Top 10 Vampire Destruction Scenes Dishonorable Mention Dracula (1931)

Norma Desmond would be proud.

A face like that needs to go out on a high note.

Time for another list, and this time I decided to take a leaf out of the book of a favorite YouTube personality– Calvin Dyson (he reviews James Bond media) and start with a “dishonorable mention.”  However, instead of listing the one I absolutely can’t stand, I’ll go with a movie that I otherwise like and was incredibly influential, but at the same time suffers from one of the worst endings ever.

Of course I’m talking about the original Universal Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi.

Given its origins… it’s amazing that the movie has the iconic status it enjoys to this day.  The movie was adapted from a Broadway play rather than the novel (Broadway adaptations are always watered-down and disappointing compared to the actual play).  The director was drunk most of the time and the cameraman did a lot of directing (luckily Karl Freund was a capable director, even if he never found his niche).  Aside from three standout performers (Bela Lugosi, Dwight Frye, and Edward van Sloan) the cast is wooden and forgettable, or worse annoying.  Luckily the aforementioned men keep the audience er, well… hypnotized, until the very ending.  And then the truly unforgiveable sin comes in.

Dracula strangles Renfield.  It’s a very well-shot scene, with great acting from both Lugosi and especially Frye.  But then the sun rises and Dracula retreats to his coffin.  Now we’re down two-thirds of the capable cast, and are left with just van Helsing (van Sloan) and Harker onscreen.

The two men look for Dracula and Mina, to drive a stake through their hearts.  They realize Mina is not yet a vampire, and the camera focuses on her (inexplicably clutching her breast) while van Helsing drives a stake through Dracula’s heart offscreen.  All we hear is a sort of gasp when the Count is truly dead.  Van Helsing sends the lovebirds away (why is never explicitly said), and the movie ends.

The movie opened so powerfully in Transylvania, and the scenes with Renfield sparkled with intensity.  Bela Lugosi could always speak volumes with one look, so it really was a shame the film didn’t show the Count seeing that he would be destroyed after centuries of immortality.  That would have been powerful.  And the next year Freund would direct The Mummy, which featured a man being completely run through with a spear.  They could have shown more here.

But for some reason, director Tod Browning was compelled to end his horror films with an old man saying goodbye to a young woman.  Even when it was horribly inappropriate to the story.

But without this dishonorable mention, the rest of the list probably would never have been made.  I think that probably makes Browning’s gaffe worth it in the long run.


Eulogizing Tanith Lee

Tanith-LeeFantasy, science-fiction, feminist author Tanith Lee died recently from breast cancer.  She was 67.

No one in my family knew her personally, although through her writings she was an integral part of the household.  My dad read her fiction since her first novel, The Birthgrave, and introduced my brother and me to the novels, which we in turn loved, read very often, and still sometimes quote to each other.

The first Tanith Lee novel I read was Wolf Tower— I read it while waiting to have my broken wrist set… 24 hours after I had broken the bone.  I was in pain, I was nauseous, and I was hungry because I was afraid to eat due to the nausea… and I was totally enraptured by the book.  The other three novels in the series were eagerly devoured, too.

The next year I found Red Unicorn at a book fair.  I bought it, only to be told by my dad that it was the third in a trilogy.  So I hunted up Black Unicorn and Gold Unicorn to read first.  Red Unicorn was a providential purchase.  The Unicorn series became one of my favorites… something my brother and I still quote.

When Dad announced Tanith Lee’s death the other night, my brother asked, “Who?”  I said, “Got a bone?” (A line from Black Unicorn).  Brother said, “Motherfucker.”

Indeed. He had performed her reworking of Snow White– Red as Blood— for a forensics competition a few years ago.  The same fairy tale collection inspired my (in-progress) collection of revised fairy tales, Ashes, and it’s damn good horror besides.  Speaking of horror, one of the best episodes of The Hunger was based on a Tanith Lee story, “Nunc Dimittis.”

And there were lots of other novels and short stories along the way.  It would take too long to go into them all and explain what they meant, but it comes down to this… books have always been friends to me, and Tanith Lee’s books offered me friendship, escape, lessons, companionship, adventure, fun new words that upset my mother (tronking okk’s grulps!), and a way for my brother and I to amuse ourselves that no one else understood.

We really have lost an old friend (and role model), and we are truly sorry for it.  Fantasy, science fiction, and horror are much poorer without Tanith Lee.


007: Pageturner

Pow, you're dead.

Pow, you’re dead.

When I was a lonely, bored, curious, culture-starved high school student I discovered the James Bond novels.  It was a very roundabout discovery… I think it started with a Paul McCartney album (it had the song “Live and Let Die”), and then when I was about sixteen Mom said I was old enough for a double feature of Dr. No and From Russia with Love, and then came the books.  Lovely books.

Of course, I saw movies beyond the two first permitted by my mother… every Sean Connery addition (except Never Say Never Again… that one doesn’t count), The Man with the Golden Gun (for Christopher Lee), a couple other Moore flicks, and License to Kill.  Connery and Dalton are my favorite Bonds.  I didn’t last long enough in Goldeneye for M to call out James on his misogyny (you go, M!), and I didn’t like Casino Royale (though to be fair, I didn’t like the book, either).

But it’s been maybe four or five years since I saw one of the movies… even From Russia with Love, my favorite.  I’ve always had problems with the movies… very quickly their cliches became evident, as well as their nasty misogyny.  In fairness, the books aren’t much better… but in Fleming’s work, everything is a bit more complicated and has consequences.  Therefore, they have more depth.  The movies seem watered down next to them.

I’ll explain.  In the novels, we get into James’ head.  We know he’s suffering from PTSD (although they don’t call it that), and a lot of his self-destructive behavior (the reckless gambling, driving, drinking, and otherwise living beyond his means) are related to that and the fact that he expects to be killed in the line of duty.  He suffers terrible guilt over the death of his wife, Tracy (who we know he really loves), and over the jobs where his mission is just to kill somebody.

In the novel The Man with the Golden Gun, he starts trying to get fired, something that continues into The Living Daylights— Fleming’s last Bond adventure (a novella rather than a novel).  As a reader, I initially interpreted that as Fleming wanting to get on with his life and on to other projects (which could be true, I don’t know for sure), but if I had to pick a moment in Bond’s character where the sentiment really picks up, it’s when Scaramanga (the titular character in TMWTGG) asks if he can say the rosary before getting shot.  Of course, James can’t bring himself to refuse and barely gets out alive.

Isn’t that interesting?  And you sure the hell wouldn’t see anything like that in the movies.  Though after 50-odd years, there might be something to be said for that.  Goodness knows there are other spies and spy novels to be adapted.  Plenty of other fish in the sea… or even octopuses because that’s what Octopussy really was… a blue-ringed octopus.  What can I say?  Not one of Fleming’s more creative names.

But do pick up one of the novels and give it a look-see.  My favorite of the books is actually Goldfinger (even though it’s homophobic… what wasn’t in the 50s?).  The book doesn’t have the infamous barn scene, and I find it far superior to the movie.  But you’ll never have two people with the same list of favorite Bond books and movies… the pool’s just too big.  And full of octopuses.


“Nothing” is Worse

Well, same to you!

Well, same to you!

I’ve been thinking about insults.  The wherefores and the whys don’t belong on the Internet.

There’s so many unflattering things to call people: a liar, poison, a moron, an asshole, a prick… but nothing comes even close to calling someone a vagina, be the insult pussy or cunt.  Nothing.  Or “no-thing” in Shakespearean English.

The implication of such an insult is that the person it’s directed at is weak, powerless, doesn’t know their place….  They’re all ridiculous.  Think for a minute about what a vagina is capable of, and tell me it’s weak.  Then think of how fragile a penis is.  (I’m just saying.)

Also, how many women check to make sure their vagina is still there?  I didn’t realize it was a thing for guys to make sure their junk was still attached in the morning, or after a coma, or an accident, but I’ve come across enough popular culture references to assume it must be a thing.  Anyway, maybe that’s because the vagina, despite the “wandering womb” nonsense from the ancient Greeks, is not something women usually get hysterical (hah) over the fear of losing.

Anyway, I could go on in greater detail about why “vagina” is a stupid, sexist insult, but in theory most of us know that already.  Yet the insult remains.

When we’re angry with someone, we tend to go for any weaponry available (the time that thing ten years ago happened, etc.) and not necessarily analyze the impact of the weapon chosen.  (Gee, that sounds vaguely like history.)  For those who know not to use vagina as an insult, but aren’t sure what else packs the sting of calling someone the vilest word in the English language (cunt)… I don’t know what to do, either.  My goal is to find something else equally pleasing to the tongue that’s still insulting.  Qualities are good (like poisonous), though, of course, insults are in and of themselves undesirable.

But if we get away from ugly, senseless insults, we might edge more towards intelligent arguments.


Mom Appreciation

It's not the famous portrait, but I like this one just as much.

It’s not the famous portrait, but I like this one just as much.

It’s the first day of break for me (praise the Lord!), and tomorrow is Mother’s Day.  Parent Days are tricky holidays… that being said, I’m an alum of Mary Baldwin College, which graduated Anna Jarvis, who founded Mother’s Day years and years ago.  (Carnations were her thing.)  So I feel it necessary to make Mother’s Day good out of Fighting Squirrels pride, and because I do appreciate my mother, rocky though our relationship can be at times.

Interestingly, Anna Jarvis came to dislike the way the day to honor mothers was handled by the public.   Her criticism pointed specifically at “meaningless cards” and “a box of candy you’ll eat half of, anyway.”  And she’s right.  A lot of the Mother’s Day whoop-dee-doo is just an excuse to sell things.

Well, the comic Zits puts it nicely… “Mother’s Day is the day we have to smile politely while they ram good intentions under our fingernails.”

I found another article on Facebook about Proverbs 31– my dad, to his credit, has never based  a sermon around it, but apparently a lot of other well-meaning ministers do the good-intentions shoving with their sermons on this Biblical poem.  Apparently (I’m still stuck in Psalms, by the way), it praises the work of a wife (weaving, keeping the books and the house and so on), which many Christians mistakenly use as a prescription for what all women should be.  Jewish people interpret it differently.

The question of interpretation goes back to a mother’s identity, or rather her not having one.  Once a woman has children, in society’s eyes, she can really only be “Mom” ever after.  She can’t be pretty.  She can’t like her job or her social life, too much.  The kids must always come first.  She produced the children and now must consume nearly every product in the economy to make sure the parenting is done right.  And Mother’s Day is, unfortunately, caught in this web of consumerism.

Yes, I still give my mother gifts.  Some of them I buy, some of them I make, but I always try to make sure it’s something she actually needs/wants.  And even when we’re not getting along, I try to say Happy Mother’s Day and mean it.  I can’t have been an easy kid to raise– just saying.

And that’s what Mother’s Day should be about.  Acknowledging what your mother had to work with, be that your own shortcomings, or a lack of good options from other routes (my grandmother sometimes had to leave her sick kids at home because she’d lose her job if she asked for the day off), and what a good job they did anyway.  If you want to give her a gift, do it.  But don’t imply that to be a woman of valor that she needs to take up spinning.   Write a little note in the card.  She is your mother, after all.

PS: Thanks Mom.


Vampire Fatigue

I didn’t think it was possible.

I was the weird little kid, straight out of a Tim Burton movie, drawing pictures of myself at a monster castle at age 4.  And yet I think it’s happening.

I have vampire fatigue.  And it’s my damn Dracula project’s fault.

Not that the work wasn’t interesting.  Watching 9 key Dracula movies and analyzing 6 key scenes from each movie to see how the levels of violence change as they become more contemporary.  Except I strongly detest two of the movies… Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and the 1979 fiasco with Frank Langella and Laurence Olivier.  And then there’s the results.

Or rather the implied results… stuff I can’t code and quantify but mention in “Discussion.”  Well, at least they’re significant, and my hypothesis is correct.  With a couple outliers (the 1970s– quel surprise), adaptations of Dracula do become more violent as the films become more current.

I need a vacation.