Friday, May 19, 2017

Ghost Legend – review

Director: Ng Min-Kan

Release date: 1990

Contains spoilers

Ghost Legend or Ma Yi Chuan Qi was a 1990 Hong Kong movie that was really hot on the heels of a Chinese Ghost Story from a few years before, and indeed it had an opening cameo from Wu Ma who played such a great role in the earlier movie.

The “vampire” in this was called Ghost King (Peter Chan Lung, the Shadow Boxing, Spooky Encounters & Blue Jean Monster) in the subtitles of the version I watched but, according to the Hong Kong Movie database he was Earth Devil King. Now, bearing in mind the subs also called the character Shi Wu (Kenny Ho Ka-King) ‘15’ I think I’ll stick with the HKMDb character names. But, in truth, he does look devilish in visage also – the vampirism is a tad more energy vampirism (with blood involved) and this is not a kyonsi movie.

sacrificial bride
So we begin with a young woman, Yan Hong (Eva Lai Yin-Shan), being taken in a palanquin to her wedding, but she is far from happy. She is to be married to Earth Devil King, chosen by the villagers as she has no parents to object and Earth Devil King will decimate the village if a bride is not provided. The forest they are moving through is hit by a storm. Nearby a Taoist Monk (Wu Ma, A Chinese Ghost Story, Mr Vampire, Mr Vampire 2, New Mr Vampire, Mr Vampire 3, Vampire’s Breakfast, Magic Cop & Exorcist Master) sets to confront the Earth Devil King who has slaughtered several maids, though he admits to a lacking strategy.

the Earth Devil King
Out in the woods the entourage flees leaving the bride in the palanquin. Hands reach from the earth and pull it along and eventually she is grabbed by Earth Devil King and ends up with her flesh stripped from the bone. The Taoist does confront the evil one and defeats him but not before being mortally wounded himself. We also see that the Earth Devil King’s heart is plucked from his torso and sinks into the earth.

Shi Wu chats up the ladies
Cut forward two hundred years and two brothers, Shi Wu and Chu Yi (Kent Cheng Jak-Si, also Vampire’s Breakfast & Ninja Vampire Busters) now run the Taoist temple but there have been no ghosts to fight since that night. Shi Wu is a cheeky lad but in love with Fu Rong (Joan Tong Lai-Kau). She is the sister of local doctor Brother Bian (Cheung Kwok-Keung, Close Encounters of the Spooky Kind 2). Bian goes out into the woods to gather grasses for a medicine and whilst out there finds a rare grass that he collects – its root is the Earth Demon King’s heart – and then falls and bleeds on the bones of Yan Hong, which he buries.

baby victim
When he gets back to town he manages to drop the rare grass but does not realise. This is outside a pregnant woman’s house – who goes into labour later that evening. Once the baby, a girl, is born the bloody water from the birth is thrown out onto the root that begins to beat and ooze greenish puss as the Earth Demon King is reborn. Also that night Yan Hong visits Bian in his sleep and they have sex. The next day there is a commotion, the baby is dead. The Taoists are sure it is the work of a ghost, which Bian poo-poos until he sees the tiny corpse, which is desiccated – having had all the life sucked out of it.

ghostly kiss
Before we look at Earth Devil King I want to touch on the ghost Yan Hong. She is a good ghost (in the Chinese Ghost Story mode) but interestingly she says that it was Bian’s blood on her bones that pulled her soul into a whole – reminding me a little of Greek myth and blood allowing the ghosts of the dead to converse. The kindness of burying her bones has made her want to serve the doctor – but she has a window in which she can reincarnate that he wants her to take.

dead virgin
Earth Devil King is another matter altogether. He is hunting virgins down and some scrying lets the Taoists know that he needs to suck seven lives (according to the subs) and then he will set his sights on them. Yan Hong tells them that the seven would add to the 42 lives he took two hundred years before and 49 lives taken will make him truly immortal. So he is raised back as a corporeal entity and he is sucking virgin lives. Whilst not the typical Chinese or Western vampire he certainly is acting in a vampiric way with recognisable tropes used.

The film is fun to watch but, ultimately, it is a bit of a lightweight compared to A Chinese Ghost Story or Mr Vampire. That said it is worth tracking down. 5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Forest of the Vampire – review

Director: John R. Hand

Release date: 2016

Contains spoilers

There is something to be said for indie productions being ambitious. If you are going to do it, why not reach further and grasp for a point that should be unobtainable. There is also something to be said for understanding limitations.

Forest of the Vampire certainly did stretch and, in some ways, succeeded but it also, in other ways, failed by overextending. It was interesting that the press kit for the film suggests “Forest of the Vampire weds the classic gothic horror of Hammer’s Dracula films with the survivalist terror of films like The Evil Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre” because I saw definite influences but not necessarily these.

Paul Camp as Baal
The film begins with shots of a cloaked figure, Baal (Paul Camp), and others of a woman, Neptis (Starla Snowdon), in a gossamer nightdress. She flashes fangs during this prologue, he doesn’t need to as the cloak he wears screams vampire. Let us touch on those influences right now. If the press kit said Hammer I would disagree as my thoughts went to 1950s/60s Mexican vampire cinema. Now, whilst Hammer arguably influenced that, the combination of landscape and the cloak screamed out Germán Robles to me.

Starla Snowdon as Neptis
Anyway, a girl, Jessica (Caitlyn Moore), is in an abandoned mill, putting her clothes back on. She calls out to her boyfriend but gets no response. Again, I want to touch on influences. The filming is filtered, adding a yellowish tint to the affair, and there are some very nicely done close up portraits of characters both of which felt very Euro-horror. If anything I was leaning towards a Jess Franco feel. Jessica finds her guy’s bloodied jeans outside, her name is whispered and the shot cuts into a graphic red filter.

Joe De Luca as Jim
A bar; and interestingly we know this through an establishing shot of an “open sign” and beer bottles. The two actors in the scene are alone in a sea of black and it was an interesting way to get around lack of set (rather than use a room that is clearly not a bar). The two characters are Rex (Ian Pala) and Jim (Joe De Luca). Jim wants to call it a night as they are going hiking the next day, Rex is complaining about the trip, the country music in bars and the idea of a hike. Jim suggests Rex tell Tina (Destiny Baldwin, From Dusk till Dawn: the Series) that, which shuts him up. They head back to their motel.

Rex and Tina
Lisa (Stevie Marceaux), Jim’s girlfriend, runs. There is a medallion and Baal, she sees a young man with fangs and awakens terrified (her dreams pepper the film). Jim just gets back from the bar and her attitude towards him was nothing more or less than a nag, to be honest. In the morning we meet Tina and see more of the groups' interactions. The trip is Tina’s idea, they are going to see Enchanted Rock – a place on a hiking trail, which locals avoid (the Rock, forest and trail). If I’m honest none of the characters elicited any sympathy and so it was difficult to care what happened to them but let’s talk those quoted influences. The road trip is the nearest this gets to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, to be honest, and this contains none of the terror of that nor the frenetic gore of the Evil Dead. This did veer more towards Euro-horror (as mentioned).

roadkill armadillo
So, they get to the trail (where a pair of picnicking moms have just been eaten by vampires – one off screen and assumed, the other on screen and actually a great unspoken rendition of vampire eye mojo being used – leaving the young daughter wandering the woods (and possibly in thrall to the vampires)). The use of the filter on the filming is all about moving into a borderland of two worlds, the vampires are quite comfortable wandering around in daylight and the guys are soon being hunted down… Except that the hunt was over rapidly and actually languid, with none of the pace one might think useful in such scenes. One of the four was also lured there as there is a task for them to complete. I need to also mention a “roadkill” armadillo, given the genre’s connection with the critter via Dracula (1931).

the other world
I won’t spoil the task but I do have to spoil the “other world” – or the other side of the looking glass, as was mentioned in dialogue after the phrase came to mind as the viewer. The forest stands as a borderland and we do see characters within that starry world. But it was a step too far ambition wise, it just looked a bit cheap (whereas the hidden bar set was clever). That borderland is also timeless, exemplified by a shot of a nail through a watch – which might have been a bit heavy handed as there wasn’t more of such imagery and certainly negated the need for a character to tell us that their watch wasn’t working.

Stevie Marceaux as Lisa
The sound wasn’t perfect, there was a use of effects on voices that perhaps might have been avoided and some of Tina’s dialogue seemed re-recorded (perhaps) but certainly distorted. So, negatively, we saw a stretch (in ambition) too far (the starry world) but also perhaps the film didn't stretch far enough as the director did keep the slasher aspect in mind and we could, perhaps, have eschewed that even more for the more arthouse direction. The characters were unsympathetic but the vampires looked the part and the character portraits in close-up worked nicely. Some of the practical effects were good – a pair of hands in the meadow looked better than they should have.

Baal - portrait
Score-wise I’m torn. I don’t believe that the filmmakers made what they set out to make. Partly because the budget indie nature kept some of it out of reach and partly because I don’t think it worked as a slasher horror. The more otherworldly aspect struggled both because of the starry world visuals but also because the nature and relationship of Baal and Neptis were under-explored and the exposition rushed (and vocally distorted). That said I was taken by a lot of the Euro-horror aspects and some of the photography; I really liked the filtering and the portraits. Even if a cloak might sound cliched, in the context of the film Baal looked right and carried that Mexican horror vibe I mentioned.

I don’t want to slate this (primarily because it really doesn't deserve it) but know it struggled to get where it wanted to. 4 out of 10 seems fair with a caveat that, despite not being perfect, it should be of interest to vampire fans – especially fans of the influences I mentioned. There are plans (according to the credits) for a sequel and I hope the filmmakers build on the positives in there, continue to reach but don’t overstretch.

The imdb page is here.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Bloodsucker’s Handbook – revisited

Back in 2013 I featured the film Enchiridion and my review described the film in the following terms: “if Canadian auteur Guy Maddin and Salvador Dali conspired to create a lovechild and name it Kerouac, then perhaps we would have a general frame of reference”. The review gave a good strong 7.5 out of 10 but the viewer had to be warned that it was a psychedelic, beat-fuelled experience replete with stop-motion.

Director Mark Beal kindly contacted me to say the film had received an international distribution but the distributor had made some changes. Not least the name had changed to Bloodsucker’s Handbook. This is not so big a change as Enchiridion is a Latin word that means handbook and, from a sales point of view, the English rather than Latin title would seem to be more sales friendly.

The colour complimented the Beats
The other major change was the fact that the film was no longer going to be in Black and White but in colour. Now, as this is the biggie, I’ll address the change straight off and say it works… kind of. The black and white offered a noir feel and the scenes with Valentine – the talking PI dog voiced by William Myrick – certainly deserved such a feel. However the film also owed much to the Beats (and, when watched, certainly brought Ginsberg to mind). The colour palate used is muted in a way that draws the 50s and early 60s to mind and fits into the Beat aspect. To be honest – a Blu-Ray set with both versions would be marvellous!

Jeremy Herrera as Doctor Condu
The film itself really did hold up to further scrutiny. Following the trials and tribulations of campus padre Father Noah Gregory (Cory W. Ahre) as the feds bring him into contact with alleged (and actual) vampire Doctor Condu (Jeremy Herrera), I was, again, most struck by their interactions. The film is certainly a psychodrama, perhaps a trip, maybe the evil dreams of the vampire it is one of those that someone looking for an easy-watch will regret stumbling across but those looking for a challenge and an arthouse feel will love. (At this point one wonders whether the title change will sell the film to the correct audience?)

If you want a little more in-depth exploration of the themes and the story then please see the original review. The score itself doesn’t change. The imdb page is here.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Where Evil Lives – review

Directors: Richard L. Fox, Stephen A. Maier & Kevin G. Nunan

Release date: 1991

Contains spoilers

Where Evil Lives is a portmanteau that is, for the most part, very silly but the vampire story - Midnight Date – actually works rather well as a vampire short.

The wraparound sees Blake Rutherford II (James Coffey) visiting a house with the intent to buy it. The realtor, Brandy Wine (Faye McKenzie), has to make a call and he gets speaking to caretaker Jack Devlin (Claude Akins, The Norliss Tapes & The Night Stalker) who tells him three tales of terror concerning the house. The first is a zombie (apparently) tale and the last a witch story but it is the middle story that interests us.

The story is narrated by the adult Jamie Davis (Played as a child by Beth McKenzie and as an adult by  Dawn Carlile). She and her brothers, Tim (Tom Croom) and Tom (Derick Martini, I think – he is listed on the credits as Tommy but missing from IMDb, and there is also a Tom listed in the credits, I assume the father shares his name), are hanging around the abandoned house and Tim is shooting at a bottle with a rifle (and missing). Jamie takes a shot and nails the bottle but Tim is now distracted by girlfriend Lori (Carol Rice). Tom and Jamie go for an explore of the house.

the comic
The voice over by the adult Jamie tells us that Tom is often rebellious and in trouble but she was just coming to terms with her gift of second sight. He explores upstairs but she was drawn by a book in the cellar. She finds it and it is a comic book about a succubus. She hears a woman, Diane (Jennifer Marie), asking for help and we can see it is a woman in lingerie – she says she sprained her ankle. Jamie knows it is a ploy and Diane is scared of the light edging into the cellar. Jamie leaves.

Tim gets overly frisky with Lori and she shrugs him off but offers to meet him at midnight at the house. He sneaks out but she fails to show and then he sees Diane through a window. He goes in the house, follows her into the cellar and she bites. All this is witnessed by Jamie, in a dream. When the cops show the next day, as he is missing, she tells them what happened – of course no one believes her. The cops do check the house but a vision keeps them out of the cellar.

Jamie convinces Tom to go and rescue their brother (despite a vision of Tom with a bloodied chest) and they prepare by getting a cross, sharpening stakes, making holy water balloons and stringing garlic garlands. Once in the house they see a sign painted on the wall in blood – “Welcome Home Jamie” – and become separated. Jamie is locked in a room with Tim, Diane suggesting he might wake up thirsty but, when he rises, he is scared off by the cross Jamie holds. However, as an older vampire Diane is not affected by the cross…

Jennifer Marie as Diane
And I’ll leave it there. As I say it was a nicely effective short. The kids did well enough and, whilst it did nothing too unusual – bar having one of the kids having second sight – it absolutely did nothing wrong either, bar perhaps the cop reaction when in the house but that can be overlooked. There is the common conflation of vampire and succubus but there is no mistaking Diane for anything other than a vampire – despite her using sexuality to lure a horny teenage boy!

As always, with a portmanteau, I am scoring for the vampire section only and it deserves a solid 6 out of 10, though the rest of the film varies very much in quality. The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Honourable Mention: Call me Crazy

Call me Crazy is a 14-minute short film directed by Adam Orton and gets an Honourable Mention due to the type of “vampirism”. It would be unfair, perhaps, to call primary character Michelle Gust (Jessica Denney) a serial killer as she has only killed the once but perhaps fledgling serial killer would be accurate.

The film starts with news reports about Michelle who, at 15 years old, stabbed her boyfriend 74 times, drank his blood and posted a picture of herself, with the body in the background, on social media. We get, in this section, the atypical talking heads that appear during this sort of incident.

Jessica Denney as Michelle
Cut forward and Michelle is incarcerated in the Dryzcimski Home for Troubled Youths and, when we see her, she is eating popcorn as she, and her fellow inmates, watch a public domain cartoon. The guy next to her as his hand round her shoulder. Into the room comes Isaac (Chris Pagnozzi) and he makes a beeline for the empty chair on the other side of her. He extricates his rival’s arm and puts his own around her shoulder.

Chris Pagnozzi as Issac
He offers her an animal cracker, she wonders where he got them from but he knows a guy. He mentions the upcoming dance and she is negative and mentions that she is a vampire. He dismisses this as he is a cannibal but he still likes to dance. The rival tries to put his arm around her again and Isaac bites his hand, drawing blood – this impresses Michelle. Isaac is dragged away but is determined to get to the dance. However, is he all he seems?

social media
This is a quirky, dark romance at heart and, of course, Michelle is not a vampire as such but is a killer and drank her victim’s blood. She seems proud of the label.

The imdb page is here.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Vamp or Not? Nightmare Sisters

Succubi should be an easy monster to classify in that, despite demonic origin (or maybe because of it), their energy/lifeforce/soul sucking ways puts them squarely onto the vampire radar. However it is not always so simple.

This was a 1988 film directed by B movie impresario David DeCoteau (credited as Dave) and staring three of the preeminent US B Movie Scream Queens. It is played, most clearly, for laughs (and titillation) and that probably pushes it ahead of the more serious (but still laughable) DeCoteau vehicles.

It starts, however, with a scene that I must admit made me uncomfortable – though I run the risk of being called too PC.

Michael Sonye as Omar
A woman, Amanda Detweiler (Sandy Brooke), goes to see psychic Omar (Michael Sonye) and it was Omar’s mock Deli accent that just made my skin crawl – the sort of racial mocking that just isn’t done. However, that aside, he comes across as a con artist but when he tries to contact her husband Clinton, who has been missing since a business trip, we get a run through of him picking up a woman, being bitten in the… and then the entity that killed him reaches out of the crystal ball and rips Omar's head off.

Omar loses his head
So after a credit theme song about succubi we are into the film proper and meet the geeky girls of Tri Ate-a Pie, Melody (Linnea Quigley, Vampitheatre), Marci (Brinke Stevens, Expendable, Skeleton Key, the Boneyard Collection¸Blood Scarab & Vampires Vs Zombies) and Mickey (Michelle Bauer, Morgana, Tomb of the Werewolf, The Tomb, Beverley Hills Vamp, Red Lips & Vampire Vixens from Venus). What was really well done was how the girls were made to look frumpy through the first half of the film.

The Tri Ate-A-Pie girls
Anyway, Marci has been to a flea market and bought a load of tat – including Omar’s crystal ball. They have the sorority house to themselves and so Melody decides to invite a guy, Kevin (Richard Gabai), over – they nearly got it together previously but he hasn’t called her. He thought he’d struck out and jumps at the chance but Melody wants him to bring two friends – fellow junior Frats, Freddy (Marcus Vaughter) and Duane (William Dristas). Their elder fraternity brothers deny them permission to go so they sneak out (and this leads to the bullying frats turning up as well).

The party is going slow, though the girls don’t seem to realise, but Marci suggests a séance. They make contact with Omar (or something pretending to be Omar) and it tricks the girls into breaking the circle and touching the crystal ball. They are immediately possessed, which equals loosing most of their clothes (they maintain panties) and becoming lascivious. Kevin warns his friends off the possessed girls, realising something is wrong, but the other frats didn’t get the message.

possessed Melody
So far so possession by succubus. Normally the overlap between succubus and vampire is in terms of the energy vampire aspect. These are, of course, not demons but women possessed by a demon (a single entity possessing all three). They gain sexual hunger but also sprout sharp teeth and bite. Their victim is reduced to clothing and ash. The question then becomes what happens to the victims. Frankly we don’t know, they just turn to ash, but a supposition of all their life being rapidly drained is probably fair.

using the cross
The boys hire an exorcist (Jim Culver) and he manages to defeat the evil – we see it manifest as a (fairly effective, at least from a distance) hag-like spectre. He does wield a cross but that works for demon or vampire. The exorcist does mention having to go for a staking of a vampire at dawn – so they are separate things in this world (but this world isn’t exactly lore strong, indeed it is cheap laughs and nude titillation). So… Vamp? Definitely succubi but I can see a case for suggesting that they steal the entire lifeforce of a victim with a single bite so I’ll allow a verdict of energy vampire too.

The imdb page is here.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Bloodsuckers (1997) – review

Director: Ulli Lommel

Release date: 1997

Contains spoilers

Darling Dead

Be careful what you wish for… words, perhaps, to live by. I have tried to track this film down for years under its Bloodsuckers title. Amazon do list a DVD, via marketplace, but invariably it is the 1970 Blood Suckers that is being sold (I have, luckily, only come a cropper with this once – since then I have contacted the sellers and sought version confirmation). In fact, the amazon UK page reviews are all for the 1970 film. Indeed, if you search for the film even those hits with the correct director/actor details have the 1970 film cover (including IMDb at the time of review)!

In fact, a search reveals a variety of titles for the movie including I Want to Be a Vampire, Nothing Generation, Vampire Club or Boogeyman Vampire Club 4. The version I finally stumbled over had a similar title in that it was in film titled Boogey Vampire Club 4. For those who have put two and two together – with the director being Ulli Lommel and the word Boogeyman being used – you are right to think that this is ostensibly the fourth Boogeyman film… I say ostensibly as it has nothing to do with the previous films as far as I can tell.

stock footage
Indeed, it is a giant WTF moment encapsulated into film. Certainly not a horror film, it is more like (poor) performance art making a social commentary (or commentaries). It haunts the hidden streets of Hollywood and the search for fame, using stock footage of Marilyn Monroe to exemplify the “chew them up and spit them out” of the Hollywood machine. It starts with porn, cut in such a way that it becomes an artistic statement rather than titillation over the credits – indeed porn is cut through the film (along with porn shoots) to make a point (I guess about the prostitution of the acting profession, or something like that, honestly I don’t care).

Beethoven, Michelle and Peter
So, there are a pair of teens, Michelle (Michelle Bonfils) and Peter (Peter Sean Maloney), sat on the street. There is a used condom nearby and she makes him hold it up as she takes an “art” polaroid of it. All the while they seem to be watched by “cool kids” over the road. Their friend Beethoven comes over and Michelle begs some money off him. She admits she always wanted to be a vampire – to live forever and never hurt. Beethoven suggests that vampires are everywhere and that Michelle’s virgin blood would get her in trouble.

vampire school
Michelle faces a head, which seems wreathed in flames (as does hers)… yes we are in a dream it seems, or, to be kind, a psychic state. The head talks about her becoming a vampire and says she has to go to school. We cut to a room with the cool kids and a teacher, Angelo (Ulli Lommel, Tenderness of the Wolves), who says this is the vampire school. Michelle is there, asleep. She awakens and is informed that she will be put on Angelo’s list and then sent to a bad vampire Santano (also Ulli Lommel). The bad vampire will tempt her with power and Angelo with everlasting love.

Darling Dead with Santano
So, she and Peter go to Satano’s vampire club and are renamed Darling Death and Dr Ghoul respectively. Also into the club come Dougie (Christopher Rogers) and Christy (Samantha Scully) who are renamed Nuggy and Schnibble. Nuggy is just out of jail and estranged from his father. He has taken Schnibble to the club as his Grandfather (George 'Buck' Flower Sundown: the Vampire in Retreat & Waxwork II: Lost in Time) works there, before they elope to Canada. They kind of become the moral counterpoint for Michelle to learn her lesson. And from then on it’s a big old psychedelic mess (actually, it was like that from the head of the film). Its not that I couldn’t work out what was going on its just that I couldn’t care.

Pulling together an arthouse film within the parameters of genre, using your previous horror films as a springboard works, I guess, for some. But not in this case I’m afraid. There was very little in the way of vampirism, too many mixed metaphors and I was just left cold. Stock footage was liberally used, as well as occasional footage of a spaceship as Darling Dead/Michelle wanted to live to 2049 and fly a spaceship! 2 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.