Saturday, April 25, 2015

Honourable Mention: Vampir, Zan-e khoon-asham

From director Mostafa Oskooyi and released in 1967, this is a real rarity and so I have to apologise for the quality of the screenshots but the version of this I managed to see was clearly a poor video rip. That said I don’t believe that a pristine copy of this is likely to emerge any time soon. However, due to the fact that the quality was so low – I struggled seeing what was happening in some scenes – I have not reviewed the film as I could not judge the quality of the film due to the low quality of the reproduction.

Vampir, Zan-e khoon-asham, or the Vampire Woman, is (as far as I can gather) the first example of an Iranian vampire film and I must warn you I will spoil the main twist.

first appearance
It begins with a man, Jahangir (Mostafa Oskooyi), being taken into police custody. He begs them to let him stay in the office, whilst protesting his innocence and even begs them to stay with him. He is left on his own, his protestations ignored, and we see a woman wearing a hijab... she is a vampire…

Jahangir and Bahram
Going back in time, a train pulls into Neychabour station and a man, Bahram (Mehdi Fat'hi), chases alongside, excited that his friend Jahangir has come to visit. He takes him on a tour, visiting Khayyam’s house, Sheikh Attar’s tomb and the new tomb of Kamal-ol-molk. Following this he takes Jahangir to where he lives and they meet Mashti working in the groves along with his daughter Golnar (Mahindokht). Jahangir decides he wishes to sleep amongst the trees.

Mahindokht as Golnar
That night Bahram warns Jahangir about Golnar, saying that it is said that she is haunted by a Jinn – indeed one was said to have taken her brother. He also suggests that, when near her, an invisible Jinn has tried to strangle him. Jahangir counters that she might be a vampire but Bahram does not know what that is. Interestingly Jahangir, before explaining, directs Bahram to a literary source in the form of the Count of Monte Cristo, thus evoking the Byronic vampire. He then says that vampires and Dracula (perhaps using Dracula as a type rather than an individual?) are creatures like goblins.

Mostafa Oskooyi as Jahangir
He suggests that they can go inside people’s bodies and then come out at night to drink blood – suggesting vampiric possession – but then also mentions that someone killed by a vampire will become one too. Bahram then says that Golnar’s brother might be a vampire, his body went missing and this was blamed on hyenas but later he was seen walking in the valley under the moonlight – don’t ask me why but that immediately pushed my thoughts to Wuthering Heights. Golnar comes along and Bahram cries vampire and passes out – Jahangir suggests his friend has drunk too much. He tells Golnar he wishes to see the moon and she suggests Khayyam’s tomb as the best place to go to see it but refuses to go with him as a wedding is taking place the next day.

the kiss
The film lingers over the wedding for perhaps too long pacing wise, though the traditional wedding and songs were culturally fascinating. Jahangir arranges to meet Golnar and they do meet at midnight at the tomb. She admits that she has prayed that he might fall in love with her and they kiss, marriage is mentioned. Then we see Jahangir leaving, he tells the distraught girl that he will return soon – but ignores her pleas to go with him and her fear that she might be pregnant.

Homayoondokht as Parvin
Back in Tehran and we see that he is a bit of a rake – indeed the use of the Byronic connection was apt. One of his employees, Mr Zeymaran (Mohammad Kahnemout), is getting married. Jahangir cannot understand how someone as ugly as he could meet a beautiful wife like his new bride Parvin (Homayoondokht). He makes disparaging remarks about the place of ugly women (keeping house) and when he dances with her he clearly flirts. He takes the couple out to buy them suits, but is clearly to impress the new bride, and as soon as he arranges for Zeymaran to have to go on a business trip he phones her up.

found bitten
Around this time he gets an accusatory letter from Bahram, regarding his treatment of Golnar. The letter also suggests that Golnar went missing in winter and was eventually found dead but with clear fang marks on her neck and her blood drained. She is destined, he suggests, to return as a vampire. And, indeed, the vampiric Golnar makes an appearance saying that she wants Jahangir's life, that he belongs to the world of ghosts and that she will kill any woman he loves…

Golnar as a vampire
To bring the twist out, we are in London After Midnight territory with Golnar acting as a vampire, conspiratorially with Bahram, to teach the rake a lesson. The main lore the film uses was given us in the first part of the film. All in all it’s an interesting concept and – whether she had been a vampire or acted as one – the idea of the vampire being the woman wronged was a nice one that reaches back as a vampire trope as far as the 1824 the Virgin Vampire but seemed to fit rather well in this Iranian tale.

The imdb page is here.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bikini Vampire Babes – review

Directors: Ted West & Margaret Root

Release date: 2010

Contains spoilers

I must admit to having approached this with trepidation… I mean the title alone was enough to cause that. It just summoned memories of films such as Vampires on Bikini Beach (which in turn summons the foul stench of Malibu Beach Vampires) and so I put it into the DVD drive and waited…

And despite the fact that it is rubbish, it is certainly no-where near the train wreck I suspected it might be. It was, dare I say it, amusing in places and certainly not as awful as the two films I linked above. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t make this a great film – although the unashamed crap bat moments rank high in the so bad it's good category – but it wasn’t as bad as I feared.

Puerto Rico
It starts off with a flashback to Puerto Rico – an amateurish graphic of a burning beach house and some palm trees representing the place – when two vampire hunters came for Lizette (Sharis Fajardo) using silver bullets (in error) and paying for their attack. Lizette – centuries before – had been married to a landowner and though they had no children she has since created them (of a sort, as she says). She now makes a living by competing in bikini contests.

JoJo as Bree
The one she is heading for is also the first contest entered by Bree (JoJo) . Bree’s sleazy manager Tom (Jesse Storm) has rigged the contest, following which he thinks he’ll be able to get her to sign a (presumably more exploitative) contract. As we see – mainly through the credits – the contest, a thought struck me. Strip clubs and pole dancing have become a common locational trope through the genre and this was, in essence, no different as a location – there were a couple of poles, the girls wore little but their “performances” were less energetic than an atypically portrayed pole dance.

Bree and Tom
So Bree wins, when Lizette was convinced victory would be hers. She goes to find Tom and Bree, beats up Tom (in a most unconvincing fashion), takes the prize winnings and then sucks on Bree’s neck to turn her – all attacks are accompanied with a comedy sucking noise. The next day Bree is back working at the fast food drive-thru, when Lizette picks her up (we’ll get to the fact that this was in the day and the inconsistency around sunlight later). They are heading for Vegas and Tom is following… Also tracking Lizette is Resa (Kimberly R Jones), whose father and grandfather were the vampire hunters from the head of the film.

Sharis Fajardo as Lizette
On the road we get to see Minion (Rod Harris), who first appears as a bat and we do get some great moments of Crap Bat Syndrome; for instance, whether splatted on the car’s windshield or "flying" we always get wires in shot. It turns out that Lizette’s clan is a matriarchal one, she seeds family members around the country as she travels and the male victims are destined to become slaves to the females. They don’t get to Vegas, however, as the car breaks down and they end up staying with potential victims Jane (Talor Reazin) and Dick (Ron Benton).

instantaneous immolation
Sunlight rules seem inconsistent – generally, going out in the sun is ok when vampire sunblock is used and going out without sunblock leads to instantaneous immolation. Yet Bree seems fine in the sun without the sunblock the day after turning (arguably she is not fully turned and yet has to use the sunblock later whilst still not fully turned). I should mention that the film uses some obviously filtered day for night shots as well, which isn't a brilliant technique and compounds the apparent inconsistency around the sunlight rules. Stakes will kill, garlic does nothing (Lizette lived in Italy for over 100 years) and crosses cause a painful feeling. Vampires reflect and can be videoed (Lizette keeps a vlog detailing all her movements and gets extra hits when she posts a feed – yet somehow Resa thinks the vampire is always one step ahead of her!) The first bite on a victim subdues them allowing a peaceful feed.

vampire sunblock
OK, its fluff, absolute and unadulterated fluff with bikinis offering a low level titillation. However the film revels in its cheap and fluffy nature and the stars, whilst hardly offering anything close to award winning performances, are clearly having fun. The story is tissue thin and I sat watching it expecting a new entry to the Worst 100 list and was honestly shocked when, as watching it, realising it was going to score too high for that. Played for laughs more than anything else, after all this is a film where a vampire is defeated through their coulrophobia, this probably deserves 3 out of 10 as a piece of film.

The imdb page is here and a homepage here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Things that Fly in the Night – review

Author: Gizelle Liza Anatol

First published: 2015

Contains Spoilers

The Blurb: The Things That Fly in the Night explores images of vampirism in Caribbean and African diasporic folk traditions and in contemporary fiction. Giselle Liza Anatol focuses on the figure of the soucouyant, or Old Hag—an aged woman by day who sheds her skin during night’s darkest hours in order to fly about her community and suck the blood of her unwitting victims. In contrast to the glitz, glamour, and seductiveness of conventional depictions of the European vampire, the soucouyant triggers unease about old age and female power. Tracing relevant folklore through the English- and French-speaking Caribbean, the U.S. Deep South, and parts of West Africa, Anatol shows how tales of the nocturnal female bloodsuckers not only entertain and encourage obedience in pre-adolescent listeners, but also work to instil particular values about women’s “proper” place and behaviours in society at large.

Alongside traditional legends, Anatol considers the explosion of soucouyant and other vampire narratives among writers of Caribbean and African heritage who in the past twenty years have rejected the demonic image of the character and used her instead to urge for female mobility, racial and cultural empowerment, and anti-colonial resistance. Texts include work by authors as diverse as Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, U.S. National Book Award winner Edwidge Danticat, and science fiction/fantasy writers Octavia Butler and Nalo Hopkinson.

The Review: When I saw that this volume, which carries the secondary title “Female Vampires in Literature of the Circum-Caribbean and African Diaspora”, was due for publication I became very excited as the soucouyant myth receives little attention (in Europe anyway). The name (or a variant thereof, namely soucriant) is used for the vampire type in the film Byzantium but the vampires are whitewashed racially and the core lore of the creatures (shedding their skin, becoming balls of fire and being destroyed in the sun if their skin is not back on by the morning light) is lost. It did not surprise me, therefore, that the film was not mentioned in the book.

The Byzantium vampires were, of course, most definitely vampires (and the film drew inspiration from both Byron and Polidori) but some might question the vampire pedigree of the soucouyant (both students of vampire folklore and scholars of the very circum-Caribbean literature examined in the book). Anatol admits, in her lengthy introduction: “I have also been asked by numerous African Studies Scholars: “Why are you using the word ‘vampire’? Isn’t that a European tradition?”” And suggests that, “I would argue, however, that failing to use the word “vampire” confines the African Americans’ traditions to a marginal status, perpetuating the idea among majority populations that the only “true” vampires – the only “real” vampires – are White/European.” Of course, here at TMtV we use the broadest church of the term vampire.

The book itself is scholarly, with extensive references and indexing. If there was a fault it was with me rather than the book. The majority of the literature looked at was unknown to me and has shown a gap in my reading that I am going to look to fill; certainly I now have a desire to read Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching and Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring. However that gap in my reading made the book that little more difficult to work through than if I had been more familiar of the sources discussed. Of course not all the books were unknown to me, for instance Blood of the Vampire was examined.

I will add that Anatol does not mention the 1819 story The Black Vampyre: A Legend of Saint Domingo, and whilst not based on the soucouyant it was an unfortunate omission given that the 1819 story is the first American vampire story I am aware of, it is the first instance of a black vampire and it is apparently the first story to argue universal emancipation.

There is also no mention that the old hag folklore is not simply Circum-Caribbean and African Diaspora and has a lot of European equivalents (and the use of the same name of hag). Perhaps that is an indication of myth bleeding between the African slaves and the European slavers or perhaps just evidenced of it being a more universal figure. The Old Hag (like the soucouyant) is the outsider, at the edge of society and reviled as a symbol of the female fight against the male dictated “proper place” (and, as much as Byzantium whitewashed race, it did very much base its story on a level of misogyny that saw the two heroines hunted through the centuries by the otherwise exclusively male vampire society).

This is not the easiest book to plough through if the reader is unfamiliar with the majority of sources but it is still a necessary and welcome addition to vampire studies. 6.5 out of 10.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Marvel’s Avengers Assemble: Blood Feud – review

Director: Jeff Allen

First aired: 2013

Contains spoilers

Of course, the Avengers (2012) was a must see super-hero movie and so it is little surprise that it spawned a cartoon spin-off. (Confusingly the movie was released in the UK as Avengers Assemble making the cartoon series carry the same name.) Being set in the Marvel universe also means, of course, that Dracula (Corey Burton, the Amazing Screw-On Head, Hotel Transylvania & Vampire Secrets) could appear.

Dracula
Visually Dracula is designed to look like the modern Marvel take – touched on when I reviewed the Death of Dracula rather than the classic Dracula look from the Tomb of Dracula. My understanding is that he is a recurring character – appearing in six episodes of season 1. This episode, his opening appearance, was pointed out to me by Alex and it happened to have been uploaded onto YouTube – so I decided to look at this on its own. As always, I am grateful when directed towards things that haven’t been on the blog yet.

vampire Black Widow
The episode begins with an assault on Stark Towers. Shadowy red eyed figures search the building for Captain America (Roger Craig Smith) led by Black Widow (Laura Bailey, Tsukuyomi: Moon Phase). They sneak past all the Avengers until spotted by Hawkeye (Troy Baker, also Tsukuyomi: Moon Phase). Alerted by his warning, Captain America knows immediately what is going on – vampires. He has Iron Man (Adrian Pasdar, Near Dark & House of Frankenstein (1997)) put on UV lights that kill all the vampires – bar Black Widow.

Iron Man
After telling Captain America, in Dracula’s voice, that he must trade himself to save her, Black Widow makes a run for it but knocks herself out as she runs into a mirror (as she has no reflection). Whilst this sounds hokey in a superhero cartoon I actually rather enjoyed it as it happened. Stark can’t believe in vampires and looks for a scientific solution, whereas Captain America knows all about them… why? Because, apparently, during the Second World War America and Dracula became uneasy allies against the Nazis.

vampire hulk
What is going on? Red Skull (Liam O'Brien) has informed Dracula that the super-soldier serum in Captain America’s blood can let him walk in daylight – a talent he will need as he wages war on humanity, due to him seeing humans as a relentlessly growing plague upon the planet. Highlight of the episode was Dracula biting Hulk (Fred Tatasciore) and hulking himself through the gamma rich blood and turning Hulk into a vampire Hulk. This was short lived due to the gamma radiation that acted like sunlight on the vampire blood. Stark discovers that vampirism is a bio-tech that carries command codes through blood cells. We also get Hawkeye using stake arrows and Thor (Travis Willingham) immolating vampires with lightning.

This was a nice piece of superhero cartoon – probably better as part of a whole, I enjoyed watching it in isolation too. 6 out of 10.

The episode’s imdb page is here.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Honourable Mention: Ultrachrist!

This 2003 film directed by Kerry Douglas Dye is a no budget comedy about the return of Jesus (Jonathan C. Green). Having come back to Earth – to New York specifically – (and after a run around town naked, pending the purchase of a smoking jacket) Jesus is intent on reviving his ministry but doesn’t seem to be able to connect with the kids.

Via his association with marketing man Murray Klein (Marty Grillo), and the fact that he watched some anime, Jesus decides he needs to change image. Through seamstress Molly (Celia A. Montgomery) he gets a superhero costume (he is not too happy about the crucifix on the front, however, as he hates those things) and tries to connect with the youth of today through the Ultrachrist persona.

Jonathan C. Green is Ultrachrist!
His father (Don Creech) is less than happy about the image (which we later discover ties in to a disturbing prophecy) and so sends the Archangel Ira (Jordan Hoffman) – the patron saint of lap dancers and erotic masseuses – to take the costume away. Of course this is all well and good but there is the question of what this has to do with vampirism?

Michael R. Thomas as Vlad
As well as Jesus being back, the antichrist has come to earth in the form of Parks Commissioner A.C. Meany (Samuel Bruce Campbell). He summons four of the most evil souls in Hell to help him defeat Ultrachrist. The first soul he faces is Vlad Ţepeş (Michael R. Thomas, House of the Wolf Man), who they have dressed up in classic Bela Lugosi type garb. Ultraman must defeat each soul by taking the sin that they personify and making them face the opposing virtue.

Death by virtue
For Vlad the sin is gluttony and he must face self-control. He actually wants to glut himself on news anchor Jada Jennsen (Dara Shindler), who happens to be a virgin, but Ultrachrist tricks him into exercising self-control; thus she is not bitten and Vlad melts away. And that’s it, a very fleeting visitation and a mash up of Vlad and Bela’s Count Dracula. The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Vamp or Not? The Tomb

I remember watching this Michael Staininger directed film back in 2009 when it was released. I couldn’t remember too much about it however. I knew, of course, that it was loosely based on the Poe story Ligeia but couldn’t remember why I had thought, as I watched it, that the potentially vampiric story was not vamp.

More recently a friend asked me my thoughts on the film and suggested that it might be an energy vampire story. I decided to watch the film again.

spirit leaves
It begins with a wild landscape and the young Ligeia (Anastasiya Belyaeva) on a horse. She rides back to the impressive Romanova Manor where her mother (Yekaterina Fedorchenko) is dying. She suggests that it is the Black Death that takes her (a romanticised name, not the actual plague, I assumed) and that it is the curse of their power. As she dies her spirit visibly evacuates her body, from her mouth, and then vanishes through the window.

Wes Bentley as Jonathon
It is morning and we see Rowena (Kaitlin Doubleday) in bed. Her fiancé Jonathan (Wes Bentley, Underworld: Awakening) comes into the room and she lures him back to bed – causing him to be slightly late to the college where he is guest lecturer. After the lecture, and post signing several books for students, he asks his friend the Chancellor (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) about a woman, Ligeia (Sofya Skya), who was in the lecture as she had turned up to six of his guest lectures (one being 200 miles away). She is one of the post-graduate students studying comparative religion.

spirit capture
He chases after her to speak to her and asks her if she will be at the faculty function. She suggests that she’ll wear something sexy and gives him her card. We see Jonathan and Rowena having dinner with her father, George (Michael Madsen, Bloodrayne, 42K, Vampires Anonymous & the Bleeding) where we discover that Jonathan is independently rich. We cut to a man, Eddie (Joel Lewis), attacking a junkie. He takes the junkie’s corpse to the college where Ligeia puts a device on the man’s mouth, injects him with a serum, utters an incantation and draws the man’s soul into a tube. They are caught by the Chancellor but Ligeia makes no secret of the fact that he has slept with her, the implication being that he must ignore what he has seen or she’ll tell his wife (Christa Campbell, Mansquito & Revamped).

Sofya Skya as Ligeia
Ligeia uses magic to get Jonathan to her, manages to inject the Chancellor with her serum (which causes him to bleed from the eyes and go into a coma) and then sleeps with Jonathan and ensures that Rowena finds out. Ostensibly she gets her claws in Jonathan to get him to buy back the Romanova Manor for her, but she does actually seem to love him in her own psychotic way. She also gets a collection of three spirits (we see the face of the Chancellor in his spirit tube and the man finally dies when Jonathan finds it and releases it). Ligeia is dying of the same illness her mother had.

spirit in a tube
If she had taken the spirits to feed on in order to stave off death than I would have agreed that this was an energy vampire – indeed a soul eater – but that is not the case. What she actually does is bind two of the spirits to herself and commits suicide. The implication is that the additional spirits make her strong enough to evade death but the film never suggests she devours them – simply binds them. This leaves her a disembodied spirit and she then takes over another body and displaces their soul (this is a tad narratively confused; she is able to invade one host, whilst the hosts spirit is still in residence it would seem, but actually invades her target host by dosing them with serum to displace their spirit).

Kaitlin Doubleday as Rowena
At no point is it suggested that she devours energy or souls. She does develop a plan for immortality by jumping from body to body but again it is snatching the fleshy husk not eating the gooey spirit innards. The film descends, at its climax, into a body swap type story – which I am not a fan of at the best of times. The dialogue teeters on the awful at times (especially when Johnathan passes on some bad news about a bereavement) and ultimately it is not an energy vampire. One might argue that Ligeia is a vamp (as in a femme fatale) but that’s about it.

The imdb page is here.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Blood Reign: The Saga of Pandora Zweiback – Book 2

Author: Steven A Roman

First published: 2015

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: PANDORA ZWIEBACK IS DEAD...OR IS SHE?

She was stabbed in the heart with an ancient mystical spear. Her mother was kidnapped by a band of vampires led by a fallen angel. Their goal: unleashing hell on earth. And every living creature on the planet faces extinction at the hands of biblical monsters. But for Pandora Zwieback, the worst may be yet to come.

In this terrifying next chapter of the story begun in the critically acclaimed novel Blood Feud, join the teenaged Goth adventuress as she discovers that death is only the beginning of her saga...

The review: I looked at the first volume in this series some time ago but was excited to get opportunity to look at book 2. The series is, I would say, most definitely Young Adult in tone but it contains a knowing edge that allows the more mature reader purchase to the world created by Roman.

The probable reason is the sassy voice offered to character Pandora, whilst chronologically sixteen her background allows the author to add a maturity to her voice that does not feel out of place but also keep a seam of youthful vulnerability running through her. Said character died at the end of book 1 – a cliff-hanger that is open for spoiling given the blurb to this volume tells us as much. Her resurrection probably has a lot to do with her power as a healer but, in many respects, remains a deliberate mystery.

If the first volume took some deliberate pacing steps to build Pandora’s character, this volume eschews that as it thunders along at breakneck speed, barely pausing for breath at any given time (and, I must say, the volume was devoured at speed as well). The book doesn’t suffer for this, our characters are known and the action distracts from the trait that might be deemed by some as an underlying flaw (common in young adult books) namely how are the adults letting the kids go off and put themselves in danger? Of course there is some mystical sneaking out (as it were) and ultimately there has to be a suspension of disbelief.

This is made easier to achieve by, beyond the breakneck pace, the knowing edge to Roman’s prose. He openly flaunts things such as the super-villain’s need to indulge ego rather than simply destroying his arch-nemesis. That knowingness lets us in on the joke, and being in on it we accept it. Roman throws in a Vlad Ţepeş cameo, short enough to be amusing, indeed all his Vampire House names are recognisable and it is telling as to the quality of the prose that this does not seem clichéd – we even hear about House Karnstein having been formed by Carmilla. The sly, fanboyish humour eventually coalesces in the form of sugar-zoms – zombies that desire confectionery as much as human flesh.

I thoroughly enjoyed this volume, it didn’t suffer from mid-trilogy-itus (probably down to that pace again) but rather drove the reader forward and deposited us on the last page to impatiently await book 3. 7.5 out of 10.