Blu-ray Review: ‘Two Orphan Vampires’ (1997)

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I have to admit – I was a little worried about Two Orphan Vampires. I’d never seen a Jean Rollin film from the 1990s and I imagined something with synthesized saxophone music and lots of softcore lesbian sex. Rollin wears this mantle from cinephiles as the king of lesbian vampire sexploitation, but I’d never really found that title fitting when examining his work. It’s mostly artsy, with only the briefest flirtations with sleaze. “Maybe this is the one,” I thought, picturing this later effort as something that would be right at home on Cinemax in 1997.

Well, Two Orphan Vampires is definitely not that. It’s unmistakably a Jean Rollin film, with its dual lead female roles and midnight jaunts through graveyards and train stations. Aside from the score (unimpressive noodling around with a synthesizer), it would be hard to pin a year to the film. It looks, sounds, feels, and tastes, for better or worse, like Jean Rollin.

There’s actually a pretty cool gimmick at the heart of Two Orphan Vampires, one that I’d like to see explored within a stronger narrative, in which the titular vampires (Alexandra Pic and Isabelle Teboul) are blind during the day but have full vision at night. They’re taken in by a doctor who thinks he may have a cure for their blindness, unaware of the secret they share. He doesn’t realize they’re leaving the house every night to feed and generally get into trouble.

‘Dark Shadows’ Review: Talky, Chalky Depp Leads 70’s Style Clash

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Dark Shadows fans, worried that Tim Burton has turned your beloved TV show into something funny? Don’t worry. He hasn’t. Welcome to Collinsport, a sleepy Maine fishing town, home of the supernaturally troubled Collins family and their long lost vampiric relative from centuries ago, Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp). In his younger days, Barnabas made the mistake of fooling around with a jealous witch (Eva Green), and it cost him his humanity and the life of his one true love. He’s back now, and ready to take on the 1970’s fishing industry with gusto! Such is the plot of Dark Shadows, a hopeless mish-mash of weak comedy and even weaker melodrama, chained by the leg to its source material and tossed into a sea of gothic set dressing and meaningless, non-stop talking.

Barnabas Collins is presented on the written page (by screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith) as an insatiable cad, desired by nearly every woman he meets, and unable to control his own lustful urges. It feels appropriate of his soap opera character roots, where passionate sexual trysts are a near-daily activity. What Grahame-Smith may not have counted on is that Burton doesn’t have any interest (or possibly doesn’t even understand) sex at all. Through Depp and Burton’s interpretation, Barnabas is another cartoon character brought to life, influenced simultaneously by German expressionism and the Groovy Ghoulies. Many key scenes, in which Green’s Angelique is able to manipulate Barnabas’s carnal nature into situations that he immediately regrets, end up not making a lick of sense when deflated into an embarrassed rush of special effects and rimshot-ready dialogue.

‘Ganja & Hess’ Blu-ray Review: Artsy Vampire Film Casts a Confounding Spell

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First things first, I can almost guarantee you’ve never seen a film like Bill Gunn’s 1973 effort Ganja & Hess. Perhaps incorrectly labeled as “blaxploitation” because of the time period in which it was released, this vampire movie is about as far from something like Blacula as you can possibly get. Kino Lorber, along with the Museum of Modern Art, has restored the film from its abbreviated 78 minutes to the director’s 110-minute vision, and in doing so, has presented us with a soulful, difficult film that’s more of a loose collection of atmospheric sequences than a 1970’s shocker. The movie it reminded me of the most was Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, but even then, that film is more concerned with its narrative than Gunn’s avant garde take on horror.

Duane Jones, recognizable to horror fans everywhere as Ben from Night of the Living Dead, plays Hess Green, who we’re told is cursed with vampirism by being stabbed with a cursed dagger before the film begins. Hess treats his curse a little bit like one might treat a compulsive secret – with personal fulfillment and privacy. He meets Ganja (Marlene Clark), the widow of one of his victims, and she’s unusually tolerant of his vampirism (such is love). Soon, his private activity becomes a shared one.

Terror Tuesday Report: Fright Night Part II (1988)

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The Film

So, FRIGHT NIGHT PART II picks up right after the first film, with Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale) changing his memories of the events in the first film (vampires move in next door) through therapy, and keeping an arm’s length relationship with TV horror host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), who’s still convinced they killed vampires together a couple of years before.  Everything’s hunky-dory for approximately fifteen minutes of this sequel, until Julie Carmen shows up as Regine, with her entourage of monster movie weirdos (including audience favorite Jon Gries as a sleazy werewolf).

She’s got her sights set on Charlie, wanting to turn him into a vampire, for a reason that feels too obvious despite it being the film’s only surprise. Fright Night Part II is energetic and amiable enough, but it almost literally can’t find a good reason to exist.  Too light on both scares and comedy, the film mostly consists of Charlie sneaking around once again and peeking at vampires through windows, trying to convince the one character who shouldn’t need any convincing (Vincent) that the bloodsuckers are back.

DAYBREAKERS Review. [Fantastic Fest 2009]

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Written and Directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig, 2009

When I first saw the trailer for DAYBREAKERS, the Spierig brother’s follow-up to their freshman film UNDEAD, I thought two things about their take on a world overrun by vampires in dire need of some new human blood.  First, that looks a hell of a lot better than UNDEAD ended up being.  Second, there is no way that a world of only vampires could have a viable economy; if blood is their only food source, that eliminates trillions upon trillions of dollars in everything from the agricultural to shipping to utility industries with no conceivable means of replacement.

These are the things I think about when I watch science fiction — and trust me, though the horror crowd will want to hold onto it because the film has a lethal, gory seam to its bloodsucker proceedings, DAYBREAKERS is at its core a sci-fi film that happens to be about vampires.  It also happens to be a pretty damned good film.  Yes, it’s leagues better than their resourceful but lacking, low-budget zombie opus UNDEAD, but more importantly, the Spierig brothers’ script for DAYBREAKERS is legitimately concerned with the unsustainable state of a nocturnal, plasma-centric economy and a whole host of other problems that come with a world over-run with vampires, including but not limited to inter-species vampirism and the huge number of forest fires caused by transformed animals too stupid to realize that if they run out into the forest during daylight they’re going to burst into flames.

For someone like me, someone who cares about the little touches like that, DAYBREAKERS is an ideal blend of thought and action.  And though ideal for me, that may be a problem for others considering DAYBREAKERS is perhaps lighter on the horror and action foundations than one might hope for.  It’s also not flawless on the thought side, either, but it makes very noble strides into territory that no vampire film has gone before with an undead heart in the right spot every step of the way.  Ethan Hawke is suitably morose in the role of Edward, a human-sympathizing corporate hematologist who refuses to drink 100% human blood, who only wants to convince his overlords that unless a blood substitute is found (and it isn’t likely), plasma-deprivation is going to turn all of the civil vampires on Earth into ravenous, uncontrollable winged creatures of blood lust.

THIRST, Review – Adam’s Take.

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I figured a second review of THIRST was best reserved for when the film expanded to several new cities.  What a coincidence that 8/14/09 marks just such an occasion.  Click here for a list of theaters hosting the badass Korean mamajama.

Directed by Chan-wook Park, 2009
Written by Seo-Gyeong Jeong, Chan-wook Park

A film’s title can often be the greatest signifier of what the film is, perhaps even more so than its genre.  A genre is just a categorical label telling you what kind of film the film resembles; but a good title should encompass everything the film actually represents.  The genre, the attitude, the tone, and the themes are just some of the things that should be considered when deciding on a title.  A well thought out title should be able to give you a helpful hint as to what the film is about, in what manner it will be presented to you, and most of all gain your interest.

One of the best ways to gain interest (mine at least) is through vague suggestion.   You’re not quite sure what the title means.  You know what the words mean, but don’t know what is so special about those particular words that they symbolize the feeling of the entire film.

In the case of THIRST it can be implied that the title generically represents the need for liquid.  When you hear the synopsis that it’s a film about a vampire then you can gather that the title refers to the vampire’s need for blood.  This, however, is the powerful thing about simple titles.  Ironically, the fewer amount of words used in a title the more it tends to embody.  Going by that rationale, and after viewing THIRST, the thickness of the film’s ideas and themes couldn’t have been spread over a multiple word title; it had to be compacted into one simple expression of desire, and necessity.

NEAR DARK, Review: A Year in Film.

THIRST, Review – Easy Contender for Best of ’09.

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Directed by Chan-wook Park, 2009
Written by Seo-Gyeong Jeong, Chan-wook Park

When I bought my wife’s engagement ring I was in over my head.  I knew nothing about rings, I knew nothing about diamonds and I knew nothing about purchasing a ring with a diamond in it.  She gave me a list of what to look for and I brought it to the first jewelry story I could find, handed it to the first person who approached me and said, “This is what I want”.  What followed was a lot of talk about clarity and color and weight and the things rabbits eat and I remained just as clueless when I handed over my credit card as when I walked in the door.  It’s not that I didn’t care about the details of the biggest purchase of my life, it’s just that the details were outside me.  All I cared about was the milestone it represented.

THIRST is the kind of film I don’t want to say anything about.  I just want to point it out, say, “Yep, this is the one”, and move on until more people have an opportunity to see it.  It’s the first time all year long at a theater that I’ve felt at the mercy of a filmmaker.  It’s the first time in ’09 I’ve felt unequivocally that what I’m watching is a film without peer, which is saying a lot considering how much in love I am with WATCHMEN, THE HURT LOCKER and MOON.  THIRST writhes with a seductive, marvelous sense of discovery that I could only spoil by talking about.  Which is giving me blue balls, because the more I think about it, the more I just want to talk about Chan-wook Park’s best film to date.

I won’t spoil anything beyond what the trailer makes obvious: Kang-ho Song plays a priest who receives a blood transfusion that turns him into a vampire.  Done.  That’s all you’re getting out of me plot wise.  Anyone who dives beyond that is a dick.  I will, however, talk about why I think it’s one of the best films of the year, despite having imperfections at its core.  It’s a flawed masterpiece, not unlike the aforementioned diamond.  It communicates a world to the naked eye, a world that looks perfect, but when the trained eye dives down to a molecular level structural inconsistencies appear.  But who cares?  It’s not about the guts, it’s about what it represents.  This is the one, after all.  You know it just looking at it.  THIRST is a gem to behold, molecular level be damned.

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