October 7th, 2011

THE 31 DAYS OF HORROR-WEEN: VAMPIRE TRIPLE FEATURE

PRIEST (2011) **

In the future, vampires menace the land. They eventually get wiped out by government ordained priests who are “trained in the art of vampire combat”. After doing their job, the priests basically have nothing else better to do than hang around with their thumb up their ass and be useless as tits on a bull. Predictably, the vampires aren’t truly dead and survive by hiding out in tunnels in the wasteland. When our hero priest (Paul Bettany) learns his daughter has been kidnapped by vampires, he says screw the priesthood and goes out into the wasteland to find her. Along the way, he joins up with a young sheriff (Cam Gigandet) who has a thing for his daughter and together they try to take down the former priest turned vamp (Karl Urban) holding her hostage.

Priest starts off with a pretty cool opening animated sequence that sets up all the exposition and shit. It’s bloody, fast-paced, and is rather fun. After the flick switches to live action, it all goes downhill quick. It kinda makes you wish the whole thing had been animated.

This movie is more or less an uninspired mishmash of other movies spanning various genres, and the results are expectedly all over the place. It’s got a western thing going on (the sheriff rides on a futuristic motorcycle instead of a horse), there’s some sci-fi nonsense (lots of futuristic gadgets and shit), horror (the vampires, obviously), and even some post-apocalyptic shenanigans too (a large chunk of the movie takes place in “the wasteland”). Seriously, I could make a list as long as my arm of all the movies Priest steals from. There’s a touch of John Carpenter’s Vampires here; what with the vampire western motif. The vampires themselves look like the monsters from Resident Evil movies. The walled-in city is straight out of Judge Dredd (which makes sense because Priest is also based on a comic book too). There’s also a familial revelation that’s straight out of The Empire Strikes Back too. But the movie that was the most obvious inspiration was The Searchers. Just swap out Wild West Indians for Futuristic Vampires and it’s the same damn movie… except you know… The Searchers is a fucking classic and this isn’t.

Folks, this movie almost rips off as many flicks as Doomsday did; but alas Priest is nowhere near as much fun as that film. You’ll definitely have more fun spotting all the sources the movie rips off than actually getting wrapped up in the drama. All the stuff with the Priest’s unrequited love interest is especially eye-rolling. And the horror elements don’t work very well as the flick is loaded with the same jump scare (a vampire jumps out of nowhere) over and over. It wasn’t scary the first time so what makes you think it will be scary the twelfth?

Priest isn’t very good, but I have to be honest; the final siege-on-a-train action sequence kinda rocks. If the rest of the movie had the same kind of kick ass verve to it; Priest may just very well have lived up to all its inspirations. As it stands; it’s just too little too late. Naturally, this sequence is immediately followed-up by a gratuitous set-up for a sequel that will probably never happen since the movie was a flop.

This was Paul Bettany’s second collaboration with FX man turned director Scott Stewart on a sci-fi/horror/action flick with religious overtones. (The first was the equally mediocre Legion). Bettany is poorly cast as the brooding priest and he doesn’t have the charisma necessary to carry the entire film. Luckily Gigandet fares much better as his sidekick and at least seems half awake. And Urban makes for a decent villain; it’s just that he wasn’t given a whole lot to work with. I also enjoyed seeing Christopher Plummer as the elder priest (who issues confession via video screen!) and Brad Dourif as a sketchy snake oil salesman.

Urban gets the best line of the movie when he says, “I can smell the blood running through your veins. it smells like… dinner!”

THE LIVING CORPSE (1967) **

The Living Corpse is the Pakistani version of Dracula. However, the opening scene shows Dracula to be a standard issue mad scientist that drinks a potion that turns him into a monster, just like Dr. Jekyll. I guess when the opening credits tell you that the film has been “adopted” from the novel by Bram Stoker; you know you’re in for it.

The story is more or less the same as other screen versions; except you know… it’s in Pakistani. Some scenes follow the Lugosi version very closely (there’s a variation on his famous “children of the night” line) while others are more faithful to the novel than Lugosi’s Dracula. For instance, in one scene the vampire gives his bride a baby to feed on. The ending however more or less rips-off Hammer’s Horror of Dracula as the Count is felled by sunlight.

The big differences are the Dr. Jekyll shit at the beginning and the ass loads of Bollywood inspired dance numbers that I’m certain weren’t in the original Bram Stoker source material. In addition to the scads of lame music and rhythmically challenged dance sequences, there’s a hilarious scene where Dracula’s bride tries to seduce her potential victim by doing not one but TWO long dance numbers. While the musical numbers make The Living Corpse stand apart from the other Dracula movies out there, they also singlehandedly kill what little momentum the flick manages to build up. And that one fucking number with all the kids on the beach? I’m sorry, it doesn’t belong in a fucking vampire movie. Take one look at this scene and it’s easy to see why Pakistan is not a giant of the international movie making scene.

This movie’s biggest strength is its look. With its shoddy black and white photography and sparse set design, The Living Corpse is similar in feel to a Mexican horror movie from the 50’s. Speaking of Mexico, there’s a rather hilarious inexplicably long scene of a car driving while La Cucaracha blares on the soundtrack. The biggest laugh though comes from the vampire transformation scene where the professor goes from looking like himself to looking like… himself. If there were only more unintentional moments of hilarity like that, the flick probably could’ve worked as camp. As is, The Living Corpse is just weird enough to be memorable but not bad enough to make it worth your time.

AKA: Dracula in Pakistan

DRACULA, PRISONER OF FRANKENSTEIN (1972) **

This movie should’ve been called: Audience, Prisoner of Jess Franco!

Howard Vernon stars as Count Dracula. After going around putting the bite on some ladies, he gets staked by Dr. Seward (who uses a ballpeen hammer to drive the stake through!). Dennis Price is Dr. Frankenstein. He sends out his monster (who looks like a jaundiced version of the Boris Karloff creature) to kidnap a cabaret dancer and uses her blood to bring the Count back to life. He then proceeds to make his own personal army of monsters (including werewolves) but Dr. Seward shows up and busts his party.

Jess Franco fills Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein with lots of long takes and dialogue-less passages (which I’m sure saved money on the dubbing), that gives the film an almost silent movie type feel. While it’s kinda fun seeing Franco cram in all these monsters into one movie (the flick often feels like cheap remake of those Universal monster mash-ups from the 40’s), a lot of it just doesn’t work. That’s mostly because the narrative is virtually non-existent and the pacing is sluggish as all get out.

This movie seems to be hellbent on setting up cool situations and then squandering their potential. Like why would you have a bunch of hot vampire chicks running around biting each other but never let them get it on? Why would you introduce the idea that Frankenstein knows some Kung Fu moves, and then never let him bust them out again? And why would you pit vampires, werewolves, and the Frankenstein monster against each other and then just allow everything to fizzle out at the end?

Some funny stuff to keep your eye out for if you wish to be semi-entertained by this nonsense: Get a load of the look on Vernon’s face. I don’t think his expression changed once throughout the entire movie. And you should enjoy the overly bombastic score. It’s quite good, although it doesn’t seem to fit the action a lot of the time. Somehow that makes it even better.

AKA: Dracula Against Frankenstein.

SCREAM 3 (2000) ***

Scream 3 should’ve really been the end of the series. I’m not just saying that because of the 20/20 hindsight that comes from seeing the crappy Scream 4. The first Scream was about a killer(s) patterning his murders after the ones he’s seen in horror films. Scream 2’s killer(s) plans his murders around the opening of a horror movie based on the first movie’s murders. This one has another killer(no ‘s’) murdering people on the set for that movie’s sequel. Honestly, there was nowhere to go after this one. When you stop referencing other horror movies and start referencing your own series, it’s a sign to hang it up.

That’s not to imply that Scream 3 is a bad movie. It actually has some really strong sequences. The opening scene with Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber) is arguably the best in the series. (I also like how his TV show was called 100% Cotton.) There’s also a good scene where the killer chases Neve Campbell through a movie set that is an exact replica of her house from the first movie. Probably the best addition to the Scream mythos is the gimmick of having the killer use a voice modulator to not only disguise his voice but to sound like other characters. By using this device, the killer lulls his potential victims into a false sense of security and is able to draw them out into the open to kill them.

There’s also more comedy and Hollywood in-jokes this time out. Director Wes Craven mined similar territory in New Nightmare, so all the film-within-a-film gags don’t resonate quite as well as they should’ve. Still, the cameos by such folks as Roger Corman, Jay and Silent Bob (the fact that they’re seen on a Hollywood back lot tour kinda ties into Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back), and Carrie Fisher (who gets the biggest laugh of the movie) are a lot of fun.

The returning cast of characters is pretty good, even though they gave Courteney Cox a horrid haircut; ruining her hotness credentials. Campbell isn’t given much to do and is strangely absent through a lot of the early scenes. I know her character was in hiding from the killer and all, but still. At least they found a pretty ingenious way to get Jamie Kennedy back into the mix.

The new cast members work out extremely well. Parker Posey is the standout. She’s terrific in this movie and she and Cox are great while bickering back and forth with one another. We also have Jenny McCarthy (looking yummy in a tight-fitting sweater), Patrick Warburton, Lance Henriksen (perfectly cast as a seedy movie producer), and Patrick Dempsey; before he became McCreamy or whatever.

Scream 3 has plenty of bright spots, but I do have my fair share of complaints about it. The big gripe about the flick I have is that there is just way too much exposition surrounding Campbell’s mother’s past in this one. I know the “rules of the trilogy” states there has to be a big secret that comes to light, but I think they could’ve come up with something a tad better. And the addition of nightmare sequences doesn’t really work in the established Scream lore either. And please tell me WHY they thought it was necessary to have Cox and Arquette’s characters break up AGAIN only to have them make up AGAIN?

I also kinda thought it was a gyp that there was only one killer in this one. And like Scream 2, the film goes on for far too long (almost two hours) and the finale has one too many false endings. I did like how in the end the door is LITERALLY left open for a sequel (that took eleven years to make).

Tomorrow’s Horror Franchise Movie: Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3.