Christopher Farnsworth's Blog, page 16

October 4, 2010

Book Chick City in the UK was nice enough to ask me to do a guest post for its Halloween month-long celebration. You can see it here, or you can take a look at the version with links below. If you're at all interested in what warped me as a child, this is everything you could want to know.

I never liked vampires as a kid. Still don't, even though telling stories about them now pays my mortgage. Vampires, you see, are frightening. They're not tortured souls, they're no

t romantic, and they're certainly not cute. They are fang-faced, blood-drinking monsters.

So, despite my antipathy toward vampires, I made it a practice to learn everything I could about them. It's a quest that continues today, and I'm willing to share what I know with you.

Be warned: these vampires don't sparkle. You turn your back on them for a minute, you're lunch. Good luck.

10. The Great Skull Island Vampire, from the Scooby Doo Show (1977)

Laugh all you want, but

this guy was the source of the first nightmare I can remember, and his influence sparked my lifelong fear and fascination with vampires.

Dog detective Scooby and his hapless human friends are at yet another haunted location, where they're enlisted to help their friend Lisa break the family curse that threatens to turn her into a vampire. (Seriously, Scooby and the gang got invited to the worst parties.)

I never really bought Velma's rational, scientific explanation that proved the vampire was actually sleazy Uncle Leon. It didn't matter that he was the only other cast member, and therefore the only reasonable suspect. Even at six years old, I knew the vampire was still out there, waiting in the dark.

9. Marvel Comics' version of Dracula, from Tomb of Dracula. (1972-1979)

The Seventies were a great time for horror, and comic book companies raced to cash in on the resurrected interest in the undead. The best effort was Marvel Comics' Tomb of Dracula, a book which had the unenviable task of making the Lord of the Vampires sympathetic enough to keep little snots like me interested, but not so sympathetic that we wouldn't cheer for the heroes trying to stake him through the heart.

Writer Marv Wolfman (a comics legend who also has one of the best names any author could ask for) managed to pull off this trick by consistently putting Dracula up against even greater evils, like, say, Satan. One panel that's still vivid in my memory is Dracula actually holding a cross, hands burning, as he defends children who were kind to him against a mindless group of zombie-like vampires.  Sure, he was protecting himself as well, having lost his vampiric powers, but this might have been the first time I had the spark of an idea that a vampire could do good instead of evil.

Most of the time, however, Dracula was a complete bastard. And though I would have sworn otherwise at the time, I found myself rooting for him.

8. The vampire teenagers of The Lost Boys (1987)

7. The redneck vampires of Near Dark (1987)

Vampires fell out of favor for a while, dispelled by the bright shiny rays of Ronald Reagan's Morning in America. Despite movies like The Hunger (1983), vampires became something of a joke, with Love at First Bite (1979), Once Bitten (1985) Transylvania 6-5000 (1985), and, to an extent, Fright Night (1985) playing the vampire mythos for laughs.

The Lost Boys and Near Dark brought the screams back. The Lost Boys were a slick, hair-gelled, leather-jacketed clique welcoming the new kid in town. The only downside to becoming one of the cool kids – losing your humanity and trying to feed on your annoying kid brother. On the plus side, you got to sleep with Jami Gertz, who was sort of the apotheosis of Eighties Hot Girl.

Near Dark, on the other hand, was truly frightening. Long before she won an Oscar for The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow directed a story about a traveling clan of redneck bloodsuckers who could turn a bar full of shit-kickers into snack-packs in a matter of minutes. Atmospheric, moody and tense, there was no winking or laughing at vampire tropes here. Near Dark, unlike The Lost Boys, forced audiences to face the horror without turning away to one-liners or irony.

But both movies made it clear: fangs were for tearing out throats – not gentle love-bites and definitely not for giggles.

6. Blacula, from Blacula (1972)

There's not a lot to say about Blacula, except he's a hybrid of Dracula and Shaft. If you can't see how badass that is, I don't think there's anything I can say to make it clearer.

5. Angel, from "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" (1997)

There have been many, many attempts to make a vampire a good guy, but only Joss Whedon really captured the torment that would have to be involved in this dichotomy.  Vampires are, by their nature, evil. They take joy in the pain of others, and willfully cause suffering to survive. Angel, on the other hand, was cursed with a human soul after chomping the wrong neck, and a couple centuries' worth of good times became a massive, crushing load of guilt.

While his solo series had its ups and downs, it became more sophisticated than Buffy in how it faced the nature of evil. Angel never got to take a vacation, and there was no happy ending. He simply fought the darkness all the time. It might have been a losing battle, but it was the only one worth fighting.

4. Joe Pitt, from the Joe Pitt Casebooks by Charlie Huston (2005-2009)

Joe Pitt is not a teen dream by any stretch of the imagination. Turned as a punk kid in the Seventies, Pitt has tried to work within vampire society in the confines of New York, but just cannot handle authority. As a result, he's beaten, stabbed, shot, starved, threatened, broken, and banished to the sewers. Through it all, he survives. He has the instincts of a cockroach, and as low as his enemies go, he can always sink lower.

And yet, he's actually one of the few fictional vampires whose moral code is simple, honest and believable. He's fiercely loyal to the woman he loves, and he's willing to kill anyone who'd threaten her. Actually, he's willing to kill everyone, just in case they might threaten her.

3. Hammer Horror's Dracula, as played by Christopher Lee (1958)

I was lucky enough to grow up in a town with an independent TV station. Before it became a Fox affiliate, it had hours and hours of time to fill. This meant every October was stuffed with cheap horror flicks in a 31-day Halloween marathon. And that's how I saw almost all the Hammer Horror movies of Dracula before I was 13. As much as I appreciate Bela Lugosi's portrayal of Dracula, Christopher Lee will always be the only true count for me. Seriously, the guy was simply terrifying, and seemingly unstoppable. He "died" in epic battle with Van Helsing – much better than even Stoker's original ending, he said blasphemously – but returned for the inevitable sequels.

2. The Night Flier, from the short story by Stephen King (1988)

Stephen King is a great writer. I honestly think The Stand is a contender as one of the great American novels. Give him pages and time, and he can create entire worlds for a reader. But his short works, like The Night Flier, are like hits off a crack pipe – addictive and lethal. The title character is a murderer who flies from one small airport to the next in a black Cessna, killing everyone he finds. He's tracked by a reporter who discovers the killer is an actual vampire, the rear of his aircraft filled with soil and turned into a mobile coffin. King takes the old, familiar vampire lore – the stuff that could seem faintly ridiculous – and makes it bladder-voiding scary. He'd do the same with Kurt Barlow in 'Salem's Lot, but to me, the Night Flier was always the creature of purer menace.

1. Count Orlok, from Nosferatu (1922)

It shouldn't be as scary as it is. It's a silent film, made with primitive filming techniques and special effects. It's not even a licensed production of Dracula, for Christ's sake. Bram Stoker's widow had to sue the filmmakers for ripping off her husband's work. But it is proceeds with the sleepwalking logic of a bad dream that just won't end. Max Schreck is possibly the only actor to ever be accused in urban legends of being an actual vampire based on his performance. While the movie is still a product of its age, any moment that Schreck is onscreen is eerie, disturbing, and filled with dread. Nosferatu shows us what a real vampire looks like, and its DNA is encoded in the blood of every worthy contender to the title since.

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Published on October 04, 2010 09:03 • 76 views

October 1, 2010

Lord knows I'm no fan of Meg Whitman, but the whole scandal about her employing an illegal immigrant for nine years is another sign of how stupid and broken our politics have become. If hiring an undocumented worker — knowingly or otherwise — disqualifies you from public life in California, then the only people left to do government work will be the guys standing around at Home Depot.

I admit, it's sort of funny to watch Whitman's campaign impaled on the same spike of "blame-the-brown-people" tactics that she's been using in this election. (Her web site, apparently maintained by the only people in the state who don't watch the news, still includes gems like, "We are never going to solve the problem of illegal immigration as long as there is strong demand for undocumented labor.") But that still doesn't mean any of this is right. And for those who would sputter, "I never hired any illegal immigrants," I just say, pull the other one, it plays "Jingle Bells."

The fact is, we all get something from illegal migrant labor, whether it's tomatoes at the grocery store, or lawn care, or a nanny/housekeeper at $12 an hour. (Spanish lessons for your toddler included.) On a bigger scale, Employers love illegal immigration because it keeps wages low, especially in some of the hardest, most dangerous jobs we have to offer. (Given a choice between typing all day for no money and picking produce in the hot sun for $10 an hour, I know what I'd choose. And apparently, I'm not alone. If you feel otherwise, conveniently, here is a place you can go to take a migrant laborer's job.)

There's more than a little irony that Meg, who talks so tough about turning in undocumented laborers, couldn't bring herself to do the same thing. Other people are calling her a hypocrite, but that's the one redeeming thing I see in this whole mess. I'd like to think it's because she realized she was dealing with a human being, and not a campaign issue. But then the cynical part of me says that she probably realized if she did have her housekeeper deported, there would be no way to hide that from the press.

Either way, she chose not to have someone she called "part of her extended family" jailed and sent back over the border. That was probably the right thing to do, even though both she and her housekeeper were breaking the law. It's easy to talk about deportation when it's just the faceless hordes. It's something else entirely when you have to look at the person.

Living here, you cannot untangle yourself from the economic benefits (and drawbacks) of illegal labor. It's simply too big a force in the market, and as free marketeers like Meg love to remind us, the market controls everything. The people who have to fix this are the ones with their hands on the giant levers of power. Until they do, I find it hard to blame the people who come here in response to our blazing neon "Help Wanted" signs or the people who are trying to make ends meet with every bargain they can find.

There are good reasons why Whitman shouldn't be governor, not least of which is trying to solve the problems of cheap labor with cheap talk. Hiring someone who turned out to be an illegal immigrant, however, doesn't even make my list.

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Published on October 01, 2010 09:25 • 26 views

A British woman takes a picture of what could be an angel, a "naked Buzz Lightyear," or possibly a bee.

My vote is for Mothman. But then again, my vote is almost always for Mothman.

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Published on October 01, 2010 08:17 • 17 views

September 29, 2010

First, as I'm walking to work, I see a banner headline on the LA Times about a gun battle at NBC's studios in Burbank. I stop and do a double-take. It's actually a full-page, wraparound ad, done in the same style as the Times's actual front page. Not sure what they were advertising — I assume it was a new Fall show, or maybe an elaborate joke about the devastation wrought by Jeff Zucker in his tenure at NBC — but I got one clear message from it. Any credibility the LA Times owned is now puddled around its ankles, like a clown dropping its pants for cheap laughs. (The fake story was especially moronic in light of the actual gun battle that took place in LA yesterday.)

Then CNN reveals that James O'Keefe — the guy who made the heavily edited videos of himself as a fake pimptried to "seduce" and videotape one of its reporters while she was doing a documentary on the new conservative activism. One of O'Keefe's confederates apparently got an attack of conscience about the Joe Francis method of journalism and tipped CNN. I don't feel that CNN is off-limits, by any means.  They're one of the outlets that helped create O'Keefe by turning him into a flavor-of-the-month. But what O'Keefe planned was pure ugly — A blindfold? Fuzzy handcuffs? — and the fact that this little snot has a national platform is a sign that the gangrene infecting our media has gone too far; it's time to amputate.

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Published on September 29, 2010 09:33 • 22 views

September 28, 2010

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Published on September 28, 2010 09:09 • 27 views

September 27, 2010

1. It's great when some people reveal themselves as huge douchebags. For one thing, it saves the rest of us the work of finding out on our own. Yes, I'm looking at you, guy who's proudly slashing salaries at America's public libraries:

"A lot of libraries are atrocious," Mr. Pezzanite said. "Their policies are all about job security. That's why the profession is nervous about us. You can go to a library for 35 years and never have to do anything and then have your retirement. We're not...

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Published on September 27, 2010 17:03 • 36 views

September 21, 2010

Today's news in geek: as part of its ongoing reorganization, DC Comics will end the Wildstorm imprint, which it bought back in 1999.

This is not terribly surprising news, but it is still somewhat sad, because for a while, Wildstorm was publishing the very best work in comics. It set Warren Ellis loose on titles like Stormwatch, and then gave him free rein on The Authority and Planetary, and he made the ideas of super-humans and alien wars and mad scientists astonishing again (and in the...

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Published on September 21, 2010 14:57 • 32 views

September 10, 2010

"Venture Bros." returns Sunday (Sept. 12) to Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, and it's about goddamn time.

I can honestly say this is the one show that has never disappointed me. (I'm looking at you here, "Lost" and "Battlestar Galactica.") Admittedly, it's not for everyone. As I've said before, "Venture Bros." — created by insane super-geniuses Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer — appeals to some very specialized audiences. You have to find jokes about serial killers funny, know an ungodly amount...

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Published on September 10, 2010 13:00 • 33 views

Hey Pentagon. There's some classified info in BLOOD OATH. I just remembered.

Very funny Firefly panel at Dragon Con 2010. Includes crank calls from Alan Tudyk and Nathan Fillion and a brilliant supporting role by the iPhone. Man, the love this show still inspires is incredible. (Via Topless Robot.)

And here's Part Two. really needs to get more work. She's brilliant.

My friend Bill Heisel is doing a great series called "The Shadow Practice," about the illegal clinics that prey on...

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Published on September 10, 2010 09:16 • 23 views

September 9, 2010