Sunday, June 11, 2006

Vampire Sisters - review

Director: Joe Ripple

Release Date: 2004

Contains spoilers

This is from the same team that brought us Stakes (2002). The earlier effort was low to no budget – it does seem that there was a little more involved with this film and all told it should have been a more rounded effort. Don’t get me wrong, an Oscar winner it could never, ever be, however the main feeling I was left with was that Ripple has a genuine love of the genre – as seen in some of the little touches that tipped the hat, so to speak, to other in-genre references.

The biggest problem it had, however, was very little plot. Whereas Stakes had plenty of plot (albeit over the top and fairly preposterous at times) and not enough budget to realise said plot, this film had such a simple plot that it would be impossible to discuss the film without giving it all away, in seconds. The script, also, had some potentially interesting character development points but never bothered to expanded on them.

The premise of the film is that three vampire sisters - Stacy (Jeannie Michelle Jameson), Dawn (Darla Albornoz) and Tasha (Syn DeVille) – live together. They have a creature locked in the shed whom we later discover is their misshapen brother Iggy (Steven ‘Proz’ Prosser). They have a sex site called (don’t look for it, it doesn’t exist). If men pay enough money online they offer a live ‘bonus’, which inevitably ends up with them feasting on the guy (or girl) and feeding the carcass to the ever hungry Iggy. The reason they use the sex site and prostitution type service is because vampires believe that blood tastes sweeter during sexual arousal. It is then explained that during sexual excitement endorphins are released into the blood. The first part of the explanation was good enough, to be fair, the second part unnecessary and an open invitation to plot-hole city. Endorphins can trigger the release of sex hormones but the best trigger for endorphins themselves are either stress or pain – the hunt and the kill would be a better way to ‘enrich’ the blood.

The film begins with a young man, Josh Summers (Daniel Ross), being stalked through the mist by two of the sisters. He gets into the house and is captured by lasso by the third, which sounds silly but isn’t; it is all part of his fantasy that they are fulfilling. He ends up handcuffed to the bed and the sisters, now in lingerie, come towards him, vamp out and then feast.

The film then follows a long pattern of scenes split between very brief scenes of two vice squad cops, Sonny Renko (Mark Lassise) and Jennifer Hunt (Leanna Chamish), as they ‘investigate’ (put in inverted commas as they don’t do too much) the website believing it to be a front for prostitution until they discover it is a common factor in several missing persons cases. When I say brief, they probably get five minutes of screen time in the first hour, if that. The core scenes during this section are of the sisters luring their victims. These feeding scenes go on for too long, we needn’t see as much as we do and yet, whilst designed to be titillating, are not explicitly sexual enough to be truly sexploitative. The murder of their victims is done in a variety of ways and rarely through fang. The producers obviously had (low) budget to throw at this but the scenes of eyes drilled out, a meat cleaver into the head and a meat hook into the groin (and can we all say ouch), are not necessary and obviously a sop to the splatter gore fans. Unfortunately, like many a production company, they really cannot do good looking blood.

The film, however, does contain a few neat references. Two of the sisters return from the cinema, having watched a vampire movie, and they talk about the head vampire being killed with an ice holy water stake – a direct reference to the team’s earlier film Stakes. Okay, it might be self-referencing but it was kind of neat. Also there is a part where one of the sisters is clearly reading the book Vampires - encounters with the undead. Undoubtedly the best reference, though it is not explicit (as a reference) and I only guess it was intentional, is when Dawn takes a female victim (Isabelle Stephen) to a room. There is some softcore lesbian action that culminates in a shot of her victim obviously being pleasured and then Dawn some distance away with a giant extended tongue. This to me was so very reminiscent of Aswang (1994) that it couldn’t be anything but a homage, especially as the tongue kills the girl.

Unfortunately some bits of plot are so underused they become disposable. There is one (intentional) comedy scene of a group of Christian evangelists visiting the house and holding a bible out to Dawn, complete with her reaction. All well and good as a throw away piece of mildly amusing comedy but the theme of vampiric hatred of religious icons is not reused in the film. There is Josh’s brother, Brent (James J. Waltz), investigating his death – but he is disposed of so quickly that he was unnecessary and the scrapbook containing photos of dead victims, that he finds just prior to his death, is never again mentioned. There is Dawn gorging on a victim, Lisa Carmen (Nathalie Taborda), whom she kidnaps and yet, where I would have thought it an ideal tool to build a split between the main characters, it is again a throw away scene.

Eventually the cops are invited to the house, the sisters believing they are a kinky couple, and there are some lack lustre, poorly choreographed, fight scenes although the killing of Jennifer is good. Jennifer is killed by Dawn, who seems to spit away the woman’s larynx like it was the cork of a bottle. However, when Dawn and Stacy gorge on her – Tasha being injured and elsewhere – and they mentioned the fact that she was a virgin I couldn’t help thinking that her virginity was a plot piece that could have been used and developed. Eventually, as the injured Dawn unleashes Iggy, Sonny stakes the other two sisters. Dawn dies in the sun, with probably the worst digitally imposed sfx in the film, and the dying Stacy says something regarding her brother. Sonny looks up and we see Iggy for the first time and it is here the film ends.

The soundtrack, for the most part, works well enough but the acting, unfortunately, is below par. The effects are functional enough at times but there is also a reliance on digital effects that doesn’t work - the immolation of Dawn or the flashing white eyes of all the vampires being examples of this. That said the obviously digital tongue of Dawn is a vastly improved effect compared to the film it homage’s.

As I watched the film I actually began to think that the initial premise could have been used in a much better way. What if there was no Iggy in the shed but a badly injured Dracula and the three sisters were the brides, free in modern society? It’s not a bad premise, if I do say so myself, but it isn’t the premise of this film. If any filmmaker picks up on that idea I want a credit by the way!

I’m giving the film 2.5 out of 10, slightly less than I gave to Stakes. To a degree it feels, at first, like it is an improvement on the previous film due to the improvement in effects (but don’t get too excited, I said they were improved and not good). Although the story is thin it is probably better suited to the budget levels, unlike Stakes whose story was way too ambitious for the budget. However, the film doesn’t deserve any higher, unfortunately, as the distinct lack of plot movement, whilst better suited to the budget, is, to say the least, problematic. Essentially whilst the low plot levels do not call for high budgets, even a low budget film needs a plot to propel it forward.

The official site is here and a trailer can be found here.

The imdb page is here.

No comments: