Monday, April 20, 2009

Vamp or Not? The Telling

This is a 2009 portmanteau film, directed by Nicholas Carpenter and Casey Ward and we need to get this out of the way. Okay, having Playboy Playmates make a film does not add to its credibility, generally, and is unlikely to attract extra audience whilst they remain clothed. That said, why, oh why, oh why, would you cast people clearly in their thirties as sorority girls? Nothing is added and credibility is lost… I’ll shut up now…

As mentioned this is a portmanteau and the wrap around concerns a sorority where, the year before, a girl was refused and so killed herself. The dean of the college became concerned and insisted that they change their recruitment techniques and so the last three candidates have to tell scary stories – of course there is a story of revenge in the portmanteau. There are three stories, the first being a variant of the possessed doll and the last being a variant of the prank call – don’t answer the phone. Neither are particularly original in their variation. This does not bode well for the central story – our ‘Vamp or Not?’ Strangely, therefore, this was actually a marvellous segment, so much so that the characters in film state that the story wasn’t scary, just weird. An insight into the shallowness of the characters as written and good news for us.

The story surrounds one Eva DeMarco (Bridget Marquardt) a Hollywood actress who had found that work had dried up because of her age. She was becoming too old to play the love interest (you know, perhaps the filmmakers should have thought about that when casting sorority girls, or perhaps this was a commentary and subtly done!) and told her agent she would play any role – indeed she would take the last role on Earth so long as the cheque clears.

She ends up in Europe where she is to be cast in the film “Crimson Echo” being directed by Victor (John D’Aquino). One thing I did like with this segment was how washed out the film looked, it added a subtle atmosphere. Victor lives in a ‘creepy castle’, with a stern assistant who answers the door. When Eva first sees him, he is reflected in a mirror. “At least I know you’re not a vampire,” she quips and he, in best Hungarian accent, blames it on Bela. When she looks confused he explains about Tod Browning and Dracula.

Eva says about it being before her time and that horror is not her genre – Victor admits that her filmography indicates such. When asked who he considered before her he suggests no one, the role might have been written for her. The diminutive Footcandle (Ed Gale) comes over and checks her light. Victor explains that he has been with them for some time and is obsessed with light and shadow. Of course there are early vampire films that use light and shadow to great effect, Nosferatu and Vampyr being the obvious examples – but am I reading too much in? We shall see.

Victor gives her a glass of absinth and the drink leads her to hallucinatory dreams, which were strangely psychedelic and of a low level S&M nature – certainly a million miles from the romantic absinth indulgence in the 1992 Dracula. It might have been simply to have some naked breasts in the segment but, to me, it ramped up the surrealistic quota of the segment and, thus, became worthwhile. During the hallucination she sees masked faces. When she awakens there is a card inviting her to a dinner party to mark the film, formal dress required.

The dinner table is filled with people in masks, just like in her hallucination. Victor removes his mask as he speaks to her. He tells her that those round her are the crew for Crimson Echo and, when she asks if they will show their faces, he says in time. He asks if she knows what the first things filmed were, and suggests it was horrors. A projector is started, casting early film of real world horror over his face. We can’t see detail but she clearly can.

The crew are introduced and remove their masks. Most have textured faces, if I can put it that way, almost zombie like I guess but, of course, Victor, Footcandle and the woman who answered the castle door are not textured in the same way. The crew all made some of the most disturbing films in history, they are undead, kept alive by their own films – an association between the undead and film is explored in Dinner with the Vampire. Now, of course, whilst the term undead is associated with the zombie genre it was first coined by Bram Stoker in Dracula and referred, specifically, to vampires.

Victor explains that they are undead and make films for the undead. But nowadays Nosferatu just will not do. She was chosen for her virginity in the horror genre, making her perfect. She collapses as they laugh and then she awakens chained and gagged as the cameras roll and one of the dinner party guests approaches with a hacksaw. We next see her at the dinner table where she tells Victor she is ready for her close up, she’ll always be ready. The voice over, by the story teller, informs us that she will never age but she is only alive on film.

There were some references to the vampire genre in this and the creatures referred to themselves as undead. We saw no blood drinking or fangs, and there were reflections, but there was also a sentience. There is no definitive evidence that we are dealing with vampires but I tend to like to think so. I am classing these creatures as vampires – if only due to their non-rotted (for some at least) appearances and sentient aspects. This was a worthwhile segment in a, otherwise, distinctly below average production. The imdb page is here.

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