Saturday, June 14, 2014

Various Vampires

So last time I talked a little bit about my personal experiences and interests that led me to write Mooner. I thought this time I'd take a chance to talk about some of the works that inspired my own interest in vampires. In some ways these creatures have almost evolved into their own archetype and they're incredibly versatile. No two works of vampire fiction or film are completely alike - it's like they're malevolent, blood-sucking little snowflakes. Like others who dig the genre, I definitely have my favorites, though. Bizarrely, my favorites also encompass all types of vampires. Admittedly I like vampires who use their teeth, who are seen as a little higher up on the food chain, who are lived-in, so to speak. But, I also expect them to retain something of their humanity. After all, a personality doesn't go away with a life choice change, so the most interesting vampires are the ones who meld the two sides into something else, something more. So, in no particular order...

The Young Brothers series by  Kathy Love - Let's just get the embarrassing one out of the way first. Let me just say I love these harder than a stake through a sternum on a cold morning. Are they as mind-bending as some of the other entries? No. Are they girly and a little guilty pleasure-ish? Yep. Does that change the fact that I adore them. NOPE! What makes these great for me is that they all draw on vampire folklore and turn it on its head. I've read things in these books that I've never seen anywhere else. Fangs for the Memories sees one of the Young bros lose his memory and assume he's back in Regency England - and human. Fangs but No Fangs sees the villain of the first book trying to come to terms with his life choices and balance his vampire side with the rest of his personality. I Only Have Fangs for You deals with the typical vamp playboy bro taking an interest in an unlikely lady who, while a vampire, seemingly doesn't understand how to be one. Her backstory in this is really well done, and there is one of the most excellent vampire romance scenes I've ever read in this book, dealing with the whole shapeshifting to mist cliche. It's just great. Are the endings a little rushed? Sure. Is it silly in places? Yep. Still don't care.

Don't go look at cats on the internet yet. I swear I'll earn my street cred back.

The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice - the books that exploded the creature into modern sensibilities. She uses them as a great vehicle for exploring personal doubts, relationships, and the nature of life and morality in general. Plus, the vampires' personalities are so distinct and vast, her books are just a lush playground for the preternatural. I tend to prefer characters like Lestat who's charming capabilities are offset by his sharp sense of manipulation, and Claudia - a fantastic mashup of this bloodlusting creature mixed with a woman trapped in a girl's body, longing for something more. There are some spectacular characterizations in the books, and the vampires set in different periods of history is phenomenal, as well.

The Moth Diaries by Rachel Klein - I'm familiar with the book and not the movie, but this re-imagining of Carmilla is superb. It really captures what it's like to be a girl coming of age, judging and being judged. For me this works in a creepy relationship way better than Twilight because the emotions ring very true and it's a very different sort of vampire relationship. When Ernessa, the new girl, comes to a 1950s boarding school and comes between the friendship of Lucy and the narrator, emotions are slung all over the place. It captures the obsession between young best friends very well, and it's hard to tell at times if Ernessa is something otherworldly or if it's the imaginings of the narrator, fueled by jealousy and growing hatred. In some ways you begin to ask yourself who's more of a vampire: the mysterious Ernessa or the soul-sucking desperate tendencies of the narrator?

Lord of the Dead by Tom Holland - This book is incredible. It makes the concept of Lord Byron as a vampire perfectly believable. Although slow to start, the tension keeps building and building until you reach a particularly gruesome transformation scene. Once turned, Lord Byron's machinations to live forever take some twisted turns, drawing on his relationships in real life. It has all the lush description of an Anne Rice novel with a little more forward momentum and the added benefit of a ton of magnificent source material. It's equally romantic and ruthless, gruesome and glorious, which is everything a vampire should be. There is also a follow-up book called Slave to the Thirst that deals with Stoker, but I haven't gotten to finish that one yet.

The Lost Boys - Anyone who knows me knows this would be on here. This movie is lightning in a bottle. It will never happen again, no matter how many sequels are attempted or knock-offs designed. For one, the blend of comedy and horror is very well-executed and balanced. The look of the film is streamlined and sharp. What I think a lot of people forget, though, is that up until the later parts of the movie you're not necessarily introduced to the lost boys as villains. I mean okay, they're obviously designed to look like bad dudes, but you see them doing things that a lot of teens do. You see them hanging out at home. You almost get something of a backstory to draw you in before everything goes to hell. In a lot of ways, this is a great template for the modern vampire for me. They're using sex appeal and subtle displays of dominance to get their way, run their territory, and presumably lure prey in. They're the people that you want to be noticed by...until you really get to know them. They're not afraid to hunt. They're not afraid to enjoy being what they are. They play by the rules of their kind. Dated as it is, this is a fabulous introduction to vampires for the novice.

The Sonja Blue series by Nancy A. Collins - I will not lie - this is splatterpunk so it is really, really graphic. If you can get past that aspect, it's incredible. There are a lot of elements of urban fantasy as well as horror, and the world-building is incredibly done. Sonja is a "living" vampire - she was turned but not fully killed and has become a slayer who kills the dangerous creatures that hide behind mundane appearances. What you or I may see as a bum or a person shopping could be an ogre or a werewolf. Through it all she's looking for revenge on her sire. What really makes this amazing is that her more vampiric part (The Other) functions almost as an alternate personality. The two fight and clash, and when she blacks out and it takes over it's usually bad news. There's a particularly amazing bit where she thinks she's falling for a guy, is exhausted because of other things going on, and then The Other takes over. When she regains herself she realizes that The Other has done something horrible, cruel, and life-altering to the guy (and no, it isn't turning him. It's far worse than that). She has to deal with things like that all the time, along with eventually facing her human past. There are some incredibly poignant moments that balance out the gore and heavy subject matter.

Nosferatu - I love this movie. I don't know if it's because it's silent or because of the pacing and shadows, but it's so creepy. I become entranced every time I watch it. Even though it's the standard variation of Dracula, it's so interesting to watch. Once you've seen it, watch Shadow of the Vampire and you'll fall even more in love with the movie. Just watch the two back to back and enjoy your afternoon.

Dracula by Bram Stoker - maybe not the first, but the most well-known. While the letter format gets to me sometimes when reading it, the story is entrancing and fascinating from all viewpoints. All the characters, whether it's Mina, Lucy, Renfield, Van Helsing, or Dracula, himself, are memorable. There's a reason this jump-started the genre.

I am Legend by Richard Matheson - Read the book. The book has a point, and one that will leave you thinking for a while. The most recent remake destroyed the whole point of the book by changing the ending. The isolation of the main character combined with the exploration of humanity versus other are really great elements of this one that no action movie can replace.

The Hunger - The opening scene that cuts footage of Miriam and John seducing prey at a club to a ravenous monkey will immediately implant itself in your brain. The ankhs used is a fascinating substitute for teeth, and all the different types of relationships and possessiveness explored between the characters is awesome. This one also gets kudos for bringing in an aging element to a genre that rarely deals with the concept of the preternatural characters growing old or dying.

30 Days of Night - I've only seen the film, but I love the stark imagery, love the claustrophobic edge that just grows as the characters are hunted. This is truly a unique idea. Even though the vampires are seen as creatures, there are still hints of something there. They can still communicate, plot, and manipulate. They're not animals by any means, and even speak in their own language. There must be something there for Marlow to put Iris out of her misery at one point, and although these aren't the same as the modern vampires we're used to, you can see that they're thinking, feeling beings.

Daybreakers - I love the production design of this film so hard. This is completely believable as a vampiric world after the food source is dwindling. This is something that actually deals with vampires trying to make a blood substitute instead of one already existing. It also pits human aspects against vampire characteristics when family members of both types are thrown together. In so many books and movies vampires are seen as the enemy, but in this world the vampires are in charge and argue the pros and cons of human vs. animal blood, what humans are actually for, and the actual desire for finding a cure for vampirism vs. a blood substitute in a world like that. It's bold in a lot of ways, and while I question some of the logistics of the ending, it's mostly a really satisfying movie.

American Vampire by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque - This series blew my mind when I started reading it. It's innovative in so many ways. First, vampire powers differ depending on the origin of the vampire, so there are countless types of these creatures with varying degrees of sentience and effectiveness. Then you have the different arcs playing out - the creation and progression of the slaying group The Vassals of the Morning Star, which heavily features the Book family legacy. Then there's the creation of Skinner Sweet, the first American vampire. This dude is so vile, so conniving, so vicious, and so's one of the few vampire characters that make me cringe and laugh out loud. He does what he wants when he wants. An outlaw and master manipulator as a human, this guy is perfection as a vampire. What's also intriguing is that each volume highlights a different era of American history, some of them really surprising. Skinner turns wannabe-starlet Pearl in the 1920s after she's nearly eaten by a group of Hollywood vampires. He shows up again to cause havoc in 1930's Las Vegas. There's the obligatory WWII plotlines and some really fun stuff set in the 1950s with a greaser slayer. I adore the character of Pearl and her struggle to hold on to her human husband and some sense of who she is, all the while fighting her attraction and revulsion to her sire. The plot lines weave in and out of each other in interesting ways, and this series has found intriguing ways to explore not only vampires and periods in history but issues like revisiting your past, racism, what it means to be human, and so much more. And then Dracula shows up. At times it's a little hokey, but then it tears your throat open three pages later, so it's a great blend.

So what about you? What vampire titles or films get your fangs showing?

And don't forget, if you're looking for an intriguing vampire story, there's this one of mine...

Like many young men at the end of the 1800s, Bill signed on to work in a logging camp. The work is brutal, but it promised a fast paycheck with which he can start his life. Unfortunately, his role model is Big John. Not only is he the camp’s hero, but he’s known for spending his pay as fast as he makes it. On a cold Saturday night they enter Red’s Saloon to forget the work that takes the sweat and lives of so many men their age. Red may have plans for their whiskey money, but something else lurks in the shadows. It watches and badly wants a drink that has nothing to do with alcohol. Can Bill make it back out the shabby door, or does someone else have their own plans for his future?

1 comment:

  1. One of my favorites is a Swedish film entitled "Let the Right One In," in which a lonely, bullied boy is befriended by a sad, mysterious new girl who just moved in next door. Yes, she's a vampire. Her Renfield is an older guy who goes out and kills for her. It's a very bloody, slash and hack, almost splatter-punk film, but you never loose touch with the child-like innocence at the core, even while she's dismembering bullies or luring and devouring good Samaritans in dark alleys. The film deals with growing up, male bonding and transsexuality. The American remake, though close, wasn't as good. That's the way I like to see vampires; alone, alienated and hunted, but the human part of them desperately reaching out.