Tuesday, June 06, 2023

A Fury – review

Author: Eva Vertrice

First published: 2023

Contains spoilers

The blurb: In 1161 A.D., Merek gifts his cousin and lover Maerwynn a silver ring, adorned with strange symbols and a black stone. That same night, an unwelcome visitor to Maerwynn’s chambers, forces her to throw the ring out the castle window and into the river below to try and save her and Merek’s life.

800 years later, the ring appears once again in a small auction house in modern day New York City. Maerwynn, now Rachel, and her companion Lilith, want it at any price. They aren’t the only ones.

The ring has secrets, but so do Rachel and Lilith. Can they still trust each other once their secrets unravel and they discover their connection to the ring and their part in a giant power struggle in Heaven?

The review: A Fury is an urban fantasy concentrated on Rachel, a vampire, and her companion Lily (the blurb giving away that she is Lilith). Rachel comes across as a moral vampire, turned against her will after being raped and searching for the ring that was the cause of the attack and, in turn, the vampire who turned her in order to avenge herself. Although they are companions, it is clear that they have not necessarily been honest with each other – Rachel continued to search for the ring after telling Lily she was done with the business and whilst she knew Lily wasn’t human (and her blood, whilst unappetising, can allow Rachel to walk in daylight), Lily has never revealed her nature and origin.

The setting is one of a hidden world behind ours and certainly urban fantasy. There is a large Judeo-Christian aspect to the mythology with angels and demons (as well as Lilith) front and centre, but there are also other folklores represented with some Celtic and some Greek aspects being used. Sometimes using the Judeo-Christian mythology so heavily can sit uneasily with the polytheistic folklores but these seemed to work smoothly. We also get some historical appearance, such as Captain Kidd in a flashback chapter and the still alive Edward Kelly.

The prose were strong, for the most part, with the characters being given distinct voices and the narrative crisp. There is a degree of wish fulfilment in the rich, beautiful, deadly and powerful Rachel but that is not necessarily a bad thing. There is some interesting lore around the vampires and angels (and some deliberate gaps, for instance Rachel can enter a church but avoids the holy water, though she doesn’t know if it will impact her). The book read at a quick pace and kept the reader’s attention and the narrative has its own identity. Recommended for fans of urban horror. 7 out of 10.

The author's Facebook page is here.  

In Paperback @ Amazon US

In Paperback @ Amazon UK

Sunday, June 04, 2023

Penanggal: The Curse of the Malayan Vampire – review

Director: Ellie Suriaty Omar

Release date: 2013

Contains spoilers

It is nice for the penanggal (aka penanggalan) to get a look in within cinema and this Malay film actually sports some fairly good effects. Unfortunately the story is perhaps not as good as it might be with threads unanswered and a play with physical looks projecting (or not) the monstrous within the running time.

It is set in a more period time – I want to suggest the 1930s given the car we see but I’m not too sure and does have a strong thread about the saving grace of faith, particularly Islamic faith.

the tongue

It starts, however, with a birth. The midwife is Mak Ajeng (Normah Damanhuri) and the father, and Mak Ajeng’s hunchbacked man servant Pak Kadam (Jeff Omar), are outside the hut. The baby starts to cry but then there is a strange sound, the father goes in as the manservant curses and bemoans the timing. The father sees Mak Ajeng spinning as her head detaches, her tongue extends monstrously and she attacks mother and baby. He runs to the village and Pak Kadam goes in and grabs her headless body.

as a fireball

The father rouses the village against Mak Ajeng but as they look to go after her they see a burning light flash across the sky – the penanggal. It felt as though their nerves were slipping until a young boy starts extolling Allah and this emboldens them and they head, mob like, to her home. Pak Kadam has already got there, with the torso, and also there is her granddaughter Murni (Ummi Nazeera). The head returns and enters a big pot (presumably of vinegar to shrink her entrails before re-joining her body).


The mob is approaching and Mak Ajeng calls Murni to her and tells her to become one with her blood and essentially passes her curse to her – which was part of the deal she had made with the powers of evil. Now, looking at Murni for a moment her face is covered in warts or tumours, and the implication is that her facial disfigurement has already associated her with the evil of her grandmother (there is also the implication later that the older woman perhaps killed her parents to get her heir). If not this, then the film is associating her ugliness with innocence and later beauty with the monstrous. With the curse passed on she dies and dissolves and Murni looks down on the villagers and then we see her walking, exiled from the village.

Azri Iskandar as Yusoff

We then meet Syed Yusoff Al-Attas (Azri Iskandar) a rich young business man who is due to get engaged to Sharifah Zahrah Al-Sagof (Fasha Sandha). She has concerns as to whether he can love her as she is a widow and his brother, Umar (Zul Ariffin), clearly has a thing for her. He is drawn as a very devout, peaceful man. Switching back to Murni and Pak Kadam has led her to a forest safe-house which is hidden by magic (one wonders why grandma didn’t reside there) and she suffers her first transformation into the penanggal. Afterwards she has lost the tumours on her face and is classically beautiful – we also hear a memory of grandma saying that only she could cure her, in time, and that has certainly proven true. Of course, fate will make her and Yusoff’s paths cross (and she uses magic to bewitch him).

flying head

The lore sees her head and entrails detach from her body (her head spinning rapidly as though it unscrews) and her flying through the night within a flame like halo. There is the dunking in vinegar to “soothe” her entrails when she rejoins. We do get some pov penangaal camera work. When whole she has a vivid scar at the neck. The idea of thorns being able to hold the vampire is mentioned. There isn’t an explanation as to the whole pact with evil and passing that pact on to an heir and Murni doesn’t seem altogether distressed at her new life (maybe more the consequences).

Ummi Nazeera as Murni

I think the issue is the storyline and where they go and don't go with it. For instance, the whole Zaharah plot. There is mention of her being pregnant, implied to be her dead husband’s child, but this isn’t used despite the vampire’s predilection for babies/unborn/pregnant women. Once Yusoff goes missing, she sneaks into Umar’s car to help find him, is burnt by the penanggal’s acidic blood and then vanishes from the story. It just seemed like baggage in the storyline rather than anything useful. Nevertheless this looks pretty good and it's worth seeing a penanggal. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Friday, June 02, 2023

Use of Tropes: Black Cat Mansion

Vampiric cats and ghost cats are a staple part of Japanese horror, reaching back to folklore and the yōkai bakeneko, or changed cat, we can also cite stories such as The Vampire Cat of Nabéshima. In cinema there are films such as Hiroku kaibyô-den and the remarkable Kuroneko.

This 1958 movie by Nobuo Nakagawa (who would go on to direct Onna kyûketsuki, released the following year) has a nested storyline with black and white scenes for the present and near past and colour for the distant past and the story would seem to take some of its story inspiration from The Vampire Cat of Nabéshima. It is told in the first place by Dr. Tetsuichiro Kuzumi (Toshio Hosokawa), who is in a darkened hospital due to a power outage. He recalls an odd tale, regarding his wife, Yoriko (Yuriko Ejima). He had moved her out of Tokyo for respite care due to her tuberculosis, into an old mansion her brother had secured for her.


The place started being visited by an old lady, who seemed to appear and disappear and who upset their dog whenever she was present. As things go on, she attacks Yoriko twice – by strangulation. Now that doesn’t seem overly vampiric but, of course, Slavic vampires were as likely to strangle their victims as they were to suck their blood. Yoriko has dreamt of cats biting her. Tetsuichiro is taken to a temple, where a monk recalls the story of how the mansion is said to have become haunted – the scenes of this part of the film are in colour.

lapping blood

This has a story of a dishonourable Samurai named Shogen (Takashi Wada) who murders a young Samurai, Kokingo (Ryūzaburō Nakamura), after he accuses the older man of cheating at a game of Go, hides the body and tells Kokingo’s blind mother, Lady Miyaji (Fumiko Miyata), that her son has gone to the city to get further tutelage in the game. Kokingo’s spirit, however, tells her the truth and Shogen then rapes her. She curses him, through a cat, and kills herself. The cat laps her blood and is the embodiment of the curse against Shogen and his lineage. The cat takes on the form of Shogen’s mother (Fujie Satsuki), whom it has murdered and also becomes an anthropomorphic cat often.

cat ears

The cat doesn’t do much that we would class as vampiric, the blood drinking solely at the point when Lady Miyaji’s blood is licked up. However, that does mean there is some blood drinking and the story feels like The Vampire Cat of Nabéshima, in as much as the cat takes the form of a person it has killed, though in this case it is to hide and murder, rather than steal life’s blood – although it kills a maid by biting the neck. It is around these points that we get the primary trope usage and it is certainly of genre interest, along with the throttling of victims and the connection of the modern victim suffering from tuberculosis worth mentioning.

The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Night's Black Agents: An Anthology of Vampire Fiction – review

Editor: Daniel Corrick

First published: 2023

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: The vampire is the most glamorous and iconic of Gothic figures. In Night's Black Agents, editor Daniel Corrick assembles a baker's dozen of tales that trace the sanguinary path of this thirsty, mythical creature from the early nineteenth century, where it acted as an incarnation of fears of libertinism and diabolism, appearing as the Satanic villain in penny dreadfuls, through to the early twentieth century, where it appeared as both femme fatale and homoerotic bloodsucker.

The Review: To use the colloquial, vampire anthologies are a dime a dozen and so if you are starting out with your vampire collection any one will likely be worthwhile, as you get longer in the tooth there needs to be something special about the stories contained within.

All I can say about Night’s Black Agents is… wow. Editor Daniel Corrick has dug up some vampire gold within these pages. There were only three stories within I already had, Polidori’s The Vampyre is a commonly anthologised tale but, of course, as the first English language vampire prose it earns its place. The other two stories are more obscure, those being Dumas père’s the Pale Lady and Ulrichs’ Manor, both interesting and important vampire stories in their own right. However, the book has many more stories, with the volume containing nine Nineteenth Century stories and four from the early Twentieth Century in total.

I’m not going to go too deeply into details but there are some great early use of tropes within. For instance, I have argued that William H G Kingston’s the Vampire; or, Pedro Pacheco and the Bruxa from 1863 represented a pre-Stoker use of transformation of vampire to bat (which others have refuted, I’ll let the reader decide). However Corrick has found an earlier Kingston story from 1846, entitled the Bruxa and featuring the vampiric witch and Portugal again, which has a definitive transformation from (living) vampire to bat (or bat-like creature), making it the earliest example I am aware of to be published in English. Likewise, Edwin F Roberts’ The Vampyre Bride, from 1850, changes the Countess’ name but essentially uses the Báthory story. Both of these will be subject to their own ‘Classic Literature’ blog post in the future.

My congratulations to Daniel Corrick for this collection, it is absolutely essential for anyone who enjoys 19th (and early 20th) century vampire stories or is a student of such stories. 9 out of 10.

In Paperback @ Amazon US

In Paperback @ Amazon UK

Monday, May 29, 2023

Wrath of Dracula – review

Director: Steve Lawson

Release date: 2023 (scheduled)

Contains spoilers

Director Steve Lawson’s last foray into the vampire genre, Bram Stoker’s Van Helsing, was a strange beast. Making good use of low numbers of locations, it concentrated on a segment of Stoker’s novel and did take some liberties, though not as much as he does in this film. It was, perhaps a tad talkie, had a distinct lack of Dracula himself and, when I reviewed it, blog commentator Octobercynic said “The ending also seemed, to me, to leave the door open for a possible sequel.” Though there are intertextual links, this does not appear to be that sequel

Mark Topping as Van Helsing

So, whilst the primary character of Mina (Hannaj Bang Bendz) has a different actress to the cameo appearance of the character in the previous film, there is a picture (only) of Lucy and it is of actress Charlie Bond who played her in the earlier film and Mark Topping reprises his Van Helsing role, though without beard and, to be fair, the clean-shaven version did read towards Peter Cushing. However, the story doesn’t fit with the previous one particularly well, especially as Dracula (Sean Cronin) does not leave Transylvania, and it is much less novel orientated, ploughing its own narrative furrow.

Mina typing journal

It starts with Harker (Dean Marshall) writing to Mina, who he is already married to, alerting her that he is a prisoner in Castle Dracula. He hides the letter in papers due to be posted to England re the real estate purchases, following which he is pulled backwards by one of the brides – Maria (Ayvianna Snow, Vampire Virus), Frida (Marta Svetek) and Ilsa (Jasmine Sumner). Sometime later Mr Hawkins (Carl Wharton, Saint Dracula) brings it to Mina but isn’t very helpful as Jonathan had signed a waver and they don’t have to help him. She undertakes to go to Transylvania herself.

arriving at Castle Dracula

She uses the hand written travel itinerary she had typed for Jonathan and gets to Castle Dracula when she is intercepted by a man – Van Helsing. A couple of points here did jerk me out of the story, unfortunately. She aims a flintlock pistol at him, recognised as antique in the dialogue, but it went unnoticed by the characters that it was uncocked. A minor thing, perhaps, but then saying that she had travelled overnight from London was just plain wrong – to be fair, later Van Helsing suggested her journey did take time and it may have just been a dialogue error that was missed.

training montage

He persuades her to go to a nearby inn rather than try to get in the castle. Once there he gives her a potted history. In this Dracula, as a man, was seduced by a lamia but his strength of will caused him to make her turn him rather than just kill him. He also mentioned tracking Dracula across several countries over three years – his mention of Shanghai brought my mind immediately to Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires. His thought is that she should return to London, something she won’t do, but he suddenly realises that Dracula’s predilection for beautiful women might gain them entrance to the castle. He offers to train her – and the owning of a Chinese book on martial arts makes this feel less silly than it might of.


The film’s direction, then, is one that has a bit more action; indeed, this might be said to be Steve Lawson’s female-centric gothic take of Dracula by way of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with Mina and the brides taking centre stage. Dracula does make an appearance but it is limited and Van Helsing serves more as support for Mina than anything else. The action isn’t perfect, some moments swaying towards comedic – especially one scene where it appears speeded up slightly, but for the most part it holds the attention. Vampires in this are killed by stake through the heart, decapitation, sunlight or silver bullet – the last again being unfortunate as Van Helsing fashions bullets rather than the spherical shot the flintlock would take. There is a Bagua mirror in Van Helsing’s hunter kit but he only uses it as a mirror and not as a Taoist priest would in a Chinese vampire movie.


Set in the 19th Century, the production makes good use of locations, on a tight budget, to imitate the era and the location – with tight angles allowing location work that imitates the look they needed well. Like the predecessor there is some soundtrack choices that feel intrusive, given their more modern sound. It does get a bit talkie in places, despite the action, but there is a nice staking moment. With the last film I said it would appeal more to novel fans, not so much with this but it will appeal if you liked the last effort but wanted a bit more expansion (action and location). 6 out of 10.

Note the review was from an advance screener. The imdb page is here.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Honourable Mention: Screech of the Decapitated

Directed by Michael Tarzian and released in 2005, Screech of the Decapitated is low budget buffoonery of the highest order that is deliberately so. Below grindhouse standard, it revels in the paucity of its effects and the campy knowingness of the deliberately pantomime acting. And, because it does all this, the film manages to raise itself up by its own bootstraps.

It follows showgirls Raquel (Brittany Petros) and Wanda (Shannon Noelle Garrigus), international showgirls, strippers (not that the film plays the nudity card, to be fair) and part-time jewel thieves and agents. They are in Buenos Aires (actually Burbank, but let’s not quibble), driving along and squabbling when they see a man on the side of the road with an axe. Convinced he might be the serial killer known as the Decapitator they stop the car to confront him – after all he is killing in alphabetical order and only up to “E”.


The man seems to be in a trance but then suddenly drops to the floor, starts sprouting hair and then becomes a werewolf (and the werewolves are created by the sfx of plain old, cheap end rubber masks). It will transpire that the werewolves are clones created by the alien Nadir (Ed Flanagan, Way of the Vampire) and his concubine Queen Maquzita (Debbie Rochon). So werewolves, aliens… but where are the vampires you might ask.

old fanged ghoul

After escaping to a windmill and bashing the werewolf with an axe, the women find an old man in the building. Getting him to turn around he reveals fangs and so there are more whacks with the axe. Now he has yellow gunk for blood and is credited as Old Fanged Ghoul (Marvin Morgenstern) – but the lines between vampire and ghoul are blurry and he looks the part. Later they end up in a wrestling match with luchadors and one of them turns into a werewolf but the other turns into a bat – indeed there is also a bat attack when Raquel showers that is described as a vampire bat also.


The other appearance seems to be at the end when the women pick up a handsome hitchhiker, whose eyes glow red as he shows fangs. Enough, through this, to suggest that we have a fleeting visitation of a vampire or two and some definite crap bat moments. I said this was knowing and it was so knowing that it was just likable all the way through, the leads were incredibly natural and clearly in on the joke but it is probably consumed with a side of your favourite beverage and a group of mates.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Short Film: The Heretic’s Curse

A short film that is just over 18-minutes length and I assume directed by John A Benjamin (the film’s credits list him as editor and DP), this was produced in 2015. The film shows all the hallmarks of being a labour of love that fights against a lack of budget. It is most telling in the locations, where a bland room serves as most, it seems, whilst a still of a mansion is the establishing shot. This does have one particular moment that stands out for me.

you will be cursed

The film starts with intertitles that suggest that the last witch trial in America was 1878, but the year is 1877. The intertitle also suggests that the purpose of these was a property grab. We are at Curwen Manor, owned by witchfinder John Curwen (Victor Cox). He has imprisoned cousins (Corinna Pokorzynski and Marissa Brassfield) and seeks a confession through torture. One of them levels a curse at him suggesting he, and his descendants, will be vampires.

stake at the ready

Cut forward to the present day and a man (Ted Valley) sits vigil over a woman (Shana Lang), a member of the Curwen family. Nearby is a hammer and stake and she appears dead. The family Doctor (Anthony Ennis) remonstrates with him and says that the family has a genetic predisposition to catalepsy. He insists on staying the night with her in case she awakens…


There is a staking – though that might be a spoiler, there is a twist – and that was the impressive part of this for me. So often the stakings in vampire films, especially the low budget, are a bit rubbish – but this one looks great – kudos to the sfx person. At the time of writing I couldn’t find an IMDb page. The film is available to watch on YouTube