aka Demon Under Glass
Jon Cunningham's Vampire may take for its subject matter two tried-and-tested horror themes - namely vampirism and serial murder - but, this quirky little film manages to combine the two in an interesting manner, with a number of neat little touches that certainly outweigh the negatives.
The film begins with a police 'sting' operation: a female detective is working undercover as a prostitute, in order to try and entrap a killer whom the force have nicknamed 'Vlad' for his propensity for draining the blood of his victims. After one false lead, it seems the cops might have their man when a potential client makes a furious escape from his attempted arrest, getting badly wounded in the process. But this is, as you might expect, no ordinary man: despite being shot and bludgeoned, he's still alive. And at the behest of a secretive government body, he is taken to a secure medical facility - though not before strangling one Dr. Hirsch, a member of the medical staff who evidently takes such an interest in this patient. Ominously, this 'Vlad' suspect is escorted by a team of men in protective gear emblazoned with crosses…
At the facility, 'Vlad' is sealed into a room where, he is warned, any misbehaviour will result in sunlight being flooded into the room. He is told by the doctors that he is to be restored to health and then used as a guinea pig in an array of experiments designed to further man's understanding of life and death, and it is in his interests to comply fully. However, 'Vlad' (or Simon Molinar, as he introduces himself) soon comes to trust the rookie doctor responsible for his direct care, one Dr. McKay, and he seems to be a model prisoner. And as he becomes a gradually more sympathetic character, the experimenting medical team seem more and more barbaric: it's a sign of the times that even when traditional monsters or villains are pitted against the dispassionate machinations of medicine and science, we tend to side with the subjects.
Meanwhile, Detective Taylor, the female detective who set up the sting, just can't get think straight. On one hand, she is aggrieved that her murder suspect just 'disappeared' into the murky upper echelons of government, depriving the victims' families of any justice. On the other hand, she can't shake the fact that the brief encounter she shared with her suspect was, well, pretty erotic. She can't get 'Vlad' out of her head. To try to solve her problem once and for all, she decides to try and find out what happened to him, both for her sake and for the victims' families - but will she find out what she wants before the experiments take a more grisly turn?
This film does a lot of things very well indeed, and I was most struck that their lead actor here (Jason Carter) is a dead ringer for Vlad Dracula, or 'Vlad the Impaler' - it's a nice detail, in a film that obviously references the likely basis for the most famous vampire of them all. There are lots of novel ideas here: I loved the 'sunlight as emergency weapon' conceit and, the scene where Simon/Vlad emerges, not cloak-clad from a rotting coffin, but dressed in civilian clothes from a stainless steel coffin, is a stroke of genius. The tension is handled very well in the first thirty or so minutes of the film and by the time we actually meet our killer, the tension is simmering very nicely. That said, the filmmakers are obviously aware that they don't quite have the budget to pull out all the stops and make this an epic, so they don't shy away from the odd lighter moment either: I did smile at a scene where the guards look through the types of identity cards Simon has in his wallet.
The major issue for me with this film is its length: coming in at a whopping 1 hour 50 minutes, it desperately needs a further edit to prevent the action from sagging, as a lot of the initial tension is lost through some incredibly ponderous scenes. I also felt that, although a lot of the film's implicit exploration of medical ethics was interesting, perhaps the film wasn't quite strongly-placed enough to deal with quite as much of this, as the film begins to pull in several different directions under the strain.
Overall however, Vampire has some engaging ideas, a charismatic male lead, and the ability to surpass its budgetary restrictions with smart dialogue and a sound premise. The tongue-in-cheek moments work rather nicely, and the slow-burn horror elements are effective. It is overlong, it does try to do a great deal, but this is secondary to what I found to be an innovative spin on the vampire myth. This release by Stax Entertainment is of reasonable sound and picture quality despite the film being a low-budget production, and although there were no extra features on my screener, the film alone is certainly a worthwhile watch.
Review by Keri O'Shea
|Released by Stax Entertainment|
|Region 2 - PAL|
|see main review|