Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Vampire Double Feature Review: Blood For Irina & Dracula's Orgy Of The Damned

I’ve never been shy about the fact that vampires are fairly low on my movie monster totem pole.  I’m not a huge fan of a lot of the sanguine cinema that’s out there, but there are rare vamp gems like Near Dark or Leif Jonker’s Darkness that I absolutely love.  It was in the search for these blood diamonds in the rough that I decided to watch two vampire flicks back to back.  One is Blood For Irina, the debut film from Fangoria editor and Jack (the Ripper) of all horror trades, Chris Alexander.  The other is Dracula’s Orgy of the Damned, an irresistibly titled low budget romp from Great Lakes Artist Group.  In hindsight, I could not have chosen two more widely divergent flicks.  So, did they suck veins dry or just suck?  Let’s start with Irina, shall we?

Synopsis: Irina is dying. A predator who stalks streets at night looking for blood, she has lived over a century; tormented by memory, living in a run-down motel by the sea, Irina has reached the end. Her perceptions skewed, her body and mind revolting against themselves, she waits for an exit. Her private hell is echoed by the motel manager, driven by an obsession to protect Irina and keep her secrets safe, and a broken prostitute whose desperate plight may be worse than Irina's. It's the tale of three people living a life on the fringe, trapped in world of literal and figurative decay.

A lot of people have compared this to the vampire films of 70’s eurotrash auteurs like Jess Franco and Jean Rollin.  While the hallucinatory, dream like qualities do call this era to mind, particularly Rollin’s work, I think the comparison is a little too broad.  Those flicks were steeped in sexuality.  I don’t get that feeling from Irina.  While some of the bloodletting could be interpreted that way if that’s what you’re looking for, this a movie about addiction and death.  There is no nudity, and all of the scenes of Irina feeding have all of the eroticism of watching a junkie shoot up.  I love the blood and bush flicks of Franco’s heyday as much, if not more, than anybody, but this ain’t one of those.  I think that comparison is made more out of not having anything else to compare it to.  It strikes me as more experimental than throwback.

This is the kind of cinema that my film school professors all had a hard on for; an existential character study that leaves room for interpretation.  It’s obvious that the plot isn’t the point.  It’s all in the metaphors, but it’s left ambiguous as to what the metaphors are.  As I said, I took it to be the story of a world-weary blood fiend and the crippling loneliness, repetition, and meaninglessness that comes with that existence; a truth which easily transfers to the mortal realm.  I can also see a slew of alternate interpretations that are just as poignant and thought provoking.  This isn’t so much psychological horror as it is horrific psychology.

I like a lot of what Alexander has done here.  He’s really got an eye for interesting shot composition and cool imagery.  The score is exactly what the movie called for.  From ambient, droning noise to the perfect placement of a couple of beautiful classical pieces, it just works.  He uses a handheld camera the way it is meant to be used.  The motion is fluid and dynamic without ever devolving into shaky-cam.  A lot of other filmmakers could learn from that.  I can’t say enough about the locations.  The decrepit hotel that serves as Irina’s home base is an absolute treasure.  According to the commentary track, they did no set dressing at all.  They found it that way.  That was an incredible stroke of luck, because I don’t know if the greatest art directors in Hollywood could have come up with this crumbling monument to decay.  The streets that she stalks were chosen perfectly, and the deserted beach strikes a perfect balance between beauty and despair.  The setting almost becomes a character in and of itself.

This is not a movie for everyone, though.  It’s slow.  Glacially slow.  Sometimes painfully slow.  Even the half of the movie that isn’t in slow motion feels like it is.  It seems much longer than its 70 minutes.  Viewers looking for a traditional vampire movie and those who prefer flicks that move at a swift clip will find it frustrating.  I’m one of those people who generally accepts movies on their own terms, and even I had to fight the urge to hit the fast forward button from time to time.  Alexander states on the commentary track that he intended for Irina to be a challenging slog to get through.  It’s almost a form of confrontational cinema.  In the end I think it works.  Cutting a few minutes definitely would have made it more palatable to the masses, but it would have made it a fundamentally different movie.

Blood for Irina is a film that a lot of people aren’t going to get, and I think Alexander likes it that way.  Visually, it’s gorgeous.  It’s emotionally evocative.  The score is splendid (still bringing that word back).  The beyond-gradual pace will put a lot of horror fans off; but those who can keep an open mind, take the ride, and appreciate what Alexander and his crew were attempting will find it a worthwhile venture.  You really have to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate a movie like this.  Apparently I was, because I did.

On the opposite side of the coin we have Dracula’s Orgy of the Damned.  If Irina is arthouse, Orgy is outhouse. Sweet Mother of Hell, this movie is awful.  I dig crappy movies, and there were some moments that made me really want to like this one, but it ventured a little too far into “so bad it’s bad” territory a few times.

Synopsis:  The young and beautiful country girl Patricia witne… ah screw it.  The official synopsis sounds like it’s talking about an entirely different movie, so I’ll just tell you what happens in my own words.  Minor spoilers are ahead, but it all makes so little sense that it doesn’t really matter. 

Synopsis: Our host, Lord Victor Flemming (who will pop up between every scene in a vain attempt to tie the story together) introduces us to the tale of Patricia.  Hot Topic Dracula killed Patricia’s family when she was but a wee lass and reappears years later at her shrink’s office.  After enduring an exorcism, Patricia decides to even the score.  Meanwhile, Drac is using his immense powers to make goth chicks get topless and rub blood all over each other.  In all fairness, that’s pretty much exactly what I would do with immense power too.  Anyway, he then pops up in some redneck’s backyard to enjoy watching a meeting of Catfight Club.  Once winter falls, Patricia finally hunts down Dracula and his number one minion for a showdown at his castle.  Ten years later, two students from Miskatonic University meet with a professor and his mentally handicapped brother (who talks through a leprechaun dummy).  They send the girls to Crooked Hollow, Massachusetts.  Apparently that’s where Castle Dracula is.  They arrive, check into a bed and breakfast run by a ghetto voodoo lady, and encounter the Wolfman.  Somewhere, a completely unrelated character gets turned into a werewolf (I think).  When the girls follow a guy in a bad Grim Reaper getup (named Reaper Madness, which is admittedly kinda clever) to a ruined castle, we’re treated to about 10 minutes girls screaming in the dark, which is how I’m gonna send the next month and a half. What?  No, it’s because I work at a haunted house.  Get your minds out of the gutter, perverts. 

If that synopsis sounds disjointed and just plain batshit bonkers, that’s because it is.  Nothing in this movie makes sense.  The Dracula stuff is treated fairly seriously, then the tone shifts into annoyingly jokey mode.  The acting is bad, the dialogue is bad, the effects are bad, the soundtrack is bad, the lighting is bad, the camera work is bad, and the story is bad.  I bet the catering was bad.  That’s not to say that I hated this movie.  As a trash connoisseur, I found things to dig here.  I loved every second Lord Flemming was onscreen.  That guy should be a horror host.  I would watch the hell out of that.  A couple of the sets, mainly those involving Flemming, were cool.  Most of all, it has that madcap energy that only micro budget backyard outings like this have.  That’s what makes them fun.  It also had plenty of those “um, ok” moments that you only get from these movies, like… 
And now, young Skywalker... you will die.
- Dracula wielding blue Force Lightning, Return of the Jedi style.
- The most powerful vampire on Earth bursting into flames after a splash of holy water.  Seriously, it’s a little splash.  Most people wouldn’t even get pissed if you threw this much water on them.  They’d just look at you like you’re crazy.
- A hilarious attempt at a subliminal scare a-la the Exorcist reissue.
- People  battling with weapons like spray painted nerf guns (complete with awful CGI muzzle flash) and that Party City skull pitchfork thing sans stick.
- Gratuitous big black dick balloon animal.  Yep, you heard that right.
- In my favorite moment of the film, Lord Flemming spending a full 20 seconds jogging down a staircase and traversing the lawn just to deliver the line “Patricia begins her path of revenge.”
A lot is forgivable in this type of film.  You kinda know what you’re in for.  What is not forgivable is for the disc to barely work.  The copy I got was from Cheezy Flicks (how apropos), and it continually skipped and froze despite the disc itself being pristine and scratch free.  I tried it on three different players, and it did the same thing every time.  This being the first screener I’ve reviewed from this distributor, I can’t say whether or not it is an isolated incident.  I can say that I would have been one very disgruntled customer had I paid for it.
If I were to draw any comparison between Blood For Irina and Dracula’s Orgy of the Damned, it would be that their audiences lie in groups outside of the horror mainstream.  Irina will be too slow for the average viewer, but fans of avant-garde, artsy horror will eat it up.  Orgy is WAY too schlocky for most, but if you’re the type to get tanked with like-minded friends and laugh at a low-rent fringe flick, this is for you.  Or, if you like it all (like me), get ‘em both and go from one end of the bloodsucker spectrum to the other in less than three hours.  Blood for Irina gets 8 arterial geysers out of 10.  Dracula’s Orgy of the Damned gets 3 cardboard fish gods out of 10.  Nathan says check ‘em both out and support independent horror!

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