Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Vamp or Not? Trapped Ashes


This is a modern portmanteau film that owes a little to the Amicus films of yore. Indeed the actual twist in the tail is one that anyone who has watched early Amicus portmanteau movies will spot.

The portmanteau section sees a tour of Ultra Studios and six folks taking the VIP tour of the otherwise deserted lot. We have aspiring actress Phoebe (Rachel Veltri) and her boyfriend Andy (Jayce Bartok), architect Henry (Scott Lowell) and his wife Julia (Lara Harris), Egyptian Theatre worker Nathalie (Michèle-Barbara Pelletier) and B picture director Leo (John Saxon, who was in Queen of Blood). It seems none quite remember how they got their tickets.

the house of horrorThe Tour Guide (Henry Gibson) drives up to the infamous set of the film Hysteria – in which several trapped people where forced to tell horror stories – and the tourists insist on looking inside the so called house of horror, claiming VIP privileges. The Guide warns them off but they insist and they spend some time looking around. Of course they become trapped and it is suggested by the guide that they try telling stories as in the film – but reminds them that the stories should be true.

Of course the stories become our filmed segments and I particularly looked at this for the Ken Russell directed ‘The Girl with the Golden Breasts’, which is the first segment. Knowing a little about it in advance I always thought it would be a ‘Vamp or Not?’ The second story, ‘Jibaku’ is a disturbing short about a spectral lover and a descent into Buddhist Hell. Imagine my delight when the third story, the Monte Hellman directed ‘Stanley’s Girlfriend’, also had vampiric overtones – two ‘Vamp or Not?’s for the price of one. The last story, ‘My Twin, the Worm’, is the story of a girl who feels that the tapeworm in her mother’s stomach, when she was in the womb, shares a bond with her.

Pheobe upsetThe ‘Girl with the Golden Breasts’ is Phoebe’s tale and begins with her explaining that she had come to Hollywood to be a star. Unfortunately things have not gone the way she planned. Having been rejected from another casting she assesses, through running mascara, her life and decides the problem is her breasts. She decides that plastic surgery is the way forward.

Winston Rekert as Dr LarryShe goes to see Dr Larry (Winston Rekert) who seemed, to me at least, just a tad creepy. He explains the problems with implants – showing her some truly horrific pictures of boob jobs gone wrong. He, however, does not use silicon or gel. His implants are made from reconstituted flesh from cadavers. When Phoebe seems shocked he likens it to a transplant.

the implantsPhoebe goes ahead with the operation and, as soon as she is under, Dr Larry’s mask comes off. He smokes and drinks through surgery and spits on scalpels. The operation is, however, successful and when we next see Phoebe she is in the shower and delighted with her new boobs. In the shower her finger catches and bleeds – she assumes on a ring.

bites on backPhoebe lands a job on a sci-fi film and is being filmed in a love scene with Zack (Scott Heindl). They are under covers when he yelps with pain. Filming stops and he complains that she gave him a hicky on his chest. She thinks she must have got over excited and the crew cheers her enthusiasm. She ends up sleeping with him for real and we see her breasts pulsate, post coital, against his back. He comes back later and complains about insect bites.

after an attack on the tongueAs she has bug spray they get down to it again but, as he kisses her breast, he screams. Blood pours from his mouth and the pain is so excruciating that he threatens to cut the end of his own tongue off to escape. Actually, this is one of those cinematic moments that leaves you swearing blind that is what you saw, but on closer inspection it is clear that he is released at the last moment. He runs – as you would. She looks at her blood splashed breast and the nipple opens to reveal teeth – rather like a lamprey. In fear she tries to find Dr Larry but he has moved on and the nurse suggests she goes to a San Pedro research facility.

doctors in dragThe facility – more like a shack than anything – is full of wrapped cadavers and also has the frozen body of Dr Larry. A TV comes on, with a camera above it, and three men in drag (including a cameo by director Ken Russell) are displayed on screen – all doctors. Phoebe believes they will kill her but she is their creation. The breasts feed on blood offering youth and vitality to the owner. It is an irreversible experiment – they all have them.

Back in the house Leo wonders about her vampire boobs – actually using the V word – and Andy admits he has never seen them as she keeps them covered during sex. The metaphor for the vampirism involved in fame is obvious and we have a science created creature (Phoebe) – using dead flesh – that feeds on blood to maintain youth. More than that we have the most unusual vampiric feeding since Rabid in one of the most quirky and strange little shorts I have watched for a while.

‘Stanley’s Girlfriend’ is a change of pace in the film as a whole and involves the younger life of Leo – who is played in the short by Tahmoh Penikett. He is a script writer at that point in his career who has had some small success when he meets another up and comer, Stanley (Tygh Runyan). Stanley is actually based loosely on Stanley Kubrick and the two become friends. Their favourite pastime is playing chess and talking through the night.

playing chessOne day Leo arrives at Stanley and he has a new girl, Nina (Amelia Cooke). She is somewhat of a temptress, obviously highly sexed and allegedly an insomniac. The chess games continue for a while, until Stanley makes a mistake in a game and then Leo does not see him for a month. During that month Stanley lets all his work slide.

Nina tastes LeoLeo gets a call and goes round but Nina informs him that Stanley has gone to Europe. Despite his better judgement he and Nina end up in bed together. At the end of their intercourse she scratches at his chest and then dips her head down, licking at the blood from the wound. Later, Leo’s work suffering as he becomes obsessed with Nina, they receive a telegram from Stanley – he is staying in Europe and she admits that she told Stanley of their affair. Perhaps it is his resultant, guilt laden, anger that causes her to leave.

the past and the presentForty five years pass and he sees neither Nina or Stanley again and then he hears that his friend has died. Stanley has left him a film to be shown in a private viewing. Stanley apologises, he set things up so that Nina would seduce Leo simply so that he could escape her. Over the years he found pictures from long before that seemed to look like her – but it couldn’t be, could it?

rediscovered filmStanley had heard legends of a witch that would drink the blood of her lovers and through that gained immortality. Then he found a pre 1900s nitrate film that showed a woman in a graveyard (Amy Markle) being fed upon by someone. We watch a film, in which Leo watches a film that film’s this other film. The camera closes in and we see that the attacker is Nina – as it bleeds to colour she says Stanley.

nina with blood at mouthThe witch and the vampire were, traditionally, closely linked and this definitely has blood drinking to gain immortality. This, as with the first segment, is Vamp. I found the film as a whole to be interesting and well shot. It definitely had a sexual-horror aspect and there was an undertone of don’t trust a woman through the segments. The twist in the tail of the portmanteau underlined this and whilst said twist was obvious, the experience of the film as a whole didn’t suffer for it.

The imdb page is here.

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