Friday, April 29, 2016

Christmas at Draculas – review

Director: Simon Mckeon

Release date: 2016

Contains spoilers

You might recall that I gave a mention, some time ago, to the Christmas at Draculas: Montage, essentially the (mostly) Black and white prelude to the full film. This then makes the start of this film.

The film was made available to me for review by Simon Mckeon but the director was very quick to stress that the film was made with no budget (according to IMDb an estimated €8000). Given this is a monster mash that might be telling but you can make a film on a budget and absolutely get away with it with the right hook.

opening sequence
So this is a comedy and, after the montage that shows Dracula (Conor Dwane) falling from Prince of Darkness to monster has-been because he saw into the very soul of Mina Harker (Mary Pappin), it is almost fitting that we start in what appears to be a comedy club with the Invisible Man (Dave McGuire) telling his story in an almost noir style. His story is actually Dracula’s story and the film concentrates greatly on Dracula and Igor (Michael O'Dowd).

Igor and the wolfman
Dracula has got wind of the fact that the Grim Reaper (Dave Coon) threw a Halloween bash and seems to have taken the mantle of Prince of Darkness. Having dismissed a few plans to get his title back, Dracula settles on throwing a Halloween party. He invites the Invisible Man, the Wolfman (Lochlainn McKenna), Dr Jekyll (Jerry O'Mullane), Medusa (Noelle Clarke), the Wicked Witch (Lorraine Comiskey) and Frankenstein’s Monster (Jonathan O'Dwyer). Each has issues, the Wolfman has an accent so thick that subtitles are needed – and his makeup is a hirsute pair of cheeks – and Jekyll is an alcoholic. Medusa’s snakes are dead, the witch is a drug addict and the Monster has been disowned by his maker due to his sexuality.

gun play
As the party goes along we get a visit from Lee Harvey Oswald (John Browne) and John Wilkes Booth (Art Kelleher), the Reaper is an uninvited guest and outside the zombie apocalypse has started. The budget means that Mckeon had his work cut out and the all-important hook, I mentioned, was most definitely Conor Dwane’s Dracula. With a Lugosi-esque accent he channelled the great man himself, and to a degree Martin Landau’s performance as Lugosi. Getting the obscenities flowing from his mouth was amusing in itself but it was the timing, the looks, the moments of pathos that made the film.

Vlad and Myra
Dwane kept the viewer focused even when makeup was inconsistent and there is something just so inherently funny about a Lugosi-esque Dracula complaining about Wagon Wheels (the marshmallow and biscuit sandwich snack, not a part of a conveyance). The battle between the Grim Reaper and Dracula was really rather cleverly done as well. I also have to mention, due to the genre connection, the scene that showed various evil souls in a bar in Hell featuring Vlad Ţepeş having a clandestine affair with Myra Hindley.

witch and Dracula
So, this lifted itself up above its budgetary issues (though, as a thought, if you add post-production rain the dry clothes in shot are a dead giveaway) and could find itself becoming a cherished cult classic. If budget flicks aren’t your thing you might struggle but I found it genuinely funny. 7 out of 10. The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Lady Dracula – review

Director: Franz Josef Gottlieb

Release date: 1977

Contains spoilers

Lady Dracula is an obscure German horror comedy release and the problem lies in the label horror comedy. Not funny, at all really, it falls flat on that aspect and it doesn’t contain anything resembling horror. All told it fails to live up to either category.

With that in mind let us explore the film.

Stephen Boyd as Dracula
It is 1876 and the film begins in a crypt and a lid is blown off a coffin revealing Count Dracula (Stephen Boyd). His rise and progress through the castle is accompanied by overly loud sound effects – presumably because they were meant to add a comedic element to the film. He exits the castle and heads over to an exclusive boarding school for girls.

The girls have just been checked on when he looks in through the window. He uses his ring to cut into a pane of glass and gets in to the room. He leans over one girl, Barbara (played young by Marion Kracht) but she awakens and screams – waking all the other girls in the dorm, who scream also. He picks her up and absconds with her, but the local priest and peasants with dogs are soon on his trail. He gets her back to the castle, puts the bite on her and then heads down to the crypt with the mob in pursuit. The mob open his coffin and the priest smashes a spade to use the end as a stake and hammers it into the Count’s chest. The Count begins to rapidly decay – an effect that was ok, I suppose. Dracula is no more.

emerging as a child
Cut to 1976 and a digger unearths a coffin. The workers phone the police and get a detective called Eddi (Eddi Arent). He tries to refuse jurisdiction but eventually agrees to go to them. Just then his boss, the Kommissar (Brad Harris) delays him. By the time he gets there the men are drunk and the coffin has gone. Actually the coffin has been stolen and sold to an antiques dealer – said dealer is on his own with it when it opens and Barbara sits up. She attacks and kills him and then puts her head in her hands. When she looks up she has aged so that she is now a young woman (Evelyne Kraft).

Evelyne Kraft as Barbara
So the police have a murder and the kommissar meets and falls for Barbara – who has managed to get herself a flat, complete with a secret door into a room with her coffin, and a job at a funeral home! She is known for using blood with the corpses and this makes them seem more alive when she has finished decorating them for the family. Actually she is draining their blood out, mixing in some blood bank blood and drinking it herself. There are several slapstick jokes at the expense of two undertakers, which fall absolutely flat.

a bite
Eventually that job will go and without corpses to feed on she starts murdering others, the police suspecting the same person is involved in each attack due to the identical MO – though the victims show no other common connection. Eddi will believe it to be the work of a vampire. But it is a slog getting through – even though the running length is on the short side. We don’t know how she gets the money to buy/rent a flat in the first instance and this is just one of many logical faux pas in the film.

burnt by a cross
As for our vampire, she habitually wears yellow and is mortally afraid of garlic and crosses – the latter will burn her flesh. She never appears during the day and can turn into an awfully crap bat. We don’t know about how vampires are turned in this – she kills several but none turn. Aside from that we get very little lore as well as little story and absolutely no laughs.

That is the big problem with this – a surfeit of comedy. 2.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Dracula (2016) – review

Director: Mark Andres

Release date: 2016

Contains spoilers

How to describe this release? Andres describes his work as Kinographic Novels and I suppose that is as good a title as any. Essentially it is a merger of the graphic novel and the silent movie, Andres producing stills that are cut into a film, with intertitles and music. The music is, in this case, provided by Rachel Knight and I will discuss that later in the review.

The artwork is incredibly stylistic, sketches upon (mostly) sepia backgrounds – though sometimes, like a silent movie, a blue shade is used depicting night. I’ll mention the art with the music but first let’s look at the story.

It is a retelling of Dracula and, like every retelling, Andres adapts it freely and the majority of the review is going to look at some of the differences/inclusions. There is definitely an aspect of Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens with the Count called Orlock Szekely – this is also from the novel as the Count says “We Szekelys have a right to be proud”, though in that context Szekely was an ethnic extraction (Hungarian, in fact) rather than a name. In this he is also known as Dracula.

castle Dracula
As in Nosferatu, Harker's idiosyncratic employer sends Harker to the Count, though the employer is Renfield and not Knock and the home country is England and not Germany. Harker is engaged to Mina and she determines to holiday with Lucy in Whitby in Harker’s absence. An interesting change, in the castle, is that Harker finds a tunnel annexed to the crypt that is a mass grave, filled with (presumably) victims. Given a change that Andres brings in I thought more could have been done with the shaving mirror scene, but that only occurred to me later in the film.

The bigger changes occur in the England sections. Lucy is proposed to by three suitors but there is no subsequent part played by Quincy or Arthur in the main narrative. She rejects all three and only Jack Seward maintains a presence in the story. Mrs Westerna (as Westenra is amended to) is a racist – probably typically for the nineteenth century timeframe – and verbally attacks Van Helsing as a Jew. This is the major change in the story as, by becoming a Jew, the normal Christian iconography is all but gone. Primarily he uses Yam Hamelah (as stated in the intertitle though the spelling should be HaMelach, or the Dead Sea) salt, this is used for sealing Lucy’s tomb, purifying the boxes of earth and burning Mina’s forehead. As a Jew is unlikely to hold a cross up to ward a vampire away, he uses mirrors. The intertitles tell us that not only do vampires not reflect in mirrors but they fear them (and mirrors left in Lucy’s bedroom, when she is alive, are found smashed after a visitation from Dracula). This is why I felt more could have been done in the shaving mirror scene.

a bride
Mina takes a very forceful lead in the film, which was out with the late nineteenth century, but was actually rather nice to see and worked well – especially as the heroes’ numbers had been curtailed. Whilst bitten and forced to drink Dracula’s blood (as was Lucy) and also forced to admit her frustration (the marriage is unconsummated and this is suggestive of a sexual element to Dracula's predation and a cuckolding that other adaptations have also explored) she is still a strong central character. I thought the questioning of whether Lucy had been sexually molested by her father was potentially interesting but unexplored. The brides’ features appear to be illusionary – one takes the form of Van Helsing’s wife, and they are subsequently revealed as hideous when looked at correctly.

first encounter
There were, of course, other changes but these were, for me, the most notable ones. On to the art, and I was really taken with it. I thought the sketch style suited the project and was really rather beautiful – believe me, I was left with loads of screenshots to work through and pare down to those with the review. The filming of the art and the movement through the stills – this is not an animation – was done with a deft eye. This conspired with the music which was guitar based and hypnotic, to draw the viewer in. I hate to try and describe the music style, it was almost an ethereal drone, but whatever you call it, it worked exceptionally well. Perhaps the weakest element was the intertitles, the writing strength fluctuated and some were good but others were off slightly. There were some spelling errors occasionally – mistakes happen but when your primary narrative is in a written form they can be especially jarring. Most notable was the arrival at Witby rather than Whitby.

the Demeter
However, this is a work of art and clearly a labour of love. One can only imagine the work put into it and, for me, it was well worth the effort. It won’t be to everyone’s liking, I realise, but I really did enjoy the adaptation, the artwork, the music and the experience. Kinographic Novels have a homepage and a Facebook Page and, if I may be so bold, I’d love to see what Mark Andres could do with Carmilla. 7 out of 10 and a final note that I loved the fact that, whilst still a solicitor, Renfield had a parrot called Vlad who said the phrase “Yes Master”.

At the time of review there is no IMDb page.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Loves of Dracula – review

Directors: Various

Release date: 1979

Contains spoilers

So, I have already looked at the first film cut from the Cliff Hangers TV series segment the Curse of Dracula, which was the World of Dracula. Follow that link for some background to the series.

The cliff hanger we were left with was that vampire hunter Mary Gibbons (Carol Baxter) had been bitten twice by Dracula (Michael Nouri) and was about to chomp on Kurt Von Helsing (Stephen Johnson) when her mother, Amanda (Louise Sorel), intervenes. Amanda didn’t stay dead ten years before and is now a vampire but works with Kurt to hide Mary away from Dracula so he can’t put the third bite on her and turn her fully to one of the undead – apparently two bites is enough to give fangs and a severe allergy to holy items (and an inconsistent sun allergy too).

looking  for a bite
However, before we get to where she has been hidden we get a recap to the last film. Now I mentioned on the last review the flashback issue. Well this opened with Dracula remembering where he first met the pair of hunters… the opening of the last film, however that was set up like we were half way through the story and it was clearly not the first time they had destroyed a resting place. The fact that there is fifteen minutes of unnecessary recap is a problem.

Let's talk dirt
We then discover that Mary has been taken to a convent and Dracula knows it (his raven told him). He has discovered that Amanda has killed his helper Darryl (Mark Montgomery) and so tells the jealous Antoinette (Antoinette Stella) to have third sidekick Christine (Bever-Leigh Banfield) go to the convent and watch that nothing happens to Mary. Antoinette instead tells Christine that the orders are to kill Mary! Meanwhile Dracula heads home to find Amanda in his coffin. She’s brought a bag of her own native earth, she can spread it next to his and they can have a day of remembering their old love – talk about dirty talk!

Michael Nouri as Dracula
She gets him to go to an old safehouse they used to use (an abandoned building) and he opens up a steel door into a room with coffin and candelabra. He gets the candles going and than opens the coffin but his earth has gone, Amanda shuts the door and breaks the mechanism so Dracula can’t open it. Content that he is as good as dead (there is a hole in the ceiling to let in the sun and no dirt in his coffin to allow his retreat below the lid) she goes to another room and beds down for the day. Dracula gets somewhat panicky. He’s jumping at the hole in the ceiling but can’t quite grab a hand hold to get out and I guess this Dracula can’t turn into a bat.

slowly frying in the sun
Kurt comes along as Dracula is weakening and through the door Dracula suggests (in a lie) that Antoinette will try and kill Mary unless he speaks to her. Kurt lets him go and then, figuring Dracula won’t save her, heads to the convent. Dracula later is amused by the irony that his fiction was actually the truth and that Antoinette was trying to off Mary via Christine (a fanged Christine, out in the sun, tries to drop a statue on Mary's head).

going through the cure
So the battle is on for Mary’s soul and one thing that was nearly brilliant was the cure. Amanda tells Kurt that they must purge Dracula’s taint from Mary’s body by dripping holy water on the skin. This and sunlight are agony for her and she seems to go through hideous pain. That was really well done. Throwing the flashbacks in wasn’t well done. They were to Dracula’s seduction of her and counterpointed the pain goodness caused her – but I already had my fill of flashback and this didn’t help. Once her body has been purged, her soul must be purged also by having her stake a conscious vampire and release them. That was interesting.

not subtle
Dracula isn’t really understating himself. He is driving a car with the licence plate eternal and keeps legging it around in a cape. The idea that Amanda would ward Dracula with a cross and take the pain as it burnt her was nice. The sunlight rule was confused. I liked that it was a drawn out thing – Dracula doesn’t insta-bake – however, for the half vampires, Mary finds it agony when being cured (but walks around in it at other times) and Christine and Antoinette have no problem at all.

Stephen Johnson as Kurt
This film allowed the Amanda character to be expanded a touch, which was good. What I couldn’t stand, however, was the melodrama. The soundtrack was overly melodramatic at times but the acting, in places, was so thick with melodrama it was untrue. If Mary’s agonies when she faced her cure were well done, her simpering looks to camera when Dracula was finally got (well it had to happen, didn’t it, but don’t worry Dracula could always come back again) were painful. The better parts of this outstripped the first part but the flashbacks and 15 minute recap, plus simpering melodrama drag it back down. 4 out of 10.

The series’ imdb page is here.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Vamp or Not? Demon

When I gave an Honourable Mention to the film Dybbuk it was – to a large degree – to highlight an astounding piece of cinema and a wonderful insight into a devastated culture. I did say it wasn’t really vampiric. However the inclusion of the dybbuk in Bane’s Encyclopedia of Vampires opened the door for looking at the film.

To remind ourselves, Bane states: “For the dybbuk to survive, it must gain entry into a human body. It may allow itself to be breathed in through incense or it may embed itself in a piece of food about to be eaten, but typically it will make its own way into the body, by force if necessary through the nostril, although any orifice will suffice. Once it has gained access, the dybbuk will possess the person and begin to feed off the person’s life-force, taking up residence in one of the pinky fingers or one of the toes…” We should also note that none of the other main vampire encyclopedias list the dybbuk.

Itay Tiran as Piotr
In the earlier piece I stated, “Marcin Wrona’s film Demon, about a dybbuk, would seem to have the potential to fall more into the vampire arena”. I was therefore rather excited when I managed to get the Polish DVD of the 2015 film. It’s worth noting that the film is in Polish and some English and the Polish DVD has hardcoded Polish Subs on the English dialogue and soft English subs on the Polish dialogue. The film starts with images of a small Polish town, which has suffered much urban decay and then focuses on Piotr (Itay Tiran) on a river crossing.

future father-in-law
The barge acts as the bridge, carrying Piotr and his land rover. He makes comment about a lack of actual bridge (we later hear there had been one until it was destroyed by the Germans decades before). He hears wailing and sees a woman in the water with a paramedic trying to pull her out of the river. This incident, which bookends with a connected funeral, would seem to be a symbolic inclusion and not directly related to the plot.

Agnieszka Zulewska as Zaneta
Piotr drives to a quarry where he meets his fiancée’s father (Andrzej Grabowski) as things move forward we discover that Piotr (who comes from London) was introduced to Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska) by her brother (and his friend) Jasny (Tomasz Schuchardt). They have spoken on Skype but the impression is that they haven’t met (or at least not frequently) and the wedding is planned imminently. Both her father at this point and her mother much later express doubts over the speed of the event. Zaneta wants to live in the old family house (which needs a lot of repair) and wants the reception in the adjacent barn, Piotr plans to build a summer house and even build a new bridge.

Ronaldo and the priest
Having prevented Ronaldo (Tomasz Zietek) from doing some clearing around the house, Piotr sets to work. At this point I want to highlight an issue with the film, which was there was a lack of exposition around the characters. Ronaldo might be an employee of the father-in-law, or a cousin, or a friend… we just don’t know. A throwaway line reveals he probably had a thing for Zaneta (which explains some of his behaviours) but the film does not expand or confirm this in a satisfying way.

having found the bones
Be that as it may, Piotr knocks over a tree and unearths a skeleton. He tries to ring Zaneta, drives to where she is but sees her celebrating with her bridesmaids and decides to fill the shallow grave back up. That night she rings him but their conversation is interrupted when he hears a woman laughing. He investigates, going out into the heavy rain and sees the woman kneeling ahead. He approaches and the ground of the grave is now a quagmire and he sinks. The next day (the day of the wedding) he is found in his car.

St Vitus Dance
So, it is Piotr who becomes possessed and this occurs through the wedding. His hands keep becoming muddy and his behaviour erratic. He does a speech and calls Zaneta by the name of Hana (Maria Debska) – the spirit, who he sees at the back of the hall. Eventually he ends up – during a wedding dance – holding the spirit and then has, what is thought to be, an epileptic fit. The local doctor (Adam Woronowicz) treats him but then he seems, back at the reception, to enter into some form of St Vitus Dance, fits again and then begins to speak effeminately in German and Yiddish.

Wlodzimierz Press as the teacher
As the reception goes on around them, Zaneta finds out about the skeleton and an old Jewish teacher (Wlodzimierz Press) confirms that there was a woman – years before – called Hana who was popular with all the boys, loved only one and mysteriously vanished. In conversing with her he confirms her identity as the spirit possessing Piotr. When asked why him she suggests that he was promised to her. We also hear that a dybbuk may possess someone to fulfil something from their life.

Maria Debska as Hana
This isn’t a horror film and so the lack of clarity in characters, background and what she is doing is probably more of an issue than if it had morphed into some form of hack and slash/possession-fest. The film felt slow in getting to the point (of possession) and the ending is frustratingly lacking in conclusion – there seems to be a multitude of threads to which a narrative expansion, at the very least, or closure would have been desirable. That said Itay Tiran gives a powerhouse performance as the possessed man. But is it Vamp?

possessing Piotr
There is really very little we could class as vampiric – even via the Bane quote. Piotr does suffer a nosebleed, which brings to mind the way Bane suggests a dybbuk can enter a body – but this is before the wedding dance (which would seem to be the point of possession). That said the doctor sees Hana’s hand, passing a dropped ampule from under the bed, when treating Piotr. I was interested in the fact that only the teacher and Hana were Jewish as far as we knew, the wedding was catholic (I’m guessing, Christian at the very least).

The reaction of the priest (who just wants to leave) and doctor (who is absolutely secular) are interesting but not expanded on – though the priest offers a half-hearted exorcism. There is an “overlook hotel moment” that made little contextual sense really. At the end I have to conclude that it is Not Vamp, it does have a degree of genre interest due to Bane but one wonders whether the inclusion of the dybbuk in Bane’s encyclopedia was relevant or accurate?

The imdb page is here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Empire V – the Prince of Hamlet – review

Author: Victor Pelevin

Translator: Anthony Phillips

 First Published: 2006 (untranslated)

Contains spoilers

The blurb: When he started following mysterious signs on the street, Roman thought he’d found the perfect opportunity to rebel against a controlling society. When the signs lead him to a doorway in an alley, and he’s knocked out, he realises he might have been wrong.

He awakens strapped to a set of parallel bars in a richly appointed sitting room, and begins a conversation with a masked man which will change his life. His world has been a façade – one which the mysterious man, known as Brahma, is about to tear away.

A stunning novel about the real world, and about the hidden channels of power behind the scenes, Empire V is a post-modern satirical novel exploring the cults and corruption of politics, banking and power. And not only are these cults difficult to join – it turns out they may be impossible to leave…

The review:I have previously examined Pelevin’s novel the Sacred Book of the Werewolf as a ‘Vamp or Not?’ and went not – though I am now second guessing that decision. That, however, is a different matter – for the purposes of this review the previous book is important because blog reader Sepulture mentioned this novel in a comment but at that time it was not translated into English. It is also important as some of the themes explored are very similar. I’ll come to that, of course, but since that post I have occasionally had a search for the novel to see if an English translation had been released and, finally, it is available.

The book follows Roman, whose name is changed (once he is turned) to Rama as all the vampires are given the names of Gods (I use the same concept in Concilium Sanguinarius), and his induction into the world of the vampires. I’m going to concentrate on Pelevin’s lore as it is rather interesting and pretty darn unique. The vampire is turned when an entity known as the tongue grafts itself to them. The tongue sits at the soft palate of the mouth and is a symbiotic creature. Turning occurs by choice off the tongue – for reasons explained in the narrative, Brahma’s tongue wants a change of host.

The tongues were creatures that looked like giant bats during the time of the dinosaurs and so have been apex predators for a long time. After the asteroid cataclysm, which wiped out the dinosaurs, the vampires managed to extract from themselves their own essence, in the form of the tongues, and lodged within large predators. They were responsible for adapting and breeding homo sapiens and now lodge within us, though that was not our primary function.

The vampires have long since stopped relying on blood (or the red liquid, as it is called, blood being a taboo word) and actually only take in blood (and a few drops of that) in order that they might read the personality and memories of the individual to whom the blood belongs. Rather the tongue feeds on bablos – an energy form derived from humans and generated by the pursuit of money. This, of course, leads us to the satire.

This is a satirical look at capitalism and we can look back as far as Voltaire and Marx for the connection of vampires with bankers and capital itself. Being a Russian novel it is clearly a satire of the post-Perestroika society. The novel is clearly Russian, the tone of the prose captures a timbre unique to that country. Again there is a Nabakov aspect – but this time spoken of within the prose. There is also a flirtation with the Nietzschean Übermensch. Further lore includes Death Candy – a distillation that allows vampires to become temporarily fierce warriors – and the transformation into a bat form, though the book does not reveal how this is physically attained.

I was transported into the prose and thoroughly enjoyed the journey. Well worth the wait for the translation it is a wonderful and unique take on vampire lore (and I haven't touched on the lore around Ishtar, the living vampire deity, as it is too spoiler heavy), even if it’s concept treads ground already covered by films such as Hanno Cambiato Faccia. The ending was an exercise in sucker punching the reader with the unexpected, which was ironically clear to see in the preceding prose, and was, thus, incredibly satisfying. 8 out of 10.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Hard Ride to Hell – review

Director: Penelope Buitenhuis

Release date: 2010

Contains spoilers

This is one of those films where actions are vampiric, even if the V word is never used. It hadn’t really flickered on the radar until recently but it does have Miguel Ferrer in the film – an actor who seems very much one of the go-tos when you want a little weight and hard work behind the movie but don’t have the budget for an A-lister.

The film feels like it’s trying to capture the grindhouse of yore, with a bike gang at the centre of the story. But I don’t really think it quite got there. However it isn’t a bad flick.

Tito and his grandfather
It starts in the past and a Mexican peddler (Luis Javier) and his grandson, Tito (played as a child by Esteban Palacio and as an adult by James Crescenzo) are caught in a desert storm. The grandfather touches a jade amulet and says some words, the storm drops to nothing. They are heading into a gringo town and he tells the boy to be cautious. The town seems dead, there is a wrecked old fashioned car, bullet casings (and bullet holes) and money on the floor. The old man suggests there has been black magic used.

the mother
A woman approaches them, her hair hanging over her face. Suddenly, having looked up and with something inhuman going on with her features, she leaps at the grandfather and takes a chunk out of his neck – later she says that her baby was hungry and we notice that she is heavily pregnant. She is pulled off the grandfather by a chain that is wielded by a cowboy from a group who show up. The grandfather gives Tito the amulet and the lad scurries off whilst the leader of the cowboys, Jefé (Miguel Ferrer, the Night Flier & Crossing Jordan: Revealed), opens the woman with a broken bottle to extract the infant – it is dead, she wasn’t strong enough to bring his heir to term.

Brandon Jay McLaren as Dirk
A group of young people are travelling cross-country in an RV. The driver is Danny (Brendan Penny) and with him is his wife Tessa (Laura Mennell, Sanctuary & Blood Ties) who is recovering after a miscarriage. Also with them are Danny’s brother Jason (Sebastian Gacki) and friends Dirk (Brandon Jay McLaren) and Kerry (Katharine Isabelle, also Sanctuary, Being Human US & Vampire (2011)). They stop at a campsite and, whilst there, meet travelling knife salesman Bob (Brent Stait, also Sanctuary). Only journalist Dirk notices his tattoo and realises that Bob is ex-Special Forces.

That night the friends get drunk and Dirk wanders off for a pee, gets freaked out by a snake and gets lost. He stumbles upon a group of bikers who are performing an occult ritual – from his vantage point Dirk starts to film them. The gang have women with them and each are asked whether they give themselves to the fire – each refuses bar one. The bikers then start to bite chunks out of those who refused, eating their flesh and drinking their blood. Unfortunately, worried for his safety, Danny uses a walkie talkie to contact Dirk and this gives his presence away. Running back to the campsite he leads the bikers to the RV and his friends.

given to the fire
The bikers are the cowboys from years before. Jefé was a Castilian priest who found a temple to Satan, went to England and tried to recruit occultists before being banished to the Americas by Aleister Crowley (Mackenzie Gray, Forever Knight). He has discovered the secret of immortality and the price is eating flesh and drinking blood. He is trying to usher in the apocalypse by birthing his heir – the antichrist. There isn’t much in the way of lore – they (Jefé and his men) simply cannot die and are anthropophagus. They can be killed if on holy ground.

Bob and Kerry
This wasn’t bad but you could tell it wanted to be more. Somehow there was no sympathy built for the friends, which damaged the viewer reaction, and the bikers were pretty much character bland too – all bar Jefé. The best character was probably Bob – the Special Forces travelling salesman who comes to the rescue. This tried, as I say, to capture a grindhouse feel but somehow didn’t get there. I could have imagined Robert Rodriguez taking this and making so much more out of it. Its ok, 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The World of Dracula – review

Directors: Various

Release date: 1979

Contains spoilers

The series Cliff Hangers was an attempt to bring back the old serial, each ending on a cliff hanger. Each episode was made up of three programmes, one of them being The Curse of Dracula. The Curse of Dracula was later recut into two films and they are rather rare, having never had a home video release that I can trace.

Several rare film sites have offered DVD-Rs of the first of the films, the World of Dracula – but rarely with the second one, the Loves of Dracula. Recently I came across an online seller who offered both together (my thanks to Holly for posting the link). It should be noted, however, that the video quality is (understandably) atrocious and this reflects in the screenshots.

Michael Nouri as Dracula
The series starts on a cliff hanger – indeed with two unlabelled DVD-Rs one would be forgiven for thinking that they were being viewed in the wrong order. Kurt Von Helsing (Stephen Johnson) and his lover/sidekick Mary Gibbons (Carol Baxter) are in a barn and they have found one of Dracula’s coffins containing a sprinkling of his native earth. They purify it with holy water but like a chess strategist Dracula (Michael Nouri) is sacrificing it for final victory. He has primed the barn with accelerant and sets it ablaze. Mary and Kurt use the coffin as a battering ram to escape.

Back at the college where Kurt works they discover that there is a professor teaching Eastern European history only at night at another school. They get the idea that it might be Dracula and so Mary goes undercover, wearing a headscarf and shades! The professor is indeed Dracula and his lessons are so vivid he might have been at the events he describes (later he suggests he hasn’t seen the sun for 512 years but also gives his age as 512 at another point). He invites Mary and three students – Darryl (Mark Montgomery), Christine (Bever-Leigh Banfield) and Antoinette (Antoinette Stella) – back to his home for wine and star gazing.

Carol Baxter as Mary
Kurt follows them but Dracula knows he is there and drives like a maniac until he loses him. Later he suggests that Kurt’s cut fuel line will dispose of him, but that should have impacted much earlier, surely. Of course he knew who Mary was and asks her why she hates him. She says that he killed her mother (Louise Sorel) but he counters that, suggesting that he loved her mother. She tries to escape and the other (bitten) students stop her. When she does, later, escape she is unaware (presumably due to hypnotic suggestion) that she has been bitten – in this they follow the three bites to turn rule.

holding up a cross
And, you know what, I’m sorry but it wasn’t brilliant – at least not cut into a film. The entire cliff hanger principle was way too corny in close proximity, especially as it was too often Kurt in peril – there were all too few characters – and the guy has more luck than a four leaf clover. I know that was the point but, to be fair, the old cinema serials don’t work that well if you watch each episode too close to the next. We also had flashback moments that would have reminded a viewer of what happened last week but were superfluous in a film format. Then there was the melodrama. Of course soap operas often rely on cliff hanger and are chock full of melodrama and this was, without doubt, melodrama of the thickest most pungent fragrance.

attack dogs
Michael Nouri was interesting as Dracula. I’d say he was channelling Frank Langella except that this aired months before the release of Langella's version of Dracula. He is certainly a charmer but there is a disturbing undercurrent as we discover that his bite subverts the will of the victim and yet he claims to love Mary and wants her to come willingly to him. No wonder this version of vampire is indeed burnt by crosses. They are also destroyed by sunlight and can communicate with animals (he has two guard dogs, which a jealous Antoinette sets on Mary at one point, and also gets information from a raven).

angry Dracula
Kurt is a bit of a wet lettuce, to be honest, and the three students/servants are ciphers and nothing more (we get Antoinette’s jealousy played out, but she is two dimensional at best and the other two are so flimsy that we don’t even get names for them – they were gleaned from IMDb). Now, I know I am sounding way too negative because people seem to have fond memories of this – and I can understand the value of rose-tinted spectacles when it comes to it – but for a person watching it as a film, now, it is unsophisticated, under-loaded with characters but a rarity and worth seeing for that reason if no other. 4 out of 10.

The series’ imdb page is here.