Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Vamp or Not? Stay Alive


In the first instance a film about a haunted video game doesn’t seem too vamp, more like it has taken the premise of haunted technology ala J-movies and substituted video for video games. Yes, this film owes a lot to Ring. However, once I heard that the central character was Elizabeth Bathory (Maria Kalinina, though much of the time she is a computer generated version), I had to look into it. Now most regular readers will know I don’t tend to use the Westernised version of Bathory’s name – but in this it is fitting.

random imageryBasic premise however has the film start, after an image of a bloody eye, in a video game and I’ve got to say that the game looked pretty funky. Indeed, making a game for a film rather than making a film of a game worked positively. The current player dies in game by hanging. The player is Loomis (Milo Ventimiglia) and, after phoning his friend Hutch (Jon Foster), hears something in the house. He investigates and finds his sister and boyfriend at it. He sleeps, has a nightmare about the game and finds the game has invaded reality. He finds the bodies of his friends and then ends up being hung. In this, the way you die in the game reflects on the way you die in reality.

the gangHutch inherits the game, which is a beta test. He and four friends, Abigail (Samaire Armstrong), Swink (Frankie Muniz), October (Sophia Buch) and Phin (Jimmi Simpson), settle down to play it online with Hutch’s boss, Miller (Adam Goldberg). To enter the game you have to physically speak an entry code – kind of a ghost summoning spell, which is not very vamp – and early on they discover that wild roses can be used as a weapon to ward the evil – as the undead cannot cross roses, which is straight out of vampire mythology though roses seem to cause the physical manifestation to disintegrate. Miller dies and is killed in reality and Hutch begins to realise what is going on – a little too late because if they won’t play the game, then the game will play them and starts switching itself on.

Bathory's portraitSo is it Vamp, a close look at the mythology is in order and I say mythology in the loosest sense of the word. They discover that Bathory was a real life person, who ran a finishing school and murdered young girls, who was subsequently walled up for her crimes. So far, so good, but she has been transposed to New Orleans which is a might far from Transylvania. This isn’t the only Americanisation of real world tradition as October researches in a book she calls the Malleus Demonium or the Witches’ Hammer, a book used in the inquisition when hunting witches. I’m sorry; did you mean the Malleus Maleficarum by any chance?

ghost like and computer generatedShe is referred to as a ghost, which isn’t very vampire like and, indeed her (computer generated) spirit cannot be touched as a ghost cannot. That isn’t to say that we haven’t come across vampire ghosts before, see Castle of Blood for a prime example of this sub-genre. However her spirit and her body can be reunited and this does sound like traditional vampire mythology – where it is the spirit that wanders whilst the body stays in the grave. They can be reunited by means of nails hammered through the heart, throat and forehead – unusual but definitely in the vamp realm, although being nails this could also tie in with witches.

Mirrors are a factor in this and they break when she is near (unless made of polycarbonate!). So, whilst it is not a lack of reflection, it is her hatred of her own reflection that causes the issue – she does not wish to see herself age. In many respects this is a nice twist on the vampire/mirror tradition in respect of Bathory and the real life reasons for her atrocities.

gothic carriageShe only acts at night – which ties in with vampires, as well as a whole host of other supernatural creatures – but seems able to turn day into night. This has been described as a mist but I took it as a general darkening as the game invaded reality. She also has a black carriage (which she uses to run down a couple of characters). This in itself is not vamp but ties in nicely with the general Gothic cinema tradition.

tasting bloodIn her torture chamber she has a bath, obviously for bathing in blood, and one victim is drained of blood – but that is what happened to their in game character. We also see her taste the blood of one person. In itself this was not necessarily vamp like as it wasn’t a feed per se, but did neatly tie into the Bathory as a vampire line.

We discover that she must be killed, finally, by burning her blood. As bizarre as it sounds the practical upshot of this means burning her body. So essentially you hammer her down (through three body locations) and set fire to her. That was tied into dealing with spirits in the film but does tie into traditional vampire mythology as well.

physical aspectThe film is a real mismatch of lore. The film style borrows heavily from J-movies, Gothic horror, video games and from various more traditional horror film genres; ghost, witch and vampire influences can all be seen. Real world historical lore is taken and shamelessly changed to fit in with the film; Bathory in New Orleans and the change in name of the Witches’ Hammer. Despite this the film isn’t half bad, it does unusual things and the cast aren’t too bad. Okay it isn’t great cinema but it does what it says on the tin and is obviously superior to a lot of the independent, straight to DVD efforts out there. The invasion of the video game imagery works well especially as it doesn’t matter that it is obvious CGI – it is meant to be.

There is enough within this to suggest that it deserves a place in the vampire genre, despite the fact that they don’t really know what genre they are playing with – but isn’t that mismatch almost perfect as it is based around a video game, which themselves tend to mismatch lore and genres.

The imdb page is here.


John said...

that creepy woman in red is Elizabeth Bathory, The Blood Countess of Translyvania, Hungary.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

it is indeed John, hence being featured on the blog - thiugh I think you'll find the Transylvania is not in Hungary - though it was part of the Hungarian empire as a principality