Monday, July 20, 2015

Such a Dark Thing: Theology of the Vampire Narrative in popular Culture

I bought this book the other week after seeing it reviewed, and thought it would be an interesting exploration of the religious nature of the vampire tale in fiction and cinema--which, for the most part ,it is. While the deeply conservative nature (in general) of the horror genre tends to be overlooked, even, perhaps especially, by those working within the genre itself, the Christian iconography of the vampire is difficult to miss. The cross, Holy water, silver, etc. are shown as very powerful in repelling evil. Really, if such icons did succeed in warding off vampires or other creatures of darkness, would that alone stand as a powerful testement to the Truth of the Christian faith?
     M. Jess Peacock recognizes this, and explores numerous examples, from Stoker's original Dracula to modern vampire tales. He notably excludes the Twilight-type stories in case you're wondering. However, while I had been expecting something more in the vein of Horror: a Biography, (also known by the title Monsters of the Id), by E. Michael Jones, what I got was, as a whole, almost a reverse. Unlike Jones, Peacok concentrates strictly on the vampire subgenre, and this much is made clear by the cover. Also unlike Jones, who is a political and religious conservative, Peacock is unabashedly liberal. This is made clear early on by his repeated use of words such as "patriarchal," oppression," "liberation," and so on, even criticizing Repulican policies and politicians occasionally. He is a strong proponant for "liberation theology," which advocates using relgion, notably Christ's criticism of the wealthy, as a tool for social reform.
   Now, as I've become more liberal over the years myself, I don't disagree with this stance entirely. In fact, though the conservative repsonse to the problem of poverty is generally through personal, chariable acts, government reform is not something that is neceassarly contrary to Christ's teachings. Peacokc's criticism of policies he believes sustain poverty may well be spot on, though I'm not informed enough to comment.
     Nonetheless, partly as a consequence of his politics, Peacok gets at least part of the theology of vampirism dead wrong. He correctly identifies that the traditional vampire tale is powerfully Christian-themed. However, he also makes at least one of the errors that Jones points out as committed by left-wing critics of horror. Peacock identifies the monster, in this case the vampire, as a potential rebel against the oppressive, social and political order. The vampire certainly can be interpreted as an ultimate rebel against tradition, all right: he seeks man-centered immortality without God or the need for salvation. But the fact that the undead are macabre parody of salvation seems to have escaped Peacock; the rebellion of the vampire against God and the forces of light is hardly a successful one. The vampire, condemned to an eternally monstrous exisitance is more akin to rebellions such as the French and Russian revolutions, which , in addition to slaughtering countless innocents, ended up devouring themselves in the process. Thus, the figure of vampire most accurately represents a warning against the false allure of creating a human-centered utopia on earth.

   Peacock also points out, with some measure of accuracy, that the potency of the Cross and other symbols has somewhat waned over the years onscreen, indicating a percieved diminishing power of God to combat evil. There is doubtless some measure of accuracy in this last observation. In this case, he identifies vampires, once they have achieved power over their victims, as themselves purveyors of the old, traditional social order, and heroes such as Buffy and Van Helsing as the leaders of a new revolution. Such an interreptation will not work with the more traditonal vampire tales, in which the heroes rely on the symbols of tradtional Christianity to repel the beasts. However, in the more secular tales, such as the Blade movies, and other tales in which power of the Cross seems to have diminished, Peacock might have a point. Heroes are coming to rely more on their own wits and resources than on faith in God. Is this becoming a trend for the vampire tale and for horror in general?
     The last section of the book is compodium of the films and TV series that the author thinks are most notable to the vampire subgenre. He explicates each of them very well, and often in great detail, explaining each one in light of his criticism. All in all, an informative and interesting read for the vampire enthusiasts, if a bit of a politically biased one.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

ZAM2015: Zombies Dig Violin Music

Okay, yes. I've got this weird infatuation with the violin. I happen to think it's a rich, wonderful instrument. And, I quite enjoy the twist Lindsey Stirling gives to it. So, since we're in the midst of Zombie Awareness Month, here's a little of both. With the Undead. Who, as it turns out, can be controlled with music. Who knew?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Bits N Pieces 5.10.15 - Space Zombies, Comic Zombies, and... er... Con... zombies

Amish Zombies have landed! Kerry Nietz's Amish Zombies From Space has officially dropped, and is available electronically and in trade paperback.

Dan Conner's My Gal The Zombie full-color, 50-page special is set to debut at the Denver Comic Con. The special includes a field of different guest artists and the complete Grave Robber crossover story. Conner says the special edition will soon be available online as well.

Registration is open for the 2015 Realm Makers writing conference for Christians in speculative fiction. First reports say the conference has tripled registration compared to this point last year, which means this year's conference is projected to be quite a bit larger than previous events.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

ZAM2015: Boris Karloff And The Undead

Lights Out was a horror-centric radio drama that started on NBC in the 1930s. Among the stars who graced the sound stage, Boris Karloff was one of the most instantly recognizable.

But perhaps one of Karloff's best pieces showcased him as a Frankenstinian mad scientist in the radio play "Death Robbery." In "Death Robbery," Karloff believes he has discovered the ultimate cure -- for death itself. And it works! At least, it's worked on all his animal subject. In typical mad scientist fashion, Karloff's doctor laments the lack of human subjects and the short-sightedness of the general public. But atypical of his fellow mad scientists, however, Karloff doesn't appear to even consider going about his experiments illegally... 

Except that his wife has offered, in the event of her demise, to be his test subject. In the way of these storylines, she has the chance to make good on her offer when a car accident claims her life. 

This is among the earliest zombie dramas to explore the question of the afterlife, of what happens to the soul upon death. The story explores the zombie phenomenon by daring to ask the questions, "what happens to the fundamental self upon death," and "could simple science bring back the whole self upon simply reanimating the corpse?"

The answers lead to a satisfying -- and satisfyingly creepy -- conclusion. 

Karloff is expectedly wonderful in his role as the grieving mad scientist, but the showstopper is Lurene Tuttle (who is curiously -- and unjustly -- uncredited) as the wife. In her "living" role, Tuttle is charming, and provides a ghastly contrast to her "undead" self at the end of the play.

Listen (or download here) with the lights on!

Friday, May 1, 2015

ZAM2015: Hey, It's Better Than Biting!

AFitD Reviews John Hileman's The End Came With A Kiss


What do you do when you really, really want to write about something, but everyone and his mom is already writing about it? Well, you could write trashy fanfic of somebody else's work... or, you could change the game. 

And make no mistake: John Michael Hileman's The End Came With A Kiss is a game changer. Book One of an anticipated series (titled Beautiful Dead), TECWaK introduces us to Ben, a devoted husband and father -- or, a man who had been a devoted husband and father until a new kind of plague robbed him of his family. Now, with his daughter dead and his wife an endlessly looping automaton, his mission is not merely one of survival, but of hope. 

Hileman introduces us to a new breed of zombie: far afield of the rotting flesh-eaters we're used to, Hileman's parasite uses our own vanity and lust against us. The newly-minted undead are beautiful, the plague stripping away the flaws and leaving the victim clean and whole. But this is merely a piece of the plague's insidious trap: the newly gorgeous dead are still out to make more of themselves -- by offering the living a simple kiss.

So far, that doesn't seem so bad: a hot zombie makes out with you, you get hotter, and go find someone else to make out with. But, as always, there's a catch. Effectively, you are brain dead. When you aren't finding other people to kiss (or to do violence to -- oh, yes, there's plenty of violence to be done as well), your mind positions itself inside a memory, leaving your body to mime prior events in endless loop after loop. 

With The End Came With A Kiss, Hileman has not only given us a new kind of zombie, but a new kind of zombie novel. He taps into fears of a different nature, even while exploring the same tropes of losing one's self and struggling for survival. And in so doing, he gives us a book about much more than the darker parts of the human condition, but about human strength as well. TECWaK is a story of loss and hope, of betrayal and redemption, of love and family, of sin and grace. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Zombie Awareness Month

Be warned. May is Zombie Awareness Month. It's the sort of thing we take pretty seriously around here...

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Story Of The Cthulhu Entities Who Stole An Author

 This is a story I wrote in response to Marc Laidlaw's short fiction, "The Boy Who Followed Lovecraft." Since it indeed relates to horror and the Terrorverse, I thought it appropriate to announce it here: