Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Vampire High – season 1 – review (TV series)

one of the DVDsDirector: various

First aired: 2001

Contains spoilers

Vampire High was a Canadian TV production and was set in a school for troubled rich kids – the Mansbridge Academy – however, the school hosted a second night school for vampires. Why? As the opening voiceover stated “When The Great Eclipse plunged the world into darkness, the vampire race erupted in a civil war. The bloodthirsty 'Fury' battled the enlightened Elders for domination of the undead. In desperation, the Elders gathered up those young vampires that could be saved and entrusted them to me. To humanize them, to tame their instincts and teach them how to live among mortals.”

Hmm… there was a fundamental problem with the background but, essentially, it wasn’t too different in basic premise to Vampire Knight except that the day school kids weren’t meant to know about the night school kids.

I have to mention, however, that I have read somewhere the idea that this pre-dated Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Not by a long shot and this was more than a little influenced by the US show and failed to realise just what made Buffy special.

Jeff Roop as DrewThere were five main vampire characters and one of the fundamental flaws in the concept was with the thought that these were teen vampires. Some had been undead for over a hundred years. Be that as it may our main vampire was Drew (Jeff Roop), an Angel clone – honestly in look, in brooding and in the fact that he fell in love with a mortal. Drew had been a painter and, interestingly, he developed a form of psychic vampirism that caused him to draw the life out of a subject and infuse it into a painting once he was undead. He had the power to travel with his mind’s eye and thus spy on events elsewhere.

Ilona Elkin as MerrillMerrill (Ilona Elkin) was the other well drawn vampire character. She had been estranged from her maker Patsy LaRue (Catherine Colvey) for over fifty years, sick of the trailer trash-a-like vampire elder using her as a lure for victims by making her wear school uniforms. Merrill is the studious one and loves Drew, believing him to be ‘the one’ – hence she’s not too impressed when he falls for a mortal. Her special power is mind reading and she can also dreamslide, something she helps Drew do. Interestingly, he is able to take things out of the dream and, also, things can follow him into the mortal’s dream.

Paul Hopkins as KarlKarl Todman (Paul Hopkins) is the actual youngster of the group. Turned only a year before at the age of eighteen (his family believe he died of a particularly aggressive leukaemia), he was an all-round Jock and seems to have very little in the way of special powers – he is just strong. He has only killed one human – his girlfriend when, after he died, she took his best friend to the prom. He falls for the other female vampire in the group.

Karen Cliche as EssieEssie Rachimova (Karen Cliche) is of royal vampire blood and from the Russian Tsarist line. She is the apparently vacuous, fashion obsessed character and, despite having a short lived relationship with Karl has a fear of intimacy. She has the power to rewrite memory and implant mental suggestions, useful on the occasions when the vampiric presence becomes known amongst the locals or day students.

Joris Jarsky as MartyThe last of the students was Marty (Joris Jarsky). Introduced as a bit of a hell raiser, the show totally managed to fail to flesh his character out. We do discover that he was around during the Great War and slaughtered 19 humans on the first night out of his grave. His power is telekinesis and it would appear that he was meant to be a Spike equivalent.

a Fury agentOther vampires we hear about are the elders – and we meet Vakaal (Daniel Pilon). They arranged the experiment at Mansbridge to try and defeat the Fury – evil vampires, and I had a real problem with this. Firstly the Fury weren’t that much of a presence – they sent one demonic looking scout to Mansbridge and then, when he failed to return, never followed it up. Plus, we have to ask when this great eclipse (from the voice over) occurred, just how great it was that the vampire factions would erupt into a civil war and exactly what do humans know of vampires? The show didn’t fill in these blanks satisfactorily.

David McIlwraith as MurdochOne human – if he was human – who knows all about vampires is the director of the school Dr Reginald Murdoch (David McIlwraith). I question whether he was human as he is immune from the vampiric powers; Essie can’t brainwash him and Merrill can’t read his mind. He is able to catch hold of Karl and successfully headlock him and seems to have no recorded past. He knows about vampires and so do the Biomorphic Predatory Disease Agency – a federal body who have vampire killing laser guns! Their main agent, Marian Hackett (Wendii Fulford) has written and published books on the subject.

Meghan Ory as SherryBut for the human students, and the local populace, the concept that there might be vampires seems fantastical at the very least. The main student we meet is Sherry (Meghan Ory), with whom Drew falls in love. Eventually the writers must have realised that the sappy love story was annoying (and the Sherry character was pointless) as they killed her off (yet still credited the actress in each subsequent episode) and concentrated less and less on the human characters.

extreme witheringThat said, we get little in the way of actual vampiric activity in the show, though there is some unusual lore. Vampires sleep in coffins and move faster than the human eye can see. They can be beheaded, staked or fried in sunlight. They must feed every 36 hours or they go into withdrawal, enter a coma and die. They go through a withering every so often when they shed their outer cells. This can go wrong and they can age and die – drinking from youth is the answer to that.

a vampire's true face?Other interesting lore that might be there is the idea that a vampire has a true face – or so it seems when Patsy LaRue becomes angry and looks leprous and scabby. There are rituals to bind two in love vampires together but it seems that can be annulled with ease (so pointless to have a mystic ritual) but we do see, in the episode with that ritual, the hesitant female vampire become poisonous as her body chemistry matches her emotional state. One area where they failed was with regard a storyline when Karl is called back to his grave on the anniversary of his death – something that occurs annually it seems. It appeared, at one point, that he was going to take some of the grave dirt and that would have been a nice source for the standard lore, take the earth to wherever the coffin is to avoid the lure back to the actual grave, but he was just throwing dirt petulantly and the writers failed to notice and exploit this obvious (to me) direction.

Katherine Shekter as BridgetUnfortunately it takes 13 episodes for us to get the first vampire bite of a victim – everyone is too goody good for that – and that is a flash back. In the last two episodes we get a rogue vampire, Bridget (Katherine Shekter), who stirs things up a little and makes us think that the series might actually have a direction to go in. It took a while to get there (we are talking episodes 25 and 26) and the show never got a second season. Other than that the show is self contradictory – in episode 7 two are allowed to go to town and then in episode 23 it is suggested that the vampires are going out for the first time since the experiment began.

Daniel Pilon as Vakaal the elderThis was poor, certainly as a vampire series, as it was too nicey nice and they may as well have not been vampires. The series started to find its way at the end and then vanished into the ether. I couldn’t work out whether it wanted to be a kid’s show, a supernatural young adult show or a soap opera. There have been three DVDs released with the first 10 episodes on. Not a great show, 3.5 out of 10 for something that really was vamp-lite at best.

The imdb page is here.

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