Saturday, November 28, 2009

Star Wars: Death Troopers

Well, they finally did it. They've been slapping zombies into everything and it was only a matter of time before they finally made a Star Wars Zombie novel.

I've been grousing for months about the complete saturation of zombies in pop culture. While I like the stuff I watch/read and can take the work on their own merits, when I take a step back and look at the zombie landscape, it's hard not to feel a little overrun. I've discussed before at length the basic appeal of zombies but as time goes on I'm starting to see this over reliance on the living dead as a quick way to generate drama. It's fundamentally interesting to watch characters under siege, but they better be interesting because most zombie stories follow the same basic structure: we run to sanctuary and sometimes we die. This one sticks to form, but it does a pretty good job of it.

The story follows the unfortunate crew of the Imperial Penal Starship Purge as they're forced to dock with an abandoned Star Destroyer after their engines go off-line. The salvage operation quickly turns deadly when they realize the Star Destroyer was conducting sinister biological experiments and they're not alone.

I tend to be leery of franchise books, occasionally to my detriment, but this one was actually pretty good. Author Joe Schreiber knows how to build suspense and atmosphere. We don't actually see the first zombie attacks until after the hundredth page, by which point we're immersed in the vicious culture of the Purge and the creeping tension of those endless dark Star Destroyer corridors. I liked the haunting image of the droids continuing their pre-programmed routines in the bowels of the dead ship.

I also dug the fact that the zombies weren't simply mindless Romero knock-offs. There's something sentient in their behavior and the individual zombies seem more like molecules of the same horrible mass-organism. The creature's method of infection is much more imaginatively vile. The method the ship's hapless doctor uses to cure one of the infected patients was visceral and extremely nasty.

The one complaint I had with the book was the fact that a couple of major characters from the movies take a fairly major role in the book. I have read a few other books set in the Star Wars universe and they tend to run roughshod over my beloved character's lives. Schreiber treats the characters with a lot more respect, but their appearance really didn't add anything to the story beyond an almost Pavlovian dread at what could happen to them. Plus, y'know, if I escaped a Star Destroyer full of zombies, it would probably come up in casual conversation.

Beyond this minor, and admittedly completely geeky complaint, I had a lot of fun with Death Troopers. It's a creepy and surprisingly effective horror novel, and it's a good solid popcorn novel even without the Star Wars tie-in. If you like it, Schreiber wrote the incredibly atmospheric Eat the Dark, which was one of the best horror novels I read last year. Also, apparently, there's a Star Wars Galaxies tie-in.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Wicker Man (1973)

You know those movies that everyone at the party has seen and can hold forth long discussions on and when you sheepishly say "Oh, I've never see it" and they all look at you like you're some backwoods yokel more suited to watching NASCAR than discussing fine works of art?

That's the way I felt about The Wicker Man.

Never got around to watching it. I really should have, as it's got so much stuff I absolutely adore: occultism, paganism, murder mysteries, nude British chicks, Christopher Lee in Cher drag, gay innkeepers and their slutty daughters, sleepy Scottish hamlets, corpse unearthing, and people randomly breaking into song. The Wicker Man is almost a musical, full of those sorts of dippy folksy hippy songs that would be considered some minor form of assault if performed in public.

More to the point, I love weird towns full of people acting strange. I was at a party recently and a friend of mine mentioned that she didn't like zombie movies because she didn't understand what was particularly scary about crowds. You could look outside any day and see crowds of people. "Maybe crowds of violent cannibals charging at you might not set you off," I should have said, charming my lovely companion, "but what if you were surrounded by perfectly polite, charming people who are thinking and communicating in a completely alien way."

Yep. Having those kinds of conversations keeps my social life active.

Anyway, yeah, Wicker Man.

Most of this flick doesn't have much in the way of tension. The jerky moralistic cop doesn't stagger around a lot of dark basements, waiting for a cat to jump out at him. Most of The Wicker Man takes the basic structure of a murder mystery. Sgt. Howie arrives on Summerisle searching for a missing little girl. First the townfolks say they never heard of the missing girl, then they admit she's dead, finally Sgt. Howie begins to suspect that they're keeping the girl locked away for a horrifying ritual to appease the island's ancient pagan gods.

And then there's a twist.

This is one of those rare horror movies where the hero isn't particularly likable. Sgt. Howie is an uptight, bullying prick, the kind the Empire would have tasked with destroying planets, and on top of all those winning qualities he's a religious zealot. When he's not butting into people's jobs and offices and homes, he is staring aghast at naked women and screaming "heretic!" at people. He's really quite the prick, but he's an ideal navigator for the island's weirdness. The movie goes quite deep into the islander's strange spiritual beliefs and it's amusing having an utter asshole haranguing against them every step of the way. It also makes Howie's eventual fate especially horrific. The villagers and their goofy religious beliefs seem harmless and kind of fun at first, but the horror really creeps in when we realize exactly what they need to do to keep their crops bountiful.

...oh, fuck it. SPOILER ALERT They stick Sgt. Howie in a big wooden man and burn him alive.

There's a reason I don't go to Burning Man, even though I have plenty of Burners among her friends. I'm the curious type and I do love strange, strange groups of people but I've always had this weird primal fear of the crowd of hippie/raver hybrids turn against me and stick me in their elitist counterculture temple when all I want to do is take drugs and have filthy mudsex. There's something about crowds of reasonable-seeming people doing something terrible and irrational to an outsider that holds a very instinctual fear in me. As previously stated, most of The Wicker Man is fairly unscary and staged like a tea room mystery. Towards the end, when the final ghastly parade begins, I suddenly sympathized with the doomed officer.

Definitely go check this movie out. Apparently The Wicker Man is considered to be one of the best movies that ever came out of Great Britain. Beyond that, alls I can say is don't watch the seduction scene with an older relative in the room, unless you want a really uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinner.

This post is part of the Final Girl Film Club. For those of you who dug this post, welcome to my humble little blog. I'm a big horror fan and I like to apply my highly-honed, liberal-arts education bullshit shellacking skills to the stuff I enjoy. I cover movies, books, games, and music. We also got a podcast here. Welcome aboard!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Happy Friday the 13th

In all the rigamarole of work and classes and grad school applications, this little Creature completely forgot that today is Friday the 13th! Every year, this usually means cheesy slasher movie marathons with my friends, but I didn't realize or prepare for it. So tonight it's just me and my DVD collection. For the rest of you gleeful ghoulies, I wish you all a safe, fun, and stabby little Friday the 13th.

In celebration of the day, check out Final Girl's awesome post on Friday the 13th posters from around the world.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

My Favorite Vampires

I've always wanted to do one of these.

Every Halloween, and probably now after every Twilight movie, damn near every entertainment website publishes a list of their favorite vampires. As a for these kind of light articles, I always wind up a bit disappointed afterward. The lists are basically the same. It's the guy from Near Dark, the guy from Lost Boys, Edward, the kid from Let The Right One In, and a bone thrown to Count Orlock from Nosferatu as the scariest vampire ever captured on screen. By and large, these vampires tend to fall into two categories: the tormented creature of the night and the overenthusiastic predatory date rapist.

Don't get me wrong, the lists are usually pretty good. But there are a lot of great vampires out there that don't get a lot of recognition. So, without further ado, here's my favorite vampires:


My elementary school had a deal with Scholastic books where they sold tons of young adult books at discount. I'd bring their catalogue home and my parents, indulgent creatures that they were, bought me everything I wanted. Among the little treasures I picked up were kid-friendly versions of classic novels like Sherlock Holmes, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Dracula.

I loved those books. They introduced me to the fog-swept streets of Victorian England and the monsters that lurked among the cobblestone streets and tastefully-appointed drawing rooms. The books were wonderful gateways to imaginative fiction and classic literature. My favorite was, of course, Bram Stoker's immortal Dracula.

I loved the creepy Transylvanian Count, the decaying old keep on the mountainside, the sexy vampire women that inadvertently ushered me into puberty, the polite first meetings with the Count, Lucy wasting away, the chase across the mountains, and the exciting final battle between hero and monster. That shit was FUN.

The Count was cool. He was elegant and predatory and threatening. He hadn't been shellacked with that layer of romantic angst that vampires would pick up in the following years. Reading that book was a wonderful introduction to the character and it left a lasting impression on me. I have a copy of Dracula I picked up from my trip to Transylvania, I have a piece of masonry from Vlad Dracul's actual castle a few inches from me as I write this, and I've collected a bunch of goofy memorabilia. Dracula always was and will be the man.

Louis and Lestat

The whole romantic vampire thing started here. After Interview got published, vampires became less about monsters and more about power fantasies. Still, I have a lot of fondness for the silly, soppy little vampires of Anne Rice's tales.

I first encountered Lestat and Louis during my freshman year in high school, when I was all Gothic and susceptible to flowery prose. Until that point, vampires were undead soulless things, but getting to see history and morality from a vampire's point of view was fascinating.

I empathized more with Louis when I was younger. While all the superpowers and glamor sounds fun, I would have shared his distaste with hurting people. As time went on and my morality crumbled like a sand castle in a tsunami I came to love Lestat's "gentleman death" vibe. I didn't stick with the series long enough for him to become a Jesus allegory and I have come to understand that Anne Rice has since renounced her earlier work after her return to Catholicism. But I still greatly enjoyed both Interview and The Vampire Lestat.

Morbius The Living Vampire

Among my many nerdy obsessions, I was a huge comic book geek. I started reading during the late eighties, when dark-tinged supernatural heroes like Ghost Rider were big. Marvel, seizing on the popularity of the character, created a crossover series called Midnight Sons, reintroducing classic horror heroes into their own series. The best of all these books focused on Spider-Man's former vampiric nemesis Morbius The Living Vampire.

Morbius was unique in that he was not a supernatural vampire. The product of a botched medical experiment aimed at saving him from a life-threatening disease, Morbius developed powers and limitations suspiciously similar to a traditional vampires. While compelled to kill by a near-overpowering thirst, he was horrified by his actions.

One of the things I liked about Morbius was how intensely he struggled with his need for blood. Vampires are often a metaphor for addiction, though many romantic vampires jettison this aspect of the mythos. Morbius was a good man brought down by his curse, and the only way he reconciles himself with his needs is to prey on killers and other urban scum. He straddled the line between morality and damnation, and was pretty damn entertaining because of it.


Do you guys remember the third Castlevania game? In it, you could pick up one of three allies in your quest to take down Count Dracula. The most useful one was undoubtedly the wall-climbing pirate guy, but if you were willing to to cross the map you could enlist the assistance of Alucard, Dracula's estranged vampire son.

I loved the notion of playing a vampire. Sure, he didn't really do much beside change into a bat, but it was still a cool idea. Konami later expanded Alucard's role into a full game, the cult favorite Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Alucard was elegant and cool, and the notion of a son slaying his father for the greater good made for some interesting drama.


I'm not the world's biggest fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but they did get some things right. One of them was Drusilla, the mad seer vampire.

I loved Drusilla. She was gorgeous, she wore clothes and hairstyles from a different age, she spoke in delusion-fuelled poetry, and unlike most of the Whedonverse's vampires she never stopped being a nasty piece of work. Many of Whedon's vampire antagonists eventually came over to the light and often became diluted and boring but Drusilla remained a monster. She's one of those characters I'd like to transport into other horror stories because she shines a dark little light whenever she appears.


Garth Ennis's Preacher series, a cross-genre Vertigo series about a supernaturally-gifted preacher's search for God, gave us Proinsias Cassidy, Irish uprising volunteer turned vampire. He was one of the richest characters in comic history. Cassidy avoided the classical tropes of vampire. He didn't have fangs, he wasn't particularly elegant, and he was selfish and irresponsible. Unlike ninety percent of vampires-both good and bad-he was defined by who he was rather than the rules he had to live by.

I really liked Cassidy's backstory, particularly his involvement in the 1916 Easter uprising and his chance meetings with several historical and literary figures of Ireland and America. Vampires have the advantage of immortality and have the opportunity to witness history in the making. Most writers treat this aspect of vampirism in a very glib, shallow manner, but Cassidy's experiences are all cleverly filtered through his hard drinking, party-boy lifestyle. His wry observation on Brendan Behan's drinking and social habits are worth the price of admission alone.

Cassidy's lifestyle of overindulgence, fuelled by his body's ability to take whatever punishment life can throw at it, made him into a selfish, immature, weak person. He betrays his friends, sinks into drug addiction, hurts the people who care about him, and leaves a trail of ruined friendships in his wake. After burning every bridge and pissing away any shot at redemption, he reaches out to his last friend, trying to dig his way out of a very human damnation. Cassidy was a shit, but he's one of the best characters I've ever spent time with.


Hm. I was a little kid. I like vampires. I like bunnies. Just ask Professor Demon Bunny.

Therefore, I loved Bunnicula.


Remember that scene where the guy winds up in a strange dance club underneath a meat warehouse? He's in a weird crowd, enticed by a mysterious girl, and suddenly blood pours from the sprinklers. He screams, everyone cheers, and he realized they're all vampires. He runs away in terror, stumbles to the floor, crawls to safety, and just when all hope is lost...


Another one of Marvel's Midnight Sons characters, Blade really came into his own after he got into the movies. His world was dark and exotic, full of hedonistic vampires and the trappings of extreme wealth. Blade and his blue-collar operation wreck havoc on the vampire's ordered little world. It's all muscle cars and shotguns and harsh language, a far cry from Van Helsing's genteel efforts.

Invincible super-killers tend not to interest me, but Blade has some depth to him. As the series goes on we get the sense that Blade's quest borders on the fanatical He's at war with his predatory nature, he hates the vampire community yet he doesn't seem to like humans all that much. He exists in a terrible outsider state, orphaned and alone, turned cruel by his quest. Even when he's reunited with his supposedly dead father figure, the coldness Blade shows to the man while trying to figure out if he's turned reveals just how disconnected he is. It's a lonely life and Blade struggles to get by. He's just plain cool, and he is the obvious inspiration for Blacula Hunter Jefferson Twilight from The Venture Bros.


I have covered Let The Right One In at length before, in one of my better articles. The same stuff still holds true. I loved Eli's relationship with Oskar, I loved the weird combination of regret and viciousness that characterized Eli's personality. I loved the savage brutality of Eli's feeding, which is about a million miles away from any sexy neck nibbling. Like Cassidy, Eli works primarily because he/she is a great character. I am absolutely terrified about how bad the upcoming American remake will be.

Vampire: The Masquerade

There are two articles sitting on my blog dashboard that I haven't figured out a way to complete yet. One is on chilling Slave Labor Graphic mini-series Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and one on the now-defunct White Wolf RPG Vampire: The Masquerade. Both works had a tremendous impact on my adolescence.

V:tM is a game about secret societies of vampires operating beyond human awareness. You create a vampire and attempt to negotiate the Byzantinian politics of supernatural society, committing evil deeds while attempting to hang on to their last shreds of humanity.

V:tM worked because it covered every possible variation on vampirism. There were elegant vampires, thuggish vampires, exotic vampires, saintly vampires, devil vampires, and everything else in between. You could have a lot of fun creating an alternate persona for yourself. The system wasn't perfect and the mythology crumbled under its own weight, but it was a fun world to game in.


Back in the harsh and angst-ridden years of my mid-adolescence, I got involved in the Goth scene. My entire wardrobe went black, my music became much more down-tempo, and my hair got longer and very multi-colored.

I went to a small-town high school without much access to a counter culture, so me and my few "babybats" had nothing but the internet, some CDs, and old copies of Propaganda and Carpe Noctem magazine. We passed these little items back-and-forth between us and they lead us to the work of Gothling writer Poppy Z. Brite.

At the time, Poppy Z. Brite was famous in the Goth scene for writing Lost Souls, a vampire novel full of Goths, violence, New Orleans, and gay sex. Lots and lots of gay sex.

Seriously. Lots.

Obviously, this isn't a bad thing. Reading Poppy Z. Brite definitely broadened my mind. Once my frail little Catholic boy brain recovered from the shock, I found a really great story. Nothing, the moody protagonist, mirrored the isolation and impatience I felt from being a little odd in a square community. His slow awakening into his vampire heritage is fascinating to watch, and Brite is very good at painting Southern Gothic decay. It's a great book and writing this blog post has compelled me to re-read it.

Anyway, those are some of my favorite vampires. I hope you dug this list, and I'm sure I'll come up with a few more right after I publish this. In the meantime, enjoy the deluge of vampire romance.