Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I Vampiri – review

dvdDirector: Riccardo Freda (& Mario Bava)

First released: 1956

Contains spoilers

This film is often seen to be Mario Bava’s directorial debut and yet, whilst credited as cinematographer, he was uncredited as director. This is because Freda shot half the film in the first 10 days of a 12 days shoot and then left the set. The producers asked Bava to finish the film in the last two days. This is not only an important film due to Bava’s debut, but because it was the first Italian horror film since silent movies.

More than this, it can – despite flaws – be seen to be the precursor to a whole sub-genre of films, some vampiric some not. The film is set in Paris and is a modernisation of the Erzsébet Báthory story and when I look at that later I will utterly spoil the film – you have been warned.

Nora is doomedIt begins with a body being fished out of a river but, like 3 other girls in the last six months, she is not drowned rather she has been drained of blood. The police are baffled, reporter Pierre Lantin (Dario Michaelis) is on the case and we see a gloved hand remove a medical card for a woman named Nora (Ronny Holiday). She is a dancer and waits in a theatre for a phone call whilst it is closed for the night. We see a figure come up behind her and chloroform her.

The police are called in, though Inspector Chantal (Carlo D’Angelo) does not seem to think a crime has been committed – she may have just absconded. Pierre knows differently, he has found her shoe and also discovered she is the same blood type as the other victims taken by the killer whom his paper is calling the vampire. Chantal is less than impressed with Pierre – an antagonism that goes on through the film and it is hardly surprising as Pierre’s theories (as accurate as they are) are all based on absolute gut instinct it would seem – one of the problems with the film as a thriller.

stalking in the photoAnyway Pierre speaks to an autopsy doctor (Riccardo Freda) who points out that the fact that there are needle marks on the corpses does not mean a doctor necessarily was involved but could also indicate that the killer is a drug addict. Pierre finds a picture of Nora and spots a guy who might have been following her. His co-worker Ronald (Angelo Galassi) jokingly points out that the vampire attacks only started when Pierre came back to Paris so maybe Pierre and the killer are one and the same.

Pierre meets up with some schoolgirls, including one called Lorrette (Wandisa Guida), who were friends of Nora. Lorrette slaps him on meeting him – due to a dare to slap the first man to speak to her – but uses her left hand; it’s going to be important that. Lorette feels that they were followed before Nora vanished. His conversation is interrupted by Giselle (Gianna Marie Canale) the daughter of the local Countess du Grand – Pierre seems abrupt with her.

the Countess suggests the way forwardThe man we saw grab Nora, Joseph (Paul Muller), is indeed a drug addict and is given a fix and told to go get another girl. He is stalking Lorette but is spotted by Pierre who follows him home. Pierre gets the police but the house they go to belongs to another (there has been a switcheroo with a construction sign, so Pierre led the police to the wrong street and we have to accept that Paris does not have street signs at all). Joseph goes to Dr Julien du Grand (Antoine Balpêtré) and demands money to get away. He is killed for his trouble. A veiled figure, the Countess, suggests that there is only one way to preserve Julien’s reputation.

a gothic funeralA funeral is held for Julien du Grand, who died suddenly, and we are swept into a gothic landscape – after the modernistic images we have seen so far. It isn’t just the graveyard, but within the crypt and within the Countess' castle. We are now in a full on world of carved devils, skulls and cobwebs. It looks wonderful and yet somehow incongruous – a bit like the works of Tim Burton years later where Gothic monstrosities would be placed within suburbia.

secret passage in the cryptAnyway, the crypt has a secret passage to a dungeon below the castle, where Julien has set up shop. He has the body of Joseph (buried in his place) with which he intends to experiment and his entire life seems to be focused, otherwise, on perfecting a technique using the blood of young girls (of a specific blood type) to make the Countess young again. Why he is doing it, I cannot say but it opens a whole tradition of films.

agingLater films to carry similar stories were Atom Age Vampire, which I concluded was not actually vampiric but does have a similar underlying theme and Nightmare Castle has a similar story running in the background, though it is very minor, and ramps up the gothic element with a full on ghosts, murder and revenge theme. Slightly different, mainly in the lack of medical/scientific aspect, but on the same lines was the Leech Woman. Famously, of course, there is also Countess Dracula, which also shares a motivating factor for the vampire. Of course we cannot deny there is also a touch of Jekyll and Hyde to such stories (sans potion) and similar techniques are used to "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde" (1931) in order to achieve the aging effects.

Giselle and PierreWhilst we do not know why Julien is doing this, the Countess' motivating factor seems to be love (with just a Soupçon of vanity thrown in for good measure). In fact it is for Pierre’s love (so Ronald wasn’t too far out with his connection with Pierre’s return to Paris). She loved Pierre’s father and was rebuffed and so tries to get the son. Unfortunately he is not interested either and we are left with quite a pathetic unrequited aspect. As in some of the later films the jig is up when the vampire ages in front of others and I Vampiri introduced the idea that the effects lasted for a shorter period each time.

notice the neck woundThere is an interesting side story with Joseph being regenerated and Pierre trying to use him as evidence of goings on in the castle. It is interesting because we can see gruesome scars on Joseph’s neck but there was no explanation for them – except for a supposition, perhaps, they were to do with the experiments. Actually Joseph was meant to have been guillotined (but the censors demanded that scene be cut) and his head reattached to another body.

a perfectly serviceable dungeonOne aspect that really isn’t explored is how the blood of a victim – specifically that of Lorette – would effect the behaviour of the vampire. Pierre realises something is going on up at the castle when Giselle tries to write left handed, the same hand that Lorette uses. It is one of his illogical but accurate leaps of faith. It was an interesting direction – taking traits from the victim as well as youth – but not explored any further and used simply as a plot device for the thriller. One has to question why the baddies dumped a body in the river when they had a perfectly serviceable crypt and a dungeon with bodies in it – surely a lack of victims turning up would have kept the heat off.

atmospheric photographyBe that as it may this is an interesting example of Italian Gothic cinema; there are some beautiful shots in the film that could only have come from Bava. The music perhaps detracts from, rather than adds to, the atmosphere unfortunately and the fact that the story relies on coincidence and leaps of faith is a shame because the base idea opened up a sub-genre, as mentioned. Not the greatest example of Bava’s work, but certainly better than the Leech Woman or Countess Dracula. 5.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Edit to Review

Please note that the review of Leslie S Klinger’s New Annotated Dracula has been edited to take account of errata to be introduced for the book.

The book is due for UK release next month and Leslie will be over in the UK with three confirmed events, dates available here. The book's webpage is here.

Trailers and Webpages

Trailers and webpages for upcoming movies. Lesbian Vampire Killers is in cinemas (presumably UK ones) from March 20th. The homepage is here and has a trailer on it.

Minty the Assassin has a MySpace page and is described as “an artsy indie film that honors the wonderful B-movies that pushed the boundaries of American cinema, belongs to the Fantasy/Martial Arts/Superhero/Sci-fi genres. There..s something for everyone... especially fanboys.

“It pays homage to the underrated. The film respects the soul of what makes B-movies entertaining; instead of being restricted by a convoluted storyline, Minty: The Assassin focuses on characters -- outrageous personalities that say and do some really unconventional things.

“One day Minty's agent, BIG BOSS, an older and honorable gentlemen, is taken hostage by DOCTOR BRAIN BENDER, the evil neuro-scientist.

“Minty then fights her way up various perverse floors of Doctor Brain Bender..s paranormal building to rescue Big Boss. Several unusual villains stand in her way: CAPTAIN CAPABILITY, a freak of nature; SENSATIONAL NINJA, an effeminate assassin; RAT MONSTER, a depressed mutant; BRUCE ZEE, a psycho martial artist; MOLLY LEVIATHAN, a sensual super vixen; ZEN COWBOY, a blindfolded gun-slinger; and DOUBLE DELICIOUS, an intellectual lesbian vampire.

“Throughout this wild odyssey, Minty educates her adversaries on the fascinating world of natural science and then uses her beauty, her brains, and pure brutality to demonstrate the biological theory of the survival of the fittest.”

The trailer looks like:

Straight to DVD for Steven Segal’s Against the Dark. It's post apocalyptic and the vamps look a little infected/zombie, but we’ll see. The trailer is embedded below:

Finally, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans has a webpage here, that has wallpapers, games, trailers and all you would expect from a film with some budget behind it.

Monday, December 29, 2008

From Demons to Dracula – review

Author: Matthew Beresford

First Published: 2008

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: In blood-soaked lore handed down the centuries, the vampire is a monster of endless interest: from Bram Stoker’s Dracula to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this seductive lover of blood haunts popular culture and inhabits our darkest imaginings. The history of the vampire is a compelling tale that is now documented in From Demons to Dracula, which reveals why the vampire myth and this creature of the undead so fascinates us.

Beresford’s chronicle roams from the mountains of Eastern Europe to the foggy streets of Victorian England and to Hollywood film as he follows the portrayal of the vampire in history, literature and art. Investigating the historical Dracula – Vlad the Impaler – and his status us a national hero in Romania, Beresford endeavours to minnow out truths from the complex legend and folklore. From Demons to Dracula tracks the evolution of the vampire, drawing on classical Greek and Roman myths, witch trials and medieval plagues, Gothic literature and even contemporary works such as Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire and Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian. Beresford also looks at the widespread impact if screen vampires from television shows, classic movies starring Bela Lugosi ad Christopher Lee, and more recent films such as Underworld and Blade. Whether as a demon of the underworld or a light-fearing hunter of humans, the vampire has endured through the centuries as a powerful symbolic figure for human concerns with life, death and the afterlife.

Wide-ranging and engrossing, From Demons to Dracula casts the bloodthirsty nightstalker as a remarkable, complex and telling totem of our nightmares, real and imagined.

The Review: Phew, with a subtitle “the Creation of the Modern Vampire Myth,” and the blurb above this book sets itself a real task and I feel somewhat torn as I review this as there are some really excellent aspects to the book but, occasionally, examples of poor research and downright inaccuracy. Be that as it may (and I will explore several of those areas where I felt the book fell over) it is nice to see a reference book that is properly referenced itself, bibliographied and indexed.

My caution with regards the book started small, there were just the occasional areas that gave me pause for thought and I could actually understand why they occurred. There is an illustration in the introduction, page 12, of “‘a vampire rises from the grave…’in an 18th century illustration” . Actually, not long before receiving the book (as a Christmas present from my ever loving wife) I read an article about this illustration on the blog Diary of an Amateur Vampirologist. It seems the illustration was reproduced in Frayling’s Vampyres: Lord Byron to Count Dracula (listed in the bibliography of this) as such a piece, but it is actually of "BIANCA RUBEA, wife of BAPTISTA Á PORTA / crushes herself with the tombstone of her husband." A minor problem, as it is an illustration of a suicide and not a vampire, but I can see why Beresford believed it to be of a vampire given Frayling used it as such.

Later a law is mentioned, repealed in 1823, which allowed stakes to be driven through the corpse of any person deemed undead. That information came from Seán Manchester it seems, whom Beresford has corresponded with and play is made by Beresford that it is specifically a corpse deemed undead and not vampiric… however, to my knowledge the word undead only came into usage in 1897 as it was invented by Bram Stoker in respect of Dracula (EDIT: Evidence has come to light that undead was used prior to 1897 but it was only connected with vampires by Stoker and was actually referential to the divine prior to that). However, in the main the book was proving excellent, insightful and a good read.

I was taken with the chapter on Vlad Ţepeş, especially as Beresford recognised that there was precious little connection between the historic Vlad, vampirism and Stoker’s Dracula. I was even more taken by the look at the classic literature, where Beresford recognised the importance of The Vampyre and Varney the Vampire, as well as Carmilla and Dracula. Indeed he points out “It is interesting that whichever one considers, be it The Vampyre, Varney, Carmilla or Dracula, it will be described as the most influential or the most imitated vampire story, and one cannot help but believe it to be true of each in turn upon reflection.”

Then we hit the movies and things sank low, though perhaps I am being a little too critical. To be fair the section is very small, especially given the sheer volume of vampire movies but I’ll have to point out that the Doors song covered by Echo and the Bunnymen (not the original Doors version, note) on the Lost Boys was called ‘People are Strange’ and not ‘When You’re Strange’. However it was the musings upon Bram Stoker’s Dracula that got my goat up, as it were. It does not follow the novel fairly closely at all; it overplays the Ţepeş connection and adds a love affair between Dracula and Mina as she is his reincarnated wife, something lifted from the works of Dan Curtis – a fact that is not mentioned here. However it was the following that really irked “The novel itself ends with Dracula being killed in Transylvania, but here Coppola’s Dracula continues briefly. One year after Dracula’s death, Jonathon and Mina Harker have a baby boy that they name Quincey…” No. No No. The film ends with Mina chopping Dracula’s head off to give him peace, no continuation further. The novel ends with a transcript written seven years later, when the hunter’s return to Castle Dracula, that mentions Mina and Jonathon’s son. It is as though Beresford just went off on one and one then questions whether either was watched/read or is the quoted passage just a typo of the most massive order.

He pulls it back as he looks at vampire killers and asks the question of why the press dub many of them vampires when their acts seem to have precious little to do with vampirism. He goes on to look at the Sophie Lancaster case – indeed the book is dedicated to her – and does not suggest that there was a vampire connection but that in the eyes of those who perpetrate such hate crimes (of which the one against Sophie and Robert Maltby is without doubt of the most heinous order) there is no discerning between vampiric and the gothic lifestyle but a general resistance in society to darker sub-cultures. He ends this section by mentioning the attacks by the establishment on Sam Stone for daring to actually be creative when she wrote her novel and how a non-discerning tabloid press turned someone who writes about vampires into a vampire with their lurid and sensationalist headlines.

The book ends (ish, there is a conclusion and an extract from Historia Rerum Anglicarum) with a look at the Highgate Vampire. Three things struck me. One, Beresford maintains (through the book) that Stoker had Lucy buried at Highgate. Not necessarily true, Stoker does not name the cemetery and it is McNally and Florescu (wrong on so many counts, as they are) who argue that case but other cemeteries fit just as well. Two, most of the references seemed to come from Seán Manchester. Beresford does not necessarily conclude that Manchester was correct but I would have wanted some verification from other sources. Thirdly, it seemed a little much to use a whole chapter on the Highgate events – but that’s just me.

So there you have it. An excellently written book, easy to read, but inaccurate in places. For the main of the book, however, it is well referenced and Beresford draws some interesting conclusions. 6 out of 10 but it should have scored higher.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Mutant X: Lazarus Syndrome – review (TV Episode)

dvdDirected by: John Bell

First Aired: 2002

Contains spoilers

I was never a huge fan of Mutant X, though I did catch the odd episode. It just seemed a little sub-X-Men, despite coming from the Marvel stable itself. Indeed I believe that, until Fox threatened some legal action, the original form of the programme was designed to be even more X-Men like.

This was a Season 1 episode – aired on Zone Horror as Boxing Day 2008 viewing – and, as I have said innumerate times, vampires get everywhere. In this case, however, it was not a traditional bloodsucker, oh no, but an energy vampire and a mutant to boot. Note that the episode title refers to the biblical Lazarus who was raised from the grave.

new meaning to sucking faceMutant X members Brennan (Victor Webster), flinger of electricity, and Emma (Lauren Lee Smith), empath and (I would say more accurately described as a) mind reader, are out on the town and in a club. Emma orders a drink only to discover from the barmaid (Raven Dauda) that it has been paid for. The drink buyer is Caleb Mathias (Andrew Kenneth Martin) and they dance. When Brennan looks they have vanished. Outside they kiss, Emma suggests it is going a little fast and he kisses her again, drawing the energy out of her. Lucky for Emma, Brennan comes along.

the baddiesSeason 1 bad guy Mason Eckhart (Tom McCamus) is less than happy as 6 potential mutants seem to have vanished – all female. He wants subordinate (and elemental) Pamela Fries (Larissa Laskin) to find them, rather than being a human hotplate for his cold coffee! Meanwhile Emma and Brennan have returned to the club with team mate Jesse (Forbes March) – his power the ability to change his body density.

seeing her fearThey question the barmaid but she denies all knowledge of what’s going on. Emma, however has discerned that she is scared. Back at base the feral Shalamar (Victoria Pratt, who we have met before in the later Brotherhood of Blood) has discovered about the 6 women. Leader Adam (John Shea) orders Emma back to base but Brennan finds Caleb and they fight… that is until Fries comes along and runs Caleb down, killing him.

Victoria Pratt as ShalamarEmma is meditating when she starts to feel (and see) Caleb. She is convinced he is not dead and is drawn back to the club. Brennan and Jesse hack the morgue and see Caleb wheeled in and then walk out with Fries. When Emma goes missing they are on a race against time to find her before she becomes a snack again.

energy vampireVampire-wise we have the feeding on (mutant specifically) energy and there is a conversation where Caleb is likened to a modern day vampire and is said to be “amongst the walking dead”. Eckhart is told what is going on when a sample of Caleb’s blood is examined and it is not only alive but regenerating, which kind of brings a blood motif into the programme.

rapid decayThere is a really large genre nod when Caleb dies – oh come on, it surely wasn’t that much of a shocker was it. Adam works out that to kill him they must kill him twice. What this means is that once revived he needs to feed, kill him again, before that happens, and he should be permanently dead. By the time that happens both Fries and Emma have been killed. On second death he corrupts – like a traditional vampire post staking – and the energy he has stolen is returned to Emma and Fries, reviving them. This is also like freeing the victims by killing the vampire in more traditional tales.

excuse for a gratuitous cleavage shotWhat the programme did not consider was whether the same would have been true for the 6 other victims. Were there slightly decomposed women waking in shallow graves… It would probably have been more interesting if there was. You see the problem with this was that it was more than a little boring. The director failed to gain any sense of danger or excitement through the episode. Atmosphere seemed to be reliant on a stone angel in the club, in other words there wasn’t any.

Not a great episode, for either the series or as a stand alone vampire piece. 3 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Vampyr – Masters of Cinema Edition – review

Masters of Cinema DVDMany of you may have already read my review of the film Vampyr – the Strange Adventure of Allan Gray. My review of the film, as a piece of cinema, remains the same. The film, which Hitchcock suggested was “the only film worth watching… twice” remains at 9 out of 10. This review is about the Masters of Cinema edition and is a review of the edition itself. Many thanks to Ian who bought me this edition for Christmas.

The film itself is much more of a joy to watch, it has been restored in its original aspect ratio (1.19:1) and is a “new, high-definition transfer” that is not to suggest that the film is perfect but it is as good as you are going to get. More important is the work done on the sound. It is in the German – rather than a mismatch of languages from different versions – and has a choice of restored or unrestored sound. The restored sound still has some hiss issues but you can now hear the film properly.

the scythe is a recurring imageOn to the abundance of special features. The film has an 80 page booklet, which is a joy and gives the box the weight impression of a half-brick. It includes rare production stills, location photography, posters, the 1932 Danish film programme and writings by Tom Milne, Jean and Dale Drum and Martin Koerber. The disc itself contains a pdf of Carmilla.

the vampyr herselfThere are two deleted scenes, without sound, that were cut due to the censors. The scene of the staking of the vampire (Henriette Gérard) is astounding, much longer and visceral, with the intimated pounding of the stake into the corpse and through into the ground, and Allan Grey (Julian West) taking on a much more proactive role. I should note that having looked through the extras I have concluded that we should settle on Allan as the name of the protagonist rather than David – cf. my earlier review of the film.

Dreyer uses shadow as characters themselvesThere is a documentary by Jørgen Roos on Director Carl Th. Dreyer, a visual essay by Casper Tybjerg on Dreyer’s Vampyr influences and a documentary looking at Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg – the true identity of actor Julian West, who received the lead role due to his financing of the film.

Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg or H.P. Lovecraft?There are two audio commentaries. One by Tony Rayns and the second by Guillermo del Toro. Of course, del Toro is no stranger to the vampire genre – having directed both Cronos and Blade 2 as well as being due to write a series of vampire novels. More importantly he is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest living directors. His contribution is fascinating as he looks at the film and sees it very much as a memento mori. He also points out the physical similarity between Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg and H P Lovecraft, as an aside.

The DoctorAll in all this is a fine set for a fine film. There is a criterion edition (US), which in itself seems like it might be fine also – having read a list of its contents – however the commentary by Rayns is on both editions but only the Masters of Cinema edition has the Del Toro commentary. Score for this as a DVD edition, 10 out of 10.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Honourable Mentions: Pretty When She Dies

The Blurb: Amaliya wakes under the forest floor, disorientated, famished and confused. She digs out of the shallow grave and realizes she is hungry…

…in a new, horrific, unimaginable way…

Sating her great hunger, she discovers that she is now a vampire, the bloodthirsty creature of legend. She has no choice but to flee from her old life and travels across Texas. Her new hunger spurs her to leave a wake of death and blood behind her as she struggles with her new nature.

All the while, her creator is watching. He is ancient, he is powerful, and what’s worse is that he’s a necromancer, one who has the power to force the dead to do his bidding. Amaliya realizes she is but a pawn in a twisted game, and her only hope for survival is to seek out one of her own kind.

But if Amaliya finds another vampire, will it mean her salvation… or her death?

The Mention: I wondered, before I even started reading Pretty When She Dies, at how I would tackle the book in respect of the blog. Normally, of course, I would review such a tome but author Rhiannon Frater is a friend of the blog, we have reciprocally linked each other – her blog is the wonderfully named Zombies, Vampires and Texans! Oh, my!!! – and she was kind enough to send me an e-copy of the book. Now folks do, on occasion, send me their product and I pride myself on being honest with my reviews but, with the linkage and everything, I felt that giving you a few thoughts but not actually reviewing the book would spare any tendency I might have towards bias.

This is, as the blurb tells us, the story of new vampire Amaliya and her first faltering steps as a new born undead. It is also the story of an older undead named Cian, and the effect that Amaliya has on his world. Rhiannon has gone on record to state that “when I wrote Pretty When She Dies, I wanted to get back to that danger. I wanted to get back to that feral, dark power. My vampires are sexy and alluring, but they will rip your throat out.”

So how did she do? Well, regular readers will be aware that I want my vampires powerful and dangerous. Sexy is fine too. I am not as impressed if I am faced with a romantic vampire, with a whinging, angst-ridden member of the once living fraternity. Oh I will watch/read the exploits of such creatures but I want some tooth and nail, fang and claw.

I was impressed with the visceral nature of Amaliya’s rebirth. These vampires need to feed to the point of insanity when reborn and, indeed, many do go insane. However, I was even more impressed with the handling of Cian’s character. Here was one of the gone human, softer and more romantic vampires (though thankfully not angst-ridden) and Rhiannon took him as a character and rebirthed him into vampiredom (as it were) through his interaction with Amaliya. In many respects he was like the genre itself having gone soft, tried to be human and then remembering what it should be.

Rhiannon is also a writer of zombie novels and we do get some of the shambling dead appearing, controlled by the necromancer the Summoner. More interesting are the constructs he creates, dead creatures created from bits and bobs of many a corpse – it adds a darker tone to the proceedings. The main lore for the vampires was genre standard, sunlight burns, no reflections, holy images repel – especially if faith is behind them, (most) vampires have to sleep when the sun is up though they have defensive reflexes, stakes through the heart and silver are destructive. There is one of the more unusual, I was going to say slay but it is actually a weakening of the vampire pre-slay, that you’ll come across – better, it works really well. For me one of the nicest lore touches was the idea that a cross within a tattoo, which Amaliya had pre-turning, seared itself from her body on rebirth.

Rhiannon warned me that the book was very Texan – though I don’t think I missed any nuances due to this. Occasionally the language would fall back on the vernacular but I assumed that was the Texan roots appearing through the literary topsoil and as such added a regional flavour to the writing.

The book is available via Rhiannon’s blog and Amazon US:

Thursday, December 25, 2008

First Impressions: Twilight

So, Christmas Eve and myself and family go to see Twilight, the Catherine Hardwicke directed movie of Stephanie Meyer’s novel and I have to admit to some, not so small, trepidation. I really enjoyed the novels, yes they were teen romance novels but they were well written. Meyer’s writes a fine character and focuses very much on how those characters then relate to each other. Good reading, not so good as a movie potentially. I was also concerned that, coming in at just over 2 hours, my 12 year old son might notice the con… yes son, it’s a vampire film… (don’t mention the romance).

Then there were the reviews, when reviewers seem to have all agreed it is a good film… if you are a teenage girl. Let me scotch that one; it's more that it is a good film if you are emo – gender not restrictive. For the rest of us, what we have is the story of Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) who moves to Forks, Washington State, to be with her dad, Charlie Swan (Billy Burke), when her mom (Sarah Clarke) goes on the road with her new husband (Matt Bushell). There she meets Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) a boy who seems a little rude at first but then just plain old conflicted.

The reason, Edward and the others in the Cullen clan are vampires. Very different to the standard vampires to be fair – for instance they avoid sunlight not because they burn but because their skin glistens like diamond. Of course Edward and Bella fall in love but at the same time there have been a couple of murders, by what seems like an animal, but it is another group of vampires. The Cullens are ‘vegetarian’ – they only feed from animals – but these other vampires like their blood human and soon Bella is in peril.

My initial verdict? Well to be honest it was just a little overlong and often boring as a result, to be fair. Robert Pattinson did a fine job as Edward Cullen. He had all the right levels of awkwardness and insecurity, with a barely constrained violence/hunger below the surface. I should also mention Billy Burke who plays Charlie Swan, a great character and fitting performance.

Not so much, however, Kristen Stewart as Bella. My god that was a full on constant whinge, we are in the land of angsty teen and not in any good way. She did not come across as sympathetic at all and a lot of that was in performance as much as anything.

The boredom levels lifted when James (Cam Gigandet), vampire and tracker – the sort of vampire who just loves to hunt, gets wind of Bella and she is in peril. I actually thought that the climax battle was really well done – with a nice bit of ripping head off that could have been more explicit, but that’s just me. However the film then should have wrapped up quickly but it just seemed to go on and on, back into the romance and Bella whinging.

But it wasn’t just me there and my family offered their thoughts. My wife gives Cam Gigandet an A+, though that was for looks alone, plus his pretty coloured contact lenses. However she actually said, during the film, that she wished we could have watched the movie on fast forward and afterwards confirmed that she found it incredibly boring – I believe the phrase 'it sucked' was used but, then again, she dislikes a good number of the films reviewed on this page. My son, on the other hand, gave the whole thing a B+, and there was me thinking a 12 year old boy would be bored out of his mind.

All in all I think the book a much better option than the film, but as always a full review will be written when the DVD is available. Interesting, however, to have the trailers last night for both new ITV series Demons and for Underworld: Rise of the Lycans.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Daughter of Darkness – review

dvdDirected by: Stuart Gordon

Released: 1990

Contains spoilers

This is not to be confused with psychosexual drama Daughters of Darkness, this was a made for TV flick that produced some interesting lore and actually had an interesting story. It also starred horror icon Anthony Perkins. It took vampirism back to Romania and within that also laid on some social commentary about the Ceauşescu regime with a trowel.

strange dreamsIt began with a funeral, in a cemetery with wonderfully gothic statues. We hear the funeral before we see it and it is for the mother of Kathy Thatcher (Mia Sara) – strangely the DVD case actually names her as Cathy Stevens for unknown reasons. The priest mentions Kathy but to her everyone has vanished. She sees a hooded man and follows him to a crypt. She enters it and it changes, becoming opulent, he is sat there with a book, under his hood he is faceless. Kathy wakes with a start, she is on a plane to Bucharest.

Mia Sara as KathyShe lands and is besieged by taxi drivers. She is rescued by Max (Dezsö Garas) a taxi driver full of tall tales but with a knowledge of English. As they pass by party buildings, bread queues, whores and people being searched by the police she confesses to Max that she is looking for her father – Paul Alexandray – whom she never met. In the hotel the TV shows pro-Ceauşescu propaganda, juxtaposed against the poverty stricken police state we have just seen, and Kathy dreams again. This time it is of a statue and a glass blowers shop, outside the shop is a dragon image identical to a pendant her father gave her mother.

Jack Coleman as DevlinKathy goes to the US embassy and meets Devlin (Jack Coleman) who she approaches for help in finding her father. All she has is a name, an old faded photo and an address on the back. The address is in an old area of Bucharest and – despite being a bit of an arse quite frankly – Devlin agrees to put some calls in the next morning. She leaves the embassy and is chased down by a man but manages to jump a cab – it is driven by Max.

Anthony Perkins as AntonShe gets to the address but it is now a club. Within she meets owner Grigore (Robert Reynolds) who agrees to help her but also wants to take her to dinner the next night. Back in the cab she spots the statue from her dream. She follows her dream to the glass blower workshop. Inside is a man named Anton (Anthony Perkins). He knew Paul years before, he says, but Paul was killed in a car crash in 1966. Kathy goes back to the embassy to tell Devlin and she mentions her dreams and how they make her think he is alive… Devlin, being a simple man, thinks she is nuts.

unusual feeding equipmentGrigore picks up a woman in his club and takes her down to his apartment. They start to get it on and then he reveals his true nature as a vampire when he goes to feed. This is where the unusual lore comes into the film as he does not sprout fangs. His tongue splits and reveals lots of lamprey like teeth. Remember this pre-dated such films as Blade 2 and it is unusual, also, when surely the use of fangs would have been more in budget. The tongue is only revealed a couple of times, as it is, but again it is quite a departure for a film following – in other ways – standard vampire movie lore.

Robert Reynolds with GrigoreKathy continues her quest by visiting Paul’s grave and then going to the hospital. She is watched with suspicion by a female doctor whilst another doctor gets Paul's file but finds that it is incomplete. The lady doctor steals plasma. Kathy sleeps in the hotel and dreams again – this time of sleeping with a man with a distinctive scar on his belly. She awakens and is called by Anton. He gives her some more information but not a lot. She has dinner with Grigore but a gypsy who sees her pendant freaks and mentions the Cipriah (it sounded like) a family who died in the 18th century and are reputed to be vampires. Despite being quite freaked out, by the end of the evening she and Grigore kiss.

that isn't her fatherShe gets a cab and is kidnapped and forced into a crypt (the one from her first dream). She has been taken there by the secret police who are using scare tactics to try and get her to reveal what she is doing there. Devlin appears, outraged at the police action, and she offers to take them to her father’s grave. When she gets there they have already started to dig it up. The corpse inside is that of a woman.

the statue od Prince ConstantineShe has Max drive her to Cipriah castle – which is in Transylvania – and on the way he tells her that his grandfather was a great vampire hunter – he even killed Dracula. At the castle she sees a statue of Prince Constantine – who is said to have become a vampire – and he is robed and is clearly the hooded man in her dreams. She looks in the cowl and it is clearly Anton. Indeed as things progress we discover that Anton and Paul are one and the same… yes he is her father. How she recognised him in statue form but failed to recognise him in the photo (which was clearly of Anthony Perkins) is not explained. Can she accept him and, indeed, what of his nature? Will he be able to control his own urge for blood? More so, what of Grigore who has his own agenda?

effects of sunlightThe lore in this – other than the tongue – is fairly standard. Vampires are sterile so Kathy is somewhat of a miracle child. The word damphir is not used but it is clearly what she is. The vampires burn agonisingly slowly in daylight. A stake can kill them but fire is better. They tend to sleep through the day and are difficult to rouse. They live in a nest below the club in coffins, with the exception of Grigore who has a bed in his windowless apartment.

The story generally worked. The only thing that really struck me was just how trusting Kathy appeared to be. Given she was in a police state the concept of 'trust no one' should have been foremost in her mind. As I mentioned the Romanian political situation, at the time, was spread thick – but it wasn’t unrealistic, I understand, to how the country was under Nicolae Ceauşescu.

Anton with a victimActing wise Perkins gives an understated and yet stately performance – with just an air of creepy menace as one would expect. Robert Reynolds as Grigore works well. I was less struck by Jack Coleman whose character seemed a little too unhelpful but, to be fair, that was more a script issue. As for Mia Sara, despite being quite struck by her in Legend (1985) I am generally unconvinced of her acting prowess, in this she simpered well enough – which is what was really called for – and other than that was carried along by the story.

I enjoy this movie; it is certainly better than it should have been. 6.5 out of 10. The imdb page is here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

House of Dark Shadows – review

vhsDirected by: Dan Curtis

Release date: 1970

Contains spoilers

Regular readers will, I hope, have read my review of Dark Shadows – the revival, which was a 1990s remake of the original gothic soap opera – Dark Shadows – which ran from 1966 to 1971. Dan Curtis also made two films based upon the original soap, in the early 1970s, and this was the first.

I am guessing that this followed the Barnabas Collins (Jonathon Frid) story from the original soap pretty darn closely – it certainly had the same basic story and structure as the first half of the revival – with some notable differences, the main being that the entire Angélique story – the witch who plagued Barnabas to undeath – is not mentioned, nor does she return to haunt Barnabas as he returns from the grave in the 1970s. For those who are unaware of the general story however…

Willie grabbedWe are in Collinsport, Maine, at the house Collinwood were Maggie (Kathryn Leigh Scott) is governess of David Collins (David Henesy) a precocious little brat (incidentally his friendship with the ghost of Sarah Collins is expunged here). He has gone purposefully missing when Willie Loomis (John Karlen), handyman, decides that he has discovered the location of the missing Collins jewels. Refusing to look for the boy, thus losing his employment, he sneaks to the Collins crypt and finds a secret chamber. Within is a coffin that has been chained. He removes the chains, opens it and a hand grabs him.

Barnabas returnsDaphne (Lisa Richards) the Collins’ secretary is attacked and the police are baffled as she has two puncture wounds in her neck and has lost a lot of blood, though she survives. The next night another local is attacked in a similar fashion and this time killed. Meanwhile a visitor arrives at Collinwood, Barnabas Collins – just arrived from England. His resemblance to the portrait of his namesake – who left America and returned to England generations before – is remarkable. He has the family jewels, which he gives to clan matriarch Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard (Joan Bennett) and in turn the family allow him to move to the old house and restore it – with Willie who now works for him.

Of course, Barnabas Collins did not return to England. He was cursed as a vampire just before his marriage to Josette, who in turn committed suicide (as I mentioned the witchcraft aspects were expunged from this telling). His father could not bear to destroy him and so chained him into the coffin. In the present day Caroline (Nancy Barrett), Elizabeth’s daughter, visits Barnabas in the old house and becomes a victim of his unholy thirst as a result.

Kathryn Leigh Scott as MaggieThere is a party and Caroline, neck hidden below a scarf, is there but she is less than impressed with the attention Barnabas is giving to Maggie. The governess is due to leave Collinwood, she cannot cope with David any longer, but Barnabas has convinced her to stay. She is wearing a dress she found that belonged to Josette and is a spitting image of the woman. Barnabas believes her to be a reincarnation of his love. The reincarnation aspects are somewhat underplayed compared to the revival, just in the background, but we should remember that three years later Curtis would take those reincarnation concepts – as well as a musical box motif that appears here – and insert them firmly into the Dracula myth.

Caroline is deadA jealous Caroline threatens to tell Maggie what Barnabas is and he loses his temper with her. He attacks her and then has Willie help her home. She makes it into Collinwood but is found dead. She is quickly buried. Professor Stokes (Thayer David), friend of the family, realises it is a vampire attack and tells his theory to Dr Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall) – though she is dismissive of the theory she admits that the wounds of the victims have a cell in them that she can’t explain.

David tries to convince the adultsThen David, out playing after the funeral, falls and knocks himself out. Thinking him in his room the family do not look for him and night has fallen by the time he regains consciousness. He hears a voice calling him and then sees Caroline. He runs and tells the family but they do not believe him. Stokes does however, he tries to get them to check the crypt but they refuse. Todd (Donald Briscoe), beloved of Caroline, does go to the crypt and is bitten for his trouble. The police set a curfew.

Hoffman notices a lack of reflectionBarnabas tells her she must not return to Collinwood but goes there himself. Dr Hoffman sees, or should I say doesn’t see, Barnabas in a mirror. Her shock is evident and yet she says nothing. By the time Barnabas reaches his home he finds Willie attacked by Caroline – though still alive – and she has gone in search of Todd who, in turn, has snuck out of the house.

cops are vampire huntingIt is common in vampire stories to have the authorities not believing in vampires and, if they eventually do, it takes a lot of persuasion. Not so in Dark Shadows. The police are out in force and they all carry crosses. They corner Caroline in a barn, feeding on Todd, herd her with the crosses and allow Stokes to stake her. You don’t see that on Cops!

Hoffman confronts Barnabas but tells him she thinks she might be able to cure him. The question is will she be able to, can she divorce her feelings for him from her professional ethics, will Stokes work out the truth and will Barnabas get his lost love?

vampires togetherLore wise we are in standard territory, sunlight kills as do stakes through the heart and silver bullets through the heart. Vampires have no reflection, but they do have eye mojo and voice mojo it seems. There is the cure aspect, which is centred on the odd cell, this is a major plot area but is not explored in any type of depth.

Barnabas agedThe film is gothic but does not drip with the melodrama that infested the revival (and, I assume, the original series). The reason for this seems to be twofold. Firstly the film is very much of its time – look wise, and whilst it is not a hard and fast rule, the early seventies look does not necessarily lend itself to melodrama. More importantly the film is succinct. It concentrates on a story, does not spin it out soap opera style and cuts away the excesses such as ghosts floating around, witches coming back and all the rest.

Jonathon Frid as BarnabasI was very taken by Frid’s performance as Barnabas. He was not exactly a handsome man but he carried an air about him that allowed one to believe he could seduce the women around him. John Karlen was good as Willie and though I didn’t feel anyone else stood out there weren’t really any bad performances. This is worthy of a 7 out of 10 and do watch till the end of the credits.

The imdb page is here.

Bonus Honourable Mention: Night of Dark Shadows

vhsThe second Dark Shadows film, from 1971 and directed by Dan Curtis, lost the presence of Jonathon Frid and the producers decided to take it on another route altogether. I guess that this had perhaps a lot more of the flavour of the original episodes of the soap opera as it is essentially a ghost story and is sans vampires – Barnabas was introduced some time into the early series and was meant to be in it for a short amount of time but the presence of the vampire consolidated the series’ popularity. I mention it mainly as it is part of the Dark Shadows legacy.

Tracy and QuentinIt features the new owner of Collinwood – through inheritance I assume though that is never made too clear – one Quentin Collins (David Selby). He arrives at the great hall with his wife Tracy (Kate Jackson). Interestingly Curtis decided to use some of the more famous Dark Shadows names out of context – Quentin is not the character from the series. Collinwood, and the surrounding area, also seem devoid of life in this production whereas they were rather bustling in House of Dark Shadows.

Styles and CarlottaAt the house is housekeeper Carlotta Drake (Grayson Hall, who was Dr Julia Hoffman in the previous film) and handyman Gerard Styles (James Storm). A pair of odd ducks, of that there can be no doubt. From the first day Quentin is fascinated by a portrait of Angelique Collins (Lara Parker) – not the same Angélique who cursed Barnabas into undeath. However she was married to one Gabriel Collins (Christopher Pennock).

horny ghostThe whole thing is a ghost story, with Angelique and her brother-in-law Charles Collins (also David Selby) having had an affair and she being accused of witchcraft by Charles’ wife (Diana Millay) and Gabriel. She is hung in the grounds but her spirit is kept alive through a little girl named Sarah (Monica Rich), who happens to be reincarnated as Carlotta. Angelique wants Charles/Quentin back but she is obviously a frisky ghost as, before Quentin’s arrival, she was grinding ectoplasmic bones with Styles, who is now jealous of Charles.

Oh the melodrama – for it does reek of it, which is surprising given that the first film had so little comparatively – and, of course from my point of view, no redeeming vampires.

Incidentally other actors to return, from the previous movie, into new roles within this were John Karlen, whose role in this as writer Alex Jenkins was not as fulfilling as his Willie Loomis role, Nancy Barrett, who stopped being vampire bait Caroline and became Claire who was wife and co-author to Alex , and Thayer David as Reverend Stack, the priest who hangs Angelique. The imdb page is here.

My thanks to both Vampi and Everlost, whose help was instrumental to this article being written.