Thursday, August 25, 2016

Honourable Mention: The Black Tavern

The Black Tavern, or Hei Dian, was a 1972 Shaw Brother movie directed by Wing-Cho Yip and the basic premise of the movie saw a beggar monk in a tavern telling all who will listen to his song about an allegedly corrupt official he saw on the road the night before carrying a king’s ransom in treasures.

Two brigands go after the official who is rescued by a hero. They arrive at the Black Tavern – a brigand’s place where steam buns made with human flesh are served – and it quickly becomes apparent that the “official” is another criminal out to get the real official and the hero is more than happy to work with him.

As the night progresses more and more villains appear.

spitting bun in the corpse's face
The reason it takes our interest is because a corpse herder eventually turns up with his four wards. Now the idea of corpse herding, walking the corpse across the land for burial, is where a lot of the kyonsi myth in movies came from. In this case, however, they are not actually corpses at all but other members of a criminal gang and their disguise is the corpse and herder combination. This becomes all too apparent when the nervous beggar monk spits steam bun at one of the “corpses” to check it is docile.

corpse hearding
We discover that the band are known as the Five Ghosts of Xiang Xi (the region where, apparently, the myth of the corpse herder developed). Of course they do eventually end up as corpses for real as they fight with the villains already at the inn. So, a fleeting visitation and only acting like a vampire but enough to get a mention. As for the film it is primarily an action martial art flick and well worth a watch if that is your sort of thing.

The imdb page is here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Lost Girl – Season 5 – review

Directors: Various

First Aired: 2015 – 2016

Contains spoilers

For reference my previous season reviews are available for: Season 1, Season 2, Season 3 and Season 4.

Lost Girl hit its final season with this and despite not being the shortest of all – it was 16 episodes for some reason released in the US as season 5 & 6 on DVD – it did feel rushed. It still concentrated on the world of the Fae – a collective noun for all the “mythological” creatures of the world and centred on Bo (Anna Silk) a succubus. When I looked at season 1 I said that, in the case of Bo, she was most definitely an energy vampire. Whilst she often fed (but as the seasons went on, not exclusively) during sex she was actually sucking the chi or lifeforce from her meal (I can’t say victim, many of her feeds are willing and friends/lovers).

Bo in Tartarus
In this season, as it begins, Bo is looking for the second of two Hell Shoes so she can travel to Valhalla and rescue her human friend Kenzi (Ksenia Solo). However – once she achieves this goal – Bo finds herself in Tartarus where she discovers that her long mysterious father is actually Hades (Eric Roberts, Halloween Hell). Having been helped by Persephone (Hannah Emily Anderson), Bo is then tricked by her into lighting a candle, when back on Earth, that manages to summon Zeus (Amanda Walsh) and Hera (Noam Jenkins).

Bo sucking Chi
So, this is very much a Greek mythology orientated season and you may have noticed that the characters of Zeus and Hera have been gender swapped. As exciting as this was the season wasn’t clear enough around the concept. The spirits of the powerful fae (as they are not actually Gods) have possessed human bodies of a given gender (so Zeus possesses the body of a woman). However, dialogue through the season vacillates between Zeus being a woman originally (and the patriarchal Greeks gender swapping her in their stories) or being male originally – Persephone calls her mother and Hades calls her brother, for instance.

Father and daughter
Another issue, which made the system feel a tad slapdash was Hades going by the pseudonym Jack (fair enough) but then Zeus calling him Jack – a name he wouldn’t have used in ancient Greece. And this is the problem I had with the season, it seemed rushed and ill-thought out. I got the impression that they knew it was the last season and their time was limited and so they quickly pulled the story together without necessarily thinking the threads through thoroughly and this led to under-explored elements such as Bo sleeping with a young Fae named Mark (Luke Bilyk, My Babysitter is a Vampire) and it then turning out that he was the long-lost son of Dyson (Kris Holden-Ried, Underworld: Awakening & The Death of Alice Blue) – a son that the cop never knew he had. If Dyson and mark’s relationship was handled in shorthand, the awkwardness and drama of previous lovers being father and son was essentially ignored. Mark’s later bisexual 'relationship' with Vex (Paul Amos) was also only run in shorthand (so much so that I put relationship in apostrophes due to the lack of focus on it and development of it).

the shtriga
There was one additional element that was vampiric in this season. In the episode “Follow the Yellow Trick Road” Bo is found comatose and it is discovered that she has had her blood drunk by the vampiric moth the Shtriga. This puts her in a dream world (and you can tell by the title that this is based on the Wizard of Oz) and she can only be saved by the Shtriga (represented in her dreams by Ksenia Solo) vomiting her blood back onto her mouth. According to Bane the shtriga (in folklore) is from “Albanian lore” which “tells of a female VAMPIRIC WITCH”. In this case the shtriga could be said to be helping by unlocking aspects of the story for Bo.

Eric Roberts as Hades
So, I had issues and it was all based around the fact that it seemed rushed. However, it was great to see the characters again and Eric Roberts was clearly loving the role of Hades, stealing every scene he was in with an easy charm. Not the best season, however worth seeing for fans of the show as it does round the story off and whilst it codas with an opening for further stories one feels that the story at the heart of the series was brought to a conclusion. 5.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Boneyard Collection – review

Director: Edward L. Plumb

Release Date: 2008

Contains spoilers

"A who’s who of B movie-dom," I guess that is what you could call this. The film is a budget portmanteau piece and the official blurb suggests it is made up of four short films. It isn’t. Her Morbid Desires is the piece we will look at and Cry of the Mummy is a surreal piece about a mummy (strangely enough). However the Devil’s Due at Midnight is nothing but a fake trailer and Boogie with the Undead is a fake trailer/music video.

The actual film starts with an extended credit sequence where it lists the significant participants with pen picture bios. This takes upwards of seven minutes.

Forrest J. Ackerman as Dr. Acula
The wraparound is more a series of introductions handled by Dr. Acula (Forrest J. Ackerman, Dracula Vs Frankenstein, Scarlet Moon, Vampirella & The Dead Undead) and his two ghost assistants Aurora (Danielle James, True Blood) and Electra (Dena Wilkinson). It is low rent stuff, not really anything to write home about.

Romantic Adventures of Count Dracula
The segment starts off with a group of women circling Jennifer (Kandis Fay) urging her to join them and to die and to live forever. Jennifer is far from convinced. In steps Dracula (Ronn Moss) and continues her seduction. Jennifer swoons at his supernatural touch and he promises the other women that they, the vampires, will feast well that night. There is the call of “cut” and we are on a film set. Indeed there are no vampires in this section of the film, but the film being made is a vampire film.

Robert Loggia as Bob
The film follows Freddi (Erica P. Hanson) whose Aunt Gloria (Tippi Hedren) has got her this gig as the lead actress in the Romantic Adventures of Count Dracula. When we get the next scene in the Court of the Vampire Queen ( Molly Murphy), at the end of the scene we have an actress (Shawna Baca) doing a death scene that turns out to be for real. This causes the director (William Smith) to quit – he is then replaced by Bob (Robert Loggia, Innocent Blood). However the plot of actresses dying is not as satisfying as it should be.

behind the scenes
Essentially the film concentrates on showing us scenes from the movie being filmed – not enough to offer a consistent story for the film within the film, but there are some actually quite nicely shot moments – and so shows us absolutely nothing about the murder mystery. Indeed some of the non-film scenes are absolutely pointless, such as the film’s producer, Gerry Shah (Seth Marten), meeting the author whose book has been adapted. This was just an excuse to give a role to Barbara Steele and, unfortunately, added nothing of substance to the proceedings.

Cassandra Peterson as Elvira
Eventually, after 3 deaths and four directors, the film is made and Freddi goes to the wrap party intent on unmasking the killer (who she has detected through woman’s intuition alone and who fesses up at the first chance). The wrap party has cameos from, amongst others, Elvira (Cassandra Peterson, the Ketchup Vampires & the Ketchup Vampires 2), Ray Harryhausen and Brinke Stevens - Freddi gets Brinke’s help with getting the villain.

So, all in all, the vampire scenes look nice for the main but it is a movie being shot and has no coherent story for us. The murder mystery, which makes up the actual story, is lacking in story, clues, detectives and anything else that would make it interesting. It is a fair parade of B movie/genre favourites and watchable but not worth a high score. 2,5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Honourable Mention: Poison City (London Tau volume 1)

This volume by Paul Crilley is the first of the London Tau series and I received this as part of the Amazon Vine programme. The article, therefore, is an extension of the review I posted on Amazon in the first instance.

The book carries blurb that connects it to Harry Potter – an obvious advertisers’ choice given the involvement of magic – and also the works of Ben Aaronovitch. The latter is obvious as it involves a supernatural division of the police but based in Durban, South Africa rather than London, England.

However Crilley has created a radically different character to Peter Grant. If Grant is innocence facing the unknown then Crilley’s character, Gideon (or London) Tau, is the face that has peered into the abyss for way too long and has come away jaded and, ultimately corrupt. Perhaps likening this to the Godfather of Urban Fantasy, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, would have been more accurate. In Tau Crilley has created a flawed anti-hero and that is part of the draw of the volume.

The writing is crisp and urgent, with some great ideas thrown into the mix. We are treated to a world where fae and orisha lurk just out of view of the ordinary person, where vampires stalk the night and werehyena guard townships. His spirit guide is a talking, alcoholic drunk (and a mean one at that) dog and there is an interesting take on Judaeo-Christian mythology also.

So, the vampires. These come into the book early on as the first murder that Tau is investigating is a ramanga – a low level vampire that consumes any blood spilt by a tribal leader, if they accidentally cut themselves, any waste items such as nail clippings, to prevent enemies being able to get their hands on it and use it in magic. This ramanga also, it later transpires, happened to be a sin eater.

We also get to meet, in small sections, mpakafo, aigamucha, Nosferatu and asanbosam. There is also an angel, at one point, sniffing a child’s soul as a drug and the vampires are being controlled by Lilith. However the vampiric element is quite a small part of the novel – hence the honourable mention – and the main focus are Lilith and the sin eaters. Whilst the sin eaters do consume sin (including the memory of the sin), it is not a vampiric activity in itself. The sin eater holds that sin and memory and passes it on to another sin eater before they die (or it returns to the sinner).

And that, as they say, is that. As the opener for an urban fantasy series I would recommend the volume.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Shadow Tracker: Vampire Hunter – review

Director: Joe Bagnardi

Release date: 1999

Contains spoilers

I have to first confess that as I first started watching this I was struck at how the film looked like the worst end of 80s and (more so) 90s straight to video horror, the sort of material filmed straight to tape – which seemed retro until I also realised that this was from the 90s and thus was not emulating but was actually one of those films.

The amateurish nature of the film is reflected in the fact that it comes in at around the two hour mark and drags its way there – the judicial use of professional editing needs to be applied and at least 30 minutes expunged. But is it all bad?

Vietnamese Vampires
It starts in Vietnam in 1967 – or so we are informed, because the landscape  that our two GIs run through just doesn’t look at all like Vietnam – the GIs being Shadow Tracker (played young by Chris Mcpherson) and Jonathan Stokes (Bruce G. Hallenbeck, Vampyre). They’ve escaped a prison camp and Tracker goes to scout ahead. Stokes sees a Vietnamese woman ahead, not seeing the one approaching from behind. They sprout fangs and attack Stokes, who tells Tracker to escape when he comes back and finds them feeding from the prone Stokes.

terrible fangs
Cut forward to 1987 and an older Shadow Tracker (Ron Rausch) questions a guy as to *his* whereabouts and then stakes him. Elsewhere, in a cemetery, a vampire with the world's fakest fangs attacks a woman, Samantha (Voni Powell). She kills him with a (rather thin) stake, unties her hair and shakes it out before making a Dictaphone recording suggesting that the cemetery was another false lead and suggesting that she needs to find the person known as Shadow Tracker.

Lisa and Rick
After the credits – which feature a Shadow Tracker song and a woman dancing – we meet the couple Lisa (Amy Naple, the Temptress), who also happened to be the dancer in the titles, and Rick (Tom Ecobelli). They’ve been to the museum but it seems more her scene than his. They start playing around and are separated and she bumps into a guy – Jonathan Stokes – with an English accent and gets talking to him about immortality. Rick acts like a jealous dick when he finds her.

Stokes and Lisa
So, Stokes is a vampire – his English accent, he later tells us, is an affectation he developed after repeatedly watching UK vampire films. He decides he is in love with Lisa and sets about seducing, biting and marrying her (or at least planning to). Samantha eventually finds Shadow Tracker and teams up with him. We see her extracting blood, by syringe, from animals and injecting herself with it. It staves off the hunger as Stokes, the film eventually tells us, is her father. As he talks about Samantha becoming a full vampire one assumes she is a dhampir.

child with a wonky fang
There is a sub-plot about a couple of feckless cops – who eventually are turned and go after Shadow Tracker. This could have been happily expunged from the running time with no detriment to the film. There is also a coven of child vampires created – we never get an answer as to why but some of the kids are also wearing poor fangs (some no fangs and others decent looking fangs). As for the vampires well they can walk in the daylight, crosses only impact if you believe though holy water and garlic are apotropaic – all this is gleaned from an author (John McCarty, also Vampyre) who tells Rick the truth but also happens to be a vampire so goes off to kill the poor guy. We get a moment of Stokes eating some brains, mainly for a route into laying a poor quip on us.

Ron Rausch as Shadow Tracker
The film looks blooming awful, to be honest, and the acting isn’t really much better. As we’ve mentioned many of the fangs look poor but the staking, at least, seemed effective. The worst crime was the extraordinarily lengthy running time, which just dragged and dragged. This is one I can’t recommend, I’m afraid, but the sheer grit and determination to produce a film despite the odds makes me feel generous and I think 3 out of 10 seems about right.

The imdb page is here.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Norway – review

Director: Yannis Veslemes

Release date: 2014

Contains spoilers

Norvigia, in the original Greek, this is an art-house film that had a very unreal feel – offered through the use of models and the design of the sets. Despite the title it is set in Greece, in Athens to be precise, but it is not an Athens that you would imagine.

The film is set in the 1984 and Yannis Veslemes does manage to infuse the film with an eighties feel but the film, itself, starts upon a train.

model train
Zano (Vangelis Mourikis) is placing newspaper against the window of his carriage. The train, when seen in external establishing shot, is clearly a model train on a model railway. There is no attempt to hide this, no kidology that the train is real and I was struck by a feeling of Dellamorte Dellamore (1994) that was imbued into the film. On the train we see a passenger who looks suspiciously like Einstein and several soldiers who seem uninterested in answering Zanos’ question regarding reaching Athens. Eventually they get there.

Zano gets to an Athens that looks much like a model that might have been used in a Fritz Lang film and heads to the Cine Star theatre – where his friend Jimmy (Yannis Bostantzoglou) is meant to live and who has invited him to stay. On his way in he meets an older hooker and, when he gets to Jimmy's, finds a plush coffin waiting for him. He is sat in the old theatre when the hooker approaches him. They kiss and off screen he feeds on her, leaving her bloody corpse in a bath. Following this he rings a funeral home, searching for Jimmy’s whereabouts.

seeing Alice
He goes to the Disco Zardaz and meets a variety of idiosyncratic characters including Theresa, an elderly lady who steals drinks, a virtually toothless vampire (bar his fangs) who hasn’t touched blood for ten years as he is addicted to heroin and the Captain, Marko (Markos Lezes), owner of the disco who used to be a film star and who rescues Zano from the dance floor when he collapses, stoned. Also in the disco is a woman, Alice (Alexia Kaltsiki).

yellow blood
Zano follows her into a restroom, whether out of lust or hunger is debatable, but he finds her sharing drugs with a Norwegian drug dealer called Peter (Daniel Bolda). In a perfectly protracted scene Zano attacks Peter and, as he feeds, blood spurts from the dealer’s neck. However, his blood is day-glo yellow and the scene becomes part surreal, part violent and works really well because of it. He tells Alice that he was going to bite her but he changed his mind. The two leave together, taking Peter with them as he starts to turn (he also seems to have become mentally simpler). This leads to a brief roadtrip but Alice meeting Zano was probably not as random as it seemed and leads to a meeting with a man who claims to be Bram Stoker but who may be someone far more sinister.

is he Bram Stoker?
It’s hard to explain Norway’s plot as there is a surreal element that would not be out of place in a Guy Maddin script. Werewolves are mentioned – but unseen – and Zano, who is forever dancing, claims he must keep moving or his heart will stop. He is physically very cold – something Alice points out during sex, has a reflection and he is fine with garlic. At one point we get a song, “Dracula, Dracula, Dracula” which is sort of an easy listening Mariachi track!

Zano reflected
Vangelis Mourikis keeps the viewer entertained as Zano and there is a chemistry that works between him and Alexia Kaltsiki. As to whether you’d like the film, well that depends on whether the idea of a surreal arthouse vampire film from Greece tickles your fancy. I enjoyed the film and think that 7.5 out of 10 would be a reasonable score.

The imdb page is here.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Midnight Circle – review

Author: Jaylene Jacobus

First published: 2016

Contains spoilers

The blurb: Clara Winters, a non-practicing witch, has been living the life of an old woman in the body of a twenty-two-year-old ever since fated to everlasting life in 1919. With the unexpected death of her beloved aunt, the easy life on her southern plantation is over. Grief awakens hiding ghosts--in the form of age-old magic and thirsty vampires.

Long ago, powerful magic entangled and stole Clara's great love, Wesley Russell, when he became a vampire. Wesley rises from banishment, forcing Clara to resist the temptation of a renewed life together by reminding him of the consequences that come to those who defy the spell of the Midnight Circle.

Mysterious mountain visions and guidance from her deceased aunt lead Clara on a journey to friendship and love, reintroducing her to the passions of youth. But as evil lurks and the Circle shows signs of unraveling, Clara becomes desperate to escape the spell without harming those she holds dear.

The review: A tale of witches and vampires, the Midnight Circle is focused on the character of Clara, a born nature witch. When a vampire targeted her family, in 1897, the new born Clara has a spell called the Midnight Circle cast upon her that makes her very presence deadly to vampires if they stay too close for too long. The spell can be broken but will kill the vampire who breaks it.

When she reaches the age of 22 her fiancée, Wesley, comes to her, in the early hours of the morning on the day of their wedding, and unbeknown to her he is transitioning to vampire. Their passion infects her with vampire venom and it freezes her in time (technically she is a witch/vampire hybrid – though she has none of their thirsts). She accidentally infects her aunt who is frozen in her forties and Wesley turns her cat as a companion for her.

The cat is the only vampire that can stay with her despite the spell (the aunt isn’t really a vampire – like Clara she just has her age frozen). Cut to the modern day and her Aunt dies, her spirit pushing Clara to find a set of friends, and Wesley, with the goal of breaking the spell and allowing her and Wesley to be together (in this world witches and vampires are often attracted to each other). And it is around this point in the plot that I have my issue with the book.

The book mostly concentrates on Clara and her friendship with four girls (all witches, though they are unaware of the fact). However, everything is so saccharinely perfect. This book falls into Mary Poppins Syndrome, with a heroine who is practically perfect in every way. The prose is solid enough, the characters well described but I like a bit of grit, dystopia and certainly flawed characters.

Even those (two) of the girls who have character flaws are quickly cured by practically perfect Clara. Wesley is a practically perfect lover and gentleman and it is the minor irritant of a spell that has to be overcome and is keeping the two lovers apart. The evil vampire is referenced (as is the powerful vampire who turned Wesley) but we don’t actually meet him in anything other than flashback – the peril is potential and the one possible attack (leaving a young guy turned) is unexplored (possibly left open for book 2).

Does it sound like I disliked the book – I appreciated the writer’s skills but this overtly romanticised view wasn’t for me and impacted the dialogue as presented, which again was solidly written but there was no natural dissent in the dialogue as how can perfection be dissented from? However, it may well be for you and I can’t knock the generally solid nature of the prose. 5.5 out of 10.