Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Honourable Mention: the LEGO Batman Movie

You’ll hopefully recall that I looked at the LEGO movie because of a fleeting visitation of the Friendly Vampire and, of course, Batman (Will Arnett) played a fairly large role in that film.

This was the 2017 movie, directed by Chris McKay that was totally concentrated on Batman. Of course, familiar terrain if you’ve played the LEGO Batman games, this turned out to be a hoot. Puns and jokes come thick and fast as Batman must put aside his lone vigilantism and learn to work with the new police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) and accidental protégé Dick Grayson (Michael Cera).

The danger comes from the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) who tricks Batman into sending him to the Phantom Zone so that he can recruit the evillest baddies ever. We have Sauron, King Kong, Godzilla, Voldemort and… a vampire. Presumably Dracula (he utters the line “*Count* me interested”) this is a bad vampire (as opposed to the Friendly Vampire) who helps Joker bring chaos to Gotham city but his appearance is only, again, a fleeting visitation and a crap bat moment. Nevertheless he is there in the film.

The imdb page is here.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Honourable mention: I Love You to Death

I really didn’t know which way to go with this one. Our “vampiric” figure is not a vampire, I think, but displays cosmetic vampiric attributes that demanded I feature the film here. There didn’t seem enough for a ‘Vamp or Not?’ and yet there are characters (named in the credits) that fit in with the wider genre.

I settled for an Honourable Mention as this is, at the very least, of genre interest. How vampire or otherwise it is I’ll let you decide for yourselves.

It begins with Lily Foster (Shannon O'Dowd) saying how she loves her husband Clay (Travis Mendenhall) but she betrayed him. Cut to Clay at the breakfast table with her, explaining how he won’t be going to work that day (or the next week) and her suggesting that they need the money and he has no holidays left. All the time we do not see her and, given the title and DVD cover, I easily realised that she was dead. Clay says he is making an anniversary dinner for them that night.

Sevont Richards as Gator
Cue dinner and again we do not see her as they speak, though we do see them dance (and she looks very much alive). Suddenly there is a banging at the door and outside is Gator (Sevont Richards), unknown to Clay he is shouting that he is their worst nightmare and Lily is urging Clay not to let him in. However Clay does just that. Gator is threatening violence, demanding something and sets a mocking laugh belt buckle going when he sees Lily and we also see her, clearly dead, eyes milky and starting to decay. He runs.

flashing fangs
After Gator has gone, Lily tells Clay that they are pregnant, despite the fact, as Clay points out, that they used fertility drugs to no effect and despite her being dead of course. Clay starts to become overwhelmed, he can’t hear her voice and then she starts to speak to him again and says someone’s coming. This is the primary character that lead to this article. Never named in film he is called The Syphon (John Klemantaski) in the credits, in fact when Clay asks, “who are you?” He answers “There is no who in my presence, only what and when.” He flashes retractable fangs at Clay and states that he has come for Lily. He lights candles with a breath, plays the piano and then leaves, promising to return the next day for Lily.

front fangs
It seems to the viewer (and this becomes confirmed as the film moves forward) that he is akin to (if not actually) the devil. This was confirmed for me in Clay’s dream sequence where he sees The Syphon (scarred and with Nosferatu style front fangs) on a throne – surrounded by what seems four vampire ladies – watching demons battle. What becomes interesting are the names that the four ladies are given. Lilith (Maggie VandenBerghe), Lilu (Rosie Tisch), Lamashtu (Stephanie Skewes) and La-Bar-Tu (Maria Aceves). We can see now why the scriptwriters called our dead woman Lily.

surrounded by Lilith and her sisters
Lilith is, of course, heavily connected with the vampire genre (via the Babylonian/Sumerian, through Jewish mythology). We have seen Lilith listed as a demon, a vampire, the Goddess of vampires etc. Lamashtu is shown as a vampire in the Constantine episode The Saint of last resorts and a demon in the film the landlord and in Mesopotamian mythology menaced women during childbirth. Lilu meant spirit in the Akkadian Language and, again, is often associated with Lilith. Labartu (no hyphens) is again from Mesopotamian mythology and has been associated with both the hag and Lamashtu.

Shannon O'Dowd as Lily
There is little further use going into the detail of the film – suffice it to say it is a whodunnit or perhaps more a howdunnit as Clay struggles to regain the memories he has blocked despite interruption by Gator and his boss (Christopher Ivins). The Syphon and his vampiric demon harem are in the film further but there is no more that we would necessarily associate with vampirism. The film was very watchable and whilst it perhaps suffered from its B nature to a degree it certainly kept my interest.

The imdb page is here.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Short Film: Vampire in Union City

This was a short film, coming in at 48 minutes, directed by Lucio Fernandez and released in 2010. I was lucky enough to be sent a DVD of the film, though it came with a health warning that it was “really artsy fartsie with a campy 1960's "bad horror" film style”. Now I like myself a bit of arthouse and also, if done well, some neo-Grindhouse.

The first thing that struck me was the artwork on the DVD was beautifully moody, the second thing that struck me was how low resolution the print committed to disc was (as you’ll gather through the screenshots accompanying). Indeed, it was so low res that I contacted Lucio Fernandez to ask whether this was actually deliberate. The answer was yes, “We did that on purpose. Everything was done with the intent of making it look like an artsy 1960-70's bad horror flick.”

staggering into view
So, if I tell you that generally I enjoyed the short, I must add that I think the low resolution went a step too far and I would have preferred if it had been upped, at least a degree. However, I respect what they were looking to achieve. I also have to be careful not to spoil the underlying narrative that is revealed within the arthouse and probably offend at my lack of geographic etiquette.

Lucio Fernandez as the vampire
I am aware that Union City is in New Jersey and I don’t know, therefore, if it is an etiquette faux pas to mention New York – but the film, for me, certainly had the visual texture of the arthouse end of the New York vampire genre. As such it slips into the same realm, ambience wise, as films such as Nadja, the Addiction and, perhaps, Habit; though this tellingly had less in the way of budget. It begins with the vampire (Lucio Fernandez) who staggers. A phone rings and eventually we hear that the vampire cannot go into work as he is dead.

the Danse Macabre
What I noticed was how well the vampire’s voiceover (voiced by Tom Osborne) worked, adding a noir element, underpinned by the ambient soundtrack that worked well throughout (and became a centrepiece later in the film as a violinist performed Camille Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre as performers offered interpretive dance). However, back in the film's opening, our vampire is set upon by men who call him a freak and as he blacks out we see a Dead Poet (Gerard Karabin) reciting Poe’s The Conqueror Worm.

drinking myoglobin
The vampire is obsessed with death and suggests to one man, in a park, that he knows what being dead feels like – before sharing that feeling by throttling him. Is he actually a vampire though? He is called such by one couple and also called chupacabras by a third party. We see many of the traits and tropes tied with the genre such as religious iconography, sleeping in coffins, thoughts on walking in daylight and reflections, endless hunger and the drinking of myoglobin from meat trays.

This is arthouse on a budget and, as such, might put some off. Certainly the low resolution choice is something the viewer has to push through but, at its heart, there is an interesting examination of the genre here and it is worth looking at.

The imdb page is here.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Acid Head: The Buzzard Nuts County Slaughter – review

Director: Tony Watt

Release date: 2011

Contains spoilers

J. Gordon Melton, I blame you – in the nicest sort of way but I came across this due to some correspondence we had!

There has been an increasing tendency for films, especially blockbusters, to go on considerably longer than the (oft-considered) standard of 90 minutes. Sometimes this can cause a film to outstay its welcome, and the pacing of the film becomes slower, perhaps too slow. At 2.5 hours I might have said the same about this but it had outstayed its welcome after the first ten minutes.

Now, director Tony Watt is no stranger to long films. Currently (at time of review) in my ”to watch” list is his earlier film Frankenpimp, which comes in at an eye-shattering 3 hours 15 minutes. This film has not made me want to hurry up and watch it.

It starts in Ontario and some random wall and door is turned into Bank of Brampton by superimposing the name over the shot. Two characters, the false moustached and bewigged Bo (Luke van Belkom) and Lewis Mercer (himself) rob the bank. Bo has a shoot out with a cop and is shot in the heart. Lewis is given his gun and throws it away, causing it to go off and accidentally killing the cop. He gets away as the camera jerks all over the place in some extremely poor camera work. The off-yellowed tint carries through the film making it look turgid and unappealing.

Tony Watt as Dracula
So, the story is pretty much irrelevant but there is a sorority house that is a front for student escorts/prostitutes. It had previously been the site of the murders by Acid Head (Vivita), a serial killing Goth girl (noted on the DVD blurb to be a blood drinking cannibal) who happens to be making her way back. It later transpires that the house is built over the grave of Dracula (Tony Watt) who makes an appearance a couple of times but is also named as a vampiric poltergeist who possessed Acid Head.

They actually used blackface
Acid Head herself was the daughter of a movie producer and actress. The actress cheated with the gardener and in an intervening fight with her husband acid was accidentally thrown over the daughter's face. Plastic surgery did wonders for one side of her face but there is still scarring hidden by her fringe. However if the film is meant to be an absurdist, misogynistic bad taste comedy (that fails to be funny) I was even less than impressed when they called the gardener Ni**er Charlie and had the actor (credited as Trenchmouth Colitis, a name used by Tony Watt in another production) wearing blackface.

Vivita as Acid Head
Beyond shoddy camera work and the filter from Hell, the SFX is terrible, the blood splatter being layered onto shots afterwards, and the acting and dialogue worse. Ridiculous sound effects are presumably meant to be comedy but are just awful. False moustaches, teeth and ill-fitting wigs are the order of the day. The blurb suggests that this is in a “grind-house style” but really, in this case, that is an excuse for lack of any discernible redeeming feature. This was awful, though perhaps if it had been shorter it would have been a more watchable form of awful – though, honestly, I doubt it. 0 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Monsters and Mutants – review

Director: Various

First aired: 2017

Contains spoilers

With 6 episodes taken from season 5 of the Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, this has four episodes concerning the classic monsters and then a double episode called When Worlds Collide (about aliens).

The episodes that concern us contain a mini-arc of a story.

It opens with April (Mae Whitman) and Casey (Josh Peck) walking through the Halloween streets of New York on their way to meet the turtles. Suddenly they are under attack by large wolves and a man appears with rather large canines. A young girl bites Casey. The turtles are getting ready when April calls them and says that Casey is a vampire and after her blood. They go to rescue her but, after using garlic pizza to capture Casey, April is bitten and they become surrounded by wolves, vampires and the Frankenstein Monster (Grant Moninger).

Turtles undercover
They are lifted out of danger by the newly appearing Renet (Ashley Johnson). Renet is an apprentice Time Master – the guardians of time and space. She explains that she was checking on the banished Savanti Romero (Graham McTavish, Preacher & Castlevania) when he managed to get her spare time travelling device and has come through time, recruiting monsters on the way, with the aim of taking over the world. We should note that his name seems to be a homage to Tom Savini and George Romero. Renet wants to take the mutants back in time to try and stop Romero – unfortunately her time staff is low on energy.

vampire turtle
They go through time to his first stop, which is Ancient Egypt, but our interest lies more firmly in the next episode where they go through to Transylvania in the 1300s to stop Romero recruiting Dracula (Chris Sarandon, Bordello of Blood, Fright Night (1985) & Fright Night (2011)). Renet gives the turtles clothes that will help them blend in and they head towards Dracula’s castle. En route they meet gypsies, one of whom turns out to be the wolfman, and Raphael (Sean Astin, the Strain) is bitten becoming a vampire turtle. Let us just say that they are not successful here or at Frankenstein’s castle and have to take the fight back to their own time. At which point Donatello (Rob Paulsen) is also turned (by April) leaving just two turtles to lead the fightback.

The vampires can summon mist, eye mojo, turn into bats and become bat creatures as well. There is a symbol that will ward them (though faith is needed) and garlic will weaken them. Being staked through the heart will kill them, a vampire is not a true vampire until they have drunk blood and its kill the head vampire free the half-vampires (or, indeed, all of them apparently). We are in a one bite and turn situation. The monsters have a hostile relationship/alliance, with Dracula clearly wanting to take command and we do see that the mummy is no match for him. So, what was it like as a vehicle to view.

surrounded by bat creatures
You know it was good fun. You couldn’t fault the voice acting, which was provided by a mixture of big names and veteran voice actors. The animation was cgi and it was deliberately blocky and low textured – I think I would have preferred higher standards of cgi (especially with regards textures) or actually drawn animation but it didn’t do anything too terrible. I must give a shout out to both Alex and Everlost, both of whom contacted me to tell me about the Crypt of Dracula episode (second in the sequence). 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Blood Woods – review

Director: John Reign

Release date: 2017

Contains spoilers

Simply appearing on Amazon Prime on the run up to Halloween, this was one that frustrated me by nearly getting things right and really not. I liked the idea that it became almost a portmanteau – though there is one main feature length film with a portmanteau-like surround. It had some nearly good photography, and yet managed to undermine itself in that regards, and the very strange compositional shots for said photography also undermined it. In fact, I think it tried to be unusual but in being so actually made some really poor compositional choices.

a Bela still
The first mistake it made was having a still of Bela Lugosi at the head of the film with the three legends “Vampires”… “Real Ones”… “Don’t Sparkle”. If I could get (most) filmmakers and authors to do one thing, it is stop the blatant Twilight attacks. At first  quickly shifting from mildly amusing to just kind of sad, like shooting fish in a barrel, now its gone past that. The films were poorly executed but the books were fine for their target audiences and this constant jabbing feels like nothing but jealousy as, after all, no-one owns or defines the vampire genre. But also, whilst once in a while you get something like I Had a Bloody Good Time at House Harker, where the spoofing is actually clever and amusing, mostly it isn’t.

boy-bandish vampire
Worse. This wasn’t even spoofing but a positioning all the more sad because, despite being bald and having rat-like ears (ala Orlock), when we see the vampire (Larry Overfield) and his open shirt and medallion he actually looked like a so-called “romance vampire”, strangely boy-bandish even though that wasn’t the goal. Perhaps it was the declaration at the head of the film that caused this correlation? Who knows… anyway, rant over. So, we start with a trailer and a man (face never seen) enters and there are a couple of tied up girls who he tells to shut up (they whimper) and (after chopping some meat) tries to feed some gore-like slop to. A couple of things I noticed. The photography seemed crisp but the shot choices were poor, like the primary actor blocking shots. Also, ok the girls refused the slop but they’d hardly have eaten it with their gags still in.

advert for Birkett Butcher
Anyway the man leaves the trailer and sits in front of a small TV. There is an advert for Birkett Butchers – the good old Birkett boys crossing over into the main feature as cameo characters. The TV then goes to New Castle After Dark, where the hosts introduce the feature they are presenting: Blood Woods. So the film becomes a film within a film. I did kind of like that as a concept. Blood Woods starts with establishing shots of nature and I’m guessing they were stock footage as they were very crisp and professionally shot. When we then see the photography within the feature that seems crisp, but not as crisp, blurring on motion and these establishing shots undermined it.

the hunter
A truck pulls into the woods and the camera looks at the truck but the driver is hidden within the reflection of trees in the windshield. We get odd angles and compositional shots. The camera lingering on hitching pants, him obscured as we watch him pee, a desire not to show the face and then, showing it anyway. I know there was a point to the composition but I couldn’t gel with it. The man is a hunter. He kills a deer and is then got by the vampire, who hunts at high speed. The vampire drags him off (and it is suddenly night) and then proceeds to tell him that he came to the wrong part of the woods with a really gravelly (OTT) voice before killing him. There is then a slo-mo vampire run to Moonlight Sonata.

We get to a shot of a town and we are already 20 minutes in. The film moves into a bank and in walk three robbers. They have masks on but they are Wolf (Dave Campbell, Fist of the Vampire), Dozer (Tony DeJulia) and Cash (Allyson R Hood). Also in on the caper is security guard Fargo (Jason Howell), who happens to be Cash’s brother. Cops show up at the bank’s drive through and a teller manages to tip them off by mentioning a sister he doesn’t have (though it takes them a while to get it). This leads the robbers to start a shootout as they leave the bank, re-enter, leave through the uncovered back entrance, car jack an escape vehicle (taking the driver hostage) and drive past the cops shooting. In all this they drop the money (!) and Fargo is shot.

Cash and Wolf
There is a pointless scene with the cops in a bar. Honestly, it added nothing and the cops were not important enough as characters to warrant it. All it did was slow the narrative down. Back to the robbers (now unmasked, so the kidnapped car driver can see their faces) and they have broken down. A couple of sisters are walking up the road and one goes to see if they need help, gun in face and a walk to their campsite reveals someone has ransacked their stuff and their car keys have gone. They get back to the car, one says for Wolf to put his monkey on a leash, about African American Cash, which made me wince. Then they spot the smoke coming from a lodge no one had seen before.

he's behind you
In the lodge are mother (Delores Anne Bruce), father (Paul Worley) and daughter (Casey Burke) – daughter seems somewhat disconnected with the real world and her dialogue, or delivery or both, strikes as odd. She has made cookies – special ones for mother as they have her medication in them. The robbers take over the lodge but the vampire has taken an interest in them and he is hunting them down, after warning them to leave…

biting the head
So, lore we get is that sunlight is later hinted to be a problem but the vampire got the hunter at the head of the film in daylight (though the woods could have shaded him). A bite turns but the vampires can be shot and killed (there was a suggestion that they hadn’t fully turned). One of these is a head shot. There is some (almost too subtle for its own good) playing with the invitation rules and crosses will ward off if the person has “complete faith”. So, what did I think…

Honestly I was frustrated. There were some good ideas that were almost lost in bad ideas that they thought were good – such as some shot composition or expanded narratives that added nothing to the film. Those expanded narratives may have worked in a more experienced filmmakers’ hands but didn’t in this. There was some necessary suspension of belief location wise. The acting varied but the best performance, for me, was given by Allyson R Hood. On to the score, and it was so frustrating... 3.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Little Vampire: New Adventures – review

Director: Christian Görlitz

First aired: 1993

Contains spoilers

Ostensibly following the 1986 series, the Little Vampire, this differed in many ways starting with the fact that it was a wholly different cast. The first series had been a German/Canadian joint production and had been filmed in Canada. This series was solely a German production and was filmed in Germany and Belgium.

I managed to finally track it down in a joint set with the first series, both with an English dub… and the dubbing is atrociously bad but, you know what, it is just as I remember it when it aired in the UK and that dubbing might have been poor but added a layer of nostalgia to the viewing.

Anton flying
Having established the backstory and lore in the first series this series gets down to it without bothering to recap the rules and assuming that the audience realises that ten-years old Anton (Matthias Ruschke) is a human boy whose best friend is Rüdiger von Schlotterstein (Jan Steilen), the little vampire of the title. Anton is in possession of a vampire cloak that allows him to fly (indeed it is the cloaks that power the vampires’ flights as well) and that Rüdiger’s sister Anna (Lena Krüper) is in love with Anton. Reference to Anna drinking milk as she has not decided what age she wants to be is lost, but she noticeably has less in the way of fang.

Geiermeier & Stöbermann
The episodes are self-contained, though they do build to a loose overall narrative as simple as that might be. In the first part of the series the antagonist is vampire hunter Geiermeier (Marián Labuda). He is said to have had some success as a vampire hunter and yet his character is shown as bumbling and easily outsmarted by Anton. When Anton, and subsequently Rüdiger, goes on holiday to the countryside the antagonist is local doctor Stöbermann (Dominique Horwitz). He really is shown as bumbling and quite ridiculous. From a family of vampire hunters he enlists Anton’s help (who is smart enough to act as a double agent and discover his plans) and shows him a picture of his ancestor – actually a still from Horror of Dracula.

Anton's parents with the vampires
Of course there is no sign of vampire attacks and, despite Anton’s fear of the adult vampires they are drawn in a far more comedic way than sinister. One must question their hunting prowess also. At a vampire party in the final episode they fail to notice that Anton and his parents (who have dressed up as vampires to surprise him and believe the vampires to be members of a theatre troupe in character) are human – though Anna has sprayed them all with her favourite (rancid) perfume. However they also fail to notice Stöbermann just a few yards from the vampires as well, and his vampire hunting dog that barks in the presence of the undead for some reason stays silent too!

Rüdiger and his mother
The vampire party proves itself to be a fairly diverse affair – with vampires from many parts of the globe. If the introductions are to be believed, however, Dracula is not amongst them. As he is referred to by Rüdiger’s father (Dietrich Mattausch) and the party, which takes place every 130 years, was instigated by a communique by Dracula one would have thought they would have included the character at the party.

Anton and Anna
There is a dreamy quality to the show – perhaps added to by the VHS print and the fact that the night scenes were filmed during the day and filtered. The matting for things such as flying is, of course, quite coarse now. Often the relationship between Anton and Rüdiger seems forced as they come across as quite antagonistic to each other and, frankly, quite bratish at times. However this possibly owes as much to the awful dubbing; and it is really bad, and yet there is something still rather fun about this – probably down to nostalgia but nevertheless there. 5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.