30 October 2009

The Vampire Diaries S1 E7 "Haunted"

Well, well--it seems "Haunted" makes two decent episodes of The Vampire Diaries in a row. If this keeps up we might actually have a show worth watching.

Spoilers Ahead

Tomorrow is Halloween, so you'll have to forgive the brevity of this episode's review (I mean, we are talking about the high holy day for horror lovers...I've got to prepare). All right, so Vicky is adjusting to her new status as Undead American. Stefan tries to reign her in, help her through the difficult transition, which she--big surprise--finds interminably boring. Damon thinks she should be allowed to unleash a little. Of course she takes off. They eventually catch up with her at the school's Halloween shindig (dressed as--what else?--a vampire, which in this case apparently means goth with fangs). Things are going swimmingly until the blood lust gets out of hand. She bites Jeremy then attacks Elena with intent to kill, before being stopped by a stake to the chest, courtesy of Stefan.

I was not expecting Vicky to get killed so soon. Not sure how I feel about that, considering that I only just started liking the girl. But it's nice to see that Stefan can succeed where Damon has failed.

Speaking of Damon, he at least has sense enough to want to investigate what the vampire-hunters cabal (aka the Founders Council) is up to, and how they got hold of the vampire-detecting compass (aka the Gilbert watch). Between a little eavesdropping and some flirting with the mayor's drunk wife he finds out that Zack was in on it (and was getting ready to provide the cabal with fresh vervain), that they think there's only one vampire, and that they held the Founders' Ball a few weeks back to weed out suspects based on whether they arrived before or after dark (they clearly have no clue about Damon and Stefan's rings).

Damon also rediscovers his Very Important Crystal when he finds Bonnie wearing it as part of her costume (Caroline makes her dress up as a witch. I think it's supposed to be ironic). When he reaches out to take it back, he ends up getting burned. He's shocked and Bonnie is dismayed as she runs home to her grandma to ask what that was all about. Turns out the crystal is a family heirloom that used to belong to Bonnie's very great grandma, Emily Bennett, an extremely powerful witch and, oh yeah, Katherine's slave/servant/companion (she's never introduced, but it was the South in 1864).

Meanwhile, Stefan, Elayna, and especially Jeremy are dealing with the aftermath of Vicky's untimely demise. Jeremy is heartbroken in the way that only someone who keeps losing the people he loves can be. Elayna asks Stefan to compel (hypnotize) him so that he won't remember, but Stefan--being a weaker, animal-blood-drinking vampire--tells her he might not be able to do it successfully. Suddenly Damon appears and offers to do it "if that's what you [Elayna] want." She does, so he does; making Jeremy believe that Vicky left town, that she's okay, and that he knows it's for the best. Elayna muses to Stefan that she too wishes she could be made to forget, but then she can't because she doesn't want to lose the way she feels about him. Then she runs inside and shuts the door.

Damon is proving to be an increasingly interesting character. He takes all kinds of abuse from Elena (insults, blame, a slap to the face) and then he ends up showing her kindness instead of, oh, I don't know--tearing her head off. He doesn't even take advantage of the situation when she's bleeding from the neck (from Vicky's attack) and chooses that moment to tell him off and hit him. Why? It is just because she looks so much like Katherine or is there something else going on? He also shows remarkable restraint with Tyler at the beginning of the episode. Is it because Vicky begs him not to hurt him, or is Damon starting to consider the consequences of killing indiscriminately? Or maybe the writers just realized Damon's already more popular than Stefan (or soon will be) and are trying to find a way to humanize him. It's not like you can have a murderous fiend as the hero of the piece--there's got to be some kind of redemption (but there'd better not be any storylines involving behaviour-modifying chips or the return of his soul. Just saying). Whatever it is I'm starting to really like Damon. He's not exactly at the level of Spike or Bill (hell, he's not even at the level of Drusilla), but he's getting there. Slowly.

As for Elayna, her responses to everything happening were actually reasonable this episode, and whining was thankfully kept to a minimum. She also exhibits a remarkable level of bravery around Damon, considering she knows exactly what he's capable of--not to mention that he's twice made threatening comments about killing her. Is this character stupid or does she know something we don't? I guess that remains to be seen.

I was also glad to see that Caroline was barely in "Haunted." I think her absence contributed in a major way to the last two episodes being so much more watchable. Let's hope that she, like the titular diaries of the show, slowly fades away to non-existence. I was originally concerned that the loss of the diaries would deprive the show of its one distinguishing feature, but as The Vampire Diaries has progressed and the diaries have slowly disappeared (they weren't in the last episode at all), it's pretty obvious they didn't add anything worthwhile to the show. It's good to see that the producers at least know enough to erase the annoying elements. There's hope in TV land!

One last comment on "Haunted": everyone looks really good in this episode. Kudos to the makeup and wardrobe people; they're clearly doing something right.

And on an unrelated--but cool--note, viewers watching The Vampire Diaries on the Canadian channel CTV got treated to a nifty commercial for Tru Blood (actually for True Blood, soon to be airing on Space)! When a vampire crashes your redneck camp-out, hand him a bottle of Tru Blood and invite him to join you for a drink. Tru Blood: Suck it Up! Nice.

The Vampire Diaries started off so-so, degenerated quickly, and now seems to be on an upward trajectory. It's crazy, but I'm actually looking forward to seeing where they go next. Even if it heads back downhill, at least we got to see a couple of enjoyable episodes. That's more than can be said about a lot of other shows.

Fang Files

Physical Appearance: Dark, red-rimmed eyes. Dark veins on face. Dead vampires look like dead humans (no dust or pools of blood--just a body), although they retain the veins and fangs.

Strengths: Ability to "compel" (or hypnotize) humans. Super speed, super strength. Caffeine (see Mythology). Special rings allow them to go out during the day.

Weaknesses: Vervain, sunlight, stakes, witch-empowered crystals.

Mythology: A new vampire has to face overwhelming hunger (symptoms of which include head and stomach pain and a short temper); blood lust is a potentially serious side effect (and crowds just make control even more difficult to maintain). While a new vampire is transitioning, their body isn't quite aware yet that it's dead. Emotions are also one big jumble during the transition--the new vampire has a difficult time separating feelings. Animal blood isn't as potent as human blood; vampires who feed on animal blood are weaker. Caffeine circulates through a vampire's bloodstream, staving off the ever-present cold and making them feel warm to the touch. A vampire needs to be invited in to a private residence.

Sound Bites

Elayna: If you wanted me dead, I'd be dead.
Damon: Yes, you would.
Elayna: But I'm not.
Damon: Yet.

Grandma: (re: magic) It's not meant to be fun. It's real and it's serious, and you must understand it before you practise it.

Vicky: Why did you do this to me?
Damon: I was...bored.

Damon: (after he teaches Vicky about vampire speed and she then runs off) Uh...my bad.

The Vampire Diaries, Season 1 Episode 7 "Haunted." Written by Andrew Kreisberg. Directed by Ernest R. Dickerson. From The CW.

28 October 2009

True Blood, S1 E8 "The Fourth Man in the Fire"

Spoilers Ahead

The title of "The Fourth Man in the Fire" was taken from a Johnny Cash song. Nice job--it works perfectly (unlike certain other vampire shows that try to be clever with their episode titles, the operative word here being "try"). I only wish the song was featured more prominently in the episode, rather than seeming like a mere afterthought (listen for it near the end, as Lafayette returns to his car).

There's a lot going on in "The Fourth Man in the Fire"--so much that I couldn't keep up with my notes. I'll do my best to sort through it all, though.

The episode starts off at the burned shell of the house and the four coffins that have been removed from it. When the lid on one of the coffins is opened we see a bubbling pool of blood with flames bursting off the surface every so often. No dust in the True Blood universe--these vamps leave liquid remains. Believing Bill--or what's left of him--is in one of the coffins, Sookie runs off in horror.

At home again, she tries calling Bill and once again gets his voice mail. It turns out Sookie and I have something in common; it seems she also turns to cleaning to take her mind off things, although as she starts scrubbing the floor she can't help flashing back to washing her Gran's blood off the same floor not too long ago. It's been a rough week for Sookie.

Not so much for Tara. Well, not at first. After the exorcism she wakes to find her mother already up. Not only is Lettie Mae in bright spirits, but she's dumping all her remaining alcohol (the demon's gone so she doesn't need it anymore) and has made hoecakes for breakfast (she always knew how but the demon would never let her). Tara's in blissful disbelief. It's fairly short-lived, though. When she goes to Sookie's to tell her what's happened, Sookie is understandably an emotional mess. Tara, on the other hand, is on cloud nine (also understandably); the two states of mind are not exactly compatible. Sookie's anger at Tara for not asking how she's doing degenerates into a screaming argument when Tara goes off on Sookie for letting Bill bite her (Tara is unaware of everything that's transpired since Gran's funeral). After Tara goes home again, her mom and a friend show up in their Sunday best. It turns out Lettie Mae is going to church again and is all up in God's glory. Tara's not impressed, even less so when the women let her know that church would do her some much-needed good. At work later, the best "ten minutes" of her day (sex with Sam) is ruined after they get into yet another argument. By the end of the episode Tara has gone to see Miss Jeanette, the woman who performed the exorcism.

That night Sookie leaves a lit candle in the window for Bill and takes a bouquet of flowers to his grave. As she's leaving the cemetery, an arm reaches up from the ground and grabs her. She struggles to get away while a naked man pulls himself out of the ground. Of course, it's Bill. Shock turns to relief turns to need turns to sex. Savage, urgent sex complete with bodice ripping and biting (not on the neck this time; I guess Sookie's finally clued in that not everyone is cool with it). The scene is a good one, powerful and striking, with a great long shot of the two of them writhing on the ground. I hate criticizing such a brilliant moment in the show, but the question needs to be asked: why is Bill naked? The cemetery isn't far from his house, particularly with his vampire speed. If the sun was coming up and he didn't have time to get home, how did he have time to take his clothes off before burying himself? And if he did have time, why not just go home (the place was safe enough for Sookie to spend the night there)? Plot holes are like loose teeth; once you realize they're there you can't leave them alone, even though you really, really should. Sigh.

But Bill's alive! Yay!

Sookie's particularly thrilled about this turn of events. Bill is alive! And he's great. It turns out he got her messages so he left the other vampires and buried himself to stay safe. Vampires can do that! The fourth body in the coffin was some poor fang-banger (it turns out to be the coroner's assistant). Because some vampires like to keep humans around, you know, for blood... and sex. But Bill is great andeverything'sgreatandshe'ssohappy!!! Sookie's recent tendency to be hyper and a little too free with details seems to be continuing. Is it love, relief, blood loss? No one's saying but I still find it strange (and off-putting).

Speaking of which, I don't like that the three scary vampires were killed off so soon. For one thing, it seemed as though the show was building up to something with them. They were also a good contrast to Bill and provided a nice monster aspect to a show that, in theory anyway, is about monsters. It just seems like the writers decided they didn't want to deal with those characters anymore, so they wrote them out. A little abrupt for my liking.

Anyway, back to Merlotte's: Sam's week hasn't been much better than Sookie's. It's obvious he still cares for her, but she is all about the vampires these days. When he tries to offer her sympathy, and she excitedly tells him that Bill is alive and well, he seems crestfallen. It also doesn't help when he finds her suddenly taking B12 vitamins like a good little fang-banger. He copes by pouring the bar's supply of Tru Blood down the sink. Vampires aren't even the worst of his problems. Andy Bellefleur is not only questioning Sam about why he was running naked through the woods, but is checking up on his story as well, and finding out it's a lie. Sam might just be the number-one suspect in all the recent murders in Bon Temps. And when he tries to take some comfort with Tara ("You and I are the only ones who get it") they end up fighting, with Tara unfairly calling him a racist.

That scene with Sam and Tara is actually nicely juxtaposed against one with Sookie and Bill. As the latter couple are lying in bed, Sookie asks Bill if sex doesn't get predictable after a hundred years of it. Bills claims that Sookie is entirely different, that nothing is predictable with her (another reference to her being "more" than human). She then asks him to let her know if she does anything wrong. He very sweetly responds that who is he to say something is wrong that comes naturally to her. He also adds that even if he could, he wouldn't change a thing. Cut to Tara and Sam. They're having a similar conversation, only Sam is dumb enough to tell Tara that she does have one little quirk she could maybe work on (sometimes she grunts). Cue the argument.

Speaking of couples, Jason and Amy spend the episode getting to know each other better (maybe a little too well). She is rapidly proving herself to be an annoying character I want gone. Everything out of her mouth grates, whether she's making pseudo-intellectual pronouncements or getting all dreamy over V. At one point, after she and Jason spent the night having communal V orgasms with all of creation (but no sex), she tells him (without a trace of irony) that they should "hold off on the screwing; I'm a respectable girl." So she spends the night half-naked, getting high with some guy she only just met, but she draws the line at intercourse? Right. She's got an "interesting" sense of morality, which we see more of later on. For someone who drones on about how all life is connected and significant and blah blah blah, she apparently has no compunction about kidnapping Eddie (played by Stephen Root), a harmless vampire; torturing him with a sheet of silver chain mail over his face; and bullying Jason into being an accomplice just so she can have herself a convenient supply of V. I knew when she went to Merlotte's and started being so damn nice to everyone (waiting on tables without being asked because she saw that Sookie and Arlene were swamped, then handing over all the tips) she would turn out to be evil. And poor Jason's too smitten (not to mention dimwitted, and hooked on V) to do more than go along for the ride. Looks like the Rattrays have been replaced.

Sookie and Bill also spend some time babysitting Arlene's kids (she's not too happy about Bill being there, but Sookie and Rene convince her it's fine). Bill is particularly good with the kids, even donning some "bloody" fangs (made out of pizza) to entertain them. I have to say, I'm not a fan of Bill making nice with the villagers. There's definitely something plastic about it whenever he does, although it occurred to me that he has to hide his real self the same way Sookie does when they're around the general public. It's interesting too that while Sookie becomes more open about her telepathy--as well as being bolder about standing up for herself and her relationship--Bill doesn't get that option. Anti-vampire sentiment runs deep in Bon Temps (after all, the last time vampires acted like themselves in public, the public decided to have a little vamp barbecue).

Then again, Bill can't really act like himself around other vampires, either. The scary ones mocked his attempts at "mainstreaming," and Eric uses whatever he knows about Bill--in this case, Sookie's abilities--against him. Eric's waiting for Bill when he gets home (by the way, I've never seen a bathroom get so much onscreen time before, although it is a fantastic bathroom). He asks Bill if he really thought he could keep Sookie to himself. It turns out that not only is Eric exceedingly old, but he's also the Sheriff of the area, giving him control over all the vampires in his jurisdiction--including Bill. Since it would be stupid to anger the Sheriff by refusing him any reasonable request, Bill agrees to have Sookie help Eric with a problem he and his partners (Pam and Long Shadow) are having at Fangtasia. Of course, knowing all this doesn't make Sookie feel any better about it, nor does being told that Eric doesn't even need to ask her directly because she is Bill's and Bill already gave his permission. Despite her assertion to the contrary, apparently she can be checked out like a library book. She ultimately acquiesces, although it's clear the bargain she makes with Eric--that she'll help him "anytime" he wants as long as he turns the guilty party over to the police--will come back to bite her. Possibly literally.

As Sookie reads the thoughts of Fangtasia's human employees to try to determine who's been embezzling $60,000 from the club, the crackling blank mind of one employee points to her having been glamoured, making it apparent that the embezzler is one of the vampires. No sooner does Sookie say this than Long Shadow leaps from behind the bar, grabs her, and bares his fangs. Oops.

It'll be interesting to see how all this gets resolved, given that there are only four episodes left this season (damn you, HBO). Can't wait to find out...

Fang Files

Strengths: Glamouring (although it's not infallible). Lack of a need to breathe.

Weaknesses: Sunlight, fire.

Mythology and Vampire Culture: When vampires die they turn into a pool of blood. They can safely--if not comfortably--sleep underground. They don't consume anything but blood. Vampire society has a hierarchy; Sheriffs are figures of respect and power--you don't want to upset them. Human law does not acknowledge a vampire's right to marry.

Sound Bites

Sookie: (To Tara) Do you have any idea what I've been through today? A friend would ask!

Amy: (after seeing the stuffed animal heads at Merlotte's) Everyone has to eat, right? We're all links on the universal food chain. See, squirrel eats nuts, snake eats the squirrel, gator eats the snake. And we can eat pretty much anything we want. It's the circle of life.
Jason: Jesus Christ, I want to lick your mind.

Arlene: (re: Amy) Sam! Think we might have found a replacement for Dawn.
Sookie: (to Jason) Looks like you did too.

Eddie: (to Lafayette) I always look forward to Monday nights. First Heroes, then you.

Eric: (to Sookie, after she pretends she can't help him) Don't be coy. It's humbling enough to turn to a human for assistance. We know what you can do.


True Blood, Season 1 Episode 8 "The Fourth Man in the Fire." Written by Alexander Woo and Charlaine Harris. Directed by Michael Lehmann. From HBO.

26 October 2009

Hallowhedon


Clear my schedule, I'm going to London. Wishful thinking for me, alas, but for those of you who can manage it, why would you possibly miss out on Hallowhedon? Yes, it's a three-day (unofficial) convention celebrating all things Joss (Buffy, Angel, Firefly/Serenity, and Dollhouse). And official or not, their guest list still includes James Marsters (Spike), Nicholas Brendon (Xander), Mercedes McNab (Harmony), James Leary (wrinkly demon Clem), and Mark Lutz (Groo)! If I were anywhere within 100 km of the place this weekend you wouldn't be able to keep me away. But I'm in Toronto. Pity me.

If you're lucky enough to be able to make it you can also expect to enjoy parties, autograph sessions, a wine reception, photo shoots, guest talks and panels, shopping opportunities, and more. Unfortunately it looks like the silver and gold programmes are sold out, but the standard programmes (adult and children) are still available for £78 and £29 respectively. For more programme info, click here.

Hallowhedon, 30 October to 1 November 2009, at the Thistle Hotel, Heathrow (London). More info here.

23 October 2009

Lost Boys: The Tribe

Spoilers Ahead

I've been reluctant to watch Lost Boys: The Tribe. The original movie was brilliant; I knew the sequel could never live up to it. Not to mention the less-than-stellar reviews it received, and the not-promising premise outlined in the Reign of Frogs comics. But it had to be done, so on this cold, wet, grey, miserable day, I finally sat down to watch The Tribe. And the verdict is: at least it's finally over with.

First off, if you watch this movie in hopes of seeing any of the original characters other than Edgar Frog (Corey Feldman) and (briefly) Sam Emerson (Corey Haim), you're out of luck. Gramps was dispatched in Reign of Frogs, Lucy/mom has been replaced with obnoxious Aunt Jillian, Michael and Star are dead. Alan Frog was turned in the comics, mentioned in the movie, and will clearly be back in the sequel. Sam's also a vampire now (disappointing, although fangs suit him), and he and Edgar show up in a short interlude during the credits. I expect he'll be back in the sequel, as well. David was nowhere to be found, which is good and bad--his character was awesome, but who wants to see anyone other than Kiefer Sutherland playing him? Then again, he had such a prominent role in Reign of Frogs, I was sure he'd at least make an appearance in The Tribe. Speaking of making an appearance, I must say I think it would be nifty if they brought Laddie back for the next sequel; somehow I don't see it happening, though.

Set in the present day (i.e., about twenty years after The Lost Boys), The Tribe opens promisingly enough. There's a beach at night, nice shots of the water, a group of young surfers spouting intensely unimpressive dialogue. The boys have their fun before being confronted by the owner of the private beach on which they're trespassing. The owner, by the way, is played by Tom Savini, one of the few high points of the movie. No surprise when he turns out to be a vampire. More surprising is when the surfer boys show off their own fangs. They attack Savini's character en masse, killing him, and then beheading him for good measure. If the whole movie had followed along those lines, the terrible dialogue might just have been forgiveable. Oh well.

Cut to scenes of Santa Carla in the daytime (still a hole, only now minus the carnival) and the arrival of brother and sister Chris and Nicole Emerson, children of Michael and Star. It's fairly depressing that after everything they went through in the first movie, one-time half-vampires Michael and Star went on to settle down, have kids, and then die in a car accident. (When Edgar mentioned it in Reign of Frogs, I thought it was just a lame story to put David off their trail. My bad.) At least you'd think they would have warned their kids about Santa Carla. Chris (Tad Hilgenbrinck, Disaster Movie) is an ex pro surfer who was kicked off the circuit after he snapped and injured another surfer (Jon). Sister Nicole (Autumn Reeser, The O.C.) mainly just serves to cause trouble and make her brother crazy. They arrive in Santa Carla hoping for a cheap place to live and a chance to rebuild their lives. Instead they find Shane Powers (Angus Sutherland, charmless half-brother of Kiefer) another ex-surfer, now head vampire of the tribe. Of course Shane takes an instant liking to Nicole, forcing Chris to "infiltrate" the tribe in order to save her. Edgar Frog helps Chris out. Although Feldman's character isn't in the movie as much as he should have been (what's the point of a Lost Boys movie without the Frog Brothers?), the fact that he spends most of his time onscreen repeating dialogue and scenes from the original movie left me feeling that he was in there way more than necessary.

Besides the crappy dialogue, the pacing also sucks (no pun intended). Why fill your movie with pesky character and plot development when you can use screen time for awesome scenes of parking lot donuts, car/motorcycle/skateboard chases, and half-naked chicks?

By the way, the movie tries way too hard to be edgy, thus ensuring that it will fail miserably. Look: drugs! Underage drinking! Tattoos! Girls making out! Rebels harassing the law! Yawn. Not to mention that the female vampires (or half-vampires) all seem to acquire a double dose of skank along with their fangs (human women are just modestly skanky). Star would not be impressed. I know I'm not.

As for the male vampires, they seem to spend most of their time giggling dementedly and disemboweling one another for fun. Kids these days.

The Tribe also seems to be operating under the impression that if it references The Lost Boys enough (music, dialogue, props, scenes), it'll be as good as the original movie. Sorry guys--none of that will make up for poor writing, bad acting, and a lack of story. Annoying vampires don't help either. This movie has "sub-par" practically stamped across the title.

Not that it's all bad. Mostly, but not all. The high points (and yes, they're few enough to be listed):

*The siblings find a pair of antlers in their new home that look remarkably like the ones that impaled David. Less of a high point is when the antlers are later used the same way on another vampire.

*Super cheesy oiled-up sax player from The Lost Boys (Timmy Capello) is back! And he's really let himself go. (Technically it's not really Timmy Capello, who looks pretty much the same as he did back then, but it's a cute reference, and particularly amusing to those of us who despised sax guy in the original.)

*The sign outside the Frog Brothers' surfboard-shaping and vampire-hunting compound: You Are Not Invited In.

*Aunt Jillian shows up to spend quality time with the siblings, bringing along a copy of The Goonies. (And the dumbasses decide they'd rather go to a surfer party. )

*Edgar Frog ordained himself online and now makes his own holy water.

If you're looking for a lame, not particularly horrific horror movie, by all means watch The Tribe. But if you want a movie that's actually worth watching, stick with The Lost Boys. There's a reason why it's a classic while its sequel rots in the mire of direct-to-video releases.

Fang Files

Physical Appearance: Unlike the fairly subtle appearance of the vamps in the original movie, the vampires now have bumpy, scaly, veiny features (except for the girls--they still have to look cute), black eyes, and slightly less-prominent canines. Voices deepen and have a demonic quality to them. Their eyes turn red when communicating telepathically.

Strengths: Super speed, super strength (both of which seem to disappear when it comes to fighting the unarmed hero). Ability to fly. Ability of head vampire to call out telepathically to vampires they've created (or at least the girl they've got the hots for).

Weaknesses: Holy water, crosses, sunlight, garlic. Any object that can pierce their heart will kill a vampire.

Mythology: Vampires need to be invited in and have no reflection. Vampires die in differing and dramatic ways (their deaths often involve exploding and/or projectile blood vomiting). Being bitten or drinking the blood of a head vampire will turn a human into a half vampire; killing a human will turn a half vampire into a full vampire. Killing the head vampire before half vampires feed for the first time will revert all half vampires back to humans.

Sound Bites

Shane: (to Chris) You should come, meet the rest of the guys. They're killer.

Vampire Jon: Saltwater and blood are basically the same thing. [This is followed by a long explanation, leaving this viewer wondering why vampires don't just drink saltwater then.]

Edgar Frog: (wielding a pair of crosses/stakes) Hey! Who ordered the stake?

Edgar Frog: I'm warning you.
Sam: Hey, I'm trembling.


Read my previous reviews:

The Lost Boys

Reign of Frogs #1

Reign of Frogs #2

Reign of Frogs #3

Reign of Frogs #4

Lost Boys: The Tribe. Written by Hans Rodionoff. Directed by P.J. Pesce. From Warner.

19 October 2009

Flashback Weekend, Festival of the Dead, and the Second Annual Vampire Ball

With infinite time and money vampire fans could attend every event taking place this October. As it is, most of us have to pick and choose, so here are three more options to choose from:

Although it's a general horror convention, there are still a few vampire-specific diversions at Flashback Weekend; including a screening of Near Dark (introduced by Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, and Tim Thomerson), a screening of Live Evil (introduced by Tim Thomerson), and Near Dark Reunion Q & A. Special guests include Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, Tim Thomerson, Mercedes McNab ("Harmony" on Buffy and Angel), and artist Chad Savage (Anne Rice's Vampire Lestat Fan Club, Poppy Z. Brite...)

Ticket, pass and package info here. Flashback Weekend Chicago Horror Convention, 23-25 October 2009, at the Wyndham O'Hare (6810 N. Mannheim Rd), Rosemont, IL.


The Festival of the Dead in Salem is more about witches and ghosts than vampires, but it does also include the Vampires' Masquerade Ball. Presided over by Empress Akima, attendees are invited to "Indulge in an evening of immortal sin and morbid lusts." The evening's entertainment includes "gothic" music by dj addambombb, a seductive harem of succubi, The Black Cat Burlesque, "Magician of the Macabre" Vlad, the Empress Akima's Dance of Blood, and a gothic fashion show. There will also be contests, gifts, and a chance to kneel before the Empress and receive her unholy communion. Needless to say this isn't a family friendly event. More info here. The Vampires' Masquerade Ball, 23 October 2009, at The Hawthorne Hotel, Salem, MA.

For something a little different, you might want to check out the 2nd Annual Vampire Ball, to benefit the Flint Farmers' Market. There will be live music (Voltaire with special guest Hellblinki, and Bellamorte with special guests Ego Likeness and Versailles), dancing, The Gothic Belly Dancers, psychic readings, photo ops, and a cash bar serving vamp-appropriate beverages. More info here (scroll down). The Second Annual Vampire Ball, 24 October 2009, at the Masonic Temple (755 S. Saginaw), Flint, MI.

16 October 2009

The Vampire Diaries S1 E6 "Lost Girls"

Spoilers Ahead

Hmm... minimal 90210-esque lame drama: check. Reasonable amount of vampirism: check. A storyline that actually held my interest (for the most part)... I think we have an okay episode here! Of course, there were definitely some not-so-great moments in "Lost Girls," but more on those in a bit.

The episode opens nicely, repeating the ending of "You're Undead to Me" but, instead of finding Elena there when Stefan throws open the door, we flash back to 1864. We finally get to see Katherine in full living-colour. Kind of wishing we hadn't, though. She's so obnoxious I can't see how either Stefan or Damon would be interested in her, let alone willing to fight over her. She has that same smug, smirking quality as the actress who plays Anne Boleyn on The Tudors. Ick.

Vicki, on the other hand, has grown on me. So I guess it's good that Damon is completely incompetent at killing her (that or the writers are unaware that excessive blood loss--such as having one's jugular ripped open and left to seep blood for hours--is actually fatal). After draining her friends and setting their bodies on fire (no more feigned animal attacks), Damon notices that Vicki is still alive. Since he's stuck indoors all day until Stefan returns his ring, he decides he could use the company and brings Vicki home with him. The next thing we know he's healing her wounds by giving her his own blood to drink (why didn't he ever do that with Caroline? It might have been a wise idea not to leave bite marks/evidence all over her). Once Vicki recovers she asks for "another hit" of blood (she's slightly under the influence of Damon at that point) and he indulges her as long as he gets some too. Blood is exchanged, music is played (a cover of Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence"), frolicking occurs (Damon's open-shirted dancing makes me laugh, but pretty sure it's not supposed to be funny), baggage is unloaded (more laughter from me--I'm so insensitive). And then Damon kills Vicki. This was unexpected and well done, although you quickly realize she'll be back in a second because of all the earlier blood swapping. Before long she is indeed up and running again, remembering nothing of what happened. Damon tries to tell her she needs to drink human blood in order to complete the process, but she's too anxious to get out of there. He settles for suggesting she stop by to see Jeremy on the way home.

Elena spends the episode reacting to the realization that Stefan is a vampire. She starts off in disbelief, moves on to fear and anger, then settles on reluctant acceptance. (Am I the only one suddenly reminded of the stages people supposedly go through when confronting their own mortality?) Stefan tries to explain what he is, how it happened, that Damon's the evil one, etc...etc... He also begs her not to tell anybody. Her reaction, as usual, is annoying. She'd clearly already figured out that Stefan is a vampire, so why freak out when he confirms it? And when she tells him she knows he'd never do anything to hurt her but she just can't be with him...what the hell is that about? He's the same guy she was sucking face with the day before--what really has changed? Then again she's the one who acted like he was obligated to describe his entire life history in detail in order to be with her; she probably would have dumped him if she'd found out he was a smoker or that he has hairy toes. If this is going to be an endless cycle of break-up/make-up, please just shoot me now.

As Elayna and Stefan discuss the finer points of being undead, my attention was caught--and not in a good way. One of the exchanges Stefan and Elayna have is right out of True Blood "Burning House of Love" (see my review under Fang Files). Almost word for word, in fact. Let's see... Bill and Stefan both claim that a lack of reflection is a myth. Crucifixes are geometry for Bill, but "decorative" for Stefan. Holy water is just water for both of them (Stefan describes it as "drinkable"). And while garlic is a little irritating to Bill, Stefan claims he actually likes it. Are we missing anything? Oh, and did I mention both "Burning House of Love" and "Lost Girls" were directed by the same person (Marcos Siega)? The similarities could be pure coincidence, but the chances of that are looking pretty slim right now. I'm not saying The Vampire Diaries would stoop as low as plagiarism, but if the producers want to prevent people's minds from going there, they might want to be a little more careful in future. It's bad enough they already have Angel and Spike Jr. (Stefan and Damon), not to mention Willow-in-training (Bonnie). They might also consider not using directors from other vampire series (even if it did improve the quality of the episode).

Back to 1864 for a minute and we find out that not only did Katherine play the brothers against each other, but she also happened to be the vampire who sired both of them (glamouring them first so neither knew what she was up to with the other). That revelation was fairly predictable once we actually got to see her in action. My next prediction is that the "Union sympathizers" (including Katherine) who were burned alive in the church by "Confederate soldiers" were actually the vampires who apparently used to populate Mystic Falls in greater numbers, and the "soldiers" that torched them were actually the original town founders/vampire hunters cabal.

In the present again, Vicki's taken Damon's advice and shows up at Jeremy and Elena's house acting like she has the world's worst hangover (or is having a really, really bad trip). She's amorous, then ravenous, then in hideous pain, then flipping out. Jeremy calls Matt to come help with her, but I'm not sure why other than to remind us that Matt exists and that he's Vicki's brother (he's otherwise useless). Stefan, on the other hand, realizes what's happening to her, and after she takes off he volunteers to track her. When he finds her he explains what's going on and what her choices are. You have to feel sorry for Vicki when she asks him if it'll be better--if she'll be better--as a vampire, especially when the look on his face gives her the answer she didn't want. He's about to take her home (to die, at her request) when Stefan is shot, and collapses unable to move. It seems the pocket watch the cabal was after makes a nifty casing for a compass/vampire detector (and why exactly did it have to be that particular watch?) The sheriff, Logan, and a few others are clumsily searching out Mystic Falls's menacing vampire when Logan (with the watch) comes across Stefan and decides to shoot first and ask questions later. I guess he figures wooden bullets won't kill or hurt a human. They don't kill vampires, either, but they incapacitate them long enough to finish the job with a stake. Just before Logan can dispatch Stefan, Damon shows up and saves his brother (hopefully actually killing Logan, but you never know...) and telling Stefan "If anyone's going to kill you, it's going to be me." Ah, brotherly love. Of course, while those two are distracted Vicki helps herself to what's left of Logan's blood. Yay--newbie vamp in Mystic Falls! Now which brother will find (and influence) her first? Will she be a vicious bloodsucker like Damon or a "care bear with fangs" like Angel--I mean Stefan? And how are Stefan and Elayna going to explain this to Jeremy and Matt? At this point, Elena might as well put out a "welcome vampires" mat at home.

Speaking of which, Damon pays Elayna a visit before he takes off to find (and save) Stefan. He assures her he won't kill her yet, which somehow prompts her to tell him off for turning Vicki into a vampire. For someone who was running away like a little girl when she found out her harmless boyfriend is actually a harmless vampire, she doesn't seem too intimidated by his homicidal brother. In any case, Damon's not overly concerned about Vicki, saying she'll thank him later. Elayna's comeback: "Did you thank Katherine?" was a good one, getting a subdued response from Damon and showing he does have a heart in there somewhere. He leaves with a warning that she should be careful who she invites in from now on.

By the way, where is aunt Jenna through all this? It's not like she's Elayna and Jeremy's guardian or anything, responsible for their upbringing and well-being. Gotta love those absentee adult characters who always seem to populate teen shows. A reasonable, believable explanation might be nice, though.

The episode leaves off with Elayna telling Stefan she can't be with him, breaking his heart as well as her own. Don't worry--I'm sure it won't take.

As I was watching the upcoming scenes from next week's show, I realized the real reason why "Lost Girls" was better than usual: no Caroline! That character is so very irritating and unlikeable--a second of her in the previews was like an hour of nails on a chalkboard. Actually, I think I'd prefer the nails. Getting a break from her this week only emphasizes how awful she truly is. Writers/producers: any chance of her being killed off soon? Like immediately? Just wondering...

And on a side note, what happened to Green Day? They had a song featured in "Lost Girls," which not only did I not recognize during the show, but afterward when I heard it during a promo I couldn't believe it was the same band that brought us "American Idiot." How depressing. I knew the new album was nothing great, but wow. What's next: touring with Nickelback?

Not quite looking forward to the next episode of The Vampire Diaries...but not dreading it, either...

Fang Files

Strengths: Super speed. Ability to hypnotize ("mind control"). Power of sudden and silent appearances and departures.

Weaknesses: Vervain, sunlight (unless in possession of a protective ring), wooden bullets, stakes.

Mythology: To be turned, a human must drink a vampire's blood before dying. After they resurrect (or "transition") they have a few hours to either drink human blood and complete the process, or die permanently. Stefan tells Elayna that he loves garlic, isn't affected by crucifixes ("decorative") or holy water ("drinkable"), and that vampires not having reflections is a myth.

Sound Bites

Elayna: What are you?
Stefan: You know.
Elayna: No, I don't.
Stefan: Yes you do or you wouldn't be here.
Elayna: It's not possible. It can't be.
[It keeps going...]

Stefan: You can hate me, but I need you to trust me.

Stefan: (after Damon demands the return of his ring) I need time.
Damon: What did you do--FedEx it to Rome?

Damon: (after Vicki cries on his shoulder) You are so damaged... I think I know what can help you.
Vicki: What?
Damon: Death. [snaps her neck]

The Vampire Diaries, Season 1 Episode 6 "Lost Girls." Written by Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec. Directed by Marcos Siega. From The CW.

14 October 2009

True Blood, S1 E7 "Burning House of Love"

Spoilers Ahead

Talk about an afterglow; this one comes complete with raging inferno.

"Burning House of Love" begins like every other episode of True Blood, picking up where the previous episode (in this case,"Cold Ground") left off. We start with a shot of Bill's mouth lapping at Sookie's bloody neck, then move on to action of a different sort. The sex scene this time is less romantic and more graphic (and I thought nearly naked Spike having sex with invisible Buffy was risque...) It's all tasteful, though, as well as nicely shot and edited. And it's kind of sweet that there's still something in this world that can make me blush.

As Sookie and Bill recover in the bath afterward (I so have to get a bathroom like Bill's), she tells him about Uncle Bartlett's abuse when she was a girl, lamenting that even though the experience with Bill was "so, so perfect" she hates that she can't not think of Bartlett. Bill responds that it's okay to think about whatever she thinks about because she's safe with him. But as she leans back against him, the look on his face makes it clear that Bartlett is not so safe.

Jason spends the episode behaving like a typical junkie, showing up at Lafayette's and making promises and threats (unsuccessfully) to get Lafayette to sell him V. When that doesn't work he tries stealing his Gran's heirlooms and jewellery, only to be confronted by Sookie (he derisively calls her a fang-banger, then takes off with a pair of candlesticks that were a wedding gift to Gran from her mother). Later he shows up at Fangtasia looking sickly and shifty, catching Pam's attention both from his appearance and his name (she quickly surmises he's related to Sookie). Suspecting his motives, she glamours him and finds out he's there for vampire blood. Unimpressed she waves him in, wishing him luck on getting out again. Inside he's about as subtle as you would expect, clumsily asking the bartender (Long Shadow) if they serve anything harder than Tru Blood... no, harder than whiskey... you, know...a little darker in colour... Long Shadow's getting annoyed and Jason's on the verge of saying something really stupid when he's saved by a hippie girl with her own stash of V. My initial reaction is to like hippie girl (Amy) for saving Jason. That instantly turns to loathing, however, when she calls his truck "authentic." My revised opinion is confirmed when she proves herself a pretentious twit, but Jason likes her so she'll likely be around for a while. I'm curious, though: are the rest of us supposed to like her? Something to ponder as she and Jason get all religious with their V consumption, communing with Gaia and watching the sparkly lights flow between their connected bodies. There's also a very pretty shot of the blood seeping into a pair of aspirin tablets.

Tara is dealing with some fun problems of her own. Her mother, Lettie Mae, insists her alcoholism is caused by a demon, and that she needs $445 for an exorcism. Tara is understandably dismissive. But when her mom, in desperation at being denied a loan, makes a scene at the bank, Tara finally gives in. The exorcism scene is pretty convincing. Taking place out in the middle of nowhere in a crumbling old bus, Miss Jeanette--the exorcist--knows how to create an eerie mood. As Lettie Mae convulses and shouts, I can believe she's possessed. And when the nearby caged possum suddenly starts shrieking and going wild, I can even believe the demon has moved into it. Those of you who are animal lovers might want to avert your eyes for the next few seconds, as Miss Jeanette dispatches the possessed possum. Demonic or not, you have to feel sorry for the little guy. As Tara and her mom are leaving, Miss Jeanette claims there's still another demon to get rid of: the one inside Tara. Scoffing at the audacity, Tara nevertheless shuts up when Miss Jeanette starts describing her perfectly (no friends, no boyfriend, can't hold down a job...) Miss Jeanette tells Tara to find her when she's ready.

Back to Sookie and Bill. Reacting as we knew he would, Bill pays Uncle Bartlett a visit. When Bartlett sees Bill standing at the top of his wheelchair ramp, he stammers that he doesn't keep cash in the house. His fear is palpable as his wheelchair slowly rolls backwards. It comes to a stop and Bill is suddenly behind him. Out come the fangs and out goes Uncle Bartlett. No sympathy whatsoever for the child molester, but I have to wonder how Sookie's going to react when so far she hasn't exactly been comfortable with Bill's vampire nature (e.g. when he menaced the cop who pulled them over. Details) Hope this doesn't cause trouble down the line.

Sookie, meanwhile, is acting all kinds of weird. At work she's uber peppy and hyper, which would be understandable given the fantastic night she never thought she'd be able to have (sometimes, being able to hear exactly what people are thinking is a serious detriment). But considering she just buried her Gran the day before--after finding the woman's mutilated body in her kitchen--I'd expect her mood to be a little more muted. Maybe she's just in serious repression mode. But whatever the reason, something about it doesn't ring quite true.

On top of that, just after telling Arlene she doesn't want to talk about personal business at work, Sookie admits she slept with Bill and might just be in love with him. Then, after Arlene blabs and Sam reacts badly (tearing off the scarf she was cunningly using to hide the bite marks), Sookie tells Sam off before announcing to the entire bar that she slept with Bill and loved every second of it. Telling Sam off was the right reaction. Even telling the bar she's with Bill makes sense (it's a small town; they're all going to be talking about it anyway). But is it just me or is it a little TMI to be going on about how good it was? And for someone who claims not to want to get personal at work, she doesn't hesitate in describing to Lafayette how it felt to be bitten. I don't know--Sookie's behaviour seems a little all over the place and not necessarily logical. Hope she evens out by next episode (she should see Lafayette about getting something for that).

And just when I was wondering when we'd see the trio of scary vamps again (Malcolm, Liam, and Diane) they show up at Merlotte's. Since vampire-related tensions are already heightened, thanks to Sookie's bite marks and earlier announcements, it's no surprise people react negatively to the new arrivals. Not that they make any effort to put people at ease. When Sam refuses them service, Malcolm reminds him that it's against the law to discriminate against vampires, and then also points out that they just bought a house down the road, thereby making them locals. Thirsty locals. Sam tries to uninvite them but it turns out vamps don't need invitations to enter public places (and so can't be uninvited). Malcolm threatens to feed on Sookie, first prompting her to respond that she is Bill's (Sam is not impressed to hear this) and then, when he decides to ignore etiquette and feed on her anyway, snapping that she'd never let anyone like Malcolm touch her (we've got to hand it to Sookie--the girl's not lacking in guts). Violence ensues.

As Bill dumps Bartlett's body in the bayou he senses Sookie's fear, and a moment later he's at Merlotte's. Malcolm claims they were trying to get his attention all along. Bill, realizing the only way to get rid of them is to go with them, tells Sookie he should be with his own kind. He tries to signal to her what he's doing and, luckily, she gets the message. But if anyone else realizes what's going on, they don't care. Some rednecks in the bar (the same ones who got into it with Lafayette over the "AIDS" in the food he'd made) are all riled up about the uppity vampires. While they plan on getting back at the vamps, Sookie is the only one who cares that they're going after them--including Bill. Arlene even claims she doesn't care if they kill all the vamps. Sookie desperately calls Bill, frustrated that she's only getting his voicemail. She leaves a message warning him there's a lynch mob coming.

Arlene is another character I'm not sure whether we're supposed to like. Sometimes she's lovely--like when she's comforting Terry as he's breaking down over his "failure" to help fight the vampires. Other times she just seems like a judgmental bitch. I think maybe she's supposed to represent the "everywoman" of Bon Temps. I'm still not sure if I like her or can't stand her. I do think she's the perfect example of why redheads should not get tans, though.

Sookie spends the night at Bill's, waiting for him to return. He never does. Meanwhile the rednecks have outfitted themselves with Molotov cocktails (or napalm, as one of them puts it) and proceed to set the vampires' house ablaze. One of the rednecks also sets his arm ablaze, but they put it out and run as screams emanate from within the house.

While Andy and Terry Bellefleur are fishing, Terry spots a naked man running through the woods. It turns out to be Sam. As Andy ponders this he gets a call ordering him to the scene of the fire. When Sookie arrives at the burned-out remains of the house, a crowd has already gathered. She's just in time to watch as four charred coffins are removed from the house.

Not good.

Fang Files

Strengths: Super strength, super speed. Ability to hypnotize ("glamour") humans.

Weaknesses: Vampires need to be invited in to enter a private residence, and their invitation can be revoked, compelling them to leave (but they don't need invitations to enter public buildings). Can't go outside during the day/can't tolerate sunlight.

Mythology: Vampires have reflections, holy water is "just water," crucifixes are "geometry," and garlic is "irritating," but that's it; Bill explains that vampires invented most of the myths about themselves as a way of confusing humans and, if necessary, having ways of proving that they aren't vampires. Sookie tells Lafayette being bitten felt like all her unhappiness and worries were flowing out of her and into Bill, and that once she relaxed it didn't even hurt. There is a bond between vampires and the humans who have drunk their blood; they can always sense and easily find the humans afterward.

Sound Bites

Tara: (trying to apologize to Sam) I don't know how to be with somebody. I never... maybe I'm unboyfriendable.

Lettie Mae: (attempting to entice the bank manager into lending her money) There may be snow on the mountain top but there is fire in the valley!

Uncle Bartlett: I don't keep cash in the house.
Bill: Oh, I'm not here for money. [Reappears behind him] I'm here for Sookie.

Malcolm: (to Sookie) I'm going to drain you so slowly you'll beg me to kill you.
Iraq-war vet Terry: (defending Sookie) Jihad this, motherfucker!

Andy: (watching the naked man run through the woods) That was Sam Merlotte!
Terry: Yup. I've done that before.

True Blood, Season 1 Episode 7 "Burning House of Love." Written by Chris Offutt and Charlaine Harris. Directed by Marcos Siega. From HBO.

13 October 2009

Bram Stoker Film Festival

October continues to favour vampire devotees, this time with the Bram Stoker International Film Festival, featuring independent international horror/suspense/sci fi films, documentaries, and shorts. Most of the movies aren't about vampires, but there's still plenty of bloody good entertainment, should you happen to be fortunate enough to be within easy reach of Whitby, England this weekend. Besides films, there's a free all-ages Vampire Walk on the 18th (to be led by "The Countess Dracula herself" Ingrid Pitt); opening night festivities, including burlesque/cabaret performances and The Mocky Horror Show; and guest speakers including the aforementioned Ms. Pitt (Countess Dracula, The House that Dripped Blood), New York Times best selling author G.P. Taylor (Shadowmancer), filmmaker Devi Snively (Death in Charge), author/journalist Gavin Baddeley (The Gospel of Filth), and writer/producer Rod Morris (Dying Breed).

The fourty-four films at the festival are unrated and, therefore, open only to the 18+ crowd. Vampire fans might want to check out:

Blood on the Highway: Dimwitted teenagers mistakenly wander into a Texas town populated by even dimmer-witted vampires. The remaining humans band together and prepare for battle. Directed by Barak Epstein and Blair Rowan.








Dracula, the Vampire and the Voivode: "The first documentary ever to reveal the TRUE story of Bram Stoker and his legendary novel..." Directed by Michael Bayley Hughes.




How My Dad Killed Dracula (short): When two young teens don't believe their cousin's dad killed Dracula, he picks up a shovel and starts digging. Directed by Sky Soleil.





Nightlife: A mockumentary about six vampires and the amateur hunters who stalk them (think reality TV meets The Lost Boys). Directed by Timothy Sanderson.









Orlok the Vampire: From the bottomless pit he came... and was re-imaged in 3D! World premiere. Directed by Keith Carter/F.W. Murnau.







Temptation: A murder victim is turned by a sympathetic vampire, and then has 48 hours to decide whether to kill herself or embrace an eternity of being undead. Directed by Catherine Taylor.









Thicker than Water- The Vampire Diaries Part 1: No relation to the TV series or the books by L.J. Smith. "The family that prays together... slays together." Directed by Phil Messerer.









Day passes for films are £25 and tickets for opening night are £18 (a 4-day pass, including access to the opening night events, is £88). To buy tickets or for more info click here. The Bram Stoker International Film Festival runs from 16 October to 19 October 2009, in Whitby, England. For more info click here.

09 October 2009

The Vampire Diaries S1 E5 "You're Undead to Me"

Spoilers Ahead

Having been less than impressed with the last couple of episodes of The Vampire Diaries, I was gratified to see that Episode 5, "You're Undead to Me," was more interesting than usual; at least I wasn't staring at the clock at 8:23 wondering how I was going to get through the rest of the hour. Of course it also exhibited signs of getting stupider (two words: Sexy Suds). But the impression this show is leaving on me is still not a good one; after I went to bed I dreamed that I fell asleep watching it. Seriously--not good. Let's just say my True Blood and Buffy dreams are a lot more...stimulating. But I digress...

"You're Undead to Me" starts with Damon still locked in the vervain grow-op room in Stefan's basement. His ring's been taken, and Stefan tells him he plans on leaving him there until his circulation stops and he can't move anymore. Then Stefan plans on moving Damon to "the family crypt," after which they can re-evaluate the situation in fifty years.

Things look pretty grim for Damon, but we've got to hand it to him--he's not one to easily give up. When he can't convince Zack (by throttling him) to let him out (Stefan inconveniently shows up and saves Zack) he focuses his efforts on calling Caroline to him. Her memory might be spotty, and she might be preoccupied with the "Sexy Suds" (gag) fundraiser car wash she's organizing, but a thrall is a thrall and it isn't long before she's on her way to Damon.

The car wash is annoying on numerous levels. Time was, people (even the ones on TV) didn't feel they needed to try so damn hard to be sexy. Personality and style were the key (for some of us they still are). Now there seems to be a certain pervasive desperation that's not even questioned. Women in particular, of all ages, are wasting their time and money--with dubious results--to achieve some plastic cookie cutter version of "sexy" that really isn't. Meanwhile, everyone's insecurities are raging, being goaded by idiotic messages from people who, in the end, don't matter in the slightest. Guess what? Wasting screen time on a storyline that involves a character planning a "sexy" car wash, then making a point of having the character tell everyone they have to be "sexy" at said car wash, before mentioning that even the band is helping out--or at least the ones who can wear a bikini--is just pathetic. Not to mention spending even more time on the car wash itself. Really, truly pathetic. Which ultimately just makes the show lame.

Anyway...

Elayna is not happy with Stefan, but then she so rarely is. She does an entertaining impression of him, but other than that it's mostly pouting, storming off, and questioning him even when she claims to believe him. Basically she's mad, madder, somewhat appeased, suspicious, and really suspicious. Granted, his vague answers to her questions would be irritating, but why is it any of her business what his history with Katherine was, or what his family's done for the last ten generations? I didn't realize background checks were standard in all new relationships. Stefan does try. He makes her dinner and admits all sorts of dull and unrevealing facts about himself ('You like the Beatles? Get out! I like the Beatles!) She seems happy enough until she cuts herself (that girl is quite accident prone) and notices his reflection in the window as he's vamping out. He gets the situation under control and she thinks she's hallucinating. But then at the car wash, an old man who claimed he recognized Stefan from years before shows up again and has a chat with Elayna. The old man claims to have stayed at the Salvatore boarding house back in 1953. He also claims to remember Damon too, as well as their rings, and says that Stefan hasn't aged a day since he saw him, just after his uncle (Joseph Salvatore) was attacked and killed by an animal. Elayna then grills Stefan not-so-subtly (although he seems oblivious) and begs Aunt Jenna's old/new flame, Logan (the reporter), to show her the old news stories apparently only he has access to (I guess people really don't know anymore what libraries are for). A little CSI: Mystic Falls later and Elayna has photgraphic evidence of Stefan in 1953. Da da duh.

Bonnie is still setting things on fire with her mind. Is she a witch or merely pyrokinetic? And for someone who's supposed to be Elayna's best friend, they barely seem to talk to each other. I think Stefan had more meaningful interaction with Bonnie this episode, and she doesn't even like him. Bonnie does provide a minor highlight, though, when she seeks help from her grandmother, who turns out to be played by Jasmine Guy! If you know Jasmine Guy from A Different World, this isn't so impressive. If, however, you know her as Roxy on Dead Like Me, you'll understand my enthusiasm.

Back to Damon, he finally gets Caroline's attention (between the crow he sends, his disembodied voice, and hallucinations of him, even someone as self-involved as Caroline was bound to notice eventually). She walks into his house (apparently Canadians and residents of Mystic Falls are the only people in North America who still leave their doors unlocked), wanders to the basement, and has a conversation with him before Zack finally shows up to stop her from letting Damon out. Alas, he's too late. As Caroline runs, Damon shows his gratitude for being locked up by breaking Zack's neck (he can't drink Zack's blood because it's loaded with vervain). But when he tries to follow Caroline outside, he sizzles like a piece of bacon. Finally--some vampire action in a show about vampires. What a novel concept.

Since Vicki and Jeremy finally hooked up (she even spent the night), it was inevitable that they would immediately start fighting. And since this is, more or less, a horror show, it was also inevitable she would die (when will teens learn?) That night, as she's getting high in the cemetery with her fellow stoners, they deem her "it," sending her back to the car to re-start the music. I was sure she would come back to find her friends all dead, but kudos to The Vampire Diaries for taking the less-predictable route and having Damon kill her instead. Damon's back in my good books for offing not one, but two annoying characters this episode (three in total). Well done. Of course, the real tragedy is that Jeremy will now think Vicki stole the Gilbert family pocket watch, instead of realizing it was Logan (invited back to the house after his date with Jenna, who clearly wasn't that traumatized by him despite leaving town over his dastardly ways). But now that the watch has been acquired by the would-be hunters (explained in my last review), I guess we should all start worrying about Stefan (because we know they'll never catch Damon). By the way, it would have been nice if the show had drawn out the search for the watch a little more. Tension is generally a good thing in a television show. Maybe if they weren't so busy with ludicrous plotlines about skanky fundraisers...

Anyway...

The show ends with Stefan discovering Damon's dead crow (yup--the blood-starved vamp literally ate crow. Ha ha) and Zack. As he's dashing to find his better half, he opens the door and instead finds Elayna standing there. Yes, boys and girls: she's finally clued in that she's dating a vampire. And we're all waiting on tenterhooks to see how they'll resolve the latest crisis threatening their relationship. Aren't we just?

Fang Files

Appearance: Red-rimmed, dark eyes; dark facial veins; prominent canines.

Strengths: Ability to alter human memories, ability to exert will over humans, ability to control animals (crow). Super strength, super speed.

Weaknesses: Vervain, sunlight.

Mythology: Special rings protect Damon and Stefan from burning in the sun (Stefan's is made of Lapis lazuli). Vampires who don't feed become steadily weaker until they finally can't move; eventually they desiccate like a mummy, turning into a living corpse. Stefan claims to love garlic, so garlic apparently has no effect.


Sound Bites

Elayna: (re: Stefan) What do we know about him, really?

Damon: You got the bad guy. Now nothing can come between you and Elayna. Except the truth.

Damon: Let me out of here, please.
Caroline: You bit me.
Damon: You liked it.

Caroline: Mom, when I want to talk boys I'll call dad. At least he's successfully dating one.

The Vampire Diaries, Season 1 Episode 5 "You're Undead to Me." Written by Sean Reycraft and Gabrielle G. Stanton. Directed by Kevin Bray. From The CW.

07 October 2009

Must Love Hellhounds


What do hellhounds and vampires have in common? Not much other than providing a muse for writers everywhere, including Charlaine Harris, Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews, and Meljean Brook. But vampire afficionados should be prepared for the two-legged fanged fiends to take a backseat to the four-legged variety in Must Love Hellhounds.

The book is comprised of four novellas, all featuring--what else?--hellhounds. I have to admit, when Penguin sent me a review copy, I was particularly excited to have the chance to take a look at Charlaine Harris's latest. Too bad her contribution, "The Britlingens Go to Hell," was a huge disappointment. But since it (ironically) didn't include any vampires, there's no need to get into it here. Just don't go out and buy the book because her name's on the cover.

Spoilers Ahead

Things pick up a little with Nalini Singh's story, "Angels' Judgment: A Guild Hunter Novella." Set in a world where "angels" create and control vampires, hunters exist to keep the vamps in line when they don't fulfill their obligations to their masters. Uber hunter Sara is surprised to find herself suddenly teamed up with "The Slayer." (Yes, he's named after that Slayer, as a "joke." Ha ha. The joke's on Ms. Singh, however, because every time I read the name, my mind immediately jumped to Buffy and the Buffyverse. Not exactly an ideal situation when your readers slip out of your story and think of someone else's work instead.) Sara and The Slayer (aka Deacon) investigate the serial killings of five vampires, indulging in some sexy action along the way (note to author: "sanity fractured" is not a good euphemism for an orgasm). If you like fluffy paranormal romance novels, you'll enjoy this story. Just don't expect an airtight (or even mildly drafty) plot.

Fang Files: Humans who want to be "made" into vampires must serve the angels for 100 years. Vampires can be killed by decapitation or fire. Some vamps live the typical quiet life of most humans, but others give into their blood lust and revel in carnage. The older the vampire the less they exhibit their attributes (e.g., they would never show their fangs). The Vampire Protection Authority was set up to prevent cruelty and prejudice against vampires (they're basically the ACLU for vamps). Crossbow bolt to the heart leaves a vampire paralyzed and helpless.

Text Bite

Simon: Sara, Deacon's extremely dangerous. Be careful.
Sara: I'm pretty dangerous, too.

The next story, "Magic Mourns," by Ilona Andrews is by far the best of the bunch. Not only has she created a really cool and interesting framework for her world (Earth in the near future is subjected to random and unpredictable waves of magic that destroy man-made structures and prevent all tech from working), but she was the only author to actually incorporate a hellhound into the story in a natural and believable way (and also the only one to exhibit any knowledge of the hellhound myth's origins). The pacing was also the best in "Magic Mourns," making it feel like a proper (if short) novel and not rushed or weakly developed like the others. Vampires play only a minor role in this story about retrieving a stolen body (again with danger and romance along the way), and the ending is a little weak (although it's followed by an intriguing epilogue), but it hardly matters when the rest of it is so enjoyable. I'm going to have to get my hands on Ms. Andrews's other "magic" books ASAP.

Fang Files: Vampires are basically mindless animated corpses infected by the Immortuus pathogen, and driven only by the need for fresh blood. Their empty minds make them ideal vessels to be controlled by "Navigators" (necromancers). Vampires are all hairless and emaciated with yellow claws and fangs; they emit the foul smell of death (but not rot).

Text Bite

Andrea: A giant three-headed dog was bad news. A vampire was much, much worse.

Lastly, we come to "Blind Spot: A Guardian Novella," by Meljean Brook. This was my second-favourite story in Must Love Hellhounds, partly because the vampires (although again playing a minor role) were more along the lines of the kinds of vamps I enjoy, and partly because the heroine's love interest was actually interesting. He is endowed with the unique (as far as I am aware) characteristic of being able to see only through other people's eyes. It provided an unusual and engaging perspective to this story about chasing kidnappers and uncovering conspiracy. As with most of the stories, "Blind Spot" is a little too dominated by exposition. Some of the cheesy names are also distracting (the hellhound is named "Sir Pup"), as are some of the overly convenient solutions (the hound can carry anything with him, and it remains invisible until needed). But generally it's a solid and enjoyable story.

Fang Files: Most vampires can't rise during the day (Day Sleep), burst into flames in the sun, and can see their reflections, but our heroine's employer (and the hero's uncle) is the exception. Vampire blood heals human wounds, although not completely. Vampires appear human and (the ones in this story at least) live normal lives.

Text Bite

Maggie: Can you see through animals, Mr. Blake?
Geoff: No.
Maggie: Just through people?
Geoff: Yes. And no more 'Mr. Blake.' I am not your employer.
Maggie: Yes, sir.


My one recurring thought as I read Must Love Hellhounds was that they should have included something by Lori Devoti, seeing as how she's already created a fantastic hellhound mythology. Alas, she's with Harlequin, so that idea could never be more than wishful thinking. Okay, so Must Love Hellhounds is hardly fine literature--but who says it has to be? What it is, is an overall enjoyable bit of escapism in the paranormal genre. With vampires to boot. You really can't complain about that.

Must Love Hellhounds by Charlaine Harris, Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews, and Meljean Brook. Published by Penguin (Berkley).

06 October 2009

Vampire Film Festival


New Orleans is host to numerous vampire-related events this month, including the Vampire Film Festival. Besides the films (reason enough to pay a visit), there's going to be parties, a scavenger hunt in the French Quarter, a jazz funeral procession, and discussion panels.

As for the movies, you're spoiled for choice with a selection of 50+ from 11 countries (including shorts). Some of the features include:

Shadowland Strange things are afoot as Laura is stalked by a mysterious young man who may or may not want to kill her. Directed by Wyatt Weed.

The Kiss High school outcast falls for vampire queen and finds out that love bites. Directed by Scott Madden.

The Revenant What do you do when you return from the dead and discover you need to consume human blood, or else face existence as a putrefying animated corpse? Directed by Kerry Prior.

The Death of Alice Blue
New advertising intern Alice Blue discovers that sometimes the boss really is an evil bloodsucker. Directed by Park Bench.

Mangal Sutra Some traditions never die! Directed by Manjit Singh.

Strigoi Ancient myth meets post-communist Romania. Directed by Faye Jackson.

Let Me Die Quietly Alcoholic psychic Mario can relive a victim's last living moments. Too bad no one believes him, making him the ideal candidate to play pawn in a murder plot.

There will also be costume contests, special guests, and "surprises" at all screenings. Select screening will include filmmakers in attendance, followed by Q&A.

For more information and to watch vampire shorts, click here.

To buy tickets (cheaper in advance) or all-access passes, click here.

The Vampire Film Festival goes from 23 October to 26 October 2009, in New Orleans.

02 October 2009

The Vampire Diaries S1 E4 "Family Ties"

Spoilers Ahead

And the plot thickens. Not in any actual interesting way, mind you, but it is bloating up nicely. Like a corpse way past its 'bury-by' date.

"Family Ties" opens with one of the show's favourite plot devices: the fakeout dream. You know--where something terrifying and/or disturbing happens to a beloved character, shocking and appalling the viewer until it ultimately is revealed that it was a dream all along. Yeah, these have been used way too much already, and not used particularly well, at that. I wish I could say that I don't think we'll be seeing any more of them in future episodes.

From there it's on to the big news in Mystic Falls. Not only has the deadly animal responsible for all the recent deaths been caught (turns out it was a mountain lion), but the Founder's Party is coming up! The party, held by (and seemingly for) the town founders, is the biggest thing since the comet! Everyone's talking about it and everyone's going. Elena's even fulfilling her mother's promise to lend several family heirlooms for the event. The only thing she keeps back is the pocket watch that Jeremy feels particularly attached to, telling the mayor's bitchy wife that it is lost somewhere in the house (why she feels the need to lie is unclear. What is clear from the sudden prominence of the watch, is that we'll be hearing about it again soon).

Elena and Stefan continue their endless game of "I like you--hold on a second, no I don't. Oh wait, I do again. Maybe. Let's go out on a date!" That one never gets old. Actually, mostly Elena plays while Stefan looks hurt/confused and broody (can't really fault him for the confused). I'd also like to take a second to mention the lacklustre chemistry between Nina Dobrev and Paul Wesley. When they were dancing at the party, Nina/Elayna's back was almost bent double in an effort to keep her distance from Paul/Stefan.

Meanwhile, Bonnie's big contribution to the episode--besides pointless repetition of dialogue--is to remind us of her new witchy feelings by accidentally lighting a candle at the party... with her mind!

But there's plenty more going on at this party. After convincing Tyler--who turns out to be the mayor's son--to invite her, Vicki ends up spending the evening being treated like an embarrassment. Her lesser status is confirmed when Tyler's mom refers to her as trash (well yeah, she has a job... as a waitress! Horrors!), but not before Vicky finally stands up for herself and tells Tyler off. She then goes straight to her ex/stalker, Jeremy, and they happily fall into each other's arms. Kudos to The Vampire Diaries for teaching girls the valuable lesson that the right guy is the one who never gives up, even when you've repeatedly told him no. That's sarcasm, by the way.

Flaky Aunt Jenna makes an appearance and is confronted at the party by her ex, news reporter Logan, whose heinous past crimes (cheating) were so horrible they drove her out of town (really?) But being massively traumatized is still no match for persistence and charm ('but I've changed, baby'); Jenna eventually agrees to a lunch date with Logan. And once again we learn that all a woman really needs is a man to relentlessly pursue her, no matter what she says. "No" means keep trying! That's still sarcasm.

When Bonnie sees the mayor's wife being rude to the help because the candles haven't been lit, Bonnie lights them all... with her mind!

And throughout it all, Damon is Damon. He torments Stefan and Zack. He uses Caroline. He tells Elayna about the "first Salvatore brothers" who tried to save the woman they loved from a fire (deliberately set in a church to kill the Union sympathizers locked inside) and how the brothers were shot dead for their efforts. He also somehow managed to ensure the Founders Party wasn't cancelled (mentioned by him but not explained), simply so he could get inside and retrieve a "very important" crystal he'd left there at the last party he attended (which happened to be the inaugural party). He even apparently arranged so that vervain (a weed-like herb, by the way) would never grow in the town again. Sure thing. I initially liked Damon because he got the best lines and, go figure, actually behaved like a vampire. But his character is getting tiresome. When Spike (Buffy/Angel) smirks, it adds to his character and (I think) adds to his attraction; when Damon smirks (which he does constantly) he just looks like a bratty kid. And as for getting the best lines, I think he was too busy standing shirtless in front of a mirror, expounding on how great it is to spend eternity as a buff stud, to actually say anything of interest this episode.

Damon's smirk does finally get wiped off, though. After Caroline accidentally lets Elayna see the bite marks on her body (marks, by the way, which look like Damon's been gnawing on her rather than just piercing with fangs), Elayna confronts him and tells him to stay away from Caroline, or else. Damon then decides he's done with Caroline, sinking his fangs in with the intention of killing her. He immediately starts choking before doubling over in agony. Stefan, it turns out (although not unexpectedly), had the foresight to spike Caroline's drink with a double dose of vervain, rendering Damon helpless as soon as he injests her blood. Stefan then whisks Damon back to their house and locks him into the secret vervain grow-op room Zack had set up in the basement. Of course, we all know he'll be out of there by next episode, but Stefan seems confident that his work is done.

The show ends with the big twist. A select group of prominent townspeople (Caroline's mother/the sheriff, the mayor and his wife, reporter Logan) are sitting around discussing how to get the missing pocket watch from inside Elayna's house (Logan's pretty sure he can get in to retrieve it). It seems they'll need that watch because, with five bodies all drained of blood, it's official: "They're back."

Okay, a cabal of town elders know about the vampires and are planning a hunt. So why don't I care? Why am I completely uninterested in Elayna's relationship (or lack thereof) with Stefan? Why am I not worried about Damon getting out of that locked room? Why am I actually rooting for main characters to get killed? Why does this show bore me so very much?

Last time, I commented that the show needs to decide what it's going to be about. It would be nice if the sudden introduction of hunters was a signal that the vampires are about to take centre-stage. I have a really bad feeling, however, that it's just going to be an excuse to add lame adult melodrama to the already-rampant levels of lame teen melodrama. The first episode of The Vampire Diaries was just okay--definitely nothing great. Why, then, does it seem so vastly superior to all the subsequent episodes? Kevin Williamson, you've done it again.

Fang Files

Physical Appearance: Pupils dilate when hypnotizing a human.

Strengths: The ability to project thoughts/control dreams, quick healing, ability to withstand/not feel pain if sufficiently powerful.

Weaknesses: Vervain. Physical contact (Stefan seems to start vamping out every time he makes out with Elena. He'd better watch out or he might end up losing his soul altogether...)

Mythology: Rings protect them from burning in the sun.

Sound Bites

Elayna: Maybe we should press pause.
Stefan: Yeah, that was getting a bit...
Elayna: Yeah.
Stefan: Yeah.

Damon: (reading) What's so special about this Bella girl? Edward is so whipped.

Caroline: Are you going to kill me?
Damon: Mm-hm. But not yet.

Damon: (to Stefan) I'm not some drunk sorority chick. You can't roofie me.

The Vampire Diaries, Season 1 Episode 4 "Family Ties." Written by Andrew Kreisberg and Brian Young. Directed by Guy Ferland. From The CW.