Sunday, July 09, 2017

Vamp or Not? Dead Awake

One form of vampire in the Caribbean and African diasporic folk traditions is the Old Hag. Her presence is part of a wider archetypal form as the hag appears through various traditions, sitting upon the chest of a paralysed sleeper, strangling them.

Whilst strangling might not sound that vampiric, the attack of the hag would seem to be an example of energy vampirism, draining the lifeforce of the victim, and the 18th Century vampire reports out of the Slavic areas actually made more play of strangulation than blood drinking (indeed it is arguable that the blood drinking was an addition to the reports in order to ‘explain’ the blood at the mouth of (and in the coffin of) suspected vampires when dug up for examination.

That being the case you might wonder why I am bothering was a ‘Vamp or Not?’ of Phillip Guzman’s 2016 film Dead Awake and not just classing it as a vampire film without investigation. Simply put it is because things are never that simple – though the film is about the Hag.

it's coming
It starts with mention of sleep paralysis and a fan beats as a door creaks open. Beth (Jocelin Donahue) lies paralysed before suddenly bolting upright. We then see her in a corridor, fearful of a door towards the end, she anxiously enters an apartment and is greeted by a surprise party. The apartment belongs to her boyfriend Evan (Jesse Bradford) and her twin sister Kate (also Jocelin Donahue) is at the party. We do get a potted history through the front end of the film. Kate is a lawyer, Beth is a recovering addict who now lives back with their parents.

Kate & Beth
There is a discussion about sleep as a friend, Linda (Brea Grant), is having night terrors and Beth mentions the paralysis and a presence of evil. She leaves the party upset. She goes to Kate during the day to tell her about the events and to explain that she is going to see a sleep specialist Dr. Sykes (Lori Petty). Kate goes with her and the Doctor suggests that sleep paralysis is quite common and in more extreme cases can cause hallucinations. Kate suggests Beth not fight it.

Kate becomes haunted
Kate awakens seeing through Beth’s eyes (a twin thing, I assumed) as the thing crawled over the bed towards her. She awakens panicked and calls home telling her father (James Eckhouse) to check on Beth. The twin has died in her sleep. At the subsequent funeral Kate is approached by a strange man, later revealed to be Dr. Hassan Davies (Jesse Borrego, From Dusk till Dawn the series). It is revealed that he was working with Beth (and because it didn’t seem to be helping she went to the more mainstream Dr Sykes).

painting of the hag
Essentially the hag starts haunting Kate, but then also Evan and Linda (who is killed by the hag). Hassan suggests that she is drawn to belief (so if you believe in the hag she finds you, Kate’s belief causing Linda and Evan to believe and be haunted). The hag seems to be able to construct dreams and pose as others within them (she lives in the space between dreams and awakening) and not fighting her was the exactly incorrect advice. Hassan has theories but no proven method of severing the connection between the hag and her victim.

We see the hag causing fear and we see her strangling her victims. What we don’t necessarily see is her feeding on their energy in any way. It is suggested that she tastes fear (but the phrase sounds more ornately descriptive than lore accurate). So, Vamp? She is the old hag, she is supernatural and she selects victims. We get no sense that she feeds from them – but neither is that denied – and she does strangle her paralysed victims – which is right for the hag and also the folkloric vampire. I am swinging towards ‘Vamp’ simply because the film does play within the hag’s folkloric boundaries. At the very least it is of genre interest.

The imdb page is here.


Kyle Van Helsing said...

Is the movie itself any good?

Taliesin_ttlg said...


Taliesin_ttlg said...

but you do realise a Vamp or Not is not a review? Just an assessment of the vampiric content/tropes.

Kyle Van Helsing said...

Yes, I do. Just curious.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

fair call