Monday, April 25, 2011

Jess Franco's COUNT DRACULA


At some dimly remembered point in my past—probably the late 70s—I happened upon the 1970 Spanish-Italian production of Count Dracula, directed by Jess (Jesus) Franco and starring Christopher Lee, and since I seem to have gone on a vampire bender lately, the craving to give this film another look has been flung upon me. Fortunately, it's available from Netflix, and the Dark Sky DVD is currently in stock at Amazon.com. I sat down with a martini and the movie tonight, and I must say, while it's flawed in a bazillion ways, it's actually better than I remembered. As a reasonably faithful adaptation of Stoker's novel—and the vehicle for Christopher Lee's best performance as ye vampire—Count Dracula is a noteworthy horror flick.

The film begins as virtually all adaptations do, faithful or otherwise, with solicitor Jonathan Harker (Frederick Williams) traveling to Transylvania to deliver to Count Dracula the deed to a certain property in England (inexplicably, Carfax Abbey is not mentioned in this script), which the Count has purchased. Harker finds himself confined in an intensely creepy setting, with a grim, moody host, who is shown right from the get-go to cast no reflection in a mirror. Apparently, this is an insufficient red flag, as Harker continues to go about his business, but very soon, the infamous trio of female vampires introduce themselves to him, followed by the Count himself insisting upon a blood donation from Harker. This done, Dracula moves on to England, leaving a frail and somewhat deranged Harker to make his own way back westward. At this point in the novel, and in most adaptations, fiancĂ©e Mina Murray (Maria Rohm) pours out all kinds of misery, though in this version, not so much. It actually works to the film's benefit to spend minimal time on the characters' romance so that more of the film's running time can devote itself to some much-needed action. The usual shenanigans involving Lucy Westenra (Soledad Miranda) ensue—Dracula feasting on her before turning her into a vampire—and soon enough, Professor Van Helsing (Herbert Lom), Harker, Dr. Seward (Paul Muller), and Lucy's fiancĂ©, Quincy Morris (Jack Taylor; there's no Arthur Holmwood in this version), are forced to drive a stake into poor Lucy's heart. The hunt for Dracula is on, culminating back at Castle Dracula, where ye vampire finally meets his demise...not by stake this time, but by flame.

Though Christopher Lee had already become well-known as Dracula, his interpretation in this film is quite different from his others, even in Horror of Dracula, which derived from the same source material. Unlike the hissing, leering, animalistic vampire of the Hammer films, Lee's Dracula here far more resembles Stoker's original, with much of the dialogue from the first half of the novel remaining intact. Most effective is Lee's makeup; just as in the novel, he originally appears as an aged, white-haired, mustachioed man, bereft of much energy. As he feeds on others, he gradually becomes more youthful, until, near the end of the film, his hair and mustache are black, and he gets about with considerably more vigor. During the scene in which he murders Lucy, his appearance—with bloody fangs and red-tinged eyes—is genuinely disturbing. I do find Lee's distinctive British accent almost disconcerting; one fully expects him to speak with a strong eastern European accent, a la Lugosi.

Herbert Lom makes for an adequate, if unremarkable, Professor Van Helsing. While Lom is a fine actor, he plays Van Helsing as needlessly enigmatic, frequently withholding information from his compadres, or speaking only in ominous riddles, until he is "certain" what he is dealing with, although he clearly understands Dracula's menace from the start. Before the climax, he suffers a cinematic stroke, which prevents him from taking part in the vampire hunt, in which he is a principle player in the novel. One would expect more from the renowned Van Helsing!

Soledad Miranda, as Lucy Westenra, is quite the standout—to my mind, the most seductive Lucy in any Dracula adaptation. Her finest moment comes when, as a vampire, she lures a young girl to her; she then smiles and exposes her fangs. She appears beautiful and frightening. It may be the movie's most haunting moment. Klaus Kinski plays our Renfield, this time mute, which works to varying degrees. At one point, he appears to chomp on an actual fly; here, he puts on a very thoughtful expression, as if genuinely contemplating all there is to contemplate about devouring an insect. It's quite an effective scene. At other times, his expression is simply inscrutable, and when Mina visits him in the asylum, he attacks her, at Dracula's psychic command. At this point, one really wishes for the pathos of Tom Waits's Renfield in Coppola's version, or even Jack Shepherd's maniacal poetry from the 1978 BBC production starring Louis Jourdan.

Count Dracula showcases all the excesses of most western European horror films of the 60s and 70s: lurid cinematography, with lots of primary colors; camera shots that linger too long at the end of a scene; loud, overbearing music (courtesy of Nicolai Bruno, who frequently conducted the orchestras for various Ennio Morricone film scores). Deeply shadowed, very gothic sets seem to hide all kinds of menace even during the story's more innocuous moments, creating a grim and sometimes surreal atmosphere more characteristic of D'Argento or Fulci than Terrence Fisher—which helps put more distance between this film and Hammer's Dracula pics of the same era.

Unfortunately, Franco's budget exhausted itself before the film was finished, and in places, it shows—particularly during Dracula's death scene. It's a lackluster ending to an oftentimes impressive little piece of filmmaking. All in all...three out of five Damned Rodan's Dirty Hot Pepper Firetinis. I'd call that worth a look.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Dead People in the Woods


It's always fun to find dead people in the woods. Today's geocache outing included hiking at Philpott Lake, VA, not far from the dam. Ms. B. and I undertook a moderately strenuous trek into the woods for a challenging little hide called Dogwood Trail Cipher Cache (GC2JW41). We ended up at a tiny family graveyard out in the middle of the woods—obviously well-maintained—with graves going back to the late 19th century. Didn't encounter anything spookier than Ms. B., but it was quite an atmospheric spot...and there was a cache. Happy day. From there, it was over to the new trail at the Martinsville City Reservoir, where we met up with Scott & Chandres (yes, the inspiration for the character of Chandres Tessier in Dark Shadows: Blood Dance) Pickett & family, a.k.a. Krazy Tribe, and hunted up another one.

On the writing front: "The Demon of Ice Valley" is nearing its finale. Don't know that it will be finished this coming week, but it won't be too far down the line. Is scary.

Tonight...it was dyeing Easter eggs. Or maybe "dying" is more like it. After we got done with them, I'm sure they're on their last legs.

S'wonderful.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cache In...Weeds Out

Geocaching Weed-Eaters

Geocaching isn't all just going after containers hidden in the woods and under light pole skirts. A fair part of the caching experience is to leave the environment better than we found it. Periodically, groups of cachers get together for Cache-In, Trash-Out (CITO) events, to clean up trash in locations that might be otherwise overlooked. Sometimes it's the woods around the local watershed lakes, or a community park, or a neglected trailhead. This afternoon, a number of us got together at the fairly new downtown Greensboro Greenway to do some cleanup, in coordination with the city parks and recreation department. Turns out, the landscaping at the site has about been overrun with weeds, so at the suggestion of the parks & recreation department folk, we ended up going a little greener than we had anticipated—we dug, pulled, and tossed a reasonably awesome amount of stubborn botanical pestilence. Afterward, the event's coordinator, Mr. Steven "Bear Oak Druid" Hinkle led us to a new, as-yet-unpublished cache for a first-to-find opportunity. Frankly, picking up trash is the easier job, but I gotta tell you—the greenway is now, unquestionably, a much finer shade of green.


Damned Rodan making a fancy tossed salad.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Coordinate Crossing

The old dude in the photo is thinking, "I have to climb up that?"

Mercy...it's been such a week that blogging hasn't been much in the cards. Work, work, work, and write, write, write; a productive week, to say the least. I did manage to get in a bit of caching and a spot of socializing this weekend—Ms. B.'s parents were in town, so we got together a couple of times to visit and share embarrassing Kimberly stories. We also fit in a brief trip to Martinsville yesterday to have lunch with Mum. Tonight, it was homemade Thai spring rolls, courtesy of Ms. B. I tell you, sometimes, she's all right.

Last night, I got together with Ms. Debbie "Cupdaisy" Shoffner to hunt a few caches, and then it was over to her place to jam on guitar with husband Pete Scisco and some highly talented friends. I haven't made a racket on guitar in so long, before I knew it, my fingers were on fire—and not from any impressive instrument-playing on my part, I can tell you. Today, it was out to Gibson Park in High Point for some caching, where I had to perform a few complicated treetop acrobatics to both find and hide a cache or two. Created a new puzzle cache called "Coordinate Crossing," which proved to be challenging both mentally and physically to set up. All very gratifying, to be sure, but now, the old dude is pooped. And tomorrow...it's back to the salt and pepper mines.

On the mixed emotions front, I've learned that my divorce—assuming there are no unforeseen complications—should be final as of May 9. It'll be a relief, yet at the same time, I am all kinds of sad. Most of the pent-up anger that consumed me for so long has, over time, subsided, and I'm able to remember many better times and emotions. I hope Mrs. Death can do the same.

On a very sad note, yesterday was the fourth anniversary of kitty Charcoal's death. I miss her as much as any critter I've ever known.

Without going into detail, also...please send good wishes to my daughter, who is having a bit of a hard time at present. I'm sure she'll be fine, but things are kind of dicey at the moment.

Oh, yeah. The old dude did, indeed, have climb a ways up that.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ten Years After

Today, it's ten years since my dad passed away. A while back, I found this photo of the Midget League Basketball team I was on—1968 or 1969—which my dad coached. I still remember standing for this photo very clearly, those few years back. I don't remember the names of only two of the guys in this pic; the others I still do.
I sure was a shrimp back then. (Don't say a damn word.)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Here We Go Flying Again

If you are particularly fond of flying through the air on cables suspended from treetops, like I am, then ziplining is just the activity for you. Today was another caching event—"Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" (GC2NTBJ)—sponsored by Rich "Night-Ranger" Colter, at Richland Creek Ziplining Tours, just outside of Asheboro, NC. This afternoon, I made sure my life insurance premiums were paid up and then got together with Ms. B. and my friend, Bridget "Suntigres" Langley, to truck on down to the event. Very well-attended function, I must say; I'm hearing 60-plus attendees is the official estimate. The course featured 15 stations, each run ranging from a dozen to about 50 feet above the ground, with some runs nearly a quarter mile long. As always, the company was great, the event very well-run. Afterward, Ms. B., Suntigres, and I snagged a couple of quick caches in Asheboro (only to find ourselves being heckled by cachers Ranger Fox and David & Diana), then availed ourselves to pizza and drinks at Bill's Pizza Pub.

It's the only way to fly.

Ms. B. and Suntigres contemplating their mortality prior to takeoff.

Flying through the air is the easy part. Walking the plank...not so much.

Ms. B.: "I'm not going! I'm not going! I'm gooooiiiinnnngggg!"


Keith McCoy about to flare for landing.

Taking five at the scenic creek underneath the zipline course.

Look out below....

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Blood at Southern Rail



Today was the day for girlfriend Ms. B. and I to make another pilgrimage to Carrboro/Chapel Hill for caching, shopping, and dining. Based on the weather report from yesterday, we were expecting the temperature to be balmy. "In the 70s," they said. Woops. Wrong. Downright cold it was, since I didn't take a jacket with me. Regardless, the old dude logged a few caches (while grumbling, of course). We had lunch at a place that is something of a landmark for me—the Southern Rail restaurant, which incorporates a couple of passenger cars from the old Southern rail line. Back in the mid 1990s, these same cars served as the offices of Green Monk film studios, run by my friend Storm Williams, and I had paid them a visit or two back in the day while working on an indie vampire film called The Immortal. At the time, I was enamored enough of the idea of using the cars as the setting for a business to incorporate a reasonable facsimile of them into my story, "The Devil's Eye" (sequel to "The Fugue Devil"; both stories appear in my short story collections, The Last Trumpet and Other Gods). If you've read "The Devil's Eye," you might recall the train cars being the setting for some significant carnage.

Alas, there was no major carnage there today, but I must tell you, they do serve a mean Bloody Mary at Southern Rail. It'll light a happy little fire in you.

Just to be fair, I'll leave you here with this handy fact about the Fugue Devil: If you know about it, it knows about you. And if you see it, it will come for you.

That would be bad, yes.


Monday, April 4, 2011

The Shado Knows


Back in the early 70s, I was hopelessly enamored with the 1969 Century 21 series, UFO (a.k.a. SHADO), produced by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson (Thunderbirds, Fireball XL5, Stingray, Captain Scarlett, Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, Space: 1999). After having seen nothing of it for over three decades, a few years back, I received the entire 26-episode series on DVD from a late and very good friend, and recently, the hankering to jump back into the show has hit me fast and hard. Just a week or so ago, I finished watching the entire run of the original The Prisoner, starring Patrick McGoohan, so I think it's safe to say it whetted my appetite for quirky British TV serials. UFO certainly qualifies on that count. Alternately groovy and grim, the show is about an alien race from deep space that periodically sends its spacecraft to Earth, for reasons unknown—at least at first. Shado (an acronym for Supreme Headquarters Alien Defense Organization) is the entity charged with defending Earth from the alien attacks. Shado boasts an impressive arsenal of weaponry and resources, including a submarine outfitted with a supersonic submersible aircraft (Skydiver), a moon base with a complement of heavily armed interceptors, a satellite equipped for tracking objects from deep space (SID, or Space Intruder Dectector), a variety of armored all-terrain vehicles, and a host of beautiful women wearing miniskirts, purple wigs, and glittering tights. Shado's terrestrial headquarters is located beneath a movie studio ostensibly run by American film producer Ed Straker (Ed Bishop, arguably best known for his minuscule but memorable role as Klaus Hergerscheimer in Diamonds Are Forever); in reality, however, Straker is Shado's CO, and he's a platinum blonde, rather willowy, no-guff kind of tough guy, with a chip on his shoulder. His sidekick, Col. Alec Freeman (George Sewell), is a middle-aged playboy, who enjoys his whiskey and frequently asks beautiful young female scientists out to dinner before asking their names.

For their day, all of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's movies and serials feature sophisticated special effects, courtesy of Derek Meddings, and the effects work in UFO—along with the scantily clad, very attractive castelevate the series from an exercise in pure cheese to an often impressive spectacle. Make no mistake, while the acting is usually wooden and the plots minimal, most episodes feature some startlingly realistic model effects and, plotwise, a handful of surreal, adult-themed twists and turns that keep the drama engaging. Longtime Anderson-series music composer Barry Gray turns in one of his most memorable scores, providing a unique and atmospheric musical identity for the show. The music and visuals for the show's end credits remain to this day absolutely haunting, and for your edification, I'm including a video of the ending sequence below.

If you are a nut for quirky, surreal, visually spectacular science-fiction and you've never checked out UFO, by gummy, you really oughta. Go on and do it.