Saturday, December 10, 2016

Honourable Mention: Monster Pool the Second Chapter

So, we recently looked at the anthology collection entitled Monster Pool, which was used to showcase shorts by Indie filmmakers from Ottawa. The guys behind the series were good enough to give me access to the second chapter, which is commercially available and was released in 2016.

The first thing that struck me is that the whole thing has a higher production value than the first outing, perhaps as one would expect. The number of shorts are fewer, the quality more consistent and the length of each is increased, but there isn’t as obvious an overarching theme – the first series of films featured a key – this is also a portmanteau film rather than a simple anthology.

fangs on show
The primary vampire section is entitled Blood in the Water and was directed by Randy Smith and Vincent Valentino. It is actually the portmanteau section and as such is primarily used to hold the sections together rather than advance its own story. It follows two jocks (Pavel Lubanski and James Raynard) visiting their new neighbours (they have just rented a house). The two hosts (Rilla O'Brien & Samantha Renaud) are definitely vamps (in the more mundane sense of the word) and lead the two into their pool as they sip red wine. It was not a shock when they were revealed at the film’s end to be vampires nor do I think it particularly a spoiler to tell you this.

revelling in pain
There is also a section that made me sit up and think entitled the Prisoner, which was directed by Vincent Valentino. In it a drunk guy (Curtis Gough) is taken hostage by a group of women and tortured (primarily by three of the four). There is a sexual element to the torture and whilst there is some physical brutality the main focus is psychological – they openly state they wish to break him that way.

There are even moments were he is allowed to attack them, but they seem to enjoy it and this causes a further breaking of his psyche. So, why did it make me sit up and pay attention? The girls look sallow of complexion and have a supernatural aspect to them, appearing around him at will it seems. One of the girls states that the crushing of a soul adds to its flavour – and so these seem to be soul eaters of some sort. Where they succubi, vampires or something else? The films don’t tell us but the portmanteau's vampire girls hint that the girls in this section are real and it is not just a story.

Monster Pool the Second Chapter is available on Blu-ray/DVD and VoD, with links at the homepage and the imdb page is here.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Trancers 5: Sudden Deth – review

Director: David Nutter

Release date: 1994

Contains spoilers

So, whilst Trancers 4 did come to an ending, what it didn’t do was return Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson, Near Dark, Live Evil & Wicked Lake) to his own world and so he is stuck on Orpheus.

An opening recap is narrated by trancer Lucius (Mark Arnold) and ends with him suggesting that the tunnel rats spent a month expertly picking off the nobles and that he managed to retrieve a canvas on which a picture of killed trancer leader Caliban (Clabe Hartley) is painted. He is then attacked and wakes and he is clearly having a nightmare – but the nightmare is true and the nobles are in hiding.

Stacie Randall as Lyra
Jack is being, well Jack… he seems bored with ex-slave Lyra (Stacie Randall, From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money) and her need to please him as she doesn’t have the feistiness of the Lyra of his own dimension. Rebel trancer Prospero (Ty Miller, Slaughterhouse Rock) and human resistance leader Shaleen (Terri Ivens) are fighting their attraction to each other and Jack does not trust Prospero as he is a trancer (and Jack’s worldview is very black and white).

Jack and Prospero
They then, almost accidentally, discover that there may be a way for Jack to get home. All he has to do is face the Castle of Unrelenting Terror and retrieve the tiamond (yes, they did just merge the words time and diamond), a mystical gem that will be able to transport Jack back to his own dimension and time. A guide is found (who is soon revealed to be Prospero) turning this into a bit of a mismatched buddy film but Caliban has also emerged from the painting, restored to life, and knows where they will be going (as it is exactly what he would do).

Prospero trancing
There isn’t much in the way of vampire tracer action in this one, concentrating more on the (anti?) hero quest aspect. The acting is pretty much the same except it primarily has Deth and Prospero; with the nobles (hamming it up) and the tunnel rats (imitating wood) pretty much sidelined. In truth this and the earlier film, which were filmed back to back, are both a little on the short side for a feature and with some judicious trimming the two could have been merged into a single film. That said, we are where we are and this deserves much the same score as the first film – again, the edition I watched for review was in a set of the first five films. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Honourable Mention: The Monster Pool

I stumbled upon an anthology film entitled the Monster Pool: Chapter Two – an outlet for indie filmmakers from Ottawa and available on VoD, DVD and Blu-ray. It did, of course, beg the question of what about the first chapter?

I found the film’s homepage and it asked the very same question and pointed to a second page where most of the shorts were available to watch for free (four are unavailable). Amongst those was a short called Vampire Sacrifice by Patrick Murray.

As always with anthology films the quality varies – some of the films are a little amateurish, to be honest, though others are well worth a watch and all are worth a watch for free. Within these films there is also an on running theme of a key, which the filmmakers use in a variety of ways. Vampire Sacrifice actually has nothing that resembles on-screen vampiric action and might actually be suited to a ‘Vamp or Not?’ However Murray uses the title (and an intertitle describing scapegoats) to build a subtext through expectation. This was, in itself, a useful way to ensure a short of 6 minutes’ length (as were all the shorts) offers part of its storyline through expectation.

leading the kids
As for the film itself, we see a hooded girl (who wears the key at her neck) and three younger kids. We get some close-ups (using rather nice photography) and then see her leading the three through the woods. The photography seems to be black and white with the exception of the red cloak – the b&W seeming achieved through manipulating the filmed footage, giving the scene a washed out feel. She leads them to a building, and abandons them in there. We see a distortion – as though something invisible moves – the lights go out, there is growling and then screams.

Our expectations lead us to believe that these are a sacrifice to a vampire, as the intertitle says the scapegoat “suffers in their place” and the kids apparently fulfil that role. A shot of one of the kids over the shoulder of another brings the trope of the bite to mind and again it is a nice play with expectation (and filmic stereotype) foreshadowing an event we don’t see. The short, therefore, is more interesting for how it does things than actually what it does.

Whilst the second chapter film has an IMDb page, I could find neither one for this anthology nor for the Vampire Sacrifice short.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Trancers 4: Jack of Swords – review

Director: David Nutter

First aired: 1994

Contains spoilers

Full Moon pictures are best known on TMtV for their Subspecies series of films (and spin offs). But as well as those there is the long running Trancers series (actually the first Trancers film was made by Charles Band via Empire Pictures, and the series later became part of Band's Full Moon stable).

Trancers is a sci-fi noir series… actually it is cheesy B movie fair and the first couple of films, featuring future cop (and Trancer hunter) Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson, Near Dark, Live Evil & Wicked Lake), were cheesy good fun with a time travel aspect. The Trancers themselves are mind controlled zombie-like creatures. The third film nearly killed me off, to be honest, but this fourth film saw a change in pattern and I owe a thank you to Leila who told me about films 4 and 5.

the time machine
Jack has defeated the Trancers and is working for the Council (the rulers of 2353) and is going through time sorting out issues with the time lines. Having been a misogynist pig to a woman, Lyra (Stacie Randall, From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money), in a bar he goes back to work and discovers she is the new tech maestro. She gives him a plasma gun, a cut through anything knife and the new version of the long-second watch. The long-second watch is a gizmo that will slow time around the user, stretching a second for everyone else to ten seconds for them. He aims to go back through time on a new assignment but is attacked in the time machine by a solenoid stowaway and the machine flips to another universe.

a trancer dying
The land he arrives in – called Orpheus but looking suspiciously like Romania – is a land where magic works and – he slowly discovers – his tech doesn’t (or at least not properly). Within moments of arriving he is checking out a scream and sees a cloaked figure, Borgia (Adrian Pintea, Vlad), leaning over a woman. Now, Jack does call the man a bloodsucker but also recognises him as a trancer and, as he fights his foe, the victim, Tessa (Rona Hartner), warns him to be careful as the trancer will drain him dry. Eventually he impales Borgia on a tree branch – the trancer turning various glowing colours before vaporising.

Now, the trancers did vaporise on death anyway so it is the feeding that make these ones different. Like their zombie-like alternatives these change their face into a more monstrous visage, however these seem to have more control in this state and feeding allows them to revert back again. The feeding is where the film sends mixed messages. They are called vampires by Jack, they go for the neck and call humans ‘meat’. However it is clear that they are draining lifeforce – and their victims glow white, through blue to red. At red they die and the draining of life force makes these energy vampires.

tunnel rats
There are rebels – the tunnel rats – who seek out Jack as his coming has been prophesised by a monk called Farr (Alan Oppenheimer). There is talk of a disembodied wizard called Oberon who the leader of the vampire trancers, Caliban (Clabe Hartley), fears. Caliban has two primary goals – to get his ‘meat’ sympathising son Prospero (Ty Miller, Slaughterhouse Rock) to feed and to convince Jack to tell him how to get to Jack’s universe. To this end, he uses a slave woman who looks exactly like Lyra to tempt him to the darkside (as it were).

Tim Thomerson as Jack Deth
The story is simplistic but the film has pluses. Tim Thomerson reminds me, in many respects, of Bruce Campbell and this outing has overtones of Army of Darkness – which was released two years before and took the Evil Dead franchise into a medieval/fantasy setting. His portrayal of Deth sets the misogyny bar deliberately high and revels in the B-ness of it. The one liners perhaps don’t flow as thick and fast as previous outings – though you have to appreciate any film with the line “en garde Motherf*cker!” It perhaps doesn’t go as comic as Army of Darkness but the comedy is there and flows through the Jack Deth character.

Mark Arnold as Lucius
The tunnel rats are entirely undeveloped, bar the character Shaleen (Terri Ivens), and the acting rather wooden too. However the nobles (as the vampires are referred to) all seem to ham it up to the max. Especially Clabe Hartley as Caliban and Mark Arnold as his lieutenant, Lucius. Indeed Lucius could well be a prototype for the character Kraven in Underworld, though this performance outstrips the later one by a country mile. As for the vampires, beyond being tough to kill – unless you’re Jack Deth – and draining energy, the only pieces of lore seem to be that they have no reflection and they came from another world themselves.

It isn’t great, if we are going to be honest, and it is as cheesy as the most pungent Camembert but it is good fun. The edition I watched for review was in a set of the first five films. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Honourable Mention: Ángeles y Querubines

This is a rare 1972 Mexican film directed by Rafael Corkidi and it is one that you could argue has more than a fleeting visitation and that the vampire is in plain sight all the way through but, on a very strict interpretation, the vampire does only fleetingly appear in the film at the finale.

It was a controversial movie, seen in its Catholic dominated homeland as quite blasphemous but it doesn’t per se go out of its way to deliberately shock – it is too languid in direction and construction for that. Rather it is quietly subversive. After opening credits roll over a shot of chained wood, crawling with ants as a tonal musical theme is played, the film proper starts in the Garden of Eden (or on a beach) and we at first get Eve (Lea Corkidi) who is a young girl running through the beach naked and then, later, she brings forth Adam (Pablo Corkidi). The sculpture that represents the tree of knowledge has a white sphere on it and it is only through cooperation that they can reach it and this causes an explosion.

Cristián and his father
What we notice is that this is already languid, strange and expressionist, perhaps even psychedelic. It owes a debt to more European fantasy films of around the same era. From the Garden of Eden we move into the home of Don Jacobo Marroquín (Roberto Cañedo). A woman sings and his son, Cristián (Jorge Humberto Robles, Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary), seems rather taken with the daughter, Angela (Helena Rojo, also Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary), of guests.

bite marks
The two young adults fall in love but Cristián’s father does not approve and this causes the family to move away. Cristián is called back to Angela as he is needed but by the time he arrives (and this is at the end of the film) she appears to be dead (though the film isn’t explicit, it is implied that it is by her own hand). He moves to give a kiss and her eye opens and so he agrees to confront his father. By the time he reaches home Don Jacobo is dead – through losing too much blood. Cristián marries his love and we see that he has bite marks on his neck.

Helena Rojo as Angela
It appears both Angela and her mother (Ana Luisa Peluffo) are both creatures of the night. But this is all over the last ten minutes of the film and there is little explicitly vampiric until we see the bites mark with just a few minutes to go. Were they vampires through the film? They may have been but the film wasn’t explicit enough, indeed I would tend to associate the vampiric state with the apparent suicide, and so the vampiric aspect seems only to be delivered fleetingly. It will not be everybody’s cup of tea. However if you like your fantasy surreal it might just be for you.

The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Vamp or Not? Tower of Evil

A 1972 film directed by Jim O'Connolly this is a very quick and dirty ‘Vamp or Not?’

The film starts with two fisherman, John Gurney (George Coulouris) and his son Hamp (Jack Watson), braving the fog to land on Snape Island. They find a group of butchered teens and one survivor, Penelope (Candace Glendenning), who is mad with fear and who kills Gurney.

She is hospitalised in a catatonic state and part of the film is the doctors trying to unlock the secret her shutdown mind holds.

Meanwhile one of the kids was murdered with a Phoenician spear made of solid gold and a museum sends a team to the island as they believe there must be caves holding a Phoenician burial chamber from 3000 years before – probably dedicated to the fertility god Baal. Hamp and a relative Brom (Gary Hamilton) take them out along with Evan Brent (Bryant Haliday) a PI hired by Penelope’s family to prove she didn’t murder her friends. However they are not alone on the island and Hamp, Brom and Brent each know more than they are letting on.

the lighthouse
What follows is a murder mystery with a touch of the gaillo about it, but not a sniff of the supernatural. Indeed the supernatural is barely hinted at – the nearest they get being one of the kids, Mae (Seretta Wilson), suggesting the place is evil and saying she sensed it (due to her being psychic) – and certainly doesn’t raise its head during the main sequence of the film with the museum team. So why the ‘Vamp or Not?’

The film has several titles. I watched it as Tower of Evil, it was released in America as Horror on Snape Island and the French TV release was titled Le Vampire de L'ïle du Diable – or the Vampire of the Island of the Devil. There is absolutely no reason for the inclusion of the vampire part of the title – false advertising I’m afraid. Not Vamp.

The imdb page is here.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Apocalypse and the Beauty Queen – review

Director: Thomas Smugala

Release date: 2005

Contains spoilers

Sometimes I just don’t hate films as much as others seem to do. Sometimes I stumble across a film that has a sub-genre theme and give it a whirl and am surprised. Perhaps not overwhelmed and shocked, but at least a little bit taken aback by the film.

Meet Apocalypse and the Beauty Queen, a low budget film that – by all that is sane in film watching, and more so in critiquing – should deserve to vanish into an oblivion but actually manages to hold its own – at least a little. It is also a film that has a Báthory aspect.

Beverly Hynds as Amber
We are in a post-apocalyptic America – the world hasn’t been ended by zombies or zompires, not by pestilence, nuclear devastation or GM crops. Rather the power grid has failed and the world has slumped into chaos as a result. In this particular county, a former Beauty Queen and super model Amber Bathory (Beverly Hynds) has taken control. At first it seemed by popular demand – she displayed particularly sharp survival skills and leadership. However, by the point we start to observe the story she is a despot and the people are starving.

Matthew meets Sylvie
Girls are going missing also and we meet Sylvie (Courtney Kocak), who lives with her “uncle” Reggie (Gunnar Hansen), an alcoholic tombstone carver. Sylvie falls into the hands of Amber’s captain of the guard Matthew (Carlos Gonzalez-Vio, the Mortal Instruments: City of Bones), who offers food and then drugs her with wine. She is taken to serve Amber but he falls for her and it is Sylvie’s presence and escape from Amber that destabilises Amber’s kingdom.

toe dipping
So, she is called Bathory and she is jealous of anyone younger and prettier than she is (she was called ugly as a child, became a super model but her light had faded before the apocalypse occurred). We see her smudge blood from servants onto her skin, we hear that she slowly drained one girl whilst keeping her alive, causing her to become anaemic, and we see one scene with a girl suspended above a bath, her throat slit and a foot descending into the blood.

running a bath
That’s about it, but it is clearly taken from the Báthory legend, with Amber playing the role of a (post-)modern day Erzsébet. And, like the historic Báthory, the viewer is asked to question the extent of the woman’s crimes. She is no angel, certainly, but is she as bad as the legend seems to be painting her? But what about the film?

a smudge of blood
The acting was, at best, stagey – fake laughter and dialogue delivered from the boards rather than appearing naturalistic. That said I was actually rather impressed by said dialogue – the delivery could have been better but the writing was rather good. The world seemed desolate but cheaply photographed. If you thought too hard, then the post-apocalyptic world didn’t hold together – however on face value it was effective enough and in some respects didn’t need to be realistic. CGI bullet holes were probably the worst of the effects.

Yet somewhere in all this the film held me – it was perhaps a tad drawn out but I have spent worse nights with a movie. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.