Saturday, September 22, 2018

Vamp or Not? The Dark

This is a 2018 film directed by Justin P. Lange and when I read its blurb it was suggested that it was The Lovely Bones meets Let the Right One In and whilst I haven’t seen the former, the latter drew my attention right away.

It is, as we will see, a film featuring a form of undead, but is that undead a vampire? That’s what we are here to find out.

So, the film starts with a road through the woods and, eventually, a car driving along it. The car stops at a gas station and the driver Josef (Karl Markovics) goes in and picks an armful of groceries. He goes to the register where the gas station owner has been stood, looking curiously at him. He takes a map, but the man says he’ll have to pay – something Josef confirms he’ll do. Then the man circles an area called Devil’s Den and says that it is what he’s looking for and then berates him for going there and suggesting that no good will happen there.

looking for inspiration
Suddenly the TV behind the counter mentions a manhunt and reward for the capture of an armed and dangerous fugitive. Josef’s face appears on the screen, a gun appears in his hand and he shoots the owner. He heads back to the car, clumsily dropping the gun at one point and having to pick it up, and drives off. After a while he stops – he’s left the map. He prays in German, looks up and sees he has stopped by a forest trail with a sign, “Devil’s Den”.

entering Devil's Den
He drives the path but blows a tyre, on inspection he sees he’s gone over a caltrop. The car limps along until he reaches a house. He goes out and tries the door, it is locked, but as he peers through a window the door opens as if under its own agency. The house is long abandoned but we notice the bath is full of clothes that have been shredded and the only room that looks used recently is a bedroom with dark themed drawings on the walls, and a bed with a teddy – clearly once a child’s room. Josef lies on the bed when he hears a knocking and notices a peep hole in the wall. He looks through and sees an eye. He falls backwards, discharging his gun as an axe breaches the wall from the other side.

Nadia Alexander as Mina
He runs but the door he got in through is now locked. He gets out through a utility area but stands on a piece of wood with nails deliberately embedded in it. A hooded figure, Mina (Nadia Alexander), carrying an axe, comes after him. He hides behind a tree, clutching a rock, but she appears to have lost him. Then he realises she is above him, on a branch, as the axe swings down. The film does not address how the door locked and unlocked (was it her, or a more non-corporeal supernatural agency?) nor how she silently got above him on the tree – we see some tree climbing later but this seemed particularly preternatural.

blood at mouth
She starts feeding on the body back at the house – so she has a strength (in that she could manhandle a full-grown man’s corpse despite the fact that she is a young teen). She looks pretty darn zombie, one eye (at least) milky, the skin drawn taught over her skull, old wounds forever etched in her flesh. In fact, my first thought (though the movie doesn’t mention it) was revenant. She gets in the car and tries the cereal that Josef bought but cannot stomach it. Suddenly there is movement in the back of the car. Under a cover is a young boy, Alex (Toby Nichols), and he has a mass of scars where his eyes should be.

Toby Nichols as Alex
For some reason Mina cannot bring herself to attack the boy – she tells him that Josef has gone and when he touches her hand he says that she should wear warmer clothes as the hand is freezing. The film then follows the two as the search for Alex draws in on them. We discover that he was abducted by Josef, abused physically (indeed his eyes are gone because he did not follow the rules and it seems Josef burnt them out) and is essentially very broken. Mina, of course, is broken too.

We get her story in flashbacks. We get a shorthand intimation that her father was dead, her mother’s new boyfriend was sexually abusing her and killed her when she fought back. He buried her in the woods but she came back (killing her mother as her first act). There is no explanation as to why – she suggests that the woods are cursed and its as good a rationale as anything – I did notice that her nails were long and sharp. So what is she?

As zombie as she looks, zombies tend to be locked in their corpse-like physical appearance – the fact that her nails grew into weapons is not particularly zombie (though her relationship with Alex will also have a physical impact ala Warm Bodies). She was raised from the grave, intimated in the narrative for the purpose of getting revenge on her murderer and drunken mother, but we are not told how this occurred and she has essentially just stuck around eating folk. That said she is intelligent (she set traps to take out cars and to stop people escaping) and can speak. She has been the same for a while – a person in the woods suggests that Mina went missing when he was a kid – but has kept up to date with things, she can use a smartphone she steals.

in the mirror
There is a moment with a dog (brought by a search party) where she growls at it and scares it off – but it is causing the animal to fear her, not controlling it. The film deliberately shows us her in a mirror and tracing the cross on Josef’s lighter. I think my gut reaction of revenant was on the money – but the movie never mentions that word and, if so, she is a revenant that consumes flesh. We don’t know if she needs to, but she certainly wants to (and with gusto, as she tucks into Josef she belches). I am also tempted to suggest that calling her Mina is a clue, after all the famous Mina is in Dracula.There is probably an argument for zompire, revenant or (with a more folklorish look) vampire. It is definitely of genre interest at the very least but I’m happy to list it. The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon UK

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Souleater – review

Director: Michael Lang

Release date: 2017

Contains spoilers

So, the idea of a soul eater, a form of energy vampire, is fairly set. Then, when said creature turns out to be an overworldly creature (probably demonic) it still is a type of vampire film in my book, or at least vampiric. When the very same creature creates undead (albeit zombies) then, well it is a vampire film by hook or by crook.

Souleater was a strange beast in that it was clearly a budget effort but the cinematography had a chunky element that was perfectly pleasing. It added an anti-hero element that was great and had some interesting performances.

Loren Blackwell as Pike
It starts in thirteenth century Sicily, with a knight (Tony Armer) and a priest (Joe Davison). They are walking through the dark and carry a bag, which is getting heavier; due to the orb it contains that starts to glow. It indicates that the moon is near its zenith and the door (to Hell) is opening. The priest panics and the credits role. After the credits we are in New Orleans and a couple of “knights of the road”, Pike (Loren Blackwell) and Demon (Brian Kahrs), are with their bikes. A guy nearby slaps his gal and Pike intervenes with some controlled violence.

young love heading to the macabre
Off to Florida and Freddy (Gavin Roache) and Lindy (Kelly Sullivan) are wandering through the dark with a torch until they come across an abandoned house said to be haunted. They go inside and think they can hear something, they run and we pov see through the creature’s eyes (it is invisible, so we never see it until the climax of the film – despite characters saying it is large). They run but it grabs Freddy and drags him back in.

Peter Hooten as Talley
Sheriff Buford Talley (Peter Hooten) is trying to enjoy an Italian sub when dispatcher Gretchen (Kerri Stringer) radios him. A local resident has heard screaming coming from the abandoned house. Talley wants to send the deputy, Roy (Greg Wilson), but he’s on the other side of town and so, reluctantly, he takes the call. As he nears he sees Lindy running out, in a panic, and grabs her (and subsequently arrests her for assault on an officer and resisting arrest, holding her in custody). At the house he finds nothing – but we see a monster pov shot looking out at him.

Thomas Noel Smith as Dolan
The long and short is that Pike is Lindy’s dad and so comes to town looking for his daughter (who calls him with her one call). Meanwhile Talley has three disappearances in as many days. He discovers that there are a couple of odd blokes at the local motel who have been there for three days and decides they must be involved. They are Father Dolan (Thomas Noel Smith) and Spencer (Johnathan Ball), Dolan’s assistant. Dolan is an excommunicated priest and keeper of the orb.

victim vanishing
They track entry into our world by souleaters – who come through on the new moon and leave on the full. In the meantime they eat souls, and only by throwing the orb into the portal as it reopens can the creatures be defeated. The orb then returns to the hand of the chosen person, a man without fear. The film is confused as to whether the invisible creature can be killed or injured otherwise. It is suggested not (only becoming visible when the portal opens) but then they have a van full of weapons and do try and lure it out at one point. We end up with an uneasy alliance between priest, sheriff and the bikers.

corporeal form
The creature, when it appears, is an alien looking thing with tentacles (or mantis-like limbs). At one-point Dolan suggests it feeds on fear and it is also intimated that it takes the souls with it, back to hell, rather than feed on them straight away. When it takes the soul the body seems to disintegrate but it then deposits the body near the portal. Described as the living dead, the soulless are killed like a normal person but are snarling zombie-like creatures (called zombies in credit but reminiscent of deadites).

zombie victim
I mentioned the “chunky” cinematography and it really does have a thickness to it that works well. The POV from the creatures is filtered but there is little in the way of effects and those they attempt are aided by a dim lighting. Acting is a mixed bag but Loren Blackwell is suitably taciturn as anti-hero Pike and Peter Hooten is so wonderfully over the top as Talley that he almost makes it worthwhile on his own. The story is patchy – the cops only believe they have three missing persons but the hunters get there by looking at patterns of missing persons (that the police are apparently unaware of but the papers have reported on). One wonders how (or why) they hold Lindy so long – but then maybe that’s how things role in Florida. Despite some story issues this was quite fun, nothing stunning but fun nonetheless. 4.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Luke McQueen Pilots: Britain's Hidden Vampire Crisis – review

Director: Paul Taylor

First aired: 2018

Contains spoilers

I received a message that this was showing on the BBC and went onto iPlayer to have a look. Luke McQueen is a stand-up comedian known for pulling stunts or using conceits as a basis for his act. This episode was entirely based on the conceit that McQueen had been given the opportunity to make a pilot episode for a show by the BBC and aimed to make a documentary about a subject close to his heart. Throughout the show he repeats that he is making a documentary like Stacey Dooley or Reggie Yates.

The subject close to his heart is Britain’s Hidden Vampire Crisis and he (at the insistence of his producers) interviews Dr Nick Groom as an expert. This moment of the show worked as McQueen played with an affected faux-naivety to spin his interview incorrectly. When asked how many vampires are in Britain, Groom responds that for lifestylers it is upwards of 15000, labouring the point that they are not really vampires. He explains that actual people who believe they need to drink blood is a much smaller number but McQueen ignores this, speaking over him and runs on a “15k vampires in Britain” message from there on in.

childhood view
McQueen’s obsession, we learn, comes from the fact that his dad (Mark Silcox) had told him that his mum had been taken by vampires – when she had just left. More could have been done with this and would have been a much better focus (though perhaps edging towards too sitcom for the programme makers). His thought that the NHS blood donation service is a Government front for vampires was lukewarm in a comedic sense and his accusation that Theresa May is a vampire ascribes her way too much personality and goth-cool to be funny.

There are stunts through the show – though how stage managed they are, and thus how much the “public” were in on the stunt, is unclear. Going into a Metal gig in faux-Count outfit and stripping naked on stage, offering himself to any vampires there, and pouring milk over himself in the street and calling for the age of consent to be lowered were both cringeworthy rather than funny, though the joke remains centred on himself. The lowering the age of consent moment comes from the thought that vampires prefer virgin blood so sex will protect them – comedy slasher horror film Cherry Falls played with the concept of promiscuity being apotropaic with more panache – and the programme steered repeatedly to child abuse when he poses as a 14-year-old boy online, to lure a vampire, and lures a sexual predator. The fact that he nearly misses realising what the man is becomes indicative of the faux-naivety he is displaying as a character.

Luke McQueen
All in all, I found this disappointing. The mocumentary aspect was thin, insipid and we know too little about the character to laugh along with or at him. If you think to a character like Alan Partridge, the character was built over time on the radio and, when transferred to TV, was a cameo part that allowed the joke to develop over time and ultimately to a point where the character could command a full series. The McQueen character didn’t command a single episode. The stunts weren’t funny, to me, but there were moments where he did shine. The aspect around his mother could have been brilliant, but was left dangling, and the abuse of expert opinion to the media’s agenda was inciteful. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Oh My Ghost! 2 – review

Director: Poj Arnon

Release Date: 2011

Contains spoilers

Please pay attention as this will get confusing. The Thai film, Oh My Ghost! 2 is also called Hor taew tak 3. Hor taew tak (the first film) was released in 2007 and called Haunting Me in the English speaking markets. The sequel Hor taew tak 2 was released in 2009 and entitled Oh My Ghost for the English-speaking market, so this volume is the third in the series. There is a fourth film (2012) Hor taew tak 4/Oh My Ghost 3. To make things more confusing there is a further film (from 2013) entitled Oh My Ghost that, from what I can tell, features one of the stars of the series as a different character.

Netflix UK has Hor taew tak 2-4 (and the later Oh My Ghost) available to watch and I realised that this volume has a vampire element. I watched Hor taew tak 2 (to try and get au fait with the series) and then this – it was still confusing (actually more so than film 2) as the vampire (and werewolf) elements seemed almost random.

The series itself is based in the katoey world. In Thailand katoey originally referred to an intersex individual but in its modern usage it might refer to a transgender woman or an effeminate gay man – this film is set around the transgender aspect but stretched out to the drag scene. Ru Paul has suggested that “Transgender people take identity very seriously – their identity is who they are”, quite rightly, whereas “Drag is really making fun of identity”. The films play entirely for comedy, and perhaps runs a drag aspect for that effect. As it starts the primary characters of Mod Dam (Ekkachai Srivichai), Cartoon (Yingsak Chonglertjetsadawong) and Taew (Jaturong Mokjok), along with Taew’s son Koy (Wiradit Srimalai) and a toilet, arrive at new lodgings.

Pharanyu Rojanawuthitham as Thaeng
They have the toilet because it was the place where Pancake (Kohtee Aramboy) was killed in the first film and now her spirit is tied to it. She was summoned in the second film to help them deal with a troublesome ghost. As they are shown through the grounds Taew spots a young athletic man by a pool, but he vanishes. Later Pancake comes across him swimming. He is Thaeng Thong (Pharanyu Rojanawuthitham) a ghost and the primary focus of the film (be that in terms of romantic rivalry between pancake and the others, in terms of vampirism or the focal point for the villains).

turned vampire
One issue I had was that I didn’t actually work out, at any given point, what the villains were actually after in this film. The primary plot seemed to be that Waew Sawat (Apaporn Nakornsawan) was some kind of witch (I think) who had stolen her identity and, with the help of Suan Sawat (Kachapa Toncharoen), killed the witnesses including Thaeng Thong (bar one witness who has amnesia and also the woman who has summoned the ladies to solve the mystery). So, for a reason I didn’t overly get, the villains are after a “savage mole” they implanted in Thaeng Thong. When retrieved it turns him into a savage persona and that persona is a vampire – actually a corporeal bloodsucking vampire.

crosses and garlic
Pancake presumably has no issues with this because she’s a ghost and they become romantically entwined. There is a little lore offered as we move through the film. There is an intention to destroy the vampire by destroying his corpse using a stake to the heart (in other words he is a vampiric ghost, able to achieve corporeality but separate and yet connected to his dead body), there is some use of garlic and crosses (the latter as hair pieces but the film offering no real clue as to the effectiveness of either apotropaic), there is also new lore that a strawberry (a magic one, that is), held in the mouth, will prevent a vampire attack!

werewolves with the vampire
There is also a pack of werewolves (brought along because vampires and werewolves are enemies – according to the mispronounced movie Twingelight). The werewolves (bar a bit of a CGI shapeshift at one point) are buff young men with pointed ears, light cropped beards and upper and lower fangs (rather than the vampire’s upper fangs only). In fact, the vampire and werewolves both owe more to David DeCoteau’s films than anything else.

rocket dong
The comedy is madcap and based around verbal sparring – as well as the obligatory bitchiness there is quite a bit around mispronunciation with a twist that it is a Chinese attempt to speak Thai – and slapstick. There is also a sexual element to the comedy, which culminates in Pancake riding a rocket dong to defeat a warlock. It is the characters who carry this and the living and ghostly primary characters are amusing in their own way. However, I think a layer of the comedy went over my head as well, steeped as it was in a specific Thai subculture.

Kohtee Aramboy as Pancake
However, the plot that was the primary vehicle for delivering this comedy was bitty and not well constructed – in fact, having watched the previous movie, this really didn’t try very hard at all. The previous film actually went out of its way to build a thorough backstory for the ghostly shenanigans, this seemed more of a plot sketched on the back of a cigarette packet. The acting was mostly histrionic, but that is what was called for, though the character of Pancake works really well thanks to both the presence and comic timing of Kohtee Aramboy. Many are going to find this hard work due to the flimsy plot and histrionics. 3.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Vamp or Not? All the Devils are Here

This is a 2014 film by Ryan Lightbourn and when I put it on I wasn’t expecting to do a ‘Vamp or Not?’, I was content to be watching a mid-range creature feature/Evil Dead/kids find themselves at a deadly cabin type flick. A little film with which to while away the hours. Next thing I know the damn thing (which had started to look like a zombie/outbreak film) is mentioning vampires and I’m having to screenshot and think about the (admittedly clichéd) plot.

So, it starts with a couple of cops transporting prisoners and they’ve hit someone with their truck. Jenkins (John Russo, Minutes Past Midnight) goes to radio it in whilst the other, Bridges (Reggie Peters), checks the rather messy victim for a pulse. Said victim rubs gunk into the cop’s face – who shoots him. There is movement in the woods and Jenkins goes to investigate and doesn’t come back. Something goes for Bridges who opens the van before being got. The prisoners Tre (Doo-Doo Brown) and Brody (John Pelkey) make good their escape.

the Mysterious Old Man
We have a brief meeting with Owen (Ben Owen, also Minutes Past Midnight), his girlfriend Kate (Ansley Gordon), her college friend Evan (Tommy Goodman) who she invited along (and who Owen has decided he dislikes), Owens’ friend Kyle (Ben Evans, also Minutes Past Midnight) and Kyle’s girlfriend Amy (Amanda Dela Cruz). These college kids are going to a cabin owned by Owen’s parents. But enough about them because the cops have just picked up a Mysterious Old Man (John Archer Lundgren, also Minutes past Midnight), found naked in the woods, and handed him over to nurse Sheryl (Erica White). She lets him get cleaned up and he finds that his hair is coming out in gloopy amounts and his teeth are falling out too. She comes back in and he attacks…

the kids arrive
So, we get to the cabin, the kids have a good time – bar the antagonism of Evan by Owen, who is convinced the former wants to sleep with Kate – much drink is had and mushrooms – though Evan is convinced he can hear something out in the woods. In the morning Owen and Kyle have gone to a store to get supplies before the others awaken. They find themselves in a hold up, as Tre and Brody are there. Also Sheryl is outside, milky eyed and acting odd. Store owner Kenny (Dale DaBone) turns the situation around and suggests that the sheriff has warned that Sheryl has a form of rabies. They try sneaking out the back with the two cons as prisoners. Now, Sheryl looks zombified and rabies is a go-to for zombie and vampire movies.

a nightwalker
So, what is going on. Well we later hear of a native American legend about an evil that wishes to wipe out humanity. Their bite contains a venom that turns the victim into one of them. So why vampire? Well because the cast keep referring to them as vampires, one even suggesting that someone will turn into a vampire. They also refer to them as bloodthirsty (but that doesn’t necessarily make them blood drinkers, of course). One notable fact is that they are very sensitive when it comes to light and avoid the daylight and bright lights as a result. Right at the end of the film they are referred to as nightwalkers.

the queen
We also discover that they can breed, as well as turn, and we see a nightwalker Queen (Brett P. Carson) birth a fully-grown nightwalker (Charlie Shaw). She is then killed by cops who have investigated the cave they’re in. The reaction of the other nightwalkers is to grab and kidnap a human female (rather than bite her) and they are going to feed her something that will (presumably) transform her into a nightwalker queen also. So, we could arguably say there are purebloods and turned and that the creatures display intelligence.

survival horror
This clearly has as much to do with the zombie genre (though they are not zombies but humans transformed into creatures) as anything else and takes some inspiration from that genre. However, the deliberate use of the V word is telling and the light sensitivity is straight out of that playbook (Sheryl isn’t fully transformed, hence her being out and about in daylight, I assume). In some respects, I am tempted to go down a zompire line, the set up doesn’t feel wholly vamp but the filmmakers were definitely flirting with the genre and its tropes. Possibly a tad more genre interest than genre. The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Preacher Season 3 – review

Director: various

First aired: 2018

Contains spoilers

Oh Preacher, how I love thee… Yes, the most irreverent show on demand is back and this season has more vampiric goodness than the previous seasons.

However, a recap (if you haven’t watched Season 1 and season 2 turn away now). Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter & Dracula Untold) is the Preacher of the title, who had a dark and violent past. An entity named Genesis entered his body and, unlike the others genesis had entered, Jesse didn’t blow up. Genesis was the child of a demon and an angel and gave Jesse the power to control others with his voice. That was until Jesse’s soul was removed during a road trip with his love Tulip (Ruth Negga) and vampire Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) where they were trying to find God (who has gone missing).

Pip Torrens as Herr Starr
The villains of the piece (although, to be fair most of the characters are villains to one degree or another), the Grail, who protect the bloodline of Jesus, have Jesse’s soul and one of their primary operatives, Herr Starr (Pip Torrens), wants Jesse to become the new Messiah. At the end of Season 2 Tulip is shot and killed, and Jesse takes her to Angelville – the plantation he grew up on. Cassidy is besides himself as he wanted to turn her to save her but Jesse has a plan…

Ruth Negga as Tulip
So it is that we meet Jesse’s grandmother, Marie L'Angell (Betty Buckley), who is a witch and she – in return for a price – resurrects Tulip. We discover later that Marie has made a deal with the devil (Jason Douglas) who has allowed her to consume souls to extend her life (essentially making her a living, soul eating vampire). The Angelville episodes of this season are excellent and allow the programme to explore the background to Jesse’s character in detail, with his younger self played in flashback by Will Kindrachuk. The fact that the folk of Angelville dislike vampires, of course, will come back to bite Cassidy.

Adam Croasdell as Eccarius
However, Cassidy’s story will eventually go off on its own and him meeting a group of vampire wannabes who are lead by Eccarius (Adam Croasdell, Werewolf: the Beast Among Us). Cassidy isn’t convinced with the posing (Eccarius is best described as a Ricean vampire) and the fact that he indulges the wannabes and then turns them on occasion, but is eventually seduced by the powers Eccarius displays (he can shapeshift, is superfast and can fly) and the man himself – but all is not as it seems.

Joseph Gilgun as Cassidy
Of course, Herr Starr is still around, along with the Grail’s gargantuan leader the Allfather (Jonny Coyne), Satan and God (Mark Harelik, Angel) both make appearances and Hitler (Noah Taylor) has escaped Hell and is living under the imaginative pseudonym Hilter. If I had a complaint its that I would have liked to have seen more Herr Starr – he is an exceptional character – but the Angelville storyline and the vampire coven were both excellent in their own right. This is one of the best series of the moment and hasn’t lost momentum, if anything its gained it. 8 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK

Monday, September 10, 2018

Honourable Mention: Terror Tales from the Horror Library

A blink and you miss it moment from this horror anthology, dated by Amazon as 2016. Like many of these anthologies that are currently appearing to satisfy the need for more and more films for Video on Demand, this is made up of pre-existing shorts strung together, in this case, by a horror host – Jeffery Macabre, who is (to be fair) quite effective in a creepy yet personable kind of way. A couple of the shorts I have seen elsewhere (one, entitled Puppet, is probably the best thing in this).

The part we are interested in is entitled Female Vampires Online PSA (yes, a public service announcement) apparently but actually a – probably too clever for its own good as it wasn’t clear – trailer for the flick Female Vampires Online. The credits don’t give a specific director but it’s safe to assume it is G.R. Claveria, who directed the feature it is a trailer for.

concerned mother
In short, we see a mother (Nancy Sullivan) as a Mother Against Vampire Porn, who claims her daughter was abducted by vampires from (fake website) She sees it as her job to warn people against these female vampires and their lust for sex and blood. We get some blurred, indistinct footage of vampires during this. The whole thing lasted virtually no time at all.

At the time of writing there is no IMDb page.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK