Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Short Film: Fiend Fatale

Fiend Fatale is a short film, coming in at around the 12-minute mark, directed by Steven Shea and released in 2013. However, I should tell you in advance that this is a proof of concept and therefore isn’t so much a story but more an introduction.

The concept as stands is laid out at the film’s homepage where it is suggested that it could lead to a feature film, a TV series, a graphic novel series and even a mobile game.

The film is narrated by Lorelei (Nicole Hampton). She and her sisters live in a secret CDC lab. She was cloned from DNA retrieved from a Fijian Mermaid and is, therefore, a mermaid; her room containing a tank and she sporting gills. As we begin it is feeding time and she introduces us to her sisters. Next up is Mia (Tara Dane) who was cloned from blood on a dagger said to have stabbed a demon, her dinner is a raw steak, which she cooks with the power of her mind.

Shelly the zombie
Next up is Alex (Lauren Kisner), literally the bitch of the group – as Lorelei puts it – she was cloned from blood on a silver bullet and is brought chicken. She transforms to wolf form to eat. Next is Anne (Ansley Gordon). Her food is provided by bringing in the body of a freshly deceased person and letting her drink the blood – giving us our first piece of vampire lore, the blood doesn’t have to be from the living. The body is then taken to Shelly (Amber Freeman), a zombie (but also likened to Frankenstein’s Monster) who eats the brains.

Anne the vampire
A terrorist attack on the building (carried out by someone who shoots at the girls when he sees them and therefore doesn’t know about them, despite 'inside job' being mentioned) allows the girls opportunity to get their freedom. We also discover that the trope about sunlight burning vampires holds true in this universe. And that’s about it – as a proof of concept a tight storyline is unnecessary – this is a showcase only. But you can find out below.

The imdb page is here.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Potent Media's Sugar Skull Girls – review

Director: Christian Grillo

Release date: 2016

Contains spoilers

I don’t know whether putting the production company’s name at the head of the title of this was designed to create a corporate franchise or to ape the tokusatsu feel that was injected into the film? If the latter then they may have lifted the style (unrealistic costuming, puppetry and characters that grow to giant size) but they didn’t capture the je ne sais quoi that makes much of the Japanese genre so endearing.

Despite having some horror icons in it, this is definitely aimed towards a kids’ market but, importantly, I felt it treated its target like idiots. However, I’m getting into critique without explaining what is going on.

Leslie Easterbrook as Azreal
In a trailer owned by Demetrius (John Amplas, Martin) a ritual is prepared for. Local psychic Azreal (Leslie Easterbrook) and her diminutive sidekick Thaddeus (Scott Strasbaugh) are there to draw the spirit of Demetrius’ granddaughter, Anna (Julie Ryan), from the Shadow World after her premature death (and presumably make her corporeal). The ritual is working and offerings, a photo and a lock of her hair must go in the cauldron. Thaddeus messes up putting the lock of hair into the cauldron and knocks three fetishes in instead. This then summons up Blue (Cece Hagen), Venus (Isabella Sobejano) and Luna (Addy Miller).

the girls
So what are the girls – other than, jumping a scene or two ahead, high school students? The blurb just mentions “demonic girls” but the dialogue directly mentions that Blue is a ghost, Venus is revealed to be a shapeshifter (I’ll come to what shape later) in a pointless Deus ex Machina moment and as for Luna… Well we are not told but, given the widow’s peak in black makeup below her blonde hair, her fangs, sleeping with arms crossed like a corpse, her green glowing eyes that can mojo a person and the fact that garlic breaks the mojo… we can fairly confidently categorise her as a vampire.

Anika Buchanan as Lindsay
Next we meet Lindsay (Anika Buchanan). It is her first day at the school, though the film neglects to tell us much about why she is there (later we discover her mother is on business in New York and that is about as much character background, and indeed characterisation, they bother putting in). Firstly she meets, at her locker, local Mean Girl Meredith (Morgan Elise Beatty), except… she’s really not that mean (we’ll get to that in a sec). Then she sees a giant (puppet) spider with googly eyes and follows it, as you do. It goes into the basement, she follows, meets the girls who warn her off Meredith and then they all decide to become friends (just like that). Next thing they are in Demetrius’ trailer prank calling a geek girl by pretending to be Meredith and saying *she* wants her to be part of her entourage.

Addy Miller as Luna
Now I said that she doesn’t seem so mean and this is because the most she seems to do is blow bubble-gum bubbles in your face or remain aloof. When she essentially dismisses the girl, Luna hypnotises her and she goes through a dress-up doll humiliation (until garlic breaks the mesmerism). You’d be forgiven for thinking that this would then set her up as their nemesis… nope, she is then out of the film. The crux of the plot is actually set around the fact that the ruler of the Shadow World wants them back.

could it be Audrey II?
The ruler is the Pale Witch (Carmela Hayslett) who, aided by her servant Hobbs (Michael Berryman, Tales from the Crypt: The Reluctant Vampire & the Absence of Light), launches a couple of unsuccessful attempts to get them back and then is drawn into the Living World herself – queue giant sized appearance. What more is there to say… flying apparatus that I assume where mechanical broomsticks but were actually rip-offs of Return of the Jedi speeder bikes… A plant that looked suspiciously like Audrey II, and we established that the Little Shop of Horrors is vampire. Incidentally Venus shapeshifts into a similar plant.

sleep like the dead
But all in all this was awful. There was nothing engaging that would let the viewer step beyond the unrealistic effects and puppets. The acting was stilted mostly (though Berryman and, especially, Easterbrook both chewed the scenery and gave more than the film probably deserved) and the jokes unfunny. The film’s narrative felt like vignettes stitched together as there was little in connective dialogue. All in all, it was a bit of a dog’s dinner and I can’t see the target audience buying into it on an artistic or corporate franchise level and, to be honest, it treated said audience like idiots. 1 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Vamp or Not? All Girls Weekend

The 2016 Lou Simon directed All Girls Weekend is part slasher with aspects reminiscent of the Blair Witch Project (a landscape that won’t allow you to escape) and a touch of the Evil Dead (specifically the vegetation interacting in a sinister way). None of that, of course, would explain why I am looking at it as a ‘Vamp or Not?’

You’ll recall that I recently looked at Jug Face and whether the land itself could be deemed as vampiric. When I looked at that film, this one was actually brought to mind also, and so we are looking at a potentially vampiric landscape.

Annie and Nancy
After an intertitle that states “With every birth, there is blood…”, we see a murder out in the woods. However, the film proper starts with three young women who went to high school together. There is Gem (Gema Calero), Stephanie (Karishma Lakhani) and Daniela (Katie Carpenter). Daniela is getting somewhat agitated as their fourth companion for the all girls’ weekend, Nancy (Jamie Bernadette), has not arrived and it is getting too late to set off. Nancy arrives and has a further person in tow, Annie (Sharron Calvin). None of the others know Annie, she works with Nancy and has recently suffered a breakup and Nancy has brought her along.

Katie Carpenter as Daniella
The girls decide to leave the next day and Daniela comes across as rather bitchy towards Nancy. It becomes apparent that the girls had drifted since school, that Daniela was overweight at school and was bullied due to it and that she primarily blames Nancy for that (although towards the end Nancy suggests she actually defended Daniela much of the time). This, of course, means the group begins with some tensions already manifested.

Gem and Stephanie
They go out to their vacation and it is an outdoorsy sort of event in a winter landscape. They do a death slide and are driving to their next destination when Daniella pulls the car over and suggests an impromptu hike through the woods (she has visited the area before). This hike proves longer than suggested and ends up with an accident in which Annie falls onto a branch that punctures her leg. Unable to find the way out of the woods they end up at an abandoned cabin…

So they are ill equipped (as the hike was impromptu), lost and all their mobiles seem to have lost charge. The area has a reputation of being cursed and, as the film progresses, they are beset with accidents (and a bear at one point), poison ivy faux pas, frost bite and it becomes apparent that one of them is somewhat homicidal. So, why is the landscape potentially vampiric? Well the wood becomes a character in itself, and refuses to let the girls leave. This Blair Witch lifted theme is better done because at least the girls are sensible enough to try and follow a stream (the failure of the characters to understand the mechanics of streams and human settlement in Blair Witch is one of its biggest issues).

when vines attack
The woods also seem to be able to make sinister noises and communicate on a psychic level with humans. There are quite a few bodies out there in the woods and it can actively manipulate its vegetation to, for instance, hold on to a person (à la Evil Dead) and can summon up winds. One of the girls acts like a Renfield or familiar to the woods, but what does it want? It is clearly killing those within its boundary but we get the words “This place needs blood to replenish itself” – so we have a definitive need for blood mentioned. As well as this one girl is told to “bring more blood”.

a previous victim
That then is the crux of the matter. The land is intelligent, damaged (through manmade pollution) and seeks to replenish itself with blood… and we can extrapolate that this is human blood as the wildlife in the woods (the bear being the primary animal we see) do not seem to be attacked for their blood and the land is as able to kill as the “helper” it chooses. The filming seems a little washed out, though the winter landscape will impact that, and the acting is functional rather than outstanding, but the landscape is indeed vampiric.

The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Short Film: Search/Destroy: A Strontium Dog Fan Film

Strontium Dog was a 2000 AD strip (though it started in the comic Starlord) and was a post nuclear series in which mutants were deemed second class citizens, subjected to racism and generally denigrated and the only work they could realistically get was as Search/Destroy agents – bounty hunters for hire.

In the comics the primary character was Johnny Alpha (Matthew Simpson) and this short fan film, directed by Stephen Green & Steven Sterlacchini and released in 2016, has Alpha as the primary character teamed with Wulf Sternhammer (Kevin Horsham). They take a bounty (at a low price) to discover who is killing experienced Strontium Dogs (the nickname for the mutant bounty hunters, given due to the distinctive SD on their badges and named after the Strontium fallout that led to their mutations).

Integra Fairbrook as Durham Red
Why then, you may ask, is this being featured on TMtV? In the comics a character named Durham Red (Integra Fairbrook) was introduced as a female agent and lover for Alpha. Red’s mutation gave her a vampiric lust for blood and fangs. She was so popular as a character that she gained her own series. In this she has a fleeting visitation (with a brief speaking aspect) when the bounties are being given out.

So that’s it. Short and sweet. The film’s homepage is here and the imdb page is here.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Classic Literature – Dracula: Or the Undead - A Play in Prologue and Five Acts

The fact that Bram Stoker wrote the seminal vampire novel Dracula and published it in 1897 is likely to be known to most readers who come here. That he wrote a play based on his novel that was performed once in 1897 may not be as well known.

Now before you get excited I have to point out that the copyright laws were such, at the time, that if Stoker was to keep the rights to a play version of his novel he had to not only produce one himself but it had to have a public performance. He started the play by hand but eventually resorted to cutting and pasting (literally, of course) parts of the novel. The performance was ostensibly public but in reality would have had an audience of a few select persons and the performance will have been more a walkthrough than a full performance.

There are some differences between play and novel – mostly for stage expediency – but this does not, in my opinion, radically alter the book. One can imagine that the play dragged with huge passages of heavy dialogue, indeed Sir Henry Irving is reported to have called it dreadful – let us remember the purpose, however, this was not a honed production. However, despite this, the volume is a genuinely nice curio for the hardcore Dracula aficionado. Editor Sylvia Starshine offers annotations, which are slightly marred by an overt Vlad III focus in places – though let us remember this was first published in 1997 and thus a lot of the work done to put a nail in the idea that Stoker based the character on the historic figure was still to come.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Derakula – review

Director: Reza Attaran

Release date: 2016

Contains spoilers

It was almost inevitable, one guesses, that a vampire film should come out of Iran following the success of American-Iranian film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. This feature carries an anti-drugs message that might have been fairly heavy handed but for the fact that Attaran made it the central plank of the situational comedy,.

The film itself is well shot and lifts its vampirism directly from the European source – though the film itself is set domestically. This makes a nice juxtaposition of East and West but with blood drinking being another addiction it also places the evils of the world of Western origin and, whilst somewhat sidelined, it paints a picture of women being the stronger of the sexes. Its side-swipes at social media suggests that some issues are simply universal.

Reza Attaran as Javad
Javad (Reza Attaran) and his wife Mojgan (Jaleh Sameti) seem a normal couple. They banter and she is taken with a phone app that guesses your age and is thrilled when a celebrity likes a picture she’s posted to Instagram. However, before dinner is served for the family Javad decides to go out. Mojgan is concerned with the way he gets when he is out of work. He heads to a local park where several men hang out and do various drugs.

Javad and mMsoud
Life takes an unexpected turn when he takes a lift from a stranger, is chloroformed and kidnapped. The stranger is Masoud (Levon Haftvan) and he dumps Javad in a locked garage before fixing the satellite dish for his wife Susan (Vishka Asayesh) and having dinner along with their young son Farbod. As they sit and talk we notice that Susan has noticeable fangs. Javad, in the meantime, comes around. The garage seems to have quite a lot of blood filled containers but Masoud has left the man with his phone.

spilling blood on self
He tries to phone Mojgan and tell her that he has been kidnapped but she has heard his wild stories before. He hasn’t got any data left on his phone package. Eventually he freaks himself out with his own reflection and stumbles, knocking a bowl of blood over himself. Masoud comes to the garage and promises not to hurt the man, taking him into the house to give him clean clothes. Susan sees him and remonstrates with Masoud – saying that he had promised he had given up blood. She eventually goes back to her father because of the broken promise.

vampiric couple
Meanwhile Javad prepares some opium in tea for himself and Masoud. He does it to run away but Masoud tracks him down and offers him a lift home – should he want one. Instead Javad stays with Masoud and, in the morning, Masoud is amazed that he had a night without wanting to drink blood. When we get the background of the vampires we hear that they are the last of two of the Dracula family lines. Their parents escaped persecution in Europe and moved to Iran and, when his parents died in an automobile accident, he tracked Susan’s father Vlad down. Vlad agreed to their marriage on the proviso that Masoud did like them and swore of blood.

ancestral portraits
During a moment of weakness Masoud had fallen off the wagon, and was unable to quit after that – secretly imbibing blood behind Susan’s back, but Javad realises that Masoud had picked his victim from the park and become addicted not to blood but to the drugs in his victim’s system. He promises to help Masoud and they tell Mojgan that they are going on a trip to Turkey (read cold turkey). However getting Masoud (and himself) off drugs seems to be more an excuse to buy more drugs and whilst Masoud gets Susan back when she realises he hasn’t killed Javad he quickly loses her again when she discovers the drug use.

There was some interesting takes on vampirism. The vampires had taken to a diurnal lifestyle and tropes like not having reflections only came into effect when they “vamped out” and were ready to attack. Vamping out was marked with their eyes turning red and shadowing around their eyes. When we see the back history we actually get an image of Christopher Lee for a moment. I liked the fact that Masoud was a larger size and thus the film moved away from the stereotyped rake thin (or indeed, ripped) vampire. The film used feline rather than canine imagery – though there is no indication of shape shifting.

Vishka Asayesh as Susan
I also liked the fact that, whilst we saw very little of the two wives, they were, in their own way, much stronger characters than the men. The drug addicts were all men. Susan was painted as very strong – walking out on Masoud for his transgressions. Perhaps this was somewhat down to her European roots as she is quite shocked to hear that Mojgan doesn’t read and gives her a book. For her part Mojgan holds the family unit together and is the backbone whilst Javad is away with the fairies (as it were). She also easily deflects him when he notices the book and queries whether she has read it.

vamp out
The film was well acted and the cinematography was excellent. The comedy, for the most part, worked well. It was primarily situational with a satire aspect. There may have been some cultural nuances missed but there was also some universal themes (such as the impact of social media and the cult of celebrity and cat pictures). There was an undertow that drugs had become pervasive in (male) society – be it deliverymen doubling as dealers or user/dealers helping out at the local schools. My issue was probably that the end felt a little flat. It wasn’t awful, by any stretch, but after such a good building towards the ending I expected more. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Honourable Mention: Minions

Minions seem rather popular but, as I haven’t watched the Despicable Me films I am absolutely behind the curve. That said I knew that I would have to, at some point, do an Honourable Mention of their first feature, which was directed by Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin, and released in 2015.

The opening of the film gives a potted history of the yellow chaps and their quest to serve the most despicable being alive and, at one point we get them serving a vampire in the Dark Ages (described as partying all night and sleeping all day). Celebrating his 357th birthday, they bring a cake and banner, wake him from his slumber, open the curtains and…

and... dust

And that is that, probably less than a minute of appearance but enough to get a mention here.

The imdb page is here.