May 21, 2016
World Goth Night at the Movies presents
INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE
Join me as once again I host our the third annual World Goth Day movie night at the Royal Cinema in Toronto. In keeping with my love for vampires and gothic beauty in cinema we’ll be screening 1992’s classic Interview with the Vampire. The feature starts at 8 but come early: I’ve put together a pre-show reel of outrageous, hilarious archival videos and then we’ll be premiering my 40 Years of Goth Style short film. There will be prizes. And me. Come.
Note: I was tempted to title this post: “Five Vampire Movies You Need to See Right now! #5 will shock you!” But then I decided to write like an adult. Enjoy!
There’s a scene in Only Lovers Left Alive, Jim Jarmusch’s stylish 2013 vampire film, where a character decides to drink blood the old-fashioned way — from a live human. The titular undead lovers, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are mortified. They get their blood from clinics, and sip it out of flasks and goblets, mostly in tempered, private moments that Jarmusch plays for all the similarities to junkies getting off on a fix. They do not go around ripping people’s necks open. “It’s the 21st Century!” an annoyed Eve tsks the young vampire, before kicking her to the curb. Because everyone who knows about vampires these days knows that they are not the monsters they used to be.
I was reminded of this while watching A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. The debut feature from Ana Lily Amirpour has been getting a lot of buzz, mostly for the novelty of being the first vampire film from Iran. That’s not why you should see it. (Plus, it’s a fuzzy claim: the dialogue is all Farsi, and it’s made by a woman of Iranian descent, but shot in California and funded by Americans like Elijah Wood and Vice) The striking poster art, a red and black illustration of a seductive yet threatening female figure cloaked in a chador, is a fair representation of what the movie is, which is, above all else, extremely cool.
Shot in black-and-white, Amirpour’s film is as much about a boy and his car as it is about immortality. It is about a hunger, but for belonging and, failing that, for escape. The vampire, credited only as The Girl, could equally have been called The It Girl—29-year-old Sheila Vand plays her squarely in the Winona Ryder/Emily Strange mold. She lives in a basement apartment decorated with a Madonna poster and is prone to dancing around to vinyl records—in one exquisite scene, with the boy, Arash. In my favourite shot, she skateboards down the middle of an empty street, her chador flapping in the night air behind her. The director has said in interviews that she grew up watching monster movies and is a big fan of Anne Rice’s Vampire Lestat, but this isn’t a horror film. And that, despite its exoticness, makes it not unique but rather right in line with all the other great vampire movies that have come out lately.
One of the best things about vampires is their adaptability, how they can be used to tell all kinds of stories, be it horror, comedy, drama, western, fantasy, or anything else. A few years back, I relished the wave of more monstrous nosferatu that popped up as counterpoint to Twilight and the explosion of supernatural romance, in films like 30 Days of Night, Daybreakers and Stakeland. But I’m equally delighted by the ways that vampire films have surprised me since. I’m working on writing more in detail about why I believe the traditional vampire character — predator, dangerous, unsympathetic — is not as popular in contemporary cinema, and what the recent emphasis on transformation and the morality of serial killing means. For now, I just want to celebrate and push these Five Vampire Films You Need to See Right Now!
Absolutely hilarious. Dare I say, the best vampire comedy ever made, by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi (Flight of the Conchords), comes in the form of a mockumentary about three undead roommates living in New Zealand. Takes aim at every cliché and answers some very important questions, such as how do you go bar-hopping when you have be invited in everywhere and why does it always have to be a virgin? (You’ll never eat a sandwich the same way again.) There have been good funny vampire movies over the years but this is some serious Spinal Tap level comedy. What We Do in the Shadows has done the festival circuit and is trying to make its way to American theatres in February, via a rather bizarre crowd-funding campaign.
Above-mentioned Jarmusch film is simply divine, and the most seductive vampire movie since The Hunger. Seriously, why wouldn’t you want to watch alabaster Tilda Swinton glide around looking gorgeous for 2 hours? It’s an indie/art movie for sure (i.e., slow) and, as noted, light on the neck biting/hunting, but beautifully explores the malaise of immortality and both the allure and trappings of nostalgia. Hiddleston’s reclusive rock star, with his vintage gear and collection of vinyl records, and bratty attitude, is a fine heir to Lestat. Spend a lazy Sunday with this one, available on Netflix.
Neil Jordan’s last vampire film was Interview with the Vampire, so, you know, no pressure. This one is a gorgeous gothic thriller, adapted from a theatre play about two vampire women trying to hide out in a seaside town from what we eventually learn are nefarious, clandestine authorities. As lady of the night Clara (aka Carmilla), Gemma Arterton brings a legit feminist heroine to the genre, while Saoirse Ronan as Eleanor captures the frustrations of being trapped as the teenager in a mother-daughter relationship for all eternity. It’s plenty bloody and vicious, but not straight up horror. Still, a waterfall of blood, people. Also available on Netflix.
One real horror film about vampires that should be on your radar is this Canadian production, especially if you’re a fan of the found-footage, Paranormal Activity/REC type of film. Unfortunately, I missed its TIFF premiere because they don’t actually advertise it as a vampire film, but it’s definitely a bloodsucker tale. Best friends Clif and Derek set off on an around-the-world adventure, loaded with cameras and gear to document every jackass move on their blog, when Derek gets hit with an unusual bug. Super strength, aversion to sunlight, craving for blood… wanna guess? The filmmakers (who actually are Clif and Derek) are quite clever about making it all believable, and there are some really nasty sequences. Doesn’t break any ground in vampire mythos or anything but well executed and unique in its genre. It’s on Netflix too.
Forget all the buzz. Seek out this film because it’s fun, funny, touching, pretty, moving, sweet and satisfyingly dark. I wanted to know much more about the vampire Girl, her origins and motives for killing. Apparently that’s all coming soon in a comic book. I also wanted her to have more agency, as they say, to be the force that drives the story, and its ending. But I’ll settle for the captivating performances, the long bouts of heavy silence, the scene in which a real vampire meets a boy dressed up as Dracula, then takes him home, the visual poetry, the simple pleasure of watching a young women bare her fangs. Now playing in Toronto at the TIFF Lightbox, coming soon to The Royal.
While travelling recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Natasha Scharf, author of the excellent subcultural study Worldwide Gothic, and a journalist of high repute working in the goth/alternative music community in England. We met in the studio of her London publishers to record an interview to promote her beautifully exhaustive new book, The Art of Gothic.
To hear our conversation about the history of Goth imagery, the importance of aesthetics to the culture and of course, her take on “what is goth?”, click here!
I then moved on to Paris, where my friend Fabien of Rue Morgue France took me to the private museum of eccentric vampire historian Jacques Sirgent to record an episode of Rue Morgue Radio France. If you can forgive my rusty French, listen to the three of us muse on the origins and importance of the nosferatu and our favourite films here.
I’m at the back of a Greyhound bus between Barrie and Toronto. It’s winter, so it’s dark. We are four high school kids travelling to see Depeche Mode play Maple Leaf Gardens, and by the tiny bus light I am reading aloud to my friends across the aisle: “‘Evil is a point of view,’ he whispered now. ‘We are immortal. And what we have before us are the rich feasts that conscience cannot appreciate…….’ I have recently discovered this book, Interview with a Vampire, by Anne Rice, in my hometown pubic library, and it is changing my life. Like The Outsiders once did. Like Othello once did. I have not yet read Dracula, or any other vampire novel. But I have seen The Lost Boys, and I have decided I am thirsty for vampire stories. This story, about the oh-so-beautiful Louis and Lestat and Claudia, this story, about magical, mystical New Orleans, of longing to understand one’s place in the universe, of mortality, and morality, and blood. As told to a journalist. This is my new favourite book, Anne Rice my new favourite author.
I paid $10 to come and see D.O.A. and some band called Death Sentence play the Siboney Club in Kensington Market. All the cheap wooden tables are pushed against the walls to make room for moshing and whathaveyou. It’s a club so it’s dark. I live in Toronto now, with one of my best friends from Barrie. By not enough light I am sitting crossed-legged on top of one of these tables, back against the wall, reading TheVampire Lestat by Anne Rice. Because I don’t care about Death Sentence nearly as much as I care about vampires. I may have been wearing a cape. My best friend, and our mutual punk rock friends, will make fun of me for this for quite a long time.
I stand in line for hours to get my copy of Queen of the Damned signed by Anne Rice at some Toronto bookstore. I remember this not because I have a signed hardcover copy of Queen of the Damned, but because I was captured on the local TV news coverage. I am wearing a black-and-white fun fur motorcycle jacket that used to be my favourite coat. I only remember this because 10+ years later someone I find incredibly annoying pulls out a VHS tape and plays it in front of a bunch of people I’m with. (Thankfully it is dark and noisy and no one pays him any attention.)
It’s Friday night of not-Halloween weekend and I’m sitting in the front seat of a car wearing fake plastic fangs. I may have been wearing a cape. Four of us are speeding through the city trying to go see the new Interview with a Vampire movie. This is not the era of advance movie ticket buying. This is the first time I have encountered “sold out” at a cinema. We end up somewhere North, like Eglinton maybe? When we finally get seated I realize you cannot eat popcorn with fangs. A lot of people, Anne Rice especially, are angry that Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt are in this movie, playing Lestat and Louis. I think they look fabulous. The film is orange and red, so full of fire and blood, velvet and lace and ashes. I want to live in this world.
Prince Lestat, the first new story in the Vampire Chronicles in 11 years, is released. I got an advance copy in the summer so I could interview Anne for Rue Morguemagazine. In this book, all the characters are swooning over Lestat’s return…much like the readers. The action takes place in several places I’ve been to, and I’ve had a relationship with these characters for more than half my life. If it wasn’t about vampires it might feel like a travel diary written by a friend. (Memo: Vampires are not real.) I had a chance to write about the book, first for Rue Morgue but also to review it for Macleans. It’s difficult to fit into short spaces, my thoughts. What I want people to know is that it’s an important release in genre, that Lestat is second only to Dracula in the vampire kingdom (sorry, Edward), that it’s a easy read (for those who gave up on the Chronicles when they got super dense and detailed) that is clearly designed to bring us all up to speed so that the Chronicles can resume in book and most likely TV series form. That it’s it’s not a great book, but it’s a very good book.
I sat down tonight intending to write about Anne Rice. About why I’ve been reading Anne Rice for so long. Forgive me for getting side-tracked. To close, a few practical notes:
My interview with Anne Rice appears in the October 2014 issue of Rue Morgue, which is not on-line but the print issue can be ordered here. Since I could only use a small portion of our conversation for this assignment, I hope to publish the Q&A in full here or elsewhere soon.
I’m sitting here with the big book of movies playing at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Even for someone who’s been attending for years, who’s even worked inside the festival (feel free to ask me about that time I danced with Cuba Gooding Jr., or what Brad Pitt looks like up close), it can be daunting to skim through hundreds of film titles and try to narrow down once’s choices to a reasonable (read: affordable) amount. There are plenty of arts reporters offering their top picks, but those lists are usually dominated by what the masses want: A-list celebrities, the next big Oscar contenders, critical acclaim at Cannes, etc. What if you don’t care about any of that, if you prefer to spend your time at the movies with things that are dark, strange, offbeat? One way to choose is simply attend Midnight Madness — ten nights of soon-to-be cult classics programmed by my friend Colin Geddes, which is an experience in itself. But there are some neat things lurking in other programmes, so while I whittle down my Wish List I thought I’d share some of the films I’m most excited about that I think my friends and readers will dig. See you there, in the dark….
Vampires are hilarious. Too bad most comedies about bloodsuckers simply suck. But this one looks like the best thing to come our way since Vampire’s Kiss. Kind of likea really twisted Big Brother, this is billed as a “mockumentary” about three old world vamps sharing a flat in a New Zealand suburb. Co-directed by and starring Taika Waititi (Boy, Eagle vs Shark) and Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords), it seems to strike just the right notes of black humour and absurdity. Watch this trailer above for tips on how you get past a club bouncer when you need to be invited in….then come watch this with me at Midnight Madness on Friday September 12. I won’t bite you. (OK, no guarantees on that.)
One of my weirdest (read: best) TIFF experiences in recent years was Fabrice’s Du Welz’s Calvaire. (I also dug his Vinyan quite a lot.) Alleluia is thus my most anticipated film at this year’s festival, Du Welz’s take on the true story of the 1960s “Lonely Hearts Killers” Martha Beck (a single mom) and Ray Fernandez (a handsome con man who preys on older women). Sure to be shocking and uncompromising and, if his past work is anything to go on, with a memorable, strong female lead.
The Canadians at Astron-6 have been hitting it out of the park in the low-budget, outrageous genre game (Manborg, Father’s Day). Their love letter to giallo comes in this sexy, stylish feature about an Italian film editor in the 1970s who becomes a prime suspect in the murders of some of the actors from the film he’s been working on. Did I mention the guy has a wooden prosthetic hand? And that The Editor has appearances from Udo Kier, Tristan Risk and Paz de la Huerta? This is sure to get weird. Also, my talented illustrator friend Justin Erickson at Phantom City Creative designed the wicked poster.
If gore isn’t your thing, this erotic melodrama by Peter Strickland (Berberian Sound Studio) looks deliciously dark and sophisticated. It’s about a wealthy woman who digs butterflies, domination, and her new young housekeeper. TIFF calls it, “kinky, dryly comic, and compellingly surreal, and boasting gorgeous, gothic cinematography and an enveloping score by orchestral pop duo Cat’s Eyes.” Sold.
Confession: I don’t worship Takashi Miike. I mean, mad respect to the man who made Ichi the Killer but I haven’t necessarily followed his work as much as my horror-loving friends. But this, Miike’s version of Yotsuya Kaidan, a kabuki play about murder and vengeance from beyond, seems like a must-see. Samurais and ghosts are usually Midnight Madness’s specialty, but this is screening in the Vanguard programme, which means it’s likely going to offer even more than you expect.
Oh, Willem Dafoe. You are not only my favourite film vampire, you are one of my favourite actors. It doesn’t look like you’re coming to town for this screening but I shall be there nonetheless. For you are playing the infamous, scandalous, Italian poet, on the last day of his life, directed by Abel Ferrara. These are the kinds of films TIFF was made for.
Every year I try to see one kind of messed-up movie at TIFF. I’m still washing my hands after Snowtown, and shaking my head over Dogtooth. This year, my oddball pick is The Tribe, about a gang of deaf-mute teenagers into robbing, assault, prostitution and more. It’s made by a Ukrarian director but the whole thing has no dialogue or subtitles, only sign language. Because WTF? is pretty universal.
Finally, because sometimes you just need to watch something pretty and swoon, here’s one for the RomantiGoths: Kate Winslet is a landscape designer commissioned to work on the garden at Versailles. Cue romantic interest in the king’s chief architect (Matthias Schoenaerts). Costumes and courtly love and historical drama to wash the blood out. Ahhhh.
Ah, exhale. The end of another year. It feels that way tonight, surrounded by snow and twinkling lights and bits of shiny paper on the floor, with only a few squares remaining on the 2013 calendar. Time to plot the future. But first, a look back at the music, books, films that inspired me, excited me, provoked me, made me think, laugh, dance, rock out, dream, scream.
As I’ve mentioned here before, I find conflicts between my passion for all things tagged “goth” and “horror” and the reality of what I enjoyed and thought was good quality. I have never been a super fan of blind faith in terms of genre. Tell me a good story. If there be monsters, all the better. Sing me a song. If it’s sad and romantic and melodramatic, I shall sigh and swoon all the more. But I still get excited by many, many other genres of music, from folk to disco and beyond, as well as poetry and documentaries and all kinds of things. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. Like what you like.
In 2013, I put out my own book, which impacted how much other stuff I could seek out, and really absorb, to recommend. But for the sake of posterity, and in the interest of spreading the word about what I find worthy and wonderful…. a few of my favourite things…
Live shows were more exciting to me than records this year. Probably because I saw Nick Cave perform two nights, back to back, and it was a much more satisfying experience than listening to his latest release Push the Sky Away on its own. First in Montreal, at the always amazing Metropolis club, than at the even more amazing Massey Hall, where I managed to push myself up to the front of the stage. There were strings and children’s choirs making the new songs sound great, and St. Nick doing “Stagger Lee” and “The Mercy Seat” with as much vigor as ever and my friend and I giving he and Warren flowers like lovesick teenagers and all I really remember is thinking how if I could see only one act in concert ever again for the rest of my life, it would be him. Hands down. Have I purchased tickets for his summer 2014 tour already? Hell, yes.
There were other live shows for the books, many of them verging on nostalgia trips — Rocket from the Crypt rocking my Riotfest, two intimate sets of triumphant, glorious Patti Smith at the AGO, Nine Inch Nails proving they can add funk and back-up singers and still blast out the industrial hits. But also some new favourites: The XX beautiful in the rain at Echo Beach, Iceland’s Legend at a basement bar, Majical Cloudz making my NXNE with his intense solo performance.
Like everyone with a pulse, I also gleefully danced to “Get Lucky” way too many times.
Only Lovers Left Alive! Jim Jarmusch’s arthouse vampire movie, starring Tilda Swinton, is exquisite, and was a highlight of my TIFF 2013. Sadly, no actual release date in sight. Ditto Horns, the most excellent adaptation of the Joe Hill novel, transformed into a superior dark comedy/horror/fantasy. Watch out for those next year. I join the chorus celebrating American Mary the indie Canadian horror flick about body modification, for being smart, sexy, nasty and driven by kinky, crazy, outrageous female characters. Thanks Soska Sisters for bringing back Katherine “Ginger Snaps” Isabelle to the big screen. And I really dug the sweetness of Warm Bodies. A zombie who plays vinyl records for a girl is my kind of zombie. As for documentaries, I had much to ponder about violence and appropriation of voice after watching The Exhibition, about an artist painting women killed by Robert Pickton; and I couldn’t be happier to see BlackFish changing perceptions and policies about whales and dolphins in captivity.
Or, this is what I was doing alone in the dark when not obsessing over Klaus in The Vampire Diaries and The Originals.
It was a great year for me to see some of my favourite writers in the flesh, and hear them read aloud. After many years of adoring Anne Carson from afar, she came to town for the International Festival of Authors. My favourite living poet, she claimed in her humble introduction to lack charisma. Hardly. Her words make other worlds possible, and when she brings them to life in her own voice, even the most obtuse things became completely clear. (This particular event provided me the opportunity to experience a woman shhhhhushing a man for taking notes because she found the sound of his pencil on paper too loud. Seriously. ) Carson is a strange woman. The very best kind. I cannot recommend her books more highly. Also, did I wait several hours to talk to Neil Gaiman at the Toronto stop for his Last Tour Ever for Ocean at the End of the Lane? Indeed I did. His reading was marvellous, the Q&A hilarious, the long queue well worth it to chat with him after about my own new book. He continues to say very kind things to me about Gothica and it’s such a blessing to have these interactions with someone so beloved, and so generous.
I have found the horror fan’s dream bookstore. I’ve known about Dark Delicacies for years, of course, by reputation. I included it in my Encyclopedia Gothica, after all. But I wanted to visit it first-hand, and that became my excuse for a trip to Los Angeles to promote my new book, How to Kill A Vampire.
The store regularly hosts authors, filmmakers, and other horror types for signings and they were courteous enough to have me come in, even though I’m not exactly famous. They even put a display in the window and set me up on the same day at the Full Moon event by the lovely folks at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, which allowed me to meet all kinds of people interested in dark and beautiful things.
One surprise visitor was actor Carolyn Hennesy. She was wearing blood red contacts and I jokingly asked her if she was a vampire….only to discover that she is! Or was. She played Rosalyn Harris on True Blood, until she was violently dispatched. I apologized for the title of my book and she forgave me. Haha. Then we talked about her animal activism: she hosts a podcast called Animal Magnetism about conservation and preservation. She was full of energy and enthusiasm and I liked her alot.
It was a splendid afternoon and I highly recommend you make Delicacies bookstore a must on your next visit to the L.A. area. The shop is located on a retail strip in Burbank surrounded by great thrift stores, independent clothing shops and more but you’ll be hard-pressed not to spend all your money on their books and horror gifts. I bought myself a gorgeous skull crystal necklace (naturally) and a copy the owner’s book Vampires Don’t Sleep Alone: Your Guide to Meeting, Dating and Seducing a Vampire, because even though I don’t believe vamps are real, it might come in handy someday….
The only thing I like as much as writing about vampires is talking about vampires. So I’ve been enjoying doing interviews to promote my new book, How to Kill A Vampire. And I especially enjoyed this interview with Richard Crouse. Richard is a well-known and highly respected film critic here in Canada and it felt like a life’s to-do checked off to appear on his radio show. He has kindly uploaded our chat for your listening pleasure.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Darkening days. Cool nights. The smell of pumpkin spice. Orange leaves crunching underfoot. The frantic search for Count Chocula. And for me, this year, extra special good times promoting my new book.
Friends in Toronto, Los Angeles, and London, Ontario…. I hope to see you at one of these events this month.