Friday, December 19, 2014

True Blood: Season 7 – review

Directors: various

First aired: 2014

Contains spoilers

My thoughts on the earlier seasons can be read at the following: season 1, season 2, season 3, season 4, season 5 & season 6.

Season 7 had been announced as the final season of True Blood. The suggestion was somewhat bittersweet, season 5 and 6 were both stronger as seasons than perhaps some of the predecessor seasons had been. The end of season 6 had seen a man-made variant of the hepatitis virus released, called hep V. Hep V is particularly virulent, not dangerous to humans exposure through blood or a bite will make a human a carrier, but should a vampire contract the illness it will cause veins to become prominent and blackened progressively and will ultimately bring the true death. The virus also weakens them so they need to feed more often, enticing some vampires to become rogue.

a h-vamp attacks
At the beginning of the season Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) has become mayor of Bon Temps, his diner now belonging to Arlene Bellefleur (Carrie Preston). The town are having a mixer, as part of its plan to pair healthy vampires with humans. The idea is that the humans can feed the vampires if they are clear of hep V and the vampires can protect the humans from the h-vamps (as the infected are known). Things go horribly wrong when a gang of h-vamps attack, killing many of the vampires and humans and kidnapping several humans.

Kristin Bauer van Straten as Pam
And it is here where we can see why the season became bittersweet, the idea was brilliant but there really wasn't much legs in it as a running central storyline. The story became resolved quickly within the season's 10 episodes, and there was a secondary storyline of the vampire Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten) finding Eric (Alexander Skarsgård), who has contracted hep V, and the subsequent hunt for fugitive Sarah Newlin (Anna Camp). Again this was a limited storyline, if one that was darkly amusing. However what the season did really well, was look to bring closure to the majority of the characters. Being the last season one didn't know if the character would survive or not, and several major characters were killed. As someone who has watched every season this made this season worthwhile, however it was probably not the best premise for anyone unfamiliar with True Blood.

Anna Paquin as Sookie
The only new lore centred upon the hep V situation, and I covered most of that already. We do discover that if contracted from a carrier with fairy blood the progress of the disease is incredibly rapid. It also seems to make the vampires more human, in that they actually develop a body temperature and also Sookie (Anna Paquin) is able to read the minds of infected vampires.

Rutger Hauer as Niles
There had been some controversy about the very ending of the show. I don't want to spoil what happens, but suffice it to say that I was somewhat disappointed with the Sookie resolution, though I understand it is similar to the resolution in the books. This resolution is shown in a flash forward three years and the series could happily have ended without that. That said, the Fangtasia resolution was amusing. It would be absolutely remiss if I didn't mention a one episode cameo by the ever wonderful Rutger Hauer (Dracula III: the Legacy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Salem's Lot, Dracula {2012} & the Reverend).

farewell to True Blood
So; a short season, an amusing season, and a season that didn't care if your favourite character was killed off and as such would keep you on the edge of your seat. For fans of the series a worthwhile experience but certainly not starting point for those who haven't seen True Blood (though in truth why you would start a series at the very last season is beyond me). For fans, therefore, I think this deserves 7 out of 10 - so long as you turn away from the finale's coda.

The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Interesting Shorts: the Fate of Madame Cabanel

In October 2014 author Lauren Owen, whose novel the Quick has previously been reviewed here, posted a top 10 vampire books on the Guardian website.

It was an odd list, containing short stories as well as novels and eight of the ten entries coming from the 19th century. Whether the two 20th century books should have been in a top 10 is debatable, and while some of the books/stories from the previous century were indeed classic some may come under the broader definition of classic that I use on the blog - simply an older story from the 19th and early 20th century.

The one story on the list I have not come across before was this one. Owen does actually tell us that she sees it as “A slight anomaly, as there’s no actual vampire involved. But this is a powerful study of intolerance and superstition”. And this is entirely true, the story featuring belief in vampires, superstition gone amok and resultant tragedy.The story was written by Eliza Lynn Linton and Owen suggests it was published in 1880. However I have found a scan showing that it was published in the New York Times on January 19 1873. With no other earlier date that I can find I'm going to use this date as the date of publication.

The story takes place in Pieuvrot, Brittany. When Monsieur Cabanel, a long time bachelor, returns home with an English bride her foreignness elicits suspicion from the populace, and jealousy from his housekeeper who always loved him. When the housekeeper's nephew becomes ill, as many in the village do, suspicion falls upon Madame Cabanel. Full-time gravedigger and part-time wise man Martin suggests that "with those red lips of hers, her rose cheeks and her plump shoulders, she looks like a vampire and as if she lived on blood". Later he names her broucolaque - a Greek vampire variant.

I didn't find the use of language in the story particularly inspiring, the prose feeling somewhat clunky in places. However I did think that the core story itself was an interesting take on the idea of fear and superstition. Much French literature from that century had deliberately obfuscated whether the vampire was real or not; but more often, when the vampire was not real, someone had been acting as a vampire. This British piece of prose deliberately had an innocent accused by the superstitious of being a vampire. If you wish to read the story it can be found (at the time of posting) here.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Vamp or Not? Atlantis: Day of the Dead

I received a text message from my friend Everlost informing me that the episode of the series Atlantis that he was watching was a potential "Vamp or Not?" I'd not seen the programme before, indeed I actually had to ask him what channel it was on. Apparently this is a prime-time BBC1 programme. I'd have never guessed after watching it.

The episode aired in 2014, and was directed by Declan O'Dwyer. It was the fifth episode of season two so I had some catching up to do with regard characters. In the "previously on" section at the beginning of the programme we see Jason (Jack Donnelly) fall down a precipice in a necropolis with an enemy, Medea (Amy Manson, Being Human), and another apparent enemy Pasiphae (Sarah Parish) being shot with an arrow.

casting her wicked spell
A quick Wikipedia taught me that Jason comes from our time, went off in a submarine and somehow ended up in ancient Atlantis. Pasiphae is a sorceress and Queen who Jason helped depose. As the episode started proper we see Pasiphae come round and drag herself to a stone sarcophagus. She performs some form of incantation, while scratching some glyphs on the lid, a rotten hand bursts through the side of the sarcophagus.

a dead friend returns
Jason's friends start climbing down the necropolis in order to find Jason as they believe him, correctly, to still be alive. Suddenly a past companion, whose name I didn't catch but apparently died recently, appears - his eyes now black. They try to speak to him but he attacks them, ripping a chunk of flesh from one of their arms. They managed to beat him back but are attacked by more mummified looking dead warriors. Hercules (Mark Addy) is unable to kill them but eventually, during the episode, manages to stab one in the heart at which point they realise that this is the way to kill them.

Jack Donnelly as Jason
So we have the risen dead, raised through sorcery and destroyed individually by piercing the heart or collectively by smashing the glyphs and breaking the spell. They have a hunger for human flesh and a bite causes a fever that quickly kills and turns the bitten. They seem fairly mindless, yet some of them use swords and, apparently, they can't see in the dark; so Jason and Medea (who by necessity have teamed up) extinguish their torches to escape detection at one point.

walking dead in the dark
So far, to be fair, these seem much more zombie than anything. Certain zombie films do have rudimentary tool use (indeed the great George A. Romero takes tool use in interesting directions in his films) and they do not seem sentient. However there is the method of killing, coming straight out of the vampire rulebook, and I'm guessing it was budget or lack of it that prevented the chopping off of heads and burning to come into play, even though the desiccated dead would probably lose their heads easily and go up like tinder. However this brings me to comment on the show. The dead were filmed with quick cutaway and in a murky darkness to hide what I'm guessing was poor effects. The 45 minutes I endured caused me to question the liberties taken with classical mythological figures, the acting was piecemeal at best, the dialogue was cringeworthy and the time spent watching the show is time I'll never get back especially as I'm going to have to say that this is Not Vamp. I might go as far as suggesting they are zompires but I definitely can't recommend the episode.

The episode's imdb page is here.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Gangpire 2 – review

Author: Sentu Taylor

First published: 2014

Contains spoilers

The blurb: Oakland streets are rampant with small time players trying to make a name for themselves. Tacoma has seen it all. Two years after the streets of Oakland were turned upside down after he became a vampire, he has evolved into a street legend. Now, as his life continues to change, Tacoma has new battles to face. With an impending wedding and baby on the way, he must travel across the globe and forge a plan to explain to Helen’s parents how he tainted his future bride by turning her into a vampire.

That feat is minor compared to Elleguás challenge he must meet to bring his murdered sister back to life. Tacoma will be send back in time to defeat a younger Caesar in prehistoric Ethiopia and in return Elleguá promises to release Seattle from his crossroad. If he fails, he, Helen, and Mama Marcella will never be able to return to their current time frame.

Tribal hunters, were-hyenas, evil vampire lords, and the constant need to feed their newborn vampire baby fresh blood makes the mission a doomed gore fest from the beginning. They band with a pack of hyenas and during their journey Tacoma learns he carries the genetic trait of a were-hyena. A trait that reflects visibly in their baby boy.

Meanwhile back in Oakland, Slow Poke and Iron Head are visited by emissaries of a governing vampire sect called the Honored Elders. The message was a disrespectful ultimatum regarding Helen, to which Slow Poke and Iron Head answer in their usual way. Murder. And thus provoke a looming vampire war waiting for Tacoma, Helen, and Mama Marcella when they return to Oakland. If they even make it back to Oakland.

The review: Despite my initial worry I really rather enjoyed the first Gangpire volume, it successfully merged gang culture and vampirism into a truly urban fantasy.

With the second volume author Sentu Taylor eschewed more of the same, instead lifting his characters out of the familiar urban landscape and placing them firstly in Ethiopia, and then back in time to an Ethiopia filled with mythological tribes. This leads us to meet the were-hyenas mentioned in the blurb as well as snake people, master warlocks and of course vampires. The change in focus gave the book a much more fantasy base, which fitted really well with the Santería aspect of the story's lore. This sees vampirism being created through magic and the Orisha intervening and interfering in the heroes’ lives.

We also discover during this book that the offspring of two vampires is a very powerful vampire, the infant grows rapidly and continues to age until reaching the average of both parents ages. For the first few days the vampire infant must eat daily but cannot survive imbibing the magically created synthetic blood that our heroes subsist on. In vampire society such babies are killed as they are too powerful.

The urban fantasy aspect of the books is kept in focus through the storyline that follows the remaining gang members in Oakland, but the purpose is very much to bridge us into the third volume.

Again I really rather liked this, the prose rose above the urban language used and carried the reader on a rip roaring adventure. 7 out of 10.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Dracula Business – review

Director: unknown

Release date: 1974

Contains spoilers

This was a BBC documentary, which I came across as Anthony Hogg mentioned it to me. At the time of review available via BBC iPlayer the documentary was an archive piece and featured Daniel Farson investigating what made Dracula so enduringly popular.

a view of Whitby
Farson was, apparently, qualified to ask such a question as Bram was his grand-uncle. Starting at Whitby, the documentary plotted an eclectic course through Transylvania, Highgate and Stoke-on-Trent. Obviously not all the locations mentioned are directly linked to Stoker's novel, but Farson's investigation included our obsession with vampires generally and touched on evil and the occult. It was also very British documentary of a certain age and that almost made the documentary as interesting as the subject matter did.

interviewing Tinka
Interesting moments within the documentary included attending a Romanian peasant funeral, and meeting Tinka, one of the funeral singers. Via a translator she suggested that when her father died, his body did not display the expected rigor mortis. Because of this the corpse was staked before burial. Farson believed her father must still have been alive, which was a bit of a leap but tied the case into the idea of premature burial. Of course we don't know the circumstances of the gentleman's death, and Paul Barber does explain the bodies can lose rigor mortis depending on circumstances in his seminal book Vampires, Burial and Death. Whilst in Transylvania Farson touches on vampire tourism and Vlad Țepeș, and rightly points out that the historical Dracula had nothing to do with Bram's creation.

Daniel Farson
The documentary, having passed through a London bookshop where a woman said that she was interested in the idea of vampires because her husband had left her and she fancied killing him rather nastily in her fantasies, looked at contemporary UK cases including the vampire of the Villas and the Highgate vampire. In an interview with a wonderfully down-to-earth Highgate groundskeeper, we hear about the hundreds of vampire hunters searching for something that the groundskeeper knows doesn't exist. He ties the event to David Farrant's original claims, mentioning none of the other participants by name, but suggests vandalism and desecration of corpses including staking of bodies took place.

I was struck by the on-set visit to the filming of Vampyres, which is of course a classic piece of sexploitation cinema. Farson finishes off by speaking to some earnest clergymen about the presence of real satanic evil, even though he admits, at the end, that he doesn't really believe in that sort of stuff. From a secular point of view it was a bit hokey. The documentary was of a time, but that was half the joy. All in all 6 out of 10.

At the time of review I could find no corresponding page on IMDb.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Grave Shivers – review

Director: Brent Sims

Release date: 2014

Contains spoilers

Anthology/portmanteau films can be great and ones such as The ABCs of Death show that very short shorts can be magnificent in their own right. Now I didn’t review that film, as the vampire segment was so miniscule amongst the full film. This one I have decided to review.

The might be a tad unfair, as it is the shortest of three shorts in a film under 15 minutes and the film is free to watch/download. But I was really taken with this. The score will be for the vampire segment only, the whole thing is greater than the sum of its parts but I think this deserves some kudos. I do have to spoil the vampire segment, however, to actually make an article out of the review but I don’t think that it is too much of a sin especially as there are two more segments – part two (shhhhh! You’ll Wake the dead) is a magnificent horror short and part one (Teddymare) if wonderfully imaginative.

Howard Hall as Dad
Part three is called Teething Tiffany and sees a dad (Howard Hall) reading to his daughter (Kassidy Hall) at bedtime (different family but the same as the opening to the first story). The difference, noticeable to the initiated, is that he is reading to her from Dracula (the section where the hunters are confronted by the vampire in his Piccadilly house) rather than a children's story. The little girl (again following a similar pattern to the first story) asks for her light to be left on and then her closet checked and then under the bed.

Here comes the twist (and the massive spoiler) under the bed he sees his daughter who tells him that a vampire is in her bed. Out of shot he is attacked, his guts ripped open and falling into shot and then we see the human daughter under the bed as the vampire version bounces on it – his heart in her hand. That’s it folks; a lovely, effective short that’s only a couple of minutes long but so neatly constructed – especially with the other stories before it – that it deserves a strong 7.5 out of 10 for this segment alone. Add the others in and you have a fantastic horror flick that lasts less than quarter of an hour. The vampire orientated tune King of the Night-time by the Coffinshakers that ends the short and accompanies the credits is the icing on the cake.

The imdb page is here and you can watch the film here.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Monster Force: Volume 1 – Review

Directed by: Chris Schouten

First aired: 1994

Contains spoilers

Monster Force was a short lived animated TV show, which used the Universal license to include the classic creatures from that studio. The show was written primarily by Marv Wolfman of Marvel's Tomb of Dracula fame (though the pilot was written by Craig Miller).

The first volume DVD, which was released in 2009, contains the first seven out of thirteen episodes. To my knowledge the second volume is yet to be released. I must admit that I was unaware of the show until I picked up the DVD, and I wasn't exactly blown away by it.

Lawrence Bayne voiced Reed
The show is set in the future, I assume given the wonderful toys the Monster Force have to play with, including jet bikes, power suits and lasers. Even scared townfolk are able to go out in their mobs with laser rifles rather than pitchforks and torches. It isn't revealed in these episodes how the Force came to be, but it is made up of mentor Dr Reed Crawley (Lawrence Bayne) and his young friends; Luke Talbot (Lawrence Bayne) who is stricken by the werewolf's curse, martial artist Tripp Hansen (Philip Akin), the weapon specialist Lance McGruder (Philip Akin) and psychic Shelley Frank (Caroly Larson). Frankenstein's Monster (Howard Jerome) is an occasional team member and has a particular affinity for Shelley.

Renfield and Dracula
It is within the Creatures of the Night that we find our vampire connection. The primary enemy is Dracula (Robert Bockstael) who is more often than not accompanied by three vampire brides and Renfield. Renfield is unfortunately relegated to a rather unfunny comedy character. As well as Dracula, we get appearances from other werewolves, the Mummy (also Robert Bockstael) and the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Abraham Stoker
I mentioned the wonderful toys that the good guys have to play with. These include EMACS or Energised Monster Armed Containment Suits. Not used by Luke, the wholly human members of the team use these suits to even up the odds. At one point they meet a vampire hunter called Abraham Stoker (!), and he is less than impressed with the gadgets relying instead on hammer and stake. A gruff old buzzard he also disagrees with the team's philosophy of containment and believes the vampiric scourge needs to be killed. Actually the team do kill vampires from time to time, normally with a solar grenade or a laser. However they do try to capture - it is a kid’s show after all.

Luke in wolf form with Dracula
The vampires on the other hand have a full arsenal of supernatural powers. They can change shape, become mist, fly and turn their enemies into vampires. As I mentioned a solar grenade it will not come as a shock to learn that sunlight kills them. Dracula seems to have spells and incantations that he can use as well. There isn't really much other lore to mention, however Dracula does seem obsessed with ensuring that monsters are on his side and not on the side of the humans. In one episode he tries to recruit Luke, who can turn into the Wolfman at will except during full moons when he loses control. If he were to kill someone then he would permanently become a mindless beast (apparently). Dracula also wants to recruit the Frankenstein Monster.

EMACS powered up
Whilst there arguably wasn't anything intrinsically wrong with the show, it really didn't grab me; perhaps it was all a bit too run-of-the-mill despite the sci-fi twist. The voice acting was average (though I liked the way Dracula was voiced as a debonair character), the animation was average and the stories too short to really develop a proper meaningful arc. Narrative wise, Dracula seems to fall into the clichéd arch villain trap, not killing the good guys when he has chance and relying on convoluted plans to convert the monsters who are on the good guy side. All in all this is probably only worth 4.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.