Friday, May 25, 2018

Shake Rattle & Roll V – review

Director: Jose Javier Reyes

Release date: 1994

Contains spoilers

Normally I begin a Shake, Rattle & Roll review by explaining that they are a long-running horror anthology series from the Philippines. However, unusually, this particular iteration of the series is actually a portmanteau film, with a connective wraparound.

As normal, however, it does feature three segments, those being Maligno, a story about the mythical Engkanto, Anino, a story about the ghost of a murderer, and the story that interests us, Impakto.

the kids
Now, I have had a good search for information about the impakto online and it has little out there. One site suggested it was an evil spirit and another suggested it was a variant of the tiyanak. However in terms of this film it is pretty much just a Western style vampire (and is named as a vampire in the film’s subtitles). It starts with a driver, Denico (Don Pepot, Ang Darling, Kong Aswang), pulling into a car park. He seems nervous as he meets up with two men (Archi Adamos, Aswang, & Romy Romulo). We also see a man, Andres (Chuck Perez), and his girlfriend (Michelle Ortega) drive off.

Andres and gal
Denico is the family driver and has taken the siblings Lizbeth (Manilyn Reynes) and the younger Charlie (Tom Taus) out. She was on a date and her little brother was the “chaperone”. The date clearly hasn’t gone well, so she pages Denico; all-the-while the siblings are bickering. Denico has arranged for the two men to kidnap the siblings. There is a pointless moment when they can’t follow as they’re out of gas (presumably a comedy moment, but generally unfunny) and Denico fakes a car problem and waits for them to arrive. They kidnap the kids, take a short cut (Denico having revealed his part in the plot to the siblings) and then lose control of the car. This ends up with them going to an abandoned hotel as a new hideout.

maw of fangs
Meanwhile Andres has also arrived at the hotel and takes his girlfriend in. He stands behind her, taking an interest in her neck and then sprouts fangs. Fangs become a whole maw of teeth (reminiscent, in honesty, of Fright Night) and later we see he ripped a hole in her throat. Lizbeth and Charlie manage to get away from the kidnappers and soon they are being hunted by the criminals and by Andres, whilst still bickering. The film throws in some minor slapstick, which involves prospective victims failing to spot the impakto when he is up close and ready to take a bite.

So, I mentioned that he is a vampire and we get some standard vampire bits – such as sleeping in a coffin, Lizbeth holding a cross up to him (it has no effect, he is a Catholic it appears, but it is during this scene that she calls him a vampire and expects the crucifix will kill him) and him being staked – the staking seems to lead to him setting on fire. His victims do not appear to turn (and why there is a dead old woman tied inside a bathroom was beyond me). Andres proves to be incredibly physically strong, able to spring into a standing leap of impressive height. There is also a suggestion that he can float. He does become bloodier and bloodier but that is an aesthetic thing only, I think.

Chuck Perez as Andres
The comedy aspects of this one probably let it down more than anything. The logic of the story fails to hold up to scrutiny (why would Denico let the kids know he was in on their kidnapping, what level of coincidence led them to end up in the same abandoned hotel that Andres uses as his base having seen him earlier that day?) As always, with portmanteau films I am scoring the vampire segment only and this one probably sits comfortably at 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Dracula Incarnate – revisited

I suggested, when I first reviewed this book, that “It pains me to be negative about someone’s book – especially when it is clear that they have poured heart and soul into it.” Unfortunately, I had structural issues with the book and, more so, an absolute issue with the central premise of the book.

To be fair to Andrew Struthers, not only has he taken the criticism in his stride it appears (though not to the point of solving everything raised with regards the structure and certainly not so much that he would abandon his central theory), but he was good enough to send me a review copy of this revised edition of the book. This, I think, underlines his sincerity and I have no doubt that he honestly believes what he has written. Unfortunately, nothing can sway me from the belief that his theory is fundamentally flawed.

So, structural things first. Whilst the prose is still chatty (and I did originally say that this could be a good or a bad thing dependent on the reader, though it doesn’t appeal to me) he has definitely worked on the actual prose and it did not feel like bullet points, in places, any longer. Either he had scaled back on the exclamation marks or I noticed them less this time. He added maps to the Whitby section, useful to anyone who has not been there and specifically mentioned in the original review.

However, he has not added an index – in correspondence a deliberate decision but a flawed one in my opinion – and his referencing is still awful, whilst Bram Stoker’s Notes are mostly referenced (with page numbers offered), there is no bibliography and no citations for the numerous assertions. There are also potential errors. The idea that Lilith is mentioned as Adam’s first wife in “some scriptures” (P22) is perhaps open to an interpretation of the word scripture, but as scriptures are commonly deemed to be the Old and New testaments this is in error; the concept of her being the spouse has been traced back no earlier than the 8th–10th centuries satirical Alphabet of Ben Sira and is not in either book of the bible (though the word Lilith does appear). Again, perhaps a perceived error rather than a factual one, but the sentence “The poem was entitled The Giaour (1813) and is considered the earliest published English language story to feature a vampire”, does read as though the author deems Byron’s poem as the English literature source of vampires. Polidori’s the Vampyre actually has that honour in a prose sense (and the quoted sentence might be a clumsy way of communicating that), but if we are looking to poetry, one could offer Coleridge’s Christabel (1797) that honour (if one classes it as a vampire poem, which I do not), or Southey’s The Old Woman of Berkley (1799) (though she is a vampiric witch), or Southey’s Thalba the Destroyer (1801), or Stagg’s The Vampyre (1810). This might seem to be nit-picking but language is important and so is referencing for a reference work to survive critical analysis.

The last one I’ll point out might be a tad unfair as the assertion that “there is no word in any language which describes a vampire as Nosferatu” (p67) is based on the once “common wisdom” that Gerard used a word never before seen in print and assumed to be a mishearing on her part. In actual fact, in his article Vindicating Gerard, Anthony Hogg (2011, p3) presented the discovery of the use of the word by Wilhelm Schmidt some twenty-years before Gerard. In an addendum to Hogg’s article, Elizabeth Miller postulated that it may have been a localism that never entered the Romanian dictionary. That may be true but what is perfectly clear is that Gerard did not invent or garble the term.

Getting to the main point of the book, I will start with the fact that the author has made it clear that he did not mean to suggest that Stoker’s notes were the method that Stoker intended to convey the “true identity” of Jack the Ripper – this is in answer to a criticism that the notes were not meant for public consumption – but the novel was that vehicle. However, he does suggest that notes are the key to the code used. Again, this is problematic as one cannot see why a person would reveal a secret but hide the key to the code in a place where no one would ever see it. Indeed, as the notes were not for public consumption one wonders why they were not more explicit

The author admits that using anagrams is “the least believable of any evidence put forward on a given theory…” (p153) However in volume he does challenge cynics and critics into countermanding the points espoused, which includes anagrams. That is unlikely to happen anagram by anagram – unless one was to write a full volume addressing this book. He does, however, focus on one “strange” word that in his mind proves that Stoker was using anagrams and lays out a challenge to explain why it might be there in the notes otherwise. That word is “Brahmapootra”. As (generically) requested, I’ll look to answer, though my answer is supposition. One possible answer is that the word could be seen to be a conflation of two words; Brahma is the Hindu creator God and pootra is Malagasy for difficult. This (to me) is unsatisfying, despite the fact that Stoker was on terms with at least two persons, Burton and Vambery, who may have mentioned Brahma to him. Burton was a known polyglot (as was Vambery) with estimates of him knowing up to 29 languages, maybe more if one includes sub-dialects. Whether either man was fluent in the language of Madagascar is unknown. However, more satisfying as a source for the word is to suggest that Brahmapootra could be a phonetic interpretation of Brahmaputra – a word that does exist, indeed it is a major Asian river which flows (amongst other places) through Tibet. Stoker (in Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving) makes particular mention of asking Vambery, on April 30th 1890, about whether “if when in Thibet he never felt any fear.” (1907 edition, p238) This shows that Stoker did speak to Vambery about Tibet, though with little detail about that conversation. Does Stoker’s note refer to the river? I don’t know but it makes more sense than it being a nonsense word to feed an anagram that no-one was meant to read.

It is my belief that the anagrams presented are simply a case of apophenia, but the more deductive reasoning espoused in the theory doesn’t necessarily ring true either. For example, the notes suggest that Stoker considered having a dinner party in his novel (at the Mad Doctor’s house, with the Count) featuring 13 guests. The obvious reason for this is a superstition that if 13 dine at a table then one will die within the year (incidentally in the nineteenth century a thirteen-club existed to disprove this superstition). The expunged dinner party may be connected to the Last Supper, also, especially as the Count is the devil (or the devil’s aide-de-camp) and would take the role of the 13th guest. The author suggests that the person he deems to be the Ripper, in a previous life, hosted a dinner party in America with events so shocking they were recorded by a guest and Stoker was referring to this – without any evidence that Stoker knew anything of the party and without citation to show where the assertation was drawn from, in fact even the name of the guest was wrong (probably a typo). If this were the case, and Stoker was trying to lay out a message about the Ripper, surely the dinner party would have remained in the finished novel in some form or another?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don't discount the idea that Stoker had, to a greater or lesser degree/consciously or subconsciously, the memory of the Ripper as he wrote his novel (it was, after all, a local horror from just a few years before). Indeed, he did reference the Ripper (as pointed out) in the Icelandic Edition foreword - though that book is massively different to Dracula and the full extent of the difference won't be known until the even earlier Swedish edition is translated (the Icelandic edition apparently based on the Swedish). We should remember, though, that even then referencing the Ripper could be a selling point and Stoker will have known this. However, I do not think that Stoker was trying to impart some secret knowledge of the Ripper's identity, nor do I believe the notes contain cryptic keys to the novel that would lead us there. Rather they offer an insight into Stoker's creative process, offer plot points that were considered and then abandoned and complete a picture of a remarkable novel (which needs no grand conspiracy to embellish it).

The score remains the same, the author’s integrity I do not doubt, his theory, however, I cannot accept.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Gender in the Vampire Narrative – review

Editors: Amanda Hobson & U. Melissa Anyiwo

Release date: 2016

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Gender in the Vampire Narrative addresses issues of masculinity and femininity, unpacking cultural norms of gender. This collection demonstrates the way that representations of gender in the vampire narrative traverse a large scope of expectations and tropes. The text offers classroom ready original essays that outline contemporary debates about sexual objectification and gender norms using the lens of the vampire in order to examine the ways those roles are undone and reinforced through popular culture through a specific emphasis on cultural fears and anxieties about gender roles. The essays explore the presentations of gendered identities in a wide variety of sources including novels, films, graphic novels and more, focusing on wildly popular examples, such as The Vampire Diaries, True Blood, and Twilight, and also lesser known works, for instance, Byzantium and The Blood of the Vampire. The authors work to unravel the ties that bind gender to the body and the sociocultural institutions that shape our views of gendered norms and invite students of all levels to engage in interdisciplinary conversations about both theoretical and embodied constructions of gender. This text makes a fascinating accompanying text for many courses, such as first-year studies, literature, film, women’s and gender studies, sociology, popular culture or media studies, cultural studies, American studies or history. Ultimately this is a text for all fans of popular culture

The review: It wasn’t a shock, despite the title of the book being “gender”, that this volume was concentrated upon one of the genders (and, in the one ostensibly male orientated chapter, the focus was the female gender) and, in so doing, had a very feminist perspective. Whilst it wasn’t a shock it seemed like a waste. Not that there isn’t a place for feminist studies (indeed I’d have bought the book had it been accurately titled The Female in the Vampire Narrative) but the genre has so many other perspectives to explore.

In a book on gender I would have liked some of the contributions to examine gender identity and genderqueering within the genre. Certainly, there is opportunity to do so and that would have added an extra dimension to what is, generally, an excellent collection of articles.

It was great to see Florence Marryat’s work getting some attention as well as da Sweet Blood of Jesus, however there were some minor missed opportunities (beyond the massive one mentioned).

When discussing Byzantium, Hobson footnotes to point out the connection to  the Vampyre: A Tale but misses that Darvell is a reach over to Byron’s fragment that the Vampyre was based on. Kristina DuRocher suggests that vampires came to life, via the medium of film, rather than resting in the reader’s imagination – looking squarely at the Twentieth Century. However, this ignores the phenomenal popularity of the vampire on the stage at certain parts of the Nineteenth Century. There is also a serious under-estimation of how many films featured Dracula as a character. And, as a pet peeve, there is a chapter looking at La Belle Dame Sand Merci and Christabel. Although author Ana G Gal recognises that the neither poem's antagonist is “a vampire in the strictest sense”, I do not subscribe to Christabel being a vampire poem at all.

Minor points however (even the Christabel point as there are counter arguments) and the point about exploring gender identity and non-binary gender is a wish and certainly not an indication of quality/worth. This is, overall, a great volume. 8 out of 10.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Vamp or Not? Burnt Offerings

I was contacted by Adrien who wanted to mention the 1976 Dan Curtis film Burnt Offerings to me. Based on a novel by Robert Marasco it was a film that Adrien felt should be on TMtV.

I’m always happy to get suggestions and this is one that deserved, at the very least, to have the ‘Vamp or Not?’ treatment and also contained tropes within it that would emerge perhaps more famously in other (horror) films in years to come. It also boasted a small but astounding core cast. So, why the ‘Vamp or Not?’ – well, if we have a vampire here it is a vampiric house.

David and Ben
The film starts with a car and in it are Ben (Oliver Reed), his wife Marian (Karen Black, Children of the Night (1991) & Night Angel) and their son David (Lee Montgomery, Dead of Night & Mutant). They are going to see a country house that is up for rent (at a reasonable price). When they arrive it is a mansion rather than a house and Ben assumes there must be a cottage/gatehouse for rent. They knock at the door and it is eventually answered by the handyman, Walker (Dub Taylor).

Bette Davis as Aunt Elizabeth
He confirms it is the main house that is for rent and goes to get the lady of the house, Roz Allardyce (Eileen Heckart). Whilst they are waiting David goes to play outside and Marian discovers the conservatory, but all the flowers are dead. Roz makes her appearance. They are renting the house out through summer and it is reasonable, she confirms, but wants to check their suitability first. She asks a few questions and we discover that Ben’s Aunt Elizabeth (Bette Davis) will be coming with them. They are soon joined by Roz’s wheelchair using brother, Arnold (Burgess Meredith).

Karen Black as Marian
The rent is just $900 dollars for the summer but there are catches – they must see to the house upkeep through the summer (Walker, it becomes apparent, will not be there). Also, their mother will remain in the house, she is elderly and they will need to bring her a tray of food three times a day. Ben is suspicious and asks for time to think about it. Back home, in bed (as sirens wail outside) it is clear that Marian has set her heart on spending summer there and Ben confirms they’ll take the house. When they arrive to take tenancy, however, the siblings have gone, leaving them a note and keys. Marian tries to check on Mrs Allardyce but she does not open her bedroom door and, indeed, doesn’t touch the trays left for her for at least the first week.

The film slow burns, with a layer of uncanny enough to keep the viewer on edge but without doing too much. The personalities of Ben and Marian change. His a little, a game of rough-housing with David, in the pool, turns violent and he later admits that he wanted to hurt his son – though that seems to shock him back to normal but he becomes suspicious of the house and Marian’s behaviour. He also starts dreaming of his mother’s funeral, from when he was a child, and hallucinating the hearse and driver – who has become the personification of death in his eyes. Marian becomes obsessed with the house and Mrs Allardyce’s rooms. In the room are photographic portraits and the siblings mentioned her collection (and suggested they numbered into thousands).

the flowers in bloom
The most marked change is with Aunt Elizabeth who turns from an elderly but still sprightly woman to a weakened old lady who becomes more and more confused. This culminates with her becoming frail and, suddenly, whilst in bed we hear a crack. This is her arm snapping, her bones have become so frail, and as they wait for a doctor both her and Ben see the hearse driver come into the room and she dies. After her death the flowers in the conservatory are suddenly in full bloom and Marian does not attend her funeral (refusing, off screen, to leave the house and Mrs Allardyce).

terror in the face of death
The idea of someone becoming obsessed with the building would be explored after this by Stephen King in the Shining (and later still by Kubrick in the classic film of King’s book). However this does seem very much to be the house devouring the energy of the occupants (we’ll come back to Marian) rather than assimilating (Jack, in the shining) someone into its ghostly menagerie. This is underlined later when, during a storm, Ben hears a cacophony, which is shingles being knocked off a low roof as wood slats peel from the house revealing new slats beneath – the house devours the occupants and renews itself.

obsession leads to possession 
This scene leads to Ben trying to escape with David, through the storm. However a tree falls on the driveway, blocking their escape. Ben tries to move it but tendrils of vegetation wrap themselves around his leg, pulling him over – this concept would be taken to a further extreme later in the Evil Dead. As for Marian, we see her start wearing clothes she has found in the house, eating Mrs Allardyce’s meal tray and slowly becoming the house’s matriarch. As we never see Mrs Allardyce we might assume that she was never there – perhaps she is a personification of the house itself, which could then be indicative of a vampiric possession of Marian.

So… the house devours life energy. It takes this slowly, it would appear, or quickly (through accidental death, as nearly happens with David when he is almost suffocated as gas leaks into his room). It can alter the perceptions of the residents (causing hallucinations and altering moods). This life energy allows it to renew itself (becoming younger, as it were). It is apparent it has killed a large number of residents (as the portraits are said to go into the thousands). All in all, I think Adrien was right and this is Vamp.

The imdb page is here.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Mrs. Deadpool and the Howling Commandos – review

Author: Gerry Duggan

Illustrator: Salvador Espin

First published: 2016 (TPB)

Contains spoilers

The blurb: She is Shiklah-undisputed Queen of the Monster Metropolis below Manhattan! In the world that was, she married Deadpool, the Merc with the Mouth. But nothing on Battleworld is quite as it was. Now, she commands the Howling Commandos: Werewolf by Night! Frankenstein's Monster! The Living Mummy! Man-Thing! And Marcus the Centaur! What would her late husband think of that???

The review: Part of Marvel’s 2015 Secret War Event, this starts with a fight between Dracula and Deadpool, the former winning as he (against his promise) used his vampire powers and then took Deadpool’s body, put it in an acid filed chest – to prevent regeneration – and disposed of it. Deadpool does appear in this, therefore, but as a ghost and narrator.

Shiklah is a demonic entity and – in Marvel canon – married Deadpool but eventually divorced him and got together with Dracula. She devours lifeforce through a kiss. In this alternate version she is forced, after being widowed, to become Dracula’s fiancée. However, she intends to betray him and persuades him to let her take her brother’s ashes to rest, though her real quest is to find the pieces of the Sceptre of the Manticore. Dracula sends the Howling Commandos with her, but they intend to betray him too.

We also get a fleeting visitation of Blade (or an alternative version, thereof), who is a member of the Thor Corps.

The graphic is competently drawn but I wasn’t wowed by the art and is very short (in fact the trade paper back is padded with an old issue of Werewolf by Night and it still feels too short). It is a passable read but nothing special – 5 out of 10.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Empire of the Dead Act 3 – review

Author: George A Romero

Illustrator: Alex Maleev

First published: 2015

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: It's zombies versus vampires — with desperate citizens caught in the crossfire — as the legendary George Romero unleashes the final chapter in his undead epic! Who is kidnapping the children of New York City, where are they taking them, and why? Meanwhile, Dr. Penny Jones has a nasty surprise coming her way when she conducts a zombie autopsy on Xavier. As Election Day looms, will Chandrake retain his rule, or will Chilly Dobbs have his day? And will the election even matter as the warring factions of rebels break through into the city? As Jo tries to make a break from the remote vampire compound, Detective Perez makes a terrifying discovery. It's the moment everyone's been waiting for: all-out zombie versus vampire warfare! Who will rule the Empire of the Dead?

Review: After a fantastic Act 1 and perhaps a tad weaker Act 2 I have to admit the series conclusion was more whimper than bang and that is sad given the early strength.

The best was I can describe it is threadbare. We get an assault on New York that is lacklustre and the conclusion of the mayoral race was thin.

All isn’t bad however, we get a genuine zompire moment when we discover that swat officer turned zombie Xavier – who has been taken into surgery following a headshot (not an autopsy as suggested in thee blurb) is regenerating – indeed she is spontaneously healing. They realise that she had been bitten by a vampire before being turned into a zombie and she is a hybrid of the two types of dead. This does beg the question of why vampires who died previously didn’t become zompires, rather they turned.

Of course, there is an underlying social commentary to the story as a whole – it wouldn’t be Romero otherwise – but it feels a little shovelled on rather than subtly underlying. If I sound too negative, I apologise. It just was disappointing after the excellent start and, despite being not as good, it still is a quality volume (just not as quality). 6 out of 10.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Howling Commandos of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Monster Squad – review

Writer: Frank Barbiere*

Illustrator: Brent Schoonover*

First Published: 2016 (TPB)

Contains spoilers

*Barbiere And Schooinover were primary writer and illustrator but the collection contains one issue of S.H.I.E.L.D. written by Al Ewing and illustrated by Stefano Casell.

The Blurb: Hidden deep beneath Area 13 lies the clandestine headquarters of S.T.A.K.E. - a top secret division of S.H.I.E.L.D. that houses aliens, mythical beasts and all manner of extra-normals. Now, under the command of legendary soldier - and newly resurrected Life Model Decoy - Dum Dum Dugan, these monsters step out of the shadows and defend the world against threats too dangerous for normal men as the All-New, All-Different, all-too-literal Howling Commandos of S.H.I.E.L.D.!

The review: The Howling Commandos are the supernatural side of Marvel’s S.H.I.E.L.D. and in this graphic are made up of Dum Dum Duggan, Warwolf, zombie Jasper Sitwell, Vampire by Night, Man-Thing, Manphibian, Orrgo, Teen Abomination, and Hit-Monkey. Later in the run Glyph also joins the squad.

Clearly, from a TMtV point of view Vampire by Night is our main draw but also, we discover, that unbeknown to S.T.A.K.E., Dracula is being held below Area 13 and is being experimented on – the Dracula story does not come into this volume and we see his incarceration in passing only.

Vampire by Night is the niece of Jack Russell – aka Werewolf by Night. In Marvel comic cannon she has the option of becoming a vampire or werewolf between dusk and dawn – though she is human/powerless during the day and can walk in daylight. We do see her take on wolf form but it is as a wolf and not as a bipedal werewolf.

Actually, the joy of this edition is Dum Dum, the original Duggan died but his consciousness was digitized and is beamed into a supply of robotic bodies, being sent to the next when one is destroyed or very damaged. Stillwell’s zombie form is less articulate than some versions of him.

The story mainly sees the Commandos trying to gel as a team and take on Sphinx – an Egyptian myth orientated villain. It is rip roaring fun and worth a read. 6 out of 10