I’ve spent way too much time trying to figure out why this film is so hated. I’ll admit, the font used on the titles is a little over the top and the use of classic Dracula protagonists names for modern characters is a little irritating, but honestly – look at that opening shot of the Demetre… The blue cast that contrasts with the red blood on the people and on the sails. It’s amazing. The footprints in the sand where we slowly see animal turn the human, it’s marvelously understated and yet perfectly effective.
We get a good bit of establishing banter with our characters. It’s perfectly clear who Van Helsing is, but Johnny Lee Miller himself still charms as well. I feel a little heartbroken when Selena turns down his date.
Downstairs, the thieves are quick and efficient. Omar Epps actually does a marvelous job being sinister. He has a cultured style to him that underlies his efficiency. I could actually really dig a pure heist movie featuring this crew… it’s almost a shame that they won’t live long enough for a sequel.
In a gothic cave chamber below Van Helsing’s office (Setting off a few traps to give us some fun, spiky kills) The chamber itself, adorned with vampire skulls, almost feels like a hammer film set. It’s more of an homage than anything else, because the rest of this film will do its best to be slick and modern.
Across the pond in New Orleans, our heroine Mary, he is having bad dreams. Flashes of Dracula, armor, and strobe lighting mix with her face until she awakens terrified. It’s a reasonable bit of foreshadowing considering Dracula is on his way to her in the thieves airplane. The first attacks from Dracula are fast and brutal, and more than once it’s succeeded in making me jump. Gary Tunicliff wields fake blood effectively, though I’ll dmit I wish Dracula’s de-ageing were a little less sudden. Then again, when you got Gerard Butler in your cast, you want to get his shirt off and have him looking pretty as quick as possible.
We effectively sidestep skepticism by having Johnny Lee Miller follow Van Helsing and almost immediately witness the vampires firsthand. They’re well done too, Gary Tunnicliffe chose to make them gruesome more by virtue of blood spatter rather then the physical deformity we see in Carpenter’s Vampires or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Still, there is no mistaking the red eyes and fangs for anything less than monsters. Lussier delivers us a kinetic action scene before Van Helsing takes Miller aside to explain the plot. There is a new twist to the vampire legend here, the idea that Dracula is patient zero – the first vampire, and that the methods that destroy other vampires simply don’t work on him. It’s a logical, organic addition to the mythology. We get additional foreshadowing as silver Mardi Gras coins are dropped from a balcony while Dracula wanders the streets of New Orleans. Foreshadowing is actually something Lussier is good at and the general confusion and massive activity that we get from this admittedly small-scale Mardi Gras celebration provides a colorful and acceptable challenge to our vampire hunters. It’s no challenge for Dracula though, as he finds Mary‘s roommate Lucy to continue the game of cat and mouse that he is playing with her and her father.
Lussier creates an almost Suspiria like atmosphere to introduce the brides and finally give us our first real confrontation with Dracula. We get great wolf and bat imagery as Miller savers Mary and they race after the Church for sanctuary.
We get bloody scripture, exploding bibles and massive cemeteries, not to mention one of the best crucifixion scenes I’ve ever seen and as we finally discover the origins of the first vampire.
There is some cringe here, brilliant dialogue like “we are also much more complicated than our names aren’t we? “Are undercut by goofy dialogue like “I don’t drink… Coffee”. The ever present Virgin Records marketing can get on your face a bit as well and the name itself is admittedly a bit hokey. Still, the imagery, the twist and the action all serve to make this one of my all-time favorite vampire films, second only to the Lost Boys. It’s an incredibly fun vampire romp, not overly grotesque like Fright Night or John Carpenters Vampires but still free of the over-the-top romanticism that Anne Rice and the later Twilight stories would infuse into the genre.
So I finished that Fear the Dead box set and thought “Hey! This was fun, do I have any others? “It turns out I still had this vampire looking themed collection that I got ages ago… I was missing Cinema Wasteland and in the mood for those kind of films, it looked like that kind of set. I’d only gotten through a bit though, and did not remember why. Oh boy, I remember now. The movies on the first disc don’t even merit individual discussion, we’re going to lump these all into one artificial.
The first movie, the bewitching, is porn. It’s soft core with a plot, in the misty Mundae tradition, but honestly, that’s it. It’s just porn, wrapped up in a framing sequence about a witch going to Vegas. To be frank, it doesn’t belong in this collection.
Bizarrely, the second film is the polar opposite.it is a Christian horror film – a vampire film actually, though we don’t really discover the vampires in till the end of the film . It’s not in your face with its message, it’s more about the setting – a Christian college, we see Bible studies at some point the main theme here is that wielding a cross against a vampire only works if you have faith in what that cross represents. That’s a philosophy I particularly like, and have enjoyed since I first read into it in Doctor Who. The main problem here is it feels like bunch of college students (at a Christian college at that) who happen to like horror movies, decided to get together and try make one… But really don’t understand filmmaking. All that this should have been was a fun movie kept within their own group friends, because it’s awful – and does nothing to enhance out of their reputations as actors and filmmakers nor does it really benefit the name of Christ out there…
The final movie on this disc is really the only one that feels like what I was looking for. It’s called catholic ghoulgirls – basically catholic school girls fight off a zombie uprising. It’s another one of those where it’s about getting together your friends and a movie camera. Very little in the way professional actors or anything like that, but at least it is self aware enough to not take itself seriously.
This one is in fact, feature length, rather than the short film that precedes it. It’s amusing as a basic trashy hack and slash, perhaps the best thing I can say about it. The movie actually ends with the message “thanks for watching a crappy movie! “Which should tell you just about everything you need to know about this film. It’s the sort of thing I’d expect to see on the festival circuit, but not anywhere else.
That’s it for disk one of this set, I don’t think I ever got to disc two before… And man I am hoping it’s going to be better than this one was.
The biggest problem with Coppala’s Dracula is he promised one thing and give us another. He said he wanted to do the book, that it’s never been done before. He is kind of right about that, although the Jess Franco version is actually quite quite close to the book. Coppala went into great depth and detail to recreate this world but still fails to capture the novel itself. What are minor things like the fact that Dracula was not dressed on black or that he had curly hair or the ability to walk in sunlight (both specific to the book!) or elements like casting terrible actors such as Keanu Reeves and Wynona Rider in key roles, these are not the major sins of the film. Coppola transforms Dracula into a love story . Not just a love story, but a love story between Mina and Dracula! If you have known me for any length of time you’ll know how this infuriates me. There is no trace of the relationship between Mina and Dracula in the book, indeed the way Mina was forced to take Draculas blood in the novel was nothing less than rape. Here, it’s treated as a love scene…we’ve transformed a hateful assult into a passionate scene of infidelity, apparently justified by reincarnation. I hate Coppola for this…so very much. The single saving grace here is Anthony Hopkins who’s version of Van Helsing is brilliant. But if I were to remake this film, I’d realy do the book. Straight, no reimagining. I’d jettison Keanuand Wynona and replace them with the blandest of soap opera actors it would still be an improvement. Most importantly though I’d make that love story one between Harker and Mina, because that is the real point here. Mina is devoted to husband to the point of the tracking Dracula through thier shared bond and then I think is a far more uplifting story, a far more compelling story, a far better story. It is in fact, the real story of the book.
In Defense of The Human Target
For about two months during 1992 we got the Human Target on TV. It was enough to make an impression on me.
The series followed the premise of the comics – a body double, a stand in who also acted as a body guard and took on cases one else would touch, but then departed from the old P.I. with a storefront office approach and amped it up to a high tech world where the makeup was applied by computerized machinery on board a stealth jet .
The changes worked for me, they seem like the same kind of changes the comics might have made if they were trying to revitalize the series. It was my real introduction to Rick Springfield who I thought did just fine in the role. Nothing spectacular, but then again, he doesn’t need to be since the guest star his character is posing as would be on screen far more often than he would. It also filled the DC Comics size gapin my TV schedule since the Flash was now off the air. Interestingly enough, John Westly Shipp, who played the Flash would end up on an episode of Human Target, which was of course produced by the same people that did the Flash. It was nice to see him on TV again so soon after the departure of Barry Allen. I spoke with him a few years ago about the role. He still has fond memories of it.
I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I suspect the network didn’t really want the show to succeed. Perhaps WANT is a little strong of a word. I think they didn’t really care. They had just seen Bilson and DeMeyo’s Flash crash and burn over at CBS and weren’t too confidant in their new offering. Still there was a hole in the schedule to fill, they had to show something opposite the Olympics and this may as well be it.
I can’t really complain about not getting a fair chance though. Seven episodes is fair, even when buried. The critics didn’t like it, but then again thy usually hate Comic properties – or at least, they did before Marvel changed the perception of the superhero movie. I’m sad we didn’t get more of this, but I’m happy with what we did get.
I’m also a little perplexed. Eighteen years later they tried again.
In 2010 I suppose things made a little more sense. Comics were more readily accepted as source material and the vertigo series was really critically acclaimed…and completely ignored in the shows plot. Christopher Chance is boiled down to nothing more than a glorified bodyguard.
The cast was excellent also featuring Chi McBride
who I loved from the John Larroquett show and also Jackie Earle Haley in possibly my favorite performance of his EVER.
This version was a slick action series and certainly a whole lot of fun though I don’t understand why they bothered to pay for the license when the character bore no resemblance to DC’s comic character. Perhaps just to get people like me to watch? If so it worked. I followed it both seasons. Still cancelled too soon, but at least with a DVD release. If you want the 1992 series you may have to resort to bootlegs. I still see them occasionally at conventions. Check both of these out, even if you don’t know the comics.
Actually , check them out ESPECIALLY if you don’t know the comics!
In Defense of Vampires : Los Muertos
There’s a sort of conventional wisdom that says sequels are bad, and musicians can’t act and vampires are romantic. It’s that very kind of stereotype that makes me do these kind of columns.
John Carpenter’s “Vampires” was a breath of fresh air in an era dominated by the Anne Rice kind of “tragic immortal” vampire. His vampires weren’t quite the animals of “From Dusk Till Dawn” or “30 days of Night” but they were monsters. Devolved humans. Predatory and evil, not people anymore.
It was enough to make me really want to spend some more time in this world, great premises with the Vatican strike forces and the rules and basically this underground world they created. That’s exactly what you get here. It’s more of the same. Perhaps some diminishing returns -Jon Bon Jovi isn’t James Woods, but then again who is? Bon Jovi gets a lot of flack for this and I think a lot of people go into the movie intending to dislike him, and when he doesn’t do anything special they feel justified. To be clear, he’s adequate in this film. He’s perfectly fine. Actually that really defines the movie as a whole. It’s very average. Nothing special, just nice vampire and action. If you hated John Carpenter’s Vampires, I’m going to give you a pass on this one. It’s just more of the same. But if you like your vampires the way Carpenter envisioned them, then give this a try. It may not stand up to repeated viewings but is worth at least one more watch!
In Defense of Dracula 2000
I’m well aware of the hate for this movie. I tend to think that this comes down to expectations perhaps. there’s always a lot of “How dare they” and “Who do they think they are claiming this to be a sequal to Dracula?” (I get that. I have the same reaction to Dacre Stoker’s terrible book….). Hammer did a ton of Dracula sequals. Many of which are far weaker than this one.
Perhaps it’s what pop culture has done to the vampire. This Dracula is evil. Plain and simple. No rational, the wounded lover, he brooding immortal, no just evil, driven by want and spreading his disease of vampirism everywhere he goes. This is not Anne Rice or Stephanie Myer’s (yes, I equate them both the same for their watering down of the mythology and over romanticizing. Stop changing the beast. If you don’t want to write about vampires then write about something else, don’t change what already exists!) kind of swooning dark lover. This is a monster. We’re not used to this, but I think we need to get back to it (a reason 30 days of night was so popular.).
It also draws criticism because it looks like it a cool, young, hip cast like any other disposable horror movie – remember what I was saying about Hellraiser:Hellworld.
This isn’t exactly the case. We get the group at the beginning as fodder, but we don’t really follow t hem. We start off with a high tech band of thieves who break into an insanely secure vault and make off with the only thing they find…a coffin they mistake to be a safe. The coffin contains Dracula, held weakened and captive by an immortal VanHelsing who keeps himself alive using Dracula’s blood, filtered through leaches. He intends to stay alive until he can find a way to destroy Dracula once and for all.. Other vampires can be killed but Dracula holds a secret….
This is great stuff. There’s high tech thieves (ala Oceans 11, but younger), Biblical mystisicm, and great vampire action. This is an all star cast as well. Seriously, look at this list : Danny Masterson (That 70’s Show and Men at Work), Omar Epps (House M.D.), Jeri Ryan (Star Trek : Voyager, Boston Public), Jonny Lee Miller (Hackers, Elementary) – even Christopher Plummer!
Finally, the movie has a bit of a comic book feel to it. That may turn some people off, though I don’t understand why. My favorite Vampire film ever is the Lost Boys. Slick and modern (for the time) with that same Graphic Novel feel to it. This works for me. Just enough action, just enough blood, Dracula’s appeal to the opposite sex is shown but not over stated, it’s the perfect vampire movie to me.
Now that you know what you’re getting into, go check this out again – but don’t confuse this with the terrible Dracula 3000 and skip the sequels. Just enjoy this one for what it is, a fun vampire movie with some great familiar faces.
Fright Night 2 : New Blood
I’ve always made a point to state that I don’t hate remakes just for the sake of hating remakes. I was reasonably positive about Fright Night three years ago here : https://argocitycomics.wordpress.com/2011/08/12/fright-night-sneak-preview/. This time not so much.
First and foremost, let’s get this out of the way. Just because it has “2” in the title, that means nothing. This is not a follow up. It’s a remake. You don’t get to remake a film two years after the last remake! It’s not even a BETTER remake. I think I would have liked this a great deal more if it had been a sequel. It’s DTV horror. It didn’t NEED to have the same actors and it isn’t too much of a leap to make this a follow up. Evil Ed is better realized here, but that’s it. Amy is completely wasted here. She’s always been a damsel in distress, but she was practical in the original. She was stronger in the remake. Here’s she’s just a walking prop. Vincent simply isn’t interesting here…in fact he far less likable than in the 2011 remake and again, he doesn’t actually appear until around the halfway point.
One of my real pet peeves is taking a remake in name only. They use the names and maybe some subject matter, but tell a story that not only has nothing to do with the original but doesn’t even feel like the original (A big reason I never liked the Battlestar Galactica reboot). Again, it wouldn’t have taken much script doctoring to make this a sequel. Simple replace Ed with someone else or find a way to humanize him again. State that Vincent has a new career doing reality TV and he pulled some strings to get Charlie and company in on this trip. The Bathory angle would have fit much better like that – especially if Geri Dandridge was somehow related to Jerry Dandridge.
It’s frustrating because this does have some good set pieces, and frankly some brilliant uses of the cross to ward off Vampires. My favorite is a tie between the picture on the cell phone or the full chest tattoo on Peter Vincent. The ocular damage scene is nicely squirm worthy as well and the sonic location is a surprisingly original touch. But all of it simply isn’t sufficient to make this a good film, and the “2” in the title just pisses me off.
If you see it on netflix and need something to watch as background at a party or while you are cleaning the house or something it’ll work, but don’t go out of your way to rent it and definatley don’t buy it.
So I decided to revisit the Fright Night remake. It’s bee na year or so since I caught the sneak preview. I remember not hating it. I think I actually like it a bit better even this time around.
Much like the Carpenter Vampires movies and From Dusk Till Dawn were a breath of fresh air in a time where vampire lore was dominated by Anne Rice, Fright Night is a refreshing break from the Twilight era of vampires, and a return to from where vampires are brutal killers, not romantic loners.
The effects are good enough and even a bit creative. Anton Yelchin’s Charlie is actually an incredibly good vampire hunter, particularly in the movie’s finale.
So what’s the problem? Well, it’s mostly in the name. You see, this is a good vampire movie. A couple of tweaks and it could absolutely stand on it’s own, but instead, the producers opted for a remake. Fright Night was on of the innovators in the 80. It was different take on the idea, much like the Lost Boys. Unfortunately, if you’re going to call yourself Fright Night then you have to live up to that legacy, and really instead of helping it along, the name recognition just drags this movie down, creating unrealistic expectations.
That’s really the curse of the remake in general isn’t it? You get the name recognition, but then you also have to live up to the previous installments…and that’s not easy. Most remakes don’t really even try, it’s just a quick cash grab. I think this could have worked better as an unrelated sequel – don’t use the characters names (or maybe make Tennant, Peter Vincent’s son, something like that) and set it in the same universe, but make a fresh movie for a new generation. But insted, they went the cheap route and made a straight up remake. It’s a pity. This si a good movie, but it will never be considered as good as it could be because it’s forever saddled with the term “remake”
You can watch it here untill someone wises up and takes it down (in which case you’ll just have to head over and read some Violent Blue. Okay?).
Catching up on comics (part two)
So yesterday we talked about mostly what I didn’t like…really it was about the stuff that didn’t make an impression on me. Today it’s going to be about a couple titles that really caught my attention.
Let’s start with Masters of the Universe.
Oh my GOD this is so good. I grabbed the first to issues in the mini series and tracked down three of the five (i think) digital issues. It’s all just brilliant. It almost has that more barbaric feel to it that the early mini-comics (the ones that came packed with the first wave of action figures), yet they haven’t tampered with the history (like the 2002 version did). Adam is a simple woodsman, taking care of his ailing father. But at night, he dreams of being a warrior. He dreams of He-Man.
You see…at some point, Skeletor won. Not only did he win and take over the world, he made all the heroes forget who they were, and scattered them. There is no champion of Eternia, There’s just Adam, but he still dreams of He-Man. Now, on a quest, he finds he has skills he shouldn’t have. Skills with a blade he couldn’t possibly know. And what’s with the eagle that follows him? Somehow he knows it’s name – like it told him. It’s name is Zoar.
This series is magnificent. It’s possibly the best treatment of the characters I’ve ever seen – and I’ve seen it all. No offense to Val Staples and Emliano Santaluca who were doing the MVP series in the early 2000’s. They had their hands tied by Mattel, and the entire series was being squeezed into a mold that it really didn’t fit into, along with a toy line that was being grossly mishandled. This is a far better story that Keith Giffen is telling and they seem to have more creative freedom to explore the mythology. In fact, I think I should check over at Val’s message board He-Man.org to see what the consensus is over there.
Check out the digital copies too. The Battle Cat one is incredible….how did they manage to take a silly talking tiger and create such an engrossing short story with it?
Then there’s the Shadow. Four issues in and the jury is still out on this one. I was really intrigued to see what Garth Ennis would do with him. The Shadow is a good character for ultra violence, and if you’ve written the punisher, then this should be a good venue as well.
I’m not thrilled with how Margo Lane is written. She’s always been a pest but in this she’s a real pill. Ennis appears to be heavily influenced by Howard Chaynkin’s version of the character. This could very well be the 40’s version of Chaynkin’s 80’s series. I’m not a big fan of that. Ennis also gets a little too rapey for my taste. That’s a hot button with me and he’s including a lot of it in this story – all references, nothing graphic, but it‘ll keep me from reading this one too often.
When it’s good it’s very good. Ennis knows his violence and gets creative with it. I would like to see more of that though, and perhaps a little more mystery. You could probably distill everything I like in the first four issue and fit them in a book and a half. I grew indifferent towards Dynamite’s Green Hornet, though it got better once Kevin Smith got off the book. I see myself heading down that same path here.
I dipped my toe in Dynamite’s new Dark Shadow series as well. I think it’s taking place further along in the series than what I’ve watched so I’m putting theses on hold for the time being. Interestingly enough, I discovered this because of the Dark Shadows/Vampirella crossover!
The thing that I find the most striking about the Dark Shadows book, is
how well done the art is. They capture Collinwood perfectly. Not just the look of the house, but the rooms
themselves. The artist obviously has a bunch of photo references. Everyone looks exactly as they did on the TV show and the we frequently see the rooms we saw on the show, drawn in exacting detail. It’s a really well done book and I’m looking forward to picking it up again.
Finally, I sampled a couple of the Before Watchmen books. You know, I really don’t know why this hasn’t been done before. They are good stories and the characters feel very natural, very familiar. It works.
That’s not to say it’s the masterpiece that Watchmen is. It couldn’t be. It’s not supposed to be. Do you expect every issue of Superman, or Batman or Justice League to be the triumph that Kingdom Come was? This is the groundwork. I think these stories get us into the characters and attach us further to them. Far from being detracting, if anything, these stories make Watchmen better. Give ’em a chance. You’ll like them.
I still have half a stack to cover. I haven’t even cracked my Lone Ranger books, my stack of Grifters, or Suicide Squads. So I’ll be back with part three, hopefully next week. Until then, check out this weeks Violent Blue!
Dark Shadows can suck it.
I’d like to think that title was clever rather than just vulger, but at this point I’m not sure I care. My big question – again and again is “Why are they doing this?”
I don’t get why this is being made as a comedy. Sure the series was a little strange at times – it’s teh subject matter combined with teh inheriant strangeness of the late sixties. It was melodramatic. But they played it straight. The series was at it’s heart a drama. Shouldn’t any adaption of it be a drama?
Keep in mind, I have no reall emotianal attachment to this property. While Iv’e seen pictures and posters around conventions and books for much of my life, my frist real exposure to Dark Shadows was the 90’s revival – which I watched for the frist time six years ago. Every morning when Baby Maddie would wak up at 4-5 for her early morning bottle, we’d pop in a tape and sh’d have breakfast. Slowly we went throguh the entire series in about a month. It’s only recently, because of my access to netflix that I’ve begun to watch the original series (Let’s face it -over 1000 episodes? Netflix actually is the ideal solution rather than trackign down tapes or buying that ridiculous $600.00 box set or torrenting the series….how much Hard Drive space would that actually TAKE?). Yet even only being abotu 4% of the way through the series I can see it deserves better treatment than this film is giving it. Honestly, it’s really just the Dracula story, updated for the late sixties, and well done at that. The aristocratic elements fit in very nicely and Barnabas works so well in this context. There’s something abotu the vampire story in general that paticularly lends itself to an aristocratic air I think. As much as I like the common man/punk variations like “The Lost Boys”, aristocratic snobbery just seems to work that much better.
The charm and style of the series thgouh seem lost in the context of a comedy. Style indeed. Even before I ever watched any of the series, one of the things that always struck me was how well dressed Barnabas was. The style and cut of the suits – contemporary (for the time) but expensive and class. Depps’ wardrobe on the other hand looks like a cross between a victorian gentleman and a 70’s hipster. It’s just wrong.
It all smacks of someone having a concept for a funny vampire movie but not enough confidence to run with it without attachign it to a known franchise. I’m looking at you Mr. Burton. If you want to do a funny satirical vampire move, great. Do something like “Transylvania 6-5000″ or “Young Frankenstien”. Want to do a parody? Do something like “Scary Movie”. I bet Burton could do it better than the Wayans too. but this whole business of taking a straigh series and remaking it as a comedy bothers me. I hated it when they did it with “the Green Hornet” (a series I DO have a significant emotional attachment to), and it even bugs me when it series I’ve never seen a single episode of like “21 Jumpstreet” or “Starsky and Hutch”. It just dosen’t work.
And that brings me to Tim Burton….but I’ll wait for next time on that one.
We’re talking vampire movies over at Violent Blue today.