Sunday, December 04, 2016

Trancers 4: Jack of Swords – review

Director: David Nutter

First aired: 1994

Contains spoilers

Full Moon pictures are best known on TMtV for their Subspecies series of films (and spin offs). But as well as those there is the long running Trancers series (actually the first Trancers film was made by Charles Band via Empire Pictures, and the series later became part of Band's Full Moon stable).

Trancers is a sci-fi noir series… actually it is cheesy B movie fair and the first couple of films, featuring future cop (and Trancer hunter) Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson, Near Dark, Live Evil & Wicked Lake), were cheesy good fun with a time travel aspect. The Trancers themselves are mind controlled zombie-like creatures. The third film nearly killed me off, to be honest, but this fourth film saw a change in pattern and I owe a thank you to Leila who told me about films 4 and 5.

the time machine
Jack has defeated the Trancers and is working for the Council (the rulers of 2353) and is going through time sorting out issues with the time lines. Having been a misogynist pig to a woman, Lyra (Stacie Randall, From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money), in a bar he goes back to work and discovers she is the new tech maestro. She gives him a plasma gun, a cut through anything knife and the new version of the long-second watch. The long-second watch is a gizmo that will slow time around the user, stretching a second for everyone else to ten seconds for them. He aims to go back through time on a new assignment but is attacked in the time machine by a solenoid stowaway and the machine flips to another universe.

a trancer dying
The land he arrives in – called Orpheus but looking suspiciously like Romania – is a land where magic works and – he slowly discovers – his tech doesn’t (or at least not properly). Within moments of arriving he is checking out a scream and sees a cloaked figure, Borgia (Adrian Pintea, Vlad), leaning over a woman. Now, Jack does call the man a bloodsucker but also recognises him as a trancer and, as he fights his foe, the victim, Tessa (Rona Hartner), warns him to be careful as the trancer will drain him dry. Eventually he impales Borgia on a tree branch – the trancer turning various glowing colours before vaporising.

Now, the trancers did vaporise on death anyway so it is the feeding that make these ones different. Like their zombie-like alternatives these change their face into a more monstrous visage, however these seem to have more control in this state and feeding allows them to revert back again. The feeding is where the film sends mixed messages. They are called vampires by Jack, they go for the neck and call humans ‘meat’. However it is clear that they are draining lifeforce – and their victims glow white, through blue to red. At red they die and the draining of life force makes these energy vampires.

tunnel rats
There are rebels – the tunnel rats – who seek out Jack as his coming has been prophesised by a monk called Farr (Alan Oppenheimer). There is talk of a disembodied wizard called Oberon who the leader of the vampire trancers, Caliban (Clabe Hartley), fears. Caliban has two primary goals – to get his ‘meat’ sympathising son Prospero (Ty Miller, Slaughterhouse Rock) to feed and to convince Jack to tell him how to get to Jack’s universe. To this end, he uses a slave woman who looks exactly like Lyra to tempt him to the darkside (as it were).

Tim Thomerson as Jack Deth
The story is simplistic but the film has pluses. Tim Thomerson reminds me, in many respects, of Bruce Campbell and this outing has overtones of Army of Darkness – which was released two years before and took the Evil Dead franchise into a medieval/fantasy setting. His portrayal of Deth sets the misogyny bar deliberately high and revels in the B-ness of it. The one liners perhaps don’t flow as thick and fast as previous outings – though you have to appreciate any film with the line “en garde Motherf*cker!” It perhaps doesn’t go as comic as Army of Darkness but the comedy is there and flows through the Jack Deth character.

Mark Arnold as Lucius
The tunnel rats are entirely undeveloped, bar the character Shaleen (Terri Ivens), and the acting rather wooden too. However the nobles (as the vampires are referred to) all seem to ham it up to the max. Especially Clabe Hartley as Caliban and Mark Arnold as his lieutenant, Lucius. Indeed Lucius could well be a prototype for the character Kraven in Underworld, though this performance outstrips the later one by a country mile. As for the vampires, beyond being tough to kill – unless you’re Jack Deth – and draining energy, the only pieces of lore seem to be that they have no reflection and they came from another world themselves.

It isn’t great, if we are going to be honest, and it is as cheesy as the most pungent Camembert but it is good fun. The edition I watched for review was in a set of the first five films. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Honourable Mention: Ángeles y Querubines

This is a rare 1972 Mexican film directed by Rafael Corkidi and it is one that you could argue has more than a fleeting visitation and that the vampire is in plain sight all the way through but, on a very strict interpretation, the vampire does only fleetingly appear in the film at the finale.

It was a controversial movie, seen in its Catholic dominated homeland as quite blasphemous but it doesn’t per se go out of its way to deliberately shock – it is too languid in direction and construction for that. Rather it is quietly subversive. After opening credits roll over a shot of chained wood, crawling with ants as a tonal musical theme is played, the film proper starts in the Garden of Eden (or on a beach) and we at first get Eve (Lea Corkidi) who is a young girl running through the beach naked and then, later, she brings forth Adam (Pablo Corkidi). The sculpture that represents the tree of knowledge has a white sphere on it and it is only through cooperation that they can reach it and this causes an explosion.

Cristián and his father
What we notice is that this is already languid, strange and expressionist, perhaps even psychedelic. It owes a debt to more European fantasy films of around the same era. From the Garden of Eden we move into the home of Don Jacobo Marroquín (Roberto Cañedo). A woman sings and his son, Cristián (Jorge Humberto Robles, Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary), seems rather taken with the daughter, Angela (Helena Rojo, also Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary), of guests.

bite marks
The two young adults fall in love but Cristián’s father does not approve and this causes the family to move away. Cristián is called back to Angela as he is needed but by the time he arrives (and this is at the end of the film) she appears to be dead (though the film isn’t explicit, it is implied that it is by her own hand). He moves to give a kiss and her eye opens and so he agrees to confront his father. By the time he reaches home Don Jacobo is dead – through losing too much blood. Cristián marries his love and we see that he has bite marks on his neck.

Helena Rojo as Angela
It appears both Angela and her mother (Ana Luisa Peluffo) are both creatures of the night. But this is all over the last ten minutes of the film and there is little explicitly vampiric until we see the bites mark with just a few minutes to go. Were they vampires through the film? They may have been but the film wasn’t explicit enough, indeed I would tend to associate the vampiric state with the apparent suicide, and so the vampiric aspect seems only to be delivered fleetingly. It will not be everybody’s cup of tea. However if you like your fantasy surreal it might just be for you.

The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Vamp or Not? Tower of Evil

A 1972 film directed by Jim O'Connolly this is a very quick and dirty ‘Vamp or Not?’

The film starts with two fisherman, John Gurney (George Coulouris) and his son Hamp (Jack Watson), braving the fog to land on Snape Island. They find a group of butchered teens and one survivor, Penelope (Candace Glendenning), who is mad with fear and who kills Gurney.

She is hospitalised in a catatonic state and part of the film is the doctors trying to unlock the secret her shutdown mind holds.

Meanwhile one of the kids was murdered with a Phoenician spear made of solid gold and a museum sends a team to the island as they believe there must be caves holding a Phoenician burial chamber from 3000 years before – probably dedicated to the fertility god Baal. Hamp and a relative Brom (Gary Hamilton) take them out along with Evan Brent (Bryant Haliday) a PI hired by Penelope’s family to prove she didn’t murder her friends. However they are not alone on the island and Hamp, Brom and Brent each know more than they are letting on.

the lighthouse
What follows is a murder mystery with a touch of the gaillo about it, but not a sniff of the supernatural. Indeed the supernatural is barely hinted at – the nearest they get being one of the kids, Mae (Seretta Wilson), suggesting the place is evil and saying she sensed it (due to her being psychic) – and certainly doesn’t raise its head during the main sequence of the film with the museum team. So why the ‘Vamp or Not?’

The film has several titles. I watched it as Tower of Evil, it was released in America as Horror on Snape Island and the French TV release was titled Le Vampire de L'ïle du Diable – or the Vampire of the Island of the Devil. There is absolutely no reason for the inclusion of the vampire part of the title – false advertising I’m afraid. Not Vamp.

The imdb page is here.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Apocalypse and the Beauty Queen – review

Director: Thomas Smugala

Release date: 2005

Contains spoilers

Sometimes I just don’t hate films as much as others seem to do. Sometimes I stumble across a film that has a sub-genre theme and give it a whirl and am surprised. Perhaps not overwhelmed and shocked, but at least a little bit taken aback by the film.

Meet Apocalypse and the Beauty Queen, a low budget film that – by all that is sane in film watching, and more so in critiquing – should deserve to vanish into an oblivion but actually manages to hold its own – at least a little. It is also a film that has a Báthory aspect.

Beverly Hynds as Amber
We are in a post-apocalyptic America – the world hasn’t been ended by zombies or zompires, not by pestilence, nuclear devastation or GM crops. Rather the power grid has failed and the world has slumped into chaos as a result. In this particular county, a former Beauty Queen and super model Amber Bathory (Beverly Hynds) has taken control. At first it seemed by popular demand – she displayed particularly sharp survival skills and leadership. However, by the point we start to observe the story she is a despot and the people are starving.

Matthew meets Sylvie
Girls are going missing also and we meet Sylvie (Courtney Kocak), who lives with her “uncle” Reggie (Gunnar Hansen), an alcoholic tombstone carver. Sylvie falls into the hands of Amber’s captain of the guard Matthew (Carlos Gonzalez-Vio, the Mortal Instruments: City of Bones), who offers food and then drugs her with wine. She is taken to serve Amber but he falls for her and it is Sylvie’s presence and escape from Amber that destabilises Amber’s kingdom.

toe dipping
So, she is called Bathory and she is jealous of anyone younger and prettier than she is (she was called ugly as a child, became a super model but her light had faded before the apocalypse occurred). We see her smudge blood from servants onto her skin, we hear that she slowly drained one girl whilst keeping her alive, causing her to become anaemic, and we see one scene with a girl suspended above a bath, her throat slit and a foot descending into the blood.

running a bath
That’s about it, but it is clearly taken from the Báthory legend, with Amber playing the role of a (post-)modern day Erzsébet. And, like the historic Báthory, the viewer is asked to question the extent of the woman’s crimes. She is no angel, certainly, but is she as bad as the legend seems to be painting her? But what about the film?

a smudge of blood
The acting was, at best, stagey – fake laughter and dialogue delivered from the boards rather than appearing naturalistic. That said I was actually rather impressed by said dialogue – the delivery could have been better but the writing was rather good. The world seemed desolate but cheaply photographed. If you thought too hard, then the post-apocalyptic world didn’t hold together – however on face value it was effective enough and in some respects didn’t need to be realistic. CGI bullet holes were probably the worst of the effects.

Yet somewhere in all this the film held me – it was perhaps a tad drawn out but I have spent worse nights with a movie. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Frightmare – review

Director: Norman Thaddeus Vane

Release date: 1983

Contains spoilers

There was a question mark in my mind as to how I’d treat the film on TMtV. Whilst main character Conrad Radzoff (Ferdy Mayne, the Fearless Vampire Killers & the Vampire Lovers) is an actor famous for playing a vampire (and so we have a fleeting visitation at the beginning of him acting as a vampire), there is a question mark on what he is when he comes back – I’ll discuss that in review.

In fact Mayne – who has starred as a vampire himself – played a character who was modelled quite strongly on Christopher Lee – to the point that old film footage of Conrad used early Christopher Lee footage rather than actual Ferdy Mayne footage.

about to bite
So, we have established he is an actor and in the first scene we see him creeping around in formal dress prior to putting the bite on a woman (Twyla Littleton) sat at a dressing table. The director (Peter Kastner) yells cut – Conrad has missed his mark, again… and its take 18 of the commercial. The director calls for a break and is sat looking at the script on the wall of a balcony. Using his walking stick, Conrad nonchalantly pushes the director to his death and then saunters off to his Rolls Royce.

addressing the college
Cut forward and a local college – and specifically the students who are in a film society – have invited Conrad to give an address. He seems charmed by the proposition but early into his speech it is clear that something is wrong and he suffers a heart attack. He is revived by one of the students, Meg (Jennifer Starrett), giving (almost perfunctory) CPR. Not long after this he awaits death and yet manages to kill the director (Leon Askin, Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew) he was discovered by, from his death bed, and get himself, resplendent in his cape and formal wear, to his own coffin.

getting into his own coffin
The funeral features a pre-recorded eulogy from himself and his mausoleum had to be fought for but is massive and replete with flashing neon star. The film class attend the funeral and then, whilst driving around, return to the cemetery. The boys leave the girls as they climb the wall and then break into the mausoleum – by one of the gang, Stu (Jeffrey Combs, Necronomicon: Book of the Dead & Dark House), smashing a skylight. Inside the mausoleum is lit, with messages being given by Conrad on video. They decide to steal Conrad’s corpse and take it for a last night out, at the house where many of his films were made (and where he murdered the director).

the sceance
This is where we wonder just what Conrad is (and what the students were thinking, to be honest)? His corpse sits quietly, as one would expect, but his wife (Barbara Pilavin, Buffy the Vampire Slayer ) soon discovers the corpse is missing and calls in a medium. It is the contact she makes with his spirit that allows Conrad to escape (what we assume to be) Hell and possess his own body and he then goes on a murder spree, avenging himself on those who desecrated his tomb.

dark, but you can see fangs
Undoubtedly he is undead and, at least in one shot, he has obvious fangs (though they could have been his fake movie ones). He displays powers of pyrokinesis, telekinesis and telepathy (with a hypnotic element). He seems to be able to manifest a mist or fog. All that said he does not display any overtly vampiric traits. He is certainly undead and most certainly looks the part of the Lugosi-esque vampire but we have no evidence that he is actually a vampire. However, with the fact that he acted like one as a human and that he looked like one when undead I pitched in at review level for the film.

Jeffrey Combs as Stu
As for what the kids were thinking, that is one of the flaws with the film. The fact that a bunch of film students desecrate a tomb and steal the corpse of their hero made little sense, except in terms of setting the film up. Despite it all, however, I actually rather enjoyed myself as I watched it. Ferdy Mayne was a primary reason, he looked like he was enjoying himself and was chewing the scenery like the pro he was. It was also great fun to see a young Jeffery Combs in one of his earliest films. A film that held no sense of reality but revelled in that, it wasn’t great cinema but was good fun. 5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

La Stirpe di Orazio – review

Directors: Riccardo Bernasconi & Francesca Reverdito

Release date: 2016*

Contains spoilers

*the studio asparagus page suggests a 2015 date but the copyright on the episodes’ states 2016

Following a post on Facebook I discovered this wonderfully quirky web serial and, normally, it’d have an Honourable Mention as it is free to watch. However, it was so fun I decided on a review. The series is in Italian but there are English subs built into the episodes.

Toni Pandolfo as Orazio
La Stirpe di Orazio translates to Orazio’s Clan and follows three vampires Orazio (Toni Pandolfo), his partner Tacito (Paolo Vercelloni) and their vampiric son Nerio (Marco Brinzi). In a later episode we discover that Orazio and Tacito attacked Nerio in a movie theatre but, struck by guilt, Orazio gave him some of his blood, raising him as a vampire. From that day Orazio swore off human blood and Tacito followed suit out of love, the lack of human blood having a physical impact on him to the point that he uses a wheelchair and sticks. This is also why, when we meet them in the first episode, the hungry vampires are planning a heist to steal some chickens.

rescuing Sarah
As the story develops we meet Annica (Anahì Traversi), a vampire obsessed Goth who has fallen for Nerio, though he is less than committed – leaving her hypnotised in a graveyard rather than turning her and being with her forever. They also find an unconscious girl, Sarah (Valentina Violo), who turns out to be an Australian backpacker. They take her back to their caravan and Nerio ends up falling for her. She quickly picks up on them being vampires. She had a boyfriend, sort of, in the form of Dragan (Antonin Schopfer) and there is a small yappy dog hanging around.

members of Clan Vlad
Lore-wise we quickly discover that there are many (partial) myths around the vampires. They like garlic, can go out in the sun, reflect and can be photographed and are not warded by religious artefacts. I say partial because it is indicated that such things will affect members of Clan Vlad (a clan hated by Orazio). Vampires have hypnotic abilities and Tacito is adept at séances – he uses this power to contact the mind of the unconscious Sarah but soon is tuned into a football match. They can subsist on chicken blood and blood sausages, and there is a vampires anonymous organisation, but there is also a blood-pusher (Carlo Sortino) in the area and human blood is needed to be in peak condition.

Anahì Traversi as Annica
The series is well shot, with little tutorials embedded in episode (these can be viewed independently on the website). The cast are all great fun and, in short, I’d like to see a feature be made around these characters. Definitely one to look out for, you can watch it yourself at the serial’s homepage. 7.5 out of 10.

The IMDb page is here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Penny Dreadful: Season 3 – review

First aired: 2016

Directors: Various

Contains spoilers

The first season of Penny Dreadful was excellent but also had some aspects that could have been better pulled together (less problems and more areas that would have pushed the season into the TV stratosphere). To me season 2 sorted any niggles out but I didn’t review it as it was definitively not vampire. The villains in season 2 were witches and whilst there was a blood bathing moment it was less rejuvenating and more perversion (as is mirrored in this season) and the witches' youth was maintained through diabolic pact with Lucifer.

So, out came season 3 and I must admit that I did not watch it as it aired. Rather I have waited and watched it on DVD. That did mean that I was cognisant before going in that there was some controversy around the season. Curtailed to just nine episodes, towards the end of the run the season was announced as the last and the claim was made that the series had been designed that way. If so then the flaws of season 1 came back aplenty in season 3 as we will discuss.

Ethan Chandler and Sir Malcolm
However the end of season 2 left us with our protagonists scattered to the four winds. Vanessa Ives (Eva Green, Dark Shadows) had used dark magic, murdered and lost her faith. Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett, 30 Days of Night) – revealed to be called Ethan Lawrence Talbot – had handed himself to Scotland Yard and was being extradited to the US on charges of murder. Sir Malcom (Timothy Dalton) was on his way to Africa to bury the body of Sembene (Danny Sapani). Lily (Billie Piper, Secret Diary of a Call Girl) – the Bride of Frankenstein – had abandoned both Victor (Harry Treadaway, the Disappeared) and the Monster (Rory Kinnear) (who himself had taken off to sea into polar regions) to be with Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) and we’d be forgiven for believing they would be the “big bad” of Season 3.

Sarah Greene as Hecate
In actual fact Season 3 finally revealed Dracula (Christian Camargo, the Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part 1 & the Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part 2) and he is the one of two brothers (the other being Lucifer) cast down for the war on heaven and looking to love the mother of evil (personified in Vanessa). This idea that Lucifer was, in many respects, the spiritual component and Dracula the physical component of the fallen angels was a great idea and we discover later that, being physical, Dracula can be killed. Meanwhile Sir Malcom is found by an Apache warrior shaman, Kaetenay (Wes Studi), and convinced to travel to the US to save Ethan. The last surviving member of the witch coven, Hecate (Sarah Greene), is also tracking Ethan – obsessed with his power and eager to join forces with the werewolf.

Samuel Barnett as Renfield
A depressed Vanessa is contacted by Mr Lyle (Simon Russell Beale) and encouraged to visit an alienist, Dr Seward (Patti LuPone), whose secretary happens to be a Mr Renfield (Samuel Barnett). Unfortunately Lyle was horrendously side-lined in this season (he is sent out to Egypt and disposed of storyline wise), however this was an excellent way of introducing Seward and Renfield. The performance of Renfield by Samuel Barnett needs an especial mention. The Dracula storyline (including the rescue of Chandler), all told, was pretty strong (though could have been expanded and developed) and ended in a series finishing, satisfactory way. I should also mention that the monster storyline, whilst minor and low key in this season, allowed a brilliant performance by Rory Kinnear.

Dracula seduces Vanessa
We got to see the vampires a lot more, of course, though none like the higher-level minions of Season 1. Whilst Dracula lived in the House of Night Creatures (as it was put) he and his creatures could walk in the day and he does cast a reflection. He was immensely strong and fast, when he wanted to be, but also had a disguise persona that was absolutely ordinary and it was this that he used to seduce. Sir Malcom is bitten and the wound is cauterised to prevent infection and turning – this harked back to a few of the Hammer films. I have to say that I thought new (late introduced) character Cat Hartdegen (Perdita Weeks) was a fantastic edition and could have withstood some detail and expansion (though that might have been best left to a subsequent season if there was to be one). That said, if this season had a weakness it was in other storylines.

Shazad Latif as Dr Jekyll
The Lily/Dorian storyline started out well enough – and it was within this we got the blood bathing, of a type – but then petered out. The storyline itself (with Lily deciding to empower prostitutes to violently throw off male oppression) went nowhere, and more and more sidelined Dorian until a whimper of an outcome. Frankenstein, abandoned by Lily, seeks solace in drugs until he reaches out to an old college friend, Dr Jekyll (Shazad Latif). This could have been brilliant, the Jekyll character having an Indian heritage allowed the filmmakers to play with racism themes (as they did with Kaetenay in this season) in ways they didn’t in previous seasons and the Jekyll character himself had scope for a fascinating storyline – he became little more than a story cipher and thoroughly wasted the character and actor in doing so.

Rory Kinnear relives the monster's past
It was within these aspects of the show that the season failed. Whilst it had only one less episode than season 2 (and one more than season 1) it could well have played with the primary story and the side stories much more than it did. That said, it was enjoyable TV fare, of a much higher mark than many other series. There was not a bad performance in the series (I had criticised Billy Piper in the first season due to the accent she tried to use, once reborn as Lily she lost the Irish brogue and the performance she gave was stronger for it) and some outstanding performances – I have mentioned the performance by Rory Kinnear once but it needs to be mentioned again, flashbacks allowing him to act as the character was before resurrection, and Eva Green, as ever, stormed the screen with her nuanced portrayal of Vanessa. All told 7.5 out of 10, for what we got but what we could have had would have been even higher.

The imdb page is here.