Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Vampyres (2015) – review

Director: Víctor Matellano

Release date: 2015

Contains spoilers

I am not against remakes. Let me make that perfectly clear. Some remakes surpass the original, some plough their own furrow, some are worthwhile and some are, frankly, rubbish. However, I find the immediate backlash against remakes and re-imaginings irritating, low-brow and, quite frankly, one of the worst aspects of “fan entitlement”. It also misses a salient point in the development of the vampire genre – the fact that it is built on reimagining and remake – even the first English language vampire story, Polidori’s the Vampyre: A Tale was a re-imagining and remake of Byron’s unpublished Fragment (and a satire of the Lord to boot, of course).

will it live up to the original?
I say that but this was going to be a hard sale for me as I do love José Ramón Larraz’ 1974 original. It isn’t everyone’s favourite film, I respect that, but to me it is a wonderful slice of Eurohorror of a psychosexual persuasion. However, I went into watching this with my expectations kept as neutral as I could and, you know what, it isn’t bad. It kind of misses some of the point and it has faults but it isn’t a bad effort.

from the opening scene
We start with a quote from la Morte Amoureuse – the translation in this case not quite the same as the versions I have but fairly close, and the short story will come into this later. We see two naked women kissing, there is blood, and movement from a blood soaked carpet clearly wrapped around someone. We then have a motor bike with pillion rider through the credits. The countryside is immediately recognisable as not being British (the original film was set in Britain) and I believe it was shot in Spain. There is an in-dialogue question later in the film regarding someone not being British – though why that should be asked is beyond me for although the film was shot in English (language) the location is clearly not in the UK.

cut throat
The bike goes onto a backroad and suddenly there is a cloaked figure in the way. The bike crashes. When Peter (Fele Martínez) comes around his companion Anne (Alina Nastase) is gone. He goes into the woods looking for her and is stalked. We see a hand grab his head and his throat cut, a black rose dropped into his hand and then we see a cloaked figure carry the still alive Anne away. By the time a group of hikers walk the road the bike is gone. The hikers are photographer Harriet (Verónica Polo), John (Anthony Rotsa) and Nolan (Víctor Vidal). They were due to meet the two bikers.

Caroline Munro as the hotelier
Ted (Christian Stamm) gets his case out of a car and goes to a hotel that seems to be run by an unnamed woman (Caroline Munro, Flesh for the Beast, Midsomer Murders: Death and the Divas, Absence of Light, Night Owl, Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter & Dracula AD 1972). The conversation about having been there before, from the original film, is gone but later the hotelier gives Ted a wrapped book, which she had got for him should he ever come back to the hotel.

the house
So Harriet and the boys replace the caravan couple from the original film, and they have pitched a tent near an abandoned house. The house was disappointing. In the original it was a rambling Gothic mansion that had become decrepit bar the rooms that the vampires used. In this it just looks like an abandoned house with a decorated room for entertaining and seems incongruous with the large rambling cellar we later see. They just don’t look right together. The vampires are Fran (Marta Flich) and Miriam (Almudena León) and they pick up victims (normally) by hitching. They function during the day, it seems, though this isn’t too clear. They shut doors at one point to keep out the light, they sleep in the cellar or in the graveyard and yet they also move around (though cloaked) – it seems they are nocturnal rather than destructively photosensitive. They do not appear in photographs.

Fran and Ted
They pick up Ted, who Fran keeps, toying with him rather than killing him outright, and the three friends get drawn into things. What the film doesn’t really do is hint at the relationship between Ted and Fran prior to the film (the original suggests that Ted and Fran were lovers and she cheated on him with Miriam, causing him to murder them both and thus the events are a reckoning of sorts). Indeed, the film suggests at the end that Ted is a Victorian who died (the hotelier has a death posed photo of him) but now hunts vampires. The package he is given is not opened by him but found by Harriet and contains Theophile Gautier’s story.

straying towards torture porn
So issues, I don’t think it did psychosexual very well. It missed the root of the dynamic between Fran and Ted and so wasn’t as strong in that suit. Because of this we needed the film to be a little more explicit in the backgrounds it assumed and, for the most part, it failed in this regard. The acting wasn’t brilliant (though the majority of the actors were not using their first language) and there was some torture that threatened to stray into torture porn but just managed to balance away from that. However, the blood effects were nice, with a Báthory type moment over a bath that worked very well – the girls also connect themselves to Báthory in dialogue. The Carpathian wine reference from the original remains in place.

Verónica Polo as Harriet
Don’t get me wrong. As a standalone this wasn’t bad and had a feel of Eurohorror of a time past. It revelled in its own mystery but by failing to build that core relationship (even though it is vague in the original) it felt lacking in exposition. If I had never seen the original I think that criticism would have stood. The hikers failed to illicit in me the sympathy that they should have. Caroline Munro was clearly having fun as the mysterious hotelier and the character clearly knew a lot of what was going on, but it did feel that the role had been a bit padded to take advantage of having her in the film. Incidentally she wasn’t the only scream queen in the film, Lone Fleming was the hotel receptionist and she was in the first two Blind Dead films.

fleeing to the cemetery
This was a brave effort – proper psychosexual eurorhorror would seem to be the province of a period of cinema past (the fact that the film nearly flitted to torture porn attests to this) and yet it was fairly successful. It perhaps layered symbolism that was unnecessary (the black rose motif, which recurs through the film) and needed a little exposition at the centre. However I did enjoy it. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


kirsi mannonen said...

I like the original. I didn´t like this one´s trailer, flat digital photography and plain sets, which seemed to lack the original´s atmosphere. On the other hand, black roses, La Morte Amoureuse and the ladies of classic horror sound good. Being a fan of original, I may look at this.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Give it a go, with expectations set below the original of course