Archive for Bram Stoker

Update 05/26/2020: World Dracula Day!

Posted in Bram Stoker, Dracula, Powers of Darkness (1901), Valdimar Ásmundsson with tags , , , on May 26, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

1st edition of Dracula.

Happy World Dracula Day! Bram Stoker introduced his infamous vampire count to us on this day in 1897. It is his most significant legacy, as his other novels fall short of having the same impact. I have read Dracula at least twice and love it, despite its many flaws. The character of Dracula is compelling and has outlived even his own story, becoming a household name and spawning countless (see what I did there?) imitators; he is the subject of everything from myriad book, comic and film adaptations to children’s shows, toys and even breakfast cereal. The novel is a bit clunky in spots, but it has great atmosphere and the character of the count is compelling.

The count climbs down the castle wall in an a scene taken from the novel. Cover art for a 1916 edition.

In 1901 an Icelandic translation, Makt Myrkranna (Powers of Darkness) by Valdimar Ásmundsson, was published, with Stoker’s apparent blessing, yet with major alterations in the story. Characters names were changed, the story streamlined, and salacious bits were added to spice it up a bit. This version was rediscovered in recent years and translated back to English for fans of the original to peruse. I picked up a copy a few years ago, but haven’t read it yet. Perhaps now in the quarantine, I shall.

Powers of Darkness: The Lost Version of Dracula (2017, Harry N. Abrams).

Update 05/15/2020: Quarantine Blues VIII

Posted in Alejandro Jodorowsky, Alucarda, Arthur Machen, Bela Lugosi, Bram Stoker, Cheryl Smith, Claudio Brook, Count Yorga Vampire (1970), Dark Shadows, Doyle Green, Dracula (1931), Edgar Allan Poe, Guillermo del Toro, H.P. Lovecraft, Juan Lopez Moctezuma, Justine (1791), Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural (1973), Lesley Gilb, Mario Bava, Marquis de Sade, Mervyn Peake, Michael Weldon, Mondo Macabro, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, Richard Blackburn, Robert Burn, Synapse Films, Updates, Vampire Films with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 15, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

The weekend before last my father and I met up (observing social distancing) and drove in our own cars to the Sprint store to update the phones on our family plan. In the past, my dad has been steadfast against getting iPhones so we had been using old school flip phones for years. However, this pandemic has shown him that some of the new fangled features he’d been so reluctant to embrace could actually come in handy during a time like this. So, after a prolonged discussion with the agreeable young man at the store, we both entered the 21st century with a pair of new smartphones. I must say it has been a challenge to work out all the ins & outs of this technology, but it has been worth it to finally communicate with friends whom I hadn’t been able to contact since mid-March. Thank you Dad!

Having gone through most of the regular choices in my DVD collection, I finally have begun pulling out some of the more obscure titles. One of the films I pulled was Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (1973) by (then) first-time director Richard Blackburn. Inspired by the success of Count Yorga, Vampire (1970), Blackburn and fellow film student Robert Burn decided to make their debut film a vampire tale. Blackburn took care of the writing and Fern handled the production aspects of the film.

Spanish poster for Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (1973).

In the commentary for the Synapse Films DVD release of the film Blackburn claims that his main inspirations were The Shadow over Innsmouth (1936) by H. P. Lovecraft, The White People (1904) by Arthur Machen and, to a lesser extent, Boy in Darkness by Mervyn Peake, but he also added elements from his personal life and upbringing in the South. The main plot revolves around a 13 year old girl, Lila (played by then 16 year old Cheryl Smith) who is the estranged daughter of gangster, Alvin Lee (not to be confused with the guitarist). Alvin broke out of prison and killed his ex (Lila’s mother, whom he finds in flagrante delicto with another man) and is on the run.

Alvin eventually ends up arriving at night in a remote area where he comes upon an old Victorian house. A woman appears on the porch shrouded in a hooded cloak. He shoots at her with his shotgun, to no avail. We later see that he is taken in by the woman and held captive in a room. Going through his personal effects, she finds a newspaper article linking Alvin with his daughter Lila, who has become a local celebrity at church for her angelic voice under the auspices of the Reverend (Blackburn), who harbors repressed longings for the girl. Posing as an envoy for the girl’s father, she writes Lila a contrite letter, claiming to be on his deathbed, asking her to come see him so he can die knowing she forgives him. The woman emphasizes that Lila should tell no one where she is going and that she should come alone. She signs the letter, Lemora…

Wanting to do the Christian thing, Lila packs a bag and sneaks out, leaving a letter for the Reverend explaining what she is doing, but not where she is going. Following Lemora’s instruction, she takes a night bus to the town of Astaroth, a neglected backwater that the neighboring towns won’t have anything to do with. The bus is manned by a weird character who acts as a stand in for town drunk Zadok Allen in Lovecraft’s The Shadow over Innsmouth, essentially giving the backstory of the town and setting up the imminent attack of the mindless ghouls who are later explained by Lemora to be debased vampires whose intrinsic benighted nature eventually manifests in their bestial transmogrification.

Lila is saved when a group of Lemora’s vampire henchmen come to fend off the ghouls. She runs, at first, but is eventually caught and placed in “the stone room” where she is essentially held captive without any explanation. An old crone, Solange, comes to give her food and at first mistakes her for another girl named Mary Jo (In a chilling scene towards the end of the film, Lila will find the remains of Mary Jo in a storage room, propped up in a casket with a glass cover, her eyes darkened with kohl rather like a Gothic Snow White, her name written on the lid in dust). Lila implores her to explain what is going on but Solange just responds by singing a Southern version of the folk song Old Lady All Skin and Bones, while encircling the frightened girl. Eventually, during a later visit, she manages to knock Solange down and make a run for it, but is quickly recaptured by Lemora who takes her into the house to begin her slow seduction of the girl, which nowadays would raise a few eyebrows. Lila finds her father, but it is not a happy reunion, and the Reverend eventually catches up with his desiderated Lila but, as his motives are tainted, so is the result of his quest.

Lemora, as portrayed by actress Leslie Gilb, is an odd character. She is a striking figure, tall and pale, dressed in black, with her hair done up in some 19th century variation of the bouffant or pompadour. Her narrow face bears sharp cheekbones and large dark eyes that are just mesmerizing. Close ups reveal purple lips and rosacea, which Blackburn said he intended as a sign of having had consumption. Her little entourage of creepy vampire children all bear the same look. Some Internet trolls have complained that her delivery is stilted but, rather like Bela Lugosi‘s phonetic delivery as the count in Dracula (1931), I think it adds an eeriness to her overall persona.

Leslie Gilb as Lemora.

Likewise, Cheryl Smith’s insistence on giving a subdued performance despite Blackburn’s direction to be more skittery, actually adds to the mood of the piece. Blackburn admits now that the young actress’ choice was an perceptive one. He observed, in the commentary to the DVD, that, had the audience been made to identify with a heroine who was always screaming and carrying on for the whole feature, it would have been tiresome. Most of the action takes place at night under a blue tint, rather the early color Gothic films of Mario Bava. Like Bava’s films, Lemora is oneiric, lurid, yet artful. The narrative doesn’t always make sense, but some of the imagery is striking and gets under your skin. The main difference here being the shoestring budget, which shows in many spots and, despite his heart being in the right place and some naïve ingenuity, Blackburn and company don’t quite have Bava’s creative genius for creating masterpieces out of nothing using the tools at hand. Still one forgives, rather like fans of the original Dark Shadows.

Synapse Films DVD for Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural.

In the end, Lemora is an entertaining and somewhat original take on a vampire film that doesn’t use the same tired tropes, and if one gets past some of the amateur aspects of the production, it can be quite enjoyable. The DVD I watched is the Synapse Films release, which has a clean, uncut, print, with a photo gallery and insightful feature length commentary from Blackburn, Burn and Gilb.

Dealing with a similar theme, yet on the opposite side of the spectrum is the horror film Alucarda, by Mexican director Juan Lopez Moctezuma. The quote on the DVD from Mondo Macabro quotes Michael Weldon from The Psychotronic Video Guide as saying of the film, “More blood, loud creaming and nudity than any horror film I can think of.” According to his colleagues, Moctezuma was a big fan of Horror cinema and literature, and it shows. The script is essentially a retelling of Carmilla by J.S. Le Fanu, with Alucarda filling in for the young vampiress, and Justine (named after the hapless heroine from the eponymous novella by the Marquis de Sade) the victim of her deleterious attentions.

The film begins with the birth of Alucarda in a very stylized crypt, with bas-relief images of nude writhing figures on it’s ivied walls. Her mother, Lucy Westenra (Dracula’s victim in the 1897 novel by Bram Stoker, although sometimes swapped out with her friend Mina Harker née Murray, the book’s heroine, in some of the myriad film adaptations) gives birth and hands her off to a wild looking character to take before she is presumably done in by a menacing specter, whose presence is insinuated, but never seen.

Next scene, 15 years later, a young orphan, Justine is dropped off at an abbey-cum-orphanage, of no specific denomination, although it is intimated that it is some zealotic offshoot of Catholicism, where the reredo behind the altar is composed of multiple grim-looking crucifixes, and the nuns are almost shrouded in dingy, tattered garments that look like bloodied rags, which cover their bodies entirely, save for their faces. She is put in a room, which seems unoccupied at first, until a figure appears from the shadows, her apparent roommate, Alucarda. The two become fast friends and go for romps in the forest where they see a funeral procession, like in the Le Fanu story, and also come across an outré hunchback (actor Claudio Brook, who Guillermo del Toro calls the “Christopher Lee of Mexico”), who tempts them with charms and later indoctrinates them into the ways of witchcraft and devilry with the assistance of his gypsy companion. Before returning home, they stumble upon the ruined crypt where Alucarda was born. They find Lucy’s coffin and when Alucarda opens it they are shocked to find a mummified corpse. A groan is heard as some malefic miasma exudes from the coffin, engulfing the girls, who scream and run from the haunted edifice.

Alucarda (left) and Justine (right) pledge their troth to Satan.

The girls go back to the orphanage and cause a ruckus when they spout blasphemies at a catechism class. Alucarda revels in her rebellion, whereas Justine seems oblivious of her transgression. It is implied over and again that Justine is an unwitting pawn of the forces around her. She is pulled in many directions by Alucarda  the abbey superiors, and a nun, Sister Angélica, who seems to take an especial interest in her well being. Alucarda’s recitation of maledictions, beginning with the phrase “And this is what the devil does…” has been sampled by dark industrial band My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult on their debut album I See Good Spirits and I See Bad Spirits (1988).

As the movie progresses Alucarda becomes more defiant and embraces her new diabolic status as the brothers and sisters attempt to bridle her overwhelming personality, while Justine withers under their reins, and eventually succumbs under their torturous ministrations. Chaos is sparked in the abbey when Justine’s body disappears and the sister left in charge of her vigil is found dead at the scene. The dead sister is later decapitated when she attempts to rise from her bier as one of the undead. The scene where Sister Angélica confronts the undead Justine features startling imagery taken directly from Carmilla.

Alucarda’s revenge on the abbey for their censorship of her diabolic activities, as well as their mistreatment of Justine, is truly apocalyptic, but I don’t want to give away the end and spoil the film like an overly detailed trailer (I hate those things, why watch the movie? You’ve shown all the best parts already!) but there are some striking scenes and some heady underlying themes. Moctezuma clearly has some issues with religion, although his assessment of science, represented by Dr. Oszek (actor Claudio Brook in a dual role) is not much better. For a detailed discussion of this and some of the other themes in the film one may turn to Mexican Cinema of Darkness: A Critical Study of Six Landmark Horror and Exploitation Films, 1969-1988 by Doyle Green. I don’t always agree with his assessments, but he gives some interesting history on the Mexican indie/exploitation film scene of the late 60’s and early 70s and explains Moctezuma’s connections with avant-garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky and the influence of that scene on his own work.

The Mexican Cinema of Darkness, by Doyle Greene, the cover of which features the poster art for Alucarda.

I understand Moctezuma had planned a sequel provisionally called something like Alucarda Returns from The Tomb, but never got around to it. I have considered writing my own story along those lines with that title. Perhaps someday I will, but only if I can do justice to this masterful blend of the surreal with the Gothic. Moctezuma made another vampire film, Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary (1975), but more as a hired gun. Oddly enough, that film has a protagonist (Mary) who drinks blood, but she has none of the supernatural powers of the classic creature, while Alucarda has many of the legendary vampiric attributes but, save for a ritualistic taste of Justine’s blood in their initiation into the coven, does not drink blood. He also filmed a loose adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe‘s tale The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, but that is a review for another day.





Update 04/15/2020: Quarantine Blues III

Posted in A. Lee Martinez, Antonio Margheriti, Barbara Steele, Black Sunday (1960), Boris Karloff, Bram Stoker, Carlo Rustichelli, Christopher Lee, Contes cruels, Count Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy, Cryptozoology, Denisse Montoya, Doom Metal, Dracula, Full Moon Features, Giallo, Gil's All Fright Diner (2006), Guy de Maupassant, Halina Zalewska, Hammer Horror, I tre volti della paura (1963), Johanna Sadonis, John Langan, Kiss (band), La frusta e il corpo (1963), Lamberto Bava, Lucifer (band), Lucifer III (2020), Mario Bava, Motörhead, Paul Stanley, Puppet Master (franchise), Rue Morgue Magazine, The Fisherman (2016), Tim Lucas, Updates, Zachary Strupp with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Well I believe it has been around a month since I have visited either family or friends. My only social interactions are with co-workers and the staff at my local coffee shop, both of which are necessarily brief. I cannot wait till this is all over and done with; although, as I told my cousin when I called her this weekend to relay my good tidings for the holiday, even when they lift the quarantine edict, I am not sure that I will feel safe enough to see anyone right away. We’ll see what happens whenever they do.

A colleague at work made me a mask, but I am having issues with the fastening buttons, trying to get them into the thread loops. I am just not that nimble with my arthritic fingers anymore. I may have to attach a safety pin or something the get it to stay in place. My friend Denisse says she is going to try to procure some quilter’s cotton, which apparently is good for filtering out the virus. If she does, she promise’s to hook me up with a mask. Fingers crossed…

In the interim, I try to stay connected through calls and text, as I have none of the gadgets that people are using to keep in touch. My good friend Zach Strupp sent me a care-package, which I received Saturday. It was loaded with goodies: first off, there were two novels which he wanted me to read, one is Gil’s All Fright Diner (2006), by A. Lee Martinez, which he has been trying to have me read for some time, and the other is The Fisherman (2016), by John Langan, a weird tale about two widowers and their encounter with a figure called The Fisherman. I started reading the latter, since he was anxious that I should do so, so we can talk about it. So far I am wrapping up the 3rd chapter, which is the set up. The action is supposed to begin in the 4th chapter, which begins the second section of the book.

The Fisherman, by John Langan (2016, Word Horde).

Also in the box were two notepads, both a red and a black pen, 3 issues of Rue Morgue magazine (one of which was one of their special themed publications-from their Rue Morgue Library-this one featuring the creatures of cryptozoology), a DVD of the Puppet Master franchise from Full Moon Features, various supplies and paper products and, last but not least, some plastic Easter Eggs filled with little malted egg candies! Zach has begun a blog where he talks Horror films and various other topics which you may find at Also, if you’re looking for a fun read you can check out his Killing Heart book series available on Amazon in both trade paperback and eBook formats.

Rue Morgue Library: Monstro Bizarro.

Saturday I picked up (curbside; a popular service these days during the lockdown) a CD I ordered from Zia records of the latest album by Johanna Sadonis & co., Lucifer III. The sound is a continuation of the more streamlined, 70’s rock sound from the previous album replete with Johanna’s customary occult themes. Sadly, it seems the Doom Metal of Lucifer I is definitely a thing of the past, but once one accepts that, it’s not a bad album. In fact, I rather like the song Midnight Phantom, which is featured in one of two videos made to promote the album. There is no new ground treaded here, but overall the quality of the remaining album is consistently decent if not exactly revelatory. What can I say? I just Like Johanna Sadonis. Oh, by the way, she is now Johanna Plowtow Andersson, having married her writing partner, drummer Nicke Plotow Andersson.

Lucifer 2020 (l to r): Harald Göthblad (bass), Martin Nordin (guitar), Johanna Plotow Andersson (vocals), Nicke Plotow Andersson (drums), Linus Björklund (guitar).

Caveat emptor , I have seen several reviews of the LP on Amazon where customers complain about the album sleeve being a bit flimsy and either arriving damaged in the mail or falling apart once they open it. As usual, there are multiple collectible versions  featuring colored vinyl, a copy of the CD, and a black and white version of the above photo with autographs by the images of the respective bandmembers. As with their previous albums, there are several singles and non-album b-sides accompanying this release. Apparently Lucifer were part of some challenge where groups were asked to write a song in the style of Motörhead, the results of which were made available as part of a subscription promotion for a Swedish music magazine. The resulting single, Fire Up & Ride can be heard on YouTube, but the 7″ single was limited edition in 111 copies, presumably long gone. I rather like it and wish they’d make it available for order on their site. I have also found a recent recording of a Paul Stanley song, Take Me Away (Together as One). The cover is okay, but the song isn’t especially exciting for me. I have never been a Kiss fan, and their solo work even less so.

Fire Up and Ride single by Lucifer

I spent most of my past week and this weekend watching Italian Horror films. I have several on Blu-ray, but my player shit the bed a while back, so I turned to my DVDs, beginning with Antonio Margheriti‘s I lunghi capelli della morte (1964, The Long Hair of Death), featuring my beloved Barbara Steele. In the 15th century a woman, Adele, is put to death for witchcraft, by Count Humboldt whose advances she spurned. Her daughter Mary (Steele in one of her infamous dual roles) tries to sway him but as he takes advantage of her offer, the mother is burned in a public execution. In her dying breath, she curses Humboldt and predicts the fall of his house. When Mary finds out about his betrayal she runs, but is overtaken by the Count and pushed off a cliff into a running stream where she perishes.

Adele’s youngest daughter, Lisabeth is taken in by the Count and raised within Humboldt castle, where she grows to be a lovely, but very sober woman. This role as well as that of Adele, is portrayed by the actress Halina Zalewska. The count’s son, Kurt, has his greedy eyes on Lisabeth and hounds her till she reluctantly consents, under some duress, to marry him. He is a cad, and is abusive with her and continually forces himself on her until the arrival of a new face… or is it? This is another plague movie by the way. I seem to keep coming across these nowadays. The Long Hair of Death is sometimes dismissed as a second tier movie because of it’s deliberate pace, but I believe it’s worth wading through the slow build up to fully appreciate the devastating climax. Besides, there is plenty of Gothic atmosphere and Steele is her usual uncanny self.

Barbara Steele as Helen Rochefort, eyeing her prey.

I then moved on to a Mario Bava-thon, beginning with my favorite, La maschera del demonio (1960, Black Sunday). As I have stated before, this Gothic fantasy is unequalled in it’s decadent visual style and in Steele’s performance in the dual roles of Princesses Asa & Katia Vajda. She is lovely as the mild and innocent Katia, but it as her wicked ancestor, Asa that her infamy rests. Her mixture of passionate eroticism and vile grotesqueness are positively mesmerizing. The opening scene, featuring her execution through having a spiked mask pounded onto her comely countenance, is as graphic as anyone had seen in a film of this type previously. Neither Bava, nor anyone else for that matter, ever topped this film, within the genre, for it’s visual splendor and grotesque beauty. A final note: I especially love the scene where her identity is discovered by the romantic lead to be that of the witch and not the ingénue and we are treated to a view of her not-as-yet regenerated torso which harkens the cover art from the penny dreadful Varney the Vampire, with the titular vampire’s exposed ribcage.

Asa uncloaked.

I then watched the Italian cut of I tre volti della paura (1963, Black Sabbath). My only complaint about this version is that it doesn’t have most of the intros by Karloff, nor does it have his incomparable vocal performance  (being dubbed into Italian). That said, this version does contain the original running order of the shorts as well as the preferred edit of the giallo segment The Telephone, that dispenses with the convoluted supernatural pretense and also shows the true nature of the relationship between the two women. The Karloff segment, The Wurdalak, is loosely based on the Family of the Vourdalak (1839) by Count Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy, although it also owes a bit to Guy de Maupassant‘s story, La peur (1882, Fear) which tells the story of the traveler coming upon a home where a family is held prisoner by fear of the avenging revenant of a felled villain. Bava scholar, Tim Lucas believes Karloff’s look, as Gorca the paterfamilias, is reminiscent of Bram Stoker‘s description of Count Dracula. Perhaps, I don’t know whether that was intentional or just happenstance. It does have some genuinely creepy stuff that might not fly nowadays, like Gorca preying on his grandson. That aside, Karloff is brilliant, and this version contains some gory scenes (for the time period) that AIP cut out for the American release. The third segment, The Drop of Water, which ends the American release, yet begins the Italian cut, is based on a story accredited to Anton Chekov,  yet was later discovered to actually be based on a story called Dalle due alle tre e mezzo by Italian author Franco Lucentini. Basically, the story is about a woman who comes to prepare the body of a deceased medium for burial. The medium, who apparently died of an attack of some sort during a séance, is left with a ghastly grimace on her face, which spooks the woman, but not enough to keep her from pilfering a ring from the dead medium’s hand; an act that will incur dire consequences. I recall being terrified by this segment when I first saw it, many moons ago. Bava’s son, Lamberto Bava, says that since seeing this segment he cannot sleep at night if there is a dripping faucet anywhere in his home. The face was made by Bava’s father, sculptor Eugenio Bava. An unnamed actor wore it in the scene where the corpse rises from it’s repose, but the rest of the time it was affixed to a dummy that was rolled around on wheels to give the effect of it floating, rather than walking towards its victim.

The corpse of the medium with it’s ghastly grimace.

Next up was Operazione paura (1966, Kill, Baby, Kill). I have always felt that this film was a bit weak, although seeing it again now, I really enjoyed it. It doesn’t have any stars like Barbara Steele to recommend it, but there are some great characters, like the Baroness Graps (portrayed by Giana Vivaldi), a noblewoman fallen on hard times in the mode of Dickens’ Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. The Baroness’ daughter Melissa perished 10 years prior due to the negligence of her neighbors when she was run down by a carriage and they ignored her requests for help. Now her vengeful ghost keeps the villagers in constant fear of her deadly visitations. Melissa was actually played by a boy, Valerio Valeri, who gave her a creepy quality. Despite his androgynous look, one can tell in the murk of one’s mind that something is a bit off. This usage of a child as the instrument of evil has since become a common cinematic trope in the genre.

Creepy Melissa Graps and her dolls.

The last of the Bava Gothics I watched was La frusta e il corpo (1963, The Whip and the Body) featuring Hammer Horror star Christopher Lee and Israeli actress Daliah Lavi. This is a strange movie. Lee is Kurt Menliff, an estranged son returning to his family castle to stake his claim on his inheritance and bring discord to his brother’s recent marriage to his former lover, Nevenka (Lavi). Nevenka claims to hate Kurt, but is obviously obsessed with him and the film depicts in frank terms their sadomasochistic relationship, which upset a lot of people when the movie first came out, causing it to be seized for charges of obscenity, which were later dropped.

Kurt is killed early on and buried, but Nevenka claims to be haunted by his ghost, who comes and whips her in her bedroom when everyone else is asleep. These scenes were cut from the American release, which made the movie very confusing for viewers. All this however, has been restored in the respective DVD/Blu-ray releases from Kino Lorber. Although upset that he wasn’t asked to do the voice dub for the English version of the film, Christopher Lee was very proud of his role as Kurt, and he seems to really relish lording over the exquisite Daliah Lavi,  who gives a passionate performance as the harried Nevenka, whose true feelings for Kurt, despite her constant declarations of her hate for him, are betrayed by her ecstatic response to his flagellate ministrations: “You haven’t changed, I see. You’ve always loved violence.” Kurt growls as he lashes her.

Kurt and Nevenka (Lee and Lavi: note the whip in her hand.)

The film is dripping with Gothic atmosphere and tropes and has an Anne Radcliffe type twist ending that has some minor plot holes but one may forgive them when weighed against the great performances from the lead actors. The celebrated film score, known as the Windsor Concerto, by Carlo Rustichelli, who also scored The Long Hair of Death and Kill, Baby, Kill, is very lush and brings to mind the grandiose Romantic piano concertos of the late 19th century.


Next installment: Bava goes Giallo!




Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla”

Posted in Bram Stoker, Carmilla, Christopher Lee, Collinson twins, David Henry Friston (illustrator), Dracula, Emily Gerard, Hammer Horror, Ingrid Pitt, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Juan López Moctezuma, Karnstein Trilogy, LGBT vampires, Lust for a Vampire, Madeline Smith, Michael Fitzgerald (illustrator), Morbidezza, Peter Cushing, Robert W. Chambers, Roy Ward Baker, Shout! Factory, Thalía, The Dark Blue (magazine), The King in Yellow (1895), Transylvania Superstitions (1885), Twins of Evil, Vampire Fiction, vampire novellas, Yutte Stensgaard with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

At some point in my life I became fascinated with the Victorian Vampire tale and sought out every extant instance of it that I could find. I haunted my local bookstores and purchased from mail order catalogues specializing in Dark Fantasy and Horror (obviously this was in the days before the Internet) but after a while I began to see the same stories and after reading them, there were only a select few which I ever felt compelled to return to. Such a one is Carmilla, the infamous novella by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. It is largely known nowadays as the story that spawned the genre of sexually ambiguous  vampires, but it is so much more than that and deserves to be acknowledged as one of the greatest Gothic Horror stories ever written.

“…I saw a female figure standing at the foot of the bed, a little at the right side. It was in a dark loose dress, and its hair was down and covered its shoulders. A block of stone could not have been more still.” (David Henry Friston, 1872)

It was originally serialized in the short-lived literary magazine, The Dark Blue, from 1871-1872, with illustrations by Michael Fitzgerald and David Henry Friston (respectively). It is presented as an account written by the protagonist, Laura, 10 years after her encounter with the eponymous vampire. (SPOILERS AHEAD!)

Basically, Carmilla is an aristocratic teenage vampire who plays on social etiquette to wheedle her way into the homes of the gentry where she woos and feeds on the young women of the household. To keep herself fettle during her protracted courtships she creeps out at night and drains the village daughters. It is this emphasis on same sex seduction that has given the tale its notoriety. Hammer studios exploited this in their 1970 film, Vampire Lovers, which alternately boosted and doomed the career of the curvaceous Polish born actress Ingrid Pitt. Although in her 30s at the time, her mesmerizing portrayal of the predatory countess is so iconic that it guaranteed her an esteemed place through posterity in the Horror film annals alongside her male counterparts, like Christopher Lee.

The movie was basically Hammer’s attempt to spice up their brand with a saucy new franchise, which came to be known as the Karnstein Trilogy, named after the family of vampires from which Carmilla was one of the lone survivors. Surprisingly enough, the film follows Le Fanu’s story fairly closely, although they do play up the erotic aspects of the tale and even have Ms. Pitt frolicking naked with co-star Madeline Smith (who plays Emma, the film’s equivalent to Laura) and seducing anyone and everyone (male or female) who has the arguable misfortune to come within her path. She is very charismatic and has a sensual allure that is very like her literary counterpart and, like her, when it comes time to vamp out, she is genuinely terrifying.

The film did well enough to spawn two sequels, however Ms. Pitt declined to renew her role for fear of being typecast, and subsequently the follow-up film, 1971’s Lust for a Vampire, was a weak link in the series. The story had some good plot ideas but was marred by the cardboard acting of Danish model turned actress Yutte Stensgaard and an emphasis on lurid, puerile softcore scenes. The 3rd installment, Twins of Evil (also 1971), had a better script, the delectable Collinson twins, and a grave performance by the recently widowed Peter Cushing, to recommend it.

Magazine promo featuring the ladies from Vampire Lovers. Ingrid Pitt is in the top row, dressed in blue.

Oddly enough, in the  featurette on the Blu-ray release of Vampire Lovers, from Shout Factory, the director, Roy Ward Baker, as well as many of the others involved with the movie claimed they never saw the Sapphic subtext in the Le Fanu story. I find that hard to believe; either they’re being coy or they are willfully ignoring the obvious. That said, I don’t think Le Fanu intended for his tale to be salacious, as he never stoops to tawdry titillations in his descriptions of Carmilla’s heated declarations and osculatory embraces. A modern reader must understand that in the Victorian mind, homosexuality was considered an unnatural transgression and a damning affront to God; this can be seen in Laura’s adverse reaction to Carmilla’s advances, which she initially tries to dismiss as “mysterious moods”. They trouble her greatly, but Carmilla’s glamour of preternatural beauty and persuasive powers have a way of softening her aversion.

There is great Gothic atmosphere in the story as well as some genuinely creepy moments that are brilliantly written, like when Laura describes her spectral visitations; the first visit from Carmilla as a young child is particularly vivid and disturbing. I was also blindsided by the implication that Laura is distantly related to the Karnsteins. It made me wonder, is Carmilla trying to bring another family member into the depleted Karnstein family vampire coven? Laura’s mother died young and I believe she may have been taken or at least an attempt was made to take her, although this isn’t fully explored in the tale. Carmilla hints at such a thing, and more, in this telling passage from chapter 4 wherein I believe she hints at her vampiric nature, which she claims even she cannot control, and that, once initiated, Laura will bring others into the fold as well:

She used to place her pretty arms about my neck, draw me to her, and laying her cheek to mine, murmur with her lips near my ear, “Dearest, your little heart is wounded; think me not cruel because I obey the irresistible law of my strength and weakness; if your dear heart is wounded, my wild heart bleeds with yours. In the rapture of my enormous humiliation I live in your warm life, and you shall die—die, sweetly die—into mine. I cannot help it; as I draw near to you, you, in your turn, will draw near to others, and learn the rapture of that cruelty, which yet is love; so, for a while, seek to know no more of me and mine, but trust me with all your loving spirit.”

Although not the first literary vampire, Carmilla did help establish many of the tropes we expect nowadays from our vampires, like returning to their place of burial each night, their mesmeric power, pointy teeth, the ability to shapeshift (Carmilla turns into a great shadowy cat), and even the ability to breach locked doors without effort.

Bram Stoker appears to have been familiar with the story, as there are some analogous scenes and details in Dracula (1897). In fact, before he discovered Emily Gerard‘s treasure trove travel essay Transylvania Superstitions (1885), he was going to have the novel take place in Styria, the Austrian state where Le Fanu’s tale takes place. I also suspect that perhaps the Baron Vordenburg, who is the vampire authority in the tale, could have been an inspiration for Stoker’s Abraham Van Helsing.

I wonder as well whether the tomes Le Fanu mentions as coming from his library which, after an unfruitful precursory search, I assume are fictitious, might not also be considered precursors to the imaginary grimoires of the Lovecraft mythos, predating even Robert W ChambersKing in Yellow.

Nowadays, any time someone writes an erotic vampire tale, especially if it hints at lesbianism, the character of Carmilla is bound the make an appearance at some point. The Karnstein name has been bandied about in many Horror and exploitation films over the years, and Carmilla has appeared in countless comic books, cartoons, video games, you name it. In fact, despite never having  quite become household name, she is probably the most famous literary vampire after Dracula.

Both stories are heavily plundered in the exploitation film Alucarda, by Mexican director Juan López Moctezuma. A few scenes are taken directly from Carmilla, like the scene with the hunchback who tries to sell the girls charms, and the bit where they enter the crypt and find Alucarda’s friend reposing in a coffin overbrimming in blood.

Lastly, I have been smitten with Carmilla for decades. Her story has definitely had an influence on the development of my own vampire women, Thalía & Morbidezza, and I reckon I’ll continue to be in her thrall until the day I stretch out for a dolce far niente in my own narrow house, to dream of bats, blood, and fair fey women amidst the crumbling tombs of the Karnstein family crypt.




Impressions of Spectral Realms #10

Posted in Adam Bolivar, Ann K. Schwader, Ashley Dioses, Black Mass, Bram Stoker, Charles Lovecraft, Chelsea Arrington, Christina Sng, Clark Ashton Smith, David Barker, Donald Sidney-Fryer, Dracula, English Folk-Rock, Eye To the Telescope, Flying Dutchman, G. Sutton Breiding, Hippocampus Press, Jan Švankmajer, Joshua Gage, K.A. Opperman, Leigh Blackmore, Liam Garriock, Manuel Perez-Campos, Marcos Legaria, Michael Fantina, Robert Nelson, Scott J. Couturier, Spectral Realms, The Pentangle, Wade German, Weird Poetry with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2019 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Spectral Realms #10: Winter 2019 (2019, Hippocampus Press).

I have received my contributor copy of Spectral Realms #10, from Hippocampus Press, and am loving it! The cover art, Chiron’s Burden – Pleiades Children, by Kim Bo Yung looks gorgeous in person; its weirdly celestial imagery and sublime blue tint is really eye-catching. Many of the poets featured in the previous issue are here, although a couple of my friends are disappointingly absent. Most notably, for me, K.A. Opperman, and Chelsea Arrington. Some of my other colleagues are represented, however, all of whom offer significant contributions to this issue.

Ashley DiosesLife Decayed tells shows the futility of trying to outrun the Reaper; Scott J. Couturier‘s Lord of Pumpkins is a fitting tribute to the conspicuously absent K.A. Opperman. I particularly liked the refrain:

Into the patch I gleefully go, / to fix my roots, to coil & grow.

Frank Coffman‘s The Witches’ Rite at Beltane revels in diabolic imagery that brought to mind the Black Mass scene from the silent film Häxan (1922). Apparently it is written in an original format he calls quinta rima.  His poem The Dutchman seems a cross between the Flying Dutchman legend and Samuel Taylor Coleridge‘s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. There are also worthy contributions from some of the long-standing names in weird poetry like Leigh Blackmore, Ann K. Schwader, David Barker, and Charles Lovecraft, to name a few. Mr. Blackmore’s When the Nightwind Howls is a lovely tribute to the late Michael Fantina.

Concerning the rest of the contributions, everything is generally of good quality, but some pieces do rise above the rest; for me anyway. The first poem to really grab me was Eurynomos, by Wade German, about the mythological daemon, with its ghoulish imagery.  His other contribution to this issue, The Driver of the Dragon’s Coach, is a nice addition to the many works referencing Bram Stoker‘s Dracula. Next was The Haunting Bones by  Adam Bolivar, whom I have just recently become acquainted with through social media. His poem is an original take on the story from the traditional Cruel Sister ballad, which I am familiar with through the celebrated rendition by the English Folk-Rock band The Pentangle. His Mad Jack-a-Lee is yet another twist on a popular folk song. In this case, the bloody tale of Stagger Lee. Salem Liberation, by Manuel Perez-Campos. Both this, and The Mirror of Arkham Woe, his other contribution to the issue, really grabbed me in a way his previous work hadn’t. They’re basically prose poems formatted to look like verse, but their imagery and delineation are exquisite.

Joshua Gage‘s The Old Ones: A Ghazal takes a seemingly Lovecraftian spin on the ancient Arabic poetic form. The repetition of the second line refrain creates a cantatory effect which is mesmerizing. Liam Garriock‘s prose poem The Assignment tells a creepy tale inspired by the surrealist works of filmmaker Jan Švankmajer.

I feel that I must take a moment to mention renowned poet Christina Sng. She has a couple of poems in this issue as well. She tends to write prose which she breaks up to look like verse, rather like Mr. Perez-Campos did with his contributions to this issue. Her stories are well crafted, and her language is crisp and contemporary, with good use of economy. In fine, she is very good at what she does, but her work just doesn’t move me. Still, out of respect, I believe she bears mentioning, especially since she is a significant contributor to Spectral Realms.

The list goes on, and there are many more noteworthy pieces in issue #10 of Spectral Realms, even more by some of the aforementioned poets, but I do not have the time or room to cover each and every one.

Other features in this issue are the Classic Reprints, and an index to the first 10 issues of Spectral Realms. Donald Sidney-Fryer does an assessment of the poet G. Sutton Breiding which I found intriguing. Leigh Blackmore does a review of the Witch issue of Eye To the Telescope, and Marcos Legaria continues his enlightening essay on Clark Ashton Smith‘s influence on poet Robert Nelson.

Lastly, this is the first issue to feature two of my pieces, the prose poems Gargoyle and Morbidezza. Mr. Joshi corrected my Latin on Morbidezza, I mention that she used a bible for divination. The term I used was sorte sanctorum. It is in the journal as sors sanctorum. I looked it up and apparently, sorte is the plural of sors, and as I am referring to a singular item, it is the correct tense of the word. I’m glad he caught it!

Next issue I’ll be having two pieces, The Baleful Beldam and Vampire Vigil. After that I don’t have anything set, so I must get cracking on writing something new!

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Walpurgis Night

Posted in Bram Stoker, Dracula, Dracula's Guest, Gothic Poetry, Gothic Prose, Poetry, Prose Poetry, Walpurgis Night, Walpurgisnacht, Weird Poetry with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2016 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Tonight is Walpurgis Night, named after the English Medieval missionary, St. Walpurga, who first brought Christianity to the Germanic people. Her feast day is May 1st, and the eve of the day, April 30th, is often celebrated with dancing and reveling. Somewhere along the line this reveling became identified with the Witch’s Sabbath and Walpurgisnacht, as it is known in Germany, became a night of ill omens and devilry.

Sometime in the early 90’s I wrote a prose piece entitled “Walpurgis Night”, which was inspired by 2 things: one was a stencil someone had sprayed on the wall of my favorite pizza joint on Newbury Street in Boston, which read “Walpurgis Night” in black letters. I always assumed it was a local Goth or Metal band, but brief online research has revealed nothing that I can find. I was later to find, after the fact however, that one of my favorite bands, Black Sabbath, had originally intended their song “War Pigs” to be called “Walpurgis”. Both video and audio documentation of an early version of the song featuring a more lyrical emphasis on the black mass imagery has been available for some time now for public consumption. They had even decided to call the album “Walpurgis”, but the record executives thought it sounded too Satanic, so they toned down the devil imagery and made the newly titled song “War Pigs” into more of an anti-war tune. Of course, when they came up with “Paranoid”, they scrambled to promote that instead as the single and the new title of  the album, the artwork for which still played off of the “War Pigs” theme and confused a lot of stoners back in the day.

The other inspiration, which will be apparent to anyone who is familiar with it, is Bram Stoker’s short story, “Dracula’s Guest”, which was an excised early draft chapter from the original novel.

“Walpurgis Night” is far from my best work, and a little hokey in retrospect, some 25 or so years down the line, but it is an indication of where my creative writing would eventually go.

And so, without further ado, I present to you my prose poem “Walpurgis Night”…

"Walpurgisnacht" by Johannes Praetorius (1668).

“Walpurgisnacht” by Johannes Praetorius (1668).

Your friend is a fool, and shall die as such. You Englishmen, so arrogant! Where is the precious Crown for him now? His impressively  untainted lineage will mean nothing to the wolves. All blood tastes the same to them, blue or otherwise; but that is the least of his worries.

He would indeed be fortunate if it were only the wolves whom he met with.  For there are myriad other creatures which shall be roaming the lonely roads tonight, far more horrible than they. The dead shall rise and the witches shall be reveling in their sabbats and rutting rituals, and the Light Bearer shall hold sway.

Not a one of  my men would go out on this of all nights to search for any man, no matter what the price. For you see, tonight is a night for prayers, garlic rubbing, and door bolting. Tonight my friend, is Walpurgis Night!