Tuesday, June 18, 2024

A Darker Light – review


Director: Mark Allen Brown

First released: 1996

Contains spoilers

A direct to video film, not on IMDb but ghosting around on YouTube, this isn’t a great film – I need to put that out there. However, it is certainly one carried by its earnestness to the point that, if you like the amateur end of direct to video releases you will find something in it. I did, in truth, find one piece of lore groovy (if, ultimately, a bit silly). The filmmakers clearly tried as well, which is a commendation in and of itself.

After a blooming awful pre-film trailer, we get voices with a black screen, a woman asking if someone needs a ride and a scream. Images of body parts, and a vampire biting into an arm and then we are in the film proper. Glenn (Steve Knudsen) narrates talking about change and things falling apart. We see him arrive at a crime scene, a cop called Sean (Scott Van Heldt), has a word before he goes to photograph the corpse. Why? The murder victim is Glenn’s wife (also his sister has disappeared).

Scott Van Heldt as Sean

Sean is the central character. He goes off to solve the murder for his friend and we get a narration whilst we see the vampire character from the beginning. We also see another vampire emerge from a crate in the woods and hitch. It is daytime and the vampires are out and about and wearing sunglasses. Later we hear that vampires actually need the light but have to wear sunglasses to prevent the light entering their eyes and burning out their souls.

staking

This is the groovy lore, though it doesn’t stand scrutiny. OK, I could live with them being able to day walk if they protect their eyes but… why do they need the light? What did they do before sunglasses? It isn’t great lore when you think (I was going to say, “think too hard” but the lore doesn’t stand against a casual examination). Staking works also – we see Sean handcuff a vampire woman and then stake her (or at least we see the movement of the stake being thrust down.

fangs out

It appears at times that a bite turns but, at other times, the victim’s corpse is found and what makes the difference isn’t explained. You will have noticed I stopped with the run through the plot pretty early into this review. That’s because the story is very simple. Vampires hitch and increase numbers. Sean tracks them down. Glenn can’t accept the idea of vampires. There isn’t much more depth. The acting is amateur but earnest, the effects not brilliant but you can tell they tried, the direction is nothing to write home about but I have seen much, much worse. 2.5 out of 10.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Use of Tropes: The Northman


As I sit, anticipating Robert Eggers’ new version of Nosferatu, it felt the right time to revisit his earlier films. I am a huge fan of The VVitch and The Lighthouse and I really did enjoy the Northman but had only watched it the one time at the cinema.

Rewatching the 2022 film I noticed (remembered more so) that within the story of Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård, True Blood), whose father King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke, Daybreakers) is murdered by his Uncle Fjölnir the Brotherless (Claes Bang, Dracula), there is a vampire genre trope. Having escaped from his Uncle, he grows to be a berserker and then discovers that his Uncle, who has lost his stolen kingdom, is in Iceland.

draugr

Infiltrating as a slave, he aims to avenge his father and rescue his mother (Nicole Kidman) and is directed by a he-witch (Ingvar Sigurdsson) to a specific sword in a barrow. That sword is named as Draugr. Of course “the typical Scandinavian revenant, at least in the medieval period, was the reanimated corpse, or draugr, of a deceased individual” (Keyworth, 2007, p. 28). There might be some debate to their vampire nature (though not that they are restless, troublesome corpses). They are mentioned in detail within Bane’s Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology and, more classically, in the 1886 edition of Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, by Sabine Baring-Gould, there was reference to vampires (rather than use the word draugr) within the saga of Grettir. The draugr is often guarding a treasure or seeks to gain revenge and in this we see both the guarding of treasure and the desire for revenge.

The Mound Dweller

The guarding of treasure in this is by the Mound Dweller, an undead giant who holds the sword and who Amleth has to fight to gain it (though the fight may be hallucinatory as, on being defeated, the Mound Dweller reappears in his seat. It needs mentioning, however, that the film has a lot of Norse mysticism layered into it). The Mound Dweller is defeated by being paralysed by moonlight, allowing Amleth to behead him. The sword itself is, of course, the actual draugr (with the name being said to mean undead) but is used by Amleth for revenge fulfilling one of the purposes of a draugr. The sword can only be drawn at night or at the Gates of Hel and will not be drawn from its sheath during the day – giving it a curiously vampiric nature by having it hidden from the sun.

Alexander Skarsgård as Amleth

The story of the sword suggests that it is immortal (it never dulls) and the blade had to be quenched in human blood, in fact Amleth says that he “will enjoy feeding Draugr… …in everlasting night.” So, there are vampiric tropes around the blade and that, for me, makes the film of genre interest.

The imdb page is here.

On Blu-Ray @ Amazon US

On Blu-Ray @ Amazon UK

Friday, June 14, 2024

Handbook of the Vampire: The Bloody Countess Elizabeth Bathory


Written for Handbook of the Vampire by Cristina Santos the Chapter Page can be found here.

One of the early comments in this chapter that struck me was the fact that the Erzsébet Báthory story is one of the witch/vampire hybrid. This hybrid is found scattered throughout the megatext but I had never really looked at Báthory in that way. When pointed out, it is obvious. Not only is she (in many versions of the tale) aided by a woman versed in witchcraft but the whole bathing in blood to gain youth and vitality is certainly within the sphere of magic/witchcraft.

Santos looks at a variety of texts to explore the development of the mythologisation of the historical Báthory into the Bloody Countess – primarily prose, but also touching into both films and TV series that have reached into the myth. It was only after reading this, and considering this article, that it struck me that the author did not use the film Countess Dracula within the chapter; an omission given that the Hammer film likely brought the Báthory story to a generation of cinemagoers and the conflation of Báthory with Dracula in the title. The author looks at the way “his-stories” about the countess were constructed by those with power and a vested interest in her demonisation, which make the historical documentation complex. I will mention that the author does state that Gilles de Rais did not undergo a vampiric mythologisation (10), this is not entirely true. Whilst de Rais is considerably less well known, J K Huysmans (for instance) does liken De Rais to a vampire in his 1891 novel Là-Bas.

One thing I do like, when reading reference works on vampires, is to get new media to look at. Santos has put me on the track of the series American Horror Story: Coven and Salem, with aspects in them using that Báthory-like witch/vampire hybrid and the cosmetic use of or bathing in blood. Certainly, at the time I wrote this article, Coven had an instance of energy vampirism in the first episode (and the link above goes to my thoughts on the season). As for the essay, it was a very good read, it didn’t suffer from the missing Hammer film (I only thought of it after the fact) and the de Rais comment is minor. An excellent entry to the Handbook.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Sunrise – review


Director: Andrew Baird

Release date: 2024

Contains spoilers

It pains me when a film doesn’t live up to its potential and this certainly had a lot. Taking a premise that human evil is far worse than anything supernatural it gives us a stunningly despicable antagonist in the form of Reynolds (Guy Pearce, Ravenous), a dour atmosphere that works in the film’s favour but then fails to capitalise on it. Worst, the vampire aspect not only feels tagged on, it actually could be removed and you would have the same film just with a drifter with a grudge, rather than a vampire drifter with a grudge.

sacrifice

Intertitles tell us about a forest demon in the Pacific Northwest, kept sated through sacrifice by the indigenous folk for centuries, it could grant eternal life and, as the settlers came, they named it Red Coat. We then get a glimpse of a woman (Tamara Chanel White) tied to a tree, clearly a sacrifice and then a glimpse of the Red Coat, stood in the distance over something or someone. Then the film cuts to the real evil.

Guy Pearce as Reynolds

Reynolds is, from the moment we meet him, despicable. He is a racist thug with the cracked veneer of a businessman. At the head of the film he is racistly ranting at Mr Loi (Chike Chan), a Chinese farmer. Races don’t mix, suggests Reynolds and then threatens the man unless he signs over the deeds to his farm. Mr Loi stands and turns to walk away and Reynolds throws something at him, for the disrespect of turning his back on him, and then makes sure he is dead.

Crystal Yu as Yan

Three months later and his wife, Yan (Crystal Yu), doesn’t know whether her husband is alive or dead. Ed (William Gao), the older of her two children, is bullied at school and beaten for even looking at Rachel (Sophie Boldt) – this is coming from one of the male classmates, she doesn’t seem to mind but she is Reynolds' daughter making any attraction a recipe for disaster. The family are treated badly by all with Reynolds setting the culture. Perhaps the modern world needs such an in-your-face depiction of this societal evil.

Alex Pettyfer as Fallon

A figure, soon to be revealed as Fallon (Alex Pettyfer), comes staggering out of the woods. On the Loi farm a couple of Reynolds' men approach to firebomb the house. They drop the Molotov, unlit, when the dog starts barking. They’ve gone when the Lois come outside but Ed spots movement in the shadow. The derelict man is there and Ed knocks him out. Yan makes him help her bring him inside. When he comes round he tells Ed he needs blood and the young man bleeds a chicken into a bowl and Fallon drinks it.

drinking animal blood

So Fallon is our vampire but it is underplayed. With a title like Sunrise, you’d expect a sun impact – there isn’t one, nor are there fangs. We eventually discover that, ten years before, Reynolds' mother (Olwen Fouéré) – a racist like her son but obsessed with voodoo, as Reynolds calls it, though it is more appeasement of Red Coat – sacrificed Fallon and his wife (the woman from the head of the film) after Reynolds attacked the (then English born sheriff) after Fallon made enquiries about a domestic disturbance report involving Reynolds' wife. The Red Coat (only seen in silhouette and shade mostly) feeds from her and then feeds the dying Fallon its blood.

William Gao as Ed

Fallon has come for revenge (and thus helps the family) and there was a telling bit when Ed accuses the vampire of not knowing what it is like to be an outsider – ironic not just because officer Fallon was just that but because, of course, the vampire is the ultimate outsider. He doesn’t do much vampiric stuff though. He drinks animal blood from a bowl, he walks into the ill Ma Reynolds room but actually leaves and it is implied that the Red Coat does the killing and he bites Reynolds (causing the racist to not be able to stand normal drink, i.e. he is becoming a vampire too). This is what I mean by being able to strip the vampire aspect away – it wouldn’t really have changed anything.

Olwen Fouéré as Reynolds mother

Pearce is always a good turn and, whilst his character is irredeemable, his performance is as good as you’d expect. He gets the lion share of the script and some interesting insinuations (such as an insinuation of incest with, or at least Oedipal longings for, his mother). Fallon, on the other hand, broods ever so stoically. His story is in flashbacks. The film feels like it needs a longer run time to build the characters more and needed a more inspired climax than it offered. This was never going to offer a big bang finale, the mood is too dour, but it needed more peril for the Lois, if nothing else. 5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Feral – review


Director – Mark Young

Release date: 2017

Contains spoilers

You’d be forgiven for wondering whether Feral is a vampire film or not, after all the blurb on the DVD calls the creatures in this “rabid, rampaging cannibal zombie(s)”. One might be forgiven for suggesting zompires, but, in actual fact, they seem more akin to the vampires found in films such as Stake Land and Redwood.

The set up is really simple and the characters thin but it makes for an entertaining watch. The opening sees a woman, bloody and tied down whilst a man, face unseen but later revealed as Talbot (Lew Temple), sits by with a gun. She awakens and, despite being tied, starts twisting and snarling. Gunshot…

camping

Six friends (mostly) are trekking through the forest. There are couples Matt (George Finn) and Brienne (Renee Olstead), and Jesse (Brock Kelly) and Gina (Landry Allbright) – all know each other and are med students, along with Alice (Scout Taylor-Compton, Pearblossom, Captive & Bury the Bride) who has brought new girlfriend Jules (Olivia Luccardi). We get some character building around Alice including her bible belt father (and fear of coming out to him) and her learning to hunt as a child. As for the others virtually none – bar Jesse used to be with Alice and he wants her, despite being with Gina, because he can’t have her and refuses to accept her queer sexuality. They don’t even build stereotypes for the characters, to be honest.

Matt attacked

Anyway. First night camping and Matt proposes to Brienne, goes for a pee and is attacked by something. She goes to find him and sees a squat figure over him, eating from the stomach that has been ripped open. It attacks… the others hear her scream and find her on the floor, alive but bitten – Matt is dead. In the morning they meet a loner called Talbot (he of the opening) who takes them to his cabin. Matt’s body is gone (we’ve seen the dead man sit up).

turned

From then on it is a survival horror. A bite or scratch turns and it involves a virus that devastates the body, killing the host and then animating it. It causes the teeth to fall out and be replaced by sharp ones, the eyes to go a cloudy yellow, sharp nails to grow and the hair to fall out. Talbot calls them the rabid ones – and they are dormant during the day. Brain trauma kills them and they show little in the way of sentience. But for me, the physiological changes and the day dormancy push them into the vampire space.

Scout Taylor-Compton as Alice

Despite the lack of characterization the film works. Scout Taylor-Compton gives a solid performance as the only rounded character, the lack of trust in and duplicity of the Talbot character causes more peril than had they been working together properly. There is the splitting up trope aplenty. But this is a competent little flick for me because it did manage to build a tension – though it won’t set the world on fire. 5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK

Saturday, June 08, 2024

Short Film: Dracula & Lucy



A short while ago I featured a crowdsourcing article for a film to be called City of Bats. Very recently I received an email from Giovanni Produzione saying:
 

vampire Lucy

Hello, I´m a long time reader for the blog and a big fan. A few years ago I contacted you about a developing Dracula project and you were gracious enough to feature the crowdfunding campaign on your blog. The campaign was not successful, but we moved forward with production with our limited resources. The production was never finished, only being able to shoot about 20% of the film. However. after a few years we have made an edit out of the shot material which attempts to craft a cohesive short film (to arguable success). Due to the help received, we have placed a special thanks credit for your blog”.

Javier Vidal as Dracula

I think it’s great that they tried their best to complete the project and, at the very least, managed to salvage a short film out of the footage. My thanks for letting me know and I am so very touched that you gave a thanks to this blog in the credits – that put a big old smile on my face. The film itself is a modern city retelling of Dracula particularly concentrating on Dracula (Javier Vidal) and Lucy (Zoe Munera). The film was created by Gio Tavares and clocks in at just under 23-minutes.

Thursday, June 06, 2024

Superman and Batman Vs. Vampires and Werewolves – review


Author: Kevin VanHook

Artist: Tom Mandrake

First published: 2009 (tpb)

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: When Superman and Batman team up, they're the World's Finest Heroes - so what happens when they're faced with the legendary creatures of the night?

In this self-contained adventure from cult favorite horror film director Kevin VanHook (Voodoo Moon) and atmospheric artist Tom Mandrake (THE SPECTRE, MARTIAN MANHUNTER), The Man of Steel and The Dark Knight take on vampires and werewolves in a no-holds-barred fight to save the DCU! With the help of a rogue bloodsucker and lycanthrope, not to mention Green Arrow, Batman and Superman might actually stand a chance against an attack from the world's deadliest monsters.


The Review
: In honesty there isn’t a lot to say about this. A variety of DC heroes, notably Batman and Superman but also Nightwing, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, Etrigan and Manbat, become embroiled in a plague of vampires and werewolves in Gotham.

The source is Herbert Combs (I am assuming named for Herbert West & Jeffrey Combs, but I could be wrong) who managed to summon both types of creatures and turn, experimentally, a man named Janko into a werewolf and Marius Dimeter (named, I assume for the Demeter) into a vampire. He has then synthesised their blood into a toxin to turn ordinary folks into lesser level vampires and werewolves (so a combination of occultism and science). Luckily the lesser level ones do not seem to be able to turn others (as a werewolf draws blood with Wonder Woman and, due to them being essentially magical, manages to scratch Superman’s face).

For the most part it is just an all-out battle with the creatures but, despite having not a lot in depth to say, there is one brilliant moment of pathos with a turned vampire and superman. The latter doesn’t wish to kill and the former manages to throw himself out of a window into sunlight – causing a moment of pathos for Superman, who realises he might have been saved had he not killed himself. If you want superheroes fighting vampires and werewolves, then this deserves 6 out of  10.

In Paperback @ Amazon US

In Paperback @ Amazon UK