Sunday, November 29, 2015

Bloodsucking Bastards – review

Director: Brian James O'Connell

Release date: 2015

Contains spoilers

I received a message from Doc. Despicable asking me if I had seen this film and, whilst the film had been on my radar, I had completely missed the fact that it had received a US release. Nevermind, these things can be rectified and so I have now seen the film and I was somewhat impressed as you'll see.

Setting vampires in an office environment isn’t a totally unique trope and there are some good examples from recent years, for instance the Death of Alice Blue, which prowled through the world of advertising, or even more so Netherbeast Incorporated. Like the latter film Bloodsucking Bastards is a comedy/horror and so runs with the warning that comedy is very subjective.

Evan and Tim
We start with Tim (Joey Kern), his face blood spattered and him suggesting that what he is seeing is the grossest thing ever. We go back in time two days. Tim works in a telesales office and, when I say works, I mean that in the loosest sense of the word. Whilst he is talking to a prospective customer he is online gaming. Indeed co-workers Andrew (Justin Ware) and Mike (Neil W. Garguilo, Mutant Vampire Zombies from the ‘Hood!) are equally as bad as employees. Tim’s friend Evan (Fran Kranz, Rise: Blood Hunter) is the acting Sales Manager and seems ineffectual when it comes to getting any work out of them.

Emma Fitzpatrick as Amanda
Evan also has some pressing issues. He is relying on Tim to build a presentation for Phallicyte, a male enhancement drug, and the company desperately needs the account. His relationship with Amanda (Emma Fitzpatrick) is on the rocks after she said she loved him and he replied “no”. Things should be looking up, however, as his boss, Ted (Joel Murray) is going to make an announcement and he assumes he is to be made Sales Manager. Unfortunately this isn’t the case and Ted announces a newly hired Sales Manager, Max Phillips (Pedro Pascal, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) – someone who Evan’s has history with, having had Max kicked out of school after Max slept with his girlfriend.

Frank, Evan and Tim
Meanwhile strangeness is occurring. A new intern, Jack (Parvesh Cheena), is attacked in the garage – though no-one seems to notice his subsequent absence. Evan sees more and more going on, including finding Mike’s body and it subsequently vanishing. What he isn’t aware of, at first, is that Tim and security guard Frank (Marshall Givens) are also aware of what’s going on. All three of them will need to work together to save Amanda and stop the vampire corporate takeover.

As for lore, some of those attacked by the vampires die and others turn and this is by conscious choice, but we don’t see what the key ingredient, as it were, for turning is. To kill a vampire there is staking or beheading, on death the vampire literally explodes showering anyone close with blood – in fact this is more gory than the vampire deaths in True Blood. When two pencils are crossed together the vampire is not warded, but the film contains no indication whether a true religious icon would impact the vampires. We are told sunlight does kill them but the office has very few windows, to minimise distraction. We see, at one point, hypnotic abilities but these are never really used other than in that scene. There is use of Vamp Face and some metamorphic flesh around claws and hands.

you have to remove the head
Ultimately what makes this work are the characters. Mike is truly obnoxious and yet somehow watchable, Tim is a great character often telling the punchline to a story without the necessary preamble. Evan’s character works really well, developing more and more as the danger ramps up. The acting is all bob on too, and though Evan is the primary character, and very well played by Fran Kranz, Joey Kern’s Tim really does steal the show. There is also special mention to Marshall Givens who is excellent as Frank.

Mike's dead
Lashings of gore (slightly off-colour, but such is life) take the film forward after a while but the humour works equally as well when we just have the office environment. It is character driven, very much, and exaggerated but anyone who has worked in an office will recognise where the comedy has been derived from. Some of the commentary from certain characters is most definitely not PC but the film laughs at those characteristics rather than glorifies them. Comedy, as mentioned, is a very personal thing but this one really resonated for me. 8 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Honourable Mention: T-Rex: Born to Boogie

From 1972 and directed by Ringo Starr (who also appears in film and we have seen before in Son of Dracula, the Magic Christian and Lizstomania), this was a one hour film that had TV studio footage and concert footage of Marc Bolan and T-Rex as well as fantasy sequences.

The thing holds together brilliantly musically but perhaps not too well as a film – there is no cohesion to the sequences, one is literally a goof outtake as Bolan (in the main) and Starr fluff their lines through giggles. The DVD has two full concerts on it as well, however.

So why vampire? Well it’s not down to Jeepster, though the song certainly appears along with the lyric, “Girl I'm just a vampire for your love… I'm gonna suck you”. No it’s for percussionist Mickey Finn and a persona he takes on in a fantasy sequence… ish. You’ve got to love it when I say ish…

the mad hatter
The sequence was filmed in John Lennon’s estate (the same location as the Imagine video) and is a tea party replete with barbeque in the park and string quartet. Eventually Marc plays a medley of songs on vocal and acoustic guitar along with the strings, which sounds brilliant but apparently was not done live due to poor organisation. However, when all are at their tables there is a table of nuns (included one suspiciously bearded nun) and a table based on Alice in Wonderland. There is Ringo (referred to as the dormouse), Marc is the man in the hat – or the mad hatter, of course – and Mickey…

is that compote not gore?
Mickey is wearing a cloak and has a villain's moustache drawn on. He is referred to in film as “a man of blood” and in the IMDb credits as a vampire. His mouth is reddened – though that seems to be jam or compote . There is nothing particularly vampiric done and the costume is only used in this sequence. So a fleeting visitation at that.

Nevertheless, it’s nice to be able to feature this on TMtV as Bolan was an underrated musician and his untimely death robbed the world of a unique talent. The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Claire – review

Director: Mike Booth

Release date: 2011

Contains spoilers

This was a film I found available to watch for free on the net and, I understand, it was made for a budget of just £250. Normally that might be telling but, in this case, what filmmaker Mike Booth has managed to create is rather impressive.

That’s not to suggest its perfect but it introduces us to a very unusual take on the vampire myth – a cannibalistic take, which suggests why it originally had the title Kuru, a degenerative neurological disease transmitted by prions and primarily transmitted through funerary cannibalism.

preparing the nursery
It is shot in black and white, set in the UK and begins as Claire (Carol Roache) is painting a mural of a tree in a nursery, she is heavily pregnant. Her boyfriend, Ethan (Joseph Curdy), comes in and begins to speak about the possibility of flying soon after the birth. He is suggesting they go out to California, where his parents are, as there is a free slot available at a wedding function location – his parents will pay for the wedding (we later hear). Claire is perhaps not as enamoured with the idea as he is – and we get the feeling that all is perhaps not well in the relationship. After he leaves the room she stands and notices blood – she is having a miscarriage.

parting ways
It is three months later and he is travelling to the States but is concerned about leaving her in the state she is in. He has spent the time since the miscarriage sleeping in the spare room, she barely changes her clothes and is clearly depressed. However she insists that she needs the time and actually insists he doesn’t keep phoning her. As the film develops we discover that she has had a full hysterectomy. We meet some of her neighbours and one, Helen (Sue Marshall), calls to return a didgeridoo that belonged to Claire’s father (it is his house she has inherited). Apparently he was a bit of an amateur explorer.

the seed
Not knowing what to do with it, she decides to place it in the loft and when up there she finds an elaborately carved and bound box. She takes it downstairs and opens it, there is soil inside and in the soil is… something. It was organic, probably a seed or pod, and reminiscent in some ways of a horse chestnut – I say that as Ian had collected horse chestnuts and put the conkers round the house to keep spiders away. She cuts into the pod and a dark liquid gets onto the knife blade and so she licks it… it tastes awful. That night she is coughing in her sleep and, when she wakes, she vomits (what may be blood). Her stomach is growling and she has no voice. She tries eating various things but everything makes her vomit, she calls the doctors but can’t get the receptionist (Marian Booth) to understand her.

the box
She falls down the stairs and is knocked out and, when she comes round, she tries to eat dog food – to no avail. It is then implied that she eats the dog. We cut into a memory of her with Ethan, in happier days, but the memory ends with him beating her. The film has a number of twisted memories interjected through it but I suspected from the get go that they were not necessarily accurate. The film is deliberately vague as to whether she had been a victim of domestic violence or whether these are fevered dreams as her mind and body snaps.

Lovecraft as a weapon
Her neighbour Alan (Malcolm Summers) glances through the window as he passes and spots her on the floor. He goes to help her and is stabbed for his trouble. Claire eats flesh, we see her cook an organ, she also loses her hair and takes to wearing shades. She covers the windows over with fabric. As the film progresses we have her kidnapping passing Jehovah’s Witnesses (and the fact that she clobbers them with a hardback Lovecraft tome entitled Necronomicon was a nice touch) and dealing with burglars. We gain evidence towards the end of the film that the seed she found is definitely the cause of the vampirism and, indeed, a bush carrying more seeds grows from where she buried a victim.

Carol Roache as Claire
The film’s pacing is a tad on the slow side, but Booth uses that to tantalise us with glimpses of what may or may not have been. I think the leads held their parts very well, especially as neither have extensive film credits on IMDb. Carol Roache in particular had a lot of work to do, especially as there was a lot of dialogue free scenes. The character developed an interesting tremor in her legs, which I assume was significant to the kuru title as tremors can be a symptom.

This is one you can check for yourself, as it is over at Vimeo. The pace might put some off but I think it is a stick with it film. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Short Film: The El Chupugcabra

Whenever I have looked at any film with a chupacabra in it I have had to sense check it to see whether it is actually a vampire film or not. Whilst the goatsucker has been conflated with vampirism generally, many of the movies have a simple killer monster theme. In truth this short film, from 2013 and directed by Aaron B. Koontz, has no vampiric element (I guess one could liken it to Gremlins meets lycanthropy vibe). But hey… its chupacabra (ish) and so there is a genre interest in it.

It is a comedy, well the title says it all with the conflation of ‘the’ and ‘el’, and no I haven’t misspelt the title… the beasty we are looking at hides in the form of a pug.

in the shelter
So we hear dialogue that amounts to the warnings given to Clarice in Silence of the Lambs, when she meets Lector in the secure unit, as the film starts but it is a warning being given to a family who have come to see a dog in a shelter. The family are padre (Jeremy King), madre (Courtney Hans) and the son Esteban (Dashiell Smith), or at least they are in the credits, in dialogue Esteban is anglicised to Steven. The dog, found on Furry Friend Finder, is in a warded cage and a medicine woman (Leola Perez) offers dire warnings.

Coming home
They are getting the dog because Steven doesn’t like Princess (presumably mom’s dog) so he is getting his own pet. They get him despite the warnings from the (assumed) mad medicine woman and Steven calls him Chalupa. One warning, which the manager (Spencer Greenwood) explains away as a chemical intolerance thing, is that they shouldn’t feed Chalupa with marshmallows… ever… ever… They take the dog home but we notice that the Hispanic mailman (John Edward Garcia) is petrified of the dog, raising a cross to his lips and peeing himself (though Steven suggests the latter is not an unusual occurrence).

just cruel
We get to a party, where Chalupa is dressed in doggy clothes (surely more cruel than anything else) and there are marshmallows… now perhaps they have never seen Gremlins but surely something will go wrong if the dog is fed one… the film is embedded below so you can find out yourself. The running time is about 12 minutes but credits and outtakes push that to twenty minutes.

What I will spoil is the fact that there is quite a lot of gore (so something does go wrong, but hey, you knew that already) and it is really well done. The lighting during the outdoor party is subdued, I think purposefully so, and this will have helped hide the cracks, if indeed there were any. So all that remains is for you to find out if the love of a boy for his dog will overcome the monster within? The imdb page is here.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Hemlock Grove – season 3 – review

Director: various

Release date: 2015

Contains spoilers

Hemlock Grove is a Netflix exclusive and I was very impressed with season 1, it was interesting and a new spin on old tropes – especially as, at heart, it was a Frankenstein’s Monster, Wolfman, Vampire rehash. However, when Season 2 was released I was less impressed. I felt it was missing a vital element that season 1 had carried and had side-lined its more interesting characters.

Famke Janssen as Olivia
As Season 3 starts the daughter of Roman Godfrey (Bill Skarsgård), our resident vampire or upyr, has been kidnapped by the reptilian Dr Spivak (J.C. MacKenzie, Dark Angel: Love in Vein) and Roman and his gypsy (and werewolf) friend Peter (Landon Liboiron) are desperately searching for her. Peter has also given the family blessing to Andreas (Luke Camilleri) to marry Peter’s clairvoyant cousin Destiny (Kaniehtiio Horn, Embrace of the Vampire & Being Human (US)). Shelley (Madeleine Martin), our Frankenstein’s Monster equivalent, has been released from custody due to lack of evidence in the murders she was accused of, however – to Roman’s ire – it is into their mother’s custody. Said mother, Olivia (Famke Janssen), seems back on bitchy form if destitute as Roman has cut her off from the Godfrey fortune.

despondent and suicidal
So that is how we begin and the series follows several threads. There is the gypsies using the wolf pack (there are more wolves than Peter in town) to hijack caviar and sell it to the Croatian Mob and the subsequent fallout when Andreas tries to rip the Mob off. There is Shelley, despondent and suicidal, finding friendship and love amongst Hemlock Grove’s homeless community. There is the search for Spivak and the attempt to get Nadia back. The season concentrates more than it has done on mad scientist Johann Pryce (Joel de la Fuente) and give the character space to really shine and develop.

Camille De Pazzis as Annie
There is also the arrival of the mysterious Annie (Camille De Pazzis), an upyr who comes into Roman’s life. Through her we discover that there is a vast global community of upyrs and Roman is able to discover more both about himself and about Spivak, who is actually a creature from upyr myth. Later we discover that they were evolutionary competitors that the upyr virtually wiped out. At the same time we see people attacked, and, through the attackers POV, we see they have a strange visual function that highlights their prey.

felt like zompire
Eventually it becomes clear that it is upyr being attacked, the assailant ripping the victims chest open and eating the heart, and when Roman and Annie kill an attacker they discover that it is a diseased upyr. The disease is a parasitic tumour that invades the central nervous system, causing irrational madness and a hunger for their own species’ flesh (and heart particularly it seems). The tumour wraps around the optic nerve causing the visual tell by highlighting upyr but also giving the infected a massive intolerance to light (they freeze when caught in bright light). They are diseased, rotting, (fast) zombie-like and ultimately self-consuming. I’d say they can happily be called zompires. Olivia develops the disease but why she takes so long to lose her mind when others seem to turn almost instantly is unknown.

Pryce and Roman
This season was excellent. Famke Janssen was on fine form as Olivia and the Shelley storyline was marvellously handled with subtlety and just a dash of the Beats. I mentioned already the Pryce storyline and I have to say the promise from one of the promotional posters of "no happy endings" was (mostly) not stinted on. After a disappointed mid-season this left Hemlock Grove on a high. 7.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Matriarch – review

Author: Kevin Ranson

First Published: 2013

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Vampires don't believe in ghosts.

Every October, the freshmen at Glenville State College are told stories about Sis Linn, the local ghost who haunts Clark Hall and the graveyard where she's buried. Murdered in 1919, she was beaten beyond recognition, the target of a brutal killer who was never caught.

Present-day student Janiss Connelly is about to find out that the stories are wrong - and that there are greater things to fear in life and in death than ghosts.

The review: For full disclosure Kevin Ranson is a Facebook friend and his Matriarch series of books were provided for review.

You might be concerned, reading the blurb, that the Matriarch could spin into the arena of Young Adult fiction – not that there is necessarily anything wrong with Young Adult fiction of course – but the fact that it is ostensibly college based might spin your thoughts in that direction. It is not. Indeed I was struck, within the opening pages and an evocative visit to a church, by the accurate impression that this was certainly a horror novel and the author maintains such a line and also maintains a line of vampires as pure creatures of the supernatural.

As such expect a tome where the vampires essentially die during the day and, although they can function (until they get themselves into earth and any earth will serve), they look like the rotten corpse they truly are, unable to maintain the supernaturally disguised masquerade they wear during the night. These vampires can control the weather and mortal minds, being staked causes paralysis (or, in essence, pins them, as the stake was originally said to do). They can die through immolation but religious artefacts have no impact..

All of which gives us the general lore Ranson works with but one thing I particularly liked about the story was he kept it small. This was not an earth shattering stage but actually the battle between two exes, into which the focal character, Janiss, falls. That’s not to say that the baddie isn’t really bad, the character Ian reveals himself to be nicely twisted.

The best compliment to the book, however, is that it kept me interested, the prose was crisp and I actively wanted to return to the book. Very occasionally the dialogue seemed forced, mainly when it was used for exposition, but such a feeling was a rarity and mostly the dialogue held up very well indeed, and certainly his characters all received their own distinct, and interesting, voices.

A great opening to the series. 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Shaolin Drunkard – review

Director: Yuen Wo-Ping

Release date: 1983

Contains spoilers

This came on my radar as potentially being a vampire film but, to be honest, it skated a very fine line and, despite a promising start it was very nearly a candidate for a “Vamp or Not?” As it was I felt it probably crossed the line into “Vamp” and I decided to review it instead.

It is a strange beast, however, and no mistake. Surreal in places, the fact that the version I saw was dubbed caused less consternation than normal as the dubbing actually added to its surreal nature.

Yuen Cheung-Yan as Chan
So we start in a Shaolin temple and there is a monk, Chan (Yuen Cheung-Yan, the Close Encounter of the Vampire), who uses his acrobatic skills and his magic in order that he might drink wine when actually he should be watching over a prisoner, the evil magician (Yuen Shun-Yi, also the Close Encounter of the Vampire & the Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires). When we see him delivered food he throws the rice away and says he needs blood. That night Chan sneaks off to get drunk, whilst leaving a disturbingly accurate automaton style mannequin in his place.

blood drinking
The temple receives a visit from the evil magician’s pupil (Brandy Yuen Jan-Yeung, also Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires), who manages to break into the magically guarded cell and prevent the elaborate alarms (that work on a principle like the game Mousetrap) from sounding. He throws a jar at the cell, which smashes showering the magician with blood, which he drinks as it runs down his face and this seems to give him the strength to escape his prison. We also notice that he has tusk like fangs but they are on the lower mandible. The monk is reprimanded and given three months to recapture the magician or he will be imprisoned.

Chan and Yuen
Elsewhere we meet Yau Pai Yuen (Yuen Yat-Choh, also Close Encounter with the Vampire), he lives with his granny (played by Yuen Cheung-Yan) and both have magic. Granny feels that the family is cursed as each generation only has one male heir and Yuen needs to marry. He has been trying to avoid Granny’s matchmaking efforts but it all comes to a head and the old girl threatens to kill herself as he won’t marry. He just wants to choose his own bride and she gives him three months to find a bride. Of course the two men’s paths will cross.

the cart
And cross they do, at first via Chan’s (I assume magically powered) cart. Meanwhile the magician has met with his brother (Eddy Ko Hung, Vampire Settles on Police Camp) and needs the blood of virgins born on the lunar day to get a bone sword and suggests using his brother's daughter (Yeung Hoi-Yi) to tempt them. Yuen passes the marriage tests but runs away from the bride because she has an infantile haemangioma birthmark (yes he truly is that shallow), so there is much interaction as she tries to get her man back. However, from our point of view nothing more is said about blood and it sounded like Yuen’s blood was needed for a ritual.

trying to put the bite on
However as the film marched into its finale, and there is a showdown between the misfit heroes and the evil magician, it becomes clear that he wants to drink Yuen’s blood (he even says as much) and tries to bite his neck. This rescued the film back to being vampire (albeit a magician vampire with lower tusk fangs). Nevertheless, we’ll take the win, as it were. The film itself has some uncomfortable jokes around the girl’s birthmark (Yuen falls for her when it vanishes after being treated for acid damage inflicted by a spitting magic battle toad – I kid you not). There are some interesting mask work and puppet moments.

The film is generally surreal, indeed quite absurdist in places, and as such works rather well – despite dubbing (as I mentioned). Honestly, it’s probably even better subbed but I think it deserves a solid 6 out of 10 as a piece of fantasy-fu.

The imdb page is here.