Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Vamp or Not? Near Death

I was surprised to discover that this Joe Castro directed B movie dates to 2004 as the VHS quality print belied that and made one think of the “golden age” of VHS horror Bs. Certainly the acting and much of the effects made one think of a less sophisticated time, which was a bonus because it allowed the viewer to be more generous to the film.

However, the creatures within this film are well and truly ghouls – eaters of the dead. They are named such within the film and that begs the question, why look at it here? Simply put, there is a correlation between ghouls and vampires due to conflation of the two in the 19th century and early 20th century. Before this, ghouls are mentioned several times in the Arabian Nights, as translated into French by Antoine Galland in the 18th Century. The story of most interest is The History of Sidi Nu’uman, which tells of a man suspicious because his new bride never seems to eat. Long story short, he follows her to a cemetery and witnesses her indulging in eating the dead with the other ghouls.

Cut forward to 1821 and E.T.A. Hoffmann published a story entitled Vampirismus as part of his Die Serapions-Brüder. There is every chance that the story title was added by an editor as the story is essentially a reworking, into a modern Western setting, of The History of Sidi Nu’uman. Jump forward a century and Dudley Wright adds the same (Arabian Nights') story into his reference book Vampires and Vampirism. So… Near Death…

death of Priscilla
It starts with a shoreline and a shadowy figure of a man shouting, “Maria” in an all too gravelly voice. He vanishes. Cut to a bar and a rather drunk woman, Priscilla (Vida Ghaffari), is coming on to barman Markie (Joseph Commesso). He’s off in five, takes her out of the bar, they grope in an alley and then he suggests driving out to a party. The drive is long and she freaks out so he gets violent with her. He drags her to a house with a group of unsavoury looking individuals (all of whom seem to have blackening on their teeth and lips). One cuts her throat and they pay Markie a gold coin.

Tammy and Billy
A car drives down the highway. In it are Billy (Scott Lunsford) and his girlfriend Tammy (Ali Willingham), with their professor June (Perrine Moore). Billy and Tammy bicker as he drives. June is a parapsychologist and they are going to a house owned by deceased film director Willie Von Brahm (Carl Darchuk) who was said to have murdered his maid and unrequited love Maria (also Perrine Moore) and suffered the “curse of Maria” cast by her mother (Jacqueline Benton). Billy doesn’t believe in the paranormal and has “ghost detecting” computer programs that will prove nothing is there.

June and Tammy
They get to the house and, of course, it is the same one we saw earlier. The same guys are there and they are Harlan Montgomery (Brannon Gould, Blood Sisters), Doctor Blanchard (Joe Haggerty, Bloody Tease & Kiss Me if you Dare), Heinrich (Marieno Savoie) and Vena Marshwood (Darlene Tygrett, also Blood Sisters). Tammy claims she wrote to arrange coming to the house and, with the thought that others might come if they are sent away, the residents allow the investigators to stay so long as they eat elsewhere and do not come out of their rooms between midnight and dawn.

The latter rule is because that is when they supposedly feed, but they actually seem to feed at any given time, down in the basement and it looks as though they are cramming cubes of jello in their mouths. Paranormal things start to happen straight away and Tammy gets horny (more for Harland than Billy). June sees the house’s residents in the mirrors, is accosted by the spirit of the Director and soon June and Billy are off to a motel (where they suddenly get it together) whilst Tammy gets with Harland and is ready to become a house resident.

souls in the mirror
So, lore. They call themselves undead (originally coined by Stoker – prior to that it had a theological meaning – for vampires but now a catch-all for restless corpses) and say that their bodies are alive whilst their souls are trapped in the mirrors of the house. This keeps them safe from being Willie’s slaves but means they cannot leave the house (hence paying Markie to bring them food). Their hands are cold to the touch. They can only eat the flesh of the dead.

That all seems fairly ghoul – bar the unusual mirror lore – indeed the word ghoul is actually used. They are immortal, unless they starve. If they leave the house they begin to melt and then explode – the effect was actually quiet cool until the rubbishy explosion. As we see this during the day it is easy to conflate with the vampire sunshine rule but it is definitely locational. Breaking the curse will allow them to actually die and that means finding Maria’s remains and returning her heart to her.

not quite fresh
All in all this is a rubbishy B movie that has some amusing bits and a hell of a lot of overacting – and some wooden performances. But is it vamp? It is definitely ghoul but as for vampire? Well they eat flesh (though the flesh is of the dead and so corpse freshness is not, it appears, a necessity but is desired). We get lore that is unusual for ghouls (the mirrors and location rules) but they would be as unusual for vampires – though mirrors tie with vampires much more. It all depends on how much you conflate ghouls and vampires. If you follow Dudley Wright’s logic then yes. If not then the conflation makes the film of genre interest but ultimately not actually vamp.

The imdb page is here.

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