Sunday, November 25, 2007

Kingdom of the vampire {1991} – review

stand alone dvd

Director: J R Bookwalter

Release date: 1991

Contains spoilers

A little background is required here. This film has been floating around my awareness for a while but I had heard that it was rubbish. After all, there are two comments on imdb and one of them was from the person who plays a little boy in the film (Rory Moushey) and he calls it a waste of space. That is some bad publicity. Now, the fact that a vampire film is meant to be awful has not stopped me watching it but, given the price of the DVD, I had not seen this film.

Recently it was remade and this original film was released as a double feature with the new version. It turned out that it was cheaper to get the double feature disc than get the stand-alone. So the version I have watched for this review is on the same disc as the new version – however I have put the stand-alone cover at the head of the review.

The film itself is meant to have been re-mastered for the double feature set. Well, who knows just how bad the print of the original release was because the one I watched ain’t too great. The film itself was shot on camcorder but that doesn’t necessarily make this a bad movie. It has other aspects that do that job just fine.

mom and jeffThe film begins with Jeff (Mathew Jason Walsh) working in a late night store. He closes up and heads on home. As he walks through the door there is blood on the floor. He calls out to his mom (Cherie Patry) and she is sat eating cookies and watching TV. When asked where she got them from she tells of a girl (Christina M Bookwalter) who came door to door selling them. She then says that there is a mess in the kitchen, for him to clean up.

a mess in the kitchenIn the kitchen the girl is dead. When he hasn’t cleaned up, the harridan of a mother screeches at him until he does what he is told. As he does so the mother tells him of the things she did to the girl in a graphic way that was just intended to shock. He takes the (all too small) bagged body to the shed and we see that there are other bags in there. Her arm falls out of the bag bloodied and he tastes the blood and then bites the wrist.

trying bloodThe girl starts to move and he hits at her with a hammer and then stumbles from the shed and wretches. The mother can smell the blood on him and mentions, briefly, the kingdom of the vampires – before humanity hunted them down – and how his father was a king, a concept which Jeff denies. Her anger knows no bounds.

Nina kisses JeffAs the film progresses we get a brief meeting with Nina (Shannon Doyle), an all too innocent girl, with no sense of clothing, who falls for Jeff. We get the attack on the Halloween boy and his mother (Jo Norcia), tricked into the house and then set upon by mom and the reluctant Jeff. This leads to the sheriff (Tom Stephan) taking an interest as she was his sister-in-law and an interesting moment as he arrives at the house during the day and Jeff seems rather ill - thus he can be in sunlight but it makes him feel sick.

over excitedJeff seems to be going through an awakening, he tastes cookie girl’s blood, attacks some drunken bozos and develops fangs when Nina kisses him. We could ask the question of why it has taken so long for Jeff to develop his vampire nature, given that the sheriff remembers the case of Dupree from when he was a child – a vampire the townsfolk burned to death – who was obviously Jeff’s father.

contemplating stakingMother and son have only just returned to the town, under different names, and perhaps vampires take a long time to mature – the film is not explicit. Jeff himself considers staking his mother but hasn’t got the guts. The relationship with Nina stalls and she goes to his home, and is captured by his mom… leading to the film’s ‘climax’.

mom at HalloweenStory wise, the idea of mother and son vampire was interesting but not well held together. The two became caricatures. This had much to do with the acting, which we will get to. First I should mention that the effects were poor, but that is to be expected from a low budget flick, in the main the worst excess were hidden by cutting away. A scene where mom eats a kitten, hardly new or shocking given the scene in Count Yorga, vampire, is shown in silhouette.

the screaming harridan in actionWhat lets this down is the acting. The incidental characters are blooming awful and there is no chemistry between Jeff and Nina. Jeff himself comes across as less an introvert and more the perennial whiner and his mother is fun at first but the screaming harridan act gets tired very quickly.

An interesting opening premise but let down by poor scripting, loose storytelling and poor acting. 1.5 out of 10. We will see if the remake can do better.

The imdb page is here.


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Taliesin_ttlg said...

Thanks for stopping by. I'm afraid I don't read malay but I wish you all the best with your story

Frankly Curious said...

I'm an American. You know: a dick. So please don't take the following personally. You seem like a nice guy. I just have a few problems with this review and your reviews in general. And I'm blunt. And as I said, a dick.

I happened upon it because I'm working on an article about the films of Bookwalter on my new site Psychotronic Review (online but not ready for primetime -- though it does have a 20K word article on Blood Feast).

I'm just curious what this is supposed to be. Most of it is a synopsis of the plot. You obviously only watched it once because you got a number of details wrong.

You also seem to be mistaken about Jeff. He is a vampire. But somehow, he was socialized as a human and spends most of the film -- to almost the very end -- fighting his nature. It helps to watch a film on its terms, rather than your own.

And the mother eating the kitten is clearly meant to be an homage, and done for humor not shock.

Then you complain about the acting of minor characters. WTH?! And the clothing choice of one character in a film made 16 years before you reviewed it? That's not reviewing a film; that's just insulting without basis.

And then you use the ultimate "critic" out by complaining the romantic leads didn't have "chemistry." It's a statement that means nothing. I thought they made a very sweet couple; I saw why each liked the other; is there something I'm missing like sweat? I would really have liked to know if he would have been able to control himself had the cop not interrupted them.

Nowhere in the review is there any mention of anything good in the film. But there are many things. The kitten scene, for one -- which you chose to see in the worst light. Several scenes are quite well done. The lighting is awful, but the camera work is surprisingly good. The editing is first rate. The dysfunctional family element worked well -- especially since it set up the ending, because you know all along that he is more physically powerful than his mother. And for a low budget film, the acting was surprisingly strong (except for the minor characters, who seem to have ruined the film for you).

Nor did you make any mention that this was the first of 6 features Bookwalter made for Cinema Home Video (something you probably would have learned had you taken the time to listen to the director's commentary) for between $1,250 and $2,500 per film over the course of 7 months. I believe Kingdom of the Vampire had a total budget of $2,500 and was shot over a handful of days. It's certainly the best of the lot -- although the others are more campy, if that's you're thing.

This review reminds me of a quote from Pablo Casals, "Leave it to the ignorant and stupid who judge by counting only the faults." And you find fault where you could as easily find something to celebrate.

I'm glad to report that over the last decade, your reviews have gotten better -- but only slightly. You still show you know little of how films are actually made and always look for the bad over the good.

You are, however, doing a service in highlighting films that many people have missed. There's something to be said for that. But I always wonder why it is people who watch a film a single time think they are in a position to judge a film that the filmmakers watched at least dozens of times while editing. Do they think the filmmakers aren't aware of every single tiny flaw? Are they so incompetent and you so brilliant?

You don't like a film? Fine! But unless I know I have the exact same taste in film that you do it means nothing.

If this blog is just an excuse to watch a bunch of vampire films, I salute you! But there are better ways to do it.

I get comments like this on my blog. I used to hate them. Now I relish them. I hope you relish it. At least it means someone takes you seriously enough to yell at you.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I thank you for taking your time to criticise my style/blog.

I watch through a film the once, before review... true, I also take copious notes as watching, and go back over scenes I think I need to. This happens more often where I think a filmmaker has made a mistake and I do think they (generically, both studio and indie) make copious mistakes - a lot of that is because they go over it again and again, can't see the wood for the trees, sometimes stuff is missed and sometimes, just sometimes, they are not as good as they think they are.

As for this film, the filmmakers may have meant the cat scene as an homage, for instance, but they didn't communicate that to me (normally one can tell if it is a homage) but even so, a homage moment can be inappropriate, the scene lacked power/horror and I really did not find it funny (perhaps, as a Brit, my humour is sufficiently different?)

However when a film is released and hard earned cash asked for the purchase than it becomes open to criticism. And every person, I believe, is entitled to criticise a piece of art/media whether they have watched just once or a hundred times. Most review pieces are on a single watch and criticism can be of all or any aspect - that is the nature and tradition of reviews.

This blog is a labour of love - I offer a synopsis, up to a point, because it is my style (as you mention disliking films above, I might say if you dislike the style don't read) and plenty of people do get something out of the reviews - I get feedback (and traffic) to that effect.

The thing with vampire genre fans, they're as likely to watch a film because it is deemed as bad, as much as good. This film is, in my opinion, poor and I will report back on that. It will mean, however, that more genre fans will likely watch it than not now it becomes a part of their awareness. They may like it, they may hate it - I don't expect anyone to have the same opinion (exact or otherwise). However the internet has given every person connected a voice and they can all use that voice if they so wish.

However, do not get me wrong, I do appreciate the time you took typing the above.

Frankly Curious said...

I'm glad you took my late night rant so well. The British are such nice people -- except at football matches. My primary client is a British company. I've spent most of my life working for non-Americans because we kind of suck (although UK business types have become a lot more like US business types over the last 30 years).

I understand that people will seek out films because they are supposedly bad. I recently wrote a short article about this, So Bad It’s Good? So Good It’s Great! I hate the "so bad it's good" philosophy. I think it's a cover. I think people like these films and when others kid them about it, they use this tired out.

What you say about paying to watch a film is true (but note: you bought the same DVD I did and the 1991 version was thrown in as a freebie -- they were selling the new one). I've thought of this often. It doesn't matter if a film has a budget of $2,500 or $300 million. It costs the same to see it at the theater. Of course, Kindom of the Vampire was never released in the theater. And it was made when video stores were still desperate for anything. Someone made a lot of money and it sure wasn't the filmmakers.

But that's not really my take, regardless. I simply value creativity over professionalism. I'd rather see something new made with limited resources than something old made with great production values.

As for this particular film, maybe you shouldn't even have reviewed it because it really isn't much of a vampire film. It's a coming of age film set in a dysfunctional household -- more Precious than Dracula.

As for the cat, I didn't laugh. I'm using David Foster Wallace's definition of humor. Kafka wrote comedy -- but not to laugh at. The scene was an absurd, different way to show just how horrible Jeff's mother was.

I have a problem with your use of the word "mistakes." It implies (1) that you are the arbiter of what is right and wrong, and (2) that the filmmakers are idiots -- trying to make what you want and simply failing. In many cases, they are. I generally avoid horror films made after 1990. There are too many of them and most of them have nothing to offer the viewer. (I'm glad they're made, however; just as I'm glad high schools put on plays; people have fun and that's great.)

As I've said (written probably) many times before, I love Death Bed: The Bed That Eats. It has almost an hour of dreadfulness but a solid half-hour of transcendence. I'll take that deal any day. Most people would rather be comforted with an hour and a half of professionally produced mediocrity. I see it as my purpose in life to beat that sensibility out of people. (Not that I'm suggesting that's you; anyone so into vampire movies must be twisted enough!)

As for Bookwalter, he was a very creative filmmaker. But you can see in his last few films that he was starting to repeat himself. That's why I find Kingdom a better film than what is normally considered his masterpiece, Ozone.

On a totally different topic: I'm pleased to see that you've reviewed (Positively!) The Last Man on Earth. Most people think it is a zombie picture. But then, you've probably read the book. And yes, it is by far the the best filmed version of the book. I would disagree about some of the finer points. Yes, some of the day-for-night is bad, but that's more due to atmospheric conditions and film processing. The cinematography is fantastic. Nonetheless, I don't know why so many people think the film is bad. I love it. And when I saw it as a child, it gave me nightmares for years.

Good luck with your continued work. I wish I had the time. I was thinking of taking a year off to get Psychotronic Review really working, but my main client groveled and I gave in. For the next year anyway.