One of the most refreshing and rewarding movies to have been released this year has come from streaming platform Netflix; a British/German, vampire, action, horror movie from director Peter Thorwarth. It comes across like a Passenger 57 style movie, but instead of a kick ass retired secret service agent taking down terrorists aboard a plane, we’ve got a vampire in the mix. Thorwarth and his co-writer, Stefan Holtz do incredibly well to pack in the folklore and depth in character background into the screenplay. The writing duo aren’t too shy to steer away from flashbacks to ground the story further into the mythology that they are creating, particularly when it comes to their lead protagonist. This care to detail provides strength to their cause with significant payoff by the film’s conclusion.
To add to the drama we’re presented with a mother, Nadja (Peri Baumeister), who appears to be suffering from leukaemia; a naturally anxious person fuelled even more so by the need to care for and look after her son, Elias (Carl Anton Koch). The reason for their travel plans is so that Nadja can visit a specialised doctor to help her with her ailment.
There are a few elements at play here too which elevates the story above the usual action flick, with a look against stereotypes, especially when it comes to Farid (Kais Setti), a physicist who befriends Elias, and Middle Eastern appearance plays with our misguided expectations of him being a possible terrorist when the plane gets hijacked. Among the hijackers and leading the group is Berg played with the usual brutish klout by Dominic Purcell. His orchestrated team and all their best laid plans soon fall out, when they encounter the parasite on board. The moment this is unleashed, the turbulence soon picks up fast.
Blood Red Sky relies heavily on its high energy, adrenaline-fuelled sequences, but thankfully it has plenty of bite too with well-rounded characters with heart, coupled with downbeats that have meaning.
It pulsates with purpose and for that, makes you care about the outcome of the lead characters.
– Saul Muerte
Straight off the bat, when I heard about this new series that was launching on AMC+, I was pulled in by its premise, such is the hook dangled before me.
Warwick Thornton, who has done some amazing work on feature films such as Samson and Delilah, and Sweet Country providing one of the most prominent and prestigious writer / director to amplify an Indigenous voice with great effect. In his latest screen outing, Thornton ventures into a short series centred on a more horror element to his material to direct an anti-invasion message through vampire fantasy infused with a twist on Aborignal folklore.
Not only is this a fresh take on the tried and tested formula of those creatures of the night, but one that is heralded in strength through its Indigenous perspectives.
Purely judging by the first episode alone (Pest Control), there’s a lot of ground to cover in order to present the audience with the legend or backstory, plus introduce us to the key players that will form the narrative. There is time and dedication thrown into these key areas too, proving that Thronton not only knows his craft, has a passionate voice, but also will allow time to deepen the characters and add weight to their integrity.
Our central figures so far look to two Indigenous hunters through a father and daughter team charged with protecting the local community from a colony of vampires in the heart of the South Australian desert. It is when an Aborginal man is kidnapped by suspected vampires that the team are forced into action. The father, Tyson (Rob Collins – Cleverman, Extraction) comes in with a carefree approach to life, set in fulfilling his duty, potentially at the cost of his family. Whereas the daughter, Shanika (Shantae Barnes-Cowan) is a hard-working, focused teenager, who just wants to focus on her studies and not be dragged into her fathers crazed schemes. The relationship between these two is integral to our interest as a viewer, and I’m glad to say that it pays off as they slightly off balanced connection, in which they are continuously torn apart and pulled back again to one another through loyalty and their own beliefs and passions highlights the generational divide between them and the need to keep up with the traditions as laid down before them, whist also been constantly pulled through Australia’s dark past to deal with the pain and hurt that has been set in its place.
Whilst this could easily be a dark and foreboding tale, Thornton along with his writing partner, Brendan Fletcher are able to sizzle the dialogue with a nice blend of humour and drama. An idea that plays well with the family dynamic on screen.
Whilst it has a slow burn start, there is enough to Firebite’s first episode to draw you in and want to know where it may take you next.
Firebite is currently streaming on AMC+
Director David Verbeek leans heavily into the latter part of the film’s title. Strewn with stunning images throughout the Rotterdam cityscape as its backdrop in most places, whilst tantalising with the ‘Dead’ component.
Five rich socialites have gravitated to one another out of their boredom and unfulfilment of life’s medicrity and strive to spice up the dull elements with a shared mixture of experiences that challenge their vices and pushing them to the edge in order to feel something and awaken their dormant souls.
One night out quintet of rich kids descend upon a group of people who practice an ancient ritual that centres on the dark arts and a sacrifice. The group black out and wake to find a corpse and each bear a set of fangs. Instantly they are subjected to the notion that they have been turned into creatures of the night, forced to carry out vampiric means to satiate the growing thirst for blood.
The film flicks and flutters through their stifled emotions as the group becomes restless and unable to comprehend or handle this new way of life. With no guide rope to aid them in these new experiences, they are left flailing into the wind, reaching out for anything that may ground them.
Verbeek successfully captures the strengths and weaknesses of the characters as they both fall into each other’s embrace or thrust them apart with their responses or actions, amplifying their paranoia or loss of control. All of which slowly builds to a conclusion that leaves you questioning the blurred lines of reality.
Beautifully shot and complex characters intertwine through a deliberately slow narrative giving room to build up the central characters.
It’s a film that plays with manipulation and human conditioning at its core, where nothing is as it seems.
Like the key players, the audience is subjected to a fixed point of view that unravels and is picked apart to the point where you not only feel the trauma of the group, but just when you think you have it figured out, takes you in a completely different direction.
– Saul Muerte
Dead & Beautiful is streaming on Shudder from Thursday 4th November
Admittedly it’s been a while since I watched this film ahead of writing up this retrospective and as such the cobwebs of familiarity had gathered clouding to the point that i had forgotten which 70s erotic horror film I was about to discuss,
This led me to initially think that Daughters of Darkness had little impact on me but when I came to research the film once more, I was instantly flooded with its striking and stylised images captured by Director Harry Kümel and his cinematographer Eduard van der Enden. I suddenly remembered that feeling of watching an effective European feature that projected a juxtaposition of harsh and fluid scenery and characters that ooze a psychologically unhinged gothic vampire tale loosely based on the infamous historical figure Countess Elizabeth Bathory.
The film is heavily entrenched in surrealism and expressionism with a curiously noir aspect in places. Set primarily in the Belgian coastal city Ostend, a character in itself and a place I’ve been fortunate to visit so there was a spark of physical and visual nostalgia created when I watched the film.
The film follows the misogynistic Stefan (John Karlen), born of aristocracy as he travels through Europe with his newly-wed wife Valerie (Danielle Ouimet) to introduce her to his mother.
He appears apprehensive about doing this as though his attitude towards women stems from this fear or apprehensive relationship he has with his mother.
What struck me is that the film, despite its aggressive approach to women, who are often the subject of sadomasochistic views, actually is a feminist film, with a strong message about women establishing their own identity in the wake of degradation. This is none more evident than through the character Valerie.
It is with the arrival of Elizabeth Bathory (Delphine Seyrig – The Day of the Jackal) along with her secretary Ilona (Andrea Rau) that this is truly awakened in Valerie. At first cautious about this charismatic Countess, but similarly finding her charms irresistible, Valerie begins to see her husband Stefan in a new light with a brutally sadomasochistic encounter. Furthermore Stefan becomes sexually drawn to Ilona too and in doing so, pours forth his animalistic, aggressive side with fatalistic consequences leading the trio of Stefan, Valerie, and the Countess to clean up the mess, but it doesn’t stop there. In order to really cleanse their souls further drastic actions must occur and bring Valerie into a further awakening.
What becomes apparent by the film’s conclusion is that Daughters of Darkness is not to be judged on face value. It may not be to everyone’s taste but its a visual treat that resonates with the time but there is definitely more going on beneath the surface.
- Saul Muerte
Perhaps this was indicative of my mind not entirely being in tune with this movie at the time I viewed it, but I completely failed to see the vampiric element throughout until I read up about it afterwards. At which point, it thrust the point of the stake firmly into my cognitive mind, along with the inspirations of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla. What was more obvious to my mind was stimulus drawn from Robert Wise’s film The Haunting, along with the death of free love and the sixties hippy movement.
The theme of Let’s Scare Jessica To Death is one that seemed to have been prevalent in many movies of its time, tapping into the psychological paranoia embodied by its lead. In this instance, Jessica (Zohra Lampert) is the victim. We learn through discussions among the central characters that Jessica has been through some kind of psychotic episode, and that she has only just returned back into society, albeit in the smallest sense, with her husband Duncan (Barton Heyman); a man who has given up his career as a string bassist for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra to be with her during this time; and their close friend Woody (Kevin O’Connor). The aim is to have a quiet life building up a rundown farmhouse near a lake in Connecticut. They are surprised however to find a drifter, Emily (Mariclare Costello) squatting in their new abode. As this is the era of free spirits and tranquility though, rather than turf her out, the group decide to allow her to stay with them some time. A decision they would come to regret as there is more to Emily than meets the eye.
Throughout the narrative Jessica’s state of mind is always in doubt as she witnesses a strange blond haired lady in the nearby woods, which no one can support her claims, and bears a sparkling resemblance to Abigail, a lady supposedly murdered back in the late 1800’s.
Slowly, all those around Jessica, from the townsfolk, to Emily, and to Woody and Duncan, start to pull away from her, growing distant, or in Emily’s case, trying to attack her by biting her neck.
Is this some kind of hallucination or is there something sinister at play?
The atmosphere and dark tension created by Director John Hancock and the Cinematography by Robert M. Baldwin is slowly built up and excellently executed, it’s little wonder that it would generate cult status. This film may not be for everyone, as its style is subjective, but it definitely warrants its place in the horror vault through the eerie narrative and haunting nature that it projects into the celluloid universe.
- Saul Muerte
I remember sometime ago reading an article from the team at Diabolique Magazine about this fascinating, prolific film director Jesús Franco, who was synonymous for his exploitative work in the horror genre, and was immediately intrigued.
Celebrating 50 years since its initial release back in 1971, Vampyros Lesbos is an erotic horror story which follows Linda Westinghouse (Ewa Strömberg) who has a series of erotic dreams about a vampire Countess Nadine Carody (Soledad Miranda) who seduces her and feeds off her blood. Despite being warned not to, Linda travels to an island to seek a new home, but in doing so, soon encounters the afore-mentioned Countess in a house where the infamous Count Dracula once resided. It is not long before Linda succumbs to Nadine’s advances and they are embroiled in a sexual encounter and ultimately drawing blood from her neck.
The story itself takes some convoluted turns through its telling, including a nod to another Stoker creation, Dr. Seward (Dennis Price) who treats Linda from her wounds. But he has an ulterior motive in trapping Nadine and convincing her to turn him into a vampire.
There is also a warped and malicious torturer, Memmet, (played by Franco) who seems hellbent on kidnapping Linda and carrying out his salacious desires upon her. All of which leads to Linda needing to expel her curse by killing Nadine.
Where the film suffers from a fairly leaden acting across the board, Vampyros Lesbos makes up for this through its visual exposition combined with the psychedelic funk soundtrack (which had a reawakening of its own in the 90s when remixed and released as an album called Vampyros Lesbos: Sexadelic Dance Party). It hardly stretches the imagination, but has a certain appeal to it that marks an identity of its own and along with Franco’s other ‘71 release She Killed in Ecstacy make a cracking double feature.
- Saul Muerte
I’m only just learning now that La Noche de Walpurgis, which celebrates 50 years since its release this year, is actually the fifth instalment of a 12-part series called The Hombre Lobo series about a werewolf called Waldemar Daninsky.
Supposedly, these movies have little to connect one another apart from the afore-mentioned lycanthrope and its star, Paul Naschy. So it’s probably a goog thing that I was unaware of this when I sat down to watch this instalment.
Naschy coincidentally picked up something of a cult following due to his numerous portrayals of classic horror movie characters, which earned him the title, The Spanish Lon Chaney.
Here though, Naschy sticks to the debonair Daninsky, a charismatic gent by day, hairy wolf by night.
Made for the paltry sum of $120,000 and it shows, especially the first scene which is incredibly camp and should not be judged for the tone of the rest of the film… kind of.
We witness two doctors examining Daninsky’s corpse and mockingly jest that the removal of the silver bullets that killed him would resurrect him once more. When this actually does happen, said doctors are shocked at the figure transforming before them, before being mauled to death.
This made sense now knowing that it followed on from the previous film in the series, The Fury of the Wolf Man.
Director León Klimovsky does his best to hide the obvious blemishes through stylised shots and creating an eerie atmosphere, which is typically European and predominantly shot in slow motion, which sort of works in places.
The crux of the film itself follows two students, Elvira and Genevieve who go in search of a tomb belonging to a medieval murderess, who happens to be a vampiress called Wandessa (Patty Shepard). Inadvertently Elvira resurrects Wandessa by bleeding onto the corpse. Wandessa then goes on a killing rampage in her wake to build her disciples of creatures of the night. The only thing that can stop them is the noble-hearted lycanthrope, Daninsky. But at what cost?
La Noche de Walpurgis is exactly what you expect from a low-budget European 70s film, but it was a hauntingly visual treat that actually boasted some decent effects considering.
- Saul Muerte
It’s been a while since a movie has tapped into the feels of 80s flicks such as Monster Squad or to a lesser degree The Lost Boys but with Osmany Rodriguez’s sophomore outing in the director’s chair of a feature length movie, Vampires vs The Bronx, we come damn close.
Much like how The Stranger Things was able to breathe fresh life into the SciFi horror genre with an adventure aimed at kids whilst appealing to adults alike, this film delivers a fun-filled ride with a thrilling edge to it.
It may not go too dark, but does enough to satiate the senses that you would hope for from a teen horror flick.
Set in a small part of the Bronx, young Miguel (Jaden Michael) has been trying to raise awareness that they are subject to gentrification, especially from the mysterious Murnau properties (a great nod to FW Murnau who directed 1922’s Nosferatu).
Miguel and his two friends Bobby and Luis to save their local corner store by hosting a block party. It is here that Miguel witnesses the killing of a guy called Slim by the hands of a group of vampires and is hotly pursued.
From here on in Miguel must do all they can save the Bronx from these fanged invaders.
There are some great support roles from the adults in the movie, namely the always brilliant Sarah Gadon as Vivian, the equally sublime Shea Whigham as human servant Frank Polidori (again another great nod to the author of The Vampire), Method Man as the Lord’s servant, Father Jackson, and Zoe Saldana as Becky.
But it’s the kids that own this movie and riff off each other with great energy and enthusiasm that peppers the story along.
It doesn’t offer anything new, but it does entertain. Well worth your time.
– Saul Muerte
Straight from the grill, Bliss is a film that is served under-cooked, raw and in desperate need of some substance, rather than the vacuous material that director Joe Begos tries to experiment with.
Unfortunately, part of his downfall is presenting a narrative with some really unlikeable characters including the lead protagonist Dezzy (Dora Madison), a struggling artist who strives through a creative block, fuelled with any hallucinogenic substances that she can consume. Dezzy is such a difficult character to connect with as she is so self-consumed and saps the energy of those around her.
As a viewer this only alienates us and there is no reprieve or any offer of redemption. Instead she just aimlessly drives around in her own (or our) confusion in search of another hit to drive her out of her boredom (and ours again) to fill her life.
One night, amongst the haze and frantic lights within a club, Dezzy teams up with Courtney and her bloke, when the night takes a dark and twisted turn that leaves Dezzy questioning her visions and battling with the memories from the night to decipher illusions from reality.
Slowly, and we mean really slowly, Dezzy comes to realise that the pains and blood thirst have a stronger meaning than a crappy come down and needs to satiate her need. As the movie descends into hell, things start to get really interesting and the more crazed and frenetic Dezzy becomes. It’s just a shame that it’s left until the final act for there to be enough fire under the belly of the beast to drive plot to its inevitable conclusion.
A worthy mention should go out to Jeremy Gardner (Fingers) who continues to impress despite being handed little screen time, and manages to carve out an engrossing character in jilted boyfriend Clive, marking another worthy screen entry and a name that people should keep an eye on.
A modern vampire tale that falls short of any worthiness and drifts along aimlessly without any real bite for its audience to sink into.
Despite this, there are some cool moments from Director Joe Begos, that may just tip him onto the Surgeons radar, and provide enough for some viewers to appreciate his talent.
- Saul Muerte