Monday, September 12, 2005

Catching up on the NetFlix

Well, one good thing about being sick all weekend is that I managed to knock back a couple of DVD's that had been sitting around unwatched. Here's my reviews:

The Breed is an attempt to turn the vampire cliché on its head, where the hero is a human trying to save the vampires. In this movie set in a Brazil-like near-retro-future, the community of vampires have come forward seeking integration into human society, but separatist vampire factions and distrustful government agencies threaten to turn the peaceable commingling into a bloodbath.

I'm not sure this movie achieves what it sets out to do. The cars from the 50's, rotary phones, and bulky tech aren't used consistently enough to have the effect that they had in Brazil, and they clash somewhat with the companion high-goth locations. But they don't play a huge role in the story like they do in Brazil, either, so it's more a way of differentiating the human world from the vampire world (and we spend way more time in the vampire world anyway).

Still, the story is engaging, and the actors do a pretty good job almost all the way through. A bit over-acted, but it works for this fantasy piece. It's certainly better than most recent vampire fare.

Next was Brides of Blood Island, an exploitation flick from the late sixties, wherein a team of social workers come to an island that sits just outside the radiation range of the early WWII atomic bomb tests to see if there has been any effect on the local flora and fauna. They discover that the native population has reverted to their ancient ways, holding lotteries to see which of their voluptuous young daughters gets tied up in the jungle and left for the jungle monster to ravage, and that the jungle foliage now has a life of its own, attacking anyone that passes near with animated branches and roots. When the chief's hottie daughter gets picked in the lottery (natch), the hero saves her (didn't care about the other girls), and gets the whole village after them. They take refuge with the well-spoken aristocrat that lives in an isolated plantation house elsewhere on the island. But he has a secret, too.

Considering the genre - crappy low-budget exploitation film shot in the Phillipines - it's actually pretty good. But that's not really saying all that much. Although the plot is passable and the photography fairly good quality for the genre, the monster is so dumb-looking that I'm kinda shocked to read that it actually scared people back in the day. Still, it's got that drive-in horror movie vibe to it that is so priceless - furtive natives with a primal secret they dare not disclose, dark forests with nasty creatures lurking, screaming maidens menaced by brutish radioactive monsters, and a scientist's wife named "Beverly Hills" (seriously). It's so campy that it ends up being fun even though it's so bad.

Finally, we have The Satanic Rites of Dracula, which I've been looking forward to watching for quite a while. Christopher Lee returns as the quintessential 70's Dracula, who is weary of his cursed existence and yearns for final peace. To achieve this, he plans to release a plague upon the Earth that kills every last human so that he will starve to death and finally rest. Standing against him is none other than a worthy descendant of Van Helsing, played by the fantastic Peter Cushing, who is always a pleasure to watch.

This movie did not disappoint, but it certainly wasn't what I expected. It's like a cross between a typical Hammer Horror movie and a James Bond movie. It starts out with MI-6 agents and Scotland Yard investigations into the activities of bureaucrats and Nobel Prize winners, and Dracula employs security cameras and motorcycle thugs instead of ravens and wolves against his foes.

But there are still some good traditional horror moments. When Van Helsing's daughter sneaks into Dracula's basement and awakens his vampire brides, there are some genuinely good scares. And the final showdown between Van Helsing and Dracula, with the obligatory lingering shots of Dracula's corpse dissolving into dust, is well done.

My only complaint about the movie would be that Dracula in this movie is severely underpowered as measured against his other incarnations. We never see Dracula cut loose on anyone, so he doesn't end up being very threatening. His plot and his cronies are more threatening than he ends up being. But this is a minor point, since Dracula's name recognition carries a lot of that back into the story - we all know what Dracula is capable of. And Peter Cushing is the star of the show anyway - he really is great to watch. Thumbs up.

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