Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Lucy, the Daughter of the Devil: The Special Fathers vs. The Vampire Altar Boys – review

Director: unknown

First aired: 2007

Contains spoilers

Lucy, the Daughter of the Devil was a one season computer animated cartoon series about the character Lucy – the antichrist and 21 year old art graduate and barmaid. Lucy is in a relationship with DJ Jesús, the messiah, but neither appear in this episode.

In the series proper, however, the Vatican have sent a priest (and nun) hit squad to kill Lucy and the Special Fathers, as they are known, are front and centre of this episode.

killing the priest
It starts off with a priest and an altar boy named Brian (Todd Barry). The priest thanks him for fluffing his cassock and then suggests taking the discussion to his quarters so as not to disturb the choir practice (and yes it is as sordid a suggestion as one might think). After telling Brian that it is normal to have urges at his age he finds himself at the toothsome end of Brian’s urge for Brian is a vampire altar boy. Out in the church the choir bare fangs and kill the chorister and organist.

The special fathers
The archbishop, who insists on being called Archie, picks up the Special Fathers. The two priests (H. Jon Benjamin and Sam Seder) are ex-vampire hunters, though the Special Sister (Eugene Mirman) has no such experience. They try and deflect the task Archie wants to set them – after all they are hunting the antichrist – and suggests some good Jesuit hunters. Archie admits that the Jesuits are dead and blackmails them into hunting the vampires.

with Nightshade
After this he takes them to Nightshade, a civilian vampire expert who has a caged vampire altar boy in the cellar. He tells them to not believe the movies (then admits that sunlight and stakes do work against these vampires) as crosses have no effect and they only have a mild allergy to garlic. They are, however, deathly afraid of balloons. With that in mind it’s time to hunt some vampires. The Nightshade section is most definitely in homage to Blade.

The episode is only some ten minutes long but it is great fun as an aside episode. The jokes are as irreverent as one would expect and there are some very amusing insights (the conversation between Special Sister and the Altar Boys is fantastic). All in all worth the 10 minutes out of your busy schedule. 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Saint Dracula – review

Director: Rupesh Paul

Release date: 2012

Contains spoilers

The claim is that Saint Dracula is the first 3D Dracula movie. Untrue. That honour goes to Dario Argento’s Dracula, which had its official release before this and, I believe was completed prior as well. EDIT 29/9/14: by 3D I am referring to digital 3D. However there is a synopsis of this film, on its homepage that I want you to read… indeed read it twice:

Mitch Powell as Dracula
Longing for vengeance, he waited in hunger and thirst for his long lost admirer. The night hid him in the dark, the earth and the woods were his haven. He is a fallen angel, a catastrophic lover, the trodden Prince of Wallachia, but a vampire in revenge. His partisans await his reprise with celebration. He turns lucky in love, if not for ever. Beautiful nights of love and lust entangle him with his lost love - Clara, a passionate young nun but still a mortal. The peaches and perfection takes a turn the day Clara gets spellbound by the Catholic Church. The Vatican plots the trap but will the plan thrive? Or will it be love?

from the opening credits
Ok, I understand that the filmmakers are not English, and I have sympathy for folks working in a second language and, to be fair, after two reads you might get some sense of what it is saying, but ultimately it is still almost unreadable. The point is, that this is kind of like the film, which you can watch, get a sense of story but that sense is ephemeral, quickly lost between bizarre plotting, strange imagery and really poor acting. Before we get to that, the film launches straight in to the opening credits and these are computer generated and clearly designed for 3D viewing. Two things to note are the fact that there is a gravestone which clearly references Vlad Ţepeş (via the years of birth and death) and the fact that there is some frame-rate lag on some of the graphics!!

note the pentagram
After an opening montage of girls being attacked and murdered by a female vampire we cut to a bishop (Micheal Christopher) and priests eating. It is strange enough that the bishop's seat has a pentagram carved in it more strange when he seems to eat a grasshopper and then says “You got away with a lot” in such a way that it sounds like it’s going in to a song (it doesn’t, yet). Given that he is genuinely a Bishop (apparently) this feels even stranger than had he turned out to be something else.

Brother Benjamin & Father Nicholson
He stands in the inside of the bombed out shell of St Luke's Church, Liverpool, but the person he is waiting for is not there. They are forced to travel to see him, and he turns out to be a monk called Brother Benjamin (Daniel Shayler). The bishop wants him to look into the murders of the girls all of whom had a lock of hair ripped out – they are similar to murders previously investigated by Father Nicholson (Bill Hutchens) who was expelled from the church for not revealing what happened in his investigation and yet, apparently, somehow keeps his position as a monk!

Suzanne Roche as Sister Agnes
Meanwhile a young woman, Clara (Patricia Duarte), visits her sister, Agnes (Suzanne Roche), who is a nun. Agnes is horrified when Clara declares that she wants to be a nun too. Benjamin visits Nicholson, discovers that the old monk’s eyesight was seared by the shadow of a bat, has a vision of naked female flesh and self-flagellates. He then goes to see a vampire expert (unnamed) who tells him that Dracula (Mitch Powell) is a myth and that the historic person was a Prince of Transylvania (sic) – in fact the film oscillates between the titles Count, Prince and King – and was the seventh son of a seventh son. This complete mess of historical addition is underlined in the film's press kit where Rupesh Paul suggests that Ţepeş was a “pitiless sovereign who entwined forty thousand Ottoman civilians on the crucifix as recommended by the church.” Paul’s first language is not English and so there is an amount of latitude that should be given, of course, but his butchering of the history is worrying.

fangs out
Further to this we get some vampire lore. The expert tells us that Dracula is not like other vampires as he can go out during the day (but we’ve seen a female vampire in daylight already). Crucifixes only bother him if held by a man of faith, indeed only silver will kill him. Then (a sentence later) we are told that staking will kill him. We see him attacking a girl at one point and he clearly has a reflection. There is some astral and teleporting aspect to him. At times he is called a fallen angel but then he is associated with a mortal ruler.

Patricia Duarte as Clara
Anyway, Clara sings in the choir (this attracts Dracula’s attention). That night she has a sexy dream and awakens to discover that she is no longer virgo-intacta. Her jealous sister goes mad (and is sent for exorcism) and Brother Benjamin realises Clara is the vampire’s focus (and falls for her himself). We later discover that the reincarnation aspect of the plot sees Clara being the reborn lover, Agnes the reborn and deceitful sister of the original Clara, Benjamin the reborn brother of Ţepeş and the Bishop the reborn version of another Bishop! The film stumbles along, with some strange and meaningless symbolic orientated cuts, to a climax (that I won’t spoil, mainly to see if you have the tenacity to sit through the whole thing).

suddenly there's dancing
The film is truly dreadful. The dialogue is stagey but the delivery makes it sound even worse. The broad brush of the story is fine but the detail is confused and contradictory. The director couldn’t help himself and we do get a song moment ala Bollywood with young ballet dancers dancing away. There is an interesting take on good and evil (I’ll give the film that). But that is contradicted within the film, and I’ll pretend that the darkening and lightening of Dracula’s hair was deliberate!! The main positive thing I can say is that there was the occasional good vampiric imagery.

1 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Chimères – review

Director: Olivier Beguin

Release date: 2013

Contains spoilers

Sometimes it’s the simple ideas that work the best, a film doesn’t have to be terribly original to be a powerful piece of cinema. Having said that, this film might have been simple on the surface but there was a doubt sown through the watcher's mind that made it intriguing also.

Chimères is a Swiss film that carves out a nice little niche for itself as a strong film in the genre and is one that demands attention.

It begins at sunrise, an event met by professional photographer Alex (Yannick Rosset) and his partner Livia (Jasna Kohoutova). He suggests that sunrises are a female thing. They are on their way to Romania for a holiday, she is Romanian by birth. The opening scenes flick back and forward, between the holiday and Alex not long after, bruised and battered. It is winter in Romania and the couple come across as very much in love. He takes his camera – despite the fact he isn’t meant to be working.

newspaper article
They get a little drunk and leave a restaurant. Suddenly he realises he doesn’t have his camera with him and heads back for it, straight into the path of a car… He is rushed to hospital and has to have a blood transfusion. When back home he doesn’t feel right (beyond the fact that he is physically battered). He unpacks some photography gear wrapped in Romanian newspapers and notices an article – he can translate contaminated blood but has to have Livia translate the main text. The article has a picture of a vampire with it.

what's in the mirror?
He starts seeing things in the mirror – his eyes shine and then he sees blackened veins and fangs. He takes photos of these physical manifestations, which clearly he sees in the pictures but Livia can’t seem to see what he sees. He starts avoiding sunlight but we don’t see that it has any kind of an effect when he holds his arm in it. It is round this that the film does brilliantly. We spend it in a flux, is what is happening real or in his head? We are left to puzzle that through and it is this doubt that worked so well.

what would you do for love?
Of course there are pure hallucinations. When he sees himself rip a chunk out of Livia’s neck or when he exits a shower and his reflection is slick with blood. In some respects this is old hat – we’ve seen vampire films offer projections of desire either as daydreams or in mirrors. However the film takes it that stage further by having Livia fall into the maelstrom. Is she sharing his psychosis or is she accepting the changes in a man she loves and enabling his needs? The undertone of infection through blood transfusion and that infecting those the victim loves, be it physically or psychologically, is interesting also.

desire in the mirror
It is the two leads that make the film. They both seem very natural and have a large quota of chemistry - Rosset reminds me a lot of Jason Carter in looks and mannerisms and that's no bad thing either. I should also mention scream queen Catriona MacColl (City of the Living Dead) who plays Alex’s mother. The film is very much orientated towards the relationship of the leads, however, and it is testament to them that they carry that so well. The film doesn’t skimp on gore when it needs it and it leaves you thinking. The photography is lovely, the soundtrack unobtrusive.

This deserves 7.5 out of 10 and a wide audience.

The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Vamp or Not? Attack of the Giant Leeches

Attack of the Giant Leeches was also called Demons of the Swamp and was a 1959 film directed by Bernard L. Kowalski and produced by the irrepressible Roger Corman. It was a creature feature, had a radiation background story and is pretty much as B as you can get. It features, as the name suggests, leeches.

Now leeches are, of course, a form of segmented worm that are hematophagous, in other words they are bloodsuckers and feed from animals that they connect to via a sucker. Famously, of course, leeches were used medicinally for bloodletting and have featured in vampire films either as a way of filtering vampiric blood (Dracula 2001) or as a method of harvesting human blood and then serving as a snack (Hemlock Grove season 2). Either way, in those examples they are not the vampire, but given this is a ‘Vamp or Not?’ I am clearly contemplating declaring them a vampire in this. Of course, this is not an undead form of vampire but let us see if the title fits.

George Cisar as Lem
The film starts with swamp dweller and poacher Lem Sawyer (George Cisar, Billy the Kid Vs Dracula) in his boat. He sees something in the water (and the poor print stopped it looking much more than a scaled something) and shoots at it several times before it sinks away. He takes a slug of moonshine. Back at a store, owned by Dave Walker (Bruno VeSota), Lem tries to convince everyone of the story but they put his tale of monsters down to the moonshine. Dave is having trouble with his wife, Liz (Yvette Vickers), who has no respect for him. She goes out into the night and, not long after, Lem leaves the store as well.

Steve and Nan
Steve Benton (Ken Clark) is a wildlife ranger who is looking for poacher traps and has brought his squeeze, Nan (Jan Shepard), along. They stop work for a quick canoodle but a man’s scream pierces the night, not long after followed by a woman’s. Steve tells Nan to get in his truck and lock the doors and chases into the night. He finds a distraught Liz, who has found the bloody remains of Lem. We cut to after the autopsy and local sheriff, Kovis (Gene Roth), tells Steve to stand down – it was death by misadventure and a gator got him.

Yvette Vickers as Liz
Nan’s dad is local doctor, Doc Greyson (Tyler McVey), and he disagrees. There were sucker marks on the body that resemble those of a squid or octopus and it was certainly no gator attack. He recalls the story of Lem’s monster and then wonders if he had shot at something that was intelligent enough to find him and silence him. Steve agrees to go looking but the search through the swamp reveals nothing of note.

Bruno VeSota as Dave Walker
Dave Walker’s problem with Liz is getting worse. She wants him to up and leave the swamp and move in to town. Dave has a delivery to make, leaving Liz throwing produce across the store. Local lothario Cal (Michael Emmet) makes a move and takes “Liz-baby” (a term both men use) out into the swamp. They are having a canoodle (and Liz is explaining why she is with Dave) when aforementioned husband catches them and drives them through the swamp with a shotgun. He forces them into a lake – his aim to make them suffer, not to kill them – and is letting them out when both are grabbed by the leeches. A search of the lake turns nothing up and Dave ends up killing himself (off screen).

Leech attack
Now we get to the nub of the ‘Vamp or Not?’ Cal and Liz are not killed outright. They are both pulled down into an underwater cave with air to breath and placed in there. They are then kept in a weakened state by being fed on by the two leeches and then stored as a meal. Later two more men are captured the same way. We see that the leeches go for the neck on humans and their actions denote the intelligence Doc mentions. He also, later, suggests that the creatures may be nocturnal. They are certainly active at night but we do see them active in daylight too. When diving and looking for the creatures, spear guns are used – these could be equated to stakes but actually any trauma seems capable of damaging them, though they are tough and dynamite is the final solution.

another leech attack
Something not noticed by Steve, but certainly noticed by the swamp dwellers, is the fact that the gators appear to have gone. Whether the leeches ate them before going for human prey or the gators simply migrated away is unknown. So, what caused the leeches to become monstrous? There is a supposition put forward that because they are near NASA (and NASA use nuclear materials for their rockets) that a rocket perhaps crashed and the radiation mutated the leeches causing giantism. It also (clearly) caused them to develop intelligence and rational thought.

the leech cave
If you stick to the idea that vampires should be undead humans then this is clearly not vamp. However there have been naturally occurring or occurring through science vampires that are living creatures. Certainly these creatures are intelligent and suck blood. On that basis I’m going to go vamp on this B movie, which does have a certain charm about it. The imdb page is here.

Monday, September 22, 2014

1313: Boy Crazies – review

Director: David DeCoteau

Release date: 2011

Contains spoilers

Oh dear… another David DeCoteau flick and this one part of an unrelated series of films entitled 1313 – this one being the vampire flick.

When we wonder how the director manages to get funding, perhaps the secret is in the reduced costs by using his own house over and over again as the set? I understand this is a common set in the 1313 series and was actually the set of Immortal Kiss: Queen of the Night, a vampire flick filmed by him a year later.

Monique Parent as Sheila
In this one the plot won’t take long to reveal. After a prologue that has little to do with the film (bar acting as a bookend) we meet Trent (Ryan McIntyre) who has been invited to move to a model house in LA. He gets there and is met by Sheila (Monique Parent, Blood Thirsty & Blood Scarab). She is apparently a matriarch as she simply claps her hands and the other residents, Vincent (Michael Hudson), Stefan (Lee Kholafai) and Miquel (Brendan Lamb), troop down to meet the newcomer. When Trent goes to his room the boys declare their wish to feed on him but Sheila forbids it – he has a unique energy and, instead, she has brought in an overnight lodger for food.

the boys
That night (and I’ll get to night shots in a second) Trent is having a restless night’s sleep due to dreams – dreams in which the boys snap their teeth at him (no fangs are evident). He wakes and sees them chasing down the other lodger, panics, runs and gets caught. Sheila asks him what he thinks he saw and then tells him it was a magnificent display of power. Power that he can share. The boys attack and he awakes back in his bed as a vampire. It should be noted, however, that despite the snapping of teeth and lunging at necks these are energy vampires purely and simply.

Trent fails to kill
So they can suck energy (and be killed by having their energy sucked), they are immortal, stronger than mere mortals and have heightened senses. Sheila is more powerful and can get in their heads. The interesting bit of lore is that they can project their power of fascination through photographs and Trent’s ability to do this surpasses the others considerably. This was reminiscent (especially as they are models and he is to get a billboard) of the 1949 Fitz Leiber Jr short story The Girl with Hungry Eyes - just done really badly.

hunger pangs, anguish and tight whities
How bad… Night shots… there are day for night shots with a blue tint. The film is only 73 minutes long but most of it consists of Trent wandering aimlessly (and bored looking) round the house in tight white undies that I think were reused in Immortal Kiss: Queen of the Night. During these apparently endless scenes Trent hears earlier dialogue from the film in loop and so, of course, do we. The acting is rank amateur (only Monique Parent has any spark). The story of the reluctant vampire has been done over and over, of course, and this brought nothing new to the party.

1 out of 10 – a point given because it at least made me compare (if unfavourably) to the Girl With Hungry Eyes.

The imdb page is here.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Metamorphoses of the Vampire in Literature and Film: Cultural Transformations in Europe, 1732-1933 – review

Author: Erik Butler

Release Date: 2010

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: For the last three hundred years, fictions of the vampire have fed off anxieties about cultural continuity. Though commonly represented as a parasitic aggressor from without, the vampire is in fact a native of Europe, and its "metamorphoses," to quote Baudelaire, a distorted image of social transformation. Because the vampire grows strong whenever and wherever traditions weaken, its representations have multiplied with every political, economic, and technological revolution from the eighteenth century on. Today, in the age of globalization, vampire fictions are more virulent than ever, and the monster enjoys hunting grounds as vast as the international market.

Metamorphoses of the Vampire explains why representations of vampirism began in the eighteenth century, flourished in the nineteenth, and came to eclipse nearly all other forms of monstrosity in the early twentieth century. Many of the works by French and German authors discussed here have never been presented to students and scholars in the English-speaking world. While there are many excellent studies that examine Victorian vampires, the undead in cinema, contemporary vampire fictions, and the vampire in folklore, until now no work has attempted to account for the unifying logic that underlies the vampire's many and often apparently contradictory forms.

The review: It is a singularly impressively difficult task to undertake; attempting to “account for the unifying logic that underlies the vampire's many and often apparently contradictory forms.” A Grand Unified Theory of the media vampire, so to speak.

In truth Butler does not succeed, in my opinion anyway, which is not to say that this book is without merit – indeed it is brimming with merit. I just think that such a theory, such a logic is ethereal – running from the light like Nosferatu at dawn and obfuscated by each piece of literature, theatre or film that does not fit in with the logic.

However Butler takes us on a fascinating jaunt through the hubbub of the media vampire drawing into parallel with cultural changes in Europe. The date range should have kept us firmly away from the burgeoning Hollywood vampire but it does rear its head on occasion.

Interesting to me was some of the sources that I had not come across before. Potocki’s The Manuscript Found in Saragossa is now in the “to read” pile as is Memoires of my Nervous Illness. The latter by Schreber has a chapter built around it and, whilst I believe that its association with vampirism might prove to be less overt, I find the idea of it fascinating.

This is not a book, however, for the casual reader. Butler has a PhD in comparative Literature and thus this volume is very scholarly – not that it should put you off, and his style prevents the contents from becoming dry, but the warning is there. Indexing, citation lists and notes are all present and correct allowing the student to use the volume properly as a source itself. 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Written in Blood: A Cultural History of the British Vampire – review

Author: Paul Adams

First Published: 2014

The blurb: The British Isles has a remarkable association with vampires – chilling supernatural creatures of the night. From the nineteenth-century writings of John Polidori, James Rymer, Sheridan Le Fanu and Bram Stoker, to the modern literary horrors of Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, Brian Lumley and Kim Newman, the vampire casts a strange and compelling shadow that spreads from the realms of fantasy into the world of the living. Here you will find vampire murderers and vampire hunters together with the real-life mysteries of Croglin Grange, Alnwick Castle, the Vampire of the Villas, the Yorkshire Vampire and the enduring phenomenon of London’s famous Highgate Vampire.

In this thought-provoking book, illustrated with never before seen photographs and drawing on extensive original research, writer and paranormal historian Paul Adams explores the fascinating history of British vampirism in both fact and fiction. With extensive chapters on the post-war revival of Gothic cinema horror and the influence of cult studio Hammer Films on the vampire in British television and music, here is a modern guide where every page is truly written in blood…

The review: Paul Adams takes us on a whistle-stop tour of vampirism as it ties in to British culture, running the gamut from 1816 to 2013 and looking at everything from Penny Dreadfuls through to Hammer films and beyond. He looks at legends (such as Croglin Grange) and some of the earlier appearances of the restless dead (as recorded by William of Newburgh and Walter Map). He touches on continental Europe, of course, and delves into vampire murderers – which does see him veering off the Isles as well as into general occult orientated killings, I think as a need to pad out what would have been a thin chapter had he remained in Britain.

Mostly I found his writing balanced, the discussion of the Highgate Vampire steered a fair line between the two primary personalities involved in the case without fawning over either. The book is quite tabloid in its brevity, in places, but Adams chose to write an overview – each chapter may have generated a reference book of its own. The writing style is chatty and engaging but the book does have a bibliography and indexing, allowing further reading into the subjects.

Given the general balance shown, I found it (possibly unfairly) unfortunate that he had not unearthed the potential controversy surrounding the authenticity of the Penny Dreadful story, The Skeleton Count, or, the Vampire Mistress. But, then again, my own reference bookdid not pick up on this when written. More unfortunate was the continued association between Count Dracula and Prince Vlad III. Adams’ suggests that Stoker “immersed himself in the history of the Wallachian warrior knights Vlad Dracul (d 1447) and his son…” but there is absolutely no evidence of this. For more on this please see my article. That aside the balance in the book – when looking at competing theories, was well maintained.

All in all, a fine primer on a plethora of vampire related topics. 7.5 out of 10.