Screen Suckers

I might have waxed poetic about the written vampire before, but as I said in that post, there is something to be said for the onscreen demon. Watching a vampire incarnate, all charm and danger and sex appeal on the television screen, well. It conveys this excitement that literature cannot always guarantee. Besides, the freedom of the camera allows for slightly more depth. Visual clues can hint at scope for evil in a mere camera pan, a twitching lip can signal eternal hunger, a twinkling eye can add personality to the tortured soul. That being said, there are favorites. Amidst the Dracula knockoffs, the Hammer films, the eternal sexiness of Damon and Stefan and Bill Compton, there are some celluloid vamps that deserve my special attention and love.

“Bad Blood”, The X-Files

vampireThis might seem like cheating, putting an entire episode of a TV show, one not even primarily concerned with vampires, on my list about favorite vampires. To those naysayers, I have one response: it’s my list, and if you don’t approve of including The X-Files at any opportunity we have some core fundamental differences, and I might recommend a different pop culture site. “Bad Blood” is one of the first things that comes to mind with vampires on screen. A lot of that has to do with its place in The X-Files canon, as this Vince Gilligan-penned* script shows a Mulder/Scully counterpoint that must be experienced, setting the two against each other as they recall the events in Cheney, Texas, adding their own peccadilloes and interpretations.** This is episode is also unique in its portrayal of vampires. Yes it’s humorous, a rarely seen trait I’ll touch on more in a moment, but it also plays up the stereotypes while keeping an underlying menace. These vampires seem campy but still pack a punch.

* Yes, that Vincent Gilligan

** “And it wasn’t even real cream cheese; it was light cream cheese!”

Viago, What we do in the Shadows

viagoSpeaking of the humorous vein of vampire screen lore, something we’ve alluded to but haven’t quite discussed, Viago is by far my favorite. A close runner up is Paul Reubens in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, with his extended death scene, but Viago wins the chuckle-off between the two. What We Do in the Shadows is a recent film, still in theatres near you if you’re lucky, but it’s well worth recognition. A hilarious mockumentary that gives Christopher Guest films a run for their money, Shadows follows vampire roommates as they traverse their afterlife. Viago is one of the youngest, a mere 183-years old, and still hangs on to some of the genteel markers of the Victorian age. A polite, fastidious vampire, Viago’s humor comes from his naturally sweet personality, especially as contrasted by the necessary bloodthirstiness of vampires. Watching him narrate his “hunting” process might have been the hardest I’ve laughed in a while.

Claudia, Interview with the Vampire

claudiaAll vampire stories tend to skew towards one type: young and sexy. With the promise of eternal youth, why wouldn’t vampirism be attractive? What a tempting offer, to be at your prime forever. Claudia, the scheming “child” vampire played by Kristen Dunst in Interview with the Vampire, disabuses viewers of that notion with remorseless efficiency. Killed by Louis and revived by Lestat, the five-year old begins her eternity simply enough, learning about the world and murder from her two older companions. But then she grows mentally throughout the years, entering maturity internally while externally remaining cherubic. The division drives her mad. Having the capability of an eternal being while trapped in the body of a minor leads Claudia to become one of the most vindictive, heartless creatures. Incidentally, that’s what makes her so fascinating to watch.

Nosferatu, Nosferatu the Vampyr (1979)

nosferatuNosferatu is the original on-screen vampire. F.W. Murnau’s unapproved rip-off of the Dracula story introduced viewers to a stalking menace. The original is a gorgeous movie, currently found on Netflix, and if you have the disposition to sit through silent films it’s well worth your time, building an astonishing air of menace that aged beautifully. But if silent isn’t your thing, consider Werner Herzog’s version, which more than preserves the fear and desperation of the original. Klaus Kinski is absolutely astounding as Nosferatu. While the original Max Schreck was rumored to actually be a vampire, I willingly believe it with Kinski. He achieves an entire era of hopelessness through one frame, the pale face and staring eyes striking terror and pity in the heart of any who look upon him. As he ushers in plague and walks suddenly into frame, Kinski’s Nosferatu is the epitome of ageless villain.

Spike, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

BuffyThe ultimate bad boy, the king of quip, the punk prince of darkness, and hands down the best vampire in the Buffy-verse. Eat your heart out, Angel (and Angelus, while you are almost interesting, you just don’t measure up to this amount of wonderful). Spike isn’t just the best vampire on TV, he’s the best vampire to watch. He fits all requirements a fan could possibly have: he’s totally violent and insane, and yet there’s heart. He has the slight stalker tendencies that make every Twihard’s heart flutter (I won’t elaborate further on those Buffy-bot years), but they develop into a rich tortured soul, the demon besieged by a bad case of the loves. Watching Spike progress throughout the seasons, all snark and sexiness, is enough to justify the vampire’s eternal life on screen. Writers take note: this is how you do a vampire. And trust me, with Spike, I’d like to.

 

There Is No Escape!

Count Chocula cereal box This month, we’ve covered films, TV, and books. But we also really love other things, like music, food, and games. And vampires have touched everything they could in our cultures. They’re not just limited to the fancies of goth kids or horror lovers. They even end up as breakfast cereals for innocent little human children to stuff in their faces whilst puppets teach them to count.

Sesame Street's The CountAs previously mentioned, I had a recurring dream about vampires when I was 3 years old. Not a nightmare, but a dream that I enjoyed. And I don’t know why it mattered to tiny me, but it did. Whilst my peers all through childhood feared vampires, I was intrigued and attracted. I ate that stuff up. Films, books, games, TV programmes, toys, breakfast cereal. And, of course, music.

But before we get to the music, we really do need to touch on gaming. Because I was raised on tabletop role playing games. Yes, like Dungeons and Dragons. And, though we haven’t yet talked about it, games of various sorts are one kind of escapism I enjoy, one way I like to find new worlds to be in. So you can imagine my joy when White Wolf came out with rules for a game that would let me play a vampire. Though I spent time revelling in the goth scene, I never felt right being one of the kids who pretended, in that context, to be a vampire. Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition Storyteller's Screen (an assortment of vampires look out menacingly)But in the context of gaming…Yeah! I was going to play vampires! Assorted vampires so that I could try different powers and flaws. And when they put out rules so that I could LARP (that’s live action role playing…like improv acting without an audience), I did that too. No shame.

Vampires are everywhere. Even, some evenings, in the park near your home, the meeting room at your place of employ, the red brick square in front of your university library. And, yes, definitely in your music. Not just your goth music, either.

Feel free to start the playlist of assorted, mostly-not-goth songs about vampires that I’ve created and embedded below. But do read the little more I’ve written, okay?

Animated gif of the sax player from Lost BoysThinking about vampires in music, my brain pulled out two categories that seemed relevant. Both are reflected in the varied but not comprehensive playlist that you’ve got playing now. One category is, obviously, songs about vampires. But vampires have also brought us great music via soundtracks. I’m definitely not claiming that all vampire film soundtracks are good, but some of my favourite films also produced great soundtracks (even if not every track is a winner or not every image of them is truly cool…I’m looking at you, Lost Boys sax guy). I’ve tossed a track each from a handful of them onto the playlist, which isn’t nearly enough. Please hunt down at least the following films’ soundtracks:

  • Lost Boys
  • Only Lovers Left Alive
  • The Hunger
  • Wir sind die Nacht

(Whilst, as noted earlier this month, we didn’t love Coppola’s Dracula, I included the Annie Lennox song from its soundtrack in the playlist. Best thing to come out of that film for me. Only good thing about trying to force it into that love story plot…)

Here’s your playlist. Thanks for taking this little tour this month through one of my favourite things!

Bloodlust (Most Worlds April 2015 Mix) from amberrockstar on 8tracks Radio.

Put the Lime in the Coconut in my Mouth

For as long as I’ve been paying attention, Cupcake Royale‘s April Fools joke is to bring out the Compost Cupcake. And, apparently, it is a real cupcake that some people actually enjoy, so it is really and truly and actually their usual April flavour of the month. I don’t recall what that cupcake is like, but I do recall that, at least the one time I read the description, it did not sound appealing to me. (Though Cat has pointed me at the description for this year, which sounds mostly good, so perhaps I don’t know what I’m talking about.) As April approached, I confess that I had some slight dread over having to try this cupcake. (The version my brain told me was real. Not the version currently posted on their site.) You can imagine my relief when, instead, the following cupcake was posted as their April flavour of the month.

Toasted Coconut Lime Cupcake
Toasted Coconut Lime CupcakeAvailable April only – Coconut cake gets a tart and tangy swirl of real lime buttercream. Finished with toasted coconut.

Amber: Cut in half, this cupcake looks lovely and spongy and light. I’m more excited than I thought I’d be for something with no chocolate. It’s lovely that they use coconut shavings and not the cheap stuff that you’ll find at my flat. As usual, the buttercream frosting proportions look good. Now, to put it in my mouth…Oh my stars. It is, indeed, lovely and spongy and light. And the lime is a bright burst of flavour. There’s nothing overwhelming here. The coconut is subtle. Yes, I love the flavour of this cupcake. I might like more coconut flavour, but I don’t need it. As it is, and whilst it’s not the sort of bold and stand-out flavour that I’m likely to pine over when the month is ended, this is delightful. I would like to eat about a million more right now, please.

Cat: I think Cupcake Royale is trying to make up for February’s overload, because, ever since, they’ve had flavors that feel specifically geared towards my tastes. Fluffy mint and chocolate? Don’t mind if I do. Coconut cake? Well sure, of course. Lime frosting? TAKE ALL MY MONEY, YOU NOW OWN MY TASTE BUDS. I was actually nervous to taste this cake, along the same lines of my nerves with last month’s Samoa cupcake, because it was so much of what I like it was doomed to fail, right? Wrong. This was delicious and delicate and owned up to everything I wanted it to be.

Like Amber noted, the cake was a lovely sponge, most similar to the buttercake base of CR’s Lavender Cupcake. There might be a coconut twinge to the cake itself, though, if so, it’s too subtle for my palate. Which is not a slight—the cake is delicious and doesn’t make me feel over-indulgent. It’s just not smacking me in the face with tropical sensations. The coconut love comes mostly in the form of the thick-cut coconut shreds on top. What a delight to look upon something that bears a resemblance to the actual source food. No flitty slivers of spun sugar disguised as coconut for these folks! But the lime frosting. Oh, the lime frosting. It’s slaying me. The frosting carries the lion’s share of the cupcake flavor, and it does it in such a way that I want to treat it real nice, if you’re catching my drift. It’s a pure lime flavor, not diluted or a false, electric green copycat (I might be betraying my bitterness at whatever lime syrup they use in the magic multi-flavor Coke dispensers, but, good news: that mysterious radioactive flavoring is nowhere to be seen in this cupcake). It makes me think of summer, of long drives with the windows down, of music, of joy, and I want all my food slathered in this frosting from now on.

Books with Bite

I love movies, and there’s something to be said for the actual image of sinuous vampires on the screen, but for some reason these creatures always felt more real to me when they jumped off the page. Perhaps it’s the whole “dark and stormy night” aspect of it, where the descriptions of night and terror leave more scope for my imagination. Perhaps, to get all snotty on you, it’s because this was a concept told through tales, an idea with such a rich literary history that I can’t help but nod respectfully to the works that came before (slightly covered in my Dracula piece) and the wealth of material that followed. Whatever it is, vampires and books go together like peanut butter and jelly, or monsters and disemboweling, and I love it.

Buffy-the-Vampire-Slayer-001

Right now, vampire lit is nearly over-saturating the market. Young Adult literature is stuffed to the rafters with books that have glowing eyes or pale-skinned beauties on the cover. Thanks Twilight! It can be almost exhausting to wade through the stack of Vampire Academy or Vampire Assistant or Vampire Gangster* books out there. Adult books are similarly plagued. Thanks, Sookie Stackhouse!

* I don’t think this one is real, and I’m claiming my intellectual property rights here and now.**

**Well, shoot.

Despite the abundance of vamp books, enough for anyone to fully gorge on whatever type of undead lover they fancy, it still takes finesse to get the stories exactly right. And even when the stories aren’t exactly right, there are only a finite number of ways they can be told. Vampires have been around for centuries. You’re not going to find an utterly fresh telling. There can be fresh stories, but the methods fall under the same basic structures.

1. Build off a previous story.

When in doubt, stretch out something that has been proven over time. Elaborately fan-fic the crap out of classic literature, and voilà! You’ve got a story cooking! In all seriousness, this concept can lead to some incredible reading. When done skillfully, continuing from the foundation of Carmilla or Dracula can allow for the author to get all kinds of creative, but within a limited structure. It’s been posited that the best creativity happens when there are boundaries, and these kinds of books can prove that.

One of the most successful versions of this is Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian. Weighty, time-weaving, and at times a little lagging in the narrative, The Historian uses the Dracula myth to tell a story about scholarship, about history, and about family. Kostova used the legends of Vlad Tepes to jump start this, her first novel, but made the character of the Count a shadowy villain. The result is something that can appeal to fans of the books, because it still has that stalking terror just in the shadows, but the drama surrounding the decades of involvement between this one family and the Count is the main attraction. In this way, it’s a thoroughly modern book, expanding on an ancient premise.

anno_dracula

This is done even more joyfully in the Anno Dracula series by Kim Newman. Full disclosure—I have only read the first in this series, and even that was difficult at times. Newman’s prose is positively purple, a lush tone that fits the Victorian landscape, but you have to be in precisely the right mood to push through it. Once that happens, however, the story is thrilling. This also builds on Dracula (the book, not the legend), but in a “what if?” way. What if the heroes of Dracula failed? What if Dracula actually succeeded in spreading vampirism all over England? What would a society of humans and vampires look like? Newman fleshes this out with awesome detail and tells the story with all the Victorian luridness a vampire fan could want. Spiritual sister to Penny Dreadful, tone-wise. Also, Jack the Ripper. I’ll say no more, but check this one out.

2. Take the name but change the game.

This is what happens when the beasties are still vampires, but everything else has completely changed. This is definitely the Twilight category. They’re called vampires, but they sparkle. Or don’t drink blood. Or aren’t possessed by demons. Essentially, it’s the reverse of the last category. Results are the same (ish), but origins may vary.

Westerfeld_-_Peeps_CoverartI find that YA lit does this best. Scott Westerfeld, he of Uglies fame, played with vampires in two books: Peeps and The Last Days. I’m surprised that these books haven’t taken over the world, because they embody everything hot in teen lit. Smart,
sassy protagonists that speak with real but overly smart voices, a la John Green. Vampire monsters, a la everything. Set against the impending apocalypse, giving a slight dystopian feel, just like the Hunger Games. How is this not more well known? It’s all those things and readable to boot. Give Westerfeld a medal. Regardless of whatever YA bingo Westerfeld was playing when he wrote these, they are great vampire books, where the vampire is actually a human infected with a parasite. A secret society has known about this disease since Colonial times, fighting against the infected and keeping the world safe, but now Hell is about to break loose on earth with a sudden spike in infestations. Changing vampirism into an actual disease—one backed up with snippets of real parasitic science—is a cool twist and adds a new layer of depth to the vampire story.

In further YA news, Robin McKinley (you might know her from The Hero and the CrownThe Blue Sword, or Beauty) also got on the vampire train with Sunshine. These vampires are slightly more traditional, in that they are ancient beings created through trading of blood, but McKinley severely separates them from any human bonds. Her story is set in a supernatural other-world reeling in the wake of the “Voodoo Wars,” a magic monster v. magic human battle. Sunshine, a lovely baker of cinnamon rolls, is captured by vampires and escapes, but not before rescuing her fellow captive, who just so happens to be a vampire. They have a connection, she has power, but she also already has a boyfriend. Twist! Think Twilight, but if Bella had a personality and a life beyond her romantic entanglements. The most subversive part of Sunshine is how it establishes that vampires aren’t human. They might have the same basic shape, but the differences are tangible and noticeable. Placing the vampire inside a world that is already magical lessens the hyper-intense fear of the other, but the richness of the telling makes up for it.

3. Hybridize!

Just like the best stews, vampire books benefit from having a little bit of everything thrown in there. In this case, the most enduring books, the ones I find most fascinating, are those that keep the old but push forward into the new. It’s like Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles—there are aristocratic vamps, ones that date back to Drac and keep the same basic back story and structure, but the characters and situations she’s working with are so new and vibrant it’s impossible to look away.

American_Vampire_02_Cover_by_rafaelalbuquerqueart

My ultimate favorite example of this is a graphic novel series. American Vampire, by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque (with a special assist from Stephen King in the first issue), tells one of the greatest vampire stories I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t hurt that the first issue seemed particularly tailored to my tastes. Cowboys? Check. The 1920s? Check. Hollywood? Check. Smart, capable female protagonist? Check. Gangsters? Check. Jazz? Check. Strangely magnetic bad boy? Check. Extreme gore? Checkity check.

The first issue of American Vampire tells the story of Skinner Sweet, an outlaw in the Wild West of the 1800s. A run-in with a train full of Romanians leaves him a new species—the first American vampire. This origin story is cut up with the tale of Pearl, a flapper and aspiring actress who gets embroiled in events way over her head. There are bad guys, semi-bad guys, and those fighting against the forces of evil. It has layers to the vampires, making some sympathetic while never forgetting these are beings with awful destructive power, power shown through gorgeous, animalistic spreads drawn by Albuquerque. It’s awesome.

I love it because it does seem so very written for me, but it’s more than that. I love it because it’s a book that respects the concept of a vampire, evil and fangs and all. I love it because it has that respect but dares to do something new. I love it because it has a sense of starry-eyed optimism (there is good and evil, and the forces of good battle tirelessly against the darkness). I love it because those set parameters get messy, there are stark contrasts but it allows the characters to blur and play with those lines. It manages to take the old Carpathian creatures (seriously, Dracula shows up in one arc a few issues in) and blend it naturally with bold myth-making of its own.

And that’s what the best books do. They create something new. Yes, films are doing this with vampires. Less often now, since even my favorite vampire films have roots in novels, but there are original vampire tales being told on screen. And yet, books are the source of the latest and greatest. Books are the things pushing the myths forward. Those pages give the undead life.

It’s Lemony Fresh!

Happy housewife with a lemony fresh cupcakeWe hate to use clichés that are most often employed in describing cleaning products, but we drove away from Trophy Cupcakes with our thoughts on sunshine and brightness. We blame the flavour of the month.

Lemon Meringue Pie Cupcake
Lemon Meringue CupcakeLemon • Graham Cracker • Lemon Curd • Meringue Frosting
Pucker up for Lemon Meringue Pie! This tangy treat is our fresh lemon cake filled with house made lemon curd atop a buttery graham cracker “pie” crust. It’s topped off with a Hi-Swirl of toasted marshmallow meringue frosting. Lemony and Luscious!

Amber: In spite of the fact that it looks like the dreaded marshmallow from last month’s cupcake, what you see on that cupcake is meringue. Meringue that is just the way it’s supposed to be when on a lemon meringue pie, piled high and not dry. Lovely and wet in a way that still feels light. And that bottom crust? I was worried. Crust and I have a difficult relationship, especially things like graham cracker crusts. I can get a bit sad about crusts that ruin the softness or creaminess of whatever they’re holding, and graham cracker crusts are usually the worst. And, honestly, a graham cracker crust on an actual lemon meringue pie would just make me weep disconsolately…But the crust on what I put into my mouth was slight…so minimal that I didn’t really notice it. A mere hint of crust. Well done. The cupcake, itself, was quite a nice vehicle to get the lemon curd filling into my mouth. And that’s all I wanted. You see, I have a strong fondness for lemon curd. And, whilst I would not have turned down more lemon curd, they didn’t skimp here. This cupcake was a lemony, not-too-tart, not-too-sweet delight. That both cupcake places chose bright citrus flavours and executed them well this month was a beautiful gift for my mouth.

Cat: On my rankings of dessert and dessert-related bakery items, anything lemon is near the top (underneath cheese-related dessert items, but miles above any other fruit). Give me a lemon square and I’m indebted to you forever. It’s just how it works. When I saw this month’s Trophy flavor, and furthermore, when I saw it involved sweet, sweet lemon curd, I was sold. That being said, the meringue was enough to give me pause. As Amber noted, it was reminiscent of the S’more cupcake’s marshmallow topping, right down to the scorch marks, and that made me shy away from total open-armed acceptance. I needn’t have worried. The meringue was no sticky substance, but a smooth cream stirred into sweet, sweet satisfaction. It was like slurping ambrosia, a perfectly thick yet light topping for a deliciously lemony cake. And that cake. Perfect texture and perfect flavoring, real lemon goodness without being overtly strong. But it was still distinctly lemon, and I could have eaten ten of them. The custard was more liquid than I expected, but that’s not an offense. The thinner viscosity just allowed the bright golden filling to cascade over the rest of the cupcake, filling every bit with a jolt of tartness, all the better to accompany the meringue. Overall, there was no clear winner this month. I want all the lime frosting from Cupcake Royale, and could snack on cake and curd for days to come. Happy April to me!

Subtitles Don’t Suck

Keep Calm and Love VampiresSome of our topics are those we know we want to cover even before we sit down to map out each month’s posts. And some of them come as we look at what’s been left out and what, in the moment, we are saddest to leave out. This is one of the latter. To make sure that this and my other posts were made with the content fresh in mind, I watched loads and loads and loads of things. Aside from being awesome for its own sake, I learned a little about my own tastes and found some threads between things I might not have otherwise. No complaints here.

Last week, I told you a little about my tastes and I pointed you at some of my favourite English language vampire films that you might not have seen. I mentioned there that it was lacking a few titles to make it my comprehensive favourites list. Some of those missing weren’t major cinematic releases (at least not, as far as I know, in English-speaking countries), and those are listed here.

Today, I want to take a look at vampires through the lens of some non-English language media. Seven films and one programme…yikes! But still not every possible thing, because the whole world has vampire stories to tell. I find that the less culturally familiar expectations, ideologies, and thoughts of such films and programmes can increase the escapism of a piece. So, let’s escape with some bloodsuckers who don’t speak our language.

I’m going to opine a bit, so I ought to remind you that vampire stuff is a matter of taste. Last week’s post about English language independent vampire films I really adore should have given you a better idea of what I prefer. It may help you decide whether my tastes are applicable to your viewing habits. Most of what I’m including here is stuff I rather enjoyed. Some of it was…mediocre. I know myself well enough to have avoided things that I was likely to find thoroughly uninteresting.

Note: I would really have liked to have seen A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and include it here, but I haven’t had a chance. Good to have something left on my media to-do list though, right? (I also tried but failed to get my hands on Frostbiten with English subtitles, but it’s funny, so maybe for the best….)

Update: Just before the month ended, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night showed up on Netflix. Hurrah! I’m not going to bulk up an already long post, but see this one. (And find me the soundtrack, okay?) Another great female vampire in a Persian film. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Persian film before…

Let the Right One In (or Låt den rätte komma in): Sweden
Screenshots of the kids from Let the Right One InThis was one of the first few things that came to mind when I chose this angle on the topic. I loved this film. For those of you unfamiliar, this is, basically, a coming of age story—you know, the type where a young protagonist meets his first love…and she happens to be a young girl-sized vampire called Eli (pronounced like “Ellie,” English speakers). Re-watching this time, I was struck by Eli’s obvious upset after having to feed herself and the way that she knows better than to be involved with a human but can’t help herself. The film is broody and moody (and quite a number of scenes occur in places that are woody), and proves that I don’t need my vampire to be someone attractive to and age-appropriate for me. I normally wouldn’t care much for a coming of age film…but they put in vampires and made it something that I will watch on purpose and without anyone else suggesting it. Maybe because the normal adolescent feelings aren’t something I want to deal with unless there’s a supernatural angle to make the intensity and ill-fitting-ness feel like it’s appropriate to the situation. (Though I do love when a film manages to remind you that it might actually not be cool to live forever, especially if you had to live forever on the threshold of puberty. Ugh.) Or maybe I just can’t think anything is sweet unless it involves a bloodsucking creature of the night.

Vampire Princess Miyu (or 吸血姫(ヴァンパイア) 美夕): Japan
Vampire Princess Miyu and her friendI hadn’t seen this anime in years, but it was another that quickly came to mind for this list. I didn’t remember anything other than thinking Miyu, our vampire lead, was adorable and that she had a habit of giggling. The internet tells me that there were two versions of this made. The 1988 version, also known as the OVA (short for original video animation) has the giggling. It also has only 4 episodes and a less cute, darker story arc. I’m focusing here on the longer (26 episodes total)  1997 version, though I enjoyed and recommend both.

Miyu isn’t your standard Western vampire with your standard goals. It’s not spoiling anything if I tell you she’s a young girl (or appears to be) and she’s our heroine, fighting a different supernatural foe (that’s her fate) each episode. It starts out seeming pretty light, but takes some turns for the darker and more complicated. (I wouldn’t say this is for kids…teens and older, maybe? If you liked Serial Experiments Lain, one of the main creators of that was, apparently, a force in this as well. Though this doesn’t get nearly as surreal as Lain.) I don’t know that I think it’s incredible, but it was enjoyable and steps outside the usual in a manner preferable to some of the others I watched in this vampire binge. For those of you who love cute schoolgirl plots in your anime (plots that, so we’re clear, don’t get sexual), there’s some of that in here for you. Plus, here’s another vampire who goes out in the sun. Always a bonus for me.

We Are the Night (or Wir sind die Nacht): Germany
Promo shot of the faces of the 4 vampire womenAs with the previous two, this film was quickly added to my list of subtitled delights. I know I’ve (unintentionally) mainly stuck to female vampires so far this month, but for those of you who want vampires you can ogle, at least the vampires in this one aren’t kids. Though one of the things I’m sure I’m subconsciously enjoying is the way that being vampires finally seems to give some less-privileged people a chance at being empowered and not at the mercy of men and a male-centred society. Yeah, I went there. But I’m just dipping my toe in “there.” Unlike the four women at the centre of this film. They’re definitely enjoying the vampiric traits that helped them out from under the gender-based oppressions of the times they lived in. Which isn’t to say that this film is just for the women, definitely not, but that they might enjoy some bits of it a little more. That said, other cool features of this film…We get a glimpse at the world as if seeing it via a vampire’s eyes. We get to see the aspects that, as one character notes, every woman would kill for, but we also get to see some of the downsides (we aren’t being sold a feminist utopia). We get to watch them teach a newbie what she can do, so we get shots of fun abilities being tried out that might not have come up normally. This lets the filmmaker show us their vision of what vampires are like. I love little touches like seeing the transformation that comes from being turned into a vampire or the unique “kickback” from administering the changing bite rather than the killing bite. We get to see a range of personalities and levels of acceptance of their nature and their peers’ actions in our vampires. As a fan of individualism, I appreciate that each of our four vampires has their own personality rather than one homogeneous take on their species. There’s death, brutality, and a little gore right alongside beauty, yearning, and a glimmer of hope for the humanity of the inhuman. (This more than most others caused me to get really hung up on the question of how vampires would primp. Because I can’t buy into my own inevitable future as a vampire if I don’t know how I’ll keep myself made up the way I like.)

As noted last week, whilst they’re quite different films, I think this would pair well with Byzantium for those of you who like to do double features.

Night Watch (or Ночной дозор): Russia
Night Watch vampire says "You know what our Hunger is..."Before we get to the vampires, I want to make sure to mention the fine job done on the subtitles for this film. That’s not sarcasm, either. Having now watched quite a number of subtitled films all in a row, I’ve seen all sorts of good and bad examples. And they’ve made sure that the subtitles on this one are part of the film. They’re a bloody work of art, and I want you to appreciate that. So, aside from subtitles…This film is a sort of gritty, modern fairytale about power, on a personal and a societal level (but not in the sort of moralising way that will take away the fun). The vampires in this one are a mixed lot and commonplace. Few, if any, are living the life of pampered, superior beings. Plot-wise, it’s probably helpful to know that this is based on the first in a pentalogy of books. You are going to get something of a cliffhanger. In good news, the cinematic plan (and, no, I don’t know if it covers all 5 books) was for only two films. Hunt down Day Watch and you’re sorted. (I made sure to re-watch that as well to confirm there were no relevant, tasty bits for this post. There were not, but that doesn’t mean that I think you shouldn’t watch the film. You should.) The real stand out thing for me with these vampires is that they can send out a call for their victims so they don’t have to go hunting (somewhat similar to what the lead vampire in the second—and truly horrible—Lost Boys film could do). And they can see themselves in mirrors sometimes. For this one, even if you’re not huge on vampires, I’d say check it out to enjoy the larger supernatural world it shows is imposed on the one in which we live.

Rigor Mortis (or 殭屍): China
IRigor Mortis screenshot: a creepy face hung with coinsnitially, I wondered if I’d misunderstood and this was actually a ghost story. Instead, it is one of the most alien of all the things I watched or read for this month and probably also the grimmest. I’m sure my very limited familiarity with the culture made it creepier, but maybe there are creepy implications I missed because of that? Either way, I’m glad I watched…but I’m not sure what I can tell you without spoilers. A retired actor moves into (what seems to me) a run-down building where sinister things are afoot. Not a film for my easily scared friends, but I’m calling it a must-see for my other vampire-loving mates. And don’t be like me and multi-task, because you might miss some really well-done visuals, some of which are nicely subtle.

I should mention that the very end made me angry. Which makes me extra angry, because poor endings can ruin entire films…Though the way it’s described in the plot synopsis on Wikipedia, I might be reading the intent of the last scene incorrectly. Totally possible given my limited cultural perspective, so I’m going to believe that…(Check Wikipedia if the very end also made you angry because you thought they were using an over-used cop-out of a trope.) Wikipedia also tells me that this was an homage to the Mr. Vampire films, of which the lead actor in Rigor Mortis was the lead. So there’s likely loads more I’d have appreciated if I’d seen the Mr. Vampire films…

Strigoi: United Kingdom/Romania
Screenshot: young man Vlad considers himself in a mirrorThis one, I acknowledge, is a little bit of a stretch (strigoi aren’t technically the same thing as vampires and the film is written in English). But! Strigoi are vampire-like creatures from Romanian folklore and are one of the inspirations for Dracula, the film takes place in Romania and uses Romanian actors, and the writer’s husband is Romanian (and she wrote this in English because she knew her Romanian wasn’t good enough for the wordplay and slang that are such a part of the language). This film about a young man who returns to his village to find things aren’t quite right is billed as a comedy, but I find that aspect of it subtle and well-done, so don’t let that put you off if, like me, you find vampire comedies don’t often work for you. There are actually scenes that I wouldn’t think of as comic if it weren’t for the music during them. It was during this film that I finally realised that the thing where a new vampire who doesn’t know what they are but just feels hungry, so hungry, and doesn’t know why is one of the normal experiences for many vampires. They (vampires in general) are beings of hunger. Hungry for blood, often hungry for other corporeal delights (quite often symbols of sexual hunger), and emotionally hungry (for companionship or revenge or thrills if they’ve been around long enough for the boredom to kick in). For the strigoi, the only real benefit to their condition seems to be immortality. There are some interesting twists and definitely a perspective on the topic that’s not like the others I watched. One of its non-standard ideas (though not entirely unheard of) is that some are born vampires and others become vampires after they die. As in Night Watch, we have a range of types of vampires, mainly not living in anything at all near luxury.

Cronos: Mexico
Cronos screenshot: an old man considers a big, golden bugHere’s another unique take on what it takes to become a vampire and what it’s like to be one. It’s Guillermo del Toro, so you already know this isn’t going to be a suave and sexy kind of vampire story. And, really, when it’s a bug to blame for vampirism, can it be sexy? (And, really, when it’s Guillermo del Toro, a bug seems like a pretty unspectacular creature…) Extra un-sexy to me when it’s a bug that’s not biting anyone I’d consider age-appropriate. For me, this was enjoyable but not in a “you must see this!!!” way. Probably not something I’d watch again.

Thirst (or 박쥐): Korea
Promotional shots of the priest and a womanThis was the other film that I watched that was, for me, mediocre. A priest becomes a vampire due to a disease. He keeps the core of his personality and morality, but finds it challenged by the physiological changes and demands that come with being a vampire. It also has some of the least sexy sexual stuff that I think was supposed to be sexy. Maybe it’s a cultural difference. I don’t know…but the person who made these choices is definitely not invited to have sex with me (nor is anyone who finds these scenes sexy…we are clearly on different pages). Also possibly a cultural issue is that I kept wondering if some of this was supposed to be funny. I’m honestly not trying to mock it…I’m just baffled and, in spite of the fact that I feel like this had some promise, it didn’t really click with me. I watch plenty of long films, but something in this one (the erratic pacing or maybe just a story that wasn’t sufficiently engaging) had me feeling very done at only an hour in. (I looked at the clock, sure it must be wrapping up, found I had an hour left, and was filled with dread.) This one gets the award for Least Good Result In Spite Of Plenty Of Potential. Or something less wordy.

 

Lost in the Shadows

Lost Boys promotional shotOne of the first things I told Cat was that I had a list of films I loved that must be mentioned, especially as I thought they were less likely to be known by most people (and also a shame to be missed by those who consider themselves connoisseurs of vampire media). This isn’t my all-time favourites list, but it’s only lacking a couple things to make it that. Instead, I’m sticking to those films that didn’t get as much publicity, things I saw in smaller independent cinemas (and, for the sake of something like brevity, only English-language films for this post). So, whilst I love it, there’s no Lost Boys here. You already know about Lost Boys.

Before we go on, and in case you’re creating a list of films to watch based on our posts, I feel like you need to know that Cat and I have some different requirements from our vampires. As I understand it (and Cat can correct me if I’m wrong), Cat most enjoys the vampire things that show the brutality and the gore hidden in the human-looking beings.*

Promo shot of Brad Pitt as Louis in Interview with a VampireOn the other hand, I most like to see those supposedly-brutal beings who are struggling to find some humanity in themselves or who are dealing with the fact that their need for blood is like my need for air. (Is it immoral for me to breathe, for the lion to hunt his prey, for a vampire to eat the one thing that can actually sustain her?) Whilst I can enjoy a film that’s focused on hunting down or fighting the bloodsuckers (Lost Boys or Blade, anyone?), it’s not usually my preference. Reading Interview With a Vampire, I was all about poor, tortured Louis and was sure I’d hate Lestat…Until we got a chance to learn more in Vampire Lestat and saw his human side as well. It also takes a careful hand for me to enjoy comedic vampire films. (I do hope to see What We Do in the Shadows soon, so, as with my other vampire preferences, there are exceptions.)

I’m pretty sure my preferences are due to me having recurring dreams about being friends with vampires when I was a toddler and then me having a massive weakness for particular kinds of pretty. And, really, I’m a big fan of free will and have respect for anyone, human or vampire, struggling to use their moral agency for good. So, if what you prefer is a gore-fest, a brutal vampire…maybe ignore me? Or at least take my opinions with a grain of salt. I think these are incredible and stand behind them, but only for me. Just like some vampires prefer a certain blood type, I prefer a certain blood-sucker type

In no particular order, here are my top five vampire films that it seems not everyone has seen (aka proof that, in vampire films, I favour stories about how they relate to humans, to each other, and to what humanity they have left).

Only Lovers Left Alive (United Kingdom/Germany)

Promo shot of Adam and Eve from Only Lovers Left AliveFirst, yes, I’ve got the countries right up there. Films can be a production of countries in which they don’t occur. In this case, the events are split between Detroit in the U.S. and Tangier in Morocco. Now…I could write thousands of words about this film. I hoped to like it (Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as vampires? Oh my stars…), but had some reservations (the “sister” plotline was surely going to annoy me…). Within literally the first few minutes, sat in that big, empty cinema, I was in love and this film was one of my top films ever. I love Jim Jarmusch’s signature pacing, the sort of slow but inexorable forward motion. I love the obvious yin and yang of the two lead characters. I find some of myself in both of them, so I am given more than entertainment; I am given a catalyst for self examination. I love this very rare example in media of a healthy, if non-standard, relationship. And I love it more for being non-standard. I love seeing this world through the eyes of some vampires who are very different to each other and to what we tend to see from vampires in media. I love the Tesla love they show. There are funny moments, but in the very real-life way that humour happens. Even with a plot that isn’t all happiness and has quiet warnings about the world humans are creating, I find this moody, brooding, and hopeful. This is a unique, dense, and beautiful contribution to the vampire oeuvre, and I could write poems to it. If you don’t need a fast-paced gore fest, I hope you’ll at least give this one a try.

Nadja (United States)

Nadja promotional shotThis is David Lynch’s contribution to the vampire oeuvre. It’s a tale of family dynamics and relationship complications as they involve Nadja, a beauty of Romanian descent (the actress is actually Romanian), and Jim, whose crazy “uncle” just stalked and killed someone with a stake. They got Peter Fonda for this, which is kind of surreal to me. Because it’s Lynch, it’s unconventional and intense and awkwardly or darkly funny sometimes. Nadja is a moody black and white film that ignited my love of the band Portishead and almost made me want a cloak. One of its themes, as Nadja herself says, is “the pain of fleeting joy.” Depending on my mood, this film can either encourage me to keep fighting for the joy or give into the pain. (I saw it at a cinema as a double feature with The Addiction. I know some folks who adore The Addiction, but Nadja is the one of the two that struck me and stuck with me. Think I need to hunt down The Addiction and watch it with a little less competition…) Also, this film has a Renfield I adore.

Note 1: Yes, Lynch used a toy camera to shoot some stuff and get an interesting effect. Your copy of the film isn’t broken.

Note 2: Watch the credits to see which two parts Peter Fonda played. It’s worth a little laugh.

Immortality (aka The Wisdom of Crocodiles) (United Kingdom)

vampwk4-5I didn’t set out to have female vampires in most my top picks (really, in most the media I’m referencing this month); it just happened. But, as you can see from this, I’m also a sucker for a pretty boy (which you already know if you’ve read the blog before). Really, this is probably the role in which I most fancy Jude Law. Even if he’s an inhuman predator (human predators need not apply). Whilst watching this, I have no delusions about his nature. But it’s also achingly clear, in a way that I find more convincing than any other vampire film I’ve seen, that this isn’t a question of morality. This is another species and, just as I don’t love to watch a lion take down a gazelle but would never apply moral judgement to that lion, he is hunting because he literally needs this to survive. And there’s something about him that gets me on his side, rooting for him and just about willing to be his meal. This one has a unique take on the feeding and should speak to those of you who like your vampires predatory. Plus, hurrah for a vampire who can go out in the sun! There’s a whole other post‘s worth of reasons why that matters to me. (If you’re watching these in order, yes, you did just watch Elina Löwensohn play Nadja, play someone on the other team. Try not to mistake her species in this one. Additionally, one of the cops in this plays a cop in the UK TV serial Ultraviolet, which is also about vampires.)

The Hunger (United Kingdom)

Promo shot of David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve for The HungerYears before I managed to see this, I’d read the book and hunted down the soundtrack. Because, oh yes, David Bowie. And David Bowie as a vampire? This film was an inevitability. I only hoped it wouldn’t disappoint. Because David Bowie as a vampire. This film made me fall in love with Catherine Deneuve and with a haunting Schubert piece. It had love and brutality. Hunting food and hunting a new mate (hello, Susan Sarandon!). And there was that time I saw it in a cinema with some really pretty person softly kissing my throat all through the opening sequence of Bauhaus singing Bela Lugosi’s Dead whilst Bowie and Deneuve hunted. Yes, please. This film was the first film where I was introduced to the idea of something killing a vampire other than a human. And, yes, I swear that I’d have been just as upset if it hadn’t come at David Bowie’s expense. In this film, as in Only Lovers Left Alive, I appreciate the strong and silent power of the female vampires. I also, as you’ve seen me just say and as you’ll see me say again through the month , appreciate that these vampires can walk in the sun. This one is, in my mind, a classic. I always expect vampire lovers to have seen it, but enough of you have defied my expectations and this film is important enough (and so very good), that I am pleased to feel justified in including it here.

Byzantium (United Kingdom/Ireland)

Promo shot of the two female vampires from ByzantiumThis film starts off with a nice set of scenes that immediately differentiate the two main characters, a set of female vampires who aren’t quite a matched set. These vampires fall into my beloved “not killed by sunlight” category, which is handy as we see them stumbling over old memories set off by once-familiar places from their pre-creatures-of-the-night lives. We get to see both their origins and where that’s led them. There’s a nice, non-standard creation method in this one, like a few of the others I watched. The first time I watched this, in fact, I recall being eager for them to hurry up and make the process clear. This film is a reminder that, even for those who do best to keep their natures secret, some secrets do more harm than good. Also a reminder (and we’ll see more of them this month) that being a vampire doesn’t guarantee you a life of glamour or ease, especially if it’s not just humans from whom you’re on the run. I find it a nice complement to We Are the Night (which I’ll write about next week).

Honourable Mentions:

  • Tale of a Vampire – Young Julian Sands in a film that involves a reveal that not everyone will get but that caused me much glee. Loads of slow and quiet moments, interspersed with bits of action, blood, and exposition.
  • Nomads (The 1986 film) – Not quite vampires, but a mind-twisty little piece that should surely appeal to you who love vampire films. Maybe a nice pairing with Lost Boys, actually. Featuring a young Adam Ant.
  • Near Dark – Featuring a young Adrian Pasdar. This one tanked in cinemas but gained cult status, so putting it here in case you’re not already in the cult. Another to pair well with Lost Boys. It’s American Southern Lost Boys in some ways.

 

 *CAT ASIDE: yeah, that’s mostly right. I’m not strictly opposed to the humanity-prone vampire (in fact, I do kind of like it), but there does need to be some emphasis on the evil. This will become more clear when I talk about my number one on-screen vamp later this month.

Count Smackula

One conversation that Cat and I have had multiple times is one where we are mutually upset about what TV and films have done with Dracula. Whilst I think Cat’s enjoyment of the book is greater than mine, I do like the book and I do think it was an important point in the history of how vampires now exist in the public consciousness. Cat already covered that…so, today, we’re going to pretend to be restrained as we touch on the two adaptations (and we use that word with…well, with some looseness in the case of the film and with barely-repressed laughter in the case of the programme) that bother us.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992 film)

Cat: First off, I have to give some sort of credit: this is by far the most faithful film adaptation of Dracula the world has ever seen. It includes all three of Lucy’s suitors (even, as one of my film professors was always excited to say, the Texan! There’s a Texan in Victorian England!). It has both Mina and Lucy, not some strange amalgamation of them. And it includes the basic story beats—a sojourn in Transylvania, the long slow death of Lucy, and the final showdown. Yet somehow all that initial faithfulness just makes the film’s ultimate betrayal of story and tone all the more painful.

Coppola’s direction makes this far too lurid, and, as such, far too obvious. The book does have some moments of bloodshed and mayhem—like the staking of Lucy, which I have to say the film got spot on—but there’s nothing like the waterfalls of bright red corn syrup that constantly flow throughout the film. The same thing happens with the harkersexiness of it all. Three vampire brides hesitating alluringly at Jonathan’s throat become three Turkish belly dancers instigating an orgy. A tall hooded figure leaning over the prostrate Lucy becomes a werewolf going to town on her. Lucy herself goes from sweet bimbo to queen of innuendo. It makes her role way more slut-shaming than the book’s actual metaphor, which actually argues that anyone can fall prey to the unnatural appetites of the Count. The way Coppola portrays her, Lucy totally had it coming, I mean, did you see how she was dressed? And I’m not just being a prude. Obviously I’m of the opinion that vampires have an innate sexiness and brutality that make them interesting, and I’m all for that being used in the appropriate situation. But when you’re adapting Stoker’s novel? Not appropriate. The beauty of the novel is the subtle horror. Dracula is all the more terrifying for the things we don’t see. For the deathly promises he whispers in your ear, not shoves down your throat. Stoker instills fear by putting the reader on edge, building scenarios that are pieced together separately and made all the more terrifying for the slow reveals. In tone, it’s closer to a dry Brontë novel (the lurking fear in the pit of your stomach) than something by Stephen King (the car’s aliiiiiive!). Coppola makes everything so over-the-top that the film plays more as comedy than horror. A man turning into a humanoid structure of rats? That’s comedy gold!

But my main complaint is the damn framing device. Coppola decides to take an already-overloaded story and pile a pointless narrative on top—the narrative of Dracula as Vlad Dracula, the Turkish invader who only became a vampire after his one true love, Elisabeta, accidentally committed suicide. Thus, all his actions from that fated Turkish olddracbeginning are only motivated by him mourning his lost love. Who turns out to be reincarnated in Mina Harker! Twist! Again, this is all not included in the book, nor hinted at even, and works only to coat the entire story with a sickening veneer of saccharine. I won’t even touch the fact that Dracula was not Vlad the Impaler (though he wasn’t). Even without the historical inaccuracy, this convention doesn’t work. It makes Dracula a tragic figure, a man spurred on by love. It’s a modern vampire convention to make the beast sympathetic. We love that in our current vampire stories, but it’s not Dracula. Drac isn’t spurred to London in hopes of reunification with his wife. He doesn’t seduce Mina by dances and the floating candles from Hogwarts. He’s trying to seek fresh blood. In the book, Dracula is primal, not lovestruck. And making Mina a willing victim of Dracula completely destroys her significance to the story. Mina is supposed to be the perfect balance between modern and traditional. She’s the ideal. She’s set up as the ultimate woman: caring in a motherly way, intelligent and familiar with new technologies, a doting wife, sexually experienced, but religiously pure. Making her an ancient damsel-in-distress throws a wrench in all that character construction. In short, the whole “Love Never Dies” tagline of the film is a travesty and makes me want to puke.

Amber: Cat pretty much nailed it. But I want to make sure to point out that this film is basically a high budget fanfic of the type that’s supposed to tell the same story but in a way that we have sympathy for the villain. Look, I’m all about those, but why can’t you just make DRACULA? Cos this wasn’t Bram Stoker’s Dracula; this was Coppola’s Dracula fic. But at least this Dracula could go out in the day, which is canon, unlike the whole cool-but-not-canon plot about trying to address the sunlight issue in the programme…

Dracula (TV programme, 2013-2014)

The cast looking very sexy and promisingAmber: Initially, I was kind of excited. I’m a fan of Jonathan Rhys Meyers and had seen him do enough “sexy and dangerous” to believe in him as Dracula. Just look at some of his hungry and calculating moments in Velvet Goldmine. The trailers looked sensual and plush…And, here’s the thing, if they hadn’t called it Dracula, it probably would have been mostly okay with me. They had a reasonable budget (or the ability to fake it), some talented actors, some interesting twists (given my main interest on my current re-read of Dracula is the gender role stuff, watching them give some power to a woman, even if it sometimes felt a bit ham-handed…well, that was nice…also, as a big Tesla fan, I was into the technological innovation thing), and one of the few non-useless Renfields ever to grace the screen. And given one of the things I’m constantly annoyed at in terms of standard practices when people do adaptations is how they take away all the real power and intrigue of Renfield as Stoker wrote him, I was pleased with this capable and clever Renfield. Anyway, yes, they had good things here. But!

Dracula and Mina looking unflatteringly distressedBut this was not Dracula. They took names, they placed it in London, but they otherwise leave the book out of the picture, if you will. I know they wanted the name recognition, but vampires are big enough (and JRM isn’t exactly an unknown actor) that they might want to freak out a little less over that. I mean, really, I can sum it all up as: THIS WAS NOT DRACULA. This wasn’t even the character of Dracula in an alternate universe. This isn’t the same person. As I re-read the book last month, I was constantly pausing to shriek at things that prove that. My current big one is that Dracula makes it clear to Harker that he wants to blend in, calling out in particular his desire to have no discernible accent when he speaks English. So, yeah, the clear move for the programme to make was a Dracula who has a really huge American accent—look, I’m not asking for JRM’s lovely normal accent, but we know he can do a posh British accent—and couldn’t stand out more unless he wore a sequin-covered suit and was also a one-man band.

And, just in case they’re thinking they’re going to try to revive it…Listen, in addition to just giving the characters different names (which will appease me a lot), could you also try to get corsets that fit the women? There were times I was sure Lady Wetherby was going to lose her lovely breasts to some of the ill-fitting corsets into which they shoved her. And whilst the men’s costuming is pretty good, the women’s is not right for the period. If you’re making a period piece and asking me to suspend disbelief for the vampire-ness of it, which I will gladly do, please at least get things like costuming correct. And…well, now I’ll shut my gob and give Cat a chance…

(However, dear reader, I feel constrained to make a recommendation. If you’re looking for a TV programme with a dark aesthetic, set in Victorian times, and containing a strong female character and assorted other supernatural things– including vampires, I must suggest Penny Dreadful. That programme is brilliant.)

Cat: Amber has covered all my book whingings well, and seriously? Not using JRM to his full potential? What a travesty. My main complaint with this sad pile of drivel is that it was a waste. A waste of prime, Victorian vampire potential. I went into this willing to suspend my belief and my novel-loving soul. After all this was TV, my other main love, and I am not blind to the ways a story has to change to fit the television landscape. To make Dracula last throughout several season there would need to be more. So much more, in fact, that this is an area where all the exaggeration of Coppola’s version would have been a welcome addition. Instead of going full-vampire, this Dracula went full-business, and I went full-yawn. Boring subplots about financial intrigue, boring subplots about Mina’s medical career, and boring whining about Dracula’s lost love (oh yeah, don’t worry, the TV show took all that malarky from the Coppola film). Not only did this program fail as a Dracula adaptation, it failed as anything interesting.

Oh Master, My Master!

nosfertuIt’s an autumn night, circa none-of-your-business, and thirteen year-old Cat is cowering in her bed. The covers are strategically pulled over her throat, creating a cave around her head. Her breath roars raggedly in the confined space, and her heart is echoing through the mattress and up into the pillow, an assault of noise that does nothing to conceal the infinitesimal creaks near her window. She knows that each groan of the house and sound of the street outside is the announcement of something coming for her. Suddenly she’s acutely aware of every entry point into her room, each crack beneath the door and just how level her windows are to the ground. On the nightstand beside her lay the culprit for such heightened paranoia, a fresh copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. There’s a definite scratching on the window and Cat prays for sleep to come.

Dracula is a book that’s managed to retain freshness for over a hundred years. It’s the tale of a shadowy Transylvanian count, Dracula, a vampire who seeks to spread his reign of horror to London. In this process he traps and terrorizes Jonathan Harker, preys on Lucy Westenra (much to the chagrin of her three hunky suitors), and generally flies against the face of science and London’s new modernity.

It’s a fabulous book. And the most influential piece of vampire media, hands down.

In the end, nothing is as chillingly long-lived as Dracula.  There are older vampire novels—like John William Polidori’s The Vampyre (the original preying aristocrat), or Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla (an exploration into female, and thus lesbian, vampirism). There are older examples of lurid Gothic Romanticism—like Horace Walpole’s spooky, mad, twisting The Castle of Otranto. Yet no other tale has become so synonymous with itscommunity central monster.  Vampires are Dracula. When I was a wee little child, there were essentially four monsters in all of existence: mummies, werewolves, Frankensteins (a fallacy for another day and another discussion), and Draculas. Not vampires. Draculas. It’s entered the lexicon. It is the legend. The idea has become one with the character.

With good reason. Stoker’s novel is absolutely captivating, conveying the villain in a way that is straight-forward and accessible while still delivering the spine-shivers. The other vampire tomes are delicious and taboo but err on the side of becoming lost in their own hype, as it were. The pages and pages of description and gore are titillating, but in the end leave less of an impression. They’re the slasher film equivalent to Dracula‘s classic jump horror. In the novel, everything is conveyed through letters, diaries, news clippings, so all the central action occurs on the periphery. It’s like seeing the alien for a split second turning a corner, or barely registering the dismemberment before the camera turns. Still horrifying, and arguably more so because the scenes are more disturbing as they sink in retroactively, but seen blurrily through a second lens. Dracula himself is only viewed through the eyes of others, so the reader is piecing together his power, his appetite, and his grand scheme as slowly and methodically as any film plotting.

I first read Dracula, when I was right on the cusp of wanting to become more well-read with the classics, but young enough to be intimidated by overly wrought sentence structure and the stigma of anything older than the 20th century. Color me shocked at how easily Dracula went down. My nervousness at the secondhand storytelling was abated as I became immersed in the story of our heroes fighting against evil. I had to make a personal rule—no reading after dark. Not so much out of fear over Dracula, but fear over his acolyte, Renfield. Renfield served as a reminder of how twisted humanity could be, the so-called “zoophagous” madness triggering the same personal panic and fascination that Hannibal Lecter would capitalize on years later. While the pure supernatural was unnerving, it was nothing compared to the cold hand of reality offered from Seward’s insane asylum. Dracula’s predatory nature did become more unsettling on future reads, when the full weight of his torture of Jonathan Harker and Lucy Westenra sunk in, but the tale of an ordinary person willing to trade humanity for the false power constructed by consuming others still takes the cake.

Since that first read, Dracula has remained with me, stalking in the shadows of my life. My first college paper was a five-page treatise on Dracula and sexuality. I talked about feminism, the New Woman, and how the vampire myth completely corrupted Christian ideals of intercourse. My last paper of graduate school was twenty pages on Francis Ford Coppola’s terrible film version, describing how it fit into the vampire myth as a whole (spoiler—it fits in rather well, paying proper credence to the novel’s themes and the cinematic tropes surrounding vampires. This fact doesn’t make it a good movie, not in the least, which we’ll talk more about soon). This book has been a beating heart at the center of my favorite literature, held up there with East of Eden  and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It captures terror and history and contains a labyrinthine exploration of religion, technology, sexuality, feminism, imperialism, queer theory…in essence, the rabbit holes of discussion in this book are many, varied, and enthralling.

BelaThe sheer scope of how many things people can discuss in the novel is part of why the specific Dracula telling of the myth is so tied up with modern descriptions of vampires. Sure, vampires have taken their own angles and shoot-offs, been twisted into new and sometimes baffling directions, but they all have this kernel of the Count. Dracula’s weaknesses have become every vampire’s weaknesses: his nocturnal activity translated into the familiar creature-of-the-night motif, thanks to him (and a certain Bela Lugosi years later) vampires became attractive foreigners, the copious amounts of garlic Van Helsing used to protect Lucy is now so well-known it’s almost a joke, and of course, the bat-morphing thing was all thanks to Stoker. These traits have become a shorthand for what the mind sees when it visualizes a vampire, and it all boils down to the novel.

When young Cat emerged from a rest full of nightmares, did she throw away her book? Did she run away from the fear that vampires instilled? No. Dracula merely planted a fascination with the myth, a deep love and respect for the tales. It’s a standard that every piece of vampire media has had to live up to. Dracula might not be the original vamp,  but he’s the king.

Vampire 101

We here at Most Worlds have dedicated April to a particularly tantalizing topic. For the sake of ease and convenience, we have prepared a handy how-to, strictly for optimum enjoyment of a delectable month’s exploration.

What are vampires (a.k.a. vampyr, nosferatu, nukekubi, упырь, etc., etc.)?

Varney_the_VampireVampires span every nook and cranny of this glorious globe, with each country possessing a unique take on the creature (some opt for chomping, bouncing heads, and some for angsty teens that sparkle; there’s no accounting for taste). But, no matter where they are located, each vampire has a few essential commonalities:

  • They are not alive.
  • They fly in the face of religious beliefs, representing some twisted inversion against societal niceties.
  • Most often their activity is nocturnal, though not always.
  • They deplete the energies of the living, commonly through feeding on their blood. In general, vampires are a blood-soaked lot.

When it comes to the brass tacks of defining vampires, it really depends on the area. Sometimes they’re reanimated corpses. Sometimes they’re demons, or witches, or any other wholly supernatural creation. Some legends discuss wounds or illnesses or even cats as responsible for spawning the beasts, and others conflate the entire concept with succubi. In general, vampires are seen as unnatural abominations against humanity.

Wait, so are vampires zombies?

No. Not even close. I mean, I suppose they both fit under the category of “undead creatures who must feed on the flesh of the living to survive,” but the reality is much more nuanced. On the one hand, there’s zombies. Shambling, brainless, degenerating creatures. They quest for brains with all the single-minded focus of traveling businessmen in hunt for a bar, but that is the utter sum of their existence. On the other hand, vampires. Smooth and scheming, a vampire does thirst for human blood, but has complex motives. Part of it is for survival. Part of it is to feel human again. And a huge part of their modus operandi is just for kicks and giggles. Some vampires stalk human prey because they can, and they torment their victims for the pure joy of it. To a zombie, the brain is the end game. For a vampire, the thrill is in the chase. They’re the bad ex-boyfriend, the douchey frat boy, but with a never-ending lifespan.

Should I ever engage with a vampire?

Short answer? Probably not a good idea. Long answer? It’s complicated.

As aforementioned, vampires are devoid of the typical human “soul” (e.g., religious/moral spirit imbuing the body, or even some ethereal code that keeps us to that moral path), and instead possess a sole purpose to feed on human blood. Under those parameters, it seems like vampiric interaction would be a bad idea, something akin to a gazelle chumming around with a lion. There might be some fun involved, some cavorting, some rousing games of tag, but, in the end, one is the predator and the other is the prey. There’s only one outcome. I don’t want to discount the so-called tortured vampire or those who have turned into creatures of the night against their will. They might make lovely companions. But even if the vampire is not about to feast on flesh, there’s still the matter of their undead status. What could be called the eternal life clause. Someday, death’s icy fingers will visit, and only the vampire will be left standing. Whether death comes through violent means or not, it’s still inevitable and still puts a damper on any association. Why cause the heart such pain?

How can I defeat a vampire?

BUFFYS4D3-1This is debatable. Common weapons include sunlight, chopping off the vampire’s head and hands, the ever popular stake through the heart method, or burning some or all of the body. My personal favorite method involves exhuming the corpse, stacking its bones like some morbid game of pick-up-sticks, and placing the skull and hands on the top of the stack. I think the idea behind this is that it thoroughly confuses the vampire when they awake, and, in their frustration at not being able to reassemble and mobilize, they just give up. Oh well, I can’t find the hip bone to go into the leg bone, might as well abandon my quest for mischief and blood-letting.

If straight-up annihilation of the vampire sounds unappealing or too involved, there are also safeguards one can take against them. Temporary distractions that can allow you to escape and leave other mortals to tangle with the foe. Crucifixes, garlic, wild rose, crossing running water, and climbing very tall trees can help protect against vampire attacks. A lot of those cross over into evading bears as well. The more you know!

Are vampires sexy?

VampireYes! Every vampire should be a little bit sexy. Sex is deep set in vampiric genetics—if there’s no erotic pull, the danger becomes merely terrifying (see again: zombie) instead of mostly alluring. But this is very important: the sexiness should have that raw edge of danger. And I’m not talking about boy-on-a-motorcycle danger, some kind of neutered kicking against well-established pricks. A motorcycle can be dangerous, but it’s still accepted by society. The leather jacket that accompanies it is still an accessory, to be taken off when the man underneath cleans up for some magical ball.

A vampire’s danger can never be taken off. It can never be accepted by society. The vampire sexiness holds the promise of pain, of suffering, but in the immortal words of John Cougar Mellancamp, it “hurts so good.” Without a surety of eternal damnation and torture, a vampire becomes Edward Cullen, which is to say, no vampire at all.

Hold on. If vampires were real, wouldn’t they have killed off everyone by now?

Oh, I see the logic behind that thought.  The whole ecosystem balance idea, right?  Where if vampires are the predator, and their only defeat lies in the soft squishy hands of their only prey, wouldn’t it stand to reason that they would have killed off their prey, that is to say, humanity?  Especially if one assumes that they feed and simultaneously create more vampires.

That’s some solid sciencing there. And I’m sorry to burst that safe little bubble, the comforting mantra that vampires can’t possibly be real because of that overpopulation risk, but here I go. Bubble bursting all over the place. Here’s the thing—no one is safe.  Seeking solace in numbers will not hide that. Vampires don’t create new vampires with every feeding frenzy, so that expansion of one vampire making one vampire a night, and then growing, does not work.  Sorry.  Vampires can sip a little here, a little there, with nary a new companion created. Also, vampires are pretty hardy, and can last days without sustenance. Sure, they’ll age a little, but, as far as predators go, they’re far from overrunning the planet. No, they’re far too savvy for that to happen.

Point? Math doesn’t prove that vampires aren’t real, so lock that window and pull that bed cover over your soft throat.

So, why vampires?

Because they’re just so juicy (please pardon any punning).

vampirekiss

The ideas behind vampires are fascinating. They often include some religious angle, born from someone fearing types of indecency. Vampires are seductive, willful, “unnatural” (there’s that word again), and fly against societal expectations. Something that takes pure, unadulterated joy from flouting norms—reveling in mischief and causing property damage, promiscuously entering other’s homes and exchanging fluids without remorse, indulging insatiable appetites, living forever in sinful pleasure and paying no obeisance to a higher power—that’s dangerous. In one sense, vampires are the other side of the line, the pit someone can fall into if they don’t follow the letter of the law, whatever that law may be. But even in that subversion, vampires are alluring. They are the ultimate outsiders, longing to come in. Isn’t that the goal with all the humanity terrorizing? To pull at the pigtails of humans until they are accepted back into the fold? So there’s the element of the outcast trying to re-enter something pure and good, and yet vampires look like they are having the time of their lives. Many times, they are unapologetic, making the debauchery of their lifestyle deliciously tantalizing. So in that sense, vampires represent freedom from expectation and rules, an irresistible but perilous alternative to humdrum normality.

Vampires are the ultimate representation of moral tug-of-war. They upset the balance of good and evil, they infect clear ideas of what’s right and what’s wrong. In that regard they’re fascinating. We here at Most Worlds love the idea of liminal spaces, the gaps in between thresholds, the crossover between what’s real and what’s magical. That’s where vampires reside, so that’s an idea worthy of exploration.