Thursday, July 30, 2015

Strike the Blood – review

Directors: Takao Sano & Hideyo Yamamoto

First aired: 2013-2014

Contains spoilers

Strike the Blood began life as a Japanese light novel, which transitioned to Manga and then this anime television series. The series ran for 24 episodes. It does feature a vampire, indeed the vampire is the main character – Kojou Akatsuki (Yoshimasa Hosoya) – although like many anime series the powers displayed go well beyond standard portrayals of vampirism. Blood drinking is, however, an integral part of the story.

Three months before the story started Kojou was an ordinary 16-year-old, he lived on Itogami City an artificial island built off the coast of Japan, tethered by both technology and magic and home to both humans, mages, alike. In an event that he doesn’t clearly remember the mythical fourth progenitor, an ultra-powerful vampire, passed her spirit into him.

Sword Shaman
In the wider world there are three revealed progenitors and the power between them is held in a delicate balance. The existence of the fourth progenitor threatens to destroy that balance. A secret human society – the Lion King Organisation – send an apprentice Sword Shaman Yukina Himeragi (Risa Taneda) to observe him and, if he is a danger, destroy him. To accomplish this she has been given a magical spear that can break magic.

As things develop not only does she seem to develop feelings for him but she also allows him to feed from her. The progenitor has familiars – giant spirit beasts used in combat – that slowly through the series begin to awaken. However they will not allow him to control them unless he has drunk human blood (thus he must feed once, before the first attempt to control any given familiar). There is a chance that a donor might be blood bonded to him.

This brings us to the overarching style of the series. It is very much a harem series with a series of female characters falling for Kojou (though not actually blood bonded). This is also tied in with the fact that his vampirism is triggered by sexual excitement. This can feel a little weird, especially given the suggested ages of the characters. However the show does keep the thrust of this centred on sexual embarrassment rather than sexual activity. In fact Kojou has a nosebleed every time something like this happens – short hand for sexual arousal often of an embarrassing nature, I understand. The nosebleed actually allows Kojou to control the vampirism with his own blood. It also means that the series adds in a thread of fan service.

Beyond this the series is a fairly straight action series and I rather enjoyed it for that. Cut into chapters of (mostly) 4 episodes we get some self-contained stories. A body swap moment almost killed me off as I dislike body swap storylines generally, but that’s a personal preference thing and the fact that I still enjoy the series despite that storyline is to the series credit. The animation was solid but nothing extra special. I felt there was some exposition around backgrounds that was lacking – I never felt that I got a full picture of the world the series was set in.

However it was a decent enough series to prove a pleasant distraction 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Vampires: the Final Hunt – review

Author: Charles E Butler

First Published: 2015

Contains spoilers

This is the fourth vampire review book by Charles E Butler, the others being the Romance of Dracula, Vampires Everywhere and Vampires Under the Hammer.

The book very much expands on the previous volumes, the first part expands on the Romance of Dracula adding in additional reviews of films not included in that volume. The second part expands on Vampires Everywhere and takes a more international approach that was perhaps missed in the earlier volume due to rushing to meet self-imposed deadlines. The book concludes with the author’s review of Let the Right One In and if I have a personal complaint it is that Let Me In is only mentioned in passing within that review. Unfortunately missed from Vampires Under the Hammer the film is significantly different enough from the Swedish film to deserve looking at in its own right.

Like in the previous volumes the author has taken the decision to eschew indexing or referencing making the book less useful as a reference book but that isn’t really the point of this series of books. Very much so they are a labour of love, as a fan of the genre exposes his readers to his love of the genre. That is what makes the books ultimately; the real passion that they display. 7.5 out of 10.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Caretakers – review

Director: Steve Hudgins

Release date: 2014

Contains spoilers

Not to be confused with the earlier (and singular) the Caretaker, writer and director Steve Hudgins has followed a line of concentrating on the vampire’s human servant that has also been seen in such films as the Familiar and Sodium Babies.

The film has been made on a budget and it does suffer for that but, on a positive, there are some really interesting lore aspects and quite a complex story drawn – much more complex than one would expect on the budget.

Jessica Dockrey as the Albino
It starts with a voiceover and then meet Jack (Nick Faust) who is on a porch when Catherine (April Jennings) and Paul (Travis Shanks) walk up. Catherine orders Jack to train him, after asking the man’s name Jack shoots him in the face. Catherine simply walks into the house. We see (by virtue of a binocular shape on screen) that they are being watched. This turns out to be by a private investigator and his albino sidekick known, imaginatively, as the Albino (Jessica Dockrey). I’ll come back to the Albino later.

Michael Coon as Jimmy
Elsewhere there is a knock at a door and a woman answers to see a young man, Jimmy (Michael Coon), who is sweating. He suddenly grabs her and drags her inside, eventually stabbing her viciously – we’ll talk blood soon as well. As it is he gets a testing kit out and checks the dead woman’s blood type but it is wrong. By now his companion, Rachel (Brittney Saylor), has entered the house and he tells her this. She insists on being locked up but starts getting violent with him as he does as she asks. Rachel is a vampire and the hunger is out of control.

Sally and Parker
I don’t want to spoil too much storyline, as this is the strongest aspect of the movie, but there are some bits I need to explain. Rachel’s father (Bill Johnson) has gone to a couple, Parker (Joe Estevez, Blood Slaves of the Vampire Wolves) and Sally (Felicia Stewart), to help him find his daughter. They in turn have hired the PI and the Albino and are aware of vampires.

Catherine and Jack
Catherine is a pureline vampire – another species. This is where we get the interesting lore. The pureline vampires have one main vulnerability – that is the deepest part of their sleep is so deep that anything could be done to them. Because of this they are secretive and have human caretakers. Jack is Catherine’s caretaker but she realises that he wants more out of life, which is why she wants him to train his replacements – this ends up being a father and his daughter who Catherine had saved from a serial killer.

overhelmed by hunger
We discover that the purelines have telekinetic and limited telepathic powers (she knows when her caretaker is hurt) and a support network through human society. They feed on blood but it is slightly different to most vampire films. They have to bite their victim and release a chemical into the wound that alters the blood over a period of time – making it drinkable (though this does not sound like a good evolutionary survival tactic). If a victim should escape with their blood altered – like Rachel did – then they become a hybrid, developing fangs and an overwhelming and inescapable hunger. They must drink their own blood type and become increasingly unstable and violent. Rachel quickly develops the ability to smell her own blood type. Catherine wants Rachel found and destroyed.

pureline vampire
This had problems but generally story wasn’t one of them – it gave us story in spades and a complex one at that. One aspect that I did like was that there was no moral judgement on the part of the filmmakers – the characters simply were. However some bits didn’t ring true, for instance the complete lack of comeback when Jack killed the first new caretaker. The acting was ok, amateurish in places but good enough in the main to go along with the story. The photography was amateurish, to be honest, though kudos to those behind the lighting as the use of coloured light was reminiscent of classic Euro-horror. However it was in some of the sfx that we see our biggest issues.

badly realised blood
I’ll start with blood. The vivid pinkish-purple blood was entirely the wrong colour to be blood and it looked daft. However many a film gets blood wrong. I was also thrown, in the very first instance, by the Albino. We didn’t get her name at first and I assumed with the pale makeup, the white contacts and the wig that we were faced with some form of undead. The fact was that making the character an Albino added nothing to the film – she could have given the same stoic performance as just a specialist PI/vampire hunter – but the look was a jolt as the makeup/contacts/wig were unnatural and a detriment to the film.

All in all the photography and some bad sfx choices underlined that we were not dealing with a more professional piece and kept the film off kilter despite having plenty of story. On balance this deserves 4 out of 10, as a flawed film with some good aspects and worth a watch for the story at least. The film was produced by Big Biting Pig productions.

The imdb page is here.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Classic Literature: Smarra or the Demons of the Night

The story Smarra, originally Smarra ou les Démons de la nuit, was an 1821 story by Charles Nodier and, whilst not a vampire story per se, it certainly has a vampiric element. Nodier, of course, is firmly at the Gaelic wellspring of the media vampire. He adapted Polidori’s the Vampyre into an 1820 play and, in Roxana Stuart’s Stage Blood we read that “Nodier assured [Alexandre Dumas, père] that in “Illyra” (Spalatro) he had seen a vampire with his own eyes, an old man whose corpse came back to the house of his sons, asking for food and drink.” (pg 134)

Smarra is a dense piece of prose; rich, poetic, evocative and, due to that, somewhat confusing, though understanding that it is based around (loosely) the Golden Ass helps. It follows the young man Lorenzo as he sleeps by his beloved Lisidis. He dreams of Lucius riding through a forest towards Larissa. Desperate for sleep Lucius seems to slip into a dream world himself, where his thoughts are haunted by his friend Polemon, who saved Lucius but died in battle. As the narrative pushes deeper we hear of the torments suffered by Polemon himself.

The Demons of the Night are those very tormented dreams and, whilst Nodier was versed in vampires we must remember that the genre was in its infancy. So when describing Polemon and saying that “his neck bore the mark of blood, the triangular scar of an iron lance” we must remember that this was reminiscent of the attack on Socrates in the Golden Ass, which is to do with bloodletting, assassination and witchcraft (as we shall soon see). However, I do not believe this was meant to be indicative of the vampire – that would be a modern conceit.

However, as I said, there is a vampiric element and that is regarding the entity Smarra. The woman Méroé unleashes Smarra: “She presses the hidden spring, to reveal a golden casket containing a colourless and formless monster, which thrashes and howls and leaps and falls back crouching on the enchantress’ breast.” It should be noted that Meroe is a character from the Golden Ass. In that she is a witch and she, with Panthia, attack Socrates and “thrust her sword up to the hilt into the left part of his neck, and received the blood that gushed out with a small bladder, that no drop thereof fell beside” As well as this they remove his heart and then stop the wound with a sponge. Socrates lives until the sponge becomes wet and falls out of the wound. Nodier’s Méroé is a beauty who uses Smarra to mete out an ongoing punishment.

The vampiric element is seen when we read of Smarra, “like some deformed and gleeful dwarf, his fingers armed with nails of a metal finer than steel, which penetrate the flesh without rending it, and suck the blood from it like the insidiously pumping leech”. With this (and the connection to nightmares, as Smarra visits troubled nights upon the victim) we get a vampiric demon of sorts and an interesting, classically inspired piece of prose.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Honourable Mentions: Necropolis

This was a 1970 released art film directed by Franco Brocani, which was said to be a dissertation on evil through the ages.

In reality it is very, very strange and the actors take on several roles. We get a Frankenstein’s Monster (Bruno Corazzari) drawn in greasepaint amongst several characters that are rarely named. Due to this I do wonder why the Elizabeth Bathory (Viva) character is mentioned in some summaries as being called Marthory.

Viva as Bathory

In actual fact she isn’t mentioned by name in film (and Viva does take on several roles) and we recognise her mainly because the dialogue she recites mentions aspects of the Bathory story that are recognisable.

Tina Aumont
Bathory’s story is mostly told in dialogue with some actors appearing to represent her court, including the hauntingly beautiful Tina Aumont (Two Orphan Vampires).

There isn’t really much else to say about this one, except to point out again that it is very strange.

The imdb page is here.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Face of Marble – review

Director: William Beaudine

Release date: 1946

Contains spoilers

I need to start this with a thanks to Doug Lamoreux and the vampire trivia game he was playing on Facebook. Had it not been for that I would have been in the dark about this strange movie. Why strange? Well despite the pseudo-science on view and the disturbing stereotyping (from a 21st Century perspective), it actually has quite a compelling aspect, an unusual premise and what I found to be a cracking ending (which I am going to have to spoil).

Apologies in advance for the screenshots accompanying this review. I found the film on Daily Motion and it is both low res and an horrendous print – this is one that could be nicely cleaned up and put out on a special ed DVD, methinks. It could also stand a remake…

uncomfortable stereotyping
The film starts off with Elaine Randolph (Claudia Drake) sleeping on a couch, a blanket is draped over her by the maid Maria (Rosa Rey), waking her and rousing her large dog, Brutus. Elaine asks about the Doctor and is told that he left the house to go to the shore some time ago. Worried that he is sailing in a storm Maria declares that the Great Spirit Tonga will protect him. Elaine is dismissive and Maria starts to speak about the jungle but her beliefs are disparaged. Suddenly the other servant, Shadrach (Willie Best) comes in babbling about the devil bringing a dead body into the lab. The scene was uncomfortable, mainly because of the way Shadrach is portrayed – a servant with no sense and almost irrelevant (the film actually turns this on its head at the end, though whether intentionally I don’t know).

In the lab is Dr. Charles Randolph (John Carradine) and his assistant Dr. David Cochran (Robert Shayne). They found a drowned sailor on the beach and have brought him back to the house. Elaine comes in but is stopped by David and sent away like a good girl (ahem). The doctors have been working on a way to bring the dead back to life and a chance to experiment on a human is too good to miss. The technique uses a formula invented by David and electrical equipment ala Frankenstein. They try to revive the guy, who develops a face like marble, awakens, stands but then falls dead.

Elaine and David
He is quite dead, suggests Charles, beyond our help. Later they talk about the man being quite deranged (we didn’t see that) and his altered face being an indicator of being trapped between life and death – it is to draw aspects like this out that makes me think of a remake (where the man can act deranged for instance). David is worried about the fact that they took the body but, not to worry, they take it back and call the coastguard. After they go to their respective bedrooms, Elaine goes to David to ask him what was going on and confesses that she believes something sinister is afoot. Charles finds his wife speaking to David but shows no level of jealousy.

I liked this about the film. There is a love triangle but only one person in said triangle knows and she is in denial. It seems that Elaine had an accident that left her with a brain injury, only sorted when Charles operated on her. They then married. She has fallen for David – though he doesn’t realise, obsessed with work and his fiancé back home, Linda (Maris Wrixon). Maria knows, however. Hence leaving a fetish under his pillow that Charles identifies as a Quandrava , a jungle fetish designed to make you fall in love.

Thomas E Jackson as Norton
All is not good, however. David destroys a fetish (in acid apparently) and Maria swears that the act will bring a curse and death. Charles’ old cop friend Inspector Norton (Thomas E. Jackson, Valley of the Zombies) comes visiting. The dead man on the beach showed signs of massive electrocution and Charles has bought a replacement electrical component because one burnt out. Putting two and two together… no one mentions the fact that there was a storm that night, thus his drowned body might have been electrocuted through lightning nor the obvious signs of drowning. This was ill thought through and was expedient to bringing the cop in only.

shooting at Brutus
Charles wants to complete his work and… kills Elaine’s dog. They put Brutus on the slab and go to resurrect the pooch but the attempt fails… they think. As they leave the lab they hear barking, rush back and Rufus is up and about and… not the mild mannered pooch from before. Charles shoots the dog at point blank but the bullets just go through it. The dog eventually leaves, becoming insubstantial and walking through the wall and closed window! So as to finish the set up, I also need to mention that Charles arranges for Linda to visit for David’s birthday. Finally, I need to mention that Maria is a wonderfully casually evil character – happy to kill if that means Elaine is happy.

insubstantial dog
So, vampire… The Inspector shows up asking about the dog. Charles is caught within a lie he told Elaine of the dog going to the vets and so tells the cop the same. However the dog has been seen (and recognised) attacking livestock, ripping out the throats and draining the blood. Charles never admits it’s his dog but calls its actions a hemomania, suggesting that there is something missing from the blood that it needs to replenish. However Elaine is accidentally murdered by Maria (she thinks she is getting Linda) and she is revived. Whilst we see her become insubstantial we do not see (or hear) of her drinking blood. I like to think that it is only a matter of time.

will they be back?
To the ending... as I mentioned I liked it. Charles realises that Maria killed Elaine and is incensed. Maria uses her voodoo to summon Brutus and take control of Elaine, making the oblivious woman kill her husband. The inspector, of course, believes it is David who did it but David gets away from him – worried for Linda who is being attacked by the pair. In the turnaround I mentioned, even Maria discounted Shadrach and he tells the inspector what really happened (and so saves the day). The inspector bursts in as Elaine strangles Linda and David wrestles with Brutus. When he switches the light on the pair vanish – not because of the light but because Maria has committed suicide it seems. We later see the footprints of the woman and her dog heading in to the sea and I liked that, it gave hope of them returning.

before the terrible deed
The film had problems, don’t get me wrong, it threw too much in, it had racial and gender stereotypes that are frankly cringe worthy, its logic was flawed in places, a lot. But it had nice bits. It had a vampire dog, it had the use of voodoo and it had atmosphere. It had Carradine being… well Carradine, erudite and gentlemanly so that even when he killed the dog you kind of didn’t lose your empathy for him. It could be taken, expanded in certain areas (gore and madness), have the extraneous parts removed and make a fine little film. For this flawed version though, 5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Vamp or Not? Frankenstein Island

I received a comment recently from JaredMithrandir asking if I had seen Frankenstein Island, a Jerry Warren directed film from 1981, as it had a vampiric element. I had not but I discovered that it had been uploaded to YouTube and this, of course, gave me opportunity to watch the film.

Now, my expectations were low. It is an obscure 80s horror featuring Frankenstein (and his monster) but as I quickly discovered it gives us opportunity to see John Carradine – who is Dr Frankenstein – as a giant floating projection of a head! Surely worth the entrance fee alone, especially when that fee is free.

in the caves
It starts with hot air balloons and we get the impression from the radio chatter that one balloon is missing, having been caught in a freak weather moment. We then see four men arrive upon an island in a dingy. Now the print wasn’t good at all but the dingy seemed in one piece – making me wonder about their overriding desire, later, to build a raft. Anyway the four guys are Paul (Robert Clarke), known as Doc, Mark (Robert Christopher), Curtis (Tain Bodkin) and Dino (Patrick O'Neil). The island seems to be beach and unassailable cliffs until they find a cave.

an island girl
The cave leads to the island interior. There seems to be a lot of lumber available for their raft and, eventually, they find a tied up girl. More girls (in leopard print bikinis) come along and lead them to their village – nothing is said about the tied girl until the morning, when it is revealed that she is undergoing initiation. The girls feed the castaways but, in the morning, one of the girls is grabbed by an odd looking man. They give chase and rescue her. During this sequence they also make a discovery that saying a place name out loud makes the speaker’s limbs go into spasm (apparently a control mechanism, which seemed rather convoluted and unnecessary).

Sheila Frankenstein von Helsing
They discover that the girls are born of the island (later it is suggested that they are hybridised aliens!) but there are men on the island who are sailors, shipwrecked like them (though they were technically balloon wrecked) and all quite mad. Despite the warning about the men’s madness they go off with some of them, maybe because they asked nicely, and are eventually taken to a ranch style house owned by the Frankenstein’s. The main Frankenstein is Sheila Frankenstein von Helsing (Katherine Victor). The erstwhile Dr Frankenstein was her husband and she is helping to keep his assistant von Helsing (George Mitchell) alive.

Von Helsing at 200
Here we have the potential vampirism (and not just because of the name). Von Helsing is two hundred years old. They have a ship’s captain – who believes himself to know Edgar Allen Poe and laments the loss of his wife Lenore – held in “protective custody” to drain off amounts of blood. This is transfused into Von Helsing to attain his longevity. Further they occasionally take an alien girl and transfuse so much blood into him it kills the girl. His longevity is almost a half-life, with him confined to bed and needing to be in a coma for periods of time to maintain his life. As for the balloonists, Sheila wants Doc to assist her looking for a more active longevity for Von Helsing (and he goes along with this after being drugged). This seems to be under Frankenstein’s instruction as Sheila channels her late husband’s spirit. The others may stick around to impregnate the alien women, though one couldn’t help think that ultimately they would be turned into mindless guards (as some of the men have been).

John Carradine's giant head
The Monster is chained underwater in a grotto within the caves (you can bet he’ll escape) and the men (bar the drugged Doc) are intent on escaping. So we have a smorgasbord of ideas presented with some risible acting – the best actor is the dog, Melvin, who plays himself. But is it vamp? Well I can see the point, whilst born of science they are using blood to keep someone alive way past their lifespan and it seems to be working (albeit not perfectly). The transfusions may be killing the sea captain in the long run but are most definitely killing the alien girls when they are caught. The use of the name Von Helsing, whilst vowel-challenged, is clearly a connection to vampirism, though that may just be a smorgasbord addition. It is at least genre interesting but I would say it probably does, just, qualify as Vamp. My thanks to JaredMithrandir for bringing it to my attention.

The imdb page is here.