4 Shots From 4 Films: Blade, The Faculty, The Phantom of the Opera, Vampires


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

This October, we’re using 4 Shots From 4 Films to look at some of the best years that horror has to offer!

4 Shots From 4 1998 Horror Films

Blade (1998, dir by Stephen Norrington)

The Faculty (1998, dir by Robert Rodriguez)

The Phantom of the Opera (1998, dir by Dario Argento)

Vampires (1998, dir by John Carpenter)

Horror Book Review: Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin


First published in 1982, George R. R. Martin’s Fevre Dream is a novel that centers on two men.  Captain Abner Marsh may be considered physically unattractive and lacking in certain social graces but he’s also known as one of the best steamboat captains in pre-Civil War Mississippi.  Joshua York may be wealthy and charming (if a bit pale and fond of a strange-tasting red liquor) but he knows little about how to actually run a steamboat.  That said, as York explains it to Marsh, he wants to build the fastest and most luxurious steamboat ever made.  Marsh may initially be weary of the seemingly eccentric York but he needs the money.

When the steamboat (which is christened the Fevre Dream) is eventually constructed, it turns out to be everything that York said it would be.  Soon, Marsh is sailing the boat up and down the Mississippi River.  The command of the boat and its passengers is largely left in Marsh’s hands.  York requests is that he and his friends be left alone in their cabins.  York doesn’t particularly enjoy coming out during the day….

Could York be a vampire?  Of course, he is!  But he’s not the type of vampire that everyone’s read about.  Instead, York is a visionary vampire.  His dream is to set his people free from their compulsive blood-drinking.  However, there’s another vampire moving up and down the river.  His name is Damon Julian and he has plans of his own for the Fevre Dream….

A vampire novel by George R. R. Martin!?  Indeed, it is!  Of course, since this is a Martin book, the vampires of Fevre Dream aren’t like the traditional vampires that we all know and love.  These vampires are a totally different species of being and one of the key points of the book is that humans cannot be transformed into vampires.  Indeed, the vampires view human as being mere “cattle,” being bred for their hunger.  York’s concern is that, if the vampires continue to feed on humans, the humans will eventually rise up and destroy them.  Damon, of course, is far less concerned about that.  Just as how the white slave owners arrogantly assume that their slaves have no desire to free, Damon and his followers arrogantly assume that the humans will always stay in their place.  Damon even has a human servant, Billy Tipton, who has been fooled into thinking that he might someday become a vampire as long as he does everything that Damon orders him to do.

It’s an interesting novel, one that does a good job of incorporating it’s paranormal story into an authentic, historical background.  If you’re really into vampires and steamboats, there’s a lot of both to be found in this book.  Unfortunately, I get the feeling that the people reading for the vampires will probably get bored with all pages devoted to steamboats while steamboat enthusiasts might not care much for the vampires.  Myself, I’m a history nerd and a lover of all things vampiric so there’s no way I wouldn’t appreciate a novel about vampires in 19th century Mississippi.

It may not be for everyone but Fevre Dream is a well-written and compulsively readable historical vampire epic.

Horror Book Review: Encyclopedia Of Vampire Mythology by Theresa Bane


Now, here’s the interesting thing about vampires:

They’ve been around forever.

Seriously, long before Bram Stoker first put pen to paper, there were legends about vampires.  Of course, they weren’t always called vampires.  In the Middle East, there was talk of the Afrit, which was the soul of a murdered person who would return to the spot of its death and drink the blood of anyone unlucky enough to cross it.  In Macedonia, it was said that certain people who had lived wicked lives and never eaten pork would return to life as a blood-drinking wild boar.  In Iceland, it was the Alfemoe who sucked blood while the ancient Greeks could tell you all about Empusa, who drank blood to maintain a youthful appearance.

Of course, we all know that vampires don’t exist, or at least they don’t exist as supernatural creatures.  Still, it is somewhat amazing that all of these different societies and cultures developed essentially the same myth at roughly the same time, despite not having much contact with each other.  There is just something universal about both the threat and the allure of the vampire.

With all of the different legends out there, it can be difficult to keep your mythological vampires straight.  Fortunately, the Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology is here to help!  Written by a vampirologist (albeit one who goes out of her way to make sure that we understand that she personally doesn’t believe in them), this encyclopedia has entries for all of the various mythological vampires and their legends.  With the exception of Dracula, this encyclopedia doesn’t include any of the “fictional” vampires from television or film.  If you’re looking for an entry on Angel or Edward Cullen, this is not the place to look.  But what the book does have is entries on the legendary beings who came before the celebrity vampires of today.  It makes for interesting reading and it also serves as a reminder that there’s more to the vampire legend than what we’ve seen in the movies or read in novels.

For both authors and readers of vampire fiction, the Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology is a valuable resource.

 

Bloody Good Show: Robert Quarry as COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (AIP 1970)


cracked rear viewer

Robert Quarry’s screen career wasn’t really going anywhere by 1970. He had a good part in 1956’s soapy noir A KISS BEFORE DYING , but mostly he was relegated to uncredited bits in movies and guest shots on episodic TV. Quarry kept busy on the stage, until being approached by producer/actor Michael Macready to star in THE LOVES OF COUNT IORGA, originally envisioned as a soft core porn flick with horror elements. The actor said he would accept the job but only if it were turned into a straight modern-day vampire tale, and thus was born COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE, launching Quarry into a new phase as a 70’s horror movie icon.

The plot is an updated version of Stoker’s DRACULA, with a few changes. Here, the Bulgarian-born Count Yorga is a recent transplant to California, and we first meet him conducting a séance on behalf of Donna, whose late…

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Horror Film Review: Nadja (dir by Michael Michael Almereyda)


When we first meet Nadja (Elina Löwensohn), the title character of this odd, 1994 film, she is walking around New York, wearing a cape and picking up men in bars.  She speaks with a thick, Eastern European accent and when she’s asked what she does, she explains that she comes from an old and very wealthy Romanian family.  As we quickly guess, Nadja has lived for centuries.  She’s a vampire, a daughter of Count Dracula.  Everything she says and everything she does is drenched in the ennui of someone who wishes to be set free but who knows she is destined to live forever in the prison of her existence.  Even when she has visions of her father getting a stake through the heart, it doesn’t provide her with the relief for which she was hoping.

It probably won’t come as a surprise to learn that it was a member of the Helsing family that drove the stake through Dracula’s heart.  However, having killed the vampire, Van Helsing (Peter Fonda) finds himself in trouble with the police.  Apparently, the cops don’t believe Van Helsing when he insists that he was just killing a vampire.  As far as they can tell, Van Helsing just killed a man with a sharp piece of wood.  Fortunately, Van Helsing’s nephew, Jim (Martin Donavon), also lives in New York and can bail his uncle out of jail.

While Jim is dealing with his uncle, Nadja is meeting a woman in a bar, a woman named Lucy (Galaxy Craze).  Both Lucy and Nadja feel empty and unfulfilled.  Lucy, who happens to be married to Jim, is soon inviting Nadja back to her home and becoming obsessed with her.  However, Nadja is more concerned with her brother, Edgar (Jared Harris).  Edgar lives in Brooklyn with his lover and nurse, Cassandra (Suzy Amis).  When Nadja visits Edgar, she decides to take Cassandra away from him.  Of course, Cassandra just happens to be Van Helsing’s daughter and Jim’s cousin!

Nadja is an odd film.  On the one hand, it’s pretentious in the way that only a mid-90s, New York art film can be.  Director Michael Almereyda shot the majority of film at night and a good deal of it with a PXL-2000, which was basically a toy video camera that was specifically marketed to children.  As a result, the black-and-white images are usually dark and grainy.  Sometimes, it’s a bit of struggle to tell just what exactly is happening on-screen.  And yet, at the same time, it kinda works.  Those hazy images, combined with the largely deadpan performances of the cast, give the film an undeniably dream-like feel.  When we see Nadja walking through the city, we feel her ennui and otherworldly presence.  At its best, the film achieves a hypnotic visual beauty.  If ever there was an American city that benefits from being filmed in grainy black-and-white, it’s New York City.

The film plays out like a satire of the typical decadent vampire film.  (Nadja even has a Renfield of very own.)  Nadja is so obviously a vampire that it’s impossible not to be amused by the fact that hardly anyone else seems to pick up on it.  However, the film’s most subversive element is Peter Fonda’s performance as Van Helsing.  With his long hair and a demented gleam in his eye, Fonda totally upends all our assumptions about who someone named Van Helsing should be.

In many ways, Nadja plays out like an elaborate inside joke but it’s just strange enough to always be watchable.  David Lynch, whose influence is obvious, has a cameo as a morgue attendant and he feels right at home.  This deadpan vampire film many not be for everyone but then again, few worthwhile films are.

Book Review: ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King


The town of Jerusalem’s Lot, Maine has two new arrivals.

One is Ben Mears, a successful writer who, we’re told, even has his own FBI file.  (Apparently, it only consists of a report that he once attended an anti-war rally.)  Ben spent part of his childhood is Jerusalem’s Lot and, upon returning, he discovers a small but friendly town.  Sure, there’s some drama going on behind closed doors.  There’s the sleazy real estate agent, for instance.  And then there’s the Catholic priest who, naturally, has lost his faith.  And then there’s the unhappy teenage mother and, of course, there’s the usual collection of alcoholics, adulterers, and cranky bus drivers.  Maybe Jerusalem’s Lot isn’t that friendly after all….

The other new arrival is Kurt Barlow.  Barlow’s from Austria and he’s moved into the old Marsten House.  (The Marsten House, like most old houses that you come across in Stephen King novels, used to belong to a notorious gangster.)  Barlow’s going to be opening up an antique store.  Interestingly enough, hardly anyone ever seems to see Barlow.  His business partner, Richard Straker, claims that Barlow is often away on buying trips.

Anyway, the townspeople have a lot more to worry about than what’s going on with Kurt Barlow.  For instance, a lot of people are disappearing.  And even those who aren’t vanishing are growing ill and having a bad reaction to sunlight.  Hmmm …. what could possibly be going on?

First published in 1975, ‘Salem’s Lot was Stephen King’s second published novel and it actually holds up better than most of his recent work.  It’s interesting to read ‘Salem’s Lot after Carrie, just to see how much King grew as a writer in between the two books.  Whereas King often seemed uncomfortable with the plot of his first novel and tended to hold Carrie White at a distance, he dives right into ‘Salem’s Lot.  It’s not just that King is obviously more comfortable writing about a male writer than a teenage girl.  It’s also that King creates a town that seems so real that we feel as if we could find it on a map.  King tells his story with such enthusiasm and confidence that it doesn’t matter that ‘Salem’s Lot is a fairly predictable and traditional vampire story.

Clocking in at a briskly paced 440 pages, ‘Salem’s Lot is quite a bit longer and more detailed than Carrie without, at the same time, getting bogged down in the type of stylistic self-indulgence that has come to typify a lot of King’s recent work.  (One gets the feeling that if King wrote ‘Salem’s Lot today, it would be a 1,200 page novel and that Barlow wouldn’t show up until page 900.)  King does a good job of offering up little snippets of life in Jerusalem’s Lot, just enough to make sure we have enough knowledge to mourn the eventual death of the town.  ‘Salem’s Lot takes Dracula, drops him in the middle of a small town melodrama, and the results are still entertaining to this very day.

Horror on the Lens: The Night Stalker (dir by John Llewelyn Moxey)


For today’s horror on the lens, we have a real treat!  (We’ll get to the tricks later…)

Long before he achieved holiday immortality by playing the father in A Christmas Story, Darren McGavin played journalist Carl Kolchak in the 1972 made-for-TV movie, The Night Stalker.  Kolchak is investigating a series of murders in Las Vegas, all of which involve victims being drained of their blood.  Kolchak thinks that the murderer might be a vampire.  Everyone else thinks that he’s crazy.

When this movie first aired, it was the highest rated made-for-TV movie of all time.  Eventually, it led to a weekly TV series in which Kolchak investigated various paranormal happenings.  Though the TV series did not last long, it’s still regularly cited as one of the most influential shows ever made.

Anyway, The Night Stalker is an effective little vampire movie and Darren McGavin gives a great performance as Carl Kolchak.

Enjoy!

What Lisa Watched Last Night #170: Drink Slay Love (dir by Vanessa Parise)


Last night, I watched a new Lifetime film, Drink Slay Love!

Why Was I Watching It?

Because it was on Lifetime, of course!

Plus, it was a Canadian film about vampires.  I love Canada and I love vampires!  Ever since that episode of Degrassi where Emma got a “social disease” while playing Mina in a school production of Dracula, Canada and vampires have mixed well.

(Now, I should admit, that, while watching Drink Slay Love, I was also watching a film called The Dead Don’t Die on YouTube.  I’m a big believer in multitasking.)

What Was It About?

Pearl (Cierra Ramirez) has a life that most of us can only have erotically-themed nightmares about.  She’s a sixteen year-old vampire princess.  She’s headstrong.  She’s a little bit bratty.  She’s convinced that nothing can hurt her.  Even after she’s the victim of an attempted staking, she still insists on going out in the middle of the night by herself.  On the plus side, Pearl doesn’t attack animals.  She only attacks humans, especially Brad, the poor guy who works at a 24 hour ice cream parlor and who never remembers Pearl’s nightly visits, in which she always gets a scoop of mint ice cream and a pint of blood.

However, everything changes when it’s discovered that Pearl is immune to sunlight!  She is a rare vampire who can actually walk around in the daylight.  This leads to her parents getting the brilliant idea of sending Pearl to high school.  There’s a big feast coming up and apparently, teenage blood is in high demand.  However, once Pearl arrives at the school, she starts to make friends, almost despite herself.  She starts to do the type of things that teenagers in Lifetime movies always do.  How can she set her new friends up to be the main course?

Of course, some of her new friends have secrets of their own.  You know how that goes…

What Worked?

This was a nice change of pace for Lifetime.  After endless movies about obsessive stalkers and stolen babies and bad celebrity lookalikes, it was nice to see something different on Lifetime.  I’m going to guess that Drink Slay Love was made with October in mind and really, this is a good movie for people who want celebrate Halloween without getting traumatized.  It’s not particularly scary but it’s got vampires and it’s enjoyably silly.

Cierra Ramirez did a good job as Pearl.  Pearl is a very sardonic vampire, which is the best type of vampire to be.  Ramirez delivered her sarcastic dialogue with just the right amount of bite.  (Heh heh, see what I did there?)

If the director’s name seems familiar, that’s because Vanessa Parise has directed several Lifetime movies.  She does a good job with Drink Slay Love, keeping the story moving at a good pace and getting good performances from the entire cast.

What Did Not Work?

To be honest, I liked the whole film.  Even the occasionally sketchy CGI added to the film’s charm.

“Oh my God!  Just like me moments!”

I related to Pearl.  Well, I didn’t necessarily relate to the blood sucking.  But I was really sarcastic when I was sixteen, too.  Plus, I always used to dress in black and then dare anyone to make a comment about it… (Actually, not that much has changed since then…)

Lessons Learned

Canada and Vampires are a good combination!

4 Shots From Horror History: I Know What You Did Last Summer, Vampires, The Sixth Sense, The Blair Witch Project


This October, I’m going to be doing something a little bit different with my contribution to 4 Shots From 4 Films.  I’m going to be taking a little chronological tour of the history of horror cinema, moving from decade to decade.

Today, we complete the 90s!

4 Shots From 4 Films

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997, dir by Jim Gillepsie)

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997, dir by Jim Gillepsie)

Vampires (1998, dir by John Carpenter)

Vampires (1998, dir by John Carpenter)

The Sixth Sense (1999, dir by M. Night Shyamalan)

The Sixth Sense (1999, dir by M. Night Shyamalan)

The Blair Witch Project (1999, dir by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez)

The Blair Witch Project (1999, dir by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez)

Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #6: Lemora (dir by Richard Blackburn)


Lemora_dvd_cover

Continuing the process of cleaning out my DVR, I watched an odd little film from 1975 called Lemora.  I recorded Lemora on March 25th, when it aired as a part of TCM Underground.

Lemora opens with an odd scene that appears to be set in the 1920s.  A man dressed up like a stereotypical movie gangster (think Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar) guns down another man with his tommy gun and then races off in his car.  After he crashes, he crawls into a dark forest where he is apparently captured by a mysterious, black-clad woman.

Suddenly, we cut to 13 year-old Lila Lee (Cheryl Smith), singing in church.  Lila is blonde, innocent, and has an almost heavenly singing voice.  Everyone listens to her with almost worshipful attention.  When the Reverend (played by the film’s director, Richard Blackburn) steps up to the pulpit, he announces that he knows what some people are saying about Lila and her father but that she is pure and innocent.

It turns out that the gangster is Lila’s father.  Lila hasn’t had much contact with her father.  Instead, she has been raised in the church by the Reverend.  However, Lila receives a letter from her father.  The letter claims that he’s dying and that he wants to see Lila and ask for forgiveness before he passes.  The letter also says that her father is in the town of Astaroth.

(You would think that, having been raised in the church, Lila would know that Astaroth is also the name of a legendary demon.)

Knowing that the Reverend would never allow her to go, Lila sneaks out of the house.  She stows away in the back of a couple’s car and listens as the couple gossips about her relationship with the Reverend, suggesting that the Reverend is just waiting for Lila to “turn legal.”  After she gets out of the car, she takes a bus the rest of the way to Astaroth.  Sitting on the dark bus, just her and the somewhat creepy driver, Lila listens as the driver tells her that the people of Astaroth have a certain look.

When she arrives at Astaroth, Lila finds herself being pursued by seemingly deformed vampires but she’s rescued by the mysterious Lemora (Lesley Gilb).  Or is she?  Lemora is the same woman who found Lila’s father in the forest and it soon becomes obvious that Lemora has plans for Lila as well…

Meanwhile, the Reverend discovers that Lila has run away and his reaction leads us to suspect that there may have been more than a little bit of truth to the conversation that Lila previously overheard in the car.  The Reverend sets out to track down and rescue Lila but, at this point, the viewer trusts him even less than they trust Lemora.

It’s a very strange movie and a difficult one to describe.  It’s a movie that creates its own unique and odd reality.  Lemora expects the viewer to conform to its style as opposed to conforming to the audience’s expectations.  Lemora‘s full name is Lemora: A Child’s Tale Of The Supernatural and it really does play out like a particularly nightmarish fairy tale.  Though the film was definitely low-budget, it’s full of strikingly surreal images.  The entire movie feels like a dream — everything from the almost campy, gangster-film opening to Lila’s strange journey on the dark bus to Lemora’s hypnotic stare to the sudden and shocking conclusion of the Reverend’s relationship with Lila.  The film has one of those endings that forces you to reconsider everything that you previously witnessed.

Much like Messiah of Evil, Lemora is one of those surrealistic and low-budget horror films that almost defies conventional criticism.  It’s a surreal dream of dark and disturbing things and one that everyone should see for themselves.  You may love it, as I did.  You may hate it.  But you will never forget it.