Saturday, April 08, 2017

Vamp or Not? Chupacabra Territory

As always, when it comes to chupacabra films, we find ourselves in the realm of the “Vamp or Not?” investigation. This was a 2016 film by Matt McWilliams, also known as Lair of the Beast, and is in the found footage style. Unfortunately it suffers from some of the inherent problems that genre contains.

The big problem, however, is an over-abundance of ideas that aren’t fully explored and, in itself, this causes a complication to the “Vamp or Not?” as we don't know, exactly, what the filmmakers were stretching for.

The film begins with us hearing about four campers vanishing from a certain area. The area has had fluctuations in the coyote population and rashes of cattle mutilations, with livestock drained of blood and missing their genitalia. It is said that the chupacabra is held responsible, locally, and later we see that the area has a sign warning that you are entering Chupacabra Territory.

the book
So we meet our main cast and they are travelling to make a Chupacabra documentary. They are Joe (Michael Reed), true believer Amber (Sarah Nicklin, the Sins of Dracula & Lesser of 2 Evils), camera operator Dave (Bryant Jansen) and cynic Morgan (Alex Hayek). Here we can examine three of the problems that crop up through the film. Firstly Morgan does not believe in the chupacabra and has no discernible reason for coming along, secondly the whole group lack any character element that would generate sympathy for them and thirdly they have a book.

Joe and the Roadblock
The book criticism might seem harsh but… it is a book, handwritten it appears, about the chupacabra and said to be bound in chupacabra skin. Where this book came from (who created it and how they got it) is not explored. How they knew about it, why it contains rituals and chupacabra lore, all of this is unexplained. The book is a deus ex machina but one introduced in the very first moments of the film and then relied upon to offer lore throughout. Anyway the group find that the road they are following has been blocked with a barrier of concrete and they have to take a backroad into the territory (this ostensibly introduces a conspiracy but one that is half baked, given that the other road is clear).

Alex Hayek as Morgan
They come across a gas station and interview the owner, Andrew (Pierre Kennel), who tells them what he knows about the phenomena. He talks of a beast that is strong, fast and has burning eyes. He shows them a dead deer that has puncture wounds in the neck and its genitalia ripped away. He also suggests that the chupacabra are a manifestation of the forest and that the area knows him and so he would not go in again as the forest knows him and wouldn’t let him leave.

Sarah Nicklin as Amber
They get to the forest trail but are stopped by a ranger (Elliot Book) who tells them that the forest is unsafe – due to falling trees (and later a tree does indeed fall, presumably due to an unseen chupacabra) – and they have to go back. When talking to him they see a man in the woods in a gas-mask, described by the ranger as a biologist (Mike Wood, Vamps and the City) doing research. Why this man wears a gasmask is not explored in any real sense (although one can assume it is protection against the chupacabra’s organic weapon). Anyhoo our intrepid filmmakers drive off and then, when the ranger leaves, sneak back.

other hikers
Whilst doing so they hit an animal (and break their gps in the process). Looking at it, they decide its injuries (punctures and genitalia ripping) occurred pre-collision and reach the conclusion that it was reanimated! They see it as a warning. Anyway, what we then get is a kitchen sink full of ideas. Morgan gets gunk on him that is described as chupacabra residue (the aforementioned organic weapon) and the book suggests that, unless cleaned off, it is a pathogen that will cause a rash, sepsis and then make the victim a vessel of the chupacabra. It smells of sulphur suggesting a demonic origin to me.

Bobby with (sort of) red eyes
As for the “vessel” we later see another group of crazy kids looking for their friend Bobby (Donnie Brinker) who, unbeknown to them, seems to be dead (we see a hand in a suggestive way). Later he finds his friends but seems out of it (zombified almost?) and later still his eyes burn red and he attacks his friends (whilst the chupacabra also attack). Similarly the ranger is attacked, presumed dead and then seen wandering along until the biologist brains him. Whether these vessels would bite, as in with fangs, is unexplored but unlikely. Meanwhile Amber, who is also a witch, keeps zoning out and going off to masturbate, has visions of the campers in trouble and tries to perform a ritual from the book.

a chupacabra attacks
As for the chupacabra. They are barely seen (mostly they are a rustling in the trees). However we do see one towards the end (there are lots of them, actually) and it seems quite demonic – they are bipedal, have long claws, lots of teeth and burning eyes. But are they Vamp? All in all we learn precious little of them. They might be a manifestation of the evil forest, they might be a strange cryptozoological species or they might be a demon type. What we do know is that they bite necks and drain blood like a traditional vampire. They also seem to have the power to reanimate victims and the ability to take over humans as vessels.

neck bitten
All in all, I think we can class this one as vamp but, be warned, it has all the problems that found footage films normally have (I have to admit it is a less favoured genre for me), a bunch of spectacularly unaware characters who are entirely unsympathetic, and a rash of ideas that are half baked and under-explored. The imdb page is here.

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