Reviewed by Debi Moore
Published by St. Martin’s Press
Vampires. Forget everything you think you know about them, including how to spell the word. All the myths and lore regarding their habits, their weaknesses, and even how to kill them are wrong. In fact, they were made up by the real vamps who walk among us in order to throw everyone off their scent. Because an odor — more often than not an unpleasant one — is something they undeniably share.
Meet Ovsanna Moore, charismatic head of Anticipation Studios in Hollywood and star of numerous successful horror films. Ostensibly she’s following in the footsteps of her mother and her mother’s mother. A real scream queen. But there’s a great deal more to Ms. Moore than meets the eye. She’s also a five centuries old vampyre with the title of Chatelaine of Hollywood, meaning that every other vampyre in the city owes fealty to her. She was the first to call LA “home,” and hence, per vampyre law, all claim to the city belongs to her. However, something is definitely amiss. Within the span of less than two weeks, three people, all actors with a connection to Anticipation — and Ovsanna — have been murdered. And we’re not talking about a regular shooting or a heat-of-the-moment type stabbing. The first, Jason Eddings, had his newly won Oscar thrust up his ass in the back of a limo. The second, 23-year old rising starlet Mai Goulart, met an even more unpleasant fate while Tommy Gordon, lead actor on the Fox Network’s “Cop Jocks” series, had his cock sucked up by a Jacuzzi filter.
The lead investigator on the case is Beverly Hills Police Dept. Officer Peter King. He’s pretty much seen it all and is even a bit of a hero in his own right, having saved a kid from drowning in the LA River. But these killings … they’re something else. And they’re just the beginning. Soon a few more people with ties to Ovsanna are slaughtered — even more brutally than the others. Peter suspects Ovsanna, or possibly her attractive young assistant Maral McKenzie is the guilty party; she, too, has skeletons in the closet. But as more and more clues are revealed, he becomes conflicted. The attraction he feels toward Ovsanna doesn’t help matters much either.
For her part, Ovsanna is drawn to Peter also; however, she knows the closer he gets, the more dangerous things become for both of them. She needs to protect herself and keep her secrets from him, one of which is that all three victims were vampyres. Vampyres that she created. Which means someone is sending her a message. She’s not sure if the messenger is a hunter or a rogue vampyre; either would be equally devastating. But she’s far from alone in her battle. You see, everyone who’s anyone in Hollywood — actors, directors, agents, lawyers — is a vampyre. In particular the big-name stars; film magnifies their luminescence such that the audience can’t take their eyes off them.
The real beauty of Vampyres of Hollywood is how it stands the vampire mythos on its head and reinvents the genre with style and class, all the while skewering the conventions of the movie biz and today’s pop culture. We don’t get your run-of-the-mill cape-wearing Gothy vamps. Ovsanna and her ilk are much more interesting than that. They are comprised of factions with names like Dakhanavar (Ovsanna’s clan, known for their fighting abilities and ferocity) and Obdour (often attorneys, they have a single nostril and no fangs). But they’re only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The world Ovsanna comes from also birthed Bobhan Sith, Dearg Due, dhampirs, and were-creatures. And before all of them were the Ancients, the oldest of the old who are now forced to live in the shadows, their appearance much more animal-like than human. And don’t expect any of them to change into something so conventional as a bat. No, Ovsanna and her fellow Vampyres of Hollywood prefer to exemplify some of our culture’s most malevolent symbols and legends: Medusa, gargoyles, werewolves, dragons, and demons.
And who are these “Vampyres of Hollywood” anyway? Just the crème de la crème of Hollywood’s Golden Age. There are twelve in total; to whet your appetite, I’ll name two: Theda and Tod. All of them, with their beloved Chatelaine at the helm, wrote the so-called rules of vampire behavior and made sure the public at large bought their stories hook, line, and sinker. Quite ingenious, actually. Once they all re-enter the picture to assist Ovsanna in what ultimately becomes the pivotal battle of her lengthy lifetime, the novel Vampyres of Hollywood really hits its stride.
Initially Vampyres reads more like a taut, hard-boiled detective story than the typical bloodsucker’s tale. In this case that’s a plus. It’s mature, sexy, funny as hell, and full of old school Hollywood glamour. The dialogue flows naturally with the chapters written in first-person but alternating between Ovsanna’s and Peter’s perspectives. The technique grabbed my attention from the very start and made for a real page-turner. And then, in the final third, when it turns into balls-to-the-wall horror, well, I couldn’t put it down. I sped through the entire 325 pages in a couple of days. You want to talk about a perfect summer beach book? Or how about a rainy weekend companion? This is it in spades.
There are a couple of little nitpicks I have to mention, however. The most glaring is the timeframe of the storyline. The three main murders occur around Oscar time, which is typically in early spring. But then suddenly it’s the holiday season, and some characters are wondering what to get others for Christmas. I’m willing to go pretty far with artistic license, but that really stuck out considering how accurate and genuine everything else about the book feels. And while there’s a lot of sexual tension between Ovsanna and Maral, Ovsanna and Peter, and even Peter and Maral to some degree, there’s no actual sex. I’m hoping Ms. Barbeau is just toying with her readers by letting things build up to a passionate encounter or two in the next installment. She’s certainly proven she can write about gore and gruesomeness both vividly and explicitly! The imagination shown by her and co-author Michael Scott in terms of the various monsters’ back stories, along with all the different terrifying forms they can take, was absolutely inspired. Vampyres may be geared slightly more toward female readers, but the men who pick it up shouldn’t have any complaints about how graphic the violence is.
Nor how seamlessly Barbeau and Scott managed to work together. This pairing is a true winner. Their protagonists smolder with preternatural sexuality and are as current as the latest issue of People Magazine. It’s not just old-time Hollywood that gets the spotlight. The follies of those in charge today are exposed with just as bright a glow. Which leaves me extremely curious what the second chapter in Ovsanna and Peter’s story will be. Will they work together to solve crimes? Will she Turn him or leave him Warm like Maral? It’s been a long time since I read a book that had me as anxious to see what would happen next as my favorite weekly TV shows. Especially one where the main character is a vampyre (almost always a bonus for this Woman). There’s no way of knowing how many sequels Vampyres of Hollywood may spawn, but if they’re anywhere as good as the original, then hopefully we’ll have a nice long series to look forward to.
4 out of 5
Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions
Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa
Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.
Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).
What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.
While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.
Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.
While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.
With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.
Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.
Delirium Review – Bros, Cameras And A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On
Starring Mike C. Manning, Griffin Freeman, Ryan Pinkston
Directed by Johnny Martin
When will these testosterone-overloaded frat bros with cameras ever learn that pissing off the evil souls of the departed all in the name of amusement won’t get you anywhere but wrecked? Same goes for filmmakers: when will they learn that found-footage exploits set in a house of pure sadism are something of a wrung-out affectation? Oh well, as long as people keep renting them, they’ll continue to get manufactured…which might or might not be to the benefit of the horror film-watching populous.
Delirium opens with a poor lad, strapped with a GoPro, running for his life through a labyrinth of haunted territory, praying for an escape…and it’s a foregone conclusion as to what happens to this trespassing individual. We then relocate our focus towards a collection of (ahem), “gentlemen” self-titled as The Hell Gang, and their escapades are about as profound as their grasp on the English language and its verbiage. The words “dude”, creepy”, and the term “what the fuck” are thrown about so much in this movie it’ll make your head spin to the point of regurgitation. Anyway, their interest in the home of the Brandt clan is more piqued now than ever, especially considering one of their own has gone missing, and they’ve apparently got the gonads to load up the cameras, and traverse the property after-hours, and against the warnings of the local law-enforcement, who surprisingly are just inadequate enough to ignore a dangerous situation. The cursed family and the residence has quite the illustrious and bleak history, and it’s ripe for these pseudo-snoopers to poke around in.
Usually I’m curb-stomping these first person POV movies until there’s nothing left but a mash of blood, snot and hair left on the cement, but Martin’s direction takes the “footage” a little bit outside of the box, with steadier shots (sometimes) and a bit more focus on the characters as they go about their business. Also, there are a few genuinely spooky scenes to speak of involving the possession of bodies, but there really isn’t much more to crow about, as the plot’s basically a retread of many films before it, and with this collection of borderline-douches manning the recording equipment, it’s a sad state of affairs we’re in that something such as this has crept its way towards us all again. I’m always down for jumping into a cold grave, especially when there could be a sweet prize to be dug up in all that dirt, but Delirium was one of those movies that never let you find your footing, even after you’ve clawed your way through all of the funereal sediment – take a hard pass on this one.
Got about a half-dozen bros with cameras and a wanton will to get slaughtered on camera, all the while repetitively uttering the same phrases all damn day long? Then my friends, you’ve got yourself a horror movie!
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review – A Timid Step Towards a Frightening Possibility
Starring Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Tomokazu Sugita
Directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita
The Godzilla series is the longest-running franchise in cinema history. With over 30 films over a 60+ year career, the famous kaiju has appeared in video games, comic books, TV shows, and more, cementing its place as one of the most recognizable cultural icons in the past 100 years. With Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, the titular beast makes its foray into the world of anime in this first film in a proposed trilogy. While there are moments that are genuinely thrilling, the film unfortunately fails to capture the imagination and wonder that is at its fingertips.
The story is quite simple: Earth is under attack by swarms of various kaiju who are wreaking havoc across the planet. Entire cities are being destroyed when Godzilla appears to vanquish humanity’s foes. Unfortunately, the King of the Monsters isn’t really there to help humans and its rampage continues until a race of alien beings arrive at Earth asking for a place to stay in exchange for defeating Godzilla. When they are unable to do that, the remaining humans board a giant spaceship to venture off into space in search of a new home only to come back some 20 years later, nearly 20,000 years later by Earth time (think Interstellar logic), to search for resources and, possibly, a planet that will welcome them once again. However, Godzilla is still around and isn’t keen on sharing.
The main character of the film is Haruo Sakaki, a young man who begins the film by nearly following through on a suicide bomber terrorist act that is meant to call attention to humanity’s loss of vision and failure to fulfill their mission of finding a suitable home for the remaining survivors. Even though he is accosted and jailed for this act, he is eventually freed when people realize that his lifelong passion of killing Godzilla is the foundation for research he’s done in finding a way to take down the creature…a plan that just might work. The other characters are so forgettable that I forgot their names during the film.
From there, the film essentially pivots into following a massive team of volunteers who land on Earth’s surface to lay a trap for Godzilla in order to destroy it. Since this is Earth 20,000 years after they left, the flora and fauna have evolved and changed so radically that the team have no idea what to expect or how to react, so caution is a must.
The problem with this is that while the characters have to be cautious, the film doesn’t nor should it. The movie has the chance to explore the wealth of imaginative opportunities at its fingertips and yet does almost everything it can to avoid doing just that. The color scheme is flat and uninteresting. The character movements lack smoothness and the action sequences fall victim to shaky cam syndrome. There are a few mentions of some of the changes that have taken place on the planet, such as razor sharp plants, but they’re so incidental or offhand that it feels like no one making the film has any interest in seeing anything other than man against beast.
Speaking of this dynamic, the action sequences are quite entertaining but also feel somewhat reserved. Godzilla barely moves and much of the destruction levied against the humans is seen from a distance, apart from an attack on a military outpost by dragon-like creatures. For nearly the entire film, I found myself thinking, “I’m okay with this but that’s about it.”
The brightest moment in the film are the last few minutes and I won’t spoil what happens. Suffice it to say that it definitely has me interested in the second and third films but I really hope that this new world will be explored further in those entries. Otherwise, we’ve got a fascinating foundation that will be squandered.
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a bland entry in a trilogy that has great potential. For a first course, there’s a distinct lack of flavor or complexity. The final minutes are the only saving grace and I hope that the second and third films make use of that grand wonder.
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