Sunday, July 16, 2006

Vampires Vs Zombies - review

Director: Vince D’amato

Release Date: 2004

Contains spoilers

Vampires Vs Zombies is kind of my dirty little secret, well not so secret now that I’ve posted this blog but… let me explain.

I first saw this on Zone Horror (when it was still called the Horror Channel) and I knew I was going to hate it. The reasons were many and varied. Firstly it is a ‘Vs’ film and that might work in comics but not on film, in my experience. Next was the fact that it claimed it was based on Le Fanu’s Carmilla, I mean... how dare they, a classic piece of literature and it was going to be tainted by this movie. In fact the film was originally to be called Carmilla but the name was changed.

As the film began my fears seemed as though they were to be confirmed. Most of the acting is poor, to say the least. The effects are, in the main, atrocious. There is a scene at the beginning when a lone zombie (which incidentally were not in the original story!) is run down by a car. It is obviously a mannequin. The plague of zombies counts in at a handful and yet… and yet I found myself enjoying the film. More than that, I found myself thinking about the film for days afterwards. I mean, I’ve even bought the DVD. So what gives?

Well, for a start off this film is based on Carmilla. All the essential plot points are there. There is a man, Travis (C S Munro), and his daughter, Jenna (Bonny Giroux). They come across a woman, according to the filmmakers’ website Juliette the witch (Brinke Stevens) but referred to on imdb as Julie, who is with her daughter Carmilla (Maratama Carlson). In the book there is a carriage crash and Carmilla is left with the family, in this there is a second daughter infected, claims Juliette, with the strange sickness (in other words she has the zombie plague) and she asks the family to take Carmilla with them whilst she goes to get help. There is the General (Peter Ruginis), in this his daughter (Erica Carroll, I believe) is missing but we later discovered that she has fallen victim to Carmilla. Carmilla seduces Jenna, as Laura is seduced in the book. They are heading to Carmilla’s crypt in order to try and end the evil, just as Laura, her father and the General did in the original story.

Yet the story is so much more than that in this. We hear, by radio broadcast, that an epidemic is sweeping the country that infects humans with rabid like symptoms. Later a gas station attendant is bitten by Carmilla and he becomes a zombie. There is an unexplained dualism here that some of those bitten by the vampire become vampires and others become zombies, but the idea that the plague is caused by a vampire’s bite and has rabid symptoms is a direct lift from Rabid (1977).

There are various things that happen to the travellers as they head towards their goal (Carmilla’s crypt). Much has a dreamlike quality, for example Juliette seems to have the ability to vanish and take forms where she is not recognised by the protagonists and Jenna meets a girl, Bob (Ligaya Allmer), who gives her (and Carmilla) a vampire ward. It is worth mentioning that, when Carmilla seduces Jenna she also bites Jenna. However, though they are shorter segments, I’m more interested in other aspects of the film. For all that appears to be going on is not the true story, and we have further levels of reality.

We see “dream” sequences where Jenna believes that Carmilla is coming to her, in her bed, before they meet on the road. We then see Jenna in bed with bite marks, it appears, but the doctor (Roy Tupper) states that such open wounds are consistent with the virus that is sweeping the country like an epidemic. He gives Jenna a shot that causes her to scream.

Out of the room he tells her father that he has seen others infected worse who have survived and then again others less infected who have become raving psychopaths (the zombies?). He warns that the drug he has given could cause hallucinations.

Later we see Jenna looking out of her window and Juliette standing beneath it, she repeats the word bath. Jenna goes into the bathroom and the bath is filled with green slime. She goes to her father but the slime has become blood on her hands and they find the doctor eviscerated in the bath. Later we discover that it was the General’s daughter who murdered him as she was already turned into a vampire.

This is where we have to bring another level of reality into play for we see Jenna in a cell in a hospital and the doctor is still alive. Carmilla is the nurse treating her. The doctor cannot believe that she came willingly but her father believes she thought she was going somewhere else. I believe the hospital was the same location as a convent where Carmilla, Jenna, Travis and the General met up in the vampire and zombie world (for want of a better term) and where Carmilla’s coffin is kept. It is almost as though Jenna hallucinated the doctor’s murder, as well as the entire road trip with Carmilla, and this was the journey she believed she was taking.

The doctor, in the hospital, mentions that he has never seen a virus effect the brain like this one.

In the vampire and zombie world we see Carmilla and Jenna, at the end of the film, kill the General and Travis and drive off together. We then cut to the hospital where Travis is told by the doctor that his daughter has run away with a nurse (Carmilla). We then see Carmilla and Jenna go into a hotel room. However they are attacked and ripped apart by zombies. Yet… whilst this happens we also hear the Tannoy of the hospital. Have they actually been attacked, is it another hallucination, we don’t know?

This is the joy of the movie, this multi-level reality dealing with hallucination and infection is an incredibly clever idea that almost works. I say almost because it can seem muddled at times. It belies the poor acting, the almost bored (and very brief) sex scenes and the terrible effects. Acting wise, however, I must mention Carlson. The woman had a certain something and, if she can tap into it, will certainly make a mark as a scream queen.

One of the biggest problems with the main thread of the movie is that there are aspects that just seem there for no reason, for example zombie bodies in a gas station that the camera lingers on but nothing is mentioned or happens in relation to. Given that is meant to be a hallucination this shouldn’t be a problem, but somehow it is. At one point we see a soldier in the road, not moving. Carmilla investigates and he has been staked. When she removes his gas mask we see he is a zombie and when Carmilla flicks the stake, which pushes it clean through him, he dissolves leaving only his uniform behind. Not a normal zombie reaction (as the script admits) and this scene felt odd and added because they wanted a certain sequence in the film. The same went for Jenna punching straight through a zombie skull. Okay, she has been bitten so she might be getting stronger and it is a hallucination but it felt like they just wanted the effect in the film. Also, I have to mention that there really is very little vampire vs zombie action, the name is a selling point rather than a description.

So, the film becomes a quandary for me because generally, as a film, it is bad and yet the intelligent concept has me hooked. That said I’m going to hold this to a 3 out of 10 and then suggest that, if you can see past the glaring flaws, you watch this movie – like me you might be pleasantly surprised.

There is a trailer available here.

The imdb page is here.

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