Saturday, March 23, 2019

Nella Notte – review

Directors: Lorenzo Onorati & Giovanni Pianigiani

Release date: 2004

Contains spoilers

So, I stumbled upon this film on You Tube under the English title of Into the Night and whilst I can absolutely see why it is floating around for a free watch I am still, several days after watching, reeling from the crazy plot that twisted and turned like a twisty turny thing – not with plot twists as much as absolute tangents.

Indeed, the day after watching I met up with a friend for a bit of a catch-up and tried to explain the plot to him. Every so often, as I paused for breath, he’d make a comment expressing his incredulity and I had to say that there was more to go through. If a film’s goal is to make you talk about it, then this film is a success. As a piece of cinema… well, probably not so much!

Giorgi can't cook
So, it starts with a man held by thugs who cut off his fingers (in a really poor sfx) and then cut his throat. It then cuts to an unrelated man, Giorgi, preparing a chicken in the kitchen but struggling. His girlfriend, Marina, says he should learn to cook and makes an exit from the room. He struggles for a moment, picks up a knife and follows after her. He then says it isn’t working and leaves. At home there is a message from a mutual friend, Marina is besides herself with upset. He unhooks the phone, puts a dial-up on his computer and goes to a chatboard where he reveals his misogyny. Another user, the Count, suggests he goes to the Russian Hearts website – he declines.

the Count
At Russian Hearts a man walks in and declares himself the new owner – revealing the fingers of the man at the head of the film to prove this fact. One of the girls (Iuliana Ierugan) is ill and needs medicine. He agrees to get it depending on how she is with the client he has lined up for her. She is dropped off with the Count (a film producer) who has Giorgi with him (who clearly changed his mind about Russian Hearts). The Count starts manhandling her and reveals that he is a killer and has Giorgi film as he beats and hunts her, and then has Giorgi join in. Russian Hearts supply girls for “special clients” (read serial killers) we later find out.

eating Giorgi's heart
The girl vamps out – she is never named in film and the credits on IMDb have her as La vampira – and rips out Giorgi’s heart and then chases down the Count and digs through his back. The next day, at the Agency, the new owner is shocked to see her beaten. The truth of the business outs and he gets a list of clients. She then kills him, reveals the medicine is to prevent her craving for blood and takes the list. Ok, so we have a revenge against the men on the list film? You’d think so. However, the next we see her she is living rough with the city’s homeless.

with sleeping Sandra
Nearby there is street racing on motorbikes going on. The triumphant winner is a woman, Sandra (Linda Di Pietro), who takes her winnings and has essentially enraged the mobster who runs the betting and wants her gone. Nearby the police raid the homeless, sadistic in their treatment of them. The vampire runs from the police and is spotted by Sandra who picks her up and takes her home, promptly taking a sleeping pill and going to sleep. The vampire vamps out, legs it from the flat and gets to a pharmacy – we then see her shooting up the medicine (we are never told what this medicine is).

the vampire girl
The next day Sandra goes to work – she’s a cop. She has a go at a wheelchair bound inspector who ordered the homeless purge and sets to go out when she is grabbed off the street and driven off. The mobsters also have the vampire woman, rendered insensible. This is spotted by a fellow cop who chases after them. They get the women to a hideout and the mobster sets to work, cutting Sandra’s back up, snorting cocaine off the bloody wounds and then stabbing her (she dies). They turn their attention to the vampire girl but they are interrupted.

demonic avatar
We have seen some bad sfx, imposed eyes occasionally and these seem to belong to a creature that appears in dry ice. At first we only see the eyes and hear the voice. The mobster complains – the deal was they get it victims and the entity take care of cops and yet Sandra had infiltrated the racing ring. The entity reveals itself to be a demonic looking thing that feeds on adrenaline and pain and kills the mobster by sucking out these things with a tentacle sucker that emerges from roughly the mouth area. It then becomes apparent that the entity is an avatar for the wheelchair bound cop. It starts to feed on the vampire but it is too much and, back at the station, the cop’s head explodes!

chicken drinker
So, she gets away but is seen by the cop that followed Sandra and her vampiric face is published in the papers. She starts enjoying herself, getting a new outfit and then meeting a guy on a tram who draws her – but draws the vampiric side. At first he says it was accidental (it was a caricature that just looked like the vampire side) and they have sex. Later he seems to be missing and she finds him drinking a chicken’s blood. He reveals he is a muli – a son of a vampire and a mortal, and so not the muli described in Bane, which is the female form of the Serbian Mullo and is very much undead. He agrees to help her track down the men on the list.

Russian agent
Whilst the muli section occurs we have been cutting to Russia, where the vampire’s aunt is picked up by the secret police as they decide to search for her. The vampires were the result of genetic manipulation and they have most of them captive but she is loose and they need to find her, for plausible deniability reasons. There is a strange moment with remote control killers and the film eventually ends with the Russians ready to hunt her down in Italy and the muli ready to track down the men from the list for her – from what I can tell a sequel was never made.

adrenaline draining appendage
So, phew… twisting and turning all over. There is little coherence in the way the plot is presented and the acting is blooming poor as are a lot of the sfx. That said, all the twisting and turning is a route to it being at least a tad amusing and it never becomes boring as there is always something new going on. Half-vampires and adrenaline draining physical avatars are interesting parts. Is it good? No. Is it terrible? Probably, but it is at least entertaining in its terribleness. 2.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Honourable Mention: Char Man

I am not massively a fan of the found footage sub-genre of horror, for every one that works there are plenty more that don’t and plenty that leave you with a bad case of the ‘why are they still filming’ blues. Interestingly, Romero’s Diary of the Dead (2007) actually plays with the concept that someone would carry on filming, even in the face of utter horror, in a real and interesting way.

Luckily this is not a vampire found footage film… so, you might ask, why cover it here? Well the film dates to 2019 and was directed by Kurt Ela and Kipp Tribble, who play primary characters Cameron and Eric respectively. They aim to make, with the help of hired camera man Andy (Nick Greco), a documentary about the Ojai Vampire. Ojai is in California and Anthony Hogg covered the (urban) legend here.

driving to Ojai
Anthony tracks the story to a section of Rosemary Ellen Guiley with J.B. Macabre's The Complete Vampire Companion (in a chapter actually written by Martin V. Riccardo) where the story is placed in the 1980s. Later, on Weird California’s Char Man page, the story appears in a side box with the date of the events revised to 1890. Given the same physical location for the two stories (Ojai) and the appearance on the same page, it is not surprising that the filmmakers used both stories as the basis for this flick.

meeting Andy
It is also clear that the story is a modern urban concoction (with, as Anthony points out, some similarities to Curse of the Undead). This, then, makes the fact that characters Eric and Cameron are just going to make up the 'facts' of the documentary seem quite natural. We see them decide he is a toymaker, just so they can use a toy clown Eric has with him, and watch them try to scope a suitable 'vampire' location out (and, apparently, they have brought five pre-constructed and aged coffins with them, to put at the location).

Jeff Kober as Kent Bridewell
Their path changes, however, after they go to meet local historian Kent Bridewell (Jeff Kober, Kindred: the Embraced & Buffy the Vampire Slayer). He tells them the legend of Char Man (or one variant of it, at least) and their interest in the vampire angle wanes so fast its almost supersonic. And the interest the blog has in the film wanes also but I am left with an interesting conundrum – what sort of label do I give this article. It isn’t “belief in vampires” as none of the characters believe and it isn’t “acting as a vampire” as that doesn’t happen either. This would seem to be more of a case of “exploiting vampire legends”, not the first story to do so, but the first time I’ve used the label.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Zombillénium – review

Directors: Arthur de Pins & Alexis Ducord

Release date: 2017

Contains spoilers

Based on a graphic novel series by Arthur de Pins, this French animation tore me slightly – I recognised the fact that it was limited in character development and didn’t seem to know whether it wanted to be aimed at families or adults (some of the industrial aspects probably would go over a child’s head for instance) but at the same time I rather enjoyed it for what it was.

It certainly made me want to read the graphics – but I also get the feeling that they will make the film somewhat disappointing, just from the blurbs they seem more involved. However, having not read them as I write this, I am looking at the film without the distraction of prior knowledge.

Lucy with Hector
The film starts with Hector driving a car with his daughter Lucy. Hector’s wife had died and he is taking Lucy to her boarding school – where she stays over the week whilst he works. She sees a billboard for theme park Zombillénium and asks whether she can go to it – when Hector gets a work call. It is from a colleague saying that the workers at a factory they are going to demolish are protesting. Hector is a safety inspector and says the factory isn’t up to spec and it has to go – he drops Lucy off mid-call, agreeing the trip to Zombillénium.

arrive at the park
As he drives off, a skateboard blur that seems to fly swoops past the car and he crashes (later we discover that this is Gretchen, a witch and intern at Zombillénium, who has a skateboard attached to her broomstick). A shaken Hector goes to a café and is told that she’ll be from Zombillénium and decides to launch a surprise safety inspection and heads to the park where he is met by park manager Francis Von Bloodt. Hector manages to sneak off, takes an employee elevator and finds a hidden floor button – the elevator takes him to Hell.

So, the background was actually given during this sequence and over the credits. The site was a mine years before and the miners actually broke through to Hell and were killed and zombified for their trouble. The park was later built over the site and is staffed by monsters. We later discover that Francis convinced Satan to back his plan for an Earth based business where monsters could live – but promised a financial investment return and the park is struggling. However, in the here and now he has to take care of the human who has stumbled onto the secret.

a low-rent Hellboy?
We see Lucy at a cemetery – her father is dead and she has to remain (as an orphan) at the school. Hector, meanwhile, awakens. As well as being bitten by Francis – a vampire – he has been bitten by a werewolf and they wait to see what he’ll become. Unfortunately he seems to be an ordinary zombie and is put to work on the cotton candy stall. As the film moves on, he morphs more and more into a demon – there is no explanation of how this occurs but let’s just go with it (and enjoy the Hellboy comment).

Steven sparkles
He quickly discovers there is a hierarchy at the park – with zombies at the bottom end and the vampires lording it over them – Victor alone is open to monster equality, the other vampires, including main vampire Steven, are not. Steven is drawn with a “Cullen” look and actually sparkles at times, whilst all the other vampires (bar Francis) are goths and emos. We also discover that vampires invented the garlic myth and can turn into bats. Steven entertains people on the Ferris wheel as a heartthrob but the scary side of the park is struggling. Hector, of course, turns that around as well as befriending skeleton union leader Sirius. However when humans come to invest in the park, Steven hatches a plot to take over, make it a romantic vampire theme for the whole park and get rid of the lower class workers.

It is that industrial aspect that kids just aren’t going to get – worker exploitation, in line with the Marxist depiction of “Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks”. Venture capitalists undermining the things they touch, spoiling the artistic concept, and rejecting the workers (sending them into Hell to push *the* wheel in endless exploitative torment). At this point, as an aside, can I mention Cerberus guarding the damned souls on the wheel depicted as having one of the three dogs heads as a yappy dog was genius. Beyond the aside, there was an interesting political/economic allegory going on that just didn’t feel comfortable with its place in a family animation.

explaining the garlic myth 
The same allegory saw the clash between scary monsters and romantic monsters and the conclusion (spoiler, but obvious) that the punters actually want scary monsters even though they seem to have fallen for a romantic vampire narrative. The film didn’t build the primary characters enough, however, whether this was family entertainment or more adult. I liked the animation style but, in keeping with the family side, it was fairly bloodless (making the scary monster vs sanitised/romantic side ironic in many respects). The theme of child abuse (the teacher is outright abusive to Lucy and locks kids in cupboards generally) is never satisfactorily resolved. On that adult/family dichotomy, having Satan actively involved (we don’t see him, but see his shadow, hear him and see fire belch out of monitors/phones when he calls) was a brave move but one that further obscured who the vehicle’s target audience was.

Gretchen using her powers
All that said, I did enjoy this for what it was; I do want to try out the graphic novels at some point and suspect that they will gear more towards adult audiences and build characters (and play with the political economic themes) that much more. My enjoyment of the film makes me want to give it 6 out of 10 but suspect its generous.

The imdb page is here.

On Blu-Ray @ Amazon US

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Short film: Love, Death & Robots: Sucker of Souls

Love, Death & Robots is an anthology series – based primarily around sci-fi – in which each short episode is animated. It was a Netflix original, with season 1 premiering in 2019 and this 13 minute animation was the fifth episode. Many of the episodes were done in computer animation but this was done in more traditional cartoon style.

It follows Dr Wehunt (Michael Benyaer) as he explores a tomb – with mercenaries accompanying him, led by Flynn (Fred Tatasciore), and as we start the episode we see the two men running down a corridor chased by... something.

The episode goes back in time and we see a bored Flynn sitting close by as Wehunt and his assistant Simon (Scott Whyte) crawl into a tomb area and Simon translates writing at the entrance of the tomb. It states that entombed there is the “devourer of children, the black Prince, the sucker of souls…” Simon is still checking the inscriptions when a fanged, red eyed man (also Fred Tatasciore) descends from the ceiling. The young archaeologist runs but it gets him and feeds before slicing him in half.

the impaler
By the time it turns to Flynn and Wehunt it has transformed into a giant demonic beast, Flynn radios to his team, Gary (Laura Waddell) and Micky (Jonathan Cahill), to prep the weapons as they’re coming in hot. As they are cornered Wehunt states “It’s him… the impaler… Dracula…” and admits that he didn’t think they’d find him alive. Flynn’s bullets rip through the beast but it heals immediately and grabs him – he is about to eat the mercenary when a cat wanders up and the monster drops Flynn and backs away.

monstrous form
This is a great piece of ‘new’ lore. Wehunt explains that Dracula hates cats and feeding on them would make his flesh burn. He suggests that locals would torment the vampire by bringing cats to his fortress. I put ‘new’ in inverted commas because the idea of cats and vampires being enemies has been used before, for example, both in Sleepwalkers and Let the Right One In, however the concept that feeding on them will burn vampiric flesh is new. Flynn holds the cat up as a weapon and the vampire flees.

They get through to the team but they are trapped… will they escape? Well I’ll just say that there might be more than one – that Draculas plural is the order of the day (whilst the first encountered is the impaler, this is another example of Dracula becoming a vampire type) and there is a cracking joke about impalers and Impalas (the character Gary is wonderful and it is her response to the word confusion that made me chuckle). This is a great little animation in a fantastic series – well worth watching it all.

The episode's imdb page is here.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Short Film: The Alpha Omega Man

You might remember me looking at the short, no-budget effort Dracula AD 2015? This is another gentle, no-budget spoof/homage to a classic film by director Joshua Kennedy, which was released in 2017 and looks lovingly back through cinematic time to the Omega Man; thanks to Holly who mentioned this to me recently.

It starts with Neville (Joshua Kennedy, Dracula AD 2015) cruising the streets but, rather than in a car he is on a pushbike and this begins an absurdist element to this that works really rather nicely. He stops to shoot at a figure moving through a building and we see the “gun” is a crossbow but post-production effects make it spit bullets as though a gun (similarly handguns are repurposed from other props). It almost makes it that it is a film of someone role-playing the Omega Man.

Neville watches Neville
That could still be the case when he goes a film archive, of course, but there is also a gloriously-post-modern element. Whilst it seems that he watches Woodstock (1970), we suddenly realise that he is actually watching the Omega Man and the scene where Neville watches Woodstock. We get Neville (from this film) voicing the dialogue from Woodstock as voiced by Neville (from the original film). There is the phone ringing moment and the sun is setting but we miss the moment from the original film of the garage attack (the budget probably wouldn’t cut it).

Heston pic
Continuing the post-modern moment, instead of the bust of Caesar wearing his military cap, as his chess adversary, it is a picture of Charlton Heston with the cap placed above the frame. The Family is changed slightly by having Matthias (Kat Kennedy, also Dracula AD 2015) gender swapped, though Brother Zachary (Dexter John Scott) still talks about the “honky paradise” of Neville’s apartment. One difference was making the infected have green blood.

Laura Laureano as Lisa
The character of Lisa (Laura Laureano) is still in place but the other unturned younger characters are not. So Lisa’s character covers all of them and it is her character that has to be cured. In a much more vampiric twist, a family member biting an unturned (or uninfected) person will immediately turn them. The cure, likewise, is an infusion of Neville’s blood rather than a serum made from it.

the family
Probably the must amusing moment in the low budget stakes was the escape from the Family, after Neville is captured. He and Lisa race around the abandoned building except… well they have to pass a canteen, which is in use (I assume it’s a college building and so being used by students). The cast ignore the sudden influx of people into the empty city and we just chuckle, knowing that it has been left in because of the joke (perhaps even deliberately shot that way).

This is a labour of love and the primary cast are having a whale of a time. Plus the vampire element is beefed up by dint of a single bite. The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Kissing Cousins: I am Omega

Let’s get things straight from the get go… I am Omega is not, in any way, shape or form, a vampire film. It is, in the wider sense, a zombie film (the creatures might be infected rather than undead but we aren’t exactly sure). It does have a blood aspect, at the heart of it (that I’ll cover in the article), but completely removes the nocturnal aspect that was a feature of both book and the more mainstream makes. However the reason for looking at it is that it was based directly on I am Legend, citing Matheson within the credits, indeed it was actually released to cash-in on I am Legend (2007) coming out just before the big budget film’s theatrical release. It was directed by Griff Furst.

dead wife
It starts with a ‘prequel’ scene. We see Mrs Renchard (Jennifer Lee Wiggins, Dracula’s Curse) and her son (Joshua Schlegel) racing to leave the house. She gets him in her car when she realises that she has forgotten her keys. A zombie (which seems more mutated than your standard zombie portrayal) bangs on the window and she gets out and beats it back, but the creature swings at her and pushes her forcibly against the windshield killing her. The creature runs off (which is a strange behaviour – whether they aim to feed or propagate, they are not normally portrayed as kill and run). The kid gets out the car and zombie hands grab him from beneath.

killing the zombie
Richard Renchard (Mark Dacascos, Wolvesbayne) wakes with a start and aims his gun into the night. If the intro was a dream, then he has fabricated it from what he believes happened, we assume, as otherwise we need to question what he was doing whilst his family were killed (perhaps we should ask that anyway). Suddenly security lights burn and alarms blare. He goes out and kills several creatures (any trauma that would kill a human seems to be enough to kill them). He gets blood on his hand and cleans it with alcohol (?) as the infection is passed through blood as well as scratches and bites. As we don’t actually see a turn, we don’t know how long it’ll take.

with the mannequin
Back in the house and one thing that is noticeable is the large amount of prescription medication he has. The alarm radio starts playing, talking about the outbreak, but it isn’t plugged in. He repeats “there is no radio” and this is a direct nod to Heston and the telephones in the Omega man, likewise his mannequin seated at the table is like Heston’s Cesare bust. His laptop then starts beeping with an incoming video message. He refuses it (presumably believing it to be another hallucination).

Mark Dacascos as renchard
Richard’s life is dedicated to planting bombs (it’s clear that he was some kind of special forces). He is planting them on gas mains and intends to blow up LA, thus killing large numbers of the creatures. There is a timetable as he fits each bomb with a long-term timer. He also, we notice, suffers from frequent visual hallucinations – seeing zombies were there are none. We also see him checking through stores, training and generally being a lot kooky. It perhaps isn’t as powerful a performance as Smith gives in his vehicle but Dacascos does what he can with the material. Whenever he leaves his home he stamps a time card and says “another day, another dollar” – again referencing Heston – and leaves money at the store before the corpse of the store holder. To some degree this is a wish to reconnect with the lost capitalist past.

Jennifer Lee Wiggins as Brianna
Eventually he gets another video call and answers it but when the woman, Brianna (also Jennifer Lee Wiggins), appears he freaks out and runs out of the house – clearly down to the fact that she looks like his dead wife and he knows he has been hallucinating other things. Eventually he does speak to her, however. She was with a caravan of people heading to Antioch, a survivor colony in the mountains. They got ambushed by zombies and she is the only survivor. She asks if he and his people can help her and he admits there are no people. He refuses to go himself and cuts her off.

Geoff Meed as Vincent
A van arrives and the men inside, Vincent (Geoff Meed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Mike (Ryan Lloyd), claim to be ex-special forces on their way from Antioch to the city to rescue Brianna – she is immune and her blood holds the cure for the disease. They intercepted her broadcast to Richard and also know about his bombs. Richard is sceptical, wary and eventually refuses to help again. He was right to, given that they then blow his house up to force him to help – the reason, because his knowledge of the sewers will help them get into the city easier. I’ll leave the blow-by-blow but do have to spoil the ending.

Richard gets separated from the soldiers but when they have a re-encounter (at least with one of them) he is shot and Brianna taken. The reason… they don’t want a cure to be found, they think the world is now a Darwinist paradise with pure survival of the fittest and without those darn liberals insisting that care is taken of the sick and infirm etc. So, having established he wouldn’t help save her and knowing the bombs would go off, then why not leave her? And certainly, why not shoot her dead rather than kidnap her so he can rescue her again? That said we are in a world where a man can be shot in both legs and still push a car to bump start it! All-in-all, the logic was thin – but the new societal order, limited to two survivalists as it was, was an interesting take on that described by Matheson.

post apocalyptic lighting
The film is poor, let’s be honest, but it is better than most of the other films made by its production company, the Asylum. Logical faux pas, low numbers of zombies (it never feels like an apocalypse, if we are honest), gunfire and explosions don’t draw hordes, there are close up of guns that are in the wrong scenes and use the wrong model of gun, street lights and building lights still working, forgetting to close and lock doors behind you when escaping zombies… to name but a few of the issues. However it is based on I am Legend so deserved an examination.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK

Monday, March 11, 2019

I am Legend as American Myth – review

Author: Amy J Ransom

First published: 2018

The Blurb: Over the decades, Richard Matheson's 1954 novel I Am Legend has spawned a series of iconic horror and science-fiction films, including The Last Man on Earth (1964) starring Vincent Price, The Omega Man (1971) featuring Charlton Heston, and I Am Legend (2007) with Will Smith. Its compelling narrative about the last man on earth struggling to survive a pandemic that has transformed the rest of humanity into monsters has arguably become an American myth. While its core story remains intact, filmmakers have transformed its details over time, their often mixed messages reflecting changing attitudes about race and masculinity in the United States. This reexamination of Matheson's original novel situates its tale of a man's conflicted attitude about killing racialized others within its post-World War II context, engaging the question of post-traumatic stress disorder. It then analyzes in turn the novel's several film adaptations, focusing in particular on producers' choice of actor to bring to life Robert Neville, the last man on earth. Released respectively during the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and then much later in the post-9/11 era, these films reveal America's ongoing struggle with racial conflict and the construction of masculinity.

The review: If you look to the sidebar of the blog you’ll see I list 5 novels as “primary classic literature” and only one is from the 20th century – Richard Matheson’s I am Legend. There is a reason for that; Matheson’s novel impacted the genre in a massive way, it created its own genre (it is arguable that the modern zombie film owes its genesis to the novel) and it is a damn fine book in and of its own right.

This is an academic book that looks at the novel through the lens of American myth and the way it (and the subsequent films) treated the subjects of race and gender (in particular). It is an insightful read and worthwhile. It uses some media studies theories that a more casual reader might not be familiar with – but explains the theories and their use – so be it adaption theory or star theory, the reader will not be lost. As well as the primary three films (the book has four main chapters looking at the novel and then its three primary adaptations in turn) the book also touched on the budget zombie flick I am Omega. I suspect it is entirely reasonable that the book ignored I am Virgin. On the other hand, I would have thought that (whilst not an adaptation) touching on the Star Trek episode Miri (1966) would have been salient when discussing the later Omega Man – as the change to the disease would seem to be a partial adaptation from that (in that there are group of infected children who are not ill but the illness sparks in adolescents/young adults).

I was somewhat confused with the assertion that the Will Smith vehicle only uses religion “tangentially”, especially when the narrative then goes on to list the way it is front and centre (the butterfly symbology is in place from the first scene and the entire plague would seem to be God’s plan, with Neville as the saviour. This takes the Christ aspect from the previous two films to a whole new level). But that was a brief moment where I think the author missed a point and generally I enjoyed her arguments and reasoning. 8 out of 10.

In Paperback @ Amazon US

In Paperback @ Amazon UK