Saturday, September 21, 2019

For Ever & Ever – review

Director: Vladimir Chubrikov

Release date: 2017

Contains spoilers

This Russian film is odd, in that it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be and, perhaps even more so, takes some story shortcuts that sometimes make little sense and others make the story ring hollow as aspects have little to no consequence.

The vampires in the film are energy vampires specifically, and so the film is mostly bloodless and this fits in with it not knowing what it wants to be. It certainly doesn’t seem to have aspirations of being a horror film, but does seem to fancy itself a thriller (at least and at times).

deadly approach
Out in the woods a couple, an unnamed man and Anna, are out collecting firewood. He has strayed a little away when a woman with a severe haircut approaches him and leans in for a kiss (in this the power transference is often facilitated through a kiss). He falls dead and Anna, sensing something wrong, goes to find him. She sees the woman and beats a retreat in the opposite direction. Getting towards her cabin in the woods, she sees it being set alight. She flees into the snows.

Masha and Sasha
Sasha is a college professor and expert on Russian literature. He lives with his teenage daughter Masha and is divorced from her mother. He is going to drive her to school but the car has trouble starting (she moans about him not replacing the car) and so she goes to get the train. She is due to visit her mother soon. After his lecture, Sasha is driving home when he stops the car (to pick up some snow and put it on the bonnet – it made little sense to me). He sees a figure, Anna, staggering through the woods and gets to her as she collapses.

The doctor comes out to Anna – her temperature is normal but her blood pressure on the low side. Sasha lets her sleep and falls asleep at his desk – not noticing that Masha sneaks in late on. When he awakens Anna is no longer sleeping on the couch, but then he sees that she is looking through his rare books. She seems knowledgeable but is about to leave when a woman comes to the door to ask Sasha’s advice on a book she wishes to sell. Anna spots things about the book that he missed and he asks her to become his assistant.

So Masha leaves to go on the arranged visit with her mother and Sasha and Anna draw closer, with her helping with a book he started writing but abandoned, helping him develop a female voice for his character. They fall for each other and what I wasn’t so sure of is whether, when Masha arrives home, they are planning to marry (as the subtitles suggest) or are married as later is the case (though we see no wedding). We do hear, from the doctor, that love agrees with Sasha and he seems to have shrugged ailments away. We also get the fact that Masha is not happy communicated loudly and clearly, and here we have one of the issues with the film.

draining the assassin
She talks to a friend who listens to her thoughts on poisoning Anna and then casually offers to get her access to a hitman (this is after using 'sources' to discover that Anna's passport is false and her name belongs to a dead woman). Now, whilst her friend is drawn as rich, the number of teenage girls who have access to investigative resources and hitmen would be very few and far between one feels. The fact that Masha steals a rare book and sells it to her father’s friend also seemed a wee bit contrived. Anna is stabbed by the hitman, gets up, kisses him and he dies. The cops then coming round (as he died near their house), when there are no marks on his body and, therefore, it wouldn’t imply foul play, is also odd. The fact that Anna covers for Masha about her knowledge of the man, and they therefore bond, is terribly shorthand.

Anna stabbed
We discover more about Anna through Sasha’s friend who has spotted her unusual signet ring and discovers it is the sign of a secret society of female immortals. They have learnt to devour life energy and are not allowed romantic relationships with men (as they cannot help but pass energy to the man, hence Sasha’s ailments going away) except to breed. If they have a boy it is fostered, if female they raise her – conducting a ritual at their birth where they devour all the father’s life energy and pass it to the baby – Anna is pregnant and, after appearing on TV, her family come looking for her. Sasha’s friend not only discovers these facts but finds various random photos/news articles about Anna (including a picture from Woodstock) and again this is contrived.

Anna with her mother
That is the story of the film, contrived moments to drive the plot forward. Although it is very well photographed the film does not know whether it wants to be a thriller (as I implied above, it manages to eschew anything resembling horror) or a Hallmark style romance with a supernatural background. The relationship just appears, without enough build, the reconciliation between daughter and step-mother is so contrived it makes the teeth ache with saccharine sweetness (despite it all being around attempted murder). The feeding method is gore free and, indeed, leaves behind a pristine corpse. An angry psychic lashing out can lead to the target having a nose bleed. The Hallmark nature probably means that a reading of misogyny into this was unconsciously included, visible through the depiction of a threatening female society who are depicted as ruthlessly evil, bar the one who, through the love of a man, becomes good and domesticated - within a patriarchal view that domesticity equals being the house keeper.

Anna does drink... wine...
That said, despite this, I don’t want to score it too low. Anna and Sasha were both played naturally and the actors did their best with the contrived material. Anna’s Aunt (when we meet her) was a terribly under-used character who was madcap and sinister rolled into one – though the rest of the family were non-descript (bar the ‘sister’ with a severe haircut, who caricatured a stern character). 4 out of 10 suggests that it was more entertaining than it should have been.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Vampires: First Blood – Volume 1: The Vampire Lords – review

Editor: James Grant Goldin

First Published: 2019

The blurb: Before Edward…

Before Lestat…

Before Dracula…

These vampires set the stage for all the rest…

Arnold Paul… The ‘real’ vampire of 18th Century Serbia…

Lord Ruthven… the first multi-media vampire star…

Varney… antiheroic prince of the penny dreadfuls…

Count Kostaki… Terror of the Carpathians…

Meet then… and their brothers in blood…

The review: I was contacted by editor James Goldin to see if I wanted to review this volume and the companion volume that focuses on female vampires (and will be subject to a separate review). This volume gathers a variety of 19th century vampire stories (along with a couple of 18th Century entries in reportage and poetry). Of course, all have been in other volumes (indeed these are specifically drawn from public domain). However, gathering them in another volume is not necessarily a bad thing.

Goldin bookends each tale with a commentary, often about the story (or author) specifically and points out some interesting factoids. The shame with this is these are not referenced, for a student of vampire media that would have been useful, and the story's source is not referenced. This is important as these stories can shift and change a little – especially those translated, so if you take the Family of the Vourdalak, I have a Skal translation that says (as per the version in this volume) that a vampire must be staked using aspen but I have a Nikanov translation that suggests ash. What is really useful is the glossary at the end of each entry, which explains words and phrases perhaps unfamiliar to the twenty-first century reader.

The stories included are all important in the genre but I might have put a little less of Varney the Vampire (21 chapters) and actually jumped through the book more (perhaps including the first chapter, the mob scene from early in the series, something from the London Hotel sequence, something from the continental stories and the turning of Clara – though the latter is included in the second volume). I then might have used some of the volume space to add in, perhaps, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs’ Manor or one of the more unusual Le Fanu stories (taking the point that they do not necessarily explicitly involve blood). It was a shame that Tolstoy’s Upir had only a brief excerpt, but also understandable as the editor had been unable to find a public domain translation.

The criticism on content is a personal taste thing, however, and references aside (and to be fair, most compendiums do not reference source/facts), this was worthwhile. It was fun re-reading some of these classics and I always love it when I discover something new and I had not heard of the comedic verse the Thirsty Vampires (1765) by William Hayes. 7 out of 10.

In Paperback @ Amazon US

In Paperback @ Amazon UK

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Use of Tropes: Zombies Reborn

This is a 2012 Chinese film directed by Xia Yong (though Amazon lists the director as Xіа Wеі) and is one of the crop of fairly poor Chinese films that are filtering through at the moment in the “on Demand” feeding frenzy, as platforms search out films to add to their rosta. That said I was marginally entertained and it did use vampire tropes.

In fact, I did consider just listing it as a vampire film as we have the returned dead and there are fangs but, in this case, the overall name zombie seemed accurate (in, kind of, a voudon rather than Romero sense). Indeed, the film's subtitles use the term ghost, rather than anything else (due to the word gui translating to ghost).

stealing drugs
So, as the film starts, hospital guards are either sleeping or distracted and certainly not watching the CCTV. In the drugs store a man in pyjamas is stealing drugs – when he looks to camera, he appears to have a red glowing eye and this occurs just as a guard wakes and spots him. The guards contact Captain Lin who is reluctant to go to the police due to the lapse actions of his men. They realise that all the drugs stored on the shelf hit are expired ones – though before the expired medications were stored there the shelf was used for neurology drugs.

Lanlan is watching horror films on her laptop. When she falls asleep, she has nightmares and wakes up with a scream, much to the chagrin of her roommate. The roommate asks about her date with Jiang Feng but the couple have fallen out. We cut to the boyfriend, playing basketball and posing for the watching girls. He tries a slam dunk, grabs the hoop and the whole structure falls crushing him. Lanlan is called to the hospital (Captain Lin is her uncle) and is taken to the morgue. She is left there, as the drug thieves are back and Lin is called away, and opens the draw Jiang Feng is supposed to be in – its empty.

dog's blood
She thinks she sees him and chases after a pair in pyjamas running out of the hospital. They get in a car and she is hit by a falling overhead electrical cable and electrocuted. Back in the hospital she is pronounced dead and taken to the morgue. Two corpses uncover themselves and steal her body. The guards are convinced the thieves are restless dead and have managed to get dogs’ blood and infant urine to combat them. These are used within Chinese vampire films often but, in this case, prove useless. The police now get involved.

What they then see (on CCTV footage) is that at least one of the corpses has fangs. Lanlan has been taken to a lab to undergo the same procedure the other dead have been through – except she isn’t actually dead, just appearing so. The crux of the story is that a disgraced doctor (and genius) is searching for a method of regeneration to save his preserved, dead girlfriend. He has used snake (and lizard) DNA (?) to regenerate three corpses so far. The side effects have been developing fangs (and venom) and shedding skin (we also see a vertical set of additional eyelids at one point, causing an elliptical eye effect).

control unit
The additional issue is that the dead might be animate but they have no memory, or so he believes. He has given them artificial eyes (hence the red) that also allow him to control them by remote and this mitigates their violent tendencies, which the animal DNA has given them. This is why zombie fits, they are basically resuscitated automatons controlled by their creator (through science, not magic). Control comes via a holographic interface to a computer. However, Lanlan is special as she was alive when the serum was administered and he is trying to mitigate the side effects. He also realises that she can communicate with the others (when Jiang Feng hears her call and spontaneously awakens to save her).

the animate dead
There isn’t really anything else to cover trope wise. These are reanimated corpses that can follow instruction (we see them steal the wrong items as they are told to steal from a specific shelf, but also see them drive) but have a tendency to violence. The fangs come from the snake DNA and we do see a bite – but it is aggressive and not for feeding (indeed we see them being fed, but not what with, and they are fed by syringe whilst in dormant state). However, the idea of animate dead, with fangs and the attempt to use dogs’ blood and infant urine are all vampire tropes (at least, with the apotropaic substances from the Chinese tradition) and the use of apotropaic measures indicates a belief in vampires.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Short Film: Babe

Uploaded to YouTube in 2018, Babe is a film directed by Brian Butterfield that comes in at the 5-minute mark.

A woman (Danielle Abbott) is concerned about her boyfriend (Blake G Rogers Mack), who she refers to as babe. Since he went out the previous Saturday night he has barely eaten or slept and has sleepwalked when doing the latter. He is unresponsive to her as she speaks to him. She goes to bed but wakes to find him missing.

Blake G Rogers Mack as the Babe
Searching she finds him in a utility room. She approaches him (he’s looking fairly veiny at this point) and he bites her. She wakes in bed but sees he has blood on his lips and she a wound at her neck. In desperation she turns to a supernatural detective (Brian Butterfield) who tests him with garlic tea and a cross to his head – conclusion, vampire.

fangs and cross burn
He wants to stake babe at this point but the woman is unconvinced (the detective sees it as his civic duty). What will happen… will she see sense? You’ll have to watch the short to see.

At the time of this article being written I could not find an IMDb page.

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Magnificent Dead – review

Director: Shane Scott

Release date: 2010

Contains spoilers

Whilst I have seen online commentary with regards this film suggesting that it is a zombie film, it most definitely is not. Indeed a watch confirms that it is firmly in the vampire genre but chooses to depict its undead as rotting, unpleasant corpses rather than go down the romantic vampire line. This is a brave choice, especially for a budget film, but despite the fact that it is clearly on a budget this was an engaging Western and did much well whilst managing to maintain a level of originality.

Laura at camp
It starts with Laura (Alexis Celeste Elliott) asleep at her camp. Something causes her to awake and she is suddenly surrounded by dead men… she wakes up. The next day, as she is looking for her beaver traps, she comes across Jared (David Lampe) a local rancher who owns most of the land surrounding the local town. He has beaver pelts and she mentions her pelts being taken – he points out that the traps are on his land and these pelts are his.

the stranger
In the town of Rosewood, the Sheriff, Bill (Walt Roberts), has found a drunk outside the saloon despite the early hour. When they turn him over, however, he is bloodied and manages to say “They’re coming…” it is clear that he has been bitten. They take him to the jail and summon Sister Rose (Lavelle White), she suggest they wire for the doctor. Bill is summoned by the mayor (Rick Perkins) for a public meeting at which he informs the town that the railroad have decided to use the town as a stop and points out the money it will bring.

Walt Roberts as Bill
The local priest, Father Harold (Jack Wilson), cautions that they need to consider how Jared will feel and notes he is a resident as well. Jared comes in, with cowhands in tow, claiming he was not invited to the meeting and saying that he’ll never allow the railroad to come as it will cut through his grazing land. Tempers flare, guns are produced but Bill intervenes. Father Harold declares that he is leaving for a spell, the greed of the locals having got too much.

Lavelle White as Sister Rose
The injured man is brought food by Etta (Feliz Dia McDonald) but she cuts her hand and he attacks her and bites her before Bill can drag him off. The railroad men turn up that day also, as does a new priest Father Julian (Joseph Fotinos), who says he was sent by the diocese to help Father Harold. That night Jared lures the railroad men out and he and his cowhands kill them all – Bill being fatally shot in the process. Come the morning the injured man appears to have died, his eyes black, Etta is ill (the arrived doctor suggesting a form of rabies) and Father Julian tells the townsfolk about people who could help them.

the crates
He suggests that he met a group in nearby Thorne – a gang of gunmen who saved that town. They do not fear death, he says, because they are lepers. They have never lost a gunfight. He convinces the townfolk to allow him to get them and send a couple of emissaries with him. They arrive in Thorne at night but the town is deserted (a curfew they are told). The leader of the gang, Ambrose (Gil Austin) eventually agrees to help them after the priest says “Do you want their blood spilt in vain?” In the morning they return home, Father Julian with a cart full of boxes – their possessions, he suggests, they’ve gone ahead.

So, you will guess that they are in the boxes… the boxes contain earth and they cannot come out during the day. Leprosy is a way of explaining their appearance. They are explicitly invited into town by the mayor (though it is not clear that they needed the invitation). Julian is their servant and he desecrates the church as holy symbols are apotropaic. They line up against Jared and his men, are shot down, get back up and kill them all before rounding up the townsfolk as a larder. Luckily Laura was suspicious and went to Thorne and discovered the strung-up townsfolk (including Father Harold). The dead can be destroyed through stake to the heart or beheading.

vampire Ambrose
The dead can produce fangs. Father Julian has a grooved and pronged knife that can be stabbed into an artery and the blood poured down the channels, through the handle and into receptacles. He fills bottles with blood this way. They claim they can turn others and certainly it seems that the injured man was infected. However, after he dies he plays no further role and we assume he remains dead. Etta is drained of blood and, again, the lack of further appearance in the film suggests that she is dead rather than undead.

victims in Thorne
The acting is fair enough for a budget film, the makeup not consistent but effective enough. I was impressed with the practical effects used in the gunfights – though the corruption of a dead vampire was a bit hinky as an effect. However the film, for all its budgetary constraints, entertained me and I think that this probably deserves 5.5 out of 10, floating just above average for entertainment reasons if nothing else.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Dark Truth – review

Author: Jerry Knaak

First Published: 2017

The Blurb: "I was a predator. And I was going to own it."

A Night Out

San Francisco PR pro Elizabeth Rubis reluctantly agrees to a night out on the town. Little does she know that her life will be altered forever as childhood night terrors come to life.

A Face in the Window

Elizabeth’s deepest, darkest fears crawl out of the inky blackness as her lifelong tormentor is revealed during a rare Northern California thunderstorm. A hallucination in the raindrops proves to be an evil, yet familiar entity.

A Baptism in Blood

Fueled by hatred for her tormentor, Elizabeth cuts a bloody swath across the San Francisco Bay Area in a desperate quest for revenge. No one is safe from her rage, not even her friends and family.

The review: Is hosted at Vamped.

In Paperback @ Amazon US

In Paperback @ Amazon UK

Monday, September 09, 2019

The Mermaid: Lake of the Dead – review

Director: Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy

Release date: 2018

Contains spoilers

I was in correspondence with Simon Bacon recently when he asked me if I knew of any mermaid/vampire crossover. This does happen occasionally but, as it happens, literally a few days later I came across this.

Now mermaid is a misnomer here and it is what the film title has been translated to from the Russian title Rusalka: Ozero myortvykh. The rusalka is from Slavic lore and is a form of restless dead. Zelenin (in Russian Folk Belief) suggests it is a suicide or murder victim who, in either case, was drowned. There is an entry in Bane’s Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology that has it as a type of fae created when a child dies before baptism or an adolescent dies a virgin and then says: “If it sees a handsome man, it will lure him into the water with it, as it is looking for someone to pass the night in pleasure with. However, the man seldom survives the experience; the rusalka ends up draining him of his youth and life”.

Sofia Shidlovskaya as the rusalka
So, what we have is a form of energy vampire and an opening narration over simple, but effective, graphics says much the same. They demand to be told that they are loved – this is something we also get in succubae tales sometimes – at which point they drag the victim into the waters but if they are not told this they will not forgive and torture the victim through life. It also suggests the rusalka will tickle the victim as they drown – something Bane also mentions.

eyes red
Following the introduction, we see a jetty and a man, Mishka (Igor Khripunov), on it talking to the water as a woman, Tanya (Nadezhda Igoshina), approaches him. He turns to face her and his eyes are red – he then jumps backwards into the lake. She offers to sacrifice herself for him and he emerges from the water and clambers to the jetty. Something pulls Tanya off, into the water where she drowns…

spooky summer house
Cut forward and swimmer Roma (Efim Petrunin) is giving his fiancé Marina (Viktoriya Agalakova) swimming lessons – but she is lacking confidence and really cannot swim yet (much too little is done with this later in the film). His swimming team mate Ilya (Nikita Elenev) challenges him to a race. He leaves her at the side of the pool and they race, but she gets in trouble and, though he rescues her, she is angry with him. He and Ilya later go to the summer house that his father has given him as a wedding present – his dad suggesting he sells it.

in the lake
Roma is estranged from his father and has not been to the house since his mother drowned (yes, it’s the couple from the opening). When he gets there the house is looking ramshackle (though it still has electricity) and he is annoyed when “the lads” show up – as Ilya has arranged – to throw a stag night… with girls… he leaves them to it and goes swimming (one questions whether he would go swimming in the lake he knows his mother drowned in?)

the kiss
Anyway, he gets out and a girl (Sofia Shidlovskaya) is on the jetty, wearing his shirt and combing her hair. He approaches and they kiss and she asks if he loves her… In the morning the lads find him out cold on the ground, the comb nearby (Ilya takes it, later it ends up in Roma's possessions though there is never an explanation as to whether Ilya put it there or it mystically moved to him). Roma starts acting oddly, he becomes ill (coughing and with a fever) and starts hallucinating. Eventually, in swimming trials, he believes himself to have been transported to the lake whilst, in reality, he almost drowns in the pool…

So, the race is on to free him from the rusalka and, given its blurb that suggests that his illness is making him losing health and vigour I have read this as energy vampirism (though the narrative is not explicit about this). It is suggested she is a suicide as her grave is in the lake. The logic is that a suicide may not be buried in a graveyard and that the lake has expanded since her burial and submerged the unhallowed grave. In flashback we see that she is (as a woman scorned) both a murderer and a suicide who drowned herself. Religious aspects are not included (Bane suggests both crosses and prayers are apotropaic) rather there is an aspect around her hair.

like a pike
There are dead men guarding her submerged grave who are animate but do not leave the waters – presumably other victims. She can change her face to look like other people and her teeth are sharp and her face can transform into something reminiscent of a pike’s face. Her element is, of course, water and therefore this seems to be a medium she can use to mystically travel great distances through. Feeding is mentioned and it is suggested that she feeds on love (though this can be read as metaphorical as well as read as literal as it then goes on to suggest that she transforms it into hatred and suffering).

Viktoriya Agalakova as Marina
The film itself was ok. For disclosure I saw the English dub of the film rather than watch a subtitled version with original dialogue and that probably didn’t help. I struggled to develop a sympathy for Marina and Roma – the film gave us characters pretty much by the numbers but their relationship felt flawed due to the strife shown early on. It is, essentially, an average (or just below) horror and doesn’t stand out that much – except with the fact that it uses an unusual Slavic creature. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK