Saturday, August 16, 2008

Dark Craving – review


Director: John Russo

Release date: 1993

Contains spoilers

This is a film that was on my vampire radar but, until now, I had never seen it - a real shame but at least I've finally seen the film. You see I love coming across a film that does something special with lore and this does but, before we look at that, I'll first mention a quote on the DVD cover. “The most unique vampire movie since Salem’s Lot says George Romero. That is some citation, especially from the father of the modern zombie genre and director of a great vampire movie, Martin.

In context, however, Romero and Russo are closely associated, you see whilst Romero is seen as the father of the modern zombie genre it was Russo who wrote “Night of the Living Dead”. Russo based Dark Craving (or Heartstopper as it is also known) on his own novel “The Awakening”. I was taken enough by this film to immediately order the Awakening.

The film isn’t perfect, it lacks atmosphere and the acting is perhaps too stagy – aspects that we will return to. It has story however, it has unique lore by the bucket full and it did something I liked, introduced lore, created a potential plot hole and then sealed it neatly. We begin in Pittsburgh…

Back in colonial Fort Pitt Doctor Benjamin Latham (Kevin Kindlin) is under arrest, his books being burnt, accused of vampirism and sorcery by his own brother Jacob (John Hall). It is said that he takes blood from patients and drinks it but Latham protests; he takes blood when bleeding the ill and experiments with it – trying to unlock its scientific properties. Latham insists that there are no such things as vampires. Jacob wishes to burn him then and there but the constable insists there shall be a 'fair' trial and then a hanging.

at the murder sceneWe do intersperse with the modern day and police detective Lt Ron Vargo (Tom Savini) finding the body of a young girl, but we’ll get back to that. Back in history Benjamin’s trial is less than fair and clearly as motivated by the fact that he is a Tory (pro-British) as anything else. He is accused of trying to seduce his sister-in-law (Maria Barney), it is clear it was the other way around, and of vampirism, witchcraft, sorcerery, Satanism... the list goes on and on!

Latham hungFound guilty he is sentenced to be hung by the neck and we get a wonderfully graphic scene of the hanging – along with a refusal of last confession even though he is a catholic – with the sister in law hanging onto his legs in order to ensure that he dies! He is placed in his coffin with his medical bag.

the corpse is stakedWhat we then get is body disposal of a suspected vampire. Killing, of course, is only the first stage. A stake is hammered through the heart and then garlic cloves placed around the neck. Finally, we later hear, the body was buried at a crossroads. The idea that such a thing could happen in the Americas is not ridiculous. Vampire scares were still occurring 100 years later than Russo set his events.

Tom Savini as VargoSo, what happened with Vargo and his young murder victim? She has a cut thumb, licked clean, but her death seemed to be poison induced. As the body is checked and examined Vargo and the coroner (Tommy Lafitte) have a real mystery. The glass on which she cut herself had no traces of poison on it. However the saliva at her finger contained poison. It was mostly human but was deadly, containing a rattlesnake like toxic quality.

We see Latham, in the modern day, he tries to stop an attack on a girl and ends up being chased by a gang for his trouble. In the end he has lost them all bar one. He beats the gang member and then cuts his wrist, suckling the blood. The police have two bodies with poison in their system.

preparing a stakeSo, we have a vampire – someone who was accused of vampirism and denied it – who has poisonous saliva. How’s that work? This is the genius of the film. We get most of the lore through discussion with Father Ed (William Duncan), a priest Benjamin meets through confession. He has made assumptions about his rebirth but we can tell that it goes something like this... It was the very superstition that killed him which made him a vampire, as though the force of will of that superstition created the very thing they believed in.

Latham's rebirthHowever, as he was dealt with properly he did not rise until a bulldozer disturbed his resting place two hundred years on. His body, the stake, the garlic had all decayed (only his medical bag and his bones survived) but flesh reformed as the crossroads was demolished. How does he know this – because he has no navel, his body is not born of woman. He has a craving (the so called dark craving) but the murder of the girl was accidental, she cut her finger and he drank not knowing of the poison within. From then on he vows to only kill the evildoer.

suspicious kissI mentioned a plot hole and it is after he meets both his many generations distant nephew Mathew (John Hall) and photographer Lenora (Moon Unit Zappa). He and Lenora get it on but he kisses her and she does not die. Hold on, thought I, poisonous saliva! Plus, no belly button, she’ll freak out if she lives that long. This is answered two fold by the film, rather than be ignored, he seems to have some kind of instinctive hold over her (hence the no freaking out) and his saliva doesn’t poison her (someone he loves) it seems to be turning her into what he is. He knows instinctively that Mathew’s blood will be poisonous to him as they are related.

work of the copycatWe can throw into the mix a copycat killer roaming the streets who is attacking women, draining their blood and raping them post-mortem. Just another thing for Vargo to worry about, but he has his own ghosts to deal with as well – the murder years before of his own child.

Michael J Pollard as LubbockThe film, as I mentioned, lacks a tangible atmosphere, not that it needs one too desperately but it would have improved things. Much of the acting is rather stagy and this adds into the sterility of the atmosphere. That said the lore sucked me in. I was unsure about Michael J Pollard’s appearance as vampire expert Dr Lubbock – he didn’t add much to the proceedings for me.

acceptance of the vampireGood lore can take you a long way. Latham doesn’t know if he can die (I am sure that he can be bound again and that traditional methods would probably work against him – a stake through the heart etc) but we know that sunlight doesn’t hurt him – and traditionally why would it? I loved the idea that superstition can create its own monster. The lore worked so neatly that I accepted, for instance, Lenora’s acceptance of Latham without questioning simply because the film told me he had a hold over her. Plus the scene of him feeding and her gently kissing his forehead was, quite simply, cinematic poetry.

I enjoyed this. Perhaps it could have had more atmosphere and more natural performances but it is definitely worth seeing. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Uranium Willy said...

Congrats on getting all the Red shoe trivia questions over at the LAMB homepage.

I just saw Lost Boys: The Tribe and Tom Savini got whacked in the like 1st five minutes of the film. Too bad he decided to get out from behind the camera and in front of it. I just never took him too serious as a full time actor though I like seeing him pop up here and there.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers bill

I quite like Savini appearing also, its like a favourite uncle or cousin popping up.

Some of his performances have been really worthwhile also - Sex Machine in From Dusk till Dawn springs to mind.

Uranium Willy said...

I am using the RSS thing you use and it works pretty good. I do not know too much abut how to use RSS and ATOM stuff but one thing that kept me from moving on was having a feed site that worked or that I could understand.

Hey, remember the "secret site" you sent me about rapidshare movies. I am addicted. There is a linked site there for a place called retroflix but I need some friggin' password or invitation, like some sort of Masonic Order or something. Do you know anything about this?

I just downloaded Lair of the White Worm and Santo in the Wax Musuem. I got The Giant Claw and that was reviewed. It helps a lot here in China where only the latest "hits" are pirated and sold, and now the govt here is cracking down on pirate DVD stores. the one thing commie China had going for it and now they restrict that :(