What I'm Watching: Dracula (2020)

Three 90-minute episode/movies on Netflix, each in a very different style.

The undead makeup is pretty good, there's not a lot of crazy special effects or fights, but lots of latex gags. There's a wolf transformation scene using some latex and raspberry jam, and some mannequin head gags. Fun practical effects, not too much CGI bullshit. The sets are great, the castle's a maze of twisty passages, like the Winchester house built in stone.

E1 is much like the first part of the novel, with interrogation instead of letters. Johnny Harker (John Heffernan) awakes in a convent, looking like the walking dead. Sister Agatha Van Helsing (Dolly Wells) interrogates him about his improbable escape from Dracula's (Claes Bang) castle. Dracula's a charming middle-aged monster, Van Helsing's a bad nun, but an excellent monster hunter, Johnny's the same wanker he is in the book. This gets progressively more horrifying, with one of the best vampire confrontations I've ever seen.

E2, Dracula goes on a boat ride, with a murder mystery aboard the Demeter. Fun, drawn out in a way I've never seen in a vampire film, but the other actors and characters aren't great; the one-handed quartermaster(?) and the captain are just stereotypes but competent. They were clearly trying to make Dr Sharma into a new protagonist, but we don't get enough of his backstory except unpleasant flashbacks, and he doesn't accomplish as much as Van Helsing. Agatha is conspicuously missing for most of it, which is a shame. The end of E2 genuinely surprised me a couple of times, which happens rarely enough in anything I need to call it out. I get all the "twists" in everything, I know every genre convention, and this one was smarter than I am.

Alas, E3 was an incredible disappointment, don't watch it. SPOILERS ahead:










It's not a vampire Agatha who greets Dracula on a modern beach, but a descendent working for a Johnathan Harker Foundation. Then a lawyer Renfield gets the mass murderer released, and immediately helps plan more murders; the Foundation could at least have fried Dracula then and there. Then there's a lot of Kids Today™️ including this Lucy Westenra (100 years apart from her girlfriend Mina), night-clubbing and fucking around. Dracula immediately adapts to Tinder/Grindr/Postmates delivering victims to him, but the writers are unaware that police could track missing persons thru contacts in the apps. Lucy's fate should be a warning, if you're engaged, don't let someone who's not your fiancé suck you.

In the first ep, and somewhat in the second, there's a deeper question about the undead, vampires, and what Dracula is. Why do so many of the myths seem to work on him?

Are they going metaphysical? Reveal a shocking truth behind Christianity, such as Jesus was a vampire (I've used that along with the Merovingian conspiracy in RPGs before)? Or do science & reason win and it's a virus, like Ultraviolet? No such luck. E3 has the most vapid excuse for an answer I've ever heard, everyone involved in writing that irrational twaddle should die of shame.

The first 2 eps are two of the best vampire movies in years. Absolutely nothing of value happens in E3.

★★★★½ for E1-2, ☆☆☆☆☆ for E3.

What I'm Watching: The Dunwich Horror

I found a cheap Bluray two-pack of The Dunwich Horror (1970), and Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971), great classic weird horror movies. I'll see Murders later.

The Dunwich Horror looks great, that vibrant '70s color, sets with disorienting angles and weird lighting. Sound's not fantastic, music has a few repeated stingers but not a long soundtrack. Long stretches are silent, waiting for someone to speak.

Dean Stockwell's a charming but weird motherfucker at any time, but here as Wilbur Whateley (the presentable Whateley brother) he was at his peak. He's smooth but kind of square, with raving weirdo shit a millimeter beneath the surface. Just perfect casting and acting for the role. I don't care for his corduroy jacket style, but it was the '70s.

Sandra Dee as the naïve Nancy is certainly vapid enough, but maybe a little plump and matronly at 28 to be a college girl. She wears maybe the weirdest slit overcoat/cape thing I've ever seen, not explicable even by the '70s. Later when she's drugged out and just writhing around in a nightgown, there's no "acting" but she's a useful prop, and her vag doubles as a bookrest. The film does not pass the Bechdel Test, either with her or her girlfriend.

Ed Begley as Professor Armitage, mortal enemy of the Whateleys, uncomprehending owner of the Necronomicon, is as stuffy, closed-minded, and foolish as he should be. What I don't know is what kind of lecture he could possibly give; he doesn't understand the Mythos, and the book would destroy all of his precious Christian delusions.

It's an age-old story, boy looks for the Necronomicon, meets girl, seduces girl, steals Necronomicon, summons Yog-Sothoth with girl as sacrifice.

Unfortunately there's a very long stretch of no Wilbur and Nancy, just Armitage questioning people in his slow, "let me put it like this" "you may find this hard to believe" fussing around, with equally old, doddering fools who waste a scene filling a pipe. The girlfriend who wanders around is pointless. Unbearable and most of his scenes should have been cut completely.

The "good Christian folk" of Dunwich are the same bigoted, murderous mob that killed Wilbur's great-grandfather; justified perhaps but no less loathesome. They really do make you sympathize with Wilbur's desire to bring back the Old Ones and replace Humanity.

The Old Ones here are not Cthulhu and kin, but mere body-painted pagans who dance and orgy in the meadows, but Yog-Sothoth and the other Whateley brother are Lovecraftian enough. Most scenes of him are just weird camera angles, light & sound effects, and a wind machine, but a couple good shots of the being.

And then the shittiest rap battle in history ends with the sanctimonious idiots winning. But there is another…

There's a lot of room for improvement, and the middle stretch is dull, but it's a good film that's also a good Lovecraft adaptation, rarest of things.

★★★★☆

Godzilla Shows Again and Again

Considered while watching Godzilla Final Wars again:

The Godzilla Cinematic Universe is massively more high-quality science fiction/space fantasy than Star Wars, Marvel, and DC combined.

Sure, there's a few stinkers across 65 years like the Roland Emmerich movie GINO, Son of Godzilla, All Monsters Attack, and arguably Godzilla 2014, not every film has a great plot or fights. But by and large, they're respectable work.

If I'm going to show someone just three Godzilla films, they'd be Godzilla (1954), GMK: Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001), and Godzilla Final Wars (2004); alternately for the last Destroy All Monsters (1968), similar basic movie but more serious, less awesome.

"One who depends on power will be destroyed by it."
—Xilian leader, Godzilla Final Wars

Tokusatsu is better than CGI, but Gen Orobuchi's Godzilla anime, Final Wars (a mix of Tokusatsu and CGI), & Godzilla: King of the Monsters show you can animate good Godzilla movies.

Compare to Star Wars: Two and a half good movies in the original trilogy, nearly a dozen garbage films since, a bunch of bad cartoons. Marvel: Maybe 5 good movies (Iron Man, Thor, Avengers, Deadpool, Guardians of the Galaxy) and a bunch of recycled junk sequels. DC: The Dark Knight, Wonder Woman somewhat?, rest is Zack Snyderism at its worst.

What's the moral of Star Wars, post-original-Trilogy? "This is pod-racing!" or "kill your father and burn anything you should respect" or some shit. What's the moral of Marvel & DC? Punch "bad guys" and they'll be back next week; a lot of civilians die as collateral damage.

The moral of Godzilla, the truth you should've learned, is always that nature is bigger than mankind, that war brings only misery, that science without forethought and sacrifice brings only monsters.

Open Cthulhu

And Chaosium's reaction to the threat to their cash cow:

"That is correct. We are releasing a BRP Open Game License and a BRP SRD. The SRD is a core BRP rules document that people are authorized to create derivative works from, including rules expansions, etc. But certain things are going to be off limits - you can't use the BRP rules to create your own game using the Cthulhu Mythos. Or your own version of Pendragon. Etc."
Jeff at Chaosium

So, a little context. After H.P. Lovecraft's death, his friend and executor Professor Robert H. Barlow was cut out of control of the publishing estate by con man and hack writer August Derleth, who founded Arkham House to exploit Lovecraft's work. In the '70s, Sandy Petersen wrote RuneQuest for Greg Stafford's Glorantha setting, and founded Chaosium. In the early '80s, Sandy got a license from Arkham House (upstaging TSR which had a… looser arrangement… and had to remove Lovecraftiana from their books) and wrote Call of Cthulhu. And while everyone loves classic CoC, it never lent itself well to fan publishing or 3rd-party publishing because you had to deal with Chaosium for a license.

Chaosium has for 40 years asserted that they own Lovecraft, works, body, and soul. Well, with copyright expiration and his work being clearly in the public domain now, nobody really cares what Chaosium or Arkham House think about that anymore. It certainly doesn't help that the "7th Edition" Call of Cthulhu is incompatible with the 1st-6th Editions, so there's those of us with 40 years of playing this game, and the "official" game which nobody plays.

Mongoose Publishing had a license for RuneQuest in the 2000s, and then released a clean-room OGL book Legend, which is an excellent RuneQuest-minus-Glorantha system, cheap, and unambiguously clear of Chaosium's ownership.

There's a couple of other Lovecraftian RPGs:

  • De Profundis: Epistolary solo or play-by-mail… I'm not sure it's an RPG, so much as a psychedelic drug in paper form. Highly recommended.
  • Trail of Cthulhu: Very rules-light investigation game, but I find the GUMSHOE games dull and predictable, too obviously railroaded by the GM.

Open Cthulhu: Because Cthulhu Wants to be Free

The current PDF is a pre-layout beta, no art, so I can only evaluate the rules.

Mechanically, it's CoC 6E, more or less, classic stats. Combat's streamlined quite a bit from the case-point mess of 6E, and you are directly instructed to inflict SAN rolls for committing violence, murder, and such, as well as the supernatural.

The implied setting is the 1920s-30s, but there's a decent chapter on customizing the setting, including a fairly extensive treatment of the Dreamlands, and rules for entering, leaving, and manipulating the Dreamlands! The Mythos tomes are limited to 5 translations of the Necronomicon, the Book of Dyzan, and The King in Yellow; most others have licensing entanglements.

Unlike Chaosium's "I shoot Cthulhu with a rocket launcher!" stats, Open Cthulhu doesn't give the Great Old Ones normal stats or limit their abilities; the Keeper is the author of the story and can do as they please. I like these guidelines:

  • Hint rather than show outright
  • Mythos Powers shouldn’t be “boss monsters”
  • Focus attention on human worshippers
  • Mental contact is dangerous; physical contact is virtually guaranteed deadly
  • Powers are never consistent; never predictable

Other monsters are almost entirely those from Lovecraft, not Derleth and such. The "Byakhee" are here called "Winged Servants" because Lovecraft didn't name them in "The Festival". The rather ludicrous presence of Mummies, Werewolves, Vampires, and such that would've made good old H.P. sigh with disdain is carried along from Chaosium's kitchen-sink approach; and yet they don't have Frankenstein's Monster, one of the few that H.P. liked! Stats are given for many of his characters, presumably prior to the events of their stories.

A compact but useful library of Mythos spells and artifacts adapted from the books finishes up.

I wouldn't classify this as more than halfway done; OpenCthulhu calls it 1.0a, which only makes sense if they're thinking it'll be done at 6.0. There's one skill for all "special gear" by which they mean photocopiers, computers, DNA sequencers, rockets, and any other tech which isn't a car or firearm; fine for 1920, incredibly stupid for modern games. There's no equipment lists, and while you can find online scans of Sears catalogs from the 1920s-1980s, things get more difficult after that. The weapons and armor system is greatly inadequate for modern games, and I hate low-fixed-value armor like CoC has used in most versions; the RuneQuest/Stormbringer-style random-roll armor is better. The bestiary could use work. Magic spells outside of just the Mythos aren't addressed, and for many games those are important.

But what is here, is a better Call of Cthulhu (almost but not yet a better universal Basic Role-Playing) than Chaosium has, and it's under the OGL so you can make your own, and write materials for it without arguing with anyone. I'm thinking I'll write up some adventures, maybe go back and re-adapt "Nightmare Eve" and my "Shotguns & Strip Malls" games into Open Cthulhu.

What I'm Watching: Assimilate

Two interchangeable, incredibly dull, incredibly white teenage boys with hidden cameras try to Youtube star their way out of an incredibly dull, incredibly white small town, and then an Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) ripoff starts, but with rather stupid children instead of competent adults.

Slightly creepy stalker vibe, which could've been a good variation on the theme, then the pod people start being obvious. As usual, the cops are useless until it's too late. The girl who joins the party in the second act is more liability than help. Her little brother Joey needs rescuing, but mostly takes care of himself, like Newt in Aliens. A film about him would've been far more interesting.

The pod people are strong, fast, hard to kill, organize wordlessly, imitate people tolerably well up close, and yet so stupid they fall for obvious tricks and can't tell their kind apart from Humans who walk slow and show no emotions. There's no way they should be able to replace more than a couple people before being noticed and shot by angry townsfolk. They do the open-mouth scream from 1978 with an extra CGI mouth expansion. They don't get you when you're sleeping, they just have your naked clone chase you down and hold your head; probably the filmmakers were scared to promote amphetamines. The mass body burnings are grim but a little obvious, unlike the dump trucks collecting bodies in 1978.

There's very little originality to this, it's as blunt and linear a ripoff as it's possible to get, with a little Youtuber narcissism as the only spice. It's as toothless and non-scary of a "horror" movie as I've ever seen. But I'm not bored by it. Certainly it's better than the military base remake (how are pod people soldiers different from regular soldiers?!), or the incredibly awful Nicole Kidman/Daniel Craig remake with the happy ending. Fuck Hollywood.

This movie's "not rated", but at most, it has moments of nude clones with their nipples and genitalia taped over/CGI airbrushed out/blocked by convenient furniture. The most the lead couple manage is a hug and kiss. There's no real blood, some ketchup stains for bug bites; hitting someone with a rock or pipe, or strangling them, is presented as cartoony, no physical injury shown. The few fights have no choreography, but they're just mobs grabbing or pushing. Even the one gunfight just has victims fall down, or a little ketchup on the head. It's basically G-rated. The 1978 film was PG (it's barely not R, and PG-13 wasn't added until 1984), and still had more nudity, sex, drugs, and violence.

The ending scene is silly, who is broadcasting that? How are they getting satellite feeds from around the world? Also most Internet services won't stay up long without Human maintenance. Organizing survivors in Youtube comments is not sustainable.

★★½☆☆

What I'm Watching: Age of the Living Dead

British show on Amazon Prime, and it often shows in their hilariously inept, incompetent, outright stupid misunderstandings of US distances, environments, politics, and military forces, and many of the actors can't manage an American accent. Best not to take this seriously.

Vampire plague spreads across the eastern US, Humans flee West, and somehow, explained in ham-fisted exposition, there's a no-man's-land established across the Midwest, borders with Canada & Mexico walled off, and mighty England and China embargo communications and shipping.

So, the vampires are the least fantastical element here. The orange cheeto criminal's border wall with Mexico is a fiasco, and somehow during an emergency plague they accomplish this and thousands of miles of Canada are also walled off? No. Anyone on Earth is capable of stopping US warships from leaving? No; and that it's China is incredibly funny, since they have one of the world's worst navies. If it was Russians at least it'd be competent if underpaid, underequipped sailors & ships. Anyone's capable of stopping US-owned satellites from sending and receiving? No, the ESA and Russia together might conceivably be able to take out US satellites, but it'd be WW3. And why block comms for 10 years? It makes no sense. Vampires can do business as well as corporate executives can (who can tell the difference?), and they can't suck your blood on a phone call.

At one point a vamp Predator drone shoots missiles at a Human base; except it's launched from New York, and the base is in New Mexico, 1800 miles away. Predators have an operational range of 777 miles (according to Wikipedia, I didn't go all Jane's Guide on this). The writers are uneducated children.

Why didn't they set this somewhere plausible, like Australia, or England? You could cut off AU with some effort and no border walls, their states are isolated enough making the outback no-man's-land is doable, and they have almost no ability to project their military outside their continent except to murder boat refugees.

Using England treads on 28 Days Later, and the vamps could just swim or walk underwater across the Channel or to Ireland, but mine a couple military harbors and it could be patrolled. England has minimal air & rocket capability, and their navy's fine for murdering Argentine farmers but not able to fight the US or Russia.

So back to this increasingly preposterous show. An arrangement has the Humans somehow get fed even though the best farmland is in the no-man's-land, and donate blood to the vampires every Sunday to keep peace.

The vampires of course call themselves names like Viktor and Viggo, and dress like dead Eastern European aristocrats, and play shitty baroque chamber music while torturing and draining Human victims because of course that's what vamps do. I love these shit-sucking vampires. Most of them are burned by sunlight, and their hunters use the Blade trick of full biker leathers and helmets to go out in the Sun. They even have a classical Renfield named Jared or Neal or something, at least for a while. Their leaders call themselves Elders, and claim to be immortal and ancient, but I think they're just LARPing, same shitty infected Humans as the wild ones. There's no way actual immortals would be this exposed, but someone who just got their shit together after being turned might be this dumb.

The vamps would benefit the most from being set in England. Aristocrats turned vampire eating the peasantry is no different from what they've done for 953 years since the Norman invasion (and the Danes, Saxons, and Romans did to the native Britons/Welsh before that). Walling off Scotland is possible, Emperor Hadrian did it with Roman technology. Having a delusional inbred English monarch (but I repeat myself) try to run the Crown in exile in Scotland or Wales, while the vamps rule London & the South, would make this story make sense and have some historical parallels. Some depth.

Instead we get the worst fake President I've ever seen in a movie. She's obviously cast to be a Hillary imitation, but the total opposite: meek, quiet, stupid, and wants to tend to her garden, passively takes all sorts of shit from the military goons (who are completely implausible as active service Generals), and leaks vital intelligence to the vamps, like a female Chauncey Gardiner.

The fight scenes are adequate but cartoony. The vamps are strong and fast, and vamp-on-vamp fights are over quick; the fight choreography is OK. They don't have any gore, though, this is strictly PG. Guns do nothing much, so it's bizarre that the Humans carry rifles; now, realistically I think they should tear the vamps to shreds and we'd maybe see them regenerate? Or they could have white phosphorus tracer rounds, or flamethrowers; or wooden bullets, if that's what works. But this is just like firing blanks. The soldiers also have no military discipline, they don't form fire teams, they don't find cover, they just stand around firing at random until a vamp leaps in and gives them a hickey, which is apparently enough to kill someone. Couldn't the filmmakers get even British Army consultants to help them?

I've put up with 2 eps so far, so I'll probably finish this just to watch the vamps chew scenery, but it's really really dumb.
★★½☆☆


More great vampire flicks of the past:

Lost Boys (1987): "One thing I never could stand about Santa Carla, all the damned vampires." Best soundtrack in any vampire movie, but a lot of it is just goths on bikes in California, not "vampires" as such. The Frog Brothers are big damn heroes. Some of the best vampire fights in any movie.
★★★★½

Blade (1998), and Blade Trinity (2004). Not brilliant, but always fun, Snipes does a fantastic run as Blade, and the vamps are powerful, crazy, and smart. And I love ♥ Parker Posey ♥, and for different reasons Kris Kristofferson, so hell yeah. Little baby Ryan Reynolds playing Hannibal King from the comics was fun, he was still in his pre-Deadpool b-movie days. Blade II is unbearably stupid, though Ron Perlman does redeem it a little bit.
★★★½☆

Ultraviolet (1998) was right on the edge of being silly. They're one of the main drivers of "not saying the word vampire", with Code Five and such. Idris Elba's a dignified dude, but pretty much everyone else was whiny or comedic. The vamps had no personality or real motive, just coming out like cockroaches and trying to take over. But the hunters are smart, use plausible science and technology, and pay attention to what the vampires can and can't do.
★★★★☆

What I'm Watching: Family Blood

A morning driving around in sunlight and dealing with the morning people made me wish for eternal darkness. Skipped over some bullshit soap operas and Buffy ripoffs with teenage vampires, found one adult vampire flick on Netflix.

Family Blood: Starts with the last moments of a vampire wrecking a family, so you know what kind of people this'll be about…

Then jumps to junkie mom Ellie in AA (which doesn't work) and new guy "Christopher" (from the last scene) who talks about "torn thru so many people". Then very long slow never-throw-out-b-roll shots of nothing interesting happening with her teenage kids.

Whatever city this is has "sketchy" neighborhoods of parks and great big houses with multiple floors and spartan concrete murder basements, ideal for serial killers/vampires; the black neighbor is right to be worried about gentrification, they'll just drain the lifeblood from your community.

Then Christopher turns Ellie by dripping some blood in her and snapping her neck; clearly the writer learned about vampires from Vampire the Masquerade, which this is the slowest fanfic of ever. Hours, days of footage later, Ellie starts to turn.

"I turned you into whatever it is that I am", says a guy who doesn't know he's a shit-sucking vampire? Everyone has known what a vampire is since Dracula in 1897 (earlier vampires just didn't get the reach of Stoker's novel). The boy who draws horror art all the time does recognize the symptoms, but doesn't say the V-word (Vampire, not vagina, tho he doesn't say the latter either). I hate this MacBeth-level actor bullshit of not naming the thing because it's "bad luck".

Also, apparently nobody uses their cellphone, because that would complicate a "plot" consisting largely of people slowly wandering around. "Dad" is seen a couple times but has no lines, probably to avoid paying scale. The speaking cast is very minimal.

It's very inconsistent about mythology. They don't have reflections, which is a strong supernatural power; it basically means they're just in your mind. They regenerate from any injury. They're superhumanly strong & fast. But sunlight & crosses do nothing, which usually work on any supernatural vamp.

The boy makes his first stake, and it's the best stake ever, stabbed with many times (but not left in the heart like you should do; I actually yelled at the screen), and then is still sharp as a razor multiple stabbings later. When I make a stake it doesn't last that long because wood's soft.

There's a few good vamp-on-human action scenes, but the only vamp-on-vamp is behind closed doors with just foley and shadows. Laaaamme. Builds up, but does not deliver.

★★☆☆☆ - I like the small personal stories, I could take the glacial pacing, if they'd shot just one good vamp-on-vamp fight scene.


There's a Turkish series "Immortals" which looks vaguely interesting, but Turkish shows tend to be pretty awful—badly written, badly acted, racist, sexist, and closeted gay/homophobic—the recent "Protectors" series as case in point—so I dunno if I'm up for 8 eps of that. If they made a 90-minute movie I might try it.

You know what was my favorite vampire movie? Dance of the Damned (1989). It has two speaking roles really, the sets & effects are minimalist, Roger Corman no-budget film. Just a sad stripper and a lonely vampire, for one last night. But it's perfect, never boring or filling dead screen time, and tense up to the last second. That's a ★★★★½ at least.

Near Dark (1987) is amazing, too, best vampires-as-hobo-junkies ever, but kind of sprawls out with the vampire pack, and the ending is absolute bullshit, shoulda been the girl bites the boy and they unlive unhappily ever after. That's also ★★★★½ but as utterly unlike DotD or FB as you can get.

I hated the Interview with the Vampire (1994) movie; the books are great fun, but cool badass mofo Brad Pitt as whiny useless Louis, and tiny neurotic anal-retentive $cientology cultist Tom Cruise as badass rock-star Lestat, was the dumbest casting fuckup in the history of bad casting. It's utterly unwatchable because of Tom Cruise squeaking out lines from his tightly-clenched sphincter-face that should be Lestat's. I know they beat Anne Rice with sacks of money to stop talking shit about it, but I think this film is why she went crazy and found Jesus. Also the sequel, completely skipping the book "The Vampire Lestat" and making Queen of the Damned (2002) which is sub-direct-to-video soap opera garbage.

I'd really like a new Castlevania season soon.

In 30 years, nobody else can make anything good about bloodsucking fiends?

Halloween Countdown Sunday Music

Odd film, but I love it. Halloween I & II completed the Michael Myers story. Then III was a totally new thing. The intent was to make an anthology series, but no, dumb people just wanted more of Michael; I think all subsequent "Halloween" films are irrelevant and stupid (OK, I do like the Rob Zombie movies). I was a spooky monster kid, but still wasn't allowed to watch the first two at the time of their release, but somehow H3 at 12 was OK. The soundtrack is one of Carpenter's better mood pieces, not as iconic or repetitive as the first two; people sometimes forget Carpenter's as much a musician as a filmmaker.

Plot & characters of the film remind me strongly of The Stuff, Phantasm (especially II-III), and Killer Klowns From Outer Space; losers struggling to expose some terrible danger to Humanity, mostly failing and running. That's what Lovecraft was on about, and how every Call of Cthulhu game should be, not gangsters throwing dynamite at Shoggoths, but truck drivers and kids running for their lives and coming across as crazy people to the useless pigs.

"And don't forget to wear your masks. The clock is ticking, it's almost time! Happy happy Halloween, Silver Shamrock!"

Bonus: