Book Review: Vampyres of Hollywood by Adrienne Barbeau and Michael Scott

The most obvious bit of satire in Vampyres of Hollywood (St. Martins: July 2008) is the suggestion that the great stars of the Golden Age of Cinema are literally, not just figuratively, “immortal.” But the entire novel, written by actress Adrienne Barbeau (Swamp Thing, The Fog) and author Michael Scott (The Alchemyst, The Magician) is really one enormous in-joke, on many levels. So pulpy that it should be printed on yellow paper, so formulaic that it should be filmed by Roger Corman, Vampyres of Hollywood stands in homage to the B horror flicks for which its heroine Ovsanna Moore and its co-author Barbeau are famous. In the best hack cinema tradition, Barbeau and Scott drench the scenery with blood, innards and ichor, borrow from every source that can’t run away fast enough, and finish with an outrageously over-the-top finale. It’s not great literature, but as every B-movie fan knows, the mess is all part of the fun.

Ovsanna Moore is a five hundred year old Vampyre with an attachment to the film industry. She loves it so much, in fact, that she has faked her own death twice and now poses as her own granddaughter carrying on three generations of movie stardom. She’s a one-woman version of the Barrymores. In the present day, Ovsanna runs a film company, Anticipation Studios, producing and usually starring in gory schlock horror films. As the novel begins, life is imitating Ovsanna’s art: actors and other people connected to Ovsanna’s film business are being found murdered in intensely gruesome ways (most of them being “found” in more than one spot). As the “Cinema Slayer” racks up a body count and terrorizes Tinseltown, world-weary Detective Peter King of the Beverly Hills P.D. pursues an investigation that quickly leads him to Ovsanna Moore’s doorstep. He ends up learning more about the “underworld” of Hollywood than he ever dreamed might exist.

That’s about all the plot that Vampyres of Hollywood can boast of. As more and more people around her turn up slaughtered (and usually sliced, diced and julienned), Ovsanna puzzles over the motive for the killings. Meanwhile, Peter King interviews various individuals without getting much closer to a resolution of the case. Finally, Ovsanna “follows a hunch” to another city and a possible explanation that is never foreshadowed in any way. Detective King trails after her to enable him to be part of the pull-out-all-the-stops-and-sit-on-the-keyboard climax.

I don’t care for first-person narrators, as a rule, and Vampyres of Hollywood has two of them. The chapters alternate between Ovsanna and Peter, with an icon on the chapter heading to identify who is talking. The icons are useful, because except for the content, there is absolutely nothing to differentiate the two characters’ narrations. Ovsanna and Peter think alike, talk alike, appear to have identical attitudes, moods, and outlooks on life, and their narrative voices are indistinguishable. They even are both currently celibate with a preference for female partners. I had to pay close attention to keep track of whose adventures I was following in the chapter I was reading.

Because of the skeletal storyline and the dual narration, the chapters are stuffed with expository padding. Ovsanna constantly cuts to a sidebar to explain to us readers details about Vampyrism in general and her past specifically. Peter King rambles off only slightly less often on tangents about his mother’s connection to the film industry and his experiences as a Beverly Hills cop. There are a lot of clever jokes–Ovsanna seems to have known everyone who ever wrote literature or made movies even slightly related to vampires and had a front row seat for every major historical event. She even tells us something we didn’t know about the real fate of Jack the Ripper. But all the explanation becomes tedious, and I found myself skimming chunks of digression to get back to the story.

Like a low-budget horror movie, Vampyres of Hollywood is filled with flagrant contradictions it disdains to reconcile. Ovsanna is the “Chatelaine of Hollywood,” but she seems relatively powerless when the other Vampyres of Hollywood appear at her home and warn her to resolve the situation or else. The Vampyres in the story are supposedly born as they are, yet at the same time, they can “turn” human beings into Vampyres. The relationship between Ovsanna and the murder victims is inconsistent, and sometimes tenuous. When we finally learn who is behind the killings, they still don’t make a lot of sense. Ovsanna is warned that she is putting Vampyres at risk of exposure, but nothing she does could possibly attract more attention than a string of horrendous homicides. Contradictions like this tend to haunt derivative stories. Vampyres of Hollywood owes a heavy debt to author Kim Newman (Anno Dracula, The Bloody Red Baron) and the fictional universe of Vampyres: The Masquerade and its “vampire clans.” I also detected loud pounding echoes of the movies Death Becomes Her (1992), Fright Night (1985) and Quentin Tarantino’s repellent From Dusk Till Dawn (1996).

But critiquing a book like this one too closely is like printing nutritional information on a tub of movie popcorn. Vampyres of Hollywood follows the predictable roller-coaster ride of every low-budget creature feature, especially the ending. If you’re knowledgeable about vampires and movies, you’ll enjoy collecting the trivia references and sly jokes. You probably won’t want to read this one on your lunch break, but if you have a beach vacation coming up, Vampyres of Hollywood is lively, undemanding entertainment.

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