Saturday, February 23, 2019

Honourable Mention: Strange Battle

This was a 2016 Chinese movie, directed by Zhang Shaojun, and if you look to the poster I’ve headed this article with you’ll see a very stylised kyonsi with the normal prayer scroll to the forehead (though that normally offers control) and long claws but, perhaps, a touch of Chinese-cinema ghost as well.

I chose that poster as it sits on the film’s Vimeo Page but there is a second poster that shows a group of five kyonsi, again looking ready to claw someone’s eye out, and a Taoist priest. In truth there is very little correlation between the posters and the actual film. In the film we get a fleeting visitation at best.

the corpse herder
The film is set in 1945 and is set in Xiangxi Mountains. Early on we get a view of a corpse herder (or corpse artisan by the subtitles) and his charges – linked together by a rope or chain and each with a hood over their faces. I did note the prayer scrolls occasionally seen under the hood, however this is about as much as we see, a fleeting visitation, a parade sometimes in the distance.

son and father
The primary story of the film is of a group of bandits (actually Japanese troops out of uniform) who are hidden in a cave nearby to a village, they kill a couple of villagers but eventually decide to take the village (as they have been seen and fear that a warning will be given to the Chinese army). A young hunter has seen them with his father – who is subsequently killed by the Japanese troops – and tries to keep his young wife and son safe.

corpse herding
The Corpse Herding is (almost) a backdrop. The mountain area is said to be known for the phenomena and also for a ‘miasma’ that can make a poison that causes hallucinations. We do see Chinese troops, in a flashback, posing as a corpse chain and using this disguise to attack the enemy troops. We also get the Japanese second in command poisoned and hallucinating, seeing dead villagers return as kyonsi. But they are brief moments and nothing else occurs relevant to the blog.

Japanese troop
Assuming the corpse herder to be real – and the disguised ones separate – we can say we get a fleeting visitation of kyonsi but they do nothing bar march (rather than hop) as led. Equally we can say the troops disguised as corpses are acting as a vampire. But the moments are few and far between. The film does suffer from fairly poor subtitling (repeatedly shouting that they need “brisk walking” away from the Japanese troops rather than running, for instance). The imdb page is here.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Short Film: Vienna Waits for You

A 26-minute film, this was directed by Dominik Hartl and released in 2012. What makes this interesting is that it is a vampiric location – in this case an apartment building.

It begins with an elderly lady (Traute Furthner) crawling through the apartment on her hands and knees. When she gets into the living room, she pulls a string of lacey doilies tied together, rather like linens or sheets to make a rope, from her top and ties it to the leg of a sturdy looking appliance.

The makeshift rope goes out of the window and she climbs out of the apartment, knocking a pot from the window sill. The camera lingers on the couch opposite for a moment and we see the woman give it the finger (or it appears she gives the coach the finger but it is likely the whole apartment). She tries to climb down but slips and falls, her foot catching in a loop in the rope, leaving her dangling over the pavement. She tries to grab a shard of pot, but can’t quite reach, her false teeth fall out and then something pulls her back up.

giving the finger
In the apartment some time later and the woman, and the building manager (Alexander E. Fennon), are showing the apartment to Anna (Petra Staduan). She is astounded that the apartment is so cheap but it is Government subsidised he informs her. The old lady is going to travel the world, she says. Anna is new in town, she confesses, having moved there three weeks ago to be with her boyfriend, Danial (Moritz Vierboom), but that didn’t work out. Anna signs the lease; a beep heralds a taxi and the old lady is off. In the meantime, the building manager gives Anna her key.

Anna tries to spruce the place up, throwing out ornaments and doilies, cleaning mirrors and painting walls. But the walls revert to their original colour, the mirrors become dirty again, doilies reform and fruit that Anna buys rots in the bowl in the blink of an eye. Looking in the mirror she looks haggard, older. She goes to the manager and complains – throwing the key at him and stating that the building is making her sick. She can’t leave, he explains, it is part of the contract. She cannot leave unless there is a replacement tenant.

She goes to see a doctor, citing wrinkles and grey hair but the doctor says it is normal for a woman her age. She claims to be 25 and the doctor offers to refer to a psychologist. Asking for her ID, Anna sees it has aged and has a pattern of a doily across it. She stays in a hotel but wakes much older – the building manager explains, on her return to the building, that it is part of the protocol. She cannot leave without a new tenant and the further she moves away the faster she’ll age.

the building manager and Anna
The building is able to communicate in groans – it appears – and can defend itself, for example choking Anna with a doily that appears in her throat when she tries to burn it. Eventually the manager explains that this has been going on for decades. He mentions a school next door and an attempt to starve the apartment – it aged the whole class to old age. What is Anna to do? Can she escape the apartment or even sacrifice another person to appease its hunger? If one complies then it is a pleasant enough jailer, providing coffee and biscuits. However, not only is it ageing the occupant but it is absorbing them, making them part of the apartment – we see this when she rips her paper-thin skin and sees her tendons have become threads rather than flesh and blood.

tendons replaced
This is a really inventive short and kudos to Petra Staduan who clearly had to go through heavier and heavier makeup as she was aged. Its always great to find a vampiric building film. In this case it is not a whole landscape that the building is part of; it is localised to the apartment, but it is an apartment with a long reach. There is also something slightly Faustian, with the idea of contractually binding oneself (though there seems little upside to this one, bar cheap rent, and the cost comes quick and heavy). Recommended and embedded below.

The imdb page is here.

Vienna waits for you from Glaciar Films on Vimeo.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Darkness on the Horizon – review

Author: Christopher Renna

First Published: 2019

Contains spoilers


All Morgan Fischer wants is to graduate high school and escape small-town Colby, Pennsylvania. Since the death of his mother, childhood friends have become his tormentors, and his father has become an absent and neglectful alcoholic. When lack of food forces Morgan to earn money, he develops a friendship with the new residents in town, Ava and Jonathan. They give Morgan the loving attention and guidance he doesn't receive at home. As their bond deepens, he learns the older siblings have a dark secret. And because of his love for them, it's a secret he promises to keep.

During the summer, a series of murders have rattled the small town. The arrival of a mysterious stranger from Ava and Jonathan's past threatens danger. When the threat becomes too great, Morgan must alter his plans for the future and confront his fears. Thrust into a world of deception and murder, can Morgan summon the courage to survive?

The review: A coming of age novel – with vampires. It is a familiar territory but one that Christopher Renna treads confidently. Morgan’s family were rich in the town he grew up in – though the wealth was a couple of generations back and his father, unable to cope following the death of his wife, has sunk them deeply into poverty. Morgan gets a job at the house that was once the family’s property and it turns out that new owners Ava and Jonathan have a secret – being reviewed here it isn’t too much of a stretch to work out that they’re vampires (or immortals in the vernacular of the novel, vampire being an insulting word).

As well as taking us on a journey through the main character’s coming of age, the author draws some interesting lore – though some is a tad confused but that might be cleared up in future volumes. Sunlight, for instance, is an issue for older vampires, we are told – with powerful vampires destroyed instantly. But it seems almost as much an issue for a young vampire (indeed after being fully turned the young vampire gets one more sunrise where the sun is not harmful, a supernatural boon if you will). I hope that the author clarifies the sunlight rules more in the next volume. Beheading and heart destruction is the order of the day (and the heart must be destroyed – the book’s internal myth of the original – South American – vampire suggests she is in stasis, separate from her heart and will be brought back one day) and ingesting a vampire’s heart takes their power (though we do not see that). We get some shapeshifting (into a monstrous form) but also illusionary shifting – for instance making the observer see a ball of light.

Vampires are made with a blood exchange but, in the first instance, whilst their mortal lives are dead their body tries to reject the vampiric blood and will do so without a regime of six feeds of vampire blood – this can be from multiple sources, though that is frowned upon. Probably the most unusual aspect was that, whilst they crave blood, their immortality (or longevity) is granted through stolen life. The way the author did this was unusual – rather than steal the life that was left (i.e. kill an 18-year-old destined to live to 70 and gain 52 years) the vampire accumulates the life gone (so, in the example given they would gain 18 years of life). This is not commented on and one would have thought that vampires would have become the scourge of octogenarians but that seems to not be the case.

So interesting lore, a genuine attempt to step into less trodden waters with that, and a coming of age that morphs into a much wider tale. Some of the dialogue feels a tad staged, perhaps a little false, but that is a very occasional issue and in the main the dialogue worked. This is a good solid start and I wait to see where the author takes the story and, also, some clarity on a little bit of the lore. 6.5 out of 10.

In Paperback @ Amazon US

In Paperback @ Amazon UK

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Old Blood – review

Director: Denise Channing

Release date: 2018

Contains spoilers

This is a film shot in Norwich UK, which seems to have been stuck in producer/distributor Hell… until you watch it and realise it just isn’t very good. Billed as a comedy/horror it isn’t very funny or horrific. It has some unusual lore (not a bad thing) and some ridiculous lore – we are in a world where all vampires dress like Goths. Now I don’t have an issue with setting a vampire film in a Goth setting, but not every vampire would be Goth and certainly the “we’re doing it to hide in plain sight” line has no credibility.

All in all, this is not well shot or acted, but let’s take a look at it.

Sam Terry as Sebastian
After the credits we are in a suburban kitchen that also doubles up as an alchemy lab (itself consisting of about three glass containers). Alison (Caitlin Blanchard), chemist by day and alchemist by night, it would seem, seems less than shocked when a cloak and frilly-shirt wearing man, Sebastian (Sam Terry), appears in her kitchen – instead stating that he must be a vampire (because, cloak & frilly-shirt... one guesses). Rather than fear him, she asks for a sample of blood. She tests it but there is nothing unusual about it (though how she tests it so quickly is best ignored). She asks him to come back the next day, after he’s fed.

Ben Dixon as Bernard
Out in Norwich we are looking at terrible day-for-night shots. A couple of vampires – one called Bernard (Ben Dixon) – are discussing feeding choices and fear pheromones are mentioned. They focus on a young lad who eventually legs it straight into another couple of vampires, one being Perenelle (Henrietta Darcy), and they eat him. So, getting to the point... Perenelle is an alchemist and developed an elixir that allows her to create other vampires (there are also Old Bloods, ancients who can, we assume, make vampires when younger ones can’t – this isn’t explicitly explained).

'inside' a Goth club
Sebastian takes Alison to Perenelle’s coven as he thinks she can uncover the secret of the elixir – much to Perenelle’s chagrin, and obviously so. Meanwhile they are all being observed by Old Bloods who are going to decide whether to kill the younger vampires. Alison has a mortal friend, Lucy (Rachel McNally), who gets killed with no story impact whatsoever. Perenelle has a young girl who she will turn (plot about her drinking from the elixir without permission is not examined). Oh and Goth clubs are apparently outside (with disco lights) because paying for shooting in an actual club was apparently out of budget. Finally there is an inept vampire hunter, who fails to notice his girlfriend is a vampire and yet manages to spot a particularly stealthy Old Blood, overpower him and remove a fang with pliers.

post production fog
It isn’t worth examining the story any further – the unusual lore is around the alchemical source for some of the vampires. The ridiculous lore is around the gothic dress. The dialogue is poor and the sound pretty poor too. The delivery atrocious. A 300-year-old remembers the original Vandals (so no sense of history was apparent when the dialogue was written) and there are three musical montage moments that stifle pace so much as to be more than embarrassing. The day-for-night shots were inadequate, the adding of post-production fog just terrible. Not a lot more to say. 1 out of 10 is generous.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Friday, February 15, 2019

Vamp or Not? Dis

Dis is a disturbing piece of horror-arthouse, directed by Adrian Corona and released in 2019, which walks a line that perhaps owes a tad to torture-porn but also I was reminded – in some small way – of the starkness and ponderous beauty of Tarkovsky’s Stalker both through the forest scenes and industrial decay.

It is a film that explores the mythology surrounding the mandragora – and the idea that the spilled seed of hanged criminals caused the plant to grow and produce the mandrake's homunculi-like root. So, you might ask, why would I look at this as a ‘Vamp or Not?’ Well, firstly this has a focus both on nocturnal emissions and blood. From that we have a potential joke to thank for the firm place that vampires have when it comes to vegetation.

the garden
Ethnologist Tatomir Vukanović wrote about vampire watermelon, a folklore he came across from Gypsy culture in Serbia (the full journal publication was reprinted within Jan Perkowski’s Vampire Lore). It has been posited that the tale may have been a joke at Vukanović’s expense, but nevertheless the concept entered into vampire folklore. Plants that seek out blood have also appeared in various media vampire stories/films.

witch and devil
Dis starts with the sound of a baby crying, a sound that becomes the squeal of a pig. There is a small cultivated patch with a sigil above it. An interesting aspect of the film is that the abandoned buildings are covered in graffiti and some will be just there but other pieces are clearly designed to have meaning within the film’s narrative. Some are obvious – like the image of a witch and devil that we see in this sequence.

the syringe
A masked person in formal male attire approaches a chained, naked woman. It (the reason for the gender-neutral pronoun will be mentioned later) has a large syringe. It notices a maggot and finds a head wound on the woman that has maggots within it, something that annoys it (a spoiling, perhaps, of the meat). We see the woman, still chained, in the centre of the room. It pushes a bowl between her legs and goes behind her with a sharpened sickle across her throat. It feels her breasts and starts to stimulate her privates until she ejaculates. It takes the bowl away.

Bill Oberst Jr. as Ariel
We then move to see a man, Ariel (Bill Oberst Jr., Black Water Vampire), in the woods with a gun. Ariel is an ex-soldier, it is suggested in the film’s blurb, and he lives out in an abandoned building. We see him searching the woods, perhaps hunting, and someone searching his hut in point of view (possibly the figure we have already seen). We see him find a building that is not as abandoned as it seems, with lit candles creating a shrine and graves out back (I read this as a witch’s home and a witch is mentioned later). He eventually comes across a large building.

the woman
As he explores it, he sees a figure on an elevated floor, cloaked and masked. When she removes the cloak we see she is a woman, her breasts exposed. He tries to reach her but she is moving away from him at all points. When he finds her cloak, I noticed that the graffiti in the background displayed the name Orlock (whether this was a deliberate cross-reference is hard to say). He gets up on a rooftop and watches as she falls from the edge, killing herself. After a while, and more movement through the building, Ariel drops to his knees and lets out a primal scream. The figure comes up behind him and knocks him out cold.

From here Ariel is held by the figure and prepared. He is given water (which might be drugged) and forced to eat a mandrake – this prepares him for harvesting. During this we get backstory offered through black and white scenes of Ariel returning to the bar owned by his brother, Orlando (Peter Gonzales Falcon). Through this we discover that Ariel is a criminal and abandoned his lover, Sophia (Lori Jo Hendrix). We discover that Sophia wanted a baby but couldn’t carry one to term. Ariel got the witch to treat her and claims she almost killed her but Orlando has a different view of the events.

the graffiti says Orlock 
Orlando has flying ointment from the witch (used as a narcotic and named as Devil’s Root by Ariel). He asks Orlando if he knows where it comes from and Orlando confirms that it comes from deep in the woods (a no-no area) and is created from the seed of a hanged killer. He then says that there is a darker version that suggests that people are becoming plants and, certainly, there have been many disappearances and the mandrakes are blooming. Sophia is in the building, a mindless shell in bed, who could clearly never offer consent – Ariel rapes her.

the gardener
I used a gender-neutral pronoun for the masked figure and that would seem to be apropos. We see it in very male attire and also in a wedding gown but when the face is revealed it is a demonic looking thing. The very fact that it steals emissions from men and women, as well as changing the gender related clothing, brings the incubus/succubus to mind. Its mandrake roots seem to pulse with life (there is a dolls head in the patch at one point, perhaps indicating an attempt to make something more than just a root). It feeds the garden with both blood and emissions.

The folklore this plays with is multi-layered and includes the mandrake folklore, witchcraft and the incubus/succubus. The fact that the vegetation is cultivated with blood and nocturnal emissions would connect the dots to a vampiric form of vegetation (whilst recognising that the use of semen was part of the original mandrake folklore) and Vukanović squarely allowed vampire vegetation into the equation. I did look for a connection between mandrake and vampires and found an entry in Bane about the masabakes; a Spanish vampire variant it sends an imp (a tentirujo) to sleeping virgins, which then rubs mandrake into their thighs. The masabakes then feeds from the energy of the resultant sexual desire and intercourse. It should be noted that there was only one source listed for the entry – Jonathan Maberry’s Vampire Universe.

an intense performance
The film itself is one that will be enjoyed or hated depending on the viewer. It is dialogue light, specialises in disturbing the viewer despite a beautiful vista that is wonderfully photographed. Bill Oberst Jr. exudes dark emotion and intensity in it (as one would expect). To me the film managed to capture a slice of the uncanny and that worked in all sorts of ways for me. Is it, however, vamp? It probably depends on your view of vampire vegetation – if you accept it as part of the genre then this is a vampiric plant that is grown exclusively through blood and sexual emissions. If you don’t then it is at least of genre interest and the overlap into the succubus/incubus myth helps that view.

The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Dark Seduction – review

Director: Greg Travis

Release date: 2015*

Contains spoilers

This is like a glimpse into the Bs of ages past, a black ‘n’ white lesbian vampire film, that’s also a film noire it was release in 2015 but actually filmed in 1984 (I understand) and the film has a psychedelic, comedic edge that throws the entire thing further off kilter.

Don’t get me wrong, however, off kilter can be good and, whilst not the finest movie ever made, there is an ineffable aspect to Dark Seduction that makes it eminently watchable. Some searching on the web tells me that it really was a smashing together of ideas to please a pair of creatives and out of that collision something unusual grew.

Vickie Hicks as Vera
It begins with Dick Jones (Tyler Horn) a hardboiled private eye who has lost his wife, Laura (Stacey Travis, Dracula Rising & Angel), to a multi-millionaire (Joe Alaskey) and found the bottle. Meanwhile, a pair of women named Vera (Vickie Hicks) and Serina (Catharine Simmons) are in a pool trying to entice Frenchie (Gaith Talhouni) into the water but he doesn’t swim. When he succumbs to temptation and they get their way we hear screams off screen.

feeding on Miko
Miko (Hisako Mura) is in the bath when she falls asleep and dreams of her leg being bitten by a male vampire. When she gets out of the bath she finds that her boyfriend Ray (Greg Travis, Lilitu) is too high to do anything. There is a knock at the door and Vera and Serina enter – Ray passes out and the three women go off to a room. When Ray comes round he walks into the bedroom to see the two vampires (with their blooming awful fangs) feeding on Miko. A resultant fight sees Ray killed but not before he knocks one of Vera’s fangs out.

creeping with one fang
A cop friend (Ken Gibbel), gets Dick on the case but he also meets Vera separately, and coincidentally, after she and Serina have a fight. Vera gets it on with Dick (and subsequently falls for him) but also unbeknown to him she bites him (with her one fang). He is hunting down a vampire in LA and has found her lost tooth but doesn’t realise he is turning into a vampire as well… And I think that’ll do as the film, after-all, is a detective noir and should have some layer of mystique.

Tyler Horn as Dick Jones
If this had been released when it had been shot it might have just faded into the mists of time but coming out decades later has actually helped it. The juxtaposition of the detective noir, psychedelic moments, vampires and some absurd comedy works well. The black and white with a grain really works, especially when we contrast it with the overly clean digital black and white often used today. There are some moments that caused a wry grin – Dick being passed a cure for vampirism, a hammer and stake, for instance.

This isn’t perfect, by any stretch, but it might just garner a cult level fan base. 5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Crucible of the Vampire – review

Director: Iain Ross-McNamee

Release date: 2019

Contains spoilers

The lack of fanfare for the release of this British vampire flick was somewhat disappointing, little seemed to fly around (I’d noticed it on Amazon as a pre-order, identified through an unrelated search) and that is a shame for, whilst not earth-shattering, this film (released dual format on Blu-Ray and DVD) does much right.

I have used a poster found on IMDb (rather than the Blu-ray art) to illustrate this review as I thought it particularly eye-catching and the film itself owes much to the classic British horror outputs of the 60s and 70s. It has an interesting premise, and uses character building to produce its atmosphere (there is a tad of gore late on but very little indeed).

fate of the necromancer
It begins with a moment of a woman, Isabelle (Katie Goldfinch), hiding, covering her mouth to muffle her breathing. We see the glimpse of a knife in the hand of someone climbing stairs. Things then move to Black and White and the 17th century. A man, Ezekiel (Brian Croucher), plays a flute whilst a cauldron bubbles. He hears a movement and calls out for Lydia (Lisa Martin). Rather a group of soldiers led by puritan witch hunter Stearne (John Stirling) come out of the woods. He accuses Ezekiel of witchcraft and necromancy (Lydia has been seen walking since her death) and claims that the cauldron is brewing a draft to feed his familiar. When Ezekiel refuses to eat of “his dinner” Stearne cleaves the cauldron in two and Ezekiel is taken to a tree and hung.

the cauldron
Leaving aside the lack of due process (there was a due process involved in the witch trials, albeit deliberately flawed) and the improbability of cleaving a bronze cauldron in two, its an effective opening. We then move to 2017 and see Isabelle going to work at the university she is employed by. When there, her boss (Phil Hemming) shows her a picture of a cauldron and she identifies it as the Strearne Cauldron, the university holds. She then realises it is the missing half. He is going to send her to look at the newly unearthed find to verify its authenticity.

Robert and Isabelle
Off then to the “big house” as a guest of Karl (Larry Rew) and his wife Evelyn (Babette Barat). It becomes clear that the restoration of the house is costing more than the family have (and that the sale of the cauldron is seen as being a way of raising capital). Adult, daughter Scarlet (Florence Cady), is somewhere in the house and, looking out of the window from her room, Isabelle notices gardener Robert (Neil Morrissey, I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle). As the film progresses Isabelle realises all is not right with those she shares the house with, especially Scarlet. All the time she continues excavating the cauldron half.

So, the title of the film leaves little to doubt, and Scarlet seems the epitome of a seductive vampire, so it is of little surprise when she turns out to be one. Indeed she is a lesbian one (or at least bisexual) and the seduction of Isabelle that occurs in one scene is powerful in that the director decided not to be explicitly exploitative with a scene drawn out of traditional horror sexploitation (whilst a sexual act occurs, there is no flesh on show). Indeed, whilst witnessing the film reaching to that tradition, I had to contain a slight approving snort of amusement on discovering that the house had, for a while, been a girl’s boarding school.

the dark lady
The story – partly revealed through a document from the 19th century that Isabelle finds – tells of the “dark lady”. Lydia was being restored by her necromancer father but the interference of Sterne and the breaking of the cauldron interrupted the process and Lydia has haunted the area and the house since (it would appear). She is summoned by a tune (the flute played by her father in the opening), but at times it seems she is spectral at others physical. A restored cauldron would give her strength especially if fuelled by virgin blood (there is a disconnect when Isabelle suggests she is not particularly religious and yet was Catholic enough to remain a virgin, waiting for marriage). An inscription on the cauldron talks of a pre-Christian queen restored to life by the cauldron through the blood of her enemies.

Larry Rew as Karl
The vampires can be active in daytime but there is a sunlight aspect added to the lore. Beyond that, flashing eyes, fangs and a lack of reflection there is very little lore communicated. The acting works, the dialogue flows but there is an off-kilter element that is deliberately added to the characters associated with the house. The setting works well, but there is a slight pacing issue with the film and it could do with a slightly faster tempo through its middle third (the addition of ‘chapter titles’ was perhaps a tad superfluous also). The ending shifts the gears massively, however. It is a solid piece of British vampire horror, it has an interesting premise, is well photographed but doesn’t change the world. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Blu-Ray and DVD @ Amazon US

On Blu-ray and DVD @ Amazon UK