Saturday, February 28, 2015

The New Tomorrow (2005) [The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's The Shortening]

Say, do you dislike soap operas? Do you find them boring, and wish that someone would make a genre soapie, and then we might actually get one that's good? Well Dark Shadows proved that a horror-soapie is still a soap opera, with all the trappings and cliches. Next, you may think 'Man, wouldn't it be awesome if we got a post-apocalyptic soap opera!'. That too is sadly a bad idea, as evidenced by The Tribe...

The Tribe was a New Zealand/Canadian TV show set in a world where all adults have died, leaving the young to fend for themselves in a harsh new world. Lasting for a surprisingly short 260 episodes (as opposed to 12,000), The Tribe was quite popular, but simply had to end once the producers realized their actors had now visibly become adults, therefore negating the entire point of the show. Two years later, a sequel was made, called The New Tomorrow...

In the far future, civilization has fallen, and all adults have been wiped out by a virus, leaving only children as survivors. Hundreds of years after the apocalypse, the virus is long since dead, but other ancient threats still abound, such as a group of mysterious patrolling machines in the area known as The Forbidden Zone. The new society is made up of various tribes, such as the Ants, the Barbs, and worst of all, the Privileged (Privs) and their Warps. While the Ants and Barbs are peaceful farmers and hunters respectively, the Privs are greedy conquerors, who want to expand their empire by taking over the neighbouring tribes. Now the Ants and the Barbs, two tribes with no love lost between them, have to team up to fight off the oncoming threat...

The original Tribe was a miserable show. I found it to be stupid and maudlin, with mediocre to terrible acting. As for The New Tomorrow, I hated it back when I saw it in 2005. From the acting to the story, and everything else, stupid young me thought it a horrid little show. But is it? No, actually, it really isn't!

Rather than focus on teens like its predecessor, The New Tomorrow was instead about actual kids, and this is a problem at first. The show seems optimistic that kids will be smart enough to set up tribes, customs, and agriculture, and preserve knowledge and language, following the apocalypse wipes out all adults. I suppose that is plausible, but seeing these kids all act as adults, especially the villains, who look so unthreatening at first, come across as impossible to take seriously. However, the show takes everything seriously, and because of this, as well as the good characterization, we begin to buy the age of these characters, their roles, and their intelligence.

The New Tomorrow is a very well-written show! It builds up its world really well, thanks to the numerous factions and their relations with each-other, the interplay between the villains, and the compelling and intriguing mystery about the malevolent machines that roam the Forbidden Zone. The religion in the show is also well-handled if you ignore the huge and maddening continuity errors it poses in regards to the original Tribe show. It brings a level of depth and darkness to the show's universe, and an impending sense of possible armageddon. Overall, The New Tomorrow has complex themes for a kid's show, such as war, which brings a genuine sense of tension and urgency; and religion, which gets both dark, and twisted at times, which is a mature subject for a show for ten year olds!

To compare this to its prequel, this show is miles better than The Tribe. The plot is a lot simpler, and more complex because of it, whereas from what I remember, the original Tribe show had too many plots, and was overcomplicated. The New Tomorrow is also a lot more positive, and thus true to its title. This really is a new tomorrow, and these protagonists are a hell of a lot more effective than the stupid Mall Rats.

Now let's get to the cast of this show. The characters in The New Tomorrow are all different and distinctive. For some, it takes a little while, and some can be annoying at times (for example, Omar will piss you off a lot at first, and you'll want Erin dead A LOT!), they genuinely evolve, and have a lot to them. The show also doesn't take the easy way out. For example, with the character of Gwyn, you'd expect her to be a Priv spy at first, then eventually realize the error of her ways thanks to her newly found brother, and the kindness of others, as she's just a meek former slave, but that doesn't happen at all, and Gwyn becomes quite a villainous and duplicitous character!

Unfortunately the ending to The New Tomorrow is rushed, due to its cancellation. It's not poorly done, it's certainly passable, and these character changes from the villains feel natural, but in one case, it feels like this should have happened after a longer passage of time. However, I am glad that the writers had the decency to genuinely wrap up the show. The show's still open for more adventures, of course, and the machines are still a mystery, but the series doesn't just end with a random episode, or a finale that accomplishes nothing. Ultimately, there are 26 episodes of this show, and it's certainly enough.

The effects in The New Tomorrow are very good! The village sets are well-made, and the Priv stronghold looks very fitting. And then there are the machines, which are well designed, and the sound effects for them gives them an eerie feel.  One amusing thing about this show is that despite the apocalypse, and the long passage of time, there's still more than enough hair dye and gel to go around, apparently, because every kid in this show has slicked-up hair, and multiple highlights! And then there's the face dye! Finally, one aspect to this show does feel unforgivably cheap-The establishing shots. Whenever the show cuts to the Priv camp, it keeps showing the same couple of establishing shots again and again. It's insane! Thankfully these begin to be phased out at the halfway point, and are replaced with newer, and more numerous ones.

The New Tomorrow is just barely connected to the original Tribe series, and the continuity is really off in many respects. For a start, where the hell are all the adults?! In the original series, it made sense, because the apocalypse had just happened and wiped the adults all out, but The New Tomorrow is set at least a hundred years in the future!

What's really a problem is that Bray and Zoot are elevated to god status in the eyes of everyone. Why is this a problem? Well, Bray and Zoot were characters from the original series, and they sure as hell weren't gods! They were just people! Assuming that these kids are the descendants of his bunch, how did their history get so damn corrupted that they thought Bray was a god who would return one day, as opposed to just some guy? And why have they cast Zoot as the evil god of their society? Zoot was an anti-villain who died in Season 1 of The Tribe. Now, stuff did happen involving worshipping him in later seasons of the show, but it was stupid there too, because Zoot was just some guy who died! He really wasn't as important as either the Zootists, or Mega thinks! He only died eight episodes in, leaving no time for him to make any kind of impression! Either way, Zoot was NOT that much of a bad guy, yet the characters in this show paint him as if he was a vile god of evil!

Hearing the Ants constantly worship the 'almighty' Bray is annoying as he was such a useless protagonist. He always screwed up! Hell, he didn't even succeed in stopping the mini second apocalypse at the end of The Tribe! And the fact that the machines exist just goes to show how useless Bray is! The Mall Rats were losers!

The acting in this show doesn't seem to start off well, and some performances are worse than others at first, but overall, the actors in The New Tomorrow do a really good job!

The scoring in The New Tomorrow is really good! The main theme is good, but too short (a longer version is played at points in the series, but not very loud, as it's just incidental music. On that note, unlike the original Tribe series, the people behind The New Tomorrow actually knew how to balance sound), while the other tunes are really good, lending greatly to the feel of the show.

The New Tomorrow is Conal Cochran's worst nightmare, and a great show for everyone else! As far as I know, there's no DVD release, but the episodes are all on Youtube, so you could watch them there. Unfortunately, they're in low quality, and most of the videos have huge (and glaringly incorrect) subtitles, as well as extremely intrusive sign interpreters, and digital interference. Long story short, if there already isn't a DVD release of The New Tomorrow, I hope there is soon, because it's a show that really deserves one!...

This post is for The Shortening, a blogathon set up by Emily of  The Deadly Dolls House of Horror Nonsense.

Night of a Thousand Cats (1972) [The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's The Shortening]

Cats have a storied history in cinema as being ruthless murderers, and is that really so hard to buy? After all, cats are assholes! Granted, their mind-control qualities are entirely effective, as I own two cats. Today's movie is the Spanish Night of 1000 cats, which Deadly Dolls manager Emily has coincidentally also reviewed recently...

Hugo is a wealthy man living alone at his large isolated estate with his faithful butler Dorpo. On a regular basis, Hugo seduces, then murders a variety of beautiful women to add to his growing collection of severed heads in jars, as well as to provide food for his army of savage cats...

Night of a Thousand Cats is a weird film, due to the large lack of dialogue, or establishment of anything else, as well as the incredibly rushed, incredibly random feel to the movie. Sometimes scenes drag out near-interminably, and other times they go by so fast they give you whiplash! The editing in this movie is insanely structured at times, and it'll make your head roll! The story itself is bare as hell, with nothing to it. Stuff happens, The End.

The English print of this movie is missing half-an-hour from the Spanish version, leaving it only at 62 minutes long. That could explain the movie's chaotic nature, but I have a feeling that the movie would be much the same, as the dreadful editing seems deliberate, like it was a stylish choice, which it certainly is in Dorgo's hilariously symbolic/pretentious death scene. I suspect the missing thirty minutes is extra dialogue or scenes that might flesh out the relationship between Hugo and the mother he seduces.

The characters here are confusing, as well as stupid some of the time, with only the lead 'final girl' escaping with any amount of dignity. There's no decent explanation why Hugo murders women, or why he owns a thousand cats. And then there's his mentally disabled butler Dorpo, who takes inspiration from Hugo and murder's the twisted bachelor's devoted fiancee. For some reason, we don't see Hugo doing anything to his help for having killed the woman he loves, but when Dorpo later beats Hugo in chess, the dude shoves him into the kitty pit of death!

There are other weird character moments around, like how the mother is successfully seduced by Hugo's tactic of lowering and ascending out of her poolside property again an again, sometimes when the woman's husband is right there!

Now, as this is a Rene Cardona Jr. movie, you may be wondering "Does he kill any animals this time?", and the answer is no, none of the feline cast members died...They're just extremely inconvenienced/possibly abused in a couple of scenes.

As for the effects that don't break animal safety laws, they're pretty meh. The only onscreen deaths are strangulations, and the human cat meat Hugo uses is so obviously some storebought pet food, not a freshly sliced up human corpse. Then there are the heads in jars, which look like papier mache.

Finally, there's the helicopter! About a quarter of this film is entirely comprised of helicopter shots!

The acting here is totally bland, and the dub actors don't help. Hugo Stiglitz, who plays the imaginatively named Hugo, is as dull as ever. Why the hell did Quentin Tatantino name a character in Inglourious Basterds after this guy? He's completely wooden! He can't act! There's nothing remotely special about the guy at all, and he's never even interesting to watch in the really noteworthy movies he appeared in, like Nightmare City!

Night of a Thousand Cats is a really bad movie, but if you're game for a laugh, I suppose I can recommend it, because the super short length ensures that it's never boring...

This post is for The Shortening, a blogathon set up by Emily of  The Deadly Dolls House of Horror Nonsense.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

We Are the Strange (2007) [The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's The Shortening]

I've seen a lot of really weird things in my day, and quite a few of them have been underwhelming. Today's film, however, was not! We Are the Strange is a 2007 animated movie by indie filmmaker M Dot Strange, and has gained a sizable following and much praise, especially after it aired at the Sundance Film Festival...

In a bizarre and morbid world, monsters roam the land, and a collection of characters cross paths on their various quests. eMMM the dollboy is just looking for some ice cream, while Blue is despondent over an apparent disease which turns her skin scaly whenever she opens her mouth, or even smiles. The two end up palling up together, and elsewhere, the vigilante Rain and his paper sidekick Ori fight to protect the land from the horrible and violent creatures that inhabit it. The worst  of all is Him, a slimy sleazoid despot with a most sinistarrrr side...

We Are the Strange is a very niche movie. There are probably many who won't take to its utter insanity, and that's fine. As for me, I'm on of the strange people who get a kick out of movies like this!

We Are the Strange doesn't really have much of a plot, but is rather just a progression of scenes that all come together in the end. Thankfully the lack of story doesn't detract from the movie, or make it boring. As for what story there is, it reminds me of Lexx in a way, given We Are the Strange's surreal and dark setting, where a series of strange and varied protagonists end up together in a huge fight against a completely evil enemy.

True to its title, We Are the Strange is a very bizarre movie, and the weirdness feels natural. It actually has a place in the film, and its insane world, and isn't at all forced. This is a unique and distinctive movie, and if you're looking for something strange, this'll certainly fit the bill and then some!

This movie is heavily inspired by video games. The film's aesthetic, from sound, music, graphics, as well as plot devices emulate video games of various sorts. And then there's the neat framing device of the movie itself being a game, where after a character select scene, we 'choose' Camera, which passively and invisibly views the action.

The look to We Are the Strange is great! There's animation of the 2D and CGI 3D variety, claymation, and stop-motion. Not only is there all that, but the animation is arranged and presented in many different ways over the course of the film. Not all are successful, but for the most part, the different styles mix well, and don't feel out-of-place together, which is a damn impressive feat!

We Are the Strange's soundtrack is integral, given the large absence of dialogue, and thankfully it carries the film well, providing a lot of atmosphere, and plenty of neat tunes. This ooky world wouldn't be nearly as effective if not for the scoring.

The acting here is quite good! There's not much of it given the largely dialogue-free nature of the film, but what there is is great, from David Choe's tough guy Dirty Harry type voice with Rain, Halleh Seddighzadeh as the emotional Blue, and the evil Him, voiced perfectly by M Dot Strange himself.

Now onto some negatives. The choreography in the final fight isn't all that great, and the film wraps up too quickly. There are a couple of moments here and there where the movie's weirdness just feels stupid and forced, and worst of all, if you're an epileptic, We Are the Strange will probably kill you! There's way too much flashing, and not for any real reason other than "Ooh, shiny!".

We Are the Strange is a divisive movie. Some may enjoy it, while for others, it's simply not their cup of tea. If you're of the former, I highly recommend this movie! It's only a Youtube watch away (put there by M Dot Strange himself), so if you're keen in an insane sci-fi animated movie, look no further!...

This post is for The Shortening, a blogathon set up by Emily of  The Deadly Dolls House of Horror Nonsense.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Sixteen Candles (1984) [The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's The Shortening]

John Hughes is regarded as a master filmmaker when it comes to teen coming-of-age movies, from Ferris Bueller's Day Off, to The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, and some simply entertaining fare like Weird Science. Hughes didn't hit perfectly with every one of his main movies though, such as tonight's movie Sixteen Candles...

It's Samantha Baker's sixteenth birthday, and she's both timid and excited about it, but unfortunately her entire family has forgotten all about the occasion in the bustle of her sister's upcoming wedding. Infuriated, Sam seethes through school, then goes to the prom dance later that night. At numerous points, she bumps into her crush, Jake Ryan, who she doesn't know reciprocates her feelings, and as she sadly makes her way back home, Jake enlists the aid of skeezy geek Ted to find out more about Sam...

Sixteen Candles is an almost mature teen movie, minus certain scenes and elements that drag it down, such as some property destruction humour, and occasional jokes that miss the mark. The plot is well-written, and while it is rather simple, that's not so much a problem come the end. The story feels like it's progressed naturally, rather than being thin.

What's almost a big problem with this movie is how little the two romantic leads interact. Thankfully, this is the point, and it actually works in the movie's favour, and Molly Ringwald and Michael Schoeffling still manage to share chemistry in their final scenes together. What is a problem, however, is how little screentime the character of Jake gets in the first half of the movie. Unfortunately the movie compensates for this in the worst possible way, by giving him plenty of screentime in the second half, while Molly Ringwald barely appears! Aside from a big scene with her father, she's absent from her own movie for like forty minutes! *sigh* At least getting plenty of scenes with Jake is still] an upside to this.

The characters in Sixteen Candles are very good! Sam is a nicely developed lead, with a well-done arc, which never focuses on one thing too long (for example, her parents forgetting her birthday is a big deal at first, but as the movie goes on, it becomes deliberately less important). Likewise, Jake too is a likeable lead. Ted* is a tiny bit annoying at first, but gets better as the film progresses, which is much appreciated considering he and Jake dominate the film for a good chunk. Jake's girlfriend/ex Caroline starts off as kinda bitchy, but becomes genuinely nice come the end. The minor characters are all entertaining enough, save for quirky foreign exchange student Long Duk Dong, who feels like a rather superfluous addition to the film. One character I felt was wasted was Sam's bestie, who appears quite a bit, then vanishes about halfway through.

*By the way, what is it with unnamed characters in movies actually having names? This movie's opening and ending credits refer to Ted only as The Geek, but he's referred to by name repeatedly! The same thing was the case with the Man With No Name movies! He's named in all bloody three of 'em!

Now onto some more problems with Sixteen Candles-It's ten kinds of creepy! First, there's the blatantly disablist humour (which is thankfully phased out as the movie goes on), and a couple of derogatory uses of 'fag/faggot', the first of which is extremely dated but relatively harmlessly used unfortunate '80's vernacular, while the second is more unpleasant. Then there's Long Duk Dong, who is pretty damn stereotypical! Thankfully he's certainly not a racist character, as while he is presented as a big joke, he's not being laughed at, but laughed with, and he's on top! He's popular, gets the super hot busty girl, and has a great time! He's a caricature, but he's a caricature that isn't presented negatively. Finally, there's an unfortunately worded comment from Jake in one scene. I think the intent is that he says he could go and wake his tipsy girlfriend up from her stupor and have sex if he wanted to (which he doesn't, as he doesn't like her as a girlfriend anymore), but the way the line is worded makes it sound like he's not going to bother waking her up to do this! It sounds like he's totally fine with date rape! Jesus, and I thought Home Alone 3 was John Hughes' low point as a writer!

Ok, back to the positives. The acting in Sixteen Candles is very good! First of all, a lot of the lead actresses/actors not only look their age, but actually are! That's pretty rare for any movie about teenagers, where they're almost always played by 20-to-30 year olds. Molly Ringwald is a great actress here, and looks very natural and regular, rather than a supermodel, which is very refreshing for a movie like this. Anthony Michael Hall is decent here, and I really find him to be a versatile actor. He's a skeezy comic relief geek here, he plays a much more serious character in The Breakfast Club to great effect, and MANY years later, he played a great psychopathic villain in Warehouse 13! I don't like him as much as Andrew McCarthy, but he's still pretty great!The rest of the acting ranges from good to decent. There's also an extended cameo from Zelda Rubinstein, for what that's worth (a lot to some. *wink*, Emily).

Finally, the soundtrack to Sixteen Candles is great! While that Spandau Ballet song is an insanely cliched scoring choice for teen films-especially pertaining to proms-nowadays, but that doesn't mean it's not a good song anymore. The rest of the score complements the movie very well! My favourite by far is the song that plays during the ending!

Sixteen Candles is a very mixed bag! It's not a masterpiece like other John Hughes movies, and it has its lulls, and its more than awkward moments, but it's still quite a good teen movie, with fine acting, and some really great scenes! You don't have to watch it to get the full '80's teen' experience, but it's certainly there if you want to...

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Realms of the Haunting (1996)

Back in the 1990's, when video game developers discovered the wonders of CD's, they immediately were awash with ideas of what they could use this new technology for. Unfortunately, they never stopped to wonder whether they should, and we got FMV games as a result. Now, not all Full Motion Video games were bad (the Tex Murphy games are fantastic!), but the majority were crappy gimmicks, which either had ridiculously star-studded casts, or a complete lack of any remotely competent actors. One FMV game that slipped under everyone's radar, and has been mostly forgotten, is Realms of the Haunting. It's one of the good FMV games. It's a horror story with a unique plot, and twists and turns, but it has many problems  and some truly cruel mazes and puzzles that'll make you want to hurl your keyboard out a window! I won't be discussing the gameplay here though, but instead I'll be reviewing the movie/story aspect of it, which is possible given the game's technical genre..

Adam Randall is a Canadian who's back in his birth country of England, trying to uncover suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of his father. He arrives at the mansion of shady fake priest Elias Camber, and is quickly locked in. Adam finds much evil in this mansion, such as Camber himself, aka Claude Florentine (least threatening name ever!), the man-child antichrist vessel Gaul, and Belial, the demon of lies, but he also finds much aid in the form of psychic Rebecca Trevisard, ghostly knight Aelf, Hawk the archangel, and others. Adam learns of the interdimensional struggle between good and evil going on in this house, and if he wants to save the world, and his father from eternal torment, Adam must accept his responsibility and overcome all the sinister obstacles in his way...

Realms of the Haunting is a very intelligently plotted game, rooted heavily in theology. The story is very Christian (in context of the story, not in preaching or proselytizing), and is so full of symbolism and subtext that it's brimming. It's clear that the writer(s) put a lot of work into this. The story is pretty high-concept, and flows along nicely for a while, but then...

You know how when you watch certain movies, it takes you a while before you can tell if they're merely slow-moving, or just plain boring? Well, when you play Realms of the Haunting, you don't notice when you're playing through the game's first two thirds, but when you reach the finale, you realize that all you've done is do a lot of puzzles, some more annoying than others. Not only does this ultimate realization cripple one's perception of the game, but it also tanks the story, as it's not allowed to be told to its fullest potential.

Now we get to the big failing of Realms of the Haunting-The ending! All that complex story, and religious themes and symbolism? It's all abruptly thrown out the window for a cop-out 'He was insane all along' ending! It's absolutely maddening! You're following this compelling story, then the writer clearly just stopped caring, and after a cop-out climax where Adam does nothing of note (other characters like Aelf and Hawk do all the hard stuff, while Adam just stands around), then as the mansion is being disintegrated by energy, you rush to escape, and then, just as your have to pause for your heart to leap back down into your chest, we suddenly see that Adam is really a patient in a mental asylum. Nothing in the game actually happened. All those great character moments, particularly the touching farewell with his ghostly father were all a delusion and meant nothing. And no, the asylum doctor isn't Belial, because 1, people like Hawk, Aelf, Abaddon, Rebecca, etc. would've noticed if he survived, 2, if Belial survives, that paints the protagonists as ineffectual, and, most importantly, 3, if Belial is really alive, that makes the story's events rather moot, and would fill you with the feeling that little was accomplished from a character standpoint.

Onto some more positives, Realms of the Haunting is pretty interesting in its portrayal of demons. Belial is regular evil (though he's not a real demon, but rather a shade borne from Florentine's evil power), but the majority of demons we come across aren't bad at all, but rather neutral. They have zero interest in good or evil, instead concerning themselves with keeping the universe's balance in check.

The villains here are decent, and certainly very varied, but lacking. They don't appear as much as they should have, nor do they do as much as either. Belial is the best, but unfortunately he gets a real Bond villain level of cliched stupidity when he leaves Adam's all-powerful objects lying on a random table after the two leads are captured. Because of this, when they escape, Adam instantly reclaims what he needs to save the world. Finally, Belial is killed really easily and with zero fanfare. There's no cutscene or real death animation at all! His pixelled game sprite falls down without a noise, and that's it!

The heroes are mixed. Adam is a decent protagonist, but he's not all that enthralling, due to his pretty milquetoast attitude. As for Rebecca, she's likeable, but not fleshed out enough, and her character really suffers because of this. Her backstory is very interesting, but aside from the bare basics, we know nothing, despite how important a plot point it is!

Aelf is a very good spirit guide! The scene in the church where he returns is great, as he gives Adam a very cryptic riddle...and actually stays for Adam to decipher it, then explains what he means once Adam realizes the meaning of his words. That's certainly a lot more accommodating than most characters of this type in fiction! Most just give the hero a really cryptic riddle, then bugger off! Faring less well is Raphael. He's a likeable enough character, and Hawk the angel even says that Adam can trust him like a brother...which is rather a moot point, since Raphael only has one scene in the entire game, and it's already happened by that point!

The acting in realms of the Haunting is very good! Like I said above, David Tuomi is a bit milquetoast as the everyman protagonist, while Emma Powell is very likeable, and a great sidekick. Marc Finn is decent, albeit a bit too Snidely Whiplash villainous, and Kim Durham is wasted as Gaul. Now, onto Belial actor David Learner. Say, did you ever watch Knightmare? Do you remember Pickle? Well, this game manages to make him an intimidating villain! I'm not kidding! Pickle here is a creepy dude who wears gloves made from human skin! Dave Roberts does quite well with his double performances as Aelf and Raphael. The rest of the acting is all-round decent.

Now, let's get to the effects. This is hard to gauge, as if Realms of the Haunting were a movie, I'd trash it on these grounds. However, it's a video game, so it's only natural that there are green screens, and really obvious CGI, because the actors have to mix with the game world. The overall picture quality is great for an FMV game!...Which is to say it's only just passable as a movie. It's not bad, but just a teensy bit low resolution. There's a honeycomb effect, but you'll completely cease to notice it due to the story and actors drawing you right in.

One thing that Realms of the Haunting excels at in moments is the imagery. Some moments look fantastic, like when you step through the Mausoleum portal, and you arrives in an eerily green-lit church, with choir/orchestral music playing as you come inside and see this slimy, marked location.

Finally, the soundtrack. It's pretty decent. Nothing special, but it's mildly atmospheric here and there.

I highly recommend Realms of the Haunting. It's available cheaply on, and worth every penny! It'll piss you off something fierce with its mazes, moon logic puzzles, and the dreadful ending, but it still stands out as a highly original game within a pretty cliched genre, and that really counts for something!...

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Review and Essay on Jean Rollin's Rape of the Vampire (1968)

The year is 1968. At the time, Paris was an unpleasant place to be, due to the May revolution. Strikes and riots were going on, and theatres were shut down, but all over the city, there were a very select few movies shown-Jean Rollin's Rape of the Vampire being the most infamous. Financially, it was a huge success, given it literally had no other competition. The film was far from popular, however. Parisian audiences couldn't make heads or tails of it, leading to multiple rewatches, and even equally baffled cinema employees thinking the film's reels were out-of-order, leading to some accidental temporary alterations in some theatres that just left people even more mind-boggled! During these tough times, people wanted something light and entertaining to see in theatres, but what they got instead was an artistic vampire movie that just served to piss them off even more...

In the countryside of France, there lives four allegedly vampiric sisters. A psychoanalyst named Thomas, and his friends Marc and Brigitte, travel to the town in order to find out the truth behind these women. Both men believe that  the sisters are only human, and simply insane due to the fantasies of the townsfolk, however they're at odds over their methods. While Marc just thinks the sisters should be in an asylum, Thomas strives to cure them of their mania. Things go terribly wrong when vampires turn out to be more real that either of the two thought...

Rape of the Vampire is an odd movie, but rarely did I ever find it that confusing. The plot is pretty simple, but very thematic (which I'll elaborate on later). It was originally a thirty minute short film, designed as a backup film for a separate feature, but Rollin soon after created a second part to the movie, creating a whole that would meet the standard theatre runtime requirements.

The second part follows on from the events of the first story, and expands greatly on them, with this pastoral, near Gothic vampire tale quickly becoming a more clinical and scientific story. While there are new characters, the old cast returns, which is rather an impressive feat, considering almost all of them died at the end of the first part. This doesn't come across as cheap, thankfully, as there's a good reason for these resurrections. Neither does the gap between filming the two parts affect anything, unlike, say, Monster A-Go-Go.

While the first part is self-contained, the second follows directly on from it, building story on its climactic events as it develops this world more. The two-sections mesh well with each-other, with the varied genre styles complementing each-other. Unfortunately, the second part's plot is too big and too frayed to come together well in the end.

In the second part, we got a lot of sub-plots, but not enough explanation behind them, and no resolution to a lot of them at all! Why did the vampires bodysnatch Brigitte, then turn her into a vampire? If they were doing it to lure Marc, why? Why is there a vampire revolution against the Queen, and for what reasons? Are they self-loathing at what monsters they are, or is this just an old-fashioned power struggle? Why was the Vampire Queen raising four women to think they're vampires? Why does she not continue pursuing this plan even though one sister is still alive, she brings another back from the brink of death, and the other can easily be resurrected? Come to think of it, what did happen to that resurrected bitch vampire sister? There are too many of these plot holes, and they sink whatever attempt at story Rape of the Vampire was trying to tell.

Then we get to the finale, which is just a bit of a mess! A mess of bongo drums, sudden weddings, tapedeck vampire brainwashing, and vampire free-for-alls with no context. This totally sinks the film, but following it, we get a better-ish ending. On one hand, it's a tragic and poetic conclusion that fits naturally for the two characters, but on the other hand, if vampires don't die from starvation, they're a couple of idiots.

The characters are a mixed bag. Some are written decently, and have well-defined character arcs, but others aren't established quite so well, and there therefore lacking. None suffer worse from this than the blind sister. She's horrifically mutilated, then possibly killed offscreen, but then a bit later on, we see that no such thing happened. The hostile townspeople never caught her following the loss of her eyes, and she's been roaming around, as loopy as froot. Unfortunately the film ditches this subplot, and the character is seemingly exited from the film in a confusing scene (the implication is that she's drowned, but she could easily escape from this situation), then never seen again until the final minutes, where we get an even more confusing scene.

The locale in Rape of the Vampire are quite good! The manor is suitably Gothic, while the antiseptic vampire clinic is a nice counterbalance. The effects in this movie are mixed, and they sometimes detract from the film. Black-and-white usually makes Boscoe's chocolate syrup look like blood, but in the case of Rape of the Vampire, whatever was used just seems like paste. Especially bad is the eye-gouging scene, where fake blood is just spread over the actress' face. Alternatively, some effects look really good, such as the vampire bites!

Rape of the Vampire was shot in a very short period with a very small budget (to the point that the only available extras were the crew), by a cast and crew who were all new at the industry. With this in mind, it's surprising just how well put together everything is! Like I said, and will say again, things aren't perfect, but I certainly appreciate the effort that went into this film!

Jean Rollin's direction here is very good, as is the imagery, and we get a few stylishly shot scenes, such as the dizzying twirling scene, or the moments involving Mark and Brigitte in the wide empty field, which look fantastic. Unfortunately, while the film's direction is very good, the editing is very choppy at times.

On first glance, the film's score sounds like a terrible clangy mess, but its eclectic and chaotic feel actually fits the movie really well!

The acting here is decent. Nothing great, save for Jaqueline Seigner, who amusingly overacts as the Queen of the Vampires. She steals the movie, and is by far one of the best things about it! I also like Nicole Romain, who plays the deliriously insane blind vampire. One performance I just found plain bizarre was the weird Quasimodo/Cousin Itt town servant, who seemed too over-the-top, but I enjoyed him.

Overall, Rape of the Vampire is potentially an acquired taste. You might not gel to it at first, but come the end, you may have found a new film for your Vampire collection!...Or at least you would if fucking Redemption DVD's didn't overcharge so goddamn much for their bloody stock! I paid forty dollars for my copy of this movie, and that was through a cheaper seller on eBay! It was even more expensive direct on the site! Fucking Redemption!...

Now, essay time! Does Rape of the Vampire have any true meaning to it, or is it just pointless waffle? Definitely the former! While the damaged plot doesn't allow for its themes to be taken and concluded to their fullest potential, they're still very present, and I'd like to take the time to discuss them. Now, before I start, know that I'll be piecing together in my head certain plot elements that are implied, but not quite explained properly (such as what the vampire rebellion wants), so if you're wondering why I show confusion at above listed plot holes, then proceed to explain them here, that's because of my efforts in finding answers through implication and guesswork, and not because I'm a confused idiot.

The first and biggest themes in Rape of the Vampire are of tradition and folklore vs. science. Not only do we have psychoanalyst Thomas and the villagers, and their differing opinions on what the four vampire sisters are, as well as the ethical conflict between Thomas and Marc, but we also have the Vampire Queen and her efforts in creating a scientific clinic devoted to fully understanding and controlling the living dead. Science trumps traditionalism in the end, but it also leads to the downfall of everyone in the movie, from tainted blood supplies, to failed cures.

Now, why are the four vampire 'sisters' being kept in that house? Well, from the perspective of the townsfolk, they're doing a service by keeping these near immortal monsters prisoner, while the Lord of the Manor (the mayor?) seems to be the only one of the townspeople aware of the true reasons behind the sisters.

The true reason behind the plan seemingly becomes apparent due to several plot points, as well as late in the film when the Queen of the Vampires has a speech about her plans for the future. She wants to build her ranks with those chosen for immortality until her kind is able to dominate the world in a sea of blood (figuratively). Perhaps the reason behind her raising the four vampire sisters, from making them believe all of the traditional vampire weaknesses work, and in deluding them into thinking they're vampires from hundreds of years ago, is an experiment. A long experiment designed to further determine the nature of vampirism, and how members of its kind can be controlled.

All of this leads to one goal-Brainwashing. When the experiment fails, the Vampire Queen sets out to achieve the creation of her 'chosen ones' by hybridizing the living and the dead in a way partially unlike vampires. She has them standing mindless in clinics, hooked up to blood drips, and constantly being subjected to a recording of the Queen's indoctrination. Whether its through the long game, or the short one, that's the Queen's ultimate goal on the road to taking control of the world.

Self-destruction and self-loathing are more of the movie's themes, which go hand in hand together here. There are vampires that hate what they are, and seek to find a cure. They rebel against the cruel regime of the current Queen, who is interested in nothing but conquest, mind control, and death. When the cure fails, they decide to wall themselves up, to spare the world from their violent hunger.

Onto some little things. There's one scene that some might take away as just pretentious nothing-When the blind vampire is playing Skittle bowling, with seemingly random cutaways to the pins falling down on the beach. This actually makes sense, however. The blind woman is just playing Skittles at her dreary home, but she's imagining herself at a nice beach as she plays the game.

Ok, that's all I have to say about Rape of the Vampire. It's one of Jean Rollin's best films, and he'd re-use certain elements and concepts in his later films, to neat effect (and nostalgic in the case of Fiancee of Dracula). Once again, I recommend it. It's one unique vampire movie...

This post is for Holly Horrorland's fourth annual Vampire Soiree.