Sunday, October 25, 2020

Castlevania Season I By Warren Ellis

Castlevania Season I
By Warren Ellis

So Castlevania is one of those weird examples of multiple cross-pollination that our current global structure makes possible. Start with Eastern European myths, add a British novel, simmer for half a century in Hollywood, kick it over to Japan to spice it up with the Japanese perspective via a series of video games, and bring it back to the US to make a television series (The result is basically… a thirsty slash fanfic writer’s wet-dream). Now this series was originally planned as a film trilogy based on the 1989 Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse and was under development by Kevin Kolde and his company Project 51. However, events led to the series being put on hold until 2017 until Adi Shankar showed up and convinced Netflix to pick it up as a show and Frederator Studios to help create it. As of this writing, 3 seasons have been produced and released with a 4th season coming. Let me talk about Warren Ellis, the guy they got to write the show.

Warren Ellis, who was born in Essex on the 16th of February 1968, is mostly known for his comic book work. His most famous creation most likely being the comic book Transmetropolitan, about a gonzo journalist in a dystopian future United States (I wonder how close to that dystopia the one we’re currently living in is…{Not very}). He has however written other things such as a hard-boiled detective novel, episodes for television shows, and a large number of nonfiction columns for everyone from SuicideGirls to Reuters. Strangely enough, he never played the games in question but did his research on them and noticed that the creators of the series seemed to be fans of Hammer horror films. Being himself a hammer horror film fan, he leaned into it (So much camp and scenery-chewing!). He was brought in early in the project and has largely steered the writing of Castlevania's three seasons and will be working on the fourth. However in June of this year, a group of nearly a hundred women accused Ellis of sexual coercion and manipulation, including gaslighting, and emotional abuse (And because we believe victims in this blog, and there are nearly a hundred of them, fuck this guy.). Ellis for his part denies any conscious predatory behavior (Bullshit.) but has largely withdrawn from the industry and season four will be his last season of Castlevania, although the production is prepared to move forward without him (Good. No abuser is too important to let go.). My own view is such a large group of accusers that I think these women and non-binary people should be believed and I am disappointed in Mr. Ellis, to put it mildly (I fucking hate that kind of trash-person. Clearly. Seriously, how hard is “not sexually coercing people”? Really hard evidently.). You can read their side of the story at somanyofus.com. Let's turn back to the review.

Season One starts us off with a young woman marching determinedly to Lord Dracula's door and demanding that he teach her what he knows of science. Right away we learn that Lisa is fearless and driven (And I fucking love her.). Even though Dracula is an immortal predator over seven feet tall, she has no problems handing him a mountain of sass in his own damn home (She reminds me of one of my de facto moms.). When questioned about her motives, she reveals she wants to be a doctor and heal people. Now I have to admit that if I had ambitions to be a healer heading over to the guy who maintains a forest of people on stakes on his front lawn wouldn't be my first thought but Lisa clearly is all about thinking for herself. (In fairness, there are legends about his scientific abilities she’s following up on. {There are legends about nazi scientists to, doesn’t mean I’m turning to them anytime soon} Sure, but you’re not living in a medical regime where “take enough blood to make you anemic” is a cure for what ails you.) Dracula finds himself intrigued because... Well, the kind of personality that Lisa has is intriguing and it helps that she's a knockout. So he decides what the hell, he'll teach her while trying to seduce her with his lab and library. So we're given a promising beginning of a relationship that could do a lot of good for the world and for the people in it. This is a gothic horror fantasy, however, so of course, our next scene is ten years later with Lisa being burnt at the stake for witchcraft by a power-hungry priest who is bucking to become the next Cardinal of Wallachia. This goes... Horribly. It goes horribly. You see, Dracula was away on a little trip on Lisa's advice, to see the world, get to know humanity, and see if he could interact with us on a more level playing field (You see he’s never experienced what life is like for actual people, so he has had a hard time empathizing with them. Doing a little sojourn like that would help him see why humanity is so backward, given the material conditions they live in.{He would have been an actual person at one time and it doesn’t seem to have helped} Was he though? It is clear that some people are born vampires.{If he's Dracula he was born a human, this is also game lore}). How anyone would mistake him for a normal man given that he's like seven feet tall and has pointed ears and teeth that could rip out a yak's throat is beyond me but I'm in favor of anything that keeps Dracula from viewing me as something to hunt for sport and/or sustenance! Well just as Lisa is being burnt alive, Dracula comes home and he doesn't take it well. In fact, he summons a beautifully animated storm to announce to everyone that he is going to take the kind of vengeance that gets listed in Old Testament books. He gives the people of Wallachia one year to prepare themselves, a year in which no one does a damn thing. I mean... Seriously! A demonic face emerged from the sky! The sky turned blood red! A voice thundered from the heavens! You have two options, get the hell out of dodge or start prepping for war. It seems like the majority of the powerful decided instead to shrug and say they were sure it would be fine! (Well, you see, the church says he doesn’t exist, and the church rules the roost with inquisitors and pears of anguish.{See, I don’t get that in the medieval era the church was often suppressed when the inquisitors became a problem for the wealthy and powerful. Hell in Spain, the Inquisition was openly working for the crown, not the church, defying the Pope several times in favor of the Kings and Queens of Spain. If I’m building an army to defend against the armies of hell, killing some Inquisitors is a fine warm-up exercise. PLUS THE SKY TURNED INTO BLOOD WITH A THUNDERING VOICE! FUCK YOU, I’M RAISING AN ARMY!!!} That works in Spain with a powerful monarchy or at least wealthy nobility. I don't get the impression that Wallachia has one of those in this fiction, or if it does, he’s in Hungary or something and the church has been given discretion. There is also an alternative explanation, which is that this is a second medieval period after a civilizational collapse. Say an asteroid the size of Mt. Everest hits the Yucatan again. The global air temperature above ground would be hot enough to burn paper, and there would be an EMP strong enough to wipe out electronics, leaving a rump humanity as survivors and having completely lost the ability to manufacture and maintain advanced technology. Eventually, the knowledge would be lost completely and humanity would have to rebuild from scratch. Religion in such a world would probably be even more important than it is now, and the church would be extremely powerful. ) I mean, I'm appalled when Dracula brings forth the literal legions of hell to wipe the capital city of Wallachia from the map and kill every man, woman, and child in it but a nasty voice in the back of my head suggests that maybe they deserve it if they're going to ignore such a blatant warning. Maybe I'm just an asshole like that.

At this point, we're introduced to our main character Trevor Belmont, a member of the Belmont family, a dynasty of monster killers, vampire hunters, and general badasses. Trevor is a drunk who gets smacked around by a trio of (literally) inbred (livestock-fucking {in-law screwing too, remember?}) hicks but mostly because he wouldn't go all out against them (He was trying to be nice.). Trevor is the character we spend the most time with here and he is an interesting and actually rather complex character. Now I'm going to avoid spoilers so I'm just gonna address what we learn in Season I. When Trevor sees Dracula's hell legion leaving after a night-time raid on the walled city of Gresit, he goes in. He asks around to get information and finds out that a priest is telling the townsmen that if they turn on a minority group called (((Speakers))) and purge them (I use the triple parentheses because they basically get treated like any medieval city facing a crisis would treat its Jewish population.), that God will protect them from Dracula. He decides to help the Speakers and get them out of the city. Before I go further, I want to say this about the good citizens of Gresit. What they're discussing is monstrous and insane but if you'd ever gone two days without a decent amount of sleep, you'll know how they got talked into it. Because what we're seeing is a city that has been attacked every night, homes have been torn apart. Children snatched from cradles and mothers left screaming. We don't see much of an armed force so I assume the militia of Gresit was mostly murdered on the first night. So these people are terrified, every night they literally hear their neighbors and family members being eaten alive by the armies of hell and afflicted with heart-stopping, pants-wetting fear and the fact that the night assaults will leave them in a muzzy state and finding it difficult to concentrate the next day... Then they got this priest telling them that all they got to do is get rid of people they don't really like anyway. All their lives they've been taught and trained to trust and obey men of the Church and protecting them from Hell is literally the job of the Church anyways. This doesn't excuse their bigotry but it does show how they can be talked into committing a crime against humanity and we should ask ourselves if we would do that much better in their place (The answer is “Probably not” as a society given the state of the world right now, and the fact that right now, we have children locked in cages and effectively orphaned by systematic cruelty in our immigration system over a problem that is basically made up entirely. That having been said, I hold that kind of bigotry in contempt anyway.{I’m not saying you shouldn’t hold it in contempt but let's not make the mistake of thinking we’re inherently better people. Admitting that in that situation it’s possible that someone we trust and look up could lead us down a similar path is the first step to avoiding becoming like them.}). Let me get back to Trevor.

Trevor postures cynically and acts like he doesn't give a damn in a traditional anti-hero manner but his actions tell a different story (The cynicism is a very obvious self-defense mechanism.). This is a guy who can't stop himself from trying to help somehow but has a feeling for his limitations and is carrying some grudges. I mean we learn that the Belmonts have been basically torn down and excommunicated (Getting rid of your monster hunters seems like a really bad idea to me but people keep doing it in fiction! [Honestly, it happens to any institution that becomes too powerful or respected and becomes a threat to the established hierarchy. The Roman Catholic Church did it a bunch of times. To the Albigensians, their own Knights Templar, the Hussites, etc] {Why do you always pick such terrible examples? The Albigensians and Hussites weren’t social institutions that the powers turned on like the Belmonts, they were movements to overthrow authority, the Albigenses openly wanted to get rid of the priesthood. This is a valid goal but they were preaching in a period of authoritarian government, to put it mildly! As for the Knights Templar, they outlived their purpose and that made them an easy target. The Belmonts still had a purpose!} I will grant the movement vs institution thing, but the same principle applies. Had the Albigensians or Hussites been a thing in some small hamlet no one would have bothered. The Albigensians in particular controlled the Languedoc, and their suppression of IIRC leads to the extinction of that language.) and that's made him bitter towards society. I can only imagine there's a string of failures in Trevor's past as well. Because while he gathered information and scouted the group, he seems to have come to the conclusion that he couldn’t save Gresit and its panicked mob of citizens but he could save the Speakers (In fairness, it is a much easier task to protect a dozen or so people on their way out of town than it would be to defend an entire town against a slathering army of the minions of hell.). He also seems to have come to the conclusion that comes Hell or High Water he is saving someone from this mess. This frankly tells us that inside of Trevor Belmont is a man who cares about his fellows but has been subjected to constant disappointment and failure. Despite that, he's still trying to do something, and damn if that isn't admirable. This is also paired with a willingness to do incredible damage to his enemies. Using his ancestral weapon of a whip to relieve them of all sorts of things, knives, fingers, eyes. Trevor fights messy, just like he does everything else (And it is very satisfying, and dare I say sexy, to watch. {This makes me wonder just what do you do on dates… (I mean, look, if I meet a nice boy at counter-protest against fascists…)} But then, I am an extremist who doesn’t like seeing corrupt assholes direct the people they exploit toward the throats of innocent scapegoats.).

Of course, the leader of the Speakers won't leave without his granddaughter. A girl who headed into the catacombs beneath the city because of legends that sleeping under the city was a legendary hero. So Trevor goes and finds the girl, exploring a dungeon that is definitely not up to code (They’re never up to code.) but has a hell of a slide. He ends the adventure by adding a Cyclops to his kill count and saving the girl. This brings in Sypha, the mage, idealist, and pretty redhead into our group (She is also ruinously lethal.). Like Trevor, she is intent on helping people and fighting back but isn't struggling under the weight of failure and disappointment like Trevor is. Her role is to basically goad him into more and more heroics (And she is very good at it.). So Trevor is going to attempt to lead a rebellion against an insane priest while fighting the armies of Hell for a doomed city for three reasons. First off is because Sypha won't stop hectoring him about it (And the thirst is increasingly obvious). Second is the Speakers won't simply fucking leave and let him complete his one good deed and he needs that good deed to keep going. Lastly is the fact that the priest in question has offered to restore his family's good name if he simply walks away and lets the Speakers get pogromed, I kinda feel there's a hefty chunk of 'you're not my real priest and you can't tell me what to do' going on here (Justifiably. That priest is a fucking monster.{I was pretty okay with his final fate}). Don't get me wrong, I don't disapprove. I'm a protestant after all and doing the right thing to spite corrupt Catholic clergy is like a huge high for people for me (And I am an atheistic Jew, so fuck those people too. This is for the Rhineland Massacres you schmucks!) I do enjoy the following tradition when I can after all. So can Trevor face off against a band of robed thugs and a demon army? What is under the damn city anyway? Why haven't I mentioned the third member of this happy band of anti-Dracula murderhobos? Well, join me next week when I discuss season II to find out. That's when I'll get into our 3rd band member because he'll need the space.

Now I’m not going to hand out a grade until we hit Season III but I am going to recommend you watch this series. It’s fun and interesting, although I feel Ellis could have done more historical research. Join us next week for Powers of Darkness and Season II and III. Until then, stay safe and keep reading!

Red text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen
Black text is your reviewer Garvin Anders

Friday, October 23, 2020

Dracula in Istanbul: The Unauthorized Version of the Gothic Classic By Ali Rıza Seyfioğlu

Dracula in Istanbul: The Unauthorized Version of the Gothic Classic
By Ali Rıza Seyfioğlu

Ali Riza Seyfioglu lived through many drastic changes. He was born in 1879 in the Ottoman Empire and basically lived through the end of the empire (I have no idea what that would be like…). The year he was born for example the first year of Bulgaria's independence and Serbia’s formal independence from the Ottoman Empire was recognized internationally that year as well, although they had thrown out the Ottoman's decades prior. Throughout his early years, the Ottoman Empire went from one of the Great Powers of Europe and the Middle East to the prey of ambitious colonial powers (Which is both a good and bad thing. Bad because they should not have been made prey, good because they should not have been ruling over… well, everything within Janissary range of Anatolia). Egypt went from imperial province to supposedly submissive vassal state to a protectorate of the British Empire. Libya was outright conquered from them by the Italians (You know you’re in a bad way when the Italians start taking your stuff. In WWI, Germany was shackled to the walking corpse that was the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Said walking corpse managed to dunk on the Italians.) and then came the utter disaster of World War I, the primarily agrarian Ottoman Empire somehow walked itself into a war with most of the industrialized world (Yeah, that did not go so well for them at all.). I'm not going to get too deep into the weeds of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, it's a deeply complicated subject with a lot of other things happening. Like the Arab revolt, or the Armenian Genocide (Which happened. The Turks deny it and get away with it because they are important geopolitically, but they fucking did it. They deported thousands of Armenians… into the Black Sea. As in, took them out on boats, and chucked them over the side. To say nothing of the fucking Death March into Syria.{All of this is true, but let's stick to the novel}), and more. I'm just going to note that at the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire basically just didn't exist anymore. Its holdings were partitioned off to the victors, a good number of those in violation of promises the victors made to the natives, and the Greeks came knocking in the Greco-Turkish War. I'm not going to get into that war either, just note that the Greeks lost that war and for the Turks, if the end of WWI was the depths of despair, their seeing off the Greeks was the beginning of pulling themselves out of the abyss. Although some ethnic groups will see it differently. Going on at the same time was the Turkish War of Independence where the Turks fought to hold on to Anatolia against basically all comers. They won and the Republic of Turkey was declared and formally recognized by the world in 1923.

At this point, Ali Riza Syfioglu was in his mid-40s and was an English translator working as the head of a branch office of the Shipping Chamber of Commerce in Istanbul, where he translated/wrote what he published as Kazikli Voyvoda or Impaler Prince; which is the title that the Turks gave to the historic Dracula. He would claim to be the original writer which is odd considering the vast majority of this book is basically a copy of Bram Stoker's work (Plagiarism never ends.). I suppose he felt that his changes were enough to make the claim (Or he didn’t care.) and given that the book was first published in Ottoman script in 1928 (being re-released in the new Turkish Latin script in 1947) a year before Florence Stoker passed away, it was never really tested in court. Now, this isn't Ali Riza Syfioglu's only work, he's written about 29 published works, mostly history as he was a naval officer in the Ottoman navy and was trained to have an interest in military history, but also wrote at least six fictional works I know of and one book of poetry. So like many people in his situation, Ali Riza turned to patriotism or nationalism depending on what you want to call it to center himself in the face of the changes and losses he had experienced. Also to recognize the great achievements of the Turkish people in managing to fight off several invasions of their homeland and keep from being colonized by the Western Powers. Who, let's be honest, if they’d thought the Turks to be weak enough, would have done it. That said I don't think the Turks themselves can cry foul too loudly given that when they found the Europeans to be weak and disorganized, they merrily proceeded on their own imperial ambitions and for a time openly discussed ruling the world (And they genocided the Armenians, who look like they’re going to war with a Turkish proxy right now.). I'm not saying this to excuse anyone's actions here, just to note the context in which those actions were taken. Well, let's take a look at the novel itself here, shall we? Warning: I will be including spoilers because the book is about 90 years old!

Dracula in Istanbul is very streamlined compared to the original novel, Ali Riza removed a number of the “side stories” of the original novel, such as the story of the ship that brought Dracula to England or the story of how Dracula basically stole a wolf from the zoo to break into Lucy's (renamed Sadan in this novel) home. I have to admit I'm not entirely a fan of that, but I can understand omitting the boat story entirely given that sailing from Romania to Istanbul just isn't that long and hazardous a trip and it makes sense that Dracula would just control himself until he's a big city to hunt in (Yeah, that trip would be really trivial.). Especially compared to sailing from Romania to London. He does introduce the brides of Dracula but they are left without any real impact in the story as Ali Riza chooses to finish the book in Istanbul instead of having Dracula flee back to Romania. So they show up as a menace in Dracula's castle but are never given a final fate, which I suppose means in this version they might still be lurking in Romania, devouring anyone they catch (Probably. They were really bloody thirsty.{Well, that’s gonna be a problem}). All the human characters are renamed and remade into Turks, although there isn't much of a change in their characters or social positions. Although instead of being an Aristocrat, Major Turan Bey (this book's version of Arthur) is a Turkish officer and the son of an officer, which is I suppose as close as the Turkish Republic of the time could have to nobility. The streamlining I think does hurt the characterization, however, especially of the female characters. In the original novel, we have the ladies spending time with colorful locals and learning some traditions and customs which gives us more insight to them but that's not present here. Which makes the book a bit more... Bland. The book is also moved in time to take place in the 1920s, after the Turkish War of Independence. Oh, quick note, the use of the word Bey is apparently something like the English word Mr. as it is always given as part of the characters name in the book, I use it in the review but I wanted to note that so my readers weren't asking why all these men had the same last name. (It’s a Turkish honorific. Historically, it was the title for a chieftain but it’s meaning has shifted over time and now it is a formal title akin to a Sir or a very old-school use of Mister, which is derived from Master. It is used with first names though, as opposed to with the Surname.)

I have to also admit that part of me mutters in rebellion of the characters being turned into a single nationality. The original book had Americans, Dutch and English folks working together, I kind of feel myself trying to mutter to Ali Riza across time and space “What you couldn't include a single Kurd, Jewish person, or maybe even a Turk from Iraq?” (Well the Kurds don’t exist Viking. They’re Mountain Turks, clearly. I kid, of course. Long live my Kurdish comrades!) That said I can kind of grasp why he wouldn't do so, as this book is clearly envisioned as an example of the Turkish people coming together to repeal an ancient and foreign threat and Ali Riza might argue with me that his life showed that no, he couldn't count on people like the Kurds, Jews, or even Turks in other lands rising up in solidarity with his own people against threats but would be vastly more worried about such folks working with foreigners against him and his own. That said I wouldn't call the book xenophobic; Ali Riza goes to pains to show the Christian peasants of Romania trying to provide Azmi Bey (Jon Harker's Turkish doppelganger) means to protect himself from Dracula even when that means taking on risks to do so. Furthermore, Dracula isn't depicted as a Romanian hero here but as a danger to the Romanian people even when he was alive. A vile tyrant that the Ottoman Empire removed at great costs to itself for the profit of Turk and Romanian alike, at least according to Ali Riza. So Ali Riza to me at least seems to believe that there is a common humanity that people can work together on but perhaps that recent events have shown that the Turks can really only count on themselves for protection. Or I could be reading too much into things, sometimes blue walls are just meant to symbolize that the walls are blue and have no deeper meaning.

That said, Ali Riza does go all-in on the historical aspect of this, with his characters repeatedly painting their conflict against Dracula as the continuation of an old war and the final act in a struggle between the Turkish people and Dracula as an individual, who was Vlad Tepes. He has Dr. Resuhi discuss some of Dracula's real-world atrocities, such as staking captives and nailing the turbans to the heads of ambassadors. I have to admit, I rolled my eyes a bit since Dracula learned to stake people from the Ottomans in the first place (Shh. Just sleep now, the Ottoman Empire was kind and glorious. Dream….{I can see arguments for glorious but kind? Empires do not do kind} Shhhhh. Don’t be a “Mountain Turk” sympathizer. I kid of course. Shout out to my comrades in the YPG.). I find it interesting that he is so careful to make clear that he doesn't see Dracula as a legitimate representative of any rival nation or people. Just as a singular monster to be killed. This may be why he cut out Dracula's flight and made sure that Azmi Bey had no interaction with any of Dracula's human servants or followers, unlike Jon Harker. That said I found the ending that Ali Riza went with, where they just happen on Dracula asleep in the second house they raid and Major Turan Bey lops his head off with an ax. So in this version Dracula never attacks Guzen, Azmi Bey's betrothed, and later wife and they don't have to deal with that whole complicated issue. I also feel that kinda lessens the stakes of the conflict, no pun intended. Dracula's attack on Mina was a ruthless and arguably brilliant action that heightened the intensity of the battle between him and his hunters showing them that he would strike them where they were most vulnerable. This Dracula does kill poor Sadan but then never makes any real moves against the hunters until they find and kill him. Reducing his menace considerably. For that matter, Dracula is much reduced in this book, here he has no mastery over human subjects, displays few of the powers of the original novel, and is often referred to as a coward. I’ve got to point out that cheapening your main villain only reduces the stature of your heroes. Your heroes are only as mighty as the perils they overcome, after all. Frankly, the victory just feels to easy here.

There were things that were interesting to me, such as switching out Christian symbols for verses of the Quran which repeal the undead and I would have liked to see more use of Islamic mysticism or symbolism. I was also glad to see the change to Istanbul and wish that Ali Riza would have used the story to explore the city for us some more. As it stands though, this book is a pale shadow of the original and its primary use seems to be as a moral lesson on the value of Turkish unity. I suppose that can be expanded to the idea of unity in general but Ali Riza, for understandable reasons, was very focused on the need for his own people to stand together in a world that must have felt very hostile to him. The book was turned into a Turkish movie in 1953, with even more changes made. Sadly I haven't had time to watch that movie but if anyone has and would like to leave us a review please feel free to do so. As for Dracula in Istanbul: The Unauthorized Version of the Gothic Classic By Ali Rıza Seyfioğlu, I have to give it a D+. Most of the changes are frankly for the worse and I was left feeling that I would have a better time reading the original novel again. Hopefully, next week when we hit Powers of Darkness we'll have a better showing.

This has been an installment in Fangsgiving, a month long look at Dracula literature. This was voted on and made possible by our ever-wise patrons. If you would like a vote on theme months and upcoming reviews, join us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads Where your voice can be heard for as little as a 1$ a month! Join us on Sunday for a look at the first season of Castlevania, the Netflix series! Next week at long last we venture forth against the storied Powers of Darkness! Until then, stay safe and Keep Reading!

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Castlevania I through III a (very through) guest review

Castlevania I through III a (very through) review 

So as part of the Dracula extravaganza known as fangsgiving, I want to offer my services as a guest reviewer (I’d like to welcome Mr. Davis our guest reviewer! I, your normal reviewer will be here in green text!). After myself, your editor, and our host reviewer along with other friends watched the Castlevania Netflix series I took it upon myself to research and play the original video game series. Now before we begin and dive into the history of this franchise I’ll clear a few things up. I do not have access to the original hardware/software instead I took advantage of steam and purchased the “Castlevania Anniversary Collection” for the PC. This provided me with both the opportunity to play the games and take advantage of things like saving progress which I would not be able to otherwise.

Now to take a page from our usual reviewer I’ll start with a little history lesson (Does this make me a positive influence? {It makes you an influence…}). The first Castlevania game was released in Japan in 1986 and something hilarious I learned is that it was published for the “Family Computer Disk System” under the name Akumajō Dracula. Which can be roughly translated to either “Demon Castle Dracula” or “Dracula’s Satanic Castle” but when the game was ported to NES cartridge in 87 the name Castlevania was coined to conform to Nintendo North America’s censorship standards (Considering we were in a panic over satanic music and games… That was likely a wise choice!). So for the sake of simplicity, I’ll be using the North American titles of the games from here on while I talk about this franchise. The first three games, which have been consistently ranked in the top 25 games ever made by Nintendo, owe their existence largely to director Hitoshi Akamatsu.

Akamatsu stated that he set out to direct the game like he was directing a classic horror film, the visuals and soundtrack were designed to deeply emulate this. In the first game from the very beginning scenes the background and music. The first game is much like a side-scrolling platformer of its day but with a few notable changes, this led to massive commercial success for the original Castlevania. According to interviews at the time Akamatsu was a fan with a deep love of western horror films and cinema, reportedly wanting the main weapon of the Belmont’s to be a whip due to his love of Indiana Jones. Little is known about Hitoshi Akamatsu, beyond what coworkers have stated about him and his eye for detail which had a ripple effect through not only Castlevania but also Konami and the game industry. A particular sticking point in development was the synchronization of what action the player took to what was displayed on screen. Akamatsu is reported to have wanted players with a little practice to feel that Simon’s movements were an extension of their own limbs. This attention to detail is something that I will bring up as I dissect the three games he directed in order with my own take on their review before I ultimately discuss why so little is known about their director.

The first Castlevania game begins with a text crawl describing how every hundred years wicked men with evil in their hearts (their words not mine) chant dark prayers to Dracula to bring him back to life. Now 100 years since Dracula was defeated at the hands of Christopher Belmont evil cultists assemble in the ruins of a monastery to revive their dark lord Dracula during the Easter holiday. Only one man can stop them Descendant of the Belmont family Simon Belmont! At the start of the game you begin by walking up the entryway to the castle, this gives you a chance to get used to the controls and experiment with the whip. Along the path, you can see a variety of textures for trees, statues, the cobblestone of the path, and the burning braziers which you learn quickly give you rewards for smashing. This right here if you can put yourself into the headspace of a kid playing Super Mario which they might think is the most cutting edge graphic is worlds away in terms of game design. The controls are smooth though not as fast as Mario but that fits with how Simon’s walk animation works. You are able to not only move forward through the scene but also backwards as well something many other games of the era did not allow (This blew my mind as a kid and remains a treasured memory). The music has a charming synthesized organ sound to it and the whip animation is frankly satisfying. As Simon moves through the castle you are able to pick up not only upgrades to the whip (very quickly usually before the main game even starts) but also a secondary weapon. This was a unique challenge for the original NES because remember there were only two main buttons and a simple 4 directional control in addition to the system operating buttons start and select. So how do you quickly work a secondary weapon when you also need to be able to jump? Well, this was solved with what was at the time a clever bit of coding using the up button on the directional pad to designate that the secondary weapon should be used. In all, there are several alternate weapons including throwing daggers, axes, holy water, and even a watch that can pause time for a moment. These weapons all work at the cost of in-game currency, hearts, which come in large and small sizes and are dropped by breaking objects like candles or by killing monsters.

The monsters are another subject that I have to tackle because OH MY GOD FUCK THAT RED SKELETON AND THE FLYING MEDUSA HEADS! (Hated those things!) The monsters in this game are varied and unique to the individual levels and the game designers were smart in how they reused multiple sprites and movement animations often by simply changing colors and stats. Something quite clever that was considered quite the twist when the game first came out was the red skeletons that you can easily break into a pile of bones with a single hit and seemed like less of a challenge than the bone throwing blue skeletons. However, these bastards only stay dead for about 4 seconds or so then they are right back up and coming for you. Weird fish people that pop out of the water at the beginning of the game are also vastly different later when they start spitting fireballs at you out of nowhere. The boss fights are usually larger or tougher versions of monsters you have already fought until you get to Dracula… who you have to kill by taking off his head so he will have to transform into a demon and you know what? Fuck it just throw holy water at it till the problem goes away (Holy Water was awesome in the game and I’ll hear nothing against it).

The second Castlevania released in 1988 game is a massive departure from the first game, in terms of format and layout (never got the chance to play this one). The art, enemies, weapons, and music are similar but with a few notable updates in quality and variety. For gameplay, this installment uses a much more non-linear map in addition to a challenging day-night mechanic. Similar to Metroid and a few others the game features a maze-like map that you will have to explore repeatedly to find all 5 parts of Dracula’s body so you can return them to the castle, burn them and end the curse once and for all. There is a starting area where you will return repeatedly to talk to villagers who can sell you new/upgraded weapons for hearts. During the daytime, any monsters outside are noticeably weaker/slower and villagers are willing to interact with you. During the night monsters are stronger and will drop more hearts but the village is filled with zombies and friendly NPCs are presumably hiding. The mazes can get a little confusing and it's possible to get turned around trying to get back to where you need to be. There were reviews at the time that disparaged the game saying it “ripped off” Metroid’s map design, but this is false but without the internet, the rumors persisted. These factors combined along with some poor language localization (which has since been corrected) caused North American sales to falter on this installment.

Finally, the third chapter in this saga is actually a prequel that takes place 100 years before the events of the first two games. You start as Trevor Belmont, the last of an exiled noble house that had previously protected the people from Dracula and other monsters. This game feels more like the platformer of the first game and is actually the direct inspiration for the Castlevania Netflix series. In this game, you have two major paths that you can follow to make it to the inner sanctum of Dracula’s castle with smaller different paths along the way. There are some new enemies and bosses (including a cyclops with a hammer) but the main mechanic difference is the addition of an alternate character. In this game, you are able to switch between the main character Trevor Belmont and one of 3 alternates, and if you switch alternates when the opportunity presents itself you cannot go back. This mechanic actually leads to 4 different end text/synopsis including one for if you defeat the whole game as Trevor. The two alternates that most people will play with are either Alucard the son of Dracula, or Sypha Belnades. The third character who unfortunately does not appear to make the cut for the Netflix series is Grant Dynasty which is frankly a shame (Warren Ellis felt that a pirate just didn’t fit the world and that the name Grant Dynasty was just silly {I’ll give you the name but man it could have been great to hint at him in the third season with Isaac traveling across the sea. Fun fact the plot of crazy monks in a monastery reviving Dracula comes directly from the game!}). Grant is a pirate who uses a dagger and can climb walls, that ability makes some of the platforming puzzles much easier, but not as easy as some other options. Playing as the other characters can also offer some differences to the challenges that the game offers. I can honestly say that with the right spell on Sypha can make very quick work of any boss battle, the spells like all alternate weapons require a pool of hearts to cast, but the weird sphere spell thing that sends bouncing globes of destruction across the screen is clearly the best (I think a Megaman game has a weapon like that!). Especially when faced with an enemy that is very mobile, as they can quickly fill the entire boss screen leaving no place to hide. Alucard can also make some of the challenges much easier as he can use hearts to turn into a bat and simply fly past the endless jumping layers that were popular in this era of video games.

The end of Castlevania III (simpler due to limitations of space on old cartridges) can actually be seen reflected in the Netflix series. If you end with Alucard the text states that he knows he did the right thing but is conflicted about killing his father. Ending with Sypha you see Trevor put his arm around her as she reflects that even though her life has been hard she is hopeful about her future. However, one difference is that while the game states that the Belmonts will forever be honored and respected, the Netflix series is a bit more realistic in how slow the truth of events would spread in the medieval period (We also needed grist for more seasons!).

As a final note, let's take a look back at the release of these games: three vastly different games with extremely cinematic elements were released from 1987-1990 (North American releases). Few games these days manage to incorporate new mechanics as well as a departure in story and style with such a quick release schedule. Unfortunately, video games can be a lot like Hollywood movies, where you are only as good as your last project. So looking back at the director and a strong force in writing these games, Hitoshi Akamatsu, we have little evidence of what happened to him. At the time Konami published the games with directors under pseudonyms to prevent corporate talent poaching, so the actual name of the director was not known till years later when former coworkers were interviewed. Yes, former, after the commercial failure of II and III Akamatsu was transferred to managing one of Konami’s commercial locations (essentially an arcade) before he resigned. After a good bit of searching, I have been unable to find any direct interviews with him (This is a terrible shame, as I feel that if he was given more time and space that we would have seen a powerful talent emerge. We lost out here in my opinion!).

In the years since Nintendo power, Kotaku, Game Informer, and dozens of independent reviewers have regularly placed all 3 games in the top 25 games of their era. Konami has re-released these games several times in collections, updates, and across multiple platforms. These games changed the ideas of what a game could be and if you put them against some of the best-selling games of their era, they are miles ahead technically and thematically. I can't really give them a grade they haven’t earned before (I disagree, it’s your review, give them whatever grade you feel they’ve earned!) but what the hell they all get a solid A (There you go!).

So I’m posting this a day late and I would like to apologize. I won’t go into details but events and my day job caught up with me. I humbly request everyone’s forgiveness. I would like to thank Mr. Davis again for this great guest review and I will note that my door is open for such things, although I should note that I won’t post guest reviews on short notice. Give me a couple of weeks at least to work it in unless it’s something I’ve specifically requested. At the end of this week, join us for Dracula in Istanbul and a look at the first season of Castlevania, the Netflix series! Until then, stay safe and keep reading!

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Bram Stoker's Dracula 1992 Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

 Bram Stoker's Dracula 1992

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola


So the story of this film actually starts with the production of Godfather III. Winona Ryder was originally meant to play Mary, the daughter of Michael Corleone. She had, however, just finished filming three movies back to back and when she arrived in Rome, she had a 104 temperature and could barely move (oh Jesus). She was told that she would need to recover from her fever before even thinking of working again. Coppola, who was in a hurry because his debtors were at the door, cast his daughter Sofia Coppola as Mary in Godfather III the successful but widely considered worst Godfather film. Francis Coppola survived of course but Ms. Ryder, afraid she had managed to burn a bridge with one of the most well-regarded directors in Hollywood. set up a meeting to mend bridges. She brought a script with her, and as she was leaving suggested Coppola might like it but was privately sure he wouldn't touch it. However, Coppola was a Dracula fan and when he saw the title, he was all in. Let's go ahead and look at our director first before we dive in ourselves.


Francis Ford Coppola was born in Detroit, Michigan, on April 7, 1939. The middle child of three, he was a third-generation American, with his grandparents on both sides having come to the US from southern Italy. His paternal grandparents came from Basilicata while his maternal grandparents came from Naples. His father was a professional flutist and when he was offered the job of principal flutist for the NBC Symphony Orchestra the family moved to New York, settling in Queens. Coppola contracted polio as a child and was bedridden for long periods as a result of it. He turned to homemade puppet shows and reading to fill those long hours before moving up to 8mm film. Coppola also excelled at subjects he was interested in but tended to be rather lackluster in other subjects making him an overall mediocre student. He entered Hofstra College in 1955 as a major in theater arts but after seeing October: Ten Days that Shook the World he decided that cinema was where his passion lay. He founded the cinema workshop at Hofstra and contributed heavily to the campus literary magazine. After graduating he headed off to UCLA Film School in 1960, by 1962 he was working regularly for film companies and was recruited by Roger Corman. In 1963 he directed the first feature film that he had written himself using leftover funds from one of Roger Corman's films. It was on the set of that film Dementia 13 that he met his wife. I should note he's still married to her, which is a hell of an achievement in Hollywood. By 1969 Coppola was running loose and would soon become one of the linchpins of a group of filmmakers known as “New Hollywood”. This group would challenge the established system and among other things champion the director as the king of the filmmaking process. It's as part of this movement that we see his greatest works, like The Godfather, or the script he wrote for the film Patton. It's beyond the scope of this review to go into any great detail on Coppola's career, but I'm just gonna state that even if you've never seen any of his films, you know them because half the jokes on the Simpsons and other pop culture mainstays are derived from Coppola films.


Now as always the film will get two grades, the first being how it stands up on its own and the second how it stands up as an adaptation. Now since the movie is almost 30 years old, I don't have any problems with spoilers so y'all been warned. The film starts with a prologue showing Dracula battling on Crusade (Not technically a crusade), only for the Turks to trick his wife into killing herself (Those wiley Turks!  Insert comment about getting away the Armenian Genocide here.). This enrages Dracula who renounces God and is turned into a vampire for it. Which as origin stories go is to the point and makes a certain degree of sense, but if it was that easy to be turned into a vampire, you'd think we'd be up to our eyes in hideous bloodsuckers (I’d have been a vampire a long time ago.  In fairness, he renounced God in a fairly spectacular fashion. {Maybe you should have stabbed a cross with a broadsword?}). The movie then jumps into the plot of the novel, starting with John Harker's trip to Romania, his imprisonment by the count, and his escape. Meanwhile in England Lucy must choose between her three suitors and Mina waits for her husband to come home. Until she meets a dark stranger on the street and starts to engage in an affair (In fairness, it seems to me that Dracula was psychically and perhaps unconsciously manipulating her.). When she receives a letter from an asylum letting her know that John has been found and wants to see her, she breaks off the affair in a spasm of guilt and rushes off to her soon-to-be-husband. It's hard to feel sorry for Dracula though because the whole time he's been assaulting (Let’s be fair, raping.  It was rape.) and slowly feeding on Mina's best friend Lucy. Now I'm supposed to find this relationship between Mina and Dracula romantic but you know what? Murdering your beloved best friend is not a romantic gesture! If anything it strongly implies that Drac is trying to isolate Mina, which is kind of a red flag! Seriously folks, if your boy or girlfriend keeps trying to destroy your friendships and split you away from everyone else? It's a bad sign! (It is in fact the hallmark of an abuser.  There is practically a manual.) Stop romanticizing this! For that matter, there's an implication that he's using his mental powers to push her into choosing him.  This is also really creepy.  Anyways, upset that Mina has broken up with him, in favor of her... You know... Actual spouse (Fun fact for everyone, the marriage between Mina and Johnathon was filmed in a Greek Orthodox church in LA and the priests used the real rite [You’d think the priest would like, change something because he knew it was for a movie, but nope!]. So Winona and Keenu might be actually married in the Orthodox church. Imagine explaining that on the third date! [In fairness, intent matters.  So I don’t think it would actually take. {Most modern Christianity would say you cannot be married against your will.  God won't sanction such a union}]) Dracula decides to finish off Lucy and drain her completely. He does this despite the best efforts of Dr. Seward and Dr. Helsing, who figures out there's a vampire involved when Lucy grows fangs and starts trying to drain people dry (Pretty obvious signs.  By the way, Helsing is extremely happy when he figures this out, and it is fantastic to watch Anthony Hopkins chew scenery.). Despite seeing Lucy grow a whole new set of teeth, the others are unconvinced until Helsing drags them into Lucy's tomb and they see her up and about and getting ready to have a small child for dinner!


The movie kicks into high gear here, with John recognizing Dracula on the street, while Mina stands between her husband and Dracula and frantically hopes that Dracula doesn't mention that they've met. Repeatedly and illicitly. The boy's plot to kill a predator while Mina mopes until Dracula shows up in her bedroom one last time and starts the process to turn her into a vampire. After that, the boys, under the leadership of Dr. Helsing, chase Dracula down to his home and almost kill him until Mina jumps in with a rifle to defend him but ends up doing the job herself and declares that it was Dracula's and her love for each other that saved them both.


So what did I like? The cast is great for the most part. Gary Oldman throws himself into the role of Dracula as if immortality is hidden somewhere in the scenery he's chewing. Sir Anthony Hopkins is right there dueling him for each piece with a larger than life performance that shows just how imbalanced Van Helsing is and I love it. Cary Elwes plays Arthur fairly well but I feel he's kinda wasted here and not given enough to do; the same can be said of Billy Campbell playing Quincey Morris. Winona Ryder does her part really well, to the point that I didn't realize that she and Gary Oldman actually were feuding during the filming (Yeeaaaah.). Keanu Reeves is the weakest part of the cast, to be honest, but … Look, guys, I know the kind of shit that Reeves has been through and I know a good amount of the work he's done for other people. Considering this was the 4th film he was performing in without a break and he was still basically a kid, I just can't criticize him too heavily. Maybe that makes me a crappy critic but it is what it is. His English accent in this movie is terrible though. The costuming is amazing, I honestly love it when filmmakers go all out like this (They did proper Victorian fashion for the time period and social class.  I was impressed.). The armor Dracula wears at the beginning is distinctive and sinister enough that you could have used it for a villain in a medieval film and people would have loved it. The Victorian costumes are detailed and signal the kind of characters we're dealing with. The cinematography is a damn dream to behold, the sets are beautiful and move from the nightmarish in tone to solid and safe and to the depths of fever dream as needed by the film. The only problem I have here is that the writing is, honestly kind of lackluster to terrible in quality. I mean the dialogue is well done enough but considering how many lines they lift from the novel completely or borrow from earlier Dracula films (much as I like Oldman's performance, I think Bela delivered the line about never drinking wine a lot better {Oh Yes, absolutely!}) I would argue that the dialogue was the easy part, it was half-written back in 1897! The biggest problem is the plot which is all over the place. Things are brought up, like Dracula buying a number of houses in London and then just dropped. Relationships are suggested like Renfield being the first solicitor sent to Dracula only to go mad. Now if you're John Harker locked in battle against a creature of the night wouldn't it make sense to find his earlier victim and see if you could maybe get some information out of him that would help? Apparently not! Mina's reaction to her “Dark Prince” murdering her best friend? Is basically a shrug and a meh! Which brings me to the dark heart of the problem in my eyes. The romance between Mina and Dracula is frankly something that works better in the Mummy movies (preferably starring Brendan Fraser, come at me Cruise fans!). Now I'll admit the change from brutal assault to forbidden romance is not an invention of this movie but it sticks out because besides this plotline the movie is actually pretty damn faithful to the novel. Vastly more than your average Dracula film. So we end up with a romance that pushes out the rest of the plot and in my view at least diminishes Mina. She goes from a woman who knows exactly what she wants and is a driving force in the plot, to someone who stands on the sidelines for most of it wringing her hands not sure who to support. Instead of being the brains of the outfit, she's sighing over her best friend's murderer and the guy who abused her husband so heavily that his hair turned white (Yeah, this just… it’s problematic in a lot of ways.  Maybe it was okay at first until Lucy died and then she shakes free of the shackles and goes after his head only to be turned anyway?  Or have it be very clear she was being psychically dominated?). Instead of being the one who pointed out that she could be used to divine the Count's movements, she's forced by Helsing to give that information. All these changes make her more passive than she was in a bloody Victorian novel!


So I honestly feel that how you feel about this movie is going to turn on how you feel about the romance plot specifically and the romanticizing of vampires in general. I hate it. Utterly. So it brings down Bram Stoker's Dracula to a C for me as a stand-alone. I would love to grade it higher but the fact is Coppola made the romance plot a pretty big part of the movie so the fact that it still gets a C from me is a testament to the sheer work the actors, customers, and stagehands put in (I’d give it a B, Garvin hates the vampire romance thing in general. {I do, but I do admit it can work in specific circumstances like a new vampire struggling with his new predatory nature for example} I think it can work.  So while I hate the application here, I don’t hate it generally.). As an adaptation, it's actually better than the standard Dracula movie and if you cut out the romance plot, it would actually be pretty close to perfect. So considering that I'm grading on a curve, I suppose it gets a C+ as an adaptation. I imagine that my opposition to the romance plot is going to be unpopular so I encourage y'all to post your own thoughts, defenses, and explanations in the comments or join us on the patron to tell me I'm insane.


I hope you enjoyed the review even if you think I'm insane!  This is a bonus review that the support of our ever-wise patrons makes possible.  If you like this kind of content and would like to see more, consider joining us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads for as little as a dollar a month where you can vote on future reviews, theme months and more!  Join us tomorrow as we have a guest review for the first 3 Castlevania game!  Until then, stay safe and Keep Reading! 


Red Text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen

Black text is your reviewer Garvin Anders


Friday, October 16, 2020

Dracula By Bram Stoker

Dracula
By Bram Stoker​

So here we are, the reason for the Fangsgiving season, the novel that gave rise to everything else we're reviewing this month. Dracula was published on the 26th of May 1897 by Archibald Constable and Company after a contentious couple of months where they whittled down Bram's original story (Dracula's completed official version weighs in at 418 pages so imagine what the first draft was like [Marx’s Kropotkin’s Beard]) but we covered a lot of that last week, so let's jump right into Bram's life. Abraham (Bram) Stoker was born November 8, 1847, in Dublin Ireland. The third of seven children (And they were protestants, not Catholics, which makes this even more surprising.), his father was a civil servant and his mother a charity worker and a writer. It was an open question whether or not Bram would survive his first decade afflicted by a mysterious illness that left him so weak that he wasn't able to even walk until he was seven (There are a few possible causes for this. His father may have been a civil servant, but food prices in Ireland in the 1840s were extremely high thanks to a famine that Jonathan Swift may have written a certain Modest Proposal about. As a result, it’s possible that his mom suffered malnutrition in gestation or picked up an infection which either caused a delay in gross motor development in Bram, or left him with a compromised immune system and thus bed-ridden in early life.{I’ve also had celiacs and asthma suggested, the thing is we simply don’t know.}). His earliest memories were of being carried everywhere and being told stories by his Mother, his favorites were horror stories and his Mother, having survived the 1832 epidemic of cholera in the town of Sligo that killed 1500 people in 6 weeks had plenty to tell him (King Cholera is no joke. Every last one of you needs to say a prayer of thanks to Saint John Snow, father of Epidemiology.). Bram did survive however and focused on strengthening himself so by the time he went to Trinity College in Dublin, in the year 1864, he was a celebrated athlete, winning awards for weight lifting and playing soccer and rugby. He was also known as a great debater, often defending poets like Whitman and getting involved in the literature scene of the college. He graduated with honors and a degree in mathematics in 1870. It was here that he became a huge fan of the American poet, Walt Whitman and through a series of letters established a friendship that would last until Whitman's death; with Whitman even leaving some of his work to Bram in his will (Awwwww! Also, it is worth noting that Walt Whitman was definitely gay, and this will be important later.). He then went into civil service like his father, working in Dublin Castle, but his passion was in theater and he became an unpaid local writer for the Dublin Evening Mail as a theater critic. He also wrote short stories, publishing “The Crystal Cup” in 1872 and in 1879 wrote a manual for his job The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland.

Bram's life took a dramatic turn when Henry Irving, the most famous actor in the British Isles at the time, asked Bram to be his personal manager and to manage London's Lyceum Theatre in 1878. This was a great thing for Bram for two reasons: first of all, he was a huge fan of Mr. Irving's work; second of all, there was Ms. Florence Anne Lemon Balcombe soon to be Stoker to be considered (Here we go!). This is a story in and of itself. So let's talk about Florence for a bit here. She was born July 17, 1858, in Cornwall to Lt. Col James Balcombe and Phillippa Anne Marshall. She was widely considered the most beautiful woman in Dublin if not Ireland, with Prime Minister Gladstone referring to her as “the beauty” and society magazines lauding her for her grace, wit, charm, and manners (I bet she was secretly yearning to break free of the fucking whalebone corset…). On top of all that when Stoker met her... She was dating Oscar Wilde. Yes, that Oscar Wilde. Oscar had told her he planned to propose but then ran off to Oxford and stopped writing to her (I mean… Look, Oscar Wild definitely played for both teams, and he didn’t have a monogamous bone in his body for any definition of bone possible. He was likely terrified of the prospect of marriage at that time.{Then he should have bloody well told her! Ghosting her after showering her with gifts and promises was damn cruel!} I certainly don’t disagree there. So many god damned manchildren.). This is where Bram showed up and in a whirlwind romance marriage proposed to her. To make this even worse? Oscar and Bram were buddies, Bram had gotten Oscar membership in Trinity's Philosophical Society when he was its President. So he bloody well knew how Oscar felt but then he also knew that Oscar was completely taking her for granted. This also meant Florence and Bram knew each other pretty well before the romance started. Faced with a choice between a guy who paid attention to her and had a paying job in London where she would have an inside track to society and a guy who was penniless and hadn't spoken to her in months... She married Bram in December of 1878. Oscar Wilde was completely melodramatic about it, demanding she return a gold cross with his name on it and sending her a set of anonymous flowers in a too little, too late gesture but eventually got over it and became a friend of the family…(Look, under those conditions, there’s a certain performative melodrama you have to do…{I was going to argue this but then I realized we were talking about Oscar “head drama llama” Wilde} Plus if he didn’t protest, people would be suspicious.) Until he got arrested for being gay. We'll get to that (Not yet! [Oh come on!]). If anything I'd say this is a lesson in not taking your girl/boy for granted and make sure you talk to the people in your life! Otherwise... They might find their own Bram Stoker.

Florence and Bram had a son, named Irving Noel Thornley Stoker, so the boy was named after his uncle (Thornley Stoker) and his dad's boss. Bram would act as Irving's manager for 27 years, writing as many as 50 letters a day for his boss while also writing a series of Gothic horror novels. This was a high time for him, he was part of London high society and met James Whistler and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Florence became noted for her charity work and as a hostess for society while her evening social events became well known for being attended by notable intellectuals and artists. Among them Bram's sister Matilda, who was a noted artist and would come and stay with the Stokers for long periods. She would also stay and keep Florence company on the times that Mr. Irving would take Bram off on travels (We’ll get to this later). Although there were many trips where Bram prevailed on Mr. Irving to let him bring Florence with him. This was where Bram got to visit the United States repeatedly and met Walt Whitman face to face (Excuse me as I cough significantly). In fact, it's been suggested that some of Dracula's appearance is modeled on an elder Whitman. Bram published his first work Snake Pass in 1890; now most of his books were first drafts that he didn't put a lot of time into once the story was complete. Dracula on the other hand, spent 7 years on, where he would research European folklore and stories about vampires. Although he claimed the original inspiration was a bad dream brought about by eating bad crab meat. Now at this time Vampire stories were creeping into the public notice, the first English vampire story was written in 1797, under the title of The Bride of Corinth, Carmilla, another vampire classic was written in 1871. A novel simply called The Vampyre had been released by John Polidori, who came up with it while staying with Lord Byron and the Shelly's one hot (for ambiguous definitions thereof) June night. In fact, it was the same night that Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein. Bram seemed determined to create a novel grounded in real geography and in the modern-day however and for the most part, he succeeded.

Of course, it wasn't all good things. This period saw the end of Oscar and Bram's friendship, as it was discovered that Oscar was in a romantic relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas and was sentenced to two years of hard labor. This led to Bram publically demanding that all homosexual writers in England be punished (Because he had to, or suspicion would land on him, and just like they did with Wilde, I have a sneaky suspicion they would have proved it.). This is a bit strange as Walt Whitman was also widely suspected to be gay (He absolutely was.), in fact, Oscar Wilde insisted that Witman was and Edward Carpenter, an early socialist poet, and gay rights activist, would claim to have a sexual encounter with him (I believe him). For example, Leaves of Grass was often considered pornographic or obscene. Suspicion was often aimed at Whitman, but Stoker defended his poems and skill until his dying day. This has led to a lot of questions about Bram's conduct and the reasons for it. This was brought to a head in the book, The Man Who Wrote Dracula by Bram's grand nephew Daniel Farson. Mr. Farson would portray a loveless, sexless marriage with a frigid Florence who lived miserably in London while Bram bounced from gay affair to gay affair. He claimed that he gathered all of this from the Stoker family, all of whom denied ever discussing a thing with him (Which they would. Though it is possible that both stories are kinda right. This presumes that Florence was lonely, for instance. She can be rather happy and even fond of her bisexual husband while’s he’s off getting to know Walt Whitman if they have an… arrangement. Say, involving Bram’s possibly bisexual sister. You think I am writing fanfic here? It’s circumstantial, but Matilda was a Victorian woman who as far as I know very much voluntarily didn’t marry until her 40s, and then married a French diplomat in his 50s. And we already know that Bram was perfectly fine - at least - with all the gays, mandatory denouncement notwithstanding.{It’s certainly possible and there’s circumstantial evidence for it at the very least. Although I got to point out all his meetings with Whitman were in public so I doubt that Bram and Whitman specifically ever had a physical relationship. As for Farson...}). This is further complicated by Mr. Farson painting Irving Stoker as an unwanted and unloved child, which was widely rejected by people who knew the Stokers. In Mr. Farson's later book Never a Normal Man, it is revealed that his own relations with his parents were not great and he often felt neglected. Now I'm going to get back to this but I'm going to ask y'all to remember this as we'll get back to this point. Back on the literary front, Bram's work would never approach the height of Dracula again. Although his mummy story The Jewel of the Seven Stars is considered a good effort and his nonfiction Reminiscences of Henry Irving in 1906 was well received. Some of his later work like the Lair of the White Worm is noted as declining in quality, in fact, leading some people to suggest that the illness that killed him was longer than is publicly known. What we do know is that his health declined sharply in the first decade of the 1900s and by 1912 Bram Stoker had passed away. What killed him isn't really known. Some claim tertiary syphilis, others claim he was the victim of a series of strokes and there's also the claim that Stoker just died of exhaustion after 3 decades of burning the candle at both ends (Literally any of these things are reasonable. A dalliance with any gender 30 years prior can give you tertiary syphilis.{Sure but it’s just as likely that some untreated asthma from his childhood flaring up combined with a Pulmonary embolism or stroke could have done it. Hell, he could have had his immune system weakening due to age and the garbage environment he was living in on top of untreated asthma. I actually had a talk with some mutual acquaintances of ours and they said that it could literally be dozens of things or combinations of them. So I can’t put too much weight on syphilis, especially given that your average Victorian House was 30% poison by weight} That is certainly true. They had no safety standards at all, for anything.). What we do know from Bram's own writings is that Florence dropped everything in a frantic effort to nurse him back to health and Bram ordered that his body be cremated quickly after his death. Which was incredibly odd for the Victorian period.

Florence would outlive her husband for 25 years and defend the copyright to Dracula with all the power and swiftness of a rabid honey badger (Honey Badger don’t care! Honey Badger don’t give a shit!). While she was happy to grant the rights to produce plays based on the novel, provided she was asked and the estate got it's due and to publish any unearthed work she found (like Dracula's Guest) she did demand that nothing be produced without her permission. That created enemies, especially when she was willing to go to court and call the cops on people she knew were abusing Dracula's copyright. When the German film Nosferatu premiered and proved to be basically a bootleg version of Dracula, Florence went to bloody war to set an example. She not only bankrupted the filming company but demanded that every copy of the print be given over to her and she burnt them to send a message. This did not make her popular and she was often gossiped about in cruel terms, although she had many defenders. Which leads me to where I think the rumors of her being frigid or hateful come from, right here. Because these are the kinds of rumors men spread about a woman who defeats them (This, exactly.). Frankly, I wonder how many the rumors about the Stoker marriage come from this period as some folks bitter that they could have a free lunch started gossiping. In 1927 she did grant the rights for a series of plays and Universal studios would buy the film rights, which would lead to the classic 1931 Dracula starring Bela Lugosi. She would pass away in 1929 and have her body cremated and her ashes mixed with Bram's. The rest is history. Now, this is just the shallow end of the Stoker pool folks, sadly we aren't going to be able to discuss things like Bram Stoker's sister in law Emily who was committed and may have provided a model for Reinfield's general behavior in the book for lack of space. Just be aware that I've only scratched the surface of what was going on in the Stoker family during Bram's life and in the period shortly after his death. Now at long last let's turn to the novel.

Dracula is told in an epistolary format, which means it's presented in a series of documents. In the case of Dracula, it uses journal entries and letters as the main method but also has ship logs and newspaper articles to communicate events to the reader that the main characters would be unaware of. This is a format with a lot of strengths and weaknesses. It can allow you to insert knowledge that your main characters wouldn't know without tipping the antagonist's hand too much, it allows you to switch narrators pretty easily, as well as use this to show the same event from different viewpoints or use an unreliable narrator when needed. It also allows you to insert different ideas or world views into the story simply by switching characters. It can also be used to enforce realism by using outside sources like newspaper articles, radio broadcasts, or even recently blog posts to enforce what the main characters are saying. This is also done by having more than one character repeat the events since most readers will unconsciously assume that they all can't be lying. It can however rob your story of some dramatic tension as anyone writing about their experience clearly survived to do so and it creates additional work for the writer as you have to pay attention to the voice of each character. If you're not careful, each character starts to sound the same and readers will blur the characters together (While this is true, it is likely easier to use this format than to use First Person unlimited, because the documentary format lets your brain switch modes between characters.). It can also cause a sense of being somewhat removed from the plot as you're not “seeing” the events as you would in a 3rd person or 1st person narrative but are being “told” about them. This tends to reduce the dramatic weight of action and at times can make it difficult to add depth to the characters. Mr. Stoker can avoid this by having characters whose viewpoint we never see be major characters in the plot, as well as cutting off journal entries at strategic points and switching viewpoints at moments in the story to rack up the tension. For example, John Harker's journal entries cut off for a while when he decides to make an escape attempt from Castle Dracula and we instead jump over to Mina and Lucy back in England and are left wondering whatever became of poor old Harker? Actually, before I start throwing names at you, let's go over our characters. Now fair warning, I'm going to spoil the hell out of a book that is by my count about 123 years old so... I think you've had plenty of time to read it.

John Harker is actually the first viewpoint character of the story, which is mostly shared through his journal entries, as well as Mina and John Steward's and to a lesser extent Lucy and Van Helsing. He's a lad of no family but has managed to impress his employer Peter with his diligence, intelligence, and work ethic. John has recently become a full-fledged Solicitor, which in the United Kingdom is a type of lawyer. In the English legal system, they traditionally dealt with a wide range of legal matters but were required to get another kind of lawyer called a barrister to advocate in a high court (Think of the solicitor as the family lawyer, while the barrister is the hired gun.). At this point and time in the United Kingdom barristers didn't deal with the public directly, you hired a Solicitor who hired a barrister for you. Solicitors were also used as legal representatives by the wealthy and powerful for most of their business and legal concerns allowing them to avoid being seen engaged in the middle-class occupation of trade (Gotta love that class-stratification.). At the start of the book, John has actually just become a Solicitor and his job is to head off to Transylvania to complete a real estate deal with Count Dracula. That's right, poor John is just a real estate agent in the wrong place and time (Real Estate Lawyer, to be fair.). John is in a lot of ways the perfect Victorian gentleman: he's modest, polite, wants to do a good job, and avoids any overt display of gaudiness. John is very much the motivated hunter of the group, often pushing further than others will go due to his personal stake in the hunt. We see this as he's often the first to attack Dracula, often willing to engage the vampire head-on. He's also a bit of a racist as he disregards the various warnings of the locals not to go to Castle Dracula but not so racist that he refuses the crucifix that he's given although he grumbles to himself that he's giving in to idolatry. To be fair to him, he also fully admits that those locals knew what they were talking about and maybe he should listen the next time a quaint little peasant tells him that a place is dangerous (Which makes him better than most of the rest of his social strata at the time.). I tend to think his biggest character flaw is falling apart after a crisis has passed. Don't get me wrong, he's great in a dangerous situation, when imprisoned he operates with a clear head, recognizing his danger and making the decisions he needs to escape but as soon as he thinks he's safe he has a mental breakdown and forgets everything! We also see that he's a bit sexist but not as sexist as we should expect as he doesn't raise a fuss about his wife traveling alone or her being involved in his future vampire slaying activities up to her dainty elbows. (Well that’s progress for the Victorians!)

That wife would be Mina Murray Harker, Mina is an assistant schoolmistress who is head over heels in love with John. When he heads off to unknowingly stick his head into the undead lion's mouth, she heads out to visit her much wealthier friend Lucy because school is closed for the summer. Mina is the most organized of the group and capable of gathering together information from a lot of different sources and boiling it down to its actionable points (It’s almost like she’s a teacher or something.). In fact, out of all the group, she's the one who knows the full story as she's the one who reads everyone else's journals and letters. She was the one who made the decision to read John's journal of his time at Castle Dracula after hearing what happened to Lucy and realizing she had critical need-to-know information, got it to Van Helsing so he could operate with all the information he needed. She also performs a lot of emotional labor for the group (Because of course, she does.), as she's the one who comforts the men when they're mourning Lucy and is the person the men decide to protect at all costs. She's also the one who nurses John Harker back to health during his mental breakdown after he escapes Castle Dracula. Of course, they fail to protect her because they stop listening to her and it's interesting how in the novel their ability to fight Dracula goes downhill when they aren't listening to what she tells them (I feel like there is a lesson here.). She is also Dracula's second major victim that we know of in England. Now in the novel, there is no romance or personal reason for Dracula's attack, it's a purely tactical move on the vampire's part. Mina additionally doesn't show any sign of attraction or desire towards Dracula but is repelled and deeply upset at what Dracula has done to her. I'll talk about this more when I discuss the 1992 film, however. Mina's also the only one who seems in any way shape or form aware of operational security at times (Jesus she is surrounded by idiot manchildren). I mean granted the rest of the group doesn't run around London screaming at the top of their lungs what they're doing but Mina's the one who has to tell them that if they can use her to see into Dracula's mind, he can do that with her so they can't tell her anything. It's moments like this in the book that lead me to ask how the hell did Victorian gentlemen ever manage to run the world, even considering that they did a rather poor job of it (Because they used the blunt instrument of the army and piles of money.). Seriously if anything is holding back Mina here, it's the insistence of the men around her that she not use her gifts to the fullest. While she's given a lot more freedom and recognition than I expected, she's often relegated to sitting at home waiting for the menfolk which is what in the end made her an easy target (This is why we have Solidarity here on the left, people. Those who get left out get victimized and make you weaker. It is why the IWW was militantly anti-racist in its organizing waaay before it was cool.). Still, there are books written in 1960 that do a worse job so maybe I shouldn't be too harsh here.

Lucy Westenra is a minor viewpoint character and is Dracula's first known English victim, a bright, beautiful, and sweet lady who is proposed to by three men on the same day. She makes the difficult decision to marry the heir to a local lordship and become a lady instead of marrying a doctor who runs an insane asylum or a Texan adventurer (The men then all swear to be bros forever. It is remarkably mature of them.). Lucy draws Dracula's attention because she's sleepwalking and he's able to call her out of her home for the first attack and get her to open the way to him in the following nights. Lucy is frankly a sacrificial victim in this novel. She doesn't get a lot of time in the story and when we do get to see her viewpoint, it's mostly one where she is confused and deeply frightened of what is happening to her. Her characterization isn't deep but I'm not sure what can be done given that she spends most of her time in the book, you know... Dying (I mean…). Her suffering, death, and undead state however serve to bring in Helsing and united Seward, Arthur, and Quincey. Her friendship with Mina serves as a method to bring in the Harkers and hammer together this little band of crusaders. She is also the first vampire that Seward, Arthur, and Quincey see and serves as proof of Dracula's unnatural unlife and his dark powers.

Seward is the third and last major viewpoint character. A suitor of Lucy's who gets turned down, rather than be bitter about the whole thing, he, Arthur, and Quincey swear to be brothers and friends. This honestly is a great reaction and I liked it (Homosexuality aside, I feel like this reflects Stoker’s own experience with, you know… Oscar Wilde.). Seward is a doctor focused on treating various mental conditions (A really primitive psychiatrist. Holy Fuck were they primitive back then. Like, women with depression just needed to get their rocks off, and the doctor would help, kind of primitive. Here, have some more morphine, it’s good for you! {To be fair Seward tries to talk to his patients and reason them through their issues, which is better then repeatedly shocking them in a tub of cold water}) and his main focus is figuring out the problems of Renfield, a man who suffers under the delusion that if he eats something alive that he gets the creature's life force, adding to his vitality and span of years. While Dr. Seward labors under the primitive nature of Victorian healthcare, he at least attempts to maintain a non-hostile relationship with his patient trying to draw him out through talk therapy for the most part and reason him out of his delusion. Seward is very much in love with doing things the new way, for example, he doesn't write in a journal, he records his own voice by the phonograph, forgetting that without labeling the recordings he has no way of knowing what information is kept in which (Oh dear…). What's interesting is that he is very much a man of science and is a skeptic of the supernatural but is the first to be convinced by the evidence that Van Helsing has to show him (Well yeah, I mean, if you show me evidence of vampires that is compelling, I will alter my worldview accordingly without missing a beat. I will then become ComradeTortoise, the Communist Vampire Slayer: Blood-sucking isn’t just for capitalists anymore.). He serves as both the medic of the group and as Van Helsing's apprentice, absorbing the lore and lessons. We learn these right alongside him, so in a lot of ways, he's our gateway to the world of vampire hunting. Arthur and Quincey are very much supporting characters. We don't get their viewpoints in the story, their roles are both to provide brute force and resources to the group. Although Arthur is given depth by his grief for Lucy and the fact that he's dealing with losing his bride and his father all in the same week (Yeeesh). He's also able to provide the most authority in the group via his noble title but honestly seems careful not to abuse it. Quincey on the flip side is the world-wise adventurer, brave to a fault to the point of being right beside John Harker when it's time to charge the immortal blood-drinking demon with the strength of 20 men armed with nothing but knives. He's rasher than Seward or Arthur, more prone to give promises, although I'll point out in the book, Quincey keeps every promise he makes. No matter what the personal cost to himself.

Abraham Van Helsing is the voice of experience and the commander of this unit. Originally brought over to treat Lucy's mysterious blood loss, he arranges the transfusions that keep her alive long enough for him to realize he's in a duel with a creature of the night. It's Helsing who initiates Dr. Seward and the others into the grim world of hunting monsters. It's him who upon realizing that the Harkers already have experience and with the same vampire that they're hunting, brings them all together for one purpose. Helsing is here to kill Dracula or die trying. His past is mysterious, we know from his comments that he is married but his wife is lost to him, most likely from mental illness (possibly caused by some past brush with the monstrous?) and he is well known for his study in obscure diseases and topics arcane and on the very edge of science (Something creepy probably did drive his wife insane. Kinda has to be personal to go from doctor to monster hunter.). A lot of the book plays out as a series of moves and counter moves between Helsing and Dracula as Dracula attempts to outmaneuver Helsing and Helsing tries to pin down the bloodsucker and kill him. Van Helsing is given a very idiosyncratic voice partly due to being Dutch in a crew of English folks and the fact that he often seems near-insane himself (I mean…). So his grammar and word choices are very individualistic compared to the other characters and can take some time to puzzle out. In the book, we see him have several bouts of what I can only call hysterics either through near mad laughter or weeping. He only really does this in front of Dr. Seward. This leads to an interesting split as John and Mina see Van Helsing as an all-wise and resolute commander but Dr. Seward is often left asking just how damaged his mentor and father figure is and just what is it in the past that led to this? (He breaks down in front of his psychiatrist student as a cry for help, but unfortunately, all he can expect is a hug and tincture of laudanum. Even Dr. Seward knows that Cocaine would likely be counter-productive. {Dr. Van Helsing on Cocaine would be terrifying, suddenly Dracula isn’t the apex predator of London anymore!}) I think Mr. Stoker was trying to hint at the idea that Van Helsing had hunted and slain other monsters in the past and was not left unscathed by these events. I do find it interesting that while the threat in Dracula is foreign, so is salvation. Because it's Van Helsing who brings the group the information and skills they need to win and he does so from beyond the green shores of England.

Dracula himself is a huge presence in the novel, which you would hope so, the book being named after him and all. However, we never get any chapters in his viewpoint and his goals and desires can only be inferred by his actions. The book does make it clear through his actions that Dracula is a proficient planner and tactical operator (He’s an immortal. Van Helsing is not his first vampire hunter.). He doesn't set up one lair in England, he sets up almost a dozen. He doesn't just disappear John Harker, he sets it up to look like he starts on his way home but disappears on the way back removing himself from suspicion. He kills Lucy and turns her to both create a minion and a distraction from his own actions. In fact, we get so focused on vampire Lucy's actions that we have no idea if Dracula killed anyone else in England. When the group begins attacking him in an organized way, he strikes directly at Mina. This both demoralizes the group and robs them of one of their most intelligent members. Worse, since it takes them several days to even realize he's doing it, Dracula can use Mina as an intelligence conduit right into his enemies' inner counsels and no one the wiser! Again the book has me questioning how the hell did Victorian Gentlemen ever manage to run the world? (Just be glad Dracula isn’t Russian. He’d be playing maskirovka games with them.) When he no longer has a secure base of operations in enemy territory he escapes and heads back to his homeland to rebuild his forces for another attempt. Even though he only engages John Harker in conversation in the book, he manages to have a dramatic and at times brutal impact on every character in the novel. I am left thinking that there was some greater purpose for Dracula coming to London, if all he wanted was a larger and wealthier hunting ground, after all, he could have gone to cities in Germany, Sweden, or Italy (Or even just… Budapest or Bucharest). Instead, he went to the one place that could be argued was the capital of the world and certainly the capital of the greatest power in western civilization at the time. So I am left wondering... What was Dracula's ultimate purpose?

Dracula does a great job of creating a memorable plot with a rising sense of danger and horror throughout the book. The book uses the epistolary format to full effect and is still able to give us some rather well-done action scenes. There are however weaknesses, first, off I think modern readers would find the language a little silted and the characters strange and a bit unconvincing. This is an effect of the past being a foreign country in some ways. Simply put the people of 1897 don't think, speak, or act like us and if you're not prepared for that it might damage your suspension of disbelief. The characterization isn't awful, each character has a clear distinct character with different flaws and virtues but it is rather thin. The most complex characters are Van Helsing and John Harker. Mina, while a good character isn't that complex, she's smart, a devoted wife, and an all-around good person. Quincey is brave, loyal and rash, reckless, and so on and so forth. Dracula, our villain, is slain at the end and left an utter mystery to the reader. Which I think is part of the appeal and what carried the character forward. Because we only see him as others see him and have no idea what he was really intending it is easy for the reader to project what they want to see into Dracula. Also while I don't get the erotic appeal that is often brought up, I do get Dracula to a lesser extent. He's a figure of power and authority but is utterly unbound by social rules or restrictions. Able to move through society but not in any way beholden or controlled by it. He can simply take what he wants, without regard for any law or morals. There's an attraction there that I can understand and I think anyone can really. This is only enhanced by Mr. Stroker's actions to ground Dracula in a real-time and place while giving him the immortality to transcend that time and place making him feel real, but leaving him a possible threat to you, no matter when and where you're reading this. I honestly think it's the character of Dracula that gives this novel its legs. Not that the heroes are awful but most of them could easily be replaced (and have been in a number of adaptations) and you don't really lose anything but you need Dracula. I'm giving Dracula by Bram Stoker a B. The weaknesses remain but the story remains compelling and worth the read and deserves its longevity.

So this is a super long review and I want to say thanks for sticking with us all the way. Fangsgiving was a decision made by our ever-wise patrons to explore Dracula over a month of reviews. If you'd like to have a voice in future discussions on future reviews and theme months, join us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads  Join us Sunday for a bonus review of the 1992 Dracula film by Francis Ford Coppola. Monday we will have a guest review by Mr. Davis on the first 3 games of the Castlevania video game series. Until then, stay safe and as always Keep Reading!

Red text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen
Normal text is your reviewer Garvin Anders