, tries to get an instructive point across with humor, while many (I won't link here, mainly because I don't feel like looking them up) tend towards a kind of in-the-know derision: let me read to you from the idiotic query I got today. How I suffer to read such things. Sharing them with you on my blog is the very savior of my sanity.
But what are we talking about? Cameron does a good job of listing a few examples:
I once received the same inquiry from the same author six times in the span of twelve hours.

I've been bombarded with the same email several times in one day from the same people for something "urgent" that is, in no way, urgent...and wouldn't be urgent* for another four months, if that.

I've had people go through multiple rounds of editing and proofing screaming after the book is released because they've decided to change something in the book and want it re-edited and re-released. Right. Now.

I was asked once a week (and sometimes twice) for a month and a half by a slush author if we had decided on her book yet.

So, let me say from the first that I'm not guilty of these things, at least not in the last fifteen years or so; I don't remember much about the first couple of books. So when I take a blog post to explain what's going on, I'm trying to carve out a space for compassion for writers I regard as-- I don't know, siblings, if not spiritual children. I want to explain to the editors and agents why writers are so crazy-making. Here are a few thoughts; there may be more.

Writers are like temporarily insane boyfriends/ girlfriends. Remember how in college you'd have a friend who would be completely, utterly normal, but then after a break-up or something, they were still normal, except that somehow regarding this particular person they were crazy? They'd start showing up at such-and-such a bar because that was the bar their ex would go to, so maybe they could run into them, and they'd maybe stand outside the bar and wait or wander by the ex's workplace? Stalkery, right? Yes. And yet, I have watched the greatest minds of my generation slip into stalkerdom, and then back out again after the fever passes. And afterwards you could ask: Janet! What for you hang around Brad's workplace until 1 in the morning? She'd have no idea. A year later she would say, I remember being compelled to. I remember it made so much sense, and now I have no memory of why. This is the stalker scenario, and editors see it when they get the behavior that seems kind of creepy-- the weird friendly phone calls, the query put in the blog comment box, or God forbid showing up at the editor's office.

It's all about putting yourself in the other person's place. The writer thinks they're being a go-getter, taking charge of their own destiny. The editor doesn't know the writer from Adam and doesn't know if they're dangerous, so they react (reasonably) with icky suspicion.

Writers: to avoid this stuff, you have to look at everything you do and ask, "how will the editor as a person see this?" Editors, just so you know, they mean well.

Here's another one:

Only Author Syndrome Proper. This is what Cameron really gets bugged about and with good reason. These behaviors involve writers haranguing PR for more resources, bugging editors for a better deadline, a better cover, another re-write, etc. By "only author syndrome," Cameron is saying that these writers are acting like they're not used to having to share resources (editors). There's something to this, but it's uglier and sadder, really.

Cameron points out that writers need to realize that the editors are way overworked. They don't have time to deal with every writer demanding special attention. I think she's right that no writer has an idea of how busy an editor is. But here's where the editor and the writer are both getting screwed by circumstance.
Every piece of advice a new writer gets today says that the writer needs to be prepared to take the shepherding of their work into their own hands. Publishers often complain that writers don't take enough responsibility for their own marketing. Unfortunately, though, as marketing tasks shift to the writer as a member of the marketing team, no infrastructure to support this new integration has taken place. The writer is expected now to do PR and marketing and advertising, but you know what that makes this? A job. And on my other job in marketing, I actually do call my co-workers constantly: what were our sales today? Did Janet get that editorial turned in? Has someone answered that question? Can we have a quick call at two to go over the stuff for next week? That's what professional work is like. It's not surprising to me that writers treat books like work. They want answers yesterday because they have been given new responsibilities.

And yet. And yet. It's not working. Editors feel attacked and the writers feel like however much work they do, they can't win.

A lot of this would be solved, I believe, with the institution of some practices from the software industry: regular meetings on every project with all timelines shared with the author. Lots of answers simply written down and shared to the author. Maybe even an online project management system so that, instead of calling the editor, the author could see: ah, that manuscript was entered into the system on Date A, and is still waiting to be read. There is no news here. DO NOT CALL. Editors are suffering because they drew the short end of the stick. They are the front line, and also, they still have to be editors.

There's one more phenomenon I wanted to mention that was first observed by Greg Scott, a friend of mine who draws for a living:
In Your Head Syndrome.
"The thing to know," Greg said, "is that artists spend all day alone in their studios and much of that time they're engaged in long conversations in their heads with people they intend to talk to later. They've been hashing and rehashing this stuff all day. By the time they talk to you, they feel like they've already had this conversation-- why aren't you caught up? You spend all day in your head. It makes you crazy."

It does; it makes you crazy. I know it makes no sense, but that writer is basically dying to know if you've thought about her proposal, and it's making her crazy. I truly regret that she's gone nuts, but if you sat her down (and who has the time?) she would get it. She needs to figure that out for herself.

Anyway, I write this not to excuse bad author behavior, but to attempt an honest answer as to why writers do inexplicable and obviously stupid things.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Legend of Hell House (Voice of the Undead Countdown Minus 34)

With Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead coming out on July 26, I'm counting down 60 cool vampire things. Today:
Seen on: Netflix Streaming

Here is an outstanding haunted house film about what the characters call "the Mount Everest of Haunted Houses." It's not outstanding in context or for its time, but simply outstanding, and based on an outstanding book.

I hadn't seen Legend of Hell House since I was in college, where as an RA I showed it in a double feature with The Haunting at Halloween time. In the film, a quartet of people who truck in investigating the supernatural-- a stalwart scientist and his wife/assistant, a young, attractive spiritualist medium, and Roddy McDowall as a withdrawn psychic-- accept a one-week assignment to determine whether the haunting of Belasco Mansion, or Hell House, is actually haunted. Hint: yes.

I just read the source novel last week-- Richard Matheson's Hell House, and this is that rare case where the movie changes a little and produces some different feeling, but all in all creates a complementary set. The book takes place in Maine and the characters are all Americans, and the story is darker, more graphically violent and erotic. The movie, by contrast, owes even more to Robert Wise's The Haunting than the book owed to that movie's Shirley Jackson source: The Legend of Hell House is thick with fog and atmosphere, though when the action comes, it's plenty scary.

Here's a funny fact: I've read comments from people on the Internet who insist that they remember seeing what Pamela Franklin sees when she opens her eyes in the trailer. As far as I can tell from the research, this memory is false. This was always a movie that left the worst horrors to your imagination. But people's memories, like their angry spirits, can play tricks.

Check out the trailer.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

LOST BOYS: THE THIRST: Voice of the Undead Countdown Minus 37

With Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead coming out on July 26, I'm counting down 60 cool vampire things. Today:

Understand: when the original THE LOST BOYS arrived in 1987, the vampire was mostly dead. The Gothic vampire resurgence that had begun in 1958 with Christopher Lee's Dracula had fallen apart some fifteen years earlier, wrecked on the shores of the fierce post-modern double blow of THE OMEN and THE EXORCIST. Hammer stuck around for a few years, but the vampire of old in his period costumes was well and truly staked.
Oh, there were vampires in the lean years that followed-- 1979 saw two of them; Werner Herzog's insane remake of NOSFERATU and Chris Langella's sexy-- and still Gothic-- Universal DRACULA, a filming of the Hamilton Deane stage play. There was also David Bowie, vamping and preening with Catherine Deneuve in the Cinemaxy 1981 THE HUNGER, a fine enough film. But even as Anne Rice was bringing back vampires in a big way on paper, the vampire world was drifting on the big screen.
In 1987, all of that changed. THE LOST BOYS (and yes, NEAR DARK, and right, I skipped COUNT YORGA, twice, but let's not make this a white paper, okay?) breathed new life into the genre. Keifer Sutherland's vampire lead David was a New Romantic vampire, very 80s, haunting a beautifully-realized California boardwalk and seducing young men and women alike with a crew of flying vampires who feasted on sun-bathing patrons and surf nazis. After 1987, vampires were back.
As I write this, that was twenty-four years ago. I mention all of this because LOST BOYS: THE THIRST, which you can catch on Netflix streaming as I did or pick up at Itunes or rent on Youtube (or heck, get a DVD, a format that did not exist in 1987 and will not exist much longer) stands at the other end of a long tunnel back to that period in the 1980s. Unlike the THE TRIBE, first Lost Boys sequel, THE THIRST has an idea about where vampire movies have gone. It's a direct-to-video sequel, yes, but that means the makers have some room to play and experiment. What I loved about is that it takes time to comment on a whole world of vampire tropes that simply did not exist when Joel Schumacher filmed the original, such as: sexy vampire raves, raves themselves, designer drugs, paranormal vampire novels, familiarity with X-Files-ish alien invasion scenarios, vlogs, ebay and the slow disintegration of the direct-market comic book industry, Lara Croft, and more. Oh, this is a B movie, with a lush Capetown, South Africa standing in for the West Coast. But I'd much rather watch a B picture like THE THIRST that knows something about vampire films-- that has some real heart pumping under the deliberately cheesy dialogue-- than sit through self-important and ultimately empty AAA stuff like Coppola's dull BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA or Wes Craven's wasted DRACULA 2000.
So what have we got here? In LOST BOYS: THE THIRST, Corey Feldman, doing his best Snake Plissken impression, returns as burnt-out vampire hunter Edgar Frog, accepting a job to look for the teen brother of a famous vampire romance novelist. The brother has been kidnapped by X, a rave DJ who has a plan to turn thousands of teens into vampires. Not a bad plan, since in today's universe, many of them want to be vampires anyway.
The movie plays games with people's expectations of vampires, with Feldman arguing with the sexy novelist about how she's "making people think vampires are sexy." But of course they are-- Feldman is a zealot who refuses to see it. And besides, it's his universe, where in the end, the vampires deserve to be killed. The movie follows all the rules set up for the Lost Boys universe previously-- here, a vampire who creates a bunch of vampires remains tied to them, and when he dies, those who have not completely "turned" have a chance at humanity again.
I love how this movie moves like lightning while remaining totally aware that Edgar Frog is a character who was absurd in 1987 and has grown middle-aged and absurd and still fighting what he regards as the good fight. Edgar cracks wise and the movie knows he's got a screw loose, but the man is sincere about head vampires and the havoc they wreak. I also love a late call-out to Matheson's I AM LEGEND, proving that these guys who have known how that movie should have been made.
We get vampire wire-flying and vampire sword fights and lots of awesome street-level vampire weaponry. Lots and lots of exploding vampires, who either burst like brilliant starshells or splat like blood-filled balloons. (I'll admit I have never glommed onto when they do one versus the other. Maybe it's random. Who cares?) It's as though Edgar Frog has been set loose in the Twilight universe and promptly started trying to blow everyone up.

The movie makes a genuine attempt at both telling a drive-in-level followable story while filling it with winking one-liners and vampire pop culture references. I really enjoyed THE THIRST for what it is: a great time kicking vampire butt and reminding us that there was a time when vampires were the bad guys.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Pacer Review: Voice of the Undead Countdown Minus 39

With Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead coming out on July 26, I'm counting down 60 cool vampire things. Today:
Newcastle Pacer Reviews Alex Van Helsing Series
Check it out-- Darla Welchel took the time to review the first two books in the Alex Van Helsing series, including the upcoming Voice of the Undead:
Henderson's follow-up novel to Vampire Rising, Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead, due to be released July 26, 2011, takes our young hero into greater dangers as his work with the secret society of vampire hunters continues.

The book begins with a nail-biting motorcycle chase and of course, more vampires. Van Helsing soon uncovers a plot to turn Glenarvon's sister school and its students into mindless killing machines. And he also realizes that one mad vamp chick has a personal vendetta against him.

Armed with an arsenal of cool toys that would have James Bond envious, Alex takes on the bad guys and gals with fangs and attempts to save the world once again, this time, from a truly vile vamp called Ultravox.

Written with young readers in mind, the Alex Van Helsing series is written with more action and less clever dialogue, but still the story held my attention. The hero will appeal to young boys, so if you have one who is a reluctant reader, these books might just be the ticket to draw him into the world of literature.

Although the target audience is young males, I believe girls will enjoy the tough vamp-kicking girls in the books as well. Plus there is just enough budding teen romance to entice young girls - nothing as steamy as Twilight.

Check out the rest here!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

BRAND NEW ALEX VAN HELSING TRAILER! Voice of the Undead Countdown Minus 41

With Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead coming out on July 26, I'm counting down 60 cool vampire things. Today:


I'm really happy with how this trailer came out because I like that it gives you a quick idea that this is a series about vampires + spies. All in 30 seconds! The trailer-- everything here is animated-- was created by Jake Maymar of New York, voice by Voice Talent Now.
Pass it along!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Casting the Alex Van Helsing Movie: Voice of the Undead Countdown Minus 42

With Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead coming out on July 26, I'm counting down 60 cool vampire things. Today:
Casting the Alex Van Helsing Movie
No, there isn't an actual movie. (Not that I know of.) But the cool folks over at the blog My Book, the Movie asked me to do a post on how I'd cast an Alex Van Helsing film if given a shot. It's a fun question because in real life I have a suspicion that the author is the last person anyone asks.

Sangster? That’s easy. Mr. Sangster, Alex’s insanely fit, machine-gun-wielding, enigmatic literature teacher, is patterned after Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible 2. In fact, the first time we learn Sangster’s secret, it’s in a scene where Sangster rides the Triumph that Cruise rode in MI:2. So, over a decade after MI:2, Cruise is still your go-to guy for Mr. Sangster.

Check out the rest. 

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Blood of Dracula: Voice of the Undead Countdown Minus 44

With Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead coming out on July 26, I'm counting down 60 cool vampire things. Today:
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.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Vampire Lovers: Voice of the Undead Countdown Minus 45

With Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead coming out on July 26, I'm counting down 60 cool vampire things. Today:
Ingrid Pitt in Vampire Lovers

I caught The Vampire Lovers on a big screen at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and I realized that the DVD era has brought a few curses along with its blessings. Of the good, thanks to DVD and VHS before it, we are able to see an old film whenever we want. I have The Vampire Lovers on DVD myself, in fact. And most of the times I've watched a movie and studied it, I've watched a home video version. But I realized while watching the movie in a theater that theaters give us the gift of focus. In a theater, we delegate to a third party the authority to tell us to shut up and listen, to sit quietly in the dark. I'm used to this for brand new movies, but I have to search for it for older titles.

I tend to watch movies as thought I'm studying a problem, letting the movie play while I thumb through four or five different books on movies, and tabbing over to look up various details. (With this movie, it's, Who's that playing the innkeeper? Is that castle set the backlot at Elstree or Bray Studio? Wait, this would  be 1970, so it has to be Elstree, so when did that transition happen again?) When you watch an older title in a theater you get the chance to think of it by itself.

The Vampire Lovers is a Hammer Studios adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu's novella Carmilla. Carmilla was probably the first vampire story I ever read, a languid, erotic and romantic story of a vampire woman who comes into the life of a young noble girl and nearly destroys her. It's an extremely important story.
Everyone always remembers that Carmilla was a lesbian but they rarely seem to remember what an exciting b**** Carmilla is in Le Fanu's story. She whines petulantly when she doesn't get her way, smugly insults peasants and comes on a little strong with everyone. She's dashing and brash. She's a con artist, too, running a regularly-repeating long con where the mark is always a pretty and naive noble girl and prize given up is the mark's life.
Carmilla came out in 1872, fifty-three years after Polidori's The Vampyre but certainly in that tradition of dastardly and erotically powerful noble vampires. The date also puts Carmilla twenty-five years before Stoker's Dracula, which would revisit several of these themes, though with nowhere near Le Fanu's gift for prose:
Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardour of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet overpowering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips travelled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, "You are mine, you shall be mine, and you and I are one for ever". ("Carmilla", Chapter 4).
I loved Le Fanu's use of time in his story, note how he mentions the "hour of apathy;" in fact Carmilla is full of ennui, of slow walks and lounging, waiting for something to happen. Punctuated with vampirism and violence.
The Vampire Lovers attempts to take Carmilla and tell it as a Hammer movie, and why not-- the Hammerscape, a strange Euro-Britain of rolling fog and gorgeous castle sets, is on full display here. In fact, I'm not sure it's ever looked better, because The Vampire Lovers manages to display in one movie every graveyard, haunted wood, foggy court, broken down castle, and musty crypt ever built for other Hammer movies, with a few more new ones thrown in.
The movie, like all Hammer Films, operates within a rigid fictional class system where everyone's behavior is pre-determined. Carmilla's scam works this way: her mother/aunt/older companion drops her off at a nobleman's castle, protesting that she must hurry to an emergency meeting elsewhere; could the master of the house allow Carmilla (called whatever she's called) to stay with your daughter? Because they are of the same class, the imposition is acceded to inside a cloud of understandings and gentleman's agreements.
We see the scam play out twice in The Vampire Lovers, once with Laura (the  first girl here, the Final Girl in the original novella) and then with Emma, who becomes the Final Girl.
There are problems everywhere-- it's troubling that we conflate Carmilla's lesbianism with her villainy, because she is a villain, she lies and she kills with no remorse. And Ingrid Pitt, who is an enchanting actress, is still a very strange choice for Carmilla because she's about fifteen years too old. Maybe the problem is that it's hard to find a 19-year-old who can play a centuries-old noblewoman. Also, the movie seems to suggest that Carmilla is changing the rules and has special feelings for Emma-- which would add a special crime-drama tragedy to the piece if it were explored more. And of course the movie is mannered, as all Hammer's are, with language as formal as its attire. The acting is mannered, too-- all of these actors could probably appear very normal in another film, but on these sets they are stagy and expressive. Watching Hammer, you are watching a universe that plays by its own rules.
The Vampire Lovers comes very close to capturing the ennui, romanticism and action of Le Fanu's story, and at the same time is a fine example of Hammer Horror. If you can'tcatch it on the big screen, you can now watch it on Netflix Streaming-- and put away the books.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Lost Sequel to Universal Dracula REVEALED: Voice of the Undead Countdown Minus 46

With Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead coming out on July 26, I'm counting down 60 cool vampire things. Today:
The Lost Sequel to Universal's Dracula

In a glass case on a shelf nearby sits a document I don't own but hold for the Polidori Society-- the document was procured by a member of the Society at auction.

The booklet is unassuming-- 9 typewritten pages with slightly thicker reddish pages forming a cover, the whole booklet staple-bound by hand. It was written in 1939.

It is a treatment for a sequel to Universal's 1931 Dracula-- a sequel never to be made. That's a picture of it to the left.

The treatment, titled "A Sequel to Dracula," is by none other than Manly P. Hall, famed lecturer on the occult, the kind of detail that sounds made up, but isn't. Even better: apparently Hall was a pal of Bela Lugosi, and the pair sat down together to pitch a sequel to Dracula that would actually, you know, have Dracula in it. (Dracula had died at the end of the 1931, Lugosi Dracula, so the next Universal sequel starred Gloria Holden was the 1936 Dracula's Daughter.) If Hall was typing these pages-- and it's odd to see the old-fashioned key marks-- in '39, he would have been hoping for a 1940 or 1941 Dracula sequel.

Just think of it: Lugosi, not the drug-addled, doddering Lugosi of the 50's, but the lithe, talented Lugosi whose most powerful performance-- Igor in Son of Frankenstein -- had been completed just the year before and released in January of 1939. Next to him Manly Hall, who ten years before had released a book called The Secret Teachings of All Ages, sitting down to pound out a movie that would get Lugosi back in the cape. Not inconceivable-- the monster mash-up Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man wouldn't come until 1943, signaling the beginning of the end of the Universal monster era.

Again, this treatment was never produced. I'm not even aware that Hall's agent got the treatment to Universal, and we can't ask him, because Manly Hall died in 1990.

But the story rocks. It's not much more expensive on the page than the 1931 film, but it feels more grand: instead of the drawing rooms and the castle in the first film, Hall's story moves between an ornate mansion in Buenos Aires and Dracula's massive Yacht, the Nemesis III. In brief, the story tells how Dracula outsmarted Van Helsing and survived the attack at the end of the first movie, then bided his time till age ended Van Helsing's life-- and now he has come for Mina, now in her 70s, who has crossed oceans to escape him. He offers her new life, but ends up locked in vampiric combat with a vampirized Mina for the love of a younger victim.

In Argentina, no less. Boy, what I wouldn't give to see a computer-generated Lugosi do this movie...

COOL, no?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Slaughter of the Vampires: Voice of the Undead Countdown Minus 47

Slaughter of the Vampires: Voice of the Undead Countdown Minus 47With Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead coming out on July 26, I'm counting down 60 cool vampire things. Today:
Slaughter of the Vampires, AKA La Strage Dei Vampiri (1962)
There are very few phrases that will bring me running like Italian Gothic. When I was a kid I came across movies like Castle of Blood and was entranced by these black-and-white stories of witches and vampires. True to the form, Slaughter of the Vampires is a dreamy, elegant vampire movie resplendent with dark castle walks and stilted, overly formal language. The movie tells the story of a young nobleman whose wife is quickly seduced and lost to a mysterious stranger, the vampire played by German actor Dieter Eppler.

Movies like this are so simple and sincere as to almost work as fables; they are the vampire story distilled to its essence-- the vampire here seduces the gorgeous Graziella Granata with moonlit poetry: I am from the past, he says. And I carry with me the present and the future. He promises that he sees more in Graziella than she sees in herself, and only he can bring the beauty he sees to life. But of course the transformation he promises is in fact a degraded and dark one.

You don't watch movies like Slaughter of the Vampires the way you watch, say, Blade. When I first encountered Classic Gothic horrors, I felt as though the dubbing were not dubbing but some strange language from another world, a world more real because of its falsehood. I still feel that way. Classic Gothic has to spin itself out and cast its spell.

I caught this movie just this week on Netflix Streaming.

Here's a trailer that uses the garish alternate title CURSE OF THE BLOOD GHOULS.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

4-Star Review of Voice of the Undead: Countdown Minus 48

With Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead coming out on July 26, I'm counting down 60 cool vampire things. Today:
I Live, I Laugh, I Love Books reviewed Voice of the Undead!
Okay, can I just say that the first reviews you get of a new book, especially before it comes out, are terrifying. After all, the book is going from zero reviews to now one, now two-- so think of the weight of a bad review that represents 50% of the available reviews. But anyway, Lucia of Houston (Clear Lake, one of my own high schools!) actually liked Voice of the Undead, and I was thrilled to see how much:
Once again, Jason Henderson does not disappoint with this clean young adult adventure fit for paranormal fans of any age. This title was even better than the first, with an even scarier villain and much higher stakes. New characters are introduced, and several play bigger roles in this one. There's a bigger mystery element in Voice of the Undead, and some characters take a turn for the evil as time goes on.... It was exciting, and I couldn't stop reading until the very last page.
You can read Lucia's fantastic review for which I'm so grateful-- and yes, relieved-- here.

Thanks Lucia!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Lake Geneva as Byron Knew It: Voice of the Undead Countdown Minus 49

With Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead coming out on July 26, I'm counting down 60 cool vampire things. Today:
The New York Times looks at Lake Geneva as Lord Byron knew it.

The Villa Diodati, where John Polidori was inspired to write The Vampyre.
The Alex Van Helsing series takes place on and around Lake Geneva because of the importance of the place to vampire literature. It was here that in 1816, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, the soon-to-be Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Claire Godwin and Dr. John Polidori gathered and told ghost stories. Understand that this was June, but not a June we'd recognize. A volcanic eruption in Asia had cast an ashy pall over Europe and plunged Switzerland into a soggy, cold mess.

Writer Tom Perrottet paints a splendid picture as he explores the Villa Diodati (Byron's rented villa, where the action climax of Vampire Rising takes place) and remembers the Haunted Summer:

The gate was open, so I blithely strolled into the estate intending to knock on the door. As I drew near, I could easily imagine the bohemians of 1816 gathering by candlelight in the upstairs dining room to debate and carouse. Byron’s initial resistance to resuming his affair with the dark-eyed Claire did not last long. (“I never loved her nor pretended to love her,” he later wrote, “but a man is a man — & if a girl of eighteen comes prancing to you at all hours — there is but one way.”) Sexual tensions festered as Dr. Polidori fell in love with Mary, and wild rumors began to spread among English visitors to Geneva. Curiosity seekers passed by in boats to peer at the women’s underwear on the washing lines — evidence, it was believed, that the Villa Diodati was a virtual bordello. Others would stop Byron on his evening rides to accuse him of corrupting the local girls and youth. The whole Swiss setup, one British newspaper reported back in London, was a sordid “league of incest.”

Wonderful article; read the rest here.

You can't get vampire literature without the Villa Diodati. Without the Haunted Summer and the rift that formed between Lord Byron and his physician you would have no The Vampyre, which created the first modern vampire. Without The Vampyre, there would be no Dracula.

Of course, these people are all characters in the background of Alex Van Helsing-- sometimes not even the background. I've made a conscious decision to have no flashbacks or scenes set in the past, so what we learn we learn from what the characters tell us. But in the world of the series, Byron is still around, and very much a threat-- and so is Claire. Polidori? The one who died of a drug overdose, a pathetic wretch to the end? Maybe not so much. pathetic, wretched, or dead when everybody thinks.

Note-- I've posted reviews of one movie about the Haunted Summer starring Hugh Grant and Liz Hurley here: Rowing with the Wind.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Samson Versus the Vampire Women: Voice of the Undead Countdown Minus 51

With Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead coming out on July 26, I'm counting down 60 cool vampire things. Today: Samson Versus the Vampire Women

This is wonderful-- a ten-minute montage of the best gags from the MST3K version of Samson Versus the Vampire Women.

For the uninitiated:
  • Samson was the American name for El Santo, the Mexican Superhero/Wrestler of comics, books and movies
  • Samson Versus the Vampire Women is a movie I have in both English and Spanish-- I still have a fondness for the awful American dubs of these movies, which were all produced by American shlockmeister K. Gordon Murray. These Murray dubs used to show up a lot on basic cable midnight movie shows. Hey, I feel a debt towards Murray-- without him I never would have discovered foreign horror in the first place.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Johnny Depp Revives Dark Shadows: Voice of the Undead Countdown Minus 52

With Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead coming out on July 26, I'm counting down 60 cool vampire things. Today:

Johnny Depp in Dark Shadows. I've written before how much I've recently come to love Dark Shadows:
Dark Shadows concerns a lot of things, because it's a soap opera, but chiefly it concerns vampire Barnabas Collins, who has returned to the stately Collinwood in coastal Maine, where he plots to find his lost love and control the people around him. On Netflix streaming, you can literally watch this series the way it was first intended, one episode after the other. Of course that would take years.

In the early 70s Dan Curtis produced two movies in the universe of Dark Shadows and I recommend both of them. But now we're starting to get more details about an event that has Dark Shadows fans in a tizzy-- Tim Burton directing a new Dark Shadows with Johnny Depp as Barnabas. "What I’d like to do," says Depp,"is maybe stretch [Barnabas] out a bit — in the extreme. Just ever-so-slightly take him a little further, beyond what may be considered… corny.”

I'm not sure what that means. But I know this will be good. And if it's not you've got years and years of the original to watch.

Check out the article at EW.