Thursday, May 28, 2020

Bad Girl Dracula – review

Director: Andrew N. Shearer

Release date: 2019

Contains spoilers

From the people who brought us Space Boobs in Space comes a completely vampire focused film and calling this a review is a bit of a cheat because, like the earlier film, I’m no going to score this.

The stars/writers are burlesque artists and form the Gonzoriffic Artists Collective and this is, like the other film we’ve looked at, a Z Grade piece of entertainment that is generated with the aim of creating Z grade schlock. What I did like, however, was the little nods to the wider genre.

Dee Flowered as Bad Girl Dracula
So, after opening with a sepia piece, supposedly in Transylwania (their spelling), where Van Helsing (Kirin Thurman) talks about the evil Bad Girl Dracula (Dee Flowered, Space Boobs in Space), we get the first sketch proper. In it we get a woman, who identifies herself as Laura Williams (Thio Rose), arriving at a building, being pushed into a room by a woman (Tittiana Sprinkles, also Space Boobs in Space) and meeting Bad Girl Dracula (referred to hereafter as BGD). It is revealed that Laura is actually reporter Miranda Soledad – which, of course, is a reversal of the name of the actress famous for Jess Franco’s movies and star of Vampyros Lesbos. They play strip interview (to underwear – this is burlesque after all).

Blacula purse
At the start of the interview Miranda retrieves her recorder from a bag with a picture of Blacula on it. The Master vampire is revealed to be the woman from the start of the sketch and we eventually find out she is called Brinke Stevens named after the Scream Queen. In the second sketch the Master and BGD travel in time so BGD can get a magical item from Sexferatu (Izzie Popp, also Space Boobs in Space) we discover it is a ring said to be capable of luring virgins from their village – absolutely the ring from the Devil’s Wedding Night.

a crap bat moment
Like the earlier film, this does what it set out to – and whether you like it boils down to whether you can stand 80 minutes of z grade sketches with a touch of burlesque. I have to say that Tittiana Sprinkles stole the show as the nonchalant, foul-mouthed Master vampire and we got some crap bat thrown in. It isn’t great viewing but it does what it set out to do and thus has a sense of fun to it.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Short Film: Invite Only

Released in 2019, this film by Joe Leone runs to 27 minutes and has a dichotomy at its heart that perhaps was best avoided.

The film starts with Lucille (Kate Brandenburg) in a hotel room, reading. There is a knock at the door and she looks through the spyhole to catch a view of another woman, Rowan (Remiara Eve). Lucille opens the door.

Rowan explains that she works for the hotel and is checking if there is anything that Lucille needs, but Lucille doesn’t want anything. She then suggests that the window sticks and Lucille admits that it is stuck open. Rowan offers to fix it and asks to be invited in… which she is.

Kate Brandenburg as Lucille
Once in the room, she unsticks the window and then admits to Lucille that she finds her striking and moves to kiss her. This leads to a tryst on the bed during which the vampire (as I’m sure you realised) bites the girl. Cut to the morning and Lucille awakens, she gets out of bed, tells Rowan that the night before really changed her, jerks the curtain open, indicating she knows what Rowan is and wants to destroy her, and then dives under the bed to save herself.

Remiara Eve as Rowan
As night falls, Lucille gets out from under the bed and with her being alone in the room, this at first seems to be a 'new vampire coping on her own' film – and struggling with the hunger, it seems. This drives her to contemplate suicide but Rowan approaches and suggests jumping into a river is not the way to do it. Nor is sunlight apparently. She offers to teach Lucille a better way and admits she has been watching her for some time.

bloodied mouth
So the interesting aspect about this was suggesting that vampires are natural – a part of the planetary eco-system that can cull the worst parts of humanity. This is all well and good but it is also the start of the dichotomy I mentioned. We discover that the one way to kill a vampire is to melt the body in holy water and cut the head off. To me they should have stuck with beheading. The melting with holy water is, of course, supernatural (rather than natural) but more so it suggests a morality that is lacking in the vampires, a diabolic origin that sits ill with the idea that they are also a natural part of the eco-system.

Be that as it may, this does suffer a tad from overly stagy dialogue and delivery but gets away with that for the most part. The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Shining – review

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Release date: 1980

Contains spoilers

When I reviewed Doctor Sleep, the sequel to the Shining, I did so on the basis that the True Knot, the primary antagonists, are energy vampires who prey on (primarily) children with the shining. However, we are told within the film that the Overlook hotel also fed upon the Shining (making it a vampiric building) and that the ghosts within the hotel feed on it too (making them vampiric ghosts).

Now I’ll be the first to admit that looking retrospectively at the Kubrick film of the Shining as a vampire movie involves using the hindsight provided by Doctor Sleep as you would not necessarily come to the conclusion without the information from Doctor Sleep. But… tough… let’s claim this one for the genre.

the elevator
It is easy to assume that with a film that is so iconic and has implanted itself so deeply into the horror genre’s psyche (with the imagery of the twin girls (Lisa & Louise Burns), for instance, the bleeding elevator and, of course, “Here’s Johnny!”) that every reader would know the story but that is not necessarily going to be the case. It also needs saying that Stephen King went on the record as being disappointed with this interpretation of his novel. It is, perhaps, much more a Stanley Kubrick film than a Stephen king one (not necessarily a bad thing, by the way) – though the filmmakers behind Doctor Sleep did a great job of tying back to both novel (and the later mini-series thereof) and very noticeably this film.

Jack's interview
It starts with a car travelling through countryside, the only sign of civilisation is the road it clings to, as it heads to the mountains. The driver, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson, the Little Shop of Horrors), is heading to the Overlook Hotel for a job interview to be the hotel’s caretaker whilst it is shut for the winter season. As the film progresses, we discover that he was a teacher who has decided to look to writing (after scandalously losing his job), that he is an alcoholic with a five-month sober chip and that his current sobriety can be traced back to him dislocating his son’s arm when drunk.

Danny and Wendy
His son is Danny (Danny Lloyd, Doctor Sleep), who is back home with his mother Wendy (Shelley Duvall, the Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers). She talks to him about the opportunity at the hotel but Tony, his invisible friend who Danny says lives in his throat and who he intimates with a finger and croaky voice, doesn’t want to go. Tony is the shining, Danny’s inherent psychic ability that he has personified as a way of understanding his gift. We see his power when Tony informs Danny that Jack has got the job and will ring Wendy. Danny asks why he doesn’t want to go and Tony refuses to answer but then gives him a vision involving the elevator flooding with blood and the twin ghosts. Danny comes around in his bed with the doctor (Anne Jackson) there.

Scatman Crothers as Hallorann
So, the trip back to the hotel and being shown around starts establishing the location and Danny’s gift. The Donner Party is mentioned as they travel to the hotel, referencing cannibalism of course, and they are told that the hotel was built on the site of an Indian Graveyard (the film pre-dating the use of the term Native American to describe the USA’s indigenous population). However, this inclusion, whilst not actually built upon, offers an interesting reading of the film with the hotel representing white colonialism, privilege and disrespect of non-white society. This marries with the hotel being opulent (a place for the jet set before they were called the jet set). Back in the narrative Danny meets the head chef, Hallorann (Scatman Crothers), who recognises (and names) the shining as he is psychic also and speaks to Danny telepathically. He warns him off room 237.

the twins
As the film progresses and the hotel, feeding off Danny and gaining in power, hooks into the darkness within Jack (and there is an element explored in Doctor Sleep of Dan replicating his father’s journey but making the one choice that turns himself around, with a mirror dividing father and son). Danny sees things and his power, as it is consumed, gives the ghosts solid form as well as allowing the hotel to manifest physical objects – Hallorann describes the entities as pictures but they have become solid for both Jack and Danny. Danny encounters the bathtub ghost (Billie Gibson), an old woman in 237, who died in the bathtub and is part decayed, and though we don’t see it she clearly was able to grab and throttle him judging by the bruising to the neck. However, if Doctor Sleep examined child abuse then this does so as well but also, very visibly, explores spousal abuse.

the Overlook
The film is a masterpiece, of that there is no doubt. Kubrick eschewed jump scares for an oppressive atmosphere and a real sense of the uncanny. All the adult actors were superb and though Danny Lloyd perhaps only reacted his presence worked in context. There might be a complaint about Nicholson, in that he was super-creepy from the get go – certainly this was one of Stephen King’s issues with the film. However, I think that worked, Jack’s darkness was visible to the audience from the get-go and it became a question of when he would succumb not if. 9 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Blu-Ray @ Amazon US

On Blu-Ray @ Amazon UK

Friday, May 22, 2020

Vamp or Not? Nothing Left to Fear

I enjoy scholar and academic author Simon Bacon’s exploration of the genre but sometimes his view of whether something is a vampire (or vampiric) is a stretch, even for me. In the case of the 2013 Anthony Leonardi III directed Nothing Left to Fear there was certainly enough within it for me to decide it warranted looking at as a ‘Vamp or Not?’

The film is set in rural America – the sort of town where everyone knows everyone else and, in this case, know each other’s sins and secrets. Being the outsiders coming in to this might be a source of anxiety, even when there is common ground.

James Tupper as Dan
The film, however, starts with a journey into the place. Pastor Dan (James Tupper) and his wife Wendy (Anne Heche) are moving from the city to the town of Stull for him to take the position of the new pastor. Their kids are in the car; being Rebecca (Rebekah Brandes), Mary (Jennifer Stone) and Christopher (Carter Cabassa). Unusually the family is painted as caring, with no major dysfunction and supportive of the move. The only fly in the ointment is that the family are convinced that Dan is lost (there is a noticeable lack of GPS and mobile phones through the film).

Rebekah Brandes as rebecca
They pull in at a farm to ask for directions. In the distance is a young man, Noah (Ethan Peck), with blood on his hands but the film returns to him in a moment. Dan and Christopher walk to the shack (more than farmhouse) and knock but get no response. They are approached by the surly Mason (Wayne Pére) whose attitude brightens considerably when he knows who Dan is. Retiring pastor, Kingsman (Clancy Brown, Cast a Deadly Spell), had asked Mason to keep an eye out and the moving truck passed two hours earlier. Mason offers to lead them to the town but Rebecca is watching Noah and is disturbed when he slits the throat of a sheep, on the back of a flatbed, and drains the blood into a bucket.

dream 1
They get to the house and see that Kingsman and many of the townsfolk are moving them in. The kids pick bedrooms (with only a mouse in Mary’s room to spoil what is still painted as idyllic). On that first night Rebecca has a disturbing dream of a woman overwhelmed with a darkness around her eyes and mouth (she has a further dream about darkness and sheep alive but rotting. These don’t overly impact the film, bar her meeting the woman in real life, and serve more as horror tropes than narrative points - indeed the first dream is counter to the narrative as the woman could not have been possessed previously as she is alive). The family go to church the next day and Rebecca notices Noah leaving as the sermons start.

the tooth
She speaks to him outside (clearly attracted to him and not put off by the makeshift sheep slaughtering). He turns up at the house later, just as Mary has taken a slice of ‘welcome’ cake and gagged, her mouth bleeding as she finds that a strangely carved sharp tooth was in the cake. Noah says the baker is in her 90s and implies senility, throws the cake away and pockets the tooth. He and Rebecca go for a walk, which ends when Mason orders him home – to Pastor Kingsman.

being possessed
The pastor is angry and tells him not to get close and do his job – he hands over the tooth and tells him it was Mary who was chosen. So what’s going on? The town is a doorway to evil (that is the primary description). Each year a family is lured there and essentially sacrificed to placate the evil. One is chosen via the tooth (Mary in this case) and a ritual calls forth the evil which then possesses them. The summoning ritual is a blood ritual conducted by Kingsman and judging by his scars he has conducted many over the years. Once possessed she is returned to her family.

The town hides behind their doors, marked with (St Andrew’s) crosses painted with the sheep’s blood (so a take on Passover) and when the darkness fully takes the victim (s)he attacks the family, able to reach outwards with tendrils of darkness and will physically grab the victim to take them also. This is where we have our suspected vampiric aspect. When Wendy is found, having been attacked by Mary, she is a desiccated corpse that starts to crumble to dust – as though she has had all life and vitality drained. The issue is that it is a reading of the text, the film doesn’t tell us that this is the case. Indeed the film doesn’t tell us much.

The remaining member of the family has to stop the darkness/evil by bleeding into the same pit that Kingsman bled into to summon it. What is not only unanswered but unaddressed is why? Why does the darkness need to be annually released and satiated in this way? What would happen if the closing ritual wasn’t conducted? For the second question the clue might be in the fact that Mary’s body is already decaying – so human flesh apparently cannot contain it for long. This suggests, therefore, that there is no maintaining of the stolen flesh through a feeding mechanism. Would it then take over another or return to where it came? We don’t know.

Kingsman believes he is doing righteous work but he has tricked a holy man and his family into coming to the town. Why? Could there be other more dubious candidates that they could lure or do the victims have to be pious? Does it have to be a family? He believes it is God’s will, but also believes that they have been lied to about stories of the angels of an interventionist God and there aren’t any, only them. The film doesn’t elaborate though. Surely the phenomena is pre-Christian in origin? What occurred prior to the settlement? What is the deal with the carvings on the tooth (and what creature did it come from)? Answers to all this would help the ‘Vamp or Not?’ but also improve the film considerably.

another victim
There is an interesting environmental aspect where Noah takes Rebecca up a tower to show her the view, and the concept that there is a world beyond Stull but what we see is a sea of trees, the forest going on and on; Stull is in some respects Transylvania, the land beyond the forests. Simon Bacon likens this film, in a way, to Jug Face, which again was environmental, but the unseen entity (perhaps an avatar of the land) in that film resided in the pit. In this case the pit seems to be more a gateway, but the mythology was better constructed in the other film. Given that the blood lore is all over the place (in that it summons, wards and banishes), then I think that in this it all comes down to whether the entity is draining life or not. If you read it as draining life then it is a form of energy vampirism including vampiric possession. If it isn’t doing that, rather it is just killing, then it is not vamp. Trouble is, it’s down to viewer interpretation only.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Short Film: Bone Mother

Directed by Dale Hayward and Sylvie Trouvé, and released in 2018, this stop motion animation, whose parts were 3D printed, comes in at around the 8-minute mark. It features Baba Yaga (Renee Madeline Le Guerrier) – always a favourite, though she is a witch and not a vampire of course.

The film tells us about two sets of water – the waters of life and the waters of death. Baba Yaga is the guardian of both. Her giant, ambulatory house is made out of bones in this.

A masked horseman, Vladislav (Rafael Petardi), comes to her gate. Removing his mask we see that he is a handsome youth but has a mallen streak in his hair, a sign that age is beginning to stalk him. He enters the house with a bold request – he wants to taste the waters of life and is aware that she is the guardian. She will not part with them but he does have something she wants – his bones. However, he tells her that he will lead her to more bones.

Vladislav and Baba Yaga
Does he have a trick up his sleeve? And how does the vampire aspect come into this? The film is embedded below for you to find out, but it is worth noting that we do see the house stand – on legs of bone – and we also see Baba Yaga flying in her cauldron. The animation is well done and the story short, sweet and to the point. Worth having a look, all told.

Bone Mother from National Film Board of Canada on Vimeo.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Subferatu – review

Director: Patrick Penta

Release date: 2020

Contains spoilers

This one was difficult, I went in wanting to really like it and I didn’t hate it but there was something just off in it (or me) around the comedy performances – whilst there are some worthwhile performances, I questioned the comedy chops as I watched it. That’s unfortunate, especially as I discovered after watching the film that some of the cast are noted on the Seattle comedy circuit. That said, there is a difference between stand-up and acting someone else’s material.

The film starts with a U-Boat, and its skeleton crew, as the Captain – Commander Braunschweiger (Martyn G. Krouse) spots a ship in danger. It seems somewhat incongruous, as it is a three master. One of the crew, Lt. Bierficker (Nate Pringle), wants to torpedo it as it’ll be fun and says so in an “‘Allo ‘Allo!” styled German accent. The sinister Herr Gluhwein (Robert Piddie) wants those on board captured. A piece of dialogue dates this for us, with the crew saying Heil Dönitz – with Hitler being dead. This puts us somewhere in May 1945. Presciently there is a comment around the shift in power, suggesting that you can’t go back in time.

title scenes
So what is the ship in trouble? The presence, during the credits, of scenes from the Demeter, taken from Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, suggests that ship, though we will see that our vampire (Chelsea Tolle) is rather different – a different gender for a start and the vampire was brought on board before they set sail. More likely they are talking about the pleasure cruise ship whose crew we will meet soon. It is worth noting that Braunschweiger mentioned that the three master was not there one minute and there the next.

Mike Dooly as Captain McCloud 
Before we get to that, however, we meet Captain McCloud (Mike Dooly) sat on a beach and smoking his special cigarettes. He puts the book Subferatu down and is approached by a butler (Jeremy Moller) with a new pineapple cocktail and a message that his ex-wife’s attorney has called. McCloud offers a poetic image of them coming at night, red lips and white teeth – attorney’s or ex-wives? Both, but mostly the latter – it is interesting that we get a flashback scene of him with Ellen, who we can assume is his now ex-wife, and she is played by Chelsea Tolle as well – conflating ex-wife and vampire. The rest of the story is his relaying of the tale.

The crew are picked up by U-666 from the sea, though McCloud is miraculously dry. The crew are Ribbonclerk (Chris Bender), Atticus (John Gardner), Roosevelt (Thomas Nichols) and Scarlet (Claire Webber). They are somewhat taken aback by the antiquated rescue vessel and it becomes clear that they are from a contemporary (to us) time period. How has the U-Boat become unstuck in time? The film doesn’t say but they were rescued within the Bermuda Triangle. Braunschweiger has a plan of sailing into New York harbour and surrendering.

Robert Piddie as Herr Gluhwein
This would not seem to be Herr Gluhwein’s plan (though he espouses it). He is the Renfield to the vampire and wishes to unleash her onto an unsuspecting America. The U-boat has such a small crew because of deaths on the trip – and it is noted that the surviving crew seem pale – and he had the Americans rescued to provide her with further snackage. There is the crew pretending to be what the German’s think they are and – of course – the vampire attacks.

Ribbonclark turns
We see her eyes, her in silhouette and as a silhouetted bat and it is as a bat that she attacks the first crew member, not a spoiler too far to say that it is Ribbonclerk. After this he looks sickly and then, when shot by Braunschweiger, he vamps out. The question is, who amongst the Germans can they trust and how will they prevent the vampire from making landfall. I have mentioned the primary lore and, in addition to her blood drinking and transformation we find out that there is a vampire killing kit on board – consisting of a stake, a cross and a note that says “Best of luck”. The unique lore was McCloud’s CBD oil acting like holy water and subduing the vampire.

eyes of the vampire
So, the primary U-boat sets are rather well done and add a feeling of claustrophobia – which was slightly wasted given the comedic nature of the film, as the comedy undermined that compressed anxiety. McCloud is actually claustrophobic, though that isn’t played on too much as he is busy being the main comedy focus. His performance was good and very Police Squad/Naked Gun – but the zaniness wasn’t as apparent in the surrounding script and I suspect he needed a consistent foil. Michael Reed (Chupacabra Territory) also deserves special mention as Americanophile Lt. Valentiner, but the acting was not consistently good across the cast and, even in those who acted well the comedy chops weren’t always on point – for me at least. All in all this was entertaining enough for a watch, did well for a budget piece, but ultimately was missing something. 5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Saturday, May 16, 2020

October Faction: Season 1 – review

Directors: Various

First aired: 2020

Contains spoilers

October Faction was a Netflix production that has run one short season (10 episodes) and, I understand, has been cancelled. This is a shame for, whilst it had its faults, I rather enjoyed this. That said I haven’t read the graphic novels it was based on and so went in unsighted, as it were.

I wondered about reviewing this at all. The vampires are not immediately recognizable as such – a monster of some type… but vampire? I only realised what we had seen when the dialogue told me. They are also not a major factor in the show but they do appear a few times.

Deloris and Fred
So, husband and wife Fred (J.C. MacKenzie, Hemlock Grove & Dark Angel: Love in Vein) and Deloris Allen (Tamara Taylor, Justice League: Gods and Monsters) present as insurance salespersons. In truth they are monster hunters, working for the mysterious Presidio organisation. The truth is kept hidden from their kids, Viv (Aurora Burghart) and Geoff (Gabriel Darku, Shadowhunters), who have got used to a life of travelling from country to country with their parents’ job. I have seen people complain that J.C. MacKenzie doesn’t look like a monster hunter and that is exactly the point, he is meant to look like an insurance salesman.

Gabriel Darku as Geoff
Monster hunting is in the Allen family legacy and Fred’s brother was an agent, until he was killed by a werewolf (not on a hunt but in the toilet of a bar), his father, Samuel (Stephen McHattie, Dreamland, the Strain, Deadly Love & Rabid), was very senior in the organisation and his mother (Wendy Crewson) was a Presidio Archivist. As the series starts, Fred is informed of his father’s death. The family return to small town America (and the mansion Fred has been left) and the parents decide to take a yearlong sabbatical from Presidio. Things are not so simple, however, and secrets soon start emerging.

unusual fang design
So, vampires… During the wake, Fred gets drunk and Deloris drives him into town to pick up more drinks and food. Fred finds an old joint that they smoke – Lord knows how long that had been there – but, in the supermarket they see a couple and realise they are monsters in human form and they have selected a victim (a member of staff). They follow them as the two monsters track the staff member. The employee is dead and they go after the two, Fred finds the male and they chat for awhile as the man tries to persuade Fred to let them go. When it is clear that isn’t going to happen the man lunges forward, his jaw opening unnaturally wide and spiky fangs emerge at the top and bottom of his mouth. The effect made me think of an insect for some reason.

another vampire
Anyway, we later discover they were vampires. At another point, Deloris is in a bar where she draws the attention of a group of bikers – all vampires looking for revenge for their fallen comrades. It is here we get one of my issues with the series. This is an episode cliff-hanger but the next we see of Deloris she is home, battered and bruised but alive. She got away from the vampires but they are still at large (and she and Fred go after them). However, we never see how and there were a couple of moments in the series where we jump forward, the film asking us to take a key moment on trust and it feels rushed (and cheating).

Aurora Burghart as Viv
I’ve read complaints about the teen acting. I had no issue with it but I did think the scripts drew the pair, especially Geoff, as overly arrogant and as this was about the family, the teen angst and not fitting in was drawn shorthand rather than being explored meaningfully. Situations resolved or broke down way too easily. The relationship between the parents and Presidio needed a lot more filling out also. However, despite this, I did enjoy what I got – though it wasn’t classic. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.