Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Honourable Mention: The First Vampire: Don't Fall for the Devil's Illusions

This was a 2004 short, directed by Jason Todd Ipson and available to watch at Sloan Science and Film. The setting is fantastic, the film is set in Sweden in 1349 and the film itself looks (as far as I could tell given the streaming video) rather luscious.

I did have a wee problem with one of the premises behind the film and that was a shame as the core premise was a nice area to move into, though even with that there are reservations.

It starts at a lodge and a hooded figure (Clayton Barney) pulls a child (Stefania Barr) from her bed. Meanwhile Erik (Dan Merket) has been to see the priest, Father Anderson (Derrick O’Connor) for (what sounds like) confession. He then goes to the tavern before leaving town. His horse nearly runs down the figure, who drops the child and runs. At the church, with the sickly child, he claims to have seen a devil with fangs, pale skin and evil in his eyes.

erecting a cross
Sister Ingrid (Susan Duerden) arrives at a house to fetch Dr Jurgen (Ben Livingston, Dracula: Dead and Loving It) to the town. Four are ill after being attacked. They arrive, as a cross is being erected in the town entrance, and he examines a victim. She has a mark on her neck that looks like a bite but has not broken the skin.

The film then follows the hunt for the creature – found in a barn at one point and screaming in pain as he runs out in daylight – and Jurgen’s search for the medical truth behind the illnesses. Things are confused further as Ingrid becomes ill in her lungs – but has no marks.

Now comes where I thought both the strength and weakness of this lies. This is spoiler heavy so you might want to look away.

a victim
They do catch the vampire, and despatch him by stake and immolation, but the deaths – as an intertitle tells us – continue as the suffering is from bubonic plague. I liked the plague idea, but bubonic seems unlikely a candidate as the buboes would be in the armpits and groin as well as the neck, those ill would not lie so peacefully and the explosive diarrhoea would be telling. Also Ingrid seems to have pneumonic plague but she would likely have been dead in 24 hours. A better plague to have used would have been septicemic plague, as was used in the classic Isle of the Dead. However, I could live with the idea that plague was mistaken for the work of the devil in the form of a vampire.

Ben Livingston as Dr Jurgen
I had a bigger problem when the intertitle suggested that the scapegoat suffered from Gunther’s Disease (spelt incorrectly) and then named it vampire’s disease. Gunther’s disease is congenital erythropoietic porphyria and the idea that it is “vampire’s disease” is a modern conceit based on bad science. The intertitle claims that sufferers can display the following symptoms: extreme photosensitivity, which is true but was not a part of vampire mythology until Nosferatu. It suggests they can have growth of fangs – some porphyria sufferers can suffer from necrosis of the gums or browning of the teeth due to deposits. Finally it suggests that they have “an insatiable thirst for iron found in blood” – which is absolutely untrue. Firstly some sufferers lack haem, which does consist of (amongst other chemicals) an iron atom but… a sufferer could not absorb haem by drinking blood nor would they crave blood. The association of porphyria with vampirism was, as I say, bad science with a lack of knowledge in respect of folkloric vampires and only served to cause actual sufferers harm with the association. I could have lived with this if he were a porphyria sufferer who was used as a scapegoat for being different (Scandinavia has a larger than average incidence of porphyria) if it hadn’t been for the bad science mentioned at the end.

That moan aside, this seemed worthwhile and a feature length film lurks at the heart – with some scientifically accurate changes going hand in hand with an expansion.

The imdb page is here.

1 comment:

RoseOfTransylvania said...

"The association of porphyria with vampirism was, as I say, bad science with a lack of knowledge in respect of folkloric vampires and only served to cause actual sufferers harm with the association."
BTW, I like the setting of the movie, nice idea.