Tag Archives: vampires

Near Dark – Review

3 Feb

Kathryn Bigelow has had a very interesting career in Hollywood, and she has a fair share of really good movies supporting her filmography. Her most recent feature, Zero Dark Thirty, garnered plenty of controversy, but I can’t say that it wasn’t a very well made and designed film. I also recently reviewed Point Break, which was one of her earlier efforts but still packed enough over the top entertainment to keep me interested. Today, I’m going back even further to her 1987 film Near Dark. This is a extremely interesting and well thought out take on modern vampires, and this is easily one of the best vampire movies ever made.

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Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar) is a young farmhand that helps his father on their farm in a small south western town. One night, he meets the beautiful, yet mysterious Mae (Jenny Wright), who seems in a rush to get home and in her panic bites Colton on the side of the neck. Colton is then taken off the road by Mae’s travel companions. The leader of the group is Jesse (Lance Henriksen) and his girlfriend Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein). Along with them is the sadistically violent Severen (Bill Paxton) and Homer (Joshua Miller), a kid who is much older than he looks. It also turns out that these travelers are vampires who roam the countryside looking for easy prey. Colton now is being forced by these vampires to accept his new life and kill in order to survive. This leads Colton on a wild ride of murder and utter chaos.

If you look close enough, you might notice that the cast to this movie is pretty close to the cast of James Cameron’s Aliens. As many people know, Bigelow and Cameron were married for a while in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Cameron recommended these actors to Bigelow, and it worked out great. Henriksen is one of the most recognizable character actors working in film and television with good reason. He’s constantly bringing his best to every project he’s in and Near Dark is no exception. The same can be said about Bill Paxton, who really brings it in this movie. Because of Paxton’s excellent performance, mixed with Bigelow’s creative writing and direction, the character of Severen can easily be remembered as one of the great cinematic vampires. The rest of the supporting cast, along with Pasdar in the lead role are all very believable and do their jobs well, I just have to point out Henriksen and Paxton especially do great work.

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While the story of Near Dark is a pretty standard vampire tale, there are so many elements and scenes that put it a leg above the rest. For one thing, the vampires in this movie look like they could just be any person on the street. They aren’t pale or have fangs or anything like that, but they are just as vicious as any other traditional vampiric predator. There’s also a big focus on the affect that sunlight has on them. In fact, it’s one of the main components of the story. They don’t rest in coffins during the day, but they do have to take whatever precautions necessary not have a beam of light touch them. If it does, their skin burns and smoke starts rising off them. It’s really super cool. There’s also a now famous scene that takes place in a bar that really puts this movie up with other class-A horror films.

There have been so many vampire films made over the years that it’s hard to make the idea seem fresh and exciting. What Bigelow did here was take the vampire horror genre and mix it with the western genre to create a very unique feeling and looking film. There’s so much excellent imagery in this movie from the RV with the tin foil wrapped around the windows, to the vampires with blood dripping from their mouths in the bar scene, to an excellent shootout which results in lots of exposure to sunlight. These images are so well constructed and make this movie feel like such an original take on the lore of vampires. That’s really what I want to praise this movie for. Above all else, it is an original take on a tale that everyone knows so much about, but the newness and originality of this movie makes it feel so fresh.

Near Dark is a wonderfully original vampire film that grabbed me from the start and wouldn’t let up until the credits began rolling. It acts as a horror film, a western, and an action adventure movie all in one. I really tried my best to find something negative to say about this movie, but I had such a fun time with it that I don’t think it’s possible. This is one of those one of a kind movies that I could watch again and again without getting bored.

Final Grade: A

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Thirst – Review

12 Jan

Anyone who reads these reviews knows that I’m a huge fan of South Korean movies. South Korea is actually may favorite market for foreign film because of the amount of beautifully shot films that come out of there. Today we’re going to be looking at a movie made by Park Chan-wook who is prominently known for his cult classic Oldboy, but also for dabbling in the American market with Stoker. I’ve always found the majority of his movies to be beautiful but awfully pretentious. The same can be said for his 2009 film Thirst, although it is far more enjoyable than others like Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance.

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Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho) is a Catholic priest who feels that his life should be dedicated more to than just prayer. To make himself feel more fulfilled both with his life and faith, Sang-hyun decides to volunteer to become a test subject to find a cure for the deadly Emmanuel Virus, which has been wiping people out all over the globe. While he does in fact die during the test, he is resurrected when a blood transfusion is performed, but with some unexplainable side effects. Sang-hyun is now cursed with vampirism and survives day to day by stealing blood from hospitals. Life after death becomes even more complicated when he is reunited with Tae-ju (Kim Ok-bin), a childhood acquaintance who insists on becoming a vampire.

This is just such a cool idea for a movie. When done properly, vampire movies can contain some of the coolest and most memorable scenes and characters. Interview With a Vampire is my go to vampire movie, but then there’s the comedic What We Do in the Shadows that also works great as a vampire movie. In Thirst, the biggest draw that separates it from the rest is the fact that a Catholic priest is turned into a vampire. This is an interesting plot point since Catholics believe so strongly in going to either heaven or hell after they die, and this priest is now stuck in this undead state and is forced to drink blood to survive. Another interesting thing is that Park wrote vampirism to be some weird biological side effect to the disease that Sang-hyun volunteered to help find a cure for. It puts an interesting and worldly twist on something that is normally considered supernatural.

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With his other films, Park Chan-wook has shown himself to be highly skilled at creating a visually beautiful movie. While his movies do look beautiful, I’ve always felt that they’ve lacked in terms of telling a story. In both these regards, Thirst is no different. There’s a lot of great looking scenes in this movie that deserve a lot of attention, but Park doesn’t really explore the narrative possibilities to their full potential. There’s a vampire priest that’s engaged in a sexually charged relationship with a woman who feels the need to become a vampire. That should open a lot of doors to utilize different vampire lore or character development, but that doesn’t really happen to the degree it should. With that in mind, there are also a lot of scenes where nothing really happens and just serve to drag the movie out a little bit intead of a scene that could include something that would boost the movie up.

Thirst is an example of a really good movie that gets weighed down by the pretentiousness of the film maker. Park Chan-wook obviously has a lot to say about a lot of things, but he’s conveying these ideas in broken sentences. It’s pretty clear that Park’s main goal was to make a beautiful piece of art, but the art of a movie isn’t just how it looks or sounds. To me, one of the most important pieces to a film is the story. Narrative should never be discounted as not important to making a cinematic work of art, even if it’s something more abstract or experimental. That’s just my personal taste anyway.

I don’t want this review to sound negative because I actually did enjoy Thirst and appreciate the work that Park Chan-wook put into it. It’s actually one of his best movies after Oldboy. I just wish more attention would have been put into the lore of the vampire and more detail added to create a flowing story. I actually highly recommend this film to people who love a good vampire movie, but just don’t expect a completely fulfilling movie.

Fright Night (1985) – Review

30 Aug

Imagine a world where vampires were still not the bud of jokes. Lets face it. Vampires are overused in the horror genre, and also have bled (no pun intended) into genres that they don’t even belong in. That isn’t to say that all modern vampire films aren’t cool, but they can be few and far between. Making light of the over usage of vampires can actually be a fun thing, too. Just look at Tom Holland’s 1985 film Fright Night. This movie has become a cult classic in the horror genre, but to call it purely horror would be a lie. It’s an excellent blend of comedy and horror mixed with a true love of everything terrifying, and is proud of its roots in classic Hammer films and anything worthy of a scream.

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Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) is nor stranger to horror movies, with his nights spent staying up late to catch cheesy horror movies on t.v., hosted by Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell), an aging actor in Hammer-esque horror movies. You’d think that given the opportunity to face the supernatural would mean a lot to someone like Charley, but when his new neighbor, Jerry (Chris Sarandon), turns out to be a vampire responsible for dozens of murders, he is anything but thrilled. Charley doesn’t find any help with the police or his family, but his friends Amy (Amanda Peterson) and Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) gives him the benefit of the doubt and convinces Peter Vincent to help Charley, who has the utmost faith in the t.v. star’s ability to hunt vampires. What happens next is Charley’s and Peter’s showdown with the supernatural that won’t end pretty.

Sometimes I’ll watch a horror movie and enjoy it immensely for what it is. Most of these movies serve to startle or create some sort of reaction of fear with the audience. On the other hand, there are some horror movies that just seem to be made for fans of horror movies. What I mean by that is that there are some movies that are just so full of in jokes, references, allusions, and recreations that will make any horror dork squeal with delight. This is the case with Fright Night, Much like Tom Holland’s later film Child’s Play, this film is purely meant to bring joy to fans. It isn’t a particularly scary movie, but it’s one of the most entertaining “horror movies” you’ll ever see. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s a comedy more than it is a horror film.

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I’ve written quite a bit of reviews on Hammer horror films, and have firmly stated that they are some of my favorite examples of how to make a scary movie. It seems that Tom Holland feels the same way, as this movie quite literally looks and feels like a Hammer film from the 1960 or 1970s. Even the name Peter Vincent is not only a nod to Vincent Price, but also Hammer icon Peter Cushing. There’s another scene that takes place in Peter Vincent’s apartment where the room is filled with horror memorabilia. There’s a painting of Bela Lugosi in Dracula, a bust of Count Olaf’s head from the remake of Nosferatu, and if you look hard enough you can see the mask that Roddy McDowell wore in Planet of the Apes. There’s another scene that carefully recreates an iconic scene from The Exorcist. What I’m saying is that part of the fun of watching Fright Night is spotting all of the homages that Holland wrote in, but that’s not all, folks.

Where this film really succeeds, though, is putting it all together. It’s a fantastic combination of horror and comedy that can actually be a tricky thing to pull off. I’ve heard people say that all horror has a touch of comedy since laughter helps keep people unafraid, but Fright Night is legitimately hilarious. The acting is good across the board, but Roddy McDowell and Chris Sarandon (whose character I refer to as the Vampire Humperdink, thanks to The Princess Bride) really own their roles. You can see how much fun they’re having in the way they perform their roles. They both ham things up quite appropriately. Finally, while there may not be too many special effects shots, all of them are memorable and some of the make up is just downright fantastic.

Fright Night is an example of exemplary horror film making. While there was really only one scene that made me jump, it’s still incredibly well made altogether. What has to be remembered is that this film is a horror/comedy and is meant to be laughed at. For fans of horror, it’s a must see for so many different reasons. Hell, even if you hate horror movies, this one may just be worth your time.

Hammer’s “Karnstein Trilogy” – Review

20 Feb

I absolutely love the horror films that were produced by Hammer production company from the 1950s through the 1970s. Now me saying I love them means I love quite a few of them, while others are absolute crap and don’t even qualify as being so bad that they’re actually good. By the 1970s, Hammer was running out of steam and began to get tired of releasing sequel after sequel instead of creating something new. The answer to their problems (sort of) was found in a novella Sheridan Le Fanu called Carmilla. The result is the uneven, but totally Hammer-esque, Karnstein Trilogy.

The first of these films was released in 1970 and titled The Vampire Lovers while the other two were both released in 1971, Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil.

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While these movies are called a trilogy, it’s kind of hard to find any sort of continuity among them. The only real connection is that all three implement the Karnstein family of vampires as the villains. In The Vampire Lovers, Marcilla (Ingrid Pitt) is a bisexual vampire who begins to prey on the young women of Styria, turning entire households against the people who know what she truly is. After his daughter falls victim to Marcilla’s bloodlust, General von Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing) gets a band of men from the town together to march on Karnstein Castle and put an end to the evil once and for all.

Lust for a Vampire tells the story of the vampire Mircalla (Yutte Stensgaard), who may or may not be the same vampire from the first film. I really can’t be sure. Anyway, Mircalla finds her way to a finishing school where she once again(?) begins preying on the students. Meanwhile, the school’s new English teacher, Richard Lestrange (Michael Johnson) begins falling in love with Mircalla, which begins an unholy and forbidden relationship that can only end in tragedy.

In Twins of Evil we see twins Maria and Frieda (played by Playboy centerfold models Mary and Madeline Collinson) arriving in the town Karnstein after losing their parents. Their new guardian is the uncle Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing), a strict puritan who is also the leader of the “Brotherhood,” whose mission is to hunt the witches and other servants of the devil and burn them at the stake. While Maria begins settling in, Frieda becomes more and more attracted to the mysterious Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas), an evil count that has recently been turned into a vampire. As Frieda becomes mixed up in his evil, Maria must try and protect her from the wrath of Gustav and his Brotherhood.

Let’s start with The Vampire Lovers. Like I said before, at this point in time, Hammer was running out of steam and their ideas for their movies were getting stranger and stranger. Just look at Dracula A.D. 1972 which came out a few years later. The good thing about The Vampire Lovers is that it still has that classic Hammer feel to it. There’s plenty of great scenes and the atmosphere is spot on with the traditional town inns, to the foggy cemeteries, and the ominous castles lit in the moon light. That and also the obscene amount of sex and nudity. That was Hammer’s draw with this movie, and it works to a point but begins to get pretty silly with its gratuity. All in all, this is a good entry and a fine start to the trilogy.

Then there came the sequel, Lust for a Vampire and… oh man… it’s something. It’s almost as if the film makers didn’t know if they were doing a softcore porno or a horror film. I get that they were trying to draw people in with the promise of boobies, but this is just ridiculous. The movie starts off cool enough with the creepy architecture and vampire horror stuff, but it soon goes away. Instead we get a cheesy love story between man and vampire, horrible music, and a stupid amount of gratuitous nudity that was thrown in just to get people in to see the movie. This isn’t a horror film, it’s too funny for that. Some of the actors who worked in this movie have even said it’s the worst movie they ever worked in. I can believe that.

You would think that after a movie that bad, the third film would only be worse. What if I was to tell you that it’s not only the best of the trilogy, but one of the best Hammer films I’ve seen. Twins of Evil combines vampires and witch hunting and features Peter Cushing as a violent puritan who burns “witches” during the night. We also get a fantastic vampiric villain played by Damien Thomas who seems to relish hamming it up any chance he gets. This is a super entertaining horror film that actually poses a lot of good points about the gray areas in morality and also has two villains working at opposite ends of the spectrum. Cushing’s character is a zealot for God while Thomas’ vampire is a zealot for Satan. It’s surprisingly smart and has its fair share of creepiness and gore.

The Karnstein Trilogy certainly isn’t the greatest work that Hammer film studios came up with, but for the most part it certainly is entertaining. The first film is fun, the second is the closest thing to career suicide you could see, and the third is an un recognized masterpiece. Fans of Hammer films should really get a kick at seeing how far they were willing to go in the final days of their productions. These movies certainly aren’t going to convert anyone who doesn’t like their other films, but for those of us who do they provide the creepy, gothic atmosphere that we’ve come to expect and the horror and gore that we’ve come to love.

Underworld: Awakening – Review

21 Jun

Well, this is it for the Underworld films for now. Here we are at number 4, with the medieval time period gone and returning to the modern day/near future metropolis that was the setting in the first film. But, unlike the other installments in this series, I have major problems with this one that almost ruined the entire movie for me.

Six months after the events of Underworld: Evolution, the vampire and lycans are discovered by humanity and a Great Purge begins to rid the world of their species. Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is captured by Antigen, and evil corporation with mysterious intentions run by Dr. Jacob Lane (Stephen Rea). She is soon freed by Subject 1 (India Eisley), a found hybrid who is being chased by the lycans. Selene joins forces with another vampire, David (Theo James), and a human detective, Sebastian (Michael Ealy), to protect Subect 1 from the lycans and Antigen.

Now tell me, how different does this sound than all of the other plot lines of the Underworld films. The fantastic lore that surrounded the three previous films are pretty much gone. We get brief mentions of Alexander Corvinus and the other mythology that we’ve all come to really appreciate. Instead, there is pretty much beginning to end action scenes that are broken up with very short scenes of dialogue. Personally, I care more about the story, but I can’t say that I wasn’t entertained by the action in this film.

I was also pretty disappointed with the setting of this movie. The metropolis in the first Underworld was dark, rainy, and gothic. Instead of that, I was “treated” to visually bland city that had nothing special going for it. New York City in the first Spider-Man film looked more exciting than this fictional city where anything could have been done to make it cooler. The Underworld films have a great way of setting the mood with its settings and how they look, but the locations here are just bland and unoriginal.

Don’t get me wrong. This is an entertaining film. As I said before, the action really is exhilarating and might be the best of the whole series. The acting is typical for this series. Kate Beckinsale is perfect for Selene, giving off the right amount of coldness and emotion. Seeing Selene jump, shoot, hit, and all around kick ass is still as satisfying as ever. India Eisley gives a surprisingly good performance as Subject 1, and the scenes where she transforms into her hybrid state is really cool.

I really enjoy the Underworld movies, and despite all of my complaints, I liked this one to a point. I was just disappointed that the mythology was pushed to the back burner, Scott Speedman didn’t return as Michael, and that the setting was a little boring. That being said, I never lost interest. Underworld: Awakening was entertaining, but certainly didn’t blow me away. Fans of this series may be disappointed by this entry, but it was still a good way to spend my afternoon.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans – Review

18 Jun

In my honest opinion, I wasn’t too thrilled to watch Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. I thought, “Really? A prequel? And no Selene!” I felt like a prequel wasn’t very necessary and the gunplay and technology of the first two are part of what makes the movies so cool. But, I had to watch this one, and I have to say, I’m really surprised.

It’s the Dark Ages and vampire elder Viktor (Bill Nighy) has the new race of lycans enslaved. Lucien (Michael Sheen), the first lycan, is in a secret romantic relationship with Viktor’s daughter, Sonja (Rhona Mitra), which serves as the catalyst for Lucien to rise up against the vampires and rally the other lycans to make their stand for freedom. This is the beginning of the war between the vampires and the lycans that has raged on for hundreds of years.

My favorite part of this film was being able to see, in full, what has been talked about or briefly shown in flashback over the course of the first two films. As I’ve said before, the Underworld films have a great mythology that was created, and now being able to see some of the mythology explained is a real treat. For example, it’s cool to see the origins of the lycans and how that changed the world of the vampires and werewolves.

Unlike the other films, I have absolutely no qualms about the acting. Bill Nighy kills it once again. He is cold, meticulous, and brutal which make him an excellent villain. He was only in the first one at the end and in the sequel in the beginning, but here he gets a full length movie to be evil. It was good to see Michael Sheen again. His performance is really powerful and heartfelt. I could tell that he was really into his role and not just there for a paycheck. Rhona Mitra was the weakest link here, but not bad by any means. She gave a solid performance without ever going beyond what was asked.

The look of this movie is stunning. Filming was done in New Zealand, but make no mistake, this film looks nothing like Lord of the Rings. There’s no green to be found here, rather what looks like a winter from hell. The castle of the vampires radiates gothic from every corner, chandelier, and bedroom. It looks absolutely fantastic, but that’s what I’ve come to expect from the Underworld movies.

Something that was a little disappointing was that some things didn’t happen exactly like what was explained or slightly revealed. I feel like I’m either nitpicking or completely wrong, but one scene in particular was different than a flashback that was shown in the first film. The basic event of this scene was correct, but the location and timing were wrong. The span of time that this whole event took place was longer than it was in the first and the blocking of characters was different. This is a very small complaint, but it really bugged me for some reason.

I will still say that, so far, the second film is my favorite, but Rise of the Lycans is a close second. It had great atmosphere, character development, revelations, and a surprising amount of emotion. As I said with the second film, this isn’t going to change any minds for the people who didn’t like the first two films. For those who are fans of the first two, this movie is just for you.

Side Note: I really don’t understand why these films aren’t more popular. I’d love to sit down and have a conversation about these films, but it seems like no one is really willing to. Where are all of you?

Underworld: Evolution – Review

17 Jun

I’ve been waiting years to watch this movie. Since I first saw Underworld , I’ve been left with that ending and so many questions unanswered. It isn’t like I didn’t have any access to this movie. I just never watched it for some reason. Now, finally, I have seen it and the story can continue.

Picking up exactly where the first Underworld left off, we have the vampire Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and the hybrid Michael (Scott Speedman) on the run. Back at the mansion, Markus (Tony Curran), the other vampire elder, is awakened and finds out what Selene and Michael have done, but this isn’t his primary concern. Markus wants to find and rescue his werewolf brother, William, who was the first werewolf and unable to change back, from his prison. This would cause havoc in the world with werewolves not being able to control their transformations. Now, Selene and Michael, along with some unexpected help, must stop Markus before he can do this.

This movie is an all around improvement over the first film. The action is cooler, the story and the lore is explained more, and Markus is a great villain who gets a lot of awesome screen time. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the occasional overacting that is sometimes distracting.

A lot of what I’m going to say  may sound familiar because I said it in my other review. The story, that was above average in the first film, is only improved in the second one thanks to flashbacks that explain more in depth how the war between the vampires and the lycans started. The audience is also treated to some major key players telling their side of the story. There are also interesting flashbacks that better explain Selene’s tragic and brutal past.

There are loads of action scenes here that aren’t just more cooler, but better shot. There were times in the first Underworld that had the potential to be cool action scenes, but unfortunately the techniques used to shoot it kind of dulled the intensity. Underworld: Evolution never has a dull action sequence, and I’d go so far as to say most, if not all, of them pushed me to the edge of my seat, which is the best place to watch a movie.

This film does a great job, once again, in creating an atmosphere that you will not forget. The gothic metropolis is changed to a wintry, sometimes desolate, countryside filled with mysterious architecture from centuries past. The lack of defining color not only adds to the gothic mood, but also to the feeling of coldness. This just goes to show how important non-diagetic methods are to producing a specific type of tone or feeling.

A small problem that this film suffers from is cheesy writing that the actors do their best in delivering. All of the actors here are competent actors who are able to deliver fine performances, but if the writing is weak than the acting will be weak. The writing here is not what I’d call weak, but corny and derivative. It’s a small complaint that hardly detracts from the movie.

Underworld: Evolution isn’t just a step above the original, but also beats out a lot of the action films nowadays. It isn’t destined to be a classic, but it is definitely an entertaining escape that is memorable and completely worthwhile. Fans of the first one will love this one, but it isn’t going to impress people who didn’t like the original.