Sunday, September 24, 2017

Power Rangers Mystic Force – review

Director: various

Release date:2006

Contains spoilers

You may not have heard of the Japanese long running series Super Sentai. It has run since 1975 and is an example of the tokusatsu genre. The tokusatsu genre includes films such as Godzilla and series such as Ultraman and features live action characters and colourful special effects – aimed squarely at the children’s market but often loved by adults too.

The reason for mentioning this is because without Super Sentai there would be no Power Rangers. In 1993 Saban Entertainment adapted the 1992 Super Sentai series Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger into the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers – taking the Japanese action sequences and splicing them with the scenes of American actors.

I had been told that this iteration, which is based on Mahou Sentai Magiranger, had a vampire double episode and set out (with the power of Netflix) to watch those two episodes but it turned out that one of the main villain characters, Necrolai (Donogh Rees), is the Queen of the Vampires and so I realised that I was going to have to watch the entire thing as a vampire related series – the character actually makes it through all 32 22-minute episodes (note that the Super Sentai series is longer with 49 30-minute episodes).

Leelee and Vida
In fact in this season, where the Power Rangers are wizards fighting for good magic against the dark magic of the underworld, the word undead is bandied around quite a lot. However the most overt vampirism is restricted to the two episodes (Stranger Within Part 1 and Part 2) – though we will also touch on the specific episode Soul Spectre. The core rangers all work at a music store and Vida (Angie Diaz), the Pink Ranger, is also a DJ. Annoying newcomer Leelee (Holly Shanahan) is going to see DJ Fly (Otis Frizzell) and Vida decides to accompany her.

How to Spot a Vampire
At the show, after leelee’s mom calls her and makes her leave, Vida becomes hypnotised by the music. As she trains, later, with the other Rangers and then an emergency occurs she shows impressive strength – without morphing – but then suddenly becomes weak. Chip (Nic Sampson), the Yellow Ranger, realises that something is wrong and gets his “How to Spot a Vampire” book. It transpires that Chip is a member of a vampire hunter club. However, he can’t get the other Rangers to believe him.

Vida vamping out
Eventually Vida confesses to him that she is a vampire and goes to attack him, but he holds her off with garlic. The DJ Fly is really the monster Flytrap (Ross Girven) and all his hypnotised audience are now vampires and by the end of the first episode the monster is defeated and the kids all become human again. However Chip, to test, draws a chalk circle around Vida and she cannot pass through it – she is still a vampire. The next episode is about trying to cure her. There are a couple of things to note. Vida does not become pale until she is exposed to the sun and she is able to take on the form of others. At the end of the episodes we discover that Leelee is Necrolai’s daughter and her surname is Pimvare.

stealing lifeforce
The other episode in this season to specifically note is the episode Soul Spectre in which two monsters, between them, take on the role of energy vampire. Gnatu (Callie Blood) could steal the lifeforce of her victims by a touch of her hand and is described as an incubus (though the monster is female in the US version, in the original Japanese series she is described as male). Spydex (Millen Biard) would then consume the stolen lifeforce with the aim to use it within the weapon the Dark Life Force Orb. Whilst not technically consumed as food, the lifeforce was to be weaponised, I think that there was overtones of the energy vampire between the pair.

mystic force
So there you have it, a vampire queen, her anagram named daughter (possibly a dhampir?), a ranger turned into a vampire – but not the first time as one was turned in Power Rangers Turbo, which I will cover at a later date – and an incubus and spider monster that stole and misused lifeforce. But was it any good? Honestly it depends what you are after. If you are a Power Rangers fan I am sure there was much to like, but whilst I enjoy a kaiju film I find these a little drawn out and soap opera for my taste. Of course, the giant robot (zord) and monster aspect is designed to appeal to a young demographic. I’m going to sit on the fence here and give it an average 5 out of 10 – it does everything you’d imagine a Power Rangers show to do, but it won’t be much fun if you don’t like that sort of thing.

The imdb page is here.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Blood Renegades – review

Author: Rosemary A Johns

First Published: 2017

The Blurb: Light lives for his vampire family. Now he may die for it.

Light – rebel, lover, anti-hero – will be burnt at the stake in fourteen days. When he’s accused of being a terrorist Renegade in paranormal London, his bewitching Blood Life Council interrogator offers a deal: one secret a night.

Facing both human and vampire enemies, secret alliances and betrayal, Light struggles with whether he’s a hero, or about to fall back into his true vampire nature. Soon, Light’s in a race against time to transform into the leader vital to save his family, home, and love. But will he be able to judge predator from prey?

Light must make the ultimate choice: safety and slavery in the shadows, or freedom and death in the light…

The review: Is hosted at Vamped.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Short Film: Fiend Fatale

Fiend Fatale is a short film, coming in at around the 12-minute mark, directed by Steven Shea and released in 2013. However, I should tell you in advance that this is a proof of concept and therefore isn’t so much a story but more an introduction.

The concept as stands is laid out at the film’s homepage where it is suggested that it could lead to a feature film, a TV series, a graphic novel series and even a mobile game.

The film is narrated by Lorelei (Nicole Hampton). She and her sisters live in a secret CDC lab. She was cloned from DNA retrieved from a Fijian Mermaid and is, therefore, a mermaid; her room containing a tank and she sporting gills. As we begin it is feeding time and she introduces us to her sisters. Next up is Mia (Tara Dane) who was cloned from blood on a dagger said to have stabbed a demon, her dinner is a raw steak, which she cooks with the power of her mind.

Shelly the zombie
Next up is Alex (Lauren Kisner), literally the bitch of the group – as Lorelei puts it – she was cloned from blood on a silver bullet and is brought chicken. She transforms to wolf form to eat. Next is Anne (Ansley Gordon). Her food is provided by bringing in the body of a freshly deceased person and letting her drink the blood – giving us our first piece of vampire lore, the blood doesn’t have to be from the living. The body is then taken to Shelly (Amber Freeman), a zombie (but also likened to Frankenstein’s Monster) who eats the brains.

Anne the vampire
A terrorist attack on the building (carried out by someone who shoots at the girls when he sees them and therefore doesn’t know about them, despite 'inside job' being mentioned) allows the girls opportunity to get their freedom. We also discover that the trope about sunlight burning vampires holds true in this universe. And that’s about it – as a proof of concept a tight storyline is unnecessary – this is a showcase only. But you can find out below.

The imdb page is here.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Potent Media's Sugar Skull Girls – review

Director: Christian Grillo

Release date: 2016

Contains spoilers

I don’t know whether putting the production company’s name at the head of the title of this was designed to create a corporate franchise or to ape the tokusatsu feel that was injected into the film? If the latter then they may have lifted the style (unrealistic costuming, puppetry and characters that grow to giant size) but they didn’t capture the je ne sais quoi that makes much of the Japanese genre so endearing.

Despite having some horror icons in it, this is definitely aimed towards a kids’ market but, importantly, I felt it treated its target like idiots. However, I’m getting into critique without explaining what is going on.

Leslie Easterbrook as Azreal
In a trailer owned by Demetrius (John Amplas, Martin) a ritual is prepared for. Local psychic Azreal (Leslie Easterbrook) and her diminutive sidekick Thaddeus (Scott Strasbaugh) are there to draw the spirit of Demetrius’ granddaughter, Anna (Julie Ryan), from the Shadow World after her premature death (and presumably make her corporeal). The ritual is working and offerings, a photo and a lock of her hair must go in the cauldron. Thaddeus messes up putting the lock of hair into the cauldron and knocks three fetishes in instead. This then summons up Blue (Cece Hagen), Venus (Isabella Sobejano) and Luna (Addy Miller).

the girls
So what are the girls – other than, jumping a scene or two ahead, high school students? The blurb just mentions “demonic girls” but the dialogue directly mentions that Blue is a ghost, Venus is revealed to be a shapeshifter (I’ll come to what shape later) in a pointless Deus ex Machina moment and as for Luna… Well we are not told but, given the widow’s peak in black makeup below her blonde hair, her fangs, sleeping with arms crossed like a corpse, her green glowing eyes that can mojo a person and the fact that garlic breaks the mojo… we can fairly confidently categorise her as a vampire.

Anika Buchanan as Lindsay
Next we meet Lindsay (Anika Buchanan). It is her first day at the school, though the film neglects to tell us much about why she is there (later we discover her mother is on business in New York and that is about as much character background, and indeed characterisation, they bother putting in). Firstly she meets, at her locker, local Mean Girl Meredith (Morgan Elise Beatty), except… she’s really not that mean (we’ll get to that in a sec). Then she sees a giant (puppet) spider with googly eyes and follows it, as you do. It goes into the basement, she follows, meets the girls who warn her off Meredith and then they all decide to become friends (just like that). Next thing they are in Demetrius’ trailer prank calling a geek girl by pretending to be Meredith and saying *she* wants her to be part of her entourage.

Addy Miller as Luna
Now I said that she doesn’t seem so mean and this is because the most she seems to do is blow bubble-gum bubbles in your face or remain aloof. When she essentially dismisses the girl, Luna hypnotises her and she goes through a dress-up doll humiliation (until garlic breaks the mesmerism). You’d be forgiven for thinking that this would then set her up as their nemesis… nope, she is then out of the film. The crux of the plot is actually set around the fact that the ruler of the Shadow World wants them back.

could it be Audrey II?
The ruler is the Pale Witch (Carmela Hayslett) who, aided by her servant Hobbs (Michael Berryman, Tales from the Crypt: The Reluctant Vampire & the Absence of Light), launches a couple of unsuccessful attempts to get them back and then is drawn into the Living World herself – queue giant sized appearance. What more is there to say… flying apparatus that I assume where mechanical broomsticks but were actually rip-offs of Return of the Jedi speeder bikes… A plant that looked suspiciously like Audrey II, and we established that the Little Shop of Horrors is vampire. Incidentally Venus shapeshifts into a similar plant.

sleep like the dead
But all in all this was awful. There was nothing engaging that would let the viewer step beyond the unrealistic effects and puppets. The acting was stilted mostly (though Berryman and, especially, Easterbrook both chewed the scenery and gave more than the film probably deserved) and the jokes unfunny. The film’s narrative felt like vignettes stitched together as there was little in connective dialogue. All in all, it was a bit of a dog’s dinner and I can’t see the target audience buying into it on an artistic or corporate franchise level and, to be honest, it treated said audience like idiots. 1 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Vamp or Not? All Girls Weekend

The 2016 Lou Simon directed All Girls Weekend is part slasher with aspects reminiscent of the Blair Witch Project (a landscape that won’t allow you to escape) and a touch of the Evil Dead (specifically the vegetation interacting in a sinister way). None of that, of course, would explain why I am looking at it as a ‘Vamp or Not?’

You’ll recall that I recently looked at Jug Face and whether the land itself could be deemed as vampiric. When I looked at that film, this one was actually brought to mind also, and so we are looking at a potentially vampiric landscape.

Annie and Nancy
After an intertitle that states “With every birth, there is blood…”, we see a murder out in the woods. However, the film proper starts with three young women who went to high school together. There is Gem (Gema Calero), Stephanie (Karishma Lakhani) and Daniela (Katie Carpenter). Daniela is getting somewhat agitated as their fourth companion for the all girls’ weekend, Nancy (Jamie Bernadette), has not arrived and it is getting too late to set off. Nancy arrives and has a further person in tow, Annie (Sharron Calvin). None of the others know Annie, she works with Nancy and has recently suffered a breakup and Nancy has brought her along.

Katie Carpenter as Daniella
The girls decide to leave the next day and Daniela comes across as rather bitchy towards Nancy. It becomes apparent that the girls had drifted since school, that Daniela was overweight at school and was bullied due to it and that she primarily blames Nancy for that (although towards the end Nancy suggests she actually defended Daniela much of the time). This, of course, means the group begins with some tensions already manifested.

Gem and Stephanie
They go out to their vacation and it is an outdoorsy sort of event in a winter landscape. They do a death slide and are driving to their next destination when Daniella pulls the car over and suggests an impromptu hike through the woods (she has visited the area before). This hike proves longer than suggested and ends up with an accident in which Annie falls onto a branch that punctures her leg. Unable to find the way out of the woods they end up at an abandoned cabin…

So they are ill equipped (as the hike was impromptu), lost and all their mobiles seem to have lost charge. The area has a reputation of being cursed and, as the film progresses, they are beset with accidents (and a bear at one point), poison ivy faux pas, frost bite and it becomes apparent that one of them is somewhat homicidal. So, why is the landscape potentially vampiric? Well the wood becomes a character in itself, and refuses to let the girls leave. This Blair Witch lifted theme is better done because at least the girls are sensible enough to try and follow a stream (the failure of the characters to understand the mechanics of streams and human settlement in Blair Witch is one of its biggest issues).

when vines attack
The woods also seem to be able to make sinister noises and communicate on a psychic level with humans. There are quite a few bodies out there in the woods and it can actively manipulate its vegetation to, for instance, hold on to a person (à la Evil Dead) and can summon up winds. One of the girls acts like a Renfield or familiar to the woods, but what does it want? It is clearly killing those within its boundary but we get the words “This place needs blood to replenish itself” – so we have a definitive need for blood mentioned. As well as this one girl is told to “bring more blood”.

a previous victim
That then is the crux of the matter. The land is intelligent, damaged (through manmade pollution) and seeks to replenish itself with blood… and we can extrapolate that this is human blood as the wildlife in the woods (the bear being the primary animal we see) do not seem to be attacked for their blood and the land is as able to kill as the “helper” it chooses. The filming seems a little washed out, though the winter landscape will impact that, and the acting is functional rather than outstanding, but the landscape is indeed vampiric.

The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Short Film: Search/Destroy: A Strontium Dog Fan Film

Strontium Dog was a 2000 AD strip (though it started in the comic Starlord) and was a post nuclear series in which mutants were deemed second class citizens, subjected to racism and generally denigrated and the only work they could realistically get was as Search/Destroy agents – bounty hunters for hire.

In the comics the primary character was Johnny Alpha (Matthew Simpson) and this short fan film, directed by Stephen Green & Steven Sterlacchini and released in 2016, has Alpha as the primary character teamed with Wulf Sternhammer (Kevin Horsham). They take a bounty (at a low price) to discover who is killing experienced Strontium Dogs (the nickname for the mutant bounty hunters, given due to the distinctive SD on their badges and named after the Strontium fallout that led to their mutations).

Integra Fairbrook as Durham Red
Why then, you may ask, is this being featured on TMtV? In the comics a character named Durham Red (Integra Fairbrook) was introduced as a female agent and lover for Alpha. Red’s mutation gave her a vampiric lust for blood and fangs. She was so popular as a character that she gained her own series. In this she has a fleeting visitation (with a brief speaking aspect) when the bounties are being given out.

So that’s it. Short and sweet. The film’s homepage is here and the imdb page is here.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Classic Literature – Dracula: Or the Undead - A Play in Prologue and Five Acts

The fact that Bram Stoker wrote the seminal vampire novel Dracula and published it in 1897 is likely to be known to most readers who come here. That he wrote a play based on his novel that was performed once in 1897 may not be as well known.

Now before you get excited I have to point out that the copyright laws were such, at the time, that if Stoker was to keep the rights to a play version of his novel he had to not only produce one himself but it had to have a public performance. He started the play by hand but eventually resorted to cutting and pasting (literally, of course) parts of the novel. The performance was ostensibly public but in reality would have had an audience of a few select persons and the performance will have been more a walkthrough than a full performance.

There are some differences between play and novel – mostly for stage expediency – but this does not, in my opinion, radically alter the book. One can imagine that the play dragged with huge passages of heavy dialogue, indeed Sir Henry Irving is reported to have called it dreadful – let us remember the purpose, however, this was not a honed production. However, despite this, the volume is a genuinely nice curio for the hardcore Dracula aficionado. Editor Sylvia Starshine offers annotations, which are slightly marred by an overt Vlad III focus in places – though let us remember this was first published in 1997 and thus a lot of the work done to put a nail in the idea that Stoker based the character on the historic figure was still to come.