Review Essay: Recent Books on Vampire Films

Review of:

Gelder, Ken. New Vampire Cinema. London: Palgrave MacMillan/British Film Institute, 2012. ix + 155 pages.

Gelder cover

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Weinstock, Jeffrey. The Vampire Film: Undead Cinema. New York: Wallflower Books/Columbia University Press, 2012. 144 pages.

Weinstock Cover

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Despite their apparent differences in scope – Gelder’s book covers only the last twenty years of vampire cinema, whereas Weinstock discusses a more general history of vampire movies – Ken Gelder’s New Vampire Cinema and Jeffrey Weinstock’s The Vampire Film: Undead Cinema offer remarkably complementary readings of the vampire in film. In particular, both Gelder and Weinstock deal with the ways in which vampire films “endlessly and in so many ways talk about vampires and vampire movies” (1) in order to build “narratives around the vampire’s capacity not just to create a disturbance but to endure it and survive” (vi). Ultimately, these two books deserve to be read together as they work together to illustrate the importance and cultural value of vampire cinema.

Weinstock’s book is part of the Short Cuts: Introductions to Film Studies series and in many ways reads as a primer for vampire cinema. He begins with an introduction that riffs on Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s 1996 “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)” in Monster Theory: Reading Culture (ed. Jeffrey Cohen, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996). and sets up seven principles, complete with corollaries, that guide the rest of the book:

Principle 1: The cinematic vampire is always about sex
Corollary 1.1: Cinematic vampires are marked by performances of hyperbolic gender
Corollary 1.2: Cinematic vampires are inevitably queer
Principle 2: The vampire is always more interesting than those who pursue it
Principle 3: The vampire always returns
Corollary 3.1: Vampirism begins at home
Corollary 3.2: The vampire always appears to come from someplace else
Corollary 3.3: The vampire is always in motion
Principle 4: The cinematic vampire is an overdetermined body condensing what a culture considers ‘other’
Principle 5: The cinematic vampire is always about technology.
Corollary 5.1: Vampire films are always about dfining the vampire, which is a necessary preliminary to destroying the vampire.
Corollary 5.2: Vampires are always cyborgs
Corollary 5.3: Vampire films are always about the cinema itself.
Principle 6: The vampire film genre does not exist
Corollary 6.1: The vampire film tradition is defined by generic hybridity
Corollary 6.2: Vampire films are inevitably intertextual
Principle 7: We are all vampire textual nomads

Weinstock’s discussion of these principles and their corollaries takes up three chapters and ranges over an astonishing number of films for such a slim volume. His discussion of vampire films from A Fool There Was (1915) to 30 Days of Night (2007) serves to support not only these principles, but also his claim that “The vampire . . . is a sort of ready-made metaphoric vehicle waiting for its tenor. Its potency, however, derives from its intrinsic connections to sex, science, and social constructions of difference. . . . the vampire film is always about sex, always about technology and always about cultural ‘otherness’” (19).

Gelder’s book similarly claims that his volume’s “aim is simply to try to make some sense of what these film do and why they seem to do it over and over” (v) and that

The films in this book all bring their vampires into the modern world, building their narratives around the vampire’s capacity not just to create a disturbance but to endure it and survive. . . . over the last twenty years or so the question of the vampire’s capacity to make this journey and live through it is now paramount. Vampire films stage an encounter between something old and something new, something ancient and something modern; the arrival of the vampire (which is invariably from somewhere else) brings with it both excitement, and catastrophe. (vi)

The five chapters cover what Gelder calls “Inauthentic Vampires,” “Our Vampires, Our Neighbors,” “Citational Vampires,” “Vampires in the Americas,” and “Diminishing Vampires,” coming to the conclusion that

There is something parasitical about vampire films . . . exhausting/regenerating them simultaneously, giving them just that extra bit of life, or half-life. The original vampire and the ‘last vampire’ bleed into each other; sequel and original soon become difficult to distinguish, just as parasite and host, vampire and victim, the remote and the proximate, periphery and centre, likewise converge and fold together. (107)

Perhaps inevitably, both authors discuss, at least briefly, the novel Dracula, highlighting its position as the ur-text of vampire movies. Gelder writes that

Even though they mark out their various distinctions and differences, vampire films always speak to other vampire films, and of course, to that urtext of Stoker’s which still, remarkably, seems to exert some sort of pressure on them, holding them in its grasp or perhaps letting them slip through its fingers. (v)

Weinstock notes that “At the centre of the vampire cinema solar system is Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the vampire Ur-text that exerts a powerful gravitational attraction around which all vampire texts – literary, cinematic and otherwise – necessarily orbit” (17).

The similarities between these two books become most apparent when Weinstock and Gelder discuss the same movies, as happens often. For example, both authors analyze the cinematograph scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), in which Dracula speaks to Mina Harker in front of a screen showing clips of various films. Weinstock claims that it “shows us . . . the vampire present at the birth of modern cinema and the correspondence between the two – each creating legions of the undead” (77). Similarly, Gelder writes that “the scene self-reflexively puts Stoker, Dracula, theatre, the origins of cinema and Coppola’s film into a sort of mutually citational loop” (4).

Even when their analyses of films differ, they often seem to overlap, as, for example, in their discussions of the use of technology in the Blade films. For Gelder, Blade’s reliance upon technology is an example of his claim that vampire films often highlight the anxiety surrounding encounters of the new and the ancient – in this case, Blade and his technology (equated, perhaps, by the half-vampire’s name) are the “new” coming up against the “ancient” vampire regime. For Weinstock, the reliance upon technology in these films illustrates that “the silver-screen vampire, itself a product of cinema technology, is inevitably defined in relation to various technologies of representation, definition, detection, and destruction” (57).

Both authors also highlight the importance of what Gelder calls the “moment of recognition” in vampire films. Weinstock writes that

Vampire movies, like monster movies in general, are always about definition. . . . What the protagonists conclude about the nature of the vampire . . . has important ramifications not only for deciding how to combat the vampire but for understanding how the represented cinematic world works.

Gelder notes that “Every vampire film has its key moment of recognition. To recognise a vampire ‘for what it is’ turns out to be crucial to a character’s wellbeing or otherwise; it is also simply a way of saying, this is a vampire film” (vi). Weinstock’s claim that “vampire movies always define themselves in relation to previous cinematic representations of vampires and are often quite explicit about the revisions to the mythology that they are making” (127) could have just as easily appeared in Gelder’s discussion of what he calls the “citational” nature of vampire films. Ultimately, Gelder’s interest is in examining this citational nature of vampire films, Weinstock’s in discussing the principles guiding those films, but both offer investigations of the form and function of vampire cinema, and that similarity makes these two books particularly interesting and useful when read together.

Despite their many similarities, however, the ways in which the two works diverge means that one cannot simply stand in for the other. Weinstock’s conclusion that “what makes the vampire so potent is that it is a concatenation of sexual, racial and technological anxieties and longings – a sort of Rorschach ink blot of culturally specific dread and desire” (13) tied to the fact that “a fundamental characteristic of the vampire film tradition has been its tendency to morph and colonise other genres” so that, “like the vampire itself, the vampire cinema continually transforms itself and seeks out new victims to vamp” (17) reads as dramatically different from Gelder’s claim that

Vampires may be immortal for the time being, but they also carry with them a heightened sense of change, death and loss. This is the direction vampire films routinely take, in fact: offering the possibility of immortality and then cruelly snatching it away, or turning it into something that vampires cannot bear. (106)

The two authors’ takes on the mobility of vampires differs, as well. For Gelder, “vampires in the modern world in new vampire cinema – far from being able to move about freely and so on – are in fact condemned to a particular form of living that is precisely about registering the loss of one’s freedom” (94). For Weinstock, on the other hand,

Mobility and crossing of not only geographical but social and psychic borders is central to the vampire narrative. Either the vampire arrives from elsewhere to interrupt the day-to-day existence of his or her new locale or the protagonist arrives at a place marked by some fundamental social difference – the superstitiousness of backwater villagers, the lawlessness of Mexico or Santa Carla, California, etc. (96-97).

Weinstock’s book suffers a bit from lax proofreading, with problems on pages 49 (“Her’s”) and 109 (“Frost . . . becomes inhabiting” by La Magra”); Gelder’s book sometimes seems to sometimes lose focus (as, for example, in an inexplicable concentration on filming locations for the Twilight series that neither adds to the discussion of the films nor corresponds with any other film’s discussion in the book). Despite these minor problems, however, The Vampire Film and New Vampire Cinema together provide compelling discussions of over 150 vampire movies, offering insight into not only the vampire films themselves, but our continuing fascination with those films.

*Originally published in Monsters and the Monstrous: http://monstersjournal.net/

Review: Cerberus, by P.K. Gallagher + Giveaway

Cerberus

Review

In P.K. Gallagher’s novel Cerberus, Kaeden Parish’s life seems perfectly normal. Sure, his girlfriend Genesis might seem a little reserved sometimes, and Hagan, the guy he’s training to take over his job at Bosch’s Archive antique bookstore, might be a little too good, but nothing’s out of the ordinary. He’s got plans for his future after graduation, and he doesn’t see them changing anytime soon. Until, that is, the night he is attacked in a dark alley by a stranger who seems to know who he is. Kaeden’s world turns upside down, and all the rules he used to follow no longer apply.

Cerberus drew me in instantly. Watching Kaeden’s unwilling transformation from regular-guy student to the kind of monster he never believed in was fabulous, and Gallagher’s depictions of the relationship between Genesis and Kaeden rang true for me, right down to Kaeden’s slight disbelief that he had never quite grown used to the attraction he felt for her. Unraveling the mystery of the secret Genesis holds—the underlying reason for her reserved nature—and Kaeden’s new experiences in a supernatural shadow world kept me entertained throughout the book.

I don’t want to give any serious spoilers, so I’ll just say that the utter lack of sparkles in this book made me happy—I love novels that trace a character’s experience changing from human to monster, and this one did not fail. It’s a great book, and perfect for October; it’s got mystery, monsters, and mayhem galore, and it made me a very happy reader. I can’t wait for the next book!

Score: 9/10
5 stars

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About the Author

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Despite writing stories that take place almost exclusively in New England, speculative young adult fiction author P. K. Gallagher has lived in the suburbs of the south her entire life. It is to this that she attributes her love of the fantastic and the supernatural—writing such things was her only escape from the monotony of Suburbia. Gallagher graduated from Florida A&M University in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a fervent desire to never set foot inside a newsroom again.

She currently lives in Atlanta and divides her time between working a day job, finishing her works in progress, and perfecting her plans for world domination.

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Connect with P. K. Gallagher

Website * Twitter * Facebook

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Guest Author Interview: Amanda Bonilla

Welcome to Amanda Bonilla, my new favorite urban fantasy author! Confession time: when I read a description of Amanda’s new novel Vengeance Borne, I knew it was something I would want to read, so I did a little cyber-stalking sleuthing and tracked her down to beg her to let me review her book and interview her. Lucky for me, Amanda is incredibly generous and was gracious enough to answer my questions and send me a copy of Vengeance Borne! Check it all out, below:

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Interview

What do you write about? Tell us a little about your previously published works.
I’m the author of the Shaede Assassin series, a dark urban fantasy series about a former human-turned-Shaede (a creature that can become a shadow after the sun sets) who happens to work as an assassin. I love to write emotionally stunted, tortured heroines who need to be taken down a few pegs before they can truly stand on their own two feet. In September, the first book in my new Sentry of Evil series, VENGEANCE BORNE released. It’s also a dark urban fantasy series that focuses on Waerds who hunt down and kill evil supernatural creatures and Bearers who are their empath counterparts.

How do you handle bad reviews?

When my first book came out, I beat myself up over bad reviews. I’m a people pleaser and I felt like I’d let people down. But four books later, I’ve realized that reviews are for readers, not authors and that all I can do is to write the best book I can. I rarely read reviews and I never read negative reviews. One of my friends once told me, “It’s none of your business what people think of you.” The same goes for books.

Tell us a little about your work in progress.
I write contemporary romance under the name Mandy Baxter. I’m currently working on the second book of my US Marshals series. The first book, ONE NIGHT MORE, will release in September 2014 from Kensington. I’m also working on the fourth book in the Shaede Assassin series, AGAINST THE DAWN which will also release in 2014.

Any advice for aspiring writers?
Read as much as you can. And write. A lot. But persistence is the most important thing. You can’t give up. If you love to write just keep writing and keep trying.

What is your personal writing process?
Silence and solitude. I work best without distractions so between the hours of 8 and 5 when everyone is gone for the day, I write as much as I can. That’s not to say our dogs and cat aren’t distracting. Oh, and the chickens, too. But I soldier through! 😉

What book are you reading now?
I’m currently in between books, but I just finished FIFTH GRAVE PAST THE LIGHT by Darynda Jones. Such a great book! I’m a huge Charlie Davidson fangirl. And Reyes? SWOON!

What inspired you to write your first book?
When I was sixteen I read SHANNA by Kathleen Woodiwiss. I was at a point in my life where I was sort of isolated and felt alone. I fell in love with her characters and storytelling. That book started a reading obsession for me and gave me an avenue for escape and I wanted to write from the moment I read her books.

Have you ever used characteristics from someone you know in one of your books?
In VENGEANCE BORNE, Trish shares a lot of characteristics of both of my grandmas. They were both strong, dynamic women, and I wanted to honor their memories. Writing Trish is fun, because it’s sort of like hanging out with them again.

Where can readers find you and your work?
I hang out on Facebook and Twitter as both my Amanda Bonilla and Mandy Baxter identities. I love to chat with readers! If you’d like information on any of my series, hit up my websites http://amandabonilla.com or http://mandy-baxter.com

Amanda Bonilla on Facebook

Mandy Baxter on Facebook

Amanda Bonilla on Twitter

Mandy Baxter on Twitter

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Review

Vengeance Borne final lowerdpi

Jacquelyn is a monster hunter, a member of the shadow organization the Sentry, determined to protect her small town from the dangers she knows lurk nearby.

Micah has spent his life metaphorically running from his “gift” of feeling others’ emotions, and now he’s running for real–he has packed up an RV and is headed across the country. But when he meets up with Jacquelyn, he must decide whether to use that gift to help stop a supernatural killing spree or to just keep running forever.

Vengeance Borne has everything I love in an urban fantasy novel: a kick-ass heroine with a little emotional baggage (makes for great character development!), a love interest with some psychological depth, interesting monsters, and well-rounded secondary (and in this case, even tertiary) characters.

I loved everything about this book–Amanda Bonilla has created a wonderful, complete world and populated it with believable characters. I’m hooked. And I’m headed off to buy everything she’s ever written. I love finding a new-to-me author as good as she is!

Score: 10/10
5 stars

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Review of Her Wicked Angel by Felicity Heaton

Wicked angel

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Review

In Her Wicked Angel, the dark angel Asmodeus is sent to earth to retrieve the witch Liora for his master, the Devil. But when Asmodeus sets eyes on Liora, he is lost; he can’t imagine handing her over to the Devil. Instead, he sets out to make her his own.

In this latest entry of the Her Angel Romance series, author Felicity Heaton offers a sexy hero and a beautiful heroine whose chemistry makes the pages sizzle. I particularly liked Heaton’s depiction of Asmodeus’ difficulties as a hell-born angel on his first trip to earth; the fact that he doesn’t know how to behave and Liora has to teach him evened the odds a little bit. He might be overwhelmingly powerful, but Liora is a powerful witch in her own right—and as attractive as she finds him, she’s not overawed by him. That made for a nice balance in their relationship.

I was a little distracted by what felt like the author’s constant use of “male” and “female” in the text. I get the reasoning—these demonic angels aren’t exactly men and wouldn’t necessarily think in the same terms we do. Nonetheless, the constant use of the terms seemed a little overly biological to me. I think the words “man” and “woman” would have been almost invisible in a way that “male” and “female” weren’t.

But that’s really a minor issue. This is a solid romance novel. The plot is entertaining, Asmodeus is a bad-ass, and Liora is definitely his match. Her Wicked Angel is wicked good fun.

Overall, I give it 8/10
4 stars

~Margo Bond Collins