Wednesday, June 19, 2019

What we do in the Shadows – season 1 – review

Director: Various

Release date: 2019

Contains spoilers

Taking its cue from other mockumentary films in which vampires have been followed by a film-crew going about their day to day lives, What we do in the Shadows (2014) was a solid vampire film, with a firm grasp of the genre and a joy to watch, being a genuinely funny comedy.

It is unsurprising, though welcome, that it has spawned a spin-off TV series. Same universe, same premise (a film-crew following vampires) but a new group of vampires and a new location – the series relocating from New Zealand to Staten Island.

main cast
Our vampires are Nandor the Relentless (Kayvan Novak), Laszlo Cravensworth (Matt Berry, Snow White and the Huntsman) and his wife Nadja (Natasia Demetriou). A further vampire in the household is energy vampire Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) and Nandor’s familiar Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) is also resident. Their lives are turned upside down when an ancient vampire, Baron Afanas (Doug Jones, Universal Dead, Hocus Pocus, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hellboy Animated: Blood and Iron & Night Angel), comes to stay and wishes to know why they haven’t claimed dominion over the New World.

Laszlo, Nadja and Nandor
The show, like the movie, has a genuine love of the genre – poking fun but in a knowing way that works really well. We get another werewolf pack, and a neat way of duelling them, erotic topiary and Laszlo having to shout bat when he transforms into one, a vampire orgy and Colin almost meeting his match with an emotional vampire (Vanessa Bayer). Through Guillermo we discover the frustration of being a familiar, waiting for his master to turn him (and also some nice comedy moments with him as with the vampires).

council members
The episode to mention, however, is 7: the Trial, that sees the vampires brought before the vampire council and, having first met vampire criminals Garrett (Dave Bautista) and Vasilika the Defiler (Alexandra Henrikson), it becomes a who’s who of guest stars from the vampire genre. Firstly Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement and Jonny Brugh reprise their characters from the What we do in the Shadows movie. All the other council members we meet are named for their actor so Tilda is played by Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive) and we also get Evan Rachel Wood (True Blood), Danny Trejo, Paul Reubens (Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992 – the movie)) and by skype the daywalking Wesley Snipes (Blade, Blade 2 & Blade Trinity). It’s a smorgasbord of screen vampire fun and underlines that this revels in the genre it spoofs. 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Short Film: The Day After Dark

This is a film released in 2016 and directed by Damian Morter, which clocks in at 35 minutes. For an independent short it has nice cinematography with confident, crisp photography and plays with some nice, if standard, vampire tropes and imagery. Though the dialogue can come off as a little stagy at times.

It begins, using a nice tracking shot, on the stairs to a night club and the camera follows a woman through the club, until she reaches a seat, turns and sits and the camera goes past her to settle on a man, Robert (Nicholas Vince, Hellraiser & Hellraiser 2: Hellbound) who is making a call – the call comes up on a phone as “caller unknown” and is answered by Christian (Dawson James).

Nicholas Vince as Robert
Christian works for Robert (why the call comes up caller unknown isn’t touched upon) and, after some chat, Robert directs him to a gift. It is a calling card for an escort service, After Dark, and Robert insists Christian take the night off (he says he has figures to run) and experience them – they offer a unique service. Christian does not ring at first but eventually decides to call. We see a car arrive and a woman (Sarah Cragg) enter the hotel.

He invites her into the room but, at first, still seems reluctant, asking if she wants a drink and then whether she is hungry. Eventually he moves to kiss her but she stops him, with a barked order, sits him on a chair and proceeds to perform a lap dance. At the height of the dance we get fangs and a bite. What was nice was her, after the bite, beckoning him to her and, despite holding the wound, him responding.

fang wounds
He awakens in the next day alone and staggers to the bathroom, breaking the tap as he tries to use it and then noticing the fang wounds. As he showers he remembers the sex and biting her arm. He goes to leave the hotel but the sun seems unbearably bright. What we then get is a tale of his turning but I’ll let the short speak for itself. At the time of writing this I couldn’t find an IMDb page but there is a Facebook page.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Siren X – review

Director: Hideo Jôjô

Release Date: 2008

Contains spoilers

Siren X ticks the boxes of being a pinku eiga film – the Japanese form that lies somewhere between a softcore film and sexploitation. It is just over an hour long, has some (rather tamely portrayed) sex scenes (whether enough to be a pinku eiga is debatable but there are a few), is terribly low budget and looks to have been filmed on a low-end camera.

In this case, whilst we have a siren, she is a very unusual vampire who, as she says “has to suck sperm and desire to maintain… …life”. This makes her a sexual vampire who needs both a physical and energy feeding medium.

the crew
It begins with a van driving to a remote lake outside Tokyo. This is the crew of the “documentary” series Mini-Skirt Adventures. The premise is that they hunt phenomena such as ghosts and UFOs with anchor Mamimi (Yuria Hidaka) wearing a mini-skirt with fan service up-skirt shots being the hook for the programme. As well as Mamimi there is director, and Mamimi’s boyfriend, Hayami (Eiji Nakamura), cameraman Yamada (Takashi Naha) and Yohei (Yûya Matsuura) who is almost a dogsbody who creates low budget sfx for the show to pass off as real phenomena.

It is amusing that an under-current within the show is Mamimi’s reluctance to front it and be exploited for her body (given that she is a female character in a pinku eiga film). The lake is said to be haunted and they, at one point, put Yohei in the water (wearing a wig and dress). We see the siren behind him, they do not. Having filmed in the woods (and found a skull, which is real and not the prop Hayami assumes Yohei planted). A storm breaks and they seek shelter at a nearby house.

feeding the crew
The house is home to Reika (Yuma Asami) – who, of course, is the siren. She feeds the crew but after a row between Mamimi and Hayami, the starlet runs away. Hayami and Yohei go after her – but she flags down a passing van and leaves the place. Meanwhile Reika has come on to Yamada. The other two crew members return to the house and see the two together and Hayami starts to film them but strange things occur and then white material spews from Yamada’s mouth and Reika kisses it away as Yamada dies. She approaches the other two asking who is next but they run and drive away.

feeding at the neck
The two men (to a greater and lesser extent) are haunted by the memory of Reika who seems to be drawing them back to the house (literally siren like). However, lets go back to her feeding method – she might need sperm and desire but it seems that sex with her makes the sperm come out of the victim’s mouth rather than the normal place. Indeed we see another victim rip their own throat open and her drink from that as they bleed sperm from the neck. It is unexplained and whether deliberately weird or designed to sidestep the more traditional sexual methods of extraction, which may have elevated the film to hardcore, is unclear.

appearing behind Yohei
This is an odd duck and no mistake and, on the surface, is a rubbish film with overly simplistic narrative, unexplained strangeness and limited acting. However there is a subversive aspect to the text – for instance the pinku eiga actress whose character protests against being exploited or the in-film documentary creating poor sfx that shadow the film’s actual poor sfx (or indeed become it at times). For this reason and for the strange vampire type I’ll raise what is, actually, a poor throwaway sexploitation flick up to 3.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

A Discovery of Witches – season 1 – review

Director: Various

Release date: 2018

Contains spoilers

Based on the All Souls Trilogy, a book series by Deborah Harkness of which I have read and reviewed the first novel, I walked into this expecting good things. From the excellent production values to the superb supporting cast – including Alex Kingston, Trevor Eve (Dracula (1979)) and Sophia Myles (Dracula (2006), Moonlight & Underworld) – this was, on the surface, going to be a winner.

Alas, for me, not so. I received the Blu-ray set as a Christmas present and it has taken me six months (and a lot of self-pressure) to finish watching the series. It just didn’t capture my attention and other series were much more attractive when deciding what to watch (even if some of those should have been poor relations), and I think I know why…

Teresa Palmer as Diana
But before that, a quick look at the story. Set in a shadowy world, hidden from our eyes by secrecy, in which there are vampires, daemons and witches ruled by a council called the Congregation (each species having three representatives on the council). The underscoring viewpoint of the three races is one of distrust, to the point of racism, of the other two. It has been noted that the powers of the races are fading, witches do not have the same power and magic as their ancestors, vampires are failing to sire new vampires etc.

Ashmole 782
Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer) is born of a witch line but does not involve herself in the witches’ world particularly – mostly as she has no magical ability or aptitude. Instead she is an accomplished historian researching the alchemists of yore. At Oxford she is researching a paper when she calls up, amongst other books, Ashmole 782 – an alchemical text long thought lost. This brings her to the attention of the creatures as it is a sought-after text that none have been able to find (it is suggested that the book ‘hides’ until she calls it). This includes a congregation witch, Knox (Owen Teale), and a vampire, Matthew Clairmont (Matthew Goode). It becomes apparent that Diana is actually a very powerful witch but her powers are somehow repressed and she and Matthew fall in love – despite the taboo of inter-racial relationships (indeed they are forbidden).

charmed/calmed stag
As for the vampires, well they are long-lived, fast and hunters. We see almost a charm effect (on a stag that Clairmont hunts). They are deemed a separate species, though they come from human. Daemons and witches are born but vampires are created. It is confusing therefore to discover that geneticist Matthew is researching creature DNA to discover why they are on the wane – the book tells us that human DNA is rewritten in the turning process, however.

Matthew Goode as Matthew
So why did I struggle – I think the answer originates with the book. In my review of that (which I generally enjoyed), I said of the lead characters: “My problem lay with the two main characters. It became clear quickly that Diana… …was some sort of über-witch... Matthew, also, is an alpha vampire and clearly very powerful... Put the characters together and we suspect that we will have an unstoppable force by the end... The mistrust Diana feels for Matthew and his secrets is always too quickly overcome and that is because… …the romance falls back on those tropes of “we are special”, “we fall immediately for each other”, “Our love is forbidden” and “our love will conquer all. …I didn’t buy into their relationship...

Alex Kingston in support
The series did nothing to overcome this, indeed it may have exacerbated it and, like the novel, it expected the viewer to accept this romance and without acceptance it fell short. I also felt, to me, that the two actors had no real chemistry together (as good as they are as actors) and the focus upon them detracted from the wider world – in fact all the supporting characters seemed sketched rather than explored. I had no empathy for the leads and therefore couldn’t overly care about their plight or the wider world that had been drawn.

head (decapitated but living)
This is perhaps me but I also recognise that there were good performances, despite the material, the production values were excellent and I should have been wowed – 6 months to drag myself episode to episode in an 8-episode series speaks volumes. I’m forced to score low as I can do nothing else. I wanted to like this, I wanted to be wowed, I was simply underwhelmed and… frankly rather bored. 3.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Honourable mention: Hi-8: Horror Independent 8

This is a 2013 portmanteau film with the conceit that old analogue video cameras had to be used to film the segments. This leads to a grainy, retro experience and whether you enjoy that is down to your tolerance, I guess. There are some interesting concepts but they can often be mired in the low budget and fuzzy filming.

The portmanteau is odd in and of itself. Entitled "No Budget Films Presents..." and directed by Brad Sykes it is a piece that is returned to, and certainly wraps around the other films but doesn’t actually have any connection to them (bar budget filmmaking). It follows Travis (Paul K. Richards) as he directs his slasher flick with fiends Brett (Baker Chase Powell) as the killer and Andrea (Danielle Rosario) as the victim.

vampire... or ghoul or demon
So why the mention. Well, at the very end of the (Hi-8) film, shooting on Travis’ film has wrapped but Andrea has headed back to some caves they used as a location as she left something there. When she doesn’t return they go look for her and stumble across the body of a weirdo (Andre Martin) they had met earlier and put in the film – his face is missing. They find Andrea and she turns around, apparently eating his face, Her eyes have changed and she has sharp pointed teeth. She might be a vampire, a ghoul or a demon, to be fair – we never find out – but for the potential fleeting visitation I decided to give this a mention.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Vamp or Not? Panic

This is a 1982 film directed by Tonino Ricci and also released as Bakterion and Monster of Blood, amongst a slew of titles. Though filmed in England it was an Italian/Spanish production with an international cast (dubbed, of course) and felt like it should have appeared a decade previously (though that wouldn’t have helped the quality).

I watched it as a throwaway grindhouse flick and didn’t expect that I would end up having to look at it under ‘Vamp or Not?’ Now, one thing that can make such a determination tricky is a lack of cohesion in a film’s narrative… In this case it feels as though the filmmakers had looked for the word cohesion in a dictionary but avoided the words beginning with C. It also features Captain Kirk (David Warbeck, Twins of Evil & Razor Blade Smile) but don’t get excited – he isn’t *that* Captain Kirk.

cover up
The film starts in a lab and scientist Jane Blake (Janet Agren, City of the Living Dead) notices a blinking light, something is wrong with the experiment being carried out on rodents and they are attacking each other – she sounds the alarm and hazard suit wearing guys come in but one of the rodents has smashed its tank vanished. We also see someone (it isn’t clear whether a random person or our antagonist) with green gunk obscuring and burning their face. There is a meeting and a decision to cover up the accident but one of the key scientists, Professor Adams (Roberto Ricci), is missing (presumed gone fishing).

David Warbeck as Captain Kirk
However, the lab does secret Government contract work and Captain Kirk is dispatched to check out the lab. He looks for Adams but instead finds the scientist's bodyguard stuffed up a chimney (with a bad case of being dead). Meanwhile something is stalking the town and killing people. The film doesn’t show us what at first, and actually implies it might be a mutated (and now giant) rodent. These attacks are being investigated by police Sergeant O'Brien (José Lifante, Tiempos duros para Drácula & the Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue) and soon O’Brien and Kirk team up. The attacks are brutal, there are burns from something and the bodies are drained of blood.

Adams mutated
The crux is that a mutated Adams is using the sewers and Roman tunnels to get around town for the purpose of attacking people and drinking their blood. Does he have the virus? Unclear – it seems to be a substance (bacteria?) that mutated him and we see no evidence that a virus is out and infecting people. The government are taking no chances though. They use the army to seal off the town, cut communications with the outside world and are going to bomb the place and concoct a cover story unless a solution can be found (which seems to be cure or kill Adams). Is he a vampire though?

blood drinking
To be honest the only connection is blood drinking – and he is definitely doing that. He is mutated but his shambling incoherent self actually strikes a zombie chord (though he does seem to recognise and listen to Jane at one point). Whilst he does go for the manager of the lab, all his other victims seem random – indeed the population of the town seem to exist only to be dropped into the narrative and either be killed by the monster or else offer strange, unnatural conversation to move said narrative along. There does seem to be a resilience against weaponry, but then they might all be bad shots. There is a part of me tempted towards zompire and the blood drinking means a vampire argument can be made.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK

Friday, June 07, 2019

Invalid – review

Director: Dustin Mills

Release date: 2015

Contains spoilers

I should have disliked this, a low to no budget flick that suggested it was “a new psychosexual thriller fashioned after Italian horror films”. It was certainly setting itself a lofty goal and one it might well have regretted.

Well it is a psychosexual film and I can see where there was an attempt to emulate the great Italian horror films, in framing and lighting. In this it was clearly a fan emulating rather than the real thing, though that isn’t always a bad thing. However, despite reservations and some of the effects, I found myself actually rather enjoying this.

care instructions
It starts with Agnes (Joni Durian) on a call and suggesting that she can’t do *it*. It is looking after her vegetative brother, Andrew (Brandon Salkil). The person she speaks to insists she can, she has to, after all he is family. We then see her getting instruction in his care from Doctor Daryll (Dave Parker), she is taking over from their mother who has died; and there she is, all set for his care. However, the weirdness starts pretty much straight away.

Joni Durian as Agnes
She falls asleep and hears him shouting her – which wakes her up. Dismissing it she takes a shower and we see his eyes widen as he whispers (telepathically) “So pretty”. Eventually there is a banging at the bathroom door and a yelled command to let him in and, eventually, she screams. Wrapping a towel round herself, she goes to his room and he seems to be as he was left but, as she leaves, he grabs the towel.

animated moment
As she pulls herself out of the room the door slams and she collapses. The film moves into an animated segment where Andrew and Agnes converse. He is dying, he tells her. He has been reaching out to her with his mind for some time, he didn’t seem to be able to reach their mother. He tells her that he needs blood, specifically the blood of women and, even more specifically, dead blood. She agrees to get it for him.

syringe of blood
Now the dead blood was odd, often the vampire genre makes dead blood a no-no. However, when we see her give him blood the first time it is a hypodermic full and she could have stolen that without killing, or even provided it herself. The dead blood specification means she has to kill. The film does a great job of keeping the narrative off kilter, be it remembering abuse that was suppressed or the identity of the person on the phone, the filmmakers keep the viewers perception slightly skewed and thus build in a nice element of is he really talking to her or is she just psychotic and hallucinating.

stabbing sfx
Where the film fails, most fundamentally, was in the sfx. There isn’t much – trick knives and blood effects are the primary ones. The blood, mostly, is too day-glo and, whilst that might have worked in 70s horror (including the Italian greats) it doesn’t work here. Wounds are essentially a line of the fake blood, where the knife has supposedly penetrated, and look just like that – a few extra dollars spent on some more realistic wounds effects would have added so much to the film.

Yet, as I said at the head, I enjoyed it. The performances of the leads weren’t stellar but were just what the film needed. Joni Durian’s delivery, especially, added into that off-kilter feeling I mentioned. This film set itself up to emulate the greats – it is certainly a love letter to them and emerges as an unexpectedly entertaining flick. 5.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK