Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters – review

Director: Peter Balakoff (segment)

Release date: 1965

Contains spoilers

Expectation can do a lot, I guess. I think I expected the little rascals or maybe the Bowery Boys. It certainly wasn’t the former and probably had more in common with the latter (there are young kids occasionally but the primary focus is on grown adults acting like kids) but this made the Bowery Boys seem like high art.

the mummy
It is actually three shorts stitched together. The first short "The Lemon Grove Kids meet the Monsters" is primarily about the gang of “kids” having a ruck with a rival gang that becomes a foot race. The monsters come into it at the end when overtly comedic (and unfunny) character Gopher (Ray Dennis Steckler) has failed to finish the race and then comes across a gorilla (Bob Burns) and a Mummy (also Bob Burns) – actually characters in an amateur film. The last segment "The Lemon Grove Kids Go Hollywood!" has no monster aspect.

groovy band
It is the centre segment, "The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Green Grasshopper and the Vampire Lady From Outer Space", that we are bothered about and this sees the kids having a party with a groovy band playing. That is until leader Slug (Mike Kannon) gets a call to clear Mr Miller’s (Coleman Francis) yard. Off the gang go, there is a mix of adults and kids along for the ride and “hilarity” ensues.

We see several of the gang taken by felt monster hands and, when most of the gang have vanished, a one-seater flying (or inter-dimensional) saucer appear piloted by the Green grasshopper (E.M. Kevke) – a man in grasshopper makeup. Joining him is a vampire lady (Carolyn Brandt) and she bites Miller who has been mesmerised by the Grasshopper. They head into the house.

Mr Miller and the Vampire Lady
There is concern amongst the gang that the house is haunted – until it is suggested that it is the Vampire Lady not the house that is haunted. They go inside and discover that the gang are all there mesmerised. It is suggested that the Vampire Lady is so pale because she has no good red blood in her. They seem to be siphoning blood into a bell jar. The Vampire Lady gets her hands on Gopher and bites him, so he bites her back, she screams, the mesmerism ends and everything descends into chaos.

Gopher the vampire
The only other thing to report from the segment is that Gopher seems to turn (or at least have bad plastic fangs!) Honestly though, it is probably the best of the three segments as it is just so psychedelic and trippy. That said the whole trilogy is lacking, there isn’t a laugh to be had really and the acting is just atrocious. Not a portmanteau (there is no wraparound), this is more like three separate episodes of a really bad TV show. I score, when it comes to these things, for the vampire segment and – as best of a bad bunch I’ll give that 2 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Cult of the Vampire – review

Director: Andrew MacKenzie

Release date: 2016

Contains spoilers

Perhaps, sometimes, I think too hard. It’s just, when I watched Cult of the Vampire I really felt there was a lot missing. For a start off the cult... Maybe that was an expectation thing as it was Hammer who introduced the concept of the cult of vampirism into the cinematic trope and there didn’t really seem to be one.

Oh yes, there was a controlling coven but I never felt cult… perhaps it needed more concentration on that aspect in the film? Then there was the narrative. It was there but one had to search it out… then there were character reactions that just seemed off beat… But I’m getting ahead of myself.

the band
We start with a band – later we discover they don’t have a name yet but they consist of drummer Nina (Jinny Lee Story), bass player Sadie (Christina Collard, Dracula the Impaler) and guitarist/vocalist Xandra (Iva Stelmak). We get images, in black and white, of Xandra stalked by the cloaked Kira (Sarah Himadeh) and Xandra getting her surf on, at night, in her street clothes.

in the cellar
The film cuts into flashbacks of Xandra and Kira and these are all in Black and White (in Paris). The modern day sees her with her band – a record producer interested just by hearing them from a corridor – and with her painter girlfriend Camille (Megan Porter). Xander lives, unbeknown to her friends, with her coven of vampires. They provide blood as killing is forbidden, due to the need for them to live secretive lives. Because of her fraternisation with humans she is grabbed and locked in a cellar for a few months.

Iva Stelmak as Xandra
Now here we get to motivation… The film built no expectation of the punishment and so no reason for the rebellion against rules the viewer did not know. This simply happens. We then get her being released following her punishment and she goes straight back to her girlfriend (persuading her not to hate her for vanishing), her band (again convincing them to leave their new band) and walks almost straight into a record deal (despite having fallen off the radar). The motivations of those who forgive her are underexplored and the reason that she disobeys the coven is not even touched on.

breaking the rules
That the coven follow her is a surprise in that she announces she’s buying a new guitar (so they knew what she was doing). The fact that main creepy stalker vampire Drago (Peter J. Morton) and his female vampire sidekicks go around killing (against the rules) and deliberately attack Camille also (causing Xandra to turn her to save her) does not attract unwanted coven leader attention. The voracious hunger of the fledgling vampire leaves a trail of bodies and the aftermath of this (coven or police) is not explored.

crosses don't work
It just felt that there was so much missing. I never felt any sense of authority from the vampires in authority and it felt very much like we were getting a lot of style over substance, but the style wasn’t really pulled off. The acting wasn’t great but I quite liked the soundtrack. As for lore we know that vampires get eye shine and fangs, sunlight kills them, we get a staking but it doesn’t appear to work and Xandra asks for a filter over her voice (but whether this is to enable it to be recorded is not mentioned). Crosses do nothing.

Unfortunately not the best. 3.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Undead Apocalypse: Vampires and Zombies in the 21st Century – review

Author: Stacey Abbott

First published: 2017

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Exploring how the figure of the vampire has been infused with the language of science, disease and apocalypse, while the zombie text has increasingly been influenced by the trope of the 'reluctant' vampire, Stacey Abbott shows how both archetypes are actually two sides of the same undead coin.

The review: I really enjoy Stacey Abbott’s work and this academic tome walks a line that would seem an obvious focus in the study of the media vampire – exploring the dynamics between the vampire and the zombie.

Now, of course, the zombie underwent a metamorphosis from unfortunate victim of voodoo to the cinematic phenomena we know today through the work of George Romero and, in particular, Night of the Living Dead (I am aware that there were other examples, but Romero is recognised as the primary catalyst). We also know that the film itself was part-inspired by Matheson’s I am Legend and so the vampire birthed the modern zombie (or at least acted as midwife).

Abbott argues that Matheson made the vampire literally a bacteria within the blood (I have to point out that the name ‘virus’ is used in the book interchangeably but a virus is not a bacteria). Although the book does mention the film later it would have been apropos at this point to highlight that Universal actually got there sooner in House of Dracula, in which the vampirism is caused by (and thus is) a parasite in the blood.

In the second chapter – entitled Cancer With a Purpose – Abbott holds a discussion that touches on the alarmist tabloid headlines that have surrounded outbreaks in recent years and that includes SARS. It would have been fitting to have mentioned the film Sars Wars (as obscure as it is) not only because it has the sars connection but because it was a zombie (or infected) film that gave the creatures fangs. I settled on the idea that it was zompire and that was something I felt was missing from the discussion – that merging of the two creatures. So when we had a chapter on hybrids we looked at more obvious hybrids but not at the zompire. The hybrid section did explore such characters as Alice from Resident Evil and Selene from Underworld and explored the importance of the costuming within the depiction. At that point perhaps a touchpoint with Irma Vep would have been interesting to explore.

The book did touch on the idea that the zombie, on pre-millennial TV, was often a monster of the week, whilst the vampire had its own series. However many of the examples cited were shows that also featured the vampire as the creature of the week in other episodes – not invalidating the premise and argument but worth noting. I did think that suggesting the clawing out of the grave imagery being a zombie trope a misfire as it is as much (if not more) a vampire trope.

I touch these points almost in debate however, as the book was a well written and well researched volume that is well worth a read for both fans of the zombie film and the vampire film if they like to read an academic tome (notwithstanding the very high price tag). 8.5 out of 10.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Heart of the Deep Cave: and Other Romantic Vampire Tales – review

Author: April Drusiana

First Published: 2017

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: • ”Heart of the Deep Cave”: in the depths of Lechuguilla, in New Mexico, a young woman scientist enters a newly-discovered room filled with all the wonders of the earth — but also a sad shock: a handsome young man lies in the sand, appearing dead…

• ”The Call of Destiny”: in 1192, a wounded English Crusader enters the secluded town of Vasaria in Eastern Europe. There he falls in love with the beautiful herbalist who heals him. He vows to repay his debt to the town by slaying the Lord of the looming Dark Tower, who thirsts for blood. When the loyal knight does not return, his betrothed faces a heart-rending decision…

• ”A Vampire in Auschwitz”: in 1944, a young woman raised in an Orthodox Jewish community has decided to increase her chances of surviving the Nazi occupation in a most unholy way: by becoming an estrie. Now in a death-camp, she struggles to maintain her conscience….

• ”Moonlight Meeting”: in medieval Vasaria, the lovers continue their quest to remain together despite the scheming of an evil spirit, and the harsh decrees announced by an angel….

• ”Away from the Light”: in 21st-century Tucson, Arizona, a happily married mother of three suffers a needle-prick from a mysterious patient, then a car accident. After a near-death experience, she discovers that she has undergone a terrifying transformation, to which some people never adjust. Forced to steal blood from sleepers, and longing for true death, she searches for the secret — if there is one — to make her existence fulfilling once again.…

Fans of sympathetic vampires will enjoy this interestingly varied collection of tales. They offer innovative approaches to the “rules” of vampirism and emotionally vivid portrayals of characters struggling to accept their undead condition, to develop successful relationships in the world of mortals, and to find meaning in their dark existence.

The review: Heart of the Deep Cave is a collection of shorts by April Drusiana and the Amazon blurb gives a comprehensive explanation of each story. The stories themselves are concentrated on the sympathetic vampire and, like all collections, has highs and lows (though I’ll stress not too low).

Unfortunately, for me the first story, which offers the volume its title, is probably the weakest of the collection. Of a paranormal romance bent it clearly carries a romance wish fulfilment at its core. However it was the dialogue, often feeling forced and regrettably artificial, that took me out of the story. The story itself was based on an interesting idea – that a vampire sought the depths of a cave system in which to hibernate and is stumbled across by caver scientists. The story lacked a supernatural peril (the basis could have opened into a claustrophobic ten little Indians story, which would have destroyed the sympathetic vampire premise of course. Alternatively, as the possibility of another undead inhabitant was touched on there could have been threat and defence built in) and the reaction of the characters felt too idealised.

My favourite two stories, in reverse order, were Away from the Light and A Vampire in Auschwitz. Away from the Light did clever lore things with the turning process, which I definitely enjoyed, and had characters I found interesting. A Vampire in Auschwitz was by far the strongest story in the book.

Despite clearly being out of the author’s frame of experience, set as it was in a Concentration Camp during the holocaust, it was excellently written with authentic sounding voices and a strong narrative. Using the vampire type the estrie was interesting. Described in story as the “Spawn of Lilith” and clearly a turned woman, Bane describes the creature as “The estrie is from the lore from the medieval era. Considered a vampiric demon or vampiric spirit, the estrie is a noncorporeal mass of evil that can assume human female form.” It was nice to get a different type of vampire and the idea of using her condition to both survive the camp and help others survive was well realised – as was the issues her condition caused. She was ultra-sensitive to the stench of the camp, her shaved hair grew back way too quickly and the physical change to her genitalia (no longer suitable for intercourse) led to issues, and a brutal sexual assault.

So, as I suggested at the head, a mixed bunch but even the weaker story had aspects to commend it. The stories I haven’t covered were all interesting in their own ways, and I like the way the author radically mixed up the lore story to story, but the volume is worth it for A Vampire in Auschwitz alone. 7 out of 10.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Vamp or Not? Raw

Where do we divide the line between vampirism and cannibalism? Beyond the fact that cannibals tend to be alive and vampires are undead; we do, of course, have living vampire vehicles. Some claim that the difference is between the consumption of flesh and blood – but some vampire myths/stories include flesh eating. Indeed, as the definition of cannibalism extends to consuming part or all of another member of your species then blood drinking can only be seen as cannibalism.

To me it all depends on what is underlying the urge. If there is a compulsion to eat (especially a physical one) or a health/beauty dependency then I am more swayed to the crossover. When recognisable vampire tropes are included then I am even more convinced. Welcome to Raw.

Garance Marillier and Justine
A French language film directed by Julia Ducournau and released in 2016 the film begins with a road. There is a figure in the distance walking towards camera. We see a car travel the road, the figure has gone but suddenly darts from the verge, causing the car to swerve and hit a tree. The figure stands and walks towards the car… The film proper follows Justine (Garance Marillier) and she and her mother (Joana Preiss) and father (Laurent Lucas) have stopped for a bite to eat on a journey. Justine asks for mash potato only but when eating it realises there was a hidden meat ball, which she spits out. Her mother goes to complain about her vegetarian daughter being 'tricked' into nearly eating meat.

being hazed
They are taking Justine to the Saint-Exupéry Veterinary School, her mother and father went there and her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) has been there for a year. Alexia is meant to meet them but doesn’t. Justine finds her room and suddenly her privacy is invaded by Adrien (Rabah Nait Oufella) – announcing that he’s her roommate. Justine suggests that she asked for a female roommate and he retorts that she has been given “a fag”. Older students burst in, wreck the place, throw mattresses out of the window and march all the freshers out for hazing. The haze ends in a party and Justine finds Alexia drunk.

rash reaction
Alexia shows her photos of past classes, all doused in blood – including their parents'. Certain students have been 'decapitated' in the pictures – traitors Alexia says, who refused the initiation. That initiation certainly does happen the next day but then the students are expected to eat a raw piece of rabbit’s kidney. Justine is refusing, saying she (and Alexia) are vegetarian, but Alexia denies this and forces her sister to eat the offal. This leads to Justine getting a bad rash (food poisoning, suggests the nurse). However Justine finds a growing craving for meat.

a common trope
This starts with hamburger and cooked meats, moves to raw meat at the refrigerator and slowly becomes something more sinister. The film does two things; it follows Justine going through a sexual awakening (and falling for Adrien) and simultaneously follows her growing desire for meat. So we get familiar tropes such as the sitting before the fridge eating raw meat. This, of course, is a common image/trope during the turning process (either eating raw meat or drinking the myoglobin). It is interesting to note that she has physical symptoms – the rash and, later, nosebleeds.

finger food
Her movement from eating animal meat (cooked or raw) to human flesh occurs when her sister gives her a bikini wax. With the wax firmly not for pulling Alexia gets a pair of scissors, intending to cut it away. Justine kicks out and Alexia manages to cut her own finger off and passes out. Justine calls for an ambulance, tries to find ice for the severed digit but then starts nibbling on it and soon is eating the raw flesh from the bone. Alexia comes round long enough to see this.

sisterly activities
What is interesting is that they both blame the dog (who subsequently gets put down) and Alexia doesn’t seem that bothered. Rather she takes Justine out, does the car crash trick and then goes over to the bleeding passenger and starts to eat. The addiction to raw flesh is a family trait it would seem, with both sisters afflicted (up to that point it might have been a weird side effect of the raw rabbit liver, whereas that is a trigger moment). Alexia, however, is off the rails and Justine is following her down the rabbit hole (if you pardon the pun).

becoming a vamp
Her sexual awakening also contains a degree of her developing a seductive element to her persona, and she seduces her gay roommate. During their sex she has a desire to bite him but ends up biting herself. However the very fact that she can get the man she wants, when he clearly wouldn’t be interested in her, adds in an element of sexuality that seems preternatural. We see her, as the awakening occurs, become quite “vamp-ish” and we also see her, at one point, out of control (due to alcohol) and forced to act in an animalistic way, snapping at the dead flesh of a cadaver (the vet school is next to a med school/hospital).

All in all, we can see a lot of typically vampire tropes (eating raw meat from the fridge, a health benefit to the consumption – or, in this case, staving off ill health, a sexual awakening and a preternatural seductive side). The animalistic moment is perhaps less common and felt a little more like a zombie trope (or, the more zompirish vampire-apocalypse vehicles), but generally she is very intelligent and certainly sentient. Raw is quite strangely built, having a languid aspect to the plotting at times, but this fits the mood of the piece. However on a Vamp level I would say that this has definitely strayed into the vampire camp – albeit on a solid rather than liquid diet.

The imdb page is here.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Gone Fishing

To all my readers, many thanks for stopping by – I do appreciate it. I’ll be having a short hiatus from posting for a week or so but TMtV will be back to normal on the 18/19th June. If you leave a comment then please note that comment moderation is on, but I may not moderate any comments for a few days.

 See you all very soon.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Short Film: Ghost Bride of Dracula

It is perhaps lucky that I changed the policy on short films and stopped rating them as this would have scored very low indeed...

A little background to this would be useful, I feel. In 2014 there was a softcore porn film by Jake Kane entitled An Erotic Tale of Ms. Dracula. This has then been taken by director David Zani, the softcore sex firmly expunged and made into a short film. It has then found its way onto Amazon Prime.

The film comes in at 33 minutes but there really wasn’t 33 minutes of footage and what Zani has done becomes evident in the title sequence as the camera roams over a large house that would appear to be (firstly stock footage, but secondly) a manor house in Britain, complete with overcast skies. The title sequence had a horrible, unsuitable electronica piece over it but also some very interesting dialogue (and I’ll come to the source of that soon enough).

Not LA
He has then cut in footage of the house as establishing footage. However the main film looks like it has been shot in Los Angeles. Certainly, the exterior shots have that sharp LA sunshine, which jars against the overcast establishing shots. The vegetation turns from atypically English to palm trees. It is simply a mess. He has then also cut in scenes, showing on a flat screen TV, from the Paul Naschy film Count Dracula’s Great Love. This is the source of the initial voice overs and presumably included because some of the dialogue talks about Dracula searching for a virgin who will fall for him and one of the characters, Ashley (Allie James), doesn’t want to die a virgin. There is also at least one scene lifted from The Devil’s Wedding Night.

the brides
So, story… very little really when your story scenes are the wraparound for a porn film but, such as it is... Ms Dracula (Alexis Texas) lives in a mansion with Renfield (Romeo Price) and three vampire brides and has kidnapped Ashley. Renfield has created a potion that allows them to walk in daylight and has made them more powerful. Van Helsing (Chad White) has put a reward of $1M for Ashley’s rescue. This has led husband and wife Jonathan Harker (Billy Chappell) and Meena (Anna Morna) – yes they spelt it incorrectly – to infiltrate the mansion, posing as masseuses, and sexual shenanigans follows.

fangs on show
It’s as thin as tissue and the acting… well it’s a wraparound for a porn film, what do you think? I suspect the original version had more integrity in its absolute honesty (it is what it is). This was almost recycling at its worst until I realised that the distributors had gone on to recycle the whole of this version into the 56 minute long anthology film (and for anthology read mess) Halloween Horror at Midnight. The imdb page for Ghost Bride of Dracula is here.