Monday, November 28, 2022

Honourable Mention: Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes


Directed by Kevin Kopacka and released in 2021, this film is a little bit special. German language it has a feel (in photography) of something from the seventies and, indeed, so does the poster I have put with this article. By that I mean in a wonderfully nostalgic way and this was clearly the aim.

A castle opens the film and we hear a woman speaking asking how long (the man she’s speaking to) thinks they’ve been there. The scene cuts to a car driven by Dieter (Frederik von Lüttichau) with his wife Margot (Luisa Taraz) as the passenger. They are going to the castle, which Margot has inherited. From the get go we feel Dieter is awful, arrogant and misogynistic, with Margot long suffering. She comes from money, we later hear, and part of his behaviour might be ego compensating for relying on her for handouts – though he still takes them, of course.

Dieter and Margot

He insists at looking at the castle in the dark, before they go to the hotel and it is not long before the film develops an uncanny atmosphere with figures half seen (the woman who spoke at the head of the film and her companion) and strangeness occurring. They become stuck at the castle and the relationship devolves, with moments of physical abuse (he finds a whip) but with her discovering an inner assertiveness. Then, just under half way through, the film changes entirely – and I won’t spoil that.

fangs

However, we do get, just before the change, a sexual reconciliation that turns into her deliberately physically injuring him. As she does that, we also see that she has developed vampire fangs – it is a moment of symbolism (so, at best, acting as a vampire) and very fleeting but she is definitely meant to be portrayed as a vampire in that moment. However, for the rest of the film... well no further spoilers but it is recommended for those who like a slice of arthouse with their genre films. The film is, I feel, a love letter to Bava with a strong psychosexual element.

Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes is on UK cinema release from 2nd December 2022 and for home purchase in February 2023.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Blood Relatives – review


Director: Noah Segan

Release date: 2022

Contains spoilers

Watched as a Shudder Exclusive, this film was directed by, written by and starred Noah Segan and, as it started, I really wanted to love it because Segan’s character, Francis, really came across well. When the co-star of the movie appeared, Victoria Moroles playing Jane, I felt even more that this might be something special. Unfortunately, whilst good, I ended up feeling that it missed an important something, as we’ll see.

Noah Segan as Francis

The film starts in Texas and, on a country road, we see a classic muscle car appear. From the car we hear opera, Der Ring Götterdämmerung. As the sun begins to rise, Francis positions the car behind a lonesome billboard and puts a cover over it. Inside the windows are covered by paper and he spends the day in the car.

a trickle of blood

The next evening, he pulls in at a garage located in a small town. The garage owner is in but it is due to close in five minutes and refuses to open the door despite Francis being very precise about the parts he needs. The owner leaves by a back door but Francis is there. We then see Francis looking for the parts, a trickle of blood at his mouth. As he leaves in his car we see the garage on fire and a figure that is clearly a teen watching the vehicle leave.

motel life

Francis gets to Oklahoma and manages to get a room in a hotel with cash, though the hot water is broken. The motel owner sees a kid hanging round his car and goes out but the figure runs off. She sees a door open and finds Francis in the motel’s basement, fixing a pipe – he wants a shower, he says. She questions him about the teen but he is nonplussed. Back in his room he takes a shower and we see he has a scar on his shoulder, as though burnt, and a concentration camp tattoo – he also peppers his sentences with Yiddish.

Victoria Moroles as Jane

In the morning, although he has paper on the windows of his room, he notices someone outside. He pulls the teen into the room, braving the sun. When confronted she tells him about a tryst he had sixteen years before and reveals that she is the child he didn’t know he had (he is not sure how, indicating he believed that as a vampire he was sterile). She has tracked him through his car (which attracts online attention due to its vintage status). She shows some vampiric traits – she slathers on sun cream as she burns easily (though not as vampires burn) and craves meat products. The word dhampir is not mentioned but it is what she is.

Jane reveals fangs

A misunderstanding by the motel owner – who believes that there is something of a sexual predator nature going on – leads us to understand a little more about Jane and vampirism generally. Francis guides her and her fangs emerge, her instincts show her the vein for feeding, which seems to glow. Unfortunately, the unconscious woman wakes and we see that Jane has incredible strength also. The film then follows Francis and Jane, his attempt to leave her with her only relative on her mother’s side and his regret and their attempt to make a life work.

eye mojo

Francis’ backstory was he was a surgeon before the war, but as a Jew he and his family were sent to a concentration camp. It was there that he was deliberately turned by the Nazis and experimented on. After the war he had survived but his family had not and so he secreted himself in a coffin being brought back to America. Additional lore is the implication that a vampire needs invitation (he repeatedly asks to be invited), that a  diet of animal flesh and blood leads to a paunch and male pattern baldness for him and he has eye mojo (though he seems to not use it through glass, implying there must be unfiltered contact).

Josh Ruben as Roger

Unfortunately, if he uses the hypnosis too long, he can scramble the person’s mind. That has happened, accidentally, to Roger Fieldner (Josh Ruben, Scare Me) who is now resident in a mental health institution but refers to Francis as the Master. The fact that this is Renfield-like is underlined by having the Doctor called Seward (Ammie Masterson). Later we get a character called Quincey Morris (Holt Boggs, From Dusk till Dawn: The Series). We do discover that his fangs pop out when angered as well as when ready to feed.

aftermath

Now the film was a pleasant watch, though being a movie on Shudder I don't see why it really eschewed the horror for the most part – with the aftermath of an out of control feed being shown, for instance, but steeped in regret and no actual view of the rampage itself. Rather this concentrated on some gentle comedy, which hit home for the most part, and the development of the father/daughter relationship, which was brought to life really well by the two primary cast members – and despite also being the director, Segan really did give space and support to allow Moroles to shine.

father and daughter

For me, however, it was lacking an impetus, a story. Now I know the exploration of the raltionship is a story but I wanted something more – the character development was fine but there wasn’t actually a relationship hill to climb (OK he leaves her behind, but very quickly comes back and then they get bogged down in the normality of life, but one session of group therapy and he turns that around). There, for me, needed to be something more… but that’s just me. Oh, and to mention there is a blink and miss it werewolf – but again just stage dressing and not really plot at all. Nevertheless, the actors carry this to a place where it is definitely worth a watch. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Shudder via Amazon US

On Demand @ Shudder via Amazon UK

Thursday, November 24, 2022

DC VS. Vampires 1 – review


Written by: James Tynion IV & Matthew Rosenberg

Illustrations: Otto Schmidt

First published: 2021 (thb)

Contains spoilers


The blurb: The war for Earth isn’t beginning… it’s already here! It’s the heroes of the DC Universe against the undead in an epic fight for the very survival of the human race!

The Justice League has long protected Earth from all manner of foreign and alien invaders over the years, always keeping a vigilant eye to the skies for the next threat. But what if the threat was already walking the Earth…hiding in plain sight…watching…waiting for their moment to strike…

A mysterious new vampire lord has already put a plan in motion to conquer the Earth, and his horde are hunting on the streets of Gotham. Can Batman save his city—or will he succumb to the undead plague?

In the tradition of DCeased comes a terrifying new series from the twisted minds of James Tynion IV (Nice House on the Lake; Something is Killing the Children), Matthew Rosenberg (The Joker Presents: A Puzzlebox; 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank; Hawkeye), and Otto Schmidt (Green Arrow) that will tear the Justice League apart in their war with the undead!

This volume collects DC vs. Vampires #1-6, the first half of this bloody battle.

Constantine and vampire Zatanna

The review
: Like Marvel, DC have always had vampires within their universe and this limited series of two trade hardbacks (part 2 due next year) brings DCs mightiest heroes head to head with them – and you know it’ll be epic when the rear of the dust jacket shows a vampiric Superman.

The series starts with Andrew Bennet, the anti-hero of I, Vampire, approaching the Hall of Justice to warn the Justice League that something is very wrong amongst vampire kind – so wrong that he approaches in daylight, almost combusts and is intercepted by Green Lantern. Mary, the Queen of Blood, has been overthrown and the new leader of the vampires has set their sights not only on the world, but on converting both heroes and villains to vampirism. Unfortunately for him, Green Lantern has already been compromised – his lantern ring able to protect him from sunlight. Luckily for the world, a tortured and defiant Lex Luthor has been able to get a sample of blood to Batman. Batman’s briefing to the Bat Family is amusing, taking place in a sun-drenched room in Wayne Manor and giving everyone drinks made with holy water (he had the boiler blessed too, in case Alfred was compromised... his shower would have been devastating).

The volume prepares us for a devastating war on the world and by the end of it there are familiar DC figures turned and others dead but to find out who, you’ll have to read the volume. The writing was crisp and the artwork as good as one would expect for a major DC event. Of course, it is only half way through and carries a level of nihilism that I enjoyed but may not be to everyone’s taste. I think, so far, 7.5 out of 10 is fair.

In Hardback @ Amazon US

In Hardback @ Amazon UK

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Honourable Mention: She-Hulk: Attorney at Law – the Retreat


Directed by Anu Valia, this 2022 episode from season one of the Marvel machine’s She-Hulk series, which brought us the titular character (Tatiana Maslany), also known as Jennifer Walters, who is Bruce Banner’s cousin and is infected with his gamma irradiated blood becoming a hulk and nicknamed She-Hulk by the press.

Managing to continue her career as a lawyer, the show follows her adventures and misadventures and includes plenty of fourth wall breaks and comedic elements that make it stand out from other Marvel shows.

Jen in hulk form

In this episode she is woken by a call from the parole officer (John Pirruccello) of her client Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) as the power inhibitor he is forced to wear, to prevent him turning into the Abomination, has malfunctioned and so she heads to the retreat he runs just in case he had turned into his alter ego. It is a simple malfunction, however an unfortunate incident with her car means she is stuck at the retreat.

Terrence Clowe as Saracen

She ends up in a group therapy session with a group of supes (villains working on their issues) and it is here we meet Saracen (Terrence Clowe) – the reason for this mention. He is introduced as “Saracen – he thinks he’s a vampire”. As Jen is drawn into the session she opens up about the recent beau who has just ghosted her – Saracen suggests her lover may have “wanted her blood” and this leads them to reference that perhaps Saracen has daddy issues.  He also suggests they should find the guy and “suck out all his blood.”

Therapy

So, there you have it. If Blonsky is to believed then he thinks he’s a vampire but as he thinks Jen’s blood would be tasty then maybe he’s tried drinking blood before, or maybe… just maybe… But until we know, for now it is a fleeting visitation of someone acting like he’s a vampire.

The episode’s imdb page is here.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

The Invitation – review


Director: Jessica M. Thompson

Release date: 2022

Contains spoilers

The Invitation was a film that was spoilt by “the twist” in the trailer, or so people have complained, but the primary twist – that this a vampire tale – was no twist at all to those of us versed in Dracula and its lore. From the moment the protagonist Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel) arrives in England the mentions make it clear that this is, in fact, a Dracula movie. Now Dracula, the name, is not uttered once (though it is implied in suspended dialogue) but this is not just a film that uses an odd name to situate the film’s place in the vampire megatext, as we’ll see.

Nathalie Emmanuel as Evie

The film also has two versions with the US home release having an R rated version next to the tamer theatrical release. Having watched this in the theatre I have waited to review until getting the Blu-Ray to compare and, to be honest, the unrated version really doesn’t add much to the mix – but the wait and re-watch did consolidate my feelings on the score and initial reaction.

suicide

We start in a Gothic mansion, the set looking magnificent and the building establishing itself both as glorious eye-candy and also a contested space through the run of the film. We follow a POV camera and then a pair of legs – later revealed to belong to head butler Fields (Sean Pertwee). He unlocks a door after knocking saying to the inhabitant, Emmaline (Virág Bárány, Dracula (2013)), that they are worried, she must eat and she must be weak as she has not fed. She manages to push past him and, after getting a piano string from a music room, holds a bust as she leaps from the landing, decapitating herself.

DNA results

Over in New York Evie is working as a server for a caterer at a corporate event for DNA ancestry company “Unlock Your Past”. In the kitchen she and her friend Grace (Courtney Taylor) discuss the inappropriate behaviours they have had to put up with at the event and Grace has got them swag bags – these ones containing a free DNA test. We discover that Evie is broke (her rent is past due), she is an artist working in ceramics and her mother has passed (we discover later just a few months before, of cancer). She takes the test.

Hugh Skinner as Oliver

Grace is at Evie's apartment when the DNA test comes back. Now IMDb suggests a DNA test offering you names and addresses of cousins is not possible and therefore a goof. I beg to differ, such DNA companies will highlight cousins (and quite distant ones at that) who have also used the services and will allow messages to be sent between (if consent for such reveal has been given). Evie is contacted by British cousin Oliver (Hugh Skinner) who happens to be in New York for work the next week and wants to meet up – Grace is cynical but Evie is looking for connection and so meets him. Just to note that I have seen complaints about Grace stating that Oliver is the whitest guy she’s ever seen, suggesting the film is being “woke”. Firstly, there is nothing wrong with woke. More importantly two African American ladies seeing a clearly Anglo-Saxon relative may well say that.

New Carfax

Oliver proves to be bumbling, enthusiastic and charming. He informs Evie that the whole family in England is very excited at having found her and relays her family history in which she is the product of a scandal when her great-grandmother, Emmaline Alexander, had an affair with a footman and a child ensued. The footman took and cared for the child. There is to be a wedding in the family, to the de Villes, and she should attend. She can’t afford that but Oliver offers her his air miles to get her over to Whitby.

Thomas Doherty as Walt

So let us take stock. We are near Whitby (actually not at all, by location, the film being shot in Hungary and those who know Whitby and the surrounding countryside can see that immediately) and the family involved is the De Ville’s – indeed the estate belongs to Walt de Ville (Thomas Doherty, also Dracula (2013)). So, for the viewer who knows Dracula, we know the connection with Whitby and de Ville was a pseudonym the Count used in England for business purposes. When they get to New Carfax Abbey – the name of the estate – the connection is obvious.

Walt and Evie

So, to cut the plot down to essential elements, Evie is a fish out of water and I have read some people comparing this to Get Out and that is an obvious correlation. However, I think the the trope is more to do with her being a free-spirited American facing a very privileged level of British/European society. Yes, race is touched on but it is more a class issue. Walt, however, is charming and Evie is drawn to him and when she meets bridesmaids Lucy (Alana Boden) and Viktoria (Stephanie Corneliussen), she gets on with the former but dislikes the latter (who is bitchy). There is to be a wedding, of course, but it is Evie who will becoming Walt’s third bride (with Lucy and Viktoria being the other two), replacing her great-grandmother following her suicide.

Viktoria and Evie

And this I really liked – it was a neat thing to do with the three brides trope. Walt, has a pact with three families. The Alexanders – who deal with his real estate and who had not produced a female family member for some time, so finding Evie was a relief. Viktoria is a Klopstock, who are bankers mentioned within the Dracula text, and Lucy is a Billington, one of the solicitor firms Dracula uses in the novel. There is some underlying lore around their eternal lives relying on there being three – that wasn’t explained in detail unfortunately but the idea that Dracula drew the three from specific bloodlines was brilliant. It should be noted that the Alexanders are not from the novel. As for Walt he states that he has been called strigoï and nosferatu and then mentions being the Son of the Dragon, which is where Evie nearly says the D word.

turning to dust on staking

Killing vampires in this is strictly stake, fire and decapitation. There are some minor issues and one comes out in staking where we see a double impalement but the staking is clearly through the stomach for both vampires – indeed, it is one of the worst examples of clearly missing the heart I’ve seen – a shame given the fact that otherwise it was quite a cool staking. Likewise, there is some in-film logical use of names from the novel (the family names, New Carfax etc) then naming a pair of characters Jonathan (Jeremy Wheeler, the Munsters) and Mina Harker (Elizabeth Counsell) was an unfortunate grab at novel connection which was unnecessary and seemed to be for a ham-fisted broadcast of a plot development only.

the monster revealed

The film looks great and there is some nice ‘haunting’ moments put in. Evie works as the protagonist with vulnerabilities but an underlying strength she has to tap into and Nathalie Emmanuel is very natural in the role. There does seem to be a chemistry with Thomas Doherty’s very charming Walt – though he perhaps was less sinister than he should be when the mask was removed. Sean Pertwee was wonderfully surly as the butler. I think what I liked most about this was the neat way of dealing with the brides, however. 7.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities – the Autopsy – review


Director: David Prior

First aired: 2022

Contains spoilers

Cabinet of Curiosities was a Del Toro executively produced anthology series, where the great director introduces each episode, which was released in time for Halloween 2022 on Netflix and proved to be a strong series of episodes that drew from Lovecraft (2 of the episodes are based on Lovecraft shorts) amongst others.

The autopsy is based on a short by Michael Shea and is the closest the series got to a vampire episode – though this is not so much your undead vampire but an alien vampire amongst us.

running through the mine

The episode starts with men getting into a mine elevator. It starts to descend when a miner, Joe Allen (Luke Roberts), jumps onto the elevator roof. Close to the shaft he jumps down to the floor and runs along, a large ball-like object in his arms. He manipulates it, lights moving on it, and releases it, continuing his run. Shards seems to float and an explosion rocks the mine.

Winters and Craven

Dr. Carl Winters (F. Murray Abraham) arrives in town. An old friend of the sheriff, Nate Craven (Glynn Turman), he has been called in to autopsy the bodies. The mining company will not pay out unless those killed were killed in the pursuit of their employment – if Allen set off a bomb, as suspected, they do not have to pay out worker’s compensation. Before they head to the rather desolate looking morgue, Craven tells Winters about the disappearances in town.

the body

He relays that they were up to 6 disappearances when, on one search of the woods, they found a body, covered in tarpaulin and stowed in a tree. The body had been butchered, professionally it seemed, but more noticeable there wasn’t a drop of blood in the flesh. They took pictures and put the body back, leaving a couple of hunters to watch for someone returning – they vanished along with the corpse. They did, however, get an ID as Abel Dougherty (James Acton).

in the bar

Dougherty had met a man, Joe Allen, in a bar and was convinced he was actually Eddie Sykes a friend who vanished two months before when he went hiking to watch a meteor shower. As we watch the flashback we see Allen use eye mojo to hypnotise Sykes and walk him from the bar. Allen and Sykes are the same person and, in his rooms, the sheriff finds a murmuring, vibrating ball that Sykes/Allen found in the woods – the object from the beginning. They take the object and go to find Allen at the mine, but he smashes a car window, takes the ball and runs to the shaft (returning us to the opening of the episode).

bloodless organs

Winters goes to the morgue and sends the Sheriff home to rest whilst he starts to work. The second corpse he examines has a strange hole penetrating the chest and when he opens him up the lungs and heart are drained of blood. The next body has a similar chest wound and no blood left within. Photos from the mine suggest that the two exsanguinated bodies were found next to Allen's corpse – Winters articulates (to Craven via the tape recorder) his crazy thought that the blood from the two might be in Allen’s stomach.

the creature

It's round about then that Allen’s corpse starts to become ambulatory. Cutting sutures from his mouth (a small detail that made little sense as there hadn’t been an autopsy yet – but perhaps put in as a deliberate nod to Del Toro’s Cronos), he asks for help, saying he is trapped in the flesh and is starving. What we have is a parasitic alien creature that inhabits a host and feeds on the flesh and blood of others. It seems that the creature also feeds on pain and fear – it admits to reinvesting energy stolen from the two miners, whose blood it consumed in the cave, to keep their brains alive and directly feed in the information of what it was doing to them. It also suggests it gets a sexual pleasure from the feed, experiencing orgasms through the host’s body.

F. Murray Abraham as Winters

The sphere was its ship and the explosion was as a result of it having to destroy it on discovery to keep the species hidden. The creature itself was larval when it landed but it has grown and is a tentacled thing reliant on its host for senses such as sight and hearing. This was a cracking, atmospheric little film made all the more powerful by F. Murray Abraham’s powerhouse performance as the dour, terminally ill coroner (the parasite can smell his cancer through Allen’s senses and calls it delicious). The verbal sparring between Winters and Allen is superb. 7.5 out of 10.

The episode's imdb page is here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Short Film: The Vampire Project



I don’t know what the goal was from director Michael R. Morris when he created this, I assume direct to video, film in 1995. Whether it was meant to be a feature that just failed to have any length – it comes in around the 3/4rs of an hour mark – or it was always designed to be a short? I found it on Tubi, with the streaming channel picking it up as content, and I hadn’t heard of it before it appeared there.

It starts with a man kneeling over a body, a voiceover speaks to us as the camera swoops round and we see the body has been staked, but the stake is a lashed together cross and has been pushed through the mouth.

Michelle on camera

Michelle (Kathleen Kelly) and Michael (Michael R. Morris) are film students (or journalism students, perhaps) who – with a third friend – are out to create a documentary on out of hour drinking clubs in New York. There has been a murder attached to such establishments – someone who had their throat slit. They manage to get hidden cameras that they place in hats. Let’s just revel in the innocence here. Firstly the cameras seem suspiciously large now but were cutting edge in the 1990s, but the wearing of the hats looks suspicious in and of itself and Michael has a clearly visible wire running from the back of the hat!

Robert Hector as Adrien

On the first night in such a club Michael is chatting to a group of student girls whilst Michelle talks to a guy at the bar, buying him a drink but clear she is there with her boyfriend (indicating Michael, even though they are not an item). However, she is soon inebriated and the guy manages to lure her out into an alley area. Michelle is trapped and punches the guy but he looks set to overpower her when a stranger intervenes – Adrien (Robert Hector). He helps her back in the club and vanishes.

bloodied mouth

Michelle is drawn to the mysterious guy, setting out to track him down, and for his part he seems drawn to her too. But he has a secret (of course, he’s a vampire) and his interest in Michelle might be a little more forever orientated. Michael is a lot more jealous than he should be and the third friend knows more about vampires than you’d imagine…

staked in the mouth

This does show its age, there is no escaping the 90s video in the photography and print but it also feels well placed within the New York vampire sub-genre, carrying the feel of the city that, in some respects, is enhanced by the video nature of the print.

The imdb page is here.