Monday, January 11, 2010

The Vampires of Bloody Island – review


Director: Allin Kempthorne

Release date: 2009

Contains spoilers

The Vampires of Bloody Island is a film I have been keeping an eye on for some time. Indeed you’ll find posts with both the trailer and the making of featured in them. Two things you’ll notice re the post for the trailer. That was posted way back in February 2008 and also that the film isn’t of the highest budget.

This is truly independent filmmaking and is really a labour of love. The fact that it is a labour of love does, very much, come out in the film and the film finally gets a full DVD release on 2nd February 2010, representing the culmination of a lot of work for Allin and Pamela Kempthorne, the husband and wife team who co-wrote and star in the film. It isn’t perfect, I’ll say that at the head, but it hits more than it misses as the comedy it is. If we compare it to last year’s British vampire comedy, Lesbian Vampire Killers then Bloody Island cannot compare looks-wise (LVK is gorgeous to look at) but wins on the most important level as it actually raises a laugh; an important feature in a comedy one feels. I’ll explore this more later but first the story…

Things begin in the Holy Crusader Tavern, off screen at least, when we hear a girl being approached and attacked. When we see anything it is the zombie henchman Grunt (Leon Hamilton) carrying a girl’s body across to the castle of Bloody Island. He places her on a table and she is still alive – he cuts her wrist, collects her blood and then binds the wound with sellotape.

When he puts a cassette on about preparing vampire hangover cures we know that the humour style they are aiming for is zany (incidentally he puts a bottle of Tabasco sauce into the cure, it is meant to be 1 drop per indiscretion if suspected that the girl is not a virgin). One negative re this scene was the fact that the girl seemed dubbed – there is one other moment where I felt studio dubbing was used rather than the voice being recorded during shot.

Patricia Kempthorne as Morticia de'AthGrunt’s mistress is the vampire noblewoman Morticia de’Ath (Pamela Kempthorne) and she has received a letter re the location of her ‘lost school chum’ Susan Swallows (also Pamela Kempthorne) – a story she felt more plausible than the truth. She sends Grunt after the woman, who works for a soft drink manufacturer in London. Susan is a mess and rather inept – though it does seem that Grunt may have had a hand in some of her misfortunes. After sending an order to Shanghai rather than Dublin she is fired.

Kevin and SusanHer boss, Miss Batacharia (Tacye Lynette) gives her one more chance. Set up a distribution of the company’s garlic cola on Bloody Island and she can keep her job. One of her colleagues thinks this to be rather funny and so he is sent with her. His name is Kevin Smallcock (Allin Kempthorne) – pronounced Smellkirk, as he repeats whenever his name is mentioned. Now I know what you are thinking – Susan Swallows and Kevin Smallcock, but to be honest the names worked, mainly because I think the film tried to emulate a Carry On style of humour and so they felt right, in a retro way.

Oliver Gray as Professor Van RentalEn Route to Bloody Island, Susan has Kevin stop at the standing stones known as the Devil’s Lookout. Here they meet Professor Van Rental (Oliver Gray) who tells them the history of the stones, he being a dowser, hunter of evil and window cleaner. He discovers they have garlic cola, which he admits tastes awful but he uses it for protection but he blanches when he hears that they are going to Bloody Island. Unable to change their minds he recommends a guest house in Bloody Bay and gives Susan a verrick cross – a relic holy enough to destroy evil.

the mysterious ferryThe Saints Preserve Us guest house is filled with garlic and crosses. Susan is reading about local legends – including the Likanan, a Cornish version of the vampire – when Grunt breaks in and tries to get the cross from her. He fails, but later she puts the incident down as a dream. Meanwhile Kevin has removed all the paraphernalia from his room and is visited by Morticia – whom he thinks is Susan – and she bites him, the fang marks are later put down to a shaving accident. The next day they try to get a boat to the island, to little success until they meet a mysterious cloaked figure who seems to smoke from under his robes.

John Snelling is N SaneSo, Morticia wants to daywalk (and then take over the world), and she has alchemist Dr N Sane (John Snelling) working on a formula. One of the ingredients necessary to the formula’s success is the blood of a woman, born of vampire who returns to her home of her own free will. That would be Susan, Morticia’s daughter to a sailor washed upon the island – who never told Susan the truth and ended up going mad and placed in an asylum.

rapid decayThe film is filled with werewolves (barely used but rather good makeup for the budget) demons and a vampire army. Standard vampire lore seems to apply – no reflections, crosses and garlic ward, sunlight burns, a stake through the heart kills (as does garlic cola through a super-soaker). Most vampires go with a CGI boom but Morticia, when she eventually dies, rapid decays. I felt the vampire fangs owed a certain something to Jean Rollin.

CGI explosionsThe CGI is one of my downsides with the film. I didn’t so much mind the obvious CGI explosions but the CGI stake through the heart (on the wrong side of the body) and the CGI fiery portal just didn’t work well. The humour, however, for the most part did work. It is based almost entirely on the zany, with some Carry On level smut thrown in (as I mentioned). The scene of a phone conversation that works perfectly well – despite the fact that Grunt appears mute – underlines the positive aspect of using zany comedy. Bear in mind, of course, that comedy is incredibly subjective as an art form.

a mute telephone conversationI have mentioned Carry On and another thing this reminded me of (in tone) was the Kenny Everett film “Bloodbath at the house of Death”. It is the same sort of zany, no footing in the real world spoof. Like Bloodbath this also had a variety of hit and miss performances. I was very much taken with the Kempthornes as Susan and Kevin – using a husband and wife clearly added a chemistry to the performance. I enjoyed Gray as Van Rental, clearly having a great time, and Leon Hamilton was amusing as Grunt – though the works of Andy Milligan did come to mind.

vampire bridesDespite a very small role I was very taken with Marcus Fernando as the demon General Valkazar, who offered a performance reminiscent of John Cleese in the Time Bandits. On the other hand some of the supporting performances were not quite up to some of these and I wasn’t overly impressed with John Snelling’s N Sane – though to be fair he did offer us the best line of the entire film when he exclaims after hearing that Kevin has been bitten by four different vampires, so one feels it was perhaps inexperience that held him back. Talking of the four bites, we do get three vampire brides thrown into the film for good measure.

the vampire armyIn respect of the soundtrack, can I say… wow. Okay I am a bit of an Inkubus Sukkubus fan and love Vampire Division (who are the main band on the soundtrack). Also involved are Theatre des Vampires and the Suburban Vamps, amongst others. The soundtrack was right up my alley. Especially nice given the independent nature of the film/DVD, is the inclusion of bonus features and subtitles.

This does hit more than miss, but in a very independent fashion. It is, however, nice to watch something that is clearly loved, even in its uglier moments, and it is that love which allows the diamonds to shine through the rough. I really did agonise over a score and eventually I decided that 5.5 out of 10 was fair – taking the positives and negatives into account, this is above average and, as a film, deserves the support of genre fans.

The imdb page is here and the homepage is here.

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