Saturday, October 22, 2016

Honourable Mention: Castlevania: Hymn of Blood

It might seem odd to some of you that I would give this an honourable mention rather than a review. However, despite some professional talent involved, this is a fan film that was originally released as a web serial and can now be watched as a complete film for free. So, notwithstanding the fact that it is actually better quality than some commercial releases, an honourable mention it is.

It was directed by Benji Gillespie and first released in 2012 and is based on the Konami game series. I have played a little of Castlevania (mostly Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, which I abandoned eventually as the ported keyboard controls for PC were, quite simply, horrendous) so know a little background but the film story was well laid out and knowledge of the games is not a necessity.

It begins in Dracula’s Castle and a woman, Isabella (Dimitra Jiova) is giving birth. A priest (Patrick Gorman, Crimson Throne) complains that there is not much time, much to the chagrin of the midwife (Jen Hogan), who realises that Isabella is bleeding too much. The child is born as the sun sets and we see a hand emerge from a stone sarcophagus.

Isabella dies
Isabella holds her child for a moment and names him Simon. There is a letter she has written for him to give when the time is right. In answer as to why they cannot do the ritual instead, the priest suggests to the midwife that the ritual contains and does not destroy the evil – only Simon can do that. The baby is smuggled from the castle and a still born from the village burned in its place. Isabella dies. Dracula (Eric Etebari, Kiss of the Vampire & Vegas Vampires) comes into the room and sees that his son and his wife are both dead. For their failure he feeds off the midwife and rips the priest’s heart out.

Reinhardt and Trevor
Jump forward a couple of decades (having not seen 12 members of the secret society the Brotherhood of Light perform the containing ritual) and we meet Simon Belmont (Rob Norton) who works on a farm with his brother and father and mother (he is adopted, of course). His father, Trevor (David M. Edelstien), was a member of the Brotherhood of Light but when his brother Reinhardt (John Henry Richardson) comes and suggests that the Brotherhood members who performed the ritual are being killed he is dismissive.

Marina Sirtis as Persena
That night General Thain (Michael Dorn, I am Weasel: I am Vampire) attacks the farm, killing Trevor and taking an amulet of blood he used in the ritual and also killing the brother. Leaving his men to finish the rest of the farm off, Simon is able to kill them and the next day his adopted mother gives him Isabella’s letter. He and Reinhardt go off to seek advice and to stop Dracula. On the way they meet a group of gypsies, led by matriarch Persena, played by Marina Sirtis (Vampire Riderz) who is clearly having a great time in her cameo.

Eric Etebari as Dracula
Visually, whilst there is clearly some green screen work, this is a notch above many straight to DVD and VoD commercial efforts. Some of the effects are a tad clunky (the werewolf effect is comparatively poor, for instance) but they are often much better than, say, SyFy Channel effects. The acting is generally above average – the benefit of getting professionals involved – and John Henry Richardson steals scenes whenever he is on screen.

Jim Tavaré as the Grey Man
The story needed some expansion, the development of Simon warranted more time. There is a Dracula backstory with him seeking immortality and finally being granted it by the Grey Man (Jim Tavaré) – with a hint of more nefarious doings by the Grey Man at the end of the film. The melee was perhaps a little tentative and could have benefitted from better fight choreography or perhaps just more proficient doubles, that said I have seen a lot worse.

The film is definitely worth your time – clearly a labour of love. It can be viewed in full on Vimeo and the imdb page is here.

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