Saturday, February 28, 2015

Sanguivorous – review

Director: Naoki Yoshimoto

Release date: 2011

Contains spoilers

The DVD suggests that Sanguivorous, also known as Kyuketsu, is an Avant-garde vampire movie from Japan. That is likely to tweak your interest or send you off running. It also suggests that it is a silent movie – that is not entirely true, there is dialogue in the first 10 minutes of the 57 minute running time.

My interest was tweaked – I do like a little bit of avant-garde filmmaking. Unfortunately this didn’t live up to expectation, but I think I know why.

the city
Shot with heavy filters the cinematography is designed to produce mood rather than setting. After an opening that tells us about the "interior world" we see the city, grainy in shot and vibrating to the droning industrial sounds that create the primary soundtrack of the film. Whilst interior could direct us to a journey of the inner self, it also suggest a hollow world and that brought Marebito to mind (though the earlier film is vastly superior).

the bloodied cross
We see a girl (Ayumi Kakizawa) praying in a room, her actual prayer is “eli eli lama sabachthani” (My God, My God, why have you forsaken me). She takes two pills and begins coughing, she coughs blood into her hand, over her cross. In the bathroom she drops the cross into a sink, she looks into the mirror – pressing her fingers against the glass as though she might go through it. I took the illness to be tuberculosis.

bloodied walls
She leaves the house. Dialogue starts, we hear the tale of a vessel carrying the coffin of a 500 year old Romanian vampire that arrived on the shores of Japan. It is a boy telling the girl the story. He suggests that a virgin was taken and ritually deflowered and her blood caught in a grail and poured over the mummified vampire. 40 days later he came to life and killed all those involved in the ritual. The girl was destined, after 300 years, to awaken as a half human and half vampire (through arousal) and all those of her blood would awaken one day and attack humanity. The arrival of the coffin reminded me of the backstory in the Japanese horror film the Bloodthirsty Roses.

boyfriend tied
The inference, of course, is that she is the virgin girl who awakens through the film. The boy shows her talisman’s painted on his skin (to protect from vampirism or her tuberculosis?) and she confides that the doctors suggest her illness is a mild case. He becomes sexual towards her, despite her saying that she is saving her purity. She runs from him having sliced across his stomach with her nails.

the first bite
She hides in, perhaps, a netherworld – I took this to be the inner world mentioned at the head of the film – where there is a vampire woman and vampire man (Ko Murobushi) and the young man enters that world looking for her. What we then get is a procession of images that tell a simple story of her conversion to vampirism, the boy's willing sacrifice of himself, betrayal by the vampire woman (she bites the boy the third time when it is known that the third bite makes the vampire the master of the bitten), all leading ultimately to the girl's self-sacrifice.

Ko Murobushi as the vampire
The story is simple but some of the imagery works really well, especially around Ko Murobushi who is a master of Butoh dance theatre. He seems to be channelling Graff Orlock and the sinewy grace of his movements impart a lot of style into the proceedings. However the stylised filtering over the photography can get a bit much and the film does very little to offer a narrative. Over all it doesn’t work too brilliantly.

led in blood
I said at the head that I thought I knew why and, apparently, the film was first part of a tour that had a live musical accompaniment. The music in that was different to the score on the film, which was new and created by the director. As a mood piece, projected on a back screen to enhance a live musical performance I can see this working. As a piece of cinema it doesn’t work well at all. I did like the connection between vampirism and tuberculosis (if I haven’t read too much in) and the use of the concept of the vampire as outsider (indeed foriegn culture), which underpins the backstory and is juxtaposed against the traditional Butoh dance. 3 out of 10 is given for some of the imagery and Ko Murobushi.

The imdb page is here.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

El Castillo de los Monstruos – review

Director: Julián Soler

Release date: 1958

Contains spoilers

When I ordered this on Amazon (UK) the page suggested the film was in English. Given the set’s Spanish titling I hoped it would be at least subtitled. It isn’t either, being Spanish language only, so be aware of that if you decide you want to get a hold of this mostly harmless but in one point highly offensive piece of Mexican hokum.

As for me, well the internet is a wondrous place and I managed to find fan subs out there, which were radically mistimed... but the VLS player allows a manual sync of such things. A wee bit of adjustment and we were ready to go.

the Frankenstein's Monster
The film itself starts with a carriage. We don’t see the driver but do see hairy, clawed hands at the reins (and I assume it was the wolfman (Vicente Lara, Santo and Blue Demon Vs the Monsters) as the other suspect from later in the film, an ape faced man, seemed to be kept locked in a cell). As the carriage gets to a castle a crippled man (Guillermo Orea, El ataúd del Vampiro) knocks at the castle entrance and tells the Frankenstein’s Monster that a package has arrived – that package is a coffin.

buying a funeral
In the nearby town the newspaper is full of reports of bodies being snatched from the graveyard. That doesn’t seem to bother Clavillazo (Antonio Espino) a bungling, good natured undertaker. After some banter with his blind neighbour (Carlos Orellana) he goes to work, though his boss is worried about lack of business. He is, like all the other townsfolk, wary of the crippled man. A young woman, Beatrice (Evangelina Elizondo), comes in wanting to bury her aunt. Beatrice is an orphan, new in town and she was going to live with her aunt. Unfortunately she only has 15 pesos, hundreds shy of a funeral. Given he fancies her, Clavillazo decides to carry out the funeral for free, provides mourners and then offers her the use of his home.

Evangelina Elizondo as Beatrice
Now, I mentioned that the film becomes highly offensive and it is when Clavillazo books into a hotel and the owner’s son (Arturo Cobo) has a mental health impairment. The fact that they make him nothing more than the foil of a joke for Clavillazo along with the generally massively unsympathetic portrayal just wouldn’t cut the mustard today in what was otherwise family level entertainment. It was uncomfortable watching. However, things get back on track after that scene and Clavillazo and Beatrice start to fall in love but she has attracted the attention of the sinister Dr Sputnik.

eye mojo
He has been trying to perfect a being through the use of cadavers, and created a legion of monsters in so doing. He now wants to try and use a live subject and Beatrice is his choice. He displays a thoroughly powerful brand of eye mojo – given that he seems to be able to hypnotise her not only from a distance but out of eye-line as well. Having taken her to his castle, it is up to Clavillazo to rescue her. Of course, that means braving the monsters.

moody profile shot
Which brings us to the vampire (Germán Robles, el Vampiro, the Nostradamus series & also El ataúd del Vampiro). Robles pretty much reprises his role as Count Karol de Lavud but played for laughs. Clavillazo refers to him as the bat (we do see a really crap bat at one point but it is not confirmed as to whether that was the vampire or not) and we get a Benny Hill-esque chase around a coffin with the pair. The vampire is eventually killed by the sun (simply vanishing).

Germán Robles as the vampire
Without the moment I mentioned this was have been a fairly inoffensive Mexican comedy that was mildly amusing. It was not, however, a great monster mash nor was it great cinema. All in all it would have attracted 4 out of 10 and I won’t reduce that score, recognising it as a product of its time and suggesting you just skip the hotel scene.

The imdb page is here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Vamp or Not? The Fritz Lang Mabuse Trilogy

My series of ‘Vamp or Not?’ articles have occasionally raised eyebrows, I know, but there is most definitely a reason for each of them. Perhaps there has been an association of the film/book with vampires by an author, or on filmographies, sometimes the creature featured has a broad vampire crossover for some reason and sometimes they are suggested.

In the case of the Doctor Mabuse films they were the subject of several pages of discussion by Erik Butler in his 2010 book Metamorphoses of the Vampire in Literature and Film: Cultural Transformations in Europe, 1732-1933 (though the third film was way out of the timeframe the first two were not) in a chapter entitled Vampires in Weimar: Shades of History. The watching of the films for this article was certainly no hardship as they were directed by the great Fritz Lang.

Aud Egede-Nissen as Cara
Mabuse was a fictional character created by Norbert Jacques in the 1921 novel Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler, and Lang’s film of the same name was released the following year and it is with Dr Mabuse the Gambler (to offer the English title) that we will begin. I guess the warning for anyone wanting to watch these films is that this one is a silent movie, and though split into two parts it comes in at a colossal four and a half hours long. It is, however, great cinema.

Rudolf Klein-Rogge as Dr Mabuse
Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) is a genius and master of disguise who, in the public eye, is a psychoanalyst but secretly runs a criminal gang from the shadows. Given the four and a half hours I am not going to run through the ins and outs of the plot. However as a character he is said to have devil’s eyes. He has a hypnotic stare – and the concentrated view of his eyes would later become a vampire film stock-in-trade through Tod Browning’s filming of Dracula.

hypnotic eyes
So powerful is Mabuse’s hypnotic powers that he can influence people from a distance, cause people to play badly at cards (the gambler in the title refers to Mabuse both gambling with people’s fates – as Mabuse himself puts it – and gambling in casinos/gambling dens. Further it uses the German spieler in both its forms, so refers to an actor as well as a gambler) and even go so far as to cause someone to kill themselves. Both the hypnotic ability and the tie with pushing someone to suicide have counterparts within vampire tropes. The hypnosis seems to be telepathic – no verbal commands need be issued – and Mabuse describes it as an expression of his will.

Gertrude Welcker as Gräfin Told
There is one woman who loves him unquestioningly (to whom he is, at best, callous) called Cara Carozza (Aud Egede-Nissen). She never betrays him, commits suicide for him and suggests that he is immortal when she asks the rhetorical question what could he die of? She goes on to suggest that only he could destroy himself. He falls for Dusy Gräfin Told (Gertrude Welcker), who in many respects is his downfall; interestingly she is a bored member of the aristocracy who describes herself as having weary blood. There is a potentially supernatural element (beyond his hypnosis, which seems very far reaching) when Mabuse himself is faced with the ghosts of his victims. That could simply be in his head but we, earlier in the film, met a spiritualist and the fact that her gifts were simply accepted without question speaks to this scene. This film’s imdb page is here.

like a living corpse
In 1933 Lang made Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse. It was two years after his seminal M and the Testament of Dr Mabuse makes the same great use of sound as M did – indeed the opening scene with its industrial soundtrack is an exercise in tension that really does have to be experienced. Mabuse (again played by Rudolf Klein-Rogge) is in an asylum and had, for many years, been catatonic. That said his eyes still have power, it would seem, an orderly waxes lyrical about the power of them, which could almost paralyse you and also suggests that the Dr is like a living corpse.

writing the Testament
The asylum’s chief doctor, Professor Baum (Oscar Beregi Sr.), noticed that Mabuse’s hand started making writing motions and gave him pen and paper. This produced nothing but marks and then gibberish but eventually he started writing out the ravings of his mind – blueprints, essentially, for crime. It isn’t a spoiler too far to reveal that Baum takes up Mabuse’s mantle by following these instructions. Hidden from his gang (they only ever hear his voice) they cannot fathom his plans any more than the police (who start hearing whispers of the name Mabuse – even after the real doctor dies in the asylum).

through the eyes of madness
The reason the criminals cannot fathom his plans is down to the apparent senselessness of the crimes. After a jewellery heist the precious metals are melted down, the stones separated but the profits will be pushed into drugs and then they will practically be distributed for free – for instance. However Mabuse’s plan is to create what he has termed an Empire of Crime, the desire is to spread anarchy and terror. There are, of course, hints of madness – at one point Lang beautifully shows us the world through the eyes of a man who has lost his mind, the spectral office equipment only existing for him.

spectral Dr Mabuse
However where does the feverish mind end and the supernatural begin? Mabuse spirit seems to visit Baum; his voice distorted, his brain visible and his eyes at times glowing. Is this in the Professor’s head? It would seem so and yet the spectre also physically interacts with the world, opening a gate or passing over the manuscript of his testament. It also seems that there is a transference of personality, that Baum is lost and he becomes Mabuse. The film’s imdb page is here.

blind Cornelius
The last Mabuse film that Lang made was the 1960 Die 1000 Augen des Dr. Mabuse, or the thousand eyes of Dr Mabuse. Modernised, it becomes a thriller and whilst there are hints of the supernatural – as there is a prominent role for Cornelius (Wolfgang Preiss), a blind clairvoyant – ultimately the supernatural is eschewed. The villain may call himself Mabuse but he is working from a copy of the Testament (we don’t know how he got it, the file was a stolen police one but the story behind its retrieval is not given) and the 1000 eyes are cameras. There is hypnosis involved but Lang almost casually tosses that in at the end of the film. This added little to the ‘Vamp or Not?’ discussion, to be fair, though the goal was the Empire of Crime again. The film’s imdb page is here.

apparition of a victim
So is it Vamp? On the description I have offered, no, there are certainly tropes it shares with some vampire works but maybe only enough to make it genre interesting. But let us see what Butler had to say. We have to remember that there was, at one point, plenty of crossover between the vampire and the werewolf. Butler quotes the Mabuse of Norbert’s novel as saying, “I am a werewolf. I suck up human blood! Every day, hatred burns off all the blood that runs in my veins, and every night I fill them with a new victim’s blood”. Given this we can see why Butler looked towards the character.

dead Mabuse opens the gate
Mabuse is called a superior intellect and Lang himself suggested that, “I saw the master criminal after World War I as a version of the superman which Nietzsche had created in his writings.” The vampire can be used as a symbol to explore the Nietzsche übermensch or overman (probably a better translation than superman) and has been so used several times. Butler makes a compelling case for Mabuse to have become a force of evil, rather than just a man, and points out that in the later (non-Lang) Mabuse film In the Steel Net of Dr Mabuse, there is a book that shows the forms the devil takes; werewolves, vampires and (there is a chapter in the book on) Mabuse.

subsuming Baum
I am still not convinced. In many respects he did live on after death – was the spectral Mabuse a figment of imagination as Baum went mad or a real presence that took over his personality? That is left for the viewer to decide. Certainly his Testament enabled the events of the third film, and thus allowed him immortality, with goals that were just as diabolic. However I can’t actually get past the idea that there are tropes in common but not enough to actually say Vamp. The fact that the character created by the author would veer more that way, at least symbolically, should not impact the view of the films, unfortunately, and so I say Not Vamp. All that is written with the utmost respect for Erik Butler, however, whose books are genre necessities. As a final point, Mabuse does make an appearance in Kim Newman’s vampire novel the Blood Red Baron.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Honourable Mention: Adult Wednesday Addams: Babysitting

Directed by Mike Bernstein and written by and starring Melissa Hunter, Adult Wednesday Addams is a fun web series imagining the adventures of Wednesday as she makes her way through modern life.

Babysitting is the first episode of season 2 and a fortuitous mention of a vampire type allows me to give the series an honourable mention and thus bring it to your attention. Wednesday is babysitting and after playing Barbie (with a blowtorch) she investigates when Rosie, her charge, screams.

Melissa Hunter as Wednesday
Rosie believes there is a monster in the closet and, after discovering that the My Little Pony wasn’t actually the said monster, Wednesday explains that there can’t be a monster in there because there are only three types of closet monsters. After dismissing the first two types Wednesday tells Rosie about the Vudkolak, which she describes as a Slavic undead vampire horse wolf. She also informs Rosie that she is quiet safe as the vudkolak craves the blood of bad people and Rosie is inconsequential! Though perhaps not everyone in the house is…

All the episodes are worth catching and kudos to Melissa Hunter for bringing a little bit of Wednesday back into our lives.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Ninjas Vs Monsters – review


Director: Justin Timpane

Release date: 2013

Contains spoilers

The sequel to Ninjas Vs Vampires, this is actually the third in the film series (and I confess, at time of writing this I still haven’t gotten around to the first flick, Ninjas Vs Zombies) and the filmmakers clearly gained access to a larger budget and the film actually has had a Blu-Ray release (so I apologise for the screenshots, which have been picked up from the net – Blu-ray won’t let me screenshot). The UK Blu-ray has the full film of Vampires Vs Ninjas as an extra.

Sam Lukowski as Dracula
Following a group of people who gained ninja powers to fight dark magic encroachments into our world; at the end of Ninjas Vs Vampires it appeared that Kyle (Daniel Ross, Vampire Sisters & Mrs Amworth) had died – self-sacrificing himself for the greater good. At the coda to the film (6 months later) he reappeared and warned the others of monsters. This is where the first issue with this film is found. We are in a world where Dracula (Sam Lukowski) has reappeared but we don’t know how.

Carla Okouchi as Lily
We discover, in short order, that brothers Eric (P.J. Megaw) and Randall (Dan Guy) have turned to good and the main surviving Ninjas – Kyle, Cole (Cory Okouchi) and Aaron (Jay Saunders) are busy fighting monsters, aided by Aaron’s girlfriend and psychic Alex (Devon Brookshire). We also discover that Cole’s lover – the vampire Lily (Carla Okouchi) – is now a consort of Dracula… we just don’t know how. There has been a definitive period of time between the end of the second film and this one that has been missed and any event that took place in that time is simply taken as read rather than explained.

Devon Brookshire as Alex
The thrust of the story is that the good guys – along with a new ninja, Step (Jasmine Guillermo) – have been chosen by Dracula to battle him and his monsters for the fate of the world in a mystical arena. With Dracula are Victor (Elliot Kashner), as in Frankenstein, who has made a monster out of himself, the Mummy (Daniel Mascarello), the Wolfman (Lyon Beckwith) and the three witches Maeve (Mina Noorbakhsh), Samantha (Vicki Parks) and Circe (Tori Bertocci). What follows is plenty of fighting – think Monster Brawl but with an actual story.

Aaron and the Mummy
However, whilst it does have a story and has much improved filming techniques and effects (compared to its predecessor movies), it has lost the characterisation that offered the previous film the heart, which in turn made it watchable. Slicker – but if you hadn’t known the characters you’d be left… not lost but uncaring. Daniel Ross is still wisecracking as Kyle, Jay Saunders remains very personable as Aaron and Dan Guy is great fun as Randall but I was left thinking the filmmakers had done the characters a disservice.

It’s all a shame because you could kind of see the heart the previous film had but it was off in the distance. 5 out of 10.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus – review

Director: Spike Lee

Release date: 2015

Contains spoilers

This was a film that Spike Lee funded through kickstarter and is a remake of the classic 1973 vampire film Ganja and Hess. Now I have seen it suggested, on the heels of this remake, that Ganja and Hess was simply a blaxploitation movie. Not so. The original cut of Ganja and Hess was first shown at the Critics’ Week at the 1973 Cannes Festival, to a standing ovation. Unfortunately it was then butchered into a blaxploitation cut (it can be found in this form under the titles Blood Couple and Black Vampire on vhs).

In 2006 director Bill Gunn’s original vision was finally released onto DVD and it is a powerful piece of cinema in its own right and sits in my Top 100 vampire movies. Spike, therefore, has a lot to live up to with this remake.

in the church
After scenes of Lil Buck dancing in various urban locations we cut to a scene in the Heaven Baptist Church. Whilst the congregation listen intently to the sermon, responding to the points made by the preacher with zeal, Dr Hess Greene (Stephen Tyrone Williams) sits at the back. His presence is one of reserve. We then see him go to the museum where a new Ashanti relic has been found and his new employee, Lafayette Hightower (Elvis Nolasco), waits for him. The relic is a dagger and sheath.

the ashanti blade
The discussion around the ancient Ashanti suggests that, before the Egyptian civilisation, the Ashanti civilisation had developed much science – including the ability to perform blood transfusions. This was developed due to a peculiar illness suffered by the Ashanti Queen, so voracious that people were entirely drained for her. The people themselves became anaemic. Eventually this led to blood wars with neighbouring nations. The discussion continues back at Greene’s Martha’s Vineyard home where Greene suggests that the Ashanti evolved a need for blood and Hightower responds by calling such a need a perversion.

lapping blood from the floor
Hightower has gone for a walk when Greene hears a wailing from outside, he finds Hightower drunk and in a tree with a rope round his neck. He talks the man down (the line suggesting that he is the only black resident in the area and the likely reaction of the police should a body be found is lifted from the original film) and the man admits to mood swings, mentioning his ex-wife as a bitch. When morning breaks Hightower attacks Greene with an axe, which seems somewhat more than a mood swing! They fight and in the melee Hightower stabs him in the chest with the Ashanti blade. Hightower goes to his room, cleans his teeth and then (off screen) shoots himself. As the gun report is heard, Greene awakens, the wound from the blade gone. He finds Hightower and starts lapping at the blood on the floor.

Hightower in the freezer
The film then follows Greene’s addiction to blood. In one scene he attacks a prostitute (Lucky Mays) and immediately vomits. He finds pills in her bag and goes to have himself tested for HIV – he is negative but the scene says something about the dangers of more conventional addictions. Hightower’s ex-wife, Ganja (Zaraah Abrahams), turns up and Ganja and Hess quickly begin an affair that leads to their marriage – despite the fact that he put Hightower’s body in the freezer, but then she does help him dispose of the body after she discovers it. He murders her on their wedding night (I assume with the Ashanti blade) in an attempt to be with her forever – making her like him.

Hess and Ganja
There has been a suggestion that this is not a vampire film but of course it is. Not only does Ganja accuse him of being a vampire (and it is not refuted) but it is a film about people who die, come back and crave blood. Indeed Hess makes a point early on about the Ashanti traditions speaking of the 'beginning of death', rather than an 'end of life', and Hess begins to feel that the condition denies them that journey (though the phrasing can be read two ways). They are colder than when alive and cannot be injured (he shoots himself without consequence and stabs her a couple of times after she turns to prove the point).

shadow of the cross
They can only be killed when the shadow of a cross falls across their heart (and that is a long drawn out process it would seem). This was not expanded on. In the first film it is the shadow of a symbol of good that proves their downfall, not just the Christian cross. This is just a cross and the mythology is specifically Christian, despite the (film’s) Ashanti being pre-Christian – though with the film title as it is, it would be.

Zaraah Abrahams as Ganja
Where it perhaps falls down is the performances. I enjoyed Stephen Tyrone Williams’ understated performance generally, there was a cool middle class and somewhat unassuming aspect to it, but cannot say the same for Zaraah Abrahams. Compared to the performance by Marlene Clark in the original it falls terribly flat, Clark’s Ganja was bitchy but we understood where this came from and sympathised with her whereas Abrahams just seems spoilt and without nuance; despite her soliloquy about her tough childhood. There was little in the way of believable chemistry between the two leads either, although that may not be Abrahams’ fault as the chemistry she displayed with Hess’ ex-girlfriend, Tangiers (Naté Bova), was palpable. The performance by Rami Malek as the butler, Seneschal, seemed out of place, almost inappropriately comedic.

Ganja's first fix
Motivations and logic are not as free flowing as the original. Hess loses any sympathy after he selects a desperate mother with a child as a victim. The fact that the child is called Najah – pronounced Nadja – is telling but Hess casually wishing the baby farewell as the mother lies dead and bloodied seemed unnecessarily callous (especially as he had taken his fix). Bringing me to my next point; the victims come back. When a middle class victim comes back, as Ganja and Hess attempt to bury her, Hess has Ganja hold her still and buried her anyway (telling Ganja that the victim is dead, as they are). When he returns to the mother she is holding Najah but the dialogue suggests she has killed the child to get her fix – Hess must have been aware that would happen and has left his lower class victims to return and spread the addiction in turn. The mechanics of how the victims are actually turned is not explicitly examined but it seems the act of killing them is key (rather than a transfer of bodily fluids), hence Hightower not returning - he killed himself.

lapping together
Hess refers to their condition as an addiction all the way through, though it spreads like a disease and Hess mentions symptoms, such as permanently feeling cold. When he has not fed we see that his hands begin to shake (perhaps like the DTs). The film touches on some socio-political points – around black culture, around the role of women in society and around the divisions between classes – however none of these are firmly explored. There is a religious aspect (one of the best scenes is a later scene in the gospel church) but this owes as much to the original film as to being a discussion point. More firmly explored is the subject of addiction; turning to theft, attacking and murdering people and the destruction of family units, but there are other vampire films that explore that more thoroughly.

coda
This isn’t a bad film, it is just overshadowed by the original in theme and acting. The updating of it doesn’t really add anything more, so whilst it is worth catching (perhaps more so if you are a big fan of Spike Lee as there are Lee themes running through the film) given the choice I would watch Bill Gunn’s original. This is longer than the original (which itself is substantially longer in the full version than the blaxploitation versions) and I think the pacing suffers a tad for it. As a final point, I did rather enjoy the coda scene, which had an almost Rollin’s feel to it. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Little Shop of Horrors (1986) – Directors Cut – review


Director: Frank Oz

Release date: 1986

Contains spoilers


Regular readers will remember that we looked at the 1960 Roger Corman flick the Little Shop of Horrors as a “Vamp or Not?” and decided the killer plant was indeed a vampire – with specific reference to the fact that it is blood the plant craves and it is sentient. The hypnotic powers the plant apparently possessed were covered as a side issue.

the chorus
The film was the inspiration for a stage musical and this musical was then given the big screen treatment in the eighties. And musical it is, with chorus and all. The previous decision to class the original film as a vampire film lets me move straight to a review of this film. The film reviewed was the director’s cut, which had a significantly different ending to the theatrical release.

Vincent Gardenia as Mushnik
There are some changes to the roles. We are still at Mushnik’s flower shop but Mushnik (Vincent Gardenia) himself is less paternal than his original counterpart. This is strange as his employee Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis, Gravedale High) is an orphan in this (removing the character of his hypochondriac mother) and was taken in by Mushnik. Also working in the shop is Audrey (Ellen Greene) and when we first meet her she is sporting a black eye given to her by her abusive dentist boyfriend Orin (Steve Martin).

the plant arrives
At the head of the film Mushnik is going to lay the two workers off when Seymour is encouraged to show him the unusual plant he has been trying to nurture – and that he has called Audrey II (Levi Stubbs). The appeal of the plant – as it is put in the window – is instantaneous, drawing in customers. When asked where he got the plant we see a flashback of the plant arriving in a flash of light during an eclipse (it’s from outer space) and a Chinese flower seller (Vincent Wong) taking money for it from Seymour.

introducing Audrey II
Despite the booming business, things are not so good at the end of the day when Audrey II droops. Mushnik leaves Seymour to sort the plant out. Seymour has tried every horticultural trick he can think of but then he pricks his finger on a rose thorn and the plant makes sucking noises. Interestingly Seymour puts the bloodied finger near the plant and it snaps at it but an uncut finger (with no immediate blood access) makes it turn away. Later we hear (in song) that it must be blood, it must be fresh and it must be human. In truth, like in the original, the whole of the victim is later consumed but blood is the important element.

Audrey II suckles
Seymour nurtures the plant, literally allowing it to suckle at one point, causing it to grow bigger and bigger, but eventually is running out of blood to spare. At this point the plant begins to speak to him and offers him a Faustian deal – everything he could ask for in return for fresh blood. Seymour turns his attentions to Orin (though he doesn’t actually kill the dentist, he did intend to). Of course the deal turns sour; Seymour’s conscience gets the better of him and Audrey II’s true intentions are revealed.

like Kaiju
The film was given a happier ending than the stage show due to test audience reactions. This is cast aside for the director’s cut, which not only has a macabrely dark ending to the story we watch unfold but also has an apocalyptic coda that sees Kaiju sized Audrey IIs attacking New York. To me it just goes to show that listening to test audiences can be fraught as the darker ending suits the film and so I’d advise seeking this version out.

Seymour and Audrey II
Of course, it is an ensemble cast with Bill Murray reprising the role that Jack Nicholson had in the original and many other wonderful comic actors. I’m not the biggest musical fan, but this worked well – that said it does make me prefer the original on balance, due to the lack of song. There is no doubt, however, that this has a bigger budget and a tighter script. Great fun – 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.