Sunday, May 22, 2016

Vamp or Not? Dracula of Exarcheia

It might seem silly to have a film with the name Dracula in the title as a ‘Vamp ot Not?’ but really this felt the best way to go for this Nikos Zervos directed 1983 slice of Greek surrealism and music. The film has the alternate title O Drakoulas ton Exarheion.

The film is a political and social satire, I'd guess, and the reason I say that I guess is because I am sure some of the commentary means more if you are aware of Greek culture. It also, for me, slams synthetic pop/pop culture and the tendency to push financial gain over art in the music industry.

Konstantinos Tzoumas as Victor
We begin with Victor Papadopoulos (Konstantinos Tzoumas) walking towards camera. He eventually comes to a tree branch that overhangs the stairs he is walking on and grabs (what is clearly meant to be) an insect from the foliage. He opens his hand, swats it with a newspaper and eats it. So, at this point, I was thinking Renfield.

Graveyard ciggie
He is picked up in a car driven by Aphrodite (Johnny Vavouras) and is in the car with Stoneheaden – who looks like a member of the Blues Brothers. As they drive Victor has Aphrodite put some Talking Heads on, though Stoneheaden appears not to like it. They arrive at a cemetery and start grave robbing (a right hand for the bass player, a head for the singer and 20 fingers for the guitarists says Victor). When I say they, Victor is listening to music and Stoneheaden is smoking, only Aphrodite digs. Suddenly there is a moaning sound, they’ve been rumbled and leg it.

Zombie activist
Zombies rise from the graves. They have a zombie union meeting and one zombie believes that they must take action against Victor. The entire thing is based on a left wing meeting but what we do hear is that Victor is robbing the graves of musicians to steal their body parts. The zombies decide to hold a protest concert at a festival. They go on the march, with placard held high. Some of the zombies are determined to eat the living.

Making a band
Meanwhile Victor gets home. He asks the maid, Ophelia, if his daughter Ioulieta (Isavella Mavraki) has gone to bed. Victor is creating a band. He places the bodies he has collected together in a vat and is making them listen to 48 hours of contemporary music as part of the process… So he is not Renfield, he is Victor Frankenstein? It would seem not. His daughter is sneaking around the lab as she is making a doll (which her father cannot find out about) and wants to know what he uses as a battery for his musical creations.

Musical interlude
Over dinner that evening we get a further clue as Victor is less than happy when Ophelia leaves a soup spoon over a knife forming a sign of a cross. We hear that he travelled from the Carpathians to move to Greece (and become a music mogul, it appears) and we see that he sleeps in a coffin. So, Victor is the Dracula of the title apparently. As it is things go wrong with the band (Music Brigade, an actual Greek band) as Stoneheaden plays something unsuitable in earshot and Ioulieta runs away with them. Victor sends Stoneheaden after them and we don’t see him again until the end and then he is simply watching their concert on TV.

Mermaid moment
The rest of the film has the band playing to a feminist collective that turns into an orgy with raiding police. Aggressive marketing in a supermarket. Stoneheaden going into disguise both as a meremaid and (at the feminist collective) an unconvincing woman. There is coffin sex and occasional zombie attacks and, of course, there is the benefit concert. It’s a heady, surreal cocktail of strangeness that will be off-putting to many and cult viewing to some. But is it Vamp?

Zombie attack
Truthfully there is nothing traditionally vampiric within the film. However, the character Victor is meant to be Dracula and Konstantinos Tzoumas has a presence that works well. If we take the vampire to be an agent of capitalism, though, a creature who takes the dead and uses it as cheap means to make a buck – exploiting culture and heritage for the sake of manufactured pseudo-art then Victor is a real vampire.

The imdb page is here.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Crowd-sourcing: Vampire Playing Cards

Something a little unusual today. I have brought you, in the past, crowd-sourcing campaigns for films and books but this is the first time I think I have brought you playing cards.

Kirk Slater, who is behind the deck, had this to say: The Sisterhood of Blood is a custom designed deck of poker sized playing cards, printed by The Expert Playing Card Company (EPCC). 

The theme of this deck is based on London vampires from the Victorian era. As with my previous project, The Coven, this deck also features an all female cast of court cards. Each of them have a different story to tell, but together they become The Sisterhood of Blood. 

Each of the vampires have names and backstories that help to bring these beautiful monsters alive. Along side this, each of the groups follow a theme, the Jacks have just fed, the Queens revel in their malice and the Kings immortality is coming to a close.

If this sounds like something you'd like to get behind, the kickstarter page is here. As with all crowd-sourcing, backing is at your own risk.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Honourable Mention: Curse of the Devil

Regular readers will know that we do like a Paul Naschy film here at TMtV, so when friend of the blog Ville contacted me and suggested I looked at this 1973 Carlos Aured directed movie starring the Spanish horror movie great I was a tad confused as to why I hadn’t already looked at it.

Checking it made it very clear that I had seen the film and, as Ville points out, it does feature María Silva as Elizabeth Báthory and that would normally guarantee a feature. All I can think is that her role was so very small in the film that I then overlooked posting – a terrible omission and one that is being rectified with this post.

Bathory's head
It begins with two knights facing off, one a Báthory and the other Irineus Daninsky (Paul Naschy). Irineus states that the magic that Báthory is known for will not aid him against Daninsky’s sword and this proves to be true. Watched in secret by Elizabeth and her companion, Daninsky fairly and squarely beats Báthory and then cuts off his head. Elizabeth heads back to the castle, though she knows that Daninsky will come for her.

Drinking blood
At the castle she indulges in a black magic rite that involves blood sacrifice and drinking of said blood. Just as she’s taking a gulp from the goblet one of her guards comes in, an arrow in his back, closely followed by Daninsky and his men. The companion escapes but Báthory and her handmaidens are captured and executed – they by hanging, her by being burnt at the stake. Before she dies she offers one of those convoluted curses to the effect that when one of Daninsky’s descendants draws blood from the firstborn of one of her descendants then that Daninsky and all his issue will be cursed.

The wolfman
That is the last we see of Báthory but when, centuries later, Waldemar Daninsky (also Paul Naschy) shoots at a wolf (with a silver cartridge his servant puts into the gun) but finds the body of a gypsy, he sets the curse into motion. The gypsies ensure that Waldemar is cursed to live the living death of the werewolf. However we don’t get the ghost or revenant of Báthory showing up and hence she has only a fleeting visitation in the film and this is the honourable mention of that visitation.

The Borgo Pass
is another aspect that genre fans will like, however, and that is the proximity of Daninsky’s estate, in this, to the Borgo Pass – highlighted only by a road sign to that effect. There is also a scene of the corpses of victims being treated and about to be cremated to prevent a possible return – but they don’t return and so whether this would have been as werewolves, vampires or zombies is not actually touched upon in any meaningful way. However, standard werewolf myth be that only survivors become werewolves in turn.

The imdb page is here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Empire of Dracula – review

Director: Federico Curiel

Release date: 1967

Contains spoilers

Oh, you just have to love Mexican Horror Cinema. Even when it begs, steals and borrows, and even when it isn’t the best example, there are more often than not moments that make a vehicle worthwhile.

The Empire of Dracula would appear to be quite a rare example and I have to say that in its ‘begs, steal and borrow” way it did manage to pilfer aspects that were rather reminiscent of the Hammer film from just two years before, that being Dracula Prince of Darkness (DPoD) of course.

the castle
The credits tell us that this is based on the novel by Abraham Stoker as a sombre piano plays. However as we see the Grey Mansion (the exterior establishing shot, clearly a model, is a castle but the interior and courtyard shots suggest hacienda) and we discover a little background we are told that the vampire of our tale is the Baron Draculstein (Eric del Castillo).

staking Draculstein
After seeing a cloaked shadow and fangs we hear a scream. A portly gentleman (Víctor Alcocer) runs for his life, however he is wont to stumble and fall – meaning the Baron is able to follow him at a walk. He is caught and has to fight for his life. Eventually, in a room, he fights the vampire off and grabs a curtain. The vampire retreats and hides behind his cape in a corner – though viewers might recall that the ripping of a curtain to kill Dracula at the end of Horror of Dracula was shown at the head of DPoD. The man grabs a poker and stakes the vampire with it – he turns rapidly to a skeleton.

the family
Madam Brener (Rebeca Iturbide) has told the story to her son Luis (César del Campo) whilst she lies in her death bed. The portly gentleman was his father and he gave his life to rid the world of Draculstein and banish him from the Grey Mansion (which belongs to the Brener family). Round her bedside are Patricia (Lucha Villa), Luis’ wife, and Patricia’s sisters Diana (Ethel Carrillo) and the mute Lily (Robin Joyce). Luis wants her to rest but she insists in telling him that she knows Draculstein will be reborn at the next New Moon and Luis must return to the Grey Mansion, find the cross of oak and destroy him forever. Luis doesn’t believe a word of it and Mrs Brener dies.

Fernando Osés as Igor
It is the 1st of October and a couple are walking beneath the New Moon… ish… because it isn’t a New Moon, despite being referred to as such, it’s a Full Moon! The man says it symbolises love or death. They walk for a bit and then she starts to shiver, so he returns to their buggy to get a coat for her. A black coach with black horses comes out of the night and runs the man down. The woman returns, finds her lover crushed and then is grabbed by the carriage driver, Igor (Fernando Osés, Santo Vs Baron Brakola).

bleeding the victim
She is taken to a crypt and tied above a sarcophagus. Igor stabs her and her blood spills on the sarcophagus, causing it to open and revealing the bones of Draculstein, which then reform into the restored vampire. A couple of points struck me. Whilst the victim was a different sex and had been kidnapped from outside, this was reminiscent of resurrecting Dracula in DPoD – though nowhere near as impactful as Hammer’s scene. The other thing that struck me was why has the servant waited so long (Luis was a child when his father died and the vampire was staked, a goodly time has gone by)?

Robin Joyce as Lily
Anyway Luis returns to the Grey Mansion but their carriage breaks down. The black coach appears, without a driver, and the women get in, whilst Luis drives it. When they arrive there is food put out for them and their luggage manages to find its way to their rooms (again, lifting from DPoD). Housekeeper Maria denies having put the food out or moving the luggage and claims that Igor died a few months ago – actually her role in the film is confused as to whether she is helping the vampire or hindering him – she gives one character an apotropaic. Very soon Diana goes missing – no one seems too bothered, assuming she upped and left, though we know she has been vampirised – and the whole family are in danger.

a shadow of two swords
The vampires fear the sun and are warded/burnt by crosses. The oak cross doesn’t seem special, to look at, but is rather destructive. Draculstein is a bit of a big wuss, to be honest. At one point he fights Luis with swords and they cross, causing a cross shape shadow to fall over Luis’ face. This elicits a scream from the vampire and he legs it! Rather than garlic, mandrake has an apotropaic effect and there is a whole patch of it planted outside the Mansion. There is a nice mirror moment with the vampiric Diana appearing in the mirror and stepping through to Lily’s room.

emerging from the mirror
The story is weak, to be honest, however there are nice moments (such as the mirror just mentioned). Eric del Castillo does not make a very threatening vampire and the fact that they just walk after victims seems plodding rather than menacing. A little more clarity around the roles and motivations of the staff would have been nice and a slower build to the attack on the family would have built a tension that was sadly lacking. I saw it in Black and White, apparently there was a colour version also but black and white probably suited the film more.

However it is a nice Mexican rarity and has worthwhile moments amongst the pedestrian pace. 4 out of 10. The IMDb page is here.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Verge – review

Author: Rebecca Bradford

Release date: 2016

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: On the eve of her 18th birthday, Ashleigh Palmer is preparing to celebrate like any other 17 year old. With a close circle of good friends, a loving family and a sparkling academic record, her life seems enviable and above all: normal. Suddenly, her world is turned upside down as she realises that she may not be the typical young woman she thought she was. To the dismay of her family, her boyfriend Todd and her best friend Emma, she begins to change against her will. Her abilities go from top-standard to prodigal. Her strength, anger and lust know no bounds. Then the inhuman cravings begin - what is happening to her? Her mother holds the secret to her history which will change her life forever, but how and when will it reveal itself? How will she cope, and will she have to leave everyone she loves behind? A world which was once pure fantasy has become real...

The review is hosted at Vamped.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Pocong kesetanan! – review

Director: Pinkan Utari

Release date: 2011

Contains spoilers

We have come across the Indonesian pocong, or shroud ghost, before. From Muslim lore the pocong shroud must have its ties released after 40 days following the death. If that does not happen then the soul becomes trapped in the body and hops out of the grave.

It isn’t a vampire type, it is more like a physical ghost. This film lands on our radar because there is a creature mash up and the film also includes a kyonsi. Now a Chinese hopping vampire and pocong mash up sounded brilliant to me, on paper at least. With both creatures portrayed as hopping it just seemed to work in my head. I wish it had worked on screen.

It begins with a character, Santo (and, no, he’s nothing like the wrestler), sneaking through what appeared to be a derelict building. I say appeared to be, because we later discover it is some sort of mausoleum. As he sneaks through we see a pocong and a kyonsi hopping. Santo gets to a coffin and opens it… and wakes up at home with the pocong floating above him, before it vanishes.

uninvited guests
Santo goes to his front door and we get three young people there; Bujang, Mertil and James. They have been sent from the village where Santo originally comes from, by his father and a teacher, to bring him home. His friend Asep later turns up as he is in a relationship with Mertil. Santo house-shares with two girls as well. He convinces Bujang and James to go to an old cemetery with him, due to the dream he has had.

the kuntilanak
He explains that a Chinese man was buried in the cemetery and his coffin has treasure in it. The absolutely wafer thin plot is that they take the monies from the coffin and are haunted by the kyonsi, the pocong (who had died trying to get the treasure) and it seems a kuntilanak might be around too. However the monsters do little but scare the cast – there are no attacks as such, indeed no vampiric behaviour at all, and little in the way of plot.

The film is a comedy. Bujang is a rhyming champion (I assume he was meant to be a rapper, maybe it was a poet) and offers rhymes with an affected grin at the end, which is meant to be funny. Of course the subtitles did the rhyming no justice at all, but the couplets weren’t funny either. I think, perhaps, there was a high level of missed cultural references but – even taking that into account – it wasn’t funny. The fact that the DVD’s English subs were obviously poor probably didn’t help.

holding breath
Gags about girls’ armpit hair, for instance, were at best puerile, rather misogynistic and mainly pointless – perhaps the Indonesian humour around this is culturally ingrained but it left me cold. We got a holding breath and fart gag – a 'go to' for comedies with kyonsi in – and quite a bit of physical humour around the hauntings. But all through I was just left colder and colder by the humour and left grasping for a plot that was gossamer thin.

Perhaps my Western sensibilities are doing this one a injustice – I hope so – but for me this was poor. 2 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Honourable Mention: Judge Dredd: the Complete Case Files 08

Of all the inventions of the comic 2000AD, I think that Judge Dredd was the most pervasive. Judge, Jury and Executioner, the Judges were the law in the post-apocalyptic Mega Cities and Joe Dredd was the epitome of the Judges.

Of course, we have seen a vampire aspect to the Dredd universe as he crossed over into the Devlin Waugh: Swimming in Blood volume. This, however, is the 8th volume of all the Dredd stories and contains the serial City of the Damned, which ran over late 1984 and early 1985. The writing team were John Wagner and Alan Grant, the artists involved were Steve Dillon, Ian Gibson, Ron Smith and Kim Raymond.

In 2107, amid terrible premonitions about 2120 from the Psi Judges, the first time machine, Proteus, is created. Judges Dredd and Anderson are sent as a two person crew into the future to see if the premonitions hold any water (one detail is already wrong as Owen Krysler, the Judge Child, is no more and he was meant to be the saviour of the city). They travel into the future and find a devastated city… so vampires…

Having first seen a citizen panic at the sight of them and kill himself in an acid pool the two Judges head for Hill Street, now known as Hell Street, and a Judge Sector House there. The Judges have all been transformed into vampires and prey on law breakers but will get anyone if their blood supplies are running low. Dredd and Anderson have to sneak into the Sector House to access the computers and discover what happened, but an old friend Judge Hershey is a vampire and wants them turned… or dead…

The vampires form the start of the story and appear towards the end. We also get a zombie or revenant version of Dredd (in this future he was killed by the story’s antagonist). But I don’t want to spoil too much. However the relatively small role they play and the fact that the story is just one in the volume means that the volume gets an Honourable Mention.