BOOK REVIEWS




VAMPIRES ON VIDEO
by J. Gordon Melton
(Visible Ink Press, 1997, £15.95; U.S.:$17.95)

Compiled by Dr. J. Gordon Melton, author of The Vampire Book, this is an A-Z guide to over 600 vampire-related movies from around the world (not all actually available on video, despite the title.) At first glance this is a must-have item for any aficionado of celluloid vampires. Unfortunately for those hoping for something a bit more serious and well-researched, it's written in a disappointingly jokey style with a lot of 'humorous' photo captions reminiscent of old monster mags like Mad Monsters.

What's worse is that the text is riddled with glaring errors. For instance, the great Basil Rathbone gets a mention as George Rathbone! A still from 'The Blood Splattered Bride', a Spanish version of Carmilla, identifies the actress playing Carmilla, Alexandra Bastedo (Miss Eurovision Song Contest herself!), as Maribel Martin, who actually plays her victim. To add to the confusion, Maribel's name is spelt differently on the opposite page. Similarly, Jimmy Sangster did not write the screenplay of Hammer's 'Countess Dracula'.

The U.S. release title of the seminal Italian film 'I Vampiri' is listed at the back of the book as (correctly) 'Devil's Commandment'. Don't bother looking it up under 'D' however, because the film appears in the main text as 'Evil's Commandment'! The British release title of this same movie, incidentally, was 'Lust of the Vampire', but is given here as 'Lust of the Vampires'. And so on. And on.

Anyone trying to use this book as the basis for research into old vampire movies is likely to end up reaching for a handful of paracetemol. Or perhaps a stake for Gordon Melton's heart. Of course, as anyone who has ever had anything published knows, mistakes are not always the fault of the author but are more likely down to sloppy printers and proof readers. Still, the publishers hail this as "another fine example of Dr. Melton's expertise" (!), and greater care should have been taken to avoid obvious mistakes.

Once I realised this was not the dependable reference work I was hoping for, I found it was actually fun to browse through and it does offer fascinating information about many obscure films. British readers should find details of hard-to-see Mexican, Filipino and Japanese vampire movies especially tantalising. Additionally, there are helpful if incomplete lists of specialist vampyre organisations, magazines and web sites. There are plenty of juicy stills to pore over, but there could have been plenty more to fill the book's many irritatingly blank spaces.

The definitive guide to vampire movies has still to be written. In the meantime, this is a useful - if unreliable - step in the right direction.


(This review first appeared in the London Vampyre Group's Chronicles)

MONDO MACABRO
by Pete Tombs
(Titan Books U.K, £14.99 /St, Martin's Press, U.S.A.)


Subtitled 'Weird & Wonderful Cinema Around the World', this is Pete Tombs' fascinating follow-up to his 1994 book IMMORAL TALES (written with Cathol Tohill), which concentrated on European horror directors such as Jesus Franco and Jean Rollin and was particularly insightful in its exploration of the links (conscious and unconscious) between continental horror cinema and the Surrealist movement.

Pete's new book is an overview of genre cinema from further afield - from South America to the Orient - and introduces us to dozens of mindblowing films that needless to say are extremely unlikely to turn up on video in the UK, let alone at the local multiplex!

The book covers a range of cinematic genres, including martial arts movies, 'category 3' erotica from Hong Kong, and - from Japan - 'Roman(tic) Porn' and 'Tits 'n' Tentacles' gropies. But the majority of films fall into the broader 'horror' category, and many deal with vampyres of one kind or another.

Mondo Macabro even introduces us to such rare vampiric species as the aswang and mandurugo from the Phillippines, and the jigarkwhar from India. This last is a type of female vampyre that isn't content with sucking your blood but also eats your liver!

One interesting aspect which emerges is how local vampyre myths have become increasingly influenced by western movies and the Lugosi/Lee image. For instance, the first Japanese vampyre movie, 'Onna Kyuketsuki' ('The Female Vampire', 1959) featured a strictly local variety which was even allergic to moonbeams (!) Later Japanese movies such as 'The Vampire Doll' (1970), 'Bloodthirsty Eyes' (aka: 'The Lake of Dracula') (1971) and 'The Evil of Dracula' (1975), incorporated a 'count in a cape' vampire suggestive of malevolent influences emanating from the west.

A similar assimilation of western traditions is apparent in Indian films such as 'Khooni Dracula', and in films from the Philippines, notably 'The Blood Drinkers' and 'Creatures of Evil,' where Roman Catholic imagery is used to ward off the local variety of bloodsuckers. This exotic Filipino mix gets even wilder when martial arts are introduced as in 'Men of Action Meet Women of Dracula', or a dollop of sex is added to the stew as in 'The Vampire Hookers' ("They kiss and tease, but always they please!")

Mexico is another country with a proud tradition of vampyre movies. These range from the atmospheric 50's b&w classic, 'El Vampiro', (with German Robles as Count LaVud, one of the screen's suavest and best-looking male vampyres) to the plethora of 'masked wrestler' movies such as 'Santo versus the Vampire Women' and the even more wonderfully-titled 'Santo and Blue Demon versus Dracula and the Wolf Man'! Other notable Mexican movies include 'The World of the Vampires', 'Sex and the Vampire', 'The Treasure of Dracula', 'The Empire of Dracula' and 'The Dracula Dynasty'. I have a particular fondness for 'The Brainiac', in which a Noferatu-lookalike sucks people's brains out of their heads using a disgustingly long tongue!

Turkey has the distinction of introducing the fanged vampire into the movies ahead of Hammer in the legendary 'Drakula Istanbul'da' (1952.) What is even more interesting about this little-seen film is that it makes a direct connection between Stoker's Dracula and the actual historical Vlad the Impaler, who fought many bloody battles against the Turks in a bid to halt the Islamic invasion of Europe. This naturally makes Vlad/Dracula an even greater bogeyman in the eyes of Turkish audiences. Pete Tombs has also unearthed several other obscure Turkish films in which Vlad (rather than Dracula) appears as an incarnation of European evil.

Brazil has produced the occasional vampyre movie such as 'The Seven Vampires', but is best known in weird-movie circles as the home of Josť Mojica Marins (better known as 'Josť of the Grave' or 'Coffin Joe'), a bizarre writer-director-actor who in real (?) life wears a black cloak and top hat and has impressively long, curling fingernails. His films are not strictly vampyre movies but they do resonate with gothic imagery and a pronounced Sadean sensibility. They also have some of the most endearing titles of any films anywhere: 'At Midnight I'll Steal Your Soul Away'; 'Ritual of the Maniacs'; 'Tonight I'll Incarnate in Your Corpse'; 'Hallucinations of an Abnormal Mind' etc. I'm sure bosom buddies David Alton and Tony Blair can't wait to see them all!

Hong Kong is represented in the book by the wonderful 'hopping vampyres' of 'Mr. Vampire' and its innumerable sequels and rip-offs, as well as by movies with less acrobatic western-style vampyres such as 'Romance of the Vampires'. And some great-sounding Chinese Black Magic movies like 'The Human Skin Lanterns' and 'Witch with the Flying Head'.

To round off a real treat, Mondo Macabro is lavishly illustrated with mouth-watering stills and posters, including a superb full-colour poster section in the middle.

This book will leave you hungry for more and planning to spend your next holiday in some exotic location with a well-stocked video shop close at hand. Not just an essential reference work but a genuine delight for all lovers of macabre movies!

Michel Parry (This review first appeared in the London Vampyre Group's Chronicles)

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