In which we entertain brief thoughts on The Haunting of Bly Manor, the British mini-thriller Cobra, and Christina Lane’s biography of Hitchcock collaborator Joan Harrison. Only one of the three really succeeds.

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I grew increasingly irritated with The Haunting of Bly Manor before hitting the off-button at episode four, following the terrible episode three. The series has some eerie brushes, but in revealing and explaining every character and their every motivation it drains away and hollows out the magic found in the durable originals: Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw and Jack Clayton’s 1961 black-and-white classic The Innocents, which grows creepier with every viewing. …

To draw theccurtain on this Halloween season, a piece from my old webpage about the greatest, most influential Dracula of all.

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The Universal DVD — highly recommended

I’ve written before about the effect on me of seeing Bela Lugosi in the 1931 Dracula for the first time — creeping through ancient shadows down that cobwebbed staircase, his cape gleaming with starlight, he profoundly enchanted a fatherless eight-year-old.

I was transfixed by Lugosi’s piercing stare, his aquiline nose and strong but softly sculpted face, like an Undead Roman(ian) emperor. Bela Lugosi’s Dracula imprinted his thumb on this abandoned larva, the mark of a sinister and powerful outlaw, criminal, and dictator — the Superman of Evil before there was a Superman, and, I suspected, a much happier Superman, unbounded as he was by chains of love and morality. …

Official Christopher Lee website

[For Halloween, another piece posted on my old page some years back; about my second favorite Dracula, Christopher Lee.]

Hammer Films’ Dracula (produced Britain in 1957 and released in the United States as The Horror of Dracula) stars an actor I believe is the last great screen Dracula in that curiously small assemblage: Sir ChristopherLee.

Along with Bela Lugosi, Lee comes closest to the Dracula that wheels about my moonlit mind. Bela Lugosi captures my Dracula’s fierce deadly magic and parasitic otherness. Christopher Lee embodies his icy ruthlessness and thundering drive, his single-minded self-absorption, his arrogant determination to dominate. The screen splits apart, light and air gather around him, as he militantly strides along like a spearing conqueror, heedless of the terror, blood, and misery in his wake. …

With Halloween creeping up, a reposting from my old webpage of the first of three articles on screen Draculas, published in celerbration of my 2012 Dracula novel Dragon’s Ark.

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Some think of me a Dracula-movie fanboy: One who lies for endless hours in his coffin, a TV nailed to the inside lid, eyes painted and embossed with every shadowy frame of the hundred-plus adaptations and variations on the story that have unreeled across TV and movie screens in the last century.

Then, I rise from my coffin at sunset and casually clamber into your house, suck your blood, sow cruel dreams and leave you an anemic, raving husk. …

With the author’s latest spy history Agent Sonya now out, my earlier review of one of his earlier works, the authoritative and utterly thrilling story of master spy and betrayer Kim Philby.

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“The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse — who can understand it? — “ Jeremiah, 17:9

“. . . if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country” — E.M. Forster

“Betrayal is a repetitious trade . . . “ — John le Carré, A Perfect Spy.

We’re all Monday-morning armchair generals. At one time or another, we all shout, “How could they not know!?” in indignant response to a surprise, that, to someone standing on the outside at a later time, seems as obvious as mud. …

An American Miss Marple goes mad in a literary murder mystery minus some important clues.

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Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh (Penguin Press) opens on an intriguing note — namely the mysterious handwritten one found along a woodland trail.

“Her name was Magda,” it reads. “Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.”

It’s a strange doorway into a mystery novel, all the more since there’s neither a corpse nor any other clue about; to you and me, it might be a prank; to Vesta Gul, the old woman who finds the note, it’s definitely murder most foul. …

How two Yorkshiremen and their lives as veterinarians in the world of James Herriot create Zen

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Peter Wright and Julian Norton (Daisybeck Studios)

You’ll know in the first thirty seconds if The Yorkshire Vet is the show for you. Between exhilarating drone shots of the rolling green moors and dales of England’s North Yorkshire District are shocking images of all the effluvium veterinarians encounter every day. For those hyper-sensitive to the sight of animals in pain or those otherwise squeamish, it’ll be five seconds and done. But those with enough stomach and spine will be richly rewarded by this fascinating, delightful documentary tour through modern England’s rural life.

For most of us, medicine, both animal and human, happens behind closed doors. Since the series premiere in 2015 (now streaming on Acorn and Amazon Prime), The Yorkshire Vet has been taking viewers through those doors and right into the blood, bone and gristle of the veterinary profession. It is, sometimes, a literally visceral spectacle with all bodily fluid groups fully represented, by the cupful, by the bucket. “It’s not glamorous!” narrator Christopher Timothy chirps, perhaps needlessly, as a fountain of waste gushes from a cow. …

New Book on Screenwriters in 1930s Hollywood Tracks Down Some Unusual Suspects

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Photo by Author

“Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots. Don’t let this get around.” — telegram, Herman J. Mankiewicz to Ben Hecht, 1926.

Right from the birth of film in the 1890s, film producers avidly pursued adding sound to the silents. After many sputtering attempts, sound films finally found their voice in the mid-to-late 1920s, with 1927’s The Jazz Singer being the first feature sound film.

From that point on, the visually eloquent era of silent film started its agonizing fade. Many in the old guard resisted and you can’t blame them, at first. Despite the new technology, movies shrank artistically as the studios struggled to adapt to the new, often clumsy, technology. The early sound recording systems were so noisy, the camera was housed inside a large, stuffy, soundproofed box. That’s why so many sound movies from the late 1920s and early 1930s play like musty museum dioramas. It took a while for the technology to advance so filmmakers could open up and choreograph the intimate and swirling dance between sight and sound. …

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Once upon a time, a small boy sat alone in the back seat of a Hudson Hornet, squeezed between a caged rabbit on one side, caged doves on the other. Outside, a South Dakota blizzard raged. It was an early memory and he can’t exactly remember when, but it was likely the early 1950s, a half-century before Smartphones and GPS, when “miles from nowhere” carried an ominous meaning.

The driver, the boy’s father, Jack Pyle, was a magician who was billed as “The Master of Deception.” One of the best stage magicians in the business, he was due to perform in Fort Pierre, a tiny farming community of around eight hundred souls. He could pull rabbits and doves from his capaciously pocketed and specially tailored black tuxedo coat. …

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Atlantics is a film produced and filmed in Senegal, co-written and directed by Mati Diop and streaming on Netflix. It’s a lovely film and well worth your time.

The film opens quietly gazing on the dusty haze of the Senegalese Coast in a suburb of Dakar, the capital city. As gold-flecked waves roll ashore, an enormous tower looms in the dusky distance, a gloomy castle of modern money screwed into the sand, home to a thousand vampires, ruling over the some of the harshest poverty anywhere. Most everyone living in its shadow is a drained husk.

The chief bloodsucker here is a construction magnate Mr. Ndiaye (Diankou Sembene) who couldn’t be bothered to pay his workers, young men on the brink of starvation and despair. One of them, young Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré) in his teens, finally says “screw it” and joins a refugee boat for Spain. It’s not the best decision, for one, because of the great danger; for two, he leaves behind his true love, Ada (Mame Bineta Sane) a young girl who loves him right back. Her problem is she’s been betrothed by her strict Muslim parents to wealthy Omar (Babacar Sylla), a skeleton with sunglasses whose bones seem molded from melted coins. …


Thomas Burchfield

The author of BUTCHERTOWN, a 1920s gangster thriller and DRAGON’S ARK, a contemporary Dracula tale, both published through Ambler House Publishing.

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