international vampires

All posts tagged international vampires

Everyday Vampires

Published March 22, 2015 by vfdpixie



What We Do in the Shadows (2014, 1 hr, 26 mins)


What We Do in the Shadows.  Sounds really ominous, mysterious and a little intimidating, but it’s the title of a vampire “mockumentary” that was a favourite at film festivals last year, and probably one of the funniest horror-comedies I’ve seen in a long time.

A documentary crew follows the everyday lives of four vampires in Wellington, New Zealand.  The unofficial den vampire, “dandy” Viago (Taika Waititi), moderates, mediates and civilizes the others, perhaps to bring an understanding of their kind.  Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and Vladislav (Jermaine Clement) are rougher than Viago; with Deacon who is all about rebellion, knitting and being sexy, and Vladislav, described as a “pervert”, who is in love with torture.  There is also the loner Petyr (Ben Fransham), who is probably better known as Nosferatu, lurking in the basement and barely controllable, but a flatmate all the same.  We are introduced to the challenges of vampires living in the modern age, with disgruntled familiars, clubbing, chores, wardrobe, victims and the perils of blood-stained furniture.  When fledgling vampire Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) ignores the age-old vampire code, things get messy and dangerous for the undead roomies.  Add a pack of rival werewolves, an ancient grudge, and an unholy masquerade, and you have the recipe for bloody and hilarious mayhem.

I’ve said before that I dislike horror comedies because they usually end up being stupid instead of silly, but the folks from Down Under have nailed it again.  I don’t know if it’s because of their geographical positioning that gives them such a hilarious view of the world, but whatever it is, it works.  Jermaine Clement is a multi-talented performer born and bred in New Zealand that is fast becoming a familiar name in North America.  Most would know him from his show Flight of the Concords, a great comedy series about a musical duo from New Zealand trying to make it in America.  He was also in Men in Black 3 as Boris the Animal and, in my opinion, stole the show.  His fellow Kiwi Taika Waititi has a number of director credits under his belt such as The Inbetweeners and Boy, as well as being a seasoned actor.  Here, the two friends since college have written and directed a gem of an indie film, brought over to North America with funds raised from a Kickstarter campaign.

The cast’s comedic timing, honed by years of improv, smoothed over a couple of drawn out scenes, such as Deacon consoling Nick after a loss, that could have stilted the pacing.  The fact that they were also friends outside the set conveyed an ease with the characters that made the flatmates’ relationships believable.  For a low-budget film, the makeup was also well done.  Petyr clearly wore the most special effects makeup, and there was a good balance of tongue-in-cheek and terror with his character, and the practical effects were extremely practical but they worked.  Old-school rotating room techniques and wire work gave us plenty of vampire fights and tom foolery to laugh at.

It’s nice to have an iconic horror villain like the vampire come from left field once in a while, and What We Do in the Shadows goes above and beyond to tickle even the sourest funny bone.  If and when it comes out on DVD, I will definitely be adding this to my collection!

*If you live in the Toronto area, it is still playing at the following theatres:


Bloodlust and The Girl

Published February 9, 2015 by vfdpixie

a girl walk

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014, 1 hr, 39 mins)


Imagine if John Hughes, Jim Jarmusch and David Lynch passed a vampire script around in a game of Broken Telephone, put it in a blender and channelled it through writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour.  I think the outcome would be A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, her the debut feature film that premiered at Sundance last year, was an award winner at several film festivals and is currently nominated for 3 Independent Spirit Awards.

Arash (Arash Marandi) is a young man burdened with the task of caring for Hossein (Marshall Manesh), his grieving junkie father.  He makes his money by gardening for a wealthy family and tries to pay off his father’s creepy drug dealer Saeed (Dominic Rains) on time.  Living in the same, bleak town is a mysterious, nameless girl (Sheila Vand), a girl who you might see sitting at the back of the bus or in the last seat in class, if she showed up at all, quiet and menacing.  She is a chador-wearing vampire and silently wafts through the night, looking for her next meal, and smiting wrong-doers in the process.  Arash and The Girl meet after he leaves a costume party, high and lost in the deserted streets of Bad City.  Dressed as Dracula, he is made fearless by the drugs; oblivious to her creepy nature and predatory intimidations.  This fateful meeting starts a complicated romance that is punctuated with an incredible soundtrack, and a cat that connects these strange and melancholy characters.

Spoken entirely in Farsi, this movie is described as the first Iranian vampire western, and although this may have been Amirpour’s intention, my frame of reference made it more of a John Hughes love story because of the quirky and deliberate musical storyboarding, set in Eraserhead‘s bleak landscapes almost 40 years later.  Although all those legendary references can be seen, her film is unique and one that will have a different definition for each viewer.  It is a horror film, dark comedy and art film all in one; visually stunning with its beautifully stark black and white cinematography and equally stark, subtitled dialogue.

As an animal lover, I noticed she cleverly built tension with the cat, making you wonder what his role was and whether he was literally and figuratively safe.  Honorable mention goes out to Rains who played Saeed the drug dealer.  He gave the character life with his obnoxious antics.  Vand’s intense portrayal of The Girl’s conflict with her loneliness and her vampire nature contrasted with Marandi’s faux tough guy act, creating an endearing chemistry and highlighting their isolation.  Both gave subtle yet powerful performances that will stay with you well after the film’s final scene.

Amirpour’s attention to detail is meticulous, from the lighting, to the chador-clad pedestrian crossing signs which authenticated the Iranian ghost town; and underlying themes and symbolism like the feline, female identity and sexuality, and the parallel realities of Arash and The Girl will surely provide lots of film school essay fodder.

Go see this film if you want something unique and visually captivating, and especially if you are a cat lover because Masuka the Cat steals the show!

Dracula Has Feelings Too!

Published October 15, 2014 by vfdpixie


Dracula Untold (2014, 1 hr, 32 mins)

Dracula Untold brings us yet another interpretation of how the iconic vampire came to be.  This time, the story focuses on the historical figure of Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler, and how he turned from warlord to the bloodsucking bat-loving creature of the night.

Once a child slave and soldier for the Turks, Vlad (Luke Evans) becomes a ruthless warrior and then prince of Transylvania, bent on never being at the mercy of his Turkish captors ever again.  When the boys of his kingdom, along with his precious son, are threatened by his childhood comrade-cum-nemesis, Turkish commander Mehmed (Dominic Purcell), he vows to conquer them and foil their plot to create 1000 boy soldiers.  Vlad enlists the help of an ancient evil, yes a vampire (Charles Dance), to battle the Turks.  Of course there is a catch, and Vlad has to deal with his people’s fears and the lure of his curse.

This big budget treatment of the Dracula legend was entertaining but missed the mark.  I liked the storyline loosely based on historical fact combined with the vampire legend.  The relatively new writing team of Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless tried to infuse some emotional content and sympathy for Prince Vlad’s motivation as he tried to save his family and people.  Humanizing the iconic bloodsucker kind of fell flat, however, especially with some of the scenes involving Vlad’s inner conflict and those with his wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon), whom I thought was miscast.  Gadon seemed too innocent and lacked the maturity that a wife of a ruthless warlord would have.  The role required someone darker and more conflicted like perhaps Imogen Poots or Gemma Arterton because after all, she is the wife of the Impaler.

I did enjoy the scenes with Vlad and the vampire.  They were dark, tense and Dance’s portrayal of the ancient vampire was mysterious, nefarious and left a lot of wiggle room for a franchise.  One of my concerns is that Dance might go the way of Bill Nighy from the Underworld series.  While  I enjoyed those films, Nighy is starting to be typecast, for instance, when he played Naberius in I, Frankenstein, who is basically the same character in Underworld.  It’s a little too close for comfort, and along that same vein, Evans’ look in this film gave me flashbacks of Gerrard Butler in Dracula 2000.  Evans did an admiral job as an action hero though, and he was also real easy on the eyes.  Real easy.  Other attention grabbers included the swirling bat effects, huge battle scenes, and the elaborate sets and costumes.

There were some reviews that wanted more sex appeal from Vlad.  I disagree because this treatment gives us the origins of Dracula and the first few days of his newly found supernatural state.  His monster mojo would come in time, and sexy Dracula has been done, so it was refreshing to see something different.

If you can get past the epic video game look, the liberties taken with the actual historical figure of Vlad the Imapler, and the fact that this is the latest addition to the lineup in the franchise horror machine, check it out.  It’s a decent first big budget film for director Gary Shore, and everyone has to start somewhere!

Longing and Only Lovers Left Alive

Published September 14, 2014 by vfdpixie

only lovers

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013, 2 hrs 3 mins)

As a Torontonian to the end, I will go on the record when I state that I have a love-hate relationship with TIFF, aka The Toronto International Film Festival.  I loved it when it was a smaller affair, attracting eccentric movie buffs that had interesting opinions on interesting films. While I think the attention my fair city gets these days is great, I do take issue with all the star chasing, gala hopping hoopla that is now covered by Instyle and Vanity Fair, but it seems it is here to stay.  As a result, I rarely go to any movies at the festival.  I can’t take the posturing from rabid fans and wannabe industry hangers-on, the line-ups or the general nonsense that is part and parcel with TIFF, rather waiting to watch most of the buzz-worthy titles in the comfort of my own home.  The one film I wanted to venture out to see during last year’s festival was Only Lovers Left Alive, but I never actually made it to the theatre, so here is my review, one year later, ironically on the last day of the 2014 season of TIFF.

Jim Jarmusch is an interesting man.  I don’t claim to be an expert on him by any means, but  films like Stranger Than Paradise and The Limits of Control left me loving the feel and scope of his vision, getting an almost artistic buzz after watching them.  My favourite Jarmusch film hands down is Ghost Dog:  The Way of the Samurai.  This quiet film brings a sense of beauty and zen to the assassin, and he does the same for the vampire in Only Lovers Left Alive.

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is an innovative musician who is also a reclusive vampire.  He lives in a secluded, tear-down of a house in the tear-down city of Detroit, and with the help of a human Ian (Anton Yelchin) for music supplies, and a jumpy hospital lab tech (Jeffery Wright) for his blood supply, he is able to exist with little disturbance.  Melancholy seems to rule his life of late, making him contemplate his existence and his disdain for humans, or “zombies” that are destroying the world.  Eve (Tilda Swinton) is his wife and at the moment, she lives in Tangiers.  She is a sensual being, soaking up books and atmosphere, and seems to be content with getting “the good stuff”, or choice blood, from non other than the 16th century poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe himself (John Hurt), who has survived the ages as a vampire.  They are all satisfied with sipping their blood from tiny sherry glasses because they are far too civilized to hunt their human meals.  After a disturbing video chat with Adam, Eve comes to Detroit to check in on him. Adam and Eve appear to the outsider as the coolest junkie couple you will ever meet, wearing shades at night to shroud themselves from the everyman.  They are the ones that if you engage, you just may be in a heap of trouble, but their seduction is irresistible.   They proceed to chill out in true vamp style and live an introvert’s dream; reading, debating philosophy, playing music, getting their blood fix and sleeping in a heap like sophisticated feral junkie children, until Eve’s bratty sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) shows up, throwing a wrench in their well oiled machine of solitude.

Sound boring?  Perhaps a tad Anne Rice-y and formulaic?  Well it’s not.  Jarmusch is known for making films of a slower, more contemplative pace and what he creates here is a sweeping and moody anti-horror movie.  With a beautiful colour palette and the comfort of cluttered sets, he wraps you in a cocoon of an introverted, isolated world that only the characters and the viewers understand. But make no mistake.  There are plenty of intellectual inside jokes and lots of dry humour that still makes this a classic Jarmusch film.

His “casting” of Detroit as a backdrop was genius for this particular story.  It mirrors the life the vampire couple used to have, a life of innovation and progress that becomes antiquated as the world forgets and moves on.  Adam has fans that seem to personify the hipster fueled gentrification, a tainted blood that tries to pump life into an ancient body.  It’s a world where the “zombies” defile artifacts of a glorious past.  Pay attention to the scoring too, but not only because Jarmusch wants you to.  The director and musician creates Adam’s spacey compositions with his band SQURL, and the action is accented by the beautifully enchanting and dreamy sounds of the lute from composer Jozef van Wissem, who won best score for the film at Cannes in 2013.

And I must talk about Tilda Swinton.  I think you all know how much I love her.  She is like a gorgeous alien who can morph into any character.  From her style to her attitude, she is truly mesmerizing.  Her waifishly sleek Eve was calm and calculating; glowing on the screen like an alabaster phantom.  Tom Hiddleston was lazily lethal and brooded with a Jim Morrison-esque intensity, and I loved the reference to Christopher Marlowe, whom John Hurt played so well.  Honourable mention goes to Anton Yelchin as Ian, who exuded a sweet naivety and obedience that amplified Wasikowska’s predatory and petulant Ava.  The costuming and sets were beautifully done, from the rock star vampire tousled hair to the retro-modern wardrobe; from Eve’s walk-up in Tangiers to Adam’s old school recording studio complete with beautiful vintage guitars and a faded red velvet divan fit for any aging rock star, and all of this captured by D.O.P. Yorick Le Saux who meticulously frames each scene to give us precise shots that are pleasing to the eye.  This is a thinker’s vampire film, with nary a CGI effect, save for some fangs and fast hands.  If you want to step outside of the horror box, I’d suggest Ganja and HessKiss of the Damned, and Only Lovers Left Alive for an interesting triple feature to experience indie vampirism at it’s best.

As a pixie who has often been called a vampire because I don’t look my age (yet…) and as someone who has had to examine her own mortality more than once due to very unfortunate circumstances, Only Lovers Left Alive was very poignant for me.  Their desire to stay under the radar and not bring any attention to themselves as life marches on is betrayed by an ultimate longing, bringing them together to steel against an impending doom.  When faced with the question “Is this all there is?”, Adam and Eve give us solace in knowing that yes, maybe “this” is it, but enjoying the moment before it becomes a memory is our mortal goal.

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