Monday, March 07, 2011

Dance with a Vampire – review

Director: George Bonilla

Release date: 2006

Contains spoilers

Also known as Redwood Justin: Vampire Hunter, “good B movie fun” might have been the tagline I offered for this if it hadn’t had some serious pacing issues. That said it was still fun but overlong and some judicious editing could make this a whole lot more fun.

Stacey T. Gillespie as Redwood
The film begins with three men in a smoky room. One is Redwood Justin (Stacey T. Gillespie) and the other two are cops. He tries to convince them that a gang will come to the city and start killing. He has been tracking their movements, through newspapers and news reports. They go to a medium sized town near a city, hold up in the town and raid the city. Then comes the crux word… vampires. He says that in the seventies the last hunter killed the clan, bar their Master Vampire Fisk (Frank Farhat). Fisk killed the hunter and created a new clan and they are stuck in time. The killers will wear disco clothes.

Said disco dancers enter a bikers' bar (a joke, perhaps? We’ll come to the humour aspect in just a moment). One of their number, Bo (Karl Gustav Lindstrom), remembered it as a disco but, of course, that was thirty years before. They wander upstairs, followed by the amused bikers, to where the disco used to be. The sound system and lights still work. Disco music comes on and the vampires dance. Now, given the title, I thought we would have lots of this, but no. This is the only dance scene. Multiple scenes may have been comedic but the film really isn’t sure whether it wants to be a comedy or not and so despite some quirkily almost comic moments the film often veers away from the comedy aspects.

gory effects
The dance turns into a slaughter of the bikers. There are some moments of almost brilliant sfx. A ripped open throat is done pretty darn well and although (in that particular sfx) the esophagus looks a little too false, overall I cannot fault the gorier sfx, especially given the budget. However other effects in the film were not so good. Fake cgi explosions should, generally, be avoided. After a low budget film managed to get away with a 'careening ambulance and cop car with vampire on bonnet scene', the subsequent gas explosion was a let-down.

sub-buffy makeup
Worse still – because of the frequency – was the sub-Buffy vamp faces. The clay never quite worked and always looked like clay on face (which of course it was) and sometimes looked like it was peeling off. To be honest fangs and the green-eyed contact lenses they used in the disco scene would have worked well and I’d have scrapped the clay.

Bolt and Redwood
Anyway, back to the story. Redwood is looking for his sister, Barbara (Mari Stamper), who was taken by Fisk. His aim is to kill the vampires, except Barbara, and then hope she becomes human when he kills Fisk. The trouble is, despite being great with a six shooter, Redwood is no fighter. He is struggling with a vampire called Vinny (Michael S. Shouse) when he is rescued by a homeless guy (Matthew Perry). He later reveals that his name is Bolt Upright, a superhero waiting for a fight. He uses the homeless persona as a disguise (he had a tendency, before that, to be institutionalised when he went out to fight crime).

Doc Q shows Glenda the stake gun
Redwood is trained by Bolt, all the while wondering if the guy is nothing more than a nutter. He also gets more and more frustrated by the number of people Bolt draws into the fight, characters such as Doc Q (Bob Singleton) who is a maverick inventor and Glenda (Amy Wills), a homeless girl who scrubs up rather well. Meanwhile the police, including main character Mike Stone (Billy W Blackwell), are looking for the killers and are dismissive of the idea of vampires.

the superhero costume
Lore wise the vampires cannot go into the sun, otherwise they are ultra-tough but a stake through the heart will finishing them off. Doc Q invents a gas-powered stake cannon and hollow ammo that contains holy water – holy water burns and the bullets cause them to internally combust. What hurts the vampires is not too effective against the Master, however. I won’t spoil what happens with him but I will spoil the fact that Bolt Upright faces him in superhero suit.

fangs on display
Some scenes didn’t work – especially the shootout between three vampires and half the city’s cops (it seemed). The vampires stood there, taking bullets and letting rip with Uzis and yet the cops were hardly ever hit. One scene that almost worked was the vampires taking on some neo-Nazis. This scene begged questions like why was there a group of neo-Nazis in full regalia in the middle of the city and did the director really want us rooting for the vampires? The main problem, however, was that it messed up the pace – we didn’t really need to see another slaughter.

Glenda's dreamscape crumbles
Another scene that was very interesting but was also a pacing nightmare concerned Glenda ending up in a dreamscape whilst fighting a vampire. The idea that he mojo’d her and placed her in another, non-threatening, situation was wonderfully intriguing and I liked the idea. However, it was during the film’s climax sequences and thus was misplaced because it slowed everything down. I’d have either found a way to use the scene earlier or cut it despite it being interesting.

fascinating characters abound
This then is the main problem – very interesting ideas and colourful characters become lost within pacing issues. I take my hat off to Bonilla; he really tried and subsequently created fascinating characters and moments. Sometimes the budget let him down and sometimes it was the pacing. Often it was because he didn’t want to let go of a scene, I feel, and the lesson to be learnt from this is that sometimes good scenes have to hit the cutting room floor and that sometimes a simpler moment will avoid the need for sfx that jar the viewer (the gas explosion).

There is so much promise in this, it doesn’t quite get there but it is worth 4 out of 10 and could be worth more with a re-edit and, more radically, would have been worth more given a change in some of the sfx and makeup effects.

The imdb page is here.

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