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BRAM STOKER’S GREAT-GRANDNEPHEW PENS TERRIFYING DRACULA SEQUEL   3 comments

Bram Stoker wrote the grandpa of all vampire books.

Bram Stoker’s kinsman reclaims the famous character in this gripping sequel.

By C. Michael Forsyth

The story of Dracula ends with the blood-drinking fiend destroyed and newlyweds Jonathan and Mina Harker living happily ever after.

Or does it? In the book Dracula the Un-Dead, an exciting sequel to Bram Stoker’s classic written by the author’s great-grandnephew Dacre Stoker, the tale of terror continues to unfold.

I had the good fortune to run into Dacre at the Horror Writer’s Association’s Bram Stoker Weekend, an annual gathering that pays tribute to his famous forebear. A courtly resident of South Carolina, he was quite generous with his time. After his presentation on Bram, we chatted about the extensive research that went into the novel. We traded books, and I’ve finally had a chance to sink my teeth into this juicy vampire yarn.

The book is set in 1912, about 25 years after the events in Dracula, and the band of heroes who put the vampire down are in a sorry state.

Jonathan Harker, once a paragon of Victorian virtue, has been reduced to a whoring, alcoholic wretch. He’s tortured by his inability to sexually satisfy his wife the way that her superhuman “dark prince” could.

Mina, forever tainted by her sip of Dracula’s blood, remains eternally young like Dorian Gray. Guilt-ridden, she counts her youthful appearance as a curse, not a blessing.

Dr. Van Helsing, the wise and fearless vampire killer, is now a frail, vulnerable old man terrified of death.

Dr. Seward, once the esteemed head of the asylum that housed Dracula’s bug-eating flunky Renfield, is himself a drug-addicted lunatic.

Aristocratic Arthur Holmwood, who was forced to stake his fiancée Lucy, is a bitter recluse who blames his former friends for her fate and is driven by a death wish.

IN HAPPIER TIMES: Jonathan Harker, played by Keanu Reeves in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” finds that middle age is “totally bogus.”

New characters are introduced, most prominently Elizabeth Bathory, a real-life relative of Vlad the Impaler, the historical Dracula. The 16th Century noblewoman was the most prolific serial killer in history, making dudes like Jack the Ripper and Ted Bundy look like pikers. The Bloody Countess tortured and killed at least 650 servant girls, bathing in their blood in a quest for immortality. Here, she too is a vampire – and a far more vicious one than the gentlemanly Count Dracula.

BLOODY COUNTESS: Elizabeth Bathory slaughtered at least 650 young maidens — for their blood.

Also taking the stage is Basarab, a handsome and charismatic actor who is Bathory’s hated foe.

Details from the original are cleverly woven into the novel and supporting characters like Renfield and Seward are fleshed out with interesting backstories. Arthur Holmwood, usually little more than an uptight prig in movies, is a fully realized character who’s led a colorful life of adventure. Even Quincy Morris, the Texan who almost never makes the cut in film versions, is given his due.

Usually just an upper-crust square (as played here by Cary Elwes) Lucy’s fiance Arthur emerges as a swashbuckling hero.

Dacre and his co-author Ian Holt, in addition to having access to family lore, dug deep into original sources to find nuggets that enrich the sequel. Dacre traveled to the Rosenbach Museum to comb through Bram Stoker’s notes. Among the fascinating tidbits he uncovered was the character sketch for a detective Bram toyed with including in Dracula but ultimately abandoned. Dacre resurrects Inspector Cotford in the sequel.

Equally painstaking research into early 20th Century London is evident in the authoritative descriptions of locations such as the Lyceum Theater that bring the setting vividly to life. Real people of the time show up, including boozing stage legend John Barrymore — and, surprisingly, Bram Stoker himself!

TOO WISE TO LIVE? Dr. Van Helsing (Everett Sloane) had the will power to resist Dracula in the 1931 Bela Lugosi movie.

Yet despite the loving attention to detail, Dracula the Un-Dead is not slavishly true to the original in that it inverts Dracula’s nature, reimagining him as a Byronic hero rather than a monster. In a sense, the book is not a sequel to Dracula as Bram Stoker told the story so much as a sequel to the story as DRACULA would have told it. (It made me think of the kids’ book My Side of the Story, in which Sleeping Beauty is retold from the witch Maleficent’s perspective.)

MR. NICE GUY? Dracula (portrayed by Gary Oldman in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”) saw himself as a romantic hero misunderstood by medding male mortals.

In turning the Victorian worldview upside down Dracula the Un-Dead is likely quite different from the sequel Bram Stoker would have written. But who cares? Do we really need another follow-up to Dracula that carries forward the plot on its trajectory in an easily anticipated way? We’ve already seen movies and comics in which Mina’s son Quincy Harker is an elderly hero waging a crusade against the undead.

Here instead Quincy is a naïve young aspiring actor who puts his dreams of stage success above all else and fawns over his idol Basarab. (Quincy is so clueless he makes Jimmy Olsen look like Albert Einstein). That’s only the first of many surprises the book offers. Co-author Holt is a screenwriter and the fast-paced, action-packed novel is perfectly suited for a movie adaptation.

IN PAST follow-ups in comic books and movies, Quincy Harker is often a gutsy old vampire slayer.

I asked Dacre whether the Stoker clan was still living off “all the Dracula money.” He gave a wistful smile and said no. Sadly, he explained, the family lost the U.S. copyright to Dracula through a clerical error early on and it’s been in the public domain ever since. They haven’t been paid a dime by Hollywood since the 1931 Bela Lugosi movie and unlike the kin of Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs, have had no control over the wildy popular character and his many — often embarrassingly stupid — incarnations. One of Dacre’s goals was to reclaim Dracula for his family.

“I think Bram would be proud that a family member has taken this initiative and finally done justice to the legacy he created,” he writes in the afterward.

IN THE BLOOD: Dacre Stoker, great-grandnephew of Bram Stoker with C. Michael Forsyth, author of Hour of the Beast, at the Horror Writers Association convention.

IN A RELATED STORY…

PRISON life becomes even more hellish when a vampire epidemic erupts in a women's prison.

PRISON life becomes even more hellish when a vampire epidemic erupts in a women’s prison.


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I’m excited to announce the launch of my first graphic novel, Night Cage! The premise of the horror story is simple: Vampires take over a women’s prison. Just imagine Orange is the New Black meets Salem’s Lot.

The project is being funded through Kickstarter. Folks who jump on the bandwagon will get a boatload of goodies and rewards, ranging from advance copies of the book and exclusive art, posters and T-shirts to a chance to be drawn into the graphic novel as a character!

Please check out the video out HERE, and share the news with all your social media friends!

PRISONERS fight for survival against a bloodthirsty army of the undead in the graphic novel Night Cage.

PRISONERS fight for survival against a bloodthirsty army of the undead in the graphic novel Night Cage.

ON THE HOUR OF THE BEAST FRONT…

I attended Dragon*con 2012 in Atlanta to promote my horror novel Hour of the Beast and pick up tips on independent filmmaking. Some great panels on subjects ranging from movie pre-production and distribution to the future of black science fiction. The highlight was Stan Lee talking to a packed ballroom. The comic-industry giant is feisty as ever, his brain still bubbling with creativity. Of course, I didn’t completely ignore the gazillion gals in skimpy costumes. Some were marvelously imaginative, others not so much. You’d think a guy would never get tired of seeing women in that barely-there bandage getup from “The Fifth Element,” but after number 30, I did!

STAN THE MAN

DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN

SHREK’S GAL

LADY IN RED

The author of this article also wrote the acclaimed horror novel Hour of the Beast. In the opening chapter, a bride is raped by a werewolf on her wedding night. Then things get out of hand.

Hour of the Beast is available in hardcover and softcover at Amazon.com. But you can save $4 by clicking HERE! The Kindle version is just $7 and the Ebook is a measly $5. Be the first on your block to read this bone-chilling tale — before the motion picture hits the big screen.

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“Red Riding Hood” Gives Us Another Reason to Stay Out of the Woods.   2 comments

Amanda Seyfried as Red Riding Hood takes an ill-advised stroll in the woods.

By C. Michael Forsyth

Red Riding Hood is exactly what it should be: a grownup retelling of one of our most memorable fairytales, with a horror spin. It has interpersonal conflict, a complex storyline, romance — but it also stays true to the elements that made the tale so compelling to us as children. There is the underlying theme of sexual awakening, the symbolism of the red cape, the opposition of good and evil. Even the talking wolf, the walk through the woods to grandmother’s house and the line, “What big eyes you have,” are worked in.

The high production values — sumptuous period costumes and sets — completely immerse us in a medieval world, and yet the swooping, swerving camera lends the film modern-day immediacy — as well as a perpetual feeling of unease.

In its creation of an olden-days town surrounded by menace, the atmospheric film is reminiscent of M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village.” But here, the story is NOT torpedoed by awful plot turns.

Red Riding Hood is Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), a pretty young woman in love with a poor woodcutter. Her parents disapprove of him and the lovebirds are about to run off together when the body of her sister is discovered, killed by a werewolf. The village men vow to track down the beast and they quickly do — they think.

Then arrives Reverend Solomon, a werewolf-hunter extraordinaire who is a mixture of Cotton Mather and Robert E. Howard’s witch-hunting Puritan man of action, Solomon Kane. Rev. Solomon (Gary Oldman) warns the townsfolk that the creature they’ve just killed is an ordinary wolf, and that the real werewolf does not dwell in a mountain cave, as they believe — but is instead one of them. A paranoiac “Who Goes There?” type nightmare ensues, as Valerie struggles to figure out which of those around her is the murderous monster — while avoiding a horrible fate as its prime target.

Is the Big Bad Wolf her dark, brooding, black-clad boyfriend? The strangely feral village idiot? The handsome young blacksmith who seems so gentle and fearful? Or even her own extremely creepy grandmother (played with magnificently, and gleefully, by Julie Christie)?

To make matters worse, the town’s “savior” Rev. Solomon emerges as an Ahab-like lunatic who doesn’t care who he has to imprison, torture, put to the sword or use as human bait to take down the lycanthrope.

The mystery angle in this kind of story is always hard to pull off. After all, the screenwriter has to come up with a solution today’s savvy movie audience wouldn’t easily guess and yet at the same time, makes perfect sense. The very satisfying ending of this film fulfills both goals.

I appreciate the filmmaker’s choice to eschew blood and guts for genuine suspense and chills. I’m not one of those horror geeks who gets off on seeing people’s bodies being destroyed in steadily more sickening and bloody ways. (Apologies if that’s you — don’t mean to alienate half my readers.) However, I think director Catherine Hardwicke went a bit too far in keeping gore out of the picture. When the first couple of corpses are discovered, they are so bloodless and undamaged that it looks like footage from a dress rehearsal. I mean, they’re supposed to have been killed by a wolf —  pardon me, a giant, rampaging werewolf — and it was hard to believe they were even in a bar fight!

My other minor quibble is that the villagers initially ignore Rev. Solomon’s warning that the werewolf is one of them — and instead hold a big victory party celebrating the slaying of the wolf . This provides the movie-makers with a great opportunity to show a chaotic and unnerving medieval festival, complete with weird masks and Bacchanalian dancing. But come on. First of all, shouldn’t it be OBVIOUS that the human who turns into a wolf lives in the isolated village? And don’t these ignorant peasants respect the opinion of this famed champion werewolf-hunter? In most period movies — and, I believe, actual history too — medieval folk have a low threshold for turning on their neighbors and accusing them of supernatural evil.

After writing this review, I checked Rotten Tomatoes and I was surprised that critics gave it a ranking of only 11 percent. Well, I’m sticking to my guns. You’ll have fun watching this movie, as did most audience members, who gave it a ranking six times higher.

Curiously enough, a few hours after I saw “Red Riding Hood,” I watched on DVD “The Brothers Grimm,” which also incorporateselements of  fairytales. Not as effective a film, with its anything-can-happen approach to the supernatural. But it certainly made for an interesting double bill. Kind of like last weekend when I saw “Con Air” and “The Expendables” back to back — and my testosterone level shot through the roof!

Copyright C. Michael Forsyth

"Who, me a wolf?" In classic fairytale, Little Red Riding Hood is a bit slow to realize her "grandmother" is not what she seems.

Like to be scared? Read C. Michael Forsyth's Hour of the Beast.

By C. Michael Forsyth

To hear Chapter One of the acclaimed Hour of the Beast FREE click HERE.

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