Saturday, October 21, 2017

Dracula Month Day 21: Horror of Dracula

There's no way I could let my Dracula Month theme slip by without delving into at least a couple of the Hammer horror films. Depending on who you talk to, people's definitive Dracula on film could be Bela Lugosi, Gary Oldman or Hammer's Christopher Lee; Lee certainly played the role more times than anyone. The one which began it all was 1958's Horror of Dracula (the original UK title was simply Dracula).

This film is the most truncated film adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel that I have seen. Considerable departures were made from the novel so as to amp up the action and violence, while at the same time keeping the cast trimmed down (no Renfield, no Quincey Morris) and the locations kept relatively few. It's interesting that like the 1931 film, Jonathan Harker & Renfield are somewhat merged, only this time instead of Renfield going to Castle Dracula the change is that Harker becomes Dracula's servant.

The film is very breezy and easy to watch - not particulary faithful if that troubles you, but the action holds one's interest. Christopher Lee has virtually no dialogue in this film but he has a commanding presence, while Peter Cushing's Van Helsing was reimagined into an action hero, leading to a particularly show-stopping finale where Van Helsing pins Dracula back with a makeshift cross while waiting for the sunlight to destroy the vampire. This is my pick as best of the Hammer Dracula flicks.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Dracula Month Day 20: Planetary #13

For one bright and shining moment, Warren Ellis was the creator with his finger on the pulse of 21st century comic books; then his hard drive crashed and nothing was ever the same.

Throughout Ellis and artist John Cassaday's series Planetary they made interesting observations about the tropes and traditions of comic book series. Sometimes it was affectionate, sometimes it was acidic. In 2001's Planetary #13 and the story "Century", Ellis & Cassaday delivered a riff on Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, revealing Planetary's chief protagonist Elijah Snow had at one time encountered the likes of Frankenstein's Monster, Sherlock Holmes and Dracula.

I bring up the story "Century" because of all the appearances Dracula has made in comic book form this is probably the least respectful; Ellis & Cassaday didn't seem to find Dracula particularly menacing or tragic, but rather played out and tiresome. Thus, Dracula's encounter with Elijah Snow ends with the vampire being turned into ice then having his crotch kicked off. As Snow himself observes, Dracula truly did have that kind of humiliation coming to him.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Dracula Month Day 19: Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre #6

I have blogged about Batton Lash's delightful Supernatural Law comic books many times before. To celebrate my Dracula Month theme I'm looking at one of his best uses of Dracula, found in Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre #6 (1995): "It Stalks the Public Domain." (It was also collected in the trade paperback Tales of Supernatural Law)

The story concerns a sideshow owner named Lampini who exhibits the skeleton of Dracula along with a Frankenstein Monster and a werewolf. Unfortunately he has competition from a certain Dr. Hammer, an English sideshow owner who also claims to have the remains of Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster and a werewolf; Dr. Hammer claims his House of Horrors is more authentic than Lampini so Lampini has only one option: revive his Dracula and prove who the one true vampire lord is. Thus, Wolff & Byrd are brought in on the case!

This is a very fun tale for fans of horror pictures with many visual gags involving the Universal films, Hammer films and even Blacula. It's a fun story, especially for those fans who like to argue about which version of popular film monsters is the definitive one.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Dracula Month Day 18: Dracula: The Company of Monsters

Dracula: The Company of Monsters was a series published in 2010 by Dynamite Entertainment; 2010 was quite a year for Dracula comics! This series lasted for 12 issues and was based on a concept by Kurt Busiek with writer Daryl Gregory and artist Scott Godlewski bringing it to life. Busiek's name definitely helped attract attention to this series which might have been otherwise lost among the glut of other Dracula comics.

This series was set in contemporary times and featured a powerful business empire run by a family dynasty with an interest in the occult; they revive Dracula in the hopes of utilizing him as an asset, but Dracula isn't a man easily controlled. The series drew parallels between Dracula's royal pedigree and that of the contemporary business people. Easily the most interesting element of this series is that Bram Stoker's novel Dracula does not appear to be the series' primary text of reference, instead delving into the historical record of Vlad Dracul, intermixed with lore of Vlad's life and death from his native land. This gave Dracula: The Company of Monsters a different texture than many other Dracula comics.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Dracula Month Day 17: Death Ship #1-4

My favourite portion of Bram Stoker's Dracula novel is the log of the captain of the Demeter, the doomed man who unwittingly transports Dracula's coffin (and boxes of Transylvanian soil) into England, during which Dracula picks off the Demeter's crew one by one, leaving the captain for last. The story is strong enough that it could stand on its own; ergo, we have the 2010 IDW mini-series Bram Stoker's Death Ship.

Death Ship was a four-issue limited series by writer Gary Gerani and artist Stuart Sayger. As in the account found in Stoker's novel, the crew are shown being killed one by one. However, throughout the series Dracula is obscured, usually half-glimpsed. Most of Dracula's attacks involve him tricking the crew with hallucinatory visions, something he wasn't capable of in the novel.

Four issues is more than enough room to tell the story of the Demeter from the crew's perspective but the crew are barely fleshed out, with only two receiving particular focus as characters. I found the idea of Dracula dispatching his enemies through hallucinations less interesting than scenes of him simply stalking and cornering the crew would have been. I think I was unclear about what Dracula's powers were, which made the suspense of the story hard to pin down. This concept remains a popular one as for years now there's been a film in-development called The Last Voyage of the Demeter. Perhaps a film account would be more to my liking,

Monday, October 16, 2017

Dracula Month Day 16: The Complete Dracula #1-5

How these papers have been placed in sequence will be made manifest in the reading of them. All needless matters have been eliminated, so that a history almost at variance with the possibilities of later-day belief may stand forth as simple fact.

So reads the preface of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. This too is how the 2009 Dynamite Entertainment comic book series The Complete Dracula opens. This five-issue limited series was an attempt at adapting the full text of the original Dracula novel plus Dracula's Guest, the adaptation was performed by writers Leah Moore & John Reppion with artist Colton Worley and covers by John Cassaday.

The irony of Moore & Reppion including the preface is that when they type "All needless matters have been eliminated" they do err - including the short story Dracula's Guest for the sake of being complete is to include an entirely irrelevant piece of data which is an interesting supplement to the novel but which doesn't truly belong in the body of the novel. Seeing Dracula's Guest adapted within Dracula does serve to make this adaptation a little different than most comic book versions of Stoker's text, but it remains a curious sidebar to the actual story of Dracula.

Beyond that, Moore, Reppion & Worley's dedication to delivering a faithful adaptation of the original text is one I heartily approve of and this may well be the definitive comic book adaptation of the original text. I don't find Worley to be entirely satisfactory as an artist as his facial expressions feel unconvincing, but the story is laid out immensely well. I'll be looking at yet more comic book adaptations of the novel before the month is out; this is the one which would best serve the reader who prefers comic books to prose.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Dracula Month Day 15: Mercury Theatre on the Air - Dracula

In the 1930s, Orson Welles & John Houseman's Mercury Theatre became a New York sensation and that led CBS to bring them to radio in 1938 for The Mercury Theatre on the Air. Welles had lofty ambitions for the kind of stories which the program would tell, a mix of plays and adaptations of popular novels. Welles intended the premiere broadcast to be an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island but ultimately shifted it ahead one week and instead wrote a very quick adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula for the July 11th premiere.

Although the most famous broadcast of The Mercury Theatre on the Air would be their version of H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, the series didn't tread very often into the realm of science fiction/supernatural; in that sense, Dracula doesn't entirely make sense as a premiere broadcast. It's also remarkable that, considering his stage background, Welles wanted to adapt the novel, not the play. But as I've said before, the novel is so very much superior to the play and although every account of the adaptation process states it was a grueling one because of the sheer volume of prose Stoker wrote, Welles seemed to know the book was the correct source material.

The radio episode condenses the entire novel to an hour very faithful. Poor old Quincey Morris is omitted (as he often is) but the rest of the major characters are present. Welles performed Dracula and Dr. Seward with various sections narrated by the particular point-of-view characters, as in the novel. My favourite performance belongs to Martin Gabel as Van Helsing, who belts out his lines with tremendous fury (particularly at the climax as he screams "Strike, Harker!"). In all of old-time radio, this is just about the only time Dracula was adapted to the medium. Go check it out at archive.org, it's one of old-time radio's best horror broadcasts.