Daybreakers – what a bloody mess

daybreakers movie poster

Oh dear. And it seemed like such a good idea at the time. The vampires have taken over the world and established a night-time society, sadly seemingly stuck in much the same pattern of commerce as ours, but alas, they’ve literally drained their food supplies to the point of extinction (humans be warned: this could happen to you). It’s a race: to track down the last humans, to synthesise a blood replacement, or find a cure. At the end of the day, the future of the planet actually comes down to corporate greed. The leeches!

Daybreakers fails to deliver on its promise. Once the story starts and people start talking, it quickly turns into a bloody mess. Maybe that’s me looking for a shiny new take on vampirism when all that was ever on offer was just more schlock hanging off a neat idea. Nothing wrong with schlock, mind you; it’s just, I wanted more from this. I’m not sure why.

The Spierig brothers’ previous movie, Undead, was gloriously schlocky, even with aliens, and I loved it. So maybe I shouldn’t have expected this to be any different.

But, what the hell is with the bats? I haven’t seen such horrible effects since Hammer Horror (hurray, back online and makin’ movies!) dangled a stuffed one on wires and jigged its wings about. The bats, flitting about both night and day and glorying in swooping the camera, were inappropriate, cheap, tacky.

And where was the logic? Does not drinking human blood make vampires turn into primal bat-things, or doesn’t it? If vampires can survive on pigs’ blood a la Nick Knight, then why don’t they? Why does mixing blood with your coffee (just coffee, we presume, the only foodstuff on-screen – viscera notwithstanding) make it palatable? Why does Ethan (and his little heart-monitoring do-hickeys) not burn but Willem gets toasty scarred? Why does throwing gratuitous buckets of blood and hosting cannibalistic frenzies (really blurring the line between vampire and zombie, there, lads) make boys coo with glee?

And isn’t it a sad day, really, when you have to (presumably to secure funding) throw some weird-arse colour filter over your lens to try to disguise the fact you shot your movie in Australia, not the US of A. Location was hardly a factor in the plot, so why force the crap accents on otherwise wonderful actors? Admittedly, I was familiar with a hell of a lot of the scenery in Daybreakers, it being filmed around my former hometown, but I’m still scratching my head about the massive Moreton Bay fig having pride of place on a ridge somewhere in Nowheresville, USA.

Stupid lookouts who get surprised in daytime when they’re standing in the middle of a massive open space with 360-degree visibility; humans who simply must charge around in convoys at night; a seemingly endless stream of last-minute saves by the handy off-screen ally. And even in 2019 we’re still trying for the (presumably) heart shot with a crossbow. Oh God. And did I mention the bats??

I’m sorry, but ‘because it looks cool’ is not a sufficient answer.

So, Daybreakers for me is a B-grade vampire movie, maybe flitting down around the C+ level, which puts it on a par with the rest of the Aussie crop. Sigh.

[Addendum: What I liked about Daybreakers: the concept; the visualisation of the vampire society; the fact that being a vampire didn’t automatically make everyone a martial arts expert; no wire work; female lead Claudia Karvan not being made into some kind of sex-glamour-combat heroine (but she gets jumped twice, dude, so a little nous might’ve been nice); that the hero’s brother has the actual hero’s arc; Sam Neill]

Here, have some decent bats, care of a certain Nick Cave and his Birthday Party. And someone pass me a copy of Near Dark and a bottle of red. Cheers.

Australian vampire movies

With Daybreakers about to hit the big screens, here’s a quick round-up of other Australian vampire movies:

Barry McKenzie Holds His Own, 1974. Directed by Bruce Beresford. Stars Barry Crocker, Barry Humphreys and Donald Pleasance.
: Barry, reprising his role from The Adventures of (1972), must save Dame Edna Everage from European Count von Plasma.

Bloodlust, 1992. Directed by Jon Hewitt and Richard Wolstencroft. Stars Jane Stuart Wallace, Kelly Chapman and Robert James O’Neill. Windhover Productions. [Videorecording: VHS]
: A low-budget vampire heist flick with cult appeal (banned in the UK) in which quasi vampires encounter gangsters and religious extremists on the streets of Melbourne.

Outback Vampires, 1987. Directed by Colin Eggleston. Stars Richard Morgan, Angela Kennedy and Brett Climo. Somserset Films. [Videorecording: VHS].
: A quasi-comic take along the lines of Rocky Horror Picture Show in which three travellers find themselves hosted by vampires in an isolated mansion near a decrepit outback town.

Queen of the Damned, 2002. Directed by Michael Rymer. Stars Aaliyah and Stuart Townsend. Los Angeles: Warner. [Videorecording: DVD].
: An American movie adapting two Anne Rice books, The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned. Shot in Victoria (substituting for the US and UK) with numerous Australians in the supporting cast. (My account of being an extra on the film is here.)

Thirst, 1979, directed by Roy Hardy. Stars Chantal Contouri and Shirley Cameron. FG Films. [Videorecording: DVD, Umbrella].
: The descendant of Elizabeth Bathory is seduced by a blood-drinking cult using brainwashing techniques, causing hallucinatory footage.

This list of movies is taken from a survey I made of Australian vampire stories published before 2007. It’s comprehensive but not complete. Additions are welcome.

Aurealis Awards finalists announced

The finalists for Australia’s premier speculative fiction awards, the Aurealis Awards, have been announced on the website.

Great to see some new names in the mix as well as the stalwarts, and Brisbane’s Peter Ball running for the greatest over-achiever award with his swag of nominations.

The winners will be announced in Brisbane on January 23, which will mark the end of Fantastic Queensland’s tenure as hosts of the awards. No word yet on who will be taking over the prestigious but invidious task.

australian dark fantasy and horror, volume 4

australian dark fantasy and horror volume 4

The good folks at Brimstone Press have announced the table of contents for their latest volume of Australian dark fantasy and horror, collected from the 2008 crop, and — big smile — my story, “Smoking, Waiting for the Dawn” (one of several to be included from Dreaming Again), is in there. It’s rubbing shoulders with some mighty good yarns:

“The Last Great House of Isla Tortuga” by Peter M. Ball

“The Claws of Native Ghosts” by Lee Battersby

“Pale Dark Soldier” by Deborah Biancotti

“Heere Be Monsters” by John Birmingham

“Teeth” by Stephen Dedman

“Her Collection of Intimacy” by Paul Haines

“A Guided Tour in the Kingdom of the Dead” by Richard Harland

“Moments of Dying” by Robert Hood

“Just Us” by Pete Kempshall

“Painlessness” by Kirstyn McDermott

“The Casting Out” by Miranda Siemienowicz

More details here.

The Last Stormlord/Night’s Cold Kiss

Herewith two reviews of recently released Aussie novels, and a handy link to a very cool review site at The Guardian featuring Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol.


Last Stormlord

Glenda Larke, an Australian now living in Malaysia, has lived on four continents, but it is her experiences in arid Western Australia and Tunisia that appear to most inform The Last Stormlord (HarperCollins, $22.99), the first book of the Watergivers series.

Larke impressed with her breakout, big-publisher debut, The Aware, which I loved for its dystopian air and gorgeous world-building.

The Last Stormlord, a saga of an empire facing its demise, is set in a dry coastal realm bordered by mountains and desert where life revolves around the possession and acquisition of water.

Key to the survival of the city states is the Stormlord, the last of the line powerful enough to take water from the sea and send it inland to break in designated areas, bringing rain to the needy. Under the Stormlord is an aristocracy of lesser powered men and women with varying ability to manipulate water, physically moving it or even removing it from living creatures. This apparent magical power over the essential element has kept the status quo against the nomadic desert dwellers for centuries, but now that is changing. Political ambitions give sway to treachery and murder and the world is set for upheaval.

Caught up in this chaos are two teenagers, Shale and Terelle. Both possess considerable water powers of different ilks, and both find themselves being used as tools in political machinations. The star-crossed pair are given precious little time for adolescence.

Like a brewing storm, the story gains weight and power as it gathers momentum, the considerable cast rising to strike clear identities as ideals of honour and survival clash, and love lies bleeding. There are some gentle religious barbs along the way, too.

Larke’s world-building is a great strength of the story, the dryness and heat permeating the fabric of her society, with enough touches of the fantastic to excite the imagination. This, combined with a bloody climax, leaves the reader keen for the next instalment.

NightsColdKiss
Aussie writer Tracey O’Hara has enjoyed some happy hunting in the United States with Night’s Cold Kiss (HarperCollins, $19.99), her debut novel, the first of the three-book Dark Brethren series. Now the paranormal romance has been released in her home country.

Set primarily in New York, it covers familiar ground for those who enjoy paranormal romance, still one of the hottest of genres.

Antoinette Petrescu, deeply affected by the murder of her parents by a death-loving vampire called Dante, is a slayer of the undead, and an unnaturally gifted one at that. But a deadly conspiracy throws her into the path of the charismatic and filthy rich vampire Christian, and sparks erupt despite her best intentions.
Christian is an agent for a covert, quasi-government organisation that polices the paranormal community with a view to keeping an uneasy truce brokered years before between vampires and humans.

Now someone’s rocking the boat and Antoinette’s past is coming back to bite her – quite literally.

Planes, helicopters, fast cars and elegant upstate mansions all figure as Antoinette is exposed to the other side of vampire existence – she truly gets to see how the other half live as she meets Christian’s well-to-do vampire family and household staff.

Vampire society is well-described, with the usual dividing line between those who try to maintain a sense of humanity and those who embrace their inner beast, revelling in the kill and their otherness. There is enough insight into the realm of the shapechangers to suggest further exploration in coming books.

O’Hara hits all the right buttons for fans of the genre with her tale of desire, betrayal and revenge, providing a pacy and at times steamy adventure with a strong, lusty subplot. This makes up for the occasional lack of sparkle on the page and some haphazard editing as the story builds to a fittingly explosive climax, and overdrawn denouement to springboard the reader into book two.

Continuum, Slights from Angry Robots, and some vampires

So I’m in post-convention funk, short on sleep and strong on caffeine, a day back at work and wondering where the weekend went. The receipts tell some of the story: cabs, airlines, two dinners at a Chinese restaurant with lots and lots of chilli and an amazing capacity for seating and feeding 17 people at the drop of a hat, Japanese, innumerable coffees at the Lindt cafe and the State Library and that excellent sandwich bar in the Queen Victoria Building and other places besides…

Cat Sparks’ (as always) fun photo diary helps fill in some blanks, too.

So, the event was Continuum 5, held in the basement of the sprawling Mercure hotel complex in Melbourne, with Chelsea Quinn Yarbro as international guest of honour. She was rather grand, too. I enjoyed my vampire panel with her, and taking a new novel in the making for a walk during a reading session on the Sunday. I enjoyed meeting up with a bunch of folks from around the country, seeing Deb Biancotti launch her first anthology and Richard Harland steaming on with Worldshaker … and Kirstyn McDermott landed an award trifecta with her short story “Painlessness”, which had already won an Aurealis and a Ditmar before taking a brand new Chronos.

Next year there will be another Continuum, in February, and in September there will be a grandaddy of conventions, the Worldcon aka Aussiecon 4, also in Melbourne. If you are in Australia and write any kind of spec fic, you really owe it to yourself to be at the Worldcon.

Slights by Kaaron Warren

Slights by Kaaron Warren

On the flight home from Melbourne, I finished Kaaron Warren’s debut novel, Slights. It’s one of the first books to be released under HarperCollins’ new spec fic imprint, Angry Robot. It’s a weird title for an imprint, especially given that Kaaron’s book doesn’t have robots in it, nor any science fiction at all. The SF component of two of the other first four books also seems non-existent. No matter. What matters is that Aussie writer Kaaron’s book is a real gem. Sure, I had a little rant about the number of literal errors — you can’t get away from them these days — but don’t let that distract you. This is a compelling read, even though it’s not exactly express train pace. It’s a steam train of personality and character, wit and dread; such fully realised characters just don’t pop up that often, especially when they’re digging up family secrets in the backyard, pissing off their brother, tormenting all and insundry — and paying a heavy price. I can’t say Stevie is likeable, but her honesty is refreshing, her barbed one-liners engaging, her relationship with and indeed morbid curiosity about death intriguing and just a tad spooky. She namechecks Aussie writers Richard Harland and Robert Hood, too. Cool.

Kaaron has two more books signed to Angry Robot. So what’s to be angry about, huh? You tell me, robot.

Despite the previously mentioned funk, there is no rest for the wicked. I’m up to my jugular in vampires, and will be till Saturday when I present a wee talk at the Logan library’s SF month about the evolution of the vampire, from Byron to, ahem, Twilight.

for the love of Aussie books

In The Courier-Mail, Kathleen Noonan makes the case, with her usual passion,  for maintaining our existing territorial copyright.

http://www.news.com.au/couriermail/story/0,23739,25659282-5012506,00.html

It’s depressing, reading that more than 18,000 Dymocks subscribers have signed their petition. Makes my decision to quit the Dymocks newsletter seem rather insignificant.

You might also like to check out what Tim Winton, latest winner of the Miles Franklin award for Breath, has to say on the issue: http://www.penguin.com.au/breath/video.cfm