Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Extinction Parade Volume 2: War – review

Author: Max Brooks

Illustrations: Raulo Caceres

First Published: 2014

Contains spoilers

The blurb: New York Times bestselling author Max Brooks returns to the frightening world of zombies versus vampires in his groundbreaking follow up series: Extinction Parade! The subdead were always a joke to the aristocratic vampire race. But now the human race is facing extinction and should they succumb, so too shall the vampires disappear beneath the waves of rotting walking dead! Now the vampire race has mobilized ...but is it too late?

The review: I really enjoyed the Extinction Parade Volume 1, which told the story of the zombie apocalypse through the eyes of the arrogant, disconnected vampires.

As we go into volume 2 the apocalypse continues apace, the subdead (zombies) have become an endless stream (or parade) and solbreeders (humans) look to be facing extinction. We remain with vampires Laila and Vrauwe as they spend night after night destroying subdead and avoiding contamination from their poisonous fluids.

Except that really is about it for the volume. A stream of zombies and vampires killing them, remembering that the subdead do not even register that the vampires are there so the fight is absolutely one-sided. There is an evolutionary aspect to this. Vampire Adilah joins the other two and shows them her new ballet like martial art she uses, then they meet a group with melee weapons and use them, then they get guns and eventually join a vampire army with fire arms – though the vampires miss key fact and strategy due to their continuing arrogance.

But it feels repetitive, as though there was a lull in ideas. The art is still wonderful but the story did not engage as much as volume 1. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t like to see where this ultimately goes – I would. Unfortunately I cannot see that a third season was ever done.

For volume 2, however, 6 out of 10 – dropping marks from volume 1 due to repetition. However many thanks to David for purchasing this as a present for me – greatly appreciated.

In Paperback @ Amazon US

In Paperback @ Amazon UK

Friday, January 17, 2020

Pray for Daylight – review

Director: Tony Bruno

Release date: 2005

Contains spoilers

This film is most definitely a micro-budget affair – but one that I felt had a neat little premise it played with and one that had heart. Whether it had decent sfx, well the poor video print disguised that so I can’t say, and the casting seemed to be more what was available rather than ideal… but no-one can take away that feeling of heart.

It is, in short, one that was a bit of a guilty pleasure and, after one of the more often used Nietzsche quotes, it starts in 1994.

testing the dhampir
We are in the Carpathians and a group of children are in a tent, with a woman (Sarah Martin) and a man (Rocky Lhotka) – she begs the man not to do it. He drops a blade to the floor and leaves and a second man (Conrad Zero), fanged, enters. He feeds on the woman and turns his attention to the children. One, a girl named Syeria (played young by Katherine Bruno) keeps calm, grabs the knife and attacks him. We see her eyes fade into her older eyes in 2006. What we discover later is that Syeria (Sasha Walloch) is a dhampir and the event a dhampir test.

Kristi Bruno as Cassie
In a bar, the barman (Joshua Kattelman) notices the present that Aiden Garrett (Trey Simmonds) has with him. He is meeting an old friend, Cassie Banning (Kristi Bruno), who vanished out of town three years ago. He tells the barman (and therefore us) about her family being slaughtered and that (essentially) she became a vigilante. The fact that Garrett is a cop should have been a factor between them but she actually became a vampire hunter and he is aware of the creatures. She arrives.

Saveau and Cassie
What we get then is a story about her becoming a vampire hunter but working for Eric Saveau (Rick Sullivan) – a vampire and ruler of the city’s vampires. She would hunt those who had gone bad (as Garrett points out, also his political enemies). She left after she beat a human hunter to a pulp, who was torturing a vampire girl. The girl didn’t survive. She has spent three years travelling and researching.

Lucretia and Syeria
Saveau is aware that she is back and so is his rival Lucretia (Robin Marie Whitt). When Cassie left, Saveau lost face and Lucretia is older than him and, though he is too old to be mentally controlled by her, the younger vampires are in her thrall. Cassie is rare, in that she can’t be mentally controlled by a vampire. Lucretia has another rare hunter – Syeria the dhampir, who she mentally dominates. She wants Cassie gone. It was this use of hunters by the vampires, the rare gift of being immune to their charms and the utilisation of a dhampir that worked for me, building some nice lore into the low budget flick.

the eyes have it
As I intimated above, the casting seemed to be based on who was there, rather than who was suitable for a role. The acting wasn’t necessarily brilliant either. However I was carried along by the lore. As I mentioned, the photography seemed poor but the terrible print (and resolution set at 360 p) disguised much in the way of poor cinematography. That said, the film is on YouTube so you can see for yourself; it is not on IMDb however (at time of writing). I feel churlish giving a free watch a score but problems on one hand, interesting story elements on the other – I’ll give this 4 out of 10.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Postmodern Vampires: Film, Fiction, and Popular Culture – review

Author: Sorcha Ní Fhlainn

First published: 2019

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Postmodern Vampires: Film, Fiction, and Popular Culture is the first major study to focus on American cultural history from the vampire’s point of view. Beginning in 1968, Ní Fhlainn argues that vampires move from the margins to the centre of popular culture as representatives of the anxieties and aspirations of their age. Mapping their literary and screen evolution on to the American Presidency, from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump, this essential critical study chronicles the vampire’s blood-ties to distinct socio-political movements and cultural decades in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Through case studies of key texts, including Interview with the Vampire, The Lost Boys, Blade, Twilight, Let Me In, True Blood and numerous adaptations of Dracula, this book reveals how vampires continue to be exemplary barometers of political and historical change in the American imagination. It is essential reading for scholars and students in Gothic and Horror Studies, Film Studies, and American Studies, and for anyone interested in the articulate undead.

The review: Taking the Nina Auerbach principle that “every age embraces the vampire it needs”, Sorcha Ní Fhlainn tracks socio-political development through the decades via the vampire films and books of those decades. Now, it is true that the genre is so wide that you can always find a vehicle for your premise but the author really concentrates on some of the essential vampire texts for this. The fact that this is American socio-political development is understandable given the author’s background – though perhaps I expected a more wide-ranging, less America focused exploration given the title. Not that it is a problem with the book and it is clearly identified in the blurb.

The writing in this is very strong, thought provoking and interesting. Indeed each page had food for thought and sometimes debate. As a for instance, the reading of Dan Curtis’ Dracula in terms of Nixon (and the transposing of Holmewood as a primary rather than Harker) was inciteful but overlooked the fact that the same character transposition occurred in the 1958 Horror of Dracula. Does it negate the reading, not at all, but the sourcing of the character transposition becomes the earlier film.

A couple of very interesting readings were included. The first was of Hannibal Lector as Dracula – this is not a new reading, indeed several people have identified such a reading before now. I am a big fan of all the Lector films and the TV series and may look at this at some point. The other, which the author herself recognised might be a controversial reading, was of the vagina dentata film Teeth as a vampire film – that will form the basis of a ‘Vamp or Not?’ at some point in the not too distant future.

I love it when an academic book sucks me in and this one certainly did. America studies are not my area of expertise but that was no barrier to enjoying this lively sprint through the decades. 8.5 out of 10.

In Hardback @ Amazon US

In Hardback @ Amazon UK

Monday, January 13, 2020

The Shed – review

Director: Frank Sabatella

Release date: 2019

Contains spoilers

Whilst a film getting everything very wrong is painful it can be more frustrating to watch a film that does some things very well and yet manages to get other things very wrong. A film that manages to include issues that prevent it from being a classic, and this is the problem with the Shed.

A vampire in the garden shed was a conceit I could live with, though its inability to escape was somewhat problematic, however the film’s biggest problem lay in characters who managed to act in ways that just wasn’t credible. And yet there was some good acting, a decent layer of yarn and a pretty good vampire.

the ancient vampire
The film starts with Bane (Frank Whaley), a local farmer, going through the woods, clutching a gun and apparently bleeding at the neck. Stalking him is a vampire (Damian Norfleet) who gets him, the gun having been dropped, and bites him. The vampire holds his head back, in a creature of the night pose, unfortunately the sun rises and the vampire burns. Bane’s hand is touched by the sunlight and smoulders. He runs through the woods and sees a shed out in the open. Covering himself he makes a break for it and gets inside.

Stan and his grandfather
Stan (Jay Jay Warren, Fred 2: Night of the Living Fred) is woken by his mother, though the room he is in seems decorated a little too young for the teenager. She has made breakfast and so, even though it is Saturday, she expects him to get up. He goes downstairs, where she and his dad’s loved up antics cause him to declare them gross and his dad suggests a father/son trip. Suddenly the scene shifts, she looks eaten away by disease, his dad kills himself. Stan awakens, an orphan looked after by his grandfather (Timothy Bottoms).

Stan and the Sheriff
When I say ‘looked after’, I mean that in a loose sense. His grandfather is abusive (and we hear later a drunk). Out of the house, he rides his bike but is distracted by local bully Marble (Chris Petrovski, All Cheerleaders Die), and manages to hit the truck belonging to local Sheriff, Dorney (Siobhan Fallon Hogan. Also Fred 2: Night of the Living Fred & What we do in the Shadows). This is where we get the pluses and minuses of the film in one scene, with Dorney being an excellently drawn character but her companion Deputy Dave (Mu-Shaka Benson) being a cipher to allow exposition about Stan (and the fact that he has been in juvie and is expected to become/remain a bad apple as he turns 18) and not used further – even though it is certain he would be involved later if the film followed the storyline logic it should.

Roxy an Stan
Anyway, back at home he has reason to go in the shed and finds teeth expunged from the vampire’s mouth before being lunged at. He manages to get out, sends his dog in – which is killed. His grandfather then goes in and is killed and Stan locks the shed up, eventually boarding the windows also. He is about to call the authorities but his conditional release from juvie looms large and he doesn’t. That reaction I could handle. However the reactions later often seem silly, including the reaction of his best friend, Dommer (Cody Kostro), and the girl he fancies, Roxy (Sofia Happonen). Not that there is anything wrong with their performances, it is the narrative that often seems unrealistic.

breaking through the door
If one thinks too hard the fact that the vampire doesn’t get out overnight seems strange too. Whilst I can accept that it would stay hidden from the sun, once the sun went down; he is in a shed with tools (one expects) and it isn’t going to have the strength of a stone prison. Indeed, it manages to smash through the wood of the door at one point, trying to get to Stan on the other side, creating a hole that has to be patched – why it couldn’t rip the place apart after the sun had set was beyond me.

Cody Kostro as Dommer
Then again there is a reading of this that the vampire is metaphorical – representing rage, anger or teenage angst, perhaps. Indeed the vampire could represent loss of control, and that fits in with the Stan character well – it is Dommer who is bullied but whilst Stan intervenes, he has never given over to violence as a solution (until later in the film that is). The shed, metaphorically, is where his rage hides – whilst he tries to take the slings and arrows of Marble and his grandfather.

the shed
It is nice to be able to get a deeper reading of a fairly standard horror flick. The primary actors keep this going along nicely and it is actually a pleasure to follow Stan’s journey. But the decisions made by characters ring untrue (as mentioned) and the premise is a better metaphor than actual scenario. That said this was a fair enough watch that I rather enjoyed but had they tweaked the motivations, had they used characters like Deputy Dave as characters rather than ciphers and had there been either a shorter timeline (ie taking place over a day) or a reason for the vampire’s inability to escape the shed and we might have had a classic. 6 out of 10, however, for a blooming good effort generally.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Sacred Blood – review

Director: Christopher Coppola

Release date: 2015

Contains spoilers

Christopher Coppola is no stranger to the vampire genre, directing the 1988 film Dracula’s Widow. This film suffers for lack of budget and some spotty performances but makes up for it in vision and a sense of hankering back to Italian horror of yore.

I felt the narrative could be tightened up also, but I’ll cover that as we go along and so, after the opening credits, we see images of the ocean, hear a storm until the scene calms into the safe haven of San Francisco harbour.

Natia arrives
Out from under the Harbour sign walks a woman; pale, pained and almost ill looking – Natia (Anna Luca Biani). As she walks past the window of a coffee shop/art gallery she is seen by resident struggling artist Luke (Bailey Coppola) who chases after her and then follows her on his pushbike until eventually losing her. Elsewhere a woman called Lilly (Bai Ling, The Breed, Three Extremes & Dumplings) is in an eatery when she too spots Natia.

Lily and Natia
She also follows her, but keeps much closer than Luke did. When Natia confronts her, Lilly reveals that she knows what she is, suggests that Chinatown is her turf and she won’t be so nice if Natia returns. However, the girl seems vulnerable, new to being the vampire that Lilly recognises, and so Lilly then offers her pointers for money. Natia has none and Lilly suggests she attend to some business with her. They go to a bar where a business man (Steven Wiig) drinks alone. Lilly takes the casually racist man back to a room – with Natia – where it soon descends to a feed.

What struck me here was the use of off-kilter camera work – especially when Lilly and Natia meet, which had a nice feel but was perhaps sparingly used through the full film. Also the lighting/filters in Lilly’s room was highly effective, giving a Eurohorror, perhaps more specifically an Italian feel. When Natia attacks she sounds and looks feral, a sense we don’t get from Lilly who feels under control.

circus act
The film then moves to the country of Georgia and we get a little of Natia’s past – however I felt the narrative structure failed to distinguish the geography and the time-gap as well as it might. This is perhaps amplified by Anna Luca Biani whose Natia feels like a different person in these scenes, a fact that speaks highly of their acting ability but doesn’t help the narrative. Natia is running the family circus and performing as a sharp shooter but the circus is failing. In desperation she gives a job to Sasha (Konstantin Kryukov, Vurdalaki), a dog trainer with a single dog.

What we then get is, in flashback, a backstory of a family in crisis – the father is an alcoholic after the death of the mother in an accident. This has a nice symmetry with a primary storyline as I’ll mention but, symmetry aside, adds little to the primary narrative. Sasha is a vampire and his dog is too – able to jump unnaturally high. He is on the verge of turning Natia’s sister, Dedika (Natalia Diasamibze), when Natia bursts in with a gun and the dog, protectively, bites her. Natia turns, her sister does not but the Georgia story ends there with Natia fleeing to protect her family.

Michael Madsen A bRENNAN
In the States we discover that Luke followed her as he was inspired to paint her portrait and, of course, they fall in love. Natia manages to slaughter a pimp and his brother (plus heavies) so that she can both protect some prostitutes and get money (to send home). She also slaughters a couple of muggers. The mayhem brings her to the attention of detective Brennan (Michael Madsen, the Bleeding, Vampires Anonymous, 42, the Tomb & Bloodrayne) – Luke’s alcoholic father who turned to the bottle after his wife developed dementia and who is disconnected from his son, not understanding his desire to be an artist. This is the symmetry I mentioned.

Rob Nilsson as Ruthven
She also comes to the attention of the top vampire, Ruthven (Rob Nilsson), who insists she works for him. There is an odd moment that suggests a psychic attack when she resists but is not spelt out and Ruthven (pronounced incorrectly, as normally happens to be fair) is apparently Scottish (he’s lost his accent) and obsessed with wine making. This then leads to the film’s tagline “From the Vine to the Vein”, which is not explored in any meaningful way but a vampire’s obsession with wine does riff nicely on “I do not drink… wine”.

Bailey Coppola as Luke
There are issues as this becomes a mood and character piece (which are the strength of the film) but doesn’t quite pick up on any horror (despite the feral growling and butchering of villains) and the storylines fail in the main to go anywhere. That is not true of the central romance but the police investigation and the winery (even the circus to a great degree) just feel like they are hanging. The acting seems uneven. I mentioned Anna Luca Biani being very different before and after turning and Bailey Coppola is great in the role. Madsen and Bai Ling have their moments, as one would absolutely expect, but much of the supporting cast are less impressive and I thought Nilsson miscast.

The action, I think, is lost in budget and more could have been done around the gore (the first feed is impressive due to filters/lighting but perhaps other attacks are lacking). I did think the guns sound lost and hollow in the soundscape and whilst we know shooting at a vampire will have no impact it will impact the clothes at least. The character studies/mood could have been a massive plus to a strong narrative, but the narrative needed tightening up. Yet it isn’t all bad, far from it – aspects like the symmetry between Bailey and Natia worked well, the mood was there and there were good performances and the visual atmosphere worked. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Honourable Mention: Guardians

Guardians was a Drew Maxwell directed 2009 low-budget creature feature with a cgi creature (that looked a little like the Geiger alien with a multi-eyed demonic head). Steeped with a paranormal, come inter-dimensional background (Hell, the main character, and the only character we’ll mention in this article, was called Alex Lovecraft (Shannon Watson)), this creature feature is not the most obvious film to appear on Taliesin Meets the Vampires.

The film itself was a story of near misses. A series of establishing shots at the head of the film in a mist covered (or perhaps over-exposed) small US town were nearly clever but just smelt of not enough budget to quite pull it off. A sequence of folk trying to escape the doomed town (it turns out to be a localised phenomenon and not, as I thought at first, an all-out apocalypse) showcased the ambition of the filmmakers but the cgi creature was just to darn cgi, without any feeling of actual mass. To be fair, however, they actually managed to engage these things in fights a darned sight better than some high budget movies with judicious fast cuts.

None of that is actually why I’m writing this. Rather, this article comes about because when we first meet Alex Lovecraft he is descending a stairwell in a church, stake in one hand and torch in the other. I actually mused, as I watched this, that more than garlic or fangs – the stake really is the ubiquitous trope of the vampire movie. It just struck me that we see fangs and we think… could it be vampire (after all so many humanoid monsters do have fangs) but see a man holding a stake and we know (or, in fairness, assume) he’s on the trail of a vampire.

And in this case we would be absolutely correct to assume that. Alex reaches the crypt, ignores the stone sarcophagus and goes straight for the wooden crate whilst musing to himself (and the vampire) that they are making this too easy. Before he gets there he finds bodies on the floor – he can’t find bite marks and so the vampire that killed them is 'just' a class one bloodsucker. This was just babble (and made little sense when one stops to consider just how the vampire was getting to the blood). He flips the crate lid…

becoming textured
There is a woman’s corpse inside, her chest veiny and fang marks in the neck. He waxes lyrical for a moment (ultimately promising to get the monster who did this to her) and prepare to lunge when she lashes out and grabs him. He twists her arm around and stakes her – the visceral side of which was actually a nicely done sfx. She then becomes textured as she dies. And that is that… a fleeting visitation, an introduction to Alex Lovecraft before he goes on his mission proper.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Darkness by Day – review

Director: Martín De Salvo

Release date: 2013

Contains spoilers

Well, this one snuck up – some 7 years after release. Hailing from Argentina the first thing I’d like to address is the quote on the UK DVD cover that suggests “Feels like Under the Skin and Let the Right One In”. Err. No.

Ok, this has an art-house sensibility but that is about the only thing it has in common with the former – and that simply puts them on a similar artistic continent. The only similarity with the latter… well they both have a vampire. Actually, though it isn’t credited as such, this is actually a reimagining of Carmilla.

ocean scene
The film starts with a view of the ocean and cliffs, this moves to trees and a woman, Virginia (Mora Recalde) runs through the trees. Suddenly she awakens and looks to the door to see her father, Emilio (Pablo Caramelo) sat in his chair. In the morning, despite not having slept, he leaves the family home to visit his brother Ostrosky (Luciano Suardi) as his niece, Julia, is ill and Emilio is a doctor. Later in the day a car arrives. The driver carries Julia’s sister Annabel (Romina Paula) towards the house, she is unconscious. The driver says that he has been paid for bringing her but when asked about Emilio he claims to know nothing and leaves.

Mora Recalde as Virginia
Virginia visits a store in town and hears a radio broadcast about a rabies breakout. This is almost background noise and the fact that rabies has been chosen by the writer is almost irrelevant, it could be a reference to any plague/outbreak. Lidia, who runs the shop, tries to engage Virginia in conversation about her daughter – a ballet dancer on tour overseas – but Virginia escapes the store and gets back home. Back home Annabel is up and about. Virginia tries to call her father but there is no answer, later the phones go down in the house and in town.

the bird
She makes some soup but Annabel isn’t hungry. She does report Julia’s symptoms as being weak and sleeping all day. That night Virginia checks on Annabel but she isn’t in her room and so she goes out looking for her and finds her, in the morning, sleeping on the forest floor. Nearby, unseen by Virginia, is the bloody carcass of a bird. What we then get, going forward, is a slow burn of a movie more intent on building the relationship of the cousins than showing us anything horrific. Annabel, however, is drawn as the delinquent – whilst Virginia stayed at home and Julia is said to have been studious, she went to Buenos Aires for college and then dropped out – by dint of this she is the outsider in the superstitious small town.

vamp face
Eventually, having met Annabel, Lidia sneaks a wrapped severed rabbit (I’d guess) foot into the bole of a tree and later gives Virginia a blessed charm to keep the chupacabra away. The offer of the charm is from the Carmilla story. There is talk of local girls becoming sick and there is a growing attraction between Virginia and Annabel, which also resonates to Carmilla. Even her mysterious delivery to the house seems resonant with the original story. But we see little vampiric, most is off-screen, but we do see Annabel displaying weird eyes and prominent veins as she lays in the dark and at another point we see her outside someones home just before an off-screen moment of violence, with us seeing only blood spattering a window.

Even when the patriarchs return home, whilst they want to keep the two apart (Annabel is displaying symptoms similar to Julia they say) and carve stakes, the pace of the film never really goes past a deliberate slow burn. Really the most accurate thing one can say about this, is it is a mood piece, it generates atmosphere and that is the aim, I think. The ambience ignores anything like a sense of urgency, not that outstays its welcome at 72 minutes, and rather is a masterclass at generating a sense of the uncanny. However, if that mood is not what you are looking for then it might not be your cup of tea. It was mine, 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On demand @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK