What It Is…
That today’s science and medical technologies were once only figments in the realm of the fantastic is something we all know but often take for granted. For instance, everyone knows the name “Frankenstein”, the doctor and the cadaverous namesake it represents, but details of the idea’s inception are lost in time to the public at large. Science Channel remedies that with a new series focusing specifically on the writers who imagined a future that in many instances has come to pass. “Prophets of Science Fiction” is presented by producer/director Ridley Scott who, as the creator of such modern Sci-Fi classics as “Alien” and “Blade Runner”, is totally at home in the genre. He uses his on-screen time to tie the strands of biographical and technological information – presented by numerous interviewees and graphic sources – into a cohesive package. The format has the feel of two of my favorite BBC series James Burke’s “Connections” and “The Day The Universe Changed”. Those shows presented the lineage of invention through seemingly disparate thought threads and varied serendipities which rendered unexpected and ingenious outcomes.
Episode 1 Preview – Mary Shelly
As the de facto mother of science fiction literature Mary Shelly is the natural subject of the premiere episode. Only a teenager in 1816 when she began her novel as a challenge to out scare her husband Percy and their summer companions Dr. John Polidori and Lord Byron, Mary imagined the story which became “Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus” when completed two years later.
At first published anonymously, Shelly went on to embrace her authorship and bid her “hideous progeny go forth and prosper”. Prosper it did with multiple editions in her lifetime and innumerable adaptations and co-optings in the nearly two centuries since. Even the story’s genesis during that “haunted summer” at Lake Geneva has been explored on film as the stylish Victorian prologue to James Whale’s 1935 “Bride of Frankenstein and the psychosis of Ken Russell’s “Gothic”.
As prescient as she was it’s unlikely Mrs. Shelly could have foreseen Frankenberry breakfast cereal or Herman Munster as she formulated her tale of science gone wrong cloaked in the stench of the charnel house.
The episode explores the science fact of “Frankenstein” from the early electrical experiments of Luigi Galvani to Dr. Reggie Edgerton’s spinal cord research and looks at the work of the Human Genome Project and genetic cartographers, as well as those on a quest to create artificial intelligence. L.A. Chief Coroner Harvey describes the “gray area” between somatic death and molecular death and the harvesting of tissue and organs for transplant.
On the creative side Shelly biographers relate how the teenager’s personal experiences; her mother’s death after her birth; familial alienation; and the loss of her own first born, filter their way into the story, often in the personality of “the monster”. The subtext being a tale of parental abandonment.
The series premieres tonight (Nov 9, 2011) on Science Channel @ 10PM EST.
Ahh, a series after my own heart. Something to truly relish. I am and have always been fascinated with process vs. product, often more interested in reading the biography of an author than their actual works. “Prophets of Science Fiction” brings to light the personal and contemporaneous catalysts of these visionary creators and nicely interpolates the historical and fictional with the latter day science they prognosticated. I’m very much looking forward to upcoming episodes highlighting H.G. Wells, Isac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein, Jules Verne, and even “newbie” George Lucas.
How about a similar spin on horror writers like Lovecraft, Poe, Bierce, Blackwood and King hosted by the likes of John Carpenter, Wes Craven or George Romero.
(Guest Editor Adriana “Andy” Melendez returns with her look at the premiere issue of a new graphic novel series.)
House of Night
On Wednesday, November 9th, Dark Horse Comics brings you the first installment in their adaptation of “House of Night,” based on the series of books penned by mother/daughter writing duo P.C. and Kristin Cast.
What It Is…
Ever since Joss Whedon gave us “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” teen angst and the supernatural have become inextricably entwined in the land of young adult fiction.
Enter Zoey Redbird, a 16-year-old, like Buffy, reluctant to answer her own calling. In a world where Vampyres (yes, spelled with a Y), Witches and Goddesses all exist, she must learn to embrace and develop her powers, all the while navigating the usual drama of school, bullies, friends, and a budding romance. However, Zoey’s school is a bit different from most; she attends a “Potter-esque” Vampyre Academy, where she must learn to hone her craft, as she begins her transformation into a “creature of the night” herself. As Joss would say, it’s another allegory for adolescence and the horrors of High School.
Been there, done that. But what sets “House of Night” apart from the others, and that which piqued my curiosity, is the way authors P.C. and Kristin Cast (joined by Kent Dalian for the graphic novel) manage to weave in elements of mysticism, mythology and lessons on spiritual growth throughout the plot. It will be interesting to see how these elements develop in further issues.
The allure of the supernatural, the idea of a realm “beyond the veil,” fascinates most of us. Of course, like the world of comic book heroes, we find that hidden world (a world beautifully illustrated by artists Joëlle Jones, Karl Kerschl and Jenny Frison) and the promise of power difficult to resist. Sadly, what I notice in popular teen fiction, is how it often discards the concept of consequences and finding balance when it comes to power. In my humble opinion, there should be more lessons on growth and spirituality and “be careful what you wish for.” I’d be curious to see if “House of Night” continues down this path.
I get what “House of Night” is going for, but never having read the books, I found the first issue, although interesting and definitely able to hook a teen audience, a bit disjointed. However, if you’re a fan of L.J. Smith’s “Vampire Diaries” or the “Secret Circle” series, as well as “Twilight,” there may be something for you here.
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At this moment in time, over one hundred years after its first publication, “Dracula” is so ingrained in the cultural conscious that it seems hard to imagine a time when the tale of the blood quaffing Count did not exist. In its seven year gestation the story began life as a stage play with the choice role intended for the actor Henry Irving whom author Abraham (Bram) Stoker revered and managed. Bram was crestfallen when Irving passed on mounting the play but completed his vision as a novel which has never been out of print since. The eventual adaption of the book via stage and film versions has since made Count Dracula a familiar character to nearly everyone on the planet.
“Dracula, The Vampire and the Voivode”, a documentary DVD from Virgil Films and Walking Shadows, is an enjoyable look at both the mythological entity of Stoker’s imagination and the actual historical figure, Vlad Tepes, who has become intwined with it. Part biography and part travelogue it serves as an excellent visual companion to Dracula overviews like David J Skal’s “Hollywood Gothic” and Florescu & McNally’s “In Search of Dracula”, though it stands to refute some of the assumptions of the latter. The film was written and directed by Michael Bayley Hughes.
Viewers are taken on a scenic jaunt through the areas of the world intrinsically tied to the lives of author Stoker and Voivode (Prince) Vlad, as well as key sights described in the book including the 199 church steps in Whitby, England and the town of Bistrita where Jonathan Harker spends the night before his trip to Castle Dracula. We also see The Stoker’s residence at 27 Cheyne Walk in London’s Chelsea section (neighborhood of contemporary author Oscar Wilde and one hundred years later Rolling Stone Keith Richards), and Bram’s family home in Dublin Ireland where he spent a sickly childhood.
Throughout the film members of worldwide Stoker and Dracula societies lend their scholarship and insights to the settings. I was fascinated to hear commentator Tina Rath suggest that Pre-Raphaelite Artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s scandalous exhumation of his wife Lizzie (nee Siddal), in order to retrieve a book of poems he buried with her, likely became tied to Lucy Westenra’s exhumation/staking, as well as a plot point in another of Stoker’s stories, “The Secret of the Growing Gold”. Transylvanian Society of Dracula President Nicolae Paduraru describes the finer points of the folkloric stregoi, a ghostly “negative emanation from the grave”, versus the physical figure of the vampire and their cultural lines of demarcation.
From the Land Beyond, Beyond…
The film also candidly deals with the dichotomy of historical veracity versus bottom line tourism necessitated in post communist Transylvania, the “land beyond the forest”. In actuality, Stoker never visited that part of the world but instead relied heavily on travel tomes by authors like Emily Gerard, the wife of a Romanian army officer who spent two years there, for his information. Combining a freewheeling imagination with his civil service skills for cataloging and description, Stoker’s interpolation of folklore, sense of place, and creative license has led to many fact versus fiction conundrums, which the documentary attempts to untangle. As we see commerce often trumps accuracy. The building of a tourist placebo, the Stoker inspired Castle Dracula hotel, at the Borgo Pass in Romania is just one example of the life imitating art circumstances that have followed in the story’s path.
On the down side, the DVD is without marked scene selections, so navigating for specific repeat play is daunting and it seems a shame its vistas are presented in 4:3 aspect ratio rather than widescreen. The “bonus slide show” is superfluous at best, giving an unfortunate “sell-through” feel to what is otherwise an excellent product.
Ah, Fall has arrived and it was fun to get the witching season off to such a great start. Minus the few missteps mentioned above, I wholeheartedly enjoyed this dual biography, especially the description of Stoker’s writing process and the “where ideas came from” points of view. In fact it led me to purchase a copy of “Bram Stoker’s Notes for Dracula” as transcribed and annotated by Robert Eighteen-Bisang & Elizabeth Miller. I can recommend the film for both its historical depth and entertainment value as an addition to the video libraries of vampire aficionados and novices alike.
Just a heads up that Adriana “Andy” Melendez and I will be covering the Dark Shadows Festival in Brooklyn NYC tomorrow (August 19th, 2011). Information on the weekend long convention can be found here. Expect pix and words from us in the coming week.
In the meantime, the folks at Hermes Press gave us the OK to afford you a sneak peek at the “Dark Shadows Story Digest”, which reprints a long lost DS collector’s item with some nice extras. It will be available for the first time at the convention. Andy’s review of this new release can be found here.
Hermes Press will be at the show on Friday and Saturday also featuring the first two volumes of their sumptuous Gold Key Comics reprints “Dark Shadows: The Original Series” at a discount for convention attendees.
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(Editor’s Note: Please welcome guest editor Adriana “Andy” Melendez to the SkeletonPete blog. On her first visit she offers a view of the recently published reprint of Gold Key’s Dark Shadows Story Digest. She’ll be back with us regularly to lend her expertise in all things vampiric, anglophilic and episodic.)
“The one you seek is here,” she said, “I do not know why he has returned through the shades of time to trouble me, but he is here and he must be destroyed!”
Hermes Press resurrects one of television’s all-time favorite anti-heroes, the repentant vampire, Barnabas Collins, with a reprint of the Dark Shadows story, “Interrupted Voyage” written by Donald J. Arneson. This digest was first printed back in 1970 as part of a series of stories released by Gold Key Comics.
What it is…
When I think of “Interrupted Voyage” I recall the 1980 sci-fi film “Somewhere in Time” starring Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve as tragic, star-crossed lovers from two different times — only with zombies, witches and vampires!
While attempting to escape the clutches of his spurned lover, the evil witch, Angélique Bouchard, Barnabas Collins pledges to save two young lovers from the curse of time that separates them, only to put his own life and immortal soul in peril by doing so. Can Barnabas save Annabella and her fiancée Michael from another witch, the raven-haired Calandra, while avoiding the curse Angélique has placed upon him?
Set in Salem, Massachusetts during the height of the hysteria of the infamous witch trials, “Interrupted Voyage” uses this backdrop to full effect, complete with suspicious, torch-bearing, angry villagers. This story often brings to mind some of the popular fanzines and fanfic stories I’ve seen in the last few decades, using both prose and illustrations by comic book artist Joe Certa to engage the reader.
Melodramatic at times and over the top, perhaps, even a bit camp… but that’s what Dark Shadows does best, mixing the supernatural – tales of ghosts and witches, with romance, and yes, even time travel, all with a heightened sense of drama. It pushes the boundaries of disbelief and makes you want to believe in that other world… the world beyond the veil. It’s a world where you can rewrite a wrong, find and reclaim a lost love and erase your deepest regrets. It’s a world where anything is possible and good can triumph over evil.
In spite of some niggling bits here and there — for example, the overuse of “dark shadows” to describe… well… just about everything that is vaguely mysterious or foreboding, as well as the plodding pace, I can forgive it. “Interrupted Voyage” is of its time and very much follows the formula of the original Dark Shadows serial. Perhaps it’s my nostalgic love for the 1960s gothic-horror TV series created by the late Dan Curtis, but I can see this story working quite well on screen.