I have a shameful confession to make: my novel started off life as a screenplay and, furthermore, many of the works that inspired its creation were movies! I know, I feel terrible, but I’m glad to finally get it off my chest.
Seriously, though, it is funny how authors will sometimes look down on TV and movies, as if good ideas can’t come from something as commercial as a movie.
The truth is that many great books could make for great movies and vice versa. I originally started out to write what became Ancient Blood entirely because there weren’t enough good vampire movies on the shelves for my taste. Sure, there was part of this movie that was great, another element of some other film, and a movie that wasn’t about vampires at all but had great vampire-like characters.
So today I’m taking a trip down memory lane and remembering some of those movies and series that played a part in the construction of my novel Ancient Blood: A Novel of the Hegemony (in no particular order).
The Godfather Trilogy (1972, 1974, 1990)
This classic set of films needs no introduction, but has always been a series I enjoyed. The nuance, the formality, and the Shakespearean rise and fall of epic figures thrilled me early on and were elements that I felt should exist in a vampire society. The old traditions, the sense of shadowy groups operating outside of the law while secretly steering larger events.
The redemption story of Part III was always an inspiration for my character of Iago, who is a grand and powerful leader with a dark past who has come to regret the actions that brought him to power. As evidenced by his name, he’s a very Shakespearean-inspired character and the sophisticated plotting of the Godfather films was definitely something I wanted to try to capture in my story.
The Lion in Winter (1968)
This 60s classic, starring Peter O’Toole, Katherine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins in his first screen appearance, and Timothy Dalton of James Bond fame is one of the funniest, darkest, wittiest, and most epic Christmas story you will ever see!
I was introduced to it in college and fell in love. A story of a royal family bickering, feuding, and even attempting murder over the holidays packs more double-crosses, intrigues, and zingy insults into two hours than most of today’s juiciest soap operas manage in half a season! If there is a single movie that indelibly influenced the tone and style of my book, it was this.
With all the manipulation and treachery that occurs in Ancient Blood, one of my main goals was to try to make it fun (despite the fact that the viewpoint character doesn’t think so)! One of my characters, Geoffrey Plantagenet, pretty much stepped right out of this movie; I changed him a little as I did research into the historical Geoffrey, but this was his genesis. I highly recommend this one if you haven’t seen it!
Fright Night (1985)
This is the original I’m talking about here, not that half-assed remake. This story of a horror film fan who discovers a vampire living next door to him is my best guess for where the seed for my main character of Avery was sown.
I love the way this film was able to move smoothly from goofy comedy to genuine chills and, finally, one of the most beautiful vampire deaths ever captured on film. Like An American Werewolf In London before it, this film managed a kind of reality by making its main characters seem real with humor, and then subjecting them to horrific violence.
I identified with Charlie Brewster because I grew up watching old horror movies on TV; unlike him, however, one of the things that nagged at me was why he felt compelled to kill his neighbor. I suspect that, in the same situation, I might have gone the Evil Ed route and joined Team Dandridge and that was part of my inspiration for the story of Ancient Blood.
What would it be like to go into becoming a vampire with your eyes open, taught what to expect by decades of movies, TV shows, and books—and then find out you were wrong?
The Lost Boys (1987)
While I’m on the vampire movies, how could I not have been influenced by the paradigm-shifting Lost Boys? If there was ever a movie that made being a vampire look like one gigantic, balls-to-the-wall, non-stop party, then that movie was this one!
Directed with a perfect teenage sensibility by Joel “Please Stop Blaming Me For Killing Batman” Schumacher, not only is the movie an extra-cheesy time capsule of everything that was “rad” in the 80s, it also helped transport the vampire from the dusty castles of Europe and England in the public consciousness.
Movies like this, Vamp (1986), Fright Night (1985), Near Dark (1987), and Salem’s Lot (1979) hit one after another and solidified the idea that vampires could live among us, unnoticed. They could be teenager punks rather than grand nobles and you could like and sympathize with them.
For me, as a kid who had yet to read anything like Interview with the Vampire, this was a huge leap from Dracula. Like, Fright Night, I know that some part of Avery’s characters owes itself to the Frog Brothers and their fresh-from-comic-books knowledge of vampire hunting.
Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
Another non-vampire film with characters so vampiric, you almost wonder how they can walk out in the sunlight. When I wanted a vampire to represent all those sexy, seductive vampires like Lestat, Jean-Claude from the Anita Blake series, Angelus, and all the others out there in fantasy land, I couldn’t think of a better model than John Malkovich’s snake-like performance in this film.
When I discovered that the movie was based on a controversial novel from that period, I went ahead and blatantly named my character after Malkovich’s in the film. Equaling Malkovich’s performance is Glenn Close, playing one of the most wonderfully wicked women I’ve ever seen in film, and you can be sure that some of my portrayal of Julia Agrippina owes a debt to her.
If you haven’t seen this movie, this is bedroom politics played at the highest skill level and a great inspiration for those who like their villains subtle.
I, Claudius (1976)
One of the best mini-series of all time and the grandmother of modern shows like The Tudors, Game of Thrones, and The Borgias, this epic tells the life story of the Roman Emperor Claudius.
Wonderfully acted and fantastically cast, this hooked me from the first viewing. And let me tell you, I am not normally the type to go for Masterpiece Theater fare!
What makes this story work so well is that the personalities draw you in whether you care about their historical importance. What inspired me was, like The Lion In Winter, the intrigue and murder are played with a dry wit that lets the viewer find enjoyment in the most unlikely circumstances.
My council of vampires felt very much to me like a combination of the crime families from the Godfather films and an imperial family, so I, Claudius gave me an appreciation for scope. Unlike all these other films, some of the intrigues and games in I, Claudius play out over decades! How much more vampire can you get than that?
Despite all the horror and madness, though, the fact that the story is filtered through the eyes of the gentle, decent Claudius helps the viewer keep perspective. This proved invaluable to me when I decided to adapt my screenplay full of scheming vampires into novel form, because I realized that I needed a regular person in there to help make sense of things and humanize the events.
Mary Reilly (1996)
This subtle, atmospheric movie is a double pleasure for me, since it’s my favorite adaptation of the Jekyll/Hyde story, but also because it’s a mini-Dangerous Liaisons reunion: Malkovich and Close return along with Christopher Hampton adapting the Valerie Harper novel and Stephen Frears once again directing things.
My only gripe is that they weren’t able to get Michelle Pfeiffer back to star instead of the bland Julia Roberts (Uma Thurman would have also been great). Sorry, my inner film critic got loose again!
Anyway, the great trick of this movie is that it shows the familiar Jekyll and Hyde tale from the unexpected viewpoint of the house maid. One of my biggest worries when adapting Ancient Blood was how would I let the reader know what was happening with all these big, powerful vampires when my narrator was little more than a waiter.
Watching how well this movie turned this seemingly-limiting premise into a way to heighten suspense inspired me to give it a try. I had originally planned to have the character of Iago as a second POV narrator to fill in the gaps that Avery would leave, but by rising to the challenge I set myself, I found enough creative ways to get information to the reader that Iago’s narration wasn’t even needed.
The Wannsee Conference (1984) and Conspiracy (2001)
Most of you have probably never heard of the first title. It’s a 90 minute German film that re-creates (based on the meeting minutes) the short conference where Reinhard Heydrich and other top Nazi leaders worked out the logistics of the Holocaust.
The second title is the American remake starring Kenneth Branagh and Stanley Tucci, which is a bit more livened up, but no less fascinating. These movies have no action and all take place inside a boardroom, but because of the subject matter, they are riveting.
What was wonderful to me about these movies is seeing how ordinary and mundane the Nazis were. Nazis are the measuring stick for evil in the 20th Century, yet seeing them sitting around joking and arguing over resources and time-tables like any American company meeting is a sobering reminder that monstrous decisions aren’t always made by monsters.
The worst human beings are still human beings, and I wanted to remember that even when making them vampires. The most far-reaching horrors in the world don’t generally happen over a bubbling cauldron accompanied by maniacal laughter, they happen quietly in business-like meetings over coffee and everyone in that meeting has the same mundane cares and worries that you or I do. Food for thought.
Well, that’s my list! Obviously, there were plenty of other movies that I’ve seen and books that I’ve read that influenced me in dozens of ways, but these are the main ones that I remember. I really hope you give any of these that you haven’t seen a look!