Book Review: ‘Dracula the Un-dead’ by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt

*written in 2014.

There have been several sequels to Bram Stoker’s literary classic Dracula. Only one of them however, was written by a member of the Stoker clan.

Dacre Stoker, great-grandnephew of Bram Stoker teamed up with Ian Holt to pen this novel, which was ambitious and interesting.

I guess that being a family member gives Dacre some justification for continuing the tale, as countless others have sequelized and bastardized the Dracula name for well over a century. If everyone and their mother has a right to touch Dracula, then why not Bram Stoker’s own kin?

A problem I have, is that Dacre wanted to clear up a lot of inconsistencies in his great-granduncle’s classic novel. Family or not, I feel like criticizing the work you are trying to build off of is a bit bizarre and kind of dismissive of what Bram Stoker created.

This book falls victim to a few things.

Most notably, like many modern updates of classic stories, it tries to string together a bunch of unrelated historical and fictional elements. This book ties Dracula to Elizabeth Bathory, Jack the Ripper and the Titanic. I’m not going to spoil it and tell you how, other than to say that Bathory is the villain of this story.

Additionally, Dracula is sort of the hero and the younger Stoker, whether he realized it or not, turns the elder Stoker’s classic tale into just one big misunderstanding, as Dracula wasn’t the villain in the original story but was in fact in London to kill Bathory (who is also his cousin, by the way).

Calling this book a mess isn’t really accurate. It is full of interesting ideas but it more than pales in comparison to the great work it is based off of. I would expect a book like this from an author trying to make a quick buck off of the Dracula dynasty; I wouldn’t expect it from a member of Stoker’s family, as it paints its own colorful picture while dismissing and retconning the intent of the original story.

Is it worth a read? I think so. However the almost 500 page count is a bit hefty for such an unsatisfying payoff.

And I don’t want to sound like I am bashing the book. As I said it is interesting and ambitious. It is just that with that ambition came a lot of liberties that downplay the significance of the original story.

Truthfully, creating a great book to follow what is one of the most beloved novels of all-time, is an uphill battle and very few people would be satisfied with the end result, regardless. I commend Dacre Stoker for trying and it is a decent book on its own. It just doesn’t build off of Bram Stoker’s original tale with anything truly substantial or necessary.

Book Review: ‘A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator’s Rise to Power’ by Paul Fischer

When I first heard the story about how the North Korean kaiju picture Pulgasari was made, I had to see if anyone had actually written a book on it. Well, someone did and I am really glad that I picked it up.

In fact, this is my favorite showbiz book since reading Greg Sestero’s The Disaster Artist. Like that book, it goes into the behind the scenes happenings of this picture but it also serves as a biography for the main players involved. Kim Jong-Il and his bizarreness makes for an entertaining read on par with the first time I read about the infamous and awesome Tommy Wiseau.

Hell, maybe James Franco should adapt this into a film too; he’s got experience with showbiz biopics and films that piss off North Korea. Truthfully, this story would make an amazing motion picture.

For those who don’t know the story. Kim Jong-Il ordered the kidnapping of the most famous film director in South Korea. He also kidnapped the director’s wife, even though they were separated, as she was one of South Korea’s premier actresses. The director and his wife were held in a North Korean prison for years until they finally caved and decided to help Kim Jong-Il make better propaganda pictures. This is how Pulgasari happened.

This book is well written and thorough and while it seems to take some liberties in fleshing out the character that is Kim Jong-Il, everything just works and this is a really fun read that I enjoyed.

I love kaiju movies and strange stories. I have also been fascinated with the enigmatic North Korea. A Kim Jong-Il Production hits on all those things and is quite fantastic.

Book Review: ‘The Curse of Lono’ by Hunter S. Thompson & Ralph Steadman

The Curse of Lono is a book I have wanted to read for a very long time. It was out of print my entire adult life until recently. Art book publisher Taschen re-released it in a big bulky hardcover format, which is both necessary and awesome, as it gives Ralph Steadman’s art a lot of real estate to live and breathe.

And that is what is cool about this book. It is a great combination of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s insane tales and Ralph Steadman’s always amazing illustrations and paintings.

The book sees Thompson go on assignment for Running magazine to cover the Honolulu Marathon. His coverage of that sporting event only really takes up one small chapter. The rest of the book is filled with tales of everything else that happened while he spent a month in Hawaii over the holidays in 1980.

This is one of my favorite Hunter S. Thompson books, now that I have finally read it. It reads like Fear and Loathing… but set in Hawaii. He covers a lot in this quick read. I even got a nice education on marlin fishing in the Aloha State.

The artwork provided by Ralph Steadman for this story is beautiful and mesmerizing. It adds to the tone of the book immensely. It is also extra special because he is one of the main characters in this story, as he traveled with Thompson to Hawaii to cover the marathon and to have a little vacation away from London.

Other than Thompson’s piece about the Kentucky Derby, this is my favorite buddy story about him and Steadman.

I got this book for around twenty bucks, which was a steal. The size and quality of this book make it something that should be around fifty dollars, new.

If you are a fan of Hunter S. Thompson or Ralph Steadman, this is a must-have. It won’t disappoint and it should provide a lot of joy.

Book Review: ‘The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: The Lost Films’ by John LeMay

I am a big fan of John LeMay’s first two big books on kaiju film history, so when I found out about this one, I had to get a copy.

The subject of this installment also really peaked my interest, as I already knew a lot about existing kaiju pictures but this book was all about the lost films in the genre. It looks at films that were actually made but are now lost or destroyed, films that went into production but were never made, alternate versions of films that were scrapped, as well as some fan produced movies.

This is one of the best books I have ever read on the kaiju genre and it is certainly a must own for kaiju fans. It was just stacked with so much information on films that the vast majority of people have never heard about. It truly digs deep and fleshes out all these kaiju pictures that were lost or just not meant to be.

With a third book on the subject, John LeMay, in my opinion, has become the best English speaking writer on these types of films. I can’t imagine how much time was devoted to researching all the titles covered here. There are literally dozens of films discussed and analyzed with a few appendices added on at the end for dozens more where he wasn’t able to get enough info to write up anything larger than a blurb.

I have always been a big fan of “what ifs”, especially in regards to movies. This book is cool as hell and a lot of fun. LeMay deserves a ton of props for the work that went into this. I hope it pays off, in that this book lives on for years to come.

Book Review: ‘The Modern Gentleman’ by Phineas Mollod & Jason Tesauro

I ended up not really enjoying The Modern Gentleman. It started out decent but got to a point where most of what I was reading was highly suspect. While the authors tried to sound like proud self-assured manly men, they really came across as pacifist pussies trying to placate to what they think women and society wants.

This book had no balls, absolutely none, which was made abundantly apparent when I got to the part about shoes and the one picture they showed were of tasseled fucking loafers. These authors would greatly benefit from reading about what author/blogger/economist Jeffrey Tucker has to say about shoes and fashion in general.

In regards to manly etiquette books, one should read any one of the three books put out by the Art of Manliness blog, as well as Nick Offerman’s masterpiece Paddle Your Own Canoe, which serves up some sagely advice.

The authors of The Modern Gentleman, Phineas Mollod and Jason Tesauro, came off as a couple of frat bros who thought they found some sort of enlightened sense of post-college refinement, who were too busy jacking off to their own vocabulary skills to realize that they weren’t coming across as cleverly as they had probably hoped.

Oh, and their lists of authors and musicians sucked, as far as depth and originality. They probably haven’t listened to or read half that shit and just cut and pasted it off of someone’s blog. Or they just chose a generic jazz station on Pandora and wrote down the first ten artists that played.

Book Review: ‘Spike, Mike, Slackers, & Dykes: A Guided Tour Across a Decade of American Independent Cinema’ by John Pierson

I came to know John Pierson through his show from the late 1990s Split Screen. While I had heard about it back then, through message boards and chat rooms (when they were still a thing), I never really had access to it until it was available on FilmStruck’s streaming service through their extra Criterion Channel add-on.

Having watched some of the earlier episodes, some of which featured Spike Lee, Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith, I got to know Pierson’s story and understand his influence and importance on 80s and 90s indie film. Because of that, I wanted to know more of the details, so when I discovered that he had written this book, I got a copy.

While the book tells these stories from Pierson’s point of view, they aren’t as exciting as one would hope. That’s not a knock against Pierson but he is sort of a bland guy and it comes through. This could also be my mistake for reading this after I just finished a string of Joe Bob Briggs and Hunter S. Thompson books, which put me on a colorful and charismatic high.

The best parts of this book are the sections where Pierson has conversations with Kevin Smith. Had the book featured more of this or just this, as Pierson tells the stories by conversing with those involved, it would have been a much more entertaining read. In fact, those sections feel more like an episode of Split Screen, which unfortunately could only fit in so much with its half hour running time and magazine style format.

Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes is still worthwhile, if you care about the filmmakers involved and how they got their start. It is just very straightforward and dry.

Book Review: ‘Celluloid Mavericks: A History of American Independent Film Making’ by Greg Merritt

As of late, I have been reading a ton of books on filmmaking and film history. The main reason is due to this website. I want to go through everything I can find on the subject of film in an effort to review it, so that others know which books are better resources than others.

Celluloid Mavericks isn’t so much about the filmmaking process, as it is about the long history of independent films in the United States. It is a thick book jam packed full of history and insight and it is one of the best works I’ve found on the subject.

Merritt goes through the earliest days of indie film and discusses the monopoly that the big studios had and how that all changed, opening doors for maverick filmmakers who didn’t want to have their art be controlled by a conglomerate of massive studios and government regulation.

The book really gets going when it gets into the late 1950s and the quick pace from that point on never stops. Realistically, this is where real indie films were born, leading into the experimental 1960s and the wide open 1970s. Being that the book was published at the end of the last century, means that it doesn’t get passed the 1990s but it is still a great reflection on indie film, as a whole, in the 20th century.

While the book’s cover may be a bit misleading, as it makes it seem like it covers just the 90s, that is only a small portion and the final chapter of this whole body of work.

Greg Merritt was thorough and his analysis along the way is really helpful and adds context to the films he’s discussing.