Six Worst Draculas: Buffy, the Vampire Slayer

As yesterday’s blog post for my “Six Worst Draculas” countdown proved, the year 2000 wasn’t a good one for the king of the vampires. Believe it or not, it got worse. For the number four worst Dracula on my list, we’re leaving the cinema behind for the small screen.

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#4 Rudolf Martin from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer

Rudolf Martin as Dracula in Buffy the Vampire SlayerMuch as I love the television series Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, I’m willing to admit the show wasn’t always so great. One of the shows biggest sins was born in the premiere of season five in an episode simply titled “Buffy vs. Dracula.” Perhaps the most baffling thing was how the show tried to play up Dracula’s sex appeal (what was it with the vampire viewing public that year???), but then proceeded to do everything possible to make actor Rudolf Martin look terrible. He’s not a bad-looking guy, after all, but they must have put a two-inch layer of makeup on him. Bad as the makeup was, don’t get me started on the hair (seriously… what the heck were they thinking?).

On a message board discussing this episode, at least one person pointed out that for a television show like Buffy to do justice to a villain like Dracula, he needed to show up in a storyline that ran more than a single episode. I have to agree. Trying to use Dracula at all was rather bold, but this interpretation misses the mark. Part of what bothered me with this version of Dracula was how the show broke a lot of its rules regarding vampires to make Dracula more impressive. I think they could have made him just as threatening without giving him a power set none of the vampires demonstrated prior to or after this episode.

Rudolf Martin as Dracula in Buffy the Vampire SlayerIt’s a pity this Dracula didn’t turn out better, because Rudolf did a nice job in the part. He brought a lot of swagger to his Dracula that most miss. He was a badass, and Dracula should be. The best part of this episode didn’t even belong to Dracula but to Spike who dismisses the big bad by saying Dracula was a ponce who owed him £11.

This isn’t the first time I’ve featured this version of Dracula on my blog. I first discussed some of the issues I had with this version of Dracula in a Fangs God It’s Friday from September of last year.

Return tomorrow for the number three Dracula in my countdown, and this Dracula went on to become a real hothead.

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Six Worst Draculas: Dracula 2000

One of the toughest challenges with any long-running property is keeping up with the changing times. For Dracula, that need to modernize the myth resulted in the film Dracula 2000, or rather Wes Craven Presents Dracula 2000. When a film needs to slap the producer’s name at the beginning of the title to impress potential moviegoers, that’s a big, bloody red flag. It also leads us to number five in my countdown for the Six Worst Draculas. I doubt this pick will be as controversial as yesterday’s.

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#5 Gerard Butler from Dracula 2000

Gerard Butler as Dracula in Dracula 2000I’ll admit that I was foolishly optimistic about this film when it was released, but it didn’t take long to realize the movie is a dud. Instead of modernizing the vampire myth, all Dracula 2000 really does is go overboard with the sex appeal. On the surface, casting Gerard Butler sounds like a brilliant choice for the role. The king vampire deserves to be a badass-looking dude with sex appeal, and the film doesn’t flinch from turning Dracula into some serious eye candy. Unfortunately, most of Butler’s performance involves delivering melodramatic dialogue, swoon-worthy stares, and baring his chest whenever possible.

Sure, the film delivers an interesting twist on Dracula’s identity, ditching the idea of Vlad the Impaler for **SPOILER! (Not really, it came out 16 years ago, so just keep reading)** Judas Iscariot. Unfortunately, by the time the twist arrives, we’ve been hit with a massive dose of cliche. There’s also an absurd amount of coincidence. The suggestion of the film is that the events in the novel Dracula actually happened, so having Abraham Van Helsing’s daughter Mary (oh, look, her name starts with an M and is four letters long, just like Mina) best friends with a girl named Lucy Westerman (oh, you mean like Lucy Westernra) borders on eye-roll-worthy. Dracula also makes sure to have his three “vampire brides” played by Jennifer Esposito, Jeri Ryan, and Vitamin C (seriously, that was the name she used at the time, because she was a pop singer).

Gerard Butler as Dracula in Dracula 2000Perhaps the most entertaining reason to watch this film these days is for the cast of now familiar faces. At the time, Gerard Butler wasn’t a household name. The cast also includes Jonny Lee Miller (Elementary), Omar Epps (House), and Nathan Fillion (Castle). Amazingly, the film itself managed to result in two direct-to-video sequels with different actors as Dracula who could each easily be added to this list, but I won’t do it. Frankly, it would just be too easy, almost like cheating.

Tomorrow’s worst Dracula features an actor who’s already shown up in my Fangs God it’s Friday feature. Feel free to search through those entries to see if you can guess which Dracula it will be.

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Six Worst Draculas: Bram Stoker’s Dracula

The biggest, baddest vampire of them all remains Dracula. The king of the vampires has appeared in near-countless films and TV shows since he was created by author Bram Stoker. We’ve seen some brilliant takes on the legendary bloodsucker, but sadly, not all Draculas are created equal. For every Dracula who successfully fangs and woos the ladies, there are far more who miss the jugular. With that in mind, I want to count down to Halloween the six worst Draculas. To be fair, I’m only going by some of the more widely seen and those I’m personally familiar with, so I’m certain there are worse performances to be found. With that in mind, let’s begin with what I’m sure will be a controversial selection.

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#6 Gary Oldman from Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Gary Oldman looking dapper as Dracula in Bram Stoker's DraculaOh, I know. Many of you vampire lovers get all hot and bothered thinking fondly on this 1992 classic directed by Francis Ford Coppola. One can hardly fault Winona Ryder’s Mina for lusting after Gary Oldman’s Dracula while engaged to Keanu Reeves’s flat, boring Jonathan Harker. I will grant you that Oldman delivers some solid acting for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but the way the character is written is where I take fault with this interpretation of the classic monster.

For whatever reason, the filmmakers decided Dracula needs to be a sympathetic character, so they created this ludicrous story where Mina Harker is the reincarnation of his lost love Elisabeta. Dracula ends up more like someone suffering from multiple personality disorder than a well-written, fleshed out villain. One moment, he’s this evil, tyrannical monster, and the next, he’s this misunderstood victim who just needs a little lovin’. It doesn’t work, and what’s worse, it has nothing to do with Stoker’s original novel. Calling this film Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a murderous joke.

Certainly, this isn’t the first Dracula production to suggest the reincarnated/lost love storyline. Sadly, I think this film planted the notion so solidly within the public mind that people just assume the Mina/Dracula romance is part of Stoker’s novel and have recycled the idea many times since then. Not only did it show up again in the recent NBC television series Dracula starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, but the film Dracula Untold ended with the obvious intent of recycling this storyline for the sequel that has yet to happen (and likely never will).

Gary Oldman looking like he was trying to shape his head like a heart as Dracula in Bram Stoker's DraculaYes, I know you Dracula/Mina shippers love your Gary Oldman Dracula. You keep posting those photoshopped memes of how romantic this doomed romance was, but I think this version of the king vampire is a miserable joke. If Coppola hadn’t had the audacity to call the film Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I might have been more forgiving. Then again, that bizarre hair style for the sickly old version of Dracula near the beginning of the film was sin enough (seriously, Wolverine’s hair looks less improbable by comparison).

Feel free to comment if you agree or disagree, and come back tomorrow for another “Worst Dracula” that features some serious vampire beefcake.

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9/11: Why Adults Get Frustrated When You Say You “Get It” (And Why They Shouldn’t)

new_york_skyline_before_and_after_9-11When I think about 9/11, the first thing my brain goes to isn’t always the attack on the two towers of the World Trade Center or the Pentagon. I think back to 1993 when I was in college and working at a local TV station in Columbia, South Carolina. My school, the University of South Carolina (that would be the “other” USC), was searching for a new head football coach. One evening, I road to the airport with the sports anchor, because there was a rumor that one of the job candidates was flying into town that evening. We planted ourselves with a video camera at the end of the ramp where the passengers disembarked, hoping to catch the first video clip of who might become the Gamecocks’ new head football coach (sadly, no such person came off the plane).

The reason my brain goes back to 1993 instead of 2001, is because news crews can’t do what we did anymore. The only way you get that close to the end of the ramp is if you’re a passenger. Yes, we went through metal detectors to get that far, but we didn’t have to take off our shoes or submit to a pat down. These days, you don’t get past the metal detectors unless you have a plane ticket.

When I think of 9/11, I also remember growing up in the eighties during the height of the Cold War, fearing we’d all die in nuclear war. Then the Cold War ended, and the threat of nuclear attack no longer felt quite so constant.

But when I think of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, I only think about the Japanese fighters dropping bombs on our naval fleet, all the lives lost, and how it pushed the United States into World War II. The point I’m making is that when I think of that attack, I can only know what it was after the fact. The idea of life before World War II can and only will ever be an abstract concept for me, but if my parents had asked me when I was a teenager if I “got it,” I don’t doubt I would have insisted that I did.

This morning, my son complained about how all of his teachers always try to hammer on why 9/11 is a big deal. He was born a little more than two weeks before the 9/11 attack. After voicing his complaint, he insisted that what his teachers do isn’t necessary, because he “gets it.” My knee-jerk reaction was to insist that he doesn’t. The thing is, it’s not fair to expect him to. That he knows about it, the mistakes that led to it, and the mistakes that followed are about all your generation can be reasonably expected to know.

You’ll never know a pre-9/11 world. You and my children see the way things are as a given, because you were born into it. I see a world where the victims of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon aren’t limited to nearly 3,000 deaths and 6,000 injured. The horror of 9/11 is that we’re still being victimized by it. I grew up in a world before 9/11, and I can’t unsee all the things that aren’t the same. I went to Wizard World in Richmond yesterday and a security guard checked me with a metal-detecting wand to make sure I wasn’t carrying any weapons, something that wouldn’t have happened when I was a child. I submitted to that without complaint and even thanked the guard for doing his job, but in the back of my mind, I can’t help think that such necessities in our world are insanity.

I was in the middle of the hiring process to become a 911 dispatcher when 9/11 happened. A few days after the attack, I underwent my polygraph exam. As the polygraph operator read through her list of questions, she eventually asked me, “Do you have any gang or terrorist affiliations?” After I answered “No,” she paused to look up at me and said, “People used to laugh at that question.”

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Fangs God It’s Friday: Rebecca

One of the weirdest vampire films I’ve watched is The Moth Diaries. This 2011 film was based on a novel of the same title by Rachel Klein. The story focuses on Rebecca, whose poet father committed suicide two years prior. Since then, Rebecca’s mother has enrolled her in a boarding school to help her build a new life away from all the reminders at home of her father. Starting a new school year, Rebecca’s best friend falls under the influence of a vampire named Ernessa, and unless Rebecca can find a way to stop Ernessa, the price will be the life of her best friend and then likely Rebecca, as well.

Sarah Bolger as Rebecca in The Moth Diaries

As I write out the plot for the film, I realize there are certain parallels between this story and my first novel Gidion’s Hunt. Like Rebecca, Gidion must stop the vampires to save the life of his friends.

Rachel Klein’s story finds a fresh approach to the vampire myth with the moth. Several species of moths are nicknamed “vampire moths” because they feed on blood. I have to think that tidbit offered some inspiration to Klein’s novel. I have a good friend who despises moths; she should never watch this film.

I consider Rebecca a fun, debatable selection for my Fangs God It’s Friday as a vampire hunter-type character. I say “debatable” (SPOILER ALERT!)because the film leaves you to wonder if Rebecca is so traumatized by her father’s death that she’s imagining the entire thing. Some question if Ernessa even exists or, worse, if Ernessa is just a normal classmate and unfortunate victim of Rebecca’s mental breakdown. I will say that I fall into the camp who believes Ernessa was indeed a vampire and that Rebecca’s trauma actually draws Ernessa to her (END SPOILER). Bolger delivers a great performance, and she’s the main reason I wanted to watch this film. Prior to this, Bolger impressed me with her performance in the TV series The Tudors as a young Mary Tudor. She manages to make Mary so sympathetic that it’s easy to forget she will grow into the infamous “Bloody Mary,” even though she plays Mary with all the elements that will eventually lead to her persecution of Protestants.

For anyone curious to watch a smart vampire film and doesn’t mind a story with a slow burn to the plot (or moths), I think you’ll enjoy The Moth Diaries.

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Marvel Needs to Rip Off the Band-Aid

The new Invincible Iron Man Riri Williams with Tony StarkTwo years ago, I wrote what remains one of this blog’s most viewed entries, Don’t Get Excited About the New Thor. In it, I made my case for why I didn’t trust Marvel to do right by the new female Thor and actually keep the change in place. Two years later, we’re getting a new Iron Man, and I’m willing to say I’m more optimistic based on what we’ve seen happen with the Jane Foster version of Thor, but I’m also hoping Marvel doesn’t pull a Spider-Man/Captain Marvel on us. Stick with me, because I’ll explain what that means.

Earlier today, Marvel announced the events of Civil War II will result in Tony Stark no longer being Iron Man. In his place, Riri Williams, a 15-year-old black girl, will take over the mantle. As you might expect, we’re seeing the same collective freak-out that’s followed any major, long-running Marvel character being replaced in the name of diversity.

First, let’s talk about the good. Marvel Comics is proving their committed to bringing in new characters, and making their universe reflect the diversity of our universe. It should. We don’t live in a caucasian world. America used to bill itself as a melting pot, and these days, that philosophy looks abandoned by far too many. Marvel has actually kept Jane Foster as Thor far longer than I expected without making it all about the old Thor, now known simply as Odinson.

Captain America Sam Wilson Steve Rogers Spider-Man Miles Morales Peter ParkerNow, let’s get to some of the bad. While Thor remains a case where the change has stayed in place and the old Thor hasn’t regained the title, we’ve seen a lot of other diversified revisions of heroes (Spider-Man and Captain America) end in a “let’s have both” solution. Around the time Jane Foster became the new Thor, Marvel also retired Steve Rogers as Captain America and turned the mantle over to Sam Wilson (better known to many previously as Falcon). Recently, Marvel brought back Steve Rogers as Captain America, but instead of making it where Sam Wilson is no longer Cap, both men are Captain America. Marvel basically said, “Why can’t we have both?” After all, Marvel has basically done that with Spider-Man. We have both our white male, Peter Parker Spider-Man and our African-American, Puerto Rican, Miles Morales Spider-Man. In both cases, these duos exist (now) within the same universe at the same time. On the surface, this looks fine. Only, I think it’s not taking things far enough. What Marvel is doing comes across as a “separate-but-equal” approach.

The point I’m getting at is that we need to truly retire some of these older heroes. Think about this a moment. Steve Rogers was revived as Captain American in the early issues of the Avengers in the mid-1960s. Let that sink in a moment. I’m 43, and Avengers #4 was almost a full decade before I was born. Physically, he should at least be in his seventies by this point. At least with Cap, you can argue that he has the super-soldier serum thing to keep him going, but then what’s Tony Stark’s excuse? Seriously, without the suit, what is he? Yes, he’s a “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist,” but he’s also still just human.

Cover to The Uncanny X-Men #227One of the things I loved about Chris Claremont’s original run on The Uncanny X-Men, which spanned almost 16 years, was his philosophy towards evolving the roster. He believed characters would grow out of being superheroes, opening the way for new characters. Unfortunately, the executives and many long-running fans balk at this philosophy, which has resulted in most of our modern comics being reduced to a convoluted mess. Marvel and DC both keep reaching for ways to reboot their universes as a way to bring order to their messy timelines. The solution is a lot simpler: let the world of imagination evolve with the world we live in. The time has come to let some of our legends finish strong and bring in a new generation of superheroes who embody the world we live in and not the past.

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Grumpy Dragon’s Fourth of July Face-Off

To mark the Fourth of July, I decided to share something from the archives. Back in 2012, Windsor, the Grumpy Dragon, faced off with my talking cat Frank, the star of my old webcomic The Wildcat’s Lair. I’m happy to say this episode entitled “USA vs. UK” still holds up pretty well.

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