Tag Archives: vampire

Stephen Sommers’ Van Helsing

Who loves the Hugh Jackman Van Helsing flick? I know plenty who hate on it pretty bad but they’re looking at it from too serious a perspective. This comes from Stephen Sommers, the same horror filmmaker to bring us stuff like The Mummy, Deep Rising, GI Joe and the 90’s Jungle Book with Cercei Lannister. This guy is in the industry to make films for fun and if you were expecting the subtlety and restraint of horrors like the source material he draws from well, jokes on you. His Helsing is a splendidly entertaining cornucopia of horror mythology given a juiced up boost of contemporary style and plenty of gothic, mist soaked atmosphere.

Jackman’s Van Helsing ditches the creaky old man archetype for something more virile and torqued up, careening around London like a steampunk Indiana Jones and sporting enough gnarly gadgetry to take on Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman in one film, which coincidentally he does. He’s sort of half sanctioned by the government but the London police force resents his far out methods, especially in a stunning opening romp as he chases Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (a scene stealing Robbie ‘Hagrid’ Coltrane) across rooftops and edifices like a supernatural parkour death match. Then it’s off to Transylvania to do battle with the big bad Vamp King himself, played to melodramatic, emo perfection by Richard Roxburgh. There’s a loose plot involving Dracula wanting to use Dr. Frankenstein’s corpse revitalizing technology to bring his unholy offspring to life, and as such his work poisons the land, pisses off the locals and prompts sexy monster hunter Kate Beckinsale to call for Helsing’s help. It’s an off the rails theme park ride of splatter effects, wild performances and extended chase sequences all over the land. Jackman makes a stalwart antihero, while Beckinsale looks amazing in leather and is surprisingly convincing as an Eastern European. David Wenham provides comic relief cast against type as Van’s trusty clergyman sidekick and the cast is rounded out by Shuler Hensley as The Monster, Elena Anaya, Will Kemp and Kevin J. O Connor as Igor in a cool black and white prologue that serves as the one sequence paying homage to these horror roots.

This was never going to be an awards season darling but it’s nowhere close to as bad as people say. Any film that has all three iconic monsters in it (plus quite a few others too) is going to have a lot to juggle and will just feel chaotic by default, but Sommers handles the pandemonium quite well and knows how to spin an absorbing popcorn yarn. There’s plenty of drop dead gorgeous landscape cinematography given the appropriately macabre touches, monsters running all about the place to give horror fanatics their fix and enough action to spawn a whole video game franchise. My favourite part is where Dracula’s babies finally hatch in spectacularly gooey fashion from Alien style eggs and start swarming the landscape like demonic infant bats. That sequence alone is worth the price of admission and showcases the kind of gung-ho, all or nothing spirit of horror adventure filmmaking offered here. Love this film.

-Nate Hill

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Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Gary Oldman Performances

Gary Oldman is both one of my personal favourite actors and an absolute champion of the craft, an adaptable master of any role thrown at him who can take words on a page and lift them to magnificent heights in his work. Intense, implosive, focused, hard working and super dynamic in front of a camera, he’s always an actor to watch and an undisputed master of his craft. I love each and every performance this man has given us so far in a brilliantly diverse career, but here are the ten characters that stand out the most for me:

10. Charlie Strom in Sin

Bear with me on this one. Like any actor, Gary has appeared in a few duds, and overall this happens to be one of them *but* his performance in it is fantastic. Ving Rhames plays a tough ex cop whose sister (Kerry Washington) is raped and brutalized on Oldman’s orders as some kind of underworld porn king. A deadly game of cat and mouse ensues in which Rhames seeks revenge for the atrocity but discovers that Oldman targeted him for reasons of his own going back into both their pasts. It’s a decent script given the scrappy low budget treatment but Oldman’s tormented villain is worth sitting through for. He has a conversation with Rhames midway through the film that gets philosophical in nature and overall he just nails the haunted persona of this role.

9. O.W. Grant in Bob Gale’s Interstate 60

This is a playful role in one heinously overlooked hidden gem. Essentially an existential road trip movie with supernatural elements and enough cameos to launch a pilot, Gary plays a mysterious genie like deity who grants everyone he sees one wish by blowing green smoke from his monkey shaped pipe. He also has no reproductive organs, as a hitchhiking nymphomaniac chick hilariously discovers. It’s light, easygoing work from the actor who isn’t doing any heavy lifting with the performance yet still makes a terrific comedic impact and seems like he’s having a lot of fun.

8. George Smiley in Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

John Le Carré’s chilly Cold War thriller sees Oldman take on the role of an MI6 lieutenant embroiled in the treacherous search for a soviet spy amongst his own ranks. Restrained and opaque, one begins to see the keen scrutiny hiding behind the character’s initially withdrawn nature. When an event causes him to almost lose that composure, he expertly shows the emotions bursting forth and the efforts to keep them within, reaching a pitch perfect note of performance that gets better and more detailed every time you revisit the film.

7. Jackie Flannery in Phil Joanou’s State Of Grace

One of the great crime dramas he has taken on, this one sees him play a volatile, unstable Irish gangster in NYC’s brutal Hell’s Kitchen, stick between his mob boss older brother (Ed Harris) and childhood friend (Sean Penn) who is now an undercover cop infiltrating their ranks. With a mop of greasy hair and the mannerisms of an untrained dog let off the leash, this is a ballistic tornado of a characterization with childlike notes, a good dose of rambunctious restlessness and primal violent nature uncaged.

6. Sirius Black in Alfonso Cuaron’s Harry Potter & The Prisoner Of Azkaban

From the moment we see gaunt, haunted eyed convict Black onscreen Gary makes him a magnetic, spooky presence to be reckoned with. Even before that we see him howling out of moving wanted posters in Diagon Alley and off the front page of the Daily Prophet. Oldman makes juxtaposed genius out of his work here and the shift from scary fugitive to compassionate friend and mentor to Harry is handled beautifully. It’s also nice to see him and fellow British thespian David Thewlis collectively chewing scenery, they have palpable chemistry and I’d love to see a buddy cop thing with them one day, or something like that.

5. Jack Grimaldi in Peter Medak’s Romeo Is Bleeding

The ultimate corrupt cop, Oldman’s Jack is a loose cannon dirtbag who discovers that his ways have consequences when his life is made into a living hell by terrifying femme fatale Mona Demarkhov (Lena Olin) and ruthless mafia don Falcone (Roy Schneider). He inhabits the sweaty, desperate neo-noir palette of this great film very well, especially in sly, mournful voiceover as he literally narrates his own story as if it didn’t happen to him.

4. Dracula In Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Francis Ford Coppola outdoes himself with this lavish, baroque piece of eye candy that for me is the best film version of Dracula ever made, likewise for Gary’s knockout performance as the titular vampire king. He has several incarnations here from armoured Transylvanian knight to skeletal senior citizen to dashing foreign prince to full on nine foot gorilla werewolf hell-beast thing and he rocks each one with full blooded embodiment and spectacular verve. Surrounded by solid players like Anthony Hopkins, Winona Ryder, Sadie Frost, Keanu Reeves, Cary Elwes, Richard E. Grant and Tom Waits in an encore as the lunatic Renfield, this is a magnificent dark jewel of a film and a horror masterpiece.

3. James Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises

The actor goes inward here for a fierce, gritty turn as the legendary police commissioner, giving the character all the salt of the earth integrity and brooding charisma we could hope to get. In a career full of extravagant portrayals and amidst a trilogy riddled with flamboyant villains and people who dress up in costumes, ironically he gets to play the most down to earth and level headed guy, comparatively. His Gordon is a straight arrow cop who is fallible, tactical and compassionate.

2. Drexl Spivey in Tony Scott’s True Romance

A white pimp who thinks he’s black, this has to be the single most impactful performance ever filmed that only takes up one five minute scene and another brief thirty second one. Dreadlocks, gnarly scars, a dead eye, leopard print housecoat, this guy couldn’t be more visually ridiculous but for all the flourish and swagger, it’s Gary’s mannerisms that shine through and win the day. The goal of his scene is essentially to circle and intimidate Christian Slater before pouncing on him like a pissed off coyote, and he succeeds in freaking him out plus the rest of the world watching on their screens. This film is filled with memorable moments scene after scene but his mad dog portrayal of this reprehensibly hilarious Detroit gutter-rat piece of shit stands out.

1. Norman Stansfield in Luc Besson’s Leon The Professional

I’m not sure what Besson’s direction to Oldman was in playing this spectacularly corrupt DEA agent but he kind of just runs off and does his own thing to the point where other actors in the scene look scared of him for real. Casually homicidal, easily distracted, highly unstable and so intense he frequently goes red in the face, this is a villain that would frighten most others into submission. Contrasted with Jean Reno’s and Natalie Portman’s more contemplative performances he’s the wild card of this tale and fills it to the brim with madness, firepower, dark humour and that trademark white suit that you better not get blood on or he’ll shoot you after he’s already killed you in a crazed tantrum of scenery chewing that only Gary Oldman is capable of.

Thanks for reading ! Please share you favourite Gary Oldman performances as well!

-Nate Hill

Robert Rodriguez’s and Quentin Tarantino’s From Dusk Till Dawn

Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez are good buddies and have always sort of played on each other’s side of the fence in terms of creativity, collaborating here and there over the years on cool stuff, but my favourite tandem venture they ever did has to be From Dusk Till Dawn, a crime horror action schlock hybrid that has aged beautifully over the years, doesn’t fuck around in terms of packing a punch in all of the specific genres it works in and is a glowing testament to the powers of practical/prosthetic effects over CGI.

The first half of this thing is a classic Tarantino slow burn: George Clooney and Quentin himself are the Gecko brothers, a pair of murderous bank robbers in swanky suits, on the run from southern law following a bank robbery bloodbath (never actually seen a lá Reservoir Dogs) and causing violent trouble all over the rest of the state. After narrowly escaping Michael Parks’s immortal Texas Ranger Earl McGraw, they kidnap a retired preacher (Harvey Keitel) and his two kids (Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu) and make a beeline for the Mexican border and the sanctuary of an impossibly rowdy strip joint and trucker bar called… wait for it… The Titty Twister.

Once at the bar Rodriguez takes over the reins and in a split second we segue into horror most gory as our unconventional protagonists realize that this bar is actually a nest of Mexican vampires, and they’re ready to spring the trap. This includes an unbearably sexy dance from Salma Hayek’s vamp queen Santanico Pandemonium, a biker named Sex Machine (Tom Savini) with guns where his guns are, a literal army of hairy undead beasts, a giant rat, a human spinal column used as a saxophone, crossbows, more gallons of blood and various gore than I’ve ever seen amassed for one film and just too much else to mention.

For most folks, the first half of this film is the pay-dirt; Tarantino’s laconic, dangerous approach to the Gecko brothers’s rampage is no doubt one of the coolest things he’s written, particularly the sequence with Michael Parks and any dialogue between Keitel and Clooney, who gives probably the most fun and uninhibited performance of his career. Tarantino chomps at the bit and is downright terrifying as the worst kind of unstable psychopath, it’s the best acting work he’s ever done. I myself prefer the latter half with all the horror though.. the sheer amount of gooey lunacy, latex drenched creativity in design is something you don’t see anymore, unless it’s a deliberate throwback. The bar is populated by what seems like hundreds of varied and equally disgusting bloodsuckers until after a while and dozens of kills you get the sense that every character needs a good shower. Keitel brings a grizzled nobility to the priest, while Lewis tones down her usual bubbly mania for something decidedly more down to earth. Danny Trejo plays a grumpy vamp bartender, blaxploitation icon Fred Williamson shows up as a badass Nam vet and watch for cameos from John Hawkes, Greg Nicorato, Kelly Preston and 70’s icon John Saxon. Cheech Marin also shows up of course, in three obviously different roles because why the fuck not and has a monologue that would burn the ears off of any conservative viewer. Some will say this film is too much, and hey I’m not one to argue with them, but for me if it’s too much of anything, it’s a good thing. The horror is old school schlock-schploitation and the hard boiled crime yarn that comes before is equally stylistic and fun. It’s Quentin and Robert attuned to different wavelengths but somehow on the same frequency, and the result is a bloody, chaotic horror crime western classic.

-Nate Hill

Glenn Standring’s Perfect Creature

As far as vampire movies go, Perfect Creature is a virtually unknown entry, but the cool 1960’s setting and premise make it a gem buried deep beneath the radar. In an alternate future New Zealand called ‘Nuovo Zelandia’, vampires have advanced to become the next step in evolution and currently live side by side with humans in a hard won peace. Turmoil brews when a nasty rogue vampire (Leo Gregory) discovers an influenza and breaks the truce by preying on humans. This forces the powers that be to dispatch vampire operative Silus (Dougray Scott) and human police captain Lilly (Saffron Burrows) who must team up and stop the renegade bloodsucker before all out war and epidemic spread across the nation. The vampire genre has essentially been sculpted into a giant multiverse full of countless settings, timelines and concepts, and while this flick is nowhere near front and centre (while crap like the Underworld sequels get tossed heaps of money for marketing and distribution), it’s a quietly badass little piece with a well thought out concept and sly twist ending. Scott and Burrows are constantly undervalued talents whose looks and gravity always go a long way, and both of them are great here. The style is dark yet richly coloured, baroque sets with detailed chrome weaponry and lush costume design, it’s too bad there isn’t a decent BluRay, or even one at all. A solid gore fest with a brain in its head and artistic ambition to boot.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Uwe Boll’s Bloodrayne

There’s no excuse for films as shitty as Uwe Boll’s Bloodrayne. I know he’s a notoriously slipshod filmmaker and he somehow manages to get the rights to all these awesome video games which he then butchers with kindergarten level gong shows like this, but this one is especially bad. Now, before he goes and reads this and wants to come fight me like those other critics (he owns a restaurant a few blocks from where I work, so I gotta be careful lol), I should say that, contrary to popular opinion, he has in fact made some good films. Attack On Darfur and Assault On Wall Street come to mind as two solid dramas where he actually took his craft seriously and made something worthwhile. But Bloodrayne? Holy shot this movie sucks the big one and doesn’t even have the courtesy to swallow after. It’s loosely based on a pretty cool medieval vampire adventure game from years back, but resembles an episode of Xena Warrior Princess made by preschoolers. The protagonist is hottie vampiress Kristanna Loken, who was the kickass female Terminator in T3, and also gets to kick some ass here, between steamy porno scenes with other vampires. The only cool bit is a stunt sequence where she gets to fight a giant ogre thing and bash its head in with a gigantic war hammer. The cast is absolutely stacked here, as is strangely the case with most of Boll’s films. Michael Madsen and Michelle Rodriguez look hella out of place in Middle Ages garbs playing fellow warriors, Ben Kingsley is rigidly constipated as the big baddie, Meat Loaf has a laughable cameo as some kind of Shakespearean pimp, Billy Zane hilariously shows up as a despot, and the list goes on, including the likes of Udo Kier, Michael Paré and Geraldine Chaplin. I wanna be fair to Boll, as the guy clearly has a lot of passion for trying to get films made and simply being productive, and like I said before, some of his output is actually really decent. It’s just whenever he tries to adapt a video game the resulting product turns out hopelessly disastrous. It’s the same case with Alone In The Dark, House Of The Dead and Far Cry, and the guy keeps going. Bloodrayne is a cartoonish, awkwardly staged, terribly acted EuroTrash dumpster fire, something no one should have to sit through just to see their favourite actors embarrass themselves. I can’t believe he went on to make like three sequels.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory- Rise: Blood Hunter

Rise: Blood Hunter is what you get when you take the sexy female vampire Underworld shtick and suck all the moody, gothic stylistics out of it, leaving something that doesn’t quite have an aesthetic it’s own at all, and feels awkward. It does have one thing going for it though: Lucy Liu. She gives Kate Beckinsale a run for her money in terms of physicality, sex appeal and stunt work, but it’s too bad she wasn’t given a film that rose up to meet her talent. She plays a reporter here who wakes up on a morgue slab one day and realizes she’s been turned into a vampire by the very same satanic cult that she had prior been investigating. Loaded with souped up powers, she begins a bloody journey to exact revenge on them one by one and put a stop to their nocturnal shenanigans. There’s a subplot involving a cop (Michael Chicklis) who’s looking for his missing sister, but ultimately it’s a series of violent, dimly lit confrontations as Liu hunts the cult down to their nasty leader (James D’Arcy is a bit too pretty boy for such a built up villain. There’s supporting work from Holt Mccallany, Carla Gugino and random cameos from Nick Lachey, Marilyn Manson and the great Robert Forster who’s talent is wasted on a bit part that any extra could have done in their sleep. You’ve gotta hand it to Liu, she’s a fountain of star-power and presence, but not even she could carry this beyond SyFy’s movie of the week syndrome.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: The Insatiable

The Insatiable, like droves of other vampire flicks, attempts to cover new ground and build on established formulas to create something memorable, and despite having the direct to video stigma working against it’s notoriety, works pretty well for the most part. Sean Patrick Flanery plays a timid fellow who, after being targeted by a sexy, devilish bloodsucker (Charlotte Ayana), seeks help anywhere he can, broadcasting his predicament via HAM radio (maybe not the most effective outlet) to anyone who will listen. It just so happens that there is a grizzled old vamp hunter out there played by Michael Biehn, a jaded hardass who’s just waiting for signs of these creatures. Ayana likes to play with her prey, and taunts both of them throughout the film in some amusing cat and mouse games, forcing Flanery to great lengths of survival including building one hell of a cage in his basement to trap the bitch. The material is treated mostly head on with just a smidge of smirking deadpan, especially in the sly ending. Biehn is awesome as the cranky, high strung vamp slayer, really having fun in the role. A fun, if slight little flick. 

-Nate Hill