The Space Vampires

In recent weeks, I’ve been working on a sequel to my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order, which is about vampire mercenaries who learn they must stop a government plot to create super soldiers with vampire powers. Part of the reason is that vampires have a cosmic origin that gives them powers which could prove extremely dangerous if unlocked. What’s more, the government scientists creating those super soldiers are working diligently to unlock all the vampire secrets. In the sequel, the vampires have decided to unlock those secrets for themselves. This notion of vampires having an otherworldly origin has been explored in numerous books and stories, but a notable example is Colin Wilson’s 1976 novel The Space Vampires, which was then adapted into the 1985 movie Lifeforce. I had seen the movie once in the 1980s and then read the novel in the late 1990s, but I didn’t remember many of the details, so I went back for a second look.

The Space Vampires and Lifeforce

The book and the movie start out much the same. A space mission stumbles across a gigantic, derelict space vessel. Aboard, they find several alien bodies. After some searching, the space ship crew discovers three attractive human forms, who appear to be in suspended animation. Three of the human like figures are taken back to Earth. One of them, in the form of a beautiful young woman, wakes up while being examined and sucks the lifeforce from the person examining her, then escapes and begins looking for others to feed from.

The details are somewhat different between the book and the movie. The novel is set over a century in the future and the alien ship is in the asteroid belt. The movie is set in 1986 and the ship is in the tail of Comet Halley. The aliens in the book look like human-sized squids, while the ones in the movie look like bats. Despite those differences, the book and movie are more alike than I remember. After the alien vampire woman escapes into the world, our heroes start looking for clues so they can locate her and stop her. It turns out that the lead astronaut of the expedition does have a kind of psychic link to her which helps.

The novel spends much more time exploring the issue of vampires from a more metaphysical angle. It points out that everyone on Earth feeds off life, including vegetarians. There’s also an exploration of how we gain energy from other people and that to a certain extent, all humans could be viewed as psychic vampires. I found myself thinking of Colin Robinson from the TV series, What We Do in the Shadows. There’s also an exploration of ways in which the predator/prey relationship can mirror the pursuit of sexual partners.

To give the story more visual action, the movie introduces the idea that people drained by the alien vampires come back to life as zombies two hours after they were drained and then seek to drain others. The zombies are easily stopped by restraining them, but you have to find them first. This allows for a big spectacle ending as our heroes must find and destroy the vampires while London gets overrun by zombies. The book’s ending is much quieter and, at first read, it almost seems he invoked a deus ex machina. However, on reflection, Wilson did give us a few clues about the ending, but I also thought he could have foreshadowed the ending a little better than he did.

Having watched the movie and read the book together, I had the impression that the movie’s screenwriter, Dan O’Bannon, read the novel and paid close attention. As in the book, the vampires use sexuality as a lure for their victims, represented visually by Mathilda May playing the vampire woman nude in most of the movie. Both the book and movie posit an alien origin for vampires on Earth, and as I noted, there were more scenes from the book in the movie than I remembered. If Dan O’Bannon’s name sounds familiar, that’s because he’s the screenwriter behind Alien. The book is fun in that it gives us a light Lovecraftian take on the vampire mythos. The movie takes that idea and ramps it up with a lot of fun, high-octane action backed by a great Henry Mancini score. I wouldn’t take either of them too seriously but, for the most part, I don’t think their creators intended us to.

You can see my take on vampires and their cosmic origins in Vampires of the Scarlet Order. You can learn more about the novel at: http://davidleesummers.com/VSO.html

JoJo Rabbit

I first saw the preview for the movie JoJo Rabbit a few weeks ago when it first came out. I thought it looked like an intriguing political satire, and a breath of fresh air at a time when it seems most movies are either romantic comedies, horror films, or superhero adventures. What’s more, the film was written and directed by Taika Waititi who also directed the movies What We Do in the Shadows and Thor: Ragnarok, two films I enjoyed a great deal. The only problem is that the movie came out at a time when I was busy with travel and work and I couldn’t break away to see it.

A few days ago, our local theater held a giveaway for some JoJo Rabbit merchandise. As it turns out, my wife won. My younger daughter models the shirt, hat and pin she won in the photo. The theater also extended the movie’s run, something that seems almost unheard of these days. Given both of these events, we decided to go see the movie in the theater while we could.

JoJo Rabbit is a satire about a boy named JoJo who lives in World War II-era Germany and goes to Nazi youth camp. Hitler is his imaginary friend. All goes pretty well until JoJo is told to kill a rabbit to show his loyalty to the cause. JoJo can’t and he runs away to cries of “JoJo Rabbit.” His imaginary friend turns up and gives him a pep-talk, telling him it’s okay to be the rabbit. He then returns to the others and, in order to prove himself, participates in a hand grenade exercise, only to injure himself seriously. After recovering, he goes home and is given a job passing out Nazi propaganda. Again, all seems well for JoJo until he discovers that his mother is harboring a Jewish girl in the walls of the family house.

One thing people frequently misunderstand about satire is that it’s not necessarily about being funny. Instead, satire attempts to call out how ridiculous something is. In the process, it often is funny, but it can also be tragic. JoJo Rabbit has elements of both comedy and tragedy. It follows a long line of satires about Nazi Germany from Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator to assorted World War II-era cartoons to Mel Brooks and The Producers. I also think of the TV series Hogan’s Heroes, which ran in reruns when I was a kid. Those comparisons noted, JoJo Rabbit is less a satire of Nazi Germany and more a satire of a world where politicians foster hate and how, if you’re not going to be one of their attack dogs, they are happy for you to “be the rabbit” and just accept what’s happening.

To me, satire succeeds if it gets you to consider the subject. The movie did get us talking afterward and in that way it succeeded. One thing we’ve noted is how easy it’s become for death to be suggested as a punishment for almost anything, including just being an annoyance. I’m still somewhat horrified at a reviewer who suggested characters of mine should have thrown another out an airlock, something which has almost become a casual science fiction trope. In my fiction, I like to imagine characters who don’t necessarily give into their baser instincts on a whim, even when they’re pirates or vampires. At the moment, much of what we hear is rhetoric and talk. I hope it stays that way, though I fear the rhetoric and talk makes it easier for someone in power to act on base instincts and not only get away with it, but be cheered on. For now, I’m grateful we still live in a country where a movie like JoJo Rabbit can exist.