Kim Newman is an expert in all things that go bump in the night. He is the writer of the Anno Dracula series and a regular film reviewer for the Guardian. He has been given the enviable job of curating the film section of the Bram Stoker Festival, that takes place in Dublin from the 26th -28th of October.
The Film festival has a heavy focus on Dracula, and features horror gems such as the Brides of Dracula and the Blood of Dracula. Stoker on the Square, a season of outdoor screenings curated by Kim Newman, will be screened at Meeting House Square from the 26th to the 28th of October as part of the Bram Stoker Festival. Tickets available at : www.bramstokerfestival.com
We got the chance to pick Kim’s brain on a few film/ Dracula related topics, and you can find his answers below…
The movies in the festival date from 1931 to present day, why do you think the Dracula and vampire myth is still so enduring?
KN: The first Dracula movie was Nosferatu (1922) and there are several TV and film Draculas in production right now, ninety years on … Bram Stoker’s novelis obviously one of those stories that we need to retell over and over for each generation, and with multiple variations from Blacula to Deafula, from gory horror to children’s cartoon. Part of this is down to the strength of the original material – it’s a book that’s got so much good stuff in it that no single adaptation has been able to include all of it, and yet it has its contradictions and lacunae and odd moments which almost invite the adaptor to come in and tinker with the text and present alternate or wildly left-field versions of it. I may be just justifying my own approach in the Anno Dracula series with this, but I am far from the only author or filmmaker to feel this. First off, Dracula is a great villain – he has a great name, an intriguingly thin backstory, gruesome habits, a castle, distinctive dress sense and a capacity for calculated evil that makes him an archetypal baddie. And there’s an underlying strength to Stoker’s story – an ancient evil relocates to the contemporary world, settles down where you live – that makes it a template for practically all of the modern horror genre.
What do you think of Twilight? Do you think it’s a positive that young people are interested in vampire books, a gateway drug so to speak?
KN: I’m obviously not the key demographic for Twilight, but I think the first and last films in the series are interesting. I read the first novel, which I found hard going. It’s interesting that, of all monsters, vampires are the only breed who have spread out from the horror genre and started appearing in other categories of fiction – in this case, high school romance, but there have also been science fiction, mystery, comedy and (inevitably) porn vampires. Dracula has a lot of sublimated sex – the Count dominates his three wives and seduces Lucy, then tries it on with Mina – but little romance, in that it’s the purer feelings the heroes have for his victims which make them finally able to defeat him. The notion of the vampire as a fantasy lover has been around for a long time and Twilight is just the most commercially successful spin on this … though it’s interesting that the thrust of that story isn’t just the heroine having a relationship with a vampire but her entering his world (which is also wealthier and more tasteful than her own) and becoming like him (so he becomes her symbolic father as well as actual husband). In my series, I’ve dealt a bit with human-vampire relationships, and my conclusion is that they’d be as rewarding and/or difficult as human-human relationships are. Romance, of course, is a sub-genre of fantasy, in the sense of wish-fulfilment or escapism, and I tend to think that the most satisfying stories (even the really far-fetched ones) are about the way things are rather than the way we’d like them to be.
Some book stores now have ‘paranormal teen romance’ sections, what would Bram Stoker have made of it?
KN: It’s a moot point as to what kind of a novel Stoker thought he was writing … there were precedents, even for vampire stories (he plainly knew Sheridan LeFanu’s ‘Carmilla’) but the gothic novel boom had been over for sixty years and that tended to locate its horrors in imagined past eras rather than locate them in the present. He may have seen Dracula as the 1897 equivalent of a techno-thriller (there’s a page and a half of science fiction rationale for vampires, involving radium deposits in the Carpathians, which is soon dropped in favour of devilish black magic) with all the travel schedules, diaries, gadgets, news clippings,scientific notes, etc. The book was reasonably well-received in his lifetime (he lived til 1912) but not a huge seller or a backlist staple until it was adapted for the stage in the 1920s and the movies in 1931 … I suspect he’d have been simultaneously delighted by the lasting influence of his work and annoyed that he didn’t personally benefit from it. He was unashamedly a populist writer, so he’d have been happy that he started a lasting, profitable vogue.
It must be a treat to get to pick your favourite vampire films for this festival, did you struggle to narrow it down to six?
KN: Not really … after all, this is only the first Bram Stoker Festival, so I had in the back of my mind the thought that anything I missed this time I could select in the future. I decided to limit myself to Dracula movies rather than expand it to vampire movies (maybe next time I’ll do non-Dracula vampire movies – perhaps female vampires in honour of Carmilla?). Actually, Dracula isn’t in Brides of Dracula, but Van Helsing is and it is a sequel to a version of Dracula. Rights and release schedule things put a few choices off the table, but I might well have gone with the 1931 Bela Lugosi Dracula anyway. The others are personal favourites or odd choices that I thought highlighted the range of movie Draculas on offer. I was specifically asked to include a couple of kid-friendly choices, though actually only Blood for Dracula is really unsuitable for children. I can certainly think of a great many more vampire movies I love. Dracula AD 1972, for a start …
Is there any talk of the Anno Dracula series being converted to the screen? Would you like to see it happen? Who would be your ideal director?
KN: The rights are currently held by a UK TV company who are in the very early stages of considering it as a series … but no one is attached to it as yet. As a movie buff, I might like to see a demented genius like Stanley Kubrick or Michael Mann tackle Anno Dracula – though novelists Stephen King and F.Paul Wilson still grumble about what they did to The Shining and The Keep. As a writer, I might prefer someone like Michael Curtiz or John Frankenheimer who would come in and do a professional job while trying to stick as closely to my vision as possible … this is why it won’t be entirely up to me who gets control, even though I did make a reasoned choice of who the rights went to. A special effects artist friend of mine, Dave Elsey, said that whoever makes the film should first get Christopher Lee to record all Dracula’s speeches to fit over whatever actor/effects creation gets to play Dracula.