Friday, January 25, 2008

Mrs Amworth {2007} – review


Director: Frank Sciurbia

Release Date: 2007

Contains spoilers

Mrs Amworth was a story by E F Benson, which can be found in pdf format here. It had been made as a (short) film in the 1970s – a version available on VHS I believe and I am currently trying to acquire that version. The story itself was set in the genteel and leafy British countryside and when I saw the trailer for this new version I realised it had been modernised and moved to the US. I also got the feeling that it might be of a low budget, independent source but it felt a little like the low budget Dracula remake The Vulture’s Eye.

Now, despite the restrictions of budget I really rather enjoyed The Vulture’s Eye, it had a certain something. I then realised that this film was by the same director. Unfortunately, where the previous film had a certain, indefinable, element, this one did miss the mark on quite a few levels and it is a shame as the Benson story is a cracking little vampire yarn.

newborn feedThe film begins with an unsteady camera following a woman for a second and then we are in a funeral home. The mortician (John M White) looks in on a girl (Rachel Barianca) in her casket and then leaves with the embalmer (Chris Nelson). Once they are gone the girl opens her eyes. The mortician realises he left his hat in the room. The hat is atop the empty coffin. He sees the girl and she leaps at him. The embalmer comes in to find the girl feasting at the mortician’s neck.

Mrs Amworth and JedSarah (Christy Sullivan) is a reporter on a small town paper and is looking into the story of the almost buried alive girl. Her boyfriend is Jed (Daniel Ross), a photographer, and she encourages him to meet his new neighbour, who has been living next door for a month. He does so and meets Mrs Amworth (Magenta Brooks). It was around here that the cracks really began to show for me.

The film had been clearly of a low budget but several things stood out in this encounter both in editing, scripting, performance and concept. In editing (or perhaps scripting) Jed and Mrs Amworth sit and talk and his photography is mentioned in passing, later they walk together and he tells her he is a photographer. It was glaring, the dialogue had shown that she knew his profession already. It was either bad scripting or bad editing of scenes.

like Dracula's daughterMrs Amworth is portrayed very much as a sexual predator and this didn’t gel for me. Okay I know the Benson story, perhaps that was the problem, but the dialogue seemed too blatant and yet blatant trying to be subtle. Brooks as Amworth also didn’t have the stunning beauty I would have expected of the sexual predator either. She had an unusual look that, in certain photography worked really well, in an almost Dracula’s Daughter way, but most of the time felt wrong. I also felt that her delivery was a little out.

As things transpires we discover that she is a vampire and see this in a bizarre scene where she seduces the gardener’s son Luke (Jonathon Raymond) in a scene that was uncomfortable as he looked awfully young and yet the sequence ended up as a bad tease followed by a bite on the wrist. He becomes ill and he is the third to succumb to an illness that the local doctor, Lamb (Jim Nalitz – who played the vampire in The Vulture’s Eye), described as dehydration with anaemia leading to coma and death.

getting SarahMrs Amworth works her way through the locals as Lamb and newspaper editor Leland (Ben Murrie) become more and more suspicious. Well, to be honest that suspicion came early. Lamb takes Leland and breaks into the morgue as soon as Luke dies in order to cut the lad’s heart out as (being an ex-medican sans frontiers doctor) he has seen this before. When the heart is removed Luke struggles, though this does not lead the newspaperman to doubt but to revelation, and then Leland researches and finds the picture of a local murderess obsessed with blood from the 1930s, who is obviously Amworth, but doesn’t act upon the discovery for ages.

feeding on LukeThe film has some odd moments and, to be fair, occasional nice moments. Mrs Amworth does not have fangs, we see her stab Luke in the neck with a needle and drink from the spray and rip a tongue out with her teeth. Her bite marks seem to vanish from the victim after the attack and her attacks are remembered as nightmares. She wears a heavy perfume to hide the smell of her putrefaction. She appears to be able to disappear and appear at will.

beheaded vampireWe discover that embalming stops a corpse from rising. The reason the doctor takes Luke’s heart, another effective method, is because he wasn’t embalmed. The heart itself is thrown into a pond and has a dialogue line about not being afraid of vampire fish (meant as a gag and one of very few in the film). It would have worked better if it had been a river and had a line about running water. The film’s line sounded corny whereas my suggestion has actual tradition behind it. We also discover that beheading is an effective method of stopping these things.

sinking into graveShe can go out in the sunlight and we see her sleeping in an open coffin, hidden in her shed, a couple of times. That said we also discover that she was buried behind the house in the 1930s and see her sink (once) into that grave. I didn’t understand why she would sleep in her own grave like that and have a coffin in the shed, it just didn’t gel, but the sinking into the grave was one of the nicer moments that carried a lot of atmosphere.

coffin in shedIn the main, however, atmosphere was definitely missing from this, though there are one or two moments that were actually quite jumpy they were too few and far between. The story felt overly long in many respects and this was down to pacing. There is a scene of a distraught mother when Luke dies that just seems to go on and on. The gap between working out what is happening and doing something about it was too long.

As I said there is some nice photography scattered through the film and then we get shaky and movement blurred camera work. The performances are all very earnest but not outstanding from anyone and the director builds character at times that somehow feel mistimed in their placement (the Sarah affair/confession was almost certainly unnecessary).

one of the end dream sequencesThe ending highlights the confused nature of the script. It almost follows the book and then veers off into strange dreams or dreamlike visions. Now there was a surrealism to The Vulture’s Eye that really worked. In this it missed the mark (and was misplaced). It is really unfortunate that this film missed much more than it hit as it could have been an independent masterpiece. I really can’t say it got close though. 3 out of 10 reflects that the original story is definitely recognisable despite the changes and the fact that there were aspects that worked, but I do feel they worked despite the majority of the film not with or because of it.

At the time of review this version does not have an imdb page.

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