Sunday, March 07, 2021

Short Film: Choice Cuts


A short that comes in under 5-minutes, this was directed by Keith Jefferies and Jeff Meyers and is slightly spoiled just by being featured on TMtV.

So, it starts with a kitchen (in a hotel or restaurant) and a sink. Carl (Jonathan Leigh West) is working when his phone vibrates. His brother, Zeke (Josh West), has sent him pictures of a young woman (Kristin Condon) who is tied and gagged.

Phoning him, Carl is worried about evidence but Zeke is not moved, suggesting that the pictures can just be deleted. Turning his attention to the girl, he terrorises her with a knife before admitting that he won’t hurt her until Carl gets there. All well and good but, of course, he only thinks he is the hunter and she the hunted. She is suddenly unbound, on him with fangs showing…

hunted becomes hunter

Now, of course, the film will go on to show us what happens when Carl gets home but it also has a denouement beyond that, despite the short length and which is nicely done.

The imdb page is here.

Friday, March 05, 2021

Monster Killers – review


Director: Ben Steiner & Calvin Main (segments)

Release date: 2020

Contain spoilers

Monster Killers is yet another in the bow wave of anthology films made up from pre-existing shorts. This one uses some of the better end of shorts, with (in the main) good production values. However not all of them are uniquely in this anthology and I have definitely seen some of them before.

There are two particular films that bring this to our attention. The Sneak, directed by Calvin Main, has a creature that might be one of several horror entities but vampire fits as well as any. We will get to that later. However, to start with we’ll look at Ben Steiner’s The Flea.

going for the kill

The Flea starts with a woman (Mercedes Grower) on a park bench, her baby in a pram. She moves along the bench to keep her cigarette smoke from the baby, facing away and not noticing the man (Simon Meacock) who wears a makeshift mask and comes up to the pram. He places a wooden stake over the baby and hammers it home before running into the trees.

Mark Fleischmann as Mark

Indoors, Mark (Mark Fleischmann, Being Human) is reading about the murder in the newspaper, which suggests it is the return of a serial killer who targeted the old and the very young. As he reads his mother (Anna Fiertag) rambles about *him* not liking it. He says he is going out.

working together

Outside we see a homeless man observing him and then taking pills (the homeless man is the killer). When Mark gets home there is a note on the doormat. After reading it he panics and runs upstairs to a bedroom door. It is locked… He unlocks it and throws a plastic bag in. He goes to some parkland and meets Simon – the killer. Simon is convinced that there are things he must destroy, the same thing that ripped the animal he holds apart with its teeth. It transpires that they once worked together, killing together, but Mark stopped and suggests that they were insane (and Simon still is).

the father

The thing is. He knows exactly where a real one is. His father (Keith Francis) locked in the bedroom, but he can’t get out so can't be the vampire that Simon believes is active. Simon suggests otherwise and will pay the house a visit… There is no actual naming of vampires but the father starts banging on the door upstairs when Simon cuts himself downstairs as *they can smell blood*. It is clear, with the wooden stake, that we are dealing with vampires. How many of those they killed were also vampires (rather than unfortunate babies and old people) is unclear.

the sneak

The other short was The Sneak and in that we meet Bobby (Reggie Couz) on the phone and talking about the date he has just been on with Becky (Shelley Regner). He gets home and the door is ajar – unfortunately his roommate has a habit of leaving the door open. However things seem off when he goes in and something (also Shelley Regner) might be waiting for him. Done in the found footage style this was short and sweet and the creature (as mentioned above) might be one of several entities – but the teeth look sharp and vampire is as fair a call as any.

Becky and Bobby

So the Sneak is not bad, cultivating a tension and is so quick it doesn’t outstay its welcome. However it is the Flea which made it for me. A really off-kilter world, with a clever premise and telegraphing a lot in its short running time. As always, for an anthology I score the vampire segment and it is the Flea that raises this to 6 out of 10. Just be aware that there may be shorts in this you have seen elsewhere.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Comrade Drakulich – review


Director: Márk Bodzsár

Release date: 2019

Contains spoilers

Hungary was the source of one of the oldest (and unfortunately lost) vampire films in the form of Drakula Halála and was the birthplace of Bela Lugosi, of course, who gave us the arguably most iconic form of Dracula. From a media point of view Hungary’s legacy in the vampire genre is, with these two things, absolutely secured.

Drakulics Elvtárs, as this film is known in Hungary, is a satire that looks at the socialist/soviet era of Hungarian history using the lens of vampirism. It is set in 1972 and we enter a world of secret police and political orders coming from Moscow.

orders from Moscow

It starts with a flash forward into the film. We hear a voiceover from secret police-woman Mária Magyar (Lili Walters) who tells us that as a child she wanted to live forever but in kindergarten she learnt that only vampires do not die and then that only communist ideology is eternal. She, however, is not having a good day and we see her being shot and falling… The film takes us back two weeks and the General Secretary of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party János Kádár (Roland Rába) is receiving a phone call from Moscow (translated by his secretary). After being warned that the contents are entirely confidential, and a threat of ricin poisoning to his wife, he is told that he has two weeks to discover eternal life (later we are told it is for the ill Brezhnev).

the neighbour

Elsewhere, Mária is in bed with her lover and police partner László Kun (Ervin Nagy) – the noise from their sexual antics a source of amusement for their elderly neighbours who live downstairs. We then see them at the secret police headquarters where they are training recruits in surveillance. A tannoy announces that class is cancelled and they are called to their boss Esvégh (Szabolcs Thuróczy). They are given a briefing on Hungarian hero Fábián (Zsolt Nagy), he was born in 1910, handed out leaflets with János Kádár as students and fought with the communists in Cuba in 1956 and then moved to America.

Lili Walters as Mária

The 62-year-old is a UN ambassador for blood-drives and is a guest-of-honour for the Hungarian blood-drive for Vietnam. They are also told that in Cuba he developed a rare skin disease, margarita photodermatitis, making him sensitive to the sun – this is a real condition but is actually when a plant compound (commonly lime) in contact with the skin causes sensitivity. The officers are only told that they are to ascertain if, having lived in America, Fábián is friend to the regime. He is given the codename Crimson and the officers are Falcon (László) and Birdy (Mária). Mária is to pose as his liaison and László lead surveillance. However, he becomes more and more jealous as the case unfolds and Mária is expected to become friendlier to get Fábián to open up.

Fábián arrives

When he arrives, driving an American car, he seems too young, but his old comrades remember him. He develops a taste for a raspberry soda (which he replaces with blood, of course) and the first bits of lore we pick up, as Kádár personally questions women who have been in contact with Fábián, includes a supposition of an aversion to crosses (mounted in a cigarette case), holy water and garlic (all of which prove accurate). Meanwhile our secret police officers begin to suspect what Fábián is and get their lore from a book on vampires (entitled the Lake of the Vampire) and watching Blacula.

watching the sunrise

Fábián watches the sunrise with Mária by wrapping a towel around his head and wearing shades. He has a sensitive sense of smell, smelling the aroma of sausage from behind a  brick wall (it’s the garlic in it) and a cigarette being lit from an impossible distance away. The film doesn’t explain whether it was the smell of garlic or consumption of alcohol and bread that causes him to profusely vomit. He confesses to having told Zsa Zsa Gabor the secret of his youthful looks and we hear later that vampires can fly, but it makes them hungry. A trading of blood is needed to turn someone.

blood consumption

This was fun and well photographed, though whilst some of the humour was universal, I suspect the satire means more to someone who lived through the regime (or whose family did). The lead performances worked really well and the idea of no-one truly knowing why they were doing what they were doing ran true. The film didn’t explain why Fábián would return home where his youthfulness would be obvious, indeed he was drawn colourfully against the communist drab, a man who wanted to jive and drive his American car. Perhaps he just missed Hungary – the film remains silent though. Of course there are readings of what he and his vampirism represents, and the impact his presence has on the two police officers especially, and I hope this will have the film drawn into academic study. 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Monday, March 01, 2021

Bram Stoker, Dracula and the Victorian Gothic Stage – review


Author: Catherine Wynne

Release date: 2013

The Blurb: Bram Stoker worked in the theatre for most of his adult life, as theatre reviewer in Dublin in the 1870s and as business manager at London's Royal Lyceum Theatre in the final two decades of the 19th century. Despite this, critical attention to the influence of the stage on Stoker's writing has been sparse. Bram Stoker, Dracula and the Victorian Gothic Stage addresses this lacuna, examining how Stoker's fictions respond to and engage with Victorian theatre's melodramatic climate and, in particular, to supernatural plays, Gothic melodramas and Shakespearean productions that Henry Irving and Ellen Terry performed at the Lyceum. Bram Stoker, Dracula and the Victorian Gothic Stage locates the writer between stage and page. It reconsiders his literary relationships with key actors, and challenges the biographical assumption that Henry Irving provided the model for the figure of Count Dracula.

The review: If there is one area of vampire studies I feel more out of my depth in, it is within the realm of the vampire and the stage, especially the 19th Century stage. It is good therefore to read authoritative tomes on the subject (and I can recommend Stuart’s Stage Blood in that regard). This is not a book about the staging of vampire plays (though it does touch on Dion Boucicault’s the Vampire/the Phantom) but rather looks at the stage of the Lyceum, and the actors and performances thereof, to extrapolate possible influences on Stoker and his seminal novel.

The primary thrust is within the form and structure of the Gothic melodrama, the form that Irving mastered so very well and that actresses Ellen Terry and Geneviève Ward not only mastered on stage but, it is well argued, replicated in their personal lives. Wynne presents strong, cogent arguments for her contentions and places Stoker within a context that is not often considered but was absolutely the world in which he lived in. As well as using his literature (including “Personal Reminiscences…”), Wynne also had access to some of Stoker’s unpublished personal correspondences, which expand our view of the man and the time.

It is easy, sat in the 21st Century, to assume we understand the world that Stoker – theatre business manager and novelist – lived in. Wynne opens our eyes, with a monogram written in an easily digestible way (for an academic volume). For students of the author or the novel, necessary. 9 out of 10, however not cheap so do look out for Palgrave sales.

In Hardback @ Amazon US

In Hardback @ Amazon UK

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Short Film: The Blood of Love


Directed by Jeff Meyers and released in 2015 this short comes in at just under 20 minutes (and my thanks to Simon Bacon for spotting it on Vimeo). It is a really interesting take on the genre.

It starts with a man, Josh (Chris Stack), presumably sleeping. His wife, Kate (Mali Elfman), kisses his face and he rouses slightly. He is ill and she is going out – a work thing she says, but he does notice that she is dressed sexy. There is no one but him, she says.

As she drives, she picks up a voicemail offering condolences and a drink. However it is a bar she is going to and she meets a man (Steve Xander Carson). We next see them returning to the house, though she has used the back door, and asks him to help pick a wine from the cellar. Down there she uses a handheld Taser on him. He comes round rather quickly and grabs her leg but she gets a bat and bashes him. Soon he is suspended from the ceiling and his throat is cut.

killing in the name of love

We see blood, in a machine and the machine hooked to Josh. He comes round with a gasp. Asking when the doctor is due, she tells him that he missed him and he was there 2-hours before. He said the machine needed adjustment. Later she wakes and Josh is not in bed. In the kitchen he is making dinner and has been out for groceries. Kate gets mad; what if someone had seen… but then suggests he needs to take his condition seriously. Later again, watching TV, and he feels sick. In the bathroom he vomits blood and cries tears of blood…

as the effects wear off

Kate goes to see Mr Ashling (Norm Roth), from whom she got the machine. He had told her all she needed was blood and love but Josh has been responding to the machine less and less. Ashling says she should not mistake quantity for quality… It is clear that Josh died from his illness and, unbeknown to him, Ashling has given her a machine that can revive the dead through blood… but what will it take to get quality time? The answer, of course, is in the short and please watch through the credits as they contain the full denouement.

The imdb page is here.

The Blood Of Love from Jeff Meyers on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Honourable Mention: Domina Nocturna


Released in 2021 this Brazilian film was directed by Larissa Anzoategui and is entirely without dialogue. My quandary was how to tackle and explain it here. As such I decided to reproduce the IMDb summary first of all:

"Haunted by the darkness as she wanders through a dead city, our young, doomed heroine Angelique is stricken with hallucinatory visions as she learns the story of a cruel and loveless vampiress. Her visions are of the bizarre rituals that imprison a group of Satanic worshippers in a cycle of dying passion, and who seek to survive beyond the grave. In Angelique's ears, only the music of the gothic atmosphere flows to augment her quest into the horror and the passion of the dead - and no voice can rise above it. A haunting, enigmatic tribute to the classic Euro-Horror works of Jean Rollin and Jess Franco. Brazilian filmmaker Larissa Anzoategui created a film inspired by authors Lord Byron and the Brazilian Álvares de Azevedo and Anzoategui's passion for expressionist aesthetics. The cast and crew was composed completely of women under the direction of Larissa Anzoategui ("Astaroth") in her sophomore film."

opening scene

It is quite the summary and so let us break it down. It starts with Angelique, played by Larissa Anzoategui, walking through the city and then, having seen (and tried to follow) a(n animated) crow, checks into a hotel. We do not see the desk clerk – just a creepy hand is in view – and we also get a cloaked figure operating a switchboard. She clearly feels the presence of something following her and rushes to her room. In there she has a series of visions, which make up the bulk of the film and includes a vampire themed one (I’ll get to that I promise).

bloody mouth

Getting back to the summary and the citing it as a tribute to Franco and Rollin. This can be problematic, as a citation for influence generally, and sometimes a disservice. If we take Franco for a moment it needs to be said that the photography displayed in this was superior to anything Franco produced (though not as recognisably idiosyncratic). On the other hand, this may have been a tribute to Rollin but it did not capture the essence of his work – to be fair, you could probably draw an inspiration line from Two Orphan Vampires, with the various visions in this like the orphans meeting the Outcast, but without Rolin's depth of overarching narrative. However, there was another film that struck me as I watched…

hrebalist

And I am loathe to say this, as they are two different beasts, but I was less struck with a connection to Eurohorror and more to the Edward D Wood Jr written Orgy of the Dead. Very unfair, in many respects; Orgy was an exploitation flick with Criswell hamming it beyond the pale, this was an art film where mini-stories were expressed with seriousness using expressions and (sometimes) dance. Yet I couldn’t shake the underlying feeling, and so can only apologise.

the vampire

As for the vampire section, we have previously seen a herbalist create a poisonous concoction which, having looked at a heart locket with her face and that of another woman in it, she drinks. The scene cuts to a vampire woman sat on a throne with a woman by her side sat on the floor – it is the woman from the locket. She offers her neck and the vampire bites her, drinking her blood. The herbalist comes in and offers the vampire her wrist – which she bites and dies poisoned and the herbalist falls (presumably dying also). The woman from the locket takes the throne and reveals her new fangs.

cat witch

It is a simply constructed story that is told without dialogue. Other sections have more gore at times and more nudity at times (the vampire section is modest in that regard). Mostly they take themselves very seriously – with the exception of a scenario with a witch who puts her cat in her cauldron, turns herself into a cat creature and gets furballs… at first…

offering her wrist

The reason for not looking at this as a review is that it is simply a performance piece put to film, rather than a narrative film – and whilst not all art films are narratively constructed, this seems so performance above narrative that to score it would be unfair.

The imdb page is here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Some Smoke and a Red Locker – review



Director: Zetkin Yikilmis

Release date: 2019

Contains spoilers


I think what weighs on my mind, as I think about the 94 minutes of my life I won’t get back after watching this, is the fact that the actual photography wasn’t bad for a low to no budget film. Indeed, I have seen so very much worst.

Unfortunately, this was matched by the turgid writing and performances in the film. But, before I go on in that vein, let me give you a story synopsis.

are you serious!

Brutus (Alexander Tsypilev) is playing a computer game and smoking dope when his brother Rufus (Narsh Alexei Smith) comes in and says for him to get off the game – they have things to do. When he doesn’t react, Rufus messes with the computer and wreaks the code. And… I’m going to get back to performance. Brutus starts exclaiming, “are you serious!”… except he doesn’t, it is a turgid, barely mumbled delivery. I assume to give the impression that he is a laid-back stoner.

the zombie

They get to work… on their invention. A time machine (which is literally a red person-sized box with a keyboard pasted on the back wall and the insinuation of some wiring). Brutus has made a remote for it – much to Rufus’ bemusement. Something goes wrong and so they go to bed. They actually share a bed and so Brutus wakes next to his brother, convinced that someone has broken in. He goes out and there is a zombie (Roland Bialke) – which they kill and then take out with the trash.

Zetkin Yikilmis  as Agent Mara

As they go out they see neighbour Mrs Jones (Eva Rolle), a mad cat lady (with toy cats) who makes a crack about her pussy… except it isn’t actually a joke, or comic at least, as there is barely a cogent delivery again (the delivery generally was so bad in places that I actually put subtitles on), with the intonations all wrong. And here we get to the nub of the dialogue and delivery problems. The film is a German film (nothing wrong with that), with a primarily German cast. Unfortunately, it is in English, so it is not being performed in first language (and in some cases it might have been learnt phonetically as the actor may not speak English) but the syntax is all wrong as writer/director/actor Zetkin Yikilmis did not write in her first language (I’m guessing). Now, fair play, I couldn’t even contemplate writing in a second language but we cannot escape the fact that the dialogue is awful and the actor delivery almost entirely poor.

summoning the vampires

So the zombie came from the time machine and they realise they have invented a machine that will bring monsters through space and time. Their next experiment is killed by Mrs Jones who then contacts the authorities… who send Agent Mara (Zetkin Yikilmis), to set a honey trap through a newly opened bar (not filmed in a bar though... low budget remember) and subsequently to try and steal the machine. That is foiled and the guys run away to their Uncle Joe (Michael Tietz) a survivalist, hippy, revolutionary communist living in the woods. He helps train both them and an army of (or two vampires and two other) monsters to fight the government. One happens to be Mr (Oliver Möller) and Mrs Dracula. Vampires have their own language (lysanic) and so Brutus makes a translator.

monsters

God this was bad. It was a real struggle to get through and a lot of the problem stemmed from script (which could not maintain a comedy element) and the performances. The absurdist humour might have worked with a much sharper script and actual comic actors. As for the vampires… well when the government arrive they kind of vanish… if killed I don’t know by what… Not a lot more I can say about this one. 1 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK