Friday, July 21, 2017

Nightcomer – review

Director: Alain Silver

Release date: 2013

Contains spoilers

There was, in the early 21st Century, a glut of vampire movies. The popularity of the genre (due to franchise hits on the big screen and television) coupled with the fact that any idiot could pick up a video camera and then find a way of distributing their effort meant that many a film disappeared under the radar.

Nightcomer may have been a later entry to that particular party but it certainly did drop below the radar. Clearly budget, this suffered from an incomplete narrative but also stood out mainly because of its primary star.

Mackenzie Rosman as Rowena
With a sense of noir we start with a voiceover saying how Los Angeles looks better at night and how an illness, or an addiction, can make you do things. We see Rowena (Mackenzie Rosman, the Tomb) walking through the streets and then entering Union Station. She is followed by a guy who comes on to her outside the toilets – but she blows him off. Moving into the main concourse again she sees an intense looking guy, Travis (Eric Gorlow), gets a bad feeling and leaves.

Travis and Rowena
She walks the streets again and feels as though she is being followed by Travis. Eventually he appears in front of her and tells her that he knows what she is – she denies being anything – and warns her off Union Station as he works the trains and there is plenty of blood to go round in other areas of the city. This, of course, establishes a territorial aspect to these vampires.

Roy Lee Jones as Eddie
So we follow Rowena’s story as she tells it to a researcher (it is mentioned that he has interviewed sanguinarians, ie those who believe that they need to drink blood but are not supernatural) and her (ex-)fiancée Andrew (Michael Adam Hamilton, Breaking Wind) has hooked her up with him. She tells of her relationships; her friendship with homeless Eddie (Roy Lee Jones) who knows what she is and perhaps likes her less than she needs him, her avoidance (and the patience of) Andrew, and her bunking with disgraced college professor Marty (Timothy Busfield) who she is endlessly bitchy to (but she does see him during the day mostly and so isn't at her best).

She eventually seeks out Travis again and persuades him to teach her something of their condition. Through him we discover that sunlight is an annoyance, that they can spontaneously translocate by thinking of a person or place, they can read minds (Rowena tends only to kill those who she deems deserve it) and that they seem to be truly immortal – even a stake to the heart won’t stop them. She is in touch with a vampire in Mexico, Hildegard, who claims to know a cure but wants $50k for it. Much of the film sees Rowena making money (being a bar lure, stealing, fencing shoplifted goods and taking money from victims).

The credits show various vampire figures from history (mostly serial killers and necrophiliacs who were given the moniker vampire) but includes Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) labelled as “vampire mystic and composer”. Hildegard is considered a Saint amongst some Roman Catholic branches (she is officially a Doctor of the Church) and was indeed a composer. I am not sure why the filmmakers suggest she was a vampire mystic. She did write medicinal texts and that included bleeding (as was common practice in her day). I suspect that this is meant to be the same Hildegard who allegedly has a cure for vampirism but that is not explicitly stated, indeed it is not explored in film.

trickle of blood
I guess where the film stalled slightly was in the incomplete narrative. We hear that it was through a lecturer at college that Rowena was infected – he asked her to stay after class. However, we don’t know the actual detail; we don’t know how she was infected, whether it was deliberate, why he did it, did she confront him? The film has less than a satisfying conclusion and it tends to be more 'a day in the life'. There were aspects to it that reminded me of the Addiction but it lacked that film’s power, focus and underlying themes. However I also think that Mackenzie Rosman did a fantastic, understated job. She made Rowena believable, vulnerable and personable (even when she was being bitchy). 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Realm of the Damned: Tenebris Deos – review

Director: Tom Paton

Release date: 2017

Contains spoilers

Realm of the Damned is a motion comic, meaning that it is a graphic novel that has had the original art manipulated into animation, with soundtrack and voice acting added. In honesty I am not sure about the concept of the motion comic, it definitely lacks the flow of a traditional animation and whilst it can be said to bring the art to life, it also loses the reader’s inner voice interpretation.

The Graphic novel is of the same name and was written by Alec Worley and illustrated by Pye Parr, and I will look at that as a separate entity at some point in the future to see if it holds together as a read better than this did as a watch. The DVD has also spawned a fictional black metal band, the Sons of Balaur, who are credited with the soundtrack.

back in the day
The comic opens with an introduction to primary (anti-)hero Alberic Van Helsing (David Vincent), who gives a potted history of his young son succumbing to what he believed to be cholera, of his discovery of evil supernatural creatures in the world and of him becoming a self-appointed nemesis to them. The story then moves forward to an alternative modern setting. One in which Van Helsing has been using vampire blood to maintain his life.

Balaur reborn
Over in Norway the members of the Sons of Balaur are in a church and one band member, Thomas (Chris Casket), has had the others turn on guitarist Kristopher. The guitarist believed they were going to burn the church down, and this is true, but before that occurs they force him to wear a relic called the Mask of Balaur and nobble him with a crowbar to stop him fleeing. Outside they wait and the being that emerges from the burning church is not Kristopher but the reincarnated Balaur (Dani Filth). He kills the band, bar Thomas, who he makes his familiar.

Van Helsing
Van Helsing goes to a venue where the Damned are playing. He follows a man and woman from the gig and interrupts her feeding on the guy, using her to supply himself with vampire blood. Following this he goes to confession but the church is raided by SWAT hunting him down. He escapes into the sewers but is soon caught and taken to Rome. Now I said this was an alternate world and it is one in which the monsters have taken ascendancy. The Congregation (the Vatican’s hunters) has fallen and the New Congregation has taken the seat of Rome and they are vampires.

King of the Werewolves
They caught Van Helsing by using the female vampire as a lure and putting some form of tracer in her blood. The vampire he is taken to, Athena (Jill Janus), is Balaur’s sister and murderer and she wants Van Helsing to track him down and destroy him before he can get to her. Balaur, in the meantime, is hunting down powerful creatures (including the King of the Werewolves and an Egyptian Mummy) to try and take their powers. When we get his back story we discover that Balaur rode with Vlad Ţepeş and became a monster amongst monsters.

the Mummy
There are some interesting lore elements to this – for instance Van Helsing attempts to re-sanctify the Vatican (despite his stolen longevity making him as susceptible to sanctified objects as the vampires) and this would have worked were it not for hearing the news of Balaur’s return, which stopped the process. Indeed there is a strong religious aspect to this tale. What let it down was the narrative, which wasn’t as flowing as I would have liked – I wonder whether this will work better in the original format – and the voice acting. This veered between overly melodramatic and insufferably wooden, but it did drag the experience down. I liked aspects of this, however, and will happily suggest 4 out of 10.

At the time of writing the review there was not an IMDb page.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Honourable Mention: Becoming Vampire

Author: Simon Bacon

First Published: 2017

The Blurb: Becoming Vampire is an interdisciplinary study of how the figure of the vampire in the twenty-first century has been used to create and define difference, not as either a positive or negative attribute, but as a catalyst for change and the exploration of new identity positions. Whilst focusing on the films Let Me In and Let the Right One In to highlight the referential and intertextual nature of the genre itself, it utilises a broad spectrum of methodological approaches to show how the many facets of the vampire can destabilise traditional categories of who we are and what we might become. This volume then provides a timely examination of the multifaceted and multivalent character of the vampire and the possibilities inherent within our interactions with them, making this study a consideration of what we might term ‘vampiric becomings’ and an exploration of why the undead ‘creatures of the night’ remain so fascinating to Western culture.

The Mention: Becoming vampire is an academic reference book and the reason I’m giving it an honourable mention, rather than a review, is twofold. Firstly because author Simon Bacon is a friend and secondly because I’m referenced in the volume – both of which make me feel that it would be a clash of interest to actually review the book.

As the blurb tells us, the volume looks at the vampire as a figure that creates, and sometimes defines, difference and explores identity. Whilst Simon uses a variety of films and books within the argument, including several films that I will be examining under ‘Vamp or Not?’ at points in the future, the primary two films examined are Let Me In and Let the Right One In. What we get is a well thought out exploration of the role of the vampire in that context that led me to make a large number of notes as I went along (and subsequently bombarded the poor author with). As I said to him the book did its job, in turns making me think, educating and entertaining.

The unfortunate aspect of the book is the price tag, a common issue with academic volumes. However one hopes you can find a copy of this at a bargain price or order it from a library.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Apostle of Dracula – review

Director: Emilio Schargorodsky

Release date: 2009

Contains spoilers

Originally titled Dracula 0.9, this film recently appeared on Prime Videos. Unfortunately the Spanish film is dubbed into English, and really badly dubbed at that. This brutalisation of the dialogue hasn’t helped my impression of the film but I suspect that the experience isn’t much better in the original Spanish.

IMDb do suggest that it is “a work carried out by film lovers with minimal financial resources but a lot of passion.” That might be the case, and I do appreciate the efforts of zero/low budget filmmakers, but it doesn’t necessarily make it good.

gothic pile
The film opens with an intertitle telling us that the film was inspired by Stoker’s Dracula and Edgar Allan Poe’s Poem “The Spirits of the Dead”, perhaps a lesser known poem but the inspirations behind the film are of a high pedigree. We see a castle in silhouette through the credits and then we are in a club and a man and woman look to each other across a crowd.

on the boat
A small boat is at sea as the storm lashes it, we hear her screams but, as the camera investigates, it becomes clear that they are screams of passion as she sleeps with the man from the club. There is a brief flash of animal flesh. A subtitle suggests it is 24 hours before the 9th eclipse. She awakens in the morning, there is a volume of Edgar Allan Poe and the man is piloting the boat. She tells him that she doesn’t know who he is but she loves him. We will later discover that they are Lucy (Nathalie Legosles) and Dracula (Javier Caffarena).

Seward and Van Helsing
Lucy rides in a carriage into the modern day Spanish town. As she looks around the town she feels that two men are following her (we discover that they are Seward (Antonio Del Río) and Van Helsing (Paul Lapidus)). She searches for Bram Stoker Street, where the cathedral is, and slips away from the men by going in. Later she passes a violinist, Renfield (Francisco Del Río), and goes to a hotel, asks for a room, discovers she is already staying there and mistakes the receptionist (Virginia Palomino) for her mother. Her memory gaps seem to be a form of amnesia.

Once in her room she starts having flashbacks to her distant past when she attracted the attention of Dracula and was bitten by him. Van Helsing refuses to lose another to the vampire and makes a vow to fight to save Lucy’s soul whatever the cost. It is this vow that seems to have allowed Van Helsing and Seward to cease aging as they pursue the vampire and his blood bride. It also appears that Lucy suffered a supernatural amnesia and this was destined to last until the 9th eclipse -her memory is coming back.

like Orlock
And that, as they say, is that – plot wise at least. There is a lot of wandering aimlessly but not too much else happens. In modern days Dracula eventually shaves his head and dons a coat that makes him appear like Count Orlock. The film does do a really interesting thing with portraits, which I won’t spoil, and there is some nice shadow work, but generally the film is turgid in pace, there are strange shot framing moments that actually made me think of Jess Franco and worst of all, as mentioned, is the dubbing. 2 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Vamp or Not? Dreadtime Stories

I caught the 2014 Jacob Grim directed portmanteau flick Dreadtime Stories simply because I like portmanteau/anthology horror films. However, there was one story within it – Empty – that made me think I might well look at the film here (though I don’t think there is a definitive answer to the question ‘Vamp or Not?’).

The film itself has a wraparound of a young guy getting an internship at a funeral home. Despite being told that the most important rule is always respect the dead, practically the first thing he does is steal from a corpse. That corpse was a man said to have dabbled in the black arts and the item stolen was a book – containing the dreadtime stories.

Back home, at an impromptu party started by his (apparently) ex-girlfriend and partygoers start reading the stories and find themselves unable to stop, transported (mentally at least) into the story. We are concerned with just one segment.

approaching the girl
So, a doctor, Alison (Autumn Caro), is driving along discussing new Year plans when she loses signal on her phone. Suddenly she slams the anchors on as a girl (Taylor Goldman) is stood in her nightdress, in the heavy rain, in the middle of the road. Alison goes to her but the girl is unresponsive and hides her face with hair and so Alison takes her to the car intent on taking her to the hospital. She notices blood on her and decides to pull into a friend’s place – a bankrupt veterinary surgery owned by her friend Charlie (Ronny Holiday).

Charlie's fate
Charlie has no landline and gets no reception during storms. Alison examines the girl and finds no cuts or punctures and surmises the blood isn’t hers. She mentions the girl’s face to Charlie. They go back to the room but the girl has vanished. Alison looks for her, whilst Charlie goes to get some tranquiliser he had in stock from the days when the place was open. Alison finds the girl standing in a hallway and when we see the girl’s face it looks masklike, not quite human. When they go to inject her and she resists, ripping Charlie’s throat out.

sharp teeth
Now we see that her teeth are pointed. Alison asks her what she is and she replies that she is God before lunging towards Alison, clearly intent on biting her throat. That is where the film ends. So we don’t have much. The girl has a strange look and sharp teeth. She instinctively bites at Alison’s throat and has the arrogance to say she is God. Clearly the tropes (the teeth and the lunge) could be said to be vampiric. The statement about being God is arrogant enough for a vampire...

aiming for the neck
And at that point I’ll say that this was evidently based on a creepypasta story called the Expressionless or the Expressionless Woman. There isn’t evidence that the original story had vampires in mind, however there are clearly tropes we recognise – the original story has a chomped-on kitten however, when she bites the doctor (in the story) it is to kill not drink it would seem. All in all a tale designed just to be creepy, one that is developing a bit of an urban legend feel (so it has its own Snopes page) and one that uses recognisable tropes within its makeup leaving it to be of genre interest, even if it isn’t actually vamp.

The imdb page is here.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Upcoming film: Ladies of the Red Club

I’ve just come across this and thought I’d leave you the trailers - they are both very different - to have a look at. The film description has been provided by the film’s creative force Alan Pells:

London 1888, jack the Ripper is on the loose, whilst prominent members of societies elite disappear, could Carmen Carlotta and her Red club have something to do with it, and what has Jack the Ripper to do with the club? Detectives Spindle and Clanker are on the case.

Trailer 1:

Trailer 2:

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.