Thursday, June 30, 2016

Honourable Mention: 8 Masters

This was a 1977 Kung Fu movie directed by Joseph Kuo Nan-Hong and was the third of the 18 Bronzemen movies (though not a direct sequel thereof).

In many respects it is a foreshadowing of the Kenny Rogers hit Coward of the County. It begins with 8 Masters of Kung Fu coming for Chu Shiao Chieh (played young by Ching Lap-Wai). His father, now dead, has managed to anger the masters and they are coming for the young song to get their revenge. A colleague of the father rescues the son and gives his life to get him to the Shaolin temple, where the boy is taken in and trained.

Carter Wong as Chu Shiao Chieh
Chu Shiao Chieh (played as an adult by Carter Wong, Big Trouble in Little China) becomes a kung fu expert but wishes to become a monk. His request is refused as he has a debt to pay – his rescuer having wanted him to go out into the world and do good. He is left with the philosophy, “Keep the peace. Have patience. Forgive offence.” On hearing he has returned to his family home the 8 masters demand he accept a challenge to fight them all, he denies this due to the philosophy until he is pushed too far. Even then he defeats but doesn’t kill the masters in a riot of Kung Fu action.

kyonsi attack
So, where are the vampires? Well they are there but only briefly. They are kyonsi kept in a hidden chamber below the 8 masters’ base and we can tell what they are due to their greyed faces, arms out and hopping gait. They also rise up to the vertical in a swift movement ala Count Orlock. These kyonsi have blades attached to their hands and are killed through Kung Fu rather than mystical means.

A fleeting visitation. The imdb page is here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Mr Hush – review

Director: David Lee Madison

Release date: 2010

Contains spoilers

I have to say, at the head of the review, that those who know me will realise that what I tend to do for reviews is watch the film (taking screenshots and notes) and then write the review, using IMDb for the actors’ names but avoiding the IMDb reviews until the review is in draft stage at the very least.

I was gobsmacked, therefore, when I saw how low the IMDb headline score was for the film. Now I was given access to a stream of the film by writer/director David Lee Madison, and I have to say that the film isn’t the best I’ve ever seen – but it really doesn’t deserve the derision held in that score. It is also a film featuring Stephen Geoffreys (Fright Night) the year before he did Bite Marks and he really is in cracking form – more on that later.

family moment
So the film starts in October 2010 and in a kitchen oozing domestic bliss we have Holland Price (Brad Loree), his wife Julie (Jessica Cameron) and young daughter Amy (Megan Heckman) as they prepare for Halloween night. Something struck me here, the tone of the acting was melodramatically saccharine and could have been dismissed as poor but I just felt like it was a deliberate tone set to capture an idyll that never really existed except in the minds of those stretching for a halcyon era that was meant to have been. If so then it was brilliant, if not then the tone was set several notches too sweet – I’m plumping for the former.

Brad Loree as Holland
At the end of the night, after trick or treating is completed, there is a late knock at the door. A priest, Father Flannigan (Edward X. Young), is there and tells Holland that his bus full of orphans has broken down further down the road and asks to use his phone. He insists on being invited in and then asks to use the facilities. A couple of points. Firstly, Flannigan’s Irish accent is poor – ok he is pretending to be an Irish priest (he is actually the Mr Hush of the title) but it really wasn’t a good effort. Secondly the invite aspect was too heavy handed. The film plays like a straight slasher until later on when Hush is revealed to be a vampire – this should have had Holland invite him in without being asked, rather than play the trope heavily at this point and thus spoil the twist at this point.

threatening Julie
So, Holland sits himself down until there is a scream and Flannigan appears holding Julie with a knife at her throat. He doesn’t waste much time before he slits her throat (a well done sfx) and suggests that Amy has met a similar fate. Holland legs it upstairs and drops to his knees – we soon discover she is missing, not murdered – and is coshed over the head. This moves into a dentist waiting room and Holland being given gas and air and the dentist being Hush – this is a nightmare Holland has and wakes from, now grey and bearded.

Debbie murdered
It is ten years on and Holland now lives in a tent, with a guy called Donald, and washes dishes for a living. Later we hear that he moves around a lot, still searching for Amy. However, this time around he actually opens his heart to a waitress named Debbie (Connie Giordano) and they start dating. This seems to meet the approval of her daughter, Kat (Alexis Lauren), but just when happiness seems to be on the cards the doorbell rings again, Debbie is murdered and Holland (and Kat) are kidnapped by Hush – Hush is never called so by name but often sings the ditty “Hush, Little baby” to himself.

vampire face
So, Hush is a vampire – the reveal of this is a bit of a damp squib in film both because of the invite hint early on and because the vampire makeup is a bit rubbish to be frank. Actually it is only the makeup – a serious over indulgence in greasepaint, it looks like. The fangs looked good and the copious drooling actually worked. Hush has taken it upon himself to menace and punish Holland’s bloodlines for the “sins” of his grandfather – a dream sequence Holland has with his grandmother could have been better handled to have a bit more relevance.

Stephen Geoffreys as Stark
His lackey is Stark (Stephen Geoffreys) and Geoffreys is magnificent in this, overplaying with a Dwight Frye meets Evil from Fright Night zeal that makes you wish his screen time was much longer. As for Edward X. Young, I actually felt that he might make a rather good Max if the Lost Boys were remade. A gag he makes towards the end and Geoffreys performance betray a want to make the film more comedic than it was and it might have worked better had they pushed it all the way in that direction. I assume Holland was named by combining the names of Tom Holland (Fright Night’s director) and Vincent Price (who is referenced in the Fright Night character Peter Vincent).

Edward X. Young as Mr Hush
The editing could have been tightened, to be fair, and there were noticeable sound inconsistencies. However, I liked the premise of slasher film actually being a vampire movie, I liked the idea of making one person suffer (Holland’s parents were murdered and we assume this was by Hush too – that might have made either a good prologue or a better dream sequence than the grandmother one). Compared to some films this isn’t as bad as the scores on IMDb make out. Of course, as I said at the head of the review, it isn’t the best film either – and I think it lets itself down a bit. And a fair score is probably 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

The film is on demand at Vimeo or available via Amazon:

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Vengeance Obtained – review

Author: Eric M Gore

First Published: 2016

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Marcel Dekrey, angel of The Lord and nine-hundred year old vampire, is a double agent in service to The Most High God. Marcel is charged with a clear mandate; observe and report to the heavenly host events as they unfold in the dangerous world of anomalies--vampires, werewolves, witches, warlocks, demonic creatures, and variations of each--which exists within our own, and intercede if and when necessity demands.

Necessity does indeed demand when Marcel learns a recent attack against him was orchestrated by his ancient enemy, Stefano the Gouge. The assault is part of his enemy's plan to use Marcel's duel nature to enact a ritual derived from a powerful artifact which has been in the possession of the human military since the end of World War II; The Book of the Dead.

This ritual will reprise the devil's first fall from grace when one-third of all the angels followed him to the pit, ushering in a new demonic world order and humanity's final day. Marcel must use his skill in swordsmanship and hand to hand combat, honed to their most ardent degree in nine hundred years of unlife, to stop Stefano before The Heavenly Host descends to Earth to carry out God's will and puts an end to reality itself.

The review: I was sent Vengeance Obtained for review and, as I looked at the back of the book, I must admit to being wary of what I was about to read. The author, by his bio, is clearly a committed Christian and the blurb made it clear that this was a book steeped in Christian mythology – now I don’t mind reading a book based around Christian mythology (many, many books in the vampire genre are) but I worried that this may lay it on a bit thick.

So, first of all – despite encompassing the concept of the Christian Apocalypse and using phrases such as "most high God" this was a very readable book that didn’t make me feel that I was being evangelically preached at, and those moments that were a tad heavy handed tended to be in the main character Marcel’s voice and, him being an angel and all, that actually works. The next worry was the idea of a vampire being an angel – why on Earth would that pan out. Well it did. Marcel is actually more angel than he knows (he is an archangel actually) but he has no memory of his angelic origin pre-turn (at least when we first meet him). In the book he is told of his angelic nature after he is turned and told that he is to observe and report on the activities of the “anomalies” – vampires, werewolves etc… One might ask why an omnipotent deity needs such a double agent… but that would be nit-picking.

Marcel was sired by a daywalker and thus is immune to sunlight - this has nothing to do with his angelic side. The vampires are able to manipulate reality and can open portals that allow them to "flick" or appear to move with impossible speed and can regenerate destroyed flesh - one does so and develops a huge tentacle as his "body image" was askew. Another vampire got too close to a nuclear fission reactor and has permanent raven wings. The book itself is set in a universe where such things as quantum computers were developed (by the military) in the seventies.

So we get a rip roaring yarn that involves vampires, the Necronomicon, the devil, werewolves (and lycans, they are separate, though related, beasts in this) and mages. It is not necessarily the most sophisticated prose but it moves along at a brisk pace and is generally clearly constructed. However, all is not positive and my biggest complaint probably rests around one phrase that Gore uses way too often. Everything seems to be caveated as being “vampirically fast” or “vampirically strong”, later this also leads to the phrasing “angelically fast”. It is really clumsy English that jolts the reader’s suspension of disbelief with its clumsiness and, to be honest, once the reader is told that the vampires are stronger and faster than humans it is unnecessary.

That gripe aside, solid enough, not too preachy and fun. 6 out of 10.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Short Film: The Audition

Director: Ryan Shovey

Release date: 2013

Contains spoilers

When I look at a short film I try my best not to spoil it. When it comes in at just over 7 minutes that can be difficult. However when your IMDb page holds the description: “An actress on her way to a late-night audition in New Orleans is cornered by a gang of seedy men before she reveals a supernatural secret which stops them dead in their tracks.” And when said character is listed as Paige Alucard (Courtney Lacombe), well all bets are off – even if your twist is who is predator and who is prey.

the gang
So, as the IMDb page suggests Paige is walking through the streets of New Orleans, late at night, on her way to an audition. She’s on the phone to the person who has set up the audition, one Gary Brams (Pedro Lucero). Slowly a gang of men fall in behind her, keeping their distance as they work out whether she is their target. She enters a parking garage (bemused that it is the location of the audition). It becomes clear that Gary is the one who set these men upon her as he messages them to confirm her as the target.

They catcall as they approach her and she, at first, runs until she tries to get through a door that is locked. They beat her and a comment is made about not playing with their food. But, after the beating, she laughs and then she lets her true nature take over… Which is being a vampire, of course, and the film is embedded so you can watch the thugs get their comeuppance. The short itself is neatly put together. I liked the muted colour scheme with occasional vibrancy in the reds. The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Rites of Blood – review

Director: Sami Haavisto

Release date: 2004

Contains spoilers

I have looked at another film by Finnish director Sami Haavisto, in the form of Desire of the Innocent Blood. Many of the cast of this film were also in the earlier film. I am quiet taken by the ambitious films Haavisto has made, even if they may have the occasional problem.

This film is dual language. The first half is in English, the second in Finnish and these correspond to the time periods with the first half being set in the 19th Century (in Wallachia) and the second half in the present day (in Helsinki).

Mika Vattulainen as the Cardinal
It starts with a witch burning and intertitles inform us that the practice of witch burning had all but died out except amongst a few die-hards. In this case the perpetrator is Cardinal DeCeville (Mika Vattulainen) though, as the story progresses, it would seem that the Abbess Catherine (Kirsi Vahomäki) is actually the power behind the Crosier.

Marie (played in the 18th Century section by both Nanda De Bruijn & Emma Räihä) is a flute playing country girl who has joined a Satanic cult led by a Warlock (Kai Zakowski). She confirms her desire to take the final rites. The Cardinal is hunting in the area, however, having received intelligence that a witch cult is there. The rumour is that the next rite will involve human sacrifice.

ritual sacrifice
The rite does indeed include the sacrifice of Marie’s love (Nino Hynninen) but, during the rite, the Cardinal and his soldiers attack. All the witches are killed, bar Marie who is knocked out but alive, and the warlock is captured. The Cardinal kills one of his own men who was going to rape a witch. The warlock is tortured, a confession signed and he is hung but Marie (still in her ritual mask, half naked and covered in blood) sneaks into the Cardinal’s keep.

a hanging
There is a scene where (I assume she makes) a nun hallucinates Jesus coming down from a cross and subsequently shows the nun, naked, rubbing against the bleeding religious figure that will, I am sure, manage to insult many a person watching the film. Jesus becomes Marie and she kills the nun ritually and is then caught, pleads that she is pregnant and then sentenced to be buried alive anyway. This takes us almost to the end of the 18th Century section and it is a tad over long as an introduction.

a victim
I do have to mention, however, that one compassionate Christian unearths her body and finds the child born in the coffin – barely alive. He sends the child north to be fostered (in Finland). This is important as it gives us our lore. In the modern day we meet Marie (Mari Koivula) in a hotel room with a victim – the victim’s throat ripped out. She remembers being buried alive and then being born – Marie, therefore, became/possessed her own daughter. She was fostered and at a given point killed the foster parents and stopped growing older. She has to kill and drink blood (presumably, given the fact that she fills a glass with blood). She literally rips the throats of her victims out with her fingers.

Marie and Anton
She falls in love with a guy named Anton (Juha Särestöniemi) but the Cardinal and Abbess are still around and vampires as well (I assume, there is talk of marks on the neck but no biting is shown). This is where the film lost me a little, I’m afraid. I just couldn’t reconcile why they were now vampires. Marie, yes, she made a pact with the devil but, despite the religious pair being bloodthirsty and murderers, the fact that they were vampires seemed incongruous. I guess they came to Finland as the baby was sent north but that isn’t actually relayed.

blood at mouth
More than this, I didn’t actually buy the relationship between Gothy Marie and straight laced Anton and there were story aspects that I won’t spoil that just happened with no narrative explanation or flow. The second half of the film also suffered from poor pacing. It’s a shame because a period piece that then flows into a modern piece was a brave move by the filmmakers and I do believe I have a soft spot for Sami Haavisto’s films. The gore was well done and used practical effects – one particular needle related effect made me cringe (making it absolutely effective). However nothing can hide the pacing flaws and the narrative gaps. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Monday, June 20, 2016

III Slices of Life – review

Director: Anthony G. Sumner

Release date: 2010

Contains spoilers

This was a portmanteau film and Sumner’s next portmanteau effort has already been looked at on TMtV. Gallery of Fear contained the excellent By Her Hand, She Draws You Down, which was most definitely a vampire segment. It involved an internal parasite – as does the segment we are looking at in this – but I’ll discuss the vampiric nature of it later.

The wraparound in this, Sketcher, was very interesting but deserved to be the wraparound as I felt that it lacked the exposition to be a feature – it was perfectly good, and gloriously weird, for what it did however. The first segment W.O.R.M. wasn’t bad and was a sort of techno-zombie piece. The second section Amber Alert was, frankly a bit turgid. I had guessed exactly what was going on almost straight away and then the short took forever to get to the point. The in-between time was meant to be drawing both a mystery and atmosphere and I felt it did little of either.

body in the bath
The final segment was called Pink Snapper and was probably the best segment of all three – it was certainly, sporadically, the goriest. It is also the reason we are looking at the film here. There is definitely a genre connection and I was a hairsbreadth away from giving this an honourable mention as something of genre interest but eventually went for the review. The film starts with a woman, Elizabeth (Judith Lesser), bound. Her father (Bruce Varner) locks her away – she yells at him asking how he can do this to... (presumably she was going to then say "his daughter"). He goes upstairs and starts to dismember the gory remains of a body of a man in the bath.

Deneen Melody as Susan
In the city Susan (Deneen Melody) is cooking when her brother, Eric (Galen Schloming), calls. He asks if their Uncle Jack (Mike Tracy) is home as he wants to borrow the car that evening. Jack, in his cop uniform, is drunk and asleep on the couch and Susan says Eric will have to ask when he gets home. When she gets off the phone she turns to see Jack awake. He forces himself on her – we get the impression he has been abusing her for years. He is just about to rape her when Eric gets home and attacks Jack. Jack gets the better of him and Susan brains him with a frying pan – they take his car keys and leg it.

Elizabeth Bound
Meanwhile Edgar, Elizabeth’s father, has dismembered the body, put it in black bags in the boot of his car and driven from the house to a wooded area to dispose of it (he hasn’t driven far, a few hundred yards from the house). He trips and knocks himself out. The brother and sister, in the meantime, are running out of gas and turn off the interstate. They find Edgar and Eric runs to the house for help but finds no one (he doesn’t go into the basement) and so they drive the man to hospital – still drifting in and out of consciousness, indeed in his delirium he assumes Eric is his son and asks for forgiveness.

rescuing Elizabeth
After getting Edgar to the hospital, with the staff assuming they are his kids, they go back to the house intent on stealing money, clothes and food with which to survive. They hear banging from the basement and go to investigate. There they find Elizabeth and help her out of the basement. She tells them that her aunt had visited some time before and her father changed, accusing her of being the recipient of the family curse and his actions were in order that he might starve *it*. The siblings suggest she get cleaned up whilst they look for useful items for the road.

family tree
They find a series of anatomical type pictures, along with a family tree that suggests that Elizabeth and Edgar are descended from Erzsébet Báthory (indeed their surname is Nadasdy – the familial name of Báthory’s husband). Certain pictures on the tree (including Elizabeth’s) have the word host by them. Elizabeth, meanwhile, is in the bath – we hear a hungry noise and she says to her stomach “soon”. Eric is in a bedroom when Elizabeth comes on to him, she guides his hand below when suddenly he screams, his hand emerges missing fingers and spurting blood – Elizabeth has not finished with him yet…

missing digits
The spoiler to come is that this is not quite, as may be suspected, vagina dentata. Elizabeth is the host to some form of internal parasite with sharp teeth, a desire for human flesh (and that desire is born of hunger) and a lodging place in her female bits. The suggestion is that this parasite has been passed from woman to woman in the familial line, all the way from Báthory. The film also makes it clear that the parasite can be passed to a non-family member and the woman so infected most definitely morphs into a Vamp as well as a host to a vampire. The attack on Eric is gruesome, the parasite ripping his entire body apart and not just concentrating on his penetrative parts.

Judith Lesser as Elizabeth
Now, we have classed those infected (or even taken over by) internal parasites as vampires before, but I very nearly settled on an Honourable Mention for this. I was still writing the article when I decided that this should be reviewed. The film makes the connection by using Elizabeth Báthory who is, of course, of genre interest but Eric mentions the concept of Countess Dracula. As I said at the head, this was the strongest segment. However it wasn’t perfect. The interwoven narratives needed sharpening somewhat to make it feel more like a whole, the acting was passable but not stellar and things felt just a tad too convenient at times. However it wasn’t a bad effort at all, it was an interesting take on the genre and that originality pushes me to award 5.5 out of 10 for the segment.

The imdb page is here.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Vlad – review

Author: Carlos Fuentes

Translators: E. Shaskan Bumas & Alejandro Branger

First published: 2010

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Where, Carlos Fuentes asks, is a modern day vampire to roost? Why not Mexico City, populated by ten million blood sausages (that is, people), and a police force who won’t mind a few disappearances? “Vlad” is Vlad the Impaler, of course, whose mythic cruelty was an inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In this sly sequel, Vlad really is undead: dispossessed after centuries of mayhem by Eastern European wars and rampant blood shortages. More than a postmodern riff on “the vampire craze,” Vlad is also an anatomy of the Mexican Bourgeoisie, as well as our culture’s ways of dealing with death. For—as in Dracula—Vlad has need of both a lawyer and a real-estate agent in order to establish his new kingdom, and Yves Navarro and his wife Asunción fit the bill nicely. Having recently lost a son, might they not welcome the chance to see their remaining child live forever? More importantly, are the pleasures of middle-class life enough to keep one from joining the legions of the damned?

The review: Its nice, from time to time, to delve into some modern literature about vampires and this novella was certainly a beautifully written piece. Of course the blurb as set out is wrong, Vlad the Impaler’s mythic cruelty wasn’t an inspiration for Stoker – who, as far as we know, knew nothing about said cruelty.

Vlad in this, however, is the impaler – turned, we discover, after being buried alive, by a centuries old vampire who was also a little girl. When we eventually meet him he wears wigs, false moustaches and habitual sunglasses (that hide the fact that his maker took his eyes). Whilst he can make himself any age he dons these affectations and Yves – once he has discovered the truth of his client – even suspects that he trims his ears nightly to make them more human looking.

A document recounts Vlad looking into the legends of the undead when he was alive and lists a series of vampire types; muroni, Nosferatu, Lugosi, strigoï and varcolaci. Of course, whilst some of these are from folklore, one is a conceit.

What struck me about the book, however, as it explored the potential of routine and boredom for professionals in their middle class existence and the reaction to the loss of a child, both against the backdrop of the vampire, was the absolute dourness of the novel’s conclusion. I won’t spoil it but will warn that it is bleak. But bleakness captured within beautiful prose. 8 out of 10.