Saturday, May 06, 2006

Strange Things Happen at Sundown - review

Director: Marc Fratto

Release Date: 2003

contains spoilers

One of the best descriptions of this film is from the front of the UK DVD release:

“They’re psychopaths, sociopaths, killers, loonies, weirdos… Oh yeah, one more thing… They’re all vampires!”

Strange Things is a low budget film with big ambitions and, I swear, you will never have seen anything quite like it. A clever piece that, despite the title, has vampires who can go out in the daylight with no ill effect. The title is referred to during the film when the narrator of the piece informs us, “Something strange happens when the sun goes down. Like a calling to all vampires…”

The film begins with a group of vampires together, not only are they vampires but they’re also mob. We have Joey the Butcher (Joshua Nelson), Paulie Hands (Mike Massimino), Nicky the Tooth (Giovanni DeMarco) – so called as he can only produce one fang - and the leader Jimmy Fangs (Joseph DeVito). Here the brilliance of the film begins to shine through within the dialogue, given the mob connotation you cannot help but think Tarantino; the dialogue seems smooth and well put together.

Jimmy has invited Micky Balls (Joseph Anthony) and Fat Frankie (Sal Verderame) to Jimmy’s studio. They arrive with two girls, to be informed by Jimmy that he his taking over Micky’s drugs business. Guns are pulled and shots fired which leads to Joey being shot in the head. The vampires attack and feed on all four humans. Once a human is bitten the vampire’s venom (for want of a better word) hits their system. They are paralyzed, only able to writhe and sometimes scream. If their heart is not destroyed they will go through a painful, three day turning process, the paralysis seeming to wear off after a day or so which is when they start vomiting blood. It is not pretty and we see the process intimately during the film.

Jimmy orders Joey to destroy the four victims but Joey recognises one as Vicky (Melissa Bacelar), a friend of his sister and someone he wants. He talks Jimmy into letting her turn.

It is here that I will leave the blow by blow plot description and just give some overviews. The plot is fairly intricate but it goes something like this:

Jimmy realises that Marcel (J Scott Green) has ripped him off for $90,000. Marcel is on the run with his girlfriend Amy (Jocasta Bryan) and their car has broken down. A passing motorist tries to help and is devoured for his trouble; they kidnap his wife, born again Christian Annabelle (Shannon Moore).

Jimmy is setting up a new drug, cannabis mixed with his own blood, which turns the user into a flesh-eating zombie slave, in order that he will create a ready army for his underworld business. He also has the worry that Paulie has been assassinated. Rather than track Marcel down himself, he enlists the help of the Reaper (Steve Gonzalez & Robert M Lemkowitz – voice), a cowled and robed assassin, to find Marcel and take him out.

A mysterious vinyl clad female assassin, who narrates much of the piece (Masha Sapron), is working her way through the vampire ‘community’ searching for one specific vampire. She seems, whilst only being one year turned, a particularly powerful vampire.

Amy seems to befriend Annabelle, much to Marcel’s disgust as he is holding her as a snack, and Annabelle is keen to try and convert Amy to the ways of the Lord.

Which is a pretty good summary of the main plot threads, I feel. This is not a simple film. When I’m reviewing these films I take notes. An average film ends up with maybe a couple of pages of notes, Strange Things had four pages. To reveal further where these threads go would be to do the film a disservice.

I have, however missed out one character. The Reaper, it is said, is old. He also lives in suburbia with his wife June (Livia Llewellyn). June is 443 years old and keeps a very clean house; she also goes absolutely psychotic should there be the smallest mess in the house. It has to be seen to be believed. One nice moment comes in the fact that, during a psychotic screaming episode, June reveals that she used to be a Countess with a taste for virgins. Later the Reaper impales a victim and reveals that he hasn’t done that in some time. Nothing more is said but it led me to the conclusion that these two are Erzsébet Báthory and Vlad Dracul.

The filmmakers have drawn a world of psychosis around us, and they’ve done it well. Despite the low budget, clever camerawork and lighting ensures that sfx are, in the main, effective. There is also some nice use of filters within the cinematography.

The cast are very good. Not all the acting is brilliant, but all try hard and several of the performances are spot on. The gangsters might have just walked off a Tarantino set, and there is a soliloquy by Marcel that carries a huge amount of Pathos. This, of course, is helped by a decent script.

The soundtrack fits really well and, in short, you can tell that this film is a labour of love. I’ve watched it a few times now and I have got more out of it with every watch.

Now the warnings. The film is graphically violent and full of gore. It features (as the DVD box proudly proclaims) probably more writhing women than any other movie – and most of them are in agony and screaming. The script is excellent, but it is absolutely jam-packed with profanity. Let’s face it there aren’t many films that, having been given an 18 certificate also put a parental warning on the box. It all works, but if you are easily offended then walk away now. Oh, and when the box states it is around 90 minutes long, it lies, try around the 135 minute range.

Strange Things is a love it or hate it movie, I can see no middle ground. I loved it and am happy to give it 8 out of 10, and am left wondering just what these guys could come up with if someone was brave enough to give them a big budget and free-reign.

The official site has a couple of trailers on it, there are also a huge amount of vid-caps, which is where the two in this review came from.

The imdb page is here.

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