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Archive for the ‘vampires’ Category

Thirst (2009)

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

Directed by Park Chan wook

I am a big fan of Park Chan wook’s ‘Vengeance Trilogy’ – with especial love for Old Boy (2003) – so I was avidly looking forward to seeing his take on the vampirism motif in last year’s film Thirst. I finally got round to seeing this yesterday and I adored it. It’s a very different animal to Old Boy in a lot of ways, though – gentler in places, more developed in others – and I think it’s his most accomplished film so far.

Catholic priest Sang-hyeon (Kang-ho Song, The Host, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance) is a man of faith who, seemingly disillusioned with his everyday duties, volunteers himself to travel abroad for a – most likely fatal – medical experiment to help develop a vaccine for a deadly virus. The medical team there question him closely about his motivations, but he is determined. After being infected with, and later succumbing to, the virus, it looks as though Sang-hyeon has expired.

And then – miraculously – Sang-hyeon beings to breathe again, after receiving a final blood transfusion. His recovery prompts wonder in those around him; when he returns to Korea, he is mobbed by people demanding his prayers for their sick and dying loved ones. One day, as he’s attending a children’s birthday party to offer support to a terminally-ill child, a middle-aged neighbour whom he has known all his life, a Mrs Ra (Hae-Sook Kim) comes and bangs on the windows there. She desperately begs for his help, explaining that her only son is suffering from cancer.

A gentle, perhaps lonely figure, the priest agrees to visit Kang-woo (Ha-kyun Shin) and renews his acquaintance with the family. He is particularly drawn to Kang-woo’s wife, Tae-ju (Ok-bin Kim) – a woman who was taken in by the family as a girl and seemingly moved from her foster mother’s bed into the son’s bed just in order to have somewhere to live and a means to survive. Tae-ju is an unusual girl, quiet, self-contained, but irredeemably discontent: Sang-hyeon sees her fleeing the house at night to run barefoot through the streets, purely to get away from it all. When he stops her one night – and gives her his shoes to protect her feet – it seems he’s beginning to struggle with the pleasures of the flesh…

…And it’s not only sexuality which is leading him astray. Since receiving the transfusion, Sang-hyeon has developed an aversion to sunlight. And, without consuming human blood – which he covertly enjoys at the hospital where he lives/works – the disfiguring symptoms of the virus which nearly killed him return. Sang-hyeon is now pinioned between his growing love for a vulnerable woman who seems to need him, and his desire not to harm others. Like all good tragedies though, the perils of the flesh will take precedence…

This is a long, intricate film with fully fleshed-out characters whose development throughout is believable and interesting. Sang-hyeon’s wish for martyrdom and his subsequent ‘rebirth’ show him moving through all the emotional states he’s thus far avoided as part of his religious faith. His love for Tae-ju feels earnest and warm, and his lust for her acts as a catalyst, pushing him from one way of life fully into another. Tae-ju herself makes an almost polar character shift, from submissive drudge to villainness, and watching her do so provided me with a gamut of responses – from pity, to distrust, to dislike, and back to pity again. There are certainly sympathetic characters in Park Chan-wook’s earlier films, but I don’t think his storylines had this accomplished level of layering, despite being great movies in themselves.

This is a very carnal film, with a great deal of tenderness in its sex scenes and a sense of two people in love. These intimate, erotic moments find themselves upstaged at times by the nasty and the darkly comic, and the film uses dream/hallucinatory sequences which promote that classic Park-Chan wook attractive strangeness. It is always hard to adequately ‘genre’ his films and this is no exception, bringing as it does such a variety of elements into the mix.

The cinematography of this director’s films forms the lion’s share of their appeal for me and Thirst has a similar aesthetic style; from the opening shot, the predominant colour scheme of this film is blue. Only blood-red really interrupts this, and an array of close shots and carefully-choreographed scenes promotes a tangible atmosphere which overarches the film. This is one of the most artistic ‘horror’ films I’ve seen, and it really does do something different with this theme – here, vampirism is the key which transforms people’s lives in a decidedly non-straightforward way. There are no straighforward responses to vampirism here, as it is a catalyst to changes which are as important in themselves.

This is a long, densely-packed film which never felt it was either, and the ambiguity of the ending (is Mrs Ra going to join them?) together with another conflation of tender and grisly really concluded this beautiful movie in just the right way.

The Vampires' Night Orgy (1973)

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Even though it takes place mostly during the day and certainly contains no orgies, León Klimovsky’s The Vampires’ Night Orgy (aka La Orgía Nocturna De Los Vampiros, aka Orgy of the Vampires aka Grave Desires (US) (1973) is a fun excursion in Spanish horror from a director quite new to me, but apparently best-known for his work with the late Paul Naschy (and let me tell you, any director who comes out with work entitled The Werewolf Versus The Vampire Woman is probably going to feature strongly in my spending future!)

The film starts with a group of domestics travelling to their new appointment at a remote country house. Yep, I assumed that the remote country house would be the problem – but instead the group’s troubles begin when, exhausted, they decide they are going to take a detour via a town called Tolnio so they can get some rest. Before they can arrive at Tolnio their bus driver dies in an unexpectedly brief, comedic way but, with a tavern awaiting, they decide to leave his corpse on the bus! They don’t get the quick service there that they hoped, though – the whole town is completely deserted. Unsure what to do, they decide to help themselves to liquid refreshments and beds (where Jack Taylor (as Luis) is up to his usual tricks, spying on the beautiful Alma (Dyanik Zurakowska) through a hole in the wall!) and to look for the townsfolk in the morning.

Sure enough, by the next day the town is a hive of activity. The town’s mayor Boris (José Guardiola) apologises for not being able to receive them properly the night before, as all the citizens just happened to be at the cemetery, seeing off a valued member of the community. They are welcome at Tolnio, though – just as well, as their bus will no longer start. Never mind, Boris says: the Countess will look after their needs, and will provide them with any money they may require. Some of the group agree to go and meet this mysterious Countess (Helga Liné, Black Candles) to express their thanks for her hospitality. She is all politeness, not to mention charming. It seems all will be well until they can get their vehicle fixed. But at night there is a different side to the people of Tolnio; now they’re not falling over themselves to help, but to feed. One by one, the visitors are picked off through trickery and become vampires themselves. Soon only Luis and Alma are unaffected.

There’s also a strange reference to cannibalism during the film: because there is no good food to offer to the guests, the Countess decrees that certain of her citizens will offer up an arm or a leg. This takes place at the hands of a strange character credited only as ‘The Giant’ and it’s not hard to see why the town may need new citizens if the old ones are being hacked up. Also, the implications of cannibalising a vampire throws up philosophical and technical questions which the film just doesn’t have time to answer – let’s just assume the body parts were very well done!

Although the film isn’t exactly a novel treatment of an old theme, and does descend into campery on several occasions, it’s all part of the fun. To suggest that it’s all just a pastiche, though, would also be doing the film a disservice. Some of the scenes are good and eerie, and a personal highlight is when the townsfolk lure two of the visitors onto the ‘fixed’ bus and then quite literally rise up to play with their food. There is little in the way of standard-issue biting; only the Countess bites in a ‘traditional’ way and most of the vampirism/consumption is implied, or we just see the run-up to the event. That a lot of what happens to the visiting party is implied makes the townsfolk a lot creepier. The colouration of the film does a lot to help it develop this creepiness. We are told that the vampires can move about by day as the town is always overcast, and accordingly the whole film is shadowy and muted. The daylight hours are as murky as the night.

For some reason best known to themselves, UK second-hand DVD stockists CEX currently have acres of copies of The Vampires’ Night Orgy in stock. But even if you’re not based in the UK and you like oddball European takes on the vampirism theme then you could do worse than own this. It does have a certain charm, and feels very, very Spanish somehow!

Innocent Blood (1992)

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Ah, John Landis. He’s created some great films – by no means all of them, and by all means not all horror – but he’s often had to see decent work like American Werewolf in London bomb at the box office, despite steadily gaining a reputation in the years that followed. Innocent Blood is a decent film which, essentially, sank. This is unfair. Whilst it’s not a world-beater of its kind, it’s a competent horror-comedy which has a good idea at its core. I can’t help but wonder what would have become of it had not Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula come out in the same year.

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Vampire Marie (Anne Parillaud) is a bloodsucker with a conscience – something we’re now fairly well-immured to in more recent vamp cinema. She scouts for immoral and cruel people to feed upon, hence deciding against undercover cop Joe (Anthony LaPaglia) in favour of the mob boss he’s currently trying to rumble – Sallie (The Shark) Macelli. But Marie is unable to take Sal’s life when she feeds (leading to a hilarious waking-up-on-the-autopsy-table scene) so she desperately tries to track him down to finish the job. Once Sal works out what’s happened to him though, he wants all his henchmen to be ‘made men’ – the kind you can’t kill so easily! Meanwhile Joe has to overcome his fear and begrudgingly decides to help Marie; no one wants an undead mafia after all…

This is a decent idea for a plot, and one that never gets too heavy; it’s a light-touch piece of film, played mainly for laughs, but with the odd dose of grue and even a bit of nudity thrown in. The mob guys are somewhat caricatured (well, as I see it – I’m not really familiar with any real-life examples!) but equally, Sal is capable of enough nastiness to make him a threatening prospect. Fans of The Sopranos might also notice some elements and at least one actor (Tony ‘Paulie’ Sirico) from that later series.

I have to say, I was surprised to see when this film was made; although it’s from the early 1990s, to me it screams 1980s in its costumes and sets. It has dated pretty well though, and the humour holds together just fine. It’s a shame this film isn’t better-known: it is worth more attention than it has received.

Also, horror geeks will enjoy a multitude of cameo appearances: I spotted Dario Argento, Linnea Quigley and Forrest J. Ackerman!