From Dusk till Dawn

From Dusk till Dawn, directed by Robert Rodriguez, is a movie set in the borderland region of West Texas and Northern Mexico. It’s been on my radar for some time, but it’s taken me a while to finally watch it. Released in 1996, this movie tells the story of two brothers on the run from the law. At a motel, they take a family hostage and flee across the border to Mexico. The brothers go to a strip club to wait for their contacts only to find the strip club is, in fact, home to a nest of vampires. The exact fictional settings are a little vague, although it’s implied the motel is in El Paso. Much of the film was made near Barstow, California, where I was born. The edition of the film I watched included the bonus movie Full-Tilt Boogie, which is a documentary about the making of From Dusk till Dawn.

One of the things that makes this movie interesting is that it takes its time introducing the horror elements. As noted in Full-Tilt Boogie, a lot of horror movies get right to the scary parts, but the best horror novels often give you a chance to become acquainted with the characters before throwing them into the horrific situation. This allows you to care more whether or not the characters make it out the other side. The mix of characters was interesting, because the Gecko brothers were not sympathetic at all. Both of them are murderers and one of them is a rapist. However, the family they kidnap is relatable. We meet a dad and his two children. The dad is a minister who recently lost his wife and suffers a crisis of faith.

Once the vampires are introduced, the movie is mostly about action as the human characters fight to survive the night. I thought the strip club was an interesting front for a nest of vampires. It allows vampires in their sexier human form to lure the unsuspecting into their trap. Beyond that, we learn little about the vampires themselves until a compelling hint about their origins and how it might be tied to history and mythology is dropped in the movie’s last scene. I won’t discuss the specifics in case that would spoil it for anyone, but I gather the hint is developed in the made-for-TV sequels and TV series. The vampires themselves are portrayed as pure monsters and they take many different forms.

Although it’s ostensibly a vampire film, the plot structure involving sympathetic characters mixed up with gangsters followed by a frightening second act reminded me most of my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt, which is also set in the borderland region. You can learn more about that novel at: http://davidleesummers.com/Astronomers-Crypt.html.

Even though my Scarlet Order vampires are not outwardly monstrous, they do have ties to history and world lore, including Native American cultural lore. I would have enjoyed more exploration of these ideas in From Dusk till Dawn and may have to watch at least some of the TV series to see how they explore it there. The best place to see these ideas explored in my writing is in my novel Vampires of the Scarlet order. Learn more about it at: http://davidleesummers.com/VSO.html

Battle Angel

November is my birthday month and in this modern age of digital shopping, that usually means a slew of coupons find their way into my email over the course of the month. I don’t use all the coupons. If I did, I’d probably go broke saving all that money. That noted, the coupons that tempt me most are the ones that get me to shop at bookstores. Among other things, the coupons become an excuse to try some books I haven’t explored before.

Battle Angel Alita

This time around, I found myself looking at the manga shelf at the local bookstore when Kodansha Comics’ beautiful deluxe edition of Battle Angel Alita caught my eye. Mostly I knew of Alita from the recent film directed by Robert Rodriguez and starring Rosa Salazar. I’d put off seeing the film because I knew it had been based on a manga and I wanted to know the source material before going to see the film. Among other things, I’ve often been disappointed by American interpretations of manga and anime.

Kodansha’s deluxe edition of the manga features an introduction by Brenden Fletcher, beautifully reproduced artwork at large size and some great translator notes. From the introduction, I learned that this cyberpunk manga by Yukito Kushiro had its origins in the early 1990s. Its Japanese title might best be translated as “Gun Dream Gally.” The manga first appeared in the United States in the mid-1990s, which probably explains why I wasn’t familiar with it. I was busy being a new dad at that point. However, arriving in the mid-1990s, manga and anime characters were still subject to having their names changed by translators, so Gally (or Garii) became Alita.

Battle Angel Alita is set in a dystopian, dark futuristic version of Kansas City, which sits under a floating, modern city called Zalem. A cybernetics specialist called Ito finds a beautiful robotic head in the scrap dropped by Zalem. He repairs the head and attaches it to a body and thus Alita is born. It turns out that Ito isn’t just a cybernetics specialist, he’s also a bounty hunter who dispenses justice to humans and rogue cyborgs who have broken the laws of the factory, which has become the central authority in this version of Kansas City. Alita’s first volume is largely a martial arts adventure story as Alita discovers she is a skilled warrior. She must battle a rogue cyborg called Makaku.

In the second volume, Alita falls in love with a boy named Yugo who dreams of going to the floating city. The only problem is that Yugo is illegally killing cyborgs and harvesting their spinal columns, the only part of the human body cyberneticists can’t duplicate. This volume explored the Yukito Kushiro’s science fictional world much more and I found myself much more engaged by the complicated set of emotions experienced by Alita and Yugo. Overall, I highly recommend this deluxe hardcover manga.

Upstart Mystique

It turns out that Battle Angel Alita was also made into a short original video animation. As of this writing, the anime can be watched for free on YouTube and it does tell much the same story as the manga, though somewhat condensed. Having watched the anime and read the manga, I’m now interested in seeing the American film.

As with many of the best cyberpunk stories, Battle Angel Alita explores questions of our relationship with machines. In the future, how much will machines become part of our bodies? Will we be able to move our consciousness from one body to another? Can the brain live long enough to be transplanted? Can consciousness survive in a computer without the brain? I was pleased to edit and publish a novel that also explores these questions, though it’s set on a distant alien world encountered by the crew of a starship. If you’re intrigued by these questions, I also encourage you to read Upstart Mystique by Don Braden. The book is available at: http://hadrosaur.com/UpstartMystique.php