Posts Tagged ‘Vampires’

DVD Review: Four Film Favorites: Draculas

October 30, 2009

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This is the actual Dracula… but it isn’t my Dracula:

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And this is not my Dracula:

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Not this one:

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Or this one:

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And I don’t really think this is anyone’s Dracula:

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When I apply the ownership of “my” to it, I’m talking about when you close your eyes and think “Dracula,” the image that pops into your head is “your” Dracula. For me, THIS is my Dracula:

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That, my friends, is Christopher Lee. (Pausing for the appropriate oohs and ahs.) Christopher Lee starred in seven of the nine films in the Dracula series from Hammer Films, from the late ’50’s to the early 70’s.

One of my greatest memories of childhood is my father and I, each Saturday afternoon, watching old horror films on The Channel 20 (WXON) Saturday Afternoon Thriller and Sir Graves Ghastly on channel 2 (WJBK). And, of those old films, my favorites were the Dracula movies.

And, among those Dracula movies, the Hammer films rose to the top. At the time, I probably wouldn’t have been able to talk about the production values, or the acting… I would have just said they were better. Despite my age, and my ability to analyze the films and explain what draws me to them, I find myself falling back into my childhood feelings about them – they are just better.

They weren’t slow and plodding, they didn’t look like they were filmed in someone’s basement with cardboard props, and Dracula was what he was supposed to be – a monster. Evil and nasty, and not terribly talkative.

(All due respect, and I say this as a fan of both Angel and Forever Knight, but I miss when vampires weren’t all sensitive and brooding.)

I really enjoyed these movies, but hadn’t seen them in years. Oh, there have been a few releases for home entertainment over the years, but nothing great or even complete (due to rights issues, I believe).

Then, a few weeks ago, I was told about a DVD set that was out from Warner Bros. called, “4 Film Favorites: Draculas.” This is a two disc set, containing four of the Christopher Lee/Hammer Films Dracula movies – Horror of Dracula, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Taste the Blood of Dracula, Dracula A.D. 1972. The price for this assembled bit of cinema greatness? Around ten bucks.

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I was immediately doubtful. First, I’m not a fan of double sided discs when it comes to movies. They seem really susceptible to scratching and damage. Second, squeezing four films onto two discs usually mean low quality. Third, what could I really expect for $10.00?

But, fan of the films that I am, I went ahead and bought the collection.

And I’m so glad I did.

What you get is a pretty straightforward, no frills kinda deal with these. You essentially get the movie and its trailer for each film. That about does it in the area of “extras” on these discs. What makes this set worth more than the cost though is the quality of the films themselves.

Remember how I mentioned there have been various releases of these films in the past? Generally, those releases were crummy, lifted from less than stellar prints of the originals. This set, though, is sharp and crisp, not plagued with saturation problems or muffled sound like previous releases. And, the original trailers? They are pretty cool.

I would love to have a complete set of the nine Hammer Films Dracula movies, but I’m happy that four of the best of these films are collected here. (Maybe someday, the rights issues will be cleaned up and we’ll see an entire set!)

(Just in case you were interested, that set would include: Horror of Dracula, The Brides of Dracula, Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Taste the Blood of Dracula, Scars of Dracula, Dracula A.D. 1972, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, and The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires.)

I’m not going to go into each of the movies right now, for two reasons. One, tacking on four movie reviews to this is far more work than I want to do right now (yeah, I’m lazy, but I may review the movies separately at a later time), and, Two, it is four movies for ten bucks! Even if they were horrible, that’s only $2.50 a film. I’m sure you’ve spent more on a bad film sometime in the last decade!

But, these aren’t bad. They are pretty awesome. Admittedly, I’m biased, and I’m sure nostalgia is playing a big part, but even so, I would not hesitate recommending this set to someone that wants to see some really great Dracula movies.

And, with that, my good readers, Vampire Week here at The Steve Austin Book Club draws to a close.  Thanks for joining us, Happy Halloween, and we’ll see you next week!

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Forever Knight

October 29, 2009

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As we continue our Vampire Week celebration here at The Steve Austin Book Club, today we are going to take a look at the rise and fall of a TV show that EG dearly loved – Forever Knight.

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He was brought across in 1228 – preyed on humans for their blood. Now, he wants to be mortal again … to repay society for his sins … To emerge from his world of darkness … from his endless Forever Knight.

Starting in 1992, each episode of Forever Knight opened with those words. A nice, succinct way to let folks know what the show was about. But, for the beginning of this show, we really need to look earlier… not 1228, but 1989.

From Jessie’s Girl to Coffin…

And, here is where I show my age. One Saturday night, as I was flipping through the channels, I came across a television movie on CBS. It was a vampire movie (which hooked me) called Nick Knight. In this movie, Rick Springfield (attempting to escape soap operas) played Nick Knight, L.A. cop and vampire.

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After centuries of giving into his vampire ways, Nick was trying to cure himself. Helping in this effort was Dr. Jack Brittington (Robert Harper), forensic pathologist and the only one who knew what Nick truly was.

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He was advising Nick to live as a human in order to become human – eating real food, no longer drinking blood, and exposing himself UV light via tanning beds. Nick was also seeking out some magical goblets that could cure him.

When some homeless are found drained of blood, Nick is partnered with Detective Don Schanke (John Kapelos) to investigate.  (Note to readers:  That character’s last name is pronounced “Skanky.”  I know, right?  Awesome.)

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Through the investigation, Nick comes to believe that Lacroix (Michael Nader), the vampire that sired him, is responsible.

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I won’t spoil the movie any further. Overall, I enjoyed the movie, but it wasn’t anything spectacular. And, though it was supposed to launch a TV series, that never happened.

Well, not quite never…

The Schanke Years

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In 1992, CBS was desperate for some sort of late night programming to go against the Tonight Show and Nightline. After going through a bunch of hosted, Tonight Show-esque programs (one of which starred Wheel of Fortune’s Pat Sajak), CBS decided to switch gears. The result? Crimetime After Primetime.

Crimetime After Primetime was a schedule of different hour long crime shows that aired, each airing once a week. The only one worth mentioning (at least, in my opinion) was Forever Knight.

Forever Knight was Nick Knight revamped (totally didn’t realize the pun, but I’m leaving it, so there!). Of all of the cast, the only actor to return from the original pilot movie was John Kapelos as Detective Don Schanke.

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Nick Knight, now played by Geraint Wyn Davies, was now a Toronto cop and vampire. The basic idea of him seeking a cure and redemption continued in this series.

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Dr. Jack Brittington became Dr. Natalie Lambert (Catherine Disher).

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The role of Lecroix was taken over by Nigel Bennett.

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And, the role of Janette (another vampire that appeared in the first pilot that I didn’t mention) changed from Cec Verrell…

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…to Deborah Duchene.

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Though production values were lower on the series than for the original pilot, across the board, I thought the level of acting went up.

Almost immediately, the show garnered a devoted fan base. Unfortunately, CBS was soon to drop the entire Crimetime After Primetime format, after securing David Letterman for their late night programming.

The voice of the fans was heard, though, and Forever Knight was continued in syndication.

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The show’s popularity continued to grow in syndication through the end of the second season.

And, then, the writer’s saw Interview with the Vampire.

The Sun Rises (and we all know what happens to vampires when that happens)

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With the third season, major changes came. It was announced that John Kapelos would not be returning to the series (no more Schanke… *sigh*).

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It was also announced that Deborah Duchene’s role of Janette, vampire confidant of Nick, was also being eliminated.

Lisa Ryder, as Detective Tracey Vetter, came in as Nick’s partner.

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Along with her, came a new, Lestat/Louis-esque vampire named Vachon (Ben Bass).

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More and more, the focus of the show shifted toward the new characters, and the storylines seemed to be drawing from the same well as the well-known Anne Rice Vampire novels.

And, perhaps for the best, after three seasons and a radical change in the direction of the show, Forever Knight ended.

I do miss the show, but not what it was becoming. If the show had maintained the quality level that it had in the first two seasons, I would miss it more, but I’m pretty sure if it had continued the way it was headed, I would’ve dropped it.

Still, it is a good idea, and maybe, given the prevalence of vampires in primetime and movie theaters, we’ll see the concept revived yet again.

I miss Schanke.

Movie Time: Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant

October 27, 2009

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Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant
Directed by Paul Weitz
Starring John C. Reilly, Josh Hutcherson, Chris Massoglia

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Darren and Steve are best friends. They are also opposites in almost every way. Darren is the good kid, works hard in school, makes good grades, etc. Steve is the teenage punk from a troubled home that is apt to get into trouble. After finding a flyer for a traveling circus of freaks, the two decide to attend… and both of their lives are transformed.

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During the show, Steve recognizes the magician to be a vampire from one of the many books he has on the subject. Darren, on the other hand, is far more interested in the unique spider that works with the magician/vampire.

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When the show is broken up by local citizens and police, Darren and Steve are separated. Darren finds himself outside the dressing room of the magician/vampire, and decides he wants to see the spider again. Inside he finds the spider, but hears someone coming down the hall and grabs the spider and sneaks into the closet.

The magician/vampire and a friend step into the room and shortly thereafter… and so does Steve. Steve confronts the magician/vampire, and tells him he wants to be made a vampire, that he has nothing else to live for. The vampire sends him away.

When he gets the chance, Darren makes a run for it, and goes home, with the spider.

The next day, Darren takes the spider with him to school and meets up with Steve. The spider, accidentally freed from its cage, bites Steve, leaving him near death.

Darren makes his way back to the theater where they saw the show, hoping that the vampire can help Steve. The vampire makes a deal to help Steve, in exchange for Darren becoming his assistant… and a half-vampire.

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Thus begins Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant. This movie is an obvious foundation for other films planned for a series based on the Cirque Du Freak books, which is both good and bad. Good, in that it is trying to establish a world and we are introduced to a lot of characters so that we get a feel for that world. Bad, in that many of those characters are given little time to truly establish themselves.

But, if the film does spawn the sequels, that will be forgiven, perhaps even lauded as we don’t have to deal with the problems of introducing so many characters with each subsequent installment.

The real basis of the story, though, is the rivalry between two sets of bloodsuckers – the Vampires and the Vampanese. Vampires, in this setting, are the “good” guys – they still drink blood, but they only sedate their victims, they don’t kill them. The Vampanese, on the other hand, are violent and bloodthirsty, and power hungry. There has been a long tentative peace treaty between the two groups, but it is now threatened.

I’ll admit that I knew nothing about this film going in. I had seen one commercial for it, and decided to see it just because of the planned theme for this week. And, though the film had a lot of faults, I was pleasantly surprised overall.

This isn’t really a vampire film, though. There are “sorta” vampires in it, but it is almost… vampires sifted through Tim Burton’s brain and then highlighted with Harry Potter-ness… if that makes any sense. The film is more of a quirky fantasy than anything in the realm of horror. Because of that, a lot of people will be immediately turned off of the film. Me? I’m rather proud of myself. When I realized what this film was going for, I thought, “Oh, okay. Well, I’m not exactly the target audience, but let’s see what happens.”

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And, sure enough, I’m not the audience for this film. I can’t imagine rushing out to get the DVD for it when it comes out, or even going out of my way to see it again… but I did find it enjoyable.

Yeah, I could talk about the shortcomings of the film all day. I could tell you that Chris Massoglia, who plays Darren, is essentially a clone of Ashton Kutcher and that his performance seemed disengaged. I could complain that the other freaks of the Cirque didn’t get anywhere near enough screen time, and that the large number of name actors were generally wasted in the film.

But, you know what? That is a bunch of nitpicky kinda stuff that, while accurate, didn’t really stop me from enjoying this movie. The effects for the movie were pretty cool, even if some were a little too obviously computer animated. The makeup on this film was stellar, though, top notch stuff that really made this world come alive.

And, though they had limited screen time, the cast of freaks were really good. Jane Krakowski as Corma Limbs was bizarrely perky.

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Orlando Jones as Alexander Ribs was… well, Orlando Jones. (Orlando Jones seems to be himself in most things.) Ken Watanabe had an amazing presence as Mr. Tall, and Patrick Fugit was so fantastic as the Snake Boy that I’d like to see an entire movie based on that character.

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And, there is Salma Hayak… being all Salma Hayak and hot and all.

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The most amazing performance for me, though, had to be John C. Reilly as Crespley, the vampire. The role is so completely against type for him, but he manages to completely own it.

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His turn as the weary, cynical vampire is enough for me to recommend this movie to anyone I know. He delivers some of the best lines in the film that range from dark, wry humor, to an almost sad melancholy, and delivers them well.

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Honestly, other than when he appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and tore into Kevin Costner about when they both were doing For Love of the Game, this is my favorite thing John C. Reilly has ever done!

(And, by the way, if anyone knows where to find a clip of that, I’d be forever grateful to have it!)

For me, this movie was an unexpected treat. It won’t appeal to everyone, as it is definitely aimed toward mid-teens, but it wasn’t bad. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that I wouldn’t mind seeing this film get some sequels, if only to expand on this world and to see the actors in supporting roles get a chance to shine.

I’m giving Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant three out of five Running Steves.

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If nothing, this film has made me want to seek out the series of books on which it was based.

Micro-Hero of the Week: Vampire Edition!

October 26, 2009

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Greetings, one and all, and welcome to the second of our very special theme weeks – Vampire Week! Brain-Cravers took center stage last week, but this week belongs to the Bloodsuckers!

As we are apt to do, we start out with a very special micro-hero from EG, and boy, is it a special one! See, over the weekend, EG was able to watch a special episode of Wolfman Mac’s Chiller Drive-In. Wolfman Mac is the latest in the fine history of Horror Hosts (such as Sir Graves Ghastly, The Ghoul, and Dr. Shock) that we’ve had in the area. This weekend’s movie? None other than that 1922 silent classic, Nosferatu!

Inspiration struck, and the Steve Austin Book Club is proud to present one of the most famous vampires of all time, Count Orlok!

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Keep a lookout, because we’ve got a week of vampire goodness ahead!