Saturday, November 30, 2019

Sleigh Bell Cinema | National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)

Michael DiGiovanni (Classic Film Jerks, Pop Culture Retrofit) and I consider Clark Griswold and his slapsticky attempt to create Christmas memories for his family. Is it just dumb fun or is something shockingly profound going on?

Friday, November 29, 2019

The Christmas Carol Project | “Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!”

Young Charles Dickens by Margaret Gillies (1843)
Thanksgiving is past and the Christmas season is Officially upon us. And that means that it's going to be a busy time on this blog.

There's a lot of Sleigh Bell Cinema coming, including three episodes dedicated to Christmas Carol adaptations, but it's also time for the long-standing tradition of covering A Christmas Carol scene-by-scene, paying attention to the way the story has been interpreted and adapted to other media over the years. I’ve broken the story into scenes (or sometimes parts of scenes) in order to look at their translation to the following 19 films, TV shows, and comics:

• Classics Illustrated #53 (1948)
• Marvel Classics Comics #36 (Marvel; 1978)
• A Christmas Carol: The Graphic Novel (Classical Comics; 2008)
• A Christmas Carol (Campfire; 2010)
• "A Christmas Carol" in Graphic Classics, Vol. 19: Christmas Classics (Eureka; 2010)
• Teen Titans #13 (DC; 1968)
• A Christmas Carol cartoon (1971) starring Alastair Sim
• The Stingiest Man in Town (1978) starring Walter Matthau
• Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983) starring Scrooge McDuck
• A Christmas Carol (2009) starring Jim Carrey
A Christmas Carol (1910) starring Marc McDermott
Scrooge (1935) starring Seymour Hicks
A Christmas Carol (1938) starring Reginald Owen
Scrooge (1951) starring Alastair Sim
"A Christmas Carol" episode of Shower of Stars (1954) starring Fredric March
Scrooge (1970) starring Albert Finney
A Christmas Carol (1984) starring George C. Scott
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) starring Michael Caine
A Christmas Carol (1999) starring Patrick Stewart

In this year's scene the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge to revisit his first job. I'm pretty sure this one shows up in every version of the story and it's always one of my favorite parts. Scrooge's boss, Fezziwig was a kind man, full of Christmas spirit, and he threw a great party.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Disney Dracula, Starring Mickey Mouse by Bruno Enna and Fabio Celoni

I've been exploring the Disney Comics line lately. It's weirdly organized, spread across two or three different publishers. Disney publishes some things directly (I especially like their Weird West Mickey series) while IDW has the license for classic series like Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Uncle Scrooge, but also Tangled and another series or two. What I've most been into though are the literary adaptations, published by Dark Horse, that feature Mickey and Friends in their own versions of stories like Treasure Island, Frankenstein, and even Hamlet. And of course Dracula.

I've read Frankenstein and Dracula and they both have great art and a funny, kid-friendly twist to their monsters. In Frankenstein, Victor Duckenstein (Donald Duck) animates a creature made of cardboard. The story talks about responsibility to the things we create, but not in a dark way. Duckenstein's separated from his creation through an accident, not because he abandons it. There are no murdered children.

In Dracula, the vampire is all about eating beets, not sucking blood. I mean, that's almost as gross, but you get the point. Mickey is Harker (renamed Ratker, which isn't great, but okay) and Minnie is (and this is great) Minnina. Goofy plays Van Helsing, which I don't love any more than I like him as Marley in Mickey's Christmas Carol, but that's probably where he needs to be plugged in.

I'm not as enthusiastic about the tweaks to Dracula as I am about the ones to Frankenstein, but that may be because Frankenstein has always been more about themes to me. My fondness for Dracula has a lot to do with the lurid prose and the way the story unfolds. It's easier to riff on Frankenstein's plot and keep the themes intact than it is to riff on Dracula and keep what I most love about that book.

I will say though that Celoni's art makes Disney Dracula something I'll want to go back to even if elements of the story don't translate super well. The look is gorgeously atmospheric and gothic.

And it's not like I actually dislike anything in the story. If you're going to tell a story about vampires to kids... well, look, kids can handle vampires, so I don't actually see the need to substitute blood-sucking for something else. If you're a parent handing a book called Dracula to your kids, you don't really get to complain about there being blood in it. But if you are going to change the blood to something else, beets are funny and clever. And the rest of the book is, too.

Rating: Four out of five Minas.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Dream-Casting Dracula

In the comments to some of my posts about Dracula adaptations, an Anonymous person and I got to talking about our own fan casts for the story. Anonymous mentioned Jeremy Irons as a possibility for Dracula and suggested Christoph Waltz as a potential Van Helsing. Waltz is an especially cool choice since he's actually the actor I imagined for the Van Helsing-inspired character as I was reading Dacre Stoker and JD Barker's Dracul. Anonymous went on to offer Saorise Ronan as a promising Mina, which would be awesome. I'll watch Ronan in anything, but especially as my favorite gothic hero.

This of course got me thinking about my own preferences for a Dracula cast. In the interest of variety, I'm intentionally picking actors that Anonymous did not mention, but my dream version would absolutely steal one of their ideas: splitting the story into two films.

I tried to think of cool subtitles for each movie, but couldn't, so I'm going the same route as the recent It films and just calling these Dracula, Part One and Dracula, Part Two.

Part One would skip the Harker-in-Transylvania stuff and go straight to Mina and Lucy in Whitby. It would be all mystery as the Demeter arrives in port and Lucy starts sleepwalking again before getting sick. Meanwhile, Mina would express worry over her missing fiancé and would leave to find him just about the time that Van Helsing shows up to assist with Lucy. The film would end with Lucy's final death at the hands of Van Helsing and her suitors. Then, as an epilogue - maybe a post-credits scene - Mina arrives back in London, newly married to Jonathan, and he spots Dracula in the street. I love that chilling image as a way to finish the movie. All credit to Anonymous for thinking of it

Part Two would open in flashback to Jonathan's arrival in Transylvania and his captivity at the castle. When he escapes and is hospitalized, the nuns send for Mina, who arrives to marry him and transport him back to England. That's where they learn about what happened with Lucy, and Mina becomes Dracula's new target.

So who plays whom? Let's start with Mina and Lucy, since they're the focus of the first film. Mina was easy for me to cast, because when I think of horror and young actors these days, Anya Taylor-Joy is the first person to pop into my head. From The Witch and Morgan to Split and Marrowbone, Taylor-Joy has embraced the scary stuff and she's extremely good in it.

For Lucy, I like Mia Goth. I mean, to start with, I just love her name. Mia Goth. But she's another cool actor with a lot of horror already in her filmography. She was in Marrowbone with Taylor-Joy, but also A Cure for Wellness and the recent Suspiria remake. She and Taylor-Joy also both have great looks. They're not just beautiful, they're eerily beautiful and will look great running around ruined abbeys, castles, and cemeteries in white dresses.

Lucy's fiancé Arthur is usually cast as blonde and generically noble-looking. And honestly, that's how I usually imagine him. But why not do something different and cast a face with some character? Will Poulter has already played a gothic nobleman in The Little Stranger and he's got this quietly dangerous strength that would bring great tension to the scenes when he's questioning Van Helsing's theories about Lucy.

Quincey Morris is an American cowboy, so I wanted a young, rugged actor from the States and preferably from Texas. After racking my brain to come up with someone in the right age range, I decided that accents can indeed be faked and went with my heart. I'm casting John Boyega.

That leaves Jack Seward from Lucy's suitors. The good doctor will do nicely as a thin geeky type, so I'm casting one of my favorite British young people, Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Love Actually, The Maze Runner).

Sneaking around the background of Part One will be Dr Seward's patient, Renfield, a man whose purpose in the plot won't be fully revealed until Part Two. According to Seward in the novel, Renfield is in his late 50s. This has got to be someone with some range, so I picked Robert Carlyle (The Full Monty, The World is Not Enough, Once Upon a Time).

And finally - for Part One - we need to cast Van Helsing. Anonymous' Christoph Waltz probably would have been my first choice, but since I'm intentionally trying to pick differently, I think Werner Herzog would be really cool. He has the added benefit of having directed his own Dracula movie with 1979's Nosferatu the Vampyre.

In Part Two, we bring in the other two, important characters starting with Jonathan Harker. I like Dev Patel. Harker needs to be heroic; someone to relate to and feel bad about when things go horribly for him. Patel is super charismatic and he's already got experience in the Victorian setting with the upcoming The Personal History of David Copperfield.

And finally, we need a Dracula. A few years ago, I would have hesitated to suggest Benedict Cumberbatch for the only reason that he was on the verge of becoming over-exposed. He's not as ubiquitous these days though and he's easily my top preference for the part: thin, handsome, dangerous, and that voice. (Second choice - after seeing that photo with Mia Goth above - would be Jason Isaacs.) We'll have to age him up for the Transylvania scenes, but I prefer that over casting an older actor to age down.

So that's how I'd do it. I'd love to hear thoughts or suggestions of your own in the comments. This kind of exercise is most fun when discussed.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Hellbent for Letterbox | The Wild Bunch (1969)

Shawn Robare is back to help Pax and I sift through Sam Peckinpah's classic The Wild Bunch. But "classic" doesn't mean that we like it. Not all of us, anyway.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Friday, November 22, 2019

Dracul by Dacre Stoker and JD Barker

Dacre Stoker is the great-grandnephew of Bram Stoker and he's working hard to be Bram's spiritual descendant as well as his biological one. Dracul is the second book Dacre's written (this one with co-author JD Barker) that inserts Bram and other Stokers into the world of Dracula.

Dacre's first book was Dracula the Un-dead (with co-author Ian Holt), a sequel to Dracula that has Bram meet the son of Mina and Jonathan Harker as the young man researches the vampire that destroyed his parents' lives. I haven't read it and don't know if I will. I loved Dracul, but I'm not clear on how well it and Un-dead tie together. I've read some things that make me suspect the continuity is a bit wonky, so if that's the case, I'll skip Un-dead. I need to do some more looking into that, though.

Dracul is a prequel to Dracula that features Bram and his siblings in major roles. In real life, Bram Stoker was a sickly child until around the age of seven. No one today knows exactly what was wrong with him. If anyone knew during Bram's life, they didn't write it down for us. But we do know that Bram suddenly got better around seven-years-old for equally mysterious reasons. Dracul offers a cool, supernatural explanation for the recovery in the form of a necromantic nanny who was helping raise the Stoker children.

I don't always like prequels, because they're often just exercises in checking off items on a list of events that have to happen in order for the original thing to take place. Dracul doesn't do that. It's its own mystery as Bram and his siblings try to figure out what happened to him when he was seven, just who this nanny was, why she disappeared shortly after Bram got better, and why does she still feel so intimately and paranormally connected to the family?

Of course it ties into a deadly, undead nobleman from eastern Europe and the investigation turns up things and people who will go on to inspire Bram's greatest work, but it all goes down in a natural way and I never felt like either the plot or I were being manipulated.

There is one, unnatural thing about Dracul though that I didn't care for. That's the use of the same, epistolary format from Bram's novel. Dracula made great use of it, but it's not needed in Dracul, which feels like a found-footage film straining really hard to explain why someone is recording all of these events as they happen. And then weirdly, Dracul drops it by the end. I was happy for that, but it made me question even more why Dacre and Barker felt the need for it in the first place.

Other than that, though, it's a super engaging book with great characters and I came away wanting to learn more about the real-life Bram Stoker. Best of all, it's actually scary with chilling scenes and images that will haunt me for a while.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Dracula (2002)

Who's in it?: Patrick Bergin (Sleeping with the Enemy, Robin Hood, Frankenstein), Giancarlo Giannini (Mimic, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace), and Stefania Rocca (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Love's Labour's Lost).

What's it about?:An adaptation of Stoker's novel set in the 21st Century.

How is it?: I'm impressed with how well it updates Stoker's story to modern times. It keeps all of the main characters, even Quincey, and their relationships to each other are all sound. Jonathan and Mina are engaged. Mina's best friend is Lucy, who has three different suitors before she finally settles on Arthur.

Writer (alongside Eric Lerner)/director Roger Young makes a couple of big changes though, neither or which I like. The first is how he introduces Dracula. In this version, Jonathan and Mina are vacationing in Budapest when the story opens. Jonathan proposes to Mina and surprises her by having all of their friends - Lucy, Arthur, and Quincey - show up. (Dr John Seward doesn't know them yet, but enters the story quickly.) While all of this is going on, a middle-aged man named Vlad Tepes introduces himself to Jonathan with a business proposal that requires Jonathan to travel to Transylvania. I don't mind the prologue to set up the events of the novel, but what's weird is that Tepes claims to be the nephew of Count Dracula, the elderly nobleman whom Jonathan's going to work for.

Bergin plays both versions and he's good, but it's never made clear why he keeps at this deception. I don't see the advantage he gains by switching from old to young and back again multiple times. In Stoker's novel, Dracula appears old at the beginning because he's basically been hibernating in Transylvania for hundreds of years. I'm reading between the lines some, but the impression I get is that the locals are wise to him and it's hard for him to hunt. But once he gets to London's fresh supply of ignorant humans, he's able to drink freely and regain his youth. In Young's version, Dracula's elderly and youthful appearances are just parlor tricks.

The other change I don't like is how Young and Lerner make greed and materialism a theme for some reason. Jonathan and his friends suspect that what Dracula wants Jonathan to do isn't entirely legal, so conversations are had about whether he should agree. The materialistic Quincey is all for it - money justifies everything - while Arthur takes a more conservative approach. Jonathan ultimately agrees with Quincey, but comes to regret it, seeing the horror that follows as the consequence of his greed.

You could make a cool connection between the hunger for wealth and the hunger for blood, but Young/Lerner don't go far enough with it. If anyone is going to be hurt by the deal that Jonathan's getting involved in, that's not made clear. The only risk is to his own conscience (and perhaps his freedom, if he's caught). In order for the greed/vampirism analogy to work, someone needs to be drained of something by Jonathan's actions. The film glosses over other aspects of the caper, too, like just how Jonathan's friends are going to be involved in the scheme and why their agreement to it is important.

But I do love how surprisingly faithful the film is in other ways. I was worried briefly that Mina was getting sidelined and dumbed down from Stoker's version, but that ended up being a trick that the film was pulling on me. Rocca's Mina ends up being pretty awesome, not just as a vampire-fighter, but also as a strong, moral center for the group. And it's also great to see Giancarlo Giannini (from the first couple of Daniel Craig Bond movies). His character's not named Van Helsing, but that's who he's playing and he's a charming one. If it weren't for the changes I mentioned, some of the acting (English is clearly not a strong language for a lot of the cast), and CG effects that are truly horrendous, I'd love this version.

Rating: Three out of five Minas.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Sleigh Bell Cinema | Better Off Dead... (1985)

Shawn Robare (Cult Film Club, Branded in the '80s) and I put on our top hats, pop the yule log tape in the VCR, and examine an '80s classic: Savage Steve Holland's absurdist comedy starring John Cusack, Diane Franklin, and Curtis Armstrong.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Hellbent for Letterbox | The Professionals (1966)

Pax and I are joined by Shawn Robare (Cult Film Club) to ruminate on Richard Brooks' end-of-the-West saga starring Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Woody Strode, Robert Ryan, Claudia Cardinale, and Jack Palance.

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Return of Dracula (1958)

Who's in it?: Francis Lederer (Pandora's Box), Norma Eberhardt (Problem Girls, Live Fast, Die Young), and John Wengraf (The Thin Man Goes Home, Wake of the Red Witch)

What's it about?: Dracula (Lederer) flees Transylvania in the 1950s, pursued by a vampire hunter (Wengraf), and assumes the identity of an artist in order to hide among the man's family in a small, California town.

How is it?: Shockingly great. I always have a fondness for black-and-white films from the '50s and '60s, so I expected to enjoy it visually, but I'm surprised at how well-acted and actually scary The Return of Dracula can be.

The Dracula-in-Smalltown-USA concept could have been cheesy, but everyone plays it straight and gives honest performances. Lederer is a darkly handsome and sinister Dracula; the kind of person you want to like even while fearing that you're disappointing them with everything you do. And that's exactly the situation that his "family" finds themselves in. Greta Granstedt is the widowed head of the family, raising her teenage daughter Rachel (Eberhardt) and young son Mickey (Jimmy Baird) on her own. They all want to welcome their cousin Bellac into their home and he seems pleasant enough, but he also keeps strange hours and is reluctant to communicate or get close to them.

The story follows the Dracula formula by having a friend of Rachel's become Dracula's first victim before he begins focusing on Rachel herself. It's about that time that Dracula's pursuers catch up to him from Europe, replicating the Van Helsing role. Wengraf is competent as the main hunter, but Eberhardt excels as the terrified daughter. I felt her fear. Baird is also very good as the little brother, nailing his own emotional scenes. There's also a neighbor boy (Ray Stricklyn) who's more or less dating Rachel and their relationship feels authentic. They argue just enough to be realistic without ever making me question why they like each other.

The film gets bonus points for setting the story at Halloween, including a procedural detective story as Dracula's pursuers try to locate him, and inserting a startling, sudden splash of color when Wengraf drives a stake into the heart of Dracula's first victim.

Rating: Four out of five Minas

Friday, November 15, 2019

Sleigh Bell Cinema | Holiday Inn (1942)

I'm joined by Lizzie Twachtman (Random Chatter, The Thrifty Duckling) to talk about a movie that's so full of holiday spirit, Christmas alone can't contain it. We break down Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and the many positive aspects of the film while also talking about its troublesome approaches to gender and race.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Son of Dracula (1943)

Who's in it?: Lon Chaney Jr (Man Made Monster, The Wolf Man, The Ghost of Frankenstein, The Mummy's Tomb), Louise Allbritton, Robert Paige (The Monster and the Girl, Hellzapoppin'), Frank Craven, J Edward Bromberg (Invisible Agent, Phantom of the Opera), and Evelyn Ankers (Hold That Ghost, The Wolf Man, The Ghost of Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, Captive Wild Woman).

What's it about?: A Southern heiress (Allbritton) courts a vampire (Chaney) with a familiar name for her own, mysterious purposes.

How is it?: I love the Southern Gothic setting and the complicated morality of Allbritton's Katherine. She's playing a dangerous game for reasons that I won't spoil and don't agree with, but I totally understand why she thinks she's right. I didn't expect that kind of intricacy in a Universal Dracula sequel, though I probably should have after Dracula's Daughter.

Two things don't work for me. The smaller issue is the character of Katherine's boyfriend, Frank (Paige). He has a tragic arc as Katherine's plan has the unintended consequence of driving him insane. That's pretty cool, but Frank goes from normal to crazy too quickly, implying (if I'm generous in my reading of him) that he was already pretty close to nuts to begin with. (If I'm not generous, it's just bad film-making.) As soon as Count Alucard steps in as a rival and lays hands on Frank, Frank pulls out a gun and shoots the count. I don't really know why Frank's carrying a gun to begin with, but he's not entirely the calm, Southern gentleman he presents himself as. After he tries to murder Alucard, he spirals down from there. Once he's on that path though, the rest of his journey is captivating.

The bigger problem is Chaney Jr as the count. He looks great, but makes no attempt at a Hungarian accent or really appearing to be European at all. The effects around his vampire powers are pretty great (especially one chilling scene where he floats across the surface of a bayou), but he still isn't very scary. He comes across as a mundane bully, not Lord of the Undead. I guess it's better not to try an accent than it would be to have him do a horrible one, but if he's not capable, then he just feels miscast.

There are interesting things to think about from a continuity standpoint. The Dracula legend is widespread enough in this world that Alucard is a lousy pseudonym if the count is actually trying to hide his identity. The local doctor (Craven) figures it out in the very first scene and is immediately on Alucard's trail. When he calls in a Hungarian folklore expert (Bromberg) for assistance, they speculate about who Alucard might actually be.

The folklore guy, Professor Lazlo, wonders if Alucard might be a descendant of Dracula. That's as close as the movie gets to explaining the connection or justifying the Son of Dracula title. "Son," in this case, doesn't necessarily mean "direct offspring." And since it's just speculation by Lazlo, there's no reason to believe that Alucard is actually, biologically connected to Dracula at all.

Alucard clearly wants some sort of relationship to exist, though, and sees himself at least as the spiritual heir to Dracula's legacy. That's why he adopts such a ludicrous, easy to decipher alias. He wants people to make the connection. He may not even be Hungarian, or even European. That would explain his accent. I imagine that he's a completely American vampire who traveled to Europe and adopted a connection to Dracula before meeting Katherine and following her back to the States. He's a poseur, but he's a powerful one.

One last continuity observation and it's an important one: In relating Dracula's story to Dr Brewster, Lazlo explains that Dracula was destroyed at the end of the nineteenth century. That fits with Stoker's story, but not with the Universal adaptation that took place in the 1930s. There's no mention of any of the events of that film or Dracula's Daughter, so the easiest interpretation is that Son of Dracula is a sequel to the original novel and not the other two Universal films. Meaning that there are two separate realities.

I don't like that, though. I enjoy Son of Dracula too much to just put it aside in a pocket universe. Instead, I prefer to think that Lazlo is simply mistaken about when Dracula was defeated in the Universal films. It also makes more sense for the other sequels that followed if Son of Dracula takes place in the same world as Dracula and Dracula's Daughter, but I'll get into why that is later. It's a weird mistake for Lazlo to have made, but I think that's the best explanation.

Rating: Three out of five Minas.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Dracula 2000 (2000)

Who's in it?: Gerard Butler (300, RocknRolla), Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country), Justine Waddell (Mansfield Park), Jonny Lee Miller (Dead Man's Walk, Mansfield Park, Eli Stone, Elementary), Vitamin C (The WB's Superstar USA), Jennifer Esposito (Samantha Who?), Jeri Ryan (Star Trek: Voyager), Omar Epps (Major League II, House), Danny Masterson (That '70s Show), and Nathan Fillion (Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place, Firefly, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Castle).

What's it about?: A hundred years after the events of Bram Stoker's novel, Van Helsing (Plummer) and a freshly resurrected Dracula (Butler) search for the woman (Waddell) who is the legacy of them both.

How is it?: Much much stronger than a movie called Dracula 2000 has a right to be. I love how it makes itself a sequel to the novel while expanding the mythology in cool ways. I say that it makes itself a sequel to the novel - and it mostly works that way - but there is a weird flashback to Dracula's defeat in the 19th Century that doesn't exactly match up with the way Stoker described it. It's still a cool defeat though. And Van Helsing's method of prolonging his own life into the 21st Century makes sense.

I also love the explanation of Dracula's origin and how it ties together and justifies some of his classic weaknesses. It's a clever bit of speculation and world-building that reminds me of some of the stuff White Wolf Publishing used to do with vampire history in their Vampire: The Masquerade role-playing game, tying vampires back to the Mark of Cain in Genesis. Without going into detail, Dracula 2000 has its head in a similar place.

The cast is pretty great, too. Plummer is the tired, but determined Van Helsing. Miller is his tough, but sympathetic protégé. Butler plays a sultry and dangerous Dracula. And Waddell is the frightened and confused woman who has to figure out how she's connected to Dracula and Van Helsing, then rise to the challenge of finding her own place in the story. Add to all that cool, smaller roles for Esposito, Epps, Masterson, Ryan, and Fillion and you've got a super watchable story.

One thing keeps me from loving it more, though. Mary is obviously a Mina-like character, which is fine, but her roommate's (Vitamin C) name is Lucy Westerman. That's a tough coincidence to swallow considering that Lucy Westernra is also a person who existed in this world. It's a small thing, but it pulled me out of the story when her name was revealed.

Rating: Four out of five Marys

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Fourth Chair Army Invasion | I Can't Quit You

Christian Nielsen and Kay join Michael May to talk about a phenomenon that's plagued nerds since the beginning of time (or at least, nerd time). Why do we latch on to some series or characters so hard that we feel compelled to watch or read even iterations that don't look that appealing to us? Looking at specific examples like The Addams Family, Batman, Robin Hood, and Star Wars, the panel attempts to figure this out.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Blood of Dracula (1957)

Who's in it?: Sandra Harrison (an episode of Adventures of Superman), Louise Lewis (a different episode of Adventures of Superman, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, The Vampire), and Gail Ganley (sadly not in any episodes of Adventures of Superman).

What's it about?: A teenage girl (Harrison) attends a boarding school where her anger issues are exploited by a science teacher (Lewis) who wants to turn her into a bloodsucking vampire. You know, for science. Ganley plays a fellow student who's also the teacher's aide/lackey.

How is it?: First up, this is not actually a Dracula movie. It's a sequel to neither the novel nor another Dracula film, though I think I can make it one in my imagination.

I don't know why it wasn't officially titled I Was a Teenage Vampire when it was made by the same people who did I Was a Teenage Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein. It also has the same tone as those and really the same basic plot as I Was a Teenage Werewolf. The Blood of Dracula title seems intentionally misleading, especially when the only mention of Dracula is plural and as a synonym for all vampires. The line basically goes, "What if the murders were committed by vampires... you know, Draculas?"

As hilariously ridiculous as that is (and it's not the only hilariously ridiculous thing... hello, vampire makeup), and as disappointing as it is to see someone hypnotized into becoming a vampire instead of becoming one the usual way, I like the boarding school setting and the '50s teen shenanigans (secret "initiations" that are just parties where girls dance to records; midnight scavenger hunts, etc.).

I also like how the hypnosis for the vampire transformation is aided by an ancient amulet from the Carpathian mountains. If I want to work at it, I can imagine a backstory that does somehow involve the actual Dracula. Perhaps the amulet belonged to him and has become corrupted by his evil. Or perhaps it was somehow instrumental in his own transformation from Transylvanian count to undead bloodsucker. Whatever it is, I believe that it's the amulet's power and not Miss Branding's skill at mesmerism that actually transforms poor Nancy Perkins.

Rating: Three out of five vampire Nancys.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Sleigh Bell Cinema | Iron Man 3 (2013)

I'm joined by William Bruce West to examine the set-at-Christmas Iron Man 3. Is it a good Christmas movie? Is it a good Iron Man movie? Remember that game, Barrel of Monkeys? This is more fun than that.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Happy Bram Stoker Day!

I do a spotty job celebrating the birthdays of my favorite authors on this blog, but I'm so deep into Dracula lore these days that I can't let Stoker's birthday pass without a mention.

Born 172 years ago today and I'm super glad of it.

Fairy Tale Friday | Fables, Part 7: The Last Castle

Fables: The Last Castle was a one-shot special in 2003 that offered more insight to the Fables' homelands; specifically the closing days of the Adversary's invasion, the final stand of the defenders, and the last group of refugees to escape. The series had been slowly teasing out information about the mysterious Adversary and his campaign against the homelands, so the revelations of The Last Castle were a big deal and an appropriate subject for a fancy, stand-alone story like this.

It also answered a question that was on the minds of a lot of fans: With Bigby Wolf such an important part of the Fables series, whatever happened to his legendary prey, Red Riding Hood?

The framing of the backstory takes place because Little Boy Blue is depressed, as he always gets this time of year. Snow White finally asks him about it and he tells her that it's the anniversary of the escape of the final survivors from the homelands. Every year, those survivors gather for a private ceremony and Blue has special reason to mourn the experience.

He shares his story with Snow White and the bulk of the book describes an epic battle full of legendary characters like Robin Hood and his men, the Grimm Brothers' Bearskin, and of course Red Riding Hood, who barely makes it into the defenders' keep alive. All of it is beautifully drawn by P Craig Russell, himself a legend of fantasy comics for his Elric and Jungle Book adaptations, Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde, and various volumes of Neil Gaiman's Sandman.

It's a dark, emotional story and I would have liked it more if it didn't handle Red in a way I don't care for. That's super subjective though and Fables is such an unpredictable series that there's always room for it to come back to her in a way that I like better.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Sleigh Bell Cinema | Die Hard (1988)

It's time to put this baby to bed once and for all. I'm joined by Nerd Lunch's Jeeg to officially declare whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie. Maybe. If we can agree on it.

But whatever our opinions about its seasonal suitability, we 100% agree that it's one of the greatest action movies of all time. And we're 100% happy to discuss why that is.

Filthy Horrors | That Razor in the Apple

Last week was Halloween, so Darla, Jess, and I released a holiday episode of Filthy Horrors talking about everyone's favorite spooky time of year. After a history lesson on the holiday, we hollered about why Halloween is important, our childhood memories of it, how we celebrate today, and the best (and worst) candy to find in your plastic Jack O'Lantern bucket. We also talked about a Halloween field trip and a bunch of other spooky stuff including:
  • Flatliners (2017)
  • Hammer House of Horror TV series (1980)
  • Nomads (1986)
  • Dracul by Dacre Stoker and JD Barker
  • Disney Frankenstein, starring Donald Duckby Bruno Enna, Fabio Celoni, and Luca Merli
  • It Chapter Two (2019)
  • It (1990)
  • The Little Stranger (2018)
  • Halloween (2018)
  • The Dark (2018)

Monday, November 04, 2019

Monster Monday | Dracula's Daughter (1936)

I had such a good time watching Dracula adaptations last month that I decided to keep going and watch some of the sequels to those adaptations. And even movie sequels to the novel itself, but that don't follow up a movie adaptation.

Who's in it?: Gloria Holden (Dodge City), Edward Van Sloan (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy), Otto Kruger (Treasure Island, Tarzan's Desert Mystery, High Noon, Black Widow), and Marguerite Churchill (The Big Trail, The Walking Dead).

What's it about?: Immediately following the events of Dracula (1931), Dracula's daughter (Holden) comes to England to properly dispose of his body and hopefully cure her own vampirism.

How is it?: I love that it picks up right where Tod Browning's Dracula left off. Jonathan Harker and Mina have left the abbey, but Renfield's body is still there where Dracula left it and Van Helsing (Van Sloan, reprising his role from the previous movie) is still in the tomb with the count's staked corpse. That's when the police show up.

Van Helsing is arrested for Dracula's murder, but instead of calling a lawyer, he asks Scotland Yard to contact a psychologist friend of his, Jeffrey Garth (Kruger). Van Helsing apparently wants to keep Jonathan, Mina, and Dr Seward out of it even though they could support his story. He never mentions them in the film, but that fits with his personality from the previous film. He's stoic, independent, and strong-willed. He refuses to make up a believable lie about what he did, but he's not going to put anyone else in a position where their reputations are also at stake for claiming that vampires exist.

Jeff is skeptical, but (like Dr Seward in the novel) is a former student of Van Helsing and agrees to help the old professor out. Jeff is helped by his assistant, a cultured woman named Janet Blake (Churchill). Dracula's Daughter came out a couple of years after WS Van Dyke's Thin Man movie and I sense some Nick and Nora influence on Jeff and Janet. They're not married, but they clearly like each other even though they tease and bicker. They're a fun couple and I especially like Janet who has to exercise patience with the grumpier Jeff.

Meanwhile, a mysterious, exotic woman shows up at the morgue, dominates the mind of the guard there, and steals Dracula's body. It's Countess Marya Zaleska, who refers to herself later as the daughter of Dracula. It's never specified if she's the Count's actual, biological child or simply someone whom he turned into a vampire long ago, like his so-called "brides" in Transylvania. I like the second option and it makes sense with what's revealed about Zaleska's character. The term "bride" suggests some consent in her alliance with him. "Daughter" does not. You don't get to choose your parents. And since Zaleska resents her vampiric state, I can see why she might prefer that term.

In fact, she's come to London to make sure that Dracula's body is completely destroyed, hoping that doing so will free her from her curse. Her reluctance about being a vampire gives the film a different tone from Dracula and allows Dracula's Daughter to play with different themes. I've always read her craving for blood as an allegory for addiction that she tries to beat through sheer will power. Sadly, it's a tragic, doomed effort.

Other viewers have focused on the seductive side of vampirism and see the film as an allegory for homosexuality. That totally works, too; I just hadn't thought of it. Either way, Dracula's Daughter offers a lot to think about and Holden is a great actor to center the drama around. She's a perfect replacement for Bela Lugosi; aristocratic and exotically attractive in the same way that he was in the earlier film, but because she's also a sympathetic character, I'm more invested in her (and Jack and Janet when she gets involved with them, because they need Dracula's corpse to verify Van Helsing's story) than I am in her dad.

Rating: Four out of five Janets

Friday, November 01, 2019

Sleigh Bell Cinema | Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Since Sleigh Bell Cinema kicks off the day after Halloween, our second season opens with an '80s horror classic. I'm joined by Chad Young from Horror Movie BBQ to talk about a Christmas nightmare that makes Phoebe Cates' sad dad story from Gremlins seem like a Rankin-Bass special.


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