Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Transfiguration – review

Director: Michael O'Shea

Release date: 2016

Contains spoilers

There has been a small buzz around the Transfiguration but, to be candidly honest, not so much of a buzz as I might have expected having seen the film. A drama, perhaps, more than a horror it walks a line close to arthouse without stepping fully into that arena and is incredibly self-knowing.

It does not feature a vampire – as in the supernatural creature – but rather a person convincing themselves that they are a vampire and searching with the media vampire genre for answers that it, as a genre, doesn’t contain. It lacks the ambiguity of the magnificent Martin but owes much to the movie – and openly says so.

the victim
It starts with a slurping noise coming from a bathroom stall. A man at a urinal hears it, looks under the stall and sees two sets of feet and comes to a conclusion. However, in the stall a young teen, Milo (Eric Ruffin), is suckling at the man’s open neck. When he is done he takes the money from the man’s wallet and has blood on his mouth. On the train home Milo writes in a book and at home he marks a circled spot on a calendar – his feeding routine. He watches a nature show (he likes to see animal death it appears) and keeps a bag of stolen money hidden behind VHS tapes of vampire films (incongruously he has a recording on VHS of Dracula Untold, a film from way past the VHS era and, of course, he would be able to get the digital file on his computer).

Eric Ruffin as Milo
So Milo is our vampire and I don’t really want to get too much into the story as the film is more a character study. We do see him vomit (after eating cereal but it is clearly the earlier ingested blood he brings up). We see him with a school psychologist, where he is asked about hurting animals, and admits he thinks about it – indicating he was previously caught doing just that. He is clearly the target of bullies at school – interestingly they call him “little bitch”. Later in the film he mentions how good (though not realistic) Let the Right One In is. The phrasing reminds one more of Let Me In as the bullies in the Swedish film use the term “little piggy” but the bullies in the US version use “Little girl” – “little bitch” seems a more pejorative but still gender specific attack. The gangbangers near his apartment call him Freak.

Chloe Levine as Sophie
He shares the apartment with his brother Lewis (Aaron Moten), their father having died of a disease and their mother being a suicide (it sounds like Lewis was in the forces and returned to take care of his brother but had previously run with the gangbangers). It is the suicide that shapes Milo as a vampire – remembering that in folklore suicide can create the vampire, in this case the suicide rests in her grave and it is Milo, who found the body, tasted blood from her slit wrist and can now (as a vampire) not die by suicide himself – it’s a rule. Into his world comes a girl (her race a repeated dialogue point) called Sophie (Chloe Levine, Innocence) and her arrival feels like a mirror image of Let the Right One In/Let Me In – female human moves into the realm of a male vampire. She self harms by cutting, and he does try to taste her blood when he finds her doing that, something she calls gross… but sweet.

Larry Fessenden in cameo
The genre points are thick and fast and for a film that is set in New York it didn’t have that specific New York feel that many other films do (for instance Nadja or Habit). Rather the photography feels more tonally like Martin – which was shot in Pittsburgh, and Milo lists Martin amongst his favourite vampire films. That said the great Larry Fessenden, director and star of Habit, makes a cameo appearance within the film.

video collection
The pace feels similar to that of Martin, as well, though as the film is more self-knowing so is the primary character; in many respects Milo is who Martin would have been if the latter had been more self-composed. Eric Ruffin is stoic as Milo but imbues the character with pathos, intelligence and offers a great sense of timing. Chloe Levine counterpoints with a character that is more obviously damaged, vulnerable and yet sweetly innocent (whilst worryingly worldly in some ways). Director Michael O'Shea actually puts a genuinely shocking moment into the end sequence, which underlines Milo’s own self-awareness. A necessary film for the vampire fan’s collection. 8 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Vampire Cleanup Department – review

Directors: Sin-Hang Chiu & Pak-Wing Yan

Release date: 2017

Contains spoilers

There have been some really interesting vampire films coming out of China over the last few years, though some are better than others of course. Vampire Cleanup Department is, despite itself to a degree, at the better end of the scale doing much right (as well as a little, if not wrong then a tad, flat).

The film takes place in Hong Kong and contains some familiar faces that fans of Chinese vampire cinema will recognise.

killing a vampire
We start with an elevator opening and a security guard stepping into a parking lot… something is wrong. He follows a trail of gore to a truck. The driver is dead, his neck chewed on. The guard calls for help and is grabbed. The incident is on the breaking news and the police are there. A truck drives into the garage and two men emerge, the younger is Chau (Siu-Ho Chin, Mr vampire, Rigor Mortis, Vampire Vs Vampire, Chinese Vampire Story, The Seventh Curse & Vampire Warriors) and the older is Uncle Chung (Richard Ng, also Rigor Mortis & Mr Vampire 3) who sports a bandaged head. Chung sweet talks a young policeman as Chau checks the bodies and then starts dispatching those rising as vampires. The two men are dressed as street cleaners and Chau's hi-vis vest serves as a prayer scroll and his broom has a wooden sword hidden in the handle. Outside a third member of the cleanup team, Tim (Babyjohn Choi), is stopped by the police and so he tells his story…

facing a kyonsi
Tim lives with his somewhat barmy grandmother, after his parents died when he was newborn. Grandma dresses hip, seems to be unable to remember that her son is dead and thinks Tim is he and, when we meet her, has claimed a cardboard box. There is an altercation with a scavenger and his granddaughter but Tim smooths things over. Grandma has lost something so he tries to find it and, instead, discovers the granddaughter crying. Her grandfather is being attacked in an alley (the assailant going for the neck). Tim looks to intervene, slips on an empty bottle and ends up having his rear end bitten.

Chau and Tim
He awakens in bed but when he gets in the kitchen Chung and Chau are there. Grandma leaves the room and Chau grabs Tim and checks his backside – there are fang marks but Chung points out that the boy is obviously immune to vampirism. They give him a card and leave. He goes to the address, enters a secret base through a cupboard and is introduced to the vampire cleanup department. I won’t go through the other members here as they are periphery characters at best. Suffice it to say that Tim is unconvinced at first, faces another vampire, is given his old home back and joins the team.

Summer rises from the water
His home was held by the VCD after his parents, both members of the Dept., were bitten. His dad self-incinerated as he turned, after asking Chau to watch out for his unborn child (hence Chau being reluctant when it comes to Tim joining). His mother died after giving birth and this has passed the immunity on to Tim. We get his training and then the first mission where a diver accidentally releases two vampires from their coffins, caught underwater by flooding, during a blood moon. Whilst Chung and Chau go after the male vampire, Tim is faced with the female, Summer (Min Chen Lin). She manages to bite him (and lose a fang) and then suck some energy that makes her young – and friendly. The squad are going to destroy her but Tim ends up hiding her at his home.

Summer and Tim
As well as the Summer storyline, there is the police after taking over the squad and the hunt for the primary vampire. The film lingers on the Summer story however and it becomes a source of gentle romantic comedy (the whole film leans towards the comedic). In many respects, she replaces the ghost character that might have come into a Chinese vampire flick in the past, but with the different dynamic of her being unable to talk. Some parts of this are interesting – her on a Segway to prevent the need to hop, learning to walk, and the fact that she turned having been locked alive in a coffin, as grave goods for the evil landowner who became the primary vampire, and this has left her with PTSD around confined spaces. However, it laboured somewhat and orientated the film too much towards the romantic.

the main vampire
The rest of the lore is mostly standard, using the Taoist principles of vampire hunting (indeed there is a Taoist priest (Cheung-Yan Yuen) in the team). They state that the main reasons for turning after death are due to injustice, it being a rainy day for the funeral or the burial place being gloomy. There is a theory amongst the police that vampirism is a virus and they do manage to develop a toxin that will kill them from Summer's lost tooth. However, the VCD do not like to kill on site, as it were, but capture and return to base so that a ritual can be performed to enable reincarnation before incineration. There are several types of kyonsi listed in a book held by the squad.

Richard Ng as Chung
The comedy around the training is gentle but fun, though (as mentioned) some of the comedy around Summer and Tim’s relationship is too laboured and that section became somewhat flat (though plot critical). That aside, the whole thing was good fun. There are incongruities such as the team being secret and yet having their name emblazoned on their vehicles… but hey, never mind. Fun despite the flaws with the vampire action lifting it up to 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Innocence – review

Directed by: Hilary Brougher

Release date: 2014

Contains spoilers

Vampires and girl schools, a trope that goes back to at least Blood of Dracula and, you know what, they can work. This isn’t in a girl school, technically, as there seems to be two boys in attendance at the school (perhaps one or two more) – necessary for story and yet the classes we see are not co-ed and the alumni are all women.

It also struggles with its identity, veering into Hallmark or Time Life moments, whilst trying to be supernatural. As we will see there are moments that are questionable with regards the supernatural layering and its appropriateness (in a plot sense).

leaving her old life
So we start on the shoreline and Beckett (Sophie Lane Curtis) and her mom (Kelly Bensimon) are going surfing whilst novelist dad, Miles ( Linus Roache), watches from the shore. Mom slips off her board and vanishes into the sea. Later we are told she suffered an aneurism. Cut forwards four months and dad and daughter are leaving their home and moving to the city, into an apartment found for them by Natalie (Stephanie March).

seeing herself dead
The film failed to introduce Natalie properly at this moment and one assumed she was either sister to Miles (or his dead wife) but actually she is his literary agent. Beckett finds her room, opens the closet, sees a figure (which is her, dead) and then jumps when Tobey (Graham Phillips) walks into her room. Tobey is Natalie’s son, one of the incongruous male students at the school Beckett will be enrolled in, and soon to be teenage love interest. Why Beckett sees a vision of herself, and later the ghosts of victims, is not answered – one assumes a sensitivity.

Sophie Lane Curtis as Beckett
So, Beckett enrols in the school (which Natalie is intimately connected to). She has a bit of a full first day. Firstly there is a class where someone comments on a book character that she was devirginized (an awkward word, to be sure) and thus had no value (ouch, could we pound a plot premise any harder). Then she spots a popular girl, Sunday (Chloe Levine), cutting in the bathroom – and the girl suggests the dropped razor is Beckett's. Then she enters a do not enter area, which turns out to be a garden courtyard. The principle (Liya Kebede) takes her from there to meet alumni and Beckett has a vision of the carpet turning to blood, so passes out. Dad collects her, after the school has let the kids go home for the night, and Beckett, on the threshold, virtually gets squished by a suicidal Sunday who throws herself from the roof.

Kelly Reilly as Pamela
Beckett had seen Sunday in intense conversation with the school nurse, Pamela (Kelly Reilly), but we don’t get a reason really offered for the suicide. Pamela (our primary baddy) does keep a box of mementos from victims and has something of Sunday’s, so did she drive her to suicide? Perhaps. The insinuation is that Sunday got herself devirginized and so was no longer of value… virgin blood being the order of the day. Pamela manages to get herself into Miles’ bed and the school psychiatrist (Sarita Choudhury) gets the virgin Beckett onto a course of prescription pills. Beckett begins seeing ghosts both of Sunday and a pair of ex-students who “drowned” but were exsanguinated but, to be honest, this vision aspect is plot superfluous and done, I think, to inject a touch of the supernatural in what otherwise would have spent a good deal of its time being a Hallmark/teen drama.

set for scarifice
So, vampire lore. There is a core of alumni/staff who are vampires – but are referred to as lamiae. Other than being immortal it appears that they only need blood, drawn in a ritual, at certain times. The only really thing we see from the lamiae of a supernatural nature (until one dies) is their eyes glowing. Beckett (paranoid and not believed) researches and finds details of a Countess Esmerelda, who I assume was meant to remind one of Bathory – though blood drinking is the order of the day.

the countess
I also assume it was she who turned Pamela – who in turn then turned the others in the alumni (and one student). The figure presiding over the ritual would seem to be her but the film doesn’t tell us for certain. What is clear is that the Countess isn’t remaining young – unlike the other lamiae (who would appear to have all been Victorians, or so the one old photo suggests). Perhaps the ritual would have made her young again also and it appears to need two sacrifices.

death of a lamia
There are hooded, cultist looking figures at the ritual… if these are drawn from the student body the film doesn’t tell us either. If a lamia is stabbed in the heart (by a ritual blade, but one guesses any heart-stabby implement will do) then they rapidly age, and turn into swirling cgi dust. Any they had turned would also seem to die at this point. If non-virgin blood is consumed it is spat out as it is useless and turning needs the lamia’s blood to be ingested.

supping blood
The film wasn’t brilliant but nor was it the worst out there. The acting wasn’t outstanding at all, and was roughly at that Time Life generic level. The ghost girls were almost pointless, at least without exploring Beckett’s clairvoyance within the narrative. The idea of the lamiae hunting the school for decades, rather than draw victims from a non-associated background, seemed silly. The Countess' background needed exploring and we could have done with an explicit narrative suggesting that Pamela supernaturally seduced Miles rather than the heartbroken widower letting her fall into his bed with no explanation. 3.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Vamp or Not? 28 Days Later/28 Weeks Later

Why, oh why are you doing a ‘Vamp or Not?’ on 28 Days later? I wouldn’t blame you for asking that question straight off the bat. The 2002 Danny Boyle directed 28 Days Later was something of a watershed film that helped usher in the new wave of (especially fast) zombies – despite the film not having zombies in it. The franchise continued with 28 Weeks Later, in 2007, this time helmed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo.

So we have a virus that quickly infects (through bodily fluids – mostly blood fluids) and the resultant infected are just that; infected, violent, destructive and filled with rage. It perhaps had more in common with Romero’s the Crazies than zombies but was adopted into zombie fandom. So why look at it here? Honestly, because of Stacey Abbott’s Undead Apocalypse. Whilst she does refer to the infected as zombies there was the following passage: “They attack and bite into the bodies of uninfected, ripping through skin, sinew and muscle, and seemingly feed off their blood. While they do not necessarily eat the flesh like most zombies, they do engage in an almost vampiric exchange of bodily fluids that serves to spread the virus.” (pg 85)

infection through video
There are two aspects here that gave me pause to thought – the idea that the infected feed off blood and the vampiric exchange of bodily fluids. So before we begin let us take account of some of the conceits within the films (which I enjoy by the way). The first conceit is the speed of infection, literally taking seconds to change from rational human to slavering beast. This is definitely a virus but, beyond that it is a distillation of human rage and violence in viral form – the chimpanzees in which the virus was developed are forced to watch scenes of violence and it seems to be from this that the virus is developed.

body disposal
The next conceit is that a man, Jim (Cillian Murphy), can be in a coma for 28 days and not die (likely he would not have starved, as lack of fluids would have killed him way before). However the film relies on this (and the conceit has become a zombie trope – though films such as the Walking Deceased have lampooned the concept). That conceit might pass to the infected who do not seem overly interested in feeding or watering themselves. In fact this is the payoff for the film – that they will die of starvation eventually. Nowhere in the film did I spot anything to suggest they fed off blood and the infection was not an exchange of fluids but the passing of infected fluids to a non-infected person. You will notice I am looking at both films, however, as the second film added a new dimension into the equation.

all in the eyes
So, moving forward to the sequel, we meet Don (Robert Carlyle, Ravenous) and Alice (Catherine McCormack), during the infection. They and other survivors have found shelter in a farmhouse, but it comes under attack from the infected. Don escapes through an upstairs window, leaving Alice behind to her fate. Cut forward and The US army are helping the rebuilding of Britain. The Isle of Dogs has become district one, a place where survivors are being taken and Don’s kids, Tammy (Imogen Poots) and Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton) are repatriated from a refugee camp (they were on the continent with a school camp when the outbreak occurred). Andy has Heterochromia – his eyes are different colours, a trait inherited from his mum. They escape the safe zone to go to their old home and in the house they find Alice. She has been bitten, infected (it turns out) but not succumbed to rage. This immunity was due to the same genetics that caused her eye colouration but has made her a carrier and soon Don is infected and the cycle starts again.

What was interesting here was not the genetic aspect but the actions of Don. Whilst on the surface he seems to be a simple rage victim, attacking any non-infected he sees, he actually seems to be somewhat more intelligent and actively seems to be stalking his children. At points he seems to be following from a distance and whilst, when he comes face to face with Andy, he cannot help but attack his actions are 1) not typical of a rage infectee and 2) reminiscent of the vampire genii (for instance the wurdulak) that are drawn to their loved ones. However, this is not in and off itself enough to make this vamp. I started the investigation because of an inference that the infected drank blood – they use their mouths to attack but there is no inference of blood drinking that I could see. I also started it as the method of infection is described as a vampiric exchange of fluids – it is in fact just exposure to infected fluids (hardly vampiric in and of itself) and I would have seen a deliberate two way exchange that was necessary as a requisite to suggest the exchange was vampiric. Not Vamp.

The imdb page for 28 Days Later is here and the one for 28 Weeks Later is here.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Vamp or Not? Jug Face

Also known as The Pit, Jug Face was directed by Chad Crawford Kinkle and released in 2013. The film was mentioned by Simon bacon in Becoming Vampire who said “a patch of land seems to draw the life-force out of all who come near it and as such acts as a vampiric object” (pg 88).

It is the pit itself that is the focal point for this, hence the alternative name, but is it actually vampiric? Well, let us see.

The opening credits pictorially give us the history of this backwoods area and the community that lives there. We see the people diseased, a blood sacrifice into the pit and then the diseased bathing in the pit – so there is an inference of bathing in blood. What we find is a community that worships the pit (or more accurately something, a spirit perhaps, that lives within the local environs, perhaps even within the pit.)

Sean Bridgers as Dawai
The entity (it is referred to as a thing that awakens and so I will continue to refer to it as such) has a chosen person it communicates with. Dawai (Sean Bridgers) is this potter – an individual who is placed into a trance by the entity, during which his eyes are milky and unseeing, and who then creates a pot jug, with the face of the one the pit has chosen. Dawaii is therefore much like a familiar who is directly communicated with but on a psychic level.

Lauren Ashley Carter as Ada
The main character is Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter) a teenage girl who, when we first meet her, is with a young man called Jessaby (Daniel Manche, I Sell the Dead). She ignores his pleading for sex by the pit but takes him some distance away for the act. When she gets home she is informed that she is to be joined to another youth, Bodey (Mathieu Whitman). We soon discover that Jessaby is Ada’s brother and thus their intercourse in incestuous. Incest has often been seen as a gateway to vampirism – indeed the back story of the fake vampire in Mark of the vampire was one of incest and suicide, until it was deemed too shocking and was relegated to the cutting room floor.

the pit
Ada knows that her purity will be tested, as a pre-requisite to the joining, and she paints blood into the gusset of her knickers in order to suggest that she is on her period. She also looks into Dawai’s kiln and realises that the jug head in the kiln has her likeness, so she takes it and buries it, knowing that it means she is to be sacrificed. There is a celebration of the joining’s announcement in the evening, with Jessaby keen to ensure that Ada doesn’t put her impurity onto him.

Larry Fessenden as Sustin
When she accompanies her father, Sustin (Larry Fessenden, Stake Land, Stake Land 2, Habit & also I Sell the Dead), into town, where he makes money selling moonshine, she asks him whether the pit has ever taken a baby and he says it has. Whilst in the chemists she steals a pregnancy test – which back home shows positive. However by hiding the jug she has broken the community’s covenant with the entity.

having a vision
Ada starts having visions, and these prove to be her seeing through the entity as it awakens and attacks community members to punish her (and the community) for the break of the covenant. When this occurs her eyes become milky. The victims are either taken at the pit or dragged there and we never see what it is. Ada also starts to see a spectral boy (Alex Maizus). He is one of “the Shunned” and it is revealed that those killed by the pit (rather than being sacrificed to it) are forced to spectrally walk the woods for eternity – so, in its own way, the pit creates undead of its victims.

It transpires that Dawai had made a jug that he hadn’t shown anyone, as it was a baby and no one was with child (that he was aware of) and so thought it a mistake. As mentioned he makes the jugs in a trance and when he comes around he feels strange, but has no memory of the process or the jug itself. Thus he doesn’t know that the second one was of Ada. He tries to pull a face from his subconscious and makes one of Bodey. Thinking it is what the pit wants, Bodey is sacrificed; his throat slit over the pit into which he bleeds out. Of course, it isn’t the sacrifice the pit wants and the reprisal kills continue.

remains in the pit
The one to die, after the sacrifice, is ill and has been taken to the pit for healing. So the pit/entity not only desires and demands blood (and specific blood at that) but can also heal. The healing process involves getting into the pit and immersing oneself in the waters – which, of course suggests a bathing in blood. We have no reason to not believe that the healing would normally have occurred. I won’t spoil the story further as we have all the elements needed to judge the film.

the shunned
So we have an entity, I’d guess – after all it can leave the pit – perhaps a spirit or if it is a creature we don’t see it. I might go as far as to suggest it is an avatar of the spirit of the land. It demands a blood sacrifice and actively chooses the one it wants (unlike the shunned, the chosen ones are said to then walk with it). If it fails to get the chosen one, it destructively punishes those who have a covenant with it and those killed, rather than are sacrificed (ie made holy), become undead and walk the woods (normally invisibly, perhaps they can allow themselves to be seen or perhaps those who are between the two worlds can see them – Ada is in such a place having been chosen). It is her transgression, it would seem, that has led to her being chosen – the fact that she is carrying a baby conceived through incest.

Ok, it is unusual, but I think Simon is right and there is a vampiric element to this. Whether consciously included by Kinkle, who wrote as well as directed the film, I don’t know – but it’s definitely there.

The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Another Break!?!

What, you might ask, am I doing having another break in posting?

Apologies guys, but Rebellion Punk Festival 2017 starts tomorrow and I’m fully concentrating on that; good music, good mates and dirty booze.

Normal service will resume on Monday 7th. The illustrative picture above (of Spike) was one of the first hits on a google image search of vampire punk. It is a piece from Deviant Art and was created by mohokta81. Please visit them and show their art some love.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Let Me In: Crossroads – review

Author: Marc Andreyko

Art: Patric Reynolds

First Published: 2011

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Abby's life as a vampire is dangerous enough as it is, and it's about to get much, much worse - the murder rate in the sleepy little town she calls home is climbing fast... and this time she's not the one responsible! Desperate times lead to very desperate measures as Abby and her caretaker fight to protect her secret from a new monster who wants their home - and wants them dead!

The review: Let Me In is up in my favourite vampire films and, in my opinion, superior to the also excellent Let the Right One In. However, I was unaware that there had been a prequel graphic novel until I read so in Simon Bacon’s Becoming Vampire. Somehow it had passed me by. Because of the love of the film there will be a major spoiler in this.

So what we have is a prequel and I will say the artwork is excellent. However the volume does suffer a little bit within, due to the actual story. The most obvious place it struggles is in the fact that it follows the general storyline of the film, with Abby meeting a boy of a certain age, determined to be friends and the father being jealous of this relationship. I really felt that they should do something more unique, broader. There is a side story of small town developers trying to grab the land of some farmhouses (one housing Abby) and a worm that turns, but this could have stood deeper scrutiny.

Talking of the relationship between Abby and the Father… well he is given a name (Thomas), you recall that he was never named in the film, quite deliberately. Now I am not saying they were wrong to do so in this, but they were wrong to do nothing else with the relationship. If they were going to take the step of naming the Father then they should have taken the radical step of examining the relationship in depth but, beyond the jealousy, there was little else.

As for Jon, the boy Abby meets who lives with his stoner/traumatised Vietnam vet father, I know that Simon Bacon suggested it “shows Abby grooming another young boy, as she will do with Owen, to replace Father”(pg 51). This is one reading, and legitimately so. However, this boy seems less broken than Owen, and Abby seems less like the darkness within the child made manifest in this – the fact that Jon is not developed massively as a character probably does not help with this. The fact that a mortally injured Jon is then turned by Abby belies the replacement of the familiar line and could suggest a blossoming attachment deeper than the cynical grooming of a servant.

There appears to be a moment where Abby flies. This is new lore, unsatisfactory given that this prequels the film (and the actors’ images are reproduced quite skilfully).

So, on the surface not a bad little prequel but it was shallow where it should have taken the risk and been deeper. 6 out of 10.