Friday, May 24, 2019

Subspecies – review

Authors: Cullen Bunn & JimmyZ

Art: Daniel J Logan

First released: 2018 (tpb)

Contains spoilers

The blurb: Michelle survived being attacked by the vampire Radu, defeated him on more than one occasion, and has been living with the fallout for years. Her life forever changed since she was infected by him, she has adjusted to her existence as a creature of the night. Now, though, the unthinkable has happened. Radu has resurfaced... only now there appears to be FIVE incarnations of the fiendish vampire.

The review: Despite being low budget, there is something satisfying about Full Moon Pictures’ Subspecies series (see my reviews of films one, two, three and Four) – though the series did begin to seriously lag by the fourth offering. One of the reasons is that main villainous vampire Radu was such a brilliant character, warping from antagonist to almost (but not quite) an anti-hero. That said I was rather excited by the news that a fifth film might be in the offing and, until then, we have this graphic novel (and many thanks to reader NerdyWillowTree for mentioning its existence in a comment recently).

vampire detection
The story takes place at some unspecified time after film four and Michelle is still in Romania, working as a nurse and quenching her thirst for blood through the bloodstone – a mystical artefact that produces blood. Her world is turned upside down when Radu reappears (he was killed, again, at the end of film four) but – as the blurb reveals – there are five versions of him. We discover that there were five of the subspecies minions – homunculi that Radu created through his blood – abroad when he died. They, on his death, began to grow into clones of Radu, each with a different part of his personality and different powers. One of them feels guilt for what Michelle has been through and wants to help her.

The graphic returns to Radu’s castle and we see, again, the festival with a vampire detecting horse that we saw in the first film. We also get a line about a town in Alaska with no daytime for 30 days, in a nod to 30 Days of Night. The story, unfortunately, is thin – spread over three comic issues it doesn’t have the length to really get going. However it is fun to see Radu and Michelle again. It was produced by Full Moon and so is, apparently, canon – one wonders if it will be a bridging story to the new film? The art work worked well and suited the setting and story. It could have just done with being padded out but many thanks to Ian for the gift of the volume. 5 out of 10.

In Paperback @ Amazon US

In Paperback @ Amazon UK

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Honourable Mention: the Man from the Diogenes Club

The Blurb: CAN'T ELIMINATE THE IMPOSSIBLE? Send for the man from the Diogenes Club!

The debonair psychic investigator Richard Jeperson is the Most Valued Member of the Diogenes Club, the least-known and most essential branch of British Intelligence. While foiling the plot of many a maniacal mastermind, he is chased by sentient snowmen and Nazi zombies, investigates an unearthly murderer stalking the sex shops of 1970s Soho, and battles a poltergeist to prevent it triggering nuclear Armageddon. But as a new century dawns, can he save the ailing Diogenes Club itself from a force more diabolical still?

Newman's ten mischievous tales, with cameos from the much-loved characters of the Anno Dracula universe, will entertain fans and newcomers alike.

The Mention: This 2017 volume collates the series of short stories that Kim Newman has written, over the years, about Richard Jeperson – the Most Valued Member of the Diogenes Club, or master spy of the esoteric realms to you and I. Being a collection of stories there isn’t an overarching story (bar Jeperson himself, and the club) though some characters do reoccur. Now, I must admit that I have a soft spot for Newman’s work and this, whilst starting in the 60s, is reminiscent of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in concept if not content. Jeperson is a sensitive, rather than super-powered (though there is a touch of the Austin Powers to him – something mentioned in a story set chronologically leter) and there isn’t the host of monsters that LXG can throw in. It does, however, contain one specific “monster” that interests us.

This book is not set in the Anno Dracula universe but it does feature Geneviève Dieudonné and whilst she does little that would reveal her as a vampire and the narrative doesn’t state it, she clearly is one; we do get little moments such as immunity to cold, immunity to mind reading, rapid healing and nearly being staked by an icicle. She only appears in the one story but Newman does suggest a multiverse of possible worlds and thus there will be another England where Anno Dracula occurs (indeed it is referenced at one point). In this book, however, we just have Geneviève offering a fleeting, though important, visitation. Thanks to Ian for buying me the volume.

In Paperback @ Amazon US

In Paperback @ Amazon UK

Monday, May 20, 2019

Decades: Marvel in the 70s – Legion of Monsters

Author and artists: various

First published: 2019 (collection)

Contains spoilers

The blurb: Celebrate 80 years of Marvel Comics, decade by decade - together with the groovy ghoulies of the Supernatural Seventies. It was an era of black-and-white magazines filled with macabre monsters, and unsettling new titles starring horror-themed 'heroes'. Now, thrill to Marvel's greatest horror icons: The melancholy muck-monster known as the Man-Thing - whosoever knows fear burns at his touch; Morbius, the Living Vampire; Jack Russell, cursed to be a Werewolf-by-Night; and the flame-skulled spirit of vengeance, the Ghost Rider. But what happens when they are forced together to become... the Legion of Monsters? Plus stories starring Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, Manphibian, the vampire-hunter Blade... and never-before-reprinted tales of terror. Collecting: Legion of Monsters (1975) 1; Marvel Preview 8; Marvel Premiere 28; Marvel Spotlight (1971) 2, 5; Frankenstein (1973) 1; Tomb of Dracula (1972) 10; material from Savage Tales (1971) 1

The review: The decades series are a series of highlights from the Marvel back-catalogue from a specific decade – in this case the 70s and the horror comics produced then and, in truth, I’m a little divided over it.

On the one hand it is a nicely balanced collection with a range of characters (as listed in the blurb) and from this page’s point of view we get Dracula, Morbius and Blade featured. The book is half black and white and half colour and for Morbius we get an original black and white (that I had not read before) and a colour legion of monsters that also features Werewolf by Night, Man-Thing and Ghost Rider. Indeed I hadn’t read any of the stories featured before bar the two Dracula ones (the black and white being a chapter of Marvel’s graphic version of the novel, Dracula Lives!, and the colour being the opening of the Tomb of Dracula - a note here that page 50 and 51 are reversed accidentally, one for a future errata sheet). That said we were dipping in and out of things that were clearly suited to a larger story arc at times and that was slightly frustrating.

All that said, Marvel, monsters and a trip to the 70s. It perhaps has to be done – thanks to Sarah for the gift of the volume. 6.5 out of 10.

In Paperback @ Amazon US

In Paperback @ Amazon UK

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Short Film: The Vegan Vampire

Fear not when this film suggests that the recovered 1928 film is 142 minutes in length – this 10-minute short (that seems to have the celluloid break at the end) is actually a 2010 creation directed by Suzi Terror and made for the Time Capsule competition from the Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival (Imagine).

There is little in storyline, to be honest, but absolutely plenty in style but let us address the concept of the veganism suggested by the title. Vegetarian vampires are not an uncommon concept. Sometimes this is a restriction to vegetables – be that carrots for Bunnicula or vegies generally (due to a resurrection faux pas) for (one incarnation of) Duckula as examples – and sometimes it might be a disparaging description of a vampire forgoing human blood for animal blood… but vegan? Well bunnicula probably is, in this case we never find out because the film doesn’t go that far.

Mirte Eggenkamp as the vampire
Rather we have the vampire (Mirte Eggenkamp) rise from her deathlike slumber and go hunting. The first thing to notice is the filter heavy black and white photography looks brilliant. Along with the makeup the photography makes Mirte Eggenkamp look magnificent as the vampire and the short can be screenshot like crazy because it all looks so good. She climbs stairs and enters a student’s room, biting her. However, her body rejects the blood that is meant to give her life.

The feeding scene was bloody (within the confines of black and white) and the subsequent vomiting of blood is incredibly visceral. The vampire becomes more and more hungry – she preys on a mother playing in an abandoned church and the same thing happens, her body rejecting the blood. Weak with hunger she begins to hallucinate and let me say that even the hallucinated rubber ducks worked visually. The orchestral score had worked thus far and becomes demented during the hallucination scene.

There isn’t really more to say with regards this one, except that I recommend you give it a watch and note that it is embedded below. The film’s facebook page is here, and the imdb page is here.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Queen Dracula – review

Director: Curtis Everitt

Release date: 2017

Contains spoilers

Oh lord… This flick recently appeared on Amazon Prime and, of course, I gave it a whirl. Aside from gender swapping the antagonist (and thus altering relationships with said antagonist) this really was a poor effort. Indeed, the gender swap is rather interesting, though not explored in a particularly meaningful way, and the original source of the vampirism was interesting also.

Beyond those points things are mired in awful dialogue, budgetary malaise and rather poor acting – all of which we’ll come to.

'daylight' bulb
So, the film starts in 1987, at night with not great night photography and a cheesy electro soundtrack, and we see a man enter a house and replace a bulb. He sits outside until a woman returns home. He says he is a fan, and a detective, and mentions missing kids. He asks if he can come in, comments on how dark it is once indoors and she switches the light on. Presumably the bulb replicates sunlight (though it is not a UV light) as she falls down in pain (and off-screen). Eventually she predicts that *she* is coming and he finishes her off by placing his hands on her (below camera line so we see nothing) – they’ve been dipped in holy water.

postcard from Transylvania
We get some moments with Miranda Harker (Susan Fowler), a bible quote and a cemetery – she’s dead (we get no real timescale for this – her husband acts like it is recent, her eldest daughter said it happened whilst she was at school and she is 30). We then get a caption telling us it is present day. The Harkers are sitting down for dinner, Jonathan (Danny Zanelotti) is dad and refuses to say grace as Miranda is dead, his daughters are Mina (Abigail G. Holmes) and Lucy (Emily Miller). Jonathan gets a postcard from D (Leslie Stewart), his ‘friend’ in Transylvania (a ghost town apparently, not the European principality). Not knowing who D is, he decides to go there and find out (good job he didn’t get an email from a Nigerian Prince).

Mina and Lucy
A guy turns up at the house and introduces himself as Jack Seward (Jonathan Dixon), looking for Mina who (he has heard) is the fairest girl in all the land (honestly the dialogue was that tritely written). Lucy has answered the door, however, and realises he has heard about the dowries set for the sisters and sends him off with a flea in his ear. Mina is later chatted up by Arthur and then picks up a message where he accidentally records himself suggesting she is gullible, not his type but there is the dowry (Miranda left them both a large dowry in her will, I’ll return to this).

thick fake blood
Meanwhile Jonathan gets to Transylvania and meets D – or Dracula – and her minions. She overcomes his will by removing his wedding ring (though his lack of alarm as she started to seduce him with her chin covered in blood was telling) and we get a bite scene where the fake blood is so thick a clump falls off his arm! He comes back and tells the girls he is getting married. Lucy goes nuts and attacks her, ending up being placed in Seward’s asylum for her trouble. Eventually, however, she is rescued and Mina has also met a bounty hunter, Van (Aaron Mitchell) – yes, that would be Helsing to you and I.

meeting D
So, aside from the terrible dialogue there was a strange undercurrent of casual misogyny that one wouldn’t expect in a gender-swapped concept and I can’t help but feel it unconsciously seeped in. For instance there is an inference in dialogue that Lucy is a lesbian until she suggests (when the right boy comes) that she acts that way to scare men off (in other words there is a reading, which can be made, that the right boy ‘cured’ her – indeed he is the one who ultimately rescues her from the asylum), and then there is the dowry business; mom bequeathed them to take care of the girls, ensuring they wouldn’t be alone (inferencing that a woman needs a man to be whole – there is also an inference in dialogue that matrimony is a purely heterosexual institution, although it isn’t directly stated – and that being sold to a man, essentially, is more important than providing independent financial security). Of course the men (Arthur and Jack) are acting like gold diggers, inverting that stereotype somewhat, but the way they are acting around the girls is equally reflected in D – she mentions Jonathan’s resources and Van suggests she’ll use him up as a sex slave (he also suggests there won’t be a marriage as it is “holy matrimony”, forgetting registry offices and the civil source of marriages).

Van and Mina
This takes us to how D became what she is. We see her as an older woman (Melanie Calvert Benton) because Mina and Van kill her minions, bar Jonathan, and there is inference that she has a symbiosis with her minions (eternally feeding from them), and it should be noted that they are of both genders (in terms of the reading above, evil is thus equated with bisexuality). When she tells her story, she becomes young (Meredith Mohler) and says that she was a captive (in the age of exploration) who wasn’t fed enough and used for sex. She took to exploiting her captives and sucked their blood to drain their life-energy – calling it a shared interest, indicating the symbiosis again – and then she started to change. It is the most interesting part of the film but the film struggles to explore the theme meaningfully.

red eyes
With the budget, bad photography, some ill-fitting soundtrack choices, atrocious dialogue (it isn’t even stagy, just poor) and poor acting this film is rubbish but… beyond not thinking itself through (ie the casual misogyny), it does have an interesting source for the vampirism and an interesting use of symbolism (Jonathan being susceptible to D’s power when his ring is removed might ignore the secular source of marriage and focus on the religious, but there is a reading that can be found of the overwhelming power of love over lust/exploitation). This pushes the score up for me but it isn’t enough to make the film good. I need to mention the large amount of backdrop green-screening that appeared to take place, this didn’t actually detract and might have been an interesting style choice had the film got more right. 2 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Bloodsucker’s Planet – review

Director: Mark Beal

Release date: 2019

Contains spoilers

Mark Beal is the director behind beat-arthouse/grindhouse-noir flick Enchiridion, which was rereleased as Bloodsucker’s Handbook. Mark contacted me to ask whether I wanted to take a peek at his new film, Bloodsucker’s Planet, and I jumped at the chance.

The film is brave, there is no doubt about that, to make a space opera on such a low budget needs guts and whilst you can see the joins, well that has been incorporated as part of the joy of the movie rather than detracting. It is related to the previous film – though I won’t spoil how. However I will say that one of the first things that struck me, from seeing a spaceship in the film’s opening, and the crew's outfits, was that the film seemed to be offering a definite nod to Mario Bava and his film Planet of the Vampires.

zero-g card tricks
Before we see said ship, we get an emergency broadcast where Cooke (Cory W. Ahre) asks anyone who intercepts the signal to send it on to the Linus Corporation as there is something wrong on the planet Mara and suggests that “there is something in the mud”. Opening credits follow, with a really great credit soundtrack selection and then we are on the spaceship. Doc (Joel Jeremy Herrera) sketches whilst Danvers (Logan Hooks) does zero-g card tricks for Paulina (Adrienne Dobson). Flying the spaceship are Captain McDermott (Allen Menefee) and Clarissa (Leni Mex), she picks up the distress beacon (though they don't see the video message at that point).

Mara bat attack
They investigate, landing on the planet and McDermott, Doc and Paulina take a surface vehicle, with Danvers in a jetpack, leaving Clarissa to watch the rocket. Mara was a mud farming colony but the industry seems to have stopped. Danvers takes a trip into the atmosphere trying to lock into an energy signature when the vehicle is contacted by Mr Bartlett (Joe Grisaffi). The distress signal was an old one that he wasn’t aware of, the factory has been mothballed and he is the caretaker of the facility. He invites the crew in. Danvers descends and ends up having an alien creature attached to his helmet. It felt like an alien rendition of a bat – a good thing as it is later described as an indigenous Mara bat.

Jessica Bell as Adrianna
They are met by a person, stood outside a graveyard, not wearing protective gear. She is Adrianna (Jessica Bell), a robot. The crew go into decontamination and a Mara bat appears, having been stuck in Danver’s gear. It flies around the chamber until it is sucked out of the chamber. A hot meal is forthcoming but Danvers becomes ill – it is apparent he has picked up a parasite from the Mara bat – not to worry, the parasite has a short lifespan and is not deadly, though he will be in for a rough time. The crew are forced to stay (with the Captain promising Clarissa a doggy bag when they get back to the ship, when he radios in) – but there is another parasite close by, more deadly than those carried by the bats.

Catalina Querida as Mother Vampire
And I’ll leave the blow by blow there. Being a Beal film there are some psychedelic moments with a stop-motion alien ‘roach (Israel Koite) that would seem to be part of Danvers’ hallucinations until we discover it is the last of an indigenous species. There is also the vampire and this is an alien vampire – a species that was, at one-time, winged and reminiscent in part of a medusa, though with coils of hair not snakes, with an overtone of the primary Bride in Dracula (1992). Credited as Mother Vampire (Catalina Querida) she is able to turn those she bites into vampires like her.

let me in
The house interior itself looks pretty much like a house dressed up a bit – for instance with portholes added to the windows and a space scene beyond – rather than a space-age simulacrum, and my reason for picking up on that was to highlight the budget restraint and the fact that it didn’t actually detract from the viewing experience, there was plenty within the film to keep the viewer engaged. It is also mentioned as a segue to the scene of a vampirised Danvers, floating at the window, which carried a homage vibe of ’Salem’s Lot. The crew’s reaction to a crew-mate outside with no helmet might seem strange but was in keeping with the psychedelic, hallucinatory atmosphere.

Clarissa and McDermott
Indeed, the film carries that psychedelic overtone from Handbook and continues with it – though the sci-fi setting changes the tone of it slightly, having to work harder one feels to achieve the same. But it does achieve it, and thus the viewer feels smug when we pick up mention of a Master and the crew does not, rather than wondering why. The idea of toad licking is still part of the film, by the way. The film is short (around the 60-minute mark) and so doesn’t outstay its welcome. If you were a fan of Bloodsucker’s Handbook then you’ll love this too – though a space opera rather than a film noir – and fans of off-beat, low budget sci-fi will definitely have fun. Referential and engaging, 7 out of 10.

At the time of writing there is no IMDb page. The film's homepage is here.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Playing with Tropes: Pretty Dead

When I sat down to watch this, I wasn’t expecting to feature it on TMtV. I expected a riff on the zombie genre and, more specifically, the perspective of someone turning into a zombie. Its other name, the clumsy “Human Meat - Mörder. Kannibale. Zombie.” did nothing to make me think otherwise. It was a 2013 film directed by Benjamin Wilkins and despite our zombie being able to speak and function I wasn’t even tempted towards zompire as the condition was cognitively degenerative.

However, as the film started laying out its own internal logic I sat up, my metaphorical ears pricked. The point that focused my attention was the source of the infection – a fungal infection – that made me think of I am Legend. Now the source of the infection in that was bacterial, rather than fungal, but it just felt that the same trope was being explored.

ready to suicide
So, the film follows Regina (Carly Oates). We see her, as things start, recording a video for her father (Kris Thordarson) before she kills herself. Her complexion is not great and she plays with a gun as she outlines that she is a monster and that she is dead, she just needs help lying down. The screen goes black and an intertitle appears that tells us that, in 2007, Regina killed and cannibalised at least four men but never stood trial. The film is the remaining evidence.

interviewed by Romera
The film then cuts to her being interviewed in an asylum by Dr. Romera (Quantae Love). He tells her that he will have her facial wound (from her botched suicide attempt) looked at but is convinced she is schizophrenic, with a side order of cotard delusion, and lays out why that is. She states that she is infected and repeats that she is already dead. She suggests that she and her boyfriend Ryan (Ryan Shogren) had done tests and then we cut back to the events.

nose bleed
We see footage of her and Ryan together – she is a soon to graduate med student, he is a paramedic. We then see them out with friends and she is convinced (against Ryan’s advice and approval) to try coke (from a source that seems ropey later). She has a nose bleed and collapses in the toilet. Ryan – we find out later – performs CPR and brings her round before they go to hospital but when we first see this we actually just hear a voicemail he leaves his friend suggesting she had some sort of reaction but is stable.

bitten chest
So what then happens is, on a busy morning (with Ryan trying to propose), she can’t stand the food there for breakfast – it all tastes off. That is until she finds bacon in the fridge and eats it raw. He does propose but their subsequent make-out is cut short when she bites his chest. We hear that she had to excuse herself from rounds as she felt ill (and hungry) and smelt someone in a nearby bathroom stall remove their tampon. She explains that she can’t remember retrieving it from the trash but found herself sucking on it. After that she starts stealing human bio-waste to eat.

liposuction fat
She convinces Ryan they have to document this as she now heals quickly, can’t sleep and can only eat either human or pork flesh (and raw at that). We see her drinking liposuction fat. They find a parasitoid in her blood – in fact a variant of Cordyceps. Now that is the fungus that has the famous variant which hijacks the minds of ants to follow its own life-cycle (the film shows us a snippet of documentary on this). A parasite fulfilling its lifecycle and causing vampirism was used, as an example, in Scott Westerfeld’s Parasite Positive and, of course, it is the bacterium infection in I am Legend that causes the craving for blood and other vampiric effects (such as healing).

In this the fungi hijacks her, in the first instance, to drive hunger and to make her crave what the fungus needs (flesh). Why it drives that particular need and not just food for energy I don’t think was clearly explained (or indeed explained at all). What we also see is that at times she blanks and Romera suggests this is like blank moments in schizophrenia. We see her at one point walking a child off (to attack off-screen; the child survives, she blames a dog for the wounds) and at another point her actually attacking someone – so we know the fungus has some level of control. She fears that if she doesn’t feed the fungus will spore.

It is an interesting idea and she does seem more zombie (especially given the blank moments – one victim actually comments that she is a zombie before she attacks) but the use of a parasite/infection is a trope used in vampire media. Other things to note is the impact on her complexion, giving her a zombie like look, which doesn’t fit to the quick healing necessarily. Why she doesn’t sleep is unexplained – it might be to weaken her resolve so that the parasitic takeover is more easily attained. There was an interesting thought that this might be a natural pest control limiting the host species if it becomes too widespread and impacts the ecosystem. She starts off with low heart rate and blood pressure but, eventually, there is no pulse and a nurse thinks her blood pressure machine is broken – hence Regina believing that she has actually died and it is the fungus that is keeping her moving.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK