Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Vamp or Not? Hellgate

I first saw this John Penney directed film, under the title Shadows, at the Bram Stoker Film Festival and have been waiting an awful long time for it to come out on DVD. It finally has done in the US.

Now you might not immediately get the sense of why I have done this as a ‘Vamp or Not?’ or, indeed, featured it on the blog but there was an aspect of this that gave me a sense of a vampiric creature that we have features on the blog many times. The creature I have in mind, however, is not of Thai origin (and the film is a joint US/Thai production set in Thailand) and I just wished I’d thought to ask the question of John Penney, at the film Q&A, when I had the opportunity.

car crash
The film follows the fortunes of Jeff Mathews (Cary Elwes, Dracula (1992) & Shadow of the Vampire), a US businessman who has a Thai wife (Paula Taylor). They have arrived in Thailand with their son to visit her father but, on the drive across Bangkok, they are involved in a car accident. The crash puts Jeff in a coma for five weeks and kills his family. When he awakens he is at his father-in-law's home and a nurse, Choi (Ploy Jindachote), has been hired to look after him.

fading reflection
Jeff starts hallucinating, seeing people who are dead. However the Thai people are not as closed minded as those of the West and Choi takes him to see her aunt, a mystic. She explains that those who have suffered sudden or violent deaths often become trapped on Earth in a shadow realm, reliving their last moments. However, when they discover that they can see Jeff, and touch him (an encounter leaves a blackened hand print in his flesh), she realises something is desperately wrong.

John Hurt as Warren Mills
A ritual with him goes wrong and they have to take the spiritually injured aunt to another ex-pat Warren Mills (John Hurt). It transpires that Jeff’s soul has stayed with his dead family, giving him a foot in both worlds, hence the fact that the dead can touch him and also this is causing his reflection to fade in mirrors. If he and his soul are not reunited by the end of 48 days his body will die. He is taken out to an abandoned plague village where a gateway to the shadow world can be created.

Asurgi, are they based on Aswang?
Jeff has to physically go into the shadow world and reunite himself with his soul but the journey is fraught due to demons called Asurgi (my spelling) that congregate in the area, looking for an escape into our world. These are the reason for the ‘Vamp or Not?’. They are creatures of shadow that burn in sunlight and they are flesh eaters. Though the creatures are invented (as are all the supernatural elements in the film), John Penney said that everything in the film was a mish-mash of various Far Eastern folklore from various countries. The Asurgi remind me of some portrayals of the Philippine Aswang – hence looking at the film.

Are they? We get so little it is hard to tell but they are certainly of genre interest due to their similarity. If John Penney reads this then I’d love to know is a little bit of Aswang mythology was incorporated into the film. The imdb page is here.

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