Saturday, August 08, 2020

Short Film: Jezebel

A film recommended by Billy, this short film was directed by Nick Phillips, released in 2017 and comes in at just over 10 minutes and is a very nice little short that plays on a couple of genre tropes in very subtle ways.

It starts off with Jezebel (Claire Dellamar) sat before her mirror (note she has a reflection) musing on why she does what she does – does it give her pleasure or only pain. She could well be talking about her career as a prostitute, or something more, but she recognises that – for a moment – she gets pleasure, she is not so alone.

We see three clients. The first is Rufus (Tyler Johnson) a large, gruff man who does not actually give his name, takes a drink and threatens to show her *what she really is*. Off screen we hear a sound like a bite. Next is Samuel (Brian Flaccus), a rich man – more willing to converse but a cynic when it comes to love – something for fools and women. Again, his fate is implied rather than shown explicitly.

blood at the mouth
Henry (Dylan Rourke) is a nervous young man. He bursts in to her apartment and immediately apologises – she confesses she was going to invite him in, a nice touch on the invitation trope that has been inverted. They actually talk and, in the conversation, Jezebel suggests it is better to not know who you are – if you know you can’t escape, “it looks back at you with your eyes and speaks to you with your voice.” This, again, was a nice take on reflections – making it a more psychological concern than a physical lack of reflection and fits with her scratched out eyes on the short's poster.

What will be the fate of the two? The short is embedded below and the imdb page is here.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Blood Widow – review

Director: Brendan Guy Murphy

Release date: 2019

Contains spoilers

At the heart of this movie, which shouldn’t be confused with the 2014 slasher of the same name, is a very interesting premise. It isn’t around the hokum of the vampires being an endangered species and why, rather it is this: what happens if a serial killer is turned into a vampire.

However great ideas do not necessarily a great film make – this one suffers in some key areas as we will see.

Valentine and Stokes
This starts strongly. We see serial killer Keller (Brendan Guy Murphy) stabbing a victim and then taking a photograph of her corpse. The film then shows a variety of stills of kills and they are well done with realistic blood and posing of corpses (and religious paraphernalia) nicely done. We then see Keller drop evidence and money with a janitor (Ian Whittaker, Strange Blood) who disposes of such things for him. Outside the police station, cops Valentine (James Craven) and Stokes (Dallas Thomas) are being grilled by the press and we see Valentine has a temper and no time for reporters.

We then see Keller in a bar. He makes eye contact with Lilith (Melissa Aguirre Fernandez) who leaves with a flicker of a smile in his direction. They meet outside and kiss, he is dropping a knife from his sleeve when she bites him. He awakens at home with blood at his neck, fang wounds, and confused. He goes to work but his mind is not on the meeting he is in, rather he fantasises about killing a female co-worker and all the others laugh – even her corpse laughs – but he laughs loudest – which he does in reality though no-one else is laughing.

We get a background flashback of him as an abused (physically, psychologically and potentially sexually) child (Caleb Malis) who is involved in killing his father (Michael Martinez), encouraged to do so by his mother (Sara Jackson) and later we hear it was taken as a murder/suicide but he actually killed both. Then we get a view of an acrobat (Monica Boccio). Now this is one of the things the film does wrong. Her silk dance is impressive but as it took longer than it will take for her to die shortly; it was too much (a scene in a nightclub is interminably long as an establishing shot later). He gets her in the car park but after stabbing he uses his teeth on her neck. He asks himself what is wrong with him but it is Lilith’s voice in his head that replies nothing.

the ancient vampire
So, she takes him and fully turns him but the question is why? The vampires, it appears, have a genetic marker that leads to a heme issue. The lore wasn’t greatly explained but it sounded like the only people who could turn had that marker. She has selected Keller for his marker (and an ancient vampire she works with confirms it and changes Keller’s appearance – shaves his head and beard) and this has allowed her to turn him. She then gets pregnant by him to continue the race (so they might be mutated humans, supernatural beings or a separate race – its not well worked through) and then wishes to get rid of him, so chains him up but he escapes.

the expert
This means he is now hunting women, using the powers of a vampire, hunting the vampires (for shits and giggles) and hunting the cops who are hunting him. The cops get a break as they find blood that reveals the heme issue and have knowledge of the murder/suicide and his strange (heme) condition as a kid. Valentine is having dreams that connects him to Keller (even before he was a vampire) and also dreams of Lilith and so becomes convinced that there’s a vampire involved. As a result he rings a professor who knows about such things.

This leads to a story of vampires in 1919 Mexico being dealt with by angry townsfolk – the staking is fairly well done as a sfx. Lilith was there, but not dragged out with the others and was rescued by the elder vampire who suggested she would one day be a “sovereign queen” of a “hive” of vampires. Clearly sunlight isn’t an issue and at one point the elder remembers being in control of vampire armies and ruling over humans.

fangs out
So, ponderous moments of establishing scenes (the club and the silk dancer) that needed cutting right back. Some pretty poor acting, if I’m going to be honest, not helped by poor dialogue and confused/deliberately obfuscated narrative. That said, Brendan Guy Murphy was clearly having a ball as Keller. There is a nice play with the idea of vampires and religious paraphernalia – with the iconography he displays with victims and the killer’s trophy room – but it was not explored in any meaningful way. The idea of a vampire being created from a psychotic human predator was neat but the film’s failings didn’t support the idea. 3.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Count Rothchild (A Vampire Tale): A Gothic Fantasy Novel (Gothic Legends Book 1) – review

Author: Michael W. Huard

First Published: 2019

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: HIS CURSE IS BLOOD, YET HIS HEART SEEKS LOVE In the likes of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Interview with the Vampire a new legend is born! Courageous and beautiful, young Gaylen Van Warden, scribe to the kingdom, embarks on a journey to a mysterious land. She is about to gather the story of a lifetime.

Lost within his gothic domain, Drakko Del Rothchild, seducer of women and master of the night, senses someone is seeking him out. The legend of his infamous family haunts the count. Lonely, he welcomes the young lady into his strange castle. He wishes to tell his story, but Gaylen reminds him of love lost. He could lose control!

Will the infamous bard learn his truth before her innocence is taken, perhaps even her life? Get ready for a great medieval adventure, but beware, for your worst nightmares may very well come true! Welcome to the world of Dracula’s brother.

The review: The strongest thing I can say about this is that it is clear that author Michael Huard is passionate about his subject. Unfortunately, the book had some misses for me, which I will explore a little.

So, the book is set in a fantasy world that is like ours, with fantasy creatures and (active) polytheistic Gods, but the names and geography are invented. This is not actually a bad thing (though the connection to Dracula might make a reader assume our world), but sometimes the detail could be jarring. An example of this is found within the use of Zeus as a primary godform but then having a vampire hunter relying on a cross (a particularly Christian icon, albeit with lightning bolts adorning it), which does cause the reader to pause for thought as does a reference to Victorian furniture.

One issue I did have was the overt use of plot points from Dracula in the first third of the novel. So, the visitor to the vampire’s castle is a female character (gender swapping the Harker character for Gaylen Van Warden – though her fiancé left behind is called Jonathan) and I thought that the idea of the three brides being gender swapped was clever and worked nicely. However, the subsequent inclusion of finding the Count in his crate, by her, and the hitting with a spade, through to a storm pushing his voyage (coincidentally) to a person connected to Gaylen/Harker. The Count’s predation on said friend, actually named Lucy, whom Gaylen visits after escaping, rather than returning home to her fiancé, so she can fulfil the Mina role (including the cloak pin moment). Lucy’s change to a vampire and the gathering of the crew of light who chase back to the vampire’s castle was borrowing too much for me. I will say that under-currents changed, but the broad brush was Stoker.

You can guess, from the above being crammed into the first third of this book, that the descriptive prose was fairly abridged, certainly compared to the Stoker novel. But, whilst the plot then jumped forward in time and moved to following Gaylen’s adult son, Paublo, and Rothchild’s half vampire daughter (not referred to as a dhampir, but certainly a vampire hunter), the brevity of the prose remained and at times felt skeletal. It seemed to me that there was plenty of scope to expand the descriptive prose with further detail, fleshing out the text, which would have solidified the world and explored the characters further, as some were a tad 2-dimensional.

My biggest concern, if I can put it that way, was around the writing style – though it might have been more me not getting on with the idiosyncratic styling, rather than an issue with the author’s approach. To me it felt that the unusual turn of phrase used through the narrative detracted from the book, as though the author was using a literary accent, and it prevented us hearing the author’s authentic voice.

Yet, as I noted, that the author seemed passionate about his subject, there were occasional illustrative plates that fitted the subject and there were ideas that worked – such as the gender swapping of the brides. The idiosyncratic language might not be an issue for you, however, and whilst some of the detail jarred me it didn’t make reading a chore. 5 out of 10.

In Paperback @ Amazon US

In Paperback @ Amazon UK

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Honourable Mention: Carolina Grindhouse: Anderson's Own Horror Movie

Released in 2019 and directed by Kevin Woods and Rachel Mangan, this was a film shot and dedicated to the town of Anderson. Kevin Woods used locations and locals to create a portmanteau film. The wraparound ha a podcast broadcast interviewing a writer whose book is filled with creepy tales from the area – ranging from homicide to urban legend. The stories are then the short films that make up the bulk of the film.

What would you know, one of them is a vampire tale but it is so short and simplistic that I decided a honourable mention was the fairest way to feature it.

a dribble of blood
So, it is set in a downtown bar, it's closing time and the bouncers are encouraging the drinkers to finish up and get going. A group of people enter, one of them knocking the bouncer for six and then they attack the patrons. And that’s about it, no muss, no fuss – just a slaughter. I wish there were more to this but there isn’t and it’s fairly blink and it’s over. So, a fleeting visitation of vampires in a low budget film.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Friday, July 31, 2020

Short Film: Work Sucks!

This is a 2019 short film directed by Chris Ruppert and coming in at 15 minutes. It is played for laughs and thus the rubber body parts and laughable fangs actually work within the farcical concept. As the film starts, however, we get a huge amount of screaming and said body parts appearing.

A phone call wakes a man (Ian Anderson) and, receiving an address, he gets ready to go to work. He is a cleaner of blood and gore and he zips his coverall above a I Had a Bloody Good Time at House Harker tee-shirt then heads to the basement, where a slaughter has taken place.

Aj Nutter as Renfield
There is some time taken with the cleaner playing with body parts as he cleans the mess until, eventually, he notices something he shouldn’t have missed – a whole body. He gets out an electric saw and takes a hand, when the man (Aaron Ruppert) comes round; not dead at all. His existence is soon known by the boss, Dr Acula (Chris Ruppert), who sends flamboyant vampire Renfield (Aj Nutter) over to help with the disposal…

To get an idea of just what could go wrong, take a look at the short, which I’ve embedded below. The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Blood Vessel – review

Director: Justin Dix

Release date: 2019

Contains spoilers

Though released in 2019, this hit VoD in 2020 hot on the heels of Subferatu. Unlike the former this is set at the end of the war (rather than displaced in time) and is played seriously, whereas Subferatu is played entirely for laughs. The connection, therefore, is the idea that both take place on Nazi ocean-bound weapons of war.

In fact, I was struck how this owed some of its chops to Death Ship, which itself was a Naziploitation flick with a ragtag set of survivors adrift at sea and coming face to face with horror rather than rescue. Again, there is a difference, in that whilst this was on a budget it clearly aspired to be more than the product of its limitations.

in the raft
So, it starts with scenes of a life raft containing allied survivors of an attack. Intertitles tell us that the close to defeated, Nazi forces took up a position of attacking merchant and hospital vessels and survivors in order to demoralise their enemies. Then we meet our survivors. There are American ship cooks Lydell Jackson (Christopher Kirby, Queen of the Damned, The matrix Reloaded, Salem’s Lot, Daybreakers & Preacher) and Jimmy Bigelow (Mark Diaco), Russian sniper Alexander Teplov (Alex Cooke, also Preacher), Aussie soldier Nathan Sinclair (Nathan Phillips), British Intelligence officer Gerard Faraday (John Lloyd Fillingham), British nurse Jane Prescott (Alyssa Sutherland) and the Captain, Malone (Robert Taylor). They are adrift and rations are low.

the ship approaches
At night a ship comes out of the fog; it is German but it seems unmanned – though Sinclair seems to see a girl (Ruby Isobel Hall) on the prow, though he doesn’t mention it. The ship is passing them and potshots are taken, looking to hit metal cabling. Teplov, revealing for the first time that he can speak English, takes the gun and hits the cable, causing it to sheer and offering them a purchase. They pull themselves alongside and start to climb up a rope ladder – Faraday struggling as he has an arm in a sling. The last to climb is the Captain, but the rope ladder breaks and he falls, and subsequently he is torn apart by the propeller

veins on wall
So, as a storm suddenly starts up, they start to investigate the ship. They discover that Faraday had hidden rations in his sling and, when the scouting party search the (red glowing) bridge they find that the wheel is chained and discover a body. The body was interesting as his veins seemed to be growing out onto the wall of the bridge. Except, whilst it looked interesting, it wasn’t then explored as a concept. They find more bodies, burnt (and one with fangs) and a little girl, Mya (who was the one stood on the prow). At first she seems scared and feral – she bites Jane – but then goes with them. She speaks a language they don’t understand (the word for family is recognisable though), though Teplov knows it is Romanian.

the patriarch
So, on the vessel (now wearing Nazi uniforms, as their clothes were soaked) they find occult writings and also a store room where there is a fearful German (who ends up getting killed after killing one of them) and a box of Nazi gold plus what we would describe as a deluxe vampire killing kit. There are also ornate coffins, chained and stored in crates; a greedy survivor opens one – revealing a bat faced vampire, credited as the patriarch (Troy Larkin) and named as strigoï by Teplov. We get the lore that they can read minds and are shapeshifters, a bite turns and a mirror shows their true form. The coffin contains his wife (Vivienne Perry) and, of course, they are the family Mia mentioned.

Jane and Sinclair
The film does much with little. The ship is nicely claustrophobic, and there are some nice (if broad brush) characters. When we see the Patriarch in the first instance, he seems quite rubber-faced but the effect works better once he is up and animated. Most of the performances work within their broad-brush stereotypes – with John Lloyd Fillingham almost channelling Donald Pleasence, and Sinclair and Teplov proving two of the most engaging of the characters. The film doesn’t do much that you wouldn’t expect but it is a solid watch. 6.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

Monday, July 27, 2020

Vamp or Not? Death Ship

B movie horror fare from 1980 and directed by Alvin Rakoff, this was, I guess, partly a naziploitation film and certainly was a strange beast of a premise with a ship that seemed to be alive. My friend Leila suggested this might be a Vamp movie in the same way that I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle and Upír z Feratu are also vampire movies – in that we have a vampiric machine at the heart of the film.

Having settled down to watch this I became, as the film progressed, less convinced until close to the end where a line made me see where Leila was coming from. There was also the use of a trope that, whilst not exclusively Vamp, certainly originates from the genre. It was fair, I thought, to examine this as a ‘Vamp or Not?’

George Kennedy as Asland
So, things start with a vessel and a voice, speaking in German, stating that the enemy is in sight. The best way to describe it is that the ghost ship gears up to ramming speed. Cut to a cruise ship and we meet some of the passengers and crew. Firstly, Captain Ashland (George Kennedy), who is a bit of a terror to his crew but who is retiring after this trip. As well as him we meet his replacement, Trevor Marshall (Richard Crenna). The outgoing Captain hates doing the social thing with the passengers but he is forced, by professional obligation, to go to the party that is in full swing.

Saul Rubinek as Jackie
At the party the two Captains sit at the table with Marshall’s wife, Margaret (Sally Ann Howes), and kids, Robin (Jennifer McKinney) and Ben (Danny Higham). Margaret has Robin take the tired Ben back to the cabin. Also at the party we see crew member Nick (Nick Mancuso, Nightwing) and passenger Lori (Victoria Burgoyne) sneak off for some ‘how’s your father’ and we get some input from party compere Jackie (Saul Rubinek). Finally, Ashland speaks to passenger Sylvia Morgan (Kate Reid) before being called back to the bridge, who have detected the ship that is on collision course.

death ship
Try what they might the ship rams them and we get disaster movie scenes in montage with the idea that the cruise ship sinks quickly. We then see a raft with all the Marshalls, Jackie, Sylvia, Nick and Lori on. The obvious question was, in separate locations as the kids and lovers were, how did these particular passengers and crew all make it onto a raft (and it isn’t a lifeboat, mind) and why no one else – it is glaring, unanswered and quickly forgotten. Something is in the water and a hand breaks the surface. They pull Ashland out of the water – absolutely worse for wear. They drift until the ship (that unknown to them, rammed them) suddenly sneaks up behind them. At this point I was thinking this was a “they’re all dead and this is some form of afterlife” plot – not the case.

boarding the ship
So, after shouting for attention to no avail, they drift past a boarding ladder. They climb it, but as Nick and Marshall help the Captain up the camera cuts to the machinery of the ship, which starts to move – indicating cognitive action on the vessel’s part – and the ladder tilts and falls away. Luckily Lori manages to drop a rope ladder and they get onboard, but not without the ship dousing them with something – perhaps oil, perhaps bilge – as they climb, presumably trying to make them lose their grip. Following this the ship seems to catch Jackie in metal cables. He is hoisted, swung over the ocean, dunked then dropped – the anchor comes up and the engines start…

murdering Sylvia
From our point of view, what is important here is that we here a ghostly voice with German accent speak (telepathically, presumably) to the insensible Ashland – saying that he is the new captain of the ship. Later, when Sylvia’s face becomes lumpy (for want of a better description – possibly due to eating boiled sweets she finds), he murders her by strangulation at the ship’s urging, all the time seeing a disobedient sailor rather than his erstwhile passenger. Ashland is the embodiment of the trope I mentioned.

frozen victims
One might think that a Captain (and he dons a Nazi Captain’s uniform) is in charge of a ship but we need to remember this ship has been ghosting round the oceans for roughly forty years and presumably without a captain or crew for much of that and so does not need someone in charge. Indeed, Ashland is not in charge – though he thinks he is – the ship will not let him change course, for instance, if it doesn’t suit the ship. Ashland is very much the ship’s servant; in vampire genre parlance he is the ship’s Renfield. There logically must have been other servants as we see a freezer with past victims dangling and frozen – though Ashland seems to prefer burial at sea.

blood shower
The ship itself was a Nazi interrogation ship and is dedicated to its fascist origins – playing a film reel of Hitler at one point. We see no Nazi crew (they are long gone) it is the ship that is the Nazi. It can drop and weigh anchor of its own volition, the engines work – though the dials are all on zero and the source of its fuel is not revealed. It can also lock doors and, at one point, showers Lori in blood. Having Ashland just gives it a pair of hands (and the ability to shoot a rifle). So, why vamp?

homicidal ship
Well I struggled with this. The ship was supernaturally active but I didn’t see the immediate connection until Ashland declares that the ship needs blood, telling Marshall that it needs the blood of his family. Indeed, Ashland categorically states that its survival is dependent on getting blood. Of course, Ashland is mad, but this seems to be the primary command to its Renfield – get me blood. How it uses the blood is not revealed. We do see someone crushed in the cogs of the engine but there is no obvious indication that this feeds the ship. I wondered whether we get to see it using blood as fuel – we don’t – and one might argue that showering Lori in blood would therefore be a waste, unless of course it is recycled through the shower drain.

Into Eternity
So, is it Vamp? I think it all goes down to whether the viewer trusts the mad Renfield character’s exposition. If Ashland is correct when he says that ship needs blood to survive, then possibly yes. Even if the word blood actually means life generally, and the ship needs to take lives to survive, then there is an argument that it is surviving off victims’ life energies. Ashland gives a hint of immortality; when asked where he plans to sail her, he responds, “Into eternity, Marshall. Eternity.” Again, we need to caveat this with the fact that he thinks he is the master when he is clearly the servant and that he is mad. The problem is, this is an unashamed B piece and detailed discussion of underlying themes was not in the script as filmed.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK