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Co-Author Chuck Hogan Talks The Strain

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The StrainHitting bookstores across the country on June 2nd, is the first book in a horrifying trilogy co-authored by horror-meister Guillermo del Toro and thriller/mystery award-winner Chuck Hogan. The Strain is but an introduction to some of the most horrific vampires to be seen or read about in QUITE some time (apologies to those folks who enjoy the romantic vampire novels – not my thing). Just imagine what horrors del Toro could come up with, multiply that by 100 and you MIGHT be close, And add into that all the facts and reality that only a thriller writer could come up with and you have what might be THE horror novel of the summer.

Dread Central spoke with The Strain co-author Chuck Hogan to find out how this project started, what it was like to work with del Toro and what fans of The Strain (review here) MIGHT have in store for them in the next two books.


Elaine Lamkin: Thank you so much for taking time to speak with Dread Central about your and Guillermo’s new book. I suppose the first and most obvious question is, how did this project come into being? And why vampires?

Chuck Hogan: Love Dread Central. I came on to The Strain when my agent sent me a 12-page outline of the trilogy that GDT had written. Two pages in, my head started to explode. I called my agent immediately – but, not being a horror novelist, I figured it was a longshot. A month or so later I drove down to meet GDT at the New York Film Festival – where he was previewing PAN’S LABYRINTH – and I drove home four hours to Boston in a vampire-induced fog. Next thing I knew, it was game on.

EL: How did you and Guillermo actually write this book? I recall Stephen King and Peter Straub, when they co-wrote The Talisman, saying that they would each write a chapter and send it to the other for criticism, new ideas, etc. What method did the two of you use?

CH: It was like that, though in larger chunks than chapters. GDT was in Hungary for much of it, working on HELLBOY 2. Very intimidating, having GDT as your first reader. When I felt him beginning to feed off my pages, as I was certainly feeding off his, that was when my confidence started to rise and things really started to get interesting.

EL: For those readers who may not have heard about this book (and the trilogy), how would you sum it up?

CH: Scary shit.

EL: I was struck, at the beginning of the novel, with how Flight 753 arriving at JFK reminded me, to a degree, of the Demeter in Bram Stoker’s novel. Was there ever any discussion of incorporating elements from Stoker’s book into The Strain? Setrakian could definitely be a 21st-century Van Helsing.

CH: GDT and I never spoke about it. I think there is no getting around Stoker if you are undertaking a vampire tale. But where we went from there – and will go, with the next two books – is much more interesting to me. As thrilling as I think THE STRAIN is, it is only the beginning…

EL: There is a LOT of fascinating information in The Strain about everything from air traffic controllers to the CDC to rats to what some might call literal Gross Anatomy and more. How much research was done and did you each choose what you wanted to learn more about?

Co-Author Chuck HoganCH: I left all the monster-specific biology to GDT, because it is all his. And I had a handle on the CDC from writing my book THE BLOOD ARTISTS. Beyond that, each of us followed his interests, be it WWII extermination camps or rat-hunting – whatever that says about us. Verisimilitude only ups the scare factor to come.

EL: The use of Ground Zero in the novel – was there any fear that that might be too upsetting for readers?

CH: I absolutely thought about it. But not for too long. Horror has to go to horrible places. It has to. And Ground Zero made perfect sense to me in a way I really can’t say without giving away too much. We don’t exploit the tragedy at all, but only address its role in the world today – and specifically that lingering wound in the soil of lower Manhattan.

EL: Without spoiling anything for readers, you and Guillermo have created some truly horrific and TRULY unique vampires in The Strain. Where did some of these ideas come from – their method of attack, their physiology and anatomy, ways to hold them off, how some elements most people associate with werewolves and zombies became part of your vampires? If you need to answer with info that would be considered a spoiler, I can warn readers not to read any further.

CH: GDT has a lock on his monsters; I am all audience in that respect. Remember those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books as a kid? At times, that was my experience writing THE STRAIN. He leads, I follow.

EL: Obvious question, perhaps, but has there been any talk of Guillermo turning this series into a film?

CH: Even better – a long-form cable-type series. That way you get the episodic nature of the book, with its various cliffhangers and character surprises – and you get your full-on scare as well.

EL: The Strain, being the first book in the trilogy, ends on a cliffhanger. When can readers expect to see The Fall (2010) and then The Night Eternal (2011) hit bookstores? June releases again? For a chilling beach read?

CH: June 2010 and June 2011. You’ll notice it is the month with the most daylight – because no one should be reading this stuff after dark.

EL: The character of The Master aka Jusef Sardu reminded me of Max Schreck’s Nosferatu or Reggie Nalder’s Barlow (in Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot). What were you and Guillermo going for with the appearance and character of The Master?

CH: Funny, I don’t see Him that way. Part of what we are doing – and part of what we knew we would be coming up against – is working off readers’ preconceptions. Vampires and their lore have such visual references. But remember – we have two books to go.

EL: Can you give us any hints as to what we can expect with the next book?

CH: No, but I know everything there is to know about THE HOBBIT movies. If only you’d asked!

EL: You are best known as a thriller writer, having won the Hammett Award for Prince of Thieves. How different was it for you to write a balls-out horror novel?

CH: Not so different, in the sense that Guillermo and I, from our first conversation, wanted to marry the procedural thriller with the horror novel. We wanted to start with a real world scenario and grow it out until the only rationale left for the characters was the supernatural.

EL: I know it is early but what sort of feedback have you been getting for The Strain? And with the recent Swine flu outbreak, do you think that will add an extra freak-out factor for readers? The vampires transmitting a virus, as they do.

CH: Feedback from advance readers has been everything we hoped for: people tripping on a new strain of vampire book. Most critics are raving, though a few aren’t quite sure if we’re trying to deliver PAN’S LABYRINTH or HELLBOY, and maybe feel disappointed when they find it is neither one nor the other, but instead a tasty mix of high fable and low gore, of fast action and slow dread. All I know is that pages are being turned very quickly and doors are being double-locked and triple-checked.

EL: Are you a fan of horror – literary and/or cinematic? And if so, what are some of your favorites?

CH: I still have all my Fangorias. When you subscribed in the early 1980’s, they gave you a free three-line classified ad, so you could say I was first published there. I like Italian horror, most Fulci, with GATES OF HELL as my favorite (the car scene). The usual classics (Romero, THE THING, THE EXORCIST, etc. etc.). I saw EVIL DEAD on opening night. LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH is a work of true dread. First date with my future wife was FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 5: A NEW BEGINNING (nowhere near a classic, but a sentimental favorite). And trash like PIECES. Especially the trash. BTW – I haven’t seen CRONOS yet…GDT said to wait for the Blu-Ray, due later this year.

EL: Is there anything you would like to add that I may not have covered?

CH: Yep – saved this space for my literary favorites. King, of course (NIGHT SHIFT, THINNER, THE SHINING, THE MIST…). THE EXORCIST again. Ligotti, Lovecraft (some), Jonquet, DONOVAN’S BRAIN, Patrick McGrath. Many more, but this is getting boring, right? Like a fan’s classified ad in Fangoria. Besides, no one is better read in the field than my co-author. And – I have been to literary horror nirvana: GDT’s library!

EL: Thank you so much for your time, Chuck, and a big thanks for scaring the hell out of this reader!


The Strain is available on book shelves RIGHT NOW. Click below to order yourself a copy today!

Elaine Lamkin

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Dread Central UK Enjoys a Box of IT

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One of the best things about writing for Dread Central is the cool gifts companies send us in exchange for covering their releases.

With Stephen King’s It now being available on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK, Warner Bros. were kind enough to send me an It-themed gift box absolutely free of charge. I collected this beautiful piece of merchandise from Organic Marketing’s London headquarters, and it is quite possibly my favorite thing in the world. And that’s not an exaggeration.

Inside this beautiful box were four Pennywise-themed cupcakes, a Pennywise Vinyl Pop figure in its original packaging, a laminated flyer, and of course, a copy of the film on Blu-ray. As you can see from the images below, a red balloon, just like the one held by Pennywise in the film, was attached to the box, although I’m sorry to say that it has now been burst (and I’m keeping the remains).

It, which now has the honor of being the highest-grossing R-rated horror film of all time, was directed by Andy Muschietti and stars Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Wyatt Oleff, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, and Finn Wolfhard. With the film now being available on home video in the UK, you shouldn’t waste any time ordering your copy, especially since we gave it a perfect score in our review.

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Fearsome Facts

Fearsome Facts – Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

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Sir Christopher Lee returned to portray the charismatic count of Transylvania in Hammer’s Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) for the first time since taking on the iconic role in 1958’s Horror of Dracula – an eight year absence. 

And while Lee endured a love/hate relationship playing the Carpathian Count over the years, the actor reluctantly tackled the role a total of 10 times for the Silver Screen. Three of those performances came outside of the purview of Hammer Horror, but this list is dedicated to the first Hammer Dracula sequel to feature the return of Christopher Lee in the lead role.

Now, here are 5 Things You May Not Know About Dracula: Prince of Darkness.

5. Dracula: Speechless

Dialogue never played a crucial part in Christopher Lee’s portrayals as Count Dracula, but this film is the epitome of that contentious notion. Lee doesn’t utter a single word during Dracula: Prince of Darkness’ 90 minutes of run time. In interviews over the years, Lee said that he was so unhappy with his lines that he protested and refused to say them during the filming process. “Because I had read the script and refused to say any of the lines,” Lee said in an interview at the University College of Dublin.

However, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster insisted that the original script was written without any dialogue for Dracula. There was even a theory that circulated for a time which postulated that Hammer could not afford Lee’s growing salary, so the studio decided to limit the Count’s screen time. Did this lead to the demise of Dracula’s dialogue? Regardless of whom you want to believe, Dracula is the strong, silent type in Prince of Darkness. 

4. Double Duty for Drac

Hammer Film Productions doubled down, so to speak, on the production and post-production aspects of Dracula: Prince of Darkness. First, the studio filmed the vampire flick back-to-back with another project titled Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966). In doing so, Hammer used many of the same sets, actors – including Francis Matthews and Suzan Farmer – and crew members to shoot both motion pictures.

Second, Dracula: Prince of Darkness was featured in a double billing alongside the film The Plague of the Zombies (1966) when it screened in London. Insert cheesy cliche: “Double your pleasure, double your fun with Doublemint Gum.” 

3. Stunt Double Nearly Drowned

Dracula: Prince of Darkness introduced a new weakness in the wicked baddie, but it nearly cost a stuntman his life. During the film, it was revealed that running water could destroy Dracula. Wait, what? Apparently, leaving the faucets on at night not only prevents frozen pipes, but blood-sucking vampires, too.

All kidding aside, it was during the climactic battle scene in which Christopher Lee’s stunt double almost succumb to the icy waters on set. Stuntman Eddie Powell stepped in as the Count during that pivotal moment, as Dracula slipped into the watery grave, but Powell was trapped under the water himself and almost died.

2. Lee Loathed What Hammer Did to Stoker’s Character

Christopher Lee’s return to Hammer’s Dracula franchise was a stroke of genius on the part of producers, but Lee was more than a little reticent when it came to initially voicing his dislike for playing the iconic role. As mentioned above, a lot of speculation swirled around the lack of dialogue given to Lee in the Prince of Darkness script. And if you don’t count the opening flashback sequence, which revisits the ending of Horror of Dracula (1958), Count Dracula doesn’t appear on screen until the 45-minute mark of the film.

Dracula’s lack of character, and presence, began to affect Lee particularly when it came to signing on to play the character in the three films following Prince of Darkness. Indeed, the lack of meaningful character development led to Lee initially turning down Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) and Scars of Dracula (1970). Lee said in countless interviews that he never got to play the real version of Count Dracula created by Bram Stoker, at least via Hammer Studios. This was a true disappointment to the late actor.

But Hammer guilt Lee into taking on the role over and over again, because the studio claimed to have already sold the aforementioned films to the United States with Lee’s name attached to the projects. Hammer informed Lee that if he didn’t return the company would have to lay off many of their workers. The tactic worked, since Lee was friends with many of the Dracula crew members. Fortunately for fans, Lee kept coming back for blood.

1. Faux Pas

Outside of the character of Dracula only appearing on screen for the last half of the movie, Dracula: Prince of Darkness had even more pressing issues that unfortunately survived all the way to the final cut of the film. One of the most appalling of these occurrences happens during the picture’s climatic confrontation. Watch the skies above Dracula and you will see the trail of a jet-engine plane staining the sky.

Another faux pas occurs in this same sequence when Dracula succumbs to the icy waters. Watch closely as the camera’s long shot clearly reveals the pivots holding the ice up underneath Chris Lee. Finally, watch the dead girl who is being carried during the opening funeral sequence. She is clearly breathing and quite heavily at that.

***

Which Dracula: Prince of Darkness moments did you find the most interesting? Were there any obscure facts you would have enjoyed seeing make our list? Sound off on social media!

 

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Reviews

Desolation Review – The Joy of Being Rescued and All the Surprises That Come With It

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Starring Raymond J. Barry, Brock Kelly, Dominik Garcia-Lorido

Directed by David Moscow


It’s those random, once-in-a-lifetime encounters that only a select few get the chance to experience: when we as regular participants in this wonderful thing known as The Rat Race, stumble across a soul that we’ve only witnessed on the big screen. I’m talking about a celebrity encounter, and while some of the masses will chalk the experience up as nothing more than a passing moment, others hold it to a much larger interior scale…then you REALLY get to know the person, and that’s when things get interesting.

Director David Moscow’s thriller, Desolation follows shy hotel employee Katie (Lorido) and her “fortuitous” brush with Hollywood pretty-boy Jay (Kelly) during one of his stops – the two hit it off, and together they begin a sort of whirlwind-romance that takes her away from her job and drops her in the heart of Los Angeles at the apartment building he resides in. You can clearly see that she has been a woman who’s suffered some emotional trauma in her past, and this golden boy just happens to gallop in on his steed and sweep her off of her feet, essentially rescuing her from a life of mundane activity. She gets the full-blown treatment: a revamped wardrobe, plenty of lovin’, and generally the life she’s wanted for some time.

Things return to a bit of normalcy when Jay has to return to work, leaving Katie to spread out at his place, but something clearly isn’t kosher with this joint. With its odd inhabitants (a very creepy priest played by Raymond J. Barry), even more bizarre occurrences, and when one scared young woman cannot even rely on the protection from the local police, it all adds up to a series of red flags that would have even the strongest of psyches crying for their mothers. What Moscow does with this movie is give it just enough swerves so that it keeps your skull churning, but doesn’t overdo its potential to conclusively surprise you, and that’s what makes the film an entertaining watch.

While Lorido more than holds her ground with her portrayal of a woman who has been hurt in the past, and is attempting to place her faith in a new relationship, it’s Barry that comes out on top here. His performance as Father Bill is the kind of stuff that wouldn’t exactly chill you to the bone, but he’s definitely not a man of the cloth that you’d want to be stuck behind closed doors with – generally unsettling. As I mentioned earlier, the plot twists are well-placed, and keep things fresh just when you think you’ve got your junior private investigator badge all shined up. Desolation is well-worth a look, and really has kicked off 2018 in a promising fashion – let’s see what the other 11 months will feed us beasts.

  • Film
3.0

Summary

Got your eye on that shining movie star or starlet? Better make sure it’s what you really want in life – you know what they say about curiosity.

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