Kenneth Hite's Journal|
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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in
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|Monday, July 18th, 2016|
|Listen to Them the Children of the 'Cast What Sweet Gaming They Make
Normally when I ask for the precious gift of your vote in the ENnie Awards
I provide you with a lovely linky gift in return as an amuse-bouche. Well, as it so happens I can provide you with the inestimable gift of hearing me talk, in the form of two sessions of an adventure in The Dracula Dossier
that I ran something like 21 months apart with (mostly) the same player group, as captured and presented on Chicago's own wonderful One Shot Podcast
Here's me explaining the rules for Night's Black Agents
in about ten or fifteen minutes to the assembled group:
Night's Black Agents Rules Expo
Here is Session One, run in September 2014 or thereabouts for James D'Amato, Zach Webber, Grant "General Ironicus" Greene, and Nathan D. Paoletta:Session One Part One: Welcome to BelgradeSession One Part Two: Never Get On the Boat Session One Part Three: And Quiet Flows the DanubeSession One Part Four: Fear Death By Water
And here is Session Two of the same adventure, run in June 2016 for James D'Amato, Grant "General Ironicus" Greene, and Nathan D. Paoletta with Darcy Ross swapped in for Zach, who couldn't make it and so neither did his grievously wounded character:Session Two Part One: New Friends For OldSession Two Part Two: Art in the Blood or Vice VersaSession Two Part Three: White City, Black Castle, Red Death
I think there's something in here for new and old fans alike of the Dracula Dossier
universe, and for fans of me, and for fans of any or all of the excellent players in their own personae.
Listen to the shows for the players' own pluggery; as for me, do please consider voting for The Dracula Dossier
and other Ken-related goodness in the ENnie Awards
while you listen.
|Friday, July 15th, 2016|
|GenCon and Tonic: My GenCon Schedule 2016
Title speaks for itself. Alternate title: This May Have Been Too Many Seminars and Too Few Lunches.THURSDAY, AUGUST 411:00 am - Noon
A discussion of techniques that can be used to build new, interesting, & exciting game worlds. Do you alter history or do you redesign a whole new world? Learn how to get the most out of your world building.
Ajit George (Moderator), Amanda Hamon Kunz, Kenneth Hite, Anna Kreider, Wes Schneider1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Stealing From the Movies
Campaign ideas & awesome RPG action are as close as the multiplex. Pelgrane Press designers help you adapt, adopt, & improve the plots & characters of Hollywood, Hong Kong, & Hammer Films.
Crowne Plaza : Victoria Stn C/D3:00 pm - 4:00 pm
Research & Game Writing
How much research is too much? How much is too little, or too sloppy? How can you present the best & most interesting results to gamers without drowning them in detail?
Matt Forbeck, Kenneth Hite
ICC : 241FRIDAY, AUGUST 5
1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Live!
Robin D. Laws & Kenneth Hite talk roleplaying, history, conspiracy, occultism, writing, food, movies & whatever you ask them about in this live edition of their award-winning podcast.
Westin : Council3:00 pm - 4:00 pm
Love The Sound Of Your Own Voice: Podcasting 101
Podcasting is a lot of work, & a lot of fun. We'll help you minimize the former & maximize the latter, in everything from picking a topic to audio editing. Put your beautiful voice out there!
Kenneth Hite, Alex Roberts
ICC : 2417:00 pm - 9:00 pm?
ENnie Awards Ceremony
Don't forget to vote for me!
Crown Plaza Union StationSATURDAY, AUGUST 611:00 am - Noon
Theme & Mechanics: Context Is Everything
How do game companies match game mechanics to a fitting theme? The Dos & Don'ts & why it's important!
Matt Forbeck, Kenneth Hite, Harrison Pink, Elisa Teague
ICC : 2401:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Swords, Spies & Shoggoths: The Pelgrane Press Panel
Join Simon Rogers, Cat Tobin & others from the Pelgrane team for a behind-the-scenes look at what the award-winning UK publisher's been up to this year, & what they've planned for the coming year.3:00 pm - 4:30 pm
Need to Know: Inside the Delta Green Role-Playing Game
Meet the authors of the new incarnation of the award-winning setting of Lovecraftian horror and modern conspiracy. With Dennis Detwiller, Adam Scott Glancy, Kenneth Hite, Shane Ivey, & Greg Stolze.
Crowne Plaza : Grand Central Ballroom B
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Investigative Roleplaying Master Class
Mystery scenario masters Kenneth Hite, Robin D. Laws, & Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan train their magnifying glasses on clue-gathering adventures to reveal the unlikely suspects behind your tabletop woes.
Westin : Capitol II8:00 pm - 9:30 pm
Eyes Only: Delta Green GM's Workshop
Mystery. Dread. Appalling sacrifice. Cosmic terror. Join us for a master class in running Delta Green. With Dennis Detwiller, Adam Scott Glancy, Kenneth Hite, Shane Ivey, & Greg Stolze.
Crowne Plaza : ConrailSUNDAY, AUGUST 711:00 am - Noon
Cthulhu in Gaming
What's the attraction to cosmic-nihilist seafood? Is there something to do with Cthulhu besides horror or humor? Can a card game express utter madness, or a boardgame terrify humanity?
ICC : 241
|Monday, July 11th, 2016|
|At Last, A Chance To Cast A Vote With Pride
Although we will perhaps return to the topic in the next ten days ("perhaps," he says, with a straight face yet) here's a brief primer on Ken's ENnie Nominations
Best Adventure: Dracula Dossier Director's Handbook
Best Podcast: Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff
Best RPG Related Product: Ken Writes About Stuff, Vol. 3
Best Supplement: Dracula Dossier Hawkins Papers
Best Website: See P. XX: The Pelgrane Press Webzine
Best Writing: Dracula Dossier Director's Handbook
Product of the Year: Dracula Dossier Director's Handbook
And by a delightful coincidence the ENnies voting opens today
. Please do vote, and please do encourage your spouses and loved ones to do the same from their own IP addresses. Perhaps trade votes for me for those Pokemons that people love so much, should you have them on your property.
|Thursday, June 16th, 2016|
|Nancy Drew vs. Cthulhu in The Mystery of the Two-Book Plug
A quick note here to provide handy dandy pointers to two new books by me available for purchase at your finer local game stores everywhere, or directly from the publishers, or in a series of ones and zeroes that if you squint at them real hard become books of some kind. Look, I was a humanities nerd and it's too late for me to change now.
Anyhoo, the books:Bubblegumshoe
is a teen detective story game using the GUMSHOE engine designed by myself, Emily Care Boss, and Lisa Steele. It aims the focus on interpersonal relationships instead of punchemups, and includes a number of drifts for playing various subsets of the genre from Scooby-Doo
style "wacky traps and weird sidekicks" to John Bellairs-esque stories of doom and obsession. But mostly it's a way to play Veronica Mars: the RPG
although since we didn't get that license, you just have to Google-art-direct it yourself. Bubblegumshoe
is on sale at Origins at the IPR booth, and hits your store shelves June 20.The Cthulhu Wars: The United States' Battles Against the Mythos
is my second Osprey Adventures book, written with the able assistance of Kennon Bauman. This one is a military secret history of, well, just what it says on the tin: the battles Americans have fought against the Cthulhu Mythos from the Rhode Island militia raid on Joseph Curwen's farm in 1771 to the Global War on Horror of today. Readers of my previous Osprey book The Nazi Occult
will rejoice to see more beautiful full-color art by the talented Darren Tan, and more ridiculous captions by me of seemingly serious stock historical photos. Plus some weird stuff about Ambrose Bierce that I blame on Kennon. It's on sale now wherever you buy all your other fine Osprey books, so hie ye thence.
|Monday, May 30th, 2016|
Robert Munroe (Ensign, Lexington militia, KIA 19 April 1775, Lexington Green)
Charles H. Keating IV (SO 1st Class, Naval Special Warfare Group 1, KIA 3 May 2016, Tall Usquf, Iraq)
And all 559,124 in between.
|Monday, May 9th, 2016|
|War of the Chronology of War of the Worlds
Let me teal-deer it for you: it is not strictly possible to establish a consistent internal chronology for H.G. Wells' novel The War of the Worlds,
but the best guess is: the invasion occurs in 1907.
To begin with, it's set in the future. Written in 1896 (mostly) and published in 1898 (in novel form; it had been serialized a year earlier), its opening sets the action in the twentieth century:
"And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment."
The narrator recounts events that happened six years in the past, during an opposition of Mars:
"The storm burst upon us six years ago now. As Mars approached opposition, Lavelle of Java set the wires of the astronomical exchange palpitating with the amazing intelligence of a huge outbreak of incandescent gas upon the planet."
Although the novel doesn't explicitly say the gas flares occur the same month and year as the Martian landings, the flares happen "toward midnight of the 12th" during a warm season, the landings happen in "that terrible June," (and the Thunder Child
sacrifices itself "that June morning" on day six of the invasion) and the narrator doesn't provide any indication of time passing but instead strongly implies that the ten flares almost immediately precede the landings.
The narrator speculates the cylinders travel "many thousands of miles" in a minute -- 1,000 miles per minute covers the distance from Earth to Mars (40 million miles) in about a month. If "many" = 10, in less than three days. The Martians launch one cylinder per day for ten days, and all ten launch before the first one lands, so we can assume the cylinders take at least ten days to travel from Mars to Earth. (10 days travel implies 2,770 miles per minute. 2.7 isn't my idea of "many.")
So during which opposition did the Martians launch?
"During the opposition of 1894 a great light was seen on the illuminated part of the disk, first at the Lick Observatory, then by Perrotin of Nice, and then by other observers. English readers heard of it first in the issue of Nature dated August 2. I am inclined to think that this blaze may have been the casting of the huge gun, in the vast pit sunk into their planet, from which their shots were fired at us. Peculiar markings, as yet unexplained, were seen near the site of that outbreak during the next two oppositions."
The "next two oppositions" after 1894 came in 1896 and 1899. We know the landing happens "early in the twentieth century."
There is no opposition in June until 1922, although there's a May opposition in 1905, and a July opposition in 1907. Either one might work for our purposes.
The first cylinder lands on a Thursday night, probably at midnight as the later cylinders do. The Martian invasion lasts a little over three weeks. It's obviously impossible for a three-week invasion to all occur in the same month if it begins ten days after "the 12th." So the "terrible June" has to extend at least a little ways into July.
And what have we here? In 1905, ten days after "the 12th" of June, June 22, falls on a ... Thursday. Of course, remember that quote? The flare comes "as Mars approached opposition," so a May 1905 opposition is still wrong for a June 12 sighting. (The opposition was on May 8, so even if we move the landings to May, the sighting is still after the opposition.)
Also mitigating against it: the Weybridge curate says they rebuilt the church "only three years ago." There are two Anglican churches in Weybridge, neither of them rebuilt anywhere near our period. But St. Mary Oatlands, Weybridge, did in fact build a new tower in 1905 after a general period of refurbishing and restoration.
Sadly, there is no opposition in 1908, and the 1909 opposition is in September.
So what about that July 1907 opposition? If the sighting is "toward midnight of the 12th" you can put the sighting on the evening of June 11th ("as Mars approached opposition") since midnight for an astronomer marks the beginning of the next day (23:59 is June 11, midnight is June 12) but the landing has to happen more than ten days later, as the next available Thursday is June 27th. It seems unlikely that the tenth flare happens on the same night (at the same time!) as the first cylinder-fall. Yes, we'd like to pretend the Narrator doesn't explicitly say "After the tenth shot they fired no more -- at least, until the first cylinder came." But he does.
He's more likely to have been mistaken about the curate's ramblings about the new church, so we can at least put the curate's testimony down to the Narrator's foggy memory ("we built the tower only two years ago") and let the Narrator's lack of explicit time indicators from observation to landing set a sorta satisfactory date for the Martian invasion: June 28-July 20, 1907.
[Edited thanks to keen-eyed Mark Graybill, who noticed that I'd misread the 07/06/1907 opposition as a 1906 opposition, which of course threw the whole calendar thing into a cocked hat.]
|Wednesday, May 4th, 2016|
|Big League ChupacabraCon
Holy cats, it's May already, which means I'm due in Austin, Texas for the rousing good time that promises to be ChupacabraCon III!
That specific time being May 13-15, I should probably post my schedule for those in the greater Austin area -- and really, how many areas are greater than Austin? Really, just one or two, and I'm leaving one of them, so imagine how great ChupacabraCon will be!
Or better yet, don't just imagine, and join me for the con. In the meantime, feast your eyes on these two sweet eventicles!Saturday May 14
Making Modern Horror, or, Making Horror ModernKenneth Hite, Shane Ivey, Ed Wetterman, Kevin Nunn, and Greg Stolze
So many great horror products set in the 1920s, but some authors have really brought the genre into the modern world with their games. Make the leap into the current day and world events and how it's all Cthulhu's fault. Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn! Ph'nglui mglw'nfah Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!Sunday May 15
Campaign Supplement DesignKenneth Hite, Ross Watson
You've got the big old main world and quest and setting of your dreams. but what else is there. How do you go about adding without twisting up the existing thing that you already like? Handy for not only your own worlds, but how about something that already exists in official form or just as a movie or book? There are tons of places that say "Write for Delta Green" or "Dungeons and Dragons" if you're looking to do something professional. Let's talk to some experts who do this very thing!
For the people who always ask -- no, I don't have any idea if the panels will be streamed or recorded or semaphored or acted out by telepathic monkeys in your eyeline. Last year at least some of them wound up on the Web,
|Monday, March 7th, 2016|
|Ten Best 2015 Films Ken Saw, Or, #PrinceofCairoSoWhiteExceptForAllTheKoreansTaiwaneseAndSamJackson
If you've been listening to Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff
(and why wouldn't you be?) you've already heard this list,
and you've even heard it screwed up!
Well, now I've got it straightened out so here you go: My list of the Ten Best 2015 Movies I Saw, as always expanded out to Twenty Best for the delectation of my loyal followers here on the Jern.
Top Ten: Mad Max: Fury Road, Assassination, The Big Short, They Look Like People, The Revenant, The Martian, The Hateful 8, Laundryman, Hitchcock/Truffaut, Spring.
Already we're down in the A- range, so get ready for the log-flume drop-off for the Second Ten: Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Sicario, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Schneider vs. Bax, Ant-Man, Three Days in September, Tag, Very Semi-Serious, The Assassin.
And we've fallen all the way down to the Cs by the end here. (Worst of the Year: Spectre,
Part of it is my own fault: deadlines and Dracula kept my movie intake down to a mere 30 movies this year instead of the 60 I managed last year. Part of it is Hollywood's fault for making a bunch of B-minuses for a captive audience. Part of it is me missing some prime possibilities: the Top Ten 2015 Movies I Didn't See might include the Fassbender Macbeth, Ex Machina, Anomalisa, Creed, Bridge of Spies, Mr. Holmes, What We Do In the Shadows, Carol, '71,
and almost for sure the Jordanian submission for Best Foreign Film, Theeb.
Past performance, yadda yadda, but I'll bet all of them are better than the inoffensive, unambitious Ant-Man.
|Friday, February 26th, 2016|
|Ken (and Implicitly Robin) Talks About You, With Ulterior Motives
If you're anything like the version of you that lives in my head, you have two problems: first, people refuse to believe that someone as stunningly good-looking as you can also be as intelligent and generous as you are. And second, you feel that your current method of giving me money is too difficult.
Well, worry no longer about your second problem! Robin D. Laws and I have launched a Patreon
to fund our podcast Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff,
which we've been doing for years for FREE with only the mute hobo cup by our feet to make our hearts ring when a nickel hits it. (And also ads.) Make our hobo cup SING, won't you? And then show those skeptics your receipt and maybe that will help out with that first problem of yours.
That Patreon link again.
|Monday, February 8th, 2016|
Normally, it's the con who's dilatory in figuring out my schedule. But this time it's just me lollygagging around rather than posting my panel schedule for DunDraCon,
President's Day weekend in sorta sunny San Ramon, California, convenient to your better Bay Areas.
But here it is now, lollygagging be damned!Saturday, February 13
What's New at Pelgrane Press
1:00-2:00 PM in Tri-Valley 2
Presenter: Kenneth Hite
Pelgrane Press staff designer Kenneth Hite gives you the lowdown on everything from 13th Age
to the Dracula Dossier.
City Building: Building from Scratch
02:00-3:30 PM in Tri-Valley 2
Presenters: Michael Blum, Kenneth Hite, Anders Swenson
The seminar about the nuts and bolts of building and using cities in RPGs. This year we'll illustrate how a city might develop by building one on the whiteboard -- a "start from scratch" description. Input and criticism from the attendees always makes this a unique event!
6:00-7:30 PM in Salon C
Presenters: Dana Lombardy, Ken Hite
The very popular War College panel discussion continues! Authors and game designers Dana Lombardy and Ken Hite look at possible alternate histories and what their impact might have been. Audience participation is encouraged.Sunday, February 14
10:00-11:00 AM in Tri-Valley 2
Presenters: Bruce Harlick, Kenneth Hite, Carl Rigney
Three Icons of the gaming industry from three different viewpoints combine to present to you the best in current game products.
|Saturday, October 31st, 2015|
|31 Nights of Dractober: Horror of Dracula (1958)
Consider this film (just called Dracula
in the UK) the anti-Coppola Dracula.
Relentlessly modern (it was the first Technicolor vampire film) and breathlessly paced yet luridly Gothic to the core, carving to the heart of Stoker’s novel while discarding its plot almost entirely, it would be a great Dracula movie for those reasons alone. But it has in addition three advantages that no production has had before or since: Christopher Lee as Dracula, Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, and Terence Fisher’s sure, bold direction. Fisher’s sincere Christian vision, of Dracula as a fundamental story of good vs. evil, permeates the film. Lee’s Dracula both tempts and terrifies, fully animal and entirely demonic — all in only 7 minutes of screen time. Cushing brings Stoker’s multi-dimensional Van Helsing more than alive as well: pious scientist and plague-fighting philosopher, faith and reason joined. Cushing also depicts Van Helsing’s human tenderness and innate leadership qualities with economy and confidence, throwing into stark contrast his more-than-surgical strain of violence. To Fisher, the best of men can still be a beast; the worst of demons is all too attractive. But throughout, Van Helsing and Dracula remain almost polar opposites and their war is a war — is the War — for all humanity.
The film is not perfect, of course. The now-primitive day-for-night shots make exteriors chancy, the comic relief at the border hangs an unfortunate lantern on the claustrophobic setting (instead of countries across a continent from each other, civilization and Hell are in neighboring postal codes), and Hammer’s idiosyncratic love-hate relationship with the British class system mars the narrative of middle-class heroes reducing an undead aristocrat to dust. The third-act turn (taken from the cursed Deane-Balderston play), in which Dracula’s hiding place turns out to be the Holmwoods’ cellar, works thematically but not narratively. But across all that, Fisher shoots a realistic nightmare, building shots from parallel rising action, and filling the frames with color and natural motion — the wind effects in this movie alone should be mandatory viewing. Like Cushing’s Van Helsing, Fisher’s lens combines realism and even irony with faith and violence, that latter quality incidentally unleashing Christopher Lee to become a great actor and a generation’s dream of Dracula. Horror of Dracula,
I submit to you, is the greatest Dracula movie ever made.The 31 Nights of Dractober is a daily preview of a "first cut" essay on a cinematic Dracula. Here to catalogue books (and your comments and responses) and kill vampires, it will appear in my upcoming book Thrill of Dracula
, part of the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter. Speaking of which, you can pre-order the glorious sunlight that is hard copies of The Dracula Dossier Director's Handbook and Dracula Unredacted from your Friendly Local (Bits & Mortar participating) Game Store or from the Pelgrane store and get the PDFs now!
|Friday, October 30th, 2015|
|31 Nights of Dractober: Dracula Untold (2014)
Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a shooting star! It’s a FIST OF BATS! This latest effort by Universal to revitalize their once-glorious monster universe franchise casts a cape-bedecked Vlad the Impaler as half combat-god Batman (“sometimes the world doesn’t need a hero … sometimes it needs a monster”) complete with silly post-Coppola rubber armor in a closet, and half death-from-above Superman complete with a Kryptonite-like weakness for silver. And let’s be honest with each other: the Supervlad parts of this movie are pretty bat-tastic. Considered solely as cut scenes, the forest-hunting bits and battle footage work well, the big impaling scene is Hammer Gothic (but too short), the FIST OF BATS redefines “out there”, and the final fight between Vlad and Mehmed the Conqueror (avert your eyes, history majors and/or people who can use Wikipedia) in a veritable Scrooge McDuck tentful of silver coins manages to be both spectacular and original. As a Dracula: Year One
effort it also checks some boxes while performing the vital service of adding a completely screwy new turn to the mythos, in this case Charles Dance as Vlad’s nosferatu sire (intriguingly named “Caligula” in the script) trapped in a Carpathian cave literally lined with crushed human bones.
The actual script, not so much. Leaving aside the “brilliant warlord who never bothered to raise an army or teach anyone to guard a perimeter” problems perhaps necessary for proper superheroics, there’s at least one major scene missing (how do the Turks get into the monastery? how does Mehmed learn Vlad’s weakness?) and a crippling laziness at the story’s Braveheart
heart. Turning epochal psychopath Vlad Tepes into Batman is bad enough, but making him William Wallace to boot is a bridge too far (and too well-trodden) even for a comic book movie. These decisions obviously weaken any pretense that Vlad is actually history’s (or legend’s) Vlad the Impaler, but they also weaken Universal’s notion that this pretty-boy superdad ever turns out to be, y’know, Dracula. In fairness to Evans, he’s never asked to play Dracula by the film, which walks back the one truly awful thing he does — raise an army of vampires from his Wallachian followers to gut the Turkish army — almost immediately. This is supposed to be the Faustian story of an evil warlord who finds even worse evil waiting, or failing that, of a good man who becomes a monster. Instead, it’s the story of a good father who gets a FIST OF BATS and somehow it doesn’t cheer him up. Although it makes me pretty happy.The 31 Nights of Dractober is a daily preview of a "first cut" essay on a cinematic Dracula. Glutted on a skull-full of nosferatu blood (and on your comments and responses), it will appear in my upcoming book Thrill of Dracula
, part of the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter. Speaking of which, you can pre-order 24-karat hard copies of The Dracula Dossier Director's Handbook and Dracula Unredacted from your Friendly Local (Bits & Mortar participating) Game Store or from the Pelgrane store and get the PDFs now!
|Thursday, October 29th, 2015|
|31 Nights of Dractober: Nosferatu (1922)
To sum up: F.W. Murnau illegally adapted Dracula,
changing the names (Harker becomes Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim), Mina becomes Ellen (Greta Schroeder), Dracula becomes Orlok) and location (1890s London becomes 1838 Wisborg, Germany) while adding an apocalyptic plague element missing entirely from the novel. This fooled nobody, and Florence Stoker sued him into bankruptcy. The court ordered all prints of the film destroyed, which fortunately didn’t happen. The Murnau-Stiftung restored version from Kino Lorber is on Amazon streaming, and is in better shape than many other silent films of the era.
Critically, what else is there to say? It’s a masterpiece, plain and simple. Only its court-enforced obscurity allowed the Lugosi-Browning version to become the default cinematic Dracula,
and with its return from legal un-death it has infused not only Werner Herzog’s direct remake (and the 2000 E. Elias Merhige satire Shadow of the Vampire
) but Coppola’s free-roaming shadows, Maddin’s Freudian interiors, Argento’s insectile atmosphere, and Tim Burton’s fever-dream Gotham City. Max Schreck’s ratlike, pestilential Orlok serves as a skulking anima to the dominant seducer-Dracula, remaining always in the shadows of the archetype to become the Other to even the vampiric Other. Scriptwriter Henrik Galeen was Jewish and production designer Albin Grau a Crowleyite, but when you create a cinematic Other in the Weimar 1920s, you wind up with a hook-nosed Easterner spreading poison into the pure heart of Germany. Bram Stoker was a lifelong philosemite, and even he sipped from the anti-Semitic well for the novel. Galeen and Murnau also charged Stoker’s subtext of an impotent Harker vs. an omnipotent Dracula by infusing Ellen’s sacrifice with notes of erotic longing and eagerness missing from the novel’s Mina. Weirdly, Grau also Otherizes the occult: the Hawkins-Renfield blend Herr Knock (Alexander Granach) corresponds with Dracula in sigil-bespangled Enochian letters only to go mad, and the “Paracelsian” Professor Bulwer (John Gottowt) remains almost entirely useless during the film, unlike his model Van Helsing. The end result is nonetheless, as I said, a masterpiece. As Roger Ebert wrote, Nosferatu
“doesn’t scare us, it haunts us.”The 31 Nights of Dractober is a daily preview of a "first cut" essay on a cinematic Dracula. Restored by later cinephiles (such as our commentors and responders), it will appear in my upcoming book Thrill of Dracula
, part of the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter. Speaking of which, you can pre-order carefully storyboarded hard copies of The Dracula Dossier Director's Handbook and Dracula Unredacted from your Friendly Local (Bits & Mortar participating) Game Store or from the Pelgrane store and get the PDFs now!
|31 Nights of Dractober: Dracula 3000 (2004)
Darrell James RoodtDracula:
A Warning to the Curious: This is the worst film I have watched for this project. By far. Compared to this movie, Billy the Kid vs. Dracula
IMDB users have rated it the 37th worst film of all time. It is not “so bad it’s good.” The cheese promised by a film “starring” Casper Van Dien, Erika Eleniak, and Coolio (a holy trinity of terrible cable) is rancid and stale. Nobody cares at all. Even with two robots and a chunky Midwesterner making fun of it in the corner, it would be nearly unwatchable. Filmed on what may well have been a derelict freighter or abandoned factory or both (do spacecraft in the year 3000 have concrete floors? 1960s radio equipment? VCRs?) weirdly bedecked every so often with Soviet imagery, its lighting and sound convey no menace. The script is outright insulting, although it does convey a certain sweaty, herbed-up feel of junior-high D&D
games complete with a discussion of the planet “Comptonia,” full of hos and weed.
Don’t worry, the rest of the references aren’t that subtle, or that well handled. For example, ship’s knowitall Arthur Holmwood (Grant Swanby, determined to lose the acting contest to Van Dien) discovers that Captain Van Helsing (Van Dien, determined to remember his next line) is descended from the vampire hunter who killed Dracula a thousand years ago. (Shouldn’t the knowitall be Van Helsing and the captain be Holmwood? Yes, but compared to swapping Lucy and Mina around this is admittedly a minor change.) They agree the chances of such a meeting at random are astronomical, it must be a setup or a plan! But when Van Helsing confronts Dracula (traveling under the name Orlock, perhaps out of embarrassment) with his identity, Dracula doesn’t care any more than the audience does. So you’re saying the script intends to indicate divine action in bringing them together to destroy Dracula? Of course not, because that might be interesting. Despite a very odd insistence that nobody in the film recognizes a cross (“religion was banned 200 years ago” they unsplain to each other) the whole topic is dropped unceremoniously, along with the whole hunt for Dracula, once Van Helsing-Dien is vampirized. Instead, the surviving crewman “Humvee” (Tiny Lister) and the android Aurora (Erika Eleniak) go off to have sex until the ship blows up. Which Dracula somehow prevented Udo Kier (!) from doing 50 years ago, but apparently even he agreed that this movie had to be stopped.The 31 Nights of Dractober is a daily preview of a "first cut" essay on a cinematic Dracula. Expanded from this early version (stuffing your comments and responses into its tank top), it will appear in my upcoming book Thrill of Dracula
, part of the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter. Speaking of which, you can pre-order pre-recorded hard copies of The Dracula Dossier Director's Handbook and Dracula Unredacted from your Friendly Local (Bits & Mortar participating) Game Store or from the Pelgrane store and get the PDFs now!
|Tuesday, October 27th, 2015|
|31 Nights of Dractober: Dracula (1931)
Is it possible for a film to be simultaneously iconic and bad? Not “iconic for being bad” but plain old iconic — establishing the rules for cinematic Draculas to respond to or rebel against for the next century. In the first act of Dracula,
Browning (and cinematographer Karl Freund) and Bela Lugosi combine their talents to present a Dracula inextricably tied to the past, to the Gothic, to aristocracy and queasy seduction, to brutality, to unnatural sex and inverted Christianity. All of these things (except mayyyybe the seduction) come straight out of Stoker, but Lugosi dials down the novel’s animalism and plays up the mesmerism (following the path of the stage play he’d performed the lead in for years) and scriptwriter Garrett Fort introduces the — iconic — line “I never drink … wine.” Even after decades of camp and detournement, Lugosi’s authentically Transylvanian accent still sells that line along with Stoker’s classic “children of the night” and the play’s “For one who has not lived even a single lifetime …” dis of Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan). The play provided the evening clothes and opera cape, but it was Lugosi’s decision on stage and in film to code Dracula as a mentalist or magician, and to play him as a “Valentino gone slightly rancid” in Dracula
scholar David Skal’s memorable phrase. Even Christopher Lee and Gary Oldman bow to Lugosi’s performance in their own, and Frank Langella purely updated Lugosi’s seducer to the 1970s.
The lesser parts have also felt the Browning chill: Dwight Frye’s unhinged Renfield has almost completely erased the novel’s genteel madman; David Manners’ (or rather the script’s and director’s) bland Harker has likewise nearly expunged the novel’s heroic lover. And here’s where we must take notice of the second half of the question, because Dracula
is a bad movie despite its legendarily perfect first act. Browning wrested control from Freund but didn’t care enough to use it: shots become static and stagy, the actors are lost or falling back on instinct, whole plot lines ignored (Lucy isn’t staked in the film) or stepped on (Dracula is staked off screen). Why the movie drops dead 20 minutes in remains an open question: was Browning drunk, a silent director out of his element, pining for his dead muse Lon Chaney Sr. (who would have played Dracula had he not died of cancer in 1930), or sabotaged by a script based on the junky stage play and by Universal’s Depression-era penny pinching? The end result is a film as incompatible with itself as its famous armadillos are with Dracula’s castle, a film trapped between terrifying life and stultifying death.The 31 Nights of Dractober is a daily preview of a "first cut" essay on a cinematic Dracula. Surrounded by armadillos (and by your comments and responses), it will appear in my upcoming book Thrill of Dracula
, part of the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter. Speaking of which, you can pre-order mesmerizing hard copies of The Dracula Dossier Director's Handbook and Dracula Unredacted from your Friendly Local (Bits & Mortar participating) Game Store or from the Pelgrane store and get the PDFs now!
|Monday, October 26th, 2015|
|31 Nights of Dractober: Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary (2002)
This Guy Maddin film, originally intended for Canadian TV but given a theatrical release thanks to its rapturous critical reception, is simultaneously by far the most audacious and nearly the most textually faithful adaptation of Stoker’s novel. Foregrounding the novel’s subtexts of immigration panic, absentee landlordship, and “the Eastern Question” along with its more often cited wellsprings of female sexuality unleashed, it also takes the opportunity to incorporate little-used novelistic elements such as Mrs. Westenra’s role in her daughter’s death, Quincey Morris, and Dracula “bleeding money” when stabbed. Oh, and it’s a silent, expressionist ballet with a Mahler soundtrack (First and Second symphonies) and lightning-fast neo-Eisensteinian editing (by deco dawson, also credited as “associate director”). But then I said “Guy Maddin film” up front.
If you haven’t seen any Maddin films, this may not be the place to start. (Try Careful
or The Saddest Music in the World
first.) But there’s something to be said for just diving right in, the way Maddin does with this project. Given Mark Godden’s pre-existing adaptation of Dracula
for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Maddin made the decision to make a “silent film that just happens to have dancing” rather than a dance movie, and to re-adapt the source material to suit his own idiosyncratic filming and visual styles. Maddin sends his cameras into the midst of the ballet, blending the dancers’ language of gesture and motion with silent film’s language of blocking and emotion into a roller-coaster of expressionism-squared. Zhang’s Dracula is emotion incarnate, mirroring the newfound lusts of his victims and then overmastering and devouring them. Color tints or washes, stark intertitles (often taken directly from the novel’s text), and sudden changes in lighting and resolution create discrete cinematic moments that nonetheless flash by like images in a zoopraxiscope. Maddin claimed to have only read the first half of the novel, and to not even like ballet, and yet he creates a dreamlike tour de force worthy of consideration alongside Murnau or Herzog while exceeding them textually and perhaps even poetically.The 31 Nights of Dractober is a daily preview of a "first cut" essay on a cinematic Dracula. Filled with polluted blood (and with your comments and responses), it will appear in my upcoming book Thrill of Dracula
, part of the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter. Speaking of which, you can pre-order red-tinted hard copies of The Dracula Dossier Director's Handbook and Dracula Unredacted from your Friendly Local (Bits & Mortar participating) Game Store or from the Pelgrane store and get the PDFs now!
|Sunday, October 25th, 2015|
|31 Nights of Dractober: Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966)
And now for something completely different. This perfunctory, sleepwalking movie should not be as terrible as it is. Indeed, the premise and even the plot are sound: Dracula is in the Old West, and a recently reformed Billy the Kid, jealous of the interloper, returns to his criminal ways to gun down the Count. Slavoj Zizek says something about the act of paraphrase creating banality, but in this case, the paraphrase creates potential. It’s the execution that’s banal; Carradine at least has the excuse of having been drunk the entire time. Filmed in four days (or three, sources vary) by the legendarily uncaring William “One Shot” Beaudine, any flicker of potential was well and truly quashed.
A few surreal moments aside (such as Dracula, in full sideshow mentalist garb of top hat, floppy red cravat, and cape, announcing himself as “Mr. Underhill” from Boston) it just plods along from bad to worse, and not even “so bad it’s good” bad. I added this movie to the list for two reasons. First, I wanted to look at Dracula in the context of the Western, and I had entirely misremembered this flick from my misspent UHF-monster-movie youth. The movie I thought this was is the considerably more interesting Curse of the Undead
(Edward Dein, 1959), which probably counts as the first vampire Western, a subgenre that encompasses the Iranian-American low-fi rebel flick A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
(Ana Lily Amirpour, 2014), John Carpenter’s 1998 Vampires
(an homage to Rio Bravo
), and Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark
(the best vampire film of the 1980s, a very good decade for vampire films). Watch those instead of this one. The second reason I included this movie is that it is, after all, still John Carradine as Dracula and that has to count for something. Thankfully, this grease trap would not be Carradine’s final outing as the Count. Pretending for the moment that his brief cameos in softcore disco flick Nocturna: Granddaughter of Dracula
(1979) don’t, er, count, Carradine fans can take satisfaction in TV workhorse Glen Larson’s surprisingly decent “McCloud Meets Dracula” episode. Aired in April 1977, it was the last episode in McCloud
's run; Carradine kills delightfully as the senile-actor-or-real-vampire villain. And given its cowboy-cop premise, it’s even sort of kind of (not really) a Western, to boot.The 31 Nights of Dractober is a daily preview of a "first cut" essay on a cinematic Dracula. With added footnotes in German (and mayhap your comments and responses), it will appear in my upcoming book Thrill of Dracula
, part of the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter. Speaking of which, you can pre-order a silver mine's worth of hard copies of The Dracula Dossier Director's Handbook and Dracula Unredacted from your Friendly Local (Bits & Mortar participating) Game Store or from the Pelgrane store and get the PDFs now!
The light schedule is probably Dracula's fault -- as you may have noticed in this space, I've been watching a lot of Dracula movies this month while writing The Thrill of Dracula,
and there's only so much time in the day and space in the old pineal gland for movies. But we only missed maybe two or three movies that would have been strong compels in other years, and by playing our cards pretty close wound up (mostly) avoiding disappointment. One other good thing about programming a lighter festival schedule this year (14 films, down from 26 last year) is that I avoided the "second week droop" that often hits the last few days. We also went out on a pretty high note, which helped.
Mad props out to his_regard
for boon compadreship, and to the Whole Foods across the street from the River East for a) finally opening and for b) having a full bar. Alcohol reglazes your pineal gland, everybody knows that.
Herewith, then, in our familiar Lawsian format, my Chicago International Film Fest review and roundup.THE BESTThey Look Like People
(Perry Blackshear, USA) Think Frailty
but about self not family, and set in Brooklyn, and you're in the right neighborhood. Nothing cheats, nothing lies, nothing is certain for way longer than you'd believe possible in this story of a man who knows that most people are demons, and the best friend who invites him into his life. Men of my generation like to reference Grosse Pointe Blank
about friendship -- They Look Like People
takes it to the next generation and the next level, on two rock-solid performances by MacLeod Andrews and Evan Dumouchel as the leads in a humanistic horror key.Laundryman
(Chung Lee, Taiwan) Hit man has cover as dry cleaners driver. Hit man sees ghosts. His boss sends him to "the best medium." Strangeness ensues, of that perfect kind where the film world steadily gets bigger and more dangerous and more fantastic, while still holding tight to its internal reality. Chung Lee has internalized J-horror's stronger tropes along with 21st-century post-Bourne
action and keeps a smooth, wry Taiwanese spin on it the whole time.RECOMMENDEDHitchcock/Truffaut
(Kent Jones, France/USA) Is it a good sign or a bad sign that right after seeing a documentary about the art of directing you have nothing but cascading ideas of how you would have directed it instead? I think it's a good sign. The directors' commentary to the video audiobook of the titular seminal 1962 tome is pretty great in its own right, although some of the directors say some silly silly things.Sherlock Holmes
(Arthur Berthelet, USA) The 1920 French print rediscovered last year (the only one known of this film) chopped the 1916 film up to make it into a serial, and I suspect not without cost to the plot. Still very worth seeing, although I missed the last reel to grab a seat for Hitchcock/Truffaut.
(Spoiler: Holmes gets the girl.) William Gillette invented not only the meerschaum pipe but the imperious Holmes that every actor from Rathbone to Brett to Cumberbatch has followed in the ensuing century.Schneider Vs. Bax
(Alex Van Warmerdam, Netherlands/Belgium) On the one hand, yet another hitman black comedy: hitman Schneider has to whack the odious Bax in time to make his family birthday party, but he's delayed by Bax's own family crisis. On the other, the characters remain (mostly) true to themselves, the director doesn't cheat, and the payoff not only worked but resonated.Three Days in September
(Darijan Pejovski, Macedonia) Strong B-movies are rarer than they used to be, and well-oiled noir rarer than that. Welcome to the Balkans, where noir grows on trees or in this case in a lakeside village in rural Macedonia. This two-female-leads noir is more Bound
than Strangers on a Train,
but less contrived than either. That's mostly for the best, even though I do love a good contrivance.Tag
(Sion Sono, Japan) Like a lot of surrealistic horror, Tag
is great up until it has to pay off, where it loses some steam, probably inevitably. But the weirdly arbitrary yet personalized nightmares and strong performances by all three actresses portraying the lead character (see?) make the ride a good one while it lasts. On the bubble for mere Good, actually, but a few utterly compelling visuals eke it up to Recommended.GOODVery Semi-Serious
(Leah Wolchok, USA) This enjoyable documentary about cartoonists trying to make it into the New Yorker,
by contrast, was on the bubble for Recommended but I thought I might be letting my own subject-matter taste (and some really funny cartoons) override the essentially soft and unchallenging nature of the film. A nature it shares with the New Yorker,
so I guess there's that.Milano 2015
(var. dirs., Italy) Of the six short documentaries in this anthology, the two best are by new or amateur filmmakers: Roberto Bolle's on a ballet performance at La Scala, and Walter Veltroni's ode to Milan's "magic track" velodrome. Another never coheres, one is intermittently magical, and two (on the Corriere della Sera
and on the changing face of the city) are perfectly okay. Also, boy Milan is pretty.Bite
(Chad Archibald, Canada) A body horror-relationship horror-insect horror Toronto film that wisely doesn't try to homage Cronenberg's Fly,
but doesn't try to do much else either. Worth watching for Elma Begovic's intense, damaged performance (by far the best in the film) as the girl bitten by something weird on her bachelorette trip.OKAYRed Spider
(Marcin Koszalka, Poland/Czech Republic/Slovakia) Interweaves two real 1960s Polish serial killers' stories into a clinical, almost opaque mystery of character. Although it's well shot and very well paced, the main actor (or the director) can't convey the emotion or the decision the movie centers on, and the background of Soviet-era repression never amounts to much. Ironically, the real "Red Spider," Lucian Staniak, may well have been railroaded or framed by the authorities for a dozen of the killings he went to the insane asylum for. Someone should make a movie about that.Assassin
(Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Taiwan/China) Beautifully shot in a weird 4:3 ratio, the film kind of wastes Shu Qi in the course of a murkily plotted tale of an assassin in Tang China who must decide whether to follow her training or her humanity. Geopolitical hugger-mugger and Taoist magic show up but don't pay off, much like the fight scenes. Also the choice of a very minimal score doesn't help keep the audience on board or awake.NOT RECOMMENDEDLudo
(Q & Nikon, India) The first half or so is a more than fine "four horny teenagers trapped overnight in a Kolkata shopping mall with Parcheesi-obsessed vampires" flick, while the second half is a rockier horror-fantasy-fairy tale that gives us the overlong and needlessly complex Barker-ish backstory for the vampires. The tag ending hints at what the movie could have been with a strong rewrite or at least a drastic re-edit.NOT GOODAbandoned
(Eytan Rockaway, USA) Commits the Session 9
felony of wasting an amazing location, in this case an enormous abandoned luxury building: Strike One. Commits the idiot plot felony, in which the main character unleashes horror just to have something to scream at the other character (a long-suffering Jason Patric) about and make worse: Strike Two. Overcommits the hack ending felony. Think of the hackiest ending possible. No, the even hackier one. That's how this movie ends. Strike Three, hit the showers Abandoned,
you're done here.
|31 Nights of Dractober: Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966)
Oh Hammer how you vex us. The studio’s best director, Terence Fisher, takes on another story of good and evil, of God and Satan, of art and budgeting. Unable to afford both Lee and Cushing, Hammer recruited Andrew Keir (the future definitive Professor Quatermass) and Jimmy Sangster wrote him an almost Van-Helsing-level part in Father Sandor, an earthy abbot who fights both superstition and the Un-Dead. Then, just to make sure the movie wouldn’t quite work, Hammer cut Lee’s part down to less than ten minutes, all of it non-speaking! (Lee claimed he wouldn’t speak Sangster’s lines; Sangster claimed he didn’t write any — again, one assumes, to save expensive filming-Lee time.) Lee makes the best of what he gets, with his most savage, animalistic portrayal of Dracula, all hissing and snarling. He even snaps a sword blade in half, nearly quivering with ravenous fury. Critics (both cultural and thespian) are right to single out Barbara Shelley’s performance as the straitlaced Helen turned sexually voracious vampiress — only to be held down by a squad of monks (!) and staked by Father Sandor. Someone had been reading their Gothics, and I suspect it was Jimmy Sangster.
Sangster’s both lurid and knowing screenplay, by the way, is why I believe Hammer’s budget not Lee’s sensibilities dictated a wordless Dracula. The script amazingly manages to sustain momentum in the nearly 45 minutes before Dracula’s wonderfully gruesome resurrection, and the four innocents sojourning in Castle Dracula bicker and posture believably but not (quite) annoyingly. The castle’s attempts to draw in travelers are creepy enough even before we meet the vermicious Klove (Philip Latham). And what a line this is: “He has seen and touched her — he considers her his.” The “final Brits” go back to the Castle a little too readily, but the final chase is another doozy. The finale, featuring Father Sandor and Diana (Suzan Farmer) blazing away with rifles not at Dracula but at the frozen river under his feet, is the best one in the Hammer cycle.The 31 Nights of Dractober is a daily preview of a "first cut" essay on a cinematic Dracula. Reconstituted with prig’s blood (and by your comments and responses), it will appear in my upcoming book Thrill of Dracula
, part of the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter. Speaking of which, you can pre-order enigmatically non-speaking hard copies of The Dracula Dossier Director's Handbook and Dracula Unredacted from your Friendly Local (Bits & Mortar participating) Game Store or from the Pelgrane store and get the PDFs now!
|Friday, October 23rd, 2015|
|31 Nights of Dractober: Dracula 3D (2012)
It may seem like special pleading that I give the universally-panned Argento Dracula
a pass while kicking the box-office-smash Coppola Dracula
in the fangs. The differences, however, are significant. First and foremost, of course, Argento subverts Coppola by having his Mina’s love for Dracula be the result of a trance he casts upon her: his Dracula is both more pathetic and more dangerous because his hunger is greater than sanity. And while Argento’s film can be accused of being just as cartoony as Coppola’s, in his vision the insanity always springs from Dracula, preserving the novel’s irruptive fear. Sure, the human world is weirdly lit and strangely affected, but unlike Coppola, Argento has been using those techniques for decades now. People who slate this movie because it looks like it was filmed through a succession of jujubes (and scripted on a succession of shrooms) simply out themselves as never having really seen an Argento film — they all do, from Suspiria
Yes, it is disappointing that Argento went to the crummy CGI well when he had perfectly good practical effects that could have done the job in some cases — blood gushing from Italian ladies should not have been untrodden ground for our Dario. (At least he filmed the movie in native 3D instead of post-producing it in.) Rutger Hauer’s Van Helsing is visibly exhausted throughout, as against Kretschmann’s sense of banked power and wolfish violence as Dracula. And yes, Dracula turning into an enormous grasshopper more than squanders in tone and seriousness what it gains in jaw-dropping shock value. (Although one Balkan vampire, the ala, inhabits grasshoppers…) The plot and incidents are indeed a mishmosh of previous Dracula films, including Coppola’s (Marta Gastini’s dress even evokes Winona Ryder’s in the final scene), but that said, Argento seized not only on the plots of the Hammer cycle but their color and lighting schemes as well, deepening the homage considerably. And somehow Argento’s film is the only one in a century to actually interrogate the town’s relationship with its murderous — but economically beneficial — vampire lord. There’s truth, and much of wisdom, in them thar jujubes.The 31 Nights of Dractober is a daily preview of a "first cut" essay on a cinematic Dracula. Transformed into an enormous grasshopper (and fed by your comments and responses), it will appear in my upcoming book Thrill of Dracula
, part of the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter. Speaking of which, you can pre-order lush, zoomy hard copies of The Dracula Dossier Director's Handbook and Dracula Unredacted from your Friendly Local (Bits & Mortar participating) Game Store or from the Pelgrane store and get the PDFs now!