Friday, January 30, 2009

Jugular Wine: A Vampire Odyssey – review

vhsDirector: Blair Murphy

Release date: 1994

Contains spoilers

It seems appropriate to me that the opening of this movie displays a quote by Walt Whitman, after all the father of the modern vampire genre, Bram Stoker, was a great admirer of Whitman and corresponded with him for some time. Did Blair Murphy know this and thus use a Whitman quote as an obscure connection to Stoker, thus Dracula? I don’t know.

The film itself, however, is almost a psychedelic trip into the world of the undead – almost, because the road map is lost and the whole event descends into a mess. It begins with James Grace (Shaun Irons), on board ship in Alaskan waters and a rather long narration that falters between artistic and documentary in style and fails because of this.

I am LegionHe tells us of how he met Alexandra (Alexandra), a vampire. He was an anthropologist working on his thesis and she needed a daytime guardian as she headed into Alaska – a place were many undead migrated as the nights drew shorter. She was being hunted by one called Legion – the oldest of their kind. She had taken James’ blood and the next night would replace it to make him vampire. Legion is waiting for her, however.

shot by flare gunJames is held by Nickadeamous (Blair Murphy), whilst another, female, vampire (Ryuko Wakabayashi) holds off a crew member. Legion rips Alexandra’s heart out. James grabs a flare gun and shoots the female vampire – killing her – later it would be described as a harpoon but it was definitely a flare gun. Legion grabs James and tells him that if he survived he would wish he was dead.

Shaun Irons as JamesJames returns to Philadelphia, he is ill and loosing weight but does not know why, he knows he is not a vampire. Strangely, he later wonders whether he might be until he remembers that Alexandra did not give him her blood… never mind, consistency is not the name of the game here. He clears his desk, to the bemusement of fellow grad student Frank (Frank Miller) and prof Baker (Stan Lee). Incidentally, these aren’t the only cameos… Henry Rollins turns up later as himself for a brief moment of mirror gesticulation in a toilet (I kid you not).

some random vampireHaving gone to see his wife (Grace Gongliewski) – presumably estranged – and daughter (Meghan Bashaw) he tries to research all he can about vampires. He finds an obscure reference by a Dr Donna Park to the legends of the Inuit about mythical creatures that resemble vampires and tries to track her down, but she has been missing 15 years.

Nosferatu in the nightclubAll the time he seems to be watched and receives a cryptic note to meet us at Caligari’s Casket – a nightclub. He has trouble getting in until a previous student, Monica (Rachelle Packer) speaks to the doormen. We should note the large screen displaying Nosferatu. He ditches Monica, spies on Henry Rollins and then awakens at Monica’s home – he passed out. She offers to work for him but he refuses.

Legion kills another vampireAnyway, we end on a magical mystery tour through New Orleans, up to Hollywood and back to Philadelphia… finally going full circle back to Alaska. We discover that Alexandra was Legion’s bride and that Monica is, completely known to herself, one of his chosen ones. We discover that Donna Parks became a vampire and it was she that James killed by flare gun. We see him framed for murder, for little reason than having a laugh.

vampire attackAll the time we are not one hundred percent sure as to what is happening as the film is, as I said, rather psychedelic. One might get the feeling of art house in its obscurity but, despite throwing imagery in left, right and centre – as well as filmic effects – the film fails to maintain any level of narrative. This is despite the voice over, or maybe because of it. The narration by James was less noir and more arty and told us little.

This is where the film falls apart. I guess they were trying to show the decent into undeath but they didn’t succeed. The lack of narrative through any of the film’s mediums leads it to be ultimately very boring and the 95 minute running time seems to go on and on and on. Not a great film, but I could see what they were trying to do and I do love the title. 2 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


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