Friday, November 21, 2014

Honourable Mention: Die Schlacht der Idioten

This is a short silent film (with German intertitles) from 1986 and directed by Christoph Schlingensief and to say it is strange is an understatement and yet it was compelling in just as strange a way.

Apparently the film was shot in celebration of a movie organ being installed in the Film Institute in Dusseldorf and is a surreal exploration and celebration of the art of the silent movie, accompanied all the way through (quite obviously) by organ.

Udo Kier is the vampire
We start with folks watching a silent film, which we see in negative and, as such, do not get much of a clue of what is going on within it. Except… well we can tell that there is a vampire (Udo Kier, Shadow of the Vampire, Blood for Dracula, Blade, Dracula 3000. Modern Vampires & Bloodrayne) within the film as the fangs are prominent. As the film ends the actors leave, in costume… the actors remain in character, it appears, so I guess Keir’s character is acting as a vampire rather than being one, but the border of film and reality are less blurred and more absolutely merged.

The main film concerns Queen Quelly, who is in love with one actor/character but is the focus of jealousy from both the vampire and Native American chief. The two kill her lover (tying him to train tracks) and whilst the vampire revives him – as his first ever friend (and a zombie it would seem) – the chief and his braves (who are all played by children) kidnap Queen Quelly. This leads to rescue attempts, shifting alliances and true love winning in the end.

No doubt strange but Udo Kier again appears with fangs. The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Quick – review

Author: Lauren Owen

First published: 2014

Contains spoilers

The blurb: You are about to discover the secrets of The Quick –

But first, reader, you must travel to Victorian England, and there, in the wilds of Yorkshire, meet a brother and sister alone in the world, a pair bound by tragedy. You will, in time, enter the rooms of London’s mysterious Aegolius Club – a society of the richest, most powerful men in England. And at some point – we cannot say when – these worlds will collide.

It is then, and only then, that a new world emerges, a world of romance, adventure and the most delicious of horrors – and the secrets of The Quick are revealed.

The review: My vamp-dar was clearly functioning. I saw a poster for the Quick (which was just of the UK cover) and it piqued my interest. I had a quick look online and read that it was gothic fiction and the blurb above. I decided to buy it and discovered, a hundred pages in, that what I had was a vampire novel.

Having said that, and re-reading the blurb, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Quick, of the title, refers to the vampires of the story but it does not. The Quick are us, the ordinary mortals. The book rambles along for the first 100 pages, exploring the world of young siblings James and Charlotte. It reads like a fine gothic novel with not a hint of the supernatural. The novel moves forward in time through this section and James has left university and moved to London and then we hit part two of the novel and immediately, we are confronted with the vampires of this book.

The vampires refer to themselves as undead or those of the Club do, aristocratic and well to do vampires – gentlemen only; women are never turned. There are vampires that come from the poor and they call themselves undid (an accented corruption of the word). The vampires are cold (not only to touch but they feel permanently cold and crave warmth – though fire would eventually destroy them). They are not killed by sunlight but the brightness overwhelms them, as does the noise of humanity (physical and mental), They can confound a human by the mazement, their form of mind control, and a human bitten by a vampire finds it impossible to communicate the attack. Turning is done by exchange of blood and must be agreed to (or so they believe). Holy water makes them weak, silver burns them and they must be invited into a home.

The book was a wonderful read, there was an authenticity to the prose that summoned thoughts of the gothic novel. There are some beautifully drawn characters but, if I have to criticise, it is perhaps that the ending felt almost rushed after the more detailed (and perhaps rambling) first 4/5s of the novel. It is a goodly sized tome, weighing in at over 500 pages. That said I really did enjoy my time in the world of the Quick, I hope that Owen sees fit to explore some of this world once again. 8 out of 10.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Kantemir – review

Director: Ben Samuels

Release date: 2014

Contains spoilers

I recently received a comment from olbas006 suggesting I check this movie out as there were hints of vampires. My thanks for the suggestion and I would say that the film contained more than just hints of vampires.

The film creeped in from nowhere, at the time of review having appeared on Swedish DVD, and is as notable for some of the actors involved – primarily Robert Englund and Diane Cary – as anything else. Indeed the film itself ends more than a little flat but we shall explore that as the review moves along.

Wendy and John
It starts (having seen a dog running through woods) with signs about missing dogs. A train stops and two passengers disembark. One, John (Robert Englund, Dance of the Dead), phones his daughter, telling her in the area and he is to perform in a play. The other, Wendy (Justine Griffiths), is also in the play and John rightly guesses she is to play Wanda – he is going to play her father, Peter.

The House
A van pulls up and they are collected by Brad (Stuart Stone, Bitten & Tales from the Cryptkeeper) who says he works for the director, Nicholas (Daniel Gadi). It transpires that he hasn’t met the director and is also a local actor who will be in the play. They drive to a country estate (after they pass through the gate it is chained and locked) and at the house they meet the other players; Rebecca (Diane Cary, Forever Knight), Lars (Sean Derry) and Allison (Alanna Janell), who seems excessively bitchy. The story of an acting troupe in France, who were in the country rehearsing and, as legend would have it, all died when the director bled them dry and fed on them, comes out

The Play
Allison is John’s ex-wife and we discover that he was a film actor that has been in and out of rehab and totally off the rails. He has been sober for three months and took the job because it was the only one that would touch him with a bargepole. Nick arrives and explains the characters (none of them have seen the script). As he does he has each touch an ornate book (the script) and they see their characters. John plays an abusive father and husband who was to marry his daughter off to royalty but she fell in love with a gypsy, to be played by Nick. Rebecca will play his wife, Allison a whore and the two men are two servants both loyal (perhaps homicidally) to John’s character.

Nick is a vampire
Nick takes their mobile phones away and the actors become subsumed within their roles, living the play. All, that is, bar John who can see what is happening but cannot seem to break the spell. So vampires… Well the play is a described as being cursed by blood and through blood it lives – so perhaps a vampiric play (that is, of course, a unique one). However, it is Nick who is our vampire. He was indeed the gypsy and his love’s father killed wife and daughter before being killed by Nick. Nick wrote their story as a play and came across an immortal hermit (Bingo O'Malley, Dead Time Stories). Nick asked to be able to spend eternity with Wanda and the creature grants him that.

the immortal hermit
The scene wasn’t too clear but it looked as though he projectile vomited blood at Nick, making him a creature like the hermit. He then cursed the play so that Nick would have to perform it, for real, over and over again and thus spend eternity with his love. He can produce fangs and we see him drink the blood of a dog. Later he admits that animal blood doesn’t satisfy like human blood and we see him cry a blood tear. He actually seeks death, for someone to break the cycle of the play (though why John didn’t just give the pair his blessing and be done with it was beyond me).

So it’s a very interesting idea but the film itself leaves much to be desired. Most of the characters are underdeveloped – bar John but as much as Englund tries he is pulling against a lack lustre screenplay that leaves the other characters at best two dimensional and an even more lack lustre direction that fails to develop any tension. A scene with Allison hunted down by a dog, for instance, just has no sense of tension. The character is a cardboard cut-out, so we don’t care about her and the film spends so much time flicking between the past and present versions of the attack that it forgets that this is meant to illicit fear, tension and violence.

4 out of 10 is probably generous, but I liked the idea if not the execution.

The imdb page is here.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Summer of Blood – review

Director: Onur Tukel

Release date: 2014

Contains spoilers

It came as a bit of a shock to me that director (and star/writer) of Summer of Blood, Onur Tukel, once worked as Sergio Lapel. Some of you may find the name familiar – as he was the director of the film Drawing Blood. Now the 1999 released film, on the Troma label, is one I had a love/hate relationship with. The first half of the film was good – but the second half, oh boy… I really hated that second half.

Let me say, from the beginning, therefore that Summer of Blood is in a different league entirely.

Anna Margaret Hollyman as Jody
It starts with couple Eric (Onur Tukel) and Jody (Anna Margaret Hollyman) eating a meal. Jody passes Eric a box that contains a ring. He thanks her, places it on his right hand until she suggests he has used the wrong hand. He suddenly realises it is a proposal and reacts very negatively. He doesn’t want to get married, and what about her career – could she give it all up to be a housewife! They leave the restaurant with a cloud over them that becomes worse when she bumps into an old flame, Jason (Jason Selvig). Eric grabs her by the wrist and so she leaves with Jason.

finding a victim
Eric is not a nice person and the genius of the film is in how he is drawn. He is selfish, misogynistic, cynical and has no drive or ambition. When he sees a man, on the way home, with his throat ripped out, he feigns help but doesn’t really want to be involved. He has no cell phone and when he gets help he actually stops for a conversation whilst the unfortunate man expires. He is skating close to being sacked at work and also rather close to being accused of sexual harassment of co-worker Penelope (Dakota Goldhor). Indeed he has stolen a picture of her and masturbates in the work bathroom to it. Yet, despite being unlikeable he has been drawn with enough knowledge of his flaws and clever enough dialogue to make the character carry the film with a comedy born out of everything that is wrong with the character despite the fact that he is not even an anti-hero.

Eric bitten
Eric goes back to dating, via an online agency, and goes on three dates – with Samantha (Vanna Pilgrim), Denise (Juliette Fairley) and Blake (Melodie Sisk). He blows all three dates – though he does sleep (with rather poor skills it appears) with Blake. He is stood on a New York street, looking out to the river, when a man approaches. The man talks to Eric and eye mojos him. In this scene we see the hypnotic attraction of the vampire as Eric opens his heart, admits he wants to die and (after the bite) tries to kiss the vampire.

The vampire bite in this is messy, a bite to the neck opens the artery and blood gushes. After feeding, the vampire walks Eric to a fire escape, sits him down and leaves him. Eric awakens at work, a plaster on his neck but covered in dried blood. How he got there no one knows – and no one cares about the state he’s in, just that he missed a meeting. When fired Eric pushes a spreadsheet down his pants and wipes his ass with it, which leaves it covered in blood. He walks the streets an absolute mess but New Yorkers walk on by. He can’t keep food down, has a pain in his stomach and (unknown to him at this point) it’ll be the last time he walks in daylight.

Eric turns his dates
Once Eric feeds (and in a moment of pathos holds the victim as they die) he begins to realise what he is. He replicates the three dates and this time woos the women and rocks their world sexually – which includes rather gory blood play. Once all three have turned he has the archetypal three vampire brides, as it were, but he is still selfish and he still treats them like objects (but doesn’t realise it). In fact he begins to realise that he is missing Jody and the future she offered – a marriage, kids and a normal, adult life. Perhaps he can achieve redemption – but will that get him the girl, or cure him of his new condition?

eye mojo
There really isn’t too much more lore than I’ve already mentioned. The vampirism is incredibly virulent and, if this wasn’t a comedy, we might be wondering why it wasn’t widely spread but that disbelief can be suspended within the world Eric draws around him. Sunlight does burn (but not visibly) and the eye mojo is very powerful. A few famous persons are mentioned as being vampires and the undead get together every so often to party.

sharing a meal
Whilst it is Onur Tukel who carries the film brilliantly (and cracks the fourth wall when Eric suggests that, should he direct a film, he would be an auteur who would write, direct and star in the film he made) the other actors are all superb – especially Dakota Goldhor and Anna Margaret Hollyman. A genuinely funny movie that came out of leftfield. 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Hansel and Gretel Get Baked – review

Director: Duane Journey

Release date: 2013

Contains spoilers

I saw Hansel and Gretel get Baked at the Bram Stoker International Film Festival under the alternate title Hansel and Gretel and the 420 Witch. The alternate title means very little in the UK but I understand that 420 is a code for marijuana in the US (with a large amount of urban myth about the reason why the number is associated with the drug).

So, as it was, the title gave little away – though the drug nature of the film is pretty darn obvious from the get go. You might also be wondering why its being reviewed here… well, I’ll say energy vampire and elaborate more later.

I should also mention that this is a horror comedy and that comes with the normal warnings that comedy is probably one of the most subjective areas of film.

Cary Elwes as Ken
It starts with a meter man looking through the neighbourhood. The meter man, or Ken, is played by an almost unrecognisable Cary Elwes (Dracula (1992), Shadow of the Vampire & Hellgate) in a cheeky little cameo. The power company has been experiencing a surge in the area and when he checks #140 he sees their electric meter spinning out of control. He sees marijuana plants in a basement area, behind a frosted but open window. Putting his phone in to take a picture he is grabbed and pulled in.

Gretel, Ashton and Hansel
After the credits we meet Gretel (Molly C. Quinn) and her boyfriend Ashton (Andrew James Allen) who are a pair of stoners. He has just scored some Black Forest Blend marijuana for free courtesy of local pusher Manny (Eddy Martin), who in turn got it from Agnes (Lara Flynn Boyle), a little old lady in Pasadena – apparently it is really good stuff. Gretel’s brother Hansel (Michael Welch, Twilight, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 & The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2) comes in and finds a note suggesting their parents have gone away to see the Stiltskins. He manages to trigger the munchies in his stoned sibling and her boyfriend.

the gingerbread house
There is gingerbread mix in the kitchen so Gretel sets to bake whilst Ashton goes to Pasadena to score more weed. Agnes invites him in and is off to prepare some sardines when he notices an ornamental house made of gingerbread. She warns him to leave it but he breaks part of the roof away and discovers ID from the Third Reich through to the modern day. He passes out and awakens tied to a table and being buttered for cooking. He assumes it is a sexual thing and when she mentions eating him he says ok, but he doesn’t want to see. She removes an eye with a fork and eats it.

sucking youth
So, with Ashton missing, Gretel starts looking for him and all roads lead back to Agnes. Manny, his girlfriend (Bianca Saad) and other local criminals become involved, amongst others. As for Agnes, we have seen she is a cannibal, she is certainly a witch… but a vampire? Having kept Ashton alive and eaten a leg she decides he is more trouble than he’s worth. Chanting an incantation she draws the breath from him and becomes younger. Later she says that she sucks the youth out of her victims (Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter famously had a youth stealing vampire). This is, of course, a form of energy vampirism.

witch on camera
Beyond this she is tough to kill, can weave enchantments, has a habit of creating zombies and has a very intelligent Doberman Pinscher with demonically red eyes. When she has a photograph taken it shows a hag version of herself (although she still looks younger than she did at the start of the film). Lara Flynn Boyle has great fun with the role and some cracking moments (answering the door to the cops is a film highlight).

Agnes flirts
I mentioned it is a comedy but it isn’t gag filled, rather it has a vein of richly black comedy running through it. The suspension of belief is probably necessary – aspects do not stand to scrutiny – but the comedy carries us over these parts. One thing I disliked was the very (coda) ending that was a little too clichéd – but I won’t spoil it. However that was the last minute or so of the film. Beyond that I found this great fun and deserving of 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Frankenstein and the Vampyre: A Dark and Stormy Night – review

Director: Philip Smith

Release date: 2014

The story of the events at Villa Diodati on the shore of Lake Geneva in 1816 was the subject of this dramatised documentary shown by the BBC over Halloween 2014.

Villa Diodati
Of course the story has been fully dramatised several times most poetically with the film Gothic and also in the film Rowing With the Wind (which I did not feature on the blog as the Polidori aspects were absolutely marginalised).

Hannah Taylor Gordon as Mary Shelley
The reason, of course, that the events are so very important is because, at the urging of Byron (Rob Heaps), the residents of Diodati had a story writing competition that eventually led to the composition of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (Hannah Taylor Gordon) and the Vampyre: A Tale by Polidori (Sam Swann). As such it spawned two of the pillars of modern horror, one of which being the first English language vampire prose.

Neil Gaiman
This documentary tracks the events and is narrated by Claire Foy (Vampire Academy) and has commentators such as Neil Gaiman involved. The documentary does tell us the bare bones of the story (though perhaps more could have been said about the origins of Ruthven’s name amongst other things). There was nothing within it that was factually incorrect, that I noticed, and is thus a perfectly good primer for those unfamiliar with the story but offered no new or keen insights for those of us more conversant with the events. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Blood Ransom – review

Director: Francis dela Torre

Release date: 2014

Contains spoilers

The vampire tale Blood Ransom was both written and directed by Francis dela Torre and has – it has to be said – style in spades. Unfortunately I think direction and story probably left a little to be desired.

As we will see the vampire lore was pretty unique but this is background, there seemed to be more of the actual story and more narrative that was left somewhat hanging.

Anne Curtis as Crystal
The film begins with intertitles that tell us some of the background to the main character and the vampire lore. Crystal (Anne Curtis, Ang Panday) is a woman who sought to escape pain through the night and met vampires – specifically, we will discover, one named Roman (Samuel Caleb Hunt) – these vampires are unusual and the intertitles begin our education.

the magic blade
Wooden stakes do not kill them nor does sunlight. They are not affected by crosses. When they are created they have seven days to kill and the kill makes them immortal (the more powerful the victim, the more powerful they will be). They are given a unique, magic blade (who creates them is not revealed) and must use that to make the kill. If they are to die it must be via that blade – we’ll come back to this.

Bill and Roman
The film then shows us Crystal, who works in a(n upmarket) strip joint. A customer gets handy and he is killed by Roman’s hired killer Bill (Jamie Harris). This is intercut with scenes around a cop named Daniel (Darion Basco) we get voice-overs from him that adds a film noir-ish element to the project. As the plot develops we discover that Daniel’s best friend Jeremiah (Alexander Dreymon) has been hired as a driver for Crystal.

Crystal and Jeremiah
They have a mutual friend, Oliver (Dion Basco), who has come up with a plan to kidnap Crystal in order to extort money from Roman. As he has fallen in love with her, Jeremiah is opposed to this course of action. What he doesn’t know is that Roman has decided that he will be Crystal’s first kill and what Roman doesn’t know is that Crystal has fallen for Jeremiah. When she is kidnapped, Jeremiah rescues her and they go on the run, Bill kills the kidnappers and Daniel tries to work out what is happening whilst keeping all from his boss, Hobbs (Clifton Powell).

a dream of Crystal
Further lore that comes out in the film is that the vampires can only be killed via their blade being embedded in their throats. They physically cannot do this to themselves and must find someone willing to kill them. Turning involves feeding the new vampire the existing vampire’s blood and the turn can be reversed if they kill the sire and put a drop of their blood in holy water to drink before making their first kill. If that sounds convoluted, it is. Also, because they can only be killed by their own blade it makes us wonder what the price would be of not killing in seven days (Crystal breaches the seven days and yet does not seem to be worse for it). Perhaps Jeremiah's dream where Crystal seemed decayed, revenant like even, was a clue, if so it was too subtle.

Jamie Harris as Bill
There is an undertow about religion – hence the holy water – with questions about belief and mysterious (vampire?) Mr. Manningham (Kevin Meaney) seemingly Catholic in his mentality. However the film does not develop these themes in any satisfying way. There is also a story of fate and maybe prophecy that is dangled before us but, I felt, under-explored. I mentioned Mr. Manningham being a mystery and Bill seems to take orders from him and Roman, but we do not know why. Indeed Bill seemed to change his mind about who he worked for and who he would kill on a frame by frame basis. This was a shame as he was an intriguing character who reminded me of Ron Perlman’s character in Cronos, though I felt Jamie Harris’ performance was a bit too stagy. Anne Curtis and Alexander Dreymon generated a good chemistry, however.

weapon drawn
The cop sections seemed a tad pointless and, if it wasn’t for the fact that Daniel is essential in some scenes (especially the climax), I’d consider cutting them altogether. Strangely we learnt more of Daniel's character than any other character. The Noir seemed to go nowhere and the film would have been better concentrating a little more on Roman as there was scope for him to be an intriguing character but instead he was only a cipher. Such cuts/changes might have helped the pacing as the film seemed ponderous in places.

iconic photography
The film struggles knowing what it wants to be; is it a noir, a thriller, a horror, a road trip, a romance, a philosophical debate? The mix of elements does not combine well and thus jars us. That said the photography is lovely and there are some iconic looking scenes. This is not a bad film, but it is a ponderous film that needed a better direction of travel and a clear vision to make it a great film. 5.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.