Archive for Vampire

Venice Skeleton is Forensic Evidence of Vampire

Posted in Rotten with tags on March 10, 2009 by davehurwitz
Female vampire with a brick in its mouth

Female vampire with a brick in its mouth

Okay, so vampire don’t really exist, right? I mean, we’ve never found a real vampire. Well, now we might have real evidence.

Matteo Borrini of the University of Florence in Italy exhumed a skeleton from a grave in Venice that bears the hallmarks of a true vampire. He found the remains of a woman with a small brick in her mouth. He certainly wasn’t on the look out for vampires. Instead, Borrini had been excavating mass graves of plague victims on Lazzaretto Nuovo Island in Venice.

The island is believed to be the world’s first lazaret—a quarantine colony intended to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases. The lazaret was opened during the plague outbreaks that decimated Venice, as well as much of Europe, throughout the 15th and 16th centuries A.D.

Many people believed the plague was spread by vampires which, rather than suck blood, spread disease by chewing on their shrouds after dying. Grave-diggers put bricks in the mouths of suspected vampires to stop them doing this, Borrini says.

This wasn’t the only method of stopping vampires from rising. The association of Death and the scythe ultimately derived from vampire lore. Since the body would rise after death, people in the Balkans would bury their dead with scythes across the throat. This way, when the vampire rose, it would cut it’s own head off.

Plague burial in

Plague burial on Lazzaretto Nuovo Island

Later, when these graves were exhumed, the corpse was found with a scythe next to it. Ergo, the image of death holding a scythe.

Another way to stop a vampire was to drape a net with a multitude of knots. It seemed that vampires were obsessive compulsive, and would have to count all the knots. Another method was to scatter rice, forcing the creature to count all the grains. For a good example of this phenomena, check out the X-Files episode “Bad Blood” from season five. Here, Mulder tosses sunflower seeds, forcing the would be vampire to count them all.

Many of the beliefs in vampires were spawned by a misunderstanding of how bodies decomposed. Fingernails and hair will continue to grow. Yet when this corpse was dug up, it seemed to be still alive. Also, blood would sometimes be expelled from the mouth, causing the shroud to sink inward and tear.

Borrini, who presented his findings at a meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in Denver, Colorado, last week, claims this might be the first such vampire to have been forensically examined.

However, Peer Moore-Jansen of Wichita State University in Kansas says he has found similar skeletons in Poland and that while Borrini’s finding is exciting, “claiming it as the first vampire is a little ridiculous”.

Borrini says his study details the earliest grave to show archaeological “exorcism evidence against vampires”.

Chris Kalidor

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Film Review: Let the Right One In

Posted in Cinema with tags , , on November 23, 2008 by davehurwitz
5 out of 5 Bloody Knives

5 out of 5 Bloody Knives

This weekend, hoards of young women have lined up to see the movie version of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight.  While I enjoy a good vampire movie as much and possibly more than the next man, I often long for something a little less commercial.  If you agree, skip the multiplex in favor of your local art house and buy a ticket to Let the Right One In.

Superficially, the two films would seem to have much in common.  Like Twilight, Let the Right One In is based on a highly successful first novel.  Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist’s premise may sound similar too.  The lonely, wispy Oskar finds friendship and perhaps even love with the immortal Eli.  But these similarities are deceptive.

Oskar is not merely lonely.  He is completely cut off from all human contact.  He has no friends and is constantly picked on at school.  His divorced mother treats him like an annoyingly mobile piece of furniture.  There is a scene in which Oskar visits his father.  They play tic-tac-toe with perfect contentment.  But when a friend drops by with a bottle, it is as though Oskar ceases to exist.  His happy face closing up in disappointment is perhaps the saddest image in the film.  In his way, Oskar is not so different from Eli, who has “been twelve for a long time.”  Both are cut off from the human world by circumstances neither can change.

Eli spattered in blood (a rare scene in the film)

Eli spattered in blood (a rare scene in the film)

Running counter to all of this is Eli’s deteriorating relationship with her aging, incompetent Renfield.  While she obviously loved him once, she grows less tolerant as his bungling deprives her of blood and exposes her to the police.  In the end, she kills him with a certain tenderness, but with little remorse.  As the movie draws to a close, Oskar is forced to flee with Eli.  He does so happily enough, but we can see the life—and the death–that await him all to clearly.  We are left to wonder how many times Eli has been through this cycle, and if this is what she had in mind for Oskar all along.

Let the Right One In makes beautiful use of Sweden’s bleak winter landscapes and institutional apartment blocks and schools.  One of the film’s central images is a pathetically small jungle-gym crusted with snow.  The gore is minimal, but shocking when it appears.  Most of Eli’s powers are suggested by artful misdirection and some animalistic Foley effects.  The climatic confrontation between Eli and Oskar’s schoolyard tormentors is a masterpiece of cinematic understatement that put me in mind of Val Lewton’s Cat People.

Both the young leads, Kåre Hedebrant as Oskar and Lina Leandersson as Eli, are superb.  Like the film itself, their performances are subtle, never splashy.  They are a darker Peter Pan and Wendy, a tiny thread of nascent sexuality running through all their awkward interactions.  While superficially a love story, Let the Right One In unfolds with the inevitability of a tragedy.  It reminds us that there is a price to be paid whenever human and monster meet.

Dave Hurwitz

Edward Cullen, Angel, Louis, Barnabas and Blacula (The Evolution of the Caring Vampire)

Posted in Rotten with tags , , , , on November 16, 2008 by davehurwitz
Jonathan Fritz as Barnabas Collins

Jonathan Fritz as Barnabas Collins

It all started with a mistake. Vampires were supposed to be evil. Spawns of the night. Supernatural fiends. At least this had been the norm for a great deal of the genre. This all changed in the spring of 1967, when a third rated ABC sought to boost ratings on it’s soap opera Dark Shadows by introducing Barnabas Collins, a vampire.

He was intended for only one season, and like his predecessors, was to be villainous. Afterward, torrents of mail kept the character alive. A Van Helsing type character, Dr. Julian Hoffman, was added to hunt and destroy the vampire. However a typo changed the character to Julia, filled by actress Grayson Hall.

The show finally developed a love triangle, with Julia in love with Barnabas (played by Jonathan Frid), and the vampire pining away for his reincarnated love, Josette (played by Kathryn Leigh Scott). Suddenly the vampire took the lead role, even entering hero status.

The first movie to capitalize on this new trend was Blacula. Yes, Blacula. Sure it’s filled with incredibly dated attire (the vampire hardly stands out in his cape), but it also had the superb acting of William Marshall to hold it together. A similar storyline of a lost love reincarnated drives the vampire. Ultimately, his love perishes. Rather than go on living without her, Blacula destroys himself through exposure to sunlight.

William Marshall as Blacula

William Marshall as Blacula

Now, there could no more sympathetic vampire than Anne Rice’s Louis. Suddenly the entire story revolves around the vampire. He is the main character, the hero, the reason for the story. Louis (played by Brad Pitt) struggles with his vampirism. In the “Special Introduction” to the DVD for Interview with the Vampire, she states, “I wanted you to fall in love with the vampire and see things through his eyes.”

Brad Pitt as Louis in Interview with the Vampire

Brad Pitt as Louis in Interview with the Vampire

Fast forward to a new television series setting a teenage cheerleader against hordes of vampires. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was born. Angel (played by David Boreanaz) is different from the spawn that seek to drain humans like so many Capri Suns. He is cursed, giving him a conscience of sorts. Additionally, he becomes a romantic interest to Buffy, though it is a relationship they can never consummate. The curse that keeps Angel tame would also be reversed should he ever achieve true happiness.

Angel and Buffy

Angel and Buffy

This tortured relationship is the main thrust of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight novel. Edward Cullen (played by Robert Pattinson) is a self-proclaimed “vegetarian” vampire, feeding only on animals (much like Louis). He and Bella Swan (played by Kristen Stewart) engage in a boiling romance that can never come to fruition. Edward must fight every instinct not to eat the girl (falling into much the same trap as Angel and Buffy).

 

Edward Cullen sparkling in the sunlight

Edward Cullen sparkling in the sunlight

So when you read or watch Twilight, think about the vampires that came before, and led to development of the caring, hunky vampire that is Edward Cullen.

Chris Kalidor

Visit this related post by Dave: “Can Sex with a Vampire Get You Pregnant

Review: Every Last Drop, by Charlie Huston

Posted in Book Review with tags , , on October 9, 2008 by davehurwitz

Certain books just take over my life.  I read the first line and that’s it.  The dishes pile up in the sink.  Laundry hangs neglected on the clothes line.  I let the machine take my calls.  Three or four days later, book finished, I come up for air and survey the devastation.  Not every book gets to me this way, of course.  But every book by Charlie Huston does.

Charlie is amazing.  A high school dropout and erstwhile bartender, schooled only by a voracious appetite for books and movies, Huston writes the smoothest, toughest noir prose I’ve ever read.  Though not yet a bestseller, Charlie manages to earn a living from writing alone.  How?  Huston writes two books a year, every year.  One straightforward pulp novel, and one entry in the Joe Pitt Casebooks.

Every Last Drop is the fourth and penultimate installment in the Casebooks.  Joe is vampire exiled from a Manhattan balkanized by hidden vampire clans, a punishment he could endure if he’d been able to take his girlfriend, Evie, over the river with him.  To get back on the island, Joe takes a job spying on an old friend, Amanda Horde.  Young, rich, brilliant and crazy, Amanda thinks she can cure the vampire virus, an idea the power elite of the clans won’t tolerate.  But Horde has problems of her own.  He followers need blood, and she’s hoping Joe can get it.

All Joe wants is to see Evie.  Instead, he pinballs between The Casebooks’ usual suspects.  Terry Bird, the deceptively hippie-like leader of The Society.  The just plain deceptive Dexter Predo, security chief for the corporate Coalition.  Phil, the junkie snitch with rockabilly pretensions.  And the Enclave, a sect of vampire monks gearing up to massacre the human race.  Along the way, Joe discovers the secret behind the Coalition’s blood supply, the revelation of which could lead war between all the clans.

While Every Last Drop is clearly a setup for the fifth and final Joe Pitt novel, it still provides many pleasures.  Chief among these are Huston’s spot-on dialog and sharply drawn side characters.  There’s a great little scene where Joe, ever the tough guy, makes his apologies to Hurley, Terry Bird’s hulking Irish bodyguard, who got machine-gunned in the previous book.  There’s some equally good play by play between Joe and Esperanza Benjamin, his neighbor and wannabe lady friend in The Bronx.  And Amanda Horde’s Joe Pitt impression is funny as hell.

At the heart of the novel, as always, is Evie.  Joe’s love for her is the source of all his problems, and the only thing keeping him human.  Like Philip Marlowe, Joe Pitt is a tough guy with a soft spot.  I can hardly wait for the final book, to see what Joe must do to preserve the one person he loves.

Though Every Last Drop is on shelves now, it may not be the best place to start.  If Joe Pitt sounds like your kind of thing, get ahold of book one, Already Dead.  If straight noir suits you better, try Caught Stealing, the first installment of the now complete Henry Thompson Trilogy.  Or try The Shotgun Rule, Huston’s paean to stupid teenage antics, set in Altamont in the summer of 1983.  Whichever one you try, I guarantee you’ll come back for more.  Just be sure you wash the dishes first.

Dave Hurwitz