Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Stixx – review

Author: Remy Porter

First Published: 2013

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: There's a murderer loose in Greystones, a small estuary village tucked against the wintry, wooded trails of O'Halloran Hill. The gory body count begins to rise, sending the media into an all-out feeding frenzy. The village is swamped with police and onlookers, and everybody wants to catch 'The Vampire Killer'.

While the hunt is on James Stixx and his partner-in-crime, Faye Burns discover that beneath the surface is a whole different story, a mystery that goes back decades. The teenagers find everyone has something to lose, or secrets to bury.

And all the while the vampire is waiting ... choosing its moment to strike...

The review: You should never judge a book by its cover, so they say, but can we take a moment to revel in the glory that is the cover of Stixx. A cracking piece of cover art that totally sells the book to me.

The book itself is a piece of crime fiction set in the English countryside, a rural landscape that is haunted by lumbering shells of derelict buildings as sepulchre as a tomb. Winter beaches, uninviting woodlands and fields on which there is no place to hide. In this bleak, winter scene we are witness to a double murder and the killer seems to be a vampire. This is not the suave vampire flitted out of some City goth club and wintering out in the sticks. Nor is it a cloaked member of the gentry, using his mesmeric gaze to trap the fluttering heart of a damsel. The vampire is naked and a ruthless killer and the police can’t seem to catch him.

In this village lives Stixx and he has just met Faye Burns who has recently moved to the village (and has a boyfriend overseas). They begin to try and investigate the attacks but what was great about the primary characters was just how damaged they all were. Stixx works a dead end job (though he may have just lost it), is known to the police due to a bad habit he used to have of setting fires and is a small time drug dealer. Faye has massive psychiatric issues – stemming from her dad having a psychotic break and cutting her twin sister into pieces. Porter writes a great character as they are damaged, sometimes petty, but you still sympathise with them.

Is it a vampire – now that really is a spoiler too far though certainly there is belief that a vampire is out there. I will say that there is a deeper plot aspect, a dark mystery at the heart of village life that, if I had a complaint, seemed just a tad convoluted. However that is a minor issue as the story certainly did keep me with it, but it is those characters that really hook you.

Not a heartthrob vampire, a Count or an angst-ridden vampire in sight, rather a ruthless monster and a novel that is definitely worth your time. 8 out of 10.

Monday, April 14, 2014

McHale’s Navy – the Vampire of Taratupa – review

Director: Hollingsworth Morse

First aired: 1965

Contains spoilers

I must admit that I was unaware of the series McHale’s Navy. As I settled down to watch this vampire orientated episode from the third season that fact left me at somewhat of a disadvantage, I think, and I came away with the impression that it was essentially Bilko at sea (or at a naval base at the very least). I wasn’t far wrong.

From what I gather McHale’s Navy started off as a drama (with comedic elements) in its original pilot form with Ernest Borgnine playing Lt. Commander Quinton McHale one of 18 survivors of a Japanese attack during World War 2 and their struggle against a Lieutenant parachuted in to get them up and running as a fighting force, as they had gone native and were content to just try and survive the rest of the war on the island. However, when it became a syndicated series it was under the producer, Edward J. Montagne, who had been behind the Phil Silver’s Show - making it Bilko in the navy (but in war rather than peacetime).

Benson and Parker
To the specific episode then: Ensign Charles Parker (Tim Conway) is a klutz, when he meets new nurse Lt. Melba Benson (Ann Elder) they are instantly attracted to each other and she is as big a klutz as he is. On their second date they go and watch the vampire movie “Vampire’s Revenge”. We do not get to see the film but we do see the audience reactions and hear parts of it – and the vampire’s faux-Lugosi accent. Following the viewing Parker manages to trap the hand of commanding officer Captain Wallace B. Binghamton (Joe Flynn) in a chair and then knock supply boxes over him with a jeep.

Ernest Borgnine is McHale
Binghamton decides to ship Parker off to a coast-watching location, an assignment that is essentially a suicide run, and thus be done with the clumsy ensign. However he then discovers that Parker has the same incredibly rare blood type (AA6 –ve) and rescinds the order, instead closeting Parker away to keep him safe. Whilst Parker milks this quite a bit, he wants to get back to his mates. Worse they discover that Melba faked the blood records to save him. McHale comes up with a plan to get him back.

our fake Vampire
How the plan was actually meant to work in any meaningful way outside of the fuzzy world of the sitcom was beyond me, but they have Parker dress as a vampire and lie in a coffin. He then menaces Binghamton until McHale and mates come in to the rescue – saying it is Parker’s secret and he turns into a vampire every full moon! Parker then suggests (in an equally faux-Lugosi accent) that he has brought some friends along and in walks the Phantom of the Opera, the Mummy, the Hunchback of Notre Dame and the Wolfman. Binghamton soon sees through the scheme, as well as the disguises, but sends Parker back to his friends anyway.

plus Mummy too
With a quick visit from the Creature from the Black Lagoon as a coda piece, that was about all – so, as in Bilko, it is a fake vampire. I apologies now to fans of the series but I wasn’t aware of it before and won’t be watching more. To me it was just a facsimile of the Phil Silver’s Show, without the distinct advantage of having Phil Silvers in the cast. 4 out of 10.

The episode’s imdb page is here.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Devil’s Gravestone – review

Director: Jay Mackenzie Roach

Release Date: 2010

Contains spoilers

This was one of those frustrating films that, for everything it did right, it managed to make a mistake also. Probably unavoidable, to some degree, when you are making a low budget movie but some of the issues were avoidable.

Let us take the location of the film – Roach City. Creating your own city for the location offers a freedom next to a real world location in that you can design the city as you want it and not have to worry that someone who knows the location will know that the locations are fictional. On the other hand, calling it Roach City makes the viewer start – it makes you wonder who would call a city that, even when you realise the director used his own name.

opening scene
The film starts with a voice over, from main character Jaq (Elle LaMont, who is the new Satanica Pandemonia in From Dusk till Dawn the Series), as she talks about no longer seeing the sun. It’s a little play with expectations. We see a woman, with dried blood at her mouth, and will soon discover this isn’t Jaq. Jaq says that she does not have the disease that goes through *their* veins. She follows their patterns because she is a hunter and it is a male vampire she has come for.

fanged and bloodied
She shoots him twice with a shotgun but then he overpowers her and starts to choke her with a belt as her fingers grasp a nail gun – a nail in the temple and three in the side is followed by a pickaxe (the filmmakers choosing, wisely, not to tackle that effect and so we see the swing). Realising that the vampire was lonely, rather than hungry, she turns on the victim who has been infected. The implication as we move to title screen being that Jaq has killed her.

attacked in the stall
We get a sequence that that is treated to add wear lines into the film and give the impression of a Grindhouse flick, whilst we hear Jaq’s thoughts about “the Scarlet Stalker” (Reece Rios , After Sundown) a serial killer (who she knows is a vampire). We also see black talons being cut and false, human normal nails being applied. This was clever but never actually followed up. We see him on the hunt, a forgettable, normal looking guy – he follows a woman into a bathroom, removes his clothes and then rips the stall door off and attacks. Outside Jaq sets up a high powered sniper rifle down an alleyway and, after speaking to him on the phone, puts a couple of bullets in him. She then gets up close and personal and eventually does overpower him but is stabbed for her trouble also.

Elle LaMont as Jaq
She tortures him to try and get information (overlooking how she managed to get the vampire back and chained down, especially with her injury). He was created by a vampire called Catherine (Mila Moravec), a vampire who lived to turn men into monsters. Jaq has previously disposed of her and it is one of creations she is after, Jaq’s erstwhile husband Cale (Niko Red Star). As the film progresses we discover that his first victim was their young son (Connor Hill). When the injured Jaq gets home we see her shooting up drugs, fixing the stab wound with superglue and setting up a homemade IV as she tries to get through the next day.

Maggie Alone
When she awakens a cop, Dick (Joe Nemmers), is sat there and he brings her into his world. He has watched her for years (he was on the crime scene, when Cale killed the kid) but things have gone strange. We have seen a woman, Maggie (Kristin Sutton), in a wedding dress and she is alone and upset, as well as Cale, in a tux, committing suicide before a church; both scenes in snippets explicitly without referencing. It turns out that Maggie was just married to Cale (not knowing he was a vampire) and he vanished off after the ceremony. Then she was attacked and raped by something, though there was no physical evidence of anyone else there. Three days later and she is in a coma and heavily pregnant.

Dick has taken her to an abandoned building where his friend, Doc (Grant James), experiments on vampires – we see one which is missing everything below the abdomen, chained to a table. Interestingly none of the primary “good” characters see anything wrong in this. The film then takes us down two lore routes. Doc’s experiments have shown that the vampires are stronger and heal fast because their systems are on overdrive – heart rate, immune system, muscles and tendons are all beyond human normal. This burns blood off as fuel and so the body has adapted, linking the digestive system and circulatory system. The appendix becomes a conduit between the systems (one wonders whether that means vampires who have had appendectomies will die – there is a sideswipe comment from Jaq about this). Jaq had already told us that the way to kill a vampire is either massive blood loss, or major trauma to the heart or brain.

Cale's sacrifice
The above is interesting, if a little bit technobabblish. The other lore line goes on about the church, the True Covenant of Christ, which believes that Jesus was Lucifer (in other words the bible is the biggest con job of all time) and a prophecy that a vampire will father a second son (having eaten the first), who will be God’s Shadow. Vampires are sterile, it appears, and the act before the church was Cale’s self-sacrifice to the devil – he does get a body back later. This was also interesting but suffered for two reasons. Firstly there wasn’t the budget that would allow a full representation of this (for instance the invisible sexual assault is not particularly shown), Secondly the film was gritty and down to earth, with a viral/disease explanation and an attempt to draw science into the feeding cycle and the two sides sat uncomfortably with each other.

Doc and Dick
That said, it was ambitious for such a low budget film. The acting was hit and miss all the way through. Jaq’s film noir voice overs worked and you began to get a feel for her and Dick as characters, especially after you let the noir aspect of the film take hold. Grant James offered an idiosyncratic performance that grew on you. Nico Red Star didn’t work for me as Cale, however. There were aspects that made me startle that I won’t reveal due to them being a spoiler too far but brought a serious story faux pas to light. The effects weren’t bad for a low budget film, but the 70s-esque filming hid a lot of issues. The story didn’t flow in places but ultimately kept my attention. I did like the fact that the good characters were absolutely fundamentally flawed.

Cale turned
So, not bad for an indie effort, but it had issues. Some of those were budget based (the range of the storyline somewhat outstripped the budget on hand, though they did a lot with little). Some were down to expectation – the in-half vampire I expected to have some form of role, other than showing the main characters’ absolutely degenerated level of morality. Some could have been solved by the filmmakers – such as the poorer end of acting. All in all it probably deserves 5 out of 10, but with a caveat that it is worth seeing as an indie offering. The IMDb page is here.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Armando Creeper’s Valley of the Vampire – review

Director: A Neal

Release: 2006 (re copyright notice)

Contains spoilers

I found this film on YouTube and, to my knowledge, it has not had a DVD release nor is it on IMDb (at time of review). It does an awful amount wrong but there are moments within it. For instance it might be down to the low resolution on the YouTube upload or the film may just look washed out, but that – if deliberate – does give the film a feel of a 1970s movie. Something rediscovered (a claim made at the head of the film that suggests this is a “lost” movie). That said there is no excuse for the title banner that sits across the film like a bird of doom.

We are in the realm of the vampire western, though this is a western with biblical pretentions, quoting through its length passages from the book of revelations and, so, we are also in the subgenre that ties vampire and antichrist together.

Armando Creeper as Von Strom
It begins with a man, Harley (Gregg Griffin), at a campfire – on his way home from cattle market. His horse threw him at the campsite and he has stopped to warm himself, a cup of coffee is desired. However, instead, he finds a book filled with prophecy – it claims in companion to the book of revelations – a book that mentions his name. Out of the dark comes a creature, Eric Von Strom (Armando Creeper), a grey faced, drooling monstrosity with a buzzard on his arm. He attacks Harley and, as he feeds, he infects him with a fever.

Gregg Griffin as Harley
Harley awakens in daylight, naked bar a cross at his neck and a brand on his chest. He stumbles back to his home town where he collapses. He is placed under the care of his bride to be, Belle (Michelle Calhoun), meanwhile her best friend (and his secret admirer) Sally (Shellene Stindle) goes to see the sheriff (Hal Whamsley). She wants to see what he will do about the bandits that robbed Harley (his story as he believed no-one would believe the truth) but the Sheriff is lazy and corrupt and is only interested in being lecherous. His lechery leads to a fight between Sally and his wife Louisa (Sarah Duke). This shows one of the big problems with the film. They fight in the mud for four minutes, it is a boring and pointless sequence that adds nothing to the movie (not even offering titillation).

Harley and Belle get married but, on their wedding night, Harley dreams that Von Strom appears (and indeed he did). In the dream Von Strom feeds from Belle’s side as Harley lies immobilised. When he awakens to find her dead she has a mark at her neck (it didn’t make a lot of logical sense). Anyway, Von Strom resurrects her, as his helper, but of course she is now vampire. She also ends up being pregnant (this would be the antichrist but really the film just mentions it once and then again in the epilogue). For the return of his wife Harley agrees to help, kidnapping townsfolk for Von Strom and for his wife (though they are both capable of hunting their own food).

More like zombies
There is one part where Harley asks Belle to show strength – he has the fever but doesn’t feed. Nonsense as we have already had a scene where they feed together. It grinds inexorably on to the point where they decide to do away with Von Storm but it might be way too late, as most of the town are turned. In reality they do very little and the master vampire is brought down by a horde of vampires who shuffle more like zombies than anything else.

feeding together
The film is slow. I can forgive the film quality on the basis that it looks like a relic from the seventies but not the pacing of a film that feels at least an hour too long (it runs at 1 hour 45 minutes). The acting is am-dram, though the Von Strom makeup is surprisingly effective when the film is running (again, the poor resolution might have been the cause of this, working in the film’s favour). The sound is poor, with dialogue shifting from having hisses over it to being clean depending on the direction the camera (and thus the mike, I assume) is facing – or perhaps some was redone in a studio, who knows. The soundtrack was effective in places and missing in other places.

All in all this wasn’t brilliant but I could see something worthwhile in its core, a should-be-gleaming gem that you won’t want to watch it for as the slow pace strips it of any lustre. 1.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Batman and the Mad Monk – review

Story and Art: Matt Wagner

First published: 2006-2007

Contains spoilers

This was the second reimaging of Batman’s encounter with the Mad Monk – we looked at the original story here. Between this version and the original there was a storyline in 1982 establishing the Monk character within the DC Multiverse.

This was the second of a two-part series called Dark Moon Rising, the first trade paper back (tpb) being Batman and the Monster Men, a Hugo Strange story. Batman is at the start of his career and the relationship between him and Jim Gordon is just beginning. As in the original version Bruce Wayne is in a relationship with Julie Madison, but she is a law student and her father, Norman, is a psychological wreck terrified of Batman.

The Mad Monk goes by the name of Niccolai Ţepeş, though Batman comes to believe he is Richard Rallstone, a bad-boy heir to the Rallstone Castle (a blooming great castle in Gotham). A pictogram at the end suggests that Ţepeş possessed the body of Rallstone. Whilst Ţepeş clearly believes he is a vampire (drinking blood, having hypnotic powers and sleeping days in a coffin) the storyline keeps the actuality of this fluid and it may have been delusion rather than him actually being a vampire.

Of course the hypnotic powers are real enough and he uses them on Julie to get at her father’s fortune whilst he poses as a self-help guru. We also see that she has been bitten and the bite marks are of the two puncture variety. Batman may not believe that he really is facing a vampire but errs on the side of caution and creates some silver batarangs. The monk’s end (oh that wasn’t really a spoiler) comes about in a Hammer way.

Ţepeş is creating a vampire cult called the Brotherhood, though none of the members are actually vampires. He has wolves guarding the castle, but they are natural wolves and werewolves are not mentioned within the story. In the original story Dala was a vampire, in this she is a servant who has been recruited with the promise of being turned and ruling at his side. Dala actually will appear again as a vampire in the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode Shadow of the Bat.

The tpb is rather good, not too stretching in concept, rather it has solid storytelling and the art is rather fine too. 7 out of 10. Thanks to Dave for the loan of the tpb.