26th Sep2018

‘Crucible of the Vampire’ Graphic Novel Review

by Phil Wheat

Graphic novel by Iain Ross-McNamee | Written by Iain Ross-McNamee, John Wolkskel, Darren Lake | Format: A4 Paperback, 120pp

Crucible-of-the-Vampire-Cover

This is an odd review for me… You see, when I was asked, following my review of the film from its Berlinale screening back in February, if I’d like to review the graphic novel adaptation of Crucible of the Vampire I jumped at the chance, excited to see how the story, which takes cues from classic British horror of old like the films of Hammer and Tigon, would translate into another medium. After all, there have been some FANTASTIC horror comics over the years, including film adaptations that have gone from comic to movie and movie to comic – adaptations like Tales From the Crypt, which translated the old EC stories to the screen; and the likes of Army of Darkness, which has kept that particular slice of the Evil Dead universe alive in print well after the film franchise ended.

But what landed on my doorstep was less of a graphic novel adaptation of Crucible of the Vampire and something more akin to the photo novels of the 70s and early 80s; a format which has since faded into obscurity but is revived here, much like the filmmakers set out to revive Hammer-esque gothic horror with the film – using the power of Photoshop to give the movies very own frames that “hand-drawn” look. And whilst the idea of a photo novel is just that, novel, reviewing the book having seen the film already makes for a very difficult time. Mainly because whilst the story translates well into a new medium, the overall sense of suspense and horror is lost in translation. As is the KEY thing I enjoyed about the film version of Crucible of the Vampire: the nuanced performances of the films two leading ladies.

For those that haven’t seen the film (which many won’t as despite securing representation from Screenbound Pictures, the film has yet to have an official release) Crucible of the Vampire sees Isabelle, a naive university researcher, sent to a foreboding, gothic manor house in rural Shropshire to verify that an ancient crucible is that of a Sorcerer from the 17th Century who was executed for bringing the dead back to life. As Katie delves further into the crucible’s history, it soon becomes apparent that the house holds more than one dark secret…

Interestingly, whilst I think the performances of the two lead actresses are lost in this adaptation, what is helped by the move to the page is the clunky opening sequence of the movie. Told in flashback the opening of Crucible of the Vampire is set in the 17thCentury, featuring a witchfinder punishing a so-called sorceror. Now that SHOULD have been a bold scene-setter for the rest of the film but instead it, thanks to some poor performances, lacked the power and the punch needed to open the film in such a shocking manner. However in photo novel form this sequence works much better, better than some of the rest of the story in fact! At times the choice of panels and the plethora of them too, often overwhelms the storytelling. You can really tell this graphic novel has been put together by filmmakers – comics often cut back on panels yet still tell a cohesive story; here it seems Iain Ross-McNamee and co. didn’t know what they could have left out in terms of imagery and still keep the story flowing (FYI: there’s only so many panels of characters walking down a corridor can you have in one book).

There have been comments elsewhere that the Crucible of the Vampire graphic novel also suffers from bad speech bubble placement and a badly-chosen font and whilst I agree that both are something of a letdown compared to the rest of the book, I don’t think they detract as much as has been made out. What isn’t a letdown is the extras that come with the limited first edition of the book: an A3 poster of the cover, which is in fact art by The Walking Dead‘s Charlie Adlard; PLUS a fold-out map of the are in which this story is set. Two small touches, but touches that nonetheless add that little “extra” to a book whose real purpose is to sell the movie.

And the Crucible of the Vampire graphic novel does just that. It sells the original film very well, easily wetting audiences appetite for a film that is a fantastic throwback to old-school British horror with a modern twist. Which is what this book is too – a throwback to a format of yesteryear, updated through the use of modern technology. Making this a perfect pairing of book and movie IMHO.

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