Category Archives: vampires

Nosferatu: a guest post by Darkeva

Darkeva is the lovely lady in charge of Darkeva’s Dark Delights, one of the great dark fiction book blogs I’ve been lucky enough to find in my meandering across the blogosphere. Reviews, interviews, giveaways & more, it’s definitely a spot you need to check out if you’re a fan of horror and fantasy. I tapped her brain to find out about one of her favorite monsters, and wouldn’t you know she picked a doozy.

Nosferatu

I remember creaturefeatures, or films that focused on one particular monster likeDracula, The Wolf Man, Frankenstein, The Mummy, etc, tobe quite entertaining as a kid. They were always fun little rompsthat I watched around Halloween and I always looked forward to thembecause this was before the wave of supernatural shows like TheVampire Diaries, True Blood, and Supernatural cameon, and the only other spooky shows were Simpsons Halloween episodes,Bugs Bunny cartoons, and Scooby Doo. Until then, these corny oldmovies were pretty much the closest thing I had to a frighteningfilm.

And then Idiscovered Nosferatu (1922), directed by the visionarydirector F.W. Murnau, and it changed the way I look at monsters(years later, The River Man (2004) in which Cary Elwesportrays serial killer Ted Bundy would also change my definition ofthe word ‘monster’ but that’s a separate post ;-)). Until I sawNosferatu, the most dominant images of vampires I had in mymind were of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and Tom Cruise in Interviewwith the Vampire (1994), but the creature, Count Orlok (a thinlyveiled stand-in for Count Dracula that Murnau got his script writerto invent when the Stoker estate wouldn’t give him the rights tomake a film based on Dracula), was probably the first uglyvampire that I saw. I’d seen flashes of The Master in Buffy andwas familiar with the ridged foreheads and sharp teeth that indicatedthat those vamps weren’t supposed to be pretty like the previouslymentioned Cruise in Interview, but Count Orlock conveyed nohumanity. Angel and Spike would always go back to their ‘regular’non-vampire faces, but Nosferatu couldn’t change back, couldn’tmask his outward appearance.

The image of himcreeping up the stairs to get to Ellen (Stoker’s Mina Harker) is aniconic one, with his shadow travelling faster than he does, makingfor a great interplay between shadow and light in a way that sticksin your mind forever after, something few directors have achieved.Another image that really frightened me was when he broke in toEllen’s room and there’s a shot of his shadowy, clawed hand overher chest. When he squeezes his palm, it’s like he’s squeezingher heart.

In the end, Orlockis vanquished and Ellen’s sacrifice proves not to be in vain, butthat particular interpretation of vampires always stuck in my mindfrom that point on. Not too long after that, I discovered Erhige’samazing interpretation of the filming of Nosferatu calledShadow of the Vampire (2000), which, I’m sorry, Willem Dafoedeserved to win the Academy Award for (although thankfully, he wasnominated) owing to his performance as Count Orlock/Max Von Schreck.If you haven’t seen the film, its premise is that the actor whoportrayed Orlock in the original 1922 Nosferatu, Max Schreck,was actually a vampire himself that Murnau hired on for authenticity.Shadow was a fantastic re-exploration of the territory thatNosferatu went into, only this time, the monster was giventhat much more focus and allowed to show his side of the story, hislife, his desires. Still, the most iconic image of a monster for mehas always been (and no matter how many horror films I see andnovels/stories that I read, will always be) Count Orlock fromNosferatu, which remains one of the most arresting figuresI’ve ever encountered.
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Filed under Darkeva, guest post, monster movie marathon, Nosferatu, vampires

Making Monsters (A Practial Guide): a guest post by Tim McGregor

Tim McGregor is a Toronto-based writer working in film, television and print. His film credits include the apocalyptic thriller Final Storm, starring Lauren Holly and Luke Perry, the horror-comedy Bitten, starring Jason “Jay” Mewes and Ultimate Killing Machine, an action thriller featuring Michael Madsen. A former comic book artist and DIY publisher, Tim began working in film after attending The Canadian Film Centre, a film institute and training center founded by Norman Jewison.

I had a chance to read and review Tim McGregor’s Bad Wolf a few months back. He seemed like an easy choice to hit up for a guest post on monsters. His offering takes a different approach, showing monster movies from the side of a screenwriter. Enjoy.

Making Monsters: A practical guide
By Tim McGregor
Here’s a weird truth about horror movies: they don’t require movie stars. Run through a list of your favourite horror flicks and I’ll bet most of them have no big names. Texas Chainsaw, Halloween, American Werewolf, Elm Street, Blair Witch, The Descent… not a movie star in sight. In fact, movie stars get in the way of a good story. Why? Because with horror, concept is the star and in this genre, concept breaks down to one word:
Monster.

Whether the monster is big (the Devil himself in Exorcist) or small (a Tiki doll in Trilogy of Terror) or even the absurd (a vengeful tire in Rubber), the whole thing hangs on the shoulder of your monster. Remember Ring? Yes, the monster in that was the ghost girl but for the first half of that story, the monster is a crappy VHS cassette.
The holy grail for any writer in this game is coming up with a good monster.
Late 2006 I’m watching a made-for-cable movie called She-Creature. Rufus Sewell plays a carnival huckster in 1890’s Ireland who comes across a sea captain holding a live mermaid prisoner in a tank. When the old salt refuses to sell it, Rufus and his carnies steal the mermaid and board a ship for America intent on making it rich with their prize. Except this isn’t The Little Mermaid swimming around in a tank, it’s a man-eating predator. Entrancing and mute, the mermaid starts devouring the crew one by one. Fun ensues as our hero debates whether to dump her in the drink or keep going on to America.
I was blown away by this movie. Not just the story but the production values and brilliant filmmaking. Despite the B-movie budget, director Sebastián Gutiérrez and his crew convincingly pull off a period piece (expensive), a convincing mermaid (costly and time-consuming stuntwork) and set it on a ship (again, costly).
Yet I kept waiting for the story to turn a certain way, thinking that Rufus was going to fall in love with the mermaid. That doesn’t happen. Once the mermaid escapes the tank, the movie becomes a familiar ‘monster run amok’ flick. Again, well done but ultimately unsatisfying after such a great set up.
But the idea stayed with me. A character in love with a monster that he can’t be with. They can’t even touch because she’d kill him.
I start crafting my own deadly mermaid love story and then reality stops me cold. I simply can’t afford a mermaid movie.
I’m a screenwriter working in low-budget genre movies in Canada. You always have to keep production costs in mind or you’re sunk. If your script is too big, it simply won’t get made. In Hollywood, low budget means $10 to 20 million. Here, it means $1 million or less.
Mermaids are simply out of the question.
I had a precarious foothold in the biz with one produced movie, a low-budget action-horror written with my friend and fellow CFC alum Tyler Levine. Find it filed under the title of UKM: The Ultimate Killing Machine. I know what you’re thinking… what a godawful title! A licensing conflict with the original title (Kill Switch) caused the production company to slap a new title on it. It still makes me wince. But it got made and it was a boot camp education in low budget movie making. How to exploit your location and resources for maximum screen effect. How to use suspense over graphic SFX and how action can be shot without a lot of costly stunt work. A quick and dirty 18 day shoot in a decommissioned school in beautiful Hamilton, Ontario. Michael Madsen was our star.
Tyler and I try to make hay of it but the movie is simply dumped onto cable and DVD. There’s a nice review in Fangoria mag and then an onslaught of vicious reviews online. Here’s the thing, those vicious reviews may have stung but they weren’t wrong. UKM is a cheap B-movie and it shows.
So with one notch in my belt and looking for the next movie, I’m stuck with this mermaid problem. It just won’t work. Besides the prosthetic fish tail, the real problem is the actress having to perform underwater. That would require take after take to shoot the simplest sequence and delays on set are what burns money and eats your shooting days.
But the idea kept at me; a character in love with a monster they cannot be with. Again, the concept was the star. All I had to do was rethink the concept. Rethink the monster.
What I needed was a budget-friendly monster. Werewolves? Nah, too FX heavy. Ghosts? Nope. Japanese horror like Ring and Ju On had exhausted the ghost story for the time being. Zombies seemed overdone after 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead and Romero’s Land of the Dead. (How wrong I was in that assessment!)
So I settled on vampires.
Wow, Tim. How original!
The thing is, vamps are the easiest to get away with on film. FX wise, we’re talking about some fangs and contact lenses. A few pints of fake blood. No elaborate make-up, no complicated prosthetics that requires multiple takes to get right.
Maybe this is why vampires are so popular in film. They’re cheap.
I came up with a paramedic who’s burnt-out from working nights and patching up human wreckage of junkies and street people. Returning home to his rough neighbourhood, he finds a woman who’s been assaulted and left for dead. She has no memory of who she is or what happened to her but refuses to go to the hospital. The paramedic takes her in, nurses her back to health and quickly falls in love with her. Since he works nights, they sleep during the day with the windows shuttered. The woman heals quickly but becomes moody and erratic, leading the paramedic to believe she’s a drug addict suffering withdrawal.
Left alone one night, the woman is startled by a junkie breaking into the apartment. The paramedic comes home to a bloodied corpse on his floor and the woman he loves feeding off the body. Turns out she was suffering withdrawal after all, but it wasn’t for meth.
Our paramedic realizes that the woman he loves is a vampire and the theme of the story plays out from there. How far would you go for love?
The script was banged out quickly. Tyler reads it, gives notes and we work through the fixes. The script’s reworked, rewritten and polished up. The agent shops it around but we eventually come back to the production company that made UKM. They want it.
The company brings in one of their directors and another quick and dirty shoot is planned. The script was tailored for a tight budget meant to exploit a grimy urban environment. In fact, it’s so budget-friendly the company shoots a good portion of it out the back door of their production offices in Hamilton. (Sidenote: If you’re unfamiliar with Hamilton, it’s a beautiful place to shoot a movie. Built with grandiose ideas and fallen into economic ruin since the 80’s, Hammer Town is a film set waiting for a camera. No set-dressing required.)
Looking back on it, we should have asked for more money considering the savings built into the script.
Trouble starts when the director gives his notes about the rewrite. Scripts are endlessly rewritten, that’s just part of the business. Some notes are good but some are bad and the tone of the movie is changing. It’s becoming more of a crude comedy. It changes thematically too, less about how far one goes for love than about how relationships suck the life out of you. I balk, the director tells me not to worry. It’s all good, he says. How I hate that empty phrase. The rewrite notes keep coming as the camera date comes up fast. I balk again, the movie is becoming downright nasty. Misogynistic even. Again, I’m assured it will be handled correctly.
Have faith.
Now it’s too late to do anything. Once a film goes into production, it’s a hurtling train that can’t be stopped. Once it’s purchased, the script belongs to the production company and they can do whatever they want with it. If I don’t do the rewrites, someone else will. Probably the director himself. So I stay on and try to mitigate the damage.
So the film was shot and entered the distribution pipeline. First to cable channels then dumped to DVD. Bad reviews roll in. I wish I could recommend it but I can’t. It’s a mess. The poor actress playing the amnesiac vampire spends half the movie topless.
Ugh.
Of the movies I’ve had produced, this one still sticks in my craw. And I shouldn’t complain. I’ve had three features made from original scripts. I’m a lucky sonofabitch and remain grateful for the work. Movies are hugely collaborative efforts that involve a ton of talented people. And those movies morph and change throughout the entire process.
Still, that little monster script was something special. Simple but elegant in its economy. A clean throughline from theme to climax.
Now it’s just one more vampire flick clogging up the pop culture landscape.

Maybe I should have stuck with the mermaid after all.

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Filed under filmmaking, guest post, mermaids, monster movie marathon, screenwriting, vampires

Rabid Reads: "Bad Moon Rising" by Jonathan Maberry

Bad Moon Rising
Pinnacle (2008)
608 pages
ISBN-13: 9780786018178
After reading the first two books in Maberry’s Pine Deep trilogy, Ghost Road Blues and Dead Man’s Song, it seemed readily apparent that he’d placed a small armory of proverbial guns on the mantle. In the third and final book, Bad Moon Rising, Maberry spends six hundred pages pulling the trigger on each and every one of them. Now, if you haven’t had a chance to read the first two books yet, there’s probably going to be some spoilers here, so don’t say I didn’t give you fair warning.
The book picks up pretty much where Dead Man’s Song left off. Malcolm Crowe and his newly pregnant fiance Val are beaten and bloody yet again, but they’ve survived a second attack from the insane and impossibly alive Ruger. They thought they’d killed him at the end of Ghost Road Blues, when he was a sadistic street thug lured to Pine Deep as part of a supernatural menace’s grand plans. But, Ruger came back from the dead, transformed and ready to do the bidding of his overlord, Ubel Griswold. In fact, coming back from the dead is the latest trend in Pine Deep. It seems the bad guys just can’t take the hint.
While Crowe frets over Val’s health, since she took the brunt of the punishment–and dealt the killing blow to Ruger–Terry Wolfe is in a coma in the same hospital, after a failed suicide attempt during a violent transformation into a werewolf. Turns out the ghost of his baby sister was onto something when she kept urging him to kill himself, because before he threw himself out of a window, he damned near killed his wife, Sarah.
As for the teenaged outcast, Mike Sweeney, his life gets even worse. The beatings from his pseudo-stepdad, Vic Wingate (the secret righthand man of Griswold), weren’t enough. He’s narrowly escaped death at the hands of a religious madman named Towtruck Eddie, and with Griswold’s and Vic’s help and manipulation, Eddie’s on the hunt for Mike again so the boy can’t reach his full potential and possibly thwart Griswold’s plans for resurrection.
I doubt this book would work as a stand-alone, since the backstory is really only glanced upon as the big showdown builds. I think you’d pretty much have to invest in the first two books if you want to appreciate the context behind all the mayhem in the third–and there is a metric ton of mayhem. The whole story has been building to what Griswold calls the “Red Wave” which is supposed to allow him to rise out of the swamp where the Bone Man killed and buried him. To that end, I was kind of surprised the Bone Man didn’t play a more prominent role in this grand finale. He’d been hanging around the scene like a specter the whole way through and I thought he’d get his hands dirtier when push came to shove. More spectator than specter in my estimation.
With such a dark, violent climax to this novel, Maberry leaves plenty of room to have fun with some of his characters. Tom Savini has a cameo appearance, for crying out loud, when the town’s big Halloween festivities begin, as well as when the Red Wave begins. And Maberry literally pulls out all the punches when crafting the multiple fight scenes that ensue.
It’s a satisfying end to a trilogy that I thought sagged some in the middle. Each prominent character through the entire series gets a spotlight shone on them at the end, giving each a proper ending, even if not all of them are happy endings. If you like small town epics, like Stephen King’s Under the Dome or John Saul’s Blackstone Chronicles, the Pine Deep trilogy is a far more electric and entertaining saga to dive into. And if you can find time to read all three books in a row, they might make for a fun Halloween reading marathon.

CymLowell

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Wish List Wednesday #100: Matt Haig’s "The Radleys"

I don’t care if a book gets a lot of praise from mainstream book critics, like The Radleys by Matt Haig. I have never given those critics any more regard than I do for book bloggers or the anonymous mob that reviews on Amazon.com. It’s word of mouth that will sway me into giving a book a chance, and that’s what has perked my ear with The Radleys, because the word of mouth has been very favorable.
And that’s what a book with vampires needs to get me the least bit interested these days. I haven’t read as many vampire novels as most horror and dark fiction fans, but I’ve read enough that I need something that breaks from the norm. And a suburban setting with a British family who just happens to be vampires strikes me as a book that diverges from the conventional wisdom of vampire lore. The parents have always known, but their two teenage children are only realizing they are different. It sounds utterly fascinating to me.
Have you heard of this book? Have you read it by any chance? Are you, perhaps, sick of vampires?

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Rabid Rewind: "Let Me In"

Let Me In
starring Kodi Smith-McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Elias Koteas, and Richard Jenkins
written and directed by Matt Reeves
based on the book by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Matt Reeves is responsible for one of the most unenjoyable movies I’ve seen in the last ten years, Cloverfield. Now, he’s responsible for one of my very favorite movies of the last ten years, Let Me In.
I’ve already reviewed the novel written by John Lindqvist, and even the original Swedish film adaptation, so I don’t feel I need to dive too deeply into the setup. Long story, short: A bullied young boy befriends a new girl in his tenement who turns out to be a vampire. With me so far? Good.
Two things stick out for me with regards to this movie. For one, the casting is pretty much perfect. Cody Smit-McPhee (The Road), plays Oscar, a tormented boy living with his divorcee mother and feels utterly alone and helpless. Then, there is Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass) who plays Eli, a mysterious girl who moves into the tenement with who Oscar presumes is her father. The interplay between these two characters, while not quite as enigmatic as in the Swedish film is incredibly gripping. To further bolster the cast is Elias Koteas as the detective investigating the string of murders in the area, Richard Jenkins as the man Eli lives with and acts essentially as an errand boy for her. For the two kids to hold their own in scenes with such accomplished character actors like Koteas and Jenkins is truly remarkable. I wonder if these kids will continue to steal scenes in the future or if they’ll disappear from the limelight like other promising child actors–anyone heard from Haley Joel Osmant lately?
The second thing that stick out for me is the omitted subject matter that didn’t make it from the book to the film. There is a teenage boy who is not touched upon, and the middle-aged drunkards are nearly non-existent, only touched upon in one key scene compared to the fully-fleshed subplot of the book. And the relationship between Oscar and his father is relegated to a single scene involving a phone call. The movie is even more streamlined than the Swedish adaptation, and the weird thing was that it didn’t bother me in the least. The story is condensed to the most important core elements and winds up becoming all the better a movie for doing it.
I can’t even remember now what my favorite horror film of 2010 was before I saw Let Me In. All I know is that this is my pick as the top film of the 2010, now. Watch it.

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Filed under Chloe Moretz, Cody Smit-McPhee, Elias Koteas, film adaptation, horror, John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let Me In, Let the Right One In, Matt Reeves, movie review, Rabid Rewind, Richard Jenkins, vampires

Getting Graphic: "30 Days of Night: Dark Days" by Steve Niles & Ben Templesmith

30 Days of Night: Dark Days
written by Steve Niles
illustrated by Ben Templesmith
IDW Publishing (2007)
ISBN 9781932382167
I thought 30 Days of Night was a great graphic novel, with a film adaptation that complimented it quite well. I don’t hold such high hopes for Dark Days after seeing the trailer for the film adaption to this sequel. I may skip the movie altogether, lest it ruin what was another entertaining vampire story from Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith.
If you haven’t read 30 Days of Night, there’s going to be a couple of spoilers for that book revealed. So, maybe check out my review of the book, then decide if it’s something you would be interested in.
As for Dark Days, it picks up well after the slaughter that occurred in Barrow, Alaska inside the pages of 30 Days of Night. Stella Olemaun, widow of Sheriff Eben Olemaun, has left Barrow and started her hunt for any and all vampires. They live in secret, shrouded by their own myth so no one believes in them. Stella has written a book recounting the Barrow massacre and is on a book tour, with her first stop being Los Angeles. She’s tracked a pocket of them there and, along with her small but dedicated security detail, plans to flush them out.
On the other side of the coin is one of the elder vampires, incensed by her actions. A widow herself to one of the lead vampires killed in Barrow, he stalks Stella to exact her own measure of revenge.
The story, for me, loses some of its mystique compared to the isolation depicted in 30 Days of Night. Los Angeles, while a logical spot for vampires to lurk, doesn’t feel unique as a setting. The characters and their interactions help make up for that, as Stella struggles with her mission when she learns her publisher is releasing her book as fiction, turning her into a bit of a laughing stock in the eyes of the real world.
The artwork of Templesmith comes off as frenetic and gives such a rabid tone to the subject matter, the city in which the story takes place is almost immaterial, because the characters–especially the vampires–practically jump off the page in all their gruesome glory. There’s a sketchbook and charcoal quality to the pictures that just seem tailor-made for a vampire tale.
Overall, an entertaining book, and the expansion on the mthos kept me engaged the whole way through. It might not be a grand slam like the first graphic novel was, but it does well to carry on the story, and even offers hints at what the third volume might have in store.

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Getting Graphic: "American Vampire" by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque & Stephen King

American Vampire
by Scott Snyder and Stephen King
illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque
Vertigo Comics (2010)
ISBN 9781401228309
“Suck on this.” The title of Stephen King’s foreword seems to be a volley at Stephenie Meyer and all authors who seek to domesticate the revered bloodsuckers of literature. He, along with the story’s creator Scott Snyder, want vampires with sharp teeth, bad attitudes, and evil intentions. Well, they’ve offered a comic book that delivers on all fronts.
Stephen King tackles the origin story, while Scott Snyder offers a parallel storyline that occurs some decades later about vampires in America during the 19th century and early 20th century. The story starts in Los Angeles circa 1925, as Pearl Jones tries to climb her way to fame as an extra on a Hollywood movie lot. After catching the eye of a dashing leading man, she’s invited to a party where she is to meet with the big wigs–and a chance at the bright lights. There’s no happy ending for Pearl, however, when she winds up the main course for the vampire masters of the leading man and dumped in the California desert to die. But, she doesn’t die–thanks to Skinner Sweet.
Skinner Sweet is no hero, we quickly learn, though. Imagine a vicious and remorseless Billy the Kid during 1880, hunted down by lawmen and supposedly killed by the same vampire overlords out to exploit the American West. Instead, Sweet is turned and eventually hunts down the bloodsuckers who created him. And he is a bit different, evolved in a sense, and uses his adaptations to leave a brand new trail of blood on the ground. All the while, a no-nonsense lawman who initially brought Sweet to justice is tormented by his fiance’s murder at the hands of Sweet and vows to end him once and for all.
Rafael Albuquerque’s artistry on each page seems perfectly suited to capture the nostalgic glamor of the 1920s and the gritty western feel from the 1880s. And the ugliness of the vampires and their animalistic rage comes through in every scene they appear. All in all, it’s not an especially gory book, but when blood is spilled, it is in no small amount. The only way I can think to make the book look more authentic is if it was entirely sepia-toned.
I really got a kick out of this book. Yes, vampires are done to death. The same can be said for westerns. Heck, I probably wouldn’t have to look that hard to find a sub-genre of vampire westerns. American Vampire really strikes a chord though, and it feels like a new benchmark going forward. A kind of can-you-top-this dare to the rest of the comic book and literary world. With the onslaught of vampire fiction that refuses to die down, maybe someone will come along and offer something that will top this, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
If there’s a negative thing to say about this book, I think it would be the villains. Well, the villains other than Skinner Sweet. They felt a bit familiar and less fleshed out compared to other characters. Cliches? Maybe. With a character as iconic as Skinner Sweet, it’s a forgivable smudge on an otherwise spectacular story.

CymLowell

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Filed under American Vampire, comic book review, Getting Graphic, graphic novels, horror, Scott Snyder, stephen king, vampires, western