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Friday, December 30, 2011

Sherlock Holmes on Screen-- a New Guide to the Film History of Our Favorite Detective

I love Sherlock Holmes, but I'm not a Sherlock Holmes completist in the way that I am of, say, James Bond or Dracula. (And there's a geek continuum: I'm constantly reminded that there are many fans of those that are far to the left and right of me.) I do have a favorite Holmes-- Ian Richardson, largely because his BBC films were the ones I grew up on, whereas I largely missed the Jeremy Brett version that began the following year. The great thing about true geeks is we have geeky opinions; I remember a megafan of the Doors who could talk for days about what was wrong with the Oliver Stone movie, just as I could about Coppola's Dracula. Even when we're doing it we see the conundrum: we are spending more time on these works than the people who love them do. Sherlock Holmes has such fans.

So I love, love, love books like SHERLOCK HOLMES ON SCREEN, a guide to Sherlock Holmes adaptations of TV and movies written by Alan Barnes, who is a prize geek, opinionated and fussy and possessing a kind of love for even those works he hates. From the first Sherlock Holmes adaptation (1900's one-minute silent Sherlock Holmes Baffled) to the current dueling detectives of the BBC series Sherlock and the Guy Ritchie movie series, and everything in between. 
You can spend hours reading this book. I had no idea that Peter Cushing starred as Sherlock Holmes on TV  in the sixties, for instance. You can start to line up your own Sherlock viewing party.
I totally recommend Sherlock Holmes on Screen.

(Note-- I received this book for review from the great folks at Titan Books. Thanks fellas!)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Word Processing: The Barbarian Savior!

The Slate Culture Gabfest this week spends some time talking about the history of writing on word processors (like Word, or like the blogger web tool I'm typing in right now), and the whole conversation (with helpful links on the Slate page) is well worth checking out.
What really captured my imagination was the lengthy discussion the podcast members had on the actual process of writing. How did anyone ever write a whole book longhand? Does writing with a word processor help you cut corners?
The Brother WP-75, which I drove carts. pushed wheelchairs and wrangled
unaccompanied minors all summer to buy. 
I've straddled the line. In early high school I wrote papers and stories longhand. When I was in high school I had a home computer to write papers on, and by the time I got to college I had actually worked all summer to save up for a Brother WP 75 word processor, which for the young was basically a printer with a keyboard and a single piece of software for writing documents. It was essentially a smart typewriter. I wrote my first book on a Mac, and my next several books on PCs using Word Perfect.
At the time there was a lot of talk about what word processing would do to writing. A lot of this talk came in the form of sour admonishments from other writers, so you heard all the same hand-wringing, but the biggest fear was this:
Writing on a word processor would make writers lazy, because a good writer types his pages, and then re-types them from the top, changing them along the way. Over and over again. And we like it. Word processing seduces you into sticking with something close to your first draft because it already looks pretty. There's a little bit of truth to this-- a first draft of anything really does look decent even if it reads terribly-- but it turns out for most of us that in fact we toss entire paragraphs all the time. Basically if you're a conscientious editor you'll be one whether you're typing, handwriting or using a computer.
And yet, and yet: I remember once I had to re-type about 40,000 words of a book I'd printed but could not retrieve the data from, and I really did enjoy re-drafting the sentences from the top as I went. But I wouldn't do it on purpose.
There was another fear, more obliquely spoken: that using a word processor, because it produced what to the naked eye appeared to be an acceptable manuscript, would allow too many unqualified people into the field of writing.
To this: first, f*** off, snobs. But second, reality tells us differently anyway; editors are pretty good at tossing bad writing after reading a single page. Heck, they toss almost all writing that way.
Check out the Slate Podcast and links!


Our Holiday celebration continues with a brand new Castle Dracula Podcast: a discussion of RARE EXPORTS, A CHRISTMAS TALE.

I LOVED this movie.

(2010) Unusual Christmas story set in the frozen beauty of Finland, where local reindeer herders race against the clock to capture an ancient evil: Santa Claus. Single father Rauno (Jorma Tommila) and his young son, Pietari (Onni Tommila), are caught up in the chaos as international scientists dig for artifacts. What they find endangers the entire village.

Hear the new episode of the Castle Dracula Podcast:

Monday, December 19, 2011

Flesh and Blood (Monsterverse) by Bob Tinnell and Neil Vokes review

In 2004, VAN HELSING absolutely broke my heart. (You can hear a podcast review of that one from the Castle Dracula Podcast here.) Here was a big-budget Universal release of a monster mash the likes of which hadn't been seen since the 40s: Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man, all combatted by Van Helsing, the great vampire hunter of Dracula. The cast was the kind of thing that seemed to guarantee big box office, with Hugh Jackman-- freaking Wolverine-- and Kate Beckinsale in the leads. And... no. Word got out fast that the movie managed to be both over-complicated and simplistic, over-long and dull.

And worst of all, from my perspective: the movie had no heart. It had no idea why it was there. A story's got to have a reason to exist for people to want to see it. Star Trek is about wonder. Mission Impossible is about overcoming long odds with ridiculously detailed planning and teamwork. What was Van Helsing about? Not being scared, surely. So... wonder? What? To be able to answer the querstion, you'd have to have some awareness of the source material and be able to tell someone what made you fall in love with it and want to write about it. Another way to ask a creator "What is it about?" is: "Why did you want to write this?"

FLESH AND BLOOD is a new graphic novel (actually part 1 in a series) from writer Robert Tinnel and artist Neil Vokes that does what Van Helsing should have done: it shares its creator's love for an alternate world where Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolf Man all co-exist. It's a world they're in love with so much that every page is crammed with details that fans will recognize. Of course, where VAN HELSING was a missed opportunity for its creators to share the wonder of Universal Horror, FLESH AND BLOOD shares the wonder of a different universe, just through the veil from Universal: Hammer Horror.

If there were a perfect Hammer Movie that captured the look, feel, the horror and urgent eroticism of the strange universe that tied all the Hammer gothic horrors together, FLESH AND BLOOD may be as close to it as you will ever see.

The time is the mid-nineteenth century, when the seductive, deadly vampire named Carmilla has been put to death by a team of vampire hunters led by General Spiesldorf, who lost his daughter to Carmilla. The death of Carmilla sets off a chain reaction among humans and vampires alike. Carmilla's sister Ezebet goes to none other than Dracula, Lord of all Vampires, to solicit his aid in destroying the hunters. The hunters enlist the machiavellian Baron Frankenstein, here the spitting image of Peter Cushing, in developing an anti-vampire biological weapon. We meet a young Van Helsing, who like the young Lord Godalming in Dracula is the lover of a vampire, wounded to the quick and bound to learn the "rough work ahead" needed to rid the world of vampirism.

Bob Tinnell, the author, clearly knows his stuff-- he writes a sweeping story that's not only aware of his source material (Hammer movies) but even the source material of the source material. Vokes has a fantastic style for this work, too-- his art is expressive rather than realistic, so that vampires and men leap and swoop in perfect fantasy. His art perfectly with the world of Hammer, which was always a little dreamy and symbolic. I've been a huge Vokes fan ever since Blood of Dracula, a series I picked up in 1988, making him an even bigger Dracula geek than I am.

But even if you're not a Hammer Horror geek, any vampire and monster fan should read this. The Hammer world is just the palette Tinnell and Vokes use to paint a vivid dream of a world of monsters and men.

For those counting at home, by the way, Peter Cushing played General Spielsdorf, Van Helsing, and Baron Frankenstein in the movies. If this had been a movie made in the 70s, the trailer would have looked like a Blake Edwards comedy: "Starring... Peter Cushing! And Peter Cushing! And Peter Cushing!" In the comic, they do not look alike, which is just as well. Cushing's face is reserved for the Baron, and that seems fitting; it was Cushing's greatest role.

The book is brought to you by Kerry Gammill's Monsterverse line, which has been doing simply fantastic horror-geek work. Outstanding.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Gremlins: The Bad Chimney Episode

It's Christmas time, and that means strange green creatures swarming your tiny American town. Yes! The Gremlins episode is up!

Listen in and welcome to the second episode of the Castle Dracula Podcast Holiday Season.

In this episode we discuss Gremlins:

Gremlins (1984)-- a film about a young man who receives a strange creature—called a Mogwai—as a pet, which then spawns other creatures who transform into small, destructive, evil monsters. It all takes place in a lovely little town at Christmastime, and it’s chock-full of references to classic movies and even folklore, as you might expect from a film produced (as it is) by Steven Spielberg.

Hear the new episode of the Castle Dracula Podcast:
or here:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Alex Van Helsing 3 Revisions and Style Sheet

So this week I'm doing another rough of edits on Alex Van Helsing: The Triumph of Death, which comes out in Summer 2012.

At this point the kinds of changes I'm making are in a Word document with "tracked changes" from the editor and copyeditor. There are countless tiny choices and changes, and we leave comments for one another in the margins. Is this kind of vampire capitalized? Can we get a different word here to avoid an echo from a paragraph above, or was that on purpose?

One of my favorite aspects of this is a Style Sheet that HarperCollins provides, which is like a field guide to the world of Alex Van Helsing. Not only does it include a synopsis of each of the books, but it has a nifty Alex Van Helsing Glossary:

Neat, huh?

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Monster Squad: The Thumbs Up From Limbo Episode is up!

Listen in and welcome to the Castle Dracula Podcast Holiday Season.

In this episode we discuss The Monster Squad

Somewhere in the 80s, a ragtag band of lovable loser kids must save the world from the machinations of Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, The Wolf Man and the Creature. Definitely a movie for the young and monster fans who are young at heart.

Hear us:
or here: