Posts Tagged ‘vampires’

Twixt (2011)

Posted: December 30, 2013 in 1 star, Twixt
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I’m just going to admit this up front: I love Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula.  I love it deeply, abidingly, and unironically.  I love the cinematography, I love the costumes, I love the sets, and not even the occasional dubious casting decision can shake my devotion.  So when I saw that Coppola had written and directed a film billed as gothic horror, I was pretty pleased.

Then I saw that Val Kilmer stars in it, and I made a sort of “Eeeeennnnngh” sound. 

Let’s face it: Val Kilmer was never that amazing an actor to begin with, and now he makes his money as a sort of paid mourner at the mausoleum of his own career – his job is to show up every so often, remind us that he was in some pretty good movies back in the ’80s, collect his paycheck, and go home.  Nonetheless, I queued up the film in Netflix anyway, hoping for a movie that, if it couldn’t wrest the thick red blood of a good performance out of the turnip that is Kilmer’s acting skills, was at least good enough to carry him instead of the other way around.

Looking at IMDB, I do not see that this movie had any US release outside of the San Francisco International Film Festival.  I am sorry, Coppola, but that is because it sucks out loud.

There isn’t much of a plot.  Kilmer plays a washed-up writer named Hall Baltimore, a name that miraculously will become even stupider as the movie wears on.  He’s at a book signing in Rural Bumfuckistan, where nobody buys any books; his agent is mad at him, and his wife is threatening to sell his first edition of Leaves of Grass if he doesn’t man up and get an advance on a book.  So he’s under the gun and needs to come up with a story fast.

So the faintly creepy sheriff takes him to the morgue, where there’s a body with a stake through its heart.  He says it’s the work of a serial killer.  Kilmer is weirdly uninterested, until he goes back to his motel, falls asleep, and starts dreaming about a strange little girl (Elle Fanning).

And Edgar Allan Poe (Ben Chaplin).  No, I’m not joking.  Poe is the ostentatiously pallid Virgil to Kilmer’s Dante, serving as the font of all exposition for what frankly silly plot there is.

See, there’s a group of Goth Caricatures living across the lake.  They’re vampires.  There’s also a creepy priest who for some reason ran some sort of orphanage or something, and killed all the kids because he didn’t want them to become vampires.  He almost killed Elle Fanning too, but she ran off and became a vampire.  And… well, that’s pretty much it.  Nothing gets resolved.  The ghost kids are, I assume, still ghost kids.  Elle Fanning is still a vampire.  Kilmer gets his book advance.  I can’t figure out if he’s supposed to be a vampire or not, since in the scene before Elle Fanning was gnawing on his carotid artery.   Seriously, the movie ends like somebody realized at the eleventh hour that you can’t tie up plot threads when there’s pretty much no plot except “Val Kilmer keeps falling asleep.”

So what’s the verdict?  It hurts me, but one star.  There is no plot.  There is no acting.  The special effects look like somebody did them in Microsoft Paint at three in the morning.  This movie avoided the coveted zero-star rating only because Coppola has earned the right to produce the occasional stinker, but I don’t recommend watching it anyway.  It’s so bad that its badness is actually confusing, like it’s secretly a brilliant parody and I’m just not getting the joke.

Dear Francis Ford Coppola: if this is really supposed to be funny then I take it all back.  Except that it wasn’t actually funny either.  So until someone explains to me where the brilliance is hiding, this is a one-star movie.



Continuing Philadelphia’s grand tradition of outdoor movie fests, Awesomefest presented a double feature of Fright Night and Child’s play.  This was the first time I’ve seen either on the big screen since back in the day when you could take a family of four to the movies without having to take out a second mortgage, and it was a lot of fun.

So how have these two ’80s classics aged?  Well, surprisingly differently.  Fright Night is as flawless now as it was the day it was released, even allowing for the inevitable goofiness the 80s left behind on everything they touched.  (The dance scene in the club, oy.)  Child’s Play, not so much.

The problem is that once you get past the conceit of a killer doll – and let’s face it, after 25 years of the Chucky franchise, we’re all pretty over it – you’d better be able to fall back on the performances to make the movie worth watching.  And the performances in Child’s Play are just bad.  Oh, they are bad.  Chris Sarandon, who knocked the ball out of the park as the smirky and charismatic vampire in Fright Night three years earlier, here can’t get off a convincing line reading to save his life; he sounds (and acts) like he’d rather be doing drain cleaner commercials.  Catherine Hicks seems like she’s doing an okay job at first, but fails so singularly to differentiate her character in Child’s Play from her character in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home that I left the movie convinced that in a couple of years her son was going to die in a tragic accident, leaving her determined to make a new life for herself in California where she will pursue her lifelong interest in marine biology.

As for Alex Vincent, the child actor on whose shoulders and reactions half this movie is carried… well, he was like six years old.  The lesson here is: do not put your movie on the shoulders of a six-year-old.  They can’t actually act and it’s only going to be painful to watch them try.

Not, in fairness, that Fright Night gets away scot-free on the bad acting front.  Amanda Bearse, who did a perfectly good job on Married With Children, here can’t seem to figure out how to recite her lines in a way that won’t make her sound like she’s doing a cold read off cue cards, while Stephen Geoffreys, despite a number of inspired moments, works the Evil Ed schtick far too hard.  (Granted, his try-hardness is half the point of his character, but it’s so unrelentingly cringe-inducing that it distracts from the rest of the film.)  But Fright Night has so many other advantages in the casting department that it almost doesn’t matter: Roddy McDowall of blessed memory, who never met a scene he couldn’t steal; William Ragsdale, who should have had a much bigger career than he’s had, and whose only flaw here is that he doesn’t seem to actually like his girlfriend very much; and even Sarandon gives off sparks every time he’s on-camera.  The energy of the cast draws you in and charms you, where Child’s Play‘s unrelenting lack of energy, charm, or humor just made me tired.

Actually, in retrospect, I’m sort of surprised at how little humor I found in Child’s Play, since snarky black humor courtesy of Chucky is supposed to be the hallmark of the franchise.  It has its moments, and I wasn’t expecting it to actually be horror comedy a la Shaun of the Dead; but an awful lot of the humor seemed to depend on the situational absurdity of a doll doing things like screaming obscenities and stabbing people.  This is a lot like trying to build comedy from children screaming obscenities and stabbing people.  Sure, those things can be funny; but things aren’t inherently funny just because children do them, and they’re not inherently funny just because dolls do them either.  You have to work a little harder for it than that.

So what’s the verdict?  Fright Night gets four stars, and only misses five because it exists in the same universe as The Lost Boys.  Child’s Play gets three stars.  The internet appears confused as to whether or not a Child’s Play reboot is in the works; usually I take a dim view of reboots, but that’s one I’d like to see.  I think there was a lot of creativity in the movie that was hamstrung by a lackluster script and acting so bad that even Brad Dourif couldn’t bring up the average, and I’d like to see someone else give it another try.

Man, the reviewers either love Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter or hate it, don’t they?

The negative reviews seem to come in two varieties.  The first is best described as a thinly veiled letter to the reviewer’s editor expressing extreme bitterness over having paid a small fortune for a journalism degree only to be sent out to sit in a theater and watch a movie called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.  I have nothing to say to those people except “Wow, it must suck to be you when Adam Sandler season rolls around.”

The second variety is on a theme of “But… where’s the nod nod, wink wink?  A movie this ridiculous, there should be all sorts of meta self-awareness!  WHERE MA NODS AND WINKS AT?”

To the second variety of reviewers, I say: at the bottom of a fucking well weighted down with stones, with a mouth full of garlic  so it doesn’t walk, is where – God willing and the creek don’t rise – your nods and winks are.

Look.  The self-aware meta thing was awesome in Scream, when it first really came onto the horror scene as a thing well done that genuinely added an integral element to the movie.  Scream, may I point out, came out in 1996.  Children born the year Scream was released are legally able to drive now.  It was well done in Scream and for a while afterward, but every year it got more and more stale, until at this point self-aware meta nod-nod wink-wink crap fulfills exactly the same function as a laugh track on a ’70s sitcom.

Do you really need a laugh track to tell you when something’s funny?  Do you need someone poking you in the ear and loudly yelling “Look how clever we’re being!  Look!  Do you see it?  Also it is time to laugh at the absurdity now!  Laughter and admiration- go!”

What’s that you say?  You don’t?  Good – take that mindset into Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and you’re going to enjoy the movie a lot more than the reviewers who were apparently waiting for someone to tell them the movie is gloriously absurd.

AL:VH is played admirably straight, as a history of the life of Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) that somehow includes vampire-related carnage and physics-defying action scenes.  As a child, Lincoln – already full of righteous wrath over the horrors of slavery – witnesses his mother being murdered by a vampire (a freakishly unrecognizable Marton Csokas).  Come to adulthood, Lincoln sets out on a Mission of Vengeance that very nearly results in him being eaten himself before being saved by a mysterious Englishman named Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper, whose Sting sunglasses and cockatiel hair don’t look nearly as anachronistic as they should).

Henry trains Lincoln as a hunter and sends him out into the world on vampire-slaying missions.  No sooner is Lincoln out of Henry’s sight than he gets distracted by the awesome Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), decides that  he can better serve the world in politics than in slaying, and manages to run afoul of the Big Baddies: vampire overlord Adam (Rufus Sewell) and his sister Vadoma, the Enforcer (the glorious and criminally underused Erin Wasson, who if she ever tires of being a supermodel has a nice career in looming menace ahead of her.)  He also gains sidekicks:  Will (Anthony Mackie) and Speed (Jimmi Simpson), who could have carried the movie all by themselves.  All this leads inexorably to the Civil War, which unbeknownst to the history books was actually a power grab on the part of vampires, who were using slaves as a readily available food supply.

AL:VH is one of those movies where just the supporting cast is worth the price of admission.  But Benjamin Walker brings a charm and gravity to the role without which the movie wouldn’t have worked nearly as well; there are amazing (and awesomely over-the-top) action set pieces; and God be praised, the vampires are finally sort of scary and awful, instead of camp and “humorously” self-aware.

It’s actually that last point that raises AL:VH from a solid three-star use of an afternoon to four stars.  I am so glad to see scary, mostly unglamorous vampires that I’m awarding the movie an extra star just for that.  Tip for the movie industry: vampires should be scary.  They shouldn’t be “humorously” self-aware (unless they’re Barnabas Collins), they shouldn’t be tragic and tortured souls (unless they’re Eli, who gets a pass for also being scary as shit), and for fuck’s sake they should not sparkle.

Sparkly vampires, Jesus take the wheel.  Vadoma would pick her teeth with Edward Cullen’s bones.

So what’s the verdict?  Four stars.  I was so, so hopeful that AL:VH would be awesome, but I also feared.  The book and screenplay were written by Seth Grahame-Smith, otherwise known as the author of the bewilderingly tedious Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  I don’t know how the hell the hand of any writer, be he never so unenthusiastic about the assignment, can make something tiresome out of the combination of Lizzie Bennet and the walking dead, but Grahame-Smith surely managed it.  Maybe he liked this topic better or something, because this was an awesome story and it made for an awesome movie, if brought down a little by uneven pacing.  Go see it; it’s fantastic, goofy fun.

Ninjas vs Vampires juuust misses greatness by, say, 35 minutes.

I didn’t know anything about it going in and was, to put it mildly, not expecting much; but the movie got on my good side in the very first scene, which was a vampire slaughtering a girl wearing an “I ♥ Edward” t-shirt, and for a while it just went uphill from there.  The main action starts out with…

…Okay, let me see how much of this I can keep straight with almost no cast pictures on IMDB.  I’m so awful with names that I just don’t even try anymore.

Anyway.  The action starts out with the lead guy, who is probably Aaron (Jay Saunders), proposing relationshiphood to his best friend, whose name may or may not be Ann (Melissa McConnell, possibly, but whoever it is has a thankless role that largely consists of pretending to forget what everyone was talking about two seconds before).  The proposition does not go well, so it’s probably just as well that they’re abruptly attacked by the most hilariously scene-chewing vampires since Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter.  But!  Suddenly they’re saved by ninjas!  Well, sort of ninjas.  It’s two white frat guys, a female vampire who doesn’t drink human blood for some reason, and a witch who looks like her role ought to be just to stand there and remind us of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  But they do martial arts a lot.

Wanting to figure out what’s going on, Aaron winds up hooking up with the sort-of-ninjas just in time to get sucked into some sort of ill-defined war between them and the Vampire Overlord (P.J. Megaw, who manages to recite the most absolutely inane dialogue in a way that… well, okay, it’s still wooden.  But it’s highly glossed and beautifully carved wood, wood that gleams in the lamplight as if to say “Look what an awesome example of the woodcarver’s art I am.”  It is wood with no higher goal than to be the very best wood it can be, and it does a pretty damn fine job).  His sidekick, I swear to God, is like The Vampire Snooki.  I love her.  The whole movie could have been about her and I would have been happy.

Aaron, as I say, hooks up with the ninjas, manages to become a ninja himself through virtue of some unconvincing special effects on the witch’s part, and follows them through a number of ridiculous fight scenes and glorious geek in-jokes until the vampires kill one of the ninjas and kidnap Aaron’s girlfriend, kick-starting the Final Battle.  I don’t know, it’s not one of those movies you can describe.  It has to be experienced.

On most levels the movie succeeds beyond the wildest expectations that could reasonably be attached to its $15,000 budget.  The acting is a sight better than I’ve seen in a lot of movies with ten times the money to blow.  The special effects are less heinous than might be expected.  The jokes are actually funny.  The plot is inane, but if you are expecting deep plot from a movie called Ninjas vs Vampires then I do not know what to tell you.  The real problem is that at a run time of 89 minutes, the movie outstays its welcome.  If it were a 30-minute short then it would be an invaluable gem, partly because there wouldn’t have been time for the obligatory Scenes of Great Pathos which are frankly almost never a good idea in comedy and don’t work here either.  To be honest, I’m not sure why it wasn’t a 30-minute short; it’s not as if it was going to open on four screens in every cineplex in the country.

Despite its mild drag, though, the movie is great fun, and definitely worth a watch if only for the first 30 minutes or so.

So what’s the verdict?  Two stars.  It would have earned another one if half the length and all of the Srs Bizns scenes had been edited out.  Still, I was entertained enough by it that I might try to track down Ninjas vs Zombies, the first film in the franchise, which is sadly on neither Netflix nor Amazon Instant Video.


The Strain (2009)

Posted: November 25, 2010 in 3 stars, Reviews, The Strain
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Reading The Strain is weirdly like reading an alternate-universe version of Blade II, sort of like Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle is an AU of Card Captor Sakura.  So many of the same elements are there that in a way it’s impossible for the book to surprise if you’ve seen the movie:  vampirism as virus; the physical description of the vampires; the stingers on the tongues; the way they congregate underground like rats; even the UV hand grenades and the World Health Organization have cameos.  So it’s fortunate for the book, and for us, that Blade II was, hands-down, the best movie of the series.

The Strain is the first in a trilogy, the basic plot of which is this: a European vampire, one of seven “original” vampires in the vaguely Anne Rice-ean sense, comes to America on a 777, brought over by Douchebag Rich Guy;  Douchebag Rich Guy, of course, wants to live forever and has apparently never seen any of the 1023980983 horror movies on the theme of “Sucking up to powerful supernatural creatures because you want to live forever is only going to end in tears, honest to god.”  The plane lands on the runway at JFK and promptly goes dark, triggering some of the best and most tightly suspenseful scenes in the book as all sorts of government security agencies respond to what initially appears to be some sort of terrorist attack.  It’s like a 20th-century, high-tech re-envisioning of the landing of the Demeter at Whitby.

Enter the main characters: Ephraim Goodweather, CDC; his colorless girlfriend and co-worker Nora, who may be given things to do in subsequent books but is deadweight in this one; his son Zack; and Abraham (no, really; yeah, I know) Setrakian, Holocaust survivor and vampire hunter.  Ephraim is hard to convince on the whole vampire front, but it doesn’t take more than a handful of reanimated corpses trying to eat him and his loved ones before he comes around.

The book has two authors – Guillermo del Toro, director of the aforementioned Blade II, and Chuck Hogan – and it shows.  Del Toro as a filmmaker has a wonderful eye for the visual composition of a scene, a thing rarer among filmmakers than one might expect; Del Toro as a writer has a distinctly cinematic style.  I have no way of knowing who wrote what prose, but the quality is variable.  The first scenes, as mentioned, are stunning – tight-wound and brilliantly visual, superbly blocked and paced.  Unfortunately, the writing falls down in the last few chapters; it becomes clunky and weirdly mannered, as if it were written by someone who has read a lot of skilled writing and a lot of really atrocious writing without really understanding the former or having enough skill himself to avoid picking up bad habits from the latter.  The Strain would have been good for four stars if it had gone on as it started.

And if it had had a better villain, honestly.  The Big Bad here is a shadowy archetype, nowhere near as effective or charismatic as B2‘s Nomak.  He’s more reminiscent of the villain in The Keep, less a personality than a vague embodiment of OMGEVOL. It’s a shame, because of the humans, even the minor characters are immediately engaging and fully fleshed out.

So what’s the verdict? Three stars.  If whoever wrote the first scenes writes the rest of the books, that rating might go up; either way, though, I’m interested enough to continue the series.

Daybreakers (2009)

Posted: May 17, 2010 in 2 stars, Daybreakers, Reviews
Tags: ,

In a journal article I swear I downloaded but can’t now find, someone applied epidemiological models to show that a true vampire outbreak, given certain assumptions about feeding habits and the inevitability of bite victims becoming vampires themselves, would last only a few days before collapsing under its own weight – the entire human population of the planet would be consumed like dry brush in a napalm blast radius, and the vampires would have nothing left to eat.   Tracking down that article, reading it, and using your imagination is probably a better use of your time than watching Daybreakers.

It’s not actually a bad movie, except in the sense that it could have been much better.  The premise is interesting.  Ten years after the vampire equivalent of the zombie apocalypse, the human race is almost extinct.   A vampire hematologist named Ed (Ethan Hawke, who confused me by looking like Christian Bale) is searching for an artificial blood substitute, without much success.  When the movie opens, the vampires have about a month’s supply of blood left; worse, if they’re blood-deprived they turn into screeching bat-winged monsters who will eat just about anything, including other vampires.

I know, you’re thinking, “Hey, I liked this movie a lot better when it was called Blade 2.”  That is because Blade 2 is in fact a much better movie than this one.

So it starts out promisingly enough.  There’s an interesting premise.  The movie is well done visually, with an interesting Blade Runner-esque film noir vibe.  But by half an hour in, the movie has apparently split into two movies, neither of which have anything to do with each other though they try very hard to pretend they do.

Ed is contacted by human resistance fighters who say they have something better than artificial blood.  The “better” thing turns out to be a cure for vampirism.  Ed jumps on this immediately, all “I MUST FIGURE OUT HOW THIS CURE WORKS!” – disregarding the fact that (a) the people who are vampires seem pretty happy being vampires and probably won’t want to take the cure, and (b) what the vampires need, and urgently, is blood, so at best all you’re going to be doing is expanding the vampire cattle supply.  Somehow I don’t think that’s going to make the human lot any better.

So you have a vampire problem: no blood.  And you have a human problem: they keep getting hunted and bled to death, and they’re dying out.  Then you have the cure, which takes up the entire movie and does not really even have the potential to solve either of the problems ostensibly framing the film so in the present circumstances it’s kind of a waste of everyone’s time, including the viewer’s.  It’s irksome and frustrating, because you spend the entire movie feeling like you’re waiting for someone to say something relevant and no one ever does.

The performances aren’t bad, but not good enough to save the movie.  Willem Dafoe has made career hay out of playing creepy people; he’s less effective here than usual, but he’s not given much to work with.  Claudia Karvan is negligible as the obligatory love interest; she and Hawke have no chemistry whatsoever and neither one seems to care.  Michael Dorman steals every scene he’s in as Ed’s brother Frankie, but he’s not in enough of them.  Sam Neill is competent but fails to bring anything new to the Generic Evil Businessman role.

This is one of those movies where you have one favorite minor character and pretty much twiddle your thumbs until they come onscreen again.  Maybe the movie should have been about Frankie instead.  That would have been an improvement.

So what’s the verdict? Two stars.  It’s annoying to see a premise this promising squandered, but squandered it inarguably is.   Watch it if you’re really bored and there’s nothing else on; otherwise, give it a miss.

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