Wednesday, 10 August 2022

Book Review: Pounded by Politics Again: Nine More Tales of Civic Butthole Diplomacy by Chuck Tingle

If you haven’t read any Chuck Tingle, I encourage you to do it – not because it’s fine literature (because it’s not) but because it’s just too fun not to. They’re all super quick and easy reads so why not, right?

I won’t lie, Pounded By Politics Again: Nine More Tales of Civic Butthole Diplomacy has some typos. A lot more than you’d want to see in a published piece of fiction. Some are so blatant you have to wonder if anyone actually proofread it at all before sending it to print. If you can get past that, you’re in for a... weird time.

Pounded By Politics Again is as irreverent as any of the books in the Tingleverse. It’s a ridiculously meta parody with a hint of erotica. Ever wonder what it would be like to deep throat a T-Rex or bang a giant, sentient corn on the cob? (Yeah, me neither...) 

Well, wonder no more!

The nine short stories included in Pounded By Politics Again mercilessly poke fun at certain world leaders as they get reamed by their climate change denial and stuffed by their tax returns. I won’t bother reviewing each individually because, honestly, they're all basically the same. 

That being said, “England’s Ass Is Haunted By A Hung Parliament” made me laugh the hardest. (I have that decision paralysis thing going on so it's personal...)

If you’re still not sure if it’s worth spending a few quid on (which I can’t believe because obviously I’ve made such a compelling case!) give Chuck’s podcast, Pounded In The Butt By My OwnPodcast, a try. I recommend either “My Butt Is Comforted By The Realization That I’m Okay And Everything Will Be Alright” or “Pounded In The Butt By My Own Butt” because they’re read by some of my favourite podcasters.

If you’re already a Tingle fan, tell me your favourite story so I can read it. (Because, clearly, I have more time than taste!) 

And, yes, the rumours are true. I have written Tingleverse fanfiction. (No, I am not the elusive author himself.) If you want to read it, may God have mercy on your butthole: Pounded In The Butt By A Six-Foot Painted Jesus Carved Out Of Wood (And His Dad.)

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ (3/5 stars)

Monday, 8 August 2022

Book Review: Prince of Never (Black Blood Fae #1) by Juno Heart

I keep waiting for my “fae phase” to pass but... nope, no sign of that happening. Give me a book about grumpy fae royalty with a pretty cover and I will 100% be there for it. Prince of Never (Black Blood Fae #1) by Juno Heart fulfilled both of those requirements, then kept me enthralled with its magical realism and beautifully crafted language.

Lara is just a mortal woman who waits tables and loves to sing – until she’s tricked into entering a portal to Faery in order to fulfil an ancient prophecy. In Faery, she finds her voice has the power to enchant even the cruellest fae. Which is handy, since he’s the one who pulls Lara from the river she lands in.

Ever’s heart is twisted by the cursed, poisoned blood that runs through his veins. The only reason he wants to find his fated queen is so that he can murder her, hopefully ending the curse that’s plagued his family for 900 years – until he learns that his fated queen is the pesky, infuriating human he found in the woods.

The enemies-to-lovers romance between Lara and Ever is a well-timed slow burn, with just the right amount of tension. It’s so, so sweet when they finally get together and so, so heart-breaking when they’re immediately torn apart. (I don’t care how often the trope is used, I will always fall for it.)

As much as I love the relationship between Lara and her prince, I love the cast of side characters even more, especially the non-human (err... fae) ones. Ever’s hound, Balor, and his horse, Jinn as well as the prince’s brother, Raff's, fox-like companion, Spark, are as interesting as any of the speaking characters. 

Too often, pets are included in stories only to be forgotten when not needed. Prince of Never is never guilty of that. Every pet included in the story has their own personality, interacting with others as the main characters do their own thing.

As an animal lover and mom to several fur babies, I really appreciate those little details.

The only thing that lets Prince of Never down is the ending, which is too rushed. The last few chapters are too quick, too easy. I expected more resistance from the queen and Lara’s little surprise deserved a better reveal to Ever. I like a happily-ever-after as much as the next sap, but the climax here is too good to be wasted on such a sloppy ending.

Aside from an ending that’s, I hate to say, unworthy of the book, Prince of Never is as enchanting as one of Lara’s songs. I found it impossible to put down and I’ll definitely be looking for Raff and Isla’s story.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5 stars)

Tuesday, 19 July 2022

Book Review: Diet Riot: A Fatterpunk Anthology (edited by Nico Bell and Sonora Taylor)

Diet Riot: A Fatterpunk Anthology, edited by Nico Bell and Sonora Taylor, is one of the anthologies I was hoping to submit to but couldn't get around to finishing anything for. Now that I've had a chance to read it, I'm even more gutted that I didn't get the chance to be part of it because this anthology freaking rocks

I love the overall tone of Diet Riot. Although every author has their own voice and vision, with varying styles and abilities, there's an underlying sense of positivity that runs through the anthology. It isn't just about body positivity, which the book achieves by putting fat characters in the protagonist's role (something we just don't get enough of... well, anywhere,) but also inclusivity and feminism - sometimes in subtle, quieter ways, and sometimes in loud, in-your-face ways. 

The stories I liked best were the latter of the two. I loved the attitude and the snark of stories like "Blue Hair" by Marsheila Rockwell (which features a witch who turns her girlfriends into cats,) "Like a Thief in the Night" by Kay Hanifen (in which the old grey man goes to Hell where he belongs,) and "The Floor is Lava" by Nikki R. Leigh (which has freaking alien lava cryptids vs. a roller derby team.) These were my favourite stories, although I enjoyed nearly all of them.

Making fat characters the main focus of the anthology opened the editors up to the expected amount of  abuse online... because the trolls just never stop, do they? I'm grateful to the editors for taking the chance, though, because Diet Riot offers a neglected demographic something to identify with. The anthology gives us witty, strong, likeable, relatable characters who (for a change,) look like us. 

Sure is nice to have a fat character in horror who isn't either the funny sidekick or the creep who dies first.

I got a real kick out of Diet Riot: A Fatterpunk Anthology. It was fun, fast-paced, and entertaining. There were enough lake monsters, evil doctors, ghosts, and demons to please any horror fan - without the hardcore (sometimes unnecessary) gore and hatred of women that sometimes spoils the genre for me. 

Yeah, I know... I'm a horror author. Doesn't mean I have to like the way everyone else does it. I'm more on the horror lite end of the spectrum than the splatterpunk end, which makes Diet Riot a perfect fit for me. 

Diet Riot is everything I could have asked for in a "fatterpunk" (Did I mention how much I love this word?) anthology - except about twelve more stories. I was having so much fun I was sorry to finish the book. Maybe the editors will grace us with a sequel?

Saturday, 9 July 2022

Book Review: The Sylvan and the Sand (The Book of All Things #2) by Sarah M. Cradit

I have reached into the sand, and the sand has offered me strength. I have submerged myself in the salt of the sea, and the salt has offered me courage.

They say you should never trust a book by its cover. That’s advice I’ve never been particularly good at taking – especially when it comes to books with covers by artists like Melissa Stevens and Merilliza Chan. Show me s book with cover art by either of these illustrators and I’m sold before I’ve read a word.

I love the soft, high fantasy look Stevens created for The Sylvan and the Sand (The Book of All Things: Book 2) by Sarah M. Cradit. (The illustrations throughout the books are a nice bonus.) It fits the tone of the story perfectly, romantic and enchanting.

When I started reading The Sylvan and the Sand, I didn’t realize it was part of a series – not that it’s an issue. The book stands alone very well, although the enormous cast of characters does take a little while to get to know. I struggled a little bit at the beginning to remember who was who but, as they were divided up very quickly, it became a lot easier to follow.

So… who’s who?

Yesenia Warwick and Corin Quinlanden are complete opposites from warring families – which doesn’t stop King Khain Rhiagain from arranging a marriage between them. Them… and all the children of the lords who swear fealty to him. As he blindsides the ruling families of his realm by pairing off their heirs, the king creates havoc, personally and politically.

Yesenia and Corin seem to have it easy as the story starts. She’s just her father’s daughter, after all, and Corin is his father’s second son. Neither are of particular importance (from a strategic point of view,) but they still manage to turn the whole plan on its head.

And even incite a revolution.

Which is what makes it fun, of course!

Both Yesenia (‘Sen’) and Corin are strong, driven characters that just get better as they grow into their forced marriage and changing societal roles. Yesenia is an inspiring, tough, experienced character while her counterpart, Corin, is cowed, abused, and inexperienced. She brings him out of himself, and he makes her a more patient, more tolerant person. They’re perfect for each other.

The character development in The Sylvan and the Sand is top-notch, which is more impressive when you consider how many there are to keep track of. All of the important characters have their own identities, personalities, and goals. They’re important to the story, not just background noise. I’m actually looking forward to checking out the other books in the series to see who’s involved in which books. There are definitely people I’m hoping to see again.

Cradit doesn’t just excel at character development; she is a master of imagery. Her descriptions – not just of places, but especially the way she handles action – have a way of putting you right in the moment that allows you to lose yourself in the story. I don’t think I got a single thing finished once I started The Sylvan and the Sand. (And I'm not one bit sorry.)

The Sylvan and the Sand might be set in a fantasy world, but many of the lessons it teaches are universal. Some of the lessons that stand out are love (the fear of both having and losing it,) coping with abusive family members, and the burdens of womanhood. I found myself nodding frequently, silently agreeing with some characters – and silently raging at others.

Even the hateful characters were fully developed, which didn't make them any less hateful.

Sen and Corin’s happily-ever-after is hard-won, which makes it all the better. Another thing that makes The Sylvan and the Sand a satisfying read, though, is that it’s not just about their relationship. Both have their own goals when the book starts out and those goals remain central for much of the story. They just happen to fall in love along the way.

And isn't that always the way?

I absolutely loved The Sylvan and the Sand. It was engaging, well-written, entertaining, and came through with the warm fuzzies at the end. This is one of those books I’m glad I judged by its cover.

Saturday, 11 June 2022

Book Review: Drabbledark: An Anthology of Dark Drabbles edited by Eric S. Fomley

Drabbledark II: An Anthology of Dark Drabbles was recently released from Shacklebound Books, featuring my drabble, “Surprises Suck.” I make it a rule not to review anthologies I’m part of so, instead of reviewing at that one, I thought I’d have a look at the first book in the series, Drabbledark: An Anthology of Dark Drabbles instead.

I love writing microfiction because trying to fit an entire story into exactly one hundred words is a great challenge. (And yeah… a lot of times my verbose ass can’t do it and I end up with a much longer story. That’s okay too.) I love reading microfiction because it gives you a quick glance at someone’s writing style without having to devote too much of your time to something you might end up disliking.

Which, of course, is the problem with any anthology, regardless of the length of the stories it contains. There’s a pretty good chance you’re not going to like every single story inside because you’re not going to like every author’s style. You don’t like every person’s voice that you meet, right? So why would you like every author’s “voice?”

When it comes time to review an anthology, you can’t exactly say, “I didn’t like this book because I didn’t love every story in it.” I mean... you could, but you’d be a massive dick.

(Seriously. Don’t do that shit.)

Did I love every story in Drabbledark? Of course not. I didn’t like the flow of some or the tone of others – but that’s fine. It just means those ones weren't for me. Besides, they’re only a hundred words each. These stories go super quickly and you read a lot more that you like than you don’t.

My top 5 stories from Drabbledark are:

1. “Six More Weeks of Winter,” Tianna Grosch 

It's refreshing to have a Persephone retelling that isn't romantic. 

2. “Poor Nathan,” Patrick Winters

Wow, it's not easy to squeeze a surprise ending into  a drabble, but Winters nails it.

3. “Suicide Hotline,” Elizabeth Dearborn 

Ooh, this one's twisted enough to make Lucifer chuckle...

4. “Next Time Look in the Cabbage Patch,” John H. Dromey

Should be silly, but 100% is a childhood nightmare come to life.

5. “Iron Will,” Jillian Bost 

Yes! Two of my favourite things: a sassy mama bear and the fae.

The stories in Drabbledark cover a range of motifs, from deep sea to deep space – and just about every nasty niche in between. This can be a good thing because it offers a little something for everyone, appealing to a wider range of readers.

As a reader, I prefer an anthology when it’s a little more focused than that. ("Dark" is a very broad category.) The constant jump from one theme to the next is a little jarring for me. It seems unfair to lower a book's rating based on personal preference rather than any faults with the book itself, especially when there isn't really anything to complain about as such, but it does bug me a bit. That being said, this anthology was still enjoyable light reading - so much so that I could have done with Drabbledark being twice as long.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5)

Friday, 10 June 2022

Book Review: If This Gets Out by Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich

I don’t know why If This Gets Out by Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich came up on my Recommend For You list on Kindle since most of what I’ve read lately has included sexy fae (or shifters or vampires,) but it did and the tagline got my attention: Ruben and Zach are in the world's biggest boy band. They’re also secretly in love.

As a diehard Joshler shipper, there was no way I could scroll past that one!

And you know what? If This Gets Out delivers. It's like picking up a really great piece of fanfiction. (And of course it makes me think of certain bands...)

There’s a lot more going on in If This Gets Out than a couple of pretty boys falling in love. (Though there’s plenty of that.) It takes a hard look at the toxicity of the record industry, exposes narcissistic parents, shares the struggles of drug addiction, and begs superfans to maybe tone it down a bit. 

When you’re dealing with a cast of characters as large as this one, it can be too easy to get voices mixed up or fail to separate them at all. We’ve all read books where the characters all “sound” the same, right? You don’t get that problem with If This Gets Out. Each character has their own unique, consistent identities, as well as their own goals, talents, and struggles. Even very minor characters, such as security guards, are so well developed that you care about what happens to them.

If This Gets Out excels at character development but also the interaction between characters. The reason for that is the novel’s co-authors, who each took charge of one of the main characters. The back and forth between Ruben (Gonzales) and Zach (Dietrich) as the novel progresses gives you a view into two very different worlds: the gay boy who’s tired of being locked in the closet by the band’s label and his best friend who’s just starting to understand his own sexuality.

It’s just the most adorable, heart-warming thing ever.

The novel teases at sexual situations but isn’t too graphic, which makes it appropriate for a wide range of ages. The blossoming relationship between Ruben and Zach is well-paced, with just the right amount of steamy mixed with sweetness. They go through struggles – individually, as a couple and as a band – but you’re with them the whole way. You’re rooting for these kids, hoping they get their happily-ever-after.

Reading If This Gets Out felt like a totally indulgent, guilty pleasure and I loved every minute of it. It had me grinning from the start, blushing a bit, tearing up a little, and beaming at the end. Whether you’re a fan of fanfiction or just of boybands, this one should give you the fix you need.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5/5)

Sunday, 29 May 2022

Movie Review: Morbius (2022)

When it comes to superhero movies, I have just one rule: Never heed the word of the fuckbois, for they are big of mouth and small of… mind.

(Replace the “m” word as you see fit.)

As the release date for Morbius neared, critics came down hard on the film – hardly surprising since their whole job revolves around proving how much better they are than everyone else. (Kind of like Convservative MPs.) Snobbery, blah, blah, blah. Then the movie came out and all anyone could talk about was “I heard it was awful.”

But no one I talked to had even seen it.

They were basing their opinions entirely on the word of fuckbois they’d seen complaining about the movie online.

*sigh*

Tut tut, y’all. When will you learn?

Fuckbois had decided they hated the film before it even finished filming. Why? Because Jared Leto. Apparently some fuckbois never forgave Jared Leto for being the most original version of an abusive lunatic (ie: Joker) and not being Heath Ledger’s drooly-faced, lip-smacking abusive lunatic.

(Personally, I thought Jared Leto's Joker was the best of all – but I also thought his decision to leave was the right one and Harley’s character was much, much better when she was single. I have big opinions.)

Sadly, I never got the chance to watch Morbius in the cinema because, you know, life. Now that I’ve had the chance to rent the digital version a few times, though, I gotta say it’s probably a good thing. I had reactions to this movie that were best had alone in the privacy of one’s own home.

I have a thing for vampires, you know.

For the sake of full disclosure, even though I’m a comic book hoarding geekgirl, I’ve never read the Morbius comic books. Just never got around to it. (Ask me about Howard the Duck sometime…) All I knew going into it was that Morbius was a Spider-man villain, Jared Leto has great eyes, and Venom prepared us for a new, darker MCU that I was 100% ready for.

Sometimes it’s better this way. Since I didn’t know much about the character, I didn’t spend the whole movie being annoying by little things like the fact that he drank blood with his mouth instead of his hands. (Yeah, Google it.) Not that it’s not a fun idea for a fanfic…

So, what is Morbius about? (As always, there will be spoilers.)

Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) meets his best friend and surrogate brother, Milo (Matt Smith,) at a hospital in Greece for children with a rare blood disorder. He vows to find a cure for them and devotes his life to that cause, even earning a Nobel prize along the way, while Milo devotes his life to being a spoiled little rich boy. The “cure” Michael eventually finds is more of a curse – not that it stops Milo from stealing it, then revelling in all the inhuman powers it gives him. To save himself, the woman he loves, and the people of New York, Michael has to face off against the man he always considered a brother.

I love everything about this movie. It ticks every box for me, starting with Jared Leto as a vampire. Yum. Jared Leto in a manbun. Yum. Jared Leto rockin’ some young Gary Oldman as Vlad the Impaler vibes with that little beard…

Mostly Jared Leto, not gonna lie.

(See what I mean about it being a good thing I had to watch it at home?)

But it’s not just a movie with Sexy Vampire Jared Leto. It’s a superhero horror movie with Sexy Vampire Jared Leto. How is that not the best combination? And I don’t mean that it’s a little spooky. Marvel went full horror on this one. The vampire transformations range from quick and subtle to full-blown and terrifying, but they are always shiver-up-your-spine effective. They are bat-like. They are grotesque. They are masterful.  

They’re better than anything I’ve seen in a full-fledged horror movie in a long time.

Like I said, Morbius isn’t just a horror movie. It’s also a superhero movie, which means plenty of action. The movie’s introduction is a perfection example of that. It starts with a sweeping shot of a helicopter landing on the side of a mountain – nothing you wouldn’t see in any action flick – until the explosion of bats.

It’s interesting that, with his rain… cloak? Michael looks more like a villain in his scene than a hero (or anti-hero.)

There’s never really any doubt who the villain of the piece will be, though. It’s sort of like watching an old episode of Columbo. You know who the baddie is, you’re just waiting to see how he gets had. In this case, you know from the way Milo hauls off and whoops the schoolboys outside his hospital that he’s going to be a “wrong ‘un,” you’re just waiting to see how it happens.

Morbius is a superhero action movie full of horror, but it also has plenty of romance. Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona) is a strong Latina woman who takes zero shit from the police and earns my (and Michael’s) undying respect. There’s a sweet playfulness to their relationship that makes you root for them from the first moment they first appear onscreen together.

My only criticism of the film, however, comes from the relationship between Martine and Michael. Number one pet peeve in films? When a woman dies to further the storyline of a male character. When I realized Martine was going to die, the first words out of my mouth were, “Aw, hell no. They did not kill her just to give him a reason to fight. I will turn this shit off right now.”

(And, yes, I can turn on a movie that quickly.)

So, when Martine bites Michael’s lip and I realized she was looking after number one, I literally cheered. That’s what the film industry has been missing.

(As long as they don’t use this as an excuse to turn her character into a villain that Morbius has to kill later, because that shit’s not okay either.)

They left the ending open-ended enough that my sad little fangirl heart can make believe that Michael and Martine are out there living their best vampire lives somewhere…

*sigh*

Story aside, I can’t wrap up this review without talking – okay, gushing – about the imagery in Morbius. It’s just stunning. I love the overall mist against neon look that gives it both a gritty urban and mystical feel at the same time. This is especially effective later in the film when Morbius is “flying” through the city. It’s the perfect representation of Morbius himself: the scientist who used science to turn himself into a mythical beast.

(And it’s great that no one ever shies away from calling him a vampire. It makes for some great vampire puns.)

The neon lights on the rooftops are also a nice touch, especially during the scene I mentioned before with Martine’s “death.” The small, square skylights lit up from beneath in green and red in a grid resembling a Rubik Cube, which you see with Michael throughout the film – and isn’t symbolism fun?

Speaking of symbolism… the way they keep going back to the stopwatch is such a powerful move. Obviously, Michael is obsessed with his own demise because his rare blood condition is a death sentence that he should have already succumbed to. It really speaks to the human fascination with the vampire mythos and the deeper meaning behind that.

We’re all obsessed with immortality, with counting down our days. Morbius subtly resets his stopwatch, counting down the minutes until he turns into the monster he fears, and reminding us of the cost of our obsession with youth.

But back to the imagery… Let’s talk about bats. (Literally any time.) Bats streaming from the cave at the beginning, bats in their “fishbowl” in Michael’s lab, bats in the sewers when they come to his aid, etc. I think my favourite use of the bats is when they lift the weakened Morbius to his feet during the final fight with Milo. There’s just something beautifully poetic about the movement, like a kind of ballet dance.

Morbius is incredible to look at. And Morbius is incredible to look at. (Seriously, my notes read “JACKED,” “FUCKING SCARY AND SEXY,” and “SFX are FUCKING INCREDIBLE!”) From the whisps of darkness when the vampires move to the way the air currents move around Michael and Milo when they fight, Morbius is a visually stunning treat that takes multiple viewings to appreciate.

But it’s not all action, adventure, and exsanguination. (“I looked it up.”) The story deserves a deeper look too. As someone who suffers from chronic illness, I really feel the way Milo casually dismisses his pain as an “11” when asked how it is on a scale of 1-10. Chronic illness plays such an important part to the development of both Milo and Michael’s stories.  

Can we really blame Milo for enjoying the first pain-free days in his life? Wouldn’t you fight anyone who threatened to take that away? (Of course, there’s the social aspect as well… maybe if Milo hadn’t been the entitled, hedonistic, white brat he was as a human, he wouldn’t have become the monster he was as a vampire, but that’s a discussion for another bottle of bourbon…)

And how can we really appreciate Michael’s battle against the bloodlust unless we also understand that not giving into it means giving in to the illness that will kill him? Not just kill him but cripple him in increasing amounts of pain along the way. He’s not just fighting the monster within him; he’s fighting the chronic illness within him – and one of them has to win.

I don’t think there’s any doubt at this point that I enjoyed Morbius. Like I said, I have a thing for vampires. Despite what the critics and the fuckbois say, this is what Jay would call a “top tier” film for me. In fact, Morbius is easily my favourite MCU film. This is the one to beat.

Rating: ๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡

Thursday, 26 May 2022

Vampire Week: A World of Night Playlist

We all have authors that inspired us as children, either to become writers ourselves our just in our personal lives. Sometimes both. My "both" was LJ Smith. Her stories helped me find my voice as a writer, strengthened friendships, and encouraged me during a time I was forging my identity. 

So, when one of said friends suggested that I make a playlist based on LJ Smith's Nightworld book series, it took me about ten seconds to jump on that idea.

Well, it actually took me about twenty minutes to climb on top of the wardrobe where my LJ Smith books live and drag my twenty-something-year-old Nightworld books downstairs, then a few days to read them... but you get the point.

And, yeah, I still have my original Nightworld books, complete with adorable home-printed bookplates. They were some of the only things I deemed important enough to lug across the ocean when I moved from America to Wales. Varsity jacket? Prom dress? American Girl dolls? Scrapbooks? Sax and clarinet? Nope, just an entire library of LJ Smith books.

A girl's gotta have priorities. 


Re-reading the Nightworld books was an emotional rollercoaster. I was moved by books I didn't really care for the first time I read them and fell in love with certain characters all over again. (Ash, of course.) It made me a little sad this time around because I realized how much better the books could have been. They're chocolate chips and, now that I'm older, I want the whole damn cookie - but, hey, that's life. I'm still glad I revisited the series and I'll probably do it again in a few years. 

Maybe next time I'll do Vampire Diaries or Secret Circle?

Anyway, now that the playlist is complete, I'm going to break it down by book because it turned out to be a little... lengthy. (And I didn't even include the three Nightworld short stories LJ Smith published on her own website!) If you've read the series, I want to know what you think!

If not, you really should. It pales in comparison to modern YA series, but it still has great characters. 

Let's get on with it...

Book 1: Secret Vampire

"Pixie," Ren

"Falling In Love With My Best Friend," Tyler Ward

"Cancer," Twenty One Pilots

"Resistance," Muse

"Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover," Sophie B. Hawkins

"Soulmates," Placebo

"Cold Hearted," Paula Abdul

"Dead Is The New Alive," Emilie Autumn

"Sweet Lullaby," Deep Forest

Book 2: Daughters of Darkness

"Stargazer," Paloma Faith

"Runaway," Linkin Park

"Daughters of Darkness," Halestorm

"Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves," Aretha Franklin & Eurythmics

"Meteorite," Years & Years

"I Knew You Were Trouble," Taylor Swift

"Go Screw Yourself," Avery

"Moon Baby," Godsmack

"We Are Family," Sister Sledge

"Blood Feud," Omen

"Beware The Dog," The Griswolds

"Shooting Star," Owl City

"Terrible Things," Brick + Mortar

"Make Amends," Curbi, Tchami, Kyan Palmer

Book 3: Spellbinder

"Maneater," Nelly Furtado

"Snakebite," Alice Cooper

"Bad Girls Club," Falling in Reverse

"Firestarter," The Prodigy

"Black Magic," Little Mix

"Like My Sisters Do," L.O.L. Surprise!

"Magic," Kylie Minogue

"Spellbound," Siouxsie and the Banshees

"Drink to Forget," HVNTER

Book 4: Dark Angel

"Under Ice," Kate Bush

"Frozen Heart," Cast of Frozen

"If I Die Young," The Band Perry

"Guardian Angel," The Friday Prophets

"Dragonfly," Tom A. Smith

"Attention," Todrick Hall

"Breaking Glass," Stay Over

"Ghost Story," Carrie Underwood

"Forgive Me Friend," Smith & Thell, Swedish Jam Factory

Book 5: The Chosen

"Carnival," Bikini Kill

"Kittens Got Claws," Whitesnake

"Vampires Will Never Hurt You," My Chemical Romance

"Fighter," Christina Aguilera

"The Night Has A Thousand Eyes," Bobby Vee

"Oh No!" MARINA

"Darkness," Disturbed

"Hunters Of The Night," Chris Norman

"LAUGHING BOY," Duran Duran

"Burn It Down," Skillet

Book 6: Soulmate

"Soulmate Song," Carson James Argenna 

"Past Lives," Bร˜RNS

"Wolves," Sam Tinnesz, Silverberg

"Remember the Time," Michael Jackson

"Old Soul," Zola Simone

"Vampire Lover," Genitorturers

"Ready To Let Go," Cage The Elephant

"It's All Been Done," Barenaked Ladies

"Obsession, Animotion

"The Winner Takes It All," ABBA

Book 7: Huntress

"Run Boy Run," Woodkid

"Huntress," Pep Squad

"Human," Rag'n'Bone Man

"Falling," HAIM

"Truce," Jars of Clay

"Freak Like Me," Halestorm

"Idiot," Stephen

"Tear in My Heart," Twenty One Pilots

"My Life Would Suck Without You," Kelly Clarkson

"Prophecy," Remy Zero

"Save The World," Swedish House Mafia

"Millennium," Robbie Williams

Book 8: Black Dawn

"Fake Tears," Ferraro

"The Land That Time Forgot," The Mavis's

"Kingdom Nevercome," Dark Age

"I Know You," Skylar Grey

"King Is Born," Aloe Blacc

"Run For Cover," The Killers

"A Prophecy," Asking Alexandria

"Revolution," The Score

"Sisters of the Moon," Fleetwood Mac

"Worth Dying For," Vega

Book 9: Witchlight

"Eyes Of A Panther," Steel Panther

"Shapeshifter," Celldweller, Styles of Beyond

"Pretty Kitty," Busm

"Your Pure Soul," The Charlatans

"invisible string," Taylor Swift

"Witch Child," Inkubus Sukkubs

"The Trickster," Radiohead

"Slay the Dragon," Impellitteri

"Celebration," Madonna

"Still Waiting," Kaiser Chiefs

Wednesday, 25 May 2022

Wondra's World: Dracula (1931) and Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror (1922)

Today’s movie is actually Universal’s Dracula (1931) but we agreed to discuss Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror (1922) at the same time. Are you still happy with that?

The two movies are close enough, for the most part, that it’s easy enough to compare them as we go.

I’ve spared you the tedium of watching Nosferatu. Since German Expressionism can be… hard work, we’re actually just going to be watching Universal’s Dracula tonight.

I remember Nosferatu well enough. Let’s do this.

Okay, let’s get started.

To start, the title screen is… cute. I mean adorable. It doesn’t exactly strike fear or build tension.

It is slightly more interesting than the introduction to Nosferatu, though, which was just plain text against organ music. Neither were particularly interesting, but both were of their times.

I suspect we’re going to be using “of their times” a lot tonight…

I’m already noticing painted backdrops. Funny, when I watched Nosferatu this morning, it didn’t seem as obvious.

I don’t think they used a lot of actual sets when they were filming Nosferatu. They would have mostly used what they had, so probably a lot of local sites. The irony is that, although Nosferatu probably had a very low budget, a poster or autograph from the film is worth an absolute fortune to collectors.

Go figure.

The painted backdrops in Dracula are superb, though – for the day, at least. There’s a real talent there. Critics can be unfair when it comes to old movies like this. They don’t take the time, the era that they were filmed into account. They just see the painted backdrops and write it off as cheap or poorly done, which isn’t always the case.

True. I want to go back to the autographs, though.

I can’t let any discussion of Nosferatu go by without mention how cool the name Max Schreck is. Your last name literally means “terror” and you do such a good job of playing a vampire that people believe you are a vampire…

But as powerful and iconic as Max Schreck’s Dracula is, Bela Lugosi’s is a hundred times more iconic – if not as powerful. You see a cheesy vampire costume at Halloween and the first thing you think is, “I am Dracula.” Everyone instantly becomes Bela Lugosi.

True. The fact is, Lugosi sounded that way because he couldn’t speak a word of English when they filmed Dracula. Everything was done phonetically for him, which gave him that odd, stilted sounding voice. It makes him sound vaguely foreign, which just helps the character. And, of course, that halting accent became the Dracula voice – which really annoyed Christopher Lee.

I saw an interview with Christopher Lee once and, in it, he talked about how annoying it was that when you saw a kid pretending to be Dracula in the schoolyard, it was always Lugosi’s voice they were doing. It probably had something to do with the fact that Lee didn’t have a lot of lines in some of his Dracula films, but it’s true.

Another thing that makes Lugosi’s way of speaking interesting is that talkies has only really just started. The fact that his Dracula became so iconic is even more interesting when you know that he was practically an unknown at the time.

It’s weird to think that less than a decade had passed between Nosferatu and this. I mean, culturally, it sounds like forever. It’s such a huge jump from the Roaring Twenties to the Great Depression.

The thing is, going from German to American, it makes it too different to really make that kind of leap. Remember that Germany at the time was just recovering from a horrific war. It was also just beginning to develop a filming style but Hollywood had these elaborate sets and a full-blown industry already. Yeah, there was the fact time had passed, but they were also half a world apart. 

It was really the Depression that made movies like Dracula. Things were so fucking horrible that they needed that escapism. It was better to face the monsters onscreen than it was to face the monsters in real life. 

The really sad thing is that we're heading that way again. I wonder if we're heading toward another Golden Age of horror?

Anyway, even though they’re two very different cinematic eras, different styles, I love the imagery of both. I love the look of German Expressionism and I love the doe-eyed black & white film starlet.

The super heavy black eye makeup, yeah. I assume, in Nosferatu, it was for expression. In the silent movies, you were watching movies with no sound but the organ that accompanied it, so you had to overdo everything to get your point across. It’s not like you could sigh or scream or say what you meant, after all. A lot of that would have relied on what your eyes were doing, so it makes sense to emphasis them that way.

The thing that struck me about Nosferatu was actually Gustav von Wangenheim, who plays Hutter. He isn’t really what we’d consider the romantic hero today, is he? He isn’t super skinny. He’s a bit on the pudgier side. It’s nice to see.

It really is. It was Knock that I found interesting, though. It kind of threw me at first that they decided to take Harker’s boss and turn him into Renfield. That was weird. Until I realized Knock was meant to be the Renfield character, I just thought he looked more like a villain than Count Orlok did.

I brought up Renfield deliberately because I know you love Dwight Frye’s portrayal of him, and I want to give you a chance to talk about it. I have to say, though, it really threw me at the beginning. I thought we were watching Harker so when you find out that Harker had never left England it was like, wait. What? It knocked the whole timeline out for me.

You’re right. The fact that it starts with Renfield instead of Harker is all wrong. When the movie starts, Renfield should be back in England and Harker should be on his way to the castle. There were some nice moments with Renfield at the castle, it just didn’t match what happened in the book.

Dwight Frye’s portrayal was unique. It was memorable. When you watch things like Love at First Bite, they use that same type of Renfield. He had a distinct look and a wicked laugh. 

The imagery in Dracula is astounding – not as good as Nosferatu, but astounding, with the mist and the band of light across Dracula’s eyes, etc. It’s very effective. Some of the imagery is… weird, though. I mean… why are there armadillos? What's with the possum? And I know I saw a bee in a coffin back at the beginning.

Yeah, I saw that too and… I have no explanation. Maybe they were trying to show his command over animals? It was strange.

Both films were beautifully shot. The Spanish version of Dracula was better than the British one but I know you haven’t seen that one yet, so you’ll have to take my word for it. As for Nosferatu, it’s a hundred years old but the imagery still very powerful and holds up very well.

And there are no bees in coffins.

One of the things that bugged me a little about Nosferatu was the constant mention of the plague, which wasn’t relevant for a Victorian story – but then I remembered the year the movie was filmed. They’d only just gotten over Spanish Flu (at the expense of a third of the world’s population) so of course they’d equate a rash of mysterious deaths with a deadly plague. It was a social commentary I almost missed.

When you consider we're living through Covid and I'm an English Major... 

*sigh*

I can only think of one other Dracula movie that mentions a plague (Dracula Rising) and there’s no deeper meaning there, just bad writing.

I can think of another one, Satanic Rites of Dracula. He’s going to release a more virulent version of the bubonic plague that will wipe out all of humanity. He knows it will kill him too because he’ll starve but you get the idea that he’s okay with that. That he just wants to finally end it all. Less of a social commentary and more of a personal struggle, I guess.

If I can use “struggle” as a segue… I struggled with the music for Nosferatu. It was so loud and obnoxious the whole time and it never really fit the scene. Abrasive is really the best word I can think of for it.

Well, with the silent films, you were at the mercy of organist. I’ve heard a dozen different scores for Nosferatu, some of them modern. Once, I watched it done to a synth score. That was wild. Back then, though, a good organist was vital to the success of the film. It would succeed or fail due to their ability – or lack thereof - of its organist.  

By the time Dracula was being filmed, studios had moved on. Most of the time, they were using stock music. If you listen, the music in this is actually from Swan Lake.

Huh. I didn’t notice that…

Well, we’re coming up on the ending of the film, which means that I need to ask you which of the two films you think is better but, first, I want to talk to you about the very different ways in which Dracula/Orlok dies.

I’m glad you brought it up. You’ve got the two traditional methods of killing a vampire: stake or sunlight. Orlok is killed by the sunlight because he stays too long feeding on Ellen. On the other hand, Dracula gets a stake through the heart from Van Helsing.

I don’t know why the deaths were different. I’m inclined to say that filmmakers thought a stake might be too graphic in 1922 but then you look at the 1931 version and remember that they never actually show Dracula biting anyone. It always pans away. Strange that it’s okay to ram a stake through someone’s chest but not sink your teeth into them…

That’s an interesting point. I think it speaks to the deeper symbolism inherent in vampire mythos. There’s the whole teeth penetrating flesh, loss of blood thing that can be likened to the supposed loss of virginity, blah blah blah…

But that’s a much deeper conversation that I do not have enough alcohol for.

When it comes to killing vampires, which method do you prefer? Stake or sunlight?

Why take chances? Stake ‘em in the heart, cut off their heads, burn the bodies. It looks cool and is extremely effective.

Overkill much?

You’re a little scary, you know…

Okay, Let’s rate some films.

Well, Nosferatu isn’t very faithful to the book, obviously, but it couldn’t be since they were literally trying to rip it off without getting sued. (Which didn’t work.) But the Harker character does meet the Dracula character at his castle and they do come over on the ship, which a lot of other movies don’t have.

You also have to take into account the imagery. The story’s not great, okay, but it’s all in the visuals – and they still work today. The other thing they do well is the shadow play. The scenes with Orlok’s shadow moving along the wall are so powerful and instantly recognisable.

For the imagery and pretty much the imagery alone, I give Nosferatu a 7. It’s hard to give it anything higher because it’s a silent movie. You can’t really compare that to anything you’d see today – but you can’t really give it anything lower for the same reason.

I’m 100% with you on that one. It’s too important, too iconic to rate properly. If you’re watching it the same way you’d watch a modern horror movie, you’d tear it apart. But you can’t because the industry (and the world) were very different places a hundred years ago. Let’s not forget that while we’ve been talking about the 125th anniversary of Bram Stoker’s Dracula being released, it’s also the 100th anniversary of Nosferatu.

Big year for vampires.

Anyway, I’m going to set a dangerous precedent and agree with you again. It’s a 7 from me as well.

Now, let’s talk about Dracula

Well, there’s the acting style – very “Jolly hockey sticks!” – but that was just the time it was filmed. Everything was like that. I also have to take into account the fact that I still watch Dracula though rose-tinted spectacles. It’s such an important memory from my childhood that it’s difficult to watch subjectively.

But it’s not just important to me, it’s essential to the industry, to the world. So much of what we have now in terms of vampires, Dracula, horror, films, etc. is because of the Universal Dracula. We owe it so much that it has to affect any kind of rating.

Yet…

Like Nosferatu, you still have that lack of faithfulness to the book, which lets it down. You have Renfield and Dracula travelling together aboard the Vesta, rather than the Demeter, for instance. There are big changes in the story. There are also the very American-style car horns outside the theatre, which lets it down. We never had those types of horns here, you know. It’s one of the only things that really lets the movie down for me.

Overall, I guess I’m looking at an… 8.

I agree that it does a fairly poor job of sticking to the novel. The cars bothered me as well, but mostly their abundance. I guess it felt more like they didn’t care that was supposed to be Victorian – same with Nosferatu, which didn’t even try not to make it look like 1922. You can’t blame either of those things on the times. What I mean is, there was nothing stopping them from sewing a bloody costume, right?

Dwight Frye and Bela Lugosi were a helluva pair, though. Both insanely creepy in their own ways. The enormous sets were impressive too. (I definitely would have fallen down those steps and died.) 

Ugh. These old movies are so hard to rate. I wish I could have watched it in 1931…

Okay, I’m going to make myself the most unpopular Dracula fan ever. I can’t give it any higher than a 6 - and that's at a push. 

It isn’t faithful to the book, the story is super short, the characters are all wrong, and the historical accuracy isn’t there. It’s beautiful, some of the actors are amazing, and the sets are brilliant. If I were basing it on nothing but Lugosi, Frye, the sets, and the cinematography, I could easily give it a 9. But that’s not how this works.

--------------

Wondra’s Rating, Nosferatu: ๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡

Wondra’s Rating, Dracula: ๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡

Jay’s Rating, Nosferatu: ๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡

Jay’s Rating, Dracula: ๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡

Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Vampire Week: Dracula 2000

Today’s fanged film is Dracula 2000 (released in 2000, obviously) and I’m excited because it’s my era. Also, it’s my second favourite adaptation – or, third, if we’re counting Dracula Rising as an adaptation… but I can see from your expression that we’re not.

Okay, so before things kick off, what are your initial thoughts on Dracula 2000?

It’s what I call “bubble gum cinema.” It’s a movie that doesn't have a big budget but is reasonably written. Honestly? It could be a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode. There’s nothing outstanding about it, but it’s enjoyable.

It’s kind of ironic that the title for Dracula 2000 comes up in this metallic font, reaffirming that you’re going to be watching a different kind of Dracula movie… and then it goes straight to Victorian England. There’s a kind of irony in that I appreciate.

The intro doesn’t really give much away, though, does it? You get the typical bloodbath aboard the Demeter, with the poor old sod lashed to the wheel and carnage everywhere… then a flash of Dracula walking through London – then it’s straight back to modern London. I’m always grateful for a slice of Butler but is the intro really necessary?

A total waste of time. It’s almost as though they were padding out that part of the movie. They could have used it as a flashback later just as easily.

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this before, but I had a massive crush on Jonny Lee Miller when I was younger. Watching this again now, I’m wondering why. His character comes across as such a douche at the beginning! He treats Jennifer Esposito's Solina like such a bro! Wah, it’s so unfair that you’d say no to me!

Not exactly hero material…

He's the one in Trainspotting, right? The blonde one there? I didn’t even recognise him at first.

That surprises me because he hasn't changed a bit in twenty years.

Anyway, it’s interesting that Van Helsing is using leeches to drain Dracula – for a couple of reasons. First, leeches were a big thing in medicine during that time in Victorian London but also because it would take an age to drain a body of all its blood, one leech at a time. It makes sense that Dracula would be a shrivelled up husk after a hundred years or so.

Christopher Plummer and Jonny Lee Miller are just a taster of the amazing cast Dracula 2000 has to offer. I know the name VitaminC (as Lucy Westerman instead of Lucy Westenra, for whatever reason) doesn’t mean anything to you, but she was a big singer at the time. There’s also DannyMasterson, Sean Patrick Thomas, Jeri Ryan, Nathan Fillion, Omar Epps - and by the way, does Omar Epps ever not look pissed the fuck off? He just plays Pissed Off Guy, right?

Omar Epps isn’t really in it much, though, is it? He has a couple of good scenes, but that's it. He hadn’t really hit it big yet when this was filmed, with things like House. I’m not saying he’s been typecast, but yeah, he’s basically Annoyed Black Guy.

Christopher Plummer was absolutely the perfect choice for Van Helsing. He’s a tremendous actor and a perfect addition to the cast. A total coup. There are all these up-and-coming actors, with an old master to balance them out.

He was such a great choice for Van Helsing. He could have been Helsing in any number of productions of Dracula. You could have put him in the 1979 version, for instance, and he would have been brilliant. He tends to be overlooked as an actor, which is a shame. Plummer is always there in big movies, but you don't always notice him. You wouldn’t believe how many big roles he’s had.

Maybe it’s not the biggest cast, but it’s enough to get a young fangirl excited, I promise.

It is actually a very good cast, though. You could call it a Who’s Who of the early 2000s. Like you said, they might not all be A-listers, but there are a lot of recognisable actors.

Oh, and did I mention Gerard Butler as Dracula? Gerard. Freaking. Butler. As Dracula. Life doesn’t get any better than that…

I know you prefer a scary, straight up villain when it comes to Dracula, but come on... 

Gerard Butler.

I did see this back in 2000 when it first came out but it would still  be a few years before I even knew who Gerard Butler was. 300 was his big break, of course – or at least it was the first time I noticed him. He was in the likes of Mrs.Brown and Reign of Firebut, like this, I don’t remember him in them. It was 300 that made Gerard Butler a household name.

When we watched the 1979 Dracula yesterday, we talked a lot about its being a romance, rather than a horror movie. I think there’s a good blend of romance and horror in Dracula 2000. If I hadn’t seen it a few (ahem, dozen) times, the jump scares here in the cellar scene would definitely have gotten me. They’re actually quite nasty deaths, which were very of the time. Look at Thir13en Ghosts or House on Haunted Hill. Same in-your-face, unapologetically gory deaths.

Speaking of which… ugh. The bit that we’ve just gotten to… the bit where the leech latches onto Nightshade’s eye… I could watch this movie a hundred times (and there’s a chance I have) and that would still make my skin scrawl.

But the thing that really gets me about the whole bit in the airplane is... 

God DAMN Gerard Butler is a sexy ass Dracula. I love that cheeky grin he gets when he’s about to whoop someone’s ass and the smooth way he moves when he’s enthralling someone and… I’m getting off topic.

Ahem.

I’ve never been the type of person who could narrow down their musical tastes any more than “I like music” so I can't say that I like the soundtrack because it’s my type of music. I don’t love all the songs, even some by bands that I love. I do like a lot of them, though. I suspect it’s not really your type of thing, though.

It’s not bad, really. Definitely of its time. Very late ‘90s/early ‘00s grunge. I don’t really know many of these bands, but I do recognise a lot of the songs. There were some I quite liked, actually.

So, the music and gore both give the movie a very Noughties feel but there’s also a whopping dose of Millennial snark, which (almost more than Gerard Butler) makes Dracula 2000. The dialogue is so natural that it’s like listening to my friends talk. I love this scene, between Simon and Marcus:  

Simon: *pulls a crucifix*

Marcus: Sorry sport. I'm an atheist.

Simon: *daggers comes out of bottom of crucifix*

Simon: God loves you anyway.

Simon: *stabs Marcus in eye* 

There were some funny moments, for sure.

I love the aesthetic of this film. The wild debauchery of New Orleans during Mardi Gras juxtaposed against the sombre Catholicism of Dracula’s past is striking. But it’s not just that; it’s also shot extremely well. The shadow and light work, the Chiaroscuro, is well done – take the town hall where the body bags are lined up, for example. The angles are also well thought out.

It is very well shot. Horror films can be too dark sometimes. With this one, though, I don’t feel like I’m ever struggling to see, which is good.

There’s nothing overly creative about the film, though. It didn’t have a “Wow!” factor, but it was competent. Everything is functional.

I don’t agree with you there. You’re completely missing the symbolism that runs throughout the film. Some of it is subtle (Virgin Megastore? Vampires and virgins?) while some is pretty in your face – literally at times. (Leeches!) Whoever wrote Dracula 2000 made some brilliant connections.

There’s a beautiful aesthetic, a humorous element, a good bit of gore, plenty of sexy time, and cracking (if brief) action sequences. What doesn’t this version of Dracula have?

Well…

It doesn’t stretch itself, does it? At least as far as the setting and costumes go. That’s the benefit of it being modern. It’s also what lets it down as a Dracula film. Where are the flowing capes and ruffled shirts? He’s just wearing a dark shirt and a trench coat. He could be from The Crow.

I love that they swapped the cape for the long coat. It’s so perfect and so, so 2000s. If they’d tried to keep the cape in a modern setting, it would have been cringey. Plus, it’s hot. Emo boy hot.

Emo vampire Gerard Butler hot.

Sometimes it can be frustrating watching Dracula adaptations because of the way they swap and change characters, with no respect for who they were in the book. Dracula 2000 doesn’t really have that problem, because it kind of cheats by referencing the book. The rest of the characters that inspired the book are long dead so the only character you have to get right is Van Helsing.

There are names scattered through the film, like Lucy and Dr. Seward, but they’re used more like Easter eggs than anything else.

I especially like what they’ve with Mary, Van Helsing’s daughter. It’s good that they moved away from Mina because that would have made it feel forced. Plus, by making the love interest Van Helsing’s daughter, they’ve created a reason for the romance between her and Dracula. For the first time, “Blood of my blood” actually means something.

It wasn’t really a Dracula story, though, was it? It was Dracula in name only, kind of like Satanic Rites ofDracula. Dracula’s in it, but it’s not really an adaptation. But it’s not one of those movies where you leave the cinema and you don’t love it, but you’d see it again.

We’re getting to the end of the film and I’m going to surprise you by saying that it’s one of the only Dracula endings that I actually like (even though he dies instead of getting the girl.) I mentioned the symbolism before and there’s just so much of it going on right now.

First of all, you’ve got the “brides” and damned if those white dresses they’re wearing don’t make them look like brides. You’ve also got that massive crucifix with a gaudy neon Jesus – which is a whole ass commentary on modern Christianity if ever I’ve seen one. And then there’s…

*sigh*

Yeah, this bit always gets me in the feels. When Dracula’s hanging there from the cross, with Jesus staring down at him… that’s both heart-breaking and beautiful. It wasn’t explicit (which was handy for the very awful sequels) but I like to think that he did ask for forgiveness. What did you make of the ending?

It was an unsatisfying ending for me but, yeah, it left it open for the sequel. That's the problem these days, isn't it? Everything's left open for a sequel, just in case it does well. Movies impress me most when they're one and done - but when was the last time you saw that? Half the time when you do see one, it's just because they never got around to making the sequel that they wanted to. 

Dracula 2000 takes a chance by moving away from the book while assuming that most viewers at least know the story – which, to be fair, isn’t that much of a risk. Even if you’ve only got the vaguest understanding of Dracula and Jesus’s stories, you can enjoy Dracula 2000 without having to engage too much. At the same time, though, there’s enough symbolism going on under the surface to reward a second (or third or fourth) viewing.

This is still one of my favourites. I’m going to give it a solid 9.

If you didn’t call it Dracula, it would be better. Besides Dracula and Van Helsing, there’s not a lot to identify it as a Dracula movie. I did enjoy it, though, so I’m going to give it a 7.

Wondra’s Rating: ๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡

Jay’s Rating: ๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡ 

Vampire Week: Dracula Movie Bingo

We've been re-watching Dracula movies to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Bram Stoker's Dracula and it's impossible not to notice some recurring... I'm going to use the word tropes since cringe-inducing-cinematic-choices seems rude. ๐Ÿคจ๐Ÿ˜‰

While we were watching the Christopher Lee's 1970 Count Dracula, I found myself thinking, 'This would be a fun drinking game...' and, well, you don't have to drink to play Dracula Movie Bingo but, trust me, it helps.

Fog, Endless Fog - It's actually illegal to make a Dracula movie without buckets of fog. I don't make the rules... Oh, wait...

Quincey Who? - Have you ever noticed how few Dracula movies actually acknowledge badass American, Quincey P. Morris? He's important enough for Mina and Jonathan to name their kid after, but not enough to squeeze into a movie...

Children of the Day for Night - Ah, yes... those early horror movies that were clearly filmed in the middle of the day. Hey, Drac, we can see your shadow!

Mina... Or was it Lucy? - Why? For the love of the gods and all that is sacred, why?! What happens when making a Dracula film that short circuits a director's brain and makes them forget who's supposed to be who?

Hissing Fit - Gotta show off those fangs somehow...

Blood of... My, that's bright blood! - It would seem most Dracula movies were made by people who were obsessed with blood - but had never actually seen any. 

Everybody was kung fu biting - Because becoming a vampire also turns you into a ninja, don't cha know? And to think, I spent all those years in karate...

Bat! (On a String) - Maybe I've seen too many episodes of What We Do In The Shadows, but I can't help shouting "Bat!" every time a rubber bat flops pitifully in front of a window on screen - which is surprisingly often. 

If you're playing along, that's a shot for each space, a chug for each line, down it if you hit all four corners, and I hope you don't get hangovers if you fill the card. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Monday, 23 May 2022

Vampire Week: Dracula (1979)

Today, we’re watching the 1979 version of Dracula, starring Frank Langella. I’ve only ever seen it once so I’m looking forward to getting into this one. 

Before we get started, what would you say to someone who’s watching it for the very first time?

It’s actually a good entry into the canon that is Dracula. Frank Langella wasn’t an obvious choice to play Dracula, but he works quite well. He doesn’t have the menace of Christopher Lee, of course – he’s more of a suave character – but he works.

That doesn’t mean it’s flawless. It starts in Whitby, so you miss everything at the castle and the brides. Some of the characters have been changed and some are just missing. Even so, it’s an enjoyable romp.

When I brought up the details on IMDb just now, I noticed Dracula is rated X. There are a lot of younger people out there wondering what the heck that is, since neither America nor Britain use it anymore (and haven’t for some time.) Can you explain what an X-rated movie was and how Dracula earned one? I mean… it’s pretty tame.

It’s the time, of course. Compared to today’s standards, you just shake your head. You have to remember that Dracula was right on the cusp of the video nasty era, when some really horrific (and really great) stuff came out. Sometimes, you need that gore to make it work – consider The Evil Dead. They didn’t know what gratuitous horror was until the video nasties came out.

What would you give Dracula now? A 15? Most horror films got an X rating then, but you can see worse on telly now. Buffy was scarier than this.

As the names are coming up during the opening credits, all I’ve got to say is, “Whoa. That’s a helluva cast.”

Yeah, it’s a good, British, 70’s cast. To get someone like Laurence Olivier to play Van Helsing is a real coup. It’s just a shame he wasn’t in it more. But even the likes of Sylvester McCoy in a nothing role (as an orderly,) you’re like what the actual fuck?

Trevor Eve was good as Harker, too. I almost forgot about him. By the time this was filmed, he had just about hit it big.

Donald Pleasence was... an interesting choice for Jack Seward. Thinking about his campy, over-the-top, sometimes cringey style, I feel like he would have made a much better Renfield. Honestly? I'm not sure TonyHaygarth really captures the mania of the character.

He isn’t memorable at all, so I have to agree with you. He’s no Dwight Frye. I don’t think Pleasence could have done Renfield any justice, either. He was too old, for starters.

Don't get me wrong... Donald Pleasence is a superb actor - in some roles. If you know how to use him, if you have him in the right role, he's tremendous. He's absolutely a camp actor, and that's what makes him special.

When this one started, I was surprised to see JohnWilliams’s name come up. I mean… this is just a silly little horror movie, but… John Freaking Williams? How the heck did that happen?

That’s not true. Dracula isn’t just a silly little horror movie. It had a big budget. Also, Dracula hadn’t been done on the big screen in some time. Christopher Lee’s was back in the 50s so the world was ready for another go.

I agree that it’s not William’s best work, though. The score is okay. It fits the movie but it's not a patch on some of the other Dracula movie scores – especially Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I find this one a bit too… nice. I want big entrance music when Dracula walks in. I want drama.

They say you shouldn’t notice a score, but I disagree. If you notice it for the right reasons, it can make the film. Just look at Jaws and Halloween. You notice those scores - and you'd notice if they weren't there. They don't work without the music. If it compliments the scene well, a score makes a movie unforgettable.

Okay, so… nothing feels familiar with this one so far. I don’t mean that I don’t remember watching the movie (which I don’t,) but that it doesn’t feel like a Dracula movie – and you know I know Dracula.

In some parts, I can see that. You’ve missed all the important parts at the beginning because it starts with the ship crashing. Everything from arriving in Transylvania, to Harker’s time at the castle… it’s such an important part of the story that you can’t afford to miss it. I know they probably decided to cut it to make the film shorter, but it doesn’t matter how long a film is if you’ve done it right. People will stay and watch it. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is, what, over two hours? And audiences don’t care.

(Well, ones who like the movie, anyway...)

Starting the movie aboard the Demeter was an interesting choice. It’s quite a gory scene, which lets you know immediately that you’re watching a horror movie – which is kind of ironic because I would definitely rate this one a romance. For me, it’s closer to Bram Stoker’s Dracula than most of its contemporaries.

It’s absolutely a romance but they don’t take the liberties that Bram Stoker’s Dracula did. There is a slight romantic element to any Dracula story, but it’s often a passing infatuation. You always get the idea that if Dracula were allowed to live past the end of the movie, he’d get bored with Mina (or Lucy or whichever one she is at the time,) and she’d just be another bride.

This one is definitely meant to be a romance, not a horror. Just look at these posters… In the posters for the earlier movies, Dracula is always looming. Not so with this one. He’s just standing in the background. There’s no menace, just a girl.  

Right. So, I said before that nothing feels familiar and I’m sticking with that. I mean… who are these characters? The names and relations are all wrong. I’m having a bit of trouble following the story because my brain is trying to match the people in the movie with the people in the book and I just can’t do it.

It’s an absolute mess. I don’t understand why these film companies take liberties with characters in this way. Dracula does it all the time, with Mina and Lucy being the worst. If people haven’t read the book, they’ve probably seen at least half a different film versions so you have to think that audiences know what they’re watching is wrong.

Look at it like this: If you remade Harry Potter but decided to swap Hermione and Cho Chang’s characters, how do you think fans would react? They’d be understandably confused and annoyed – so why is it always okay to make these changes to Dracula?

It's really, really not. I wish they wouldn't.

The feeling of oh-this-is-all-wrong doesn’t stop with the character names or who’s marrying who. It’s strange to see a motorcar in a Dracula film. I know, technically, you could have had cars on the scene – the timeframes just about work out – but it just kind of… I don’t know, grates, I suppose. When I think Dracula, I think crowded busy streets and the clatter of carriage wheels over cobblestone.

The car thing actually fits this movie better than, say, Universal’s 1931 version, if you think about it. There’s only one car in this one, but there are loads in Lugosi’s. It would make sense for there to be a single car in any given area at that time.

The thing that annoys me more is the candid photo. You would never have a candid photo at that time. You would have had to sit there for ages, stiff as a board, while someone took the photo. Candid photos like that wouldn’t have been around until the 1920s.

One of the other things that makes the time feel a little… off is all the bloody (bad pun, I know) snogging! You have to give any movie a little leeway when it comes to historical accuracy because if they were all 100% accurate, they’d be boring as hell, but unmarried people making out in public in the 19th century would have been scandalous. (Not to mention all the sneaking around together at night!)

It happened. It always did – but it wouldn’t haven’t been that obvious. Hell, I got told off for kissing a girlfriend in the street once and that was 1980-something!

You should have seen how many detentions I got in high school for PDAs... 

I think it’s pretty obvious that the 1970 Dracula was meant to be a romance and I’m totally here for it. Of all the adaptations, it’s probably my third favourite because of the romance. Plus, Frank Langella has serious Eric McCormack vibes going on. I totally would have had a crush on him if I’d been around in 1979!

Yeah, he was a handsome man. He’s got dead eyes, though, which gives him a cruel look. It’s more apparent now that he’s older, I think.

Langella is definitely a different kind of Dracula. He’s dashing and romantic, which is fine for a romance like this, but he’s nowhere near frightening enough to compete with the likes of Christopher Lee’s Dracula.

It’s impossible to talk about Dracula without mentioning the elaborate sets, especially Carfax Abbey. They’re Hammer Horror worthy, (even though the movie doesn’t really have much going in the way of horror.)

The sets are very good. Better than Hammer, I’d say. You can tell they spared no expense with the sets and the costumes. It’s like with Seward’s top hat, which I know bugged you because it’s so ugly.

The top hat was a major status symbol at the time. The bigger it was, the more important you were. Of course someone like a doctor would have wanted people to know he was worthy of that big hat. In London at the time, it got ridiculous with the sizes of people’s top hats.

It feels even more appropriate in Dracula because Pleasence is playing Seward and it's even more like him to flaunt that status.

Very apropos. (And very, very ugly.)

The movie is very atmospheric. Like all vampire movies (literally all vampire movies,) there are buckets of fog but there are also plenty of great animal sounds that contribute to the overall creepiness of the film.

You’ve got owls hooting, crows cawing, the flapping of bats’ wings, and the howling of wolves. On top of that, there are doors creaking and slamming – although, nothing is ever overdone.

The sound effects add a sort of… gentle creepiness to the film. Like I said, it never gets truly scary. More of a snuggle-into-your-date kind of creepy.

This Dracula was never meant to be an out and out horror, of course, so I think that’s spot on. I was glad it was a one-off but it wasn’t a waste of time.

I’m looking at Dracula framed in the window here and I have to point it out because the framing is excellent throughout the movie. Not just the framing, but the use of shadow & light. I can’t help but think of how effective the filming style would have been if they’d really gone done the horror route…

They could have, very easily. It’s down to the director’s vision but, like I said, there was obviously no expense spared. Whoever was in charge of the cinematography had to be old school Hollywood. You can tell they knew their craft. There’s never a moment when you can’t see what’s happening. It’s always perfectly lit, which is important in any movie that takes place mostly at night.

There aren’t many scary moments in this one but there are some haunting, even heart-breaking lines, mostly from Dracula himself. “You take the sun for granted.” “There is a grim purpose in all I do.” This isn’t a Dracula intent on destroying; it’s a Dracula with depth, with regret. Great for people like me who enjoy the more romantic versions. But, for people like you…?

But Dracula is a sad figure, a lonely figure. He’s lonely and he doesn’t want to be. 

I didn’t like this version the first time I watched it, which would have been back in the early 80s. I would have saved up my pocket money, looking forward to a horror movie, and no, I wouldn’t have been impressed at the time. Now, though, I can appreciate it more. It’s just time. You get older and start to understand things more. As a teenager, you just want tits and gore and monsters. Now, I can appreciate it as a well-filmed, well-acted movie.

Because this version of Dracula is so heavily romantic, I wasn’t expecting to laugh so much! I just wish the humour had been intentional…

I mean… look at those bats! They had to have been able to do better than that by 1979! So cringe.

You mean the bats on strings? It wasn’t good, was it? They didn’t have anything better, though, did they? It would have been better to use puppets, I think. Have the bat land, then manipulate it that way.

For a movie that was so well shot, there are some effects that bring it down. The bat-on-a-string effect that most vampire movies seem to resort to (with the exception of Fright Night ­– which is the only movie I’ve seen do it well, is cringeworthy but there’s also the bit at the end with the cape flying away… that’s not good either.

But the one place you expect to find humour in Dracula, it’s disapprovingly absent. I kind of touched on the whole Donald Pleasence v. Tony Haygarth before and, honestly, as the movie’s gone on, I’ve become more and more convinced that the movie needed a mad-as-Donald-Pleasence-Renfield. Haygarth definitely does not cut it. As Renfield, he’s kind of a nonentity. In most adaptations, Renfield steals the show. In this one, he’s just there.

I agree that Haygarth is a nonentity. If I had to recast…? There’s Peter Sellers… no one does a better madman, but he would have been too old.  Oh, I’ll tell you who would have been an ideal Renfield… Tom Baker. With those eyes? Perfect. He was a bit tall, maybe. Even Sylvester Mccoy would have been better than Tony Haygarth, though.

We’ve gotten to the end of Dracula now and I’ve gotta say, I’m a little torn on this one. The way Dracula is hoisted up into the daylight was clever – but would have been more effective if he’d caught on fire, rather than just gotten a bit manky. I hate that Lucy ends up with Jonathan (obviously) because of the way he backhands her during the fight. Hell naw, sis.

Well… he was trying to save her… and she was trying to attack him… and she was all under Dracula’s thrall…

My biggest problem with the ending is that you completely miss out on the chase. It’s such a vital scene, culminating in Dracula’s death, that you can’t really do the movie properly without it.

Although the historical accuracy isn’t there and it’s obviously dated, the 1979 adaption of Dracula with Frank Langella is definitely one of my favourites. It gives me the warm fuzzies. What do you think of it?

The 1979 Dracula a fair instalment. It isn’t my cup of tea as a Dracula movie, because I prefer them darker, with more horror, but I can appreciate it. It’s beautifully filmed. The sets and costumes are remarkable – you know they spent a fortune. The acting and casting are very good. I’ve this adaptation of Dracula several times over the years and I’ve enjoyed it each time – even though I didn’t enjoy it the first time.

I think I'd give it a rating of 7, which might be low considering what I said about it being my third favourite, but it does stray an awfully long way from the book.

This is probably one of the only times we've given a film the same score. It's a 7 for me as well. Although it's enjoyable, it's missing too much from the story to give it anything higher. 

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Jay's Rating: ๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡๐Ÿฆ‡