And here we are. We made it through yet another 31 days of Fright Fest. This was our third year running, and with each I think we’ve gotten better, adding more and more really cool movies. We could not have done this without the amazing writing from some stellar contributors. And we certainly appreciate readers such as yourself, taking time from your day to read our thoughts and ramblings on dark and twisted movies. So, without further ado, let’s get into this final review for 2018’s Fright Fest. As for vampire films, in the early to late 2000s, it seemed as if they had lost their bite (pun totally intended). The vampire as a monster had somewhere along the way from Dracula to Edward lost its sensibility of being in fact a monster. For me, 30 Days of Night was an answer to my lament for the return of scary vampires. Continue Reading
Release year: 2008
Staring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Anna Kendrick, Peter Facinelli, Billy Burke, and Elizabeth Reaser
Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke
Review by: Justin Park
When Thomas S Flowers announced his annual Fright Fest review series would be themed around vampire movies, I scrolled down the list of potential films to see such classics as Martin, Near Dark and The Hunger. But I was surprised not to find Twilight amongst the titles.
The book series became such a hit I don’t really need to introduce them. Whether you’ve read them or not, you are all probably aware they were written by Stephanie Meyer, you’re all probably aware of the name Edward Cullen, and you are all aware, like it or not, that when exposed to sunlight the vampires in this series sparkle. The reason we all know this is the books became a massive hit, spawning a series of successful films and cemented themselves in popular culture. And isn’t that the goal for most writers and film makers? Isn’t that the success people dream of? Continue Reading
Bordello of Blood
Staring: Angie Everhart, Erika Eleniak, Dennis Miller, Corey Feldman, Chris Sarandon, and Phil Fondacaro
Directed by: Gilbert Adler
Review By: Pembroke Sinclair
I’ve watched this movie several times, and each time I do, I hope that I’m going to like it. It hasn’t happened yet. The older I get, however, the more I recognize the not-so-subtle choices made throughout the film.
The first of these is casting. There are a variety of actors in this film that have been in vampire movies before, including Corey Feldman (The Lost Boys) and Chris Sarandon (Fright Night). The irony for Bordello of Blood is that these characters play opposite roles. For example, Corey’s character doesn’t defeat the vampires in Bordello like he does in The Lost Boys, he becomes one. Chris’ character isn’t a vampire, but an incredibly religious televangelist. For anyone who is versed in their vampire films, these changes can be viewed as amusing. Continue Reading
Release year: 1979
Starring: Frank Langella; Laurence Olivier; Donald Pleasance and Kate Nelligan.
Directed by: John Badham
Review by: D.S. Ullery
Whether or not an adaptation of Dracula succeeds – and there have been many – comes down to the actor playing Bram Stoker’s legendary Count. Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee each put their own, definitive stamp on the character, as did Gary Oldman in later years. Even Jack Palance delivered a memorable turn as the vampire in a terrific 70’s- era television movie. Continue Reading
Fright Night (1985)
Written & Directed by Tom Holland
Starring: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Stephen Geoffreys and Roddy McDowall
The Gist: A horror-obsessed teenager discovers that his next door neighbor is a murderous vampire. He attempts to convince the police, his family and friends to no avail. Seeing no other option, he takes matters into his own hands.
The Review (ish):
It was 1985. I was twelve going on thirteen, finally I was about to be taken seriously as a teenager! If you believe that I also have a vampire living next to me. In 1985 when Fright Night was originally released I would still consider myself a fledgling horror fan well on my way to a lifetime trudging through the wonderful world of blood and guts. It was a time when many local stations all over the country had some sort of Horror Host on late night usually on a Friday or Saturday night who did goofy gags, related movie trivia and usually showed low budget, B Horror movies. Horror Hosts kind of died out for a while though they’ve made a nice resurgence in recent years thanks to the internet where any horror fan can get a show started provided they have a camera or hell, just a phone these days. Why bring this up? Have you seen Fright Night? If you answered no and consider yourself a horror fan then you may want to just stop here and go correct that. Seriously, stop reading dimwit! Go watch Fright Night! Then grab some coffee and we’ll talk. Go on… I’ll wait. Continue Reading
Starring: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Mozhan Marno, Marshall Manesh, & Dominic Rains
Written By: Ana Lily Amirpour
Directed By: Ana Lily Amirpour
Synopsis: In the Iranian ghost-town Bad City, a place that reeks of death and loneliness, the townspeople are unaware that they are being stalked by a lonesome vampire.
Every now and then, a film comes out that manages to fly under the radar a bit. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is one of these movies. It made its waves upon its initial release but unfortunately, many people have yet to hear of this one. The film is writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour’s first feature film and it is one hell of a way break out! Continue Reading
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Starring: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie
Supporting actors: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell
Movie review: Erin Lee
Step into a Twisted Legend with “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”
If “history prefers legends to men,” this movie hit the mark. Dark and packed with action and predictable blood-thirsty violence, this movie might at first come across as your average vamp hunt flick. Quickly, though, this complicated historical fictional tale’s plot begins to thicken – making it a movie for both vamp gurus and those who aren’t as vamp-savvy alike. Frankly, this is one of those movies where you just know it had to have been based off a book because its plot is so well-developed. (In this case, by Seth Grahame-Smith and one I may pick up just to get more of the back story I suspect was left out). Continue Reading
Until recently, Stephen King movie adaptations were dreadful. And not in a good way. His first adaptation was good, the 1976’s depiction of Carrie, which may have had more to do with Brian De Palma’s version and not the journal styled storytelling from King. Some adaptations, mostly spanning through the 90s, where just down right embarrassing. Both made for TV movies IT and The Stand were nauseating to watch. In fact, it was only through a sheer force of will that i was able to finally watch the entire 90s IT movie. Without Tim Curry I wouldn’t have made it. But nowadays, King movies seem to be doing alright. The new IT is actually creepy and fun to watch. Adaptions of his newer work such as 11.22.63 was great. And i’ve heard nothing but good things surrounding the new Castle Rock show. But before all these newfound home runs, solid adaptions were slim pickenings. However, there was one that was and still is arguably the best Stephen King inspired movie, and that would be Tobe Hooper’s take on Salem’s Lot. Continue Reading
Martin is a 1978 psychological horror film written and directed by George A. Romero. While Romero is best known for his Dead movies (of which the first, Night of the Living Dead, I wrote up an analysis), Martin was his avowed favourite.
Martin Mathias (John Amplas) is a vampire…or is he? He lacks the fangs, using razor blades to cut the wounds from which he drinks the blood. Sunlight bothers his eyes a little, and neither crucifixes nor garlic have any effect on him.
Still, he insists that he needs to drink blood; he also maintains that he’s eighty-four years old, though he looks like a teen, or at the oldest, a man in his mid-to-late twenties (i.e., Amplas’s age at the time of shooting the film). Finally, his “cousin”?/great-uncle, Tateh Cuda (Lincoln Maazel), following the superstitions of the family, is as convinced that Martin is a vampire as he is. Continue Reading
Directed By: Fred Decker (Night of the Creeps, Robocop 3)
Starring: Duncan Regehr (V, 1988’s The Last Samuri, Zorro Television Show), Tom Noonan (The House of the Devil, Late Phases, The Alphabet Killer), Jon Gries (Skinwalker Rancher, Napoleon Dynamite, Fright Night Part 2), Tom Woodruff Jr. (Pumpkinhead, Tremors, Mortal Kombat), Michael Reid Mackay (Highway to Hell, Sleepwalkers, X-Men 2), and Stephen Macht (Graveyard Shift, Trancers film series, The Legend of Galgameth)
Written By: Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, Last Action Hero) and Fred Dekker (House, Night of the Creep, Robocop 3)
Release Year: 1987 Continue Reading
Directors: Ubaldo Ragona (as Ubaldo B. Ragona), Sidney Salkow
Writers: William F. Leicester (screenplay), Richard Matheson (screenplay) (as Logan Swanson)
Stars: Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli
You can credit Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel, I am Legend, for many things. George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead borrowed heavily from I am Legend. In tone and visuals, mostly. But it’s interesting to note that Romero changed the landscape of his tale to reflect the mindless eating machine known as the zombie (a monster he completely retooled that many have appropriated) while Matheson choose a primitive form of vampiric new breed of civilization. One with a secreted illuminati who were also at war with the savage cattle that obeyed only its bloodlust. Continue Reading
Starring: George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Quentin Tarantino, & Juliette Lewis
Written By: Quentin Tarantino
Directed By: Robert Rodriguez
Synopsis: On the run from a bank robbery that left several police officers dead, Seth Gecko (George Clooney) and his paranoid, loose-cannon brother, Richard (Quentin Tarantino), hightail it to the Mexican border. Kidnapping preacher Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel) and his kids, the criminals sneak across the border in the family’s RV and hole up in a topless bar. Unfortunately, the bar also happens to be home base for a gang of vampires, and the brothers and their hostages have to fight their way out. Continue Reading
I have fond memories of watching the original Dracula as a child. I wasn’t actually supposed to watch it, but I crawled out of bed and slithered down the hall like a creep, so that I could see the living room TV and catch bits and pieces of the strangely sexy, strangely funny film.
Brides of Dracula, although released nearly 60 years ago, is completely new to me. I didn’t even realize that it was technically “Dracula 2” until I did a little research before watching.
I chose this as my movie to review because I MISS VAMPIRES, there I said it! As a writer in the thriller and horror genres, I feel like vampires have gotten a bad rap over the last few years and I really want more vampire books and movies in my life. I also liked the word “Brides” in the title – anything that contains female villains is my jam. Is this film a feminist’s dream come true? I don’t know, probably not. But there were some fabulous females in this film and they truly made the movie, in my opinion. Continue Reading
Silence is terrifying. Sure, screams and loud sounds will make you jump; there is something eerie about the silence. When moving pictures were first introduced in the late 19th and early 20th century: sound was absent.
For most movies this added little benefit and a lot to the imagination, what did the character sound like, were birds singing in the background? Sound is important for the very survival of creatures of all kinds; it allows for prey to hear the predators approaching from the distance. The lack of silence allows the predator to kill, unnoticed.
Vampires in all accounts are the perfect predator, they blend in among us, hunt from the shadows and use the noise of the metropolis to stay silent. At least, the modern interpretations, but what if we take a look back in cinematic history, where sound was absent and the darkness could only be cured by the grace of light. Continue Reading
Vampire in Brooklyn wasn’t the vampire movie we wanted, but as far as 1995 goes, it was the vampire movie we needed. Nor is Vampire in Brooklyn the most notorious on our vampire movie lineup everyone loves to trash–that honor has been reserved for another movie you’ll see in the weeks to come. While not the most hated, Vampire in Brooklyn certainly doesn’t doesn’t deserve the hate it does get. 10% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, 2 stars on IMDb, and 1 star from Roger Ebert, I’m not feeling much love out there. 1995 produced some really great movies, Se7en for one. Braveheart also came out that year, as well as Apollo 13, HEAT, and Batman: Forever (yes, I included Batman Forever, get over it). Those are some heavy hitters. But as far as horror (Se7en should be in that category), the pickings were slim. We had maybe four or five good ones, including Lord of Illusion, Tales from the Hood, Demon Knight, The Prophecy, and Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh. All great. All super dark in material and context. Horror is by nature dark and heavy and somber, but between real life horrors, the Oklahoma City Bombing and OJ being found innocent, we needed a break from reality. For me, Vampire in Brooklyn was a welcomed break from the real world. Continue Reading
The vampire has been a popular recurring theme since movies began. Even before the most iconic bloodsucker, Bela Lugosi, appeared in DRACULA (1931), there was NOSFERATU (1922). Every generation has created its own image of the monster, either as a new adaptation of Stoker’s novel, or, more interesting, as some new twist on the theme. The vampire seems to be unique among the classic monsters in that it is simultaneously feared and desired. The vampire can be seen as some existential romantic figure who promises victory over death, or as a parasite spreading eternal damnation. In one figure is wrapped all our obsessions with love, sex, death and disease. Each subsequent vampire movie ends up being a reflection of the current generation’s phobias and desires. Continue Reading
I don’t expect you to understand.
I’ve discussed Shadow of the Vampire – at some length – with some excellent podcasters, all of whom have considerably better insight into this movie than I. To find that full conversation, please click here. What follows truncates some of what you’ll hear there, along with some additional thoughts of my own. Standing on the shoulders of giants, etc. Thanks to James, Jack, and Daniel.
What follows contains spoilers. Go watch the movie.
Shadow of the Vampire is a seriously strange movie.
Made in 2000, directed by E. Elias Merhige and written by Steven Katz, Shadow of the Vampire is a fictionalized account of the filming of 1922’s Nosferatu. It stars John Malkovich as Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, the driven director determined to create his masterpiece vampire movie at any cost, and Willem Defoe as Max Shreck, the theatre actor Murnau has discovered to play the titular vampire. Continue Reading
Starring: Nick Damici, Connor Paolo, Michael Cerveris, Sean Nelson, Kelly McGillis, and Danielle Harris
Written By: Nick Damici & Jim Mickle
Directed By: Jim Mickle
Synopsis: After a plague turns America into a realm of vampires, a hunter (Nick Damici) of the depraved creatures travels cross-country with an orphan (Connor Paolo) he rescued, searching for a safe haven.
So, I thought for Fright Fest we were taking a look at vampire movies? I watched this film for the first time specifically for this review. I had heard amazing things about this movie, most of which I completely agree with. However, in my opinion, this IS NOT a vampire movie. This is a zombie apocalypse film. Yes, the creatures have fangs and are called vamps. Yes, this is a gruesome, tear you limb from limb kind of take on one of the most famous horror creatures that we know of. However, to me this isn’t about vampires. The creatures barely resemble anything like what we know. This could be good for some, but for me, it didn’t work. Continue Reading
Directed By: Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break, Strange Days, Zero Dark Thirty
Starring: Adrian Pasdar (Heroes, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Solarbabies), Jenny Wright (Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Young Guns 2, Lawnmower Man), Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Pumpkinhead, Hard Target), Bill Paxton (Aliens, Frailty, Predator 2), Jennette Goldstein (Aliens, Terminator 2, Leathal Weapon 2), and Tim Thomerson (Dollman, Trancers Film Series)
Written By: Kathryn Bigelow (Blue Steel, The Loveless) and Eric Red (The Hitcher, Bad Moon, Body Parts)
Release Year: 1987
Growing up, my dad and I didn’t agree on many films. It might surprise one to know, but a preacher and his horror loving son aren’t going to have a lot in common when it comes to cinematic tastes, or much of anything really. Also, if you spell “Horror” a little different, that sentence takes on a whole new meaning, someone hit the rimshot sound effect for me. Despite the gulf between us, we did manage to connect on a handful of movies, The Last Starfighter¸ Enemy Mine, Predator, and the one you happen to be reading about right now, Near Dark. Maybe it was because the vampires didn’t act like the typical, supernatural vampires, maybe it’s because the western style distracted him from the fact he was watching a horror movie, or maybe he just liked it and I should stop analyzing why to better appreciate that we had one more movie to add to our very short list. Continue Reading
One thing horror fans love to do is debate which film marked what is historically known as The Decline of John Carpenter. Some believe it began with the final chapter of Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy, In the Mouth of Madness. Others waggle disdainful fingers at his comedy misstep, Memoirs of an Invisible Man. There’s never a right answer to speculation such as this, but one thing practically everyone agrees on is that Vampires does not belong in the conversation when discussing John Carpenter’s classics.
To a certain extent, it’s a salient point. Carpenter’s latter-day career has often been considered inferior by hardcore fans of the director, preferring to focus on his output during the 1980s. The 1990s were a time when Carpenter could have used a monster hit. Vampires wasn’t it, only recouping its $20 million production budget by a few hundred thousand dollars. General audiences were less than impressed, giving the film a Cinemascore grade of D+.
There’s a reason for this, but it may not be the one you’re expecting. That’s because Vampires isn’t a horror movie. Continue Reading
Starring: Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Ika Nord, & Peter Carlberg
Written By: John Ajvide Lindqvist
Directed By: Tomas Alfredson
Synopsis: When Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), a sensitive, bullied 12-year-old boy living with his mother in suburban Sweden, meets his new neighbor, the mysterious and moody Eli (Lina Leandersson), they strike up a friendship. Initially reserved with each other, Oskar and Eli slowly form a close bond, but it soon becomes apparent that she is no ordinary young girl. Eventually, Eli shares her dark, macabre secret with Oskar, revealing her connection to a string of bloody local murders.
I first saw Let The Right One In a little over a year ago. I had heard about it of course, the film received TONS of critical and audience acclaim from its festival runs and initial opening. It was kind of hard to not hear about this new vampire romance film that was (and in my opinion still is) generating quite a following. Unfortunately for the timing of this film’s release, another vampire romance story had been making waves with a much, much wider audience. Yes, I am referring to Twilight (2008). However, we are not here to discuss sparkling vampires. Continue Reading
Starring: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Jonny Brugh, Ben Fransham, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, and Stu Rutherford
Written and Directed by: Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement
What We Do In The Shadows is a mocumentary about four vampires who live in a “flatting situation” in New Zealand, and it’s quite possibly the best vampire film in existence. It’s a comedy that mostly centres around friendship and the various bizarre issues experienced through life as a vampire. Each of the main characters is ingeniously based on familiar ‘vampire types’ in popular culture, and are styled and dressed according to the time period in which they were transformed. We have Petyr, an 8000 year-old ‘Nosferatu’ type, resembling Count Orlok. Viago is an 18th century dandy, similar to Louis and Lestat from Interview with the Vampire. Deacon was a Nazi vampire. Vladislav is based on Dracula (the Francis Ford Coppola version). Then we have Nick, who is turned into a vampire during ‘filming’, and is the self-professed ‘Twilight type’. The story centres on the group in their everyday life and leads up to ‘The Unholy Masquerade’, an exclusive supernatural ball. Along the way, we meet side characters such as other vampires, werewolves (“not swear wolves!”), familiars, victims, and Stu, Nick’s human friend. Continue Reading
Nothing is more alluring for both audiences and writers than dusting off old tropes. This is true. There is no argument against this statement. Resistance is futile. Boom. Done. Let’s pack it away, boys. No? Okay, I guess we could talk a little more about this very general statement I just made. And if I’m going to be talking about housekeeping motifs and tropes, do me the favor and humor me by nodding your head or something and when passersby asks why you’re nodding your head, you tell them about this brilliant piece you’re reading, as I delve into this odd analogy to FX’s dark horror show, The Strain. Let it be known now, while I may make mention of some of the newer seasons, my focus will mostly be with the first season, as it is the best and has one of my top ten TV/movies favorite openings/pilots. The only big let down with the second season is the new kid they got to play Zack Goodweather, as he plays a larger role in the second season, he became downright annoying and I’m secretly hoping something really bad happens to him. If that was the point then bravo to the writers cause I really do loathe that little bastard. Anyway, that’s not really why we’re here, is it? Tropes. That’s the term I used before and that is precisely what I want to talk to you about. Dusting off aged tropes is, in my humble opinion, an excellent method of storytelling. The classics for horror being Dracula, Wolf Man, Mummy, and Frankenstein, etc. etc, and how can we use these today? In this endeavor, The Strain is an excellent example we can learn from.
Before we scourge the graveyard any deeper, here’s a quick synopsis from our favorite source, IMDb:
A mysterious viral outbreak with hallmarks of an ancient and evil strain of vampirism ravages the city of New York.
Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause, if you please, for another stunning synopsis from IMDb. Well, they’re not wrong. There is a virus going around, and it certainly creates hosts that act very vampiric. A very fresh take, I think, on the classic vampire trope. No. This isn’t Lestat. These are monsters, as well they should be. And I love this reimaging of the vampire. The Strain uses invokes classic myths, such as The Master, or “patient zero,” as one of the characters refers to him as, in a way of explaining the legend to a couple of non-beliving doctors. Silver and sunlight are also here too. But no longer crosses and garlic, both of which are hardly ever mentioned. So, despite that the fangs are gone and they have a “stinger,” a worm like tentacle, that the vamps use to “latch on” to their prey, it’s still very much in tune with the aged trope. Better, in my opinion. While we all love Bela, the dashing vampire is too tired nowadays, and xenophobia is more rapid and in your face for such subtlety. We need monsters. Vampires are not lonely outsider boyfriends that sparkle. They are killers, and worse. They are a virus, a scourge, a blight. Some films get it right. 30 Days of Night was good. And Let the Right One In was an instant classic.
What really sets The Strain apart is the use of some of the more classic character types that are largely ignored in modern vampire storytelling. Sure, you cannot have a vampire movie without the preverbal “Dracula,” and in The Strain, we get The Master, who is without question truly terrifying and oddly alluring. But besides the “Dracula” character, what else is offered. I’m going to start off with my favorite. Instead of Abraham Van Helsing, we get Abraham Setrakian, an aged, very aged professor now turned pawn shop proprietor. His history within the context of the show is very rich. Setrakain is a Holocaust survivor who was taught by his grandmother regarding certain “creatures of the night.” As a young man, Setrakian believed her stories to be just that, stories. For a young Setrakian, the Holocaust proved to have enough horrors of its own without the need of mythical monsters. However, as it would seem, the concentration camp, Treblinka, in which Setrakian is incurred is besieged by, not just from war and death and human injustice, but also by a physical parasite that moves about during the night. Witnessing the creature with his own eyes, his grandmother’s stories flood back and he works quickly at finding a way to dispatch this monster. He fails at this but survives the encounter and the war. He then dedicates his entire life at tracking down The Master and his creations and riding the world of the Strain.
The Van Helsing motif in Setrakian was very well thought out, taking the old trope and making it more, giving it more life and substance. For me, Abraham really makes the show enjoyable, especially during flashback episodes that show Setrakian’s evolution.
Another interesting twist with tropes is the Renfield motif found in not just one character, but two, each with their own set of motives that feel very parallel to each other. The first is a human named Eldritch Palmer. While Renfield in the film and Bram Stroker book feels both pathetic and sympathetic, Palmer takes that notion to a different level. Due to his disabling sickness, whatever condition he seems to suffer from physically does not hinder the power of his will, his sheer determination to get whatever it is he wants. And what he wants most of all is to live. This desire seduces him in aligning with The Master and helping the Strain spread over New York. We feel bad for him, as we do with Renfield, for the kind of life he must have had, never knowing which breath would be his last, while at the same time we are appalled by his greed for life and uncaringness towards others. The second Renfield character is in the person of Thomas Eichhorst, played wonderfully by Richard Sammel. Eichhorst is, for lack of a better word, the Master’s right-hand man, but in reality, he’s more of a puppet than anything else and is in fact used quite literally as a puppet whenever the Master feels like “speaking” through him. But his character is more alluring for me than Palmer is. Palmer is just pathetic, especially in season 2. An old groveling to maintain his authority. Eichhorst has an interesting history that is connected with Setrakian, making the motivations for their rivalry very believable, and solidifying Eichhorst as a fan favorite baddy.
There are other characters in the show, a lot of hunters and community leaders, most do not necessarily correlate to classic Dracula trope. We could say that Dr. Ephraim Goodweather could be a close match to a Jonathan Harker motif. But Harker wasn’t really a well thought out character in the movie, perhaps more so in the book. There is one character though that needs mention. The part of Kelly Goodweather as a trope for Mina Harker. While the Master’s fascination with her still begs the question, her role is without a doubt very much Mina-like. When she is turned, she is used, more or less, as a tool to find her son, Zack Goodweather, and in turn to stop Eph and the merry band of vampire hunters. The Master’s interest in Kelly seems to only relate to his interest in stopping the good doctor, perhaps using Kelly and keeping her around just to taunt him.
Have you ever heard the statement, “There is nothing new under the sun?” It’s a saying from Hebrew scripture, Ecclesiastes 1:9. I’m often fond of saying it, especially when fellow writers pitch me their book or story idea and ask if it’s too much like another story. I’ve done the same as well, wondering if this “new idea” is too much like something else. Recently I published a short story with Matt Shaw is his release of Bah Humbug! An Anthology of Christmas Horror Stories. My story is called “Happiness U.S.A.,” and is “inspired” by a classic Twilight Zone episode titled “Garrity and the Graves.” The basic concept is a con artist that travels through an old west town and cons the town into thinking he can resurrect the dead. The catch is that the people in this old west town do not want their dearly departed returned to them, and so to put them “back in the grave” they have to pay Garrity more money. This is one of my favorite shows and one of my top favorite episodes. It’s both cheeky and disturbing, as many Twilight Zone episodes are. And I wanted to do my own take on Mr. Garrity and this old west town. But my version, my dusting off of the classic trope/motif was asking myself, what if Garrity wasn’t really a “con” artist per say, what if he could really bring back the dead. What kind of person or being could do something like that? An angel…or devil? So I took that concept and made my town of Happiness a small Texas oil town back in the mid-1970s. And the price the people of Happiness will have to pay will be much steeper than gold or silver.
This feels like a long way around to basically say, it’s okay to resurrect old trope, give them a good dusting, and retell the story in a new and exciting way. The Strain just so happens to be my favorite example and I wanted an excuse to talk about the show. I’ve started in on the novel the show is based on. There are some differences, but the meat and potatoes are pretty much the same. So if you need a recommendation, you’ve got it. Give this show and book a go. You will not be disappointed.
AND if you happen to be curious about that Christmas anthology I mentioned, follow the image below.
And if perhaps I can tempt you with one more book. I’ve got a new novel that released this week. Conceiving (Subdue Book 3). “…an evil [is] biding its time…waiting for them all,” Conceiving can be read as both a standalone or as part of the series. You can find out more about the book here. Or you can check it out on Amazon. Currently, the book is marked down to $0.99, but only for a limited time. Available for both kindle (or kindle apps) and on paperback.
Swooping down from the Carpathian Mountains comes…Senior Drácula…. HOLD UP! You may be wondering, “But Thomas, haven’t you already published a review on Dracula?” Oh yes. I certainly have. If you’re brave enough to search the catacombs of Machine Mean, you’d be likely to stumble across a few. From memory, I’m fairly certain I’ve written a review on the Roxy Theater initial release of Dracula. I’ve written a post on Dwight Frye who played Renfield. And I’m pretty sure I’ve written a post celebrating Bela Lugosi, who we all know and was in fact buried as Dracula. But now comes the time, my friends, when we finally get to review the Spanish version of Dracula. According to film historians and most of everyone else in the biz, it was not uncommon for Universal Studios and most of Hollywood to produce Spanish or French or even German adaptations of their films. The unique thing about Drácula is that the Spanish version was filmed during the night on the same set and during the same time as the one we’ve all come to love and adore. That’s right folks, Dracula and Drácula were filmed at the same time, the American Todd Browning directed version during the day, and the Spanish George Melford during the night. The only real difference being the director, the cast, and subtle differences in wardrobe. In fact, according to Lupita Tovar, the Mexican-American actress who played Eva (love interest of both Harkin and Drácula), in the new introduction offered in the Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection, said that because the Spanish film was done on the same set as the American version, the actors used the same markings on the floor that directed them where to stand while being filmed. In this way, Drácula is a near perfect shot-for-shot version of the original.
Now, given the near perfect similarities between the two films, there’s been a rumor among horror fanatics and run-of-the-mill fans alike. The rumor is that the Spanish directed Dracula is better than the American shot version. There is no secret of the troubles Todd Browning’s version faced. Watching the movie even now, one can see how it seems pieced together with more than a few mishaps on stage. The one saving grace was the powerful magnetism of the cast of actors, mostly Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye (if you ask me). In transparency, I must confess, last night as I inserted the DVD, my thoughts went back to those rumors, of how the Spanish version was superior to the original. And after watching the wonderful Lupita Tovar give the introduction, one would think certainly the rumors were true. Well…I’m sure you’re asking by now, “Was it? Was the Spanish version better than the American?” Before we get into that, let’s back things up for a moment and fill in some gaps for those readers who have not yet watched Dracula or even read the Bram Stroker novelisation (poor souls).
Here is a synopsis of the American film:
The dashing, mysterious Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi), after hypnotizing clerk Renfield (Dwight Frye) into his mindless slave, travels to London and takes up residence in an old castle. Soon Dracula begins to wreak havoc, sucking the blood of young women and turning them into vampires. When he sets his sights on Mina (Helen Chandler), the daughter of a prominent doctor, vampire-hunter Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) is enlisted to put a stop to the count’s never-ending bloodlust.
And here is the synopsis of the Spanish film:
Soon after beginning work for Conde Dracula (Carlos Villarias), the clerk Renfield (Pablo Alvarez Rubio) learns that his employer is, in fact, a vampire who lives on human blood. Now under Dracula’s spell, Renfield helps his master travel to London, where the vampire takes another victim (Carmen Guerrero). Dracula also has eyes on the lovely Eva (Lupita Tovar), but her fiancé, Juan Harker (Barry Norton), and a wise professor named Van Helsing (Eduardo Arozamena) seek to stop him.
Some slight differences but otherwise pretty much the same. As it should be, given they’re both working with the same script. One of the biggest differences that I noticed right away was how much more easily it was to follow along with the plot of the Spanish version of Dracula. If that was more of my familiarity with the subject or not, I cannot say for certain, but I did find it easier this time around. And even though the Spanish crew was using the same sets as the American one, those sets seemed to have better lighting, maybe this has to do with them filming at night rather than during the day, but the mountains and rooms and villages looked brighter and I enjoyed getting another perspective of the uniqueness and craftsmanship of those designs. The costumes looked mirror image to those of the American version of the film, the one difference (that I noticed) was the design of dresses Eva and her friend wore, which is to say, a little more low cut in the breast region. Lupita Tovar comments on the same during her introduction of the film, quoting that the director had told her the dresses made them look sexy. Watching the film today, the design feels on point to what we normally see in more classy movies, however, I can imagine watching this back in 1931 during a more conservative film era.
The real nitty-gritty for me boils down, not to stages or costumes or scripts or lighting, but the actors themselves. Did the Spanish-American actors outdo the originals? Perhaps I’m bias, seeing how I’m a huge fan of the original…that being said, I had some qualms with some of the performances in the Spanish version. The biggest star of Dracula will inevitably be Dracula. In the original, we were introduced to Bela Lugosi, a very exotic actor (at the time). With Drácula we were introduced to Carlos Villarias. Both actors were largely unknown, and both were recent immigrants to California, Lugosi hailing from Belguim and Carlos from Spain. Despite Carlos’s advantage of being able to act while speaking his native tongue, Bela to me was the better of the two Draculas. It is even more amazing when we consider how Bela was not yet proficient with the English language during the time when Dracula was being filmed and recited the script phonetically from memory. Now, I’m not saying Carlos was a bad actor. He was good, it just…his portrayal as Dracula felt very comedic to me. His facial expressions were, to be frank, hilarious, and thus it was hard to take him seriously.
Secondly, both versions of the lawyer/clerk Renfield were played marvelously by both Dwight Frye and Pablo Alvaerez Rubio. They both felt very empathetic and loathsome…however, again perhaps due to my bias as a fan of the original, Dwight Frye gave the role the extra added creepiness that brought the movie to a whole other level. I was completely fine with Pablo as Renfield until the boat scene with the dock crews searching for survivors and discover the poor clerk below deck. That image of Fyre looking up from the staircase and his maniacal giggle still gives me chills. All Pablo offered was laugh like some loon. And there were a few other scenes, like when Renfield crawled on the ground toward the fainted nurse, Dwight seemed to me like a spider, Pablo…well, I don’t know what he was doing.
Third, the only other really important character to get right would be Professor Van Helsing. In the American version, we are treated to the likes of Edward Van Sloan. In the Spanish version, we get Eduardo Arozamena. Both performances were pretty much the same, in fact, both actors even looked a lot alike. The only difference being the subtle charismatic acting of Van Sloan versus a more pragmatic acting by Arozamena. For me, personally, again perhaps due to my bias, I prefer the American version of Van Helsing. As for the damsel, a truism for most Universal Monster movies during this era, again both Mina (Helen Chandler) and Eva (Lupita Tovar) were very well done. But, looking closer, a think I prefer Lupita Tovar’s performance over Helen Chandler’s. She was not only more exotic, but she was also more sympathetic, in my opinion.
So…who was better? Dracula or Drácula. Were the rumors true? No, and yes. There were many aspects of the Spanish version that I enjoyed. The sets. The more developed story structure. Even some of the acting. But, I think, there is more to love with the original Dracula. Bela and Frye, for starters. And despite the issues with filming, Todd Browning brought a sort of stylization and his own strange vision to the quality of direction in Dracula that George Melford did not have. That’s not saying Drácula is not good. It certainly is and ought to be screened by any fan of horror or fan of the Universal monsters. I’m actually really happy the creators of the 30-movie boxset included this version. Otherwise, I may have never given the movie a chance. But when compared to the Dracula filmed during the day, there just are no substitutes.
My review: 3.5/5
Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel,Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Lanmò His new Subdue Series, including both Dwelling and Emerging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics.