Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Mummy – review

Director: Alex Kurtzman

Release date: 2017

Contains spoilers

This was the second false start of the Universal monsters’ reboot (dubbed Dark Universe). The first attempt, Dracula Untold, was so unsuccessful that it was allegedly dropped from the continuity. This did not set the cinematic world alight and the Dark Universe again looked unlikely. One issue was the push in both of these films at the action adventure, rather than horror. Whilst they can be used in various ways, the classic monsters are not superheroes or even supervillains – they are monsters and Universal lost sight of that.

So just covering off the idea that this is a Mummy film, and therefore not a vampire film. This might be right in the traditional sense, of course, but a Mummy is undead and, in this case, we get definitive energy vampirism as well. So… mummy and energy vampire and… Tom Cruise (Interview with the Vampire)…

the dagger
But before we go to Tom the film itself begins with a group of crusader knights burying a mystical gem in one of their sarcophagi in England. The burial chamber is uncovered during the Cross-rail project. We also go to Egypt and hear about Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) – the only child of the Pharaoh she was destined to rule Egypt… that was until he had a son through a second wife. She decided to turn to the God Set and pledged herself – he made her immortal and she was to have him incarnate in flesh through a sacrifice with a magic blade (of which the earlier seen gem was part of). She killed her family but was stopped by priests, mummified alive and taken to a tomb in Mesopotamia.

Tom Cruise as Nick
Mesopotamia is, of course, mostly modern-day Iraq and Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) is part of the US military who is meant to be on long range reconnaissance with Sgt Vail (Jake Johnson, the Lego Movie). However they are investigating a village, 100 clicks astray, in order to try and steal and sell antiquities. The village is full of insurgents and Vail smartly suggests leaving but Nick cuts his water bag and leads him into the village – they are soon under fire. Vail calls in an airstrike, scaring off the insurgents and also revealing a huge underground chamber.

This leads to archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) coming to the town – Nick stole the map to the village off her after sleeping with her – and, of course, army superiors. Short story, shorter – they go down into the cavern and find the sarcophagus of Ahmanet sunk in apotropaic mercury and the sarcophagus is taken and then the plane they are on being forced to crash in England (at a church where the dagger of Set is held in a reliquary. Essentially Nick has been chosen by the immortal Ahmanet as the vessel to be possessed by Set and, if successful, the personification of evil will walk the earth… that really covers the main story.

killed with a kiss
Ahmanet is not in great shape when the plane crashes, a shrivelled husk of a corpse. However she is animate and soon starts drawing the life from victims through the mouth (in a kiss like fashion), which restores her to being fit and in fine fettle. The victims shrivel up and one is reminded of Lifeforce. Though they become animated there are two difference from the earlier film; firstly they do not feed on lifeforce themselves and secondly it would appear that she can animate the dead at will – later she animates corpses that are long dead and not her victims.

Jake Johnson as Vail
She is tremendously strong and has a range of magical powers; for instance summoning sandstorms, remotely smashing glass (presumably due to its sand content) and controlling spiders, rats and crows. And it is the control over the “meaner” animals that is reminiscent of vampires (especially Dracula) as well as the vampiric feeding. Pitched against her is a secret society run by Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) and the addition of Jekyll was a detail too much, to some extent, though clearly done to aid the “universe building”.

The effects were as good as one would expect and it wasn’t a bad actioner but it missed out on the humour that Brendan Fraser imbued into the 1999 Mummy film. It was also missing the whole horror element (as occurred with the previous Dracula Untold). People have an issue with Tom Cruise but, honestly, he did alright with what he had… but what he had was very little. The characters were entirely two-dimensional and we felt no sympathy for them because of it. Ultimately Morton is a bit of a dick – he puts friends at risk, uses people, is a thief and that isn’t the makings of a hero or enough for him to be an anti-hero (honestly, they rounded all that better in Dracula Untold). And that is where the film stumbles and falls. 5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK

Thursday, January 17, 2019

World of Darkness: The Documentary – review

Director: Giles Alderson

Release date: 2017

This is a documentary that charts the life so far of World of Darkness, from the White Wolf Magazine, the conception of Vampire the Masquerade (VtM), the subsequent LARP and expanding universe and moves forward to the on-again off-again MMORPG.

Over-all it is an interesting documentary that leaves too much hidden behind the masquerade and, whilst there is no doubt that the game had a massive impact on the vampire genre perhaps over-inflates its own creative aspect. I’ll explain.

The film runs through a potted chronology and perhaps, in doing so, bites off more than it can chew (hence thinking that much remains hidden). A documentary could be filmed of each aspect – the business side, the creative side, the cultural impact and the fans. Probably one of the more interesting aspects was looking at the LARPers and their creative and fan side. Some of the makeup/costume work on display was wonderful – Andreas the Nosferatu, for instance.

founders of White Wolf
So, as the film barrelled headlong through 90 minutes we hear of the split that caused primary game creator Mark Rein-Hagen to be sacked – but no real detail, he felt bad about it but there was no commentary from other prime movers about their feelings or motivation and no real reason (other than his office didn’t seem to be making money). Perhaps that was it, money, and we might assume that is why the company sued their fan club over the use of the word Camarilla – but there was no real depth exploring that. In fact, when the short-lived TV series Kindred the Embraced was mentioned the cancellation due to the tragic death of the lead actor was not touched on.

Of course, we get talking heads through the film, but again we get an ‘expert’ who suggested that Dracula made the vampire appealing and seductive – there were of course examples pre-Dracula and I would say it was less Dracula, which did that, and more the subsequent plays/films that altered the character and dynamics away from those of the book but in a way that is now mistakenly assumed to be from the book.

The mythologizing starts early on when there is a suggestion that pre VtM role play was firmly a fantasy genre thing rather than horror. This ignores Call of Cthulhu, of course. That said, White Wolf’s influence on the genre should not be understated and when discussing True Blood and its similarities to VtM the use of Cain as a source of vampirism is mentioned, which was – as far as I can tell – a pure VtM invention, but many now mistakenly believe to be long standing mythology. However, whilst there were definite similarities between VtM and Underworld, to suggest that White Wolf invented the struggle between werewolf and vampire is plain old wrong. Incidentally White Wolf sued the filmmakers (an action that was settled), so perhaps money above all else is the answer. The gothic-punk aesthetic of VtM did influence the genre, no doubt, but VtM did not invent that aesthetic, rather strands of that aesthetic were already out there. Illustrator Tim Bradstreet undoubtedly had a massive impact with the look he offered the game but says himself that he based it on real people. In all things the vampire genre is one that takes, borrows and recycles, and always has done. VtM was just part of that process.

Overall, I’d have liked more depth and more analysis – though covering all aspects and influences probably demanded a shallower film due to time constraints – interesting nonetheless. 5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Honourable mention: Night Thirst

This was a 2002 horror portmanteau film directed by Jon McBride, John Polonia and Mark Polonia. I spotted it on Amazon video and, when I noticed the involvement of the Polonia brothers my heart fell. Whilst I haven’t seen much of their work we know them at TMtV for the utterly awful How to Slay a Vampire and that was more than enough.

However, I watch the films so you don’t have to and this purported to feature a vampire. As things go that happens to be in the wraparound section and is thus a bit of a fleeting visitation. The actual segments feature various horror tropes but they aren’t particularly wonderful – if you intend to watch this for the vampire in the wraparound you have been warned.

Jeff Dylan Graham as Jerome
Anyway, for the wraparound, we have already seen a drifter called Van Roth (Jon McBride) walking down the road. We then find ourselves with Jerome (Jeff Dylan Graham, Cremains, Blood legend & Bloodsucking Redneck Vampires) playing a really old video game. He stops, goes to close the garage and something is moving out there. Anyway, he doesn’t find whatever it is and has a bit of a fight with a garbage bag, as you do.

Van Roth knocks on his door and asks to use the phone as his truck has broken down. The rescue will be a while so he asks if he can hang, mentions the “night thirst” and the stories he then tells are the segments. By the end he reveals he has the night thirst as he is a vampire and Jerome isn’t shocked – he’d already spotted the lack of a shadow… and he has his own secret anyway. And that’s it. A Fleeting visitation of a vampire (unaffected by sunlight, as we see him walking in the day, but casting no reflection).

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Short Film: Monsters Anonymous

This short film, directed by Jeremy London, was released in 2016 and comes in at around the 20-minute mark. It is a veritable Monster mash with all the favourites; Dracula (Brian O'Halloran), the Wolfman (Brent Phillip Henry, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter), Dusty – the Mummy (Christopher Hall), Frank (Daniel Levy) a (deliberately) misnamed Frankenstein’s Monster and his Bride (Sheenan Cole).

As well as the classics as listed we also get brief appearances by the Devil (Jason Robbins), the Blair Witch (Juliet Reeves London, also Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter) and a horde of zombies.

Brian O'Halloran as Dracula
For the majority of the film, however, we are at the Kavorkian Rehabilitation and Permanent Pain Relief Centre where the monsters are receiving group therapy. We actually see Dracula first, getting a warm glass of blood. As things go on, we get the undeniable impression that Dracula and the Wolfman do not get on. The Underworld movies are mentioned – though Dracula calls them unrealistic.

wolfman, Frank and Dracula
The crux of the matter is that the monsters are in therapy as they just don’t seem to be scary any more. Dracula pinpoints the malaise with the coming of Anne Rice’s books but, as you would expect, sparkling gets mentioned. On the other hand, as the Bride of Frankenstein points out, they are now legends in their own right and that can’t be taken away from them.

The makeup for this is rather well done and the actors are clearly having fun – though ultimately there is little story, just a round of jokes and an observation on the changing face of horror films. Incidentally, it becomes clear that Dusty is an energy vampire – saying at one point that the last soul he absorbed was that of a redhead. There is a section worked through the end credits that treads ground also explored in the Monster Club about the monstrous nature of humanity.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Friday, January 11, 2019

Playing with Tropes: Cannibal

This is a 2010 film directed by Benjamin Viré and whilst not a vampire film per se it has a level of ambiguity woven within it and definitely touches on one of the major tropes of the genre. It also plays with the concept of mental health impairment – in this case agoraphobia. However this is not a fear of open spaces so much as the actuality of agoraphobia, a form of anxiety that leads the sufferer to avoid situations, including social ones, where it might make escape impossible. This can translate to not leaving one’s home but not necessarily so.

The sufferer in this is Max (Nicolas Gob) a young man who lives in a secluded house by a woodland and spends most of his days practicing his golf swing in the woods. We see his agoraphobia in full swing when he hides in his house when his brother calls – refusing to interact. He is not entirely cut off from social contact – we later see that he does interact with a taciturn hunter. We also eventually learn that his condition is as a result of the very ropey criminal life he used to lead.

Max and Bianca
When he is out with his club one day, he finds a bloodied girl (Helena Coppejans, Raw) lying in the wood – who at first glimpse appears dead. He picks her up and carries her home. She isn’t dead, however, though she doesn’t give her name (he suggests that she looks like a Bianca and that is her name through the film, thereafter). We also see some wrong ‘uns who are dispatched to find a girl who has been 'lost'.

in the woods
Bianca leaves the house in the night and Max follows her, catching her in a car with a man and she is eating him alive. Max becomes an accomplice as he disposes of the body and removes the car from the area (being picked up by the hunter to get back to his home). He starts to fall for the girl and the relationship is one partially of love, partially of fear and partially of servitude. He takes her to a dogging area at one point and finds her in a town’s graveyard during the day and, again, helps dispose of the corpse she leaves behind. In many ways then he becomes a Renfield equivalent. We know he has a mental health impairment (Renfield was, of course, portrayed as a lunatic) but this is not key, more apropos is the devotion and servitude (which is almost chosen) that is displayed.

consumption in the graveyard
This is not the big trope, however. That comes in the actions of Bianca. She has entirely conflated love (and the act of intimacy) with the act of consumption. The times we see her feed she is in a sexual situation. When we see her hunt, if I can call it that, it is through flirtation and sexuality. This is akin to both the vamp of early cinema and the sexually driven vampire of the later genre. When she and Max actually get close to intimacy she is biting at his flesh (though she doesn’t break the skin) as though she is unable to break the connection between the act of love and the act of feeding.

Why she is like this we do not know. The bad guys, who eventually kidnap her and force Max to return to civilisation and face his past, use her as entertainment – consuming the losers of illegal cage fights. They are described as gypsies and, of course, there is often a use of gypsy characters in the genre too. Yet the film leaves much to imagination and guesswork. As for the film itself, well it is a love story more than a horror but a darkly drawn one. The colour-scale used was, perhaps, ill advised – too washed out, perhaps, in the first half of the film, pulling further back to black and white later, with flashes of colour in the feeding and the love (again conflating the two). The pace is languid, the story obscured, the dialogue unusual and some of the interactions less then explained, but it does play with genre tropes – love and consumption and the vampire’s servant.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon UK

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Ekimmu: The Dead Lust – review

Director: Andy Koontz

Release date: 2017

Contains spoilers

This film appeared on Amazon Prime Videos and the picture of fangs accompanying the film there caught my attention – as you would imagine. I also knew the name Ekimmu, and suspected it was a vampire type. A quick peruse of Bane’s Encylopedia of Vampire Mythology was in order. (Incidentally, you’ll see me refer to Bane a lot. It isn’t perfect, by any stretch, is expensive and certainly takes a very wide view of what might be constituted a vampire. It is, however, one of the better starting point resources for comparative folklore with a vampiric twist.)

Bane says Ekimmu is a variant of Ekimmou and it “is bitter and angry, doomed to stalk the earth, unable to find peace, desperately wanting to live again. Ghostlike in appearance, it attacks humans relentlessly until they are dead.” It goes on to say “One is created when burial procedures are not followed” (amongst other causes). Director Andy Koontz actually encapsulates some of this within this film.

she's just a devil woman
However, I should also warn that Koontz also goes for some quite experimental filmmaking/storytelling and some of his decisions work better than others. We start off with a man, Steven (Jeff Argubright) at a barn shouting for the occupant, Hank (Brian Jones). Once he gets inside we get a confused story of missing girls being found but that did not include Steven’s daughter Sarah (Carissa Becker) who is still missing. Hank says that the cost was Sarah and his own daughter, Mary (Chloe Francis). Their souls are lost and they all (the townsfolk, one assumes) signed the oath in blood – producing a document. No one will ever find her, he says, she is now a ghost or spirit lost to lust and blood.

haunted by murder
The opening seemed quite cheaply made and is perhaps a tad superfluous. If it were missing, the film wouldn’t suffer and it isn’t properly referred back to in the later film. We then get scenes that seem unrelated. A new couple, Mike (Ethan Hoyt) and Beth (Chloe Francis), very much in love and getting engaged (with a necklace, not a ring) – there was some strange distortion to their dialogue. We see a scene of murder in the snow. We see a demon woman who appears writhing at the camera at various moments – unfortunately her dialogue was pretty distorted to the point of being incomprehensible. We see Eli (Andy Koontz) kill himself.

Beth and Mike
Mike awakes, sat in a chair, clutching at his chest… Beth receives a letter at college from Mike. He has been doing their new home up and will pick her up at the station. Driving to get her, the car suddenly breaks down at a garage. It is run by Hank, who takes a look at the car whilst he rings Beth – managing to say he’ll be late before the call cuts out. Hank tells him that there is nothing wrong with the car and he is able to drive away. He picks Beth up but it is dark as they drive home and the car stops again. He is having a frustrated cigarette when a girl appears at Beth’s window covered in blood. In the woods we hear a man shouting for her. It is Sarah. Thinking her attacked, they drive away with her (in the now working car). It was Steven who was shouting for her.

the ekimmu
Having stopped at the now closed garage to use a phone (it doesn’t work) and avoiding Steven again, they end up waking in the car to find Sarah gone. They go home and go to bed. Mike wakes and hears Beth in the shower. He potters around and then goes to the bathroom, pulls back the curtain… it is Sarah. Just as Beth gets home and falls into a jealous rage (saying that he clearly wants Sarah) and storming off. Sarah does then try it on with him, he rebuffs and when Beth gets home she finds him beaten on the floor (the contusion on his head, herein, looks very false).

Anyway – lets cut to it. Sarah seduces Beth (in the shower) and awakens her memory of being Mary – the two women go off. It also becomes clear that Mike is Eli and he was a serial killer who killed the two girls. How this rebirth works is not explained. Steven reveals that Sarah died 18 years ago (and Eli must have died after her) but both Mike and Beth seem clearly older than 18 so reincarnation would seem out, so are they possessed with the spirits of the dead? It doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme. It is suggested that the girls (or Sarah at least) come back periodically and kill. They attack men to avenge themselves but Eli/Mike is a particular target. How this fit in with the devil and the townsfolk's oath... well, I just wasn’t clear.

Given the narrative gaps you’d have thought I’d have hated this. But it wasn’t actually too bad at all. Some of the acting was atrocious and most was amateurish but the direction offered an off-kilter edge that carried me along. The transformation of the girls into vampires (or ekimmu) seems to have been caused by incorrect burial (they are in a shallow grave in the woods). They are not restricted to night time and we see them in daylight (indeed we see them hunt the day). They do seem to be able to become incorporeal.

Surreal, yes. Low budget, definitely. Flawed, absolutely. But even so, it had something. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Monday, January 07, 2019

Honourable Mention: Ripper Street: A White World Made Red

I’d not, before this season 4 episode, watched any Ripper Street – a detective series set in Whitechapel at the end of the 19th Century. However my wife is a fan and had mentioned this episode to me and it came up in a chapter of Dracula an International perspective. In that volume it is described thusly: “The theme {connecting Dracula with the Ripper} was made even clearer through television’s Ripper Street episode, A White World Made Red set in 1897, the year of Dracula’s publication. In the story a vampire stalks the East End…” (P119).

Janice Byrne as Agniezka
Unfortunately, this isn’t correct. Whilst we get exsanguination, Stoker’s novel and the play of one of the fictional vampire tropes it is never suggested that a vampire stalks the East End. Rather we have a crime to be solved by series regulars Det Insp Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) and Set Sgt Drake (Jerome Flynn), along with American soldier/surgeon Jackson (Adam Rothenberg). We start with a woman, Agniezka (Janice Byrne), stood on an East End street. She is approached by a girl (Emelia Devlin) who leads her to a building. In a room a man is hung upsode down and she screams…

finding the dead
The room is an abattoir’s cold storage room and the police are called as the man is hung and exsanguinated. Blood is in a bucket below him. However, they realise that there was more to the scene than this and find Agniezka. As Jackson investigates he realises that the man was not killed by the exsanguination – he was actually executed by hanging (in prison) and his stolen corpse exsanguinated. Agniezka died from organ failure and had not been exsanguinated.

Emelia Devlin as the girl
Eventually we discover that the man had been in prison, where his blood had been taken and it was discovered (with very rough experimentation – bearing in mind that this is before blood typing) that it matched with the young girl’s blood. It was another Polish seamstress Magdalena (Julia Rosnowska) who was supposed to go to the rendezvous. Not realising that her specific blood was key she sent a friend in her place, actually to help the friend out. The girl has inherited porphyria and her disgraced Doctor father (Dylan Smith) is trying experimental transfusions to help her.

reading Dracula
The thing is, there is no connection in the episode made with the exsanguination, porphyria and vampirism. Any genre connection is made through Reid’s daughter, Mathilda (Anna Burnett), reading Dracula. We do get the line about 'blood is the life' as a further oblique connection. Where the episode made no sense was that there seemed no reason to transfuse (and thus kill) Agniezka, unless it was to see whether the blood of the dead could be transfused into the living… Indeed one wonders why the doctor felt he needed Magdalena when he had the fresh corpse (or why he needed the corpse when he had access to the living woman)?

bucket of blood
Nevertheless, whilst there is no historic connection between porphyria and vampirism, it is a sometimes-used trope in vampire films. The connection to Dracula is also interesting (and the rapid death of Agniezka might have been exaggerated but almost speaks to Lucy’s transfusions and the idea in some reworkings of the Dracula story that it was they, not Dracula, that killed her). In short this is of genre interest but at no point is it suggested that a vampire is haunting the East End.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK