Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Claire – review

Director: Mike Booth

Release date: 2011

Contains spoilers

This was a film I found available to watch for free on the net and, I understand, it was made for a budget of just £250. Normally that might be telling but, in this case, what filmmaker Mike Booth has managed to create is rather impressive.

That’s not to suggest its perfect but it introduces us to a very unusual take on the vampire myth – a cannibalistic take, which suggests why it originally had the title Kuru, a degenerative neurological disease transmitted by prions and primarily transmitted through funerary cannibalism.

preparing the nursery
It is shot in black and white, set in the UK and begins as Claire (Carol Roache) is painting a mural of a tree in a nursery, she is heavily pregnant. Her boyfriend, Ethan (Joseph Curdy), comes in and begins to speak about the possibility of flying soon after the birth. He is suggesting they go out to California, where his parents are, as there is a free slot available at a wedding function location – his parents will pay for the wedding (we later hear). Claire is perhaps not as enamoured with the idea as he is – and we get the feeling that all is perhaps not well in the relationship. After he leaves the room she stands and notices blood – she is having a miscarriage.

parting ways
It is three months later and he is travelling to the States but is concerned about leaving her in the state she is in. He has spent the time since the miscarriage sleeping in the spare room, she barely changes her clothes and is clearly depressed. However she insists that she needs the time and actually insists he doesn’t keep phoning her. As the film develops we discover that she has had a full hysterectomy. We meet some of her neighbours and one, Helen (Sue Marshall), calls to return a didgeridoo that belonged to Claire’s father (it is his house she has inherited). Apparently he was a bit of an amateur explorer.

the seed
Not knowing what to do with it, she decides to place it in the loft and when up there she finds an elaborately carved and bound box. She takes it downstairs and opens it, there is soil inside and in the soil is… something. It was organic, probably a seed or pod, and reminiscent in some ways of a horse chestnut – I say that as Ian had collected horse chestnuts and put the conkers round the house to keep spiders away. She cuts into the pod and a dark liquid gets onto the knife blade and so she licks it… it tastes awful. That night she is coughing in her sleep and, when she wakes, she vomits (what may be blood). Her stomach is growling and she has no voice. She tries eating various things but everything makes her vomit, she calls the doctors but can’t get the receptionist (Marian Booth) to understand her.

the box
She falls down the stairs and is knocked out and, when she comes round, she tries to eat dog food – to no avail. It is then implied that she eats the dog. We cut into a memory of her with Ethan, in happier days, but the memory ends with him beating her. The film has a number of twisted memories interjected through it but I suspected from the get go that they were not necessarily accurate. The film is deliberately vague as to whether she had been a victim of domestic violence or whether these are fevered dreams as her mind and body snaps.

Lovecraft as a weapon
Her neighbour Alan (Malcolm Summers) glances through the window as he passes and spots her on the floor. He goes to help her and is stabbed for his trouble. Claire eats flesh, we see her cook an organ, she also loses her hair and takes to wearing shades. She covers the windows over with fabric. As the film progresses we have her kidnapping passing Jehovah’s Witnesses (and the fact that she clobbers them with a hardback Lovecraft tome entitled Necronomicon was a nice touch) and dealing with burglars. We gain evidence towards the end of the film that the seed she found is definitely the cause of the vampirism and, indeed, a bush carrying more seeds grows from where she buried a victim.

Carol Roache as Claire
The film’s pacing is a tad on the slow side, but Booth uses that to tantalise us with glimpses of what may or may not have been. I think the leads held their parts very well, especially as neither have extensive film credits on IMDb. Carol Roache in particular had a lot of work to do, especially as there was a lot of dialogue free scenes. The character developed an interesting tremor in her legs, which I assume was significant to the kuru title as tremors can be a symptom.

This is one you can check for yourself, as it is over at Vimeo. The pace might put some off but I think it is a stick with it film. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Short Film: The El Chupugcabra

Whenever I have looked at any film with a chupacabra in it I have had to sense check it to see whether it is actually a vampire film or not. Whilst the goatsucker has been conflated with vampirism generally, many of the movies have a simple killer monster theme. In truth this short film, from 2013 and directed by Aaron B. Koontz, has no vampiric element (I guess one could liken it to Gremlins meets lycanthropy vibe). But hey… its chupacabra (ish) and so there is a genre interest in it.

It is a comedy, well the title says it all with the conflation of ‘the’ and ‘el’, and no I haven’t misspelt the title… the beasty we are looking at hides in the form of a pug.

in the shelter
So we hear dialogue that amounts to the warnings given to Clarice in Silence of the Lambs, when she meets Lector in the secure unit, as the film starts but it is a warning being given to a family who have come to see a dog in a shelter. The family are padre (Jeremy King), madre (Courtney Hans) and the son Esteban (Dashiell Smith), or at least they are in the credits, in dialogue Esteban is anglicised to Steven. The dog, found on Furry Friend Finder, is in a warded cage and a medicine woman (Leola Perez) offers dire warnings.

Coming home
They are getting the dog because Steven doesn’t like Princess (presumably mom’s dog) so he is getting his own pet. They get him despite the warnings from the (assumed) mad medicine woman and Steven calls him Chalupa. One warning, which the manager (Spencer Greenwood) explains away as a chemical intolerance thing, is that they shouldn’t feed Chalupa with marshmallows… ever… ever… They take the dog home but we notice that the Hispanic mailman (John Edward Garcia) is petrified of the dog, raising a cross to his lips and peeing himself (though Steven suggests the latter is not an unusual occurrence).

just cruel
We get to a party, where Chalupa is dressed in doggy clothes (surely more cruel than anything else) and there are marshmallows… now perhaps they have never seen Gremlins but surely something will go wrong if the dog is fed one… the film is embedded below so you can find out yourself. The running time is about 12 minutes but credits and outtakes push that to twenty minutes.

What I will spoil is the fact that there is quite a lot of gore (so something does go wrong, but hey, you knew that already) and it is really well done. The lighting during the outdoor party is subdued, I think purposefully so, and this will have helped hide the cracks, if indeed there were any. So all that remains is for you to find out if the love of a boy for his dog will overcome the monster within? The imdb page is here.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Hemlock Grove – season 3 – review

Director: various

Release date: 2015

Contains spoilers

Hemlock Grove is a Netflix exclusive and I was very impressed with season 1, it was interesting and a new spin on old tropes – especially as, at heart, it was a Frankenstein’s Monster, Wolfman, Vampire rehash. However, when Season 2 was released I was less impressed. I felt it was missing a vital element that season 1 had carried and had side-lined its more interesting characters.

Famke Janssen as Olivia
As Season 3 starts the daughter of Roman Godfrey (Bill Skarsgård), our resident vampire or upyr, has been kidnapped by the reptilian Dr Spivak (J.C. MacKenzie, Dark Angel: Love in Vein) and Roman and his gypsy (and werewolf) friend Peter (Landon Liboiron) are desperately searching for her. Peter has also given the family blessing to Andreas (Luke Camilleri) to marry Peter’s clairvoyant cousin Destiny (Kaniehtiio Horn, Embrace of the Vampire & Being Human (US)). Shelley (Madeleine Martin), our Frankenstein’s Monster equivalent, has been released from custody due to lack of evidence in the murders she was accused of, however – to Roman’s ire – it is into their mother’s custody. Said mother, Olivia (Famke Janssen), seems back on bitchy form if destitute as Roman has cut her off from the Godfrey fortune.

despondent and suicidal
So that is how we begin and the series follows several threads. There is the gypsies using the wolf pack (there are more wolves than Peter in town) to hijack caviar and sell it to the Croatian Mob and the subsequent fallout when Andreas tries to rip the Mob off. There is Shelley, despondent and suicidal, finding friendship and love amongst Hemlock Grove’s homeless community. There is the search for Spivak and the attempt to get Nadia back. The season concentrates more than it has done on mad scientist Johann Pryce (Joel de la Fuente) and give the character space to really shine and develop.

Camille De Pazzis as Annie
There is also the arrival of the mysterious Annie (Camille De Pazzis), an upyr who comes into Roman’s life. Through her we discover that there is a vast global community of upyrs and Roman is able to discover more both about himself and about Spivak, who is actually a creature from upyr myth. Later we discover that they were evolutionary competitors that the upyr virtually wiped out. At the same time we see people attacked, and, through the attackers POV, we see they have a strange visual function that highlights their prey.

felt like zompire
Eventually it becomes clear that it is upyr being attacked, the assailant ripping the victims chest open and eating the heart, and when Roman and Annie kill an attacker they discover that it is a diseased upyr. The disease is a parasitic tumour that invades the central nervous system, causing irrational madness and a hunger for their own species’ flesh (and heart particularly it seems). The tumour wraps around the optic nerve causing the visual tell by highlighting upyr but also giving the infected a massive intolerance to light (they freeze when caught in bright light). They are diseased, rotting, (fast) zombie-like and ultimately self-consuming. I’d say they can happily be called zompires. Olivia develops the disease but why she takes so long to lose her mind when others seem to turn almost instantly is unknown.

Pryce and Roman
This season was excellent. Famke Janssen was on fine form as Olivia and the Shelley storyline was marvellously handled with subtlety and just a dash of the Beats. I mentioned already the Pryce storyline and I have to say the promise from one of the promotional posters of "no happy endings" was (mostly) not stinted on. After a disappointed mid-season this left Hemlock Grove on a high. 7.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Matriarch – review

Author: Kevin Ranson

First Published: 2013

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Vampires don't believe in ghosts.

Every October, the freshmen at Glenville State College are told stories about Sis Linn, the local ghost who haunts Clark Hall and the graveyard where she's buried. Murdered in 1919, she was beaten beyond recognition, the target of a brutal killer who was never caught.

Present-day student Janiss Connelly is about to find out that the stories are wrong - and that there are greater things to fear in life and in death than ghosts.

The review: For full disclosure Kevin Ranson is a Facebook friend and his Matriarch series of books were provided for review.

You might be concerned, reading the blurb, that the Matriarch could spin into the arena of Young Adult fiction – not that there is necessarily anything wrong with Young Adult fiction of course – but the fact that it is ostensibly college based might spin your thoughts in that direction. It is not. Indeed I was struck, within the opening pages and an evocative visit to a church, by the accurate impression that this was certainly a horror novel and the author maintains such a line and also maintains a line of vampires as pure creatures of the supernatural.

As such expect a tome where the vampires essentially die during the day and, although they can function (until they get themselves into earth and any earth will serve), they look like the rotten corpse they truly are, unable to maintain the supernaturally disguised masquerade they wear during the night. These vampires can control the weather and mortal minds, being staked causes paralysis (or, in essence, pins them, as the stake was originally said to do). They can die through immolation but religious artefacts have no impact..

All of which gives us the general lore Ranson works with but one thing I particularly liked about the story was he kept it small. This was not an earth shattering stage but actually the battle between two exes, into which the focal character, Janiss, falls. That’s not to say that the baddie isn’t really bad, the character Ian reveals himself to be nicely twisted.

The best compliment to the book, however, is that it kept me interested, the prose was crisp and I actively wanted to return to the book. Very occasionally the dialogue seemed forced, mainly when it was used for exposition, but such a feeling was a rarity and mostly the dialogue held up very well indeed, and certainly his characters all received their own distinct, and interesting, voices.

A great opening to the series. 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Shaolin Drunkard – review

Director: Yuen Wo-Ping

Release date: 1983

Contains spoilers

This came on my radar as potentially being a vampire film but, to be honest, it skated a very fine line and, despite a promising start it was very nearly a candidate for a “Vamp or Not?” As it was I felt it probably crossed the line into “Vamp” and I decided to review it instead.

It is a strange beast, however, and no mistake. Surreal in places, the fact that the version I saw was dubbed caused less consternation than normal as the dubbing actually added to its surreal nature.

Yuen Cheung-Yan as Chan
So we start in a Shaolin temple and there is a monk, Chan (Yuen Cheung-Yan, the Close Encounter of the Vampire), who uses his acrobatic skills and his magic in order that he might drink wine when actually he should be watching over a prisoner, the evil magician (Yuen Shun-Yi, also the Close Encounter of the Vampire & the Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires). When we see him delivered food he throws the rice away and says he needs blood. That night Chan sneaks off to get drunk, whilst leaving a disturbingly accurate automaton style mannequin in his place.

blood drinking
The temple receives a visit from the evil magician’s pupil (Brandy Yuen Jan-Yeung, also Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires), who manages to break into the magically guarded cell and prevent the elaborate alarms (that work on a principle like the game Mousetrap) from sounding. He throws a jar at the cell, which smashes showering the magician with blood, which he drinks as it runs down his face and this seems to give him the strength to escape his prison. We also notice that he has tusk like fangs but they are on the lower mandible. The monk is reprimanded and given three months to recapture the magician or he will be imprisoned.

Chan and Yuen
Elsewhere we meet Yau Pai Yuen (Yuen Yat-Choh, also Close Encounter with the Vampire), he lives with his granny (played by Yuen Cheung-Yan) and both have magic. Granny feels that the family is cursed as each generation only has one male heir and Yuen needs to marry. He has been trying to avoid Granny’s matchmaking efforts but it all comes to a head and the old girl threatens to kill herself as he won’t marry. He just wants to choose his own bride and she gives him three months to find a bride. Of course the two men’s paths will cross.

the cart
And cross they do, at first via Chan’s (I assume magically powered) cart. Meanwhile the magician has met with his brother (Eddy Ko Hung, Vampire Settles on Police Camp) and needs the blood of virgins born on the lunar day to get a bone sword and suggests using his brother's daughter (Yeung Hoi-Yi) to tempt them. Yuen passes the marriage tests but runs away from the bride because she has an infantile haemangioma birthmark (yes he truly is that shallow), so there is much interaction as she tries to get her man back. However, from our point of view nothing more is said about blood and it sounded like Yuen’s blood was needed for a ritual.

trying to put the bite on
However as the film marched into its finale, and there is a showdown between the misfit heroes and the evil magician, it becomes clear that he wants to drink Yuen’s blood (he even says as much) and tries to bite his neck. This rescued the film back to being vampire (albeit a magician vampire with lower tusk fangs). Nevertheless, we’ll take the win, as it were. The film itself has some uncomfortable jokes around the girl’s birthmark (Yuen falls for her when it vanishes after being treated for acid damage inflicted by a spitting magic battle toad – I kid you not). There are some interesting mask work and puppet moments.

The film is generally surreal, indeed quite absurdist in places, and as such works rather well – despite dubbing (as I mentioned). Honestly, it’s probably even better subbed but I think it deserves a solid 6 out of 10 as a piece of fantasy-fu.

The imdb page is here.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Strain Season 2 – review

Director: Various

Release date: 2015

Contains spoilers

The First Season of the Strain was, in my opinion, a strong season let down only by a singular poor sfx – that of the Master (physically Robert Maillet, Mortal Instruments, City of Bones and vocally Robin Atkin Downes, at least at the beginning of the series). At the end of Season 1 the vampire hunter’s led an attack on the Master but he escaped – into sunlight, much to their shock.

ancients feed
The series had changed much, adding characters and delivering different fates. For instance there was Mr Fitzwilliam (Roger R. Cross), aid to primary villain Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde, Supernatural: Dorabella) who abandons Palmer at the end of season 1 rather than remaining with him. Unfortunately I don’t think the writers knew what to do with him once his story changes and so he joins the good guys in this season to be killed on the first outing. I suppose it helped to highlight that it was dangerous doing what the heroes are doing – given most of them are dodging vampiric stingers left and right – but it was an unsatisfying use of what could have been an interesting character.

Likewise his replacement and new character, the oddly named Coco Marchand (Lizzie Brocheré) was little more than a cipher intended to pad out the character of Eldritch Palmer, rather than a character in her own right. Season 1 also saw the death of Nora’s (Mía Maestro, The Twiligh Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 and Part 2) mother – an event not in the book that should have reaching impacts going forward and events in this season change the direction even further (though the destination is still the same). The actor playing Zach, Eph’s (Corey Stoll) son, was changed from Ben Hyland to Max Charles (True Blood) apparently as the new actor had more emotional range but, honestly, the character was more annoying for the personnel change.

David Bradley as Setrakian
If I was to complain about this season it would be less because of the Master’s physical look – the damage caused at the end of Season 1 causes him to change host and take over the body of one of the early strigoï, Boliver (Jack Kesy), leaving him looking actually rather cool. Instead it was becoming increasingly difficult to accept how stretched out things felt. The (partially) locked down New York would surely have had more attention from the outside world, for instance the National Guard were there but doing apparently sweet FA. It stretched credulity a little and never felt like that in the books. Likewise, the Master discovers where the hunters are hiding out (again) and yet, despite getting strigoï into the area, there is never an all-out attack,  just incursions by key character strigoï.

crap bat
On the other hand I was still locked in. The search for the ancient book the Lumin, which details the history of the strigoï, was handled in a much more believable way than in the books, which seemed somewhat too genteel. The introduction of the dhampir Quinlan (Rupert Penry-Jones) was good even if, more so than when I read the books, the overlap with the character Blade was very apparent. When the character Angel (Joaquín Cosio) was introduced we see his last film, in black and white, "Angel contra el Vampiro Maldito" – a Mexican wrestling movie complete with very crap bat. I actually exclaimed how much I would watch a full version of the movie as I saw it… Del Toro later suggested he would indeed film the full thing!

chopped in half
I did like the fall of Eph, from recovering alcoholic to full alcoholic, emotionally distant from those who love him but with glimpses of the perfectionist coming through the drunken arrogance. The blind/seer vampire children were brilliantly realised drawing them as scuttling, rapid creatures. That said the series sometimes lost sight of the virulence of the plague. New Yorkers fighting hand to hand against hordes of strigoï would have ended with half the human combatants accidentally infected due to contact with the worm infected blood – it did make for good TV though.

Rupert Penry-Jones as Quinlan
As I sit at the end of Season 2 I wonder just how they will take the story forward now. There has been a vast, direction changing event. If season 3 reverses said event I am worried that its credibility will plummet. If the event is left as it is then the impact on characters and storyline will be immense. I am enjoying the Strain, I am liking how they are deliberately changing the books partly, I think, to make aspects more credible and partly to allow some mystery for those of us who had read them.

7 out of 10

The imdb page is here.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Short Film: Initiation

A twenty minute long French language film directed by Stéphane Beaudoin in 2008, this is a case of less is more. Be it in the plot that shows glimpses of the story but never forms as a cohesive whole (though there certainly is a narrative), the effects or even the soundtrack, which is a wonderful tonal affair that captures a great atmosphere.

cut arm
It begins with a bathroom and a man, Vincent (Sébastien Delorme), has a badly cut arm with shards of glass embedded into the flesh. He pulls out the glass over the sink and washes the wounds. He then calls a contact (one of three thuggish looking gentlemen) and says that he has it (it being an artefact of wood with a decorative metal piece attached). Vincent’s contact asks if *he* was there and Vincent says no. They arrange to meet in a tunnel. As Vincent leaves we see that the place he has robbed has seen signs of a struggle and the *he* referred to is led on the floor, apparently dead.

what was it?
As Vincent walks towards the tunnel he bumps into a man (Yves Soutière). After Vincent moves on the man slowly turns to look at him. Vincent goes into the tunnel and lights a cigarette when the man appears behind him and dives at him. The man leaves the tunnel and Vincent suddenly bolts awake, gasping at air like a man surfacing from water. The artefact is gone, he looks on the garbage strewn floor and then chases after the man – assuming he has taken it.

cigarette men
Of course, things are not that simple. Vincent enters a club where it seems he is known. The artefact is, in fact, still in the alley and the thuggish men are looking for Vincent for failing to make the rendezvous, though that story is just explained in glimpses and is generally unimportant. Vincent is no longer the man he had been.

the man
The film hides most of its action. We see Vincent tackled in a blur, but he and the man fall off screen. We see an attack on a girl but we only see movement, her boots lifted from the floor. The two cigarette “smoking” men (they never actually light them) rumble with the thuggish guys but it as all off-screen. Yet this deliberate choice works well. I mentioned the soundtrack, which is fantastic in its minimalism, evocative but unobtrusive. However, whilst I couldn’t find an IMDb page at time of writing, you can see this for yourself.