Saturday, October 19, 2019

Nosferatu’s Crush – review

Director: Mike M. Burke

Release date: 2006

Contains spoilers

I knew about this micro-budget film but hadn’t seen it to review. When it came up on Amazon Prime I felt a wee bit of dread as I really thought I’d struggle. And true; it’s micro-budget, it was recorded over a couple of weekends, the photography is poor… I could go on, but surprisingly I didn’t struggle as much as I thought – I’ll explain as we go on.

Katie Kyle Roche as victim #1
It starts with an obvious day for night shot (we get plenty of those and they are blooming obvious). One wonders how the young woman (Katie Kyle Roche) out in the woods could see to do her sketching had it actually been night? Anyway, she notices something out there. We see Dracula (Mike M. Burke) lurking and then a fanged female, Electra (Angalisha Marie), lunges towards her. She is found alive by the FBI and has fang wounds on her neck but can’t give them much information.

the funeral home
The FBI agents are Special Agents Green (Lady Altovise) and Kelly (Kristy White). Green is convinced she knows who the perp is. It just so happens that Vladimir Dracula III, direct descendent of Vlad Ţepeş, lives and works from the Three Brides Funeral Home. Of course she has no evidence and so, to fend her off, Vlad engages the services of attorney Rebekah Smart (Malissa Longo). When she comes to see him, Vlad develops a crush on her – despite boyfriend Tony (John Gaydos) being an aggressive idiot.

Angalisha Marie as Electra
Eventually one of the victims is killed – this is because another, evil, vampire (also played by Angalisha Marie) has moved into the area. Vlad’s three brides (the aforementioned Electra, plus Serena (Xaviera Desgrottes) and Eliza (Sylvia Kovacs)) attack victims but do not kill. Vlad then feeds from the brides as he no longer likes to bite people himself. Despite being called ‘brides’, feeding him and referring to him as Master, the three are generally disparaging to him – reminding him that he is repulsive and therefore a hotty like Rebekah could never like him.

vampire or klingon?
So let’s look at Vlad. Modelled on Orlock from Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens he is a pale blue/grey with large ears and bald. The bald cap used ridges up consistently, giving an impression of a Klingon vampire rather than the feature of a German expressionism film. This opens up a discussion on effects – they are rubbish almost consistently and the locations are no better (the FBI office has a pay phone only). But back to Vlad specifically, there is little in the way of dialogue (as the trivia on the Amazon X-ray suggests, “Dracula doesn't say much as Nosferatu didn't say much either.”) However, Burke does a nice line in gesturing and facial expressions.

Agent Kelly loses it
As well as the effects and locations, the lighting is dire and the photography poor, with shaky camera work at several points. However, I suggested it wasn’t a chore. The film is a comedy (though the purposeful comedy lines didn’t tickle me that much) and it is a couple of the performances that kept me drawn in – namely the two FBI agents. Lady Altovise ran a fine line in over the top, offering an amusing performance that juxtaposed nicely with Kristy White, who appeared to be having a whale of a time, was barely able to keep her face straight at times and was infectious when her amusement overcame her.

Vlad and the brides
The film might have been painful but these two made it worth the wade through the mire of low budget filmmaking. Burke himself became more and more endearing as the misunderstood vampire (who actually had more in common with Nosferatu’s Knock than Orlock at times). This is not a great film but it could have been so much worse. Altovise and White almost single-handedly drag the score up to an unexpected 3.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Short Film: From Dusk till Dad

Technically part of a short anthology series by Cracked, called Tales to get Scared To, and renamed I'm Worried My Step Dad's A Vampire on their YouTube Channel, this is a 2016 short film directed by Abe Epperson.

Roy and Will
Starting in a counsellor’s office, we meet Will (Philip Labes) whose parents have gone through a divorce. The counsellor, Clint (Nate Eco), seems more intent on lining Will’s current dilemma with his own adolescent experiences and is dismissive of the idea that Will’s Mom (Debbie Zaltman) might now be dating a monster…

lots of bats
Not just a monster, Will retorts, but a vampire named Roy (Hal Rudnick)… a literal vampire. We soon realise that Will is not there alone but Roy has come to the session also. He wears casual clothing and a Dracula-esque pendant, he is pale of skin, has an Eastern European accent and fangs… It seems Will might be right but Clint is having none of it. However, could common ground be found with a vampire, for the sake of his mom…

Well the answer is in the short, embedded below, which has a rather gruesome attack on a cat. The imdb page is here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Short Film: Lilith

A 22-minute long Belgium short that was directed by Maxim Stollenwerk and released in 2013, this is a stylish little short that follows the fortunes of a young (looking) vampire named Lilith (Renée Vervaet) – though in film we never hear her named.

Starting in a hospital we see her looking at an injured patient before she pushes a needle into a vein and starts to draw blood. The patient convulses, startling Lilith and causing a vase of flowers to fall and smash. A security guard enters the room but Lilith has escaped through a window.

on the tube
She gets the tube home and is about to enter her flat when approached by her landlord – she owes him money but refuses his offer to work something out. She squeezes a small amount of blood from the blood bag she had tried to fill. Later she considers attacking the landlord – but his son is sleeping on his lap – and goes out. She finds a prostitute, Charlot (Inge van Bruystegem), being attacked and rescues her. Charlot takes her home.

Home is a brothel and we hear that, the night before, she displeased a regular called Horny Hans (Wim Willaert) after he hit her. The two women get on, go out to a club together and a romance begins to bloom. Unfortunately, at the club, Hans takes a liking to Lilith. After she is caught in a medical supply van, but told she can have blood if she has money, she needs to make money but finding work with Charlot will bring her into Hans path…

Hans and Lilith
This one really did work for me, there was a nice narrative painted and you felt for the two women – especially Lilith. This is helped by the fact that the male characters are generally painted negatively but also is carried nicely by the two leads, especially Inge van Bruystegem. There is some really nice framing and use of lighting – especially in the brothel. Worth checking out.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Vamp or Not? Killer Sofa

First thing to say about this 2019 New Zealand film that was directed by Bernie Rao is around the title and poster. The title is inaccurate as we are looing at a recliner not a sofa and the poster adds a maw of teeth that are not there in the film. The second thing to say is that I don’t do it on purpose… I watched the film as some horror fluff not expecting that we’d look at this as a ‘Vamp or Not?’ Indeed, not suspecting that we’d get a myth type that we know of old.

The film starts with a moment of mutilation as Frederico (Harley Neville) is tied to a table and gagged, whilst a man (Sean Fleming) takes an electric carving knife to his legs. After this a group of young people in the shifting business come to the garage. There is a strange smell and the recliner is there, chained to the wall, a note suggests it needs to be delivered to a Francesca (Piimio Mei)…

Piimio Mei as Francesca
A band plays (over the credits) with Francesca adding interpretive dance. At the end of the song a pair of cops, Inspectors Gravy (Jed Brophy) and Grape (Stacey King) come in to talk to Francesca about Frederico. She speaks with them along with friend Maxi (Nathalie Morris). A severed foot has been found and identified as Frederico’s and Francesca was known as his acquaintance. She explains that he became obsessed with her and she took out a restraining order. Indeed, she has taken many out over the years, guys just seem to become obsessive about her. The interview ends as she is expecting delivery of furniture.

Jim Baltaxe as Jack
As the delivery guys take the recliner out of the chains one cuts their hand – it is a horror staple (especially in vampire films) and the scene seems to be there for the reason of being a staple and not for any plot reason. One of the delivery guys takes it for delivery but ends up at an antique store run by Maxi’s grandfather Jack (Jim Baltaxe). He doesn’t know who Francesca might be (later in the film he refers to her by the wrong name) but touches the recliner and has a vision. He later tells friend and occultist Ashanti (Angelica Thomas) that it is a dybbuk.

the recliner
We have come across the Jewish spirit/demon before and on both occasions (the Dybbuk and Demon) the being portrayed was not a vampire or vampiric. I have also watched a couple of films around the artefact the dybbuk box, none of which even flickered on the vampire radar. The primary connection between the genre and the dybbuk is it being in Bane’s Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology, possibly erroneously. Of course, this time around there must be some level of vampiric connection for me to consider another ‘Vamp or Not?’ article.

drawing the soul
Through the story we get dybbuk lore from a viewed website run by Tohunga Makutu (Grant Kereama) – from this we learn that they are powerful spirits that feed on the living, that touching a dybbuk makes a connection between the person and the spirit and that they can also possess corpses when not possessing a living person. It is this feeding on the living that is important from our point of view as they literally eat the soul and we get to see this as an impressive lightshow.

Sarah Munn as Valerie
Through Jack we discover that his vision was of Valerie (Sarah Munn), one of a pair of occultists who ate souls – poisoning their victims to release the soul. Discovered, he was burned alive, but she was chased and killed herself in front of an ancestor (Trae Te Wiki) of Francesca. This ancestor then found men fighting over her, becoming obsessed with her, and claimed it was due to the spirit of Valerie, which had entered into her body. This is one of the dybbuk and has passed along the family. The other is her lover and is attached to the recliner and it was their living vampirism that has caused them to become vampiric spirits in death.

residual ghost
So, we have soul eating and possession, essentially, and it is the soul eating that allows me to confidently suggest that Killer Sofa is a vampire film (of the energy vampire type). The film itself is amusing to watch but don’t expect a terrifying atmosphere – this is aimed at fun and the sofa, by its very nature and design, struggles to raise a scare. The film, rather, carries a particularly antipodean humour but is not an out and out comedy, lacks the bite of something like Braindead and is light on gore.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

Friday, October 11, 2019

Rabid – review

Directors: The Soska Sisters

Release date: 2019

Contains spoilers

I have a strange relationship with the original David Cronenberg Rabid. I love the concept but the execution feels off. I think Chambers is good as lead character Rose but the writing of the character leaves her wandering the film in a daze. I love the Freudian body horror aspect but think calling the film a body horror is a stretch. I enjoy watching it but don’t rate it highly score-wise (I do wonder from time to time if I should re-rate it with a higher mark and then feel utterly conflicted).

I was, therefore, interested to see what would be done with a remake. The Soska Sisters impressed me, particularly, with their film American Mary, I was sure that they would get the gore but would we get the film the original could have been? This is definitely a body horror and also makes no secret of it being a vampire film, but it perhaps misses in places where it hits in others.

Opening on a billboard for the Haus of Gunter (a fashion house at the centre of the film); with the bike, the girl, the flatness of the image, I was immediately reminded of the original Rabid. We then meet Rose (Laura Vandervoort, the Dresden Files: Bad Blood & Mom’s Got a Date with A Vampire) who gets on a scooter, has a near miss with another vehicle and rushes into work (at Haus of Gunter) late. Gunter (Mackenzie Gray, Forever Knight & Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency) makes disparaging, nasty comments that cause everyone to laugh at her but then explains he is illustrating schadenfreude, which will be the inspiration for his next line.

Laura Vandervoort as Rose
Rose is played dowdy at this point in the film; bespectacled, uneven complexion, with a fine but noticeable small scar on her face, which is a reminder of the car crash that killed her parents. Rose is approached by photographer Brad (Benjamin Hollingsworth) who asks if she is going to an after party. She says no but he asks her to go to it on a date with him. She agrees. Her friend Chelsea (Hanneke Talbot), a model in the fashion house, convinces Rose to borrow a dress from Gunter’s racks to go the party in. She has trouble getting in (the bouncer struggling to find her name on the list she actually provided), but when she finds Brad they speak (he mentions wanting to be a photojournalist), he kisses her and goes to get her a drink.

Gossiping Soskas
She goes to the toilet but a pair of women (played by the Soska Sisters) are in a stall next to her, snorting drugs and gossiping. Rose hears that Chelsea asked Brad to ask her out and that he’ll sleep with anyone. Humiliated she confronts Chelsea, storms out, gets on her scooter and is crushed in a road traffic accident… When rose wakes up, after a week, she is in hospital, her face bandaged and Chelsea by her bedside. The attending physician, Dr Keloid (Stephen McHattie, Deadly Love, the Strain), explains that her jaw has been wired shut and she has lost a section of intestine. She insists on the bandages being removed and sees her mangled face. She has lost her job as well but Chelsea has moved Rose’s stuff into her apartment and intends to be there for her.

the aftermath
Once ensconced in the apartment, she is approached by a clinic that Keloid has referred her details to. The clinic believes in transhumanism (the theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations by means of science and technology) but is restricted by legal limitations so gathers in suitable human test subjects and repays them by offering free lifelong medical treatments. At this point it is worth pointing out that the film skirts a line (sometimes unsuccessfully) between being cleverly referential and pushing the references too far, to the point of almost being crass and laying them on too thick. In this case the clinic is run by Dr William Burroughs (Ted Atherton, Lost Girl), which I thought was incredibly hokey (Burroughs’ work, especially Naked Lunch being the obvious reference). It also means that Keloid (the key physician in the original) becomes a passing reference rather than anything else.

dead ringer
Rose undergoes experimental stem cell treatment (a pulsating, almost jellyfish like graft) and the graft is described as immortal. In another referential moment the surgical scrubs are luxurious red priest-like robes as featured in Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers. A strange moment through the clinic sequence is a voice over we hear about vampiric interdependence, which kind of just hung there. Nevertheless, the procedure is very successful, not only fixing the new damage to Rose’s face but also the old scar and she no longer needs glasses. We register her hunger through a stomach gurgling as she reveals her healed face. She leaves her room and ends up in a pool and kissing the TV star (Stephen Huszar, 30 Days of Night: Dark Days) who happened to be there. However, she bites his mouth and leaves and is convinced by Burroughs, the next day, that it was nothing but a dream.

She is given medication and a protein supplement (that comes in a content concealing flask and, against all probability, she doesn’t examine the contents until the film’s end, discovering the supplement is blood) and gets control back of her life; finding confidence, a sexuality, regaining her job and Gunter’s admiration as a fledgling designer. However, she also continues to have vivid dreams, perhaps even hallucinations and occasional crippling stomach cramps. She is continuously hungry but can’t keep food down and finds herself drinking myoglobin from meat trays despite being a vegetarian. Meanwhile a mysterious illness is beginning to emerge in the city; like rabies but fast incubating, with the sufferers becoming irrationally violent and highly infectious. The disease might also be mutating.

So, looking at Rose first, she has been warned that she might hallucinate and therefore doesn’t realise her ‘adventures’ are real. Her manner of feeding seems multiple. We see her bite; we see barbs grow on the inside of her mouth (like a leech) and also see her mouth (in a brief reflection) become a wide open maw of doom. The armpit stinger also returns but is more snake like, being somewhat more like the stingers in the Strain than the original film version. This Rose is a much more rounded character than the original and is driven, rather than wandering aimlessly. Laura Vandervoort offers us a nuanced performance but, on the other hand, the script sometimes lets her down. For instance the background of the family car crash is throwaway and the idea that Chelsea’s parents took her in, and the friend is more like a sister, is under-explored despite the relationship feeling well performed by the actresses.

Benjamin Hollingsworth as Brad
Other performances in the film might not be so great. I never got a feeling of malevolence from Burroughs even though he is lying to, and manipulating, Rose and, in fact, knows exactly what is going on. However, most disappointing both as a character and a performance is “love interest” Brad, whose character is bland and whose duplicity is under-developed and thus anti-climatic. The performance is, unfortunately, as bland as the character but, in fairness, Hollingsworth has little to work with. Gunter seems nothing but a caricature but, trooper as he is, Mackenzie Gray does what he can with the character.

victim of the infected
The body horror side is nicely done for the most part; in places impressive, but in other places a little hidden (Rose’s face monstrously opening up, for instance, is lost to virtual silhouette and left much to imagination, when it could have been a great practical effect). I was underwhelmed by the infected, however. In the original film you got the impression of a real epidemic, of danger on the streets. In this the outbreak felt so small, held tight as it was in small sets. A rabid Father Christmas was a nod to the original but lacked the impact of the scene from the original film. We see one infected appear mutated, rather than just infected, after an armpit-stinger feed but this is not really explored at all. The ‘aftermath’ of the epidemic felt too contained and was dealt with off-screen by news-report. If, in the original, we saw the big picture to the detriment of the characters and Rose’s story, in this the big picture becomes lost and there was no real need for that to happen as it wouldn’t have swallowed the character of Rose, if balanced correctly.

reflected body horror
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this despite some of the issues. The problem I mention with the infected is apparent because of the original film and it is likely, had this been an original piece rather than a remake, that the issue might not have registered at all. It answers some of the difficulties with the original, especially and impressively around the Rose character, and yet develops other problems of its own. I liked the stylistic sets, colour schemes, and art work used. In fact, pulling it away from the grittiness of the original and given a superficial sheen that reflected the fashion scene setting, was a great move. I think 6 out of 10 is fair and this underlines my strange relationship with the original movie. I think this is a better constructed horror film (and enjoyable in its own right) but find more raw enjoyment from the original. Part of this has to be down to the originality of Cronenberg’s film compared to the overly referential aspects of this and the fact that it is a remake. All in all, I think my score is right for this but wonder whether my score needs radically adjusting for the original?

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon UK

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Preacher – Season 4 – review

Directors: Various

First aired: 2019

Contains spoilers

So we come to the end of the Preacher series, a series finishing with a definite story ending. It has been a fun, irreverent, gore soaked comic book ride and you can read my reviews of earlier seasons at: Season 1, Season 2 & Season 3 .

As the series starts we know that Hitler (Noah Taylor) has taken over Hell and sent the Saint of Killers (Graham McTavish) after Jesse (Dominic Cooper, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter & Dracula Untold). Our vampire, Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun), has been taken by the Grail and Jesse and Tulip (Ruth Negga) are looking to break into the Grail headquarters at Masada to free him.

Cassidy in bits
Now, don’t get me wrong, but the start of this season seemed a bit repetitious – kill, free, fail, repeat. The logic for Cassidy frustrating his own rescue from repeated torture didn’t seem likely, when we got to it, but we did at least get a chance to see his backstory as a volunteer in the Irish War of Independence and him being turned into a vampire during that. The Grail, meanwhile, are looking to start the apocalypse – at the behest of God (Mark Harelik, Angel). God, himself, is strangely drawn – sometimes seemingly omnipotent/omniscient and yet, at other times, unable to act in such a way (for instance he seems unable to find Humperdoo (Tyson Ritter), the new messiah).

Tulip in action
Some of the characters seemed rather side-lined and used as plot devices. Hitler ends up at Masada, representing Hell in the pre-Apocalypse negotiations but is barely in the series and serves mostly as a foil for the decision of Jesus (also Tyson Ritter). Eugene (Ian Colletti) is so side-lined that his entire purpose seems designed to facilitate one single scene and everything else regarding him is occasional filler. Beyond the Ireland backstory there is little in the way of development for Cassidy and Tulip, though they are majority characters and great fun as they are. On the other hand, the deconstruction (and reconstruction) of Herr Starr (Pip Torrens) was magnificent.

Dominic Cooper as Jesse
Having said all that there was much of the standard Preacher fun to be had, just along a circular story arc for the earlier episodes. The programme became more focused as the countdown to the apocalypse began (occasionally jumping to Eugene out of a sense of duty to the character but for no good reason) and ran its course. How you take the ending depends on your view, it could feel a tad damp squib but, when dealing with mythological deities perhaps it is a little bit difficult to wrap them up. Possibly a weaker season, it is still worthwhile and brings the story to conclusion. 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Monday, October 07, 2019

Vampz!: Revisited

It feels a little strange revisiting a film that, according to IMDb was released in 2019 but that is because the Ramsey Attia vehicle started life as a free to watch web serial in 2012 and I originally looked at that here.

The thing is, there hasn’t really been anything done with the serial. It has been spliced together in Chapters (rather than episodes) and has not had any reshoots or additional scenes as far as I can tell. As hard-earned cash is now being asked for it, I suppose I should score it but instead I have decided to let the original Honourable mention stand with all its pluses and minuses.

Christal Renee as Ashlee
The main change is that there is a filter applied to the film. To be honest I don’t think it looks as good as it did with its cleaner finish – I can see what they were reaching for but the photography is now a little too dark, details are perhaps lost but it is an aesthetic call – just not one I’d make.

So, if you are looking at this be aware of its origin and be aware that it isn’t really a ‘new’ 2019 film.

The new imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK