Friday, October 20, 2006

Lifeblood – review


Directed by: Steven J. Niles

Release Date: 2006

Contains spoilers

I was really looking forward to this one. The write up on the back of the Brutal Bloodsuckers DVD box gave nothing away plot-wise, simply stating “Destinies intertwine in a tale of gothic horror and intrigue set in the seedy underbelly of Philadelphia. ‘Lifeblood’ is a suspenseful neo-noir, featuring music from some of Philadelphia’s hottest Goth industrial bands including a special appearance by Carfax.” That would be Carfax Abbey, who do appear and who I have a fondness for (though, as they cover it, one imagines that it would have been somewhat amusing if they had played “Cry Little Sister” originally from the Lost Boys soundtrack).

So were did it go wrong? The film begins with a couple of nuns in a church and a man entering behind them and we can see the two main places it went awfully wrong immediately. Firstly, and it might just be the print used on this DVD, the film was awfully dark – so dark in fact that at times through the film you cannot see what was going on, which is just plain annoying. Then we had the dialogue and the delivery thereof, it truly was risible - one might say stagey but it wasn’t just that, there was a raft of bad delivery running throughout the film (mainly, in fairness, with more minor characters). This is a shame because the film contained some good ideas.

Anyway the man is a vampire, we later discover to be called Demetrius (Kevin D Spotts), he is searching for some ashes, kills one nun and then, after telling the second “Everyone should sin once before they die,” spots where she glances and then stabs her. Things vampiric to note here, the vampires can obviously enter holy ground, Demetrius moves with inhuman speed at one point and uses a blade (although later we see that the vampires sometimes use fangs).

In the city a man picks up a prostitute and they drive off and go to her apartment. She tells him to make himself comfortable and whilst she is out of the room he takes out surgical instruments, lays them out and then hides them below a magazine. She returns and after some banter she suddenly slashes his throat and begins to feed. This was a really nice turn around, it built up to him being the vampire staking a vampire whore(one guesses he was just a common or garden serial killer/nutter) and switches ground quickly. A man enters, who we later discover to be Carl Spencer (Steven J Niles, the director and not the comic book author) and fights the vampire. He nails her hands to the floor (a nice moment again) and demands to know where Demetrius is, she doesn’t tell until he threatens her with a stake and then tells him to find a drug dealer called M.D. (Greg Niles). He is going to leave but then, after a taunt from the vampire, stakes her. Once staked she begins to burn, he leaves and as he walks through the street an explosion bursts through the apartment – a nice touch but not repeated, other vampires, when staked, burn but there are no big explosions thereafter. Unfortunately the burning is obviously digitally produced and looks poor.

In a club, where Carfax Abbey are playing, we ‘see’ many of the main players. I put ‘see’ in inverted commas as the visuals are so dark we actually see very little. Spencer enters the club to speak to a mystery man (a mystery because we cannot see him) who put him onto the whore and asks where he might find M.D. We meet Clara (Kimberley Niles) who is out with her friends. One of her friends, Tilly (Emily Lopizzo) meets Demetrius and goes off with him. Not long after a drunken Clara decides to leave and then Spencer, somehow, detects Demetrius and goes running out after him. Demetrius has a taste of Tilly, decides she isn’t the one he’s looking for, and eats her anyway. Spencer sees him and chases after him. Demetrius escapes, I think, by wall climbing but it was too dark to tell for sure. Clara finds her friends body and is found in turn by Spencer. She won’t call the cops as she is wanted (for robbery we later discover) so he calls the cops and then drives her home.

Clara has puked in his car and is out of it when Spencer gets her home to her worried sister, Sheila (Marci Tint-Kotay). Sheila is ill and, later in the film we discover that she has a mystery blood disease that killed her mother and that Clara is likely to come down with also.

Demetrius returns to the vampire hold-up, the vampires reminded me of the coven from Underworld, Jef Kelly as Wraithwoodit had the same decadent ‘new romantic’ feel, though in a warehouse not a mansion. He is tackled by Wraithwood (Jef Kelly) leader of the vampires. I did actually quite like the character in a foppish, faux-British upper class accent way and he gave one of the better performances. Demetrius is searching for the two descendants, whose blood can resurrect the Countess Vrana (Kathryn Matuch). The Countess was burnt at the stake 300 years previously and it is her ashes that were searched for earlier. Can you guess who the descendants might be?

The vampires come in two varieties, purebreds and transformed. transformedDemetrius is a transformed and can be killed by staking, no one knows how to kill a purebred (though one guesses burning at the stake was, at least, a temporary solution – temporary as they can be resurrected). The transformed’s bodies work at a higher rate, hence their need for blood. The drug dealer M.D. does say that they do not need nor want chemical stimulants (so why some of the vampires in the warehouse are smoking is beyond me) but he sells them blood. They can go out in daylight, although they dislike it, without ill effect. The mystery illness affecting the sisters (descendants of the countess) is untapped vampirism that, as they don’t feed it blood, is eating them alive.

I said there are some nice moments and there are. Spencer’s wife, Angela (Leah Schmidt), Spencer finds his wifewas killed by Demetrius, hence his hunting the vampires. There is a well crafted moment when we see him both in real time with a stake and in flashback with a rose, going to see his wife and finding her being fed on. His wife’s spectral appearances as his conscience also works well, more for the fact that he seemed to ignore her as much as he ignored her when she was alive (as seen in a dream memory) as anything.

The acting, as I say, was not brilliant in the main. Some of this seemed to stem from bad dialogue, Demetrius prepares for an attackthis was especially the case with regards M.D. who had the worst case of bad street slang I’ve heard in a long time. That said Steven J Niles as Spencer worked, in the main, though he never really struck me as an action hero. There is a moment, when he is tied up and being taunted by Demetrius, however, when he really ramps up his acting and I totally bought into the character at that point. Spotts, as Demetrius, looked the part and, again, in the taunting scene with Spencer really did shine.

Despite the nice ideas the main story was a little clunky, things happened on occasion that was just a little too convenient or contrived. There is a nice twisting around with the ending but, ultimately, the main story didn’t do it for me. This was a shame as there was a nice build of tension and divergence of ideas between Wraithwood and Demetrius that could have been exploited but ultimately was underused. As for the actual twist, it was good and I’m not saying that it is obvious, but I found myself thinking, just before it happened, “wouldn’t it be funny if…” In that way it was actually, in some respects, even nicer.

Dialogue, Vapiress feedsacting, the too dark shots and obtrusive digital effects ultimately spoil a film that had flashes of brilliant ideas. Probably the most damaging aspect was the darkness of the shots, if the viewer cannot see what is going on and finds themselves staring at a virtually all black screen the viewer switches off. Niles, however, should be encouraged as the good ideas this film contains could be harnessed and, in the future, I could see him coming up with a really good film – the building blocks are there it just needs tightening up. This one, however, I hold at 3.5 out of 10 and the score has been bolstered because of the good ideas.

There is a homepage with trailer here and the imdb page is here

1 comment:

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I have noticed the Steven J Niles and Kevin Spotts have been discussing my review of their film on there forum. I relay here their thoughts and concerns, with responses, not in the spirit of argument but debate. I did consider becoming a member of their forum in order that I might debate their concerns but wondered, perhaps with a degree of paranoia on my part, whether that would be seen as overly defensive. I understand that by commenting in this way I run the same risk but write this more as an open letter.

Kevin begins: I think he gives us a very fair review.

T_ttlg: Thank you

Steve: Pretty fair, I suppose. He's clearly not grading on the Pendulum Curve

T_ttlg: No I’m not. I score on the T_ttlg scale, which is part vampire fan, part movie fan and mainly gut reaction. I look at how much I enjoyed a movie, plus does it add anything to the genre I love. Acting, dialogue, effects, story all play a part in my scoring but it eventually comes down to a gut reaction based on my opinion of a media as a whole.

Steve: The main criticisms was the darkness (picture quality), which is acknowledged and is being addressed.

T_ttlg: This is the main problem with the film. Other problems were perhaps more minor but stood out more because the viewer couldn’t see what was going on. If a more viewable version of the film is released I would love to see it and re-review. The score would probably increase, not only because the darkness was annoying but because, for example, the actors are often forced into a position of voice-acting only, any nuances to their performance through body language and facial expression is lost.

Steve: I thought his digs on the dialouge were a bit harsh. And I guess he didn't get that Greg was intentionally over the top.

T_ttlg: I called it as I saw it, again this was possibly exacerbated because of the darkness. Greg (Niles) as MD may well have been purposefully over the top but that didn’t make this performance work for me. This wasn’t his fault as an actor but was purely down to the dialogue he had to work with – it is just my opinion but giving someone street slang as he was does not make for enjoyable viewing – I made the same criticism of the bad youth speak in Dracula AD 1972.

Steve: fortunately there weren't really any personal attacks

T_ttlg: I’m not really interested in making personal attacks, but I do call things as I see them. I do not believe there were any personal attacks within the review but… if I have strayed that way, to any degree, I apologise.

Steve: There's a part of me that's very uncomfortable, but then I think to myself, if you're going to have a thin skin about it, what's the point of making movies? We could wait to release a movie when it's perfect, but honestly, they're never going to be perfect. So then you get yourself in this hole of being afraid to ever show anybody anything. It'll just take getting used to.

The situation I don't want to get in is to start second guessing everything for fear of what some reviewer might say someday. But at the same time, such criticisms can be applied constructively. It's a balance, I suppose.

T_ttlg: I can only reiterate what I said at the end of the review, “Niles, however, should be encouraged as the good ideas this film contains could be harnessed and, in the future, I could see him coming up with a really good film – the building blocks are there it just needs tightening up.” And add that when a film is released commercially then it is going to receive criticism as folks are asked to part with their hard-earned money for it, this is part of the nature of the beast but…. Steve, please continue to make movies.

I will add that, whilst trying to score these movies as a fan, I have discovered that, despite being an amateur, when you start watching a film to review you do become more critical – probably because a lot of films run with the concept that you take your brain out and go along for the ride but when you are sat with a pad, making copious notes, the take your brain out becomes impossible, smaller things become more apparent and therefore more difficult to ignore.

Steve (On comparing over scores I Gave): Strange Things Happen at Sundown got 8 out of 10, which is where one must begin to question. I mean it's pretty good, but then Underworld got just 7 out of 10 and Underworld Evolution 7.5 out of 10.

T_ttlg: I reiterate I score as I see the film. To me Strange Things Happen at Sundown is an astounding film that has drawn me back to watch it again and again. Each time I see more in it and it is down to one of the most cleverly constructed scripts in low budget cinema that belies any problems generally born of low budget.

On the other hand, whilst I enjoy Underworld very much, and recognize it has a rich lore, it was very much a film that was style over substance, with some truly terrible acting (one character in particular) and became more about set pieces. A very watchable film, that I own twice on DVD but never-the-less that is what I thought of it. To a degree Underworld Evolution is the better movie I graded it at but is even more of a set piece movie. Probably the big difference, I said in the UE review “just bear in mind that it is pretty undemanding intellectually, this is an action flick through and through.” Strange things makes you think and has a streak of black comedy a mile wide.

Steve: It gets crazier. Vampires vs. Zombies gets 3 out of 10.

T_ttlg: I am unsure whether that means you believe my score was too low or too high; I’ll assume too high but Vampires vs. Zombies whilst poorly acted (and it is), with bored sex scenes and really poor effects (the zombie mannequin springs to mind) for some reason resonated with me. The words in the review are as important as the score, and I quote, “Vampires Vs Zombies is kind of my dirty little secret…” & “So, the film becomes a quandary for me because generally, as a film, it is bad and yet the intelligent concept has me hooked.” This was a film I watched on TV and then bought the DVD as I enjoyed it, I possibly was overly generous but on the T_ttlg scale of things enjoying the film is the main thing.

In conclusion, I truly understand where Steve’s concerns came from, as an artist he is close to his own work. If invited I would happily join the S&N Films forum and enter into constructive debate that, one would hope, would be of benefit to both parties. If a copy of an improved visuals version of the film is produced and is made available then I will happily review again, but with the caveat that I will always stay true to my gut.