Sunday, June 24, 2018

Tokyo Vampire Hotel – season 1 – review

Director: Sion Sono

Release date: 2017

Contains spoilers

If I just stated “bat sh*t crazy”, would that be review enough for you? I’m guessing not and I have to say that it is crazy in a good way, but crazy nonetheless. Some of the concepts in this are absolutely wonderful and its great to see a series put a “graphic content” warning at the head.

A tad bit of sex (no nudity, but there is quite an explicit moment) but a huge amount of blood and violence – though the effects can be a bit hit and miss with that.

that doesn't work on neo-vampires
There is an opening explanation of the world we are in. There are two primary clans of vampires, the Draculas and the Corvinus, the latter referred to as neo-vampires. I guess neo as they don’t seem to have the same weaknesses. The sunlight aspect of this is a tad confusing – we see at least one member of the Corvinus clan in daylight through this but sunlight does have a devastating effect at the end – but most definitely the Corvinus clan are not affected by religious artefacts, whilst the Draculas are. Centuries before the Draculas were exiled underground and the Corvinus clan remained on the surface world.

celestial alignment
At a point in 1999 the planets and sun aligned into the shape of a cross and prophecy stated that a baby born 9 seconds past 9:09 AM on that day (which is fairly blooming precise, time zones notwithstanding) would save the Dracula clan. Three babies were born at that time in Japan, they were taken by the clan and each was fed a drop of Dracula’s blood. So, we cut forward to 2021 and Manami (Ami Tomite) is going to meet friends to celebrate her birthday. The café is soon under siege by a female warrior who kills three goth girls (neo-vampires, from whom she steals three calling cards) and then slaughters the witnesses (all the patrons, that is) bar Manami. Manami hides as a group of men come in and kill the woman.

Ami Tomite as Manami
Manami runs but is intercepted by K (Kaho) an agent of the Dracula clan. Manami is confused, scared and something is happening to her – the Dracula blood is awakening as the hour of her 22nd birthday approaches. Also after her is Yamada (Shinnosuke Mitsushima), one of the top Corvinus Clan vampires and K gives a stark warning that should she be with him when her blood awakens the world will end, but he gets her anyway. In the next episode we get the back story of one of the other Dracula babies and how the clan watched over them – and eventually discover that only Manami survived to 22 – and also how K and her friend Noah were taken, when exchange students in Romania, Noah being taken into the Corvinus Clan and K tossed aside to the Draculas.

Manami feral
The main story, as it kicks in, is that the Corvinus Clan has invited a group of lonely humans with exaggerated hormones (giving them more of a sex drive) to the Requiem hotel. The plan is to trap them there and sit out the aftermath of nuclear devastation that occurs immediately after the humans are lured there. The hotel is run by Yamada and Elizabeth Báthory (Megumi Kagurazaka) on behalf of Elizabeth’s mother, who has shrivelled to a withered, tiny body. The mother needs Manami’s awakened blood to replenish herself. K and two Dracula agents infiltrate the hotel, before it is locked down, to try and rescue Manami and take her (through hidden pathways) to the Dracula clan. We end up with the mortals revolting as K and the agents try and fight off the Corvinus vampires and – having been awakened by the leader of the Dracula clan, through a sex ritual – Manami becomes a feral killing machine.

the empress is also the hotel
And that’s only half of it, but I won’t spoil any more of the core plot. However, I do need to look at the hotel. The Empress (Yumi Adachi) is the aunt of Elizabeth and rather than shrivelling like her sister turned into a hotel. Yup, the Requiem is the Empress. Her upper torso sits at the heart of the hotel and there are (within the walls and yet, maybe, dimensionally distant from us) humans who disappointed the vampires and now feed the hotel in a writhing mass of bodies who stab themselves to let their blood flow. At one point one of these is removed from the wall and fed directly to the empress who seemed to absorb the person directly through the floor below her torso. Ok, there are similar ideas, for instance the film the Girl with Hungry Eyes features an evil hotel that the vampire vicariously feeds, we have a possessed motorbike in I Bought a Vampire Motorbike but for the vampire to turn into the building, the Hellish vision of writhing bodies feeding the hotel, the fact it’s walls can bleed – its madcap and incredibly inventive.

feeding the hotel
There are other moments where lore is handled very interestingly. The humans struggle to hurt the vampires… shooting them might drop them for a moment and get them mad… until K tells them to shoot them in the head. As I was watching her fight with a bow, however, I thought the effects were going a bit splink as the arrows seemed to impale the vampire but clearly missed the torso. Then I realised she was pinning their shadows and she explains to the humans that the shadows are flammable and setting them on fire can severely weaken the vampire - a nice and unusual take on shadow lore. That said, I mentioned the effects, and I thought it was a shame that they used so much physical blood but felt the need to also add in cgi blood splatter (which often looks false). In respect of the effects generally they were often great and then there would be the occasional jarring poorer effect.

Megumi Kagurazaka as Báthory
However, that is a minor gripe. Watching this was a joy but it was a surreal joy and some folks might struggle with that. Its story structure was odd and it did leap ahead at times and expect the audience to go with it. That said, 7.5 out of 10 for one of the most unusual vampire series around at the moment. Note this has also been cut into a 142 minute feature.

The imdb page is here.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – season 2 – review

Director: Various

First Aired: 2017

Contains spoilers

Based (loosely) on the books by Douglas Adams, I looked at season 1 of this series here.

The primary reason for doing so was because of the characters the Rowdy 3, 4 “Anomalous entities” who are actually energy vampires. However, covering off the end of Season 1 (spoilers if you haven’t watched that yet). The CIA project Blackwing has become active and is aggressively capturing and testing the AEs.

coffin like prison
At the season cross-point Dirk (Samuel Barnett, Penny Dreadful) has been captured and is being tested, as have three of the Rowdy 3 though they are on ice in coffin like containment. The last member, Vogel (Osric Chau), is on the run with Amanda (Hannah Marks) and separate to his sister, Todd (Elijah Wood, Paris Je T’aime) along with Farrah (Jade Eshete) are also on the run (and on the FBI most wanted list). Last of all, Bart (Fiona Dourif, True Blood) escaped the army sent to catch her but has been separated from companion Ken (Mpho Koaho), who is held in Blackwing on the assumption he has powers (he doesn’t). If I had a small frown, it was that we didn’t see Bart slaughter the army sent for her.

Martin feeding
The story this time around centres on a world/separate dimension called Wendimoor – a world created in the mind of a small child where the laws of physics do not hold true. Unfortunately Wendimoor and reality are beginning to cross over with weak spots allowing things to transfer between worlds. In Wendimoor, Amanda’s paraibulitis, which Todd also has, is controllable and even allows her to access magic. The story is convoluted but perhaps we see the solution much quicker than Dirk – who is enveloped in self-doubt through the season.

Vogel feeds on Amanda
As for the rest of the Rowdy 3, they are broken out of Blackwing and reunited with Amanda and Vogel. Note that they were 4 but called 3, and then they added Amanda to their ranks… this is all an Easter egg referring to The Hitchhiker’s Guide and the number of books in the trilogy. Could they be gaining a 6th member? The Rowdy 3 play an integral role in the season but we don’t really see much else with regards the lore of their vampirism and I really don’t want to spoil the central mystery too much. So there is nothing left to say but 7.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Short Film: The Alley

Released in 2003 this is a very short (under three minute) film directed by Lincoln Kupchak.

It starts with a girl (Crystal Day) walking at night. Unfortunately, the lighting isn’t particularly good and therefore the print is hazy and indistinct. She walks down an alley when two n’er-do-wells (Sik End & Jamisin Matthews) come out of the dark, and Sik End (as credited) grabs her and pushes her to the wall, licking at her face (with the encouragement of his partner in crime).

Of course, she sprouts fangs and deals with them (at under three minutes including titles, did you expect anything else?). We are in a brief munch and die scenario and she ends up with quite a lot of blood on her chin for such a swift repast (with no discernible alley splatter, but the lighting is poor, as I say)

There isn’t much else to say, except that the imdb page is here.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Short Film: Weekend Vampire

Not to be confused with the band with the words of the title reversed as their band name (Google, I’m talking to you) this is a 2016 short film directed by Sophia Cacciola and Allix Mortis, which comes in at the 10-minute mark.

The opening is a neat little animation of a ship with a narration by Agneska Karnstein (Stabatha La Thrills, Blood of the Tribades), who waxes lyrical about how long she has slumbered, an itch she just cannot scratch and at least she is not trapped in an attic…

Agneska awakened
So, David has been sent to the attic to look for miniatures. He cuts his hand on a trunk and his blood falls onto (what he assumes is a Halloween decoration) Agneska, reviving her and lining him up as her first snack of the evening. She leaves the building and follows some Goths (assuming, I think, that they are fellow vampires) into a party. In said party she meets Valeria Orlok (Sake Toomey) a chatty (and rather shallow) millennial.

Valeria and Agneska
Bored with the party, and assuming wrongly that she knows the vampire (believing her to be a maker of hand crafted soaps), Valeria takes her by ‘Grüber’ to another party across town. The vampire has to face the perils of automotive transportation and the even more perilous charms of hipsters at a Speakeasy Party. Will she fit in? Only watching the short will reveal that…

The imdb page is here.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Vamp or Not? Shark Exorcist

This is a 2015 by the infamous Donald Farmer, who has made a noticeable impact in my Worst 100 Vampire Films. This too, if found to be a vampire film, would end up there.

However, before we examine whether this has a vampire aspect to it, or not, you might be wondering how some of these films end up being looked at by me. In this case author Doug Lamoreux posted about it in the Facebook group Vampire Films, my friend Paul tagged me; Hell, even author Nancy Kilpatrick got involved! I found the film for pence (more than its worth to be fair) and that has led us to the TMtV investigation of the film, which you are reading now.

the shark
So, the film begins with nun Sister Blair (Christy Moritz) – named I guess for Linda Blair – walking through a graveyard. We hear about her being hunted by the authorities for the torture and deaths of 13 children. She gets to the water’s edge (go with it) and starts ranting about the world betraying her and wanting vengeance through Satan (whom she is invoking through the rant). A girl comes up to her calling her a bitch and is stabbed for her trouble (and ends up covered with an inordinate amount of blood for the single stab) and then rolled into the waters; a sacrifice – we see a blazing eye shark.

more blood smear than bite
Cut forward a year and Emily (Channing Dodson), Ali (Angela Kerecz, the Vampire Diaries) and Lauren (Madison Carney) and are going to a lake – though moaning Lauren assumed it was a water park. Lauren and Emily work on their tans as Ali phones Bobby (Michael Ollin Lotten) and gets his voicemail. She goes for a swim and suddenly she is attacked (note that nowhere is it stated that this is a salt water lake, the concept of a great white being in a lake, full stop, isn’t tackled until 38 minutes in – and then barely, and the shark is able to attack in shallows without the viewer or character spotting it, indeed we don’t see a single dorsal stuck out of the water). Lauren finds her and pulls her out of the water. Ali has blood at her mouth and the most unconvincing leg wound (yes she still has her leg).

Emily and Ali
After a stock footage scene of a hospital and the information that Ali's injury is the result of one of several shark attacks in the area, we go to Lauren and Emily talking – Emily having visited Ali at the hospital and discovered that her leg has miraculously healed. Emily realises that Lauren has something going on with Bobby – well that’s gonna come back and bite someone – and we realise that the disinterested performance by Madison Carney is some of the worst acting we have seen. As the film moves on Emily becomes more and more worried about Ali’s odd behaviour and obsession with water.

possessed by the spirit of the lake
There are odd moments in film – more filler than thriller – such as the filming of “Ghost Whackers” where anchor Nancy Chase (Roni Jonah) claims to be possessed by the “spirit of the lake” and then rival sceptic Brianna Bennett (Kirstin Vanhooser) tries to expose her. The entire three-part act is virtually pointless (though it did make me discover the series Hicky the Hillbilly Vampire, which both Jonah and Vanhooser were in and that will feature here in the future) bar one line that suggests the shark eats flesh and devours souls. Then there was an exorcism moment, perhaps a memory of the priest of the film Father Michael (Bobby Kerecz), although it seemed to have nothing to do with him. Even Ali’s attacks make little sense story wise – she lures one guy (Father Michael’s brother?) – and dunks under water – did she turn into the shark or just lure him there? We don’t know, but later there is an attack in a pool and that really should have been mentioned as a logic-less attack by authorities (given it was a pool).

sharp teeth
Staying with the story proper, however, Father Michael is called to say his brother has died and heads to the town, where he finds Emily and they go off to a fair. Lauren and Bobby are there but have a disagreement, leaving Bobby on his own. Ali is hunting him and displays sharp teeth. In what might be, in another film, a telling moment, we see vampires on the side of the fair’s haunted attraction. In this, however, maybe not so much. When she bites Bobby, however, it is a neck bite. She is then captured and taken to be exorcised. Of course, the cross plays a part in this, as you would expect, but the exorcism itself is probably the dampest squib of an exorcism on screen. Props, however, for the line about needing “a bigger cross” (even a film as bad as this can have a redeeming feature).

funfair vampire picture
So, is it Vamp? Well she has sharp teeth and the possession was passed by a bite. We have to assume that the healing of her leg was down to the demonic presence (or the fact that there wasn’t a blooming mark to heal!) There is no evidence that she predates for blood but there is flimsy evidence that the shark itself devours souls – though no conclusive evidence that she and the shark are one and the same. However, the reference to soul eating is just one throwaway line and I am not at all tempted to say 'yes, this is vamp'. Perhaps I am reacting to how shockingly bad the film is – does the genre need another bad film in its filmography? Note that it is only around 60 minutes (some of its reported 71 minutes being a mind numbing post-credit sequence of a girl at a SeaWorld type centre – I assume – playing with plush toy sharks until she has a demonic moment. Probably the best part of the film was its DVD cover art – and that isn’t reflective of the film. NOT VAMP.

The imdb page is here.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Shake Rattle & Roll IV – review

Directors: Peque Gallaga & Lore Reyes

Release date: 1992

Contains spoilers

The fourth instalment of the popular anthology series from the Philippines, I actually found this to be a particularly weak entry into the series. Perhaps not helped by the fuzzy video quality of the film (though that also probably helped the manananggal effects look quite good in the section we are interested in.

Before we get there, we should note that the first story is Ang Guro, which was essentially a riff on Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde on a college campus. The second story (probably the most interesting of the bunch) was Kapitbahay in which a desperate Witawit (Rene Hinojales) starts kidnapping children as it wishes to stop its tree being cut down.

The third story is Ang Madre, and centres around the manananggal myth. The story takes part in a poor area of a city where there is a brothel and where a pair of sisters and the young son, Teks (IC Mendoza, Shake Rattle and Roll 8, Shake Rattle and Roll X & Shake Rattle and Roll XV), of one of them live and scrape a living together. The fear of the manananggal is reflected in the press and, looking closely, you can see it described as half-woman and half-vampire.

on bat wings
This is because the manananggal is one of the types that splits in two, leaving its legs behind as it flies on giant bat wings. In this case, eventually, it becomes apparent that there is a male (Miguel Rodriguez) and female (Aiko Melendez) manananggal. At first, however, an old lady (Lilia Cuntapay, Aswang (1992), Shake Rattle & Roll V & Island of the Living Dead) is blamed for the attacks – and both this and the previous segment do focus on mobs blaming or scapegoating an innocent. It is Teks who realises it is actually a nun from the clinic who is the female vampire.

hot sauce
The lower body is susceptible to attack and we do see Teks use a hot sauce (it might be the chillies, the peppers or the garlic in such sauce that proves effective) and this actually seems to melt the lower body down to nothing. We also see the hot sauce being used as a defensive weapon against the flying manananggal, ultimately sunlight is also an effective weapon – if the torso is still separated. There is little other lore to look at in this one, though as mentioned earlier, for such a low budget effort the sfx around the manananggal is fairly impressive (though the print will hide issues).

the manananggal
As I mentioned right at the beginning, this was a weak entry in the series. This section felt unfocused, the first segment was pretty darn fluff. The middle section worked better and, when this worked it was in aspects like the mob rule that I touched on. The score, as always, is for the vampire section only and this one looked quite good (despite the poor print) and had some worthwhile gore despite inherent weaknesses. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Bloom – review

Director: Travis Legge

Release date: 2014

Contains spoilers

Probably the most unusual thing about Bloom is that it is a film that supports a roleplaying game created by the director, also called Bloom. The film however, might fit into that world but doesn’t overtly sell it (as one might expect a Vampire the Masquerade film to do) by displaying a world and community, rather it closely follows a single turnee.

I think what I liked most about this was this concentration and the way in which the filmmakers chose to display her reactions… I’ll explain towards the end of the review.

wake up dead
So, we begin in a motel bathroom that is absolutely covered in blood and has the lifeless body of Lily (Deann Baker) suddenly as we hear a tinnitus sounding buzz we see Lily’s eye twitch and she is suddenly awake but very confused – distressed by the situation. She touches her neck and, as she stands, sees the words ‘forgive me’ painted in blood on the mirror. When she opens the motel door the sunlight is blinding, but she stumbles into it and staggers home – people who see her looking with disdain or ignoring her.

heading home
Once home she retrieves her phone and money from her cleavage but has no key and so finds the spare and lets herself in, dropping the cash and phone and heading to the bathroom. Once cleaned up she tries to call the rape crisis helpline but can’t bring herself to do so. She ignores calls from her friend Sylvia (Danielle Doetsch) and sleeps. Sylvia eventually comes round and wants to know what happened with the hottie Lily went off with (and mentions she was somewhat intimate on the dancefloor with him). Lily can’t remember anything after getting the motel room and wonders if she had been drugged.

eye mojo
So as we follow her trying to come to terms with what is happening we see her unable to eat or drink (all the food smells rotten and she brings it straight back up). She returns to the motel, retrieves her handbag (and gets hit with a clean-up fee) and (without realising what she is doing) uses eye mojo on the desk clerk (Tim Swan). Her hearing becomes incredibly sharp but her temperature is incredibly low. We see her crying blood tears and also see that religious artefacts have no impact. She asks for help from her brother, Keith (Andrew Jacob DeHart), but he gives up when she will not go to the hospital or the police. She decides to go back to the club and asks for Sylvia’s help but she doesn’t answer the call.

amateur vampire hunter
At the club she eventually finds the guy’s name but also gains the attention of a couple of amateur vampire hunters (Terry Bell & Malcom Banks) and that is about where I’ll leave the plot. The majority of the film is entirely focused on Lily and thus Deann Baker has her work cut out for her. Part of me wondered if she were up to the task as she was quite distant in her early performance, however I suspect this was deliberate and it did bring out the numbness and shock of the victim of an attack. As the film moved along we discover that decapitation and burning are the only ways to deal with a vampire.

blood tears
What I liked about this was the way Lily’s attitude and behaviours changed and it wasn’t in the way you might imagine but it was rather satisfying. We are left with a mystery over exactly what happened to her that night as she doesn’t find the attacker (and there are comments to make us wonder if it went down as she assumed). The film is essentially an origin story for Lily and Lily alone, it offers insight into the vampiric condition but not the vampiric lifestyle (if, indeed, the universe has one – though being the basis of a rpg one would assume that world does include such a thing). However, the slow burn of this 70 minute feature might be a tad slow for some. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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