Monday, January 5, 2015

The Newest Bitey Films of 2014 and 2015

Ben Taylor from counts down the best vampire movies that came out in 2014 and are slated to join the bitefest in 2015.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Audi Goes Vamp!

By James J. Gormley

Need more proof of how powerful the popular appeal of bitey things in the night are? This latest commercial from Audi re their new headlights: hats, er cape, off to them!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Stay Tuned!

Dear Reader,
Stay tuned for upcoming reviews of classic and newer vampire fiction, starting with a review of Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian.
You won't regret it!
James Gormley
Vampire Books Navigator

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

In the Footsteps of Dracula — A Personal Journey and Travel Guide

In the Footsteps of Dracula—A Personal Journey and Travel Guide (paperback)Author: Steven P. Unger
Publisher: World Audience Inc./$20.00
Date of Publication: 2010
Reviewed by James J. Gormley (member, National Book Critics Circle)

Steve Unger, a veteran traveler and writer, has accomplished something truly original with In the Footsteps of Dracula — he has created a personal travelogue for “the Dracula trail.”

Unger’s work is divided into five main parts: Part 1 delves into Bram Stoker’s Dracula; Parts 2 and 3 unearth the historical Prince Vlad Dracula and the path of national heroism and unspeakable cruelty that both defined him; Part 4 visits various Bram Stoker itinerary stops in London and Dublin; and Part 5 provides an indispensible and immensely practical travel how-to for readers who decide to embark on their own footstep-following trip.

Penned to “entertain, to inform, perhaps even to inspire,” noted Unger, “it is a memoir for the armchair traveler.” It is more than that, of course, too, as Unger is able to deftly weave impressive historical, political, cultural and literary research into what is also an original and intimate approach to looking at the Dracula trail as not merely an adventure but also a pilgrimage that each one of us can take to make it our own.

With Unger’s curatorship, for example, we can see what inspired Stoker as he vacationed in Whitby, and we can look down from dizzying mountain heights upon soil that was drenched in the blood of tens of thousands of soldiers, boyars and citizens by Prince Vlad and his armies.

Partly thanks to an entertainingly eclectic selection of pictures taken by Unger (and included in this volume) and partly due to the witty and enjoyable narrative provided to us along the trail, we as readers are also able to bring it all home as we learn about such disparate and colorful details as Gothic Weekends in Whitby and MaxiTaxis in Transylvania, and much more.

While there are many historical and mythological digs, if you will, into Bram Stoker’s Dracula character, Prince Vlad the Impaler and vampirism, my favorites have always included: In Search of Dracula (by McNally and Florescu), The Complete Vampire Companion (by Rosemary Ellen Guiley), The New Annotated Dracula (edited by Leslie Klinger — which is an annotated edition of Stoker’s Dracula, true, but the notes for which are so rich in scholarly annotations as to qualify for a cyclopedia in and of themselves), and the hard-to-get-through yet seminal, Vampires and Vampirism (by Montague Summers). I am now adding Unger’s entry to that list of essential works for students of Bram Stoker, Stoker’s Dracula and of Vlad the Impaler.

While there will always be quibbles among scholars and students of our stake-philic prince (e.g., Was Castle Dracula built onto Castle Arges with stones from the ruined Castle Poienari, or was it Castle Poienari itself?), there should be no quibbling at all regarding Unger’s In the Footsteps of Dracula; it is a fresh, and uniquely personal, addition to our realm of wonder about all things that go bite in the night.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Son of the Dragon: How Dracula Got His Name

By VBN guest, Steven P. Unger, author of In the Footsteps of Dracula: A Personal Journey and Travel Guide

Hundreds of years before Christ, the Dacians (called "Agathyrsoi" by Herodotus in the fourth volume of his Histories) were the first recorded people to live in Transylvania. They tattooed their faces, arms, and legs according to their rank in society, and dyed their hair dark blue.

Herodotus wrote of several Dacian legends and rituals, such as the priests of Zalmoxis who kept the secret of incantations that could make human beings immortal, and the ritual practice of wrapping a young man who wished to become a warrior in the skin of a wolf (some men were said to be able to change themselves each year for several days into the form of a wolf). Modern historians have theorized that hallucinogenic mushrooms were used in the wolf-pelt ceremony, allowing the men to experience a complete psychological transformation into wolves.

Once psychologically transformed into a wolf and thereby initiated into the Brotherhood of the Wolf, the Dacian warrior would enter fearlessly and ferociously into battle under the banner of the Wolf Dragon, an animal with the head of a wolf and the body of a dragon. The Royal Order of the Dragon, into which the historical Prince Dracula's father was initiated at Nuremberg in 1431 (the year of Dracula's birth), was a branch of the Brotherhood of the Wolf, which had already survived for two thousand years. Almost 500 years after that, a picture was taken in the early 20th Century showing a shepherd in the Pindus Mountains of northwestern Greece holding a staff with a carving of the Wolf Dragon at the top.

Roman legions first invaded Transylvania in the 1st Century B.C., and the Dacians responded by building six defensive fortresses in the Orăştie Mountains near present-day Deva at the southwest border with Wallachia. The ruins of the six fortresses, comprising a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1999, can be seen today. Some of the ruins include the circular remnants of sanctuaries reminiscent of a mini-Stonehenge or of the Tholos Temple at Delphi, Greece; near another fortress is a circular stone solar calendar.

Dacian Wolf Dragon
This photograph of a Wolf Dragon was carved in a stone arch as long as 2,000 years ago. Reproduced with the permission of Shane Solow, ©Lost Trails, LLC, the picture was taken at one of the Orăştie sanctuaries. The carving is one of the only original, intact examples of the powerful Dacian symbol remaining in the world.

The Dacians were able to keep the Roman legions at bay for nearly 200 years, until they were finally conquered by the Roman Emperor Trajan in 106 A.D. Rome ruled what is now Romania for the next 175 years, intermarrying until a Daco-Roman people emerged who spoke Latin. Seven hundred years of successive invasions by Goths, Huns, Germanic Saxons, and Hungarians followed.

By the 10th Century, Romania consisted of three principalities: Transylvania, the central part of the country, bounded by the sprawling mountain range that Jonathan Harker refers to as "the horseshoe of the Carpathians" in his first journal entry in the novel, Dracula, by Bram Stoker; Moldavia to the east; and Wallachia to the south. All three princedoms were dominated by the kingdom of Hungary. This state of affairs still prevailed in the time of Prince Vlad Dracula (Vlad the Impaler).

The ruling classes, or boyars, of Romania at the time of Prince Dracula were Magyars, who were of Hungarian extraction, and Szekelys, who believed themselves to be descended from the Huns. Bram Stoker has Count Dracula claim Szekely heritage, and his descent from Attila the Hun, to Jonathan Harker in Chapter III:

We Szekelys have a right to be proud, for in our veins flows the blood of many brave races who fought as the lion fights, for lordship. . . . What devil or what witch was ever so great as Attila, whose blood is in these veins?

The Szekelys may be said to be the only true Transylvanians, having guarded the land's borders long before the Magyar invasion and Hungarian rule. Their allegiance was only to the sacred soil of Transylvania, no matter who held temporary political dominion over them at any given time. Among their descendants are Prince Charles of England and his sons, Princes William and Harry.

Nevertheless, the historical Vlad Dracula the Impaler can be traced genetically much further back than the Szekelys and the Huns: Dracula's distant ancestors were the Dacian Wolf Dragon warriors themselves.
Portrait of Prince Dracula

The only portrait of Prince Dracula, copied innumerable times on posters and paintings and statues throughout Romania, hangs in Castle Ambras in Innsbruck, Austria, in Europe's first "museum," the Kunst und Wunderkammer — the Arts and Wonders Room, also known as the Gallery of Monsters.

Even this portrait, painted in the late 16th Century more than 100 years after Dracula's death by an anonymous German artist (the Germans despised Dracula, who had impaled thousands of their Saxon relatives in Sibiu and Brasov), is only a copy of another portrait lost in the ash heap of history.

So, no one really knows if this sinister, angular visage with the Jay Leno chin is really that of Vlad the Impaler, especially when compared with the rounded, almost serene face in the only known — and contemporaneous — portrait of Vlad's father, a fragmented fresco recently discovered above the bedroom where Dracula was born in Sighişoara.

Interestingly, the Kunst und Wunderkammer's portrait of Prince Dracula — descendant of the Wolf Dragon warriors — is adjacent to the portrait of a "wolf-man." Although this portrait of Petrus Gonsalvus (a real person) shows his face completely covered in fur except for his nose, eyes, and lips, we cannot see his palms. (See Bram Stoker's Count Dracula, however, did have "hairs in the centre of the palm," as Jonathan Harker tells us in Chapter II.
Mircea the Old
The historical Dracula's father, Vlad Basarab, was born out of wedlock in 1392 to Prince Mircea cel Bătrân (Mircea the Old) and one of his many concubines. Today, a statue of Prince Mircea cel Bătrân stands in the central square of modern Tărgovişte. Always a loyal servant to King Sigismund of Hungary, Vlad Basarab fought the Turks as a guard commander of the mountain passes into Wallachia and acted as Sigismund's representative in Constantinople to the Holy Roman Emperor.

As a reward, in 1431 Basarab was inducted into the ancient Royal Order of the Dragon, a society of Central and Eastern European knights who were charged with defending the Catholic faith against its enemies, and he was given the governorship of Transylvania along with a house in its capital, Sighişoara.

(Incidentally, members of the Royal Order of the Dragon wore a ceremonial costume — reminiscent of the clothing worn by modern movie Draculas — incorporating a black cape over a red garment, to be worn on Fridays and during the commemoration of Christ's Passion on the first Tuesday after the eighth Sunday before Easter. In another odd coincidence, the last remaining group of people claiming membership in what they say is a continuing, though underground, Royal Order of the Dragon is the Oltean family of — where else? — Bistriţa, in Transylvania on the road to the Borgo Pass, the site of the fictional Count Dracula's castle.)

From the day of his induction into the Royal Order of the Dragon until his death, Vlad Basarab referred to himself as Vlad Dracul. "Dracul" is the Romanian word for "dragon" — and it also means "devil," as Bram Stoker discovered while researching his novel. The suffix "a" means "son of," so when Vlad Dracul's second son, also named Vlad, was born later that year in Sighişoara, he became Vlad Dracula, Son of the Dragon.

Editor's note: The 2nd Edition of  Steven Unger's In the Footsteps of Dracula: A Personal Journey and Travel Guide is available now from its dedicated World Audience Web page. A review of the book and Q and A with Mr. Unger coming soon to Vampire Books Navigator!

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Fall


The Fall (hardcover)
Authors: Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
Publisher: William Morrow/Harper Collins/$13.49
Date of Publication: 2010
Reviewed by James J. Gormley (member, National Book Critics Circle)

In this second installment in The Strain Trilogy, The Fall, Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan deliver a suckfest that is powerfully written, marked by amazingly well crafted dialogue, enhanced by extensive plot and character development, and paced as only the very best horrific thrillers can be.

In addition to our previous cast of main characters --- Abraham Setrakian, a modern-day Van Helsing; Drs. Ephrain Goodweather and Nora Martinez, now renegade CDC plague specialists who are on a mission to try to kill the renegade vampire Ancient, Sardu, and to recover an ancient text that could save humanity or spell its final doom; Vaily Fet, the toughest pest control specialist ever employed by NYC; Eph's wife (Kelly) and their son (Zack); and the Master --- there are also other characters that have emerged with larger roles and new characters completely.

One of the most colorful of the new characters is Angel, an ex Lucha Libre professional wrestler from Mexico who fights alongside a collection of "good" vampires who want the Master dead, too. One of the most despicable new characters is Eichhorst, an abysmally evil Nazi vampire who almost (only almost) makes Sardu look less horrific by comparison.

As to what drew Sardu to the Nazi concentration camps during World War II, to begin with, Setrakian reflects: "Man's own inhumanity to man had whet the monster's appetite for havoc."

Academy Award-winning director, del Toro, and award-winning author, Hogan, once again prove that they have crafted a living, pulse-pounding work of dark beauty drawing from the ashes of inhumanity's past and today's greatest fears.

We are left to wonder as to which demon is truly the worst, after all.

Readers of The Strain will want to pick The Fall up right away, and will await the last installment with fearful anticipation.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Knuckle Supper

Knuckle Supper (hardcover)
Author: Drew Stepek
Publisher: Alphar/$25.72
Date of Publication: 2010
Reviewed by James J. Gormley (member, National Book Critics Circle)

The other day I was telling Drew Stepek, fellow HWA member and the author of a new vampire book, Knuckle Supper, that despite the fact that his vampire-canon-busting novel is one of the most disgusting, unrelentingly violent and horrifying horror works I have ever read, the over-the-top violence and gore are not gratuititous.

Without giving away the story (which I won't), the leader of a group of heroin-addicted vampires, RJ, has the normal abnormalcy of his own chaotic, blood-and-drug-hazed existence challenged when he reluctantly takes in a 12-year-old runaway girl, Bait Jenkins.

When a drug deal goes south and RJ's gang, The Knucklers, winds up with an unexpected windfall, it isn't long before rival gangs (from Rastas to transvestite prostitutes to argyle-wearing preppies) start taking revenge and jockeying for the pole position in the vampire-run L.A. drug trade.

And to make matters worse, seemingly pulling the strings behind the L.A. vamps is a group of breakaway religious fanatics called The Cloth and a wannabe nun and psychopath nicknamed The Habit, who not only seem to know everything about where R.J. and his junkie gangster allies and rivals actually come from but who want to pull the plug on their twisted experiment.

In the book, R.J. says: "I don't know why we're alive or what purpose we have besides delivering misery and death, I can tell you one thing though; there is something human in us all."

And true enough to R.J.'s revelation, while various types of exploitation form the lives or the backgrounds of almost all of the players in this bloodfest, Stepek is masterful in enabling us to actually feel sorrow and empathy for a few of the characters (not only R.J. and Bait) and to see the human in the monsters and the monster in the humans.

With gangs reminiscent of the crews in Walter Hill's 1979 film, The Warriors, there are intentional and unintentional homages to a range of movies and horrific classics from A Clockwork Orange to Trainspotting.

Knuckle Supper is a game changer, to be sure, and this has got to be one of the most original vampire works ever created; with it, Stepek turns the entire vampire mythos on its head and fully slays the almost-dead,angst-ridden, sparkly vampire once and for all.

Bravo, Drew, bravissimo!