Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Vampire Wars (2016) – review

Director: Craig Ross Jr.

Release date: 2016

Contains spoiler

Whilst also going under the name Dead South, I’ve used the title that the Region 1 DVD I own runs with. The fact that this has a tagline of “Lincoln’s army battles the undead” is both misleading (there is one civil war battle, not involving vampires, whilst the main film takes place after the war has ended and focuses on two members of the Confederate army) and a desperate attempt by the distributors to grab the coattails of Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter.

Forgetting the box what we end up with is rather confused as the film really doesn’t know what it wants to be – drama, horror, action, romance, damning historical rhetoric? The film doesn’t know and neither do we. There was, however, one communicated piece of vampire lore that I found rather interesting.

a vampire attacks
We begin with brothers Hildegard (Matthew Marsden) and Beauregard (Samuel Hunt, Blood Ransom) with their family, wearing confederate uniforms and preparing to go to war. We see a battle (more a skirmish) and Hildegard is shot, not fatally. The brothers are captured and they, and several other confederate soldiers, are chained in a camp. A thing comes out of the dark to attack and feed on them. A Union guard takes aim at it but is stopped from interfering by his superior. Hildegard pulls the thing from Beauregard (who is bitten) and is bitten for his troubles. Beauregard pulls the heavy metal stake, which their chains connect to, from the ground and kills the vampire with it.

the brothers
They awake in a Union field hospital – apparently the war having now ended. The doctor (Rusty Jenkins) tells them that they have been unconscious for five days and they have an infection. There is no cure, the doctor says, and soon the sunlight will burn like fire. However he had heard rumour of a potion man (Myke Michaels) who – for a generous donation – is said to know a cure. They head back South but one of their compatriots, whilst dying, has given them his deed for a piece of land.

Nathanyael Grey as Royce
It is night and they follow a group of soldiers but, when the soldiers are approached by members of the “home guard”, the brothers hang back. It turns out that some men, because food was so scarce, tried cannibalism and are now addicted to it. The film calls these guys eaters. The “home guard” are eaters and kill the soldiers and start biting them where they lay. Meanwhile a landowner, Stokes (John Savage, Club Vampire), is laying out a truce to Lester (V.J. Foster), sheriff and leader of the eaters, and Royce (Nathanyael Grey), leader of the vampires (known as Nightwalkers) of the area. Stokes insists that the eaters can have the vampires’ cast-offs but no one should be attacked without his authority (targeting only those he deems as malcontents).

John Savage as Stokes
The brothers return to their house, but hide in camouflage (which I suspect is historically inaccurate), they watch as the eaters are driven off. Meanwhile Stokes implores the freed blacks to stay in the area and work the fields for pay. One, Griff (Ray Stoney), argues against this, suggesting that they should band together and get their own land. Stokes orders him killed. The eaters are after him but he fights back and then the brothers intervene and save him. With him, some of the black workers and a group of white squatters, the brothers look to farm their new land. They intend to make money to pay the potion man and then pay the workers by giving them the deed to the land. However Stokes had claimed it as a flood plain and isn’t happy.

Matthew Marsden as Hildegard
So, there is a lot of drama about the unrest between the freed slaves and white landowners in this period, interspersed with vampire stuff. There is a doomed romance between Beauregard and Stokes’ daughter, Philomenia (Elizabeth McLaughlin), that comes virtually from nowhere and is underused (it is used in the finale but could have been a source of dramatic tension and wasn’t). The other vampires in the area stay pretty much out of the story, with Royce being gentlemanly and little else.

All vampy
So what about the vampirism? The brothers have daylight sleeping boxes (read coffins, essentially) but do actually fight in daylight and their reaction to it varies from pain and collapse to very little. They get veiny at the head, grow fangs and that’s about it. A stake kills, making their skin turn grey before they turn to gloop (not that we see the latter happening, just the aftermath). To be honest the same film could have been made without vampires and cannibals and it would have been much the same. The one piece of lore I did like is it is said (but not shown) that when a vampire becomes hungry the vampire becomes more and more beautiful, luring their prey to them.

actors Ray Stoney and Samuel Hunt
There were some good performances in this with Samuel Hunt and Ray Stoney standing out. But it wasn’t performances that let this down, it was lack of direction – the film just not knowing what it wanted to be. Ultimately it would have been better as a drama without the supernatural element attached to it. As it was it was slow in places, almost thick, or soupy, in quality and was paced just off. If sticking with the supernatural then doing more with the other vampires might have helped. The eaters felt less a menace and more like cannon-fodder. It didn’t have the action chops of the film the distributors have tried to tie it to. 3 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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