Wednesday, September 02, 2015

House of Monsters – review

Director: Dawn Brown

Release date: 2012 & 2015

Contains spoilers

House of Monsters started life as a one-off stop motion short (embedded below). This concentrated on the Mummy but did feature a vampire. The animation was dialogue free but had a charm and won several festival awards.

Cut forward to 2015 and a series (currently at two episodes length) has been created by Dawn Brown. It is now narrated, by Christopher Lloyd, and is available at vimeo. A lot of the character design had changed (most noticeably for Frankenstein’s Monster). The second episode is called Frank and the Zombie Girl and features the Monster, as well as carrying forward a relationship that first appeared in the episode before.

in the sun
Episode 1 is called Fun in the Sun and is vampire centric. Following an electrical glitch the digital alarm clock in the vampire’s coffin resets and the vampire is woken when it is still daytime. He rises and burns. Rushed into the Mad Doctor’s lab the Doctor finds a cure for vampire sunburn. This involves swaddling the vampire in bandages and actually gives the vampire immunity to sunlight.

bandaged vampire
That is all well and good, but the vampire takes advantage of his new daywalker status by terrorising the village (with practical joke level annoyances). The villagers actually think they are under attack from the Mummy, due to the vampire’s bandaged state. The story is simple but the animation, and Lloyd’s rhymed dialogue makes this a worthwhile viewing.

7.5 out of 10. The imdb page for the original short is here and the imdb page for the series is here.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Honourable mention: Dracbeth

The merging of vampires and Shakespeare is not an unknown concept though the results vary, ranging from the entertaining, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead, to the not so entertaining, Hamlet the Vampire Slayer.

Tobias Beer as Macbeth
This short film, release date unknown, was directed by Kevin Jackson and reworked Macbeth into twenty minutes with Macbeth (Tobias Beer) and Lady Macbeth (Pamela Banks) both vampires. The dialogue is purely from the play, selected to work in to the scenes, and the costuming/props modern. If I mention first the positives and that is the use of soundtrack, which was inspired in places (especially Venus in Furs) and the photography is marvellous.

Pamela Banks as Lady Macbeth
The negatives are simply that the short nature of the film deters exposition and relies on knowledge of the play and, ultimately, the vampirism is unnecessary to the story (though the addition of fangs in anything could always said to be a bonus). I liked the way the witches became voodoo in nature, that worked nicely. As an experimental piece it works, as a story not so much in this form. At the time of writing this article there was no IMDb page.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Vamp or Not? Freak Encounters – Vampire Virus

I have to admit that I have never been one for hidden camera shows. Freak Encounters purports to be one that takes the concept of a creature from cryptozoology and recreates it on an unsuspecting butt of the joke who has just started working for a group or company.

In this case the episode (which likely aired late 2010 or early 2011) sets to recreate the unleashing of a “Vampire Virus”. Of course I do wonder if the stooge (in this case Camille) is not actually also an actor (and the joke is actually on the audience) as one wonders how someone with no apparent background in geology could think that getting a job with a geological expedition team and doing said expedition at night makes any kind of sense?

So they are out in a quarry and they have Camille describing rock samples and then (in a portacabin) running a UV light over them when, outside, a woman taking core samples causes an explosion (causing the portacabin to apparently shake) as a vent of steam escapes the area she was drilling. The sfx of the steam is not seen by the stooge (it is by us) and one wonders again at why an effect would have been set up that the stooge wouldn’t see.

hazmat suit
The drill operator has “contracted a virus” and this involves 1) foaming at the mouth and 2) biting a colleague's arm whilst outside (again out of the stooge’s vision, though the bitten person shows her the bite marks later). Before the reveal there is the appearance of “emergency services”, all wearing hazmat suits as this has happened before, and her three companions all succumb to… well foaming at the mouth, basically. There is nothing to justify calling it a “vampire virus”. Perhaps if one of them had apparently been killed and had their blood sucked? Though that might have been a little extreme (on the other hand they dropped a "severed foot" onto a windscreen, to freak out the stooge, in the Ahool episode, which I also watched as it concerned a giant bat).

vampire graphic
Really it was a contagion with no real vampire element, rather it had a similarity to rabies (in the foaming and the bite response), and indeed rabies is mentioned during the show. There was an attempt to tie a “vampire virus” to Genghis Khan, which was a push as it was, but mention of him being light sensitive was a joke – I don’t know whether Genghis was reputed to have such a sensitivity or not but the vampiric sensitivity to light was an invention of the media vampire. Poor TV and Not Vamp.

The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Empire of the Dead – Act 2 – review

Author: George A Romero

Illustrator: Dalibor Talajić

First published: 2015 (trade paperback)

Contains spoilers

The blurb: Zombies vs. Humans vs. Vampires

Welcome back to a very different New York City, still standing – barely – years after a world-changing undead plague. Zombies are used for sport in the arena, and vampires secretly rule the city! But now outside forces are knocking on Manhattan’s walls, and death rains down from above!

As Mayor Chandrake makes deadly power plays, can Dixie Peach control the rogue militia that’s rolling in from the South? What are Paul Barnum and Penny Jones secrets? What is the fate of street urchin Jo and undead cop Zavier? And what’s worse for the city’s remaining normal residents: the roaming flesh-eaters who seem to grow smarter every day, the ruling blood-suckers struggling to stay in power, or the militia bent on pillaging the city? It’s zombies vs. vampires vs. an invading army as the undead saga continues!

The review: Having enjoyed Act 1 of this marvel series, written by zombie-master George A Romero, I really anticipated reading book 2. All in all it was still brilliant but the pace, perhaps, slowed a tad as the various strands of machinations was explored.

Vampire Mayor Chandrake finds his position being assailed but is as intent on dominating Penny Jones as he is to holding on to his position. Barnum is concerned about their relationship – given his feelings for Jones – but to complicate matters we discover that Chandrake’s wife, Lilith, left Barnum for Chandrake.

The blurb tells us about the militia rolling in on New York but we also discover that, within the “safe” walls someone has been kidnapping and harvesting children. Jo is one of the orphan children but she has a protector in the form of the former cop and now zombie Zavier. Zavier is one of the zombies showing intelligence and this is the brilliance of the series. Romero has always had a hankering towards showing the dead evolving but in this he, through Zavier, does it in a way that we genuinely start to root for and care about the character.

The slower pace probably detracts a little but overall this is still a brilliant graphic novel. 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Jonathan – revisited

Director: Hans W. Geissendörfer

Release date: 1970

Contains spoilers

When I first looked at this film I gave it an “honourable mention” due to the fact that the print I looked at was so horrendous. Having now watched the film from a much better source I have decided to revisit the film and review it.

The film is, as I mentioned first time round, a political allegory as much as anything and, whilst the cinematography is lovely, I unfortunately found it as plot confused and plodding as I did the first time around. The film is based on Dracula with the conceit that vampires rule the area, controlling a totalitarian regime. This means we get some familiar scenes, from Stoker’s novel, but they are often out of novel order – Jonathan (Jürgen Jung) reaching the Castle of the Count (Paul Albert Crumm) is the start of the film’s climax rather than the introduction, for instance.

aftermath of the dog attack
Following an opening containing a suicide, Vichy type collaboration, a girl ripped apart by dogs (with the actual act occuring off screen) and a fleeing man shot in the back – all of which builds a sense of the dystopian world we have entered – we meet Jonathan who is part of a resistance organisation. The time has come to fight back and the resistance plan to chase the vampires, as they gather at the Castle, into the sea – water being deadly to the vampires. Jonathan is sent ahead, told to infiltrate the Castle and prepare the prisoners to join in the revolt.

Jürgen Jung as Jonathan
He is given a bag full of vampire killing paraphernalia and a map, which it is vitally important he doesn’t lose. Within a few scenes he loses his coach driver and horses and the bag but its loss does not seem to slow anything down and this was the shame of the movie. That it pulled together a variety of scenes that needed more narrative coherence. The best of these were when the film mirrored the novel.

drink of me
As Jonathan leaves on his quest the Count pays Jonathan’s fiancée Lena (Eleonore Schminke) a visit and, having fed upon her opens his shirt and offers her opportunity to drink at a bloody weal on his chest – taking the scene from Stoker and placing it near the head of the film. This taking of Jonathan’s love has little on running story impact other than the fact that she is amongst the brides later in the film. As I mentioned previously there are a large number of brides, dancing through scenes like refugees from the Bolshoi. This offers a dreamlike quality to the cinematography.

kisses for us all
We do get the scene of the three brides from the book, coming to Jonathan when in the castle (I am still as befuddled now, as when I last looked at the film, as to why someone deemed as dangerous to the vampires was allowed free reign of the castle by the Count). This includes them being given a baby to eat, instead of the hero, and the mother running up to the castle (though the wolves that kill the mother are human collaborators). I have read that the “twist” of allowing the vampires to walk in the daylight was the root cause of their dominant position in the world created for us – though we should remember that Dracula could walk in sunlight in the novel. Rather, to me, it was the collaboration of ordinary humans with the monsters that gave said monsters their power.

As interesting a concept as the film may have, and as beautifully designed and shot as the film is, it is a bit of a chore to watch – though I found the direct novel parts alleviated the chore to a degree. It isn’t a bad film, at all, but it isn’t great fun either. I’m going to give it a 5 out of 10, overall, and suggest it is a must see for completists but casual viewers really may want to give it a bit of a wide berth.

The imdb page is here.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Dracula’s Guest: A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Vampire Stories – review

Editor: Michael Sims

First published: 2010

Contains spoilers

The blurb: Before Twilight and True Blood, vampires haunted the nineteenth century, when brilliant writers indulged their bloodthirsty imaginations, culminating in Bram Stoker's legendary 1897 novel, Dracula.

Acclaimed author and anthologist Michael Sims brings together the finest vampire stories of the Victorian era in a unique collection that highlights their cultural variety. Beginning with the supposedly true accounts that captivated Byron and Shelley, the stories range from Aleksei Tolstoy's tale of a vampire family to Fitz James O'Brien's invisible monster to Mary Elizabeth Braddon's rich and sinister widow, Good Lady Ducayne. Sims also includes a nineteenth-century travel tour of Transylvanian superstitions, and finishes the collection with Stoker's own Dracula's Guest - a chapter omitted from his landmark novel.

Vampires captivated Victorian society, and these wonderful stories demonstrate how Romantic and Victorian writers refined the raw ore of peasant superstition into a whole vampire mythology of aristocratic decadence and innocence betrayed.

The review: I am always looking for interesting vampire stories from the 19th Century though, I must confess, that had I not found this volume for a penny on Amazon I probably wouldn’t have bothered. That’s not to say that it is poor – far from it – just that I have so many different anthologies and most of the stories within it. But a penny it was and so I ordered it.

Many of the usual suspects are within this book that isn’t quite what it says on the tin. In a section called Roots, it interestingly carries an extract from Calmet and obvious stories from the Georgian period. The final section, Fruit, is in the Edwardian period. However there are a good number of stories from the Victorian era. Not all are what I would call vampiric. Sim’s may be correct in his thought that Fitz-James O’Brien’s story What Was It? foreshadowed and maybe inspired the Horla but (unlike the latter story) it had no hallmarks of vampirism (bar strangulation – but that isn’t a common hallmark of the literary vampire).

Probably the most interesting couple of stories, for me, came out of the Fruit section as they were new ones on me. Luella Miller by Mary E Wilkins-Freeman is a fantastic energy vampire story that comes out of Massachusetts during the period when exhumations of corpses, as vampires, was still practiced. However Alice and Claude Askew's Aylmer Vance and the Vampire seemed hurried – a whole novel could have been built from the story – but was an interesting tale of vampiric spirit possession.

If you see this cheap or don’t have the stories inside then this is a fine collection. 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Return of the Demon – review

Director: Ying Wong

Release date: 1987

Contains spoilers

Mo gao yi zhang, in Cantonese, the name Return of the Demon is possibly a misnomer (or at least not literally a demon) despite the bad guy in this being referred to as Monster (Dick Wei, the Seventh Curse) through the film and in the credits.

The film was written by Gwing-Gai Lee and Ying Wong, the latter being the writer who developed the story of that great piece of Hong Kong cinema Mr Vampire. This film does not have kyonsi in it – though it has ghosts and what we might see as variants of the werewolf and zombie. However the Monster is an energy vampire of the soul eating variety.

pouring ink
It begins with us being told of a treasure being held in the hands of a Buddha that could only be released by someone born in the year of Hoi (what that means I actually do not know). We see a group of four treasure hunters approach what is visible of a giant Buddha statue (only the hands and head are above the ground). The leader, Fierce (Fui-On Shing, Blue Jean Monster) , spots a rival treasure hunter on a cliff and takes him down with a hatchet, two more are then despatched. The group’s Lockmaster (Siu-Ming To) pours ink on a sword in the Buddha’s hands to try and retrieve the treasure.

freeing the monster
This causes steam to escape the hands and an eclipse of the sun. Celestial electricity strikes the hands, opening them and revealing what looks like a corpse – it’s actually the Monster – holding a treasure box. As they investigate the box – and discover it contains bizarre spiked steel devices – the Monster awakens. He grabs one of the devices and closes it around the head of the treasure hunter Kwai killing him. (To note the last treasure hunter is Fierce’s sister Panther (Sau-Lai Tsui, also the Seventh Curse)). They start fighting for their lives.

Te-Lo Mai as Mak
Intervening in the fight is Kin (Charlie Cho, the First Vampire in China & Here Comes a Vampire) and his student Mak (Te-Lo Mai). They use the sword to fight him off. Later they explain to the treasure hunters that they had come to stop them awakening the Monster. Kin and the Monster were brothers who studied longevity (Kin is 280 years old) but the Monster went astray and started stealing the souls of Hoi men so as to gain immortality (49 souls are needed). Kin subdued him and locked him in rock.

stealing a soul
As the story progresses we discover that Kwai is soul 47 and that Monster needs just two more. Each soul gives him additional powers. By the time the heroes actually confront him for the final battle he needs just one more soul and can only be killed by pushing the sword into his “pulse” – given that we see a red pool pulsing with maggots crawling in it I took pulse to be a mistranslation of heart and that his heart had been removed (by himself) and placed in a rock for safety – it is revealed by happenstance. There is a mechanism for fully extracting the soul, which then passes through a stone bas-relief and into him. However Kin confirms that Monster has to digest the soul (and so is eating them).

Emily Chu as Tayona
I mentioned other supernatural types. Kin trades senses with a dog through magical means but is caught out by the full moon, which causes him to transform into a dog-man who is crazed and homicidal (and leads to a prolonged fight/physical comedy routine with several characters)… so kind of a werewolf but he is cured when the fur of the dog is removed from his forehead. There is a haunted house scene with ghosts, including one powerful ghost called Tayona (Emily Chu, Vampire’s Breakfast) who is seeking a virgin to give up their life so she can reincarnate. Finally the soul extraction mechanism is powered by the dead pushing it – they are all victims of the Monster and have the steel devices on their heads. These are zombie like and can be killed (or deactivated) by removing the pin in their head. The Monster also kills a man by scooping out eating his brain, this enables him to control the corpse.

a were-dog
The film isn’t bad but I wasn’t overly struck by the comedy. The scene where they are arrested by sadistic cop Wei (Pak-Cheung Chan), and which culminated in the were-dog scene, went on a bit too long for my taste. There was a very Hong Kong cinema urine joke that was triggered by a visit to vet Kao (Ma Wu, Exorcist Master, Mr Vampire 5, a Chinese Ghost Story (1987), Mr Vampire 4 & also Vampire’s Breakfast) that didn’t necessarily tickle and a joke around Kin, Tayona and eggs that was brilliant in conception but flat in delivery. This is a shame as the film was fairly solid otherwise. Not brilliant but entertaining. 4.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.