Tag Archives: Dracula

Tracking Televamps with Brad Middleton’s Un-Dead TV

utv-400Billed as “The Ultimate Guide to Vampire Television,” Brad Middleton’s Un-Dead TV (published by By Light Unseen Media; 512 page trade paperback; $21.00) is a sizable tome, providing a broad, 30,000-foot view of vampires on TV, covering everything from the first appearance of a vampire on TV — in the form of Bela Lugosi appearing as Dracula on The Texaco Star Theater in September 1949 — right up through recent bloodsucker appearances in 2013.

In his Foreword, J. Gordon Melton provides a succinct, high-level view of the subject matter, noting that “Dark Shadows set the stage for the vampire to become a fixture in the nation’s living rooms,” before going on to decry how little research or scholarship there has been on vampires on the small screen…with one particularly notable exception:

“There is…one exception to the general lack of interest in the television vampire — Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In fact, it is the inconvenient truth for vampire scholars that over half of all the scholarly comment on the broad subject of vampires penned through the last century have been directed at Buffy…”

Middleton certainly tries to do his part to increase vampire scholarship with Un-Dead TV, which is broken into the following sections:

  • Single Episodes
  • The Series
  • Telefilms and Pilots
  • Animation
  • Documentaries and Reality TV
  • Variety Programming and TV Specials
  • Non-Traditional Vampires
  • No Vampires Here!  (stories thought to feature vampires, but which do not)
  • The Forthcoming and the Forgotten (projects in development, and abandoned projects)
  • Non-English Programming
  • A Trivial Pursuit (miscellanous facts and statistics compiled during writing of the book)

Each entry in each section includes production details and a synopsis, and many also include a review and some trivia.  The reviews feature both brief qualitative analysis and star ratings on a scale of Bomb to 4 stars (well, actually from a stake to 4 vampire bats, but you get the idea).

The sections seem well-researched and borderline exhaustive.  The “Single Episodes” section, for example, chronicles shows as varied as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, CSI, The Drew Carey Show, The Love Boat, and Night Gallery, to name but a few. In addition to that impressive variety, there are some intriguing episodes rated four stars, such as installments of Quantum Leap, Reaper, and Sledge Hammer!  The categories used serve as a strong organizational aid, making it easy to navigate the book, and a thorough index helps even further.

In terms of drawbacks… the book suffers from a distinct lack of graphics, resulting in page after page filled with paragraph after paragraph of unbroken text, while countless intriguing entries cry out for illustration.  (But I have to admit that adding a large number of graphics would have likely upped the page count significantly, resulting in higher production costs and likely a higher cover price.)  Also, I am somewhat mystified by the relative amounts of coverage afforded to various shows.  As a random but prime example, HBO’s influential True Blood gets a five-line entry, while Italian network Rai Uno’s obscure two-part mini-series Dracula gets nearly four times as much analysis.

All in all, however, Un-Dead TV fills a previously empty research niche, and provides lots of browsing entertainment.  Vampire lovers and scholars should find much to like in these pages.

 

SoCal Creatures — A review of Lisa Morton’s Monsters of L.A.

As I commented in my previous reviews of The Lucid Dreaming and The Castle of Los Angeles, Lisa Morton’s fiction output has recently increased significantly. In the last couple of years, she’s published not only that novel and novella, but also the novella The Samhanach and the collection Monsters of L.A., the latter of which I’ll be taking a closer look at here.

Published by Bad Moon Books, Monsters of L.A. is Morton’s first collection and includes 20 stories, all published here for the first time. Each story is named for and focuses on a classic trope — such as Dracula, the Mummy, the Werewolf, and the Hunchback — but each bears a twist that makes it a distinctively L.A. story. Take, for example, the aforementioned “The Mummy,” in which a vain trophy wife in search of the latest in skin treatments finds more than she bargained for behind the doors of a new spa with Egyptian influences. “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” features a doctor specializing in gender reassignment whose zeal for greater efficacy leads her to try an experimental drug on herself, resulting in…well, you can imagine, given the title. In “The Invisible Woman,” a nondescript and oft-ignored woman begins to take advantage of her inconspicuous status. A unique perspective — that of the house itself, wanting to be rid of the crew of a Ghost Hunters-style TV series — distinguishes “The Haunted House.” And “Cat People” stands out due to its effective use of the Latin American legend of “La Japonesa” legend, transplanted to Southern California by the workers who migrated there.

Many of the tales are less horrific and more focused on other emotions, such as the poignant “Quasimodo,” wherein a gay high school student tries to finish the musical version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame that he’s creating while fending off abuse from fellow students. Or the darkly comedic “Dracula,” which concerns an aging film star who finds there’s more to fear than just a young upstart actor hastening the decline of his career. Or “The Creature,” which has an attention-grabbing beginning — an amphibious creature crawls from the La Brea tar pits, while onlookers assume it be a publicity stunt — but is too short and ends a little too abruptly, with a little too much of a tongue-in-cheek tone, to be successful. The issues of brevity and “winking” tone are ones that are evident at several points in the collection, and unfortunately detract a bit from the book’s overall impact.

At 55 pages, “The Urban Legend” is drastically longer than any other story in the book and, perhaps not surprisingly, it’s the best story in the book, featuring the Professor and Teaching Assistant from “Cat People” and focusing on legends of a series of hidden tunnels stretching beneath LA. It’s worth noting that this is not the only story to re-use elements from elsewhere — a handful of other stories are loosely-connected to one another and one features a reference to Morton’s novel The Castle of Los Angeles. These are neat little touches that serve to unify the shared milieu, creating more of a cohesive whole, and I would’ve liked to have seen Morton do more of this. Story notes close out the collection nicely, with Morton describing the inspiration for each of the tales.

Writing twenty original stories for a collection is admirable but challenging, and Morton is not up to the task with every story, but she succeeds more often than not, resulting in an unpredictable and entertaining collection.