Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Zombies, Vampires & Pumpkins | Horror Shorts for Adults – review

Director: Daniel Rübesam (segment)

Release date: 2019

Contains spoilers

This is an anthology film made up of pre-filmed shorts and, as a whole unit, is not on IMDb at the point of writing.

However it is a shame as the anthology (released on Amazon video on demand) actually looks to bring some strong, well produced shorts together. Whilst some are self-contained and some surreal, others, like Pandora – the short that contains vampires – are more a prelude for something bigger.

losing fangs
Before I begin with the look at Pandora I do want to mention the wonderful short Dead Hearts, which was directed by Stephen W. Martin and originally released in 2014. A surreal look into the life of Milton Mulberry (Valin Shinyei, Sanctuary), child mortician and doomed lover, who is beaten by his enemy’s gang. The leader, Harold (Duncan Templeton), and the Slaughtered Lambs, wear werewolf masks and, when we first see them attack Milton he is dressed as a vampire and loses his plastic fangs. This was the short in the anthology I had seen before but it was a delight and has someone acting (or dressing, at least) as a vampire.

As for Pandora, it is a 14-minute short and was released in 2017. It is set in a post-apocalyptic future were an event (which sounded awfully like a pandemic) has killed millions and altered millions more, leaving humanity as an endangered species. When things start, we see resistance soldiers Sherman (Sarah Alles), Matt (Joshua Grothe) and an unnamed (and rather doomed) third in a corridor, weapons raised. The third is grabbed and dragged off at high speed and the other two shine lights to reveal what appears to be a bat-like creature.

bat creature
The short then cuts to Matt getting instructions and a mission briefing from Miller (Errol Trotman-Harewood). They are looking for a girl, a subject of prophecy, called Pandora (Thekla Hartmann). Apparently gifted with powers she could change the world. Back in the mission Sherman and Matt split up and scout in different directions. Matt ends up in a tiled room where he finds a corpse but is soon attacked by a more human looking vampire.

Probably the only other thing to mention around the story is that a vampire can be killed by having a pipe pushed through the cranium but we get very little other lore (bar the suggestion that Pandora might be a half breed of human and vampire) but this is a nicely put together short. However, its failing probably lies in the fact that it really does feel like the opening scenes from a much larger vehicle and so feels like it isn’t self-contained. Not a reason to not watch it, though, and it is one of a number of worthwhile shorts in this vehicle. 6 out of 10.

As the anthology doesn’t have an IMDb page I’ll link to the short’s imdb page, which is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Monday, April 06, 2020

Blood Type – review

Director: Kevin Wayne

Release date: 2019*

Contains spoilers

Blood Type is a short feature that is showing as a 2019 film on IMDb but also appears dated 2014 as a web serial. The feature is on Amazon VOD and, I guess, is a stitched together version of the serial but I have used the feature's listed date. I didn’t know any of this as I watched the feature and the positive news is it didn’t feel episodic as I watched though the serial origins have a massive impact on one aspect that I’ll come back to.

We are in a post-apocalyptic world and, as things start, we see a man, Caleb (Kevin Wayne), awakening in some sort of facility, in a sheet only. There are clearly issues with the electrics and he finds a torch and tries to escape.

Caleb awakening
He follows a passageway for some distance. Eventually he gets to a ladder that leads to a hatch and the outside world. Just beyond the hatch he finds the body of a soldier. Turning him over we see that his eyes still move even if he seems dead. His trainers don’t fit but Caleb takes clothes, his kit and a gun. He shelters as night falls and can hear a woman crying for help, but sits scared. Then we hear voices, the woman is taken for Roman (John Richards) who wanted a pure human specimen. The voices of those speaking seem odd.

Maxwell Ross as Dimitrie
The next day, he comes across a stream. He drinks and is about to fill a canteen when he sees something reflected in the canteen. A man with a distorted face attacks him and manages to bite his arm before Caleb falls down a small waterfall. The creature follows him and is readying another attack when he is shot and killed. The shooter is a young boy, Dimitrie (Maxwell Ross), and he keeps the gun levelled at Caleb. Caleb tries to talk his way out of the situation – the dialogue seems ill-fitting for a grown man and I’ll come back to that. Dimitrie eventually explains that he is waiting for Caleb to turn and it should have happened already… he realises Doc will want to see the man.

a dracon
After getting Caleb to bind his wound – they can smell blood – they walk through the woods. At one point a zombie like man walks past them – one of the turned, Dimitrie explains, they don’t normally attack but a Dracon might be close. We get some background of a plague hitting humanity, a pandemic that causes devastation and then some of the infected start to mutate into the Dracon. As they walk they are targeted from a distance by a couple of survivalists who intend to shoot them and steal their gear but, unknown to the two, a strange swordsman kills the bandits. We’ll discover that he is Julian Delacroix (Milorad Djomlija). The two manage to get back to the encampment without incident and none the wiser.

Kevin Wayne as Caleb
So, we later discover that Caleb had been placed into, what appeared to be, a suspended animation – going in as a boy and coming out as a grown man. This takes us to the dialogue that felt ill-fitting. Caleb has the mind of a ten-year old. The dialogue did fit that and if I could describe Wayne’s performance it would be ‘earnest’. At times it did feel like a child speaking but the downside to that was that the ‘earnest’ nature didn’t necessarily carry the viewer or the narrative forward as the lead should have done.

Milorad Djomlija as Julian
We quickly discover that Julian is a vampire – signalled in the dialogue as a separate species – the dracons are (according to IMDb) those infected with the pandemic that species jumped to the vampires making it more than the original infection. Caleb’s father had been working on a cure, Caleb seems immune and has developed fast healing. Julian will describe him as blood bonded. There is also a storyline around a pregnant girl (Sadie LeJeune) and a special baby.

I said that there was an issue with the web serial conception of this. The feature is short (as mentioned) and feels half-finished when we get to the end. What was undoubtedly a decent cliff-hanger for a serial feels like half a story in a feature. There also isn’t too much by way of action, a lot of what we see is set-up for an ongoing story rather than a mapped-out feature narrative. Some of the sfx is really well done but the creature effects can jar a little. This is quite a good job, for a budget piece, but the central character cannot carry the narrative, the exposition struggles because Caleb has no knowledge and it feels way too unfinished. 4 out of 10.

The serial’s imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Honourable Mention: Ninjas Vs Zombies: Special Edition

This 2008 film, directed by Justin Timpane was the starting point of the 'Ninjas Vs' franchise and we have looked at Ninjas Vs Vampires and Ninjas Vs Monsters previously. As such this is the lowest budget of the three and the origin story.

However, whilst there is a fleeting vampiric visitation later I had to make a decision as to whether primary villain Eric (P.J. Megaw) could also be classed as an energy vampire – I decided not, as I’ll explore as we go along, but this is why I’ve looked at this as an honourable mention rather than review the film. I’ve looked at the special edition of the film that has been remastered and has 10-minutes extra running length.

back from the grave
So, things begin with Randall (Dan Guy) performing a ritual in his room. This is interrupted briefly by Herman (Will Stendeback), a day early for D&D, but when he’s gone Randall continues. He is using an evil book (as the film progresses, we discover the book has been in the family for generations and it was through it that his brother, Eric, died). He is trying to commune with Eric but it doesn’t seem to work. However, in the cemetery Eric rises from his grave.

soul sucking
We see a party and a couple go outside to get to know each other better when the shambling Eric appears – so far, so zombie. However, he tosses the woman to the side and tells the man to run and we see he is sentient. He goes after the man, breaking his neck, and then grabs the woman. He then pulls her soul out, making her a zombie. He seems to heal at this point. So, Soul-eating?

Not quite, I decided. He is certainly siphoning souls (or sucking them as he describes later). However the healing seems to be due to his powered up magic and he states that the souls have given him immense power. It just didn’t feel like he was stealing them for any reason than to make zombies and use the souls as fuel for his magic but not consuming them himself. Eric is now wanting to get the book back from Randall and is somewhat bummed that erstwhile girlfriend Lily (Carla Okouchi, Drakul) is now with Cole (Cory Okouchi), one of Randall and his circle of friends.

Daniel Ross sa Kyle
That circle also includes Fitz (Daniel Mascarello) and his wife Anne (Melissa McConnell), Lily’s best friend Kara (Tara Moore) and Kyle (Daniel Ross, also Drakul, Vampire Sisters & Mrs Amworth). In order to defeat Eric and his zombies, Randall consults an avatar of the book (Nicolette Smith) who offers him help in the form of ninjas – in other words Cole, Fitz and Kyle become ninjas. Only they can kill the zombies – heart or head being kill points.

vampiric Lily 
The vampire moments are twofold. Firstly, at the finale we see Eric with Lily, he feeds her blood from a chalice and sucks her soul. What this does to her isn’t revealed, but she isn’t zombified and simply says she feels differently. Sharp-eyed viewers will also see that she kills a zombie when only the ninjas were meant to be able to do that. Secondly, in a coda, the survivors have started fighting evil generally – Lily is with them and reveals her new vampire nature.

Randy Jones as Nosferatu
This is whilst they go after a creature summoned by a mother to kill her ex but who seems to be disinterested in that, as she has a baby he can eat. The creature is, himself, a vampire and he calls himself Nosferatu (Randy Jones), and that really is it, a fleeting visitation. Although turned in film, there is no vampiric activity on Lily’s part until that coda and that lasts for a couple of minutes only (if that). The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Short Film: Meeting Mirela

This is a 20-minute short film by Paul Seidenstecher and is on the arthouse side of the genre. Pretty much a mood-piece it plays with the genre staples and shows little in the way of vampirism though it definitely draws its inspiration from there.

Three housemates, Sabah (Tugba Tirpan), David (Paul Seidenstecher) and Jasmin (Silke Grygier) sit in their accommodation and Jasmin cannot believe that Mirela (Georgina Lupu-Florian) is gone. She feels her presence – and Sabah is frustrated by their attitude. She states that Mirela killed herself and leaves to go for a run. We remember at this point that suicides were, in folklore, in danger of becoming the restless dead.

with David
The three friends meet Mirela again that evening, each in their own way, and the film takes on a dreamlike surrealism. There is a theme of blood connecting the visitations – with David cutting his hand on broken glass and then, as he meets her, Mirela cutting his arm. There is blood dripped across the carpet in the house and stroking blood onto Jasmin’s skin by Mirela.

As well as the bloodplay there is some interesting work with religious iconography as Mirela takes a silver cross and, holding it in her hand, turns it matt black – perhaps signifying a rebellion against religion and an overcoming of its strictures as she reaches from beyond the grave to her friends.

Jasmin and Mirela
However this is a tough one to describe as it maintains the dreamlike quality that, in some respects, owed a debt to the works of Jean Rollin. Perhaps better to watch and experience, unfortunately the homepage where you could watch this has gone since I wrote this article but it can still be found on Vimeo, thanks to Nancy Kilpatrick for spotting that. In the meantime the imdb page is here.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Knock Knock – review

Director: Tobias Canto Jr.

Release date: 2017

Contains spoilers

Not to be confused with the Keanu Reeves vehicle from a couple of years previous to the release of this, Knock Knock is a low to no budget with a huge amount of heart.

Is it perfect? Hell, no. But it is an example of the truism that being a budget film doesn’t have to make it bad. Decent characters, in this case, can carry it a long way. It is also a comedy, but one that celebrates the genre it spoofs rather than attacks it.

So, things start with a spoof advert for a psychic pizza company Pi-strodamous (if we can’t guess the topping before you tell us then you get 50% off) presented by Walter D Zaarke. Done in 80s style with really bad fake sideburns, well it really made me think that the feature was going to be poor. The gag, therefore, nearly backfired but was quickly forgotten as the film itself began (although the faux company is involved within the film).

Olivia and Sam
The film proper starts with bat sounds and a shot of the moon. We see Sam (Kerry Tartack) leave the late-night gym and walk across the deserted car park to his car. He’s trying to call his son but gets his voicemail. Sam was a boxer in his heyday, known as Stonefist. He’s sixty the next day and, it is apparent, estranged from his son. He’s reaching out, trying to make amends, suggesting meeting. His voicemail cuts off as he reaches his apartment, and he realises his front door is open. He knocks before entering.

the box
Inside he eventually finds his neighbour Olivia (Sisi Berry) who has an emergency key, she suggests it’s a surprise birthday meal and then asks him not to get mad. She says this is all about the creepy new neighbour (Lucas Alexander Ayoub) and admits that the mysterious box she has was delivered to his door and she’s taken it. Sam is not in the best moods, what with his birthday coming and the associated retrospection, but then another neighbour, a stoner called Dragon (Chuk Hell), bursts in and makes comments about the Dracula situation.

Neighbour and date
Olivia explains that they think the new neighbour is a vampire and they have supporting stories. Olivia saw him come in with a drunk woman (Jennifer Bennett) and thought something was off. She kept watch, despite having pulled a late shift. However keeping watch meant sitting behind her door, listening and occasionally looking through the spy hole. She, of course, fell asleep. Movement woke her and she saw him leaving, alone, with his date's red heels in hand. The date never emerged, she insists. Dragon tells a tale of getting stoned, ordering a garlic laden pizza and, whilst taking first bite at his door, the neighbour (next door and just about to go out) choking and not leaving his apartment. Only after Dragon had gone in to his apartment and shut the door does the neighbour leave – ripping a Chuck Norris poster on Dragon's door as he goes.

Rachel Atterson as Gretchen
Of course, Sam is not impressed with the stories. After all, looking at a similar plot set up, Charley Brewster at least saw meaningful things and no-one believed him – this film doesn’t mention Fright Night but the plot premise is comparable, at least for the initial set up. A third neighbour, Gretchen (Rachel Atterson), then arrives and Sam is disappointed that rational, scientific Gretchen seems to have bought into this. Her story is about a dog (which she disliked anyway) seeming to bark at the neighbour and then disappearing one night as wolves howled.

vampire killing kit
Gretchen has also brought research books, including Dracula. In her bag she also has Twilight. That’s actually for me, she confesses. Team Jacob all the way admits Dragon, using a gentle humour based on these characters rather than attack humour. Dragon has brought a hunting kit (a rucksack with a label saying Monster Squad, containing stakes and a steak (you never know), water pistols (that his drug dealer, the Reverend, has spat into) and protective gloves with crosses at the knuckles). Sam still isn’t convinced but they do open the stolen box and find an old bottle containing blood… And the neighbour wants it back…

monstrous form
The film is short at 55 minutes and the action is at the end. The filmmakers work around a lot of the lack of budget by limiting the shots of vampiric activity and whilst the monstrous form of the stranger is not the highest quality creature effect, by the time it appears you are invested and it hardly matters. Without wishing to spoil too far there is a lot more vampire action (and vampires) over the credits, with an even more minimalist approach to the filming. This is rather clever as the film could have had a section before credits but this allowed them more leeway than having the action in the body of the film. They manage to squeeze in a post-credit sequence too.

the gang
I was impressed. Whilst the acting varied in quality (with Sisi Berry and Kerry Tartack giving the most solid performances, for me) the characters really worked and the dialogue helped build them well. The short length meant it really didn’t outstay its welcome and the fact that the humour was gentle, self-effacing and whole genre positive was welcome. The photography was ok but nothing special and the budget showed in some of the effects. Nevertheless, this goes to prove you don’t need a budget to be funny or make a good film. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Bloodsucka Jones vs. The Creeping Death – review

Director: Justin Armao

Release date: 2020

Contains spoilers

Before I get into the review, a public service announcement. I really was rather taken by the first Bloodsucka Jones film. It wasn't perfect, perhaps, but I was so taken by it that I crowdsourced this sequel – not for a huge amount of money, but enough to get the digital version on release. Time passed and I forgot about the film… Then I thought about it recently and wondered why I had heard nothing. I went to the funding page to realise that the film had been completed some time ago and perks given…

Jessica Dercks as Christine
I contacted the filmmakers, through the funding page and then through their Facebook Page. They replied via Facebook straight away. It turns out that they have not been getting messages through the funding page and couldn’t get all their backer details. They have bent over backwards to sort me out and if you did back the film and didn’t see your perk then contact them through Facebook – there was no malice and they will help.

The beginning is so very eighties with a young lady fixing her roller blades and Walkman. She takes off down the street when something piles into her… zombies… suddenly she is down and mobbed. We see a car pull into frame, in it Bloodsucka Jones (Preston Gant) and his (almost) silent sidekick Vanessa (Maria Canapino). They look across at the attack and we see one of the zombies look up, green lightning in her eyes. The car backs slowly away, out of shot.

good health insurance
The film gives newcomers a handy guide to the last film and then we are at the hospital were human protagonist of the last film, David (Justin Armao), and ‘vampire’ antagonist Stewart (Matt Kelly) are recuperating from the events previously told. Except… well Stewart discovers that he is no longer a vampire, he lost all his blood in the event and had a full transfusion (reminiscent of the cure in Near Dark). David has good health insurance and is nursed by three glamour nurses. Stewart is tortured by his health care team.

sucking from a blood pack
Stewart is sent a chemistry kit and visited by sidekick Kenny (William Cutting), who sucks on Stewart’s blood pack. Stewart ends up making chocolate pudding for the hospital, prior to discharge, and putting a green concoction prepared from the chemistry kit into the dessert. This, of course, is the thing that creates the zombies. David, when home, is back with Christine (Jessica Dercks) and is struggling with intimacy with the vampire – not helped when she pulls fangs on him. He suspects Stewart is up to something and goes to enlist help from vampire hunter Tony but ends up with his brother Timmy (Brian Girard). When they realise the danger is real they find Vanessa and she goes and gets Bloodsucka Jones.

meditation chamber
The scene of her getting Jones, wonderfully rips off the Empire Strikes Back and Vader’s meditation chamber… but the chamber is an Afro, which opens, and then we see the bald, scarred head of Jones and his Afro lowered onto it. We get a flashback story to this later. It is also noticeable that Preston Gant is sporting natural facial hair in this film – comment is made about the missing false ‘tache in dialogue. The film goes on to have Stewart struggling to control his easily distracted zombies (or Kennies as he calls them), and the heroes looking to get sidekicks for David and Timmy and thwart Stewart's plans. The plot in this episode is thin, eschewed for more comedy sequences.

Preston Gant as Bloodsucka Jones
This is no bad thing. When I reviewed the first film I said, about the comedy, “most of the cast is quite inexperienced and I think they struggle with the comic timing”. This is not the case here, and the core cast feel much more comfortable with comic timing and confident within their scenes. Preston Gant slips naturally into his role and is an absolute pleasure to watch. I did find the first film funny, but I definitely found the humour this time around that bit more entertaining. I will say there is a distinct lack of vampirism in the film. Christine is pretty much side-lined, Stewart is an ex-vampire, and other than flashing fang and the occasional apparent strength Kenny does little that might be called vampiric, but his presence through the film ensures that this is a vampire movie still.

Romeo and French Fries
I really enjoyed this, the cast seemed to be having fun, the photography was professional and the jokes worked for me. There might have been a little more narrative plot, but it didn’t suffer without and managed to build an opening for a third film. Bloodsucka Jones himself is a great character. I also have to give a shout-out to the characters Romeo (Evan Mack) and French Fries (Dione Kuraoka), who were simply marvellous. 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Blu-Ray @ Amazon US

Friday, March 27, 2020

Short Film: Dawn: Year Seven

16 years after the original feature’s release, director Jay Reel releases a short film set in his Dawn universe. Dawn was an indie film that managed to rise above its limitations to create a film that surprised.

Chloe Liles as Dawn
This is the same story concept, with the two primary characters recast (in the case of Dawn, for obvious reasons) but is a prequel, with Dawn (Chloe Liles) seven in this rather than the ten she was in the original. I guess one might call this a reimagining. After all Dawn’s hair has changed colour and John (Jeremy Liles), her father, drives a hybrid (which were available when the first film was made but not common place). The hybrid is a nice touch as we shall see.

sleeping at the wheel
Essential storyline for those who haven’t seen the first film is that Dawn is a natural vampire – a separate species that lives aside humankind. Her mother, also a vampire, died in childbirth but as far as she knew Dawn is the first vampire conceived by a vampire and a human – she is a hybrid. John now travels the roads of America with his daughter, having built her teeth caps to hide her fangs (he was a dentistry student). We discover that at this stage he has been feeding her (she can only consume human blood). As he drives, he falls asleep at the wheel – though the car simply stops rather than crashing.

Father and daughter
Dawn has realised the toll that she is taking on her father and doesn’t want to feed from him, despite the headaches she suffers. However, she has instincts too. She can feel when someone is in pain and close to death. This recognition is two-way – she is a bringer of relief to those who are dying. This was something that is also a central story aspect to Byzantium . The short does not have the moments of peril the feature introduced.

The biggest cinematographical difference between this and the original is that this is in colour, where the other was black and white. I suspect that Reel did what he did for the original and roped in locals to star. I don’t feel the central performance was as strong as it was in the original, but perhaps that is the nuance in the age differences. In my review of the original I said “probably deserving of a remake with some form of budget – the only trouble with that is a budgeted remake might destroy its inherent charms.” This might be a step towards that remake. At the time of writing I couldn’t find an IMDb page.