Two Tomes from the Tomb of Terror!

For my fellow Halloween lovers, here’s a look at two new editions of two classic tales of terror and the supernatural.
Dracula, the scion of every vampire story since its publication in 1897, is reprinted here by Intervisual Books.  There’s no need for me to review Bram Stoker’s novel itself: it is the standard to meet and beat.  It is the single best vampire novel ever written, even now, after 114 years of its unparallelled influence on popular culture.
So let’s review this particular edition of Dracula.
As far as I’m concerned, each new edition of a classic should try to do something new, different and innovative.  Maybe one edition has a brand new introduction by a Dracula scholar, a vampirologist, or a writer of horror.   Maybe another has great interior illustrations or extremely cool cover art.  Since the book was written generations ago, maybe another edition could be heavily annotated to bring today’s reader up to speed with the world of the Victorian era and fin de sicle London.
On the surface, this edition by Intervisual is beautiful.  From the small photo of the cover above, you can tell it’s kind of cool, kind of sinister, maybe even a bit modern.  The hardcover binding is a black leatherette, which is always classy; and they’ve provided each copy with an embedded ribbon marker of scarlet satin.  Not bad.
Unfortunately, beyond the superficial beauty, this edition doesn’t really offer anything original at all.  It’s completely derivative of other editions — and even of other, tangentially related sources.
The cover typeface, for instance, has been used in countless vampire books since the 1980s.  The introduction is basically a one-page biographical sketch of Bram Stoker, offering no insight into the man, or, especially, into his best work.
The cover art, at first glance, is certainly evocative.  At a distance, it looks appropriately sinister — it’s all shadows and swirls of smoke or blood.
Take a closer look.  Is Dracula bald, or is he wearing something cowl-like on the top half of his head?  Is that a cloak of darkness, or a very familiar black cape?  And the clasp holding the cape together . . .
Take a step back and look.  The artist didn’t create a portrait of the lord of vampires.  He stole the comic book image of Batman, cut off the pointed ears, and put in a fang.  (And just one fang, at that.)  And the clasp?  It’s Batman’s insignia, in the same spot the shield is on his superheroic chest.
I don’t believe the combination of Batman and Dracula is a coincidence — Dracula is the original bat-man and anti-hero; and Batman is the anti-Dracula.
It’s interesting, but this edition is for kids and teens, as far as I’m concerned.  Dracula fans should buy it only to complete their collection.  If you want the best and most illuminating versions of Dracula:


*  *  *

Let us talk now of serious fear.  A story that has made grown men tremble long after the covers were shut, long after the credits flickered off the screen.

The Exorcist is a story sui generis.  It stands alone, and deservedly so.

William Peter Blatty had a hell of an idea: to take a newspaper article about a boy’s “possession” in 1949 and rewrite it as a story taking place at the cusp of the 1970s.
(Does that sound familiar at all?  A few years later after The Exorcist, Stephen King would take Dracula and rewrite it, placing the setting in 1970s Maine, as ‘Salem’s Lot.)

As a novel, The Exorcist is not particularly literary, not exceptionally well-written, and many of the characterizations are quite thin.

What it is is a good story, told for impact in both literary, non-literary and dramatic fashion.  There are grammatical errors, made deliberately, in order to have impact with the audience.

I say all this because of a writing instructor I had at Old Dominion University.  Tony Ardizzone is a fine writer and a fine instructor of writing and English.  I learned a hell of a lot in the writing workshops I took with him, and he was primarily responsible for my understanding and 100% acceptance of non-rebuttal criticism.  I might explain that in a later post, but what I mean is, I accepted the classes’ criticisms without argument, no matter what they said.  It’s a hell of a way to figure out that, yes, your shit certainly can stink.

At some point while Tony Ardizzone was in college or grad school, they dissected The Exorcist in one of his writing classes, and skewered it.  I can understand this on one level: it was a non-literary bestseller, and bad writing deserved to be excoriated.

The other level, and the one I agree with: The Exorcist was a story, well-told, but not told in a literary fashion.  It was written as a story, structured to have impact on the reader, and even the language and the grammar (or the lack thereof) was constructed for maximum impact.  It was not meant as “literature.”  It was a story told the way it needed to be told.

Wow.  That’s a hell of an idea.  Break the rules to actually have an impact.  Follow the rules?  Less impact, but official acceptance.

Tony’s literary-based college environment could not accept The Exorcist, and so crucified it.

Sorry, but a story is a story is a story.  The Exorcist is pure story, and it’s powerful.  1973’s  film version rightly distilled the finest elements of the novel into their purest, most visual forms.  The movie remains one of the very few films that are better than the novel upon which it was based.

This edition offers a polishing by the author, William Peter Blatty, and an original scene with a new character.  It doesn’t add much, but it certainly is a nice touch, and I recommend you buy this and enjoy it immediately.  Then watch the movie again — the enhanced version with the spider-crawling scene added in.

The sow is mine.

Love it.

Book.
Movie.

DRACULA, THE PLANNED BESTSELLER

If only Dracula, the classic adventure-horror tale by Bram Stoker, had never captured the world’s imagination and become an icon of supernatural literature, then perhaps its first (so far) official sequel would not seem so bad.

But Dracula is not only a good book, it’s a great book — an allegorical archetype that has proved as deathless as its title character. And Dracula the Un-Dead, co-written by Stoker’s great-great-nephew and by a Dracula scholar, is not great, nor even remotely good. Instead it’s a big-budget, Hollywood equivalent of a timeless, supernatural classic: filled with dumb, uninspired action, disrespectful, spiteful of its far-superior predecessor, and plotted with pointless rush-rush* that only the least discriminating reader will enjoy. It has a couple of good ideas, but the whole endeavor is so amateurishly executed that it should drive a stake through its own heart and put the public out of our literary misery.

This sequel, the first of a planned trilogy, subverts Stoker’s classic in many ways: it changes the timeline, it ties the action in with the murders committed by Jack the Ripper five years prior to the action in Dracula, and it makes a mockery of the honor and sacrifice of the original’s characters by killing them off in the most ignoble of ways. If the original was so wrong in so many ways, why even bother to capitalize on it with a sequel?

The real villain of this novel — the behind the scenes evil genius of the secret-story premise — is Countess Elizabeth Bathory, the Blood Countess of history and legend. She’s been used before in Dracula tales, and will be used again — she’s just too convenient not to use. At the same time, using her is not original at all — it’s old hat, as is the book’s concept of vampirism: we’ve seen it all on the screen, in Buffy, Lost Boys and Fright Night: grotesque mockeries of humanity aided and abetted by metamorphing CGI. There’s no relationship here between the undead of the original, nor even the undead of the single best Dracula-inspired novel, 1975’s ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. King’s creation of Barlow, who is clearly the Dracula the 20th and 21st centuries deserve, is so far above and away from this book’s Dracula, who at best is a cardboard character, weak and utterly gentrified. He’s less the Lord of the Undead and the Prince of Darkness and more like Count Chocula. Bleh. Bleh.

By the time the reader reaches the revelations at the end, anyone who cares about Dracula will not care about the climax. There has been no restraint; no elegance. It’s all pandering to a commercial audience instead of telling a brilliant and creative story deserving of the original.

Dracula may be undead, but this book is Dracula the Un-Readable.

* Pointless rush-rush” is a term borrowed from a review of Surrogates in the Los Angeles Times. It captures perfectly the unintelligent pacing and action endemic in Hollywood’s youth-oriented action films today. I plan on using it a lot.