Thursday, October 08, 2015

The Extinction Parade Volume 1 – review

Author: Max Brooks

Illustrations: Raulo Caceres

First Published: 2014

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Max Brooks, author of World War Z and the Zombie Survival Guide, brings a new vision of stark terror to comics!

Across the globe the alpha subdead vampire race has identified the battle lines. With their prey dwindling beneath the weight of zombie apocalypse, the bloodsuckers must decimate the ranks of the walking dead to ensure their survival. But the rolling plague hordes are like a tidal wave of destruction, wiping clean the earth beneath them and swelling their ranks to legion. Will even the superhuman ferocity of the vampire race be able to bring mankind back from the brink for the own nefarious purposes? This is how a species dies.

The review: Zombies versus vampires… you have to love the concept and when it is explored by Max Brooks – whose World War Z I believe is very good (and I will get around to reading it when I get a break in the vampire novels, honest) – then it should be something special. But don’t trust the blurb.

The battle lines it talks about appear late in this volume, which contains issues #1-5. The comic actually consists mostly of background, letting us get to know our undead – not specifically the two Malaysian vampires, Laila and Vrauwe, who are the primary characters but more the general attitude of all the vampires as reflected through their eyes and musings.

This is the genius, though they call themselves predators – and Brooks makes a lovely distinction between V and Z by suggesting, “We hunt humans. They consume humanity!” – they are really parasites. Not only living off our blood but also our culture and advances. They do not muse and philosophise but live in a hedonistic now. They even have familiars (the girls' familiar, Willem, comes from a line of helpers, whilst in the West vampires are tricking familiars into serving them and finding their own replacements) who they treat appallingly.

They are aware of the subdead – as they call zombies – and the fact that pockets of infection have risen in solbreeder (or human) society throughout history but have always been put down. They ignore the rise in incidents and from the head of the comic up to the blurb's drawing of battle lines four years pass in which the vampires, in their arrogance, fail to comprehend the danger the outbreaks represent. They fail to realise that the geographic linkage in the modern world, along with the emotional disconnect of a post-social media society, would let the zombies spread too much. Its only one vampire, a rare thinker called Nguyen, who realises that humanity may be lost but even he does nothing. It is Vrauwe who actually finally acts, inspiring the other vampires.

Being from their point of view, and being drawn so wonderfully arrogant, we hear little of their weaknesses. We know they are hardy, strong and fast – foot travel is quicker than a car for instance. We discover that the subdeads’ fluids are poisonous to a vampire but a living person’s blood strengthens their immune system to the negative effects of the fluids. From the beginning of the story we are aware that the subdead do not register the vampires, that they may as well be invisible to them.

Being a fairly recent V vs Z comic series there are obvious parallels to be drawn with Romero’s Empire of the Dead but they are different beasts. This is at outbreak, whilst Empire is much later; this draws the vampires as the main focus, whilst Empire balances our focus between zombie, vampire and human. I liked the artwork in this, it was a very graphic style that suited the series. 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Honourable Mention: the Warrior From Shaolin

This was a film directed by Chia Yung Liu under the name Lau Kar Wing and was released in 1980 (according to IMDb, elsewhere listed as 1984). It was (primarily) a comedy set during the Japanese occupation of China with the comedic aspect drawn from the interactions between the main character, a Buddhist monk (Gordon Liu, Shaolin Vs Vampire, the Shadow Boxing, Shaolin Vs the Evil Dead & Shaoline Vs Evil Dead: Ultimate Power), and his two reluctant guides.

the spy
It begins with Japanese troops chasing after a spy. Shot, he manages to get to a Buddhist temple and pass on the map he has of Japanese encampments. It needs passing to an agent and the Abbott agrees to help but the Japanese are closing in. Eventually only one monk is left, and he finds himself getting help from a young man who is keen to make money out of the situation. The monk has a box (containing some relics, a prayer book and the map) and the man decides it must contain treasure. He has a friend nearby and they arrange for the friend to pretend to be a ghost and scare him into handing the box over.

corpse shepherd with kyonsi
It is during this scene that we get – inexplicably – the kyonsi. We see a corpse shepherd leading corpses for funeral. His master is unwell and so they lead the corpses into a cave to store for the night, whilst the younger man looks for medicine for the elder. The young guide mistakes the corpses for friends in on the scheme and removes their pacifying scrolls but accidentally gets another scroll stuck on to his back that they follow. There is a very badly lit scene with the corpses following him and some inadvertent kung fu. They do not do anything vampiric (barring their hopping and general animation) and after the corpse shepherd gets them under control they are not in the film again. The man who dresses as a ghost becomes part of the monk’s entourage at that point.

A really weird inclusion – as there is nothing supernatural included in the rest of the film. The edition I watched was really badly dubbed. The imdb page is here.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

V-Wars volume 2: All of us Monsters – review

Writer: Jonathan Maberry

Artists: Marco Turini & Alan Robinson

First Published: 2015

Contains spoilers

The blurb: Big Dog and V-8 are the top gunslingers in the escalating battle with vampire terrorists. But the hunt for a new and intensely brutal species of bloodsucker puts them in the crosshairs of the world's most dangerous special operative: Joe Ledger. And, the members of V-8 are tasked to hunt down and obtain plans for a stolen vampire gene screener. Collects issues #6-11

The review: After reading V-Wars volume 1 I was left with a sense that I really liked the graphic but it didn’t quite meet the level of the prose. However, with this volume I felt the game lifted, it fell into its own pattern comfortably. The first half of the graphic follows the special unit V-8 as they hunt a nelapsi - but all is not what it seems and they fall into the murky world of black ops and meet Joe Ledger (crossing over from Maberry’s popular Ledger series). The second part sees two members of V-8 following technology into Paris, but the two soldiers have some very real inner demons to battle, meanwhile folklorist Luther Swann makes a stand (helped by George Clooney) and tries to publically broker a peace between beats and bloods.

The stories worked well, the art complemented it and the real world character appearances were welcome as they offered an interesting undercurrent. The focus was much more on the shadowy governmental underbelly – with Agencies on all sides trying to get their hands on rare vampire types and technology. Blind obedience to a cause is questioned within the narrative.

All in all great stuff and the more I see of V-Wars the more I’m convinced it would make either great TV or even films. 8 out of 10.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Bubba Ho-Tep – review

Director: Don Coscarelli

Release date: 2002

Contains spoilers

“What are you doing Taliesin?” I can see the questioning eyebrows raise but it’s very simple. The crossover between vampire and mummy is obvious, they are both undead and the desiccated look of the average mummy is reminiscent of the un-romantic vampire. Sure the mummy might have a bit more magic in its pedigree at times but the big difference between the two would seem to be the fact that the mummy seems violent but not a creature that feeds on the living.

Not so in this case, the mummy in Bubba Ho-Tep is a soul sucker, an eater of vital essence… in short an energy vampire. Of course the mummy cross-over happens and, indeed, is nothing new. Go back to 1898 and the short story the Story of Baelbrow and we get the unique combination of a vampiric ghost that is able to achieve corporeality by possessing a mummy.

the King
So what about Bubba Ho-Tep? A cult movie, of that there is no doubt, I am sure that most readers of the blog would be familiar with the film. It takes place in a nursing home but before we get there we see footage of mummies being removed from their resting places by archaeologists. In the nursing home we meet Elvis (Bruce Campbell, Sundown: the Vampire in Retreat, Waxwork 2 and From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money). The story emerges that Elvis swapped places with an impersonator named Sebastian Haff. Haff died of a heart attack, the world assuming he was Elvis, and Elvis had lost the contract that would prove his identity in a barbeque accident. He then fell off stage, broke his hip and went into a coma. It is assumed Haff is senile, believing himself to be Elvis – perhaps he is, perhaps he isn’t.

Bruce Campbell as Elvis
His roommate (Harrison Young, also Waxwork 2 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer) dies and, later in the film, the arrival of his daughter (Heidi Marnhout, Angel) who never visited after bringing him to the home and who throws away the man’s purple heart and photos as she picks through his meagre belongings poignantly underlines the major theme of the film as it takes a hard, if darkly comedic, look at old age and families.

the scarab
Before that happens we get the activities of an old lady (Edith Jefferson) who steals the chocolates belonging to a woman (Solange Morand) in an iron lung. Sat in bed with her ill-gotten gains she is attacked by something that eventually turns out to be a scarab beetle. After it has bitten her and she has squished it with a walking stick we see a mummy (Bob Ivy) rise up in the room, a mummy that wears a cowboy hat and boots – Elvis later dubs the undead fella Bubba Ho-Tep.

the soul sucker
The following night Elvis is attacked by a scarab but deals with it. Going down the corridor to his friend’s room, a resident who claims to be John F Kennedy (Ossie Davis), he finds his friend on the floor. Jack (as he is addressed) explains that he has been attacked the modus operandi described thus: “He had me on the floor and had his mouth over my asshole!” Jack suggests that the mummy was trying to get his soul as they can be sucked out of any major orifice (later we see the mummy over his mouth too). They, of course, team up to take the mummy down.

Kennedy and Presley
The relationship between the two men is movie gold. Despite his own claim to be someone famous he is (at first) dismissive of Jack’s claim, as he is African American – though Jack explains that by saying “They dyed me this colour! That's how clever they are!” Indeed, it is the two performances that make the film. Ossie Davis’ comedic timing is perfect through the film and he is given some outrageous lines delivered with absolute panache. Bruce Campbell, on the other hand, gives arguably the performance of his career, injecting such pathos into a character that could have been a weak parody. For a film that is a cult comedy based on the horror genre, the film really does carry a serious side, with regards growing old, that is delivered in such a smooth way that it complements the comedy rather than detracts. The soundtrack is perfectly pitched to the film also.

the mummy appears
As for the mummy we discover it was stolen but the vehicle used to transport it away was caught in a storm and somehow the mummy has got free of the sarcophagus and whatever magic held it in place. There is no why or wherefore for its attire. The mummy can become incorporeal, causes electrical disturbance and puts hieroglyphic graffiti on a bathroom stall (Jack theorises that it excretes soul residue). It is susceptible to fire and any undigested souls will be freed if killed.

Bubba Ho-Tep
This is a cult classic, no doubt about it. The credits have a reference to Elvis returning in Bubba Nosferatu: the Curse of the She-Vampires, this was meant to be a joke and then became a possibility. Currently it appears trapped in development Hell. 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Short Film: Vamp

Director: Zack Chapman

Release date: 2013

Contains spoilers

At a shade under 19 minutes Vamp succeeds due to script and performances, with a great performance by principle lead Adam Budron as Ren, a slacker. The film also throws names around like confetti so we get a news report, as the opening, that talks about the “Suburban Succubus” a (thought to be female) serial killer who has killed 8 victims thus far – all of whom displayed punctures of their main arteries.

Ren and Jon
The news report also suggests that the locals have their own theories and the words vampire and chupacabra are both mentioned. The Suburban Succubus is said to have a mark on her wrist. The news report is being watched by Ren. Ren is homeless and jobless and is currently living on his best friend’s couch. Said best friend, Jon (Seth Baird), is pressuring Ren about gaining employment and wants him to move out – the couch was only meant to be temporary and Ren’s only contribution to the household is beer.

the news
Jon has also got a new girlfriend, Lucy (Elizabeth Lee), who he met via Craigslist. Ren hasn’t met her but is suspicious – he later suggests that all women suck the soul out of their partners. He arranges to meet them both at a bar that night. When she walks in we (and Ren) immediately notice that she has a tattoo on her wrist, he challenges her to shots – which she wins when he retires to the toilet to hurl. When he gets out he is informed that they are leaving.

Lucy bloodied
Walking home drunk, he drops a cigarette. Looking up he sees a man and woman in an alley. The man slumps and the woman turns – it is Lucy with blood around her mouth. He runs… In the morning Jon jogs Ren's hungover memory of what he saw, when he plays him the voicemail Ren left his friend. Ren is convinced that Lucy will eventually kill Jon (and is horrified to discover she is moving in) but how can one deal with the undead, especially when your main source of information is a patently mad homeless guy called Abraham (Martin Pfefferkorn, I Sell the Dead) .

expert advice?!
As I mentioned at the head it is the performances – primarily Adam Budron’s, but the other leads all deliver – that makes this, along with a slick script. The tone of the film is very much a hip comedy, perhaps in the Kevin Smith vein, that is until the ending, which was excellently counterbalanced against that humour. It gives the short extra legs.

The imdb page is here.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Aleta: Vampire Mistress – review

Director: Phil Condit

First released: 2012

Contains spoilers

Originally entitled Empress Vampire, this film had been on my radar for quite some time – having stumbled some years back onto the film’s homepage. It has been a long old wait but it has now been released under the title Aleta: Vampire Mistress, but was the wait worth it?

In some respects no, not at all, and yet the film certainly has redeeming qualities as we will see as the review progresses. Unfortunately it does suffer through a lack of budget (IMDb estimates it at $250000) and that is reflected in the filming quality, which seems over-exposed throughout. This makes it easy to see in dark scenes but overall is unpleasing and very cheap looking.

dead robber
The film starts with a Halloween party and a man (Jake Girowski) arrives with a woman, Aleta (Ange Maya, Blood Scarab). An armed robber (Darren Lebrecht) comes in to the party and shoots to the ceiling, telling everyone to stay still whilst his accomplice (Marcus Johnson) collects their valuables. A cloaked and veiled woman approaches the robber and he shoots her to no avail. She picks him up by the neck and breaks it. The accomplice runs but the woman leaps the swimming pool and brings him down. We see his reaction when he sees her face but we see nothing of her (at this point), though we do see the aftermath. 

a vampire
In another part of town a group of girls are having a slumber party with Trish(Megan Renee Kim). One suggests that she’ll “shock the Hell out of Trish” by suggesting they play strip poker – an excuse by the filmmakers to get the girl who suggests it topless. After the first hand the lights all go out and they are attacked by vampires. When the cops subsequently arrive they remark how the killing of the three (Trish is missing) is like the one at the Halloween party. Elsewhere Aleta and her date are driving when she goes down on him and her groinal feed makes him crash his car.

caught on camera
The Secretary of Defence (Tom Cochran) is contacted and shown a video from the party. Realising he has a vampire on his hands he has FBI Agent Dan Higgins (Beau Nelson) attached to the case with orders to find the vampire and contact her – the thought is that they can harness her as a special operative. On his investigation Higgins discovers that a Russian, Ivor Helsing (Garrett Brawith, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), is also searching for Aleta. Around the same time Ivor – who comes from a line of vampire hunters – meets Ariana (Laura Cotenescu), who is a mystic tasked with hunting down the vampire. She knows the history of Aleta. Despite the differing agendas the three end up working together.

Ange Maya as Aleta
Aleta was originally the Empress Yang, mother of the next Emperor. Somehow she became a vampire – Ariana does not know how – but for 1000 years was protected by her son’s line. Eventually one of the Emperors arranged a marriage for her, to the King of Tibet, telling her that he expected her to eat the troublesome monarch. However he really expected the King and the Dowager Empress to kill each other. Just in case he summoned mystics from around the world to keep her out of China and hunt her down – that is where Ariana’s heritage comes from.

Aleta staked
As for Ivor, one of his ancestors – Joerg Von Helsing (Zachary Ryan Block) – found Aleta just over the border from Transylvania and tended to her. She fell in love with him and did not kill him and he seemed nonplussed by the fact that she sucked the blood out of a rabbit and was allergic to the sun (it making her develop boils, she says). That was until he is told that a vampire was hounded out of Transylvania and puts two and two together. He and his father (Britt Prentice) confront her and he ends up staking her – to no avail. She takes his eye and places it in the stake hole so he can mystically see her destroy his family over the centuries. We discover she killed Ivor’s wife (Sylvia Panacione) and unborn child.

energy worms
And this is where the film worked. It had a complex story that was interesting, though the way the US Government storyline was handled verged on the ridiculous at times and it was sometimes too complex for its own good leading to story short cuts to resolve things. The lore was also unusual in places – a fairly big spoiler is that two Chinese scientists created a device that could open a portal to another world and, through that, energy worms appeared and accidentally merged with the Empress turning her into a vampire. That leads to her near invulnerability – whereas other vampires can be staked and will die in the sun. She created all the other vampires and feels it if one dies.

musical number
Another aspect of the film that was bizarre (and didn’t work so brilliantly) was the use on two occasions of musical numbers (one of them being a song, with interpretive dance and nudity, the other a seduction scene). The acting was variable throughout – some not bad at all but other performances quite weak. There were some strange comedy moments (beyond the musical numbers). Aleta has a taste for virgins and sends her minions out to get some. Ivor saves one woman, staking the vampire that has mesmerised her (and alerting Aleta to his presence), and tells the girl to save herself by having sex with someone – so she immediately phones her boyfriend and says she is ready.

a vampire is staked
This is tough to call, when it comes to a score. I actually found myself enjoying the film, budgetary weaknesses and all, but it is fundamentally flawed. I’ll suggest 4 out of 10 and remain unsure as to whether I have been a tad too harsh or overly generous.

The imdb page is here.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Short Film: A Feast in Kalix

I was contacted very recently by Viking Almquist. Viking is a long time reader of the blog who has noticed that I am currently running quite a few short vampire film articles. Viking wrote, directed, shot and glued together A Feast in Kalix during his time in film school.

a vampire creating pill
The film itself is in homage to Frostbite, the excellent Anders Banke black comedy, but reimagined in a Mike Leigh style. The film was produced on a shoestring of a budget and, to be fair, Viking describes the English subtitles as “somewhat crappy”. The story will be familiar to those who know the original film – kids, booze and pills that turn the users into fanged (one-fanged in one case) blood hungry vampires.

I was struck, however, with the characterisation that Viking was able to imbue his players with, despite the fact that it is only nine minutes long, as well as the low budget and all the other restraints he was faced with. The Second World War aspect is missing entirely – it is just the pills and the vampires; the initial modern outbreak as it were.

The imdb page is here.