Tag Archives: vampire

Underworld: Awakening

Underworld: Awakening picks up the relative slack of Revolution and rejoins Selene’s story once again after the rousing medieval diversion of Rise Of The Lycans and is one of the strongest, most action packed and exciting entries so far. This one is cool because it goes for a shocking and ambitious premise: the human population on earth have somehow found out about the vampire and Lycan races and it’s caused all kinds of chaos. A human CDC kingpin (Stephen Rea) concocts a shady plan full of tainted vaccines, inter species psuedo genetic modification and various hidden agendas that poses a real threat to both sides while Kate Beckinsale’s Selene, who never seems to get a moments rest, wakes up from some kind of cryo-sleep in Rea’s spooky lab and must fight her way out, figure out his sinister plan and protect the daughter (India Eisley) she never knew she had from all these nefarious forces. There is a fucking tremendous amount of action in this one, nearly wall to wall and it just might have some of the most impressive set pieces, or at least the most satisfying for me as a fan. Rea is no stranger to the vampire/werewolf genres, he’s done vicious turns for Neil Jordan in both Interview With The Vampire and The Company Of Wolves. He makes a formidable enemy for Selene here and gets to chew scenes in that kind of super low key, almost laidback but still menacing way he’s perfected as an actor. Also in his employ is a strange Lycan super-breed who becomes the size of a literal tank when he transforms, so there are numerous incredibly badass sequences of her fighting this gigantic tank-sized werewolf that are so much brutal fun. She also finds herself at the bottom of an elevator shaft at one point with the speeding elevator in free fall headed right for her. Being the franchise that this is, she simply empties countless rounds from her guns into its incoming floor until it’s perforated with bullet holes and she can literally punch right through it. So. Fucken. Cool. Once again this franchise is not gonna be everyone’s thing and even for those who liked the first, these might get a bit repetitive but this world, action, effects, atmosphere and overall aesthetic is just so up my dark alley I could literally never get tired of them, and this was one of my favourites so far.

-Nate Hill

Underworld: Evolution

Kate Beckinsale roars back into action with Underworld: Evolution, a sequel that, like many follow ups, isn’t as structured or fresh as the first but still manages to be every inch as stylish, baroque and gorgeous looking as the other few in the series I’ve seen (I am making my way through a Blu Ray box set of all five films in their extended cut glory). The action takes up right where it left off; outcast warrior Selene (Beckinsale) has killed vamp elder Viktor (Bill Nighy) and ran off into the night with her halfbreed lover Michael (Scott Speedman) with monstrous final boss Marcus in hot pursuit. This provides one of the entire franchise’s most jaw dropping, visually dynamic action sequences as they careen down Vancouver’s Sea To Sky highway against a muted overcast sky in a big rig semi truck. Now Marcus (Tony Curran under a metric ton of makeup) is one of those snazzy Spawn-esque vamps who can fly and has extra razor sharp limbs and cool bodily accessories to help him fight, so basically he’s flying alongside them at a crazy speed attacking the truck while Selene empties clip after clip into his face from her semiautomatics before ploughing right into the Britannia Mine tunnels, it’s just an exhilarating, incredibly well shot action sequence and the highlight of the film. Also I’m a bit tired of American studios filming here and then trying to pass off my beautiful home province as some place in the states or wherever so from now on I’m just going to refer to any film shot in Vancouver as being set here as well. Anyways, this is a solid entry that benefits from Marcus as a formidable, physically ruthless villain and continues the ongoing trend of seasoned British stage actors cast as vampire elders, Derek Jacobi stepping in here for a mostly absent Bill Nighy. Not my favourite of the series that I’ve seen so far, but a solid entry with memorable set pieces including a snowy medieval prologue that sets the tone for Rise Of The Lycans, an impressive climax set atop a ruined mountain castle complete with hovering helicopters and that Sea To Sky truck chase is just one for the ages.

-Nate Hill

John Carpenter’s Vampires

I think that seeing Daniel Baldwin yank vampires out of a boarded up hideout into the sunlight with a steel cable pulley winch mounted to his truck to get torched to death is one of the most satisfying scenarios in John Carpenter’s Vampires, and maybe the vampire genre overall. This is an amazingly fun, super imaginative, down n’ dirty vampire western in the tradition of stuff like From Dusk Till Dawn where the vamps are fearsome beasts, those who hunt and kill them are profane, volatile outsiders and the overall tone is the opposite of what you’d call subtle, an aesthetic I love. James Woods is Jack Crow, a vampire slaying guru who works as freelance mercenary for the Vatican along with his second in command Montoya (Baldwin) and a host of other badasses who all hilariously get killed off in the opening scenes of the film as nasty vamp kingpin Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith) raids their motel party and leaves everyone dead save for Jack, Montoya and ill fated hooker Katrina (Sheryl Lee) who has been bit and shares a handy psychic link with Valek but is also a time bomb now that she’ll turn soon. It’s basically the big opening shootout and then a series of dusty, bloody extended chase sequences across the southwest with Jack and Montoya shouting at each other, Katrina looking progressively more sinister and Valek flying around like a literal bat out of hell trying to bite them, and I loved spending time with these characters. The Vatican’s cantankerous top dog (Maximillian Schell) dispatches a twitchy rookie priest (Tim Guinee) to assist Jack but he mostly gets in the way and serves as cannon fodder for his offbeat sense of humour and strikingly unchecked rage issues. Carpenter’s score is a departure from his synthy super sonic work and has this twangy, grinding western vibe that I really liked as well. The film is loud, gory and pretty hectic but it somehow also manages to feel laid back and easygoing, with Lee stealing the show, Woods doing his blustery asshole shtick to a tee and Baldwin being pretty badass for a Baldwin that isn’t, ya know, Alec. Good times.

-Nate Hill

Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans

I feel like the Underworld films don’t get proper credit for just how visually magnificent and stylistically sumptuous they are. I mean sure the stories are often a muddle of faux Shakespearean shifting alliances and paranormal melodrama that are impossible to decipher but if you just approach them overall as the story of an ongoing war between vampires and werewolves with lots of preening politics, an abundance of beautifully gory, darkly balletic action sequences and the occasional splash of forbidden romance then you’re good, and don’t need to engage the brain much further. Take Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans, for example, which best I could figure is some kind of prequel to the first film where we see what went down between the two species hundreds of years before. Bill Nighy gives the word overacting new meaning here but is a lot of fun as Viktor, king of the vampire nation who has effectively enslaved all the werewolves for his own work/war effort and forces them to hunt down their own kind who rebel. His daughter Sonja (Rhona Mitra) does some rebelling of her own by constantly defying daddy’s orders and carrying out a secret romance with Lycan leader Lucian (Michael Sheen). This overall unrest leads to the werewolf uprising and eventual incursion that will start a centuries long war. That’s all you need for story, trust me. What works best about this film is the resplendently beautiful production design and what makes it stand out in the initial trilogy is that it’s set far in the past so the uproarious gunfights become ruthless swordplay, the nocturnal urban atmosphere becomes a moonlit medieval castle aesthetic and never before has the franchise felt this gothic. Mitra is a beauty and then some, and while she’s not quite as lithe or physically distinctive as Beckinsale and her leather trench coat, she suits the ancient warrior aesthetic and does the Underworld name proud. Nighy is so far over the top I wanted him to calm down a bit before he had a stroke or something, he’s about as arch and theatrical as it gets but it suits the role and tone of the film nicely. Much of the film is sound, fury, blood and metal under inky black moonlight and some may have trouble deciphering the specifics of choreography under such a dim cloak of a visual palette but trust me it’s all there and it’s all *very* well done. This franchise has some of the most gorgeous, anatomically and aesthetically satisfying werewolves I’ve personally seen in horror, just great big bastards that look like they could rip a cow in half and are deadly in their speed, physicality and agility despite their hefty size. The Vamps have this eerie aristocracy to them and always seem calmly observant and deviously in charge, with help from the iridescent, creepy contact lenses the actors get to wear. The fight scenes are brutal and relentless, packed with gore and stylish weaponry and staged against spatially striking castle, river, forest and mountain vistas. There’s a shamelessly lurid sex scene between Sonja and Lucian where they’re literally writhing in slow motion on the edge of an impossibly baroque cliffside that is quite possibly one of the most arousing, breathtaking sex scenes I’ve ever seen on film. Say what you want about these movies man, and maybe I’m just a whore for visually stimulating horror films and am too generous on the ones that rely on the style over substance play, which is quite possibly the case, and I own that. However, I’m sitting there watching all of this play out and I’m in raptures about it, totally and completely entertained and pleased in my experience, and if that be the case, well I’m more than okay with all style and little substance, provided the style is as bounteous and well crafted as is the case here. *Great* looking film, if not a great one overall.

-Nate Hill

William Kaufman’s Daylight’s End

The zombie genre is so saturated these days that most new entries just try and stir up the pot by default and do something innovative with the scenario, but it’s refreshing when a filmmaker goes for a simple, honest to goodness zombie film with little to no frills and we’re reminded of why we fell in love with the genre in the first place. William Kaufman’s Daylight’s End is an earnest, brutal and rousing undead post apocalyptic piece that benefits from a strong ensemble cast, wicked sharp tactical direction and a script that adds just the right amount of character work in between the gunplay and gore. Johnny Strong plays a lone gunslinger who bands together with a tight knit tribe of survivors protected by gruff leader Lance Henriksen, while undead forces gather against them and they try to fight their way out of a severely destroyed Dallas to somewhere safer. The only real deviation from classic zombie lore here is that these creatures can’t stand daylight and only come out when it’s dark, leaving the daytime scenes to have this eerie, desolate feel while most of the heavy action takes place atmospherically after dusk for a nice Vampirish flourish. Kaufman is a real master at staging tactical, realistic feeling action and as such blocks his actors, chooses his weapons and makes his kills feel exciting, propulsive and immediate. Strong is every inch action hero material, Henriksen makes a stoic and sage pack leader and surprisingly emotional work is provided by the usually cavalier Louis Mandylor as his son and top lieutenant. This is obviously a low budget film and one can see that but the story they’ve told and the world they’ve built using what they had is really impressive, and stands with some of the best zombie shoot-em-up’s out there. Check out Kaufman’s New Orleans set cop flick Sinners & Saints too, which also stars Strong as a relentless badass and also features flawlessly directed action scenes, they make a cool genre double feature together.

-Nate Hill

Queen Of The Damned

Queen Of The Damned is not a great movie, but hot damn if it ain’t a sexy good lookin’ one. I’m not sure how long the Anne Rice Book is that it’s based on or what she thinks of this film, I haven’t read a single piece of her written work, and the only thing I have to compare to is Neil Jordan’s Interview With The Vampire, one of my favourite horror films. If that one used pacing to evoke passage of time and made you feel how inexorably taxing immortality must be, this one flies by in what feels like less than feature length, doesn’t take its time whatsoever and feels like something slight, stylish and B level that SyFy would put out, which isn’t a bad thing in itself but maybe not quite up to Rice’s pedigree. In Interview, Lestat was played by lanky, genuinely menacing Tom Cruise and here they went with Stuart Townsend, who I’ve never heard of before this but seems off in the role, like Brandon Lee lite with fangs. After awakening from a 200 year slumber he decides to start a rock band, and his songs wake someone else up in the form of ancient vampire Queen Akasha, played by the late Aaliyah in a captivating, potentially star making turn. There’s also a London based historical society who sends one of their own (Marguerite Moreau, whatever happened to her?) to investigate him, she instead falls under his spell. The vampire hierarchy led by a beautiful, stately but underwritten Lena Olin are vaguely pissed off at Lestat and Akasha and vaguely intervene with the help of a vamp who once turned Lestat from mortal (Vincent Perez). The problem here is the story isn’t well told enough, I guess from writing, editing or both standpoints. This is an exercise in style and everything else gets tossed aside like a drained corpse. But what style it is. The costume and production design are breathtaking, inspired by the past but still kind of futuristic and otherworldly. The slick nocturnal palette is reminiscent of other visually splendid early 2000’s vampire keystones like Underworld or 30 Days Of Night. There are absolutely gorgeous set pieces including a Death Valley outdoor rock concert and a super kinky rose petal filled bathtub make-out scene between Lestat and Akasha that is a delirious turn on. Aaliyah tears into the role and makes it her own with vicious command over dialogue, aching sex appeal and lithe, animalistic physicality that takes over every frame. It’s really, really sad she died so soon because I feel like she would have had an unbelievable run in Hollywood with that level of talent. There’s a lot here that works but a ton of it doesn’t, starting with smirking pretty boy Townsend as Lestat. He’s good looking, sure, and physically fits the bill but I just didn’t buy his presence as such an inherently intense creature. The eventual showdowns feel abrupt and are littered with silly VFX that could have been done way better. The story feels clipped, rushed, garbled and devoid of fluidity or connective tissue, like the editors went to lunch halfway through. But fuck man, will this thing ever give your eyeballs orgasms, it’s a rich visual jewel of artistry, costume innovation and stylistic splendour. Just tell your story better next time.

-Nate Hill

Tom Holland’s Fright Night

It took me a while to finally get around to seeing 1985’s vampire classic Fright Night and I’m glad I did because this is one gorgeous, blissfully 80’s soaked aesthetic pieces of shock pop art and I fell in love with every disco fever, harlequin romance tinged, Hammer Horror inspired, gothic erotica, glistening prosthetic effects laced second of it. I think I was apprehensive because I sat through that godawful 2011 Colin Farrell remake a while back and needed to cleanse my palette of such nonsense before doubling back and going for the real thing. This is a spectacular horror film built around a ‘vampire next door’ motif in which a high strung teenager (William Ragsdale) suspects his suave new neighbour (Chris Sarandon) of being a bloodsucking monster. He’s right, of course, but no one believes him and he finds himself in a furious fight for survival, to protect his mom and girlfriend and ward off this cunning, charismatic and very evil dude. He’s also aided by a hammy Van Helsing type out of work actor played by the incomparable Roddy McDowell in a performances great spirit, gusto and theatricality. The only acting that doesn’t feel quite right is Stephen Geoffreys as the main character’s twitchy, borderline spectrum friend who I guess is supposed to just be an oddball but every choice from him feels tone deaf and awkward. Chris Sarandon is so damn good as Jerry the vampire he deserves his own spinoff franchise though, what a mesmerizing villain. He’s a super good looking dude and a terrific actor who has kind of been ‘here and there’ for decades (he was a cop in the first Chucky film and Humperdinck in Princess Bride) but I’ve always felt he’s been underused and deserved a way more prolific career. Anyways he knocks it out of the park here and has immense presence, making Jerry the kind of laidback, sardonic, low key menacing alpha male villain that just steals the damn show. The film looks, sounds and feels incredible in every way. The special effects are gruesome, tactile and worthy of the 80’s horror time capsule, I truly miss the days of slimy practical effects every time I catch up with an oldie like this. The score by Brad Fiedel is so airy, synth-soaked, ambient and uneasy in all the right places. Director Tom Holland and cinematographer Jan Kiesser have a ball photographing this thing and make the aesthetic this sort of ‘pastel suburbia’ vibe with window curtains billowing sensually in the summer wind, blood spilling elegantly when necks are bitten, sneaky flourishes of kinky voyeurism and savage vampire makeup brimming with fangs, blood and the most exaggerated, hellish contact lenses a production budget could ever hope to get. This is just so much fun, one of the sexiest, schlockiest, most deliciously tongue in cheek and opulent vamp flicks to come out of that glorious decade of horror that shall never be topped.

-Nate Hill

Gaming with Nate: Darkwatch: Curse Of The West for PlayStation 2

Vampires in the old west!! I’m surprised that Ubisoft’s Darkwatch: Curse Of The West has never been made into a movie because it’s the perfect concept. Kind of like Van Helsing by way of Priest, you play as Jericho Cross (Christopher Corey Smith), a late 19th century outlaw on the American frontier who has been turned into a vampire and seeks bloody, bullet ridden revenge against those who made him what he is and any of their underlings, of which there are a staggering amount and variety. This is one stylish motherfucker of a game, both in terms of cutscenes and gameplay. There’s a slick, moonlight drenched, silver glinted hue to everything and a decidedly steampunk flair to weaponry and costumes, not to mention enough gore to please any horror hound. Jericho is joined by the badass, Catwoman-esque Tala, an antiheroine voiced by Rose McGowan back when she was awesome and not all batshit crazy like these days, relishing hard boiled lines like “I’ve always gone for the tall, dark and bloodthirsty type,” she really adds a lot of personality and dialogue whereas Jericho is a man of few words and a whole lot of shooting. There’s a ton of monstrous creatures, flying beasties and even great big fatso things that spew corrosive bile at you. The weapons are steampunk too, with double barrel chrome beauties, crossbows, powerful sidearm pistols and one mean motherfucker of a train mounted Gatling gun. One of the best action/horror games for PS2 console.

-Nate Hill

TNT’s Salem’s Lot

I have not read Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot nor have I seen the 70’s film adaptions but damn I have to say this 2004 TNT miniseries version is one lazy pile of garbage. It’s one of those shows that they released onto DVD as one movie and as such it has a runtime of like three hours not separated by episodes. That length of time seemed empty and devoid of story, they could have just as easily told this in a 90 minute slot, but that’s the least of its issues, really.

Rob Lowe is a weird choice to play an introspective, lone wolf writer who returns back home to a small town under threat from a malevolent force. That’s not to say he’s incapable of more intense work that shirks his pretty boy image, it’s just that someone less flashy and obvious would have made more sense here. He also narrates the thing like he’s casually reading a teleprompter over coffee, I didn’t think anyone would be able to make Stephen King’s rich prose sound like stereo instructions but his inner delivery is flat and soulless. He plays Ben Mears, a disgraced journalist researching domestic trauma in his childhood burg, but discovers something way worse. A spooky old antiques dealer (Donald Sutherland) has some backhanded deal with ancient vampire Kurt Barlow (Rutger Hauer) and is flooding the area with unspeakable evil. This is in amongst a tangled cobweb of stupid subplots, atrocious acting from the no name supporting characters and just an overall murky, lazy, drab feel.

I mainly tracked this down for Hauer, who is reliably fine as the supernatural villain but isn’t given nearly enough screen time and just somehow feels like a cameo, as does Sutherland who hams it up a bit but still can’t raise a pulse for this thing. James Cromwell has enough grit to play vampire slaying preacher Callahan who I fondly remember from the Dark Tower novels. Andre Braugher and Samantha Mathis are not bad as other townsfolk swept up into the incomprehensible threat but the acting pedigree stops right there, they hired some seriously deplorable people for the rest of the roles and at times it’s hard to watch. I will give the music some props though, it’s an atmospheric composition with beautifully eerie lyrics from Lisa Gerrard (Man On Fire, Gladiator) that honestly deserves a way better outlet than this mess. One of the only good things I can say about it is that it has the mid 2000’s cozy late night cable TV feel to it, and I have some mad nostalgia for that but even then it’s kind of my bias and that compliment can’t be accredited to the success of the project itself, which is largely nonexistent. Boring, mumbly, not even remotely scary, overcast and rainy but not even in the cool ambient way, awkward, shitty bargain basement CGI, clunky, about an hour and a half too long, man the list of shit just goes on. Avoid.

-Nate Hill

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

What’s your favourite movie version of Dracula? For me its always been Francis Ford Coppola’s lavish, eccentric, audacious and full bodied telling of Bram Stoker’s book, brought to life fiercely and passionately by Gary Oldman in what has to be one of his best works. This may be an unpopular choice among the older generation of folks who love this story/character but the old black and whites just don’t do it for me like this one does. Lugosi and Lee had their day but in my eyes Oldman freshness and innovation in his headlong portrait of supernatural evil ravaged by centuries old heartbreak, a romantic angle that wasn’t in the book or most previous adaptations of it but adds a dimension the story never knew it needed.

Coppola makes production design the star of this beauty, beginning with a fearsome prologue showing Oldman’s Transylvanian knight and how the man became a dark prince of vampires, before shifting the action to Victorian London. Dracula is searching for the spirit of his long dead wife who just happens to have been reincarnated as Mina Harker (Winona Ryder). People start turning up dead all over town though and Mina’s friend Lucy (Sadie Frost in an uncelebrated encore performance) has restless dreams, waking night terrors and finally goes full on vamp. This prompts the arrival of Anthony Hopkins’ hilariously blustery, borderline senile Abraham Van Helsing and the beginning of a bloody fight to save Mina, her husband Jonathan (Yes Keanu Reeves tried on a British accent but we’re not discussing that here) and most of London.

Stoker’s book is mostly made up of journal entries, letters and other written correspondence and as such the film has an episodic pace to it, but what really makes it flow are costume design, music and the wonderful performances from the varied, eclectic cast. Oldman is sensational and can almost be said to play multiple characters because of how different each manifestation of Dracula is. He finds sadistic evil in the character and accents it with love that still simmers on the back burner, spinning the character into something, dare we say, sympathetic. Ryder is terrific, her doe eyed naïveté suiting the gradually emerging horror nicely. Other excellent work comes from Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, Monica Bellucci, Billy Campbell and Tom Waits in a deranged showstopper of a turn as the lunatic Renfield. Costume designer Eiko Ishioka outdoes herself here with the kind of work that begs for Blu Ray action, showing Dracula in several getups from creepy old Count to full on From Dusk Till Dawn style monster, Oldman embodying each one with grace and style. Composer Wojciech Kilar turns in a portentous rumble of a score that fires up the baroque horror elements but also finds the aching romantic notes in the eye of the orchestral hurricane.

My favourite scene of the film isn’t even in the realm of horror; Dracula and Mina share a moment together with one of his wolves who he has momentarily tamed. She strokes the beasts fur in awe while he looks at her in mournful adoration and quietly says “He likes you.” Oldman finds wonderful opposites to the character in this moment and becomes something so much more than the campy monster that Hollywood has envisioned this character as before. There’s a gentle tenderness to this scene and it’s contradictory elements like that that make it stand out and accent the horror with immediacy. Masterpiece.

-Nate Hill