Monday, June 04, 2007

Frost: portrait of a vampire – review

Director: Kevin VanHook

Release Date: 2001

Contains spoilers

A few years before making Slayer Kevin VanHook made this movie, based on his own comic book. To be honest, having revisited this, Slayer is pretty much a rip-off of his own work and despite this not having the bigger names that Slayer had, this works so much better.

That said there is one big name in all this, Gary Busey plays blind art gallery owner and gun runner Micah. The role is very minor but I must admit I like to see the Buseys (both Gary and his son Jake) in films, so there’s a plus. Micah is out narrator for the film.

It begins with a murder and ex-Mercenary and now cop Dan Richardson (Shane Pliskin) has a body on his hands, punctures in the neck and missing her blood. He’s called in Micah – for reasons unknown – and Micah asks whether he has spoken to Jack Frost (Jeff Manzanares). We then cut back ten years to why Jack would know of these things.

Jack, his friend Nat (Charles Lister), Richardson and several others are mercenaries in Afghanistan. We see them help local guerrillas take out a Russian armoured vehicle and then they are attacked by a gunship, which – cool as a cucumber – Jack bazookas. Post battle the locals have a prisoner whom they want the mercs to kill and burn – he is a blood drinking devil they say and they don’t want to kill him themselves as they fear being cursed.

Jack is for letting them get on with it themselves, it is a local matter, but Nat gets too close and the man bites his arm. There is a cool swarming of the eye with blood as this happens, ala X-Files. Nat shoots him in the head and then they burn him. That night Nat tries to cauterise the wound with a shock stick, feeling that something is in him. He seems ill and apologises to Jack for his eyes. Jack wears shades all the way through the film as Nat had set of a phosphorus grenade trap that nearly took Jack’s eyes and has left him light sensitive. Nat also seems to have sharper senses, he detects another incoming gunship.

A year on and Jack has left the mercenary life to be a painter, we assume that Richardson has also left to be a cop though it is not explicitly mentioned. Nat and the rest of the crew are in Mexico, where they have done a job for a General (Alan Wasserman). To tie up loose ends the General has the mercs killed, Nat manages to jump through a window that leads to a cliff face plummet.

A week later Nancy (Karen Bailey), Nat’s wife, contacts Jack. Nat is missing. He goes to see Micah and there is a pointless scene regarding art theft that really led nowhere. Jack goes to Mexico and avenges the murder of his friends; meanwhile Nat wanders into a town and ends up in jail with four thugs. They try to beat him and he seems to have powers (not fully formed) and so holds his own for a while, eventually they do beat him silly and he turns fully – presumably he died finally. He kills the four, escapes jail and heads home.

At first he seems to be fighting his condition. He has visited Micah for a book on vampirism (Micah tells Jack later that Nat was dead when he came to see him). He tries to spare Nancy and has her go to Jack, as he wants his friend to kill him. By the time Jack is involved he has decided he likes being a vampire. He gives Jack a choice, leave me be or die but then starts playing a game of cat and mouse leading to the inevitable showdown.

Vampire wise we have an unusual set of lore. They are fine in daylight and holy items do not effect them. Nat is able to hold a rosary, he lives in an earthquake sunk church and goes to confession in order to kill the priest. The bite does not turn, but dying having been bitten does. There is some indication that he can turn into a bat – though that was not clear. The only way to kill a vampire is piercing the heart with wood. This leads to Jack getting wooden tipped bullets made.

The vampire is often used to symbolise different things. In this case it seems to be a metaphor for post traumatic stress. I wasn’t convinced by Lister as Nat the merc but he really did pull out the stops as barking mad Nat the vampire.

As for Jack Frost, both the character and the actor’s portrayal. Well he is stoic, and one cannot tell whether it was a wooden performance or just the way the character was meant to be – to be truthful he felt more like the ideal candidate for a video game rather than a film.
I did have trouble as Manzanares reminded me physically of Kevin Smith – perhaps it was the beard – and I did think several times “Ooo... Silent Bob the vampire slayer”. One thing that did irk was how Frost was the master of all. He is a cool, collected merc, chess player par excellence, writer, painter and forger of old masters… Too much. His lack of emotion is most striking when his girlfriend is killed and he really doesn’t seem to give a damn, he is so cold about it.

When I have written these I like to then go and read what the imdb reviews say to compare my thoughts to others. It seems this film is generally hated, though I didn’t think it too bad in the scheme of things, but one comment struck me and I just want to go off topic for a second because of this. Someone made a comment about Frost and his glasses – 'why’d he always wear them?' the 'reviewer' asked. I do wish people would actually pay attention when watching a movie, the film clearly tells us why he wears them. Rant over.

Effects are average in the main. The helicopters used are clearly cgi (and a model later) but hey, given the budget available it wasn’t too bad. I did like the soundtrack though, it really fit nicely. There is a bit of a pointless twist at the end.

All told, a better effort than the later Slayer. 3.5 out of 10 for take your brains out fun that probably worked that much better as a comic book.

The imdb page is here.

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