Blood: The Last Vampire (2009)

We recently covered the original 2000 anime “Blood: The Last Vampire”, and enjoyed it enough to track down the live-action semi-remake, made in 2009. Good news – it’s got Davos Seaworth from “Game Of Thrones” in it! Bad news – despite the huge success and popularity of the original, it was released so quietly that I wasn’t even aware it existed til a few months ago!

That original was set in 1966, but someone involved in this wanted the kids at the school to be a little rebellious and hippie-adjacent, and there’s no way army brats would have been dressing like that then, so they moved it forward to 1970 (although, aside from no-one having mobile phones, only lip service is paid to the era it’s set in).

Blood: The Last Vampire (2009)

The producers, quite cleverly, decided to fit as many scenes from the original as they could, and also gave us more plot in areas that fans were actually requesting – like, the organisation that Saya works for, more on the creatures she’s hunting, and so on. The initial scene on the train, where Saya hunts down and kills a monster, is present and correct, filmed in an almost identical way – but the guy here fights back at a speed and strength that a normal human couldn’t manage, so the doubt over whether a deranged Saya has just murdered a non-vampire isn’t really there. Oh, and we find out a little more about her, coming from a long line of vampire-hunting samurai, her family slaughtered by the evil Onigen some 400 years ago.

The school on the US Army base that Saya is sent undercover to now has a sympathetic student, the daughter of the General, Alice McKee (Alison Miller, best known as a TV actor these days), replacing the audience-POV nurse from the anime; she’s supposed to be taking part in a martial arts tournament in a few weeks, and the hardass teacher there (British character-actor legend Colin Salmon) wants her to stay behind and train with the two mean girls. But wait, they’re vampires! Into the gym comes Saya, who throws Alice to safety before attacking the two, killing one and forcing the other to escape.

Cunningham is the head of the “Council”, which apparently has CIA backing as they’re able to clean up gore-covered crime scenes and remove the bodies from the base without the General being able to look at what they’re doing. He’s got a sidekick who doesn’t mind antagonising the soldiers, while Cunningham tries to do everything quietly and politely. I wonder if one of them will be a baddie?

As I don’t want to just recap the plot, I’ll mention the ways it’s different to its more famous forebear. There are some huge set-piece fight scenes which feature both some excellent stunt work from Saya (Ji-Hyun Jun) and some dodgy CGI, as she dispatches hundreds of vampires (seriously, how is anyone still alive in 1960s Japan if there are so many bloodsuckers there?) before being forced to escape from the base, with Alice in tow to go in search of Onigen.

I feel like someone involved in this really enjoyed “Hero”, the Jet Li-starring kung-mu masterpiece from 2002 where the camerawork and incredible visuals are perhaps more beloved than the fighting. “Blood” tries to ape some of the more famous scenes, filtered through an anime lens, but while some of them are just fine the only comparison you’ll be making isn’t favourable to this movie.

I liked the final fight, and the extension of the plot, but overall it was a pretty disappointing experience. Ji-Hyun Jun is too much of a blank slate in the central role, and everyone else (with the honourable exception of Cunningham) plays it way too far over the top. There’s precious little expectation of our hero getting in any danger, either, so if you like large over choreographed fight scenes, you might like this. If not, stick with the original.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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Blood: The Last Vampire (2000)

We don’t dabble much with anime here, partly because its fanbase has its own review sites, fan pages and all that, and I’m not sure there’s a ton of crossover between anime and the “mainstream”; and partly because I don’t really like it all that much. I mean, there’s good there, obviously, but it often puzzles me / seems designed to gross me out (good ol’ “Legend Of The Overfiend” and its ilk).

 

And then there’s the way these things seem almost designed to confuse the outsider. “Blood: The Last Vampire” spans this initial movie – unusually among anime, not based on a book or comic; a TV series called “Blood +” which shares almost no elements with the original; a live action remake of the original movie; another TV series, “Blood-C”, which shares few elements with either the movie or the other series; a sequel manga set in 2002; a trilogy of novels; and a computer game, remade for several platforms. That the main character has the same name, a sword and hunts supernatural creatures seems to be the only thread running through all these – I suppose, thinking about it, it’s no less confusing than, say, the “Highlander” franchise, which is based on multiple characters and a bewildering variety of continuities.

This iteration, the original, is set in 1966, and features a young woman by the name of Saya, who hunts creatures called chiropterans. Due to the extremely short length of this movie – 45 minutes – we get no backstory whatsoever, and lots of things that would be over-explained in a normal story are just glossed over. Like, Saya kills someone on a train in the “cold open”, and her handlers seem to think it’s just a normal human, not a chiropteran (they change shortly after death, if not before) but they’re so afraid of alienating her that they let it slide – she’s the last vampire of the title, you see. We get no resolution as to whether it is or isn’t.

 

The majority of the movie, though, is set on Yokota Air Force base in Japan, which was known post – WW2 as “Los Angeles in the middle of Tokyo”. Some chiropterans have infiltrated the base, so Saya’s handlers think, and it’s a matter of time before they feed and go into hibernation, rendering them untraceable. Luckily, despite Saya’s unknown age, she looks like a high school girl, so she’s able to blend in at the base’s school.

There’s a fantastic scene in the school’s hospital where Saya takes on two monsters while the nurse looks on in horror (she becomes the sort-of audience POV character at the end). There’s an exciting final chase too, where the lack of sharpness of Saya’s sword becomes something of a plot point.

 

There are several interesting things about this movie, other than the plot and action – a movie which is (perhaps still) the most popular one-off manga movie of all time. First is its origin, as a spec idea made by a group that met at a series of lectures given by anime legend Mamoru Oshii (Ghost In The Shell), with all sorts of super creative people contributing small amounts to the finished product. The animation is totally digital, but inked, coloured, then animated via computers, leaving a finished product much better than your average anime, which I think look sort of ugly a lot of the time.

If you were going to watch any anime movie, to ease yourself into things, then this is at the very top of pretty much every “greatest anime ever” list, and justifiably so. It’s short, full of action and doesn’t hold your hand.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Blood & Donuts (1995)

I feel like I spent most of my movie-watching 90s, rather than with Van Damme, Rothrock, AIP, horror franchises and Full Moon, watching movies like this. The genre / movement started, roughly speaking, with “Sex, Lies and Videotape”, and “Slacker”, but by this point in the decade we were getting (both good and bad) “Clerks”, “Living In Oblivion”, “Kicking and Screaming”, “S.F.W.”, “Empire Records”, “Reality Bites”, “Bodies Rest and Motion”, “Kids”, “Sleep With Me” and “The Doom Generation”, among many many others.

It did feel for a while like anyone with a film school degree, or several credit cards to max out, could get a distribution deal – and many of the directors and writers that came up in that generation are now our elder statesmen of entertainment. But as you look through old lists you made, or indeed the list I made above, which is limited to just 1994-1996, you realise you really don’t want to revisit those days. I assume today’s kids are too busy being amazed at the apartments and cars the disaffected, under-employed youth of their parents’ generation could afford to want to watch these movies as well – that, or wondering how badly previous generations wrecked government and the planet and how they can fix it.

But you didn’t come here to listen to me make terribly informed guesses of the mores of a generation I’m entirely unaware of! My point is that happening upon an indie movie from the mid-90s I didn’t know about, which ties in with my ongoing mission to watch every movie I can find that starts with the word “Blood”, is a minor cause for celebration and a major cause for worry at the things I used to find entertaining.

Boya (one letter away from the star of our previously covered series, “Undisputed”, pointless coincidence fans) is a vampire who decided to hibernate in a disused basement in 1969, after seeing the moon landing. A guy hitting golf balls across the city happens to put one through a basement window, disturbing Boya’s sleep. So he gets up, encounters cab driver Earl (Louis Ferreira, superb “That Guy” actor), digs up a suitcase full of his possessions and checks into a fleabag motel across the road from an all-night donut shop.

Inside the shop is the beautiful, charming collection of 90s indie tics and quirks, Molly (Helene Clarkson, whose final role was sadly in “Earth: Final Conflict”), and two low-level hoodlums, Pierce and Axel (two other That Guy actors, Frank Moore and Hadley Kay), who want Earl’s help ferrying them to and from crimes, for some reason. Oh, and their boss is played by David Cronenberg, who really must have owed someone a favour, although he did do quite a bit of acting at the time.

Oh, and there’s Boya’s former girlfriend from 1969, who senses he’s woken up thanks to him almost having turned her into a vampire back then; she wants him to finish the job and is jealous, ish, of his obvious love for Molly. And these are the people who bounce off each other in a variety of ways throughout the movie. Boya is almost too gentle and sensitive, rendering him relatively useless in his own story; but as he offers Earl a place to stay, their friendship develops, and Molly warms to him too.

Director Holly Dale clearly had almost no money to work with, so we’re left with something which is a little too minimalist – the grubby interior of the donut shop, the even grubbier interior of Boya’s rooms, a few back alleys and a graveyard are basically the only locations, and while that sort of thing can work for some directors, I’m not sure she was one of them. Her career is an interesting one – starting off making documentaries about women in prison, and prostitutes and drug dealers on the streets, “Blood and Donuts” was her first feature (one of only two, that I can tell) before she became a TV director, making episodes of pretty much every TV series of the last 20 years (at least those that film in Canada).

Perhaps the strangest choice of the lot was Louis Ferreira’s, to do an impression of Christopher Walken doing an impression of an Italian-American. He’d been acting for a decade before this, so has no “rookie mistake” excuse to fall back on, but he’s not only odd, but also sort of monotonous. The only actors I really bought in their roles were Clarkson and Moore, who did well with what they had.

I know it’s a strange thing to say about a movie featuring a vampire, asleep since 1969, falling in love with a woman who works in a donut shop, but it feels generic. From the music, straight out of “Now That’s What I Call The Soundtrack To A 90s Indie Film”, to the colour scheme, to most of the performances…its Canadian setting gives it some leeway (and is responsible for the funniest line, delivered by David Cronenberg) but sadly not enough.

Rating: thumbs down

PS – If you’re desperate to give it a go, it appears available on Youtube in its entirety.

 

The Lost Platoon (1990)

After a long, somewhat less-than-ideal run of very similar movies, our current featured director David A Prior has put something different into the mix. Okay, it’s still a war movie, features a command tent, has flashbacks and none of the characters can shoot worth a damn, but there’s a new thing in there.

Vampires! “Based on a concept by Ted Prior” (who doesn’t appear in this) – I presume this was a coke binge one evening where Ted said to his brother “why don’t you, I don’t know, put some vampires in one of your stupid war movies?” to which David said “screw you! I will!”

After we get that sort of vampire-movie-font opening credits, we’re given an actually pretty smart opening. An old man is looking at photos of soldiers from a variety of conflicts – from the US Civil War to WW1 to WW2 to Korea to Vietnam – and has circled a bunch of faces in each one. Could they be…the same? Quick flashback to his buddy dying next to him in WW2, and him being saved by a mysterious fella in a Civil War uniform, and we’re cracking on.

One of the more curious things about David A Prior is his re-use of actors at wildly different levels of exposure. You may remember Pappy, the bald comic-relief sidekick in “Rapid Fire” – well, Doug Harter was in a bunch of roles so tiny his characters don’t even have names in other AIP productions, then suddenly fifth billed, then back as “convict” or, as he is here, “random truck driving army guy”. Similarly, the villain of “Rapid Fire”, Michael “son of John” Wayne, is here as one of the vampire soldiers, but not the star, the villain or the main sidekick of either. Even so, quite a lot of the cast are making their first appearance in a Prior movie – no Ted, no William Zipp, no Fritz Matthews.

I keep getting sidetracked! Anyway, Hollander, the old guy we saw at the beginning, is the world’s most famous photographer, as everyone he meets for the first ten minutes tells him. He’s off to Nicaragua, apparently, although it’s never really named, to take photos of the war going on, but as he’s friends with the Colonel in charge of proceedings, he’s going to use his photography skills to convince the military top brass to send more troops and more stuff. Yes, this is the only military photographer in history whose job is as propagandist for the military!

He’s stood around one day chatting to a friendly soldier about his experiences, when he sees out of the corner of his eye a group of oddly dressed soldiers, including one in Civil War gear…his new friend says they’re part of another battalion who got separated and are just hanging out there for a little while, despite the rather obvious visual problem with such a statement. He starts investigating, and even goes to the Colonel with his suspicion that they have a group of vampires in their midst.

I wrote several times “I have no idea what the villain’s plan is”, and after a day of pondering, I’m still not sure. It’s fairly obvious, long before the reveal, that both he (Vladmir, played by Roger Bayless, his only credit) and his evil sexy sidekick Tara (Michi McGee) are vampires too, but they’ve raised an army and are in the local-villager-slaughtering business.

We spend a lot of time with the vampires, although we don’t find out much about them. Most of them are centuries old, so my initial thought that their outfits were the ones they were wearing when they died, seems to be blown out of the water. There’s the sensible boss guy; a hothead who wants to vamp up all the time and tear all the bad guys to shreds; a quiet one (sorry, don’t blame me for their lack of characterisation) and an even quieter one. Just the idea of them being badasses on the side of good is an interesting one, that they tour the wars of history and rip the bad guys to pieces, even if the movie claims a relationship between the groups of vampires that isn’t really there. Like, the good guys didn’t even know the bad guy was Vladimir until really close to the end?

The interesting thing about the group, to our 2018 eyes, is the casting of hothead Walker. He’s Stephen Quadros, and if you watched any old mixed martial events (Pride, Elite XC, and, oddly, one UFC computer game) he’s the commentator. He’s still acting regularly, and choreographs fights for movies too – I wish he’d done a few more for this one.

Also, thumbs up for some of the touches they bring to proceedings. The vampires catch bullets, and one mocks the other when he slightly messes up, tossing his bullet back through the air and into the chest of a bad guy soldier. There’s also a bit where one of them throws a knife that someone has jabbed into them, and you think “that’s a bad effect, the knife’s not in that other guy” until he falls over and you see the knife has gone right through him and stuck to the tree behind. Little touches, but they bring lightness to the story, and lightness is in short supply in the world of David A Prior.

There’s an interesting twist, even! There’s a lot to like about “Lost Platoon”, even if the title makes no sense (there’s only four of them).

But. I do wish Prior would try and do something different when it comes to filming gunfights. Every single one is the same – two groups of people, standing stock still, shooting and missing, 99% of the time. If I was a trained soldier and couldn’t hit a guy standing motionless twenty yards in front of me, I’d quit. It’s just filler and dull filler at that. There’s no visual interest to it, either – like it’d be cool if they were in a good location as opposed to the woods near Prior’s house.

It’s got some camp fun to it, a rarity for Prior. Recommended, despite its lulls.

Rating: thumbs up

Blu-ray review: Vampire Cop (1990)

There’s something of a story behind this site’s relationship with this movie, so feel free to skip a few paragraphs if you don’t like that sort of thing. If you’re happy with my nonsense, read on!

In my teens, my friends and I would go to Blockbuster, find the weirdest-looking VHS tape we could find, then watch the trailers and find the movie with the worst trailer, and repeat the process until we got to theoretically the worst movie ever. Sadly, our mission was stopped at four movies, when I was unable to track down a gem called “Vampire Cop”. Fast forward many years, I’m writing for this fine site right here, and I decided to track it down.

However, I made a slight mistake, and that mistake introduced me to the world of Donald Farmer, who’d made a different movie with the same title. I watched that, and the ISCFC’s world has never been the same again. Without “Vampire Cop”, I’d have never seen any of his great (and often bizarre) movies, and I’d have never met (electronically) the man himself. He’s one of the most generous filmmakers out there, happy to answer questions from his fans all day and share behind the scenes photos from his movies on social media. Full disclosure: thanks to one of those online funding platforms, I’m now a producer on his latest movie! He’s such a decent chap he’s happy to talk to someone (me) who’s been more than unkind to a few of his old movies; but anyway.

SRS Cinema are amazing, the sort of site I’d make if I had money, time, patience, any ability as a filmmaker, etc. Headed by the great Ron Bonk, they release some weird and wonderful stuff, and the trailers on this blu-ray were a fine example of that – “House Shark”; “She Kills”; “Night Of Something Strange”, and the first two volumes of Donald Farmer’s old 8mm horror shorts. Now, one might say that as two of these movies are about vaginas with tentacles coming out of them, someone at SRS Cinema has issues…or maybe one is a sequel to the other and I’m just an idiot. But I’d heartily recommend dropping some $$$ on their output, you’ll have a good time.

And their latest release is this. If you’d like to read our thoughts on the original release cut of “Vampire Cop”, click HERE, as it’s included on the disc too. But the real treasure for us Farmer-philes is a director’s cut, along with a commentary track from the man himself! So, I’ll mention a few things I forgot in the first review, discuss the quality of the special features and enjoy a rewatch of a classic.

CUT INFO: It’s 6 minutes shorter than the official release, and there’s a lot to recommend about it. Less sex, less focusing on the backlit vampire, none of that ridiculous dream sequence at the beginning; all things being equal, I’d pick this over the release cut. But…

There are two technical things you need to be aware of before you buy this (which I very much recommend). One is that the picture quality appears to have not been changed at all – in other words, this feels the same as watching the VHS tape back in the 90s. I guess, being shot on 16mm, there’s not a lot you can do to it quality-wise, but if you were buying this expecting Melissa Moore’s boobs in glorious HD, move along. The other thing is a little more off-putting, and that’s the lack of incidental music. All the dialogue is there, but some of the sound effects aren’t, and none of the music is. This reaches its apotheosis during the sex scene, which is three minutes of complete silence. Quite curious.

Turns out the lack of sound is due to this being an unusual sort of director’s cut. Donald Farmer submitted this version to a distributor, but they were all “if you shoot some new scenes, it’ll make the movie better, and we’ll pay for it”. This meant they were the primary shareholders (the original cut being made for an amazing $15,000) and held the rights to it for many years; none of the scenes they added made any difference, with the exception of a small one where the TV station’s producer, played by Farmer himself, discusses upcoming segments with such titles as “Transsexual House Pets” and “Men Who Name Their Testicles”. I’d have been happy to have that in the director’s cut too, but I appreciate I’m not in the majority of movie fans. They were less than honest with Farmer, and if you make a movie yourself you’d do well to avail yourself of all these horror stories and avoid them.

The movie itself is largely the same. A drug dealer tries to buy off the city with large charitable donations, but the cops still want to chase him down. One of those cops is Lucas, played by Ed Cannon, who’s also a vampire, but he’s sort of a dumb vampire who doesn’t pay attention to who he’s biting and therefore turning into vampires too. He hooks up with investigative journalist Melissa Moore and they take down this kingpin. He has the worst poker face ever, when the subject of vampirism is brought up, he does this weird face and if I was in the room with him, I’d be asking if he’d just had a stroke.

The commentary from Farmer is fantastic, full of really interesting facts about the world of low-budget movie-making, info about his actors, shooting details, and so on. It’s loose and informal and is like having the director sat next to you on the sofa, drinking a few beers and telling you anecdotes for 80 minutes.

I’m man enough to admit when I’m wrong, and a vast number of the criticisms I had of the original cut were of stuff that Farmer had no control over – the distributor’s cut of the movie, the incredibly tiny budget, the excessive nudity, and so on. The dream sequence at the beginning wasn’t his idea, and the chap with the moustache in the bathtub, who after watching the movie three times, I’ve still got no bloody idea who he was or why he was in it, was put in because he was staying at the house they were filming at and the other people there begged Farmer. Okay, no-one’s going to be mistaking this for Oscar fare, but the director’s cut makes a lot more sense.

Farmer shows his self-deprecating side when he repeats something that Roger Corman once said, as it applies to his movies too – “I hope all my actors will have careers where they don’t have to work with me again”. By the way, there’s a legit Oscar winner in his cast – RJ McKay, who plays gangster’s sidekick Raymond (and is by miles the best actor in it) was actually Ray McKinnon, working under an assumed name as “Vampire Cop” was a non-union movie. McKinnon has gone on to work on “Deadwood” and “Sons Of Anarchy”, and produced “Rectify” for the Sundance Channel. His Oscar was for a short movie, but he’s clearly had a great career, and he gave his all for $75 a day.

It’s my ambition to get my name on a DVD cover with a pull quote, so let’s try one of those. “SRS Cinema’s relationship with Donald Farmer means we get a new version of his 1990 classic!” I sort of like that. As I say, over and over again, if you have some spare entertainment money, people like SRS will be able to use it to keep producing the sort of bonkers nonsense you’re not going to get anywhere else, more so than another ticket for some multiplex tedium.

Rating: thumbs up

Vampire Cop (1993)

aka “Midnight Kiss”

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Normally, I’d say “not to be confused with the other Vampire Cop from a few years earlier” at the start of a review like this, but I have a confession to make, dear reader, and that is, I did confuse them for years. I told a story about trying to find the worst trailer on the worst-looking movie on Blockbuster’s shelves, back in the VHS days, then find the worst trailer on that tape, and so on down until we theoretically came to the worst movie ever. We found “Vampire Cop”, several rounds in, but never saw it for sale or rental. Fast forward to this site, and I decided to find it again, and that’s what brought me into the world of Donald Farmer, a world I’m delighted to inhabit. Then…the other day, I was telling my friend about Mr Farmer, and wanted to show him the trailer for “Vampire Cop”. I searched on Youtube, up this popped and I had a sudden realisation that this was the trailer I’d seen all those years ago, and I had to track it down and watch it as soon as possible.

 

I think the vampire represents feminism – watch the arc. The police station is absolutely chock full of the most appalling sexism, and our hero, Detective Carrie Blass (Michelle Owens) is perhaps understandably a little annoyed by this. A vampire bites her and she suddenly understands her power, and goes around beating the crap out of guys. If she finally kills a guy and drinks their blood, she’ll become a full vampire (feminist), but instead kills her sire and goes back to her ex-husband and her job, where nothing at all has changed. I didn’t say it was in favour of feminism!

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I’m not sure the movie intended this to be the case, it could just be a guy with weird attitudes towards women trying to make a movie where a strong woman is the hero? Anyway. It starts off where a nice-looking middle-aged woman is sat in an almost deserted bar and the world’s sleaziest, medallion-wearing douchebag is hitting on her. She refuses, understandably, and walks outside to her car, where Medallion follows her and decides to take what he wants by force. But who’s that coming out of the shadows? Dressed as a vicar, with a sweet cross earing, a man billed only as “The Vampire” (Gregory A Greer, channelling Crispin Glover) gets involved by tearing Medallion’s face off (!), then taking a few shotgun blasts from the bar owner before grabbing the gun and blowing his head off. If you’re wondering if he’s there to save the woman, you’ll only have a few seconds to wait for an answer, which comes when he drains all her blood.

 

This is apparently the 16th murder in recent months, and the Homicide detectives are stumped- when they’re not busy ogling female corpses or loudly mocking any woman within earshot, that is. Carrie was a detective and is now in the new Rape Crisis Squad, and she (of course) annoys all the men when she walks in and is able to get loads of good information from a vampire attack victim, with the simple technique of talking to them as if they were a human being. So, she wants back on the case, but to do that she’ll need to be a detective; luckily, one of her female co-workers informs her that the Captain is more than happy to promote women who agree to sleep with him. She did it, and it was the best decision she ever made! Carrie resists until the case escalates, then decides boffing the captain is the lesser of two evils and agrees to meet him after work one evening. Guess where he takes her? Yes, to a strip club! Carrie’s ex-husband, Dennis (Michael McMillen) interrupts them with news about the case, sees Carrie and loudly accuses her of brown-nosing, maybe three feet away from his superior officer. But he’s a guy so has no problems!

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I’m really getting bogged down in the soul-destroying aspects of this movie. Anyway, she gets bitten while on a stakeout, and The Vampire takes something of a liking to her. I think, I’m really not sure, as his insane overacting makes spotting his actual emotions a touch on the difficult side (he’s a quipper, too, should you be down on your groaning quotient for the month). Oh, and the formerly married couple are forced to be partners by the Captain – I don’t know tons about police procedure, but I’d bet every penny I’ve ever earned that there’s a rule specifically forbidding that. Because she’s not been a detective for a while, we’re also treated to a training montage, where Dennis shows Carrie how to run and fight and shoot a gun, and from hating him there’s clearly a new-found respect and friendship between the two. Really?

 

I’m sort of circling round the plot, and that’s because there’s really not one, traditionally speaking. When Carrie starts displaying vampiric tendencies, you think she’s going to take revenge on the male cops who’ve treated her so badly, but in fact the Captain’s eventual punishment for appalling sexual harassment…is nothing. The other cops? They get off scot-free too. The only person who really suffers (apart from The Vampire), is Carol, the woman who Carrie helped near the beginning of the movie – she’s also turned into a vampire but deals with it with slightly less aplomb than our hero. All Carrie does is nearly eat some raw meat, beat up a surprisingly multi-ethnic gang of thugs, and then get her ex’s help to do all the hard work. Oh, and she murders a guy who’s got a gun in the foyer of the police station by bashing his head against a wall until his brains come out…but the rest of the cast treat it as a mild inconvenience, so perhaps it wasn’t brains and the guy was fine.

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What of our vampiric friend? Well, he and Carrie have one thing in common – this is the only movie they ever worked on, in any capacity (something they share with a good half of the cast). When you hit the top your first time out, why try again? Not only does he grimace and give good quip, but he also has one amazing scene where he buys a book, but before you’ve got the time to think “oh, this is deepening his character a little” he’s reading a bit, laughing maniacally, then tearing the page out. It’s the Bible! Boom, take that, Christianity!

 

I would love to really mock this movie or say it was a hidden gem, but sadly the truth is somewhere, well, not in the middle, it’s way closer to the terrible end of things. It’s technically incompetent, of course – holes pre-appear in peoples’ chests before the stake arrives, pages are pre-torn out of books, that sort of thing. It’s one of the most sexist movies I can remember, and I’ve seen a lot of terribly sexist movies. But there’s the faintest whisper of a good movie there – I wish I could relate it to the director or the two credited writers, but their careers amounted to a whole heap of the sort of thing you’d have avoided in a video shop of the time (even more so than this, because at least this has a badass title). Take, for instance, the scene in Carol’s house near the end. It’s a weird mix of the extremely camp (Carol’s appearance and dialogue) and the quite creepy (how her house looks). It’s a scene that I wish had had better people working on it.

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I’m actually sort of irritated it had just enough interesting stuff to make me bothered about thinking about it all through the day after I saw it (were it not for the notes I take, half the movies I review would be forgotten by the time it takes me to hit “stop” on the remote). Maybe give it a try if you’re in a forgiving mood.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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

Subspecies 4: Bloodstorm (1998)

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I was about to do our traditional “we come to the end of another series” opening to this review, but it’s not quite true. For no good reason, Ted Nicolaou made another vampire movie a few years before this called “The Vampire Journals” (entirely unrelated, I’m sure, to both the popular “Vampire Diaries” books that had been published several years before, and “Interview With The Vampire”), starring former British sitcom actor Jonathan Morris as Ash. Nicolaou inserted a throwaway line in that movie about how Ash’s creator was Radu, thus providing a link; so when it came time to making what has been, to date, the last “Subspecies” movie, it was simple to slot Ash into a supporting role. If I’d been sensible, I’d have watched them in order of release, but so be it.

 

A hearty BOOOOOOOOOOOO too this movie, as it joins the tradition of “kill the cast members we didn’t want / couldn’t afford to bring back, before the movie starts”. A young woman is driving down a small road, and glancing over to the side sees the crashed car that was taking our heroes away at the end of the last movie. The US Embassy guy (who is, amusingly, referred to that way in the extra features by Denice Duff, as if he wasn’t worth being remembered), Rebecca (Michelle’s sister), and the random local they rescued from the castle, all survived a vampire attack but couldn’t survive an old car and the Romanian highway system. The rescuer, Ana (Ioana Abur), finds Michelle, alive, in her bodybag, says “I’m a doctor, I can help”, bundles her in the back of her car and drives her away.

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And a second hearty BOOOOOOO when we discover just where this doctor works and who her boss is. Ana is a doctor at the Vitalis Institute, which specialises in blood disorders and cleaning the blood of debauched rock stars; also, the boss, Dr Niculescu, is creepy as hell, knows about vampires and the Bloodstone, and can apparently cure Michelle so she can walk around in the daylight. This is such a colossal coincidence that it sort of ruins what comes after, and the original script had the surviving car of people searching for a doctor who might be able to help Michelle and taking her there. This would have at least made sense, but as it was six years since the last instalment had been filmed and the other actors had moved on, this was the substitution we got.

 

Want one more BOOOOOOOO? If you’d like to cast your mind back to the end of part 3, you’ll remember Radu, on fire due to the sun’s rays, shot with silver bullets multiple times, fall off the side of the castle only to land on a bunch of spikes and remain there. The last scene was the blood dripping down and creating a Subspecies, so it was certainly left open to a part 4. But…the Subspecies were clearly expensive to animate, so they don’t show up; what we do get is Radu burning for a bit, then falling off the spikes and landing in a stream, where he’s able to get up, pick up the Bloodstone and get himself to safety, recovering fully by that evening. It’s even cheesier than those old 1940s serial cliffhangers, where you’d see a plane fly into a cliff but in the next episode they’d tell you “no, they totally swerved at the last second and everyone is fine”.

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So, Radu goes to Bucharest and meets up with Ash, his former “protégé”, who’s been running Radu’s family businesses there for a century (a casino, a brothel) along with his own protégé, Serena. The conflict is obvious and immediate, and while he’s dealing with them, we get Michelle dealing with the lunatics at the Institute. The Bloodstone finally becomes important to the plot (it can help humans to become immortal, maybe), and when Radu discovers where his favourite woman is being held, things really kick off. The thing is, I know I’ve just mocked the setup of this movie, but the central meat of the plot is really strong – Radu is a great vampire, the relationships are believable, and while it’s all a bit obvious, sometimes obvious is good.

 

While the idea behind the movie is strong, sometimes the execution fails a little. The endless supply of lit candles in ancient tombs that no-one goes in, once you notice it, becomes a Rocky Horror-style moment of audience interaction; why 1875 is on the Vladislas tomb when the youngest son, Radu, is a thousand years old; but it’s not all trivial stuff. Marin, the cop from part 3 we all loved, is back…sort of. He gets turned into a vampire by accident and then is on screen a few times, in footage I’d bet was filmed back at the time of part 3 and spliced into this, and it’s just filler – a poor ending for a fun character. Then there’s Michelle’s wildly changing moods. She hunts and kills, but every time is guilty about it afterwards; and then while Radu confronts Ash, she’s on Radu’s arm, smiling as if she’s finally on board for evil. Minutes later, Radu is throwing her around as if she’s there against her will. I think she’s by and large excellent in this series (and has one of the all-time great looks to be a vampire), but something was off here.

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Anders Hove, playing Radu, is the strongest part of this movie by a distance. His threat to the staff of the Institute is genuinely terrifying, and knowing what we do about how tough it is to kill him, even the most well-organised attack is probably going to fail, badly. The final battle, while a bit confusing in terms of where everyone is and where the fight is taking place, is good too, even if the various plot strands never really came together. Although that looked like Bergman compared to the very ending, a voiceover which basically admitted “yup, we didn’t really finish this one, sorry”.

 

This has been a frustrating series. The atmosphere is superb, none of the self-referential comedy that spoils so much modern horror, and the plot is interesting and well done too. But it doesn’t feel like four movies worth of it! “Some girls go on holiday to Romania, one of them gets turned into a vampire, the head vampire guy falls in love with her, she tries to escape”. I’m not leaving a lot out there, either.

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Long-term readers will remember me saying this about many different Full Moon movies, so I appreciate it’s a bit boring. Perhaps (after “The Vampire Journals”) we’ll have another long break from reviewing their stuff, because this feeling they’ve made a little go a long way, but gradually alienated all but their hardest hardcore fans, is difficult to shift.

 

Rating: thumbs down