Vampire Journals (1997)

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So we come to the end of another movie series, one that I can call solidly above average. Although I don’t pretend to know how the movie business works, I can imagine writer/director Ted Nicolaou being slightly annoyed that his “Subspecies” series was on hiatus (by the time this was filmed, it had been five years since the last time he’d worked on them) and decided to tell a story in the same universe, hoping to get some money from Full Moon to finish the story of Radu Vladislas off properly. Or something completely different, as I would like to point out my hit-rate for theories about why some movies get made is pretty low.

 

Should you be interested in that sort of thing, there’s some continuity fun here. What happens at the end (no spoilers) indicates that this movie probably comes after “Subspecies 4”, chronologically speaking; but there’s also an actor in this whose character died in that movie, so if you think it’s the same character then the opposite could also be said. If you factor in the woman our “hero” kills in this movie’s distant past, who turns up as the same character with the same name in part 4, then all bets are off. Perhaps I should be happy as this doesn’t even crack the top ten of Full Moon’s crimes against continuity?

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Ash is largely the same fellow we met in the last (next?) movie, the curly haired Byronesque music-loving vampire, who runs a brothel / casino in an unnamed city, and has a coterie of vampires and loyal humans around him. There’s Iris (Starr Andreef), his human assistant and the front for his businesses; Cassandra (Ilinca Goia), his protégé and favourite for over 2 centuries; and Dimitri (Mihaili Dinvale, who was also the doctor in “Subspecies 4”) as a rather sad vampire. The one interesting thing the movie does, right off the bat, is establish Ash’s relationship with the people around him as less master and servant, and more drug dealer and junkie. He has a number of vampires staying with him, who give him half their worldly goods in return for privacy and a supply of willing participants in blood-draining. They don’t venture outside much, but this relationship doesn’t really endear them to their benefactor and this all gives an interesting flavour to proceedings.

 

Into this mix come two people. First up is Sophia (Kirsten Cerre), a concert pianist who Ash hears and falls in love with. She’s sort of okay, if perhaps the stupidest character in this entire series, and the other one is Zachary (David Gunn). He’s a vampire who wants to wipe other vampires out, and specifically Ash and all of his bloodline, because of them killing his wife centuries ago. Thanks to a horribly flat and pointless voiceover, we discover he’s travelled the world and killed many, only to realise the futility of his quest (they get created quicker than he can kill them). He carries on anyway, and here is where what is otherwise an excellent movie hits its first roadblock. Whether it’s his sub-par acting or the script, Zachary is a dour, misery-driven character who acts like his wife was killed last week and not during the Renaissance – watching him is d-u-l-l. Ash, on the other hand, is playful, violent, warm and a lot of fun to watch; the movie spends more time with Ash than it does with Zachary, too, so the inescapable conclusion is you’d rather see the bad guy triumph. And he’s definitely a bad guy, too, tricking people and killing those who try and double-cross him, just so there’s no doubt. But he’s still a much more interesting character, which is perhaps the result of being numbed to vampiric atrocities by shows like “The Vampire Diaries”, where mass murderers are the romantic leads.

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Zachary rescues Sophia from Ash, so there’s a love triangle element to it too. If you were wondering why I called Sophia stupid, well, after being frightened half to death by Ash stalking her in the streets, appearing in the mists in front of her, and so on; and then being warned by Zachary to not mess with Ash as he’s a bad guy, she’s invited to play a solo recital for Ash, at his club, by Iris, to which she immediately and gleefully accepts. Seriously? Come on, Sophia, show some instinct for self-preservation! So, she’s trapped by Ash, Zachary tries to work out a way to free her and kill him, and the movie rolls along.

 

The one thing all these movies nailed was the atmosphere. Old Romania is the perfect location for a proper vampire story, and the sets are all superb, giving the feeling of the classic vampire stories, before more modern concerns took over (“Twilight”, comedy horror movies and so on). Something about the way all five were made has given them a small, but extremely vocal, fanbase. The large underground den which is where most of the action takes place was obviously a budget choice, but it works too (even if they could have done with stretching their wings a little). It’s a strong, tightly made movie with a decent plot.

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This wouldn’t be a Full Moon review without multiple timeline complaints. The sword which Zachary has is the Blade of Laertes, which Ash lost 700 years ago. Bummer, right? But in “Subspecies 4”, which came before this in the timeline, he has it. Now, this is minor compared to the stuff at the top of the page, but it’s the same writer and director, and if he can’t be bothered to get stuff like this right, then it’s a legitimate worry that he cared equally little about the rest of the little moments that go towards making a great film.

 

Add in a double bummer of an ending – the last line before fade to black is “her life, like mine, would be an endless nightmare” and you’ve got a curious movie. Vampirism is absolutely not seen as a good thing in these movies, even the good guys kill occasionally for food, and their weaknesses are many. So I can understand why Sophia (and Michelle in “Subspecies”) didn’t want to become vampires, and think Radu and Ash should’ve picked more willing participants, of which there must be many. Hell, put an advert in the paper!

 

Final final thought: how big is the candle bill for the average vampire?

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Rating: thumbs up

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