Thursday, October 21, 2021

V/H/S/94 – review


Director: Ryan Prows

Release date: 2021

Contains spoilers

When I reviewed the original V/H/S my review proved itself to be controversial with some – but the segment that had vampiric overtones was one that I still feel justified looking at (although I might have edged my bets and looked at it under ‘Use of Tropes’ had I created that type of article at the time). This is the fourth of the series and takes the conceit that the segments are captured on video tape and, in this case, are seen by cops raiding a warehouse that seemed to house a video-death-cult whose members have plucked their own eyes out.

holing cell

The segment that interests us is Terror. This is a conceptually interesting one as it is definitely situated in the 90s – Clinton is mentioned as president – but has a quite modern subject, following as it does a cell of homegrown, survivalist/redneck terrorists. The film seems to be their manifesto, showing their preparation for an attack on a federal building. But early on something grabs our attention. The commander enters a room with a prisoner (Brendan McMurtry-Howlett, Valemont) and shoots him dead. The wall around the holding area is covered in crosses (simply constructed) and what might be (but is obscured due to the VHS quality) garlic (it is).

rabbit goes boom

It gave me pause to thought, but might be missed by the casual viewer. However, when, later, they shoot the prisoner again… well now it becomes a thing. Indeed they kill the prisoner frequently and also speak about a secret weapon and, when they scope out the federal building, they talk about sunlight. They are shooting and collecting the vampire’s blood and intend to use it as a weapon. But they haven’t tested it. To do so they get a rabbit, inject it with vampire blood and wait for the sun… the explosion is massive, I mean these vampires really go boom.

the terror cell

The militia show a staggering amount of incompetence at times and so, of course, the vampire gets loose. The vampire has a split mouth thing going on with a monstrous set of teeth – which at first sight looks great but in other shots not so much and the bite after-effect sfx is poor – this fits in with a 90s video theme but not so much as these are meant to be horrors from real life. An interesting part was to have a sympathetic cop (Dru Viergever) also appear in the wraparound, offering a continuity between segments.

the vampire

The section Terror wasn’t bad – vampire mouth/bite sfx notwithstanding – the explosive nature of vampire blood was amusing and the general idea worked well. However, the segment was too short to allow the character and incompetence of the terror cell to be fully explored and this had room, with some smart writing, for expansion. My favourite section was one titled The Subject. As ever the score is for the vampire segment and not the whole film. 5.5 out of 10. The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Shudder via Amazon US

On Demand @ Shudder via Amazon UK

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Short Film: The Witch’s Bargain


The Witch’s Bargain is a short film that was the featurette on week 1 of the 2021 Killer Valley Horror Film Festival. Running since 2007, it was a new one on me but running online and featuring horror shorts it was well worth checking out.

The film itself was around 30 minutes and focuses on Scarah, Damsel of the Doomed (Sarah Webb) – the witch of the title. Scarah is a character developed as a horror host, from what I can gather, for HorrorWeb Productions and there are a series of 5 fact videos, looking at various horror films, entitled Tub of Terror in which Scarah presents from her bubble bath filled tub.

at mother's grave

This is a professionally drawn short and sees Scarah visiting her mother’s grave. Mom died without finding what she always wanted, a spell of longevity. Scarah is determined to find the spell for herself and knows where to start – her mother's old grimoire. Mother hid it, when Scarah was a child (we see this in flashback) and so Scarah knows where it is. She digs the occult tome up.

Chance Jones as the demon

Following this she performs a ritual, from the grimoire, to summon a demon – Barbas (Chance Jones); she has a specific (and convoluted type of) virgin’s blood to trade for the spell. Barbas informs her that there is no such spell, he does however give her a way to achieve her desire – handing her a map and a key in exchange for the blood.

Corey Trahan as Orlock

Following the map Scarah gets to a castle and once within and having explored for a short while she finds a coffin, beyond a door with a large bat motif on it. The coffin is empty but we have seen a creature, shall we say rather Nosferatu like and called Orlock (Corey Trahan), following her silently… What will happen? For the answer to that you’ll have to see the short. However it was impressively shot for an indie piece and Sarah Webb carried the short with confidence – being the primary focus throughout (with the exception of the flashback scene).

The imdb page is here.

from the micro-short

Bonus Bit
: As well as showing shorts the KVHFF also added micro-shorts into the running time of the festival. One saw a soldier, during a battle, take shelter in some sort of barn. A vampire is in there, feeding on another soldier and turns his attention to the first. And that is it. Blink and you miss it, with no name for the micro-short, nor credits to report, I thought I’d mention it here as it was on the same block of films as The Witch’s Bargain.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Use of Tropes: Egomania: Island Without Hope


With the original title, Egomania - Insel ohne Hoffnung, this was a 1986 movie by Christoph Schlingensief and I think it is fair to say that it is more a tone poem than a narrative movie containing some engrossing and inciteful scenes within its feature length.

The Use of Tropes within the film can even be seen in the blurb that Amazon Prime Video gives the film: “A desolate island in the baltic (sic) sea is governed by the creepy vampire-like baron Aunt Devil. Where once peace and love shaped the lives of the islanders, now hopelessness and discord rule. When suddenly a true love threatens the tristesse of his island, the baron cracks up… A torrent of desire, intrigue and murder ensues.

Sally and the baron

As a film maker Schlingensief also played with the concept of vampires in his short film Die Schlacht der Idioten, which was released in the same year, and both the vampire in the short and the Baron in this were played by Udo Kier. The film follows Sally (Tilda Swinton, Only Lovers Left Alive & What We Do in the Shadows (series)), a young woman who falls in love with William (Uwe Fellensiek) and the fall out as their relationship is thwarted.

bat-like silhouette

As I intimated the vampire figure is Kier’s Baron. There are a few moments within the film that lead us to understand that the director was pulling on vampire genre tropes – beyond the fact that Kier’s over the top performance dominates the film. Early on, in an industrial landscape, whilst crossing a bridge with the hirsute and Renfield-like Anatol (Sergej Gleitmann), the baron seems to hide his face from the sun and, in another scene, he raises his coat creating a bat like silhouette. At one point he seems to have hypnotised William so that he slavishly follows the baron and cannot see Sally.

dressed as Aunt Devil

In another scene we see him eating earth – whilst this is not a trope from vampire movies, I was reminded of the Arnold Paole story and how he allegedly claimed to have been attacked by a vampire and so ate earth from the vampire’s grave to prevent himself from becoming a vampire – it apparently didn’t work. The reason the Baron is called Aunt Devil is because he uses that name when stalking Sally dressed in women’s clothes and a wig – perhaps akin to shapeshifting and certainly fitting with the vampire as representing queerness.

I need your blood

The previous two aspects are, admittedly, more than a stretch but the most telling use of tropes is in the finale when, grabbing hold of Sally’s baby (we see swaddling only) he yells “I will suck you out. I need your blood.” He then, amidst a cacophony of flashing lights, smoke and soundtrack that obfuscates the scene, proceeds to suck at the baby – or so it would seem. William ends this by picking up a stake and killing the baron with it. This scene almost made me list the film for review, but it is also only a fleeting moment.

Udo Kier as the baron

This is not an easy film, as I said at the head it is more a tone poem than anything and is filled with absurdist, surrealist moments and madcap performances. Narrative is eschewed for emotion and the scenes are designed to both communicate and provoke that. However, I remained engrossed through the film and, should you enjoy your films most definitely arthouse, then this may well be for you.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Friday, October 15, 2021

Vamp or Not? No One Gets Out Alive


I was put onto this 2021, Santiago Menghini directed film by Simon who suggested it was ripe for a ‘Vamp or Not?’ Based on an Adam Nevill novel, the story is transplanted from the West Midlands of England to continental USA and looks at illegal immigration within its running time.

The first scenes are archival footage from Mexico in 1963 and the archaeological expedition led by Professor Wells, we see varying scenes and an ornate stone box being lifted out of an underground chamber. Before the film moves to primary character Ambar (Cristina Rodlo) it sees another young woman (Joana Borja) sat in a house phoning home – she made a mistake and has been having bad dreams. Strange things happen, the TV picture seems to warp, footprints appear on the floor, the electric fails and in another room the box comes into view. Off screen we hear her scream, we see pinned butterflies and moths on display and one comes back to life. The lights come back on…

Kinsi and Ambar

Ambar arrives in the USA in the back of a truck, smuggled in by human traffickers. She, we learn later, spent time and money looking after her very ill mother and now, with the little she has left, she has travelled to the US to make a new life. The film quickly establishes her getting a job in a sweatshop and developing a friendship with Kinsi (Moronke Akinola). She has to get a new home when the hotel she is using asks for ID and finds her way to a house run by Red (Marc Menchaca, The Outsider). He has just inherited the house (it is the one from the prologue) and only women are being given rooms – though there is only one other resident currently. Because of her status (from south, as it is put, and paid cash) he asks for a month’s rent in advance.

Cristina Rodlo as Ambar

Ambar is after a fake ID and Kinsi knows a guy. Unfortunately, the Texas ID she wants has suddenly jumped to $3000 – though other State IDs could be got for $1000. We eventually discover that the reason she wants a Texas ID is because she had contacted a distant family member, Beto (David Barrera), who had said he couldn’t help with a job interview because she wasn’t a US citizen and so she lied and said that she had been born in Texas. Ambar is suffering from vivid bad dreams (often involving her dying mother and featuring the box) and thinks she sees/hears people in the house. She sees a man, Becker (David Figlioli, Angel) and confronts Red about his presence but Red explains Becker is his brother and lives in the private rooms with him.

Marc Menchaca as Red

Eventually Ambar wins the award for the most naïve character when Kinsi offers to loan her the difference for the ID, hands over all her cash and Kinsi absconds, quitting her job. Ambar gets fired and has no money and the house is oppressive… So, what we know – that is pertinent to the ‘Vamp or Not?’ – is that Red and Becker are Wells’ children. They came home when Becker’s treatments had become too expensive (its not clear what the treatments were for). The box has cured Becker and he is as obsessed with it as his father was – Red is complicit out of love but there is also an apparent tension with Becker, who has told him he only needs ‘a few more hits’ the language being deliberately that of addiction, and Red trying to help Ambar despite that being against his brother’s design. The ghosts we see in the house are the victims of the box – much like the ghosts in Oculus are victims of the mirror.

emerging from the box

The box would seem to be a conduit – with a front face removed we see two views inside it, one where it stretches off forever and allows a creature to appear passing through the box to our place, and one where it is a normal box with the skeleton of an infant in it (interestingly, when we see this there is a butterfly at the rib cage, remembering that some vampire myth has the butterfly as the vampire’s soul). The box (or the creature probably more accurately) has been invading dreams and when its victim is left (on a stone altar) it comes out and the victim sees the loved one they have often been dreaming of – there is a moment of consent needed, consent to the loved one (and staying with them) consents to the attack. The creature itself looks absolutely fabulous and I wish we saw more of it.

the creature

The vampiric aspect comes in with the creature seemingly taking the head of the victim (there is a set of teeth under the fleshy hood it lifts the victim into) and through this, apparently, they steal their energy and soul, if the ghosts are anything to go by. It can then use that energy to renew life (the butterfly at the head of the film) or heal its human ‘priest’ – we see a snapped leg move back to shape and heal. I say priest as there seems to be a ritual aspect to this, the victims in robes with a green dust coating their flesh and their face painted with streaks of blood. There is a more direct association of butterflies, with them gathering near the box, and one wonders whether the filmmakers wanted to suggest a definitive connection to the soul? I think the vampire/butterfly connection is coincidental to this motif but this entity appears to be vampiric.

The imdb page is here.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Crowdsourcing: Embrace


I have been contacted by Aten Entertainment and asked to share their crowdsourcing project for the vampire feature Embrace. The details of the film are:

Embrace is a modern-day film centered on a "family" of vampires with the premise that these immortal beings are in fact not evil but are simply surviving as they are meant to survive.

These immortals have always been able, through careful deception, to blend in with mortal society because those societies not only view their very existence as mythical but within this myth have, over the centuries, invented abilities and weaknesses that they do not possess.

Their existence is not about living lives of blood-sucking encounters without conscience; they instead must negotiate regret, revenge, the loss of love, loneliness, life-threatening attack, and the struggle to overcome self-hate to arrive at a place where the miracles of immortal life are recognized and accepted.

The kickstarter page has a low budget trailer, though it comes with the health warning that the filmmakers deem it much lower quality than the finished film will be. The target is a high one, which will take some reaching. Remember that I post about crowdfunded projects for information and supporting projects are at your own risk. You can find more at Kickstarter.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Fangs – review


Director: James Ian Mair

Release date: 2021

Contains spoilers

This was a low budget vampire flick that I found free to view on YouTube. There was an aspect that reminded me of the film the Return of Dracula - although the device used worked in the 1958 film and became a plot hole in this. It is also a monster mash with a Mummy (Benjamin Mair) involved.

It starts with a voice-over telling us about vampires and how really real they are. It also suggests that the most powerful vampires can daywalk (which is fine, and we do see the primary vampire character – Celeste (Tara Bixler) – daywalking). However, it does make me wonder why day for night shooting was used.

bite

The film proper starts with a woman tied against a tree and Celeste appearing. This is one of the day for night scenes and it does suggest we are just before dawn that forgives the day for night a little but not fully. The woman begs for her life but Celeste rationalises that if she lets the victim go then she’d just call the cops and, in turn, they’d raid the castle. She bites the woman. Master Reinhardt (Dennis Crosswhite, My Bloody Wedding) appears and warns Celeste that hunters have found their lair. He tells her to run – he will not, he is tired of his undeath – and suggests she blends in to hide (her subsequent attempt at blending in is half-hearted at best).

slayers

The slayers arrive led by Father Carmichael (James Ian Mair). The other two seem… well let us just say that casting seemed to consist of grabbing a couple of people from the street. Ordinary Jo(e)s, you might say. They didn’t feel like vampire slayers, however that is meant to feel. The dialogue didn’t help – stakes up the ass are mentioned, simply to give Carmichael an excuse to say that it wouldn’t work and must be through the heart. They split up in the castle. In there are monsters that I described in my notes as papier mâché but that’s unfair. Whilst they looked like masks, close up they were actually quite intricately articulated – the creatures did nothing, however, simply lurking. Carmichael stakes Reinhardt.

identity theft

So, a young woman, Amanda (Erinn Swaby) is at a train station and asks a woman for help – I say at a train station but it is a tight focused street shot to hide the lack of train station location. She is travelling to stay with family she has never met (and is overheard by Celeste). Her platform is reached by going down an alley (!) and Celeste gets her. This is our the Return of Dracula aspect, where the vampire takes the place of an unknown family member… However in the 1958 film the family member was travelling from “the Old Country” and I can accept his corpse would be a John Doe. In this the body is found and is breaking news! Why her family at home did not contact those she was staying with when she turned up dead is never addressed and a truck is currently driving through that plot hole.

the mummy

When she gets to the house of cousin Clare (Jessie Reid) and Uncle Richard (Deron Morgan) she is invited in. As in the Return of Dracula her coffin goes elsewhere (into a cave) and she seems rarely around – tweaking Clare’s suspicions. Not Richard’s however. He is too busy being a mad scientist. An Egyptologist, he has ‘procured’ a mummy from the local museum and is trying formulae to bring it to life (like that’s going to end well). Meanwhile Carmichael has heard about Amanda being killed by 'animal attack' and, in the alley, finds the note that Celeste casually through away with the family address on it.

fangs on display

Ok. This isn’t great. Deliberately using part of the Return of Dracula plot as a reimagining is fine but fill your plot holes. Celeste could have easily stowed the body and Carmichael could have found his way to the right town due to subsequent attacks being reported. The day for night shots could have been dispensed with and Celeste use her daywalking. A station location (or even utilising rail lines) would have been useful. The monster mash tag on was amusing, at least. That all said, it did come across as a labour of love, didn’t outstay its welcome and whilst the acting was often amateurish, not all was. 3 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

The Vampire's Puppet – play (L.A. area)



I have been contacted by Chris Levine who had come across my article about a short he is in, Blood Lust.


He is currently in a vampire play that started its run the other day and asked if I would blurb it and I am always happy to promote vampire shows. It is in Los Angeles so, if you are in that neck of these global woods consider giving it a go.

Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group and Chris Levine Theatre Productions Invite YOU to enter Count Aldea's manor for the first time in over 600 years... Exposing you to the evil, dark and sexy secrets hiding deep within a Vampire's blackened heart, and lurking around every cobwebbed-corner of his ancient lair of nightmares!

Face your fears and Join Us for "The Vampire's Puppet!" Featuring the beautiful and terrifying Chris Levine and Maddison Bullock, with Original Stage Play by Chris Levine and Directed by Zombie Joe. For Ages 17 and up. *All Cast Members and ZJU Staff are Vaccinated. Face-masks required for entry. The performance contains brief strobe-light effects.


DETAILS: "THE VAMPIRE'S PUPPET" - For Ages 17 and up. Wheelchair accessible.

WHEN: SUNDAYS and MONDAYS @ 8:30pm: OCTOBER 10, 11, 17, 18, 24 & 25, 2021.

WHERE: ZJU Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601

TIX only $20.00; Now on sale at: ZombieJoes.Tix.com

WEBSITE

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INSTAGRAM/TWITTER: @ZombieJoes @TheVampiresPuppet