Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Sixth Watch – review

Author: Sergei Lukyanenko

Translator: Andrew Bromfield

First published (English): 2016

Contains spoilers

The blurb: The Streets of Moscow aren’t safe. Vampires are attacking innocent people, and the names of the victims are spelling out a message: ANTON GORODETSKY.

Higher Light Magician Anton is one of the Others, possessed of magical powers and able to enter the Twilight, a shadowy world parallel to our own. Each Other must swear allegiance to one side: either the Light, or the Dark.

But who is after Anton and what do they want? Anton’s investigation leads him to a Prophet, an Other with the gift of seeing the future. Her horrifying vision heralds the end of all life at the hands of an ancient threat – unless Anton can reunite a mysterious organisation known only as the Sixth Watch, before it’s too late.

The Review: When I have looked at the previous books of Lukyanenko’s series I have vascilated between reviews and Honourable Mentions, depending on the amount of vampiric activity within the volume (those articles can be found via the following links: Night Watch, Day Watch, Twilight Watch, the Last Watch & The New Watch). In this (reportedly the last volume in the series) the vampires are front and centre.

Not only do we have the attacks as listed within the blurb, but we get to see the vampire hierarchy and discover their own myths and legends (which may well be true) that suggest that they were the first Others. There is a vampire involved, known as Lilith, who may or may not be the source of the myth. There is also a vampire who, when he removes the illusions that make him look human, is revealed to be Neanderthal. Now, having a Neanderthal vampire is not a new idea but it is rare enough to be mentioned.

As for the book itself. Well as soon as I started reading it was like meeting up with an old friend – I discovered that I had actually missed Anton and that is the power of a good, well written (and translated) character. That Russian feel is still there in spades and the only downside was realising that the reported end of the series is likely to be true given an event in novel.

8.5 out of 10.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Blood Trap – review

Director: Alberto Sciamma

Release date: 2015

Contains spoilers

Appearing on Amazon’s VoD circuit this was a vampire film I hadn’t heard of before viewing – so I guess it kind of crept out of leftfield. It was filmed in Italy but is classed as a USA/UK production – however the Italian setting offers an air that is more in line with Euro-horror, even if the plot is essentially a take on Ten Little Indians.

The film also has an absurdist edge to it that works really quite well and adds something to a film that could have languished in mediocrity had that edge not been there. As it is, it plays around with the vampire tropes and leaves you thinking.

ready for retirement
It starts with Roman (Costas Mandylor, Immortally Yours) crawling along a corridor. He reaches for a gun and puts it to his head… Pop goes a Champagne cork and we see Roman, in his prison warden uniform, as his colleagues celebrate his retirement. Sat at home, with their gift of a zippo, he phones an ex-colleague called Boria (Gianni Capaldi). Boria was sacked for having his hand in the till (and likely served time).

Vinnie Jones as Big John
They discuss a scheme (it sounds like it is Roman’s plan) to kidnap and ransom Nika (Elena Mirela), the daughter of a mob boss. Boria has an idea for a crew – all of whom have been through Roman’s prison. There is Big John (Vinnie Jones, the Bleeding), Alec (Drew Kenney), and partners Santa (Denny Mendez) and Zita (Grazia Leone). In the early dawn they raid the house, killing two guards at a tunnel and entering through one of two basements.

about to shoot up
Nika is taking a bath (in a negligée and stockings) and, by the time that the gang get to her she is just about to shoot up some morphine. They bundle her into a body bag and head out – Alec pocketing her drugs and needles. However, as they leave shutters start coming down on the windows and the very tough doors lock. During this Big John tries to hold one of the shutters up but it slams down removing his fingers.

the rest of the gang
Cut to the kitchen and Nika being questioned about the shutters and how to open them. She is not forthcoming, suggesting they will open automatically at sunset. Mainly she asks for her drugs – a plea that Big John echoes as pain relief for his damaged hands. Roman shoots him – Vinnie Jones' part in the film was no more than a minor cameo. Essentially Nika gets loose – mainly to look for her drugs, which are the only thing that keeps her urges at bay. She is, after all, a vampire.

The plot then sees the villains trying to escape as they are picked off. We get surreal moments such as animalistic men in the (very narrow) sewer pipes – presumably victims now living an undead life in the sewers but never venturing beyond those areas (so we see little of them). There are frozen body parts in a walk-in freezer but the most interesting things happen around the vampire tropes. We can assume sunlight is an issue – hence the shutters and we see Nika get shot but survive whereas a turned criminal is shot repeatedly and eventually dies (we also see decapitation stop a turned vampire).

When they find a room full of babies and toddlers – with blood bags attached – the thought goes to them being a snack collection. Actually they are Nika’s babies and her 268-year role has been to be a brood mare for these vampire infants – though some are so human they cannot bite. We do, therefore, get a vampire baby biting some of the criminals. She also breeds with one of the blokes but she doesn’t use seduction, she simply forces a Viagra down his throat and waits for the drug to take effect and then rapes him. The gestation period for a vampire baby is incredibly fast, it would seem. When she loses control she ages into a crone and her physical appearance was a tad reminiscent of the Rec movies – the fact that Roman dons armour at one point was also reminiscent of Rec 3 – however this presentation of maiden (their first impression of her being the daughter of the mob boss), mother and crone was interesting in its own right.

Nika in crone mode
The film’s epilogue was deliberately strange but it is the strangeness that lifts the film above the very generic ten Little Indians plot. The past history between Roman and the rest of the gang wasn’t really exploited in any satisfying way. Gianni Capaldi really stole the show as Boria but relative newcomer Drew Kenney gave him a run for his money. The rest of the acting was ok – Jones’ pained character was perhaps overly melodramatic rather than realistic but he is in it so little that you could have blinked and missed it and he wasn’t really given the time to do much more with the character.

It is the strangeness that keeps this afloat and pushes it above average. 5.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

V-Wars: Shockwaves

Edited by: Jonathan Maberry

First published: 2016

Contains spoilers

The blurb: The Vampire Wars are raging. We're all infected. Anyone can turn at any time. Your ally one minute could be at your throat the next. Or you go suddenly crave their blood. V-WARS: SHOCKWAVES chronicles the spread of bloodlust, bloodshed, and violence between the living and the undead.

The review: I am a fan of the V-Wars series; I make no secret of that. If you look at my reviews of the first three volumes (One, two & three). You’ll see that I have heaped praise (and 9 out of 10 reviews) on them.

It saddens me therefore that this volume sees a dip in quality. Now that is not to say it is bad. There are some damn fine stories in here. However, it isn’t entirely consistent. It does have some nice arc moments with the emergence of the Red Empire – a quasi-religious group who worship a messiah figure of the Red Emperor – that being patient zero Michael Fayne, who they believe will return and lead them. We also get a reveal, at the end of the volume, of the identity of the Crimson Queen.

For Mayberry fans there are cameos of Joe Ledger and other characters from the Ledger series. We get a welcome return of the V-Wars character Mooney in a tale and the stories range a little further internationally. We also discover that not all the vampires are as a result of the Ice Virus and that some strains had survived and were around before the virus activated junk DNA.

I was disappointed by the editorial decision to keep most of the shorts as complete pieces (bar Mayberry’s own Wet Works and Red Empire, which are split into the more familiar vignette format). There also seemed, despite containing a multitude of vampire types, less of a "who's who" list going on. One of the stories, Young Bloods by Mike Watts seemed slightly out of place, in that it felt that it was set out of the V-Wars at some point in the future, concentrating (as it does) on a vampire only school that had been around for over a decade. However this is the first volume where I have actually felt a story was not as well written as the rest of the volume. Silver and Lead by John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow just felt a little sub-par to me. Now that may be unfair as the quality of prose is so good generally, but it knocked my immersion in the volume.

8 out of 10.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Kung Fu Vampire – review

Director: Cheung-Yan Yuen

Release date: 1993

Contains spoilers

Xiang xi shi wang is a film that centres itself on corpse herding and the term vampire and zombie seems interchangeable in the subtitles. In fact, the corpses are, mostly, well behaved through the film (bar one faux attack and being controlled in battle). It is the herders – or voodoo men as the subtitles call them – who are the misbehaving element in the film.

As such we don’t get any real vampiric action in the film but the kyonsi are front and centre throughout the film.

Zombie King
The film starts with a quick voiceover about corpse herding and the methods used (we see them floated on platters behind a pilotless boat, carried, hopping and flying). Then we see two herders bringing a line of hopping corpses along the road. They don’t notice a pair of cops grab a corpse and pull it into the bushes to search. However Zombie King (the leader of the herders) knows all about this and flies in (by the medium of magic cloak) to admonish the herders.

A group of cops led by Cha try to arrest Zombie King and his herders – the charge being that they use the bodies for unspeakable acts. However the arrest is resisted and a battle ensues. Despite greatly outnumbering the herders, the cops have their asses handed to them, Cha is grievously wounded and orders a retreat. Zombie King, of course, promises revenge for interfering with his business.

Yong and Qin
We see a “couple” on a boat (along with a singing boatman) They are Qin and Yong. Yong acts as though Qin is his girlfriend (even saying so at times) and she acts as though she is oblivious of his feelings. He is a comedy character throughout, prone to histrionics. They have come over from Japan as Qin’s father has died (it is Cha, we quickly discover), though ethnically neither are portrayed as Japanese – rather they are Han Chinese, as the film reiterates and I’ll return to ethnicity shortly. The boat trip is long enough to provide some misadventures – establishing Yong’s comedy status – and to let us know we are in Xiang Xi.

entering the morgue
When they get to the village we have some more misadventures around the morgue and Qin discovers that her father has been taken by corpse herders already, so as to get him to his home village. She decides to follow after but ends up fighting herders and being rescued by Dang (son of the local king). Back to ethnicity and the village is made up of a Miao Clan. Yong thinks of the locals as primitive (and this seems more based on ethnic divides than simple country vs city issues). They are quick to label the pair as Han. However I do not know enough about Chinese ethnic groups to get the nuances (if there are any).

Zombie King addresses the smugglers
Qin is a doctor (it appears, though later it is established that she and Yong are student doctors) and she offers to save the Miao King’s grandson – however when the injection she gives seems to kill the lad (who is dying of pneumonia) the King looks to have them summarily executed. Again Dang rescues them and then they start their quest for Cha’s body in earnest. Their misadventures will, of course, have them return to the village.

acting as a kyonsi
I mentioned a faux attack and one kyonsi has its prayer scroll removed and seems to go on the attack – however it is actually a robber waiter at a tavern acting as a vampire and attacking them. The reason the police are after the herders is because they are opening up their wards’ bodies, removing the intestines and filling them with gold and opium. The corpses are then used to transport the contraband.

Qin finds her father's corpse
The film is ok but I really could have lived without the worst excesses of Yong as a comedy character. Qin was more a cipher than a well-rounded character and that is a shame as she would have made a brilliant female lead had the filmmakers chosen to use her better. There are some plot issues (one around the faux kyonsi, for instance) and the kung fu is passable, even if it is not the best I have seen. All told 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Vamp or Not? Finger of Doom

This was a Shaw Brothers production from 1972 that was directed by Pao Hsueh-Li and originally entitled Tai Yin Zhi. It has all the stylish hallmarks of the Shaw Brothers and an intriguing central premise that leads us neatly into the ‘Vamp or Not?’

It opens with a "hero", Chang Kung Chin (Yeung Chi-Hing, Enchanting Shadow & the Black Tavern) inviting four young swordsmen to discuss the appearance of a new player in martial arts, Kung Suen Mao Neong (Park Ji-Hyeon), the mistress of the Finger of Doom. The meeting is a trap, they are forced to spar and then Kung Suen Mao Neong fights them and embeds a needle in the back of each one’s neck, from a set of finger sheaths, causing them to fall in agony. She feeds them an antidote making them fearless of pain and death and obedient to her. They are taken off, given white robes, and then she gets into a coffin and they carry her off.

carrying coffin
An intriguing opening, which is followed quickly by us meeting our protagonists. The heroine (Ivy Ling Po), whose name we are never given, is sent out by her Mistress (Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Kung Fu from Beyond the Grave), the Leader of the Finger of Doom clan, to kill her renegade clan sister. She sets to using the Finger of Doom needles on a series of criminals to make them her slaves and carry her coffin also. Elsewhere two brothers, Lu Tien Bao (Chin Han) and the younger Ju Jian (Chen Feng-Chen), make and paint umbrellas. The elder is content but the younger misses their swordsman days. Their middle brother, Tang Juen Shung (Hung Sing-Chung), shows up and then tries to blackmail Chang Kung Chin for the massacre of a clan. He is taken by the baddies and the search for him draws the two swordsmen out of retirement and they cross the heroine’s path.

feeling no pain
So, what’s going on? The needled swordsmen are referred to as the living dead. The needle administers a poison and the antidote is temporary, giving them just 10 days’ relief. However, it really does seem to set up a full control of the person, they become ashen of face and removal of the needle stops them. One practitioner swapping needles (and administering their form of the antidote) can take control of the swordsman and the more sinful a person is the more effective the poison is in controlling them. There is some confusion in film as to whether they are alive or dead, however.

We actually see one killed through a strike to the throat and left to be found by officials. However the body is then retrieved from the morgue by the baddies – so whether this is covering tracks or to resuscitate him we don’t know. We do see them eating and drinking a meal at one point. At another point the bad guys have the protagonists over a barrel and yet retreat as the cock crows. At first I thought that this was because Kung Suen Mao Neong’s brand of Kung Fu is said to be a form that can be effective only at night, however the heroine intimates that her sister’s swordsmen are dead and would rot if they were exposed to sunlight for four hours.

fighting the "living dead"
It’s quite a hotchpotch. The idea of poisoning and then offering an antidote to take over someone reminded me of Haitian zombies (specifically around the Serpent and the Rainbow type lore). The use of needles (indeed golden needles, as Kung Suen Mao Neong uses) reminded me of what would later be used in Wolf Devil Woman - except the needles were in fetish dolls and froze the corpse, so kind of inverted. The women use coffins as it is traditional in their clan when using Kung Fu to travel in coffins – there is no occult/vampiric reason. The last piece of evidence is the fact that the subtitles I saw actually refer to the swordsmen as vampires, once.

Ivy Ling Po as 
All in all, I don’t think we can call this a vampire movie. There are elements reminiscent of western tropes – such as putrefaction in daylight – but though they are said, at one point, to be the living dead they are more like zombies (as in those created and controlled by a voodoo master) than vampires. They don’t do anything particularly vampiric and they are far enough removed from the kyonsi type to really need to be doing something vampiric. Not Vamp but a fine Shaw Brothers film with some really nice cinematography. The imdb page is here.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Blood Let – review

Director: J.R. McGarrity

Release date: 2013

Contains spoilers

Opening with a quote from Rickles’ the Vampire Lectures is probably not the best way to open a vampire film. Whilst I have time for the book (as you’ll see if you nip over to my review of it) it can be a tad impenetrable.

Therefore the quote that opens this – concerning the murder of the Other – may prove itself to be an impenetrable opening for a budget end movie – an indication, perhaps, of ideas above its station. However, it is those very ideas that made this so watchable to me. The film had issues but the fact that it looked behind the veil of the tropes/myth and announced its thoughts belied the perhaps less stellar cinematography and perhaps some crass aspects also.

Clint Jung as Mr Wang
So, as the film starts we meet Gus (Rollin Blanton) an apartment manager doing some plumbing for tenant Tiffany (Cassandra Leach). Music blasts from downstairs as Bob (Ken MacFarlane) cross dresses and Tiffany has plenty to say about the noises from Bob’s apartment. Gus can see at crotch height and Tiffany is barely wearing her panties. When he stands he realises her blouse has fallen open exposing a breast, goes to fix her blouse and is accused of touching her nipple. She complains to his boss, Mr Wang (Clint Jung, the Revenant, Aleta: Vampire Mistress & Teeth and Blood)

Rollin Blanton as Gus
Mr Wang, an old gentleman on inhalers and oxygen, is less than happy. Not just over Tiffany’s complaint but because a tenant committed suicide and Wang wants the apartment emptying and re-letting. When Gus found the deceased tenant hanging in the attic he put his foot through the ceiling of a Mrs Ezell (Angele Caron) and Wang wants that fixing. Gus is an ex-cop who “retired” when he killed a kid (in a clown suit), who killed Gus’ partner Loretta (Tia Bean) and Gus himself was shot in the head. As a result, he is under psychiatric care and is prone to bad dreams.

quiet zompire
His dream, this time around, is of finding the hanging tenant and then seeing Mrs Ezell in an animalistic, Evil Dead sort of configuration. She comes across as quite zompire to be fair with a definitely dead complexion but with sharp teeth that she uses on rats. Before he awakens the hanging tenant says, “don’t let them in.” Gus awakens because his phone is going off and it is a couple, Connor (David Landry, also Teeth and Blood & True Blood) and Star (Elise Jackson), at the front of the apartment asking to be let in as they want the (as yet unadvertised) apartment. As it is three in the morning he refuses.

Connor and Star
Of course, they are vampires and his does let them in eventually. They are responsible for the deaths of the tenant and also Mrs Ezell (it transpires that Gus’ dreams are more real than he knew). What I found interesting was that they were identified as vampires but also succubus and incubus – from that class of demon. This recognises the similarity in trope/folklore/psychological backstory for the creatures. Later we also get them tied into the tension between liberals and conservatives, which falls back on Voltaire almost – with mass consumerism (and the consumers thereof) being likened to zombies.

silver was in the bloodstream
Lore wise there needs to be a two way passing of blood between vampire and victim to change. They seem able to appear and disappear once they have been let in – and of course the invitation trope is central to the story – but once allowed in a building they become very difficult to remove. They have a leader who calls the shots but interestingly doesn’t have to be the oldest vampire. Silver burns their flesh and can kill them (especially if someone’s blood is laced with silver and they drink it). They sleep in earth (not necessarily coffins) and avoid sunlight.

vampire attack in the shower
The acting wasn’t necessarily brilliant and the script moved into crass territory from time to time. The SFX is not necessarily top notch – seeing Star walk in with an obvious bald head piece was distracting. However I was transfixed by some of the undertone and exploration of the tropes and that really pushes the score up for me to 5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Blood of the Dragon: The Journals of Vlad Draculya the Impaler – review

Author: David T Pudlevitcz

Illustrator: David St. Albans

Release date: 2015

Contains spoilers

The blurb: Being the only true journal of Vladislaus Tepes Bassarab called Draculya; Voivode of Wallachia, Knight Order of the Dragon, Defender of the Faith and the Realm of the Holy Roman Empire, Count of Transylvania, Protector of Moldavia, Bey of the Ottoman Sultans, Alchemist, Necromancer, Vampyre! Penned by his own dead hand.

The review: The first thing to say about Blood of the Dragon is that it is a tome of considerable length. Published as penned by Pudlecitcz and illustrated by St Albans the first conceit of the book is that it is a publication of the actual journal of Vlad III, bookended with chapters around the archaeologists forced to do so by the vampire.

This vampire is the creature of Stoker’s novel but it was Stoker who led the fight against the vampire and Dracula is (an inaccurate, according to the vampire) recollection of those events.

The bulk of the novel takes in the events surrounding the birth and life of Vlad III and ties vampirism in at an early stage in his life when Vlad and friends, whilst in Constantinople at age 9, are attacked by a vampire. Vlad is forced to help detect the grave and destroy the vampire – and this includes pouring the vampire’s blood over the boy. Unfortunately blood gets into a cut on Vlad’s tongue and the “vampiric ally” attaches itself to the boy – therefore much of Vlad’s bloodthirstiness in life was due to being a living vampire.

You can see this as a type of vampiric possession and Vlad is lucky to survive with soul/will intact and not become a minor undead. Eventually the ally is exorcised but Vlad will, subsequently, invite another ally to become a parasitic/symbiotic part of himself and this is what allows him to live beyond death.

The book invokes a variety of names and types of vampires, draws in some figures such as Erzsébet Báthory and the Comte de Saint-Germain (as periphery mentions more than anything) and layers fiction onto history (and some pseudo-history) in a satisfying way. The archaic turns of phrase actually work in context – especially compared to other books where they jar. Most fundamentally the book draws on Lovecraftian mythos at its heart.

This version of Dracula can walk during overcast days, when well fed, but temporarily dies in sunlight (the book actually misses, given it was supposedly written at the end of the 19th century, that sunlight was not listed within vampiric myth in any great measure, if at all, until the release of Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens). This Dracula feasts on negative emotion as much as the blood it is conveyed on and steals souls for his master as he does so (to reveal more than this is too much of a spoiler).

The most important thing the book manages to do is give the character a strong voice; it is a narcissistic, egoist voice, prone to self-contradiction and repeating salient points – but it is a genuine voice. Worth the entry price, indeed. 7.5 out of 10.