Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Vampire Journals – review

Director: Ted Nicolaou

Release Date: 1997

Contains spoilers

Following Subspecies 3: Bloodlust, Ted Nicolaou revisited the universe he had created in this side project. The film did not feature any of the recognised characters and instead concentrated on vampire master Ash (Jonathon Morris), who was sired by Radu, and disgruntled vampire turned slayer of vampires Zachery (David Gunn).

The film itself boasted a larger cast than the subspecies series and, one assumes, a larger budget given the look and feel of the film.

The film begins with some lovely imagery of a cemetery covered in snow and then, once the credits have run, we see a woman, Rebecca (Rodica Lupu), swirling and dancing. She is watched by a vampire whose look is not dissimilar to that of Radu – though it is not he. He grabs the woman and bites her. Zachery appears and beheads him with a sword – the nature of which is magical and designed for vampire slaying we later learn. It is a dream, a remembrance of how Zachery lost his love. Now he is a hunter of vampires and he has come to Bucharest searching for Ash, the music lover.

Sofia (Kristen Cerre) is an American pianist playing in Bucharest. We have seen Ash listen to her rehearsal whilst hidden in a heating duct. Zachery goes to her performance as he is tracking Ash. We hear that there are many bloodlines of vampires, some hideous, hiding from humanity, some beautiful and graceful. Zachery feels Ash’s presence and they look at each other but, through eye mojo, Ash makes Zachery look away.

After the performance Ash gives Sofia a rose, and she pricks her finger leading Ash to kiss the blood away. He also gives her the card for his club, Club Muse. Ash follows Sofia home and Zachery follows Ash. We hear that a master vampire cannot be snuck up on unless they are distracted, in the moment of the hunt. Ash makes his presence known to Sofia and Zachery chooses that moment to attack but fails, Ash shadowing away to appear before Sofia. Zachery intervenes and walks the woman home. It is clear that both vampires have fallen for the woman.

Of course Ash manages to get Sofia into his clutches and Zachery ends up in Ash’s lair and looses his mystic sword as the master vampire has more will than he. It is through a series of events that Zachery is able to escape but will he defeat Ash?

One thing the film does is draw a series of stories around us. Club Muse is a private club with brothel and casino. Ash leaves the running of it to Iris (Starr Andreeff, who was in the marvellous Dance of the Damned). Zachery comments that she is not a vampire but she is evil. Iris deems the club her own, is becoming irritated with Ash’s obsession with Sofia and is immune to eye mojo.

In the lair are several vampires. One is Anton (Dan Condurache) who was only recently turned, offering Ash half of his wealth for immortality. It seems Anton is not fulfilling his part of the deal, to Ash’s disgust. There is a thread of story dedicated to this.

There is also Cassandra (Illinca Goia) a beautiful vampire and Ash’s favourite for two and a half centuries, who is being pushed out by the presence of Sofia. Through Cassandra we discover the nature of master vampire and fledgling, she is rarely allowed to leave the lair and then only accompanied. The fledgling is very much the plaything of the Master.

We get some nice lore additions. The Shadowing effects are done much more competently than in the subspecies series and we discover that a vampire cannot shadow out of a sealed area – where sunlight cannot enter a shadow cannot escape.

Another nice touch was in the way a vampire sleeps. Through the subspecies series we have seen vampires jolt awake at the setting of the sun. It is almost like they are dead and come alive suddenly and this confirms this. The vampires actually turn into decayed corpses and reform when the sun sets. This was not an effect ever transported back into the subspecies series which was a shame.

Acting wise Gunn is good as the vampire who was turned by Serena (Floriela Grappini), of Ash’s line, and subsequently killed her and then vowed to destroy the entire bloodline. There was a degree of whining with him, that was perhaps too Ricean (and we'll look at that similarity in a second) but overall the character worked. Indeed most of the performances are good, though Sofia as a character, whilst great in her desperation was truthfully a little thick.

Special mention, however, to Jonathon Morris. Admittedly the first time I watched this I was a little put off seeing Adrian from the TV sitcom Bread – something probably only Brits of a certain age will remember. However his performance is flawless and he steals the show, creating a character that is dark and, in many respects, understated.

The real joy of the film is the feel. In it’s review, I mentioned that from Subspecies 2: Bloodstone there was a feeling in that series of the Hammer films. That feeling is not shared. Instead we have a decadence and melodrama that is as plush as velvet. Think, if you will, a poor man’s Interview with the Vampire. That is no slur on this film, it achieved a remarkable similar gothic feel, though admittedly not quite as completely, with a fraction of the budget.

Indeed the decadence that Underworld attempted to portray and failed, making the vampire’s lair in that film feel like a set of extras from Ultravox’s Vienna video, is actually realised here.

Negatively, it could be said that it owes too huge a debt to Interview with the Vampire. However, I think that is a little unfair. One can tell that this is a direction that Nicolaou touched with subspecies but the nature of the series and the natural direction it went in precluded realising it. This spin off allowed him to explore that gothic level and, by doing so, he walked a similar path to the bigger budget film. I’m not saying that he wasn’t ‘inspired’ in many ways by the Anne Rice vehicle but that it does not owe all to it.

The film is perhaps a little slower in pace than the subspecies series, but this is down to fulfilling that atmosphere I mentioned and there is no shirking away from more gory moments when needed. A film that actually tops those of the series that spawned it, although dedicated fans of the subspecies series might be put off by the change in pace and feel, I’m giving this a well deserved 7.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Anonymous said...

Hello Taliesin

This is my favourite vampire movie of all time (perhaps to be overtaken by BLED, but that's a huge call) - I watched this as I was a huge fan of the Subspecies series I accidently discovering it on VHS tape back 1991 when I visited by Grandfather in Sydney, Australia and bored out of my brain asked for his video card, checked the horror section, was taken by the video cover of Radu and I was blown away. 6 years later This little marvel came out and I've seen it 50+ times since - I usually watch it once every few months or more. I managed to see #2 then Subspecies 4(and eventually #3) - filled with glee that Ash was in it too, and with VJ was annoyed there wasn't anymore since its called Vampire JournalS. My favourite character was Cassandra tho - so beautifully tragic.
Back in 2004 I saved and went to Bucharest and actually hunted down the location of the sets from SS and VJ, the antheneum Michelle hides in, Ash's Lair (accidently found it in a side street!) and Bellu Cemetery where Zachary slept before I went on an 8-day Dracula tour through Romania and Transylvania - the time of my life. To be honest I rate other vampire films compared to this one - and I have yet to see a film that matches this and/or the Subspecies series. We'll have to wait for April 7th for that perhaps ;)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Gabriel - very jealous of the trip, it has to be said. I like this and the subspecies series, though I do rate other films higher it can't take away from what they did with this.

Anonymous said...

I really suggest you go - Romania is only a two-hour flight or so from the UK (there were people from the UK there) - from Australia it was a 24hr flight with stopovers in Singapore and Frankfurt - it was horrible. The trip wasn't too expensive - the return flight was AU$1600 for me (and I stayed in Prague a week after Romania) and the 8 day trip was Euro$692 + Euro$99 single person fee. That paid for airport pick up and drop-off, the coach ride, all hotels, some meals and of course the tour. I did it through the Company of Mysterious Journeys. We went to Bucharest, Sinaia, Tirgoviste, Sighosoara (where Vlad was born), Bran Castle, the Borgo Pass (stayed in Dracula's castle on Halloween for a masked ball), Peles Castle, stayed in the Golden Crown hotel that harker stays in the night before he leaves for Castle Dracula and others. It was like stepping back in time 1000yrs. Bucharest is modern but Transylvania they still use horse and cart - still very superstitious, on Nov 1st we attended a Day of the Dead ceremony at one of the cemeteries.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

One day, I am sure. Probably fe years down the line, however.

Incidentally, as a vampire journals fan beware Decadent Evil and I Vampire.

Anonymous said...

I've been aware of DE for a while - I remember seeing a trailer for it with scenes from VJ cut into it - and they tried to link the two films by making a vampire from DE a spawn of Ash's?

Well I knew that Charles Band did this and not Ted Nicolaou and after i saw some reviews I avoided it - whereas SS and VJ were 'based on' and idea by Band - Ted did all the script writing and without Anders Hove or Jonathan Morris and the romanian Locales this looks like it falls flat? its set in the US isnt it?

Just looked at your page for I, Vampire. Oh my goodness, I've seen all 3 of those films in their full length and that looks like a train wreck, why bother cutting them down to 1/2 jaunts?

I'm still a bit bitter then never did Radu's backstory or a sequel to VJ but that was 12yrs ago now (how time flies!) and the actors aren't immortal like the characters, I guess us vampire fans can't get enough - speaking of that they are making an Underworld 4 now....

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I've heard rumblings about an Underworld 4 and also rumblings about an Underworld TV show... time, I am sure, will tell

Anonymous said...

I've heard rumblings of an Underworld tv show as well though I'm not sure how they will pull it off.

The newest vampire series to get greenlit as a tv pilot is the Vampire Dairies by L.J Smith done by the CW (who do smallville, supernatural and gossip girl) due to the success of Twilight *barf* and True Blood among other things - the Smith books are published by HarperTeen so that tells you what it will be about !!

Gabriel said...

Hey Andy,

I just watched Vampire Journals(for the umpteenth time, It never gets dulls it's my fave vampire film of all time as you know) again and there are some things I want to discuss about it. Hope I don't ramble as I'm onto my 3rd glass of absinthe! (and I'm about to watch the Subspecies marathon on dvd, seriously I want to shake Ted Nicolaou's hand).

For starters in your review you mentions about how Ash turns into a corpse when he sleeps in with regards to Radu we don't ever see him asleep we just see him snap awake so perhaps he is a corpse as well.

My theory with this is that the vampire appears a certain way when it sleeps depending on how old it is in vampire years. For example when we see Michelle asleep in the bathtub in Subspecies 2 she is just a fresh corpse (with purplish make-up) yet vampires that are 700-1000 yrs old like Ash (and Radu) would appear like mouldy corpses. So that is why Michelle appears just like she has past on and Ash looks like an archeological find.

(oh! I just found that Ted Nicolaou, the director of SS and Vj has a FB page, requesting his friendship with a note now!)

The 2nd thing (and I'm asking Ted about it now!) is that when Iris strikes a bargain with Zachary she asked for 3 things: the first is not to betray her confidence, the 2nd is to take Sofia and leave the country and never to return, the third?

I think it was the Mysteries, to be turned which was what she most desired. What do you think?

Watching Subspecies 1-4 now while I wait for TB 2.03.

Vampires rule.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Gabriel, re the corpse effect. I didn't mean that the vamps in Subspecies didn't become corpses - just that we never saw it.

I agree, Michelle would have looked fairly fresh when dead during the day - being newly turned.

However, this is where vampire journals does nice things above subspecies that might have been transplanted back into the series but wasn't.

I agree - the likelihood was she wanted to be turned. A dangerous proposition as she was more evil as a human than many of the vampires.

Let me know Ted's reaction

Gabriel said...

The actress that played Iris is fantastic. Her acting always blows me away, she is so natural, it surprises me that she never found fame. I haven't gotten a chance to see that other film DANCE OF THE DAMNED though I am very keen, the actress is so sensual.

I am actually quite nervous about Ted's reaction to my friendship, regardless I hope he answers my 12yr long questions about the movie and Iris. If he does I'll surely pass them onto you. Now to immerse myself into the vampire brilliance that is Radu. You will pay for this.....in suffering!!!

Oh how I miss Romania, I long to return there...

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Gabriel Starr Andreeff was indeed in Dance of the Damned an excellent little film that is in the T_ttlg top 10o. However, she was also the main role in Club Vampire which, despite being directed by Andy Ruben (who co-write Dance of the Damned) didn't work so well...

Gabriel said...

I guess I'll have to order it from Amazon etc! Is it similar to PALE BLOOD another favourite vampire film of mine?

Incidently I am reading a vampire/werewolf novel called CHASING MIDNIGHT by Susan Krinard. It is fantastic, set in the prohibition era. she is actually a romance writer but it surprised me how well some of these vampire romance writers can write! Once I finish it I am doing a review of it on my blog.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Gabriel, when you say it, I assume you mean Dance of the Damned - no it isn't like Pale Blood.

Have you seen To Sleep with a Vampire? That is a remake of Dance of the Damned (not nearly as good though).

It can be difficult to find, I got from e-bay.

Gabriel said...

Yes I did mean Pale Blood, and Dance of the Damned. No, I haven't seen To Sleep with a Vampire. Reading the review now though.