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I first saw this during my trip to Australia in 2017 on a friend's telly-box (LJ / DW), but as I had never seen it in the cinema I was very happy to go along and watch it again at the Hyde Park Picturehouse with [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 recently. It is, after all, very good.

Some things which particularly struck me this time, and / or I didn't mention last time, included the very effective use of silence and stillness throughout the movie. It creates a compelling sense of focus and isolation around Oskar and Eli when they meet in the play-area of their apartment building, underscoring how separate from everything around them their friendship is. And once that's established, it contrasts nicely with the sounds we do hear - yelling from Oskar's bullies, the buzz of conversation in the bar where the adults hang out, the roar in Oskar's ears as he is being held underwater in the pool.

Perhaps because I was seeing it on a big screen this time, or perhaps just because I already knew the story so could pick up smaller details, I also noticed that sometimes when Eli is in vampire-attack mode, CGI is used to make them appear both older and more savage. I really liked that - both the subtlety of it, so that you may or may not consciously notice it, and the properly frightening, supernatural edge it gives to the character (who could otherwise risk becoming too humanised). And although I had certainly remembered how touching the portrayal of Eli and Oskar's relationship is, I had forgotten that from time to time the film is also darkly humorous - as when we learn that Eli has appeared to save Oskar's life and make short work of his tormentors by seeing severed limbs and heads falling into the swimming pool from Oskar's underwater perspective.

In my head, this film now belongs on a list of five exceptionally-good (for different reasons) vampire movies which we've been lucky enough to have in the last now-slightly-more-than-ten years. In chronological order, those are:
  • Let the Right One In (2008)
  • Byzantium (2012)
  • Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
  • A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
  • What We Do In The Shadows (2014)
I will be only to happy to consider further additions to the list if anyone wants to recommend any, or indeed release them!

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I saw the first Iron Sky film in the cinema when it came out in 2012 (LJ / DW). This one, the sequel, did get a cinema release, but in Leeds only one cinema offered a showing if enough people signed up in advance and not enough did, so [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 and I watched it via Google Play instead.

I was surprised as we watched by how very little I remembered about the first film, but now I've realised it came out in 2012 I'm less so. (If you'd asked me to guess its release date before I checked, I would have said 2015.) It left me a bit at sea at the beginning of the film, as we were evidently meant to recognise some of the characters as descendants of people from the original film, but I couldn't remember anything about their parents so [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 had to remind me. It didn't really matter too much once things got going, though.

Like the first film, it was funny and knowingly silly. There's a lot to be said for a film whose climax features a fake alien lizard-Hitler riding a tyrannosaurus rex through a moon colony. It was fun to see a fake alien lizard-Caligula crop up briefly part-way through, too. But I see looking back at my review of the first film that I complained about its unsubtlety in some areas, and I felt like that again this time about their parody of Apple cultism, in which a slavish adoration of Steve Jobs and everything he ever produced had become the main religious cult on the moon base. It would have been OK as a one-off passing joke, but as things are it was over-played. Still, it made for a fun afternoon.

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This one I learnt of at the Polidori conference I went to in April (the one I never wrote up but did upload some pictures from). It was mentioned in a paper about Byronic vampire narratives of the 1960s, and although the speaker said quite explicitly that it wasn't a very good film, they also said that it featured a character going off to Greece and becoming involved in occultism, Peter Cushing, a scathing speech about reactionary Oxbridge academia, and a random psychedelic orgy scene which had clearly been tagged onto the rest of the movie in a desperate attempt to attract audiences. Though I like a good horror film as much as anyone, I also have a lot of time for brilliantly inept horror films, especially ones made in the 1960s and '70s, so this sounded fantastic to me. Luckily, [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 agreed and had a copy, so we watched it.

It was indeed gloriously terrible. Not even the combined forces of Peter Cushing, Patrick Macnee and Edward Woodward could save it. The plot was confusing, most of the acting was dreadful, there were all sorts of continuity errors (like a lady going out of her apartment without any jacket on, but miraculously having acquired one as she stepped out into the street), and the dialogue was clearly written by someone who knew the sexual revolution had occurred but hadn't had any direct personal involvement and furthermore absolutely insisted on 'no homo'. [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 actually wrote down some of the choicest examples of this at the time, which included:
  • "I'm not a homosexual, you know."
  • "Now let's skip the rather special case of the homosexual vampire."
  • "You have your voyeurs, transvestites, narcissists, bestialists..."
  • "Vampirism is a sado-masochistic sexual perversion affecting frigid women and impotent men."
  • "Are you trying to tell me that a girl sucking blood from a man's neck can induce an orgasm?"
  • "Some men can only make love in a coffin."
Somewhat oddly, it also made pretty good use of location footage in Oxford and (I was surprised to realise half-way though) both Kyrenia and Salamis in Cyprus, which I visited with [personal profile] rosamicula two years ago. A nice collection of shots of both from the film is visible here, but I'm afraid I did the same with the Cyprus trip as the Polidori conference - uploaded pictures here, but never wrote a post to put them into. I guess I may as well at least drop a couple of the ones which match up best with the film in here:



All in all, we had a mightily enjoyable evening watching this, eased along by the good offices of a couple of vampire cocktails apiece. Our only disappointment was that the shoe-horned psychedelic orgy scene turned out to have been excised from the cut of the film we watched - but luckily it was included as an extra on the DVD. Marvellous.

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7. Targets (1968), dir. Peter Bogdanovich

Various colleagues in the School where I work have caught on to my horror-loving ways, with the result that I was asked to review Murray Leeder (2018), Horror Film: a critical introduction for a film studies journal earlier this year. Feeling slightly fraudulent, I agreed, and was glad I had because it is an excellent book which has hugely enhanced my own appreciation of horror films. The review isn't out yet, but I've been enthusiastically recommending the book to others ever since reading it.

Naturally, one of the things I got out of it was a list of horror films which I hadn't previously seen or registered the existence of, but would clearly enjoy, and this went straight to the top of that list. Leeder argues in the book that horror is a particularly self-referential genre, for two main reasons. One is that non-mainstream genres tend to work that way anyway - they build up and rely on a committed audience with a strong knowledge of the genre, so there is a lot of mileage to be had out of in-jokes and inter-texts. The other is that horror in particular draws a lot of its impact from the inherent uncanniness of visual effects. This has been true since the early days of phantasmagorias, but in a film context it includes things like the weirdness of seeing realistic-looking moving images of people on screen whom the audience knows are not actually there, as well as the additional levels of similar weirdness made possible by sound effects (e.g. disjunctions between what we see and hear), the use of colour (consider Suspiria) and digital effects. Horror is always trading on these, but often also chooses to draw direct attention to the uncanniness through meta-references.

In the book, Leeder capitalises on all this by using examples of scenes and dialogue from the films he's discussing to introduce a topic, before going on to talk about it in more analytical and theoretical terms. This film was one of the ones he used in that capacity, mainly to discuss the shift from Gothic horror to serial killer movies at the end of the 1960s, but also as an example of a film dealing meta-referentially with the figure of the horror star and the uncanniness of the projected image. This caught my attention in a big way (the meta-referential horror star was the main thing I liked about Fright Night (LJ / DW)), so, having determined that it was available via Google Play, I persuaded [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 to watch it with me.

It is a low-budget film made by an early-career director lucky enough to have impressed and secured the support of Roger Corman. As a result, Bogdanovich was able to make use of Boris Karloff, in one of his final few screen appearances, because Karloff owed Corman a couple of days' work from another project and Corman gifted them to Bogdanovich. Karloff plays Byron Orlok, an elderly horror star with an obviously meta-referential name, who feels he has become obsolete in a world of real-life horrors filling the newspapers, and whose films are derided as camp. However, they are still shown as having a huge cult following, and Orlok somewhat reluctantly agrees to make a final promotional appearance at a drive-in theatre showing one of his movies, represented by footage of Karloff's actual performance in Corman's The Terror.

On the day of the film screening, an example of the very real-life horror Orlok despairs at breaks out in the Thompson household. Bobby Thompson appears to be the perfect American man with his clean-cut appearance and attractive wife, but deep problems lurk below the surface. He and his wife still live with his parents, with all the weird tensions, overtones of failure and implications of a broken society that entails. Gradually we realise that he is unemployed but hiding it from his wife and family. He collects guns. You can see where this is going. His storyline was apparently modelled after a couple of examples of recent real-world shooters in the US (Michael Clark in 1965 and Charles Whitman in 1966), and begins with him coldly and methodically shooting his entire family, before sniping at cars from the top of an oil storage tank and finally holing himself up at the drive-in theatre where Orlok's movie is due to screen.

The main effectiveness of the Thompson storyline comes from the imperceptibility of the slip between an apparently ordinary life and a killing-spree. We can see that he is at odds with and closed off from his family, but he never goes into a rage or appears to struggle with the terrible consequences of what he is contemplating, and nor are we prompted to respond viscerally to his actions via dramatic music or high-speed action sequences. He just starts quietly killing as though it were a logical continuation of the life he has already been living, tidying away the bodies of the first few members of his family so that the others will not recognise what is happening and cause a scene. The fact that he begins in the very ordinary domestic setting of the family home creates the same jarring effect, as does the meticulousness of his planning - for example, eating a sandwich lunch he has made for himself on top of the oil tank. This all adds up to a far more terrifying indictment of what is wrong with the society that has produced him than a sudden flip-out would do, and of course it all only looks massively more horrible and damning some fifty years later when the problem has only grown.

At the drive-in theatre, Thompson makes a hole in the cinema screen and begins shooting the audience through it - a very clever little prod at the relationship between the safely imaginary horrors we choose to watch on screen and the unwanted reality of violence. A horrible dramatic tension is maintained for several minutes as the audience of Targets see what he is doing, but most of the audience at the drive-in movie within the film still haven't realised yet what is going on. (He's using a silencer and of course most of the victims are inside their own cars.) There are some very effective and quite harrowing shots of the results of his carnage, and then chaos as people catch on and scramble to get away. The two parallel stories of the film finally come together as Orlok confronts Thompson, who is momentarily confused by the actor from the movie appearing for real in front of him, and uses the opportunity to thwack Thompson's gun out of his hands with his walking stick, allowing the police to arrest him. The film closes on a final shot of a single car left in the drive-in lot - Thompson's, which he is now unable to collect.

I'm not usually a serial killer movie fan, but this is an exceptional commentary on what gives rise to them as well as a fascinating reflection on the horror genre. If you're a horror fan and haven't seen it, it is an absolute must-watch.

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Life is genuinely a bit quieter for me at the moment than it has been for a while, and (touch wood) should stay that way until the end of August, so I'm taking the opportunity to try to get back on top of things a bit. I've been tidying and cleaning my house so far today, and now turn my attention to my unblogged film list - not that I am really likely to make great inroads into it today, given that I am probably going out to see another film this evening. [profile] ladylugosi1313 will appreciate just how far I am going back to review this one, although luckily I did take some notes on it at the time, so I have at least something of a starting point.

Anyway, this is a classic and very famous Powell and Pressburger film which centres around the lives and loves of a ballet company engaged in putting on an adaptation of 'The Red Shoes' by Hans Christian Anderson. The story tells of a young girl who yearns for a pair of beautiful red shoes, but when she acquires them through the manipulative machinations of the evil shoemaker, she finds that they compel her to dance on and on until she dies. Roughly two-thirds of the way through the film, we are treated to an amazing sequence, probably some 15-20 minutes long, which is just the company performing the ballet. The relevant cast members were all actual professional dancers, so it is essentially a filmed version of an actual ballet performance, but enhanced also by the potential of what film allows them to do. This ranges from the relatively simple and obvious business of close-ups and camera tracking, which a static audience in a real theatre can't benefit from, to special effects such as the girl seeing a vision of herself already dancing in the shoes when she peers in to the shop window to wonder over them, and then her dancing through fantastical landscapes using an early version of what's now green-screen when she is first experiencing the joy of having acquired them.

Around this, the story of the ballet company echoes the narrative of feeling compelled to dance with tragic consequences in a real-world setting. The lead role in the ballet is played by Vicky Page, who is just emerging into the ballet world as a new rising star, and feels a strong vocational compulsion within herself to make her way in the profession and be the best dancer she can be. This is externally personified by Boris Lermontov, the ballet company's director, who takes her as his protégé and demands of her to devote her entire life to dancing. But meanwhile she also falls in love with the company's composer, Julian Custer, and runs off to marry him - only to discover and admit to a jealous Boris some months later that his career as a composer has taken over, and she has barely danced since their marriage. It is tragic and terrible and very emotively played, but it does essentially boil down to a very gendered story about how a woman can't have both love and career success. Even worse, because Vicky's own internal conflict about this is externally personified into the two men, it is largely framed as a conflict between them within which she has no real agency. Vicky's response is thus to run in tears from the theatre, horribly compelled by the red shoes she is wearing, and jump from a terrace into the path of an oncoming train. That is, two men fight over a woman until she breaks.

It was a visually very beautiful film, beyond the ballet scenes I've already mentioned. The colour was over-saturated, but with a taupe tint - probably largely because that was what they could achieve using still quite early colour technology, but it looked amazing anyway, with the red shoes themselves incredibly rich. Some of the cinematography also reminded me of Fellini's films - especially shots of people looking smallish and isolated in large, splendid rooms which accentuated their fragility. Some of the dialogue struck me the same way, too. Fellini's characters often make very simple, even banal, statements which acquire a lot of their meaning from context, and these characters quite often did the same. Fellini was in his late 20s and just getting started in the film industry at this time, so maybe he saw it and picked up some ideas?

Anyway, very beautiful and effective overall, as long as you can look around the inherently rather misogynistic central conceit.

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Two weeks ago, I attended IVFAF, a vampire festival combining an academic conference, a creative congress (i.e. authors talking about their work), a film festival, a number of theatrical performances, a Bram Stoker walk, a cabaret and a ball all into one glorious five-day event. I've been following their activities on Twitter / FB for a while, but their last three events had been in Romania and at times of year when I already had a lot on. This one, though, came to the Highgate area of London, and I decided it was worth devoting a week of summer holiday time to going along.

Back in April, I went to a different two-day conference marking the bicentenary of John Polidori's 'The Vampyre', which also took place in Highgate (though at a different main venue). I never wrote it up here, though I did upload an album of pictures intending to use them as the basis for a never-written entry, mainly of our visit to Highgate cemetery complete with a few screencaps from Taste the Blood of Dracula, which used it as a location. I went along to that conference purely out of interest as a listener, but by the end of it I'd realised that specialists in Gothic literature aren't always in the best position to unpick 'The Vampyre's engagement with Classical antiquity, and indeed that that engagement was considerably deeper and richer than I'd previously realised.

IVFAF 2019 also took the bicentenary of 'The Vampyre' as one of its themes (along with the Highgate Vampire craze and Hammer's vampire films), and I registered for it from my academic email address, which prompted the organiser to ask whether I was planning to offer a paper. Fresh from the recent Polidori conference, I said yes, I probably would, and indeed re-read both Polidori's story and Byron's related Fragment and made some notes on them. But then as the abstract deadline drew closer I looked more soberly at the other tasks I had to do during the same period, and realised that it probably wouldn't actually be a very good idea, so I didn't submit one. I decided I would just go along in the same spirit as I had to the Polidori conference, to enjoy other people's papers and the films, shows, walks and partying around them. Except that then, about three weeks before the conference, I got another slightly plaintive note from the organiser saying that he was holding a slot for me on the programme, and could I send in my abstract? And it turned out I couldn't resist this, so I had yet another look at my calendar, identified three days I could claw out to write the paper after all, and knocked an abstract together. So that is how I turned what was supposed to be a week's holiday into three days of intensive paper preparation followed by travelling down to London and delivering it.

It was fine, though. I had been right in the first place that there was a good paper's worth of things to say about how both Byron and Polidori's stories engaged with Classical antiquity, was able to compile it into a perfectly respectable paper in three days, and indeed managed to identify some quite specific source material for each of them which I don't think has been fully explored before. So it was all in the bag by the end of the Monday, leaving plenty of time for me to relax, travel down to London and settle into my aparthotel on the Tuesday. I even found time that evening (equipped with advice from a few FB friends) to get my nails done in suitably vampiric style in a local nail bar, ready for the week ahead.

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My paper was scheduled for the first day, which was nice as it meant I could get the worky bit over and done with and then enjoy the rest of the festival. I made sure to attire myself appropriately, and did my thingCollapse )

The other papers were good to listen to tooCollapse )

I didn't spend so much time in the creative congress, which was largely scheduled in parallel with the academic conference, but I mean you might as well sit and listen to Kim Newman being interview by Stephen Jones (editor of The Mammoth Book of Vampire Stories in which Kim's first Anno Dracula story appeared) if you've got no other pressing commitments.

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The Bram Stoker walk was another highlightCollapse )

DracSoc chair Julia also attended the academic conference, while additional members Adrian and Pat joined us at various points in the evenings for dinners, shows and films. We saw two productions by the Don't Go In The Cellar theatre company: 'Sherlock Holmes versus The Sussex Vampire' (which also included versions of The Creeping Man and The Devil's Foot) and 'Dracula's Ghost', in which a very pale-faced lawyer named Mr Leech (whose true identity I'm sure you can guess) periodically visits the widowed Mrs Bram Stoker, interspersed with relating the story of his life. The first was done as a one-man show (as are most DGITC productions), with the audience cast as criminals in Sherlock's memory palace, and worked pretty well, but we felt that Sherlock as a character did struggle a bit without other characters to be clever at. The second was an absolute cracker, though. The inclusion of a second actor on stage playing Mrs Stoker probably helped, but it was basically a whirlwind tour through more or less every possible vampire and Dracula-related story you can think of, all incorporated into and referenced within Mr Leech's life story. My favourite moments were a mention of D.D. Denham (Dracula's alias in The Satanic Rites of Dracula) and a scene in which he meets and speaks with Kali - partly because this references one of the very unmade Hammer Dracula films we'd heard Kieran talking about the previous day, but also because it was just done so effectively, by the actor who'd also been playing Mrs Stoker putting masks on both her face and the back of her head, and undulating her arms in a very divine and otherworldly manner.

I didn't make it to any of the new shorts and feature films which were screened during the days, again because of clashes with the academic conference and Stoker walk, but I did get to three evening showings of vampire classicsCollapse )

Finally (though not chronologically as it took place on the Friday - but the grand climax of the festival anyway), there was the combined cabaret night and ball at the Birdcage in Camden, some of which was NSFWCollapse )

Plans are afoot already for next year's IVFAF, quite possibly to be in Santa Cruz with a Lost Boys theme. I'm not sure I'll make that, but having the chance to go this year was definitely a good thing, and now I even have another Classical vampires paper to maybe think about writing up properly some time soon. Dracula first, though...

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This is Christopher Lee's first feature film, made when he was on a training contract with Rank (the 'Rank Charm School'), which the ever-wondrous Talking Pictures were kind enough to show some time ago. He has only a small role in it, playing a beautiful young man in a night-club with all of about two lines, but the film as a whole proved to have much more to offer beyond his small appearance (which is far from always the case with Christopher Lee films), and I would highly recommend it.


It is set in 1938, i.e. ten years before its release date, but with a framing narrative in the present day which alerts us that a murder has been committed. Ten years earlier, the main story begins in the nightclub where Christopher Lee is one of several louche young things lounging around a table waiting for something to happen - and it is he who has the honour of identifying the lead male character, Paul Mangin (Eric Portman), as a 'Lord Byron' type when he sweeps in imperiously. Mangin is a classic tragic tormented hero who wears cravats, rides around town in a hansom cab and turns out to own a vast faux-Renaissance Venetian palace full of ancient jewellery, fine dresses and the titular corridor of mirrors. That night, he woos society girl Mifanwy Conway (Edana Romney), taking her to his home, introducing her to his fantastical other-world and encouraging her to try on some of the dresses - which she discovers are perfectly tailored to her size.

We gradually learn that he is deeply invested in a fantasy regarding a woman named Venetia who lived in the 15th century, believing himself to be her reincarnated lover and just waiting to find the woman herself - Mifanwy, of course. She becomes embroiled into it all, flattered by the attention and seduced by the fairy-tale setting which he has created, allowing him to turn her into a mannequin draped in Venetia's clothes and a living doll who dances on his command. He keeps taking cigarettes out of her hand, gently but firmly schooling her out of the 20th-century modernism which they represent. Seductive though it all is, she increasingly discovers that she doesn't like the way the whole scenario erodes her sense of will and self-determination, and breaks away from Mangin for the Welsh landowner she really loves - but not before returning for one last night to the faux-Venetian ball which he has put on in her honour. There, he takes her refusing his proposal of marriage very badly, chasing her through the mirrored corridor, and the murder which had been foreshadowed from the start occurs. Returning to 1948, Mangin is now the one who has been transformed into a mannequin - a wax model in the gallery of horrors at Madame Tussaud's.

In some ways the film reminded me strongly of Cocteau's La Belle et la Bête (LJ / DW), released only two years earlier. It has the same basic set-up of a young woman finding herself in an outsider's palace full of wonders, as well as some similar visuals such as flowing drapes around the bed. But it certainly ends up quite differently. I also felt I'd seen some foreshadowings of Hammer's Dracula in it. Mangin's whole demeanour towards and pursuit of Mifanwy is quite in line with Lee's Dracula, as is his identification with the past and the design of his house (opus sectile floors, a hallway with a gallery and staircase, his study complete with the accoutrements of a Renaissance man, stone eagles in the garden). He also transpires to have a house-keeper called Veronica who tells Mifanway that she is a prisoner and that Mangin has consumed her youth and can appear at will, and he even wears a long black cloak at the climactic Venetian ball. But I'm sure these are all really just a matter of a general mid-century consensus on how to portray a Byronic villain and his house rather than any meaningful connection between the two films.

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This one I think I spotted on Amazon and put on my wish-list for kind family members to buy as a Christmas present. It sets out to answer puzzles and questions raised by Stoker's novel, with the one that really caught me eye being the theory that Quincey Morris is actually a vampire in league with Dracula, based mainly on the fact that he allows Dracula to escape at a couple of crucial points in the action. But on reading I discovered that this theory isn't original to Sutherland - rather, he's picked it up (as he quite freely acknowledges), from another source: Franco Moretti 1983, Signs Taken for Wonders. Much the same was true for most of the book, with many of the sources being blog posts (including several I had already read), while a certain sloppiness of detail betrayed a superficial grasp of the material on the author's own part (e.g. anyone who has a passing familiarity with Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe films would know instantly that The Tomb of Ligeia could not have been released in 1982, as he has it).

So, while I appreciate the proper and careful referencing, this is basically a work of synthesis rather than that of a single sharp mind picking carefully over the novel's loose threads. Also, there was no acknowledgement at all of what to me is a crucial difference - that between explanations based on what is there in the text (such as the theory that Quincey may be a vampire), and explanations based on what we know about Stoker and his authorial process (e.g. Why does Van Helsing swear in German? Because Stoker originally conceived of the character as German but later changed him to Dutch, probably based on a combination of characters from Le Fanu's In a Glass Darkly). I'm down for both, but they're not the same and I have already read bucket-loads of serious-business books offering the latter. I wanted the fannish story-expanding of the former.

Still, it was a fun book to read, and did include some really interesting insights. I've long been intrigued myself by the following claim of Dracula's, reported by Jonathan Harker in his diary of 8th May:
"Fools, fools! What devil or what witch was ever so great as Attila, whose blood is in these veins?" He held up his arms.
There are three things a vampire could mean when he says something like that:
  1. The conventional human meaning - I am directly descended from Attila.
  2. I myself am Attila
  3. I bit Attila and drank his blood during his lifetime
Either of the latter two would have to mean he was far older than Vlad III Dracula, but oddly that possibility seems to have been almost entirely ignored by Dracula commentators. (Not that they are mutually exclusive - an immortal vampire able to walk around in daylight can be multiple different historical figures across the generations.) Sutherland has picked it up, though - and as far as I can tell in this instance on his own initiative. In fact, it's his answer to the titular question of the book - Who is Dracula's Father? He ends up suggesting that Dracula may be a child conceived on the night of Attila's death, which was also his wedding-night to a new wife, which to me is slightly weaker than "I am Attila" or "I bit Attila", but still at least gets something out of the line. Props for that.

Another interesting observation is that
When blood is spilled on the floor, from Seward's arm which Renfield has cut in a maniac moment, he laps it up. Thereafter he seems to know everything that Seward knows. He owns him.
That is, Renfield is able to secure a similar telepathic connection between himself and Seward after drinking his blood to the one which Dracula has with Mina in the same circumstances, even though he isn't a vampire. I'd have to read the relevant parts of the novel again to know if the text really bears out what Sutherland says, but if it does, it sort of suggests something interesting about how Stoker is trying to portray vampirism - that the magical properties of blood-drinking aren't rooted in the condition of vampirism (and thus restricted to the vampire characters), but are to some extent inherent in the blood itself - the blood is the life. What distinguishes vampires from humans then isn't so much a quasi-medical condition of the body, but rather that they have recognised and given themselves over to this knowledge and the power that it brings, which is entirely consistent with what Stoker says about Dracula learning his secrets from the Devil in the Scholomance.

Finally - and I can't believe I didn't notice this one before - Harker leaves Bistritz for Dracula's castle on the eve of St George's Day, which his landlady explains means that at midnight "all the evil things in the world will have full sway". But as Sutherland also points out, Dracula's name means 'son of the Dragon' (as Stoker knew), and St George is famous above all as a dragon-slayer - which is what Jonathan, an Englishman and thus a knight of St George (at one point in the novel, Van Helsing literally calls them 'knights of the Cross') will do at the climax. It's another of Bram's Good vs. Evil dichotomies, as well as an index of Jonathan's character development - from the innocent traveller, out of his depth and at the mercy of supernatural things at the beginning, to the swooping hero, defeating them at the end. Nice.

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This is a multi-authored novel which I picked up in Whitby when I was there with fellow DracSoc members last September. It's a response to both Stoker's novel and a lot of the wider mythos around it, particularly the life of the historical Vlad III Dracula, and like the original novel it uses an epistolary format (or modern equivalents) throughout. It consists of five main chapters (or dossiers of documents), each dealing with different periods and settings and each with their own individual authors, as follows:
  • Bogi Takács, 'The Souls of Those Gone Astray from the Path' - set during Vlad III Dracula's imprisonment in Hungary, this mainly consists of letters between two rabbis, through which we learn how Dracula has been transformed into a vampire with the help of Mátyás Corvinus, and then fakes his own death on campaign in Transylvania and infiltrates the Hungarian court in the person of Mátyás' new wife, Queen Beatrix.
  • Adrian Tchaikovsky, 'Noblesse Oblige' - covers the life of Erzsébet Bathory, who is preyed upon as a young woman by Dracula and whose response is to conceive an intensive loathing for him and spend her whole life equipping herself to fight against him by trying to unlock the secret of how to extend and take life from others herself via gruesome experiments. I.e. it is the classic "she hates him so much she becomes like him" narrative.
  • Milena Benini, 'A Stake Too Far' - set during the vampire panics of the early 18th century, we follow a doctor sent out to Croatia on the orders of the Empress Maria Theresa to tackle the problem. The twist is that there really are vampires on the prowl in the area - Vlad himself, and his brother Radu, also a vampire and his sworn enemy.
  • Emil Minchev, 'Children of the Night' - a single long letter from Vlad Dracula to an associate in London, relating how he is planning to move there to provide sufficient nourishment for his three daughters (the vampire women who live in his castle in Bram's novel), after they have drunk the area around his castle dry. Most of the letter is actually about their mother, a local woman named Yaga whom he discovered had supernatural powers and became his one true love, but who died shortly after giving birth to them.
  • Caren Gussoff Sumption, 'The Women' - flipping mainly between the late 1960s and the present day, this tell the stories of Lolo, a descendent of the Szgany who served Dracula before his death, who has come to London to study and nearly becomes a victim of Mátyás Corvinus, and Dani, her trans daughter who is figuring out how to tell her mother who she really is as well as how to take on Corvinus herself.

The five stories are tied together by a framing narrative, in which a Jonathan Holmwood (born in 1947 to judge from his email address) sends Dani (of the last story) a series of files, each with a covering note, consisting of the dossiers of documents which make up the first four stories and which he has gathered himself over a lifetime of research into his own family's brush with Dracula. Given the multiple authorship, I found the collection as a whole surprisingly coherent - and of course an epistolary format featuring completely different characters writing each section helps with that, because of course their voices should sound a bit different anyway. I also really enjoyed the stories overall, both individually and collectively. The historical contexts were extremely well-researched (by which I do not just mean repeating 'facts' from primary sources, but sometimes also interrogating and deconstructing them too), the references to Stoker's novel (and occasionally other related fiction - e.g. golem stories, Le Fanu's 'Carmilla') were clever and well-informed without feeling over-played, there was loads of foregrounding of usually-silenced types of characters (Jews, women, trans people, Romany people), the characterisation generally was strong and absorbing, and the stories were full of intriguing scenarios and details.

However, I did find the fourth story broke my suspension of disbelief a bit. Dracula's true love, Yaga, proves to be a sort of spider-woman - she makes webs, paralyses and devours her prey, and gives birth to their three children in giant eggs, after which she explains that they have to eat her as their first meal, and that in order for them to do so Vlad has to kill her himself with his own bone, having stripped the flesh off his finger to do so. I know it seems silly to be complaining about the unrealism of magical spider-ladies in a novel about vampires, but there it is. She was just a step too far for me, and then it didn't help that in the fifth story, Dracula is just unceremoniously dead (I think we're supposed to understand that the events of Stoker's novel have happened to him between the fourth and fifth chapters), and instead the enemy has become Matthias Corvinus, but the novel ends before any kind of confrontation even with him. So, cool as both Lolo and Dani are as characters, and for all that Dani does get to come out to and be accepted by her mother, any kind of final reckoning - or even meeting - with the big vampire villain is just missing. Maybe there will be a sequel?

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4. Nosferatu (1922), dir. F.W. Murnau

Obviously I’ve seen this before, but I wanted to revisit it because I am going on this Dracula Society trip organised around its locations, studios and director in May / June (excite!), and [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 was very happy to join me in the enterprise. We found a nicely-restored version online, which was beautifully crisp and also contained several scenes neither of us could remember seeing before – e.g. the escape and pursuit of a prisoner from the asylum called Knock. It looks like quite a lot has been rediscovered and reinserted into the film since I last saw it, as the version we watched was about 1h30 long, whereas I’m pretty sure I only remember it being just over an hour previously. And it has gained a great deal in the process, with more time to establish the story at the beginning and all of the characters and the relationships between them coming across as better developed and more convincing.

We also attempted to match it up with [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313’s blood-red vinyl copy of the soundtrack which Hammer composer James Bernard wrote for the film in the 1990s, but since that was about 50 minutes long and the film more like 90, it was never going to be a perfect match! Periodically we either paused the record or went back a bit, but most of the time they were well out of sync. It didn’t really matter, though, as both were just so amazing and while the music was clearly designed in the first place to match the tone of particular scenes, it was all broadly Gothic and atmospheric, so it was never really at odds with the action.

The special effects deployed in the grand finale, when Count Orlok fades into nothing in the morning sunlight, are famous – not least because this scene first introduced the notion that sunlight is fatal to vampires. Orlok rising up in his coffin on the Demeter, presumably done by putting him on a board which could be pushed up using some kind of hidden mechanism, is almost as well-known. But over the years that had meant I’d come to assume they were the only two special effects shots in the film, and actually on rewatching I was struck by how much more widely they are used. Others I noticed included Orlok opening a door without needing to touch it in his castle, similarly unrolling a tarpaulin without needing to touch it on the ship, suddenly appearing sitting on his coffin in the ship and passing through the door of the warehouse in Wisborg without needing to open it at all. Speeded up film was also used at several points to show the supernatural speed of his movements, and negative image when his carriage is thundering through the woods. This is all just one particularly good example of why film showed itself so early as a medium well-suited to fantastic stories. Even the simplest special effects can do such a lot to convey supernatural activity, and Murnau was right there on front line of the technology.

Though Nosferatu was famously pulled after Florence Stoker sued its producers for copyright infringement, and was supposed to have been entirely destroyed, it had already been distributed overseas before this happened, and as a consequence never really ‘disappeared’ in the way you might expect in those circumstances. Rather, bootleg copies continued to circulate in both the UK and the US (I would link to pages explaining this, but between how fiddly that is on my tablet and how shonky the train wifi is, I’ve given up – just Google Nosferatu bootleg if you want to read about it). With that in mind, I’m now pretty sure after having rewatched it that at least somebody involved in the production of Hammer’s Dracula (1958) had seen it. The destruction-by-sunlight ending is almost enough to guarantee that (and indeed the wider impact of that scene also shows how the film continued to influence storytellers despite Florence’s efforts), but in addition to that there are also scenes of Hutter (the Jonathan Harker character) looking at the bite marks on his neck in a mirror which match up well with Hammer, as does Orlok conceiving a desire for his wife (Ellen, the Mina character) after seeing a framed picture of her amongst Hutter's possessions in the castle. Dracula being able to open doors without needing to touch them crops up later in Hammer’s Scars (1970), as well. Love me an inter-text.

Anyway, I’m now very excited indeed for my holiday and will be sure to take many pictures when I am there!

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I saw this one with [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 and planet_andy at the Howard Assembly Rooms. It is the second in a series of films about the character of Fantômas, a dastardly criminal, which were themselves based on a series of novels in the Penny Dreadful tradition. Not that I knew any of that when I went into the theatre, mind. I was like, “OK, this seems to be starting part-way through the story”, but now that I realise it was part of a longer-running sequence, I understand why. In fact I think these films functioned a bit more like a TV series than like feature films as we know them today.

The print was beautifully crisp, which paid off straight away with an opening sequence just consisting of close-up shots of characters’ faces – very expressive and detailed. The story was silent, although with a lot of inter-titles and letters between characters shown on screen to convey the plot. These made me realise that I can read the amount of French which the producers of a film expect me to be able to read in the time allocated perfectly well, and I can read the amount of continental cursive script which the producers expect me to be able to read in the time allocated perfectly well, but I cannot do both. Anyway, it didn’t matter, I got the gist – basically lots of murders, fraud and deception, with chases around Paris, explosions and a train-crash along the way.

The film was also accompanied by live music from an Icelandic band called amiina, who were apparently the string section for Sigur Rós. Not that that means a great deal to me, as I have never knowingly heard any of Sigur Rós’s music, but anyway I absolutely loved what we heard on the night – driving and hypnotic and well-attuned to the film without attempting to parody the music of its original era. I must check out a bit more of their stuff.

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‘Kay, so I’m on a train to London, and I’m going to try to use the time to catch up with some film reviews. We’re going back to January for this one, which I saw with [personal profile] glitzfrau at the Hyde Park Picture House. Anyway, I probably don’t need to say a great deal about it, given that everyone in the world has seen this one, and indeed that it has won multiple awards including an Oscar since.

Anyway, it’s great. It is a story all about women maximising the power available to them in a male-dominated world complete with explicit lesbianism, and everything about the production at every level is superbly well-executed. Olivia Colman deserved her Oscar for how well she acted having had a stroke alone. The moment we saw her, before anyone said or did anything, I recognise straight away what was supposed to have happened. The lighting was also brilliant – one of the most natural-looking depictions of candle-lit interiors I have ever seen, which are very hard to do on film. And Rachel Weisz looked so amazing in her breeches during the shooting scenes, that was worth the entrance price on its own.

As a historian, though, I think the thing I’ll appreciate it for most long-term was its overt creative anachronism, as seen in e.g. many of the clothes, the awesomely-funny dance-off, the music (Baroque Greatest Hits but with a modern twist), etc. No production is ever going to be 100% historically accurate – only actual history was ever that – and attempting to do so can ham-string a good story that would otherwise resonate strongly with its modern audience. So lampshading it by making it clear that for all the truthiness, this isn’t actually the ‘truth’ seems like a good solution. Maybe there’s a general drift in that direction in the creative industries at the moment? It’s certainly what the TV series Britannia has been doing for example. Anyway, I like it and I hope the immense success of this film will encourage more in the same vein.

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This was my first film of 2019, seen with [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 at the Hyde Park Picturehouse, though it's taken me over a month to write about it. It's basically about a female news reporter called Hildy Johnson who is about to get married, leave the fast-paced, hard-nosed, high-stakes world of journalism behind her and settle down to a life of ordinary domesticity with an insurance salesman. Except that her fatal mistake is to pop into the offices of The Morning Post to say goodbye to her previous husband, the paper's editor, before she goes. He, a smooth operator who was never knowingly out-competed, knows full well she can't really resist the thrills of her former job, so puts one last scoop her way and, despite her protests, keeps on drawing her deeper and deeper into the story - which itself obliges by developing in very dramatic ways. Much farce and many remonstrations follow, until she has long missed the last train out of town, realised she can't leave it all behind after all and agreed to remarry her first husband.

Obviously that's a plot which wouldn't work in a world where everyone assumed and agreed that women could have both satisfying careers and domestic bliss without having to choose between them. But it's not like we've got to that point yet even in the 2010s, and it must have been pretty radical for 1940 to show a woman choosing career (albeit personified in the form of a man) over domesticity. And although her Morning Post editor former husband certainly tramples on her agency initially, undermining her plans for marriage by manipulating her into taking one last story, that's a strategy which would only have worked if she had genuinely been passionate about her career. We see that passion - not to mention professionalism and talent - very clearly throughout the film, and are left in no doubt from her confident manner to snappy striped suit and hat that Hildy is a woman to be reckoned with.

I noticed while we were watching it that I struggled to follow some of the dialogue because people were talking over each other very rapidly, and browsing through the Wikipedia page afterwards I learnt that this was apparently quite deliberate. Many of the lines were written to allow for interruption without missing plot details, while recordings were also speeded up to create the feeling of realistic, rapid-fire conversation. To be honest, even with the dialogue designed to allow for overlaps I'm still not sure I followed every detail of the murder story Hildy is trying to cover, or the various shenanigans which her former husband stages. But it doesn't really matter - the main story of her character trajectory is perfectly clear and very enjoyable.

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I saw this with [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 at the Hyde Park Picture House shortly before Christmas. It's basically Glee in a British small town school with a zombie apocalypse and a keen awareness of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Oh, and it's also a Christmas film, because that's when it is set. As you might imagine, this adds up to a great deal of fun, although it does also involve quite a lot of gore and a surprisingly-high death rate for well developed characters. It has something it wants to say about modern communications technology. On the whole, this is portrayed negatively, for example though a song about how the surviving characters are desperate for a human voice rather than something on a screen (full lyrics here), by drawing attention to the self-absorption and distorted priorities of selfie culture through people posting their zombie escape selfies to Instagram, and by having the zombies themselves easily distracted by TV screens. But then again, it's clearly a disaster for the human characters when they lose their mobile phone signals and internet connection, and we are invited to feel great sympathy for one character who, knowing he has been infected by the zombies, helps his daughter to escape and then lies gazing lovingly at her picture on his mobile phone screen as he dies. So it's a bit mixed. The songs were generally pretty good, with an absolute highlight being an upbeat dance number sung as a duet between Anna and her best friend John as they leave the house for school and work their way across town to meet one another, so wrapped up in their own determination and sunny outlooks that they don't notice that zombie-induced carnage has broken out all around them. That said, I personally found that my enjoyment of the songs qua songs dropped off rather as the film went on, partly because I'm not very keen on musical-style music anyway, and partly because they just began to sound a little samey. So I won't be buying the soundtrack, but I would recommend the film.

Well, that about wraps up my film reviews for 2018 - hoorah! I've just got to get started on the four films I've already seen in 2019 now...

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I saw this with my sister and Eloise on a visit just after Halloween. It's a live-action Disney film with only a minor in-story ballet performance, which builds very freely on the original story of The Nutcracker, drawing along the way from other children's portal fantasies like The Wizard of Oz (four realms with a capital city in the middle, Clara saying "I guess I'm not in London any more") Alice in Wonderland and Narnia. Once in the land of the Four Realms, Clara must defeat the villain and save the kingdom - but who is the real villain? Therein lies the twist - and an excellent character for the unexpected villain to play. The whole thing looks absolutely beautiful, from the costumes to the CGI to the Nutcracker-soldier's delicate gold lip-liner, and we had quite a lot of fun afterwards discussing which of Clara's various outfits we liked best.

But Clara is no dress-up doll - she has inherited a passion for mechanics from her mother, quietly encouraged by Drosselmeyer (her godfather and also an engineer), and uses it in the Four Realms to save the day through the laws of physics. Because this is a Disney film, though, the mother herself is already dead when the story begins, and Clara's challenge is to understand her legacy and negotiate a new relationship with her grieving but repressed father in order to find her own sense of identity. Gradually we learn that the mother not only had a gift for engineering but actually used it to create the whole kingdom of the Four Realms by building an engine to bring her toys to life. So, Clara is able to step into her mother's shoes and use this knowledge to set things back to rights in the kingdom, before returning to the real world to restart her relationship with her father.

In the course of all this, though, it was made clear that the father had never known anything about the mother's engineering skills or the rich fantasy world which she had created, which seemed very sad indeed to me but was never really addressed or explored at all. It seemed like we were being shown a world where eccentric men like Drosselmeyer (played by Morgan Freeman being amazing) might recognise women's skills and creativity, but the staid traditional men at the heart of the patriarchy like Clara's father never could, and had to be approached solely on their own terms. Still, I'd rather Eloise got to see films about clever, creative female engineers saving the day but still having to fit the mould their fathers require of them than not at all. She found some aspects of this film quite scary, especially when Clara and her friends went into the abandoned amusement park-themed kingdom of apparent villain Mother Ginger, and had to cuddle up to my sister to be reassured. But it clearly made quite an impression, as she watched another film which made a twist revelation about a character's motivations over Christmas, and offered this as an example of the same device. It's so lovely watching her learning how stories work. :-)

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I began reading this in early December, hoping that it would provide some seasonally-appropriate chills in the run-up to Christmas (as Dickens did for me last year), and finished it last night. My leisure reading is always glacially slow, but that's still at the slower end of the spectrum, and does reflect me struggling to really take to Gaskell's style. I can't even really put a convincing finger on why, either. One basic factor is that the stories aren't all that ghostly, so they didn't tick the box I was looking for. The title of the collection is accurate in placing 'Mystery' first - there are rather more highwaymen, robbers and false identities than ghosts. But while I like a good ghost, I'm not rabidly against the other types of stories presented here. Nor do I have any particular problem with their shared central themes of family feuds, lost and uncertain orphans and hard circumstances. And I entirely see that they are well crafted, with lots of attention to character, local dialect and historical detail. The only reasons I can really put forward for not being wowed by this collection are that sometimes the misery just gets too grinding and inescapable, and that at those points the only hopes and comforts alluded to revolve around Christian religious piety. (One story literally ends with a miserable, wronged person dying, followed by the final sentence "But the broken-hearted go Home, to be comforted of God", which is more or less exactly calculated to me want to barf.) However I do know that both the misery and the piety were just reality for many of the sorts of characters Gaskell writes about, and many of the people around her. Anyway, although there are nine stories in the book, no-one wants to read in any further detail than I've already outlined why I wasn't that into seven of them. So instead I will focus on recording why two of them were really great.

The Old Nurse's Story. This was the first story in the collection, and involved the old nurse of the title relating her teenage experience of being sent, with a little girl as her charge, to a huge house occupied by only a few servants and reclusive elderly people. As winter sets in, she begins to notice strange phenomena - the sound of the organ in the great hall playing, even though no-one is sitting at its keyboard and its pipe are lying in dusty disarray on the ground, and a little girl outside in the snow banging on the window to be let in but making nary a sound. We have there a nice pairing - sound without a source and a source without a sound - demonstrating in each case that something supernatural is going in. The nurse's little charge is, of course, particularly sensitive and susceptible to the ghostly girl knocking on the window, but she does just about manage to stop her from running out to die in the snow with her, while also learning of the old family injustice which lies behind the strange events and is being lived out over and over again until the wronged parties are avenged. Very spooky and effective, and just the sort of story I was looking for.

The Grey Woman. Much later in the collection, this too mainly consists of an ageing woman looking back on and narrating a story of her youth. This time, she is a German miller's daughter who is courted by and marries a rather effete French aristocrat, only to find when she goes to live in his château that he cuts off all contact with her family, keeps her shut up in a suite of rooms, and eventually turns out to be part of a band of robbers who murder a local landowner and bring his body back to the château to dispose of it. At this point, she and her pragmatic maid / companion Amante decide to escape from the château, and most of the rest of the story features them on the run while her former husband tries to hunt them down. So it's already basically a story of a woman escaping from a disastrous coercive relationship with the help of another woman, and has a lot of power and emotional heft to it just for that. But then, while they are on the run, Amante chops all her hair off and adopts men's clothing so that they can pass as a married couple to evade the murderous husband's pursuit and earn some money by working as itinerant tailors. In other words, it basically became a lesbian love story - an impression not at all dampened by the way they share beds and lodgings as they journey onwards, sentences like "I cannot tell you how much in these doubtings and wanderings I became attached to Amante", or the fact that the narrator is already pregnant when they escape they chateau, so that their little family is soon completed by the arrival of a baby. I really doubt Gaskell meant anything of the sort, and indeed the queer honeymoon does not go on forever - the husband's gang eventually catch and murder Amante, while the narrator goes on to marry a sensible local doctor who helped deliver the baby. But it was nice while it lasted.

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31. Fright Night (1985), dir. Tom Holland

I saw this in late October when I went to the Whitby Goth Festival for the first time in some 17 years (yikes!). I don't think I ever wrote about that at all here on LJ / DW, but anyway it was very nice - I attended a Dracula-themed literary salon, hung out with multiple chums and of course did a bit of shopping. The festival has naturally evolved a little since Ye Olden Days, but this year also saw a particular change in that a completely different set of organisers booked the Spa for the dates of the usual Goth weekend, and put on some more recognisably Goth bands than have been booked in recent years, as well as dipping a toe in the waters of associated film screenings and related talks. Hence it was that I got to see Fright Night, along with big_daz, avaritia and her partner.

Its OTT black comedy style and special effects reminded me a bit of An American Werewolf in London, and Roddy McDowall was a great as you would expect him to be as Peter Vincent, a washed-up horror film star making a living in TV. His trajectory in the story is the same as that of the star-ship crew in Galaxy Quest - an enthusiastic fan turns to him in the belief that he's a 'real' vampire hunter, and after initially trying to protest that he is no such thing he eventually rises to the challenge. It's a motif I like, both because it's a nice meta poke at the relationship between drama and reality, but also because the way the character it's happening to both adopts the role as a kindness to another person and finds themselves living up to that person's expectations, giving a heart-warming perspective on human nature. Other than the lovely Roddy, though, the rest of the cast failed to wow me. There was a lot of very mannered acting going on, by people who don't seem to have had much of a subsequent career.

I also felt there was a distinctly homophobic undertone to the portrayal of the main vampire, played by Jerry Dandrige. He moves into the house next door to the main point-of-view character (the enthusiastic teenage fan of Roddy McDowall) with a male human companion, and they are shown at various points with their arms draped around each other, and in one scene with the human on his knees and his head in the general vicinity of the vampire's groin. (There's a nominally non-sexual explanation for this, but the director definitely intended it to look like giving head). When the vampire turns the main character's friend, 'Evil Ed' down a dark alley, he says some dialogue to him about he knows what it's like always feeling different and being an outsider, and when Ed is later staked (in wolf form), there are some very suggestive shots of his hand grabbing at the stake in his own chest. Since the vampire is (obviously) the villain, this all basically boils down to coding him as an Evil Gay, and I think two particular contemporary fears are played out through him as well: him moving in next door with his human lover makes him a Gay Neighbour, and his interaction with Ed equates to Recruiting Your Children. It's all very AIDS-hysteria, and really tainted the film for me.

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Serial killer movies just ain't my bag, and I only watched this because we were ushered into a premiere screening of it during the Brașov Dracula Congress which I attended in October, without being told what we were going to see. I have seen the original film a million years ago (though not any of the intervening sequels), and as far as I can tell this one was trying to be a clever, modern, self-aware take on it while actually really being not all that different from it at all. It was marketed as being about women fighting back, and indeed Jamie Lee Curtis' character (Laurie Strode) is well-developed and well-acted, while the film ends with her, her daughter and her granddaughter managing to reconcile their differences and defeat Michael Myers after multiple men have died in the attempt. But we're still shown flash-backs into Michael Myers' childhood which include his sister sitting naked in front of her dressing table brushing her hair, before being murdered by him and ending up on the floor as a Sexy Corpse. There are a couple of references to chess-sets early on, presumably to help establish Myers and Strode as deadly opponents, and some stuff about how Myers' prison psychiatrist has become obsessed with him as an object of study to the point of enabling his crimes. But fundamentally, the plot boils down to a lot of people dying, usually shortly after scenes which have portrayed them as stupid or assholes - another big hoary old trope strongly rooted in the original Halloween. I mean, don't get me wrong - I'm well aware that the Gothic vampire and ghost stories I love best are absolutely packed full of tropes as well, often reflecting the same kind of conservative bent. But a few soaring ruins, dark supernatural beings or pagan shenanigans make all the difference for me. If you liked the original Halloween, and / or the wider serial killer genre, you'll probably like this film - but all I really got out of it was a reminder of why I don't.

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This film is mainly famous for featuring Bela Lugosi in a Draculaesque role. His costume is much like the one he wears in Dracula (1931) and he inhabits a ruined castle, but he is called Count Mora and has a daughter called Luna. The plot seemed like vampire cliches galore at first - a victim found dead with two pin-prick bite marks on his neck, lost travellers scoffing at the superstitious locals in a tavern, villagers who refuse to go out after dark, flitting bats, etc. But this is in fact all a set-up for the big reveal - that the supposed 'vampires' aren't really vampires at all, but actors hired in an attempt to flush out the entirely human murderer of the first victim. I was left at the end of the film with an uneasy sense that this twist hadn't fully made sense in retrospect, in that there had been some scenes when the actors were fully in character as vampires when they hadn't needed to be for the purposes of their deception. But I'd have to watch it again to be absolutely sure of that. There were also very definitely some loose ends, such as the fact that Bela's character goes through the entire film with a gun-shot wound to his head which is never explained, or that considerable screen time is spent introducing the lost (and apparently British) couple who end up in the local tavern, suggesting that they are going to be major characters, but after that scene we never see them again. At least some of this is probably explained by the fact that what survives now is a cut version of the original film, though. Meanwhile, what we get is very much worth watching, both before and after the twist. Before it comes, the atmosphere created around the two vampire characters is sheer 1930s Gothic poetry - we get misty graveyards, spider-webs, Gothic ruins and some very effective creepiness from Caroll Borland's Luna as she glides through the darkness and stares through windows. And afterwards we are treated to the wondrous spectacle of Bela, now out of character, swishing his cloak with self-satisfaction at his own performance and proclaiming "Did you watch me? I gave all of me! I was greater than any REAL vampire!" It's a fascinating insight into how iconic his performance as Dracula had evidently already become that it might work as a subject for this kind of meta-reference.

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Obviously there has been much political drama over the past couple of days, but I don't really have anything profound to contribute to the related commentary and speculation other than "What a farce! Revoke Article 50 now." So I shall tidy up and post these thoughts about some old telly instead.

Mystery and Imagination is a Gothic anthology series broadcast on ITV in the late '60s. It originally consisted of five series. The first three, produced by ABC, offered several 30-minute episodes usually based on short stories, and the final two, produced by Thames Television, tackled whole novels in an 80-minute format. Sadly, all but two episodes and an additional three-minute clip from the first three series have been lost - I assume wiped for similar reasons to the BBC's Doctor Who recordings. Reading through their titles is an actively painful experience for anyone who loves Gothic horror and old telly. I'd especially love to have been able to see the four M.R. James adaptations they did, which are obviously crucial context for the ones the BBC started producing from 1968 onwards. But the two Thames Television series remain intact, and they plus the surviving remnants of the ABC era are now available on this DVD box set which I received for Christmas.

I have been watching it regularly in the evenings since, taking notes as I went along - and with increasing intensity and enthusiasm as I realised just how good this series actually is. I wanted the set primarily (and inevitably) for the 1968 version of Dracula with Denholm Elliott in the title role, but made the decision once I had the whole thing to watch what remained of it in broadcast order. That was absolutely the right thing to do, because it turned out that the Thames Television parts of the series in particular were actively innovative almost to the point of being radical - if that's not too ridiculous a thing to say about what is still fairly stagey and largely studio-bound black and white (except the final series) telly. Anyway, since the Dracula episode came more or less in the middle of my viewing experience, it meant I was prepared to expect something unusual by then because of what I'd seen before - and also knew I could confidently expect more of the same afterwards. Of course, now I've seen everything which survives and know how good it is, the loss of the early episodes seems all the more painful - but there it is. Comments on each individual story in (surviving) broadcast order follow below:

Series 1

3. The Fall of the House of UsherCollapse )

4. The Open DoorCollapse )

Series 2

No surviving episodes

Series 3

13. Casting the Runes. Just three minutes of this survive, so it's hard to judge what the original would have been like, but they are enough to show the same combination of faithfulness to the text yet freely self-confident adaptation found elsewhere in the series. They mainly cover the scene in which Dunning seeing a mysterious death notice in the window of his omnibus (so far, so true to the original), but in this version it is his name in the notice rather than Harrington's, and is displayed with a date of death one month hence. Frustratingly intriguing!

Series 4

19. Uncle SilasCollapse )

20. FrankensteinCollapse )

21. DraculaCollapse )

Series 5

22. The Suicide ClubCollapse )

23. Sweeney ToddCollapse )

24. Curse of the MummyCollapse )

That, then, is the lot, and hugely enjoyable and interesting they were too. Come for the Dracula, stay for the innovative adaptations, female agency and insights into telefantasy history. Great work all round.

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