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Dances with the Undead: Kim Newman, Part 2
The author discusses his latest work in the Anno-Dracula series.
By Dan Cziraky
July 28, 2000
JUDGMENT OF TEARS has a lighter tone than THE BLOODY RED BARON, an element that author Kim Newman decided upon early. 'Needing a rest after the war-torn Red Baron book, I decided to skip the obvious World War II setting and relax a little by enjoying 'la dolce vita' with a book set in Rome in July 1959 (a major character dies on the day I am born, not that I get a mention in the book),' he says. 'Aside from Fellini's masterpiece, I have incorporated elements from THREE COINS IN A FOUNTAIN (the three female leads of ANNO-DRACULA recur, and each makes a wish), TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN (the original title DRACULA CHA CHA CHA comes from a pop song heard in Vincente Minnelli's film), the Rome-set mystery-horror films of Mario Bava and Dario Argento (there's another vampire-killer on the loose), the thrillers of Ian Fleming (having made vampires of Inspector Lestrade and Biggles, I here present a secret agent with a license to drink blood) and Patricia Highsmith (I didn't know when I wrote that Anthony Minghella was going to film THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, and there are interesting differences between his take on Highsmith's socipathic killer and mine) and tried to come up with yet another role in the modern world for Count Dracula himself.'
Indeed, all of the ANNO DRACULA books contain large amounts of humor, a factor that's present in most of Newman's books. 'It's certainly how I write, though I admire some authors who just go for the dead straight scary (not many laughs in Shirley Jackson).'
In JUDGMENT OF TEARS, Newman includes several non-vampire but still supernatural or inhuman creatures, such as an amalgamation of Frankenstein's monster and the James Bond villains Jaws and Odd Job. 'I threw in Dick Tracy villain Flattop as well,' Newman added. 'In that case, I suppose I felt we had to have the Frankenstein Monster appear somehow, and I decided to go with the lumbering minion rather than the suffering antihero because this is, after all, a Dracula series, and so he should be on the level of Glenn Strange rather than Karloff. I also liked him teaming up with the two other great artificial beings of literature, the Golem and Olympia.'
While the addition of such creatures to a series that had, up to this point, belonged solely to vampires, might raise a few pointed eyebrows, Newman saw it as a natural progression. 'Usually, I only regret it if--as with Kolchak, which we mentioned earlier--I waste someone on a throwaway and then find I have a later spot that would have been much better for them. Sometimes, I have a need for a character and wonder who to use--in JUDGMENT OF TEARS, Dr. Pretorius was originally going to be the (Marvel Comics') Dr. Strange, but the fit wasn't quite right. I've since evoked Strange, but only by amalgamating him with Kenneth Anger in 'The Other Side of Midnight.' I'm more careful with real people than fictional ones--I've made a conscious decision not to make much of a plot point of the death of Francis Coppola's son Gio [in 'Coppola's Dracula'], though I had no such compunction in using Nancy Spungen [in 'Andy Warhol's Dracula'].'
It's obvious from the earlier books in the series that Newman is a fan of Victorian literature. 'I'm a great admirer of that Stevenson-Wells-Doyle era of popular fiction, though it may well have been overworked in recent years,' he says. 'I read Lovecraft as a teenager, and I used the 1917-era Herbert West rather than the modernized one of the films, though it's hard to shake Jeffrey Combs' playing of the role. I try to keep up with modern horror, though I may well be a bit out of touch.'
Today, Newman has nearly finished with what might be the last book in the ANNO-DRACULA series, JOHNNY ALUCARD. 'I'm wary of working this thing to death, and I feel the series is sort of reaching a resolution in the next book,' he comments. 'With the fourth book, the overall story will probably be concluded. I'm certainly not ruling out returning to the world and the characters in the future, and there are even gaps where stories could go. We can all name series that should have shut down well before their welcome ran out.'
The new book will incorporate several sections that have already appeared. 'Coppola's Dracula: Anno Dracula 1976' was published in THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF DRACULA, and is also available on-line. 'Castle in the Desert: Anno Dracula 1977' is available on-line at The Sci-Fi Channel's Dominion website.' Andy Warhol's Dracula: Anno Dracula 1978-79,' is on the Internet at Event Horizon Magazine's site. 'The Other Side of Midnight: Anno Dracula 1981' will be published in an upcoming anthology prior to its inclusion in JOHNNY ALUCARD.
JOHNNY ALUCARD will be the first ANNO-DRACULA book set in the United States, and Newman makes good use of our own history of vampires. 'At random, so far I've made use of TAXI DRIVER, MS .45, BLADE, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, THE DEATHMASTER, ELVIRA: MISTRESS OF THE DARK, THE LIGHT AT THE END, DEATH WISH, CONVOY, VAMPIRELLA, NATURAL BORN KILLERS/BADLANDS, NOCTURNA, CRUISING, and VAMPIRE JUNCTION,' he concedes. 'I suppose I'm concentrating on '70s New York sleaze and '80s Los Angeles Goth, evoking the types of vampirism seen in THE ADDICTION (a personal favorite) and THE LOST BOYS (which isn't). The proliferation of vampire books and comics in recent years means that the crowd and party scenes have plenty of possibles.'
'Probably the hardest of the books to do was JUDGMENT OF TEARS, because it's set in a year within living memory, but not mine,' Newman remarked. 'I did a lot of background stuff to get all the clothes, cars and music right. The current project is more a challenge of writing about a (to me) foreign country, though my viewpoint characters are all Europeans adapting to America, so I have an excuse for exploring the strangeness of New York and Los Angeles a bit. I don't even have a tentative date for JOHNNY ALUCARD, since it's not finished. It'll happen when it happens. I've completed another novel, AN ENGLISH GHOST STORY, which is with my UK publishers at the moment, and will probably be my next release in the US--though there's another title, LIFE'S LOTTERY, floating around free somewhere.'
As the series' settings get closer to present times, the idea of a world that has accepted vampires begs the question: Are they still scary. 'Part of what I'm doing in [JOHNNY ALUCARD] is to see if it's possible to make vampires scary again in a world where they are commonplace and with a great many sympathetic, neutral, inadequate or heroic vampires mixed in among the truly monstrous ones.'
So, just how do centuries-old vampires adjust to the rapid advances in technology seen in just the last one hundred years? 'I assumed that it would be different for different vampires, depending on when they were born or turned into vampires and the kind of life they'd lived,' Newman proposes. 'I assumed that the rapid changes of the mid-20th Century would be easier to cope with for elders like Geneviève, who might have been medieval originally but who has at least lived long enough to get used to the whole world changing around her, though it would be harder for characters like Kate and Penny who are essentially late Victorians living through times very remote from their original worlds. Of course, some vampires would become obnoxiously conservative--in JOHNNY ALUCARD, I use Baron Meinster (from Hammer's BRIDES OF DRACULA) to epitomize this tendency. Others might become addicted to the sensation of change and (like Dracula, with his railway timetables) become fascinated with the new and modish.'
Another interesting facet of Newman's series is how Dracula himself is presented in each book. 'Most other Dracula continuations make him a viewpoint character or center the stories around him, so I naturally decided to do something different,' Newman states. 'I wanted to write street-level stories, and you don't run into, say, Bill Clinton or Howard Hughes, every day of your life. I'm also trying to explore all the various things Dracula might mean to other people. ANNO-DRACULA builds up to meeting Dracula, which I hope is some kind of set-piece, and so I couldn't do that again in the other books: you only get a double (Bela Lugosi) in THE BLOODY RED BARON, and a head on a stick in JUDGMENT OF TEARS. Oddly, JOHNNY ALUCARD, which takes place after Dracula's final death, features more of him, and in more aspects, than the other three books put together.'
With shows such as THE X-FILES and BUFFY gaining international followings, Newman concedes that sci-fi and horror are a great way to address universal themes and topics, transcending nationality and ethnicity. 'I'm aware that much of what I write is UK-specific--my novel LIFE'S LOTTERY hasn't appeared in the US, though I'm tempted to have it rewritten to transfer the high concept to an American setting since it's a universal idea, and one story in BACK IN THE USSA ('Teddy Bears Picnic') is probably incomprehensible in the States. That said, I'm far more up on Yankee culture than many Brits, and I've written some things that hinge on American specifics. Having sold translation rights to a lot of things, I sometimes wonder what Polish or Japanese readers make of me. That said, I'm looking forward to the reception of JUDGMENT OF TEARS/DRACULA CHA CHA CHA in Italy.'
With all the new vampire film projects currently in various stages of production, including Warner's THE QUEEN OF THE DAMNED, one might assume that ANNO-DRACULA was ripe for cinematic translation as well. 'I've scripted ANNO-DRACULA for a couple of independent producers, Stuart Pollok and Andre Jacquemetton, who have been nurturing the project for some years--though it is such an expensive project that it's been hard to get going,' explains Newman. 'Their original thought for Charles and Geneviève was Daniel Day Lewis and Isabelle Adjani, both of whom are now too old for the parts, and our next pair, Ralph Fiennes and Juliet Binoche, are probably pushing it, too. Among my other suggestions were (and are): Jane Horrocks (Kate Reed), Helena Bonham-Carter (Penelope Churchward), Colin Firth (Arthur Holmwood), Christopher Lee (Mycroft Holmes), Richard E. Grant (Dr. Seward), and Harvey Keitel (Dracula).'
One upcoming film project Newman wasn't very enthusiastic about--and he's not alone in this opinion--is New Line's WES CRAVEN PRESENTS: DRACULA 2000. 'Didn't Wes already do that in VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN?' quips the author. 'And Plummer played a Van Helsing type in NOSFERATU IN VENICE. There is a problem in the DRACULA 2000 concept, similar to that of the American GODZILLA--which takes place in a universe where there is a real Godzilla but there have never been any Godzilla movies. Transposing Stoker's plot to the present day is one thing--there's some odd German gangster movie that uses the plot of NOSFERATU--but does this mean that the film is set in a world where Dracula was never published, no Dracula movies ever made, the name Dracula doesn't mean anything to anyone and the Count isn't on Sesame Street? And if not, then isn't it LOVE AT FIRST BITE?'
As both a writer and a fan, are there any current or old film and/or TV series that Newman would like to try his hand at writing? 'BATMAN. DOCTOR WHO. I unreservedly love the QUATERMASS and LIVING DEAD series, but I wouldn't want to step on Nigel Kneale or George A. Romero (actually, I wrote a 'Living Dead' story, which is in 999
),' he comments. 'The old-time TV series I'd most like to revive and rework is ADAM ADAMANT LIVES!, a '60s BBC show (predating AUSTIN POWERS) about an Edwardian adventurer frozen for sixty years and revived to pursue his arch-enemy in swinging London.'
The series FOREVER KNIGHT, which still has a small but fiercely loyal fan base, was included in the ANNO-DRACULA universe when Newman borrowed Nick Knight for THE BLOODY RED BARON. 'In the UK, FOREVER KNIGHT has only been seen intermittently on cable so, apart from the pilot film [ABC-TV's NICK KNIGHT, starring Rick Springfield], I've not seen that much of the show, which I tend to get mixed up with the TV spin-off of HIGHLANDER,' he confesses. 'From the few episodes I have seen, I note the big problem for a continuing series about a vampire--ANGEL will hit this in three seasons time if it makes it that far--in that the hero is supposed to be an ageless immortal but the actor, sadly, is visibly older than when he was first cast in the role.' He points out that a FOREVER KNIGHT reunion movie, which fans have been clamoring for '...might rather cruelly expose this [aging factor], unless some plot device had Knight crawl back from the dead a changed and older man.'
In England, it seems that the recent announcement that Hammer Studios has been revived isn't the cause for celebration that many U.S. fans thought it might be. 'Hammer have been reviving every two or three years, making big announcements and then not delivering any films,' Newman clarifies. 'A few years ago, they had a deal with Schuler-Donner that fell through. Reading the press releases closely, the new Hammer seems to be concentrating on repackaging their old material rather than making any serious attempt to make new movies. In short, I'm expecting more action figures and fridge magnets (fair enough, I own Hammer fridge magnets) but nothing else. I'd certainly like to see more gothic horror films (I was one of the few who liked MARY REILLY more than BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA), but what we need are films for now rather than 1958 (though not necessarily with a contemporary setting).'
Indeed, Newman isn't at all opposed, as are some critics, to remakes of classic films, regardless of their genre. 'If we banned remakes, then THE MALTESE FALCON would be a forgotten Ricardo Cortez movie and we'd have to make do with FRONTIER MARSHAL rather than MY DARLING CLEMENTINE,' he illustrates. 'Recently, I was struck by how much better HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1999) was as a remake than THE HAUNTING (1999), perhaps because the original [HAUNTED HILL], while wonderful in its way, had room for improvement. It may be that one of the strengths of [Tim Burton's] SLEEPY HOLLOW is that it isn't really a remake of anything specific (a Jeff Goldblum TV movie? half a
Disney cartoon?). I'm less sure of what could be done with PLANET OF THE APES (which I liked a lot as a kid), especially now that the twist ending is blown.'
Finally, as one reads Newman's ANNO-DRACULA series, there is one character he repeatedly returns to, the Bulgarian nobleman Count/General Iorga. Would he like to see a new Iorga film, or even try writing a Iorga story? 'Actually, DRACULA 2000 sounds like a Yorga movie,' he laughed. 'I remember writing that FRIGHT NIGHT (1985) was a Count Yorga movie with an effects budget. What I like about the character, in my version at least, is his naked need to be Dracula when he can never, ever cut it. I can't see anybody but Robert Quarry as Yorga. He'd be fun to do a whole book about, though I think the way I've written him is as a more humourless character than the way Quarry played him.'For more on Kim Newman works, including his latest novels and short stories, please visit DR. SHADE'S LABORATORY: The Official Kim Newmam Website, at http://indigo.ie/~imago/newman.html.