September 11th, 2008

I VAMPIRI (1963) **

Women keep turning up dead in France without a drop of blood in them, leading the press to proclaim that there’s a vampire on the loose.  In actuality, it’s a mad scientist living in a decrepit castle who is stealing the blood of virgins and using it to create a serum to keep his old hag of a wife eternally young.  The grizzled looking grandma takes the potion which temporary restores her youth so she can throw herself debutante balls and make time with a studly journalist.  Luckily, the journalist is more interested in getting a scoop than getting laid and when he learns of her foul deeds, he sends in the cops to gun down the scientist for meddling in God’s domain while the old woman shrivels up like a prune. 


This was the first horror movie ever filmed in Italy because of rampant government censorship.  (Fucking fascists!)  Like many “firsts”, it’s not very good but it’s worth a look if you want to see the seedling that spawned countless Italian horror flicks. 


You might be able to tell just by looking at I Vampiri’s uneven quality that it was a rushed production.  Meddling producers caused original director Ricardo (The Ghost) Freda to walk off the set, but be glad he did because that gave the film’s cinematographer, Mario Bava a chance to step in and finish the film.  Bava, of course went on to be one of the most revered horror directors in Italy and any Bava fan worth his salt will probably want to check out the film just to see how he got his start. 


Like most of Bava’s work, the film is quite stylish looking and has a couple of atmospheric sets (like the dungeon).  Unfortunately, the film offers no surprises and is dull as all get out to boot.  Vampire fans will also be severely disappointed by the fact that there are NO vampires in this flick as it’s another one of those Old-Woman-Looking-for-the-Fountain-of-Youth-Parading-Around-as-Her-Niece Movies.  This genre is an old hat and you’ve seen it done lots better before; my favorite being The Leech Woman. 


It ain’t great, although you may get a kick out of the surprisingly sophisticated special effects of the old bat rapidly aging.  They’re reminiscent of the ’32 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and are easily the coolest thing about the film.  If you don’t count a bunch of Parisian trollops inexplicably speaking Italian that is.  


AKA:  Evil’s Commandment.  AKA:  Lust of a Vampire.  AKA:  The Devil’s Commandment.  AKA:  The Vampires.


The Rock was too busy making kiddie flicks so he didn’t have time to star in this direct to DVD prequel to 2002’s The Scorpion King, which itself was a prequel to 2001’s The Mummy Returns; the sequel to 1999’s The Mummy, which was a remake of the 1932 Boris Karloff film.  Phew! 


Instead of The Rock we got the kid who played the Blue Power Ranger starring as the Scorpion King.  He kinda looks like The Rock if The Rock went on one of those Tom Hanks in Cast Away diets and lost 100 pounds of muscle mass then gave himself one of those Emo haircuts.  At least he can raise The People’s Eyebrow in a serviceable enough manner. 


Anyway, the plot of this mother is Scorpion King is a lot younger and skinnier than ever before and he wants to prove himself by growing up and becoming a great warrior like his old man.  When the evil Sargon (played by Ultimate Fighting Champion Randy Couture) murders his father, his brother AND his king, he does what any good soldier would do, which is hop on a boat to Egypt, make friends with a whole bunch of annoying side characters who hang around and eat up screen time, battle a minotaur, run through an ever-changing maze and steal a sword from a MILFy looking witch.  Then he’s finally ready to get a little payback; only he didn’t know that Sargon had the power to change into an invisible scorpion and…


Oh yeah, I forgot to mention Randy Couture turns into an invisible scorpion at the end of this movie.  How fucking hilarious is that shit?  I mean it’s not ENTIRELY invisible because you can see quick glimpses of it whenever it runs through fog or smoke; but for all intensive purposes, the fucker’s invisible.  It’s probably a good thing too considering how horrible the effects were for The Scorpion King monster from The Mummy Returns.  The filmmakers are probably better off with a goofy invisible scorpion monster than a goofy scorpion monster that looks like it escaped from a Nintendo 64 game.


I don’t know about you, but whenever the weight of your movie is on the shoulders of a Power Ranger, you can only do but so much.  Maybe that’s why the screenwriters gave him an overabundance of supporting characters like the weasly poet guy and the acrobatic Asian.  He also gets the obligatory love interest chick who can fight like a man too.  She’s not much in the looks department though and seems like she’d fit right in on a Tuesday night riding the stripper pole at Lui’s Canton Inn.  (Except that she doesn’t have any skanky tattoos.  Or tract marks.  Or C-Section scars.)  Couture isn’t bad as the villain and is about as good an actor as say, John Cena.  If he had been the hero, the flick might’ve been something; though I’m not completely sure what. 


And Randy, I know they offered you some decent dough to appear in this thing, but under no circumstances should you have to lower yourself to being beaten up by the Blue Power Ranger.  I know that this is a movie and we have to suspend our disbelief, but I’m sorry; there is just no way that the fucking Blue Power Ranger could kick the ass of the Ultimate Fighting Champion.


Lame heroes and invisible monsters aside, this flick ain’t that shabby for a direct to DVD cash-in.  There is an adequate amount of action as well as a semi-respectable “Underworld” sequence in which the Scorpion King runs around a swamp filled with Lucio Fulci style zombies.  Russell Mulcahy was an ideal choice to direct this puppy since it features nearly everything he’s done previously in films before.  Since this movie features swordfights (Highlander), slobbering monsters (Razorback), zombies (Resident Evil:  Extinction), and weapons with a mind of their own (The Shadow), this was like a walk in the park for him. 


In fact, the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink fantasy aspects of this movie reminded me a little bit of Krull in a way.  (Except there was no Glave.  Or Cyclops.  Or Beast.)  I really think the flick had the potential to be entertaining; it’s just too bad that they were trying to do Conan on a Hercules budget.  It DOES however feature some of the best barbarians fighting invisible monsters scenes since Cave Dwellers and it’s a Hell of a lot better than The Mummy Returns, I’ll give it that. 


The annoying poet guy gets the best line when he says, “I just stepped in someone!"