Stoker on Screen: An Interview with a Writer (Kim Newman)

Kim Newman is a well respected author and perhaps more famously, a film critic who loves the horror genre. In Dublin to talk about both a new novel in his Anno Dracula series (Johnny Alucard) and his curation of the Stoker on the Square series taking place in Dublin from the 26th – 28th October, I sat down with him to talk about these subjects and others.

J. Kim you are curating the Stoker on the Square series taking place on the 26th – 28th October. Can you tell me a little about how you came up with the choices of films as there are some unusual ones in there?

bram-stoker-festivalK. Well I was asked to pick six Dracula movies. I think they would have accepted six vampire movies but this is the home of Stoker so I though it has to be Dracula. If they ask me again next year I may pick six non Dracula vampire movies but we will see. Firstly, I wanted to pick films that meant something to me personally as they had asked me to curate it. The first choice was the Lugosi Dracula (1931) which was the first Dracula film I saw. It is an important film in terms of what it did with the character and how it impressed Dracula into popular culture. The next choice was a follow up to the Terence Fisher Dracula called Brides of Dracula (1960). We couldn’t get the restored version of Fisher’s Dracula so the follow up Brides of Dracula was chosen which is just as good. It has the wonderful Peter Cushing as Van Helsing in it. It had also been restored recently so I knew that you would get a lovely print and it is a film I love a lot so that was in. Blood of Dracula (1974) was next and it is a favourite vampire movie of mine from when I was a kid. It is important to me because it shaped my current novel Johnny Alucard in a way as it has Andy Warhol in it and Andy Warhol sort of produced Blood of Dracula so I wanted that to represent me. Then I picked Guy Maddin’s ballet version of Dracula Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2002) because it is a really interesting adaptation of Stoker and does stuff from the novel that most adaptations don’t. It is done like a silent movie, it has music all the way through and is shot in black and white with colour tints. I thought it would make a great contrast with the Lugosi film. I also thought a lot of Dracula fans may not have seen it. They then asked me to pick a couple of films for kids and I picked Hotel Transylvania (2012), I actually like it, it is a mainstream film. I like the affection it has for the monsters in it. I also picked it as it the opposite of the Guy Maddin film in that most people will have heard of it. And then I put The Monster Squad (1987) in because it is great. 1980s kids versus the monster, what more do you want? I loved it when I saw it when I was younger and I think it has improved with age unlike films such as The Lost Boys and The Goonies which I find nearly unwatchable now. And I love the fact that it is one of the few Dracula movies in which he is just evil. And so with those six films I felt they represented a lot of different approaches to Dracula. And it is these six felt like a personal choice for me.

J. What is it about Dracula? The character is over 100 years old and has been in over 200 movies, what makes him such an endearing and timeless character?

hotel-transylvaniaK. I think it is partly because he is the most versatile monster. Every couple of years you can have a different Dracula with a different approach. They used to say that every generation had their own Hamlet. Laurence Olivier, John Barrymore, David Tennant, they all played Hamlet and they all did something completely different with it. And Dracula is now a bit like that for me. I am sure there are people out there for whom Gary Oldman is their Dracula. For me it is Lugosi or Lee because they are the ones I saw as a teenager. And it’s funny, Coppola’s Dracula is now twenty years old and I am sure there are people out there who think of Dracula as that floppy haired git in Van Helsing. I hope that film goes away really. It is because Dracula is a shape shifter that you can do a lot with him unlike a lot of other horror figures.

J. How do you feel then about the new breed of sparkly Twilight vampires? 

K. I have got no problem with them. Obviously some of them aren’t very good but the premise of Twilight is fine. What I like about Dracula and other horror figures is that you can do anything with them, they are not real. It is not like you are misrepresenting vampires. Non Twilight fans get very worked up about this; they feel vampires cannot sparkle, but why not? I am not sure how great the books are but there are some new ideas in there. Sparkling in the sunlight is actually new and adds something new to the vampire story. And that has to be a welcome development.

J. Can you tell me a bit about your new Anno Dracula novel Johnny Alucard? I believe it is the fourth in a series.

anno-draculaK. Well the Anno Dracula novel is an alternate world novel, it is like the ‘if Nazis won the war’ stories except this premise is somewhat that Dracula won the war. Instead of Van Helsing killing him he kills Van Helsing. It is set in the 1880s. He brings his Eastern European friends over to be his gang basically and they go around London bullying people. After more vampires are made the story spreads and you have lots of vampires around and basically it is what the world becomes like after Dracula prevails. And then it gets more complicated as all series that have four books must. Subsequent books cover a whole century of history. Dracula keeps popping up in different places. It is just showing what a century would be like with vampires in it. Frankly life with vampires is pretty much what we got. Almost all the terrible things in the books are real. And vampires are the metaphor for all those terrible things. I wrote the first book at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s which was the end of Thatcherism and the end of Ronald Reagan. And maybe that is something that hasn’t gone away, this feeling of things becoming worse, more oppressive and more nakedly cruel. Which is maybe why the books have become popular again? It seems if I am successful the world is a more horrible place! I am sort of joking but it is something I genuinely worry about.

The latest book in the series Johnny Alucard is set in 1970s and 1980s and mostly in Hollywood. The idea is although Dracula is gone he is manifesting in all areas of popular culture. It is about people making Dracula movies. It is about this character Johnny Alucard who goes from being a money man to a movie producer because that is kind of the 80s idea of what a vampire would be. So that is the general set up of the story.

J. Has Hollywood come knocking regarding the Anno Dracula series?

K. It was optioned for a while. I have had various options with it over the years and the rights are currently with a British Television company. It is a big project so I wouldn’t expect to see it soon.

J. There’s been a spate of mashup novels in recent times like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, if Dracula or Van Helsing could cross over into another novel or series what would it be?

Well I haven’t read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies but I have read the Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter one. In terms of my own books I sort of already do that to a certain extent. I instinctively don’t really like those mash up books even though I haven’t read the Pride and Prejudice one. I didn’t think the Abraham Lincoln one was very good. There is something about it that strikes me as being trivial. It is like they have a concept but nothing else. I actually do like the idea of characters being stretched. I really like Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly, a brilliant re-working of Jekyll and Hyde. I also really like Wide Sargasso Sea as it plays around with Bronte. I suppose they are not really mash up novels though. I love stuff like Frankenstein v The Wolfman, that is more my thing. The trouble is with the mash up novels is that there are a lot of them and they are successful so I am sure we will see more of them.

J. What do you think of the advent of streaming sites such as Lovefilm and Netflix? The amount of choice available can be quite staggering particularly with B movies and films a lot of people might never have known about. Is this much choice a good thing?

I actually don’t use any of those sites as I have enough to watch as it is. All I have to do is open my post in the morning and there is new stuff there on DVD. My understanding is that the streaming sites have quite a limited selection. What I am interested in is films that I have not seen and they tend to show films I have seen. So for me at the moment your best choice for seeing weird and obscure stuff is DVD. Almost anything you will care to see will have been released at some point and that’s good. And if anything, I would worry about the companies who release those films going out of business because of the streaming models. The other thing is I don’t really like watching films on my computer. I associate that with work. I am aware that it would only take buying a cable to attach it to my TV so there is that option. But I rarely use those sites.

J. final question Kim from a purely selfish perspective, what are your favourite horror films?

Off the top of my head I would say Lets Scare Jessica to Death (1971), A Bucket of Blood (1959), Daughters of Darkness (1971). I am trying to stay away from the obvious films like Hammer or Universal films as I find it hard to pick a favourite. The Old Dark House (1932) is a big favourite if I had to choose one. But they would be a few of my favourite horror films to re-visit.

Stoker on the Square takes place from the 26th – 28th October

The fourth book in the Anno Dracula Series Johnny Alucard is out now.