I first came across the brilliant Andy Boylan on Anthony Hogg’s Facebook group, The Vampirologist. He seemed like a nice guy, friendly and always had something knowledgeable and positive to add to the conversation.
At first I didn’t take much notice of his comments and shared links, but then I realized there was a pattern. The majority of his shares were directing people to a blog, Taliesin Meets the Vampires. Curiosity led me to the site and what I discovered was astonishing! This random guy from England had his own blog, featuring a colossal amount of film reviews and the bonus was they were about vampires! I had never seen such a selection covering all genres no matter how obscure.
It blew my mind how many reviews he’d published and the frequency to which he posted reviews. As I navigated through his blog, it was obvious this wasn’t just something to do for Andy. It’s his passion and his in depth posts demonstrate this. So without further delay, it is my pleasure to introduce you all to Andy Boylan!
What first got you into vampires?
That’s not a simple question as there are influences going right back. I remember as a quite young child seeing on the BBC, and being intrigued by, the film Isle of the Dead with Boris Karloff. Actually, what intrigued me was the way the characters started falling back on the old Gods – I’ve always liked Greek mythology, though I am no expert on it. As a child I didn’t realise it was a vampire based film (there is no vampire in it, just a belief in them). It was only as an adult that I realised what the film was (and it is still a favourite.)
I also remember watching the Hammer films with my granddad – and, of course, they did produce a fine set of vampire movies.
However the first film that is set in my mind was the 1979 version of Dracula. My granddad was really into his technology and so had a vcr pretty much as soon as they were available on the mass market. He’d go and rent me films and I invariably asked for horror titles (remembering I was only 13 or 14 and the sly old fox actually rented me some really heavy, for the time, titles – indeed I saw most of the films subsequently banned in the UK as video nasties). One weekend he got Dracula out of the video store for me and I remember watching and re-watching the film over and over until the tape had to go back. It wasn’t the only one that I’d have done that with but it certainly made the greatest impression and that version of Dracula is emblazoned in my mind’s eye.
From then I’ve always liked vampires but the absolute obsession with them took a little longer to blossom.
Where did the name “Taliesin Meets the Vampires” come from and what does it mean to you?
That’s actually an easy one. When I first started creating an online presence I used to post at a forum called Through the Looking Glass, for fans of Looking Glass Studio PC games, and used the pseudonym Taliesin (after the Welsh bard who is associated with King Bran/Arthur).
So that folks from that forum would know it was me, I started using the name Taliesin_ttlg as an online name generally.
Cut forward a few years and I set up a blogger account, actually simply to comment on another blog that had a restriction on commenting to blogger registered visitors. I figured I may as well do something with the account and decided to blog about vampires. Taliesin Meets the Vampires just seemed like an apt description of what I was doing.
Your sister blog Taliesin Writes the Vampires was used to promote your novels Concilium Sanguinarius (2008) and the novella Behind the Masque (2007). Did you find a blog was an effective marketing tool and did you notice a different pattern for demand and sales as opposed to when you released your non-fiction book, The Media Vampire: A Study of Vampires in Fictional Media (2012)?
To be honest I am the world’s worst self-publicist – I just can’t seem to pimp myself, perhaps it’s a fear of upsetting people with constant pushing of a product rather than being me. I did put the sister blog together as a place to showcase my writing but never gave it the push that I see many aspiring writers do on facebook. Actually Behind the Masque was posted in full on TWtV as it is an old novella (one of my first pieces of long prose) and actually it is free to download from lulu too.
The non-fiction book certainly hasn’t sold as much as the prose did, but then it is a serious study and has a reference book price tag (that said, when Amazon had a couple of copies for sale at a bargain price they went very quickly!)
All in all I’m touched if someone reads one of my books, and enjoys it, but I don’t think I’ll end up getting rich! It was also quite humbling when I heard that the Media Vampire turned up in a bookstore in Paris.
What made you decide to become a vampire book and film reviewer?
I fell into it. As I mentioned earlier, I opened the blogger account simply to make a comment on another blog and then decided to do something with it.
I guess I’m also a little obsessional – for nearly 6 years I posted virtually every day. That work rate has decreased and it’s now every other day! Considering that I wrote a reference book, worked full time and (as a mature student) did a foundation degree and topped that up to a BA hons degree, I don’t think I did too badly with the pace of posting.
In honesty, I think of the reviews as less reviews and more an archive of vampire movies/TV/books etc. I also like playing with the boundaries of what is and isn’t vampire. Sure there are the classic vampire traits and tropes but I also like the wider scope of what is and isn’t a vampire – whilst some think Monty Summers spread the term too far and too thin, I love that diversity. I also like discovering obscure vampire movies from around the world and I like sharing them with the world.
What has astounded me is that my little blog has gone from maybe 40 page views per day to a constant average of over a 1000 per day with a peak of over 3000 in a day at times. Remember what I said about being a rubbish self-publicist, given that it’s some going.
As you know I recently reviewed the film Nosferatu (1922) on Vamped. Can you walk me through your own process for conducting a review and give some suggestions for people new to it?
You know, I don’t think there are hard and fasts – for every style of review there is someone who’ll appreciate it.
I like to get into the detail of the film; I like to explore the story in some detail and I am not afraid of spoilers. Now, if it’s a newer film I will avoid the big spoilers. If it is a classic then I might go into greater depth and spoil much more – I really indulged myself with the review of the 1979 Dracula, for instance.
For Let Me In (which I think is absolutely stunning) the review was more a case study than anything else and generally I like to identify vampire lore in the films because (as we know) it changes film to film.
I also have different categories. Honourable Mentions are not scored and are written as such for a variety of reasons; perhaps the film is free to watch, or it’s a very short piece that I don’t know where I want to go with score wise, it might be that the vampire is in it for minutes or seconds even, or it might be related to vampires (the Huldra is a Scandanavian creature that is classed by some as a vampire but the film Thale, which features such creatures, isn’t remotely vampiric). For “Vamp or Not?” I look at films that may or may not be vampire, either because they are not normally recognised as a vampire film (The Brothers Grimm) or because I have seen them listed as a vampire film (such as zombie movie the Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue).
As for the process… The first thing is to watch (or read) your source. Generally I watch alone as I am taking notes and screenshots and sometimes pause the film to re-watch parts; because of this I always watch on PC. The exception to that is doing an “Initial Thoughts” piece on something I have watched at the cinema, where I rely on memory. There is a problem with reviewing on a regular basis, however… the reviewer becomes too analytical, films cease to be for amusement and the danger is that the films cease to be watched for fun. I do still like to take my brain out and watch a film for sheer joy. Recently – having reviewed it – the film Rigor Mortis was put on a couple of times simply for the popcorn treatment.
Depending on the film there might be some cursory research – via IMDb – or some more in depth research. This might be down to how much I already know about it or how deep the review will go (if I’d have been laying out your Nosferatu challenge, I’d certainly have allowed research into different versions/cuts etc). I avoid reading other reviews until I’ve written mine – but then I may read other peoples thoughts and, occasionally, amend the review with responses to those reviews.
I’m a believer – in online reviewing – in screenshots. Text can turn a reader off (perversely, as the text is the point) and a nice screenshot per paragraph helps keep interest and breaks up the text. You can tell my earlier reviews as the screenshots are few and far between. That said there is a more modern review with no screenshots because the indignant (and semi-literate) director kicked off about them. Rather than argue I took them down and replaced them with descriptions. The film, by the way, was called Loved Ones.
On April 30, 2014 you reviewed the film The Ship of Monsters (1960) and rated it only 2 out of 10. You said, “In this we manage to get a sci-fi, monster, vampire, singing cowboy mashup. Now if that’s not crazy I don’t know what is.” Speaking of crazy, what is the most bizarre film you have reviewed and have you ever refused to review something offered to you and why?
Oh there are so many bizarre films. Barely Legal Lesbian Vampires: The Curse of Ed Wood got me a mention on another blog as a hero for reviewing the film so others didn’t need to see it.
Captain Berlin versus Hitler is a video of a German play, which has an English subtitled version as an extra, rather than adding subtitles to the main feature (and I got a plastic Captain Berlin dog tag with the DVD).
The Mexicans do a lot of really strange films (as well as some of the best serious Gothic pieces) and The Ship of Monsters is a Mexican film. Anything with Santo and Mexican wrestling is odd but always welcome by me.
The movies by Andy Milligan are, to a film, strange.
The only things I have refused to review are actually none vampire. I am, on occasion, approached by PR companies, publishers, distributors, authors and directors. I am always pleased to have an approach and my only review rule is that it will be honest – my loyalty is to the readers rather than the artist/company – but sometimes these publicists don’t research, they see horror films as a generic subject, or perhaps they think it’s just films generally, and so ask for a review. If it hasn’t got anything to do with vampires I say no. Just to add to that, there are some products, which were sent for review, that achieved scores of 1 out of 10.
What makes a vampire film great to you? Do you have a common criteria for one? What are your favorites?
There is no one thing. I do like the art-house end of cinema and the gothic style and sensibility – but that doesn’t necessarily make a given film good. If we look at my top 10 (the site has a top 100 by the way) then we get the following (in reverse order):
Marebito (2004) is a Japanese art-house film with Lovecraftian overtones that literally just stole my breath way and made me go wow.
Horror of Dracula (1959) is the first Hammer Dracula and is the perfect mash up of Gothic sensibilities, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (who I have tattooed on my arm by the way).
Near Dark (1987) is so wonderfully brutal, a modern day vampire Western with the cast of Aliens. Despite loving most of the film I hate the last 5 seconds, by the way, it’s so saccharine it makes my teeth hurt.
Black Sunday (1960); the gothic atmosphere, the unusual lore and the fact that Mario Bava is possibly the greatest horror director ever all helps. It was allegedly based on the story Viy by Gogol – though you’d hardly know it from the content.
Viy (1967), which is a great and recognisable version of the story Viy, and also a really wonderful piece of Gothic cinema from the CCCP. This is one that folks might not recognise as vampiric but it is.
Vampyr (1932) was the first filming of Carmilla – again not that you could see the original story in it – but it is glorious cinema that has a dreamlike quality.
Interview with the Vampire (1994) is by Neil Jordan and I love his work but it is also a gloriously gothic epic.
Let Me In (2010) is a strange one as everyone seems to prefer the Swedish original, Let the Right One In, but I think this is a near perfect film. I am really convinced that it unfairly suffered from ‘American remake backlash’.
Nosferatu (1922) just set the standard. I know you had your problems with the silence, Erin, but I have seen cuts of this that have sent me to sleep. But get the right cut (the kino restoration is the very best) and you have something magical, eerie and haunting.
Isle of the Dead (1945) I mentioned earlier – it’s a film that has haunted my life and Karloff is magnificent.
The majority of the films you review end up being rated on the lower end of the scale. Was there a film so bad you couldn’t finish watching it and what was the turn off? Also, considering the quality of most of these films and books how do you keep your interest alive? What keeps you going?
You know, just because a film isn’t conventionally very good doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some merit. I meet with friends once a month and we watch some great and some rubbish horror movies – and you know it is with the films at the poor end that we sometimes have the most fun (I’ll say Zombie Ass and no more).
Take Jess Franco for instance. Not one of his vampire films equate to good cinema (I’d argue some of his De Sade stuff is at least above average, but not his vampire stuff) and yet I still have a soft spot for Jess’ work – but scored it low.
That said there is some real rubbish out there. Anyone with access to a camera thinks they can film a movie (put Hour of the Wolf by Bergman in a DVD player and I defy anyone not to walk away realising why he was a master director and most releases can’t get near), and everyone, seemingly, thinks they can act. Unfortunately vampire flicks are quite easy to produce, a set of fangs and you’re good to go apparently. I’ve tried to block out the number of flicks I’ve seen where a “dying vampire” holds the obviously not imbedded stake to their chest and it wobbles away in their trembling grasp, because the film really was that cheap.
To answer your question – yes I have been defeated, by Geek Maggot Bingo… I managed ten minutes and have never had the heart to try again.
What keeps me going? I guess, firstly, I love vampires – so even amongst some of the worst films I can find something worthwhile. And when I can’t? There is always the lure of the lost gem, the great film that comes out of nowhere. When I see it, it renews my faith, it keeps me going.
Actually, nowadays I kind of regret putting scores on the reviews – though I’m committed to that as a concept now. When I do what I count as an article, rather than a review, people refer to them as reviews anyway and just having the words without a score would make life so much easier in some respects.
You see, some folks do get hung up on a score. A lot of writers, to be fair, seem to do that – becoming prickly if they think the score too low, no matter how nice or positive the words. But to be fair they really are not booker prize nominees and I always try to be constructive. To me it is better that a review constructively highlights flaws and helps someone develop into the best they can be, rather than strokes an ego and helps stunt their artistic growth. On the other hand, I’ve had other authors thank me for my honesty, edit their work as a subsequence and then thank me in the credits of the next edition, which is nice.
You served as executive producer for The Vampire Assassin, a video short released in 2007. Could you explain how the experience behind the camera compared to your experience as a film critic? Also how did you become involved with this film?
I can’t explain the difference, to be honest, as all I did for The Vampire Assassin was supply some money. It was before the kickstarter craze but the director was trying to fund his film and for $20 I got a credit, a signed DVD and a signed script. But hey – I have an IMDb credit – how cool is that!
That said, I am open to offers of being a creative consultant…
In the world of film and writing who has been the most influential person on your craft and why?
Film wise that is really difficult to say. I’m very drawn to the style of particular directors. I’m a fan of Del Toro, Bergman, Tarantino (I know he wrote From Dusk Till Dawn but I’d love to see him direct a vampire film), Jordan – to name a few. I also get hooked on dialogue – Kevin Smith and Tarantino, again, rock my world in that respect.
When it comes to writing I was really turned onto the Beats – especially Kerouac. You know, despite most of his work being autobiographical, he had a vampire in the book Doctor Sax. Iain Banks (both as Iain Banks and Iain M Banks) is a favourite too – no vampires there though.
There are plenty of great vampire authors too. George RR Martin was fantastic and S. P. Somtow’s Jungian based writing was cracking.
I really have got into 19th century works at the moment. Blackcoat Press are doing a sterling job of making obscure continental works from the 19th century available.
Do you currently write reviews for any other websites? Can we find your reviews anywhere else besides your own blogs?
I do reviews on Amazon UK for their Vine Voice programme (I get free things and review them, yay). Other than that, not a lot. I was involved in a project doing general horror/art cinema reviews but that fell apart through no-one’s fault. I’ve done a couple of guest vampire reviews and then found that the host blogs died and so ended up re-hosting them myself. So generally, no, everything vampire is at TMtV.
What do you have on the boil and do you plan to write any more books soon?
I should, I really should. I have about twenty draft chapters for the Concilium sequel but haven’t worked on it for ages. I have also done a first draft chapter of a Varney re-imagining and then stopped for no adequately explored reason.
Part of the problem is time. I have a demanding (real life) job and it has me, more and more, travelling over the UK, a lot. I also have a family and friends who I want to spend time with. The blog does take up a lot of time (those books don’t read themselves and the films don’t watch themselves either!)
All the excuses aside, I’ve had some informal talks about pulling a compilation of my shorts (and radio plays, never produced as the OTR podcast I was involved in didn’t quite get to them, but written) together. I’m also poised to do a foreword for a project with James Lyon (but no more will be said at this point in case it goes west). My good friend (and your co-conspirator, Erin) Anthony Hogg keeps suggesting articles I could do – but again time is prohibitive. However I’m sure some will get done at some point.