Fist Of The Vampire (2007)

I'm not sure either of these people appear in the movie

I’m not sure either of these people appear in the movie

It’s been a long time since we watched one of Len Kabasinski’s films, partly because I’m broke and couldn’t afford any new DVDs, and partly because the last one (Curse of the Wolf) was pretty ropey. But luckily there was a sale, and here we are!

The film starts in 1977, and a gang of vampires are munching on some unfortunate lady in an alley, when wandering into the scene is a businessman on his way home from work. Why was he in a filthy alleyway? Shortcut? Anyway, he escapes only to lead the vampires to his house, and his entire family is wiped out.

Right away, you have a choice. Very little effort is made to dress any of the scenes to look like 1977 – there are modern cars on the street, most of the clothes don’t look time-appropriate, main vampire Nicholas (pro wrestler Brian “Blue Meanie” Heffron) looks like he wandered out of a Limp Bizkit video…so you can dismiss it as yet another ultra-low-budget horror, turn it off and go about your day. Or you can let the small stuff slide, because this is clearly not a film designed to turn a quick buck for its creators, and have yourself a good time.

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I chose the latter (obviously) and got to enjoy the present day tale of DEA Agent Lee tracking down the gang thanks to their drug-dealing activities, and getting involved in the underground fight club they have going on. Lee’s first time on screen is him wiping out a house full of dealers, and it’s really well-done – everything’s timed well, the choreography of the fights is great, and it wouldn’t look out of place in a much bigger-budget film (well, they’d have to replace the rubbish-looking gunshot effects, but you know what I mean).

It’s easy to mock the efforts of films like this, because they’re made for basically no money and people are hired to act who can fight, rather than to fight who can act. But there’s a real sense here that he’s developing a style. There’s plenty of unusual effects – from a sort-of bullet time thing, to the final fight being so hard-hitting that the film appears to break; during a gun battle in a video store Len’s other films are on prominent display, and the drug dealers at the beginning are watching “Swamp Zombies”.

But…there are a few fun things to spot in this movie. Agent Lee moves to Pennsylvania to pursue Nicholas and his gang, and we see an attractive female neighbour bring him some brownies as a welcome to the neighbourhood sort of thing. The only other time we see her is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her moment as Lee is getting out of bed and she’s asleep next to him – you sly dog, you! We get a glance at the camera from a chap counting up drug money, and if you like you can wonder at just how high-class this apparently high-class underground fight club is by the clothing choices of the people who attend. And Agent Lee’s DEA handler does everything other than have a scene inside the DEA building – he’s in dirty phone booths and on park benches and does the poor guy not actually have an office? Government cutbacks? I do like the effect though of him always being on the move.

This is the first film where I wish Kabasinski had a bigger budget not because of the effects, but because of the scope of the movie. The vampire gang seem to keep on killing people who they shouldn’t be killing, almost by accident, and the story of them falling to pieces as a group could have been really compelling (although one could wonder why they’d suddenly started doing this after being fairly quiet for 30 years). Perhaps it’s the presence of another undercover cop in their midst?

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This is, I think, Kabasinski’s best film yet. The man is a workhorse – actor, writer, director, producer, fight co-ordinator, and location manager! He’s come along quite a lot as an actor, so I’d be interested in seeing him star in a movie in the future too.

You definitely have to look past the bargain-basement special effects and occasionally woeful acting, but once you do you’ll see a group of people who clearly are doing it out of love, and who are starting to develop a bit of style. It’s just a load of fun to watch and as far as underground fight-club-vampire-drug-dealer films go, it’s the best (a quote for a future DVD release, there).

Rating: thumbs up

EDIT: I was overly harsh to the initial set dressing in the flashback scene, and am happy to alter some of the wording after Len set me straight (see below).

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Swamp Zombies! (2005)

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There are two main reasons that low-budget filmmakers tend to make their films short (typically, 90 minutes and below). Firstly, making films is expensive, and it’s not like you’re going to be able to charge more for your 2-hour film than you would for an 80-minute one. Secondly, if you’re fortunate enough to sell your film to a TV channel, it’s convenient for them to have it in a 2-hour block, which minus adverts is around 1:30. So when I saw that “Swamp Zombies!” was almost 2 hours, I was intrigued.

I loved this film. Absolutely loved it. It’s beyond cheap – filmed on camcorders, a cast of rank amateurs, weird stunt casting, non-existent lighting, sub-bargain-basement special effects – but it’s got something to it that I just warmed to immediately.

You don’t need a ton of recapping with a name like “Swamp Zombies”, but you’re going to get some. Evil doctor is experimenting with fresh corpses, but before he gets the chance to finish it off, the Government comes to do an inspection of his hospital, so he has to pay some criminals to dump the bodies in a lake next to a swamp. Also in the swampland – a group of students doing some biology fieldwork; a Sheriff and his amazing kickass deputy; some sunbathing ladies; and the corporate villains. They keep one of the test subjects at the hospital, and he turns into a zombie too and starts causing some havoc there.

The stunt casting is minor stars of wrestling – Brian “Blue Meanie” Heffron plays a guy living out in the swamp, mourning the death of his wife and son; his real-life wife at the time, former porn star Jasmine St Claire, is the evil doctor’s main investor, or boss, or something; and MMA legend and occasional dabbler in pro wrestling Dan “The Beast” Severn is a cop who shows up near the end. If the rest of the cast isn’t just Kabasinski’s friends, family and people from his martial arts school – the guy was a nationally ranked martial artist before turning his hand to filmmaking – I’ll be very surprised.

The extreme lack of a budget shows itself in a hundred small ways, but there’s little more boring than film reviewers going “haha look at that continuity error” or whatever, although if that’s your bag then you’ll have a good time. My favourite is when Jasmine goes for a shower (which includes a great deal of her lathering her boobs with spurts of creamy white shower gel) and when she leaves you can see urinals on the far wall. Not too many urinals in female bathrooms, I’m thinking.

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Favourite character is Deputy Anna, played by Monica Picirillo (her only credit, sadly). She’s clearly a martial arts friend of the director’s, and looks like the sort of character who’ll see a zombie, shriek and then get eaten. But no! She whups an absolute ton of ass and although she does a bit too much standing around trying to figure out where to go, she shows those dead scumbags who’s boss…until she gets overwhelmed, bitten and turns into perhaps the world’s first martial artist zombie. My notes just read “deputy = BADASS” and that is absolutely right.

Your opinion may vary radically from mine about this. It’s incredibly low budget and the performances are truly abominable, the sort of people who’ve seen a lot of genre movies but have never had an acting lesson (with a few honourable exceptions – I liked most of the group of teenagers, who seemed pretty natural). The doctor is extraordinary, almost a new level of acting badness – but you know what? I just think it all works, and for a film which cost an estimated $12,000, these people had to really want to make a movie. Compare that to the similarly low-budget “Agent Beetle” we reviewed recently, where the people all seemed to be on the Hollywood ladder (even if it’s right at the bottom) but the finished product was cynical, nasty and cheap – trying too bludge a few dollars from people drunkenly expecting a real Blue Beetle movie. This could not be called cynical at all – it’s a guy with a few credit cards, lots of friends and lots of chutzpah trying his best to make a fun zombie movie.

Time for my now obligatory railing against sexism in genre movies before we part, dear reader. There are a lot of boobs in this movie, most notably Ms St Claire’s, but far too many females in the cast show too much flesh, while the only thing for fans of the male form is a few seconds of the director (who is put together, I’ll admit) doing some shirtless katas on his deck. Take a look around, people. The world is changing and there are a lot of straight female and gay male genre movie fans, and you should either be catering for them or catering for no-one. I don’t think anyone’s sitting through two hours of a movie about swamp zombies just for the occasional shot of boobies, is what I’m saying.

So be prepared for wildly disagreeing with me, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that, if you’re in a forgiving and friendly frame of mind, you’ll have a damn good time watching this.

Rating: thumbs up