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..How (Not)
to Kill a

It's about time I had a rant.
      I've been writing these columns for a year now and in all that time I've been far too conciliatory. It's about time that I put my Peter Griffin hat on and had a good old rant about 'what really grinds my gears'. But... I don't want to dig up the usual stuff. I don't want to come across as a whinging, wining nerd bemoaning 'mistakes' that just demonstrate an ignorance of how the film and TV industries work. 'Why do they do that?' Gee, because if they followed your suggestions they'd make something that fewer people would want to watch and they'd make less money. And might I add: doh.
      But... having said that, let's start with that old favourite: sound in space. In space, no-one can hear you scream. It's a great tag-line but I suspect that years of familiarity and parody has robbed it of its original impact. In space, no-one can hear anything. That's the whole point. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not for a minute suggesting that whizz-bang space battles shouldn't have lots of whizz and plenty of bangs. Cinema is sound and vision. Those dogfights in Star Wars were very specifically based on the sort of dogfights seen in World War II films. I'm sure most people have heard the story of how George Lucas screened an unfinished print of the film for his close friends and, in lieu of the still-in-post battle scenes, edited in stock footage from war movies.
      Let's face it, no spaceship could possibly be as manoeuvrable as an X-wing. Frankly, I don't think a Spitfire or a Messerschmit 109 could ever be that manoeuvrable (and let's not get started on that daft Spitfires-vs-Daleks episode of Doctor Who last year). If I can diverge slightly into aerodynamics: aeroplane design is basically a trade-off between stability and manoeuvrability. In other words, you can have a steady(ish) platform for your weapons, or you can twist and turn in the air like a twisty-turny thing, but you can't have both. Twisting and turning is controlled instability. The deeply cool Eurofighter Typhoon gets round this by being an inherently unstable aircraft that maintains stability through constant minute readjustment by onboard computers. The sci-fi relevance of this is that when you see a Eurofighter fly (you normally have to go to an air show but I saw one training over the Wash when I was in Skegness last year) it pretty much turns corners mid-flight in a way that things like the Millennium Falcon do but real aircraft aren't supposed to. It also makes one hell of a noise.

      But, like I say, I don't mind noise in space (or even over Skegness, though it scared the gulls). I don't even mind the slight air of Kubrickian smugness in 2001: A Space Odyssey as the Discovery floats utterly silently - hence, realistically  - through the Solar System. I don't think the Nostromo makes any noise either, does it? Silence or whoosh: both are done for dramatic effect. And that's the whole point. People are making dramas here, not documentaries. But here's what I would love to see (or rather, hear). One day, I would love to watch a movie that combined all that noise with the still silence of space. Imagine it: every shot of the pilot in the spaceship cockpit is full of sound and fury. The noise of the engines and the rattle of the spaceship and all the bangs and crashes and aural chaos of being inside a tin can hurtling around at enormous speed, changing direction on a whim like a Eurofighter. And then...
      Wide-shots, effects shots, of the ship, the ships. Absolute silence. Lots of movement. They're zipping and nipping everywhere and on the soundtrack, not a hum, not a murmur. No music, no atmos, nothing. Then cut back to the cockpit and the noise and the bangs and the crashes and pings and bleeps and - cut back to a silent movie of the bigger battle, like somebody just hit mute on the remote control. I honestly think that would be awesome.

      What else annoys me? Oh yes - vampires. How do you kill a vampire? Well, my preferred method is to slice the head off, stuff the neck-wound with garlic, then drag the body onto consecrated ground and use a giant lens to incinerate it using the rays of the noonday sun before sprinkling salt and Holy water on the earth just in case. But that's just me. Most people go for the stake.
      Take a look at any old vampire movie and you'll see a proper staking. The undead monster is tracked to its lair where it spends the daylight hours in a coffin. Actually, the whole coffin thing is misdirection. In Bram Stoker's original novel, it's not the coffin that's important for Dracula's day-time repose. What is vital is that he is surrounded by the soil of his own country. So what gets shipped over on the Demeter is actually crates of Transylvanian earth - into which the coffin is placed. But over time and for convenience's sake, this has been abbreviated in the cultural zeitgeist to just a coffin. But then, that's the thing about vampires: in each new story you can decide which of the various rules you want to follow, like some sort of horror movie pick-n-mix. Sunlight? Crucifixes? Running water? Enter freely and of your own will? Mix and match, do what you like, it doesn't matter because, you know - VAMPIRES ARE NOT REAL. I thought I'd capitalise that, just to upset any Twilight fans who may have wandered over here by mistake.
      Where was I? Ah yes, stake and chips. A proper staking. You find the bloodsucker in his (or her) daytime resting place, you position a good, solid, wooden stake directly over the heart, you get a bloody great mallet and you SMASH it down on the stake. And the vampire screams and blood pours from its eye-sockets and it's knees fall off and you whack the mallet a couple more times for luck and eventually youve got yourself an ex-vampire. Job done. The point is that it takes a good deal of effort to drive a wooden stake through a chest cavity, even an undead one.
      But nowadays it's commonplace for vampire hunters to simply carry a small bit of wood around and, with one swift motion, somehow plunge it directly into a vampire's heart. In defiance of the fact that even a vampire has a rib cage, and muscles, and often a leather jacket too. Look, your heart is a pretty important organ so nature has evolved an effective way of protecting it, at least for vertebrates. Invertebrates can take their chances: squids have three hearts so although you could easily stake a squid, you would have to do it three times. Jellyfish don't have a heart at all, or a brain for that matter. But when did you last see a vampire squid or an undead jellyfish? (Don't get me started on squids - there's a whole other column to be written sometime on cephalopod movies.)

      I blame Buffy the Vampire Slayer for this; her and her ridiculous 'Mr Pointy'. Look, your breastbone or sternum is directly in front of your heart (it's 'on the left' but only a bit to the left, it's actually pretty central). I'm not aware of anything in the vampiric pick-n-mix which says that vampires have no sternum or that your thoracic cavity turns to tissue paper when you become nosferatu. There's still a whole lot of muscle and bone to get through and that's why Andrew Keir carried a damn great mallet with him when he went out vampire hunting. If you want to stab somebody with one hand, use a shiv, use a stiletto, use a dirty hypodermic needle. All pretty effective. How about a hypodermic needle full of Holy water? That would stop a vampire. But a pointed bit of wood? I don't think so.
      Here's what would happen if I decided you were undead (which, given Hemlock's customer base, some of you probably are) and tried to stake you one-handed while you're standing up, like what people do in movies nowadays. You would get a really, really nasty bruise on your chest. You might even get a scratch, although any two layers of clothing ought to be enough to avoid that. I would probably hurt my wrist quite a bit and might get a splinter. Your heart would be fine. And, having annoyed and bruised a supernatural haemovore, I would probably not last very long afterwards. So you're safe for now. Live and let live. Or whatever the undead equivalent of that is.
      In the most extreme form of this silliness, people just use any old bit of wood, never mind whether it's actually got a sharp point. There's a particularly moronic sci-fi vampire movie called Dracula 3000, the quality of which was ably summed up by a friend who worked on it with: 'What do you expect from a movie called Dracula 3000?' In this often hilariously-bad film, vampires on a spaceship are despatched using pool cues. Someone grabs a pool cue (the design of which has not significantly changed in the previous thousand years) and simply plunges it into a vampire's chest. He doesn't even sharpen it up with a pen-knife beforehand. If you want to attack someone with a pool cue, whack them over the head with it, for God's sake. Have you never been to Tyneside? (On the other hand, I must mention a very clever idea in James Eaves's enjoyable British action-horror indie The Witches Hammer (sic). One of the vampires in Jim's film is a very large lady who is so buxom that, no matter how far you hammer in your stake, it won't reach her heart. Fat vampires: easy to catch, hard to despatch.)

      While we're on the subject of bloodsuckers, what is it with the canine teeth? Really, however long you grow them, you're never going to be able to use them to puncture somebody's neck. Look, I'll do a quick experiment for you. Hang on ... Right, I've just been up to the bathroom mirror with a ruler and the furthest apart I can get my canines is all of four centimetres. That's about an inch and a half in old money. But that's stretching my mouth as wide as possible which pulls the corners of my lips forward, which means I wouldn't be able to get much of someone's neck into my mouth.
      Realistically, the best you're ever going to do with your canines is scratch somebody. So, in that respect, I'm probably not in as much danger as I first thought when I bruise your chest with a pointed piece of two-by-four. The whole battle between good and evil gets reduced in reality to a series of playground injuries that wouldn't even trouble the school nurse. No, if you want to bite my neck and drink my blood, you would be much better off going for the pointy incisor look, as popularised by Herr Schreck and Herr Murnau some 90 years ago (when no-one could hear you scream because they hadn't invented talkies yet). Either that or take the option popularised by that animated toothpaste advert of olden days and get yourself a flip-top head.

      This wasn't going to be a column about vampires but its turned out that way. Truth be told, there isn't much that really and truly grinds my gears. Obviously there's lazy, inept film-making; stupid, self-contradictory, nonsensical plots; risible, tuppeny-ha'penny special effects; wooden acting and the directorial career of Brett Leonard (the only man who could make a film about dinosaurs in IMAX 3D and still come up with something boring). But on the whole I am a conciliatory guy. I give film-makers a fighting chance, a fair crack of the whip. Unless you make a crappy film about vampires on a spaceship because, dude, there's a limit.

MJ Simpson has been writing since he found out which end of a pencil makes a mark. After editing sci-fi fan club mags he spent three years on the staff of SFX and helped to launch Total Film before switching to freelance work for Fangoria, Shivers, Video Watchdog, DeathRay and numerous other cult movie magazines. He has a number of scripts in development and has been working on his third book, a biography of Elsa Lanchester, for a very long time but promises to have it finished very soon (-ish). Mike lives in Leicester with his wife, Mrs S, and his young son, TF Simpson. By day he edits the university's website and in the evenings he edits MJSimpson.co.uk. He should probably get out more.