What makes a Vampire?

[A mini-retrospective from journalist/columnist/photographer, Erika Wiman]

What makes  a vampire?

The first image the majority of us get from thinking about vampires is fangs. I have tried during Vampire Awareness Month (©Bell/Deniz) to note down characteristics of the vampires in the films I’ve seen and I have come to the conclusion that not only can a vampire be badly hurt by garlic and crosses but they can also be totally unaffected. Edward in Twilight has very little in common with Nosferatu. But still we accept they are both vampires.

Edward or Nosferatu?

The only common thing all these vampires have is that they drink blood[1]. Not necessarily human blood, but blood from a living creature. They don’t even all have fangs.

Modern mainstream vampire stories (The Southern vampire-series, The Vampire Diaries, Twilight) have resolved the problem by making the fangs retractable. The latter two have also resolved the daylight issue somewhat or how else could they attend high school? Magic rings protect Damon and his brothers from being pulverised in the sun and as for the Cullens, as many have ridiculed, they sparkle. Sunlight would be a giveaway but not necessarily death.

Pam (True Blood) - A vampire with fangs...

What about garlic and crosses? In the early cinematic stage of the vampires these two would protect a human and  a vampire would be burned by them. Nowadays they aren’t bothered, even if they don’t always like garlic (Bill Comptom refers to not liking the smell).

So as the vampires have become more endearing, handsome and charming they have also become more dangerous. There are not many things that will protect you. The only sure thing is a wooden stake through a vampires heart.

But what makes a vampire? In folklore, suicide, an unholy burial or such was enough. In Nosferatu we are not told. The victims dies. Later on in the vampire film world it was enough to be bitten once (The Brides of Dracula). Then you had to be drained  by a vampire to become one. Another twist is (in the southern vampire-books for instance) where you have to die with a vampire’s blood in you to become undead.

David (The Lost Boys) - a typical vampire?

There are so many different characteristics, Martin (from the film of the same name) qualified purely by drinking human blood. You might even say that we used to have a type of vampire in Nordic mythology as well. They were called blotrese, which derives from the live sacrifice. They were creatures that had overfed at the sacrifice and therefore became unnaturally strong. And just that is the only thing Hollywood has been able to agree on, that vampires are strong and they drink blood.

These teeth were made for drinking...


[1] referring to the Vampire Awareness Month [©Bell/Deniz] films


'Cronos' review

[written by writer, Orrin Grey]

I’m probably going to come off like a back-cover shill if I say that Guillermo del Toro’s Cronos is a vampire movie unlike any other, but that doesn’t make it any less true. For his first feature, del Toro chose the story of a different kind of vampire than the ones we usually see, one with its roots not in the annals of religion or disease or evil spirits, but in alchemy.

The central idea behind the vampirism in Cronos is that an insect contained inside the titular Cronos Device filters the blood of the person who uses it, and adds to that blood a single drop of a mysterious “fifth essence” that alchemists believed could purify other elements, transforming base matter into its pure, eternal form (hence lead into gold, or mortal flesh into eternal flesh). This is only implied in the actual text of the movie, hinted at but never exposited, but del Toro makes it very clear in his commentary track.

The device

While this procedure is fairly unprecedented, at least in vampire cinema, many of the side-effects are familiar. The Cronos Device grants youth and vigor, but the user becomes addicted to human blood, plagued by a thirst that nothing else can quench, and also develops an aversion to sunlight. Its user rises from his own death and not only becomes pale but actually sloughs off his skin to reveal pale, marble-like flesh beneath; the “purified” flesh granted by the “fifth essence.”

The vampire of Cronos, though, is more different from usual cinematic vampires than he is similar. He has no fangs, for instance, nor anything significant in the way of supernatural powers aside from his longevity. Nor is the vampire of Cronos young or “sexy.” Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi), our protagonist, comes upon the device by accident when he discovers it in the base on an archangel statue in his antique shop. He is an old man in a pleasant but passionless marriage, and even when the device restores his vigor, he is still far removed from the typically sexualized Hollywood vampire. Del Toro takes pains not to glamorize Gris’s condition, or his suffering, as exemplified by a scene in which Gris licks drops of blood from off the floor of a public restroom.

In his commentary track, del Toro talks about how he wanted Cronos to have “layers of vampirism.” Not only the textual, objective vampirism of the main character, but also echoes of social, political, spiritual, and personal vampirism. One of the places this is clearest is in the form of the film’s “villains.” The industrialist de la Guardia (Claudio Brook) is a literal “hollow man” who has been physically hollowed-out by surgeries and symbolically hollowed-out by greed. He is a man desperate for eternal life, but for whom life holds no pleasure. His nephew Angel (played to perfection by Ron Perlman) is a thug who does his uncle’s dirty work in the hopes of someday inheriting a company that he has no idea what to do with. Both of them want things so badly that they’re willing to commit terrible acts to get them, without ever knowing or examining why they want them in the first place; as addicted to their desires as Gris becomes to blood and the Cronos Device.

Ron Perlman as Angel

There is an element of vampirism and victimization in almost every relationship in Cronos, to the point that del Toro says, in that same commentary track, that he feels that the ultimate victim of the movie is the insect at the heart of the device itself, a creature trapped and enslaved to forever bring eternal life to others.

Del Toro has achieved a lot of much-deserved renown as a director for his personal and visionary movies like Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth, and even Hellboy. But while Cronos is not always as technically impressive as the movies on which he later made his name, it seems every bit as personal, and there are traits in it that are every bit as representative of del Toro’s particular genius. From the Cronos Device itself, to the carefully detailed medieval “manual” that accompanies it, to the archangel statue in which it is hidden and the gallery of “punished” statues that de la Gaurdia has gone through in his search, the seeds of del Toro’s vision are all very much on display here, making for a quiet, subdued, a beautiful and powerful vampire film that is, yes, unlike any other.

The Lure of the Dead Boyfriend

[written by writer, columnist and reviewer, Bertena Varney]


In the beginning was a bald monster with a long face, pointed ears and chin. He had elongated fingers and sharp talon claws and had lost its humanity and control over its monstrous side. The monster was lured to a young maiden’s window. All of a sudden, with a sudden rush that could not be foreseen–with a strange howling cry that was enough to awaken the terror in any beast, the figure seized the long tresses of hair. He held her to the bed…she screams…shrieks…and seizes her neck in his fang like teeth…a gush of blood and a hideous sucking noise follows. This picture of rape and torture is the bedroom scene of the 1847 penny dreadful, Varney the Vampire: Feast of Blood. The author Thomas Prest painted pictures of the vampire as a sexual monster wanting to devour women and in the women being very passive and weak. In these stories the vampire bite was a metaphor for rape and the monster wanted his victim aware of every agonizing violation. This is the vampire that was created when men ruled the horror world: a creature cursed to walk the earth for eternity searching not for love but for food.

Now today, the story reads more like this, “He met my eyes with his penetrating gaze. Suddenly it was hard to breathe. ..My heart pounded in my chest…my knees threatened to buckle. I had never seen such a gorgeous man…something about him felt dark and dangerous and desirable. I lifted my chin to give him better access to my neck. He smiled, showing a hint of fangs.” Lynda Hilburn, author of The Vampire Shrink discussed on her BlogSpot that since women have taken over the horror genre the vampire has evolved into a gorgeous, sensuous, sexual, romantic, bad boy of the night.

The rise in vampire literature has increased incredibly over the last decade. The current trend for this new genre of vampire romance literature is one that offers the readers an escape from the pressures of the real world while delivering to them either a soul mate or an erotic lover in the form of a vampire. So, just what is the lure of the dead boyfriend to the modern female reader?

The Vampire as an Escape

In a world filled with war and terrorism, many people look for ways to escape. The wives of the World War II era escaped their daily routines by reading romance novels and sharing them with their other married friends. At the time, their heroes were soldiers, firemen, and police officers that would rescue the women from whatever danger they faced. They were the savior of the young weak female lead character. In these stories both characters were written as physically perfect however it was the female that would have a helpless flaw or problem that only the lead character could fix. The hero would leave each day to do his “manly” job, come home to rescue her from whatever mess she would find herself, and at the end of the day would please her in every way. These were of what women would dream and read.

But, today the reader is no longer a dependent housewife who stays at home and cares for the family. As a result, fifty years later this literature has developed in much of the same way as the lead female character has developed. She is now financially independent and lives alone. She is no longer the buxom blonde but more of a girl next door type that the vampire finds so mysteriously alluring. She gets into trouble but does not need rescuing instead she assists in the adventure. She is her own hero that experiences this adventure equally with the vampire at her side. This is true of several series of vampire romance books, including the more popular Southern Vampire Series by Charlaine Harris, Blood Series by Tanya Huff, Templar Vampires Series by Rene Lyons, and Vampire Shrink Series by Linda Hilburn.

Lynda Hilburn's 'The Vampire Shrink'

In her book, The Vampire Shrink, Hilburn tells the story of a young psychologist named Kismet Knight. She does not believe in the paranormal but does want a little excitement in her life. She is bored with the life she leads and begins to look for something more but is shocked by the dark supernatural world she finds. This storyline is much like The Blood Series by Tanya Huff and her main female character. Vicki Nelson is also a non believer. She is a former police officer turned detective who has found herself in this dark world as well with not only vampires but witches and demons. In both series, Kismet and Vicki are pulled into a love triangle between a human law enforcement officer and a vampire. Kismet’s suitors are Alan Stevens, FBI profiler and Devereux, an 800 year old vampire. Vicki’s suitors are former police partner Mike Celluci and Henry Fitzroy, the illegitimate vampire son of King Henry VIII. These suitors attempt to protect and empower their female loves but both the humans and the vampires offer something that the other cannot. The humans offer security, stability, and normality for the life that the female lead has always known. However, the vampire offers the “bad boy” appeal that most women have longed for at one time or another. They respect the female lead as a person but at the same time they want to protect and care for her. This is the quandary that many women face today while trying to be both independent and feminine. They want to prove that they can do anything that they want to but also let everyone know that just because they can do it all it does not mean that they have to do it all. Throughout these stories, vampires are not bound by human law and experience complete freedom. These bad boys are often flawed and need the female characters to help fix them, thus giving the female power over the male vampire. So, why not let this bad boy float into your window and allow you to escape your world, at least until the book ends.

The Vampire as a Soul Mate

Women in general tend to be open to finding their soul mate; they are not as judgmental and look for love in varying creature. These characters and their readers fall in love with these charismatic, aristocratic supernatural lovers that are looking for someone to complete them.

Rene Lyon's 'The Daystar'

The vampire’s super human abilities are coupled only with their struggle to hate the monster within. They hate who they are and what they have to do in order to survive. Many are doomed to walk the earth and to repent of their sins from their previous life. During this internal struggle, these vampires tend to find their soul mate, that one woman who can deliver them from hell and love them all at the same time. This is the theme of The Templar Vampire Series by Rene Lyons. In this story there are five Templar Knights who fell from the grace of God by straying from his plan during the Crusades. Each of the five Templar Knights suffered a harsh childhood and an even more devastating adult life as a solider for God. They murdered, raped, pillaged, and stole all in the name of religion but as time went on their mission strayed as did their focus and commitment to God. As it was in history, Rene wrote that King Philip IV of France charged the Templar Knights with heresy and had them executed. But, this is where the author’s story changes history in this series of books.  Five of the knights, Constantine, Lucian, Tristan, Sebastian, and Raphael were brought back from the dead by the archangel Michael. Michael thrusts his spear and pulls their heart from their chest. He declares that now they can only enter heaven once they find redemption in God’s eyes for all of their sins. He declares them “undead” “vampire” “soulless” and tells them that in order to earn this redemption they must find the Day Star and protect it till the time for their redemption arrives.

In Midnight Sun, Day Star, and Tempting Darkness, the Templar vampires struggle with the fact that they must find redemption and that if one of them fails then they all fail. Each book is the romantic adventure and story of each vampire and his chance at love and redemption. Each vampire struggles with who they were, who they have become, and the fear of damnation as each find that “light in the darkness” that makes them stronger and allows them to find redemption. Allison, Lexine, and Jessica are quiet “girl next door” types who may appear fragile but have the strength and courage to help and to handle the love of the vampires, Sebastian, Constantine, and Lucian respectively. They follow the basic pattern of most vampire romance novels. They are a little fearful and cautious at first; they struggle together through the adventure while denying their love; then an explosive erotic love scene brings the “meant to be” soul mates together. The romance is the novel, the completion of a soul.

 The Vampire as an Erotic Lover

The vampire is a metaphor for sex and pleasure. In the repressed Victorian era, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, followed Varney in continuing with the dark erotic undertones. Dracula has been analyzed hundreds of times since it was published. A more popular interpretation was that of Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In that movie, Dracula is portrayed as a political statement of changing gender roles that were emerging at the time while softening the monster into the soul mate imagery as discussed earlier. But no matter the interpretation there are always bizarre erotic images. For example, the attack of Jonathan Harker by three female vampires shows strong images of group sex.  But, the most erotic scene is when Mina is forced to drink Dracula’s blood from his chest. It is a form of reverse breast feeding that shows Dracula not only as the provider of life but the receiver of pleasure. At this time, the Count is an example of uncontrollable lust that is powerful, aggressive, and primal in nature.  He is simply an example of parasitic love and a taboo of that time.  But, the bite is ohhh so erotic.

In today’s literature the vampire have evolved into the perfect lover that can give the female everything she desires because they have had centuries of practice to share with her and her alone. Vampires know what women need and take the time to please them. For example, Sookie Stackhouse, the lead female character in The Southern Vampire Series by Charlaine Harris begins as a virgin because she is a telepath and can hear every thought that her human suitors have while they are trying to romance her. She finds this distracting and even disturbing especially during make out sessions. She says, “It’s bad when you know that your date thinks your thighs are too fat”. When she meets Bill Compton, the local vampire, she finds that she cannot read his mind and that she can finally relax and enjoy the company of a man, even though he is undead. When her grandmother is killed, Bill begins to comfort her and they make love. The scene is one of complete attention and satisfaction of Sookie. She is the center of attention with every movement and action made for her pleasure. As time goes on Sookie becomes a more active participant and even the one in control at times offering her blood for his pleasure. This is the beginning of the showing of women being comfortable with their sexuality. But there is still the tie of emotion and of Bill being her first lover and vampire.  In the real world this is not always the case and this is what draws women to this genre.

Sookie and Bill (True Blood)

The vampire romance genre can range from mildly erotic to explicitly erotic. Women are not usually the consumers of film or print pornography because most are not usually visually stimulated. Women tend to lean towards written scenes to satisfy their desire. These vampire romance stories are just erotic enough to allow the reader to fantasize about what it would be like to be that particular female character. Many times this is seen in the huge fandom of each series.


Vampires are the new heroes of romance novels. They offer a soul mate concept with a lifetime of sexual experiences that is focused purely on the female. They offer escapism for the reader who is bored with her life as it is.  For authors such as Tanya Huff, Rene Lyons, Charlaine Harris, and Lynda Hilburn their vampires are invincible and here to help their readers through their day. They will continue to bring their vampires into our bedroom to please us in many ways. Devereaux, Bill, Eric, Henry, Tristan, Raphael, Constantine, Lucian, and Sebastian will always be in the shadows of our dreams as well as forming our choices in our current mate or our search for one. Many readers wish for them to be floating outside their window and to have a chance to let them in, even if for just one night. This need for escapism will guarantee that the dead boyfriend is here to stay.

Tanya Huff's 'Blood Ties'

Once Bitten…

[written by author, Louise Morgan]

I remember how this whole vampire thing began.

I was 13. He was… older. He had blond hair and wore an earring and a battered old black coat. Funnily enough, it was the coat I noticed first – well, that and the motorcycle. His name was David.

That summer, the summer I was 13, I watched The Lost Boys more times than I can remember, completely mesmerised. Over and over and over again, until the tape broke (and now I’m showing my age). But by that time, the damage had already been done: I had discovered vampires, and there was no turning back.

Before the rise of the internet, the best I could do to feed my new-found habit was our small local library and combing the late-night TV schedules for something – anything – that might fit the bill. Dracula, vampire anthologies (carrying everything from Carmilla to strange post-modern not-quite-vampire-but-close-enough-to-split-the-difference stories), Varney the Vampire, Hammer Horror, Nosferatu; I devoured them all. And that’s how I came across Near Dark.

Both The Lost Boys and Near Dark were released in 1987, although neither had made it through development unscathed – the former had originally featured child-vampires, making its title even more apt, and it was Joel Schumacher who insisted on turning them into a teenaged bike gang. It’s not subtle, but Schumacher was right and he saved it from straying into Goonies-meets-The Little Vampire [1] territory.

The Lost Boys: Paul, Marco, Dwayne & David

Near Dark, too, began as something different – both director Kathryn Bigelow and co-writer Eric Red had wanted to make a Western, but stumbled instead into the vampire badlands: perhaps this is the reason the ‘v’ word doesn’t exactly get much lip service in the film.

Bearing in mind both essentially have the same central conceit (boy meets girl – boy gets a hell of a lot more than he bargained for) their respective tones could hardly be more different. The Lost Boys is glossy and sharp: brat-pack vampires for the MTV generation, while Near Dark is grittier, more serious and certainly more violent. It’s better characterised, too: take Jesse and Diamondback’s relationship for instance, or Homer’s all-too impotent rage at being trapped in a child’s body.

The thing that struck me the most about these two films – and still strikes me, more than has been the case for any vampire film I’ve seen since – is that the vampires are having fun (or at least, what passes for their idea of fun: you get the feeling Near Dark’s Severen was never less than sociopathic; he looks like he couldn’t possibly be happier than he is ripping open a bartender’s throat, and watch the Lost Boys as they hurtle towards the cliff-edge on their motorbikes). Each respective ‘family’ of vampires relishes being a group of outsiders and they delight in the power they have. There’s a dark glamour to them and their way of life which can only really come from the realm of the fantastic; nowhere is this clearer than in the half-Batcave, half-clubhouse home of the Lost Boys themselves – all clattering chandelier, candles and Jim Morrison posters.

The Lost Boys

Unlike the teen-targeted vampires we’ve seen so much of lately, these guys are dangerous. Neither film skirts around that: all these vampires kill, and they kill on-screen, just to get the point across. But more importantly, they’re cool. No, really. Monstrous, but no less cool for being so. They have to be. How else could we identify with Michael and Caleb as they’re drawn into this world? Viewing the films, it’s clear that however removed from their predecessors these vampires might be, they have kept that vital seductive quality. In The Lost Boys, David brushes aside the horror of an eternity of murder by simply saying: “You’ll never grow old, Michael, and you’ll never die… but you must feed.” It’s a fair price to pay when you put it like that, right?

Bill Paxton as Severen, Near Dark

Looking back, I realise why these were the first vampires I could connect with, the first ones that felt relevant to me. They – and the humans around them – were American, and young(ish). They didn’t mooch about in castles like Lugosi – and while Frank Langella gives good cloak-furl, neither of these had the same appeal or immediacy. The Lost Boys taps into so many of our particularly teenage preoccupations, not least of all the idea of belonging, of being ‘one of us’ – that, like Michael, we’re happily swept along by the tide. Near Dark presents us with a horrible, visceral freedom and a world of possibility… provided we’re gone by dawn.

Watching these vampires, these films, at that age left its mark on me. I’ve seen a lot of vampire films since, ranging from the good (Let The Right One In) to the appalling (step up, Vampires: Los Muertos [2]) to the downright weird (Frostbiten [3]). I’ve found some that I have a lot of affection for – notably The Breed, [4] with its dystopian view of a world where vampires and humans try to coexist – but not one of them has had the same impact as those first two films.

Of course, that certainly won’t stop me from looking…

[1] For the curious, there are several versions of The Little Vampire out there: before the Jonathan Lipnicki 2000 release, there were two separate German TV series – one produced in 1986, and one in 1993/4. All are based on Angela Sommer-Bodenburg’s Little Vampire books.

[2] 2002 follow-up to John Carpenter’s Vampires.

[3] A 2006 Swedish horror-comedy, which sees a town’s population succumbing to vampirism after a group of teenagers take some very strange pills at a party.

[4] 2001 TV movie with Adrian Paul and Bokeem Woodbine as – respectively – vampire & human police, partnered up to solve a series of murders.

Dracula: A Personal Perspective

[writtern by reviewer, Mihai Adascalitei]

I was born in the land of Dracula, but have honestly never seen the attraction in vampires.

Castle Bran: 'Home of Dracula'

Still, Bram Stoker’s Dracularemains an interesting book, and one novel that I remember without effort. The fictional character of Dracula is associated with the historical figure of Vlad Tepes, one of the most imposing figures of Romanian history, but the association doesn’t always do Vlad justice.

Vlad Tepes: Mass murderer or slightly misunderstood?

He is seen as a very cruel figure but I dare to suggest that Vlad Tepes was not all that different from other rulers of his period. Raised from an early age at the High Porte, Vlad might have picked up a few torture methods from the Ottoman Empire but there are references of another Romanian ruler of that time, Stefan III of Moldavia, using the famous impaling technique. Although Vlad’s rule was short, it was dominated by hard times and he imposed equally harsh measures in return.

Another key point in the image of Vlad Țepeș is his relationship with the local boyars. Returning from his imprisonment at the High Porte he took the throne of Wallachia for a short period in 1448 and for a second time in 1455. Among his first important acts was to seek revenge for the assassination of his father and the death and torture of his older brother at the hands of the local boyars. Many were impaled as punishment and others were forced on a long march to Poenari where they were sentenced to work rebuilding a ruined fortress. Vlad Țepeș imposed new taxes on foreign merchants in order to protect local commercial activity, which led to exaggerations of the punishments he imposed on those who failed to follow his commercial laws. It is true that his favorite method of punishment was impalement, which lead to his surname Țepeș (the Impaler), but also led to a local legend; it is said that during his rule a gold cup was left in the central square of Târgoviște for thirsty travellers to drink from, and that cup was never stolen during Vlad’s reign.

It is true that his favorite method of punishment was impalement, which lead to his surname Țepeș (the Impaler), but also led to a local legend; it is said that during his rule a gold cup was left in the central square of Târgoviște for thirsty travellers to drink from, and that cup was never stolen during Vlad’s reign.

Vlad enjoys a little entertainment with his supper

The region is synonymous with the vampire, a creature that has haunted the local folklore since ancient times. Representations of evil, “strigoii”, as they were called in the past, gradually evolved into the shape-shifting, bloodthirsty beings with the power to control the human mind that we now know as vampires. John Polidori crafted a new image for the creatures with his novel The Vampyre, but Bram Stoker’s Dracula is considered to be the work that laid the foundation for the modern vampire in fiction.

The birth of cinema turned Dracula into a cinematic icon. According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), Dracula has 223 appearances on the silver screen, but for me the most memorable is the 1992 Francis Ford Copolla movie, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. With a few exceptions, the movie has a beautiful atmosphere, some excellent images and above all a very talented Gary Oldman in the role of Count Dracula. Impersonating a dark and dangerous character, but also injecting sensuality and elegance into his role, Gary Oldman makes a perfect Dracula. His performance is even more impressive considering the high standards imposed for this role by Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee. Come to think of it, there is a 1979 Romanian movie dedicated to the historical figure of Vlad Țepeș and I believe that Gary Oldman would make an excellent Vlad if the movie were to be remade.

Oldman as the greatest vampire of them all

Like I said, I was born in the land of Dracula but I am not particularly fond of vampires. Without Dracula, however, I would be drawn away from vampires definitely and irrevocably.

Greg Perreault's intepretation of Dracula

The Tragic Warrior: A Review of ‘Dracula’ (1973)

[Written by author and reviewer, Robert Hood]

Dracula: (US-1973; TV; dir. Dan Curtis)

For several decades, Dan Curtis (who passed away of a brain tumor in March of 2006) lurked in the background of horror film commentary, relegated to being something of an outsider because he specialised in television production. Most famous, perhaps, for his involvement in the vampire melodrama series Dark Shadows (1966-70, 1990-91), he was also responsible for many horror films, including (as director) House of Dark Shadows (1970), The Night Strangler (1973), Scream of the Wolf (1974), Turn of the Screw (1974), Trilogy of Terror (1975), Burnt Offerings (1976), Intruders (1992), Trilogy of Terror II (1996), and (as producer) Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1968), The Night Stalker (1972), Frankenstein (1973) and The Picture of Dorian Gray (1973). These are the work of a man with a firm grasp on the aesthetics of the horror film and the technicalities of evoking an atmosphere of terror. And one of his most memorable efforts was the tele-movie Dracula (1973), starring Jack Palance as the Count.

This version of the Bram Stoker novel is not only more faithful to its source than most, but contains one of the best portrayals of the vampire lord yet produced for the screen. Bela Lugosi’s Dracula might be the more recognisable and the most iconic of them all, but Palance’s Dracula is frightening and imposing, and exudes a power that few have captured on the screen before or since. He is superb — probably the first Dracula to encompass such inhuman complexity, coming over as both fascinating and unnerving. He is physically dominant throughout and conveys a wonderful sense of dark power: aristocratic without being effete; yet strangely, deeply haunted by his lost humanity. What’s more he looks like he might have led armies — and not gentlemanly armies, but armies of semi-barbaric warriors. Palance’s reaction when Van Helsing (Nigel Davenport) thrusts the cross at him is a superb example of the complexity he brings to the role; it hurts him and he must turn away, yet he fights it with an almost despairing anger. The emotions — loss, desire, hate, despair and animalistic rage — swirl across Palance’s features: confronting, yet not melodramatic and overplayed. Palance has more than a touch of Christopher Lee in his performance, but he brings more complexity to its emotional nuancing than Lee ever managed to give the role — as effectively imposing as the latter was. 

Coppola’s Dracula takes much from this version, too — including the “lost love” storyline, which Curtis (and Matheson) introduced as a way of giving their Count a more emotionally potent rationale for immigrating to England, while opening a door on his lost humanity. It was to become a “standard” of the Dracula cinematic myth. Over all, in fact, the Richard Matheson script is an imaginative masterpiece — inventive, yet closer to the book than any that preceded it. Curtis’ direction is also creative and wonderfully controlled, if somewhat constrained by TV budgets and TV-style cinematography (though he continually pushes the limits of standard contemporary practice, creating effective camera movements that cause the viewer to focus on important visual information yet otherwise carry him/her effortlessly through the narrative). Davenport as Van Helsing is not in Peter Cushing’s league, of course, but he is more than serviceable, and both Fiona Lewis as Lucy Westenra and Penelope Horner as Mina Murray bring a convincing sensuality to their roles as Dracula’s less-than-unwilling victims.

 But it is Palance who gives the film its frisson. His cry of suprahuman despair over the staking of his long-lost love — and the coldly inhuman revenge he pursues in its aftermath — stays with you long after the film has ended.

First published on Robert Hood’s website: www.roberthood.net

The Demiplane of Dread – Ravenloft

[written by reviewer and author, Darren Pearce]

The Demiplane of Dread

 A history of Ravenloft

If you’re an avid roleplayer or you love vampires and other strangeness, there’s a chance that you may know of the Demiplane of Dread, especially if you’ve played Dungeons and Dragons for a long time. It was the name given to that setting first published as an adventure in 1983 called I6: Ravenloft, written by Tracy and Laura Hickman for first edition AD&D. Ravenloft was an instant hit with the fans (including myself) and was eventually picked up for a campaign setting fondly known as the ‘Black Box’ in 1990, it had two later revisions, the ‘Red Box’ and later on as a hardback called: Domains of Dread.

I6 Ravenloft - where it all began

1991 it won the Origins Award for best Graphic Presentation of a Roleplaying Game, Adventure, or Supplement of 1990. Not long after this Wizards of the Coast acquired TSR and for some misbegotten reason cancelled one of the more interesting RPG lines for D&D. There have been countless novels that were set in Ravenloft and each dealt with a ruler from the Demiplane of Dread, even characters from other settings could be found in Ravenloft, notables from Dragonlance such as the Knight of the Black Rose, Lord Soth for instance and the infamous Vecna all found their way to the demiplane.

A Ravenloft anthology

Arthaus Games picked up the license briefly and through Sword and Sorcery (White Wolf’s imprint) it was reborn for 3.0 and 3.5 edition Dungeons and Dragons, the license reverted to Wizards of the Coast in 2005 and Sword and Sorcery were allowed to sell its back stock until at least 2006. White Wolf had to change a number of things and remove specific external setting characters, such as Soth and Vecna, changing the names of D&D specific gods to Ravenloft’s own. 

The pesky little so and so, Vecna

It has had a turbulent past, including a brief appearance as a stand-alone hardcover remake of the first edition original, known as Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, updated for 3.5. Finally in 2008 Wizards of the Coast said that Ravenloft would make a return for 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, not as a core setting but as part of the overall universe and cosmology of the line. The 4th Edition Manual of the Planes has established Ravenloft as part of the eerie plane known as the Shadowfell.

Ravenloft, a unique D&D setting

Ravenloft has always been a setting that I’ve been fond of since the early days; I was secretly hoping that, along with Dark Sun, they’d bring it back since it was quite unlike any of the previous D&D adventures or settings I’d ever encountered. For one adventures in Ravenloft were not only macabre but they were thrilling, it was beyond orcs and goblins, dragons and treasure hordes, it was dark fantasy horror and characters, plot and story actually mattered in the Demiplane of Dread.

It introduced many of my players to the concept of roleplaying as compared to roll-playing, where not every threat could be countered with a sword or stopped with a spell. In fact many of the Ravenloft creatures were stronger and more powerful than their hack-and-slash D&D counterparts. The Lords of Ravenloft were terrible to behold and Strahd Von Zarovich, the vampire was one of the most powerful, cunning and twisted NPC’s that the players could ever hope to meet.

Strahd was joined by Dragonlance’s own Lord Soth, and numerous other evil powers that lurked in the darkness of the setting. The Dark Powers, a group of unnamed beings of immense and terrible power kept such notables trapped in their own realms, giving them tiny shreds of hope that they might escape. Entry to Ravenloft could be through any of the established D&D settings pulling a group of characters from Spelljammer, or Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms and even Dark Sun (a notorious shattered sphere, with one link to Ravenloft) into the Demiplane of Dread via the Mists of Ravenloft.

The mists

The Mists were a great storytelling tool, they could spring up and instil fear into the hearts of even the most stalwart party that knew about Ravenloft in-character (and even out). Many a time a normal mist has been avoided entirely or caused a group of adventurers to run screaming from the woods, beating a hasty retreat and heading for higher ground. Those cocky adventurers who needed a lesson in manners would often be prime targets for the Mists, and those who had evil in the hearts were perfect candidates for Ravenloft.

Usually they’d be kidnapped by the swirling white fog, deposited somewhere like Barovia (the realm of Strahd) and given no prior warning where they were. The Mists were fickle like that and very quickly hot-headed hack-slashers would discover that they were in a domain where the rules had changed, where even the common skeleton was a force to be feared and the people were just as bad as the monsters they cowered from. Ravenloft was D&D’s answer to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and more, it had a bit of everything that could appeal to anyone who loved the classic monsters.

The tale of the vampire Strahd Von Zarovich, the doomed Count of Barovia, who constantly seeks to win back his love and fails at every turn, yet keeps on trying, is just one of the many character driven stories that the adventurer can become embroiled in. Strahd is one of the first D&D villains to ever be given such an emotional depth and backstory, making him beyond a simple vampire and into something that is to be respected, feared and pitied. It’s hard not to like Strahd since he forms a perfect allegory along with Vlad Drakov, another vampire and the ruler of Falkovnia, to Bram Stoker’s Dracula and becomes more than just another monster, he becomes a sympathetic figure driven by needs beyond that to murder and destroy.

Strahd - troubled anti-hero

Yet with every defeat and crushing failure, Strahd continues to try and win back his love, Vlad continues to wage war where his campaigns are doomed to failure because the Dark Powers are wily, they dangle the carrot of a new hope all the time, twisting the fate of their victims into a new skein and arranging a failure that cannot be attributed to them. Player characters may be the unwitting pawns in the Dark Powers schemes and they can be tricked into aiding the Dark Powers to stymie the Lords of Ravenloft. Of course if they do so willingly, then that brings its own dark reward.

The Dark Powers are always looking for new pawns; new Lords of Ravenloft and they reward evil with power. Power that draws upon the very Mists and Demiplane of Dread, power that is seductive and palpable, appealing to the selfish and evil characters in a group. Once they’re caught in the web of the Dark Powers deceit they find it very hard to escape and slowly they’re permanently attached to Ravenloft itself, given their own domain and set up as a minor Lord of Ravenloft.

Now the Dark Powers have a new toy. This was a great way to deal with the overtly evil PC’s in a group too, those who delighted in backstabbing their friends and those who would be evil enough to thwart Strahd’s desire to bring back his lost love, stop Lord Soth from trying to escape Ravenloft or aid Vecna in trying to destroy the Dark Powers themselves. Suddenly the dreams of a realm to rule over are presented directly to the avaricious player and they jump in with both feet first, splashing the waters of corruption.

Now though, they’re slowly drowning as their realm takes shape. They may have a castle and servants, they may even have traded the souls of their comrades in arms for this chance – but what they really have made is a prison from which there is always the hope, but never the reality of escape. The Dark Powers have always room for one more…and soon they’ll pit them against the other Lords of Ravenloft, sitting back as the likes of Lord Soth and the new Lord are brought into conflict.

Ravenloft was unique in that it was the first D&D setting to measure your character’s morality, it was possible as detailed above, to become so evil and corrupt that the realm trapped you there and made you part of it. There have been alignments and various methods to track your characters morality but until Ravenloft D&D never had a risk/reward system that meant your characters in-game actions actually counted for something. Ravenloft games turned from mindless monster hunting to political intrigue and adventure as even the most stalwart Paladin found their powers would do little but irritate the most basic of monsters.

It turned into survival horror and it was possible to truly play a role in that setting, no orcs, no dragons, no dungeons and treasure hordes, Ravenloft required a very different and mature mindset to get the best out of. It was one setting where reading all the nuances was extremely important and without understanding the various changes from core D&D, much of the tone and feel of the setting could be lost.

For instance, magic, magic functioned differently in the Demiplane of Dread, some spells designed to banish and punish evil creatures, Paladin’s divine powers and the like were attenuated or removed. The rules were very clear on what worked and what didn’t, stripping the Holy Warrior of their potent arsenal and forcing them to rely on other means to deal with the many threats of the setting. When all of the features of Ravenloft were combined it could be considered one of the best published D&D settings since the year dot, bringing to life the dark gothic horror of many of the established classics, with a bit of a twist.

It won that Origins Award for a reason and it was well deserved, and as I said … a tiny little shred of me still hopes we’d see a fully re-released Ravenloft for 4E D&D in a few years time. But for all I know I could be writing this blog in my own little corner of the Demiplane of Dread, whilst the Dark Powers at WotC sit and cackle gleefully, taunting me with shreds of information, giving me a new hope that rather than leave the Demiplane of Dread, I might one day set foot there again and haunt the shadows with a new group of players.

That’s how the Dark Powers like it, and that’s how I like it.

Until next time, watch out for the mist…

You never know where it might take you…