Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Short Film: Uploading Victims

This film from 2014 was directed by Supisara Panichkasem is an experimental piece, mostly without dialogue, and to be fair is more style than substance.

The thin story sees people being attacked on the 23rd of each month, drained of blood. Their photos are uploaded onto the net. That is about it. The rest of the film sees young ladies walking round at night. At first we get one lady seduced and then attacked by a vampire. Later another, who the camera has particularly followed, is revealed to be a vampire also when she joins in the attack.

This does go to prove, however, that style is sometimes all you need. With a soundtrack that suits, it is a somewhat hypnotic piece and it subtly has a kick at the selfie generation – after all it appears that vampires love to take selfies too. The film was on YouTube and I have embedded the almost 15 minute piece below.

vampire selfie
However, when I went to get the embed code I noticed there was a further cut of the film, which has dropped to around 10 minutes. It was a tighter affair than the original and you can see that here.

At the time of publication there is no IMDb page.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Vamp or Not? The Red Violin

We have certainly come across vampire objects before, be it the catalytic Cronos device or a Vampire Motorcycle. We have seen a vampire musical instrument before in the form of the Vampire Guitar (incidentally, at time of writing, I am still waiting for the film Vampire Guitar to become available, a great, funny movie).

I hadn’t heard of this François Girard directed 1998 film until it was covered by Simon Bacon in his volume Becoming Vampire but, having read that, I knew I had to track the film down. By the fact that this is a ‘Vamp or Not?’ you can tell the reading of it isn’t simple and, fair warning, there will have to be a quite heavy spoiler aspect to this.

Tarot reading
In many respects the film plays like a portmanteau film with vignettes from the violin’s past surrounded by multiple views of the same auction. It begins in Cremona and the workshop of master violin maker Nicolo Bussotti (Carlo Cecchi) and returns to this scene through the film also. He is a hard taskmaster to his apprentices, demanding perfection, and his wife Anna (Irene Grazioli) is heavily pregnant. He is creating his masterpiece violin for his unborn son. Anna asks whether their housekeeper (and on the side fortune teller) Cesca (Anita Laurenzi) can tell their son’s future but she cannot until he is born – for now their humors are the same. Anna seems reluctant to have her own fortune told but, eventually, agrees to a tarot reading, the contents of which we hear through the film. In this scene she gets the moon card and also, later, notes that the pregnancy is due on a full moon and tells Nicolo that she has a relationship with the moon. It is perhaps, however, reading too much in to note the relationship between vampires and the moon in early stories.

The varnished violin dries
I will remain with the Bussotti story as Anna sits in the garden and suddenly feels pain. The doctor sends a boy to fetch Bussotti. By the time he reaches home Anna has died and the boy is stillborn. We then see him paint the violin with a red varnish. It is towards the end of the film that we see him taking Anna’s corpse to the workshop, cutting a wrist to take her blood and using it to mix the varnish. Now, as IMDb point out (in their goof section), this would not actually work in real life… that is, unless we accept some supernatural element. The tarot reading brings us a supernatural aspect and as we hear the prediction it becomes clear that the reading is accurate but about the violin and so we must assume that somehow Anna’s spirit (and humors) have become one with the violin.

On display
The film tracks the history of the violin, firstly it is sold to a monastery and orphanage, where the orphans are taught to play the instrument. Now, I want at this point to quote Simon Bacon: “This ‘other’ is an object that drains the life force out of all who play it, just as the blood in its varnish symbolises the life that was drawn out of the maker’s wife. The violin plays with such a distinctive and melodious tone that all musicians who hear it want to possess it, but each new owner inevitably begins to wane. If they do not pass on the violin before it is too late, then they eventually die.” (pg 73)

Christoph Koncz as Kaspar
That certainly is one interpretation but is it accurate? When a boy at the orphanage is given a violin it is his until he leaves. We see a succession of boys with the violin and one could interpret the rapid turnover displayed as them all meeting an untimely end, but we have no actual evidence of that – and the scene does also represent the passing of 100 years. However, the tarot reading connected to this section is the hanged man and Anna is told that she is a danger to others. We follow a boy who gets the violin called Kaspar Weiss (Christoph Koncz).

At that time the orphanage receives patronage from Georges Poussin (Jean-Luc Bideau) and they ask him to attend early to hear Kaspar play. He is astounded and takes the boy and violin to Vienna, though he is warned that the boy has a weak heart. The boy sleeps with the violin and on the one occasion they take it from him at night his heart momentarily stops. This indicates an obsession with the violin (as often shown between vampires and their victims) the penalty suggesting that it is more than a childish whim. The vignette follows his training for an audition, at which he keels over dead. The body is taken back to the monastery and Georges is informed that the violin has been buried with Kaspar.

Jason Flemyng as Pope
What is interesting here is that the next tarot card interpretation mentions Anna/the violin having a Lazarus Soul (Lazarus, of course, famous for returning from the dead). The grave is robbed by gypsies and the violin stolen and again we see a procession of different gypsies playing the violin, which could indicate mortality or just the passage of time until it ends up in the possession of the insanely talented violinist Frederick Pope (Jason Flemyng, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen & Viy). He meets his end by his own hand, however, and there is no indication that he was being drained of his life (more he was separated from his muse and sank into depression, until she returned to find him with another). What is interesting is that Pope composes by playing the violin whilst in coitus. The violin then moves on to China and its owner, Xiang (Sylvia Chang), (who has had it from being a little girl and seems to have suffered no ill effects) gives it to the safekeeping of a music teacher (Zifeng Liu) during the Cultural Revolution. He lives to a grand old age, it appears, but then neither really had opportunity to play the instrument.

Samuel L. Jackson as Morritz
The final story surrounds the auction and violin expert Charles Morritz (Samuel L. Jackson, Def by Temptation), who appears to want the violin for himself – he seems entranced when he hears it play, but ultimately wants it for his daughter. I should mention that a resonance test on the violin does seem to travel back in time to Anna and cause the miscarriage that takes her life. The film itself is glorious, a fantastic journey linked by the Red Violin. It is beautifully photographed and, in turns, poignant and funny, as well as being very well acted at all points. But is it Vamp? Well that all depends on whether you believe that it is a harbinger of disaster and that it drains the life from its owners.

Taking Anna's blood
I can see where that interpretation comes from, separation was almost deadly for kaspar and we do have the warning the Anna will bring danger to others. It is clear that her essence is one with the violin, thus the tarot reading following the violin as though it is her and the inference that it is through the violin itself, in the future, that she dies. The instrument's connection with her was born out of blood, of course. People can become obsessed with the instrument – certainly Kaspar does, as does Charles – and it, in its own strange way, develops a sexual aspect. The violin goes through a death and rebirth (being buried and exhumed) and Anna’s soul is described in terms of Lazarus, indicating life out of death. I honestly think that there is enough there to sway me into thinking the Red Violin is a vampiric object, though it is not blatant.

The imdb page is here.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Nightcomer – review

Director: Alain Silver

Release date: 2013

Contains spoilers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Realm of the Damned: Tenebris Deos – review

Director: Tom Paton

Release date: 2017

Contains spoilers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

Honourable Mention: Becoming Vampire

Author: Simon Bacon

First Published: 2017

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Apostle of Dracula – review

Director: Emilio Schargorodsky

Release date: 2009

Contains spoilers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The imdb page is here.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Vamp or Not? Dreadtime Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The imdb page is here.