Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tale of a Vampire – review

dvdDirector: Shimako Sato

Release date: 1992

Contains spoilers

In a blatant act of false advertising this film was also known as “Warlock: Tale of a Vampire” – to tie the film into star Julian Sands' more famous Warlock movie. This film has, of course, nothing to do with that film. In fact you could say that it wasn’t even aimed at the same audience. This film is a homage to the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe – indeed the poem Annabel Lee takes a prominence in the movie (and a quote from it makes the first lines of the movie). Poe even gets a writing credit.

Suzanna Hamilton as AnneThe film is rather slow and dreamy and – to be fair – has very little in the way of complex story. What it does have is characterisation and atmosphere aplenty. As we hear Annabel Lee we see a crashed car consumed in flames and a mysterious man watching, his name is Edgar (Kenneth Cranham, who previously played a bit role in the awful Vampira but we shouldn’t hold that against him). The car belonged to the significant other of Anne (Suzanna Hamilton), who has to go to the morgue to view the body.

vampires and cats - infamous combinationIn a disused factory is a bed. It is a stunning visual juxtaposition, the factory is a tomb (of industry) a decaying hulk and yet within it is a bed that looks almost pre-Raphaelite in its romantic design. Upon the bed is Alex (Julian Sands, who would go on to play an immortal vampire hunter in Blood Ties). A cat comes up to the bed and Alex awakens. He lifts the purring creature and then bites it. As he feeds we get glimpses of a woman whom we later find to be Virginia (Also Suzanna Hamilton), she seems to be in orgasm. It is a well done cat biting scene given that the entire ‘bite the cat’ motif became old after Count Yorga, Vampire.

Julian Sands as AlexAlex attends a library where he does research on religious martyrs for a thesis – I have read that it is an occult library but in no part of the film is it actually suggested that it is anything more than a well stocked reference library, which in itself might have carried occult books. Denise (Marion Diamond), the librarian, has got him a book he needed. He seems distracted by the book to the point of being rude and this is the Alex we see develop. He is distracted, dreamy and often rude (though perhaps without malice and more without thought). He actually reminded me in demeanour (not purpose) of the character Martin from Brimstone and Treacle – interesting as the comatose Suzanna Hamilton was the subject of Martin’s obsession in that film.

Kenneth Cranham as EdgarAlex leaves the library and ends up sat on an embankment, above some playing children, giving a homeless man cigarettes. Meanwhile Edgar has stolen the library’s letter headed paper and an envelope. Anne receives a letter inviting her to interview at the library but Denise knows nothing about it – however she is in dire need of an assistant and so Anne gets the job. As Anne goes home she is, unbeknown to herself, followed by Alex. From then on the film concentrates on building their characters and relationship. She is grieving still for her lover, perhaps to the point that she will open up to another just to distract herself from the pain, and he is still in pain over the loss of Virginia, whom she looks very much like.

Is she the reincarnation of Virginia? No, but there is something odd going on. When we see her walking home she sings ‘boys and girls go out to play’ – a song that Alex had sang to Virginia when she was five years old (he was already a vampire). That might indicate past life memory but things we hear later indicates that it is just a physical resemblance. He notes that she reads Forneret and she states that she has only known one other who likes his work (presumably her dead lover). Alex tells her that his favorite poem by Forneret is "Le pauvre honteux", about a starving man who eats his own hand (a dismembered hand motif appears later). Clearly Edgar has manipulated them together for a purpose. But what…

vampire bed headHere we get a spoiler folks and it is part of the film’s twist – however I do not think that it was too much of a twist (you can see it coming) and it leads into some nice discussion about the meaning of the film. As the film moves along Alex is manipulated by an unseen person; who kills a child that Alex is following, for instance, and then drops the bloodied corpse at Alex’s feet just in time for a local criminal (presumably, as he had a shotgun on him) to see Alex with the body. Clearly Anne has been manipulated by Edgar and (whilst watching) it was not much of a leap to pre-empt the twist and assume he was doing all of the manipulating.

At some point in his life Alex met Virginia as a child and clearly befriended her, we even see him bring her a veil when she is due to marry a man named Edgar. She believes that Edgar will share their friendship. Later, Virginia is dying and Alex turns her but they end up pursued due to the killing of a villager (she says she didn’t kill him and asks whether it could have been another of their kind). That was the last time he saw her, he left her to hide as he drew them away and she was intercepted by someone she clearly knew - it becomes clear it is Edgar and she turned him.

the date is wrong for PoeGiven the poem Annabel Lee (which is recited in film by Edgar), could it be that Edgar is meant to be Edgar Allan Poe and Virginia his wife? Certainly the character Edgar says he is a writer and that he has been published, though he also states that he is studying more occult matters – vampires interest him. One of the library’s stranger customers, the Magazine Man (Michael Kenton), knows his face – he saw his picture in an old (19th century) magazine. She dies with blood at her mouth – due to being turned – the real life Virginia died of tuberculosis. It all seems to fit except for the fact that a casket with her name on it is given to Alex with the date 1890 on it – unless the indication was this box (that contained her dismembered hand) was created some time after the events we see then the date was not contemporary with Poe and Virginia.

vampiric fantasyThere isn’t much in the way of lore. We see no fangs and there is no indication that garlic or religious icons will affect the vampire. They can come out in daylight. They do have to drink blood, they are turned by a blood exchange and they may be truly immortal. Alex assumes that a stake through the heart will kill him but he doesn’t really know. Alex does have trouble disassociating love and blood. At one point Anne cuts her finger and he suckles on it (in that clichéd vampire manner) but then attacks her quite violently, repeating as he does that he loves her – until we realise it is fantasy and he is still sucking on her finger.

flashes of violence pepper the dreamThe film’s story is rather thin. It relies on character, on acting and on atmosphere. The three principle leads are great, each taking their characters and making them real for us. The actual shots and lighting are fantastically done and draw you into the film. The story has a sense of mystery, if you care to look, but it is not casually obvious. It is, however, Tragic – and I capitalised the word purposefully. This is not a happy tale by any stretch of the imagination. The story pace is lethargic at times, but the beauty of the filming keeps the viewer’s attention. However, should you want something with pace, obvious story depth or should drawing a poem visually not be your thing, you are going to dislike the film. I can see why people do.

However, for me, this is worth 6.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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