Friday, January 27, 2023

A Cleansing of the Blood: An Anton the Undying Story Collection – review


Author: Scott Harper

First published: 2022

Contains spoilers

The blurb: “Is there immortal blood, blood which will forever quell the red thirst?” asks Anton the Undying of Bregit, Mortark of North America.

Back in a second anthology, Anton, the ancient gladiator turned vampire enforcer, continues to police the magical world and keep it safely hidden. But Anton is also troubled by his bloodlust and seeks a magical means to rid himself of it.

Meanwhile, a threat to Bregit’s rule is growing. Will Anton discover the secret plot to topple Bregit before it’s too late?

Find out in A Cleansing of the Blood.

The review: I previously reviewed the first Anton the Undying collection and, though a short volume, I was taken by the crisp writing. This volume is not as short, but still shorter than an average release and, like the first, is a collection of interlinked stories rather than a novel.

I described the previous novel as an Urban Fantasy, and the modern sections are. However, the stories set in the past are less urban in their fantasy. All in all this could be described as dark fantasy, I’d suggest, and the writing in this volume is as crisp again. The first stories are set in that modern urban setting and we see, as the blurb suggests, an increasing threat to Bregit. What we don’t get is a resolution to that as the stories then stick firmly to the past, with one modern story feeling like it was prior to the primary storyline.

Now, it is here that I am torn. These are well written, entertaining stories and help both world and character building. The last story even goes off-primary character and follows another character, offering a different view of the world – indicating that the author has room and scope to expand his universe beyond his primary character. On the other hand I was also wanting to see how the plot against the ruling power structure would develop – this will, I assume, continue in future volumes. 

Just to touch on lore within the stories, one newer piece is the idea that witchbane will dampen a vampire's supernatural power and we do get a scenario where Anton is pitted against hunters who use witchbane soaked ropes to hold him. There is also lore set around blood able to stave off further bloodlust and allow daywalking but I won't spoil the source of that blood. Some vampire bloodlines have an affinity to the moon and this harks back to early 19th century vampire stories.

For now, this volume is worth your time, again caveated with it being short (but longer than the first) but fun and well-constructed. 8 out of 10.

In Paperback @ Amazon US

On Kindle @ Amazon UK

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Kickstarter: Night is Falling Volume 1


Some time ago I featured a kickstarter for issue 1 of Night is Falling, a comic book written by Karen and Barry Todd and Greg Tulonen, and illustrated by Alysa Avery. Since then, the comic has grown in an online sense and is free to read over at Webtoon. However the team have a new Kickstarter to fund creating a graphic novel volume of the comic.

The story goes a little like “The Haskell family have moved from New York City to Jonah's Harbor, Maine. It's a chance for a new start in many ways, as daughter Valerie has been dogged by cruel rumors at their former school, and her older brother Joshua has been kicked out for fighting.

They soon discover that the neighborhood kids who take them into their circle have been keeping a dangerous secret, and cultivating a plan to save the town from an unspeakable evil.

To be honest, the kickstarter seems to be doing really well – with the early bird stage just finished and already at 2/3rds of the goal. However I do have to remind you that features I post about crowd-sourcing projects are for awareness purposes and not an endorsement of the product, support is given at the reader's own risk. With the caveat aside, if it sounds like something you are into you can learn more over at the Kickstarter page.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Use of Tropes: Lilith’s Hell


The mythological figure of Lilith has become inextricably linked with vampires in the genre’s megatext. It is this figure, therefore, that is the main trope from the genre within Vincenzo Petrarolo’s 2017 film (I have seen it listed as 2015 but IMDb lists the later date).

The film is of the found footage variety and, after statues of women in the credits – some with maws of fangs, it opens with Ruggero Deodato, he of Cannibal Holocaust fame, talking about being contacted by the filmmakers to be involved in their project and realising they were a bit more than fans but then also realising, when he went to the house they shot in, that there was more than just a movie.

Ryan and Marco

The film follows director Ryan (Marcus J. Cotterell) as he goes over to Rome to shoot a film with his friend (and producer) Marco (Vincenzo Petrarolo). The film is to be shot in Marco’s grandmother’s house, whilst she is overseas, but Marco – it quickly becomes apparent – is more interested in using the filming to sleep with women than for the art. We see the arrival of Ryan and the travel to the house through the camera carried by Alberto (Federico Palmieri), who is capturing everything for DVD extras.

Sara and Ryan

Ryan starts to see that something is off when they get to an equipment warehouse and Marco suggests they need much less than he thinks they need (found footage, after all, just needs a camera). The house is also further out from Rome than implied. Ryan is an arse. He claims the film, about a group of kids trapped in a house and forced into cannibalism, isn’t horror and calls it mokumentary. He is prone to histrionics and argues with everyone. This may just be poor acting but it was also down to the script. Unfortunately, it means the audience dislikes the main character.

night in the house

They are a bit bemused when Michelle (Manuela Stanciu) turns up as the actors are due the next day. It is clear that Marco hired her for her body/looks, having found her on social media, and she hasn’t seen the script. She is with Sara (Joelle Rigollet) a makeup artist she barely knew and who it sounds like the filmmakers weren’t expecting, but go along with anyway. However the house isn’t all it seems and we start seeing glitches in the found film, which corresponds with eerie noises.

Michelle possessed

Eventually we get Marco and Alberto in the large bath when Michelle comes in, suddenly more willing to entertain sexual activity. Marco is somewhat abusive, though she doesn’t seem to mind, but then her fellatio of Alberto becomes a penectomy by teeth! Michele has been possessed by Lilith and, when the others find secret rooms beyond a wardrobe, they discover that Grandma (Elena Croce) wasn’t abroad but had, with others, invoked Lilith to turn over the patriarchy – though the ritual had ended in death for the participants bar the possessed woman (Dani Samvis) who was tied up and is still in the ritual room.

possessed by Lilith

So, we have Lilith as our main trope, and if you read her as vampire then vampiric possession. That said she doesn’t particularly do anything vampiric and her biography as explained in exposition surrounds Eden and Adam and does not expand on her folkloric role of the killer of unprotected babes in the cradle. She does bite – as described – and later she is seen on camera eating Alberto’s flesh but this felt more connecting with the Cannibal Holocaust theme than putting a further vampiric marker in the filmic sand. She does demonstrate eye mojo, able to dominate the will of men who look her in the eyes, and she can pass from woman to woman (presumably in close proximity). As found footage films go this is not the worst I’ve seen – conceptually – though the acting is poor and the characters irredeemable (especially Ryan). However, whilst not a great film it is certainly of genre interest.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK

Monday, January 23, 2023

Amityville Vampire – review


Director: Tim Vigil

Release date: 2021

Contains spoilers

This is yet another in the flood of recent films that tag Amityville to the title and, in this case, there is a link at the beginning with the famous series. However, the main film is not connected at all and that additional opening footage (in a different aspect ratio) was directed by someone other than Tim Vigil (I think).

In truth this film nearly got ignored, as I assumed at first that it was a rename of Amityville Harvest. But whilst this isn’t brilliant, it is a nose ahead of the earlier film.

attack in the Amityville house

So it starts at the Amityville house and with a clean-up crew. One of them is sponging down a red wall only to discover that the red is blood and has transferred onto her sponge. The wall starts bleeding (and, given the drip onto her face, so does the ceiling). She tastes the blood on her face and turns, proceeding to attack the other members of the clean-up crew. It has no further bearing on the film that I could tell…

couple

Credits role and we get a vampire within them with fangs protruding from the upper lip (which looked odd). The film changes aspect ratio and goes one month earlier and a guy has taken a woman into the woods. He is clearly trying it on, she seems less than receptive and calls a peck on her cheek “nice”, a description that apparently sticks in the guys incel-driven craw. When he tries to more sexually and aggressively kiss her, she shuts him down and so he storms off, gets in his car and leaves her in the middle of nowhere. The vampire gets her…

Fran and Johnny

Next we meet Johnny (Anthony Dearce), a former DJ and now record producer. He tells a friend that he is due to take his girl, Fran (Miranda Melhado), camping and will propose. Fran, meanwhile, has met with her sister, Margie (Kat Rodriguez), who thinks Fran is a pushover and Johnny not good enough for her – the scenes actually add little to the film. Johnny drives them to Red Moon Lake – and I understand that was going to be the title of this before the Amityville opening and moniker were tagged on.

henchman and victim

On the way to the lake, he tells a couple of stories about how the lake got its name. Both concern a vampire, Lilith (Jin N. Tonic, Dracula in a Women’s Prison). In the first she is a CEO of a company and invites one of her workers, Gloria (Veronica Farren), to her cabin at Red Moon Lake – where, of course, she is the main course. Unfortunately, the balance of this short is all wrong, with a huge amount of dialogue (interrupted by a fantasised kiss) in the office and then her seeing a victim run in front of her car, her punched by the henchman (Tom Newth, also Dracula in a Women’s Prison) and then chained and food in short order.

Chastity and Lilith

The second story goes back into history and, whilst again it had much dialogue at the head, this one worked better. Caleb (Randy Oppenheimer, Blood Moon Rising) has had to bury his daughter, Chastity (Haillye Young Miller) and his wife (Maggie Nolting) is dying. He is praying to God for her, but God seems deaf to his pleas. A knock at the cabin door and he meets Lilith, who asks for an invitation and suggests she can cure his wife. She even has Chastity with her, raised from the dead. Of course, eventually, he invites them in and leaves them with his wife. The next night all three women feast on him. This is a surprisingly well-done segment compared to the previous it paces well and the attack is rather visceral. Don’t get me wrong, it is probably not worth the entrance fee, but it beats the other parts.

kidnapped stripper

After a side-bar for a pee-stop and some jealousy over a sexually aggressive fan (Laura Meadows), which added little to the film, Johnny and Fran are in the woods but also, as night falls, are three ne’er-do-wells who have brought a stripper into the woods, bound and gagged, to torture, rape and kill – whilst filming the whole thing. The stripper, one complains, is cold to touch and to us looks a whole lot like Lilith… When she does vamp out, she has the fangs coming out of the top lip motif from the credits.

attack

The issue – beyond some general film-making problems – is that this does nothing, it is an anthology but the parts aren’t strong enough to wow us and the over-arching story gets bogged down in the lives of the protagonists. That said we get some lore – Lilith is the biblical Lilith, vampires reflect in natural mirrors and only fail to reflect in man-made mirrors and they need an invitation – but there is too little narrative to need a whole lot of lore. That said it holds together better than Amityville Harvest. 3 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Short Film: Six


Coming in at the eleven-minute mark, this short film from director L. Gustavo Cooper is a class piece of film-making, though as a short film it perhaps is better as a proof of concept for a longer film. Certainly, it could well be turned into a feature, or even a series.

It follows Charlie (Anne Winters) a girl living on the streets, who gets a message on her phone about seeking a friend.

She is seen by a motel receptionist walking past and goes to a door, which is opened by John (Drew Powell, True Blood). As she enters, he intimates that he doesn’t normally do this sort of thing but, as she undresses, we see her putting her clothes in plastic bags. He asks why and she, as she comes up behind him, replies that it’s so she doesn’t get blood on them.

fangs

Then she is on his neck, clinging to his back as blood spatters the walls. As she raises her head, we see her fangs. After the feed we see her in the bathroom, cleaning the blood from her face. When she leaves the motel room we see her extremities begin to smoke slightly; the sun is coming up. We then follow her, briefly, in her homeless life – where she is assumed to be a prostitute and where one person wants to reach out to her. What she doesn’t realise is that sometimes the hunter is hunted…

making a friend

This was really well done, it really built characters and a world, in very broad brush but it was a joy to see the storyteller’s craft expertly wielded. As I said at the head of this article, this feels like it should be a proof of concept and I would love to see Charlie return in something more substantial.

The imdb page is here.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Honourable Mention: Vampiri Su Medju Nama: Ćao Inspektore 2


This Yugoslavian film, which translates to Vampires are Among Us, is a buddy cop comedy and the second of the Hi Inspector series. It was released in 1989 and directed by Zoran Calic.

It follows small town cops Boki (Velimir 'Bata' Zivojinovic) and Pajko (Boro Stjepanovic) who are bored in their sleepy beat. It starts with Pajko sleeping on the job and being snuck up on by Boki (wearing a baloklave) and a fight ensuing (think Clouseau and Kato on a smaller scale). It ends with Pajko going through a window and landing in the trash.

grave robbers

Anyway, after seeing the cops admiring a foreign woman, the following day, who is attending the hotel that is hosting an international symposium on organ transplantation, we cut to night and see a couple of men retrieving a coffin from a graveyard and putting it into a hearse. They then stop the hearse in town and the foreign woman retrieves it, whilst they leave in her car.

Pajko and Boki

The next day a local man comes to report the theft of his grandfather, who had been buried the day before. There is general misunderstanding and dialogue set for comedic effect. The upshot is that at least three corpses have been stolen – though this is the first the cops or their boss (Zarko Radic) have heard of it. There is some blame placed, with it said that it is being perpetrated by vampires… Note that the thought is not that the corpses are rising as vampires but vampires are stealing them. There is no reason given as to why they would.

dressed as a vampire

There are a couple of pieces of lore – One man has taken to carrying garlic, which is communicated as being fine for foreign vampires but it doesn’t impact domestic ones, apparently. Boki tries to catch the vampires at it and fights with the two grave robbers before running away. He sends Pajko the next day dressed as a vampire – which involves wearing a white suit and sheet – I assume it was meant to look shroud-like. Anyway, he is caught and beaten up by locals doing their own stake out.

coded as Nazis

The whole vampire storyline is quickly abandoned, however, and the actual scheme is being run by a doctor (Nikola Simic), though given the organ transplant symposium you’d be forgiven for thinking he had organ harvesting in mind. On the contrary, he wants the corpses for Frankenstinean experiments to raise the dead (he only really wants young corpses as they will have more energy and health when revived). His plan is to use them to infiltrate the world and take over, he is coded as a Nazi (with henchmen in brown shirts and the use of Roman salutes).

grave robbery

The comedy in this did little for me, I think some of it had aged poorly but other bits needed a play on language in the original Serbian that translation didn’t really do justice. There were logical leaps that defied gravity and holes that you could drive a hearse through. The title is also somewhat (deliberately) misleading from the primary plot of body snatching but there is a belief in vampires displayed for a portion of the film, along with Pajko acting (or dressing) like a vampire. I should also mention that we see the film Vamp on the TV at one point.

The imdb page is here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Vampfather – review


Director: Stuart Paul

Release date: 2022

Contains spoilers

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear… I kind of knew when this was released as a Walmart exclusive, it just didn’t bode well. On the other hand, it implied that it starred the incomparable Danny Trejo and he loomed large on the cover. Now Danny, I blooming love, but he does have a habit of appearing in films for 5-minutes, lifting it for the 5-minutes no matter how bad the rest of the vehicle, and then disappearing again. Well… he’s in this for a very short part of the running time and whether it is the director or the editor who is to blame, they really tried to undermine that part of the film!

Luna Rioumina as Brandusa

The film starts with a narration and it might seem a bit personal, but they managed to get the worst voiceover in the world. Anyway, the voice tells us that vampires are things of legends, but are real and when thirsty any throat will do before they vanish back into legend. Then we see a hearse with Brandusa (Luna Rioumina) led in the back. When the hearse stops (outside a castle and I’ll come back to that) she refuses to pay the driver – so it seems it’s a hearse taxi.

Danny Trejo as the Vampfather

She enters the castle – now the castle is composed of graphic cgi exteriors that don’t fit with the urban surroundings and cgi interiors that don’t gel with the physical interior sets. She approaches the Vampfather (Danny Trejo) and here we get the editing undermining of the scene. There seems to be fast cuts to different angles in a sedate scene, bouncing from angle to angle drunkenly. It is simply bad editing. Anyway, Vampfather didn't answer the door as he is conserving his energy as they are all dying but, once Grigore (Marcus Shirock, Angel) arrives, he congratulates them that after 6000-years they’ve learnt to open a door!

the vampires

Once Daciana (Vanessa von Schwarz) and Nikolai (Jared McClure) are present we get the background story that the vampires can no longer feed as the human blood will kill them. Why? Not because of the amount of impurities now in blood as other vehicles have suggested but because we are too pure – having chosen kindness. Frankly, this is a laughable premise (I mean, just switch on the news) and, clearly, we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. Perhaps I got the concept wrong… well Brandusa starts talking about the Jewish treasure she has hidden, taken from Nazis who were delicious because of how corrupt they were. This shows I got the concept right and, apparently, in this version of the world we’ve collectively gone good.

self staking

Anyway, after some prancing about after a map to the treasure that Daciana draws, Vampfather gives them all a stake as it is the honourable way out. Cut forward and Sahsa (Alix Villaret, V for Vengeance) comes in late and finds the staked bodies – bar Grigore, who rears up so she stakes him. She gets the last stake and tries to kill herself but it keeps breaking. She is the one who always wanted to be human.

Julia Conley as Chérie

So we get a hodgepodge of scenes that follow, with her and her work colleague Chérie (Julia Conley) going to a Halloween party where everyone is dressed as a vampire and the two women start to kiss until Sasha pushes away as she might want to consume Chérie and the film subsequently tracks their 'will they, won’t they'. Also, we see her consulting Dr Blood (Stan Harrington) who says she is the closest in vampires to being human and a dietary choice would help, and then going to psychiatrist Dr. Oomious – Tom Sizemore slumming a scene and phoning it in – who refuses to treat her. We also get murders of a couple of people in Sahsa’s life and her worrying she’s blacking out and feeding, plus a couple of cops (one who keeps stakes in his garden and the other who asks Sasha on a date).

murder scene

The trouble is, it doesn’t move like a cohesive narrative – rather it feels like scenes thrown together almost randomly that comes to a conclusion (around the Jewish treasure and the murderer) that you neither care about nor make for a satisfying finale. It seemed that there was an attempt to make this comedic, at times, but I wasn’t laughing. There is a coda at the end, which I won’t spoil but will mention the piece of lore that comes out… which is a vampire who bites their own neck can become human (...just don’t). There isn’t a strong performance throughout, even the normally reliable Danny Trejo seemed to phone it in, and the pressure on Alix Villaret to carry the vehicle seems misplaced. All in all, a poor piece. 2 out of 10 is generous but, despite it all, I still have to boost the score if Danny is in the film.

The imdb page is here.

On Blu-Ray @ Amazon US

On Blu-Ray @ Amazon UK