Friday, February 20, 2015

Monster Team-up Reflection #21: Dracula, the Un-Dead

As some of you may have read, I received a hard-cover copy of Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt's "Dracula, the Un-Dead" from my in-laws, Ned and Faith, for my birthday (see "Collectible Time #17"--Jan '15). I've since plunged into the acclaimed and yet controversial sequel and wished to offer an overview of it. It's more than justified since it fits into one of my blog's ongoing posts, incorporating three horror legends, no less, with two in particular at each other's throats (pun intended). In this regard, it's an indisputable "monster team-up". 

On a personal level,  I found "Drac, the Un-Dead" a passionate follow-up to Bram Stoker's classic: rather unconventional at times, though I personally believe that its Gothic trimmings overtake any of the radical departures its authors (one of whom is Bram's great grand nephew) make. 

For one thing, the novel includes many of our beloved characters: Jack Seward (who plays a vampire hunter this time out); Jonathan Harker; Mina Harker, Arthur Homewood and of course, Abraham Van Helsing. Drac is in there, too, but in a clever, deceiving way, and when not conspicuously displayed, his presence is still felt, though acute readers will likely detect the magnitude of his presence far sooner than others.

Exciting new characters also appear, including Quincy Harker (son of John and Mina and named after Quincy Morris, the gallant Texan who lost his life in the original adventure), along with (and indeed most significantly) Elizabeth Bathory, known to horror historians as Countess Dracula. There's also an intriguing thespian (the most renowned of his age) named Basarab, who adds considerable flamboyance and mystery to the story and becomes for a time, young Quincy's idol and mentor. Even Bram Stoker acts as a character in the grand scheme of things, as well as other famous folks of the time, including John Barrymore, in a memorable cameo.

As with the original novel, historic attributes weave throughout the sequel's chapters. This technique also lends an air of credibility to the novel, making it an informative period piece, while yet offering enough gruesome imagery to hold its own with any modern blood feast. 

Also, as with the original yarn, Dracula's influence over Mina is ever present. Though she tries to suppress her lustful recollections of the nobleman, her altered bloodstream keeps his memory alive, as well as sustaining her youth. Her vibrance also reminds Jonathan of his wife's infidelity with the vampire, which has led the poor chap to womanize and drink in the fifteen years since his adversary's alleged demise. 

Stoker and Holt stray from making the count (or in this instance, the "prince") an all-out villain, emphasizing his historic fight against the invading Muslims as a means of Christian preservation. His alteration into a parasitic demon is described as an ironic means with which he can still champion the Christian cause: a way, that is, to fight fire with fire. 

Elizabeth Bathory, on the other hand, is depicted as a merciless, vengeful fiend. Not only are her legendary blood baths referenced (and reinterpreted in ways far more explicit than previously imagined), the authors make her a modern dominatrix: a woman out of time, more suited to the future than the past and dead set on defiling all things pure and sacred. She also pits herself against most of the original characters, including Drac: his legendary mantel her coveted prize. 

Her sadistic shenanigans also tie to Jack the Ripper, which incorporate Van Helsing, who becomes a down-the-line suspect in the White Chapel murders, but his precise link to such remains a mystery for most of the tale.

It's up to the cantankerous Inspector Cotford to solve this mystery and redeem his reputation for not having caught the Ripper. In this respect, the book adapts a Conan Doyle flair for deductive (and sometimes not-so-deductive) reasoning, as the pieces begin to fit. By story's end, clues connect Van Helsing to the core of events and in the process, further establish the adversarial relationship of the sequel's monsters. 

(It should be noted that the novel's Ripper link appears to have influenced a sub-plot in NBC's now defunct Dracula series, though the details of the latter always remained as vague as its principle characters' motivations in that short-lived jaunt.)

"Drac, the Un-Dead" may not satisfy all readers, particularly the purists, but in the presence of so many sequels and offshoots (both literary and cinematic), this one deserves credit for not only springing off the original source, but redefining enough of its elements to become its own entity. (It's also the only Dracula sequel authorized by the Stoker estate, which makes it arguably more official than competing companion pieces.)

Above all, "Drac, the Un-Dead" goes out on a limb to define good and evil. The way it does so may contradict the motives of the original book's characters, but by the time it concludes, it (like its inspiration) establishes an irrevocable distinction between the sides. If that doesn't make this one thematically traditional by the standards of classic horror, I don't know what does. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Collectible Time #19: Moebius/Jeff Yagher, Julie Newmar Catwoman and Alien/Ripley figures for Valentine's

At long last, the Moebius follow-up to the stunning Adam West Batman styrene model kit (see "Collectible Time #12 - Nov '14) has arrived...Julie Newmar as Catwoman (a gift from my wife for Valentine's Day--hot damn!) As with the West kit, Newmar was sculpted by Jeff Yagher, and the likeness is awe-inspiring, from her distinct curves, long legs and purr-fect expression. (The model will stand roughly 9.5" tall when assembled.) What more can I say, except, I'm happy as a lark on a Valentine's Day!!! (Next up in the series is Burt Ward as Robin--can't wait!!!)

Also, my wife gave me two Funko "Alien" 3/4" action figures...the Alien and Sigourney Weaver's Ripley (Space Suit version).

My actual Alien isn't encased face-front, as seen above, but is angled at a side view, which due to its elongated head, would otherwise seem the only logical way to package it. No matter...these are two cool pieces, which were planned for release by Kenner in '79. Oh, well, better late than never!!!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Time Travel Time #11: Somewhere in Time

"Somewhere in Time" is a 1980 time-travel opus, adapted by Richard Matheson from his novel, "Bid Time Return", and directed by Jeannot Szwarc ("Jaws 2"/"Supergirl"). It stands as not only a fine fantasy yarn, but a touching love story, admired by many for its heartfelt execution. Unlike most love stories, it progresses with conflict and intrigue, while including characters determined to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles to consummate their love. 

Like Rod Serling's "Walking Distance", "Somewhere" doesn't include a time machine and commences humbly enough with young playwright Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) meeting an elderly woman (Susan French) after the premiere of his first play. She gives him a pocket watch (a most symbolic gesture, considering the story's context) and requests "Come back to me": a vague, but passionate plea that remains in Collier's memory.

Years later, during a creative crisis, Collier flees his posh apartment to find refuge at Michigan's quaint Grand Hotel, at Mackinac Island: a quaint spot ideally suited for placidity. Once there, he wanders into the hotel museum and spots an alluring portrait of a women taken in 1912: an actress named Elise McKenna (Jayne Seymour). The portrait mesmerizes Collier, and he begins to obsess over it, feeling not only an amorous connection to the woman, but the belief that he has met her before.

He researches McKenna's life and learns that she was, in fact, the now deceased woman who gave him the watch. He also learns that she was fond of a book on time travel, penned no less by his former professor, Gerard Finney (George Voskovec): the character's name a tribute to Jack Finney, acclaimed time-travel (and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers") author.

Collier touches base with Finney, hoping to gain personal insight into the subject matter. Finney informs Collier that, yes, time travel is possible and can be accomplished through the sheer power of one's mind. The professor explains how he traveled back (albeit for a short duration) to Venice 1571 via such concentration. He explains that, to succeed in such an endeavor, one must immerse oneself in the proper atmosphere and restrict present-day reminders from one's surroundings, focusing exclusively on the time period one wishes to visit.

Collier takes the professor's advice and strips his lodgings of all modern attributes, except for a recorder which loops his voice to hypnotize him into thinking it is, in fact, the past. He also purchases a vintage suit and coinage, so that if he does travel back, he won't appear conspicuous to the inhabitants of the time.

In that his initial attempt fails, he searches for proof that he did, in fact, make the trip at some point and locates a 1912 guest book, in which his signature does appears. Inspired, he tries again and this time, awakens in the designated year (and the precise time of McKenna's visit to the hotel) and proceeds to scope the premises for her. 

The two cross paths soon thereafter: their rapport initially reserved but promising. However, he faces a frustrating obstacle. McKenna's manager, William Fawcett Robinson (Christopher Plummer), is an overly protective type, not wishing any man to court her, claiming that such will certainly derail her career.

His objections in no way stop Collier and McKenna from becoming more acquainted. She becomes smitten by the young man's gracious ways and their relationship blossoms. At one point, it even leads to Collier being present during the taking of the photograph which so enchanted him.

The burgeoning affair outrages Robinson, and after one of McKenna's performances (where she confesses her love to Collier via an impromptu soliloquy), the older man arranges Collier's kidnapping and ushers McKenna away from the hotel. Collier escapes his bonds, and the couple meets again, but not without further consequence: a subtle, unforeseen turn that could keep them forever separated. 

Reeve is excellent as Collier, bringing a dash of his gallant Superman portrayal to the character. Seymour is equally endearing as she embraces her fish-out-of-water suitor. Plummer, on the other hand, is a realistic villain: not over-the-top, but sophisticated, cunning, and in his own way, woeful. 

Matheson and Szwarc especially deserve credit for their efforts, with the former's script playing like an extended, top-notch "Twilight Zone" and the latter's direction smooth and ethereal. Seasoning these elements is John Barry's score: a joy to absorb, and one that many consider his best. The score is also enhanced by Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini", which stands as the film's overriding theme.  

Upon its release, "Somewhere" made little impact at the box office and was generally scorned by critics. It was only through cable and VHS rentals that it gained acknowledgement, proving that if a film is of quality, its audience will inevitably grow. 

While other romantic movies have long since fallen off the map, "Somewhere" has mounted in fame, growing more popular with each subsequent generation: an indisputable sign of a classic. Discover or revisit it this Valentine's Day. You (and your significant other) will surely succumb to its charms!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Collectible Time #18: Mummy Time--Mezco and Funko Mummies

Here's a follow-up to the birthday presents I received this year: thanks to my coworkers, a chilling Mummy double-feature!!!

First up is the 9" Mezco Mummy. Like the other famous monsters in this particular series, this lurching Imhotep has unique (if not borderline super-deformed) proportions to him, while projecting fine detail in the bandaging and facial features. The face, in fact, invokes Karloff, though the intended pose is more Chaney's Kharis: maybe that makes this one more of a hybrid along the lines of Aurora's classic Mummy model. Whatever the case, it's quite a dandy (and creepy) figure, I dare say!!!

To accompany the Mezco piece, I also received the Funko 3/4" Mummy. This, like the other Universal Monsters presently available from Funko, is a recast from the popular Kenner series from the early '80s. 

As you can see, he's a cute, little Imhotep, and the graphics on his packaging, retro-superb!!!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

I saw Aquaman Attain the Atlantean Throne...

There's emerged a confounding consensus over recent years about Aquaman's significance in the superhero dynasty. Why? You got me. Aquaman rules a world far more expansive than any land-based one, administering powers most of us can only begin to fathom. However, as with Marvel's Sub-mariner, DC's underwater champion has been consistently relegated to the back seat, robbed of the respect he so justly deserves. 

A live-action incarnation would surely re-establish his status as a top-level superhero, but for now, an animated adventure, "Justice League Throne of Atlantis", must stand in lieu. The adventure isn't solely Aquaman's, of course, and is shared by other gallant greats: Batman (the indisputable league leader and a tad on the bossy side in this instance); Cyborg (who still shines as the reliable new kid on the block); Superman (always reliable, but perhaps not effectively utilized in this adventure), the Flash; Green Lantern; Wonder Woman; and Shazam (formerly Captain Marvel, and perpetually Billy Batson both in heart and mind). 

In truth, director Ethan Spauling's movie (adapted by Heath Corson from Geoff John's six-part comic sag) re-introduces our aquatic hero into a new age, but doesn't twist the legend to the point of unfamiliarity, though several new elements do surface. 

Arthur Curry, the man destined to be Atlantis' king, is immersed in woe. His father has just died, and he has yet to come to terms with his heritage. He's a confused hybrid: a "surfacer" drawn to the sea, who his estranged mother hopes will someday rule: a quest abetted by Curry's ultimate wife-to-be, Mera: a dynamic, aquatic force in her own right. 

Villains Black Manta (Atlantis' conniving Darth Vader equivalent) and Prince Orm (Curry's malicious half brother: aka, the Ocean Master) convince the Atlanteans to wage war on the surfacers, after staging a submarine attack on the kingdom.

When animosity strikes between the misguided Atlanteans and the Justice League, it's harsh and relentless, with Orm appearing nearly impregnable, but thanks to Batman and Cyborg, our Atlantean lord seizes his much needed leverage. 

"Throne" has lots of thrust, though may seem slim compared to its predecessor, "Justice League War". Still, it offers a hint of the developing DC movie universe. More importantly, it gives one of its once hailed staples a respectable comeback. By the adventure's end, no one will doubt Aquaman's rightful place in DC's superhero hierarchy. 

Let's hope this is the first in an ongoing line of such aquatic fare. Pop-culture can only benefit from Aquaman's stalwart presence: a modern King Arthur who unwittingly stumbles into command, but once there, administers what he's designed and destined to personify--justice!!!