Sunday, April 20, 2014

Honourable Mention: The Pink Panther and Friends – Pink Plasma

The Pink Panther is a cultural classic, a series of cartoons based on the opening credits of the live action crime comedies of the same name and featuring the always cool Pink Panther (character, not diamond). This episode came from the series The Pink Panther and Friends, was directed by Art Leonardi and first aired in 1975.

It features the Pink Panther backpacking through Transylvania when he spots what he takes to be a lodge but is in fact Dracula’s castle. He decides to stay the night and the five minutes of the cartoon is taken up with encounters with an invisible, squeaky footed yeti and a disembodied, knife throwing hand and – of course – Dracula, who is recurring character The Little Man in a vampire get up.

The coffin
PP finds Dracula's coffin and, assuming it to be the coffin of a really dead man buries it. When the sun sets the coffin rises out of the ground and Dracula is on the hunt for some pink plasma. Of course hunting PP is never going to be that easy and there are irate spiders plus a moat living shark for the bungling vampire to contend with. Dracula can always assume the form of a crap bat, of course. When day breaks vampire, castle and all the other inhabitants vanish.

The imdb page is here.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Unwanted – review

Director: Bret Wood

Release Date: 2013

Contains spoilers

Director Bret Wood was the man behind the magnificent Indie flick Psychopathia Sexualis and, indeed, I interviewed him about that film. So when I was contacted by him and told he had a new film, it was based on Carmilla and would I like to view it… Well, let us just say I almost gave myself whiplash replying in the affirmative.

Of course the level of excitement I felt, as the film began to play, could have left me disappointed once the film was over – it didn’t. Rather it left me, with a smile playing across my lips, cogitating about a very fresh take on the Carmilla story. It also left me knowing that I had to write these two first paragraphs as a preamble, thus warning you that I am somewhat taken by the Unwanted.

Christen Orr as Carmilla
It has also left me with a quandary, how much of the film do I spoil? After all, the basic Carmilla story is well known but it is the revealing of the layers, the interactions and development of the characters (past and present) that make this film and I hope to not stray too much into spoiler territory with regards that. However I do want to discuss a fascinating story choice that Bret decided upon. I have to say at the outset that this is certainly not a horror film, I would say that it is a psychosexual drama set within a Gothic Americana landscape. It all begins as Carmilla (Christen Orr) arrives in a rural American town by bus.

Troy denies knowledge
She walks out into the country, looking for a specific address. She knocks on the door and a timid young lady, Laura (Hannah Fierman, V/H/S & the Vampire Diaries), answers. Carmilla says she is looking for someone who used to live there but Laura’s family have always lived there. Her dad, Troy (William Katt), takes over the conversation. The person Carmilla is looking for is Mircalla Karnstein (Kylie Brown). Troy denies knowledge of anyone with that name but does offer Carmilla a lift back into town.

Hannah Fierman as Laura
Carmilla goes to the police department to look at the public records of calls regarding Troy’s home, but it will take 2 days for the records to be found and compiled. She then goes to a diner and is handed, when she sits down, a cold drink. She looks up and sees the waitress is Laura. She orders coffee but Laura brings some food over. It is clear that Carmilla doesn’t have the funds for food by her reaction but Laura insists she has it. Laura asks about Mircalla and we discover that she is Carmilla’s mother – though she never saw her. Carmilla is both guarded (indeed, in an interesting costuming choice she wears a breastplate through much of the film) and a little touchy about her mother.

Tell me my life is about to begin...
Laura suggests that her father may not have technically been lying (about her living in the house, he was lying about not knowing her) but may know more than he let on and suggests Carmilla meets her back at the diner at 3. In the intervening scene we see Laura’s hand languish over a carving knife. Laura takes her to a trailer that her father used to rent out. Laura doesn’t know if he rented it to Mircalla but he may of, she tells Carmilla. She offers Carmilla the trailer as a place to stay for a couple of days. When she speaks to her father he admits he lied about Mircalla but says he did it for the best of reasons. He intimates that no good could come of knowing about her.

blood is involved
That is about as far as I want to go re their story but you will be aware that Carmilla and Laura do develop a relationship and it does involve blood. Troy believed Mircalla was a vampire and Laura cuts herself. The relationship, as it grows, does involve blood-drinking. I mentioned a fascinating story choice and that appeared within the subtleties of the character portrayals, as the dynamics between Laura and Carmilla were in some respects – as I saw it – inverted to the way they were in Le Fanu’s original. This is despite the fact that Laura seems very fragile in many ways (beyond the obvious reliance on cutting) and Carmilla seems strong.

car crash
It is also interesting that the carriage crash, from the beginning of the original story, does remain in the film but in the form of the historic car crash that brought Mircalla into the family’s life. The car hit a bridge support and Mircalla was the most injured being the passenger. The driver, Dwight (Neal R. Hazard), left by bus for their original destination whilst she was taken to hospital and he never came back. Karen (Lynn Talley), Laura’s deceased mother, took Mircalla in. Carmilla knew Dwight’s surname but we never discover how she knew it, presumably through her research into her mother but we can look to her being something more than just a character, a living symbol within the psychosexual landscape.

in the field
The acting was superb. I immediately recognised Hannah Fierman from V/H/S and have to say that she is a very striking looking young woman, with astoundingly large eyes – and that element gives her face an otherworldly quality and adds to her characterisation. Christen Orr was excellent also as Carmilla and the two actresses worked well together generating a real chemistry. It seemed to me there were some referential nods to the genre. For instance, one scene seemed to subtly parody and subvert the Twilight “lying in a field” scene, and there was a brief moment, through a music box, of Swan Lake that immediately summoned thoughts of Dracula (1931). Talking of music the piece of music over the opening credits was superb.

Kylie Brown as Mircalla
As I suggested, I really liked this. Carmilla is a piece that lends itself to being the basis for psychosexual drama but I was taken very much with the journey this took the Laura character on, the play with the genre (that was very knowing) and that reversal of dynamics I mentioned. 8.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Stixx – review

Author: Remy Porter

First Published: 2013

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: There's a murderer loose in Greystones, a small estuary village tucked against the wintry, wooded trails of O'Halloran Hill. The gory body count begins to rise, sending the media into an all-out feeding frenzy. The village is swamped with police and onlookers, and everybody wants to catch 'The Vampire Killer'.

While the hunt is on James Stixx and his partner-in-crime, Faye Burns discover that beneath the surface is a whole different story, a mystery that goes back decades. The teenagers find everyone has something to lose, or secrets to bury.

And all the while the vampire is waiting ... choosing its moment to strike...

The review: You should never judge a book by its cover, so they say, but can we take a moment to revel in the glory that is the cover of Stixx. A cracking piece of cover art that totally sells the book to me.

The book itself is a piece of crime fiction set in the English countryside, a rural landscape that is haunted by lumbering shells of derelict buildings as sepulchre as a tomb. Winter beaches, uninviting woodlands and fields on which there is no place to hide. In this bleak, winter scene we are witness to a double murder and the killer seems to be a vampire. This is not the suave vampire flitted out of some City goth club and wintering out in the sticks. Nor is it a cloaked member of the gentry, using his mesmeric gaze to trap the fluttering heart of a damsel. The vampire is naked and a ruthless killer and the police can’t seem to catch him.

In this village lives Stixx and he has just met Faye Burns who has recently moved to the village (and has a boyfriend overseas). They begin to try and investigate the attacks but what was great about the primary characters was just how damaged they all were. Stixx works a dead end job (though he may have just lost it), is known to the police due to a bad habit he used to have of setting fires and is a small time drug dealer. Faye has massive psychiatric issues – stemming from her dad having a psychotic break and cutting her twin sister into pieces. Porter writes a great character as they are damaged, sometimes petty, but you still sympathise with them.

Is it a vampire – now that really is a spoiler too far though certainly there is belief that a vampire is out there. I will say that there is a deeper plot aspect, a dark mystery at the heart of village life that, if I had a complaint, seemed just a tad convoluted. However that is a minor issue as the story certainly did keep me with it, but it is those characters that really hook you.

Not a heartthrob vampire, a Count or an angst-ridden vampire in sight, rather a ruthless monster and a novel that is definitely worth your time. 8 out of 10.

Monday, April 14, 2014

McHale’s Navy – the Vampire of Taratupa – review

Director: Hollingsworth Morse

First aired: 1965

Contains spoilers

I must admit that I was unaware of the series McHale’s Navy. As I settled down to watch this vampire orientated episode from the third season that fact left me at somewhat of a disadvantage, I think, and I came away with the impression that it was essentially Bilko at sea (or at a naval base at the very least). I wasn’t far wrong.

From what I gather McHale’s Navy started off as a drama (with comedic elements) in its original pilot form with Ernest Borgnine playing Lt. Commander Quinton McHale one of 18 survivors of a Japanese attack during World War 2 and their struggle against a Lieutenant parachuted in to get them up and running as a fighting force, as they had gone native and were content to just try and survive the rest of the war on the island. However, when it became a syndicated series it was under the producer, Edward J. Montagne, who had been behind the Phil Silver’s Show - making it Bilko in the navy (but in war rather than peacetime).

Benson and Parker
To the specific episode then: Ensign Charles Parker (Tim Conway) is a klutz, when he meets new nurse Lt. Melba Benson (Ann Elder) they are instantly attracted to each other and she is as big a klutz as he is. On their second date they go and watch the vampire movie “Vampire’s Revenge”. We do not get to see the film but we do see the audience reactions and hear parts of it – and the vampire’s faux-Lugosi accent. Following the viewing Parker manages to trap the hand of commanding officer Captain Wallace B. Binghamton (Joe Flynn) in a chair and then knock supply boxes over him with a jeep.

Ernest Borgnine is McHale
Binghamton decides to ship Parker off to a coast-watching location, an assignment that is essentially a suicide run, and thus be done with the clumsy ensign. However he then discovers that Parker has the same incredibly rare blood type (AA6 –ve) and rescinds the order, instead closeting Parker away to keep him safe. Whilst Parker milks this quite a bit, he wants to get back to his mates. Worse they discover that Melba faked the blood records to save him. McHale comes up with a plan to get him back.

our fake Vampire
How the plan was actually meant to work in any meaningful way outside of the fuzzy world of the sitcom was beyond me, but they have Parker dress as a vampire and lie in a coffin. He then menaces Binghamton until McHale and mates come in to the rescue – saying it is Parker’s secret and he turns into a vampire every full moon! Parker then suggests (in an equally faux-Lugosi accent) that he has brought some friends along and in walks the Phantom of the Opera, the Mummy, the Hunchback of Notre Dame and the Wolfman. Binghamton soon sees through the scheme, as well as the disguises, but sends Parker back to his friends anyway.

plus Mummy too
With a quick visit from the Creature from the Black Lagoon as a coda piece, that was about all – so, as in Bilko, it is a fake vampire. I apologies now to fans of the series but I wasn’t aware of it before and won’t be watching more. To me it was just a facsimile of the Phil Silver’s Show, without the distinct advantage of having Phil Silvers in the cast. 4 out of 10.

The episode’s imdb page is here.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Devil’s Gravestone – review

Director: Jay Mackenzie Roach

Release Date: 2010

Contains spoilers

This was one of those frustrating films that, for everything it did right, it managed to make a mistake also. Probably unavoidable, to some degree, when you are making a low budget movie but some of the issues were avoidable.

Let us take the location of the film – Roach City. Creating your own city for the location offers a freedom next to a real world location in that you can design the city as you want it and not have to worry that someone who knows the location will know that the locations are fictional. On the other hand, calling it Roach City makes the viewer start – it makes you wonder who would call a city that, even when you realise the director used his own name.

opening scene
The film starts with a voice over, from main character Jaq (Elle LaMont, who is the new Satanica Pandemonia in From Dusk till Dawn the Series), as she talks about no longer seeing the sun. It’s a little play with expectations. We see a woman, with dried blood at her mouth, and will soon discover this isn’t Jaq. Jaq says that she does not have the disease that goes through *their* veins. She follows their patterns because she is a hunter and it is a male vampire she has come for.

fanged and bloodied
She shoots him twice with a shotgun but then he overpowers her and starts to choke her with a belt as her fingers grasp a nail gun – a nail in the temple and three in the side is followed by a pickaxe (the filmmakers choosing, wisely, not to tackle that effect and so we see the swing). Realising that the vampire was lonely, rather than hungry, she turns on the victim who has been infected. The implication as we move to title screen being that Jaq has killed her.

attacked in the stall
We get a sequence that that is treated to add wear lines into the film and give the impression of a Grindhouse flick, whilst we hear Jaq’s thoughts about “the Scarlet Stalker” (Reece Rios , After Sundown) a serial killer (who she knows is a vampire). We also see black talons being cut and false, human normal nails being applied. This was clever but never actually followed up. We see him on the hunt, a forgettable, normal looking guy – he follows a woman into a bathroom, removes his clothes and then rips the stall door off and attacks. Outside Jaq sets up a high powered sniper rifle down an alleyway and, after speaking to him on the phone, puts a couple of bullets in him. She then gets up close and personal and eventually does overpower him but is stabbed for her trouble also.

Elle LaMont as Jaq
She tortures him to try and get information (overlooking how she managed to get the vampire back and chained down, especially with her injury). He was created by a vampire called Catherine (Mila Moravec), a vampire who lived to turn men into monsters. Jaq has previously disposed of her and it is one of creations she is after, Jaq’s erstwhile husband Cale (Niko Red Star). As the film progresses we discover that his first victim was their young son (Connor Hill). When the injured Jaq gets home we see her shooting up drugs, fixing the stab wound with superglue and setting up a homemade IV as she tries to get through the next day.

Maggie Alone
When she awakens a cop, Dick (Joe Nemmers), is sat there and he brings her into his world. He has watched her for years (he was on the crime scene, when Cale killed the kid) but things have gone strange. We have seen a woman, Maggie (Kristin Sutton), in a wedding dress and she is alone and upset, as well as Cale, in a tux, committing suicide before a church; both scenes in snippets explicitly without referencing. It turns out that Maggie was just married to Cale (not knowing he was a vampire) and he vanished off after the ceremony. Then she was attacked and raped by something, though there was no physical evidence of anyone else there. Three days later and she is in a coma and heavily pregnant.

Dick has taken her to an abandoned building where his friend, Doc (Grant James), experiments on vampires – we see one which is missing everything below the abdomen, chained to a table. Interestingly none of the primary “good” characters see anything wrong in this. The film then takes us down two lore routes. Doc’s experiments have shown that the vampires are stronger and heal fast because their systems are on overdrive – heart rate, immune system, muscles and tendons are all beyond human normal. This burns blood off as fuel and so the body has adapted, linking the digestive system and circulatory system. The appendix becomes a conduit between the systems (one wonders whether that means vampires who have had appendectomies will die – there is a sideswipe comment from Jaq about this). Jaq had already told us that the way to kill a vampire is either massive blood loss, or major trauma to the heart or brain.

Cale's sacrifice
The above is interesting, if a little bit technobabblish. The other lore line goes on about the church, the True Covenant of Christ, which believes that Jesus was Lucifer (in other words the bible is the biggest con job of all time) and a prophecy that a vampire will father a second son (having eaten the first), who will be God’s Shadow. Vampires are sterile, it appears, and the act before the church was Cale’s self-sacrifice to the devil – he does get a body back later. This was also interesting but suffered for two reasons. Firstly there wasn’t the budget that would allow a full representation of this (for instance the invisible sexual assault is not particularly shown), Secondly the film was gritty and down to earth, with a viral/disease explanation and an attempt to draw science into the feeding cycle and the two sides sat uncomfortably with each other.

Doc and Dick
That said, it was ambitious for such a low budget film. The acting was hit and miss all the way through. Jaq’s film noir voice overs worked and you began to get a feel for her and Dick as characters, especially after you let the noir aspect of the film take hold. Grant James offered an idiosyncratic performance that grew on you. Nico Red Star didn’t work for me as Cale, however. There were aspects that made me startle that I won’t reveal due to them being a spoiler too far but brought a serious story faux pas to light. The effects weren’t bad for a low budget film, but the 70s-esque filming hid a lot of issues. The story didn’t flow in places but ultimately kept my attention. I did like the fact that the good characters were absolutely fundamentally flawed.

Cale turned
So, not bad for an indie effort, but it had issues. Some of those were budget based (the range of the storyline somewhat outstripped the budget on hand, though they did a lot with little). Some were down to expectation – the in-half vampire I expected to have some form of role, other than showing the main characters’ absolutely degenerated level of morality. Some could have been solved by the filmmakers – such as the poorer end of acting. All in all it probably deserves 5 out of 10, but with a caveat that it is worth seeing as an indie offering. The IMDb page is here.