Thursday, July 28, 2016

The City of Mirrors – review

Author: Justin Cronin

First published: 2016

Contains spoilers

The blurb: The world we knew is gone. What world will rise in its place?

The Twelve have been destroyed and the terrifying hundred-year reign of darkness that descended upon the world has ended. The survivors are stepping outside their walls, determined to build society anew—and daring to dream of a hopeful future.

But far from them, in a dead metropolis, he waits: Zero. The First. Father of the Twelve. The anguish that shattered his human life haunts him, and the hatred spawned by his transformation burns bright. His fury will be quenched only when he destroys Amy—humanity’s only hope, the Girl from Nowhere who grew up to rise against him.

One last time light and dark will clash, and at last Amy and her friends will know their fate.

The review: The final part of Justin Cronin’s epic post-apocalyptic trilogy that began with the Passage and was followed by the Twelve and, from the previous volume, the Twelve are believed destroyed by Amy (who turned fully viral to do so) but that is not the case. One of the Twelve and Amy have survived and are hidden within a tank of water – hiding not from the human survivors but from the source of the plague – Zero.

Unbeknown to humanity, Zero is in the ruins of New York and, as we discover, an unexpected submerging in water has altered the physiological changes he suffered through the virus and he has become human like again – with a susceptibility to sunlight and fangs the main tells of his condition.

But, for humanity, life begins to take on a semblance of pre-viral normality. The book moves us forward in time (and ages our main characters of course) as eventually defences are lowered and humanity begins to spread outwards – in time for zero to make a move against the world.

Cronin’s eye for minutia and his love of non-linear story-telling takes us back into Fanning’s life – the man who would become Zero – and the end of the book takes us a millennium forward. There are mystical aspects that just are and work because they just are, building the epic quality of the story. This series cannot be praised too highly for me, strong writing, strong characetrs and epic stories combine to create one of the best vampire series not of the 21st Century but ever.

I gave the other two volumes very respectable 9s when I reviewed them. This rounded everything so perfectly it gets a rare 10 out of 10. Essential.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Honourable Mentions: Draugasaga

Draugasaga was a 1985 made for TV movie from Iceland and the first thing to warn is not to confuse the Scandinavian draugr with drauga. The draugr is a restless dead, sometimes associated with blood drinking/flesh eating and seen by some as a vampire type. The drauga is Icelandic for ghost and thus the title translates to ghost story and it is just that.

It was written and directed by Viðar Víkingsson and it was set in a TV studio where night watchman Runolfur (Rúrik Haraldsson) is utterly convinced the studio is haunted by a red haired ghost, to the point that he starts whenever he sees any woman with red hair. From the start we know something is going on when a photographer develops a picture of the model, with Runolfur by him, and the face of the ghost superimposes over the photo, eventually turning the print black. The negative is normal.

Rúrik Haraldsson as Runolfur
When Sonny (Kristján Franklin Magnúss), a medical student, takes up the position of the other night watchman he quickly develops a relationship with Elsa (Sigurjona Sverrisdottir). Occasionally we see back to the war years and Elsa’s grandmother – who would seem to be the red haired ghost – and a relationship with an American airman. Elsa’s mother won’t talk about her mother and the flashbacks to the two see them played by the same actors as Sonny and Elsa.

the ghost
Ghost-wise we see Runolfur plagued by the ghost and he has a heart attack and dies, but it is obvious (and becomes revealed) that it is Sonny dressed as the ghost. Of course, we already have an idea that there may be something in Runolfur’s belief in the ghost and perhaps the dead do not like to be mocked? All this is fair enough but why, you might wonder, is this being featured on a vampire blog?

dressed as a vampire
When the relationship between Elsa and Sonny first develops she makes them up – when the studio is empty for the night – her as her grandmother and him, for no real reason, as a vampire. He plays the part, in jest, and in the morning – having fallen asleep together in the rehearsal room – they have to get back unseen to their own clothes in makeup. They do bump into a member of the public and Sonny asks him his blood type. When the man says O negative, Sonny pulls a face and says bleurgh.

wearing fangs
So, the mention is for dressing up and acting like a vampire, albeit essentially fancy dress and in jest. Later, when he is dressed as the ghost, he puts fangs in again. The film itself is rare but worth a watch as a ghost story, the pacing is right and there is a sense built through of something about to happen that keeps the viewer expectant. The imdb page is here.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Here Come the Munsters – review

Director: Robert Ginty

Release date: 1995

Contains spoilers

The Munster’s original series was pretty much a favourite of mine and spawned two films starring (mostly) the original main cast. Munsters Go Home worked fairly well but the eighties’ the Munsters’ Revenge didn’t work so well, unfortunately.

There were two more movies with different casts. I have already looked at the 1996, and average holiday vehicle, the Munsters’ Scary Little Christmas, but this one, from the year before, has languished in the “to watch” pile for too long. Again this had a different cast, though it did have a pleasing cameo of original cast members.

the mob
The film starts in Transylvania with an angry peasant mob making their way with torches and pitchforks to the Munsters’ castle. We quickly meet the new version of the family; Herman (Edward Herrmann), Lily (Veronica Hamel), Grandpa (Robert Morse) and Eddie (Mathew Botuchis). Jokes such as Herman saying, “villagers… you can’t live with ‘em, and you can’t get spare parts without ‘em” and the subsequent over affected “amused looks” from Eddie and Lily felt like it was trying too hard. Anyway Lily is concerned and wants to move but Herman thinks otherwise until the mob gathered outside fire a bazooka at the castle.

Christine Taylor as Marilyn
They escape the castle through a secret passage and find where Spot – the dragon – has buried the postman. There is a letter from their niece Marilyn (Christine Taylor, Room 6) that is barely readable due to holes burnt in it but seems to be inviting them to America. They take Transylvanian Airways (Grandpa flies besides, whilst Herman and Lily watch the Bride of Frankenstein) to America and give the names of Herman’s sister Elsa (Judy Gold) and her husband Norman Hyde (Max Grodénchik) as their immigration sponsors. When they get to the Hyde’s home (1313 Mockingbird Lane) Marilyn greets them but she hadn’t socially invited them. Norman is missing and Elsa has gone into a Transylvanian Trance with the shock. To save Elsa and stay in America they will have to find Norman.

the cops
Of course, with the name Hyde, you can guess the plot direction but what hit me as I watched it was the fact that they are fighting through the film against anti-immigration rhetoric. This really starts early on with the cop Detective Warshowski (Troy Evans) complaining about foreigners and his partner Detective Cartwell (Sean O'Bryan) pointing out that Warshowski is hardly an Apache name and expands to an anti-foreigner political campaign and a call for the Munsters to be deported. Some nice side swipes, such as Herman not wanting unemployment benefits, preferring to work for a living, were included. As I watched twenty one years on I found it sad that such rhetoric is still central to both UK and US political language, blaming the woes of a country on the “other” (of course fear of the other is at the core of the vampire genre) being the cheap political tool and appealing to the base instincts of the tabloid driven mob.

Lily bites
Before we get too deep, however, this is a Munster movie and, whilst the under-current is there so is some slapstick (and grandpa in drag as a disguise). It also has some definitive vampire activity and not just Grandpa in crap bat form and confirming himself as Count Dracula. We actually get to see Lily bite someone – in this case a female cop in order that they can get her walkie talkie (“she’ll be fine… just feeling a little drained”). At the end of the film we also see Grandpa’s fangs momentarily. Eddie in this is all werewolf – there was some degree of werewolf/vampire hybrid in the original.

original cast members
I mentioned a cameo and we get a scene with Herman taking a job as a waiter and, for his first order, the table has four surviving cast members from the original show; Yvonne De Carlo (Nocturna), Al Lewis (My Grandpa is a Vampire & Fright House), Butch Patrick and Pat Priest. Whilst dressed normally their dialogue is pretty much owing to their original characters and the inclusion was welcome and amusing.

fangs on show
The film wasn’t too bad. Eddie had at least a little to do in it and, whilst not a patch on the Fred Gwynne and Yvonne De Carlo versions, the Herman and Lily weren’t too bad. Star of the film, for me, was Robert Morse. Al Lewis would always be a hard act to follow and, at first, it did feel that (vocally in accent and delivery) Morse was impersonating Lewis but as the film went on he became Grandpa Munster and that is a high compliment indeed. There are some canon changes in film (Marilyn being from Herman’s side of the family for instance) but nothing that was too radical. Of course it would never match the series, too late chronologically to get away with the innocence or naivety of the original and too slapstick to draw a more modern (for the time) furrow, but it was worth watching. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Commercial Break: Nerdoh

Just a break in our normal transmission to mention the UK based merchandise company Nerdoh, who do a range of merchandise based on movies from Tees to towels.

As well as a range of interesting non-vampire items (I do love some of the Alien related items and the Bladerunner Tee) they do, of course, have some vampire related merch based on From Dusk til Dawn, the Lost Boys and 30 Days of Night. The designs are the sort that they speak to other fans of the film, rather than just carrying the title.

To my Overseas readers, I believe they do deliver internationally but check their FAQ for more details.

We will now return to our regular programming.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Horror Within – review

Director: Tom Sanders

Release date: 2005

Contains spoilers

There is perhaps something postmodern about a group of filmmakers making a rubbish horror film about a bunch of filmmakers making a rubbish horror film but that is about the best thing I can say about this.

The fact that it is a film full of cliché is perhaps not as distracting as the poor photography and insistence on using cgi effects that look, well quite frankly, a bit rubbish. That said, they have done something I couldn’t do, make a film, so perhaps the criticism is a bit harsh?

Nick turns
It starts with a man, Nick (Zack Cooper), heading up the stairs to a house with shotgun in hand. He is met by tenant Collins (Garrett Lambert) and tells said tenant that the sheriff is on his way and it’s all to do with the murders that have occurred since Collins moved in to the area. Things escalate and Nick shoots the man at which point light seems to seep out of his wound (I have no idea why these vampires leak light – but suspect the effect was cheaper and easier than doing physical blood). The vampire bites him. When the Sheriff (Greg McCullough) arrives Nick has turned and attacks him.

making movies
We see a whole bunch of young people start their day. This includes seeing one young woman – Jessica (Michelle Crain) talking a shower. It is gratuitous but that is the point as this is footage of the film within the film and there is a question around exploitation that is explored but not very deeply. The film is called the Curse of the Weremonkey. Jessica’s boyfriend Ethan (David Roers) is the scriptwriter and he asks director Travis (Jesse Blitz) were the dialogue went – there was meant to be a sister, we assume it wasn’t a shower scene and Travis has changed the script.

Lynne Jacobellis as Emma
Ethan has writer’s block and does it matter what he writes when Travis changes it anyway. Jessica is making out with him to cure the block when the place fills up with people. Dexter (Pavel Royz) arrives with a desire to produce the film (his dad (Michael Spagnoli) is a producer) but is sent away with a flea in his ear. Emma (Lynne Jacobellis, True Blood) arrives and Travis wants to use her in film but she can only film that weekend. This leads to him cutting a deal with Dexter for equipment and use of the summer home Dexter’s family own – the very same one from the start of the film.

Dexter and Travis
Also in the mix are Vulc (Amber Phillips), a girl who models herself on TV shows (last week was Buffy, this week Star Trek and so she is wearing Vulcan ears), Frank (Christopher Boicelli), who is now the leading man, was sent by Dexter’s dad to watch his property and is a douche to boot, and Kenny (Owen Robinson), Travis’ brother and a gentleman with learning difficulties who is playing the monster. Frank is the first to be got and then turned (why Nick turns him is beyond me).

Invisible on playback
So, the idea is to stay alive and maybe kill the vampires. The lore is inconsistent. For instance when they look at a scene where Frank (who they don’t know is a vampire at the time) gets it on with Emma and ends up biting her playback of the scene has him not showing up (except for an occasional Predator like invisible effect). That would be all well and good but he did show on the computer monitor as they filmed it. The vampires seem to be able to turn to little balls of light (which would actually fit in with some traditional lore) but also seem to be able to carry off a victim when in that form.

mind control
Another inconsistency is Nick being staked and going grey until the stake is removed, and yet another vampire is staked and then dies fairly rapidly in a ball of light. The vampires have a very powerful mind control power and can think it and make their victim feel it. Beheading will kill a vampire in a bad cgi way (and left a body behind, whereas the staked vampire who died seemed to leave no remains) and crosses burn and do awful things to a vampire if they swallow the cross.

I mentioned the exploitation aspect and this comes out in Dexter convincing Travis to make Emma’s scene a nude scene and her being unhappy with the change – Travis then insists on it until he is reminded of friendship. It’s a little ham fisted and not explored enough. Dexter, like a moustache twirling villain, manages to betray all the others for some footage of a vampire – though the deal he makes is bizarre. Essentially he offers to hand Jessica over to Nick, getting him around their defences but they have no real defences and he really doesn’t do anything to help the vampire anyway.

The problem is that this is a pretty standard by the numbers horror (stereotyped kids, house, evil) and doesn’t do anything really that original. The photography is atrocious, the atmosphere thin, the cgi intrusive and, at times, confusing. The acting is ok for what it is but was never going to win any awards. When a film is so budget constrained one would hope for a bright light within the production to help offer a cult status for the film. This doesn’t have one. 2.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Short film: the Adventures of Figaro Pho: Fear of Becoming a Vampire (Transmutasanguivoriphobia)

A wacky Australian animation, the Adventures of Figaro Pho was a 2012 series of animated shorts directed by Luke Jurevicius. Figaro Pho has every phobia known to man and each 7 minute short concentrates on one of those.

In this particular sequence it is Transmutasanguivoriphobia or fear of becoming a vampire. The shorts themselves are silent and feature Figaro and his robot dog Rivet. There is a Tim Burton-esque quality to the shorts.

the vampire film
In this Figaro and Rivet are watching a vampire film when the film stops playing. A bat flies into his home (a mansion) and bites his neck. Figaro believes he has been transformed into a vampire and has fangs, talon like nails and no reflection. He becomes hungry but is scared by the meal made by Rivet – it has garlic in it.

Figaro as a vampire
This leads to Figaro looking for a suitable neck that can provide his vampiric sustenance and this, in its turn, leads to some animated physical comedy in its own right. Eventually Figaro takes to a cupboard for the day but Rivet sees the end of the film, where the vampire is caught in sunlight – and this cures him. He sets to lure Figaro into the sun.

Fun, snappy and just a little bit Burton-Goth. The episode's imdb page is here.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Manhattan Undying – review

Director: Babak Payami

Release date: 2016

Contains spoilers

This US/Canadian film seemed to come out of nowhere. Not a horror film it isn’t exactly a romance either and firmly concentrates on one part of the vampire mythos – reflections.

It always seems that a focus on themes in different vehicles come at around the same time and I was reminded, as I watched this, of Therapy for a Vampire as that had a similar theme of reflection within it. However, this is a very different film.

the corridor
We see a painting of a corridor or tunnel, the distant opening capturing a sunrise that is juxtaposed against the urban decay the tunnel represents. A voice over the scene states, “You don’t have to die.” Shots of Manhattan are interspersed with scenes from a night club (with plenty of cyber goths and wannabe vampires). After the credits we see Max (Luke Grimes, True Blood) sleeping through a hammering at his door. The visitor, Drew (Milton Barnes, the Strain & Hemlock Grove), lets himself in. He is his agent and artist Max is late for an appointment at a gallery.

Luke Grimes as Max
Max has had some fame in the past but hasn’t done a showing for five years and is busy leading a drug, drink and sex filled bohemian lifestyle. However, the scene seems to be depressing him and, with a host of hangers on at his flat, he has a moment and subsequently throws everyone out. He collapses, is taken to hospital and then we see him with his Doctor (Earl Pastko, also Hemlock Grove, Forever Knight, Blood & Donuts & Goosebumps: Vampire Breath) and Max is told that he has late stage lung cancer and has weeks, maybe months to live. He is told that treatment might help but refuses.

no reflection
In the club a woman looks at one of Max’s paintings, fascinated by it. She is not named in film but in the credits she is called Vivian (Sarah Roemer). A customer notices her and (having taken plastic fangs out) asks her if she is bored with the “vampire sh*t”. We cut to them in bed, she flips over straddling above him and attacks, biting into his neck. After she has fed she looks in a mirror, the film is deliberate about the scene making sure we know that her lack of reflection is the main drive going forward.

a victim
So, cutting to the chase, she finds Max as she wants him to paint her. For his part she looks his ideal subject model and will be the centrepiece for a show that Drew has arranged for him. Max keeps his illness to himself and the film follows the attraction of the two and the courtly dance played out before he paints her (which includes him working out what she is). Meanwhile the cops believe they have a serial killer on the loose, injuring the neck and draining all the blood. Tracing the first victim to the club they then make a giant leap of faith that Max, who was there that night, knows who the killer is.

This was a weak link in the film, the hunch comes from a “twitch” whilst they spoke to him and it seemed too far for the leap of faith that was necessary. It isn’t exactly a primary plot point either. They could have reached the same plot and character place without the cops on the trail. However, it is the relationship between the characters and the character of Max that are the important parts of the film. Max is played with deft skill and subtlety by Luke Grimes and it is due to him that the film works as well as it does. Sarah Roemer has less to do but the iciness and aloofness she portrays suits the character perfectly and she makes the cracking of that for Max – and the portrait – believable. Yet ultimately we know so very little about her that she actually brought to my mind The Girl with Hungry Eyes.

blood at mouth
There isn’t much lore offered. We know she avoids sunlight and she casts no reflection and cannot be photographed/filmed. She can, however, be drawn/painted – diverging from the lore used in Therapy for a Vampire, and being absolutely plot necessary. Strangely it is stated that she has never seen herself. This either is a logical faux pas if she was turned or means that she was always a vampire (either born that way, or created as a physical embodiment of Max’s muse as he dies). She does offer him eternal life by offering her blood and we know she must drink blood and consumes the whole body’s supply from her victim.

painting in the club
I rather liked this, it kept a solid, steady pace and the photography was nicely shot and, whilst the colours were muted, I felt this suited the tone of the film. It ended consistently with its own internal logic and in a way that added weight to the theory that she was the embodiment of Max’s muse. The story was simple – essentially artist comes to terms with mortality/vampire wants to see her own face – but it didn’t need much more. I might have considered working around the police or adding in something to connect Max with the victims in such a way that the suspicions he engendered withstood scrutiny. That aside a solid 6.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.