STRIGOI-THE UNDEAD (2009) Review


Directed by Faye Jackson
Written by Faye Jackson
Starring Constantin Barbulescu, Camelia Maxim & Catalin Paraschiv
Find out more information on the film’s Facebook page!

Though many won’t have the patience to sit through this somber little vampire film, I was fascinated at the way STRIGOI: THE UNDEAD shed light on a culture that I am completely unfamiliar with. Though we all know that Dracula comes from a setting much like the Romanian township featured in this film, his trek to England is what folks remember most about Stoker’s classic piece of lit. STRIGOI peels away all of the Hollywood glamour often attributed to the modern vampire and tells a straight up tale of the undead through the eyes of the extremely traditional and superstitious population of modern Romania.

I was fascinated by the traditions followed involving death and dying observed in this film. Though set in the modern day, STRIGOI is a somewhat timeless piece of cinema. The horror is almost secondary to the age-old rituals and mores observed by the town. Often played for its ludicrousness; such as sitting with a corpse for a fortnight drinking vodka to make sure the body does not rise as a vampire, the tradition is scoffed at by our protagonist Constantin (played by the deadpan Constantin Barbulescu), but writer/director Faye Jackson never makes fun of the culture. Her lens focuses on the intricacies of this culture’s superstition and how important it is within their day to day life.

This story of a couple murdered by a lynch mob who raises from the dead to enact revenge is a subtle slice of Romanian culture, and thus different than most vamp flicks out there now. STRIGOI: THE UNDEAD isn’t explosive or over the top. The gore isn’t in your face and the actors don’t ape for the camera. But it is an effective little horror film, destined to be overlooked unless you want to take a chance, heed my advice, and check it out.

FRIGHT NIGHT (1985)/FRIGHT NIGHT (2011) Review


FRIGHT NIGHT (1985)
Directed by Tom Holland
Written by Tom Holland
Starring Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall, & Stephen Geoffreys

FRIGHT NIGHT (2011)
Directed by Craig Gillespie
Written by Marti Noxon (screenplay from Tom Holland’s story)
Starring Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Toni Collette, Imogen Poots, & Christopher Mintz-Plasse

The original FRIGHT NIGHT was an ode to every horror fan. It presented Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale), a normal, somewhat nerdy teen, in love with horror films, but not so much that he’s a social outcast. Seems he even has a girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse later known as Marcy Darcy from MARRIED WITH CHILDREN), who is toying with the idea of sleeping with Charlie, but isn’t sure if she can do it or not. Enter Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) who moves into the abandoned house next door in the middle of the night. Soon all of those years watching Fright Night, a horror movie TV show hosted by Peter Vincent (Roddy MacDowall) make it pretty obvious what’s going on. All signs point to Jerry being a vampire, especially when Charlie catches Jerry leading a girl into his house. In a bit of fun voyeurism, Charlie, hormones high from Amy blue-balling him, at first thinks he’s going to see something naughty, but he catches Jerry bearing his fangs and ready to chow down—that is, until he sees Charlie watching him. What transpires is an instant classic vampire yarn with bits of vampire stories tossed in, but modernized to the 1980’s enough to be called an original, as Charlie enlists his best friend Evil Ed and Peter Vincent to help protect himself from a vampire.

On the surface, the remake is quite similar. Charlie (Anton Yelchin) is a semi-nerdy kid, but somehow is able to get the attention of smokin’ hottie Amy (Imogen Poots) who wants to bone the hell out of Charlie but he’s hesitant to do so. Charlie is avoiding his former friend Evil Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who has suspicions about the guy who moved in next door to Charlie, Jerry (played by Colin Farrell). Soon accusations of the toothy kind are flung and Jerry starts to make Charlie’s life hell, as he did in the first film.

As I said, on the surface, these films are very similar, but the more you get into it, the films begin to distinguish themselves. Changing the character of Charlie is the main difference here. I understand studios don’t think that the audience identifying with a total nerd is going to fly with the cool kids who they hope to attract to the film, but making Charlie into a Ronald Miller-type, trying to fit in with the cool kids and shed his nerdy roots, made me immediately kind of dislike Anton Yelchin’s character. Yelchin is an extremely talented actor and I’m sure will be a megastar some day, but here because of some initial decisions in the script, he has no choice but to be the guy trying to be someone else than who he is. Pressured at every angle (horny girlfriend, creepy ex-friend, the cool kids at school, nosey mom) from frame one, New Charlie is a person pulled in many directions even before the vampire shows up. His hesitancy to make any decisions at all until it is too late is a character flaw that is tough to look over.

Making Charlie the one who is hesitant to do the deed with Amy is also something that’s hard to overlook as well. Her hotness aside, Charlie doesn’t really present much as to why Amy would want to be into him other than the script tells her to do so. In the original, up until Jerry’s fangy voyeur scene, Charlie is the one who is frustrated because Amy won’t put out, and then as she offers herself to him, he is distracted by Jerry’s presence and shows more interest in Jerry than her. The scene is mirrored in the beginning when Charlie is distracted by Peter Vincent’s horror show instead of continuing to make out with Amy. I don’t want to get too much into some of the homosexual overtones of the original (Jerry has a man-servant that he is pretty chummy with), but Charlie’s interest in Jerry over Amy is a running theme throughout the film, only resolved when Charlie must kill Jerry in order to get the girl. The metaphor isn’t too shrouded here.

Of course, hardly any of that is even present in the remake. Farrell’s Jerry lives alone and oozes sexuality towards Amy and Charlie’s mom (Toni Collette in a wasted role), serving more as eye candy for female viewers than a challenge for Charlie’s manhood. Yes, when Jerry makes his move on Amy, he is pretty blunt about making out with his girlfriend in front of him, but these broad strokes moves come late in the film. Seems director Craig Gillespie wasn’t as interested in exploring this challenge too much.

The main problem with the remake is that the pacing of the entire first half of the movie is off. Instead of playing up multiple subplots, director Craig Gillespe handles each one as if checking off a checklist. Clearly he is more interested in the triangle between Charlie/Amy/Jerry and rushes right to that, hurrying past the story between Charlie and his friend Ed in the first twenty minutes.Christopher Mintz-Plasse does a nice turn as a modern version of Evil Ed, but doesn’t have that hurky-jerky-ness of Stephen Geoffreys’ take on the character that made his small role so iconic in the original. The almost Riddler like manic laughter made Geoffreys’ Evil Ed stand out as someone to be pitied and fearful of. Mintz-Passe is good at what he does, but lacks any of that in this role. The fact that he’s not seen as a friend but more of an annoying reminder to Yelchin/Charlie’s uncool past makes him even less likable. And Farrell’s speech about being an outsider, which was absolutely perfect in when Serandon delivered it to Geoffreys in the original, feels more like something that the director knew needed to be said, but he didn’t know how or why it was important and rushed right through it.

Farrell is one of the best aspects of the film. Although vastly different from Serandon’s performance, at least it seems Farrell is having fun with the role. Though the elegance and complexity of the character is completely lost (Farrell’s Jerry almost immediately reveals to everyone that he’s a vampire, while Serandon’s Jerry toys with Charlie more through most of the film), I found myself liking Farrell’s great white shark of the suburbs performance quite a bit. Farrell’s performance is less nuanced, but he does have an animalistic snarl throughout, playing up his sexuality towards Amy and Charlie’s mom and marking his territory every time Charlie is around.

Crucial to both stories is Peter Vincent. Roddy McDowall delivers his role passionately in the original, giving the character power and weakness as we see the former great cinematic vampire hunter growing long in the tooth and being written out of his own show. McDowall offers up a fantastic presence here as he slips in and out of his on-screen persona while encountering the real monsters. McDowall channels all of the good Van Helsings in movie history with all of the power, cheese, and grit that comes with the character he has formed his life around. Though not an awful performance, instead of basing his character on Van Helsing, David Tennant seems to be channeling Aldous Snow and Chriss Angel; two characters as less powerful as they are interesting in the remake. On paper, the conflict is still there with Tennant struggling to care about Charlie’s predicament, then finally embracing his monster hunter roots. Played out, it pales in comparison because you just can’t fuck with McDowall’s performance. Putting eye shadow and tight leather pants on Peter Vincent is like flames on Optimus; unnecessary and only for show.

One of the coolest aspects of the original was that not only was it a fun story filled with fun actors, but it was also a showcase for some of the best practical special effects of its time. The original used everything from puppets to animatronics to gobs of make-up and goo for its gore and scares. People melted, bats flew through windows, werewolves morphed, crosses burned into foreheads, and fangs were bared a plenty. All filmed right there in front of the actors. Now I’m not a CGI prude, but when its unnecessary, I take offense. Look at Farrell’s CGI-ed face compared to Serandon’s make-up effects. One gives you nightmares, the other is a mushy mess of a nightmare. Serandon’s acts beneath all of that make-up. Farrell isn’t even there anymore when his multiple layers of teeth are bared. Serandon’s presence in the scene is what makes it scary, even though it was a bit hard for him to talk in those giant choppers. Animating over Farrell’s head immediately makes it less effective.

This disconnect not only occurs when Farrell fangs out, but when the rest of the vamps do as well. The CGI use overall is pretty uninspired in the entire film, resorting in gobs of blood splashed in our faces to amp the 3D effect, which by the way is completely unnecessary in this film. For most of the film, there is hardly a need for the 3D, with the 3rd dimension only utilized when blood is thrown at the camera, and that blood is CGI-ed in. If you have to see the remake, see it in 2D and save your money. The 3D option doesn’t enhance this film a tick.

I don’t want to completely pan the remake of FRIGHT NIGHT, although I’m not a fan of remakes in general, I’ve definitely seen worse. With a rushed narrative, unnecessary and ineffective effects, missed opportunities as revisiting interesting themes, it definitely pales in comparison to the original, though the cast is very strong with Farrell’s performance (albeit ultimately different from Serandon’s take) leading the pack. In the end, the main distinction between the two films is that FRIGHT NIGHT 2011 is an ode to a better film from 1985 while FRIGHT NIGHT 1985 is an homage to all of those horror films we all loved as a kid.

WE ARE THE NIGHT (2010) Review


AKA WIR SIND DIE NACHT
Directed by Dennis Gansel
Written by Jan Berger, Dennis Gansel,
Starring Karoline Herferth, Nina Hoss, Jennifer Ulrich, Anna Fischer, & Matt Riemelt

The poster over there doesn’t do this film justice. It’s made out to look like SEX IN THE CITY except Sarah Jessica Parker’s pointy nose is substituted by pointy teeth instead. But this film from Germany is so much more than that. Yes, this film features four women lapping up life’s finer things, just like Parker and her coven, but these females lap up blood as well. WE ARE THE NIGHT (WIR SIND DIE NACHT) turns out to be a pretty thrilling bloodsucker film with some twists on vampirism that I haven’t seen before. Though not entirely original (the film borrows heavily from both TWILIGHT and THE LOST BOYS) it also has enough original scenes to make it worth a look see.

The film starts out with some haunting music (actually the entire soundtrack is fantastic) as a choir sings over what looks to be the aftermath of a massacre on a still-flying airplane. Three elegant female vamps—sultry leader Louise (Nina Hoss), vintage emo Charlotte (Jennifer Ulrich), and bubbly punk Nora (Anna Fischer) make their way through blood-empty bodies and dive out the emergency hatch before the plane crashes. Cut to Lena, a street punk pickpocket: her life is shit, her mom is fucking her juvie rep, and she lives in squalor. When Lena happens into a rave, she gains the attention of Louise and ends up bitten. When she wakes up and feels her skin burning in the sunlight, she realizes something is definitely wrong. Louise and the girls try to show Lena the ropes of living la vida loca—vampire stylee.

It’s the little details that make this film stand out. When Lena is bitten by Louise, it’s done in a mirror, so you can’t see the vampiress bite her, just the tooth marks going in. Other little aspects such as the extravagant lifestyle and the recklessness of the four vampires work well. Director Dennis Gansel tries to get a bit deep by saying that there aren’t very many vamps in the world and even less men because, according to Louise, all they want to do is fight and lord over women. This is a nice message, but since the four ladies only seem to spend their time spending the money of their victims and partying the night away at raves, it doesn’t make the fairer sex seem like they are anything more than shallow snits with not a care for anything but shoes, clothes, cars, and the next party. Making a statement that they’ve killed off the male vampires is a powerful one, but the follow-up seems to be a missed opportunity, since the deepest motivator of Louise is to find love (a love she thinks she’s found in Lena). Had Louise been a politician or some kind of influential figure, it would have driven the point home that the fairer sex is just that. But then we wouldn’t get montages of the ladies trying on clothes, racing cars, and partying the night away while downing shots of blood.

I don’t want to be too hard on this film. Like I said, there are a lot of great scary and inventive moments of vampirism throughout. I watched this film with someone familiar with TWILIGHT and though I wouldn’t have caught it because of my unfamiliarity with the films, she noticed that there are some direct swipes from the TWILIGHT films and books. That said, I found WE ARE THE NIGHT to be an elegant, yet a bit vacant and vapid, vampire flick with an explosive climax that really delivers as Lena and Louise have it out in a gravity defying melee of blood and violence. Not shy with the gore and scares, WE ARE THE NIGHT is better than most defanged vamp flicks that have been released lately and director Dennis Gansel has an eye for making scenes beautiful and horrific all at once.

NINJAS VS VAMPIRES (2011) Review


Directed by Justin Timpane
Written by Justin Timpane
Starring Jay Saunders, Daniel Ross, Cory Okouchi, Devon Marie Burt, Karla Okouchi, Kurt Skarstedt, Melissa McConnell, Paul Sieber, Daniel Mascarello, & Liz Christmas
Find out more on NINJAS VS VAMPIRES Website

Better writing, better acting, better directing, better effects, and better jokes—NINJAS VS VAMPIRES is one of those rare examples of a sequel that exceeds the original. Though this film was shot on the budgetary low, don’t let that scare you away from checking it out. I was charmed by last year’s NINJAS VS ZOMBIES, but not blown away. This time around, there are a lot of clichés tossed about; there are also a lot of jokes that hit their marks. As far as the acting, effects, action, and direction goes, it’s hit and miss, but far above the much more amateurish NINJAS VS ZOMBIES. So it looks like the filmmakers are learning along the way.

The story centers around two longtime friends, Alex and Aaron. Just as Aaron, who wants to get out of the friend zone pal Alex sees him as, is professing his love for her, wouldn’t you know it? Vampires and ninjas show up. In order to save Alex, Aaron must learn the ways of the ninja. But before Aaron can get the girl and save the day, the ninjas must face all sorts of vampire terror. The story is pretty comic booky, but it works. Filled with all kinds of interesting and funny characters, NINJAS VS VAMPIRES is a low budget horror gem.

You can tell the folks behind this film are huge genre fans. References to comic books, sci fi, wizardry, and of course, vampire horror abound. But NINJAS VS VAMPIRES falls somewhere between a fan film and an actual one. The scope is more epic and though occasionally there are moments where the budget is apparent and the range of the actors are tested, I still had a good time watching these ninjas take on vampires.

PROWL (2011) Review


Directed by Patrick Syversen
Written by Tim Tori
Starring Courtney Hope, Ruta Gedmintas, Bruce Payne, Saxon Trainor, Joshua Bowman

I reviewed this film a while back when it was in limited release as part of the After Dark Originals series. It’s been released on DVD & BluRay so I figured I’d report the review since you all have a better chance of catching it this time around.

PROWL is the second “kids on a roadtrip gone wrong” film I watched this week, but there’s nothing wrong with it as long the “wrong” part of it is distinct and interesting. And for the most part PROWL is both. Though I’m as sick as you guys are of vampire stories (though I can never get enough of zombie films for some reason), I have to get behind the gritty and grimy vampires we rarely see. Instead of the twinkler vamps, in PROWL we get the 30 DAYS OF NIGHT/NEAR DARK sort. Things get scary. Things get bloody. This isn’t a teen romance, but a story of a girl trying to escape her fate, but failing at every turn.

Told from the perspective of Amber (played by freckle-faced cutie Courtney Hope), PROWL tackles an age old conflict between a person with big dreams and a small town that seems bent on squashing them. Like Luke Skywalker gazing across the dunes of Tantooine, Amber dreams of leaving home, but can’t seem to do it. When an opportunity arises for her to get an apartment in Chicago, she convinces a group of friends to drive her out of Farmfield, Nowhere and into her new life. Of course, as with any “kids on a road trip” flick, shit goes wrong.

When their car breaks down, Amber thinks she’ll never get out of town, but they convince a trucker to cart them into Chicago. The film teeters on this moment where we must believe the kids are desperate enough to be locked in the back of a semi for 19 hours and director Patrik Syversen does a decent job of making the situation desperate enough to make this stupid decision believable. The kids are likable enough, which is crucial, because PROWL takes its time letting us get to know these kids and Amber’s plight well before the vamps come. But once the truck backs into a dark warehouse and the door slides open, shit gets real really fast.

The initial meet between the kids and the vamps is about as tense as it comes. The acting is really good, for the most part, and there’s a real sense of danger as these kids have no clue what they are getting into. For me, the highpoint of the film happens about 45 minutes in when all hell breaks loose and dire circumstances occur at a wickedly fast pace. After this mark, though, the movie kind of skids, as if the makers suddenly realized that there were still quite a bit of movie minutes to fill. The scenes still have a lot of power, but lack the intensity of the initial encounter with the vamps. A couple of jarring edits and an ending that just kind of ends abruptly had me appreciating this film, but wishing it hadn’t peaked so soon. Still, there are some great performances there by the kids and the trucker (played by Bruce Payne who some will remember from HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME and PASSENGER 57) and the scene where the kids first encounter the vampires make the film memorable to me. I also love the splatter and filth this film tosses on our heroines. PROWL may not be the most original of vamp flicks, but it’s a fun one.

DEATHHUNTER: WEREWOLVES VS VAMPIRES (2011) review


Directed by Dustin Rikert
Written by Dustin Rikert
Starring Sam McConkey, Paulino Hemmer, Mike Lawler, Shari Weidmann, & Richard Williams

Well, you can’t fault this film for not being ambitious. The storyline shoots for the stars, even though things like budget, acting, lighting, directing, and effects kind of bog it down. I want to support all kinds of horror films here, but I think the main problem with DEATHHUNTER: WEREWOLVES & VAMPIRES is that it tries way too hard to be a badass monster movie, but doesn’t really have the know-how to pull it off.

Apart from the lead actor, John Croix (pronounced “Cross” and played by Sam McConkey) lines are delivered pretty woodenly, which may help them ward off vampires if sharpened, but doesn’t do well at making me like this film. The story is a bit convoluted as well—as John and his wife are separated by a vampire king, then John is bitten by a werewolf, given an antidote by an old man in leather pants which gives John all the power of the wolfman, but none of the hairyness. An hour into the film, a quartet of teens are introduced just to be picked off, and it all wraps up in a bow of cheese by the end. There’s a death scene that is so drawn out it makes Yoda’s death in EMPIRE seem abrupt by comparison. Humor drops like anvils in this one producing more groans than laughs and every vamp and wolf cliché is used and reused.

Though there are a few positives here. As I said, the filmmakers were ambitious. Effects wise, they go for a lot. Wolfmen. Lycans. Bats. Vampire teeth. Gun shot bursts. Animated vamp deaths. Prosthetic blood and gore. Beheadings. There are a ton of effects shots in this film. But the best effects (such as a smiling lycan getting ready to pounce on its prey), though competent for the budget they are on, are used and reused numerous times in the film. And obvious green screen effects give the film an even more cheesier look.

I’m usually pretty positive with reviews here, even for films that aren’t so hot. But DEATHHUNTER: WEREWOLVES VS VAMPIRES is a sliver above what one would usually see in a Skinimax after dark film…without the major reason why we watch those films. With those films, we put up with the shoddy acting, horrible lighting and directing, and bad attempts to thread a story because eventually there’s some boobage coming along. Here it’s just a highlight reel for amateur effects shots. My advice to the makers of DEATHHUNTER; aim lower. If you don’t have the money to make BLADE, then don’t make BLADE. Sometimes smaller horror is better. Though the ambition is there, the skill, talent, and most importantly, the duckets just aren’t there in DEATHHUNTER.

VAMPIRE BOYS (2011) Review


Directed by Charlie Vaughn
Written by David S. Sterling (story), Jeremiah Campbell (screenplay)
Starring Christian Ferrer, Jason Lockhart, Dylan Vox, & Jess Allen

Ahem…

Well…
Ooohhh-kay.

Well, I have to say that VAMPIRE BOYS is not your typical horror film. It’s got vampires in it. And boys. And most of the boys don’t wear shirts. And though I didn’t know until about three minutes in, turns out it’s a gay horror film. Which is fine. It’s just that…well, I had no idea what I was getting into when I slid this disk into my DVD player, though the four shirtless men posing on the DVD cover should have clued me in.

I think the makers of VAMPIRE BOYS intentions are in the right place. They want to tell a typical vampire story set against the backdrop of the gay lifestyle. The problem is that the script is not the best. Exposition is lobbed around clumsily over coffee on the veranda and sunbathing (shirtless of course) in the grass. Everything is filmed in a soft filter. Of course, these shirtless vamps aren’t affected by sunlight. And pretty much all of the stuff that makes vampires vampires (the weaknesses, that is) doesn’t really effect them. Scenes seem to be threaded together only with the intentions of the vampire boys to take their shirts off and take the shirts off of their boy victims and then make out. A love story is told here. Jasin, the leader of the vampire boys is about to reach his hundredth year birthday and must find a chosen one to drink from. He’s been trying to find the one for quite a while, but he’s been looking at the wrong sex. He drops his intended wench when he crosses paths with Caleb, a farmboy from Ohio who never fit into his hometown. Soon the two fall in love, but one of the other vampire boys doesn’t approve of the leaders choice in mates. Lots of tension and shirtlessness ensues.

There’s a lot of gay innuendo flung around. There’s no blood to speak of. Not a lot of action, though two of the vampires hiss at each other repeatedly in one scene. In fact, aside from a lot of talking and shirtless posing, there’s not much else going on here. I guess if you’re gay and like vampires, VAMPIRE BOYS is something you might want to check out. It just wasn’t my thing.