Dark Shadows (2012)

Tim Burton

A movie which falls flat even as it hints at what it could have been.

Eva Green is as always great even as she chews the hell out of the scenery and loves every second of it. As both actor and character Green dominates Johnny Depp who seems restrained and unsure of his choices. The basic story, based upon a 70’s TV show I’ve never seen, is ok and the fish out of water concept of a vampire waking up in the 1970’s is flimsy but fun even as the movie seems to seek to avoid period settings and the political spirit of the times.

This film could have been a lot of things. Even some simple editing changes may have been enough to fix it. I know characters are based upon tv source material but Chloe Grace Moretz’s character, as much as I love her and as fine as she is in this with what little she has, could have been edited out with little alteration to the story. The same could be said for Johnny Lee Miller who, too, is fine but seems to be given unnecessary screen time because… well… he’s Johnny Lee Miller.

A cameo from an old Alice Cooper breaks the suspension of disbelief while also acting as the only highlight in a film that in its third act becomes confusing and boring. This movie plays out as if perhaps in an earlier cut there was a longer running time which explained or justified some of the sub-plots. It is this kind of half commitment which is its biggest failing.

That said Eva Green is great even if it is a worry that she seems likely to become trapped in these schlocky genre films. She highlights too that this by now familiar Burton ensemble of Depp, Bonham-Carter, and Elfmen needs new life. After so many awful films over the last two decades I’ve no interest in seeing any film with Johnny Depp directed by Tim Burton. Green’s role in this film though hints at the possibility that Burton could regain a sort of relevance if he was to work with new people. He needs people that are actually thrilled and excited to be in his world. Who are fans rather than freinds, peers or ex-spouses.

eva

Wide Sargasso Sea (1966)

Jean Rhys

Considered a colonial interpretation of as well as a prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Wide Sargasso Sea is a well-written and constructed book which uses it’s Caribbean setting to provide a gothic landscape and setting for the sins of the father and a ghost in the attic. Rhys draws influence from Charlotte Bronte and Daphne du Maurier in creating this sense of fear and unease in her setting and I found that it was this tone that was the most interesting part of the book.

The setting, the tone and the writing I liked but as usual I personally just didn’t find the themes of power struggles between men and women very compelling. A glimpse into the history of creole and the islands was an interesting bonus but, even so, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book unless perhaps it was to someone who was interested or a fan of its influences. That said I read it fast for a uni subject with a massive book list and I do still wonder what I missed and may re-visit one day. That probably won’t happen any time soon as the shelf of books waiting to be read is fast outgrowing those I’ve read. As it is this one may have to join the stack of classics which I haven’t appreciated and, in that, at least Rhys will have good company with Dickens and George Eliot.

Carmilla (1897)

Sheridan Le Fanu

Carmilla is said to be the first vampire novel. It pre-dates Bran Stoker’s Dracula by 26 years and Stoker is said to have taken influence from it. Sheridan Le Fanu was an Irish journalist and uses the minimalist spare style you’d expect from his vocation. From what little I know of him Le Fanu was a workmanlike author intent on writing ghost stories for money. The novel is interesting in its use of using the young female character Lauraas the protaganist and the allusion to lesbian sexuality between her and the vampire Carmilla. It is also interesting that it’s style has not dated as badly as other novels of the time.

This is said to be the beginning of a different perception of the vampire myth. The start of the vampire being a representative fear of the aristocracy. Until Carmilla vampires had been represented as poor shambling zombie-like monsters.

Published in 1897 this is a surprisingly readable book. Leagues ahead of Frankenstein from earlier in the 19th century and arguably more interesting to read than Dracula. It’s not even the proto-type vampire novel you perhaps expect. Instead it an almost very matter of fact ghost story. It doesn’t establish the vampire rules, I think that comes with Dracula, and probably benefits from being read by the modern reader who automatically attributes these rules into a story which doesn’t state them but into which they easily fit.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1994)

John Berendt

I always assumed I knew what true crime writing was. In the same way, you assume you know a lot of things. I thought I knew because I had once read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and thought that was the broad template. An in-depth immersion into the many facts of a crime, it’s surrounds, the criminals, the victims, the trial and the punishment.

Berendt’s book does not adhere to this template. It is a different kind of true crime writing and it’s not necessarily lesser but it is certainly different. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil itself is still a good book. I was simply surprised that it took such a different tack. Berendt’s book is written in a light journalistic and serial manner. The crime isn’t overly complicated and so Berendt instead investigates the local characters and town surrounding act of murder. There is a degree of conceit whereby the writing seeks to act as entertainment first and provide any form of investigation, resolution or solution as a distant second. As such Berendt revels in providing a southern gothic portrait of the city of Savannah and its eccentric inhabitants.

As a novice to true crime this book was entertaining and easy to read and almost pulpy with its first-person perspective and rearrangement of chronology to help the narrative. It shows how problematic true crime writing can be. How easily facts can be rearranged to amp up the entertainment factor. How easily the truth and non-fiction of an event can be morphed into fiction. This book doesn’t ask any searching questions into the nature of crime and how it relates to the human condition but it was a good introduction and primer towards some of the more harrowing true crime novels I’ve since read while also acting as a reminder that the genre, while serious and often intensely so, is also almost paradoxically still acting as a form of entertainment

Dead Until Dark (2001)

Charlaine Harris

I was obliged to read this as part of an undergraduate gothic studies subject and, well, while, I didn’t expect to dislike it I was a little arrogant and thought it would be pretty light (in the lite sense) and fluffy. This is, after all, the novel that was turned into the TV show True Blood. The TV show which imploded under its own premise of vampires being integrated into the real world and acting as an analogy for various civil rights movements. A series which then heaped upon the implosion crater the added insult of werewolves and fairies and shapeshifters.

But, TV series aside, this first book in the series is quite good. It takes a lot of pointers in tone and characterisation from Stephen King which works well with the refreshing perspective of a female narrative perspective. The premise is brilliant. The setting in the south is suitably eerie and steeped in gothic history.

This book could essentially be the screenplay for the first season of the HBO adaptation which was almost universally applauded. I’m tempted to read on further and find out if Charlaine jumped the shark into the world of fairies or if that was HBO’s mistakes. Judging by Game of Thrones though I feel like HBO has been reasonably faithful and that Harris’ later novels possibly suffer in quality and dilute the premise. Here though it is an almost perfect modern vampire novel.