Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Very cool blog: Too Much Horror covers reviews, cover art

Here's a really wonderful blog I just came across-- Too Much Horror, which focuses on horror books and media from the 60s, 70s and 80s. Check out this fantastic post on Daphne DuMaurier covers and this one on alternate Richard Matheson's Hell House covers.
I really like this blog's sensibility of enjoying the images that book covers put in our heads, and how sometimes those images are utterly absurd.

Definitely check it out!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

DARK SHADOWS 2012-- An Unlikely, Perfect Gothic Concoction

I saw Dark Shadows this weekend-- when you have little girls, the prospect of going to a new movie relates less to when the movie opens than when you can find a babysitter-- and I loved it. Right at the start, as director Tim Burton's camera follows a train through New England woods to the haunting sounds of the Moody Blues, I turned to my wife and said, "Okay, I already want this on Blu-Ray."
Mind you I'm a huge fan of the 1960s soap opera, though I came to it late, and that should actually count against this film. I was a huge fan of the 1960s show The Avengers, and I was expecting to hate the 1998 movie version even before it turned out to be terrible. I felt the same way about The Saint, which updated the -- hey!-- 1960s detective series starring pre-Bond Roger Moore, in a role so full of wit and irony it was probably better for him than Bond.
But Tim Burton's Dark Shadows doesn't make the mistakes that The Avengers and The Saint make, for several reasons. For one thing, both of those movies seemed to have been written by people with only a cursory knowledge of the source material, as if maybe they'd read a memo prepared by a staffer. The Avengers made no attempt to copy the smirking flirtation between Steed and Peel or the fun rhythm of the show, and the Saint was a generic actioner that tossed  the detective stories that always propelled that show. But there was something worse: if you knew nothing about the source material, you were left with weird, bad movies that existed for no reason anyone could make out. (And my gosh, the Avengers is terrible. Go back and watch it and let me know if you don't think it might be missing a reel somewhere.)
Dark Shadows, though; this is something else. I had fears it would be Avengers bad when I heard it would be a comedy. Dark Shadows was never played for laughs in the 60s. If you watch it on Netflix-- and really you totally should, starting with Episode 211, when Barnabas first appears-- you'll see what an oddball piece it was, so perfectly gothic, narrated by a young governess who has, in fine gothic tradition, come to a great house of dark secrets. It is in black and white, on strange wobbly sets, filmed live-to-tape, and there's a wonderful feeling that this that you're looking at is another, stranger world you can get lost in. Look at the number of Barnabas' entrance-- the show had already run for over 200 episodes before the secretive vampire first appeared, run with its world of crashing surf and ghosts who walked.
Barnabas the vampire took it up a notch, though, scheming against members of the family and longing for the return of his beloved Josette. He was a stone killer, too.
(There was also one movie based on the soap already, in 1970-- see my blog post about House of Dark Shadows.)
Tim Burton's Dark Shadows knows the whole terrain of the show, and it knows more. It knows that it can have it both ways, parodying the show while constantly showing such familiarity that the jokes feel genuinely affectionate. It knows that somehow 1972 is funnier than 1966, so we get to see Barnabas come back to a world of the Carpenters and Alice Cooper. It knows that Johnny Depp is not Jonathan Frid, so his Barnabas is completely different-- a hilarious meditation on vampires in general, a reptilian, cursed, alien creature, whereas Frid's Barnabas was a rather discreet vampire most of the time, no more alien than JR Ewing. Depp is funny here, and is in almost every scene.
And man, it knows the gothic tradition. The brooding house, the tortured young ingenue, the secret pathways. If you feel you've seen all of Burton's tricks before, think of it this way: all of his tricks belong here, in Dark Shadows.
Fans of the show should love this adoring letter to Collinwood.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Monitor: Alex Van Helsing Series Review; likes "quippy, Whedonesque dialogue"

David Bowles of the Texas newspaper The Monitor turns in a fantastic review of the first two Alex Van Helsing books. Here are some highlights, but check out the original at the Monitor site. I like his description of Voice of the Undead:

Book 2, Voice of the Undead, begins just a few weeks later. The action kicks in almost immediately: Alex is attacked by blood-sucking worms; his fight against them results in Glenarvon’s being partially destroyed by fire. The boys of the boarding school are temporarily relocated to LaLaurie, a nearby girls’ academy attended by Minhi, one of the members of Alex’s “Scooby gang.” Soon a new “big bad” arrives: Ultravox, a vampire who can control humans with his voice (and whose identity is just as clever as that of Icemaker). Setting the story at LaLaurie allows for some cool meta-jabs at the Twilight series (Ultravox employs written horror stories to infect girls’ minds with post-hypnotic suggestions and use them as weapons), but what makes Voice especially entertaining is the deeper exploration of the secondary characters; the quippy, Whedonesque dialogue; and the arrival of Alex’s parents.
Adolescent boys will particularly enjoy reading the action-packed, fast-moving books, but adult fans of the supernatural are encouraged to read them as well. This series is more respectful of lore, tradition and geekdom than most other YA vampire novels: horror fans and literature buffs alike will be rewarded by the references that Henderson includes.

Check out the rest!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Dr. Terror's House of Horrors on Netflix Streaming

Netflix has recently added a bunch of Amicus Anthologies, which were wonderful, colorful, spooky horror anthologies made in the UK in the late 60s and 70s. They are all fantastic, but I just watched Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, and I recommend it. Welcome to the groovy horror age of British cinema, starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Donald Sutherland.

Why do I love these movies? I love them for their earnestness, their viviv color, and their modern settings, which are so dated now (fashions, sets, music, even editing) that they form a special treat all their own.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Modern Gothic: Mistress of Mellyn

I found myself reading the 1960 Victoria Holt potboiler MISTRESS OF MELLYN because I've been on a gothic kick recently. I've been doing research for a new project and took a side trip to explore the origins of modern gothic literature, and MELLYN is a key book.
Eleanor Hibbert, the woman behind
Victoria Holt.
Published in 1960, the book merges major themes from Daphne Du Maurier's 1948 Rebecca and of course Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Just oozing atmosphere and gloom; MISTRESS OF MELLYN is about Miss Marty Leigh, a woman of good family and embarrassed means who takes a job as the governess in an imposing mansion called Mount Mellyn, where lately the locals have come to suspect the master, mysterious Lord Connan, of murdering his deceased wife. There are gossipy servants and secret passages; it's all exactly as you expect and it's fantastic. People tend to talk of this as "Victoria Holt's first book," but for what it's worth, Victoria Holt was a pseudonym; this is actually English scribe Eleanor Hibbert's thirtieth or so novel. She was a busy gal; she published at least one more novel under yet another name in 1960, the year of Mistress of Mellyn, alone.

But Mistress of Mellyn is a classic, incorporating the key elements of gothic so well defined in the discussion here:

  • A Young Heroine who is sent to
  • A Big House located in the middle of
  • A Wilderness, owned by . . .
  • A Threatening Patriarchal/Matriarchal Authority Figure, who has
  • Endangered Children Who Need a Governess and who are plagued by
  • Supernatural Elements, all complicated by
  • A Demanding, Aloof Hero with the Sensitivity of a Wombat (Wikipedia: “They can be awkwardly tamed in a captive situation, and even coaxed into being patted and held, possibly becoming quite friendly. . . . However, their lack of fear means that they may display acts of aggression if provoked, or if they are simply in a bad mood.)
Anyway-- I've also been obsessed with gothic covers from the 60s and 70s recently, so here are some swell earlier covers for this mysterious, charming book.