Friday, March 23, 2018

Guardians of the Night – review

Director: Emilis Velyvis

Release date: 2016

Contains spoilers

I’m going to say it from the get go, this owes such a debt to Night Watch its untrue – though it doesn’t have the grim atmosphere, lyricism or set pieces of the older film – coupled with a lashing of Men in Black (and actually name checks that film/urban legend).

However the vampirism of the Night Watch series can be secondary, whereas these vampires (or, not vampires) take centre stage (and are the bad guys). I say “not vampires” because vampires are dismissed as a product of Hollywood and these are referred to as ghouls… but a rose by any other name…

Ivan Yankovskiy as pasha
So we start with a stairway, the camera work is disorientating, a woman (Lyubov Aksyonova) is bundled up the stairs though we only see a distinctive tattoo on the back of her neck and not her features. A young man, Pasha (Ivan Yankovskiy), follows her. He reaches the roof of the building, he bleeds from the nose and his hands are cut and bloodied. He takes a run off the roof… And awakens screaming. His mother (Ekaterina Volkova) asks if it was the flying dream again.

the tattoo
Pasha is a delivery man and travels Moscow delivering parcels. He notices posters for a Lithuanian singer called Dana – the posters have her facing away from camera and she bears the same tattoo from the dream. He is delivering his last package at the Hilton, a programme on TV mentions Dana is missing and a girl checks in – he notices the tattoo. He asks the concierge for her room number, the concierge gives it whilst also reaching out for the reward offered for information about her.

out of the coffin
A crate is carried into a room and inside it is a coffin. As Stefa (Sabina Akhmedova) fills a glass with blood the chain is removed from the coffin and a desiccated looking corpse stirs. The mummified corpse, Yankul ( Mikhail Evlanov), ignores the blood and leaps after a dove. The bird’s blood is enough to make him appear young again. Meanwhile Pasha is looking to get in to see Dana and Yankul and Stefa have been contacted by the concierge. Stefa stalks on the outside of the building, whilst Yankul and a warrior named Mikhal (Aleksey Dmitriev) head for the room, swatting Pasha out of the way.

They are in the process of taking Dana when humans arrive and engage them. The ghouls show ‘vamp face’ and fight back. Pasha and Dana head to the roof, pursued by Mikhal. Dana calls Pasha a warrior and wants to jump from the building roof – something he is understandably reluctant to do. Suddenly he is tussling with Mikhal and accidentally stakes him with a table leg. Dana escapes and an incredulous Pasha meets Gamayun (Leonid Yarmolnik) who leads “D” division – a government agency whose purpose is to control demons. The creatures we have met are ghouls and the humans are wipping memories with a herbal spray. Eventually it is used on Pasha but he seems to remember and ends up being recruited by D division as a frontiersman – someone sensitive to “alternative life forms”.

So – the ghouls produce fangs and have vamp face, turn to ashen skeletons if staked/have their heart destroyed, are burned by sunlight and by garlic. They are fast and strong and appear to be another species rather than undead (for the main). They can be tasered effectively. Dana is the heir to one of two ghoul families and, according to prophecy, if a ghoul unites with her during the eclipse (due in two days) then they will get ultimate power and overturn the peace with humanity – she is trying to escape that.

Anastasiya Tsoy as the fox spirit
We do get other creatures – most notably a friendly fox spirit (Anastasiya Tsoy) – but the film itself is a workable adventure, slightly derivative of other things and a little by the numbers (in events and reactions) but absolutely watchable. A nice little bit of Russian urban fantasy that perhaps needed a little more grit but has some nice bloody scenes occasionally (the attack of ghouls across the city worked rather well). Some of the effects worked better than others. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Rancid – review

Director: Alastair Orr

Release date: 2011

Contains spoilers

South African film Rancid (AKA Expiration) is an odd one. Possibly closer to zombie than vampire these fall easily into the zompire camp. Indeed the zombie word is used (once) and I did actually put it on expecting something from that genre. The use of blood and a mouth full of sharp teeth made me realise that I had put a vampire (or at least a zompire) film on.

The other thing I noticed was that I really rather enjoyed the film as I watched it, but even as I enjoyed the tense little zompire horror the plot was noticeably unravelling. There are some great whopping story holes and I am going to have to spoil the twist (or at least one of them) to explain why the holes are so blooming massive.

Justin Strydom as Le Roux
So four people are brought together to take part in a drug trial. They all have a medical reason to be there (beyond the very handsome payment for the trial); William Hunter (Brandon Auret) has alcohol problems, Jake Butler (Ryan Macquet) has had brain tumours, Samantha Foxx (Ingeborg Riedmaier) has chronic asthma and Dominic Black (Michael Thompson) is wheelchair bound. The Doctor, Le Roux (Justin Strydom), explains that they must all read and sign a disclaimer, hand over their personal items and take a sedative before being taken to a ward. The drug being trialled is Gentek B15.

awake and abandoned
When they awaken they are given very quick cognitive tests and then they are wheeled by armed and masked guards into an abandoned hospital. Hunter tries to break his bonds and is belted in the face with the butt of a gun. Soon they are alone, disorientated and each in possession of an item – Hunter his lighter, Butler his watch (this reveals that they have been out of it for 2 months), Foxx her inhaler and Black his glasses. Foxx finds that her piercings have been healed, Black can walk, Butler has lost the heavy scars at the back of his head and Hunter has lost a tattoo. However Foxx still has asthma – they deduce that non-genetic things have healed (so Black had lost the use of his legs, rather than being born with mobility issues, and so could now walk but still needs his glasses). They have no water.

In another part of the hospital a worker in hazard clothing goes to fix something. He is armed and aware that two of the B14 trialist are still there. One is now a creature and the other is a pregnant woman, Megan (Christien Le Roux), who lied on her declaration (presumably about her pregnancy). The worker is attacked by the creature who has sharp teeth and black eyes. Two guards are sent in to recover Megan (who steals the water). The attacked worker quickly turns into a creature.

finding the cube
So, they seem pretty darn resilient, can spread their infection, (it isn’t clear but likely that) they are undead and they seem very much like a faster end zombie. That is... apart from the sharp teeth (which the first of our new crew to turn, due to the procedure, shows us involves losing their teeth and rapidly growing new sharp ones) and the fact that they can smell and are attracted to blood. One interesting point was that one of the test subjects starts playing briefly with a Rubik's cube he found and then puts it down unsolved. Later, after he has turned, the cube is found, solved, just before he attacks. This would seem to refer to the vampire and the need to solve puzzles (a subset of the arithmomania sometimes associated with vampires).

Christien Le Roux as Megan
So, problems… Why wait until a new set of test subjects were in before retrieving Megan? Why not deal with the creature before then too – it makes no sense if they are trialling a new batch of drug to mix it up with the “anomalies” from previous tests? The creatures may well be dead (the drug is said to rot them from the inside out) but Megan clearly needs water (she comes out of hiding to grab the worker’s water flask). She’s been inside for two months we are told – what did she eat and drink? Indeed our new test subjects are left without water and they are being observed (initially) over four days (a human can last on average three days without water). When they find Megan no-one asks her for water or wonders where she might have got it from during her incarceration.

Indeed we don’t know what is doing this to them – heavy spoilers. We find out that the test subjects are clones – this is presumably the real reason why tattoos and scars vanish, rather than being down to the drug. Could it be the cloning process that is causing them to turn and not the drug? Was there even a drug or is it the cloning they're testing? Why is it treated like an infection? We see it can be spread in an attack but the hazmat suits and gas masks suggest something air-born. If they can clone someone (over a two month period it would seem) and pass the subjects’ memories on (and thus they don’t know they are clones) surely their technology is more advanced than the failed tests suggest?

eyes blackened
It’s a shame that a tense little film with good characterisations should be as holey as Swiss Cheese when looked at with the slightest scrutiny. I liked what they were doing but not how they ended up doing it – so intent on getting to a certain place they refused to think whether the route made sense. However, take your brain out and it is entertaining. 5 out of 10 for that entertainment factor but it has lost marks for the holes and is lucky it didn’t lose more.

The imdb page is here.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Honourable mention: Deadtime Tales 2

Sometimes I despair at covering a given vehicle under the moniker ‘honourable mention’ as sometimes there is nothing honourable about it whatsoever.

Let’s take Deadtime Tales 2… to be honest let’s take the 2.5-hour anthology and bury it in a shallow grave. Rather than a collection of random but original shorts stitched together or a carefully crafted collection of interlocking short stories in visual form, this is four full length films cut down and bunged into one ungodly mess.

bite time
The vampire section comes first and it is nothing we haven’t seen before on TMtV, being the poor feature Cryptz, which was directed by Danny Draven and released in 2002. It was poor then. It wasn’t improved by editing it down to just 45 minutes. So, we are ‘treated’ again to the story of vampire strippers in the ‘hood. (Actually, whilst not brilliant, the full film had a degree of B movie credibility and a couple of neat ideas – cutting it down hasn’t helped the credibility any).

As things stand there isn’t an IMDb page that I can find for Deadtime Tales 2.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Danger Mouse: From Duck to Dawn – review

Directors: Robert Cullen & Simon Hall

First aired: 2016 (episodes)

Contains spoilers

So before we had the show Count Duckula the character had appeared in four episodes of the series Danger Mouse as a villain. When Danger Mouse was rebooted as a series in 2015 it seemed sensible that Duckula (Rasmus Hardiker) would be repurposed for that show.

Cut forward and this compilation DVD was released featuring the villainous vampire duck on the cover. And yet, of eight episodes only two featured Duckula (his portrait and a statue appeaed in others as background eye candy). Two… Two measly episodes. The character has been in more than that… I feel as though I need a mouse super-spy to come along and work out why we’ve been diddled.

Not that the other episodes were bad, mind you. This reboot is very well done with Alexander Armstrong taking over the reigns as the titular Danger Mouse and Kevin Eldon as Penfold, the series stayed very true to the original with some nice twists – I rather liked the idea of Arkwright Asylum. As for Duckula… well he is villainous once again (and just as inept) and likely he is a different incarnation to the vegetarian vampire duck of his own series (the resurrection ritual was botched to create his less villainous persona).

shadow of the vampire
Duckula is still obsessed with being famous. In the episode From Duck to Dawn we get a mission to Transylvania, where Duckula is broadcasting a hypnotic show that turns the viewers, literally, into vegetables. We get a crap bat carrot, a bar called the Slaughtered Llama and an appearance by a werewolf. In the episode The Duckula Show, tired of being the second rate villain that he is, Duckula kidnaps the Danger Mouse show writers (shown to be monkeys) and uses them to alter the fabric of the show’s reality.

with the radish Renfield
It is all good stuff… But dagnabbit I wanted more Duckula than that. Be that as it may, we have to live with what we have and I am certainly not down marking the DVD set for its lack of Duckula. All in all I think this was an excellent reboot, great fun episodes… but needing more Duckula (fans of Danger Mouse will be well served, to be fair). 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Honourable Mention: The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers

I am absolutely torn on this one. Part of Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre, this was an adaptation of the Brothers Grimm’s The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was. It has a bit of an all star cast and my reason for including it are two-fold – one reason might be a ‘Vamp or Not?’ for something that is essentially a fleeting visitation and the other is, at best, of genre interest.

After Shelley Duval introduces the show, the story is narrated by Vincent Price and follows the adventures of Martin (Peter MacNicol, Dracula – Dead and Loving It). Martin feels the odd one out in his Transylvanian village as he does not (and never has) felt fear, unlike his superstitious father (Jeff Corey) and brother (Gary Springer). When the sexton (Jack Riley, The Night Dracula Saved the World) dresses as a ghost to try and scare Martin in the church belfry, Martin nonchalantly pushes the trespasser down the stairs, injuring him, and his father sends him away with a little money and orders never to tell anyone who his family is.

Christopher Lee as King Vladimir V
Ten miles later and Martin has reached the kingdom of King Vladimir V (Christopher Lee), he sees a note directing him to the inn as the King has a problem of a haunted castle. The King is indeed there and it is revealed that he is the son of Vladimir the Impaler, also known as Vladimir Ţepeş AKA Bad Vlad. If someone can spend three nights in the castle then they would break the curse, win the treasure, win the hand of the Princess Amanda (Dana Hill) and rule as King. Martin accepts the challenge – but not for the prizes, rather to see if he can feel a shiver. Amanda falls for Martin, though he thinks she works at the inn. So, our genre interest moment is the fact that Christopher Lee plays Vlad Ţepeş’ son (though the numbering is wrong, of course, and Vlad was never a king).

The night that interests us is the second night. Having just been missed by (and been oblivious to) a falling axe and a razor-sharp pendulum, Martin is sat by the fire when a disembodied phantom head (Gary Schwartz, The Nightmare Before Christmas) rises from the flames. The first thing I noticed was the fangs! His body follows and interacts with the head but Martin feels no fear. When he puts his head back on his shoulders he becomes corporeal and Martin teaches him how to scream menacingly. More spectres appear (none with fangs), become corporeal and, after failing to scare Martin, they all end up bowling (using bones as pins and a skull as a ball).

Martin and Attila
Was he a vampire? The fangs suggested so, and he was monstrous in visage, so perhaps he was a vampiric ghost – or perhaps he was just a ghost and the fangs were an affectation? Honestly, I just really wanted to feature the episode so I’ll leave it to you to decide whether you think the fangs were enough to qualify? The episode also features Frank Zappa as Attila the hunchback and David Warner as the innkeeper and it is a fun little way to spend just under an hour.

The imdb page is here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Petrified – review

Director: Charles Band

Release date: 2006

Contains spoilers

Sometimes you just need some nonsense… I was going to say cheesy sleazy nonsense but this one added in some sleaze (we’ll get to it) but then really pulled back from it. Did I mention it’s a Charles band film… and it is pure B.

Just to be clear, by the way… this is a mummy movie… and an alien movie… but it is also a vampire movie given the mechanics that Band throws in and rightly has a place here.

So, it starts with the illegal sale of an antiquity. There is a big old crate and one of the bad guys, Buzz York (Roark Critchlow, Vampyre Nation), brings a small case. The antiquarian (Darrow Igus) buying the stuff seems delighted but bad guy Reggie (Nick Stellate) double crosses him and shoots him in the back. He turns on Buzz, who grabs the case and runs. Before Reggie and his moll can go after Buzz the crate explodes outwards with green light and two arms break through. A mummy (Christopher Bergschneider) emerges and his red fiery eyes turns the two crooks to stone.

old red eyes is back
Ok… so, Buzz has a ridiculous name but he is not a baddie really – he is actually undercover FBI. Also, the mummy’s eyes are only red when he turns you to stone and otherwise they are black and he has a mouthful of fang like teeth. As the film progresses it is apparent that Buzz knows the mummy was the desiccated remains of an alien who crash landed (he was the co-pilot, the small case contains the hand of the pilot – which somehow also comes to life and crawls around trying to strangle folks). It is confirmed that it is the blood that resurrected the mummy and it is suggested he might need to take blood to survive.

Roark Critchlow as Buzz
Buzz – not yet knowing the mummy is revived – gets to a nearby private clinic, lets himself in and phones for extraction (which will take an hour). He meets a woman who claims to be the doctor, Helen Noel (Jessica Lancaster), but is soon revealed to be the sister of one of the patients, Suze (Kimberly Dawn Guerrero), and wants to rescue her as she thinks the clinic is ropey. The clinic treats nymphomaniacs (which is where the film veers off to sleaze and then spectacularly fails to deliver) and she is right; the real doctor, Horatio Von Gelder (Ozman Sirgood), is not trying to cure the girls but actually trying to find a youth serum using the elevated pheromones of the nymphomaniacs. He’s succeeded too, making 61 year old Cory (Dana Lastrilla) young again – and still horny. This is all padding around a very thin film.

As thin as it is, and poor, and short (70 mins) and rubbish – there is something amusingly B about the movie. The filmmakers have thrown the kitchen sink at this… if they can crowbar it in they will do. How Buzz knows the mummy has to maintain eye contact to turn you to stone and thus covers his face when attacked in that way, is unknown. Perhaps they’ve resurrected one before? The film ain’t saying. Eventually they work out that salt will kill the creature, when all else fails, and when it dies the final victim un-petrifies (though what happened to the others isn’t revealed).

Rubbish – but amusing. 3.5 out of 10 reflects me walking the line of knowing how terribly pants this was and yet somehow still thinking it was worth the effort of watching it.

The imdb page is here.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Night Invasion – review

Director: WаngJun*

Release date: 2016*

Contains spoilers

*these are taken from the Amazon Video data. Note that this is often inaccurate but I couldn’t readily track down an IMDb page or a corresponding entry in the Hong Kong movie database.

The great thing about Amazon Video is that Amazon are dredging through some obscure movies from around the globe. The problem with Amazon Video is much the same as some of these films are really dredged up from somewhere where they should have remained and rotted into obscurity.

ghost kid
This film begins with us being told that some people die but linger as we see scenes of a road accident. We cut to a man (I assume meant to be the storyteller, perhaps even the movie director) and as he speaks he plays with the on-screen credits, which was a nice 4th wall manipulation. He switches a light off and we see the shape of a young boy in the dark, the shape vanishes when the lights go back on. Eventually he is by the man and screams.

in the kitchen cupboard
A car is parked and the girl in the back, NuoNuo, seems asleep. She awakens and tries to pay the unresponsive driver. A second girl approaches the car and NuoNuo gets out and they go to a house. They have found the house on the internet and the rent seems impressively cheap. The landlady lets them in but, out of sight of the girls, is constantly pushing a kyonsi out of sight (back in a kitchen cupboard for instance). We note that the creature is referred to as zombie but is a kyonsi.

holding their breath
The landlady gets them to sign a contract (she refers to it as a death contract), tells them not to go to the sealed room and then leaves. The boyfriends come over but, very soon, the door to the house has vanished and the kyonsi is pursuing them. There is a twist at the end but little other plot. Whilst the kyonsi does little that is vampiric it does hop and they do cover their mouths to hide from it (kyonsi follow breath rather than see). At one point they disguise themselves as kyonsi (which breaks the internal logic if the kyonsi is hunting by smelling their breath rather than sight).

dressed like Irma Vep
We got a moment where they end up fighting whilst wearing costumes and the girls look like they are dressed as Irma Vep. The problem with this is part limited setting (they are stuck in a house), part poor direction and confused story (which might have had much to do with the subtitles) and blooming awful acting generally – more melodrama than method. A poor film with a couple of clever moments, 2.5 out of 10.

At the time of review I could not find an IMDb page.