Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Phantasmagoria 2: Labyrinths of blood – review

Director: Cosmotropia de Xam

Release date: 2018

Contains spoilers

I haven’t seen the first film, that this is the sequel to, but despite having two primary characters in common I doubt it matters. The first film, from what I can gather, was a possession/exorcism-based film with the character Valentina Creepax (Mari K.) the subject of the film. If the film had the same amount of narrative exposition as this film then I’ve probably summed it up.

That said, such narrative can be eschewed when pursuing an arthouse sensibility, it is true, however despite the fact that this is the case here and despite the fact that it most definitely homages Jess Franco - actually filming in some of Franco’s recognisable locations – this is actually hamstrung by the lack of narrative and by some truly dreadful performances (which I’ll get too).

purple blood
Starting with the Valentina character, with imagery of her eyes gouged out (a recurring image with more than one character) and then cutting to a vampire with a girl, whom she manhandles like a limp doll and bites. Her blood is purple – purposefully so. It seems vampires have purple blood, in order to contrast the blood type with Valentina’s red (virgin) blood, for reasons that soon become apparent.

Mari K. as Valentina
We see Valentina sat on a bed, surrounded by dolls. She reads from a book and her words tell us the basic lore/narrative premise of the film. That the vampires seek to create one by mixing their blood, virgin’s blood and holy water, to create a beast that is under their control and impervious to religious iconography, who will bring innocents to them. Yes, you’re right. It sounds awfully convoluted, as does them sending a doppelgänger of her so they can get her virgin blood.

at the lake
We get to a point, in the deliberately over-exposed digital filming where we see Valentina languidly pursued, climbing a tree to get away from her vampire pursuers and eventually going into the lake/pond. How she then washes onto an ocean’s beach is not explained and expected to be accepted within the arthouse form – perhaps it represented moving from one world to another? I’m probably being generous; and the art never captivated me enough to allow it to wash over me oblivious to the narrative failings. She is rescued by the Contesse (Rachel Audrey).

Rachel Audrey as the wise woman
It is here that the film totally lost me. As the Contesse spoke to her I wrote in my notes, “wooden”. The Contesse does give more background, talking of the prophecy of Baba Yaga, connecting the story into Dracula and talking about the new race of vampires that is due to be created. The Contesse (who is a vampire herself and this is revealed later) suggests that Valentina consult a wise woman in a nearby cave – also played by Rachel Audrey. In this case Audrey is made up with prosthetic clay to make it look like she has no eyes, but in fact looks like she has prosthetic clay on her face.

Elsewhere on the island another character from the first film, reporter Diane Cooper, is continuing her story (from the first film). Now as I watched I was absolutely struck by the awful acting not realising at first that Cooper was also played by Rachel Audrey. Now, there is a success in characterisation, I guess, as Cooper and the Contesse were clearly different characters but – and I hate being horrible – there was nothing else positive to report. If her performance as the Contesse was wooden, the Cooper performance combined wooden and grating.

Dracula café 
The film really lost me due to these performances. The look of the film was interesting, the re-treading of Franco haunts was entertaining, the stop outside the Dracula café was amusing enough but the fact that we were in the presence of Diane Cooper threatened to remove the amusement. The confused (ill-explained) narrative didn’t help and the art aspects didn’t feel sincere enough to escape pretentious. That said, whilst I normally like vampire arthouse, it is a sub-genre that is love it or hate it and I suspect this might be the same. Unfortunately, this one fell in the latter camp for me. 2.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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