Monday, October 14, 2013

Halloween Havoc: VAMPYRE (1990)

Since I took on Dr. Frankenstein and his creation last week in a double feature review, it seems only appropriate that I tackle vampires this week.  Like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein story, Bram Stoker’s classic Gothic novel about bloodsucking has given plenty of filmmakers a launching pad over the last 100+ years of filmmaking.  They must love this set up even more because all you really need are some cheap fangs, a bottle of stage blood and a cape. Hell, sometimes we only get one of the three plus a cocked eyebrow and the director is good to go.  Today let’s examine one low budget vampire flick that was hoping to put the bite on viewers.

VAMPYRE lets you know it is serious right off the bat by opening with a quote from “A Dream Within a Dream” by Edgar Allan Poe.  These guys are scholars of horror’s written word…or they saw John Carpenter’s THE FOG (1980).  The film proper opens with a young boy wandering around the forest as a voiceover mentions his name is David Gray.  He is accosted by his vampire young sister, who he stakes, and then a vampire lady who should be working in Government as she puts the “bust” in filibuster.  He kills her with a wooden cross to the chest.  We then cut to the Village of Courtempierre, where Dr. Dreyer (John Brent) is counseling vampire queen Marguerite Chopin (Cathy Seyler) about the afterlife of vampires or something. Meanwhile, a mob of angry villagers (well, if you can call three guys a mob) are, naturally, angry because their children are missing.  They ain’t gonna take this no more and storm over to the church where the vampires are and…gently knock on the door!  The doc’s assistant Justin (James Flynn) tells them he isn’t in so they kidnap him and chop off his left leg.  Then grown up David Gray (Randy Scott Rolzer, looking and sounding like a young Mitt Romney) shows up and plants a flimsy cross in the ground to keep the vampires at bay.  Gray tells one guy he will show up when they need him most but only when it is at its worst (“Once the seed has been planted, evil must be allowed to fester and grow.  Only when it has reached its full height can it be cut down again,” he says).  What they hell is going on here?  I have no idea.

“May I tell you about The Book of Mormon?”

An onscreen title informs us it is ten year later and we see some vampire followers holding a sacrifice to bring Marguerite back to life.  Now they chant her name and the blood from their victim raises someone from the ground and it turns out to be…a topless girl in a cape (Elizabeth Carstens).  Definitely not Marguerite. WTF!?!  Anyway, they storm the village and attack everyone.  It sounds like it is time for David Gray to live up to his promise.  Back at Chez Gray, he is lying in a field and his spirit leaves his body.  He wanders into the woods and makes out with cape girl before she kisses him, only to push a snake into his mouth. Damn, Freud would love this dream. Gray makes his way to the village and immediately decides to…rent a room at the local tavern and go to bed.  No rush, Mr. Gray.  The next day Gray is confronted by one of the fathers from the opening, who repeats “she must not die” while handing him a package that says “to be opened upon my death.”  Gee, I wonder what will happen to him.  Yep, he gets shot in the face by one-legged Justin and dies, an event which allows Gray to meet the old man’s daughters Gisele (Marilyn Semerad) and the infected Leone (Joan Kosby).  I guess Gray is supposed to save them. He opens pop’s package and it contains a book with gems like “vampires suck young blood to prolong their shadowy existence.”  Gee, thanks for the hot tip.  Anyway, Gray wanders around doing nothing (Gisele is kidnapped by vampires under his watch) while the village doctor still continues his practice (apparently his true nature is supposed to be hidden, but I can’t see how as he was the only doc in town).  Finally, a dude tells Gray that maybe killing the main vampire will break this vampire spell.  Ya think?

If the set up of VAMPYRE sounds oddly familiar to you, that is because director Bruce G. Hallenbeck is ripping off Carl Dreyer’s VAMPYR (1932).  Truth be told, this new version is almost a remake as Hallenbeck steals everything from Courtempierre to the basic plot set up. But the end result has all of the artistic impact as I would if I decided to record some covers of The Beatles.  Hallenbeck, who is well-known for his books on Hammer horror and vampires, can’t seem to muster enough of that knowledge when it comes to making a good film.  This thing is a mess from script to execution.  Viewers will be left scratching their heads as to just what the hell is going on.  It wasn’t until 15 minutes into the film that I realized this was supposed to be set during a period setting. It doesn’t help that several characters early on are wearing modern blue jeans (see pic above) and that Gray walks around dressed like a 1950s accountant.  I guess the costume designer – if there was one – called in sick.  Viewers are also left completely on their own to figure out who the characters are.  Hell, it wasn’t until an end credit that I found out the random girl in the cape is known simply as “Girl in the Cape.”

“Girl in the Cape” lives up to her billing:

The ultimate insanity though comes in Hallenbeck’s keeping track of day and night.  No joke, scenes unfold in full daylight while characters say, “Don’t retire until dawn comes.” People hold candles while looking out windows into bright sunshine. Characters enter a building in daytime, but then have it nighttime outside the windows once inside.  I’m not sure if they just never got around to filtering the day-for-night scenes, but it is insane.  Doubly insane when you realize the film is about vampires. You know, those nocturnal creatures that can’t stand daylight.  I have a feeling if asked about all of the errors Hallenbeck would simply reply that the film works with dream logic.  “Why doesn’t your film make a lick of sense,” I ask.  “Dream logic, my boy, dream logic,” he replies.  It is a shame too because the film (made for only $20,000 according to the IMDb) does have some good things going for it. It is shot on film, which is always a plus, and Hallenbeck even pulls off some artistic shots.  The film's biggest asset is the shooting location of Eastfield Village, a reconstruction of a 18th/19th century village in East Nassau, New York.  It is a very cool location worthy of a film that could have perfectly capitalized on its natural spookiness. Unfortunately, VAMPYRE isn’t that film.

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