Directed by: Various
First aired: 1996
Few who are into the vampire genre will have failed to at least have heard of Vampire: The Masquerade, a role playing game from which collectable card games, board games, computer games and novels have all been developed. It is probably less well known that it also spawned a TV series.
The series was set in San Francisco lasted just one season. It was actually in the process of being picked up for a second series when lead actor Mark Frankel tragically died in a motorcycle accident. It seems that the company decided to not continue without him in role.
The production was a Spelling Production, so it did have a touch of the soap opera to it (more so in the pilot). It began, however, with a rooftop chase. Two vampires from the Brujah Clan (I’ll talk clans later), led by Eddie Fiori (Brian Thompson), chased a Gangrel, Stevie Ray. Also present were cops Frank Kohanek (C Thomas Howell) and his partner Sonny Toussaint (Erik King) responding to an anonymous tip. They see the Brujah stake Stevie Ray and then back to the edge of the building, jumping off and vanishing. The sun rises and Stevie Ray burns.
What we get then is a story of politics, crime and passion – all wrapped around with a large dose of melodrama. Frank is in a relationship with Alexandra Serris (Kate Vernon), a vampire and ex-girlfriend of kindred (as the vampires call themselves) Prince of the City Julian Luna (Mark Frankel). Frank is unaware of this due to the masquerade – the law of the vampires that prevents them revealing themselves. However Frank wants Luna – believing him to be a mobster and, when the truth is revealed, Alexandra becomes subject to a Blood Hunt (hunted and executed).
Let us look at the clans and all in all we meet six, though there are only five in the city. It should also be noted that they vary from those in the game. The one clan from out of town, as it were, are the Assamites, a clan of vampire assassins. They only feature in one episode. In this the vampire powers tend to be consistent between the clans (unlike the game) with the Assamites as an exception as they are expert shapeshifters, able to take anyone’s form.
The Ventrue are bankers and politicians. They are professionals. Julian is a Ventrue, though he is not the primogen of the clan, that is Archon Raine (Patrick Bauchau), Julian’s sire and former Prince of the city. Also a Ventrue is Sonny, though Frank is unaware of the undead state of his partner – he discovers this at one point and has his memory wiped and then uncovers evidence of the truth, again, in the final episode.
The Toreador were always my favourite clan in the actual game, they are the artists and musicians, holding beauty up above all other things. Beauty, of course, can be manipulative and the primogen in the series is Lillie Langtry (Stacy Haiduk), one of the most political creatures in the series – though her actions tend to be based around keeping her claws in Julian, as a lover, rather than for [capital p] Politics, as it were.
We have mentioned the Gangrel already and they are, in the series, biker and rocker types. More like a street gang than the loner animalistic creatures of the game. They are portrayed as fiercely loyal and their primogen Cash (Channon Roe), who became so after Stevie Ray’s fiery death, is Luna’s bodyguard. Their on-running enemies are the Brujah.
The Brujah are drawn as mobsters, which is somewhat different to the game where perhaps they would be more how the Gangrel are portrayed in the series. Eddie Fiori is the primogen as the series starts but he does not last the full 8 episode run – no big spoiler as Brian Thompson comes up as special guest star in the opening credits of each episode he is in.
Last, but not least, we have the Nosferatu. These are the ugly face of vampirism and their primogen is Dædalus (Jeff Kober). Actually Dædalus is not given the visage of the monster that one would expect – his ears are a bit big and he’s bald. Other nosferatu are shown to be more horrific – but not too much. That, I guess, is the soap opera mentality emerging.
Talking of which the first episode is so steeped in melodrama that it is almost as wet as Frank Kohanek’s floppy hair. However, stick with it as things improve from the second episode, not shedding the melodrama but toning it down to a bearable level. Frank’s hair looses the flop as though to match this slightly harder edge.
Other characters I need to mention are Caitlin (Kelly Rutherford) a young, go-getting reporter who investigates Julian and ends up as a romantic pursuit for him – thus a source of trouble as she is a reporter and could break the masquerade and, of course, Lillie is jealous of her. He also buys her newspaper and makes her City Editor and yet she still goes on jobs. Hmmm blond, go-getting reporter involved with a vampire, I wonder where that concept would appear again.
There is also Sasha. She appears in the pilot episode at the wake of her Grandfather – Julian’s Grandson. She is very much the wild child and Julian takes her in when she gets in trouble with the police. Sasha becomes a source of angst when she starts dating Cash and then is embraced (as turning is called) by the Brujah. She calls Julian Uncle, understandable due to the masquerade but confusing once she is embraced as one would have thought she was his Great, Great Granddaughter.
There does seem to have been a drop of some of the concepts from the pilot to the series, however, beyond the drop in melodrama. In the first episode it appears as though we shall see this through Frank’s human eyes but he becomes one of an ensemble of characters. In the final episode Julian leaves the city – something he claims not to have done for seven years – and we see his, Archon and his dead wife Evelyn’s graves. Yet in the pilot he left the City to go to his Grandson’s wake and slept the day through in Evelyn’s grave.
Vampiric powers are slightly different from both normal lore and game lore. Vampires can die if they take enough damage, or bleed to death having been cut to pieces. They can die through decapitation and through fire. Indeed they have phosphorus shells in their guns because of this. Sunlight may not kill, however, if they have fed the night before.
As well as fangs they have a sharp index nail and, when fighting, might produce whole hands worth of claws. They are stronger and faster than a mortal and have the power of mesmerism, with the ability to block memory. They have the ability of psychometry. The Nosferatu can hide in plain sight. They can also turn into birds of prey and wolves – we see a lot of wolves, not so much the birds of prey.
This is one of those shows that makes you realise that things can go awry, even with an excellent cast. The show is crammed full of great actors and yet the pilot is so thick with the melodrama I mentioned, the soap opera as it were, that it becomes difficult to watch. The series did redeem itself but was a little hit and miss in places. That said, as a whole, it was certainly an above average production and it is a shame it didn’t continue and iron out all the kinks. 6 out of 10.
The imdb page is here.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Directed by: Various