I can testify with certainty that life exists beyond death. I died 500 years ago, and I am still receiving bills for water and property taxes. That seems compelling evidence that I, the vampire Baron Yörg, still live. And though I gladly ravage and obliterate all that is pure, tender and sacrosanct in this world, I still cannot get the tax appraisal district to cease annoying me. No matter how many of them I slaughter, more arise like grubs from beneath a slimy stone. This aggravates me enough to consider falling upon a sharply pruned dwarf holly tree and ending my existence, but one pleasure sustains me. I adore films, and I cherish the opportunity to share my observations about them.

Today I shall discuss The Princess Bride, a modest film released a generation ago that somehow has sustained a cult following. The film is not without charms, I admit. Yet does it merit the ongoing acclaim awarded it by romantics and people who perhaps believe in unicorns and chivalry?

To begin, I am refreshed to find that the story’s hero, The Dread Pirate Roberts, has ordered the murder of dozens of helpless prisoners, and himself has likely killed a good number of unarmed men begging for their lives. He rises above the mass of insipid protagonists who save maidens, fight evil sheriffs, or perhaps fail to kill anyone at all. Though Roberts does not delve into any significant wickedness, he obviously enjoys the pain of others, and the film profits by that in my estimation. Roberts fails to impress when he allows the whining Spaniard and the unintelligible giant to live, but he excels in his lack of emotion. Indeed, though he declares the princess to be his true love, he never shows any greater emotion towards her than he would towards a bowl of tasty mutton stew.

Lest my praise become overblown, I must complain that most of the actors cast in this film are far too pretty. Florin and Guilder appear to be medieval kingdoms, so the main characters should have less than two dozen teeth between them. This shook my suspension of disbelief, as did the general cleanliness and the absence of warts. Just a few pox-ridden wretches in the gutters would have suggested misery and filth, but the filmmakers could not be bothered with even that effort.

That disappointment is compounded by the so-called villains in this film. Prince Humperdinck is nothing but a pathetic string-puller. He does not deserve to be called a villain, and indeed hardly deserves to be called a sentient being. Count Rugen fares no better. He dresses like a Florentine haberdasher on his way to the opera, and no number of extra fingers can overcome so much brocade when it comes to unleashing bowel-loosening terror. And of course the man allows himself to be slain by a melancholy Spaniard, which removes all doubt that he is nothing but a sack of table scraps with a goatee.

Allow me to move on to one of the film’s shining aspects. I of course refer to the Fire Swamp. When Roberts and the princess explore this charming locale, they infuse the middle of the film with energy and a profound sense of fun. When the fire spout set the princess ablaze I felt a satisfying glow, and when the sand smothered her I almost smiled. By the time the last Rodent of Unusual Size had been slain, my henchman Nodwick had prostrated himself to beg for a renovation to his quarters. That dank, leech-infested cupboard was no longer his ideal domicile. In an act of mercy I am ashamed to relate, I granted his request by tossing a diseased rat and a shovelful of sand on him one night as he slept.  

The Princess Bride includes only three deaths, and one of them does not count since Roberts pops right back to life a few minutes later. That is a paltry number of deaths by anyone ’s standards. If no more people than that are to be slain, one might as well watch Pride and Prejudice. Rugen’s death almost fails to signify as a death at all, since he is so lacking in consequence. Yet Vizzini’s death produces odd satisfaction. He is an annoying, petty toad of a man, and would in fact make an ideal bug-eater. Something about his tone of voice inspires thoughts of ripping off his feet and making him wear them like earrings. Thus I feel that Vizzini’s death equates to five or six killings for entertainment purposes, and I am inclined to judge the film a bit more leniently.

Other aspects of the film contest with one another, some disappointing and others charming. Rugen’s torture device is laughable. No villain with any imagination would name a torture device The Machine. What an insipid name. Strap a man to a device called The Water-Powered Testicle Crusher, and then you will see him talk. Contrariwise, any film that includes a blazing, levitating giant who bellows in what might or might not be some human language is a film to be reckoned with.

The Princess Bride’s many charms offset its failures, but it’s greatest flaw is its artistic vision. The filmmakers chose True Love as their theme, and the story whirls inconsequentially around that concept. They ignored many weightier messages already in the film and begging for exploration: The Blind Cruelty of Revenge, The Uncaring Greed of Kidnapping, and The Nether-Tingling Nastiness of Torture. These are the issues that will enlighten, educate, and entertain. Even the filmmakers must have known this on some level, since they chose a pale dimwit with a speech impediment to extol True Love’s fine qualities during the wedding scene.

At the end, when all things are measured out and damnation is visited upon the deserving, how do I assess this film? It entertained me, but it missed so many opportunities to accomplish so much more. I give The Princess Bride two horrific depredations visited upon the innocent, out of five.

Off to another charming day of murdering innocent sailors. Don't wait up, darling!

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These are times of identity crisis for vampires. Human beings envision us in so many ways that on occasion we become confused. The “tortured undead creature” identity has gained popularity. Vampires have long been considered romantic, but this entity is deemed a safe boyfriend even for troubled young girls. He may even bring corsages, or appear embarrassed by flecks of blood on his collar from a recent victim.

The “appalling fiend” vampire remains a popular identity. Through him, humans fantasize about inflicting wicked but non-specific pain upon employers, rude tradesmen, and annoying relations. This identity provides men a visceral image of the Undead Lord, without forcing upon them any awareness of the geysers of blood or internal organs hurled about during the murder and devouring of human prey.

The traditional “vicious, throat-tearing monster” has fallen out of favor in this diluted, watercolor world of people who tremble lest they violate a rule. This creature is a being of gore and terror, and humans fear to embrace him as once they did. One cannot expect better of a culture in which meat arrives in tidy, prepared packets, so that people may pretend the animal was not ripped apart so that they could eat it.

I, Baron Yörg, heap contempt upon all these images. I do not embrace an identity, for I am a vampire drenched in tradition. I am a faith-shattering rapist of the human soul, and I visit annihilation upon any creature that dares not recognize my full horrific being. Put starkly, I am a vampire of the ancient mark. And I really love movies.

Today I shall review one of the most beloved films of the past 50 years—Star Wars. I refer to the initial film, which has subsequently been recast as “Episode Four: A New Hope.” The filmmakers of course did not explain the movie’s episode number when it was released. Had they done so, I suspect it would have been, “Episode 4: I Hope to Christ Someone Pays to See This Retread of Every Hero Story Told Throughout History So That I Don’t Lose My Ass.”

Allow me to begin with the central character, Darth Vader. Some might object that one of the punier, insipid characters serves as protagonist, but such assertions merit nothing but scorn. Vader appears first in the film. Vader propels the entire story—without him Luke and the rest might as well remain in the cantina drinking and vomiting for the balance of eternity. Vader is the only one who dresses with a solitary shred of dignity. Of course he is the central character.

Vader carries with him an admirable presence, and one may readily identify with his motivations and goals. I myself once obliterated five thousand uncooperative and malodorous peasants. I thus understand Vader’s annoyance with an entire populace of rebels flitting about in spacecraft like flies around a heap of excrement. And I almost smiled when Vader choked that surly insect of an officer, though I did experience disappointment when the man’s head failed to fly off and roll about on the conference table.

Yet Darth Vader somehow falls short of truly visceral menace of the type that promises imponderable obliteration to all his enemies. I am convinced that the problem is the Force. It has a flavorless and pathetic name. It puts one in mind of names such as Norm and Abner. To say that Vader uses the “Dark Side” fails to resolve this. “The Dark Side of the Force” sounds no more threatening than “The Dark Side of Abner.” And in fact Vader’s powers seem rather lacking. Yes, he can choke an obsequious and obviously impotent soldier, and he can sense the presence of a geriatric Jedi, but how would Vader fare when attacked by 500 rabid bats with a wolf dangling from his manhood?

I shall now proceed to the other characters. While in themselves they seem somewhat pedestrian, they do provide effective foils against which Darth Vader may strive. As a group they mesh well, in the manner of a band of tawdry street performers that I observed juggling and dropping their breeches for  bread crusts in Prague two centuries ago. Princess Leia exhibits the greatest spirit. I shall not deign to address her hair. That has heretofore been done by thousands, even by reviewers capable of no more than uttering obscenities and sucking breakfast from their teeth. Leia exhibits rudimentary leadership qualities, and she might have led her cohorts to accomplish greater things had she better material with which to work.

Han Solo drips with the sort of arrogance I have seen hundreds of times, the type that invariably thrusts its owner into an untimely, shallow grave, thence to be exhumed and devoured by the unclean beasts of the forest. The fact that Solo survives until the end of the film provided the greatest assault upon my suspension of disbelief, more so even than otherworldly life and interplanetary travel. Should I ever meet Mr. Ford, I fear I must slay him forthwith merely to preserve my sense of order in the universe.

I find Obi-Wan Kenobi to be a tiresome character. The mountains and deserts of our world writhe with such wise hermits migrating about seeking gullible farm boys. They cultivate mysterious ways of speaking, grow beards that would embarrass a diseased yak-merchant, and adopt unpronounceable names to seduce the unwary into expeditions from which they rarely return. As it is on Earth, so it apparently is on Tattooine. When Vader vanquished Obi-Wan on the Death Star I grinned, and my henchman Nodwick chortled until he blew popcorn out his nose.

The wookie, Chewbacca, inspired sincere enjoyment in me. I found his impassioned groaning rather compelling, and reminiscent of a team of oxen as they are beaten by a drunken gypsy late for the Feast of Wine and Cheap Trinkets. For thirty years I pondered the concept of replacing my wolves with such creatures, but I ultimately dismissed the notion. There is simply no good way to groom them.

From a sense of obligation to the concept of completeness, I feel compelled to mention the “droids.” I find them profoundly disgusting. Could I erase them from the memory of man, surely I should do so. Not a drop of blood between them. Appalling.

This leads us to Luke Skywalker, whom some fools claim to be the prime figure in this tale. Luke whines. Luke is short and dresses like a dead Frenchman in a gutter. Luke listens to voices in his head and kisses his sister in a more than familial manner. I need say nothing further about this repellant toad of a farm hand.

The Star Wars special effects seem primitive when ranked beside today’s films. Yet when Star Wars was released, audiences had never seen anything like it. When Obi-Wan entered the cantina, Nodwick thought he saw three of his cousins. The star destroyers appeared staggeringly huge. The light sabers looked unbearably foolish, but they were so entertaining that one did not care. The area under Luke’s speeder on Tattooine looked as if it had been rendered by the eraser on a herculean pencil, but I concede that is a quibble. On the balance, anyone unmoved the Star Wars effects in 1977 should have returned to watching Petticoat Junction reruns and eating Cream of Wheat.

One cannot discuss Star Wars without mentioning the climactic battle around the Death Star. I could not wish for a lovelier array of carnage. Rebel pilots are smashed and incinerated on all hands, first by the Death Star itself and then by the ugly little Imperial fighters. When Luke and his fellow malcontents descend into the trench they are quite properly obliterated one after another. I found myself nodding with satisfaction, especially when Vader arrives and prepares to hurl a bolt of laser fire directly into Luke’s brain.

As an aside, Princess Leia and her cronies at this juncture are observing a technical display that shows how soon their own destruction shall arrive. That display appears a bit primitive. In fact, I have seen more sophisticated piles of gravel. The filmmakers exerted themselves to make the Death Star appear 500 miles across. One would think they might have spared an hour to make this display look better than something Howdy Doody might wear on his wrist.

I make no objection to Obi-Wan speaking to Luke from beyond death. In my experience, this sort of thing happens upon occasion. When he tells Luke to trust his feelings and turn off his targeting computer I do not feel surprise. This is precisely the sort of advice we should expect from charlatan of Obi-Wan’s ilk. But when Luke follows this laughable advice and still annihilates the Death Star, against every shred of reason that the human mind can encompass—well, let us say that I left the theater downcast, and that Nodwick had a rather bad time of it for the next few days.

When all things are brought to conclusion, how shall I assess this film? Despite the merest of limitations, Darth Vader earned my admiration as the prime mover of this tale. I feel he is one of my few fellow purveyors of evil whom I might not destroy out of hand should our paths coincide. His foes, the Circus of Fumbling Dimwits, collectively provide him a counterpoint and demonstrate how Vader is powerful in all the ways that they are inept. I cannot love them for it, but I can despise them marginally less. But ultimately we must admit that any film in which millions of voices suddenly cry out in terror and are suddenly silenced, is a film to be savored. I therefore am gratified to render unto Star Wars four unholy violations of the sacred heart of man, out of five.