Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Landlord – review

Director: Emil Hyde

Release date: 2009

Contains spoilers

Sometimes I love exploring the murky realms of the vampire genre. As you trawl the flotsam and jetsam of low budget, independent filmmaking you can sometimes stumble across a real little gem… and that is just what happened as I came across Emil Hyde’s the landlord.

As we explore the story you’d be forgiven for wondering whether there was some degree of madness involved, which might encourage someone to make such an obviously complex filmmaking project. Especially as it is the director’s first film and especially as it is the acting debut of some of the leads. Mad, perhaps... courageous, definitely... and inspired is beyond doubt.

drawing the symbol
The film begins with Tyler (Derek Dziak) showing a yuppie couple around an apartment. The place is spacious, cheap and gas is included in the price. We notice a telltale sign of a small splatter of blood on the toilet but they do not. They take it and we see them moving in. The man starts acting odd, speaking in a monotone voice, buying a hacksaw and then we see him drawing a symbol on a mirror (which glows as he traces it). A demon, Rabisu (Rom Barkhorder), appears. The man attacks his wife.

warping into reality
The next day Tyler comes up with a new toilet seat, sees the carnage (she, of course, is dead and the husband is in a corner, dead, half way through sawing his own hand off) and throws up – through the toilet seat. Rabisu appears – and I have to say I loved the freaky warping effects. Essentially he is a slave to another demon, the dog faced Lamashtu (Lori Myers), and Tyler is the human slave to both of them – the tenants he gets are food. He does complain that they could have waited until after the rent was due.

Derek Dziak as Tyler
Tyler goes to a bar and gets wildly drunk. Later he has to help Rabisu get rid of the evidence, the demon grinds the bones and (eventually) the teeth down and Tyler has to get rid of the dust. He has to repaint the apartment, tell the woman in the ground floor flat, Ms Lipinsky (Joan McGrath), that the noisy neighbours have gone and go to see his sister, Amy (Michelle Courvais). The house belongs to her and she pays him to look after it. When she gives him a wodge of cash we discover she knows all about the demons.

Erin Myers as Donna
It is around this time that Donna (Erin Myers) comes to town. She has run out on her husband and is trying to get a divorce. In a fantastic aside we see her at a hotel, trying to get a room and it is the hotel from hell. The film is full of these little incidental asides that build a substantial filmic world and are all genuinely funny. Suffice it to say that Donna rents the room, Tyler falls for her and she is early stage pregnant – newborns happening to be a demon’s favourite food. Add in a couple of detectives, who are investigating the 16 missing persons from that address in 7 years and one of whom is convinced that Tyler is a cannibal murderer, and you have a recipe for disaster in the driest of comedic ways.

vampir with goggles
So, where are the vampires you might ask? Well Amy is a bent cop. She is having an affair with her partner and also traffics with… vampires. Now these aren’t your normal vampires (in the credits they are called ghouls but the film makes it clear they are vamps). The first one we actually meet walks in the daylight but wears goggles. We aren’t actually sure whether they protect the eyes or are an affectation. However we do know that they are undead.

vampire attack
They are created by a bite to the neck. Their teeth are rows of sharp fangs, rather than side fangs. They can withstand gunshot (even a headshot is survived) and it appears that it is heart trauma that is the only thing that can kill one of these things. They have reflections and, I suspect, that religous artifacts would have no impact upon them. They do not appear too bright but it would also seem that that is due to who was chosen to be turned rather than an inherent trait.

Michelle Courvais as Amy
Amy and her partner have a deal with the vampires. They point out which prey the vampires can have; in the attack that we witness they send the vampires after a group of drug dealers. They also cover for the vampires; when a drug dealer fires off a shot, a neighbour telephones the police station but Amy intercepts the despatch by radioing in to the effect that they are nearby and to disregard the call as it is nothing. In return the vampires provide them with any ill-gotten gains, money, jewellery and drugs. They are also not permitted to hunt innocents, especially kids.

The actual vampire aspect plays a full plot role, it isn’t just added in as an aside, but could have been developed further in its own right. That said it worked as it was and provided a nice breakup of the Tyler and the demons story. I also have to say that as dark as it got the whole film with funny and I was drawn completely in.

Rabisu watches the shopping channel
The acting was actually really well done. Both Erin Myers and Derek Dziak provided good solid performances and it was the first film for both actors. Michelle Courvais was particularly good as Amy but it was Rom Barkhordar who stole the show as the TV obsessed demon, who loved shopping channels (he steals Tyler’s credit card to buy a jerky juicer, to make human flesh jerky, and I should also mention that the fake infomercial for that was excellently done). He plays it with exactly the right pitch of camp to make this homicidal, flesh eating demon the star of the show.

scooping brains
The effects are, for the most part, well done. The gore scenes are perhaps a little fake (especially with regards body parts) but, you know what, it works. Because we are watching a comedy the film develops a natural latitude there. There is some too obvious CGI matting work at the climax that was absolutely necessary given the budget that would have been needed to do the scene any other way, which looked a bit iffy but was only brief and entirely forgivable.

the Demon Queen Lamashtu is rarely happy
The entire film is a wonderful oddity, with a slightly off kilter aspect that is funny, charming and rather dark in places – the aside in a pregnancy clinic is brutally comic and devastatingly observational in its pitch but is incredibly black in the humour. The film gives reveals at the end that are actually surprising, because of the way Hyde built the story.

This is a must see, and I can foresee it being one of the darlings of the festival circuits. 7.5 out of 10. The film’s official page is here and the imdb page is here.


Taliesin_ttlg said...

From Emil Hyde re the vampires: In case you were wondering, the vampires in our film play by the original "vampire rules" of Romanian folklore, before Bram Stoker reinvented them as gaunt aristocrats and F.W. Murnau inflicted them with a fatal allergy to sunlight (because he couldn't think of any other way to kill off Count Orlock in "Nosferatu"). However, most people are so unfamiliar with that version of the vampire legend that we decided never to say "vampire" and refer to them as "ghouls".

Many thanks to Emil for that.

Anonymous said...

This does look like an interesting movie; the poster sure is hella creepy! Interesting that Romanian vampires more closely resemble zombies, whereas now it's almost the refined characteristics that separate modern vamps from zombies.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Even stranger as, what we commonly deem as zombies (ie the Romero type, rather than the voodoo type) where inspired by vampire fiction

Christine said...

I actually really like the idea of someone using old folklore.

Unknown said...

Definitely agree - I thought the vamps could have been explained a little better than they were too.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cheers Christine and Ryne