Review: “Lifeblood” By P. N. Elrod (Novel)

Well, for the next novel in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d bend the rules slightly. This is mostly because I needed a slight break from “traditional” horror fiction, but still wanted to read something horror-related.

So, I thought that this was the time to finally read the second hardboiled vampire detective/crime thriller novel (a novel from 1990 called “Lifeblood”) in the second-hand P.N.Elrod omnibus that I bought several months ago.

However, I should point out that “Lifeblood” is a sequel to Elrod’s “Bloodlist” and the novel pretty much assumes that you already know the main characters, backstory etc… Whilst it’s probably theoretically possible to read this novel as a stand-alone story, it’ll make more sense and you’ll get a lot more out of it if you read “Bloodlist” first.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Lifeblood”. Needless to say, this review may contain some moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2003 Ace (US) paperback omnibus that contained the reprint of “Lifeblood” (1990) that I read.

The novel begins in mid-1930s Chicago with world-weary ex-reporter, and vampire, Jack Fleming ordering a drink in a dive bar. Of course, he overhears a mysterious conversation between several other patrons. It isn’t long before things start going wrong and he finds himself in the middle of one of his friend Escott’s cases. A case which would have gone to plan if Escott’s client hadn’t marked the bills Escott was supposed to hand over to the criminals.

After narrowly escaping with their lives and recovering their client’s stolen property, Escott is absolutely furious and decides to play a cruel practical joke on the client to teach him a lesson. Soon after this, things return to normal. Jack spends some time with his lover Bobbi and Escott continues renovating his house.

But, things don’t stay that way for long. Not only does Jack notice a mysterious car following him, but someone also contacts him about his long-lost ex-lover (and the vampire that turned him) Maureen….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, whilst it takes a little while for the main story to really get started, it’s a really compelling “film noir” vampire novel 🙂 If you like stories by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane etc… but wish they contained a little bit of vampirism, then you’re in luck 🙂

In terms of this novel’s horror elements, there aren’t that many. Some of the later parts of the story include some moments of gory horror, sadistic horror, suspenseful horror and character-based horror, but not that much more than you’d expect from a gritty 1920s-50s style hardboiled detective novel. Even so, vampirism is a central element of the plot and, in addition to a few intriguing plot points, there are also a couple of cool references to “Varney The Vampire” and even a brief H.P.Lovecraft reference too 🙂

Like in “Bloodlist”, Jack’s vampiric state gives him a few extra powers (eg: fast healing, walking through walls etc..) but these are also offset by a number of limitations (eg: wooden weapons are especially harmful, he can’t cross running water, he can’t walk in daylight, he has to sleep near earth from his home) which help to keep many parts of the story suitably suspenseful 🙂

Still, as a hardboiled crime thriller, this novel works fairly well. Whilst you shouldn’t expect an ultra-complicated “I need to take notes!” Raymond Chandler-style plot, the slightly more streamlined plot works really well and there are enough sources of suspense to keep the story interesting. However, this novel is probably slightly more of a thriller novel than a detective novel. Even so, there’s enough chases, armed men suddenly bursting into rooms and mystery to keep things compelling.

Plus, I absolutely love the atmosphere in this novel 🙂 One of the cool things about P.N.Elrod’s vampire detective novels is how they are able to tread a fine line between the wondeful “film noir”-style atmosphere of 1930s Chicago, whilst also including some really cool Sherlock Holmes-style stuff too. Whilst you shouldn’t expect complex deductions, Jack’s sidekick Escott is a vaguely Holmes-like character (eg: a master of disguise with a keen mind, an impish sense of humour, a pipe and a slightly posh turn of phrase) and he really adds a lot to this series 🙂

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly good. I’ve already mentioned how much Escott adds to the story, especially when contrasted with Jack (who is a slightly more typical hardboiled protagonist, albeit a vampire). But, although many of the characters get the kind of vivid and briefly-sketched characterisation you’d expect from a hardboiled detective novel, the novel’s villains are especially dramatic. I don’t want to spoil too much, but they’re certainly good antagonists for Jack.

In terms of the writing, it’s really good 🙂 As you would expect, the novel’s first-person narration is written in the kind of “matter of fact” but descriptive style that you’d expect from a 1930s-style hardboiled crime novel 🙂 Seriously, the writing style really helps to add a lot of atmosphere to this novel.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is interesting. At an efficient 151 pages in the omnibus edition I read (with slightly larger pages), this novel never feels too long 🙂 Likewise, whilst the beginning is brilliantly disorientating (by dropping the reader into the middle of a case and only explaining everything afterwards), the novel does slow down a bit for some of the middle parts. Even so, the pace gradually builds again and the last third of this novel is a lot more gripping than you might expect 🙂

As for how this twenty-nine year old novel has aged, it has aged really well 🙂 Thanks to the historical setting and the hardboiled writing, this novel almost feels like it could have been written any time in the past ninety years. Plus, one advantage of it being a relatively modern novel in this genre is that there aren’t really any of the “dated in a bad way” elements you can sometimes find in actual vintage hardboiled novels.

All in all, this is a really compelling hardboiled vampire novel 🙂 The atmosphere is absolutely wonderful, the main characters are really interesting and, although the beginning and ending are more gripping than the middle, it’s still a really compelling story 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

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Review: “Bloodlist” By P. N. Elrod (Novel)

Well, it has been far too long since I last read a vampire novel. And, after a bit of searching online, I happened to notice the cover of a rather cool-looking vampire-themed “film noir”-style novel by P. N. Elrod . However, it was the seventh in a series.

So, after some thought, I decided to start at the beginning of the series and – to my delight – a second-hand omnibus of the first three P.N.Elrod’s “Vampire Files” stories was also going fairly cheap. So, I thought that I’d take a look at the first novel in the series, “Bloodlist” (1990).

So, let’s take a look at “Bloodlist”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2003 Ace Books (US) paperback omnibus that contained the copy of “Bloodlist” (1990) that I read.

The novel begins in Chicago, in the summer of 1936. Former reporter Jack Fleming is having a bad night. After waking up near a lake with no memory of the past few days, he suddenly finds that he’s being chased by a car. After taking a glancing blow from the car, the driver gets out and shoots him in the back. However, to Jack’s surprise, the gunshot doesn’t really hurt and isn’t even vaguely fatal.

After giving the gunman the scare of his life, Jack takes his car and decides to look into why he can’t remember the past few days. And, more importantly, why he’s still alive too. But, after feeling a hunger for blood, the answer to that question seems pretty obvious…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is amazing 🙂 Not only is it a really cool vampire novel, but it’s also a fairly gripping “film noir”-style thriller novel too, with a decent helping of comedy, quirkiness, atmosphere and personality too 🙂 And it’s from the 1990s too 🙂 Seriously, it is awesome 🙂

Interestingly though, although this novel is sort of a detective novel, it’s actually more of a streamlined thriller than many of the classic hardboiled novels it takes inspiration from. It’s kind of like a mixture between a less gritty/ less old-fashioned version of Mickey Spillane’s “I, The Jury” with a few hints of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories. In other words, if you’re expecting the kind of messy, puzzling, complex plot that you’d find in hardboiled classics like Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” or Raymond Chandler’s “The High Window“, then you’re going to be disappointed.

Still, this streamlined plot works really well – since it makes the story a lot more gripping and readable (and a bit “cinematic” too). Interestingly though, although the novel certainly has a rather cool “film noir” atmosphere to it, it also contains traces of something a bit older and more quirkier.

This is mostly thanks to the inclusion of a British actor, private detective and master of disguse called Escott, who helps to lend the story a little bit more of an eccentric Victorian-style “Sherlock Holmes” atmosphere 🙂 Plus, although this novel wears it’s influences on it’s sleeve (with references to things like Black Mask and old Dracula movies), it is very much it’s own unique thing 🙂

Although this is more of a horror-themed novel than an actual horror novel, the novel’s depiction of vampirism is fairly interesting. In addition to the usual thing about vampires being allergic to sunlight, this novel does some rather interesting things – such as giving Jack the ability to turn invisible and walk through walls. This allows for some truly brilliant (and occasionally hilarious) set pieces, but also has a few clever limitations which help the story to remain suspenseful too. Jack is also able to remain a fairly sympathetic character since he mostly drinks animal blood and, on the one occasion he bites another person, doesn’t kill them.

In terms of the characters, this novel is pretty good. Although many of the characters are fairly stylised “film noir” characters (eg: the evil gangster, the nightclub singer with a heart of gold, the hardboiled detective etc..) they all have a lot of personality. Likewise, the story includes a few characters you probably wouldn’t find in traditional 1930s-50s hardboiled stories too, which helps keep things interesting too.

Interestingly, whilst Jack is still very much a hardboiled detective, he’s probably slightly more of a likeable and friendly character than the classic hardboiled detectives of the 1930s-50s (eg: Mike Hammer, Phillip Marlowe and Sam Spade). Likewise, he contains just the right amount of moral ambiguity to make him an interesting character, whilst also ensuring that he doesn’t become too unsympathetic either.

The best character-based part of this novel is probably the friendship between Jack and Escott, which is the source of lots of dramatic moments, amusing lines of dialogue and other such things. Seriously, although the characters in this novel are a little bit stylised, this is part of the fun of this novel.

In terms of the writing, Elrod’s first-person narration is really good 🙂 It is matter-of-fact enough to make the story moderately fast-paced, whilst also still allowing the story to have a reasonably authentic “film noir”-style tone too. Likewise, the first-person narration also helps to give Jack a lot of extra characterisation too. Seriously, this novel is wonderfully readable.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really great. The omnibus edition of “Bloodlist” I read was a gloriously efficient 159 pages long. But, even accounting for the smaller print and larger page size in the omnibus, this novel is still a wonderfully streamlined and efficient story. Likewise, the story’s pacing is fairly good too, with the story never really slowing down or losing momentum. Although you shouldn’t expect an ultra-fast paced thriller, this novel moves along at a reasonable pace.

As for how this twenty-nine year old novel has aged, it has aged really well. Seriously, this could pretty much be a modern novel. Whether it is the slightly more critical attitude towards the setting (similar to what you’d expect in a modern historical novel) or the fact that the novel’s writing style is also retro enough to be atmospheric whilst still being modern enough to still be easily readable today, this novel has aged really well.

All in all, this novel is really awesome 🙂 It’s a hardboiled “film noir” detective story about vampires that was written in the 1990s. You don’t get much better than this 🙂 It’s a streamlined, gripping novel that contains a really great blend of atmosphere, thrills and humour.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

Review: “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” By David Bischoff (Movie Novelisation)

A couple of days before I wrote this review, I needed to find a book. The two books I’d planned to read were ones that, for whatever reason, I just couldn’t get into. Worried about losing interest in reading once again, I needed to find something easy and readable. And quickly!

Then I remembered that there was a book. A book I’d owned for over a decade and a half and still hadn’t got round to reading. I am, of course, talking about David Bischoff’s 1990 novelisation of “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” (if you want to see my review of this “so bad that it’s good” comedy horror film, then you can read it here).

Although it’s probably theoretically possible to enjoy this book without watching the film, I’d strongly recommend that you watch the film at least once or twice before reading the book in order to get the most out of it.

So, let’s take a look at the novelisation of “Gremlins 2: The New Batch”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1990 Corgi (UK) paperback edition of “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” that I read.

The story to this novel is, as you might have guessed, pretty much identical to the movie. The story begins in Chinatown, New York, where an elderly shopkeeper called Mr.Wing is visited by a rather unpleasant man called Forster who works for a business magnate called Daniel Clamp.

Clamp is interested in redeveloping the area, but Mr.Wing won’t sell his shop despite Forster’s arguments. After they leave, Mr. Wing catches his pet Mogwai (a cute, fluffy creature called Gizmo) watching a Rambo movie on TV and scolds him for it.

Several weeks later, Mr. Wing dies of old age and Clamp begins to demolish the shop. Gizmo barely escapes from the wreckage before he is found and kidnapped by a guy who is lurking in an alleyway.

Meanwhile, young couple Billy Peltzer and Kate Beringer are travelling to work at the Clamp Center, a vast office tower run by Daniel Clamp. Several years earlier, Billy and Kate’s humdrum rural life had been shattered when Billy’s dad had given him Gizmo as a Christmas present. You see, there are several rules with Mogwai. They don’t like bright lights, they spontaneously reproduce whenever they get wet and you must never, ever feed them after midnight. If you do, they turn into fearsome, destructive gremlins. Gremlins that almost destroyed Billy and Kate’s old hometown. But, of course, that’s all in the past. It could never happen in New York, right….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a surprisingly good adaptation of the film. In other words, it is also “so bad that it is good”. Not only does the book absolutely nail the slightly quirky, referential, tongue-in-cheek tone of the film, but it also adds a bit of extra humour and background stuff too.

Still, Bischoff’s third-person narration can take a little while to get used to. He writes in a very informal, fast-paced and referential way that you’ll either find wonderfully readable or slightly annoying. Fortunately, for me, the former was true. But, this is only because I’ve seen the film several times before.

If I hadn’t seen the film, then I’d probably find the narration to be a little bit on the confusing side. Even so, the narration is full of these brilliantly fast-paced rushing-to-meet-a-deadline descriptions that almost have a certain poetry to them. Likewise, the informal narration fits in really well with the zany, anarchic tone of the film too.

Plus, as mentioned earlier, the narration (like the film) is fairly referential too, with frequent references to movies, TV shows, celebrities etc… Although this mostly works well, it all depends on how many of the references that you get. Luckily, most of them have stood the test of time. But, I’m guessing that, if you were living in the US during the 1990s, you’ll probably get slightly more out of this book than you would if you read it for the first time in 2010s Britain.

Likewise, the story itself moves at a reasonable pace too. Since this book was published in 1990, it is actually able to be short. What this means is that – over just 225 pages – the book can tell a reasonably focused story that doesn’t waste too much of the reader’s time. Seriously, I really miss the days when short books were nothing unusual. So, yes, this is a very readable book that will probably only take you a small number of hours to read too.

Although this novel follows the story of the film fairly closely, there are a reasonable number of extra little jokes thrown into the narration – mostly consisting of puns, sarcastic descriptions and parodies (eg: a mention of a werewolf movie called “The Jowling” which is a parody of a film called “The Howling” that was directed by the guy who directed “Gremlins 2”).

However, some visual parodies in the film don’t turn up in the book (eg: the “Batman” reference when the bat gremlin escapes the lab). But, although this novel mostly follows the story of the film, there are a couple of interesting story differences too.

For example, the novel initially seems to follow the film’s idea of making Daniel Clamp a thinly-disguised parody of Donald Trump (even taking it a step further than the film by hinting that Clamp wants to run for US President. As if anyone could imagine something so ludicrously absurd!). Yet, unlike the film, the novel actually mentions that Donald Trump is Daniel Clamp’s arch-rival. So, in the book at least, they’re supposed to be two totally different people.

Likewise, the fourth wall-breaking “film montage” scene in the original movie is replaced by a short chapter where the brain-serum gremlin breaks into David Bischoff’s apartment and narrates for a page or two before Bischoff is able to scare him away and continue telling the main story. Although this is quite a clever way to adapt this scene, and it also includes references to the original montage scene, I still slightly prefer the version in the film.

In addition to this, we get a very brief description of the Mogwai homeworld (implying that Gizmo is an alien), the film’s “New York, New York” musical montage scene is less of a major moment in the book (since it’s a book) and the electrocution scene is a little bit more intense and grotesque than it is in the film. Plus, in a scene that I don’t remember from the film, Grandpa Fred gives a speech about chaos and order that sums up the themes of the “Gremlins” series absolutely perfectly.

In terms of how this 29 year old novel has aged, it has aged as well as the film has. In other words, it’s a “so bad that it’s good” relic of the early 1990s. But, even though some of the book’s pop culture references are a little dated, it still reads reasonably well. If you’ve see the film and you know what to expect, then this book is a wonderful piece of 90s nostalgia. If you haven’t seen the film, you’ll probably find it less readable/enjoyable.

All in all, this novel is quite literally “Gremlins 2” in book form, even down the somewhat quirky/zany tone of the story. And, I’m honestly not sure whether I prefer it to the film or not. Like the film, it is “so bad that it is good”. It is endearingly annoying, it is a dreadful delight….

So, like the film, if I had to give this novel a rating out of five, it would get… both one and five simultaneously.

Review: “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” (Film)

Well, since I was still waiting for some DVDs to arrive, this review in my “1990s Films” series will be of an old favourite of mine that I’ve been meaning to review for a while.

I am, of course talking about a “so bad that it’s good” comedy horror monster movie from 1990 called “Gremlins 2: The New Batch”.

Although I must have referenced this film more times than I can remember (and have watched it at least four times), I haven’t actually reviewed it properly yet.

So, without any further ado, let’s take a look at “Gremlins 2: The New Batch”. I should warn you that this review may contain SPOILERS and that the film itself contains some FLICKERING LIGHTS (although I don’t know if they’re intense enough to cause issues or not).

“Gremlins 2” takes place a couple of years after the events of the first “Gremlins” film (and you should really watch that film first). It begins in New York where an old shopkeeper in Chinatown is threatened by property developers.

He refuses to sell, but dies of old age six weeks later. The shop is demolished – and the old man’s pet Mogwai (a cute, fluffy creature called Gizmo) barely manages to escape alive, before he is suddenly kidnapped by a passing scientist.

Meanwhile, Billy and Kate (from the first film) are going to work at the Clamp Trade Centre – a giant futuristic office building run by a charismatic businessman called Daniel Clamp. After a series of random coincidences, Billy learns that Gizmo is being kept in a genetics research facility on another floor in the building. So, he decides to free Gizmo and hide him in his filing cabinet.

Filed under “G” for “glum”, of course….

After Billy’s boss Marla pressures him into going to dinner with her, Billy asks Kate to pick up Gizmo and take him home. Reluctantly, she agrees. But, before she can get to Billy’s office, a repairman accidentally splashes Gizmo with water whilst repairing a drinking fountain. The first rule with Mogwai is never to get them wet. When they get wet, they start reproducing at an alarmingly fast rate.

When Kate arrives, she accidentally picks up one of Gizmo’s offspring instead of him.

Meh. Close enough.

Of course, by the time Billy gets home and realises that the Mogwai isn’t Gizmo, it is already past midnight. After all, the second rule with Mogwai is that they mustn’t eat anything after midnight. If they do, they turn into…. Gremlins!

And hilarity ensues!

One of the first things that I will say about “Gremlins 2” is that it is an acquired taste. As I mentioned earlier, it is a film that is “so bad that it is good“. This film is silly, anarchic, nonsensical, childish, meta-fictional and …strange. And, yet, it’s still a really interesting film for so many reasons.

Whilst the first “Gremlins” film was a light-hearted “feel good” horror movie, the second one is much more of a zany creature-based comedy. The humour here is a bit hit-and-miss, and it is a film that manages to be both very sophisticated and patronisingly simplistic with it’s humour. Which is quite an achievement.

For example, there’s a well-hidden background joke here that I only spotted when going through the screenshots for this review. Unfortunately, it’s just…. two policemen in a doughnut shop. Haw haw haw!

Some of the film’s more subtle humour works really well, some of the humour is a bit too referential (although the reference to the “Santa Claus” monologue from the first film is genius!), some of the characters are hilarious, sometimes it can seem like the film is trying too hard to be funny, some of the humour just seems a bit stupid, some of the humour is a bit outdated (eg: a stereotypical Japanese tourist character), and some of it shouldn’t work but it somehow does:

Like when the anarchic Gremlins suddenly break into a lavish and well-choreographed musical number. Seriously, this is hilarious!

But, even most of the comedy elements that don’t work are still part of this film’s charm.

If I had to sum the film up in two words, they would be “endearingly annoying”. It is one of those strange films that will have you rolling your eyes and yearning for the credits to roll when you’re actually watching it, but it will leave you in a happily nostalgic mood after you’ve finished watching it. These rose-tinted memories will inevitably cause you to rewatch it every year or two. It’s adorably terrible, or reassuringly stupid or heartwarmingly awful.

“Endearingly annoying” is also a good description of Gizmo too.

Another reason why this film is “so bad that it’s good” is that some parts of it really haven’t aged well at all – or rather, they’re a reflection of a more innocent time.

For example, Daniel Clamp is clearly meant to be a parody of Donald Trump. This is somewhat jarring by modern standards because he’s portrayed as a foolish and cowardly- but ultimately nice, good and successful – character.

Pictured: Not the way that a modern satirist would depict a Trump-like character (the 90s really were a more innocent time *sigh*)

Plus, the futuristic Clamp Trade Centre building is almost certainly a reference to the World Trade Centre. Then there’s the fact that the film also includes a brief comedic scene involving an acid attack (at the time of writing, these types of attacks turned up in the news in Britain alarmingly regularly – and are anything but comedic!). Hulk Hogan even has a cheerfully enthusiastic cameo in this film too! This film really is a relic of a different age!

And, yes, this scene wouldn’t turn up in a comedy movie these days!

But, in other ways, this film’s age really works in it’s favour! Everything from the lighting, to the special effects, to the wardrobe department, to the set design etc… is so gloriously retro 🙂

Seriously, it’s a really fascinating stylised glimpse into a part of the past that is both vaguely familiar and extremely different at the same time. Not only that, the film also has a really stylised aesthetic that goes really well with the zany, cartoonish events of the story:

Seriously, set design and lighting were SO much better in the 1990s!

And just check out the amazing lighting in THIS scene too 🙂

And the set design/lighting design here almost looks a little bit like something from “Blade Runner” or “Robocop 2” 🙂

The characters in this film are a really interesting bunch too. Billy and Kate (played by Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates) are slightly more mature versions of their characters from the first film – with Billy being the cheerful and optimistic one, and Kate being a more cynical, practical realist and/or pessimist.

I also forgot to mention Mr. Futterman (Dick Miller) and Marla Bloodstone (Haviland Morris), who are brilliant characters too.

In addition to this, Christopher Lee plays an evil scientist and Robert Picardo plays an obnoxious manager too.

Yes, Christopher Lee AND Robert Picardo 🙂

The film’s pacing is both terrible and brilliant at the same time. The film is surprisingly slow to get started, and yet this contrasts well with the chaotic action in the later parts of the film.

Likewise, the film’s narrative can be a little bit random and disjointed, but this compliments the anarchic events of the film really well. Plus, at 102 minutes in length, it is almost a little bit on the bloated side of things – but it never feels too long after you’ve finished watching it (but the literal opposite is true when you’re actually watching it).

In terms of the special effects, they’re surprisingly good for a film released in 1990. The creature designs are fairly inventive, the animatronic/puppet-based effects are handled very well, there are some traditional animation-based effects (instead of clunky 90s CGI) and the gore effects in this film are also interesting too.

Since this is something of a family comedy film/ light-hearted monster movie, the gore has been replaced with some hilariously gross green slime, gunge and/or skeleton-based effects:

With this scene involving a gremlin and a shredder surpassing the gross hilariousness of the microwave scene from the first film.

And, yes, this is a “Wizard Of Oz” reference too. Since this film was made before the internet became widely-used, many of the references in it are really old and/or “obvious” ones.

And, yes, I LOVE these painted lights too! Old special effects rock!

In musical terms, this film is really good, containing a great mixture of classic 1980s/90s Hollywood orchestral music and other types of music such as thrash metal and show tunes.

All in all, “Gremlins 2” is so bad that it is good. There’s really no other way to describe this film. It is both amazing and terrible at the same time.

It is both a cringe-worthy relic and a piece of heartwarming retro nostalgia. It is a film that would never get made today – and this is both a good and a bad thing. It is a film that you’ll never forget! It is a film that will make you pray for the credits when you’re actually watching it, but you’ll want to watch it again after the credits eventually roll. It is a lot of things, but above all, it is unique. There is nothing else quite like this dreadful delight!

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get… both one and five simultaneously.