Saturday, August 17, 2019

Lady Belladonna's Tales from The Inferno – review

Directors: Robert Posey & Justin Holtzen (segment)

Release date: 2018

Contains spoilers

This is an anthology stitching shorts together, which is the second Lady Belladonna (Tawnya Bass) film. The first, Lady Belladonna's Night Shades, looked cheaper in the wraparound (about the demonic Lady Belladonna and her time as a soul broker) than this edition and the photography and effects were sharper in this one.

There is a difference in the content also – the first film was pretty much serial killer/slasher themed and there was a real variance in the quality of the shorts. In this one a more supernatural theme enters the concept and the shorts were of a higher quality generally. The segment is called Family Tradition and was probably the strongest part of the film. A note on directors – the film lists Robert Posey & Justin Holtzen as the segment directors, if you find the short’s IMDb page it lists Posey only.

vision of blood
The story takes place in a scrapyard and Bekah (Donna Bella Litton), a teen girl, lives there with Mom (Hailey Josselyn), dad (Shawn McCall) and little sister Grace (Julianne Medina). Bekah gets home in time for the evening meal and there is some family banter but dad, as he looks at the family, sees them splattered with blood and has no humour. He leaves the table and mom says it is the anniversary of grandpa’s (Royd McCargish) death. Bekah makes a snarky comment about dad being drunk in the shed rather than the house.

Donna Bella Litton as Bekah
We cut to the shed and see dad sat, talking to person unknown and saying that he can’t do it anymore, this will be the last time and *he* won’t survive this time. As he speaks, we see him holding a metal mask. Later in the evening Bekah awakens and picks up a pack of cigarettes, going out for a smoke. She sees light in the shed, goes to investigate and, as she gets closer, hears grunts of pain. Looking in the door she sees dad clearly torturing someone (Robert Posey).

from Grandpa's tale
She runs back to the house and dad follows. She calls him crazy but mom intervenes. She wasn’t meant to find out yet but… They tell her the story of Grandpa and his first family, of him coming home to find them all dead, bar one child, and a man violently biting their neck. Grandpa attacked the man and then realised what *it* was. He captured it and starved it, torturing it each anniversary of his family’s slaughter – a tradition passed on to dad when just a child. Will Bekah buy such a story?

Robert Posey as the vampire
The film is well shot, well-paced and the acting is credible throughout. I particularly liked the photography and the directors manage to walk a line where the victim (the vampire) isn’t so much a victim in the audience eyes and the aggressor (dad) is complex and broken with a few simple dialogue strokes. This one is worth the entry fee to the whole anthology. 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Whistling Past the Graveyard – review

Author: Jonathan Maberry

Release date: 2016

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: A lonely, nerdy paperboy encounters ancient evil on the shadowy back roads of his home town. A little girl spends her nights dreaming of monsters and teaching herself the art of murder. Sherlock Holmes journeys to America for an encounter with the ghost of a murdered woman. A samurai sails to a forgotten island to battle the living dead. Special ops soldiers fly the void to fight space pirates. A heartbroken junkie seeks vengeance for his murdered friend. Whistling Past the Graveyard is the first print collection of short fiction by New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Maberry. These creepy tales of horror, suspense, adventure and mystery take readers to the troubled little town of Pine Deep, to the Feudal Japan of the Samurai, to the angry red planet of John Carter of Mars, and elsewhere. These are strange journeys through nightmare land, with a five-time Bram Stoker Award winner as your guide.

The Review: This is a collection of short stories by Jonathan Maberry, who we know primarily for his V-Wars series – though none of the stories in this collection are from that world.

The stories come from either from other Maberry worlds or are standalone and those connected to other series can be read without knowing the series. The collection contains four stories from his Pine Deep stories – one set before the three novel series and three afterwards. Now, I haven’t read those books (they are now on my wishlist) and the stories worked without that but as some of the characters come from that series, whether incidental in these or central, I can’t help but think I’d have got even more out of these having read the novels.

What we discover is that the country town of Pine Deep was a scene of a massacre known as the Trouble – officially the scene of domestic terrorism, where drugs were put in the water and the town tore itself apart in hallucinatory paranoia, thousands dying. In actuality there was a mass outbreak of vampirism, and I kind of got the impression of Salem’s Lot with a lot more death and destruction and fight back. The Trouble is covered in the trilogy of novels.

In this we get three post Trouble stories each with vampires featured one way or another – plus something that eats vampires in one story and vampires who avoid human blood (for survival’s sake) in another. In the pre-trilogy story, we actually get a haunted house that offers a glimpse of a broken future and feeds off the despair – so almost a vampiric building. This story really did strike me as one that fans of the Pine Deep books would really enjoy.

All the stories contained within were strong, to tell the truth. I particularly liked a period Japanese based story and an outbreak of Spanish disease (or zombies). I’m scoring, of course, for the vampire shorts and I was impressed with the fact that the author managed to hook into a wider series but also keep them accessible for someone who hadn’t read it. The writing was crisp, as I would expect from Maberry, the action explosive and the book eminently readable. 8 out of 10.

In Paperback @ Amazon US

In Paperback @ Amazon UK

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Short Film: Bats in the Belfry

Hailing from Portugal, this 7-minute long animated short was written and directed by João Alves and takes place in the Wild West.

It is night time and Deadeye Jack has tracked money bags he meant to steal that afternoon, before being interrupted by the sheriff, to a small mission in the desert. As he approaches the mission, we hear a woman (Rita Soares) within whimper and grunting as well as seeing splattering blood.


Jack roles a barrel of gunpowder towards the mission and lights the gunpowder trail it leaves, blowing the door. He gets to the open entrance to see a scene of carnage with a group of vampires, dressed as monks, feasting on the blood and flesh of a slaughtered group and only two survivors. Jack only wants the money but the vampires turn their attention to him…

The vampires go down with a shot to the head and have sharp teeth. There are bats within the sequence but no indication that they are anything more than bats. As for the animation, I saw an immediate stylistic similarity to such cartoons as Samurai Jack and it is crisp and fun. I actually enjoyed the whole thing and can see that it might actually be a launching pad for a whole series should Alves wish to pursue it.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Detective K: Secret of the Living Dead – review

Director: Suk-Yoon Kim

Release date: 2018

Contains spoilers

I have to thank Leila for putting me onto this – the third Detective K film. This is a Korean series about an eighteenth-century Korean detective and so, like Rampant, this is a period set film. Also, like the zompire film this has a comedy element but, in terms of tone, this weaves it more delicately into the general film. You’ll also see that this has another textual element in common.

The film is set in 1789 and talks of blood-suckers appearing in the kingdom. As we are given a little background, we see a man digging up a grave and are told that vampires are strong, heal rapidly, can fly and the way to kill them is fire. The coffin contains a charred corpse and he drops blood on it but runs into the woods as soldiers start coming through the trees. He is mortally wounded as a thrown knife sinks into his throat. A woman (Kim Ji-won), the corpse revived, comes to him and he gives her a pouch before dying. She is caught at a cliff edge, shot, goes off the edge but then flies into the distance.

Detective Kim Min (Kim Myung-min) – K – and his “Watson”, Seo-pil (Oh Dal-su), are undercover at a travelling show, where they are posing as magician and assistant. K actually manages to wound Seo-pil during the swords through the box trick but their primary reason for being there is due to vampires – as suspicious deaths have followed the show. A child is kidnapped from the crowd and K intercepts but discovers that it is the show’s owner and son killing people but not because they are vampires. One of them suffers from porphyria and they are taking blood to treat that (it is, again, a mistaken view of porphyria and how it would have caused people to act).

Elsewhere a man staggers through the streets with a bite on his neck, he falls and turns, at which point a flaming arrow strikes him (from out of the night). The fire consumes him from inside out. K is approached by a woman to come and investigate the mysteriously burnt man (the second such death) – they are to host a royal lunar festival, the first in 30 years, and the King is to attend. K agrees but finds his lodgings are not as promised. He soon meets the revived woman – who has amnesia and whom he names Wol-Young. At first he doesn’t realise what she is (despite showing prodigious strength) as she can walk in the sun and the two work together to try and both solve the case and discover her story.

So, the reason she can walk in the sun is down to the fact that she hasn’t drunk any blood – if she does she will gain standard sunlight issues (though dying in sunlight leads to a tad of sparkling) but also regain her memories. The intertextual connection with Rampant that I mentioned is down to the source of the vampirism, which is a European ship that wrecked on shore with a vampire aboard. Likewise, Rampant’s zompires came from a European ship and this speaks of the monster coming from Europe – be that as a general commentary on Western colonialism, the pervasiveness of European culture generally, or a media commentary regarding the traditional folklore creatures being replaced by the Western hordes. This is not a new Asian trope – the Japanese film the Bloodthirsty Roses had the source of vampirism be a shipwrecked European, pushing the trope further by having him literally steal a succession of Japanese faces.

Wol-Young and K
That aside, this is a sumptuous film with some great comedy moments, including much in the way of slapstick – but that slapstick works really well. The three primary characters all work brilliantly. There are moments early on with a UFO abduction and zombies, told as events supposedly happening, that make a nice break from the less supernatural earlier instalments. The zombies make a more substantial appearance at the end – indicating the direction the series is likely to go in. The central narrative itself is, of course, a mystery, and I won’t spoil that. However, I will say it centres around murder, revenge and dynastic politics. 7.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Friday, August 09, 2019

Dracula Vampyre in Beijing – review

Director: Tim Lies

Release date: 2019*

Contains spoilers

*release date according to Amazon Prime video – no IMDb page at the time of review to confirm.

Oh dear Lord, this is bad. A film that is in both English and Cantonese (I assume, rather than Mandarin), it appeared on Amazon Prime video and its an hour and a half I am never getting back – this really is a case of 'I watch them so you don’t have to'.

horror dream eyes
Set in Beijing and the Changping mountain area, we start with a voice over from Li Mei (Liu Xiao Yan) who talks about the mountains being her home and the centre of all she loves. She is an artist and has specialised in art featuring horror dream eyes – a vision that haunts her sleep and she translates into art by taking a horror film poster, cutting the eyes out of a face and having eyes behind that looks like someone behind the poster. She mentions vampires in the mountains living in abandoned war shelters.

The film is set in three acts over three nights of the blood moon, apparently, but there is no sense of chronology really. In the credits we see playing cards where the faces have various vampire icons – Lugosi or Lee for example. Then we are at Li Mei’s birthday and she has been given a pack of these “vampire death cards” by her friends Liu Ling (Wang Yao) and Zhang Zhu (Cui En Hao) – they seem to all believe in vampires. The other friend, intimated later that he is her boyfriend Zhao Guo (Hao Yi Bo), does not believe in vampires. He gives her his gift, wrapped in newspaper, and she seems to zone out and leave the place in a trance.

Dracula and his Coven
Outside and she’s ok but they decide to have a car race (lei Mei against Zhao Guo) to a venue, Vampyre Theatre, where the band Dracula (Tim Lies) and his Coven are due to play. No one has seen the singer's face as he keeps it under a bandana tied over the mouth. The race is pointless cinematically, she wins it and the three friends ‘cosplay’ – Zhao Guo doesn’t. A friend (Wang Ping) of LI Mei (from the mountain) catches her at the door and admonishes her as mountain people die in the mountains (no, it makes no sense). The venue has perhaps nine people in the crowd and Igor (Will Matthews) taking money. The band are made up of vampire brides with Dracula singing. One of the friends takes a photograph of Dracula and notices something funny (but we never see the shot). Li Mei seems entranced.

Li Mei turned
After the gig Li Mei seems entranced again and gets in a strange car – abandoning her friends. Yet we then see her wake up in her own bed, screaming from a nightmare, and her mother (Yang le Qun) comforting her. After the mother leaves, a shadow stretches over the room, Dracula is there and he bites the young woman. In the morning her mother has a box and starts running through the village screaming – apparently Li Mei is dead. We do see her in the morgue and see her wake, have fangs and wander off naked but we also get the message that people don’t know if she is dead or missing.

We also get the brides escaping from Dracula’s lair, where they are chained during the day. First let me mention the chains – they are blooming paper chains that are sticky taped to the wall. No, really. Outside they attack a guy (note it is day time, so no sun related lore is used particularly) and – with the worst effects I have seen for some time – rip his legs and arms off – clearly stuffed clothes and a splodge of meat by the “torso” to represent gore, one eats an arm and dribbles what looks like apple flesh out of their mouth. It really is bad. Igor recaptures them, though we don’t see that, just him bringing them back into the lair.

Tim Lies as Dracula
As for Li Mei – she wanders around aimlessly, either naked or in a wedding dress and the once sceptical Zhao Guo gives a cop (Ivy Shan), who conveniently shows up at the end, a silver bullet to tackle Dracula with. We get a flash of a picture of Vlad Ţepeş at one point and a diatribe about the vampire being there to avenge nature. But really it all meant very little – it is a fever dream and not a particularly good one, with poor effects, poor acting and no narrative worth mentioning. I can’t understand why it was dual language – the actors struggled with the English dialogue, it not being the first language of the Chinese cast, and one would have thought sticking to Chinese dialogue would have been better.

I really wish I could offer you a redeeming feature, but I can’t. 1 out of 10 is probably generous but awarded as the mess feels like it was a labour of love (for Tim Lies, at least) and I can’t condemn that – I can suggest that you steer clear however, as you don’t get the time back. At the time of writing I couldn’t find an IMDb page.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Short Film: Dracula’s Coffin

This is a 26-minute short from 2018, directed by Stephen Wolfe and – at the time of writing – is doing the festival circuits and it is a comedy… and (bearing in mind the subjectivity of comedy) I’m happy to report it is one the genuinely amuses.

What is nice about this – as well as cramming the entire thing in a limited set, mostly a living room and basement with some limited external street shots – is the fact that it wears its 80s homage on its sleeve but also channels an inner “Carry On” – yes the smut and innuendo abounds, but avoids falling into it too deep.

Josie and Abe
So, Josie (Sarah Pohl) pitches up at an abode, tells a caller (boyfriend Freddy (Tim Robinson)) that she’ll text the address and rings the bell. The owner, Abe (Matt Baca), enquires as to who is there and she says she is the house sitter (he double checks she isn’t the escort he ordered). Letting her in (and with plenty of unchallenged and even rejoined smutty comments) she sees the place has plenty of antiques (and garlic by the door). He is going hunting in Transylvania and she must not, under any circumstance, go into the basement.

coffin contents
Left to her own devices she starts hearing a ghostly whisper calling her name from said basement but then there is a knock at the door. She opens it, no-one is there but then Freddy jumps out and scares her. After a full on 80s music moment, with dance, they are soon exploring one another but more voices from the basement leads Freddy to explore and he finds a coffin and a compulsion to reference a master and open it! More than that he has a compulsion to remove the stake wedged in the ribs of the skeleton within…

Drac and hiss brides
It isn’t a spoiler to say that a couple of female neighbours come around to complain about the noise and, with Josie, that would be three vampire brides for Dracula ( Justin Herman). As a round trip LA to Transylvania seems to only take a few hours Abe will be back in the fray but will he succeed in closing the coffin lid on his ancestral foe? And what will the brides make of it all? The short amuses greatly as we move towards those answers.

Justin Herman as Dracula
The actors all seem to be having great fun, Sarah Pohl chews the scenery with aplomb and Matt Baca somehow channels an inner Johnny Depp whilst throwing out lines Sid James would have been proud of. The sfx are the right side of cheesy (when it comes to skeletons with glowing eyes) but are effective when necessary. This is worth tracking down if you can and, hopefully, it’ll get a wider release when its festival circuit is completed (The short does seem to have been in an anthology called Evil Deeds: Full Circle from 2016 before being released in its own right, so you might track it to that too).

The imdb page is here.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Vamp or Not? Island of the Burning Damned

So, this is a 1967 British sci-fi/horror that was directed by Terence Fisher, starring Christopher Lee and guests starring Peter Cushing. I was contacted by Clark, who asked whether I had seen the film (under its title Night of the Big Heat) and looked at it as a ‘Vamp or Not?’ Given the director and stars I have mentioned it should be great, thought I, but Clark cautioned, “It's dreadful, you'll love it”, and he was right.

It starts with a meteorological station, on the island of Fara, and a car with its soft top down drives past. The driver, Angela (Jane Merrow), is clearly feeling the heat. Meanwhile a man, Godfrey Hanson (Christopher Lee), is checking a camera. It is melted. He sets up a new one but is observed by a tramp (Sydney Bromley, the Fearless Vampire Killers). The tramp has a gander at the equipment once Hanson has left and then heads to the cave where he lives. There is a high pitch sound and he looks fearful as he dies…

Jane Merrow as Angela
Angela has broken down as the car is overheating and a van, driven by Tinker (Kenneth Cope), stops. Angela can’t understand, she had the water checked on the mainland and he asks if she has put anti-freeze in it. She has and that’s the problem – as it is causing the overheat – but, she insists, you need anti-freeze in winter. As we discover it is winter throughout the UK but Fara is having an unseasonal and localised heatwave. He puts water in her car and tells her to let it cool down. By the time she reaches local inn the Swan he is sat outside enjoying a pint.

Cushing and Lee
The Swan is run by Frankie (Sarah Lawson) and the only customer indoors is Dr Stone (Peter Cushing). Angela introduces herself, she is looking for Jeff (Patrick Allen), Frankie’s husband and novelist, and she is his new secretary. Jeff has popped over to the mainland and Hanson comes in asking if Jeff has returned with his parcel. He is due any time. As it stands, unknown to Frankie, Angela and Jeff had a fling and she has followed him to the island to continue it (it sounds as though he moved there with Frankie to get away from her). The heat is rising (literally), folk start acting odd and only Hanson suspects the truth.

Hanson is a scientist and he believes that the island is being invaded by an advance force of aliens. They are increasing the heat to make the island hospitable. They start attacking energy sources, including animals and humans. I’ll let Hanson explain, “we’ve been sending out high frequency impulses to explore space… …to these beings, they represent a life force… …these beings are composed of high frequency impulses in heat form. They transfer like any form of high frequency…” so they came through the station’s scanners and then materialised, physically, in the atmosphere. At one point Hanson suggests they are from another planet, at another from “where the cosmic gases ferment”. There is so much scientific techno-babble it is untrue. The aliens, they discover, are attracted by light (another energy form) but why ‘Vamp or Not?’

a creature
Essentially, each attack sees them drain the energy (from a car battery, for example) but also from the animals they attack (be it sheep or humans). They do this by causing the animals to burn, through the sound one assumes, and extracting the energy from the combustion – Hanson suggests they are looking for an energy source to keep them alive. So, essentially, they are eaters of energy. They look like blobs that glow and the men try to use explosives to destroy them (of course, that is another energy form). How can they be killed, let us just say that we have a methodology akin to War of the Worlds – not a virus but the Earth has a method of combating the invading force.

winter heatwave
So, Vamp? Well they do consume energy – any energy (there is a logical flaw with them wasting energy by heating the planet up – assuming they somehow generate the heat) and so it depends how generous you want to be about their vampiric nature (my inner jury are still out). However, if you are happy to go down that route I can tell you that Clark was absolute right, this is dreadful but I did love it. The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK