Sunday, August 31, 2014

Realm of the Vampire: History and the Undead – review

Author: Daniel J Wood

First published: 2009

The Blurb: Do vampires exist? Our ancestors certainly believed they did.

We are forced to rely on ancient records and eyewitness testimony, and absolute proof remains in the shadows, just out of reach.

Vampire research has fallen into a pattern of debunking, with academic writers chasing after trendy theories to explain away the vampire.

The review: I came across this book through Anthony Hogg and purchased it via kindle as this seems to be the only way to get the book currently.

After a foreword by David A Sattman, which seems to garble the Arnold Paole story, we move onto Wood’s work. He briefly introduces English Tradition and then the New England vampire scares before going into the work proper. This concentrates primarily on Polish vampirism.

There is debate as to whether the restless dead of the English tradition, revenants, can rightly be called vampires. Wood answers that by laying down the concept that whilst, “More and more modern authors, frustrated by this linguistic looseness, have attempted to restrict the use of the term ‘vampire’ by imposing an artificial dichotomy between the vampire-as-living-corpses and other unquiet dead. The folkloric sources of many nations, many realms of the undead, do not support this dichotomy, which itself is based upon a unique set of eighteenth-century cases.” Pretty much espousing, therefore, the Montague Summers broad view of the folklore.

Wood seems to almost take the view point of accepting the existence of vampires as reported. To me, accepting the theories of (say) Barber does not lessen the power of the original belief and thus I can, at least, accept a (mistaken) genuine belief by those who laid down the stories and unearthed the corpses, and the impact this had culturally, psychologically and politically thereafter.

Wood is right in his assertion that less is known of the Polish traditions, compared to those of the more Southern Slavs, and draws a fairly vivid picture of a Poland at the height of its power. He introduces us to concepts such as the zmory, living vampires that fulfilled a night hag role but tended to be shown as young and beautiful (interestingly the zmory only appear in Bane's Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology, under zmora, as an alternative for incubus and do not have their own section). He also contemplates whether the occult activities in Poland (and Czech) led to the large numbers of restless dead reported through the post-Renaissance period – a position that seems sustainable only if one agrees that the outbreaks were real.

One thing not mentioned, but that did strike me whilst reading the book, was around the thought that victims of vampiric attack often speak of strangulation and not blood drinking, the blood drinking apparently assumed because of the state of the corpse when exhumed. However, if the vampire strangled a victim and then drank the blood post mortem, then surviving victims would only have reported strangulation.

One frustrating part of the book was that whilst it has a large sources section, there was a tendency to not cite within text and one feels that a scholarly work should do so. There is no index, though this might have just been missed from the kindle version as redundant (kindle's having a search capacity). Beyond this it was an enjoyable read and, whilst I disagree with some of Wood's assertions, an interesting tome. 7 out of 10.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Honourable Mention: La Herencia Valdemar

I picked up the Spanish Blu-Ray of La Herencia Valdemar, or the Valdemar Inheritance, not thinking that there would be a post here. The set has this 2010 film and the sequel. La Sombra Prohibida (the Forbidden Shadow), in it and my reason for getting it was that it was a known Lovecraft orientated film and the films were amongst the last that Paul Naschy made. The films haven’t been released in the UK as of yet, but the Spanish set has English subtitles. Because it is Blu-ray I couldn’t get a screen capture and so the screenshots below are the best I could muster from the trailer.

The José Luis Alemán directed film is set in the present and the nineteenth century, the modern storyline follows Luisa Llorente (Silvia Abascal) as she goes to value a decaying Gothic mansion in the Montenegro region, and the subsequent attempts to find her when she goes missing. The story flows over the two films making them a part one and part two more properly (though the “previously on” actually didn’t seem to accurately match what had happened!)

the Dunwich Rite
It is the story in the past that interests us. It follows the couple Lázaro Valdemar (Daniele Liotti) and his wife Leonor (Laia Marull). She runs an orphanage, he conducts séances and takes spirit photography. It is, however, a scam and he is arrested after refusing to bribe a newspaper reporter. His release is achieved by Aleister Crowley (Francisco Maestre), who then uses the house to perform the Dunwich Rite – which goes wrong.

Bram Stoker on the left
At the rite are various personages, including the reason for the Honourable Mention. Bram Stoker (Lino Braxe) is there. All the attendees have asked for a boon from the rite. Bram’s is inspiration for his literary affairs. I should also mention that the rite allows a demonic force to escape its dimension and inhabit a corpse. It uses the lifeforce of the worms to recompose the body, eats flesh and looks ghoulish. More revenant, perhaps, than anything else – in the next film it is referred to as an incubus.

The mention, though, is for the appearance of Bram Stoker. The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Blood Lad – season 1 – review

Director: Shigeyuki Miwa

First aired: 2013

Contains spoilers

Anime can be a funny old beast, but despite that I do like it. A lot of recent vampire related anime has fallen into the Harem genre and shōjo styles (with the exception of the marvellous Shiki)

Blood lad eschews these genre and it is just an action anime with some comedic overtones – though that comedy does stray towards panty and breast humour. That said the series is also self-referential and so these jokes actually work, especially when main character Staz (Ryōta Ōsaka) is involved as he is an otaku for human goods, especially Japanese anime and manga.

Fuyumi and Staz
It is with Staz we start. He is the boss of a district on the east Side of Demon World. He is phoned by his lieutenant Dek (Taichi Yonesu) who has found a human, Fuyumi Yanagi (Iori Nomizu), who has wandered into the demon world through a portal. Staz is incredibly excited and feels his bloodlust building, when he is distracted by a rival who challenges him for his territory. He defeats the attacker but, in the meantime, a carnivorous plant has eaten Fuyumi and she is now a ghost. Staz (eventually) pledges to bring her back to life.

Wolf Daddy
This lead to a convoluted journey, over ten episodes, that sees Staz meeting characters such as Bell (Sarah Emi Bridcutt) – a spatial magic user – and having to face his own past. Vampires are noble demons – indeed we discover, later, that his father had been king of the demon world before being killed and usurped by the werewolf Wolf-Daddy (Norio Wakamoto). Staz’ brother, Braz (Ryohei Kimura), experimented on his younger brother – trying to unlock his magical potential and then sealing it with a magic bullet to the heart – and as such is not trusted by Staz who ran away from the Acropolis (the elite Demon area) to the normal Demon World.


a vampire
Staz does have his powers unlocked but – despite being called vampires and being blood orientated – there isn’t a huge amount of lore to discuss. We so get the idea that vampire saliva contains a property that can control humans – indeed, on a brief sojourn to the human world, Stax sprays people with a bottle filled with it. However this is mentioned in episode 2 and then vanishes off the radar, mainly because the rest of the series is in the Demon World and it doesn’t work on demons.

Braz
The vampires are massively powerful, as are the full werewolves – Staz has a mongrel friend/rival called Wolf (Takuma Terashima), who is abandoned by Wolf Daddy, his father, because he is a bastard born of a lower creature. We get no idea about apotropaic measures through the series, but note that it is taking the heart that can finally kill a vampire. We do discover that Braz can control his own blood and use it as a weapon, even over great distances, but this seems to be an individual power.

Fuyumi
The series was quite good. The humour felt uneasy (and unnecessarily sleazy) in places, getting more confident when it was referential, but generally balanced nicely with the action. Overall the series doesn’t answer much, indeed by the end its purpose seems to be solely to set up the next season. However it did work, it wasn’t boring and it kept attention. The animation was as good as one would expect nowadays but didn’t really do anything spectacular.

6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Boy God – review

Director: J. Erastheo Navoa

Release date: 1982

Contains spoilers

Rocco, ang Batang Bato, was allegedly inspired by Clash of the Titans – watch very carefully and you may just about see that, though the film is set in a contemporary time and the Gods involved are all Roman rather than Greek.

I’d heard that there might be vampires in the movie and so sat down with a rather badly dubbed version of the film. I don’t think subtitles and original dialogue would have helped the film however. My thought was that they were likely to be a small part of the film but, actually, whilst not in it long the vampires (and werewolves for that matter) are plot central.

Niño Muhlach plays Rocco
This is somewhat of a so bad it’s good film. It starts with a man appearing (wearing ancient Greek style robes) and going to a house. Inside is a woman, with whom he copulates. She becomes pregnant and her mother and her husband/boyfriend (who seems very accepting of the fact that she’s pregnant) help deliver the child. The first indication that something is odd is when the Grandma tries to cut the umbilical and it breaks the scissors. The husband is being hunted by a bad guy, who turns up and kills him and the new mother. Grandma escapes with the baby.

showing his strength
Cutting forward, the grandmother returns to her old home with the now (approximately ten years old) Rocco (Niño Muhlach). We see that he has prodigious strength, able to lift a cart out of a pothole and chop wood with his bare hands. His grandmother cautions him to keep his powers hidden from all. We also quickly discover that he becomes pained and weakened when in water. Later the Grandma explains that he is like limestone, weak when immersed in water but strong when heated up!

being cooked
In the town is a doctor investigating a chemical contamination in the sea. He believes it is deliberate, caused by a mad German scientist who is wanted by the authorities. The town also starts suffering attacks by werewolves and vampires – we later discover that the scientist has artificially created them by turning townsfolk into them. Rocco ends up fighting these creatures, escaping being spitted and cooked by three werewolf sisters, travelling to the immortal lands to earn the right to be an immortal (which includes fighting various enemies, including a Cyclops) and rescuing his parents from limbo (who are stuck there because of their forbidden human/immortal love) by rescuing the villagers from the mad scientist.

a vampire swoops in
So vampires… well they are (when in vampire form) of the manbat variety. They can fly, they can’t bite Rocco (one breaks a tooth on his leg) and they are killed by normal violence. Being of the manbat variety the film is a joy for the aficionado of the crap bat. Other than that the vampires have very little lore but it is interesting that this Philippines film used werewolves and bat-shaped vampires rather than their domestic aswangs (which include vampire types and shapeshifters).

a vampire
The film itself is hokum and there is very little to say about the quality of it, which is minimal. But, in true “so bad it’s good” style it is more enjoyable than it should be – if you like obscure fantasy films from around the world that is. The quality deserves no more than 3 out of 10 – the act of viewing, however, may interest many of the blog readers.

The imdb page is here.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Aswang Complex in Philippine Folklore – review

Author: Maximo D. Ramos

First published: 1990

I have wanted to get some of Ramos’ work on the aswang for a long time. This is the first volume I have managed to get (the volumes appear from time to time, the price never usually at a level that would facilitate purchase).

After an introduction that explains, briefly, the five primary genus of aswang in Philippine folklore: Ghoul, Vampire, Viscera Sucker, Weredog and Witch, the book has collated testimonies gathered in the field of stories and experiences of aswang from the five types (and unclassifiable ones). Each transcript is in Tagalog (I assume) and English, unless the story was collected in English and then it is in that language only. The book usefully tells us where the story originated from and who the story was collected from, but not when, unfortunately.

What is clear is that, if we thought there was myth bleed/drift in the stories and folklore of the Slavs they have nothing on the myth drift in the Philippines. The stories in one section would often seem better or equally as well placed in another section at times. There were clear Spanish influences from the colonisation, including the addition of Christian iconography into the apotropaic measures, and also some things that made one wonder whether Western films have begun to creep into the Philippine myths. In an interesting twist on cushining a cross (i.e. putting two sticks together à la Peter Cushing) we get four friends lying on the floor in a cross shape to ward of an aswang.

As an example of myth drift, we get the tale of a viscera sucker who lies below the house of a pregnant woman in labour (viscera suckers also seem to go for foetuses and new-borns) but the feeding pattern mentioned is not only eating the baby but sipping “the blood that flows out of the mother.” This could also be deemed as vampiric activity. We get the term wakwacked – meaning having the blood sucked out (also in relation to a viscera sucker's attack).

Aswang traits can be inherited and are actually passed on in some cases. We hear of a male aswang who lay dead but still breathing as he had no one to pass his aswang nature to.

However it is fascinating to read the tales from the source, from a people many of whom believe sincerely in aswang. However, because these are collated stories, without commentary, this book is not for all. However for the budding vampirologist, student of Philippine Folklore and anthropologist/sociologists this could prove invaluable. 7 out of 10 reflects the fact that it is somewhat over-specialised.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bloody Irish: Celtic Vampire Legends – review

Author: Bob Curran

First published: 2002

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: ”The bedclothes were gripped and pulled, as though someone was trying to drag me to the floor. A hand—at least, I thought it was a hand—brushed my cheek and searched for my throat…”

Centuries ago vampires cast their dark shadows across Celtic folklore. Bob Curran’s chilling stories reveal that vampires could still lurk beneath the surface of Irish life.

Redmond cuts his hand exploring a Famine Village. It won’t stop bleeding…

Sinéad meets a charming young stranger in the dark woods…

A mysterious collection of ancient ‘treasures’ includes one very sinister item…

Death and suspicion spread through Philip’s small village and into his home…

Read if you dare – but leave the lights on!

The review: I think I was expecting something more engaged with traditional folklore from Bob Curran but, after an introduction that mentions the Legend of Abhartach this book leaves folklore behind and is a purely fiction piece. There is the conceit that “they all contain an element of the darker folklore of the Irish countryside” but in reality you can tell they are pieces of fiction set in Ireland that Curran has weaved together.

That’s not to say that they are bad – indeed there are some interesting ideas lurking within this - it’s just not what I was expecting. The tome is also very short, with just four stories within it. However, for the right price it is a satisfying, if brief, read. 6 out of 10 (bearing in mind the short nature of the book).

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

True Blood – Season 6 – review

Directors: Various

First aired: 2013

Contains spoilers

My thoughts on the earlier seasons can be read at the following: Season 1, Season 2, Season 3, Season 4 & Season 5.

If I felt that the 4th season of True Blood lost its way a little, I certainly think that season 5 pulled it back. We got a very vampire orientated season that showed some powerful vampires acting to excess and ended with Bill (Stephen Moyer, Ultraviolet & Priest) drinking all of the blood of Lilith (Jessica Clark), the first vampire, dying and being reformed. In this season we get almost an opposite storyline as humanity turns on the vampires and many get interned into a prison camp in which they are tortured and experimented on. There is a lot of new lore we get out of this season.

distance sucking
Firstly, with Bill. He soon gets control of himself but not necessarily of his new powers. He is very fast and can fly (as can the older vampires) and his pull when calling his progeny is nearly fatal if they try to resist. He has visions of Lilith and her handmaidens and also visions of events affecting vampires that turn out to be glimpses of the future. He is immune to staking but not, as he nearly fatally discovers, the sun. One really cool new trick is his ability to manipulate both inanimate objects and humans with telekinesis and suck the blood out of a person’s body, via the mouth, from a distance.

Eric prepares to turn a mortal
Through the camps we get a lot of new weaponry; silvered bullets with UV emission, which eats the vampires from outside in, supplement the wooden bullets we already knew about and seem somewhat Underworld. There are now contact lenses available that prevent glamouring and, in the most devastating move of all, the humans have developed Hep V – presumably a variant of Hepatitis D, which was always able to cause up to a month of weakness in a vampire. This is virulent and can kill a vampire rather quickly and painfully.

Rutger Hauer as Niall
The other new lore sits around Sookie (Anna Paquin) and her faery heritage. We discovered in the last season that she had been promised by an ancestor to an ancient vampire called Warlow (Robert Kazinsky). At the head of the season Jason (Ryan Kwanten) is picked up by a man we suspect to be him but it is actually their faery Grandfather Niall (Rutger Hauer, Dracula III: Legacy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Salem’s Lot & the Reverend). He has been hunting for Warlow but the vampire has remained hidden because he was a faery himself, who was turned by Lilith. This means he is able – due to his faery heritage – to walk in daylight. Bill believes this is the key to saving the vampires.

Warlow returns
To be honest there were some downsides to the season. I thought the Warlow and Sookie story was under developed and rushed. This made Warlow flip from bad guy to good guy and back again too abruptly. It was also a shame that Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) was somewhat sidelined – but better that than a poor storyline I suppose. The werewolf and shifter side of the story was very much a mopping up of the previous season’s story. However the vampire story made up for all this and led to some classic moments. Season 7 is planned as the last season and the vampire storyline has lead to an interesting place for that season.

7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.