Darke Reviews | Bit (2019)

If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you know one of my nicknames is The Vampire Princess. Sadly, that does make me the Vampire Princess of Tucson. Unfortunate. I have my Dark Court, whom I adore, with the possibility of some new membership from some new folks in my workplace. I have literally almost a hundred (possibly more) vampire movies in my collection. I really need to update my catalogue. I love everything about them and will watch, or attempt in some cases, any vampire movie I can find.

Surprisingly though for a creature that is centered around the forbidden and eroticism since LeFanu, and then later Stoker, there is not a lot of Queer vampire content. Sure there is a significant amount of 60’s and 70’s exploitation films in the genre; but when you examine the past forty years there is not a lot. Embrace of the Vampire in 1995 positively was shocking to people for its content, which is so mild its like putting Salt on a meal and calling it “too spicy”. Sure the flavor was there, but it didn’t push boundaries. There’s argument to be made it was because America grew up with Alyssa Milano and to see her in this role was too much for the pearl clutching set.

Why is that important now and to this movie? 

Bit is written and directed by a Cis-Het-White Man (self described) who gets what I was missing in my vampire movies..

In an interview with Vulture

I really love The Lost Boys. I really love Jem and the Holograms and glam rock and David Bowie. So it was like, how do we do Jem and the Holograms and The Lost Boys? And one of the big things was, I think we all kind of know that most R-rated movies are sort of coded for 13-year-old boys. I’m not saying 13-year-old-girls don’t like them, too! But I wanted to make a movie that was coded for young girls that’s just as R-rated as anything else.

He did it. But then, THEN he went and made it inter-sectional. He wrote a white lesbian character, a black lesbian (or bi), someone who coded non-binary (possibly ace), and a latina vampire who wasn’t hypersexualized (sorry Salma Hayek). Oh, but I am so not done. Our main character is Transgender – and not once, not one bloody time does the term come up in the movie. There’s no reveal, no exposition, just the language that so many transwomen and those around them live with. The doubt, the fear, the anger, the platitudes. The entire script is done with total respect to all the intersectionality presented and the main character in a way I could not have fathomed.

And on top of all of that, the writer and director (Brad Michael Elmore) made it non negotiable that the main character be played by a TransActress.

I was very adamant about the fact that the role was only to be played by a trans actress. It’s in the script, and it was a no-deal if it wasn’t. The script also makes note of the fact that I don’t care what level of transition the actor we get is. Because producers can be horrible, I didn’t want to pin it on anybody’s ideas of what should or should not be passing, what should or should not be considered trans. – Source Vulture

Do you have any concept how empowering it is to see a woman like me on screen as a vampire? This is *my* representation. This is the representation for a lot of women out there, Queer or otherwise.

But is it good?

For a movie with a $1.5 million budget, yes. Yes it is. Elmore is aware of his limitations and pushes them where he can, but delivers the goods with what he has. The fangs, the gore, the overall vamp effects, and some burns are better than movies with budgets ten times that size, or twenty. It gave me a story I’ve been craving and the conversation that comes with it and never forgot atmosphere along the way.

The actors of course have to deliver as well. Nicole Maines (Supergirl) is front and center as our protagnoist Laurel and delivers solidly and cleverly, bridging both snark, emotional pain, and a special kind of ennui that felt like I was watching me. Then we have the “Bite Club”, with Diana Hopper (Goliath) as Duke, Friday Chamberlain (The Fear of Looking Up) as Roya, Zolee Griggs (Wu-Tang: An American Saga)  as Izzy, and Char Diaz as Frog.  In a small, but important role, James Paxton (Eyewitness, son of the late Bill Paxton) as Laurel’s brother Mark. There are going to be some who interpret her and some of the actors as flat or stilted. That is not what I see at all. For me I read them as me and my Dark Court talking. A level of casual, snark, and familiarity that sounded like actual people talking. Even the parents of Laurel are scripted well and in a way that had my friends going “yay”.

It does have some flaws. There’s a scene or two that seem to come out of nowhere, some dialogue choices that don’t work and a scene or two that feel missing or could have been fleshed out. That being said from the other technical aspects it is tightly edited and without a single gratuitous or exploitative shot in the entire damn movie. When does that happen? Oh when the director takes the time to have the female director of photography ensure that the male gaze is not owning the camera.


Bit is the movie I have been waiting for and needed for my collection. I couldn’t say its the movie I didn’t know I needed, because I have been craving this style, this feel for a very long time now. It is not blockbuster material and had it been released would have made its budget back and probably a few times that before fading, which is sad. It’s VOD release enables it to be the cult classic vampire movie that I think it is destined to be. It manages to be fang in cheek enough without crossing the line of being too self aware.

This is a completely original, beautiful, fun, feminist vampire movie that the GENRE needed and no one had quite nailed so perfectly before. I’ve watched it three times since its release on Friday and know this one will make my regular rotation when I am in the mood.

Should I watch it?

Yes. Yes you should. Support this movie so the director and the cast and the producers know it is right that the audience is there and we can get more like it.

Would you…never mind you did watch it again.

Yep. At least one more viewing this week is expected.

Did you buy it?

Twice. Once on Amazon and once on Vudu, just in case.

I guess that answers where to get it.

Hope so. It’s worth the price.

Any final thoughts?

I need to get a copy of the soundtrack for my vampire writing playlist. I also want the movie poster for my collection.

Darke Reviews | Underworld – Blood Wars (2017)

I’ve spoken of this before, but for the new readers please know I am the Vampire Queen of Tucson. It may be a type of prison for a vampire lover like myself, but it is where I am. I love Vampires. The first book I ever read on my own (and by choice) was one on vampires. I have a room in my house dedicated to vampires and general gothicness; working on a second even. I believe I have every book published by White Wolf on Vampire the Masquerade as well. I will consume almost anything Vampire related. So what does that have to do with Underworld?

When the first one came out in 2003, I think I watched my DVD copy of it once a week for 3 months. I *like* this franchise unironically. It has entertained me end to end. Sure some of the installments can be classified as


But that doesn’t mean they aren’t entertaining. Even the weakest of the franchise tends to put a smile on my face.

So should part 5 be left in the sun or does it continue to entertain?

First, unlike last film the rule of 3 is not invoked – technically. We have the based on characters by Kevin Grevioux, Len Wiseman, and Danny McBride credit, which is required. Then we have a story by Cory Goodman and Kyle Ward, screenplay (comes after the story) by Cory Goodman. Kyle Ward was writer on Machete Kills, which I hear was a blast and this project; while Cory Goodman is responsible for The Last Witch Hunter and Priest. As I said in the LWH review Goodman isn’t known for complexity in his plots, but he does have a taste for atmosphere and a certain air about the project with always a strong touch of the supernatural.

As with all Underworld films,  time is subjective. We’re not sure when the year is, how long between films has actually occurred and it really doesn’t matter. The story so far is recapped again bringing anyone new to the franchise up to speed, then jumps in head first. It plays on one of the more annoying conceits to give the set up, by if you can swallow that pill you can move on. Selene is on the run from well everyone, but is still a level of wicked in a fight that it rarely pans out for the hunters. Now they hunt for her in a bid to find her daughter, the pure blood hybrid of what should be incredible power. Who is they? The Lycans lead by a new mysteriously powerful leader Marius and the vampire council who really just want her dead – save one member of the new vampire council Semira.  Selene must avoid capture and find a new way to survive against the threats from all sides for the purpose of….something. Yeah, ok so much like the others this won’t win any awards for depth or meaning. Power for the sake of Power is the theme of the day and Selene is mostly on the defensive trying to survive against all-comers; which thankfully she is skilled to do. The question you need to see the movie to answer is “for how long?”

Kate Becksinale returns 13 years later from the origin of Selene and full disclosure – I have a massive girl crush on her so I could be more forgiving. She goes for a more weary, battle fatigued Selene; one who has loved and lost and in that she nailed it. Theo James (Divergent) returns as David. He is still trying, but his performance is so wooden I could use him as a stake. I give him credit for trying and there are so many hints of someone who can act and can emote I think he might be fine in the next one….maybe? Conversely Lara Pulver (Edge of Tomorrow, True Blood) as Semira is a joy to behold. This woman went all out for her vampire and while her performance dances a needles line on campy and sexy she brings it all together. Tobias Menzies (Edmure Tully on Game of Thrones, Outlander) playing Marius is one of the more credible villains the movies have had since we lost Michael Sheen. I have to also acknowledge Daisy Head (Fallen later this year) and Bradley James (Damien and Merlin TV series) both turn what I thought would be unremarkable, forgettable characters into something just a bit more. They are still largely a third class character in the hierarchy, but at least these two made it interesting.

Director Anna Foerster (Second Unit director on 10,000 BC, Aeon Flux, Day after Tomorrow) does a good job with her ideas being executed. The actors turn out decent(ish) performances. She (or Cory) made the decision to give both Vampires and Lycans a few new tricks in their arsenal. She introduces some interesting new concepts and unique visuals. Though her combat sequences and cut choices will need some work before the next movie as  the further these movies progress the worse the combat gets – save one scene. It may be reminiscent of other scenes from better movies, but they made it their own under a beautiful (even if it was CG) sky. It also evokes a gothic, sexy vampire feel I’ve been missing.


Underworld Blood Wars is a solid continuation of the franchise. It brings in new ideas, new concepts, while tying up some loose ends and per usual Underworld films sets up a next one. I am not tired of the series and really was entertained for the majority of the film. It has some pacing, continuity, and editing issues but I have seen worse in higher budget films. It won’t likely make its budget ($35 million) back here in the States, but it’s combined worldwide gross should probably double it by the end of its run in a few weeks.

I may have to sit down with some like minded friends to ask why this franchise has such staying power when others of its ilk fail. Kate Beckinsale’s physique not withstanding.

Should you see it?

If you like this series or Vampires? Yes, yes you should. We get precious few GOOD Vampire movies, much less entertaining ones and this fits at least in the latter category.

You talk as if you don’t like it, but say its good?

No. I am commenting on its flaws of which there are many which I can’t in good conscience ignore for the purposes of the review. I still think its OK and I am still entertained by it. I still continue to enjoy these movies without a hint of guilt or irony about it.

I do like this movie. No if’s, and’s, or but’s.

Yeah, but you’re biased.

Maybe, but I also do like movies that entertain me. Last year had so much mediocrity I am not particularly hopeful for this year. At least I felt something as I watched it.

Will you watch it again?

Sure if someone wants to take me out on a date to watch it. Or hell just take me out to watch it.

Buying it?

Without a doubt it will be mine.

Darke Reviews – Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009)

Continuing the countdown of the Underworld series we move now into the third entry of the franchise. Underworld, the story you didn’t really care about. I mean Underworld: The Two Towers. I mean Underworld Werewolves need love too. …gah sorry. Underworld Rise of the Lycans. In Hollywoods quest for mining blood from a stone they have resorted strongly to the prequel; with the Underworld franchise being no exception. This was the franchise film for my ex, she was the werewolf lover and me the vampire lover; which was no end of running jokes in our household.

Is Rise of the Lycans worth the 90 minutes of your time it takes to watch.

Much like last week, we have a total of nine credits under the writing category. Three belong to the original characters, so we get to ignore them. The story is by Len Wiseman , with the addition or Robert Orr and Danny McBride. McBride has a character credit, which leaves us Orr, who has done nothing else save the Jeffrey Dean Morgan thriller The Resident. Screenplay credits, in other words the script, goes to three: McBride (again), Dirk Blackman (how can that be a real name), and Howard McClain. Blackman was the scriptwriter on the the underrated sci fi take of Beowulf called Outlander, but vanished after this. McClain also worked on Outlander as both writer and director, who also vanished after.

Under their pen the story now focuses on the story of Lucian (Michael Sheen) and Sonja (Rhona Mitra) and their Romeo and Juliet like romance under the eye of her father Viktor (Bill Nighy). I am using the Romeo and Juliet romance accurately here. It adds to the story of Tannis (Steven Mackintosh) and introduces us to a still human Raze (Kevin Grevioux). We are now several hundred years in the past for this story, sometime after the trapping of William Corvinus, the first Werewolf, and before the birth of Selene. Time is subjective with this series at best.

We have the direction of former production designer and make up expert Patrick Tatopoulos. You may know him from the early seasons of Face/Off on SyFy, but he also was involved in Stargate, Spawn, Pitch Black, Cursed, The Cave, Silent Hill, Trick R Treat…..the list goes on. This was one of his first, and sadly only, forays into directing. He showed a strong hand at the helm and keeps the overall style of the original films. It has a tight focus overall, but act three quickly reminds me of The Two Towers with Michael Sheen going full Aragorn in his trench coat, the rain, and lots of swords. In typical series fashion it is on the lower end of the budget but they stretch it for all that they can.

The casting keeps all that they could reasonably. Sheen has to carry the movie as an ‘younger’ version of the leader he is to become. Thankfully he has all the charisma to do so; even if some scenes push credulity. Nighy continues to chew scenery like you wouldn’t believe, I am starting to think the heavy blinking is irritation with the contacts, but the man is able to carry himself as a heavy despite his comic background. He is also given the oppotunity to show a few different emotions this time, which he takes with quiet resolve. Playing the role of Sonja is Rhona Mitra (Doomsday, The Last Ship) , and unlike the actress from the first film, Mitra actually fits the description when the line is uttered “you reminded him of his precious Sonja”. As a bit of trivia, and a point of desire to be honest, she refused to remove her fangs during filming instead saying they felt as if they always should have been there. She clearly plays the role of someone who not only physically would remind Viktor, but also personality and general badassness. She does well with the raw physicality of the role and sensuality as well.

The technicals hold true to Underworld stylings with blue lighting filters, deep shadows, and an overall near black and white look to the film. The abundance of black leather remains surprising, but c’est la vie. When there is CG work it isn’t that great, but it never has been. The best shots are of the physical werewolves. These are some of the best were’s on screen looking large, in charge, and not entirely ridiculous. The challenge with any werewolf is to allow the actor to emote as both the skull and mouth are structured entirely differently, though they do what they can due to the large amount of time needing to focus on the werewolves.


Lycans is not the weakest of the franchise. They were also painted into a corner with the story somewhat where some elements *must* happen. It also isn’t the best. From a financial standpoint it made its money back, almost in the first weekend and more than doubled it when you look globally.  That said, this also has the weakest financial turn for any of the franchise, with Awakening having the highest.

It isn’t my favorite of the series, but I do enjoy it. So where does that leave us?

If you feel the need to marathon the film series then you can absolutely enjoy this. I don’t think I’d recommend it as a standalone viewing unless you enjoy Underworld as a series. It does standalone with no real need to watch the others, but there’s not enough draw on it’s own either.

To sum up: “That was fun I guess.”



Darke Reviews – The Hunger (1983)

Let’s go back to the vault a bit shall we? A little vampire film that took a bite of its generation and sold it to us to the sound of Bauhaus. The early 80’s were rife with films that captured various scenes, both so few captured both the underground Goth and Punk scenes as well as The Hunger. It is an iconic work within the vampire genre without which, in part anyway, we would unlikely have been given Vampire the Masquerade almost a decade later.

Does it stand up thirty years later?

We often complain about how often Hollywood adapts from books, this is not a new problem. Whitley Strieber, who also gave us the werewolf classic Wolfen, wrote the novel for this as well; just two years prior. It was adapted for the screen by  Ivan Davis, who did nothing else really, and Michael Thomas. Thomas on the other hand gave us another 80s cult classic Ladyhawke,  then vanished to relative obscurity until 2011’s Devils Double.  The dialogue is a bit straight forward with little to no actual subtlety in it, but the directness helps create an interesting tone mixed with the performances. No one in my experience actually talks like they do in here, yet it works within this early 80’s / late 70’s aesthetic.

The film toys with the ideas of bad pseudo-science that we all so love from that era with studies into things we now know are just down right silly; yet with a few tweaks could be brought to modernization via such terms as Stem Cells. What would you do to stop aging? What price would you pay? What if the clock had paused but then started again – what would you do? These are some of the questions the movie dances around and doesn’t quite give you the answer but instead leaves you to get invested and decide for yourself.

It takes a good director to build that kind of investment and for that we have the late Tony Scott. The younger brother of Ridley Scott would later go onto give us some of the most well known films of the 80’s and early  90’s. Little films like Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop 2, True Romance, Days of Thunder,  and The Last Boyscout. The Hunger, is his first big Hollywood film. It does show at times, mixed with the style of edgy films at the time. Quick cuts, harsh blue and white lighting, and odd shadows. Unusual blocking mixed with limited sets  that combine claustrophobia and open space at the same time. The film feels shot on a budget, yet the hints of genius make it look like the budget was very well spent.

The actors are forced to do a lot with little. There is a near, hopefully, intentional withdrawal from emotion in the three big performances. Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie (yes David Bowie) play Miriam and John Blaylock, our vampires. Though interestingly, I don’t recall the word being used. Susan Sarandon is our scientist who comes in contact with the pair and ensnared in the life of the Blaylock’s. All three are riveting in their lack of overall emotions yet the passion they are able to bring, especially Sarandon and Deneuve. This is perhaps to me why Cliff De Young comes across so distant from them and jarring in his performance as another scientist and love interest to Sarandon. For all the reservedness of the three mains, he is opposite.  There are almost no other relevant cast members to mention as these four are critical to the story; and Deneuve and Sarandon steal every scene they share with each other and it’s hard to tear your eyes away, not accounting for how 80s Sarandon’s hair is.

From an FX perspective. THIS. DO THIS. I keep harping on how much practical is better than CG. This is why. While the effects are not 100% up to par thirty years later, a combination of practical  and camera work sell what effects there are. Make up effects do the rest and we love the movie for it. The movie knew this too as the credit is titled: Make Up Illusions. The two credits here go to Carl Fullerton and Dick Smith. Fullerton has earned two Oscar nominations in his career, and worked on other films suchas F/X, Wolfen,  and Silence of the Lambs. Recently he seems to be Denzel Washington’s personal make up artist. The late Dick Smith, is legendary in the FX community. His last film was the House on Haunted Hill; while his first was in 1941! I know a number of the major artists who credit Smith and his work for getting them into the industry. I tell you this to tell you how amazing the make up is in the film. Amazing


I would be lying to myself, and you, if I told you that The Hunger holds up now as an overall product. Effects wise it does, but overall aesthetic, acting, and style it really doesn’t. It *is* better than some of the vampire schlock we get these days though. It’s erotic moments of which there are a few are shot with such care and precision that they are truly erotic.

You just don’t see that these days. A lesbian vampire film would be soft porn at best, without the hint of real, sensual eroticism to it.  The film also was riding the very end of the 70’s Hammer and other such erotic horror with the tune shifting already to films like Vamp and The Lost Boys.

The Hunger is an absolute must see for any vampire aficionado. Horror wise? Not so much. It does present a very specific slice of 80’s life and is still worth seeing overall. This is one I think I would like to see if it could be remade.


Darke Reviews | Vamp (1986)

So this is the first of the requests for reviews for this October Review-A-Day session. This also happens to be one I am ecstatic to review as I watched the VHS of this from my local video store back home so often the tape began to wear out. This underrated cult classic in the vampire genre bombed pretty hard in it’s opening summer release.  Granted it was against Aliens which made only 10 million in it’s first week that same time and was in the number 1 slot.. This is before the era of our modern summer blockbusters but to give an idea of other competition was Top Gun (10th week), Karate Kid II (5th week), Ferris Bueller (6th week).

But, Jess you obsess over vampire movies can you be fair about this one? Let’s see.

Written and Directed by Richard Wenk (The Equalizer) as his first film it perfectly captures the late 80’s cheese. It’s an interesting career since then with this as his oddest entry. Some movies can defy generation and time, others are locked in it so tightly they become near symbol of what that time was. This is the later.

The story is of two college frat pledges who offer to bring back a stripper as their initiation. In the wrong part of town the find more than they bargained for. Will any of them see the dawn?

It clearly has a mythos and a history to it’s world that it so intelligently doesn’t bother to explain like a more modern film would. It does fall into the horror comedy genre pretty solidly and while not truly campy, it does not take itself seriously either. It lives and breathes atmosphere through its tight sets, which do look like sets, and a near criminal abuse of neon lights. Neon is a character all to itself in this movie and it is an abundant living thing that permeates the film like the smell of bacon through a house.   It actually has some good dialogue beats in it that I’d appreciate more of in other vampire movies. It spent time to let a vampire and human have a conversation – when do you actually see that?

From an acting standpoint I am surprised anyone came out of this alive. The hero played by Chris Makepeace, who represents the typical 80s every man of the time, has a similar look and performance to that of Michael J Fox (duh), William Ragsdale (Fright Night) or Zach Galligan(Gremlins). Slightly nerdy, slightly all american white bread handsome.  He works in the film, but much like others kinda vanished into obscurity after. So few had the weight and raw charm of Fox. Robert Rusler, who plays the best friend AJ,  actually hits some good notes and gives a different performance than he did on Nightmare on Elm Street 2 (something I’ll have to be paid to review). He would go on to appear on Babylon 5 for two seasons but is otherwise also relatively obscure. The two stand outs and memorable are of course Grace Jones and Billy Drago. The film would be so much worse without their over the top performances (and wardrobe). They devoured scenery in all the right ways.

Effects wise, I’ve discussed the neon that functions as a set dressing and is otherwise impossibly over the top. I didn’t know pink and green neon were that abundant outside of a Joel Schumacher Batman movie.  From a make up and prosthetic standpoint they borrowed heavily from the influences of Fright Night and went full monstrous with their vampires with the overly enlarged mouths, claws, and extended appendages. Not your pretty vampires once they are ready to feed. Also it may include one of the few stakings by a shoe out there.


If this movie came out today, I would rip it apart. All things being fair, I would tear into it with gleeful abandon as another bad vampire movie. This, however, has the benefit of some very blood stained nostalgia glasses. It’s not a good movie by any stretch of anyone’s imagination, but it has a lot of fun with itself and the audience.

I can see hints of the conception From Dusk til Dawn in the concept of this movie and it’s make up. While it isn’t good and was a bomb – it’s just too enjoyable. It is a hard find, I had to purchase it on one of my streaming accounts, but I have no regrets.

If you need some awesome 80’s cheese and vampires, this is a good film for you. I’m happy to have it in my collection finally, even if it is only digital.


Darke Reviews | Dracula Untold (2014)

Amongst my nicknames is Vampire Princess. My license plate says VAMPRE, I have well over 100 books involving, about, or otherwise tied to vampires. So to say I am an aficionado of all things vampire is an understatement. I’ve been reading about them since I could read. I have a moral (amoral?) obligation to watch any vampire film that comes to the silver screen. This means I see it all, even Twilight and Vampire Academy. When I saw the trailer for Dracula Untold I had a feeling about this film, but knew I would be seeing it anyway.

First time film director Gary Shore must have impressed Hollywood with the career he made directing commercials before to get this job. He is working with a script by first time writers Burk Sharpless (seriously…that’s his name) and Matt Sazama. The trio of novices have crafted a different origin story for our famous voivode. Dracula actually has more remakes and interpretations than any other character ever and this time, they focus on the conflict between the people of Transylvania and the looming shadow of the Ottoman empire. I realize now as I write this, the overall plot is very similar to 300 with the vampire aspect thrown in. They do some interesting things with the principle characters and the entirety of Act III was rather enjoyable. The dialogue is often corny but the actors do their best to deliver it within the serious tone the movie tries to keep.

From an acting standpoint much rides on Luke Evans as Vlad. I actually like Evans. I’ve seen most of his filmography – Clash of the Titans, Three Musketeers, Immortals, The Raven, No One Lives, Fast & Furious 6, and of course most recently as Bard in the Hobbit films. He is an action star and though his range is fairly limited he does some pretty good things with that range. This time he does carry the film and has to go from loving father and husband, to monster, to protector, to monster again. He wears righteous rage so well in this movie and still shows that he is learning to chew scenery. Co-star Charles “Tywin Lannister” Dance, is a master of it. I couldn’t stop giggling or making Vampire The Masquerade/Game of Thrones comments under my breath watching him. Sarah Gadon as Vlad’s wife Mirena brings a smile to my face in nearly every scene. Just when I think she will fall victim to so many annoying tropes, I remain surprised. Dominic Cooper (Howard Stark in Captain America) must have been cast from his time playing Saddam Hussein in the Devil’s Double.  The casting call must have been “we need a white guy who can pass as middle eastern.” “Hey can we get this guy?”. I am not saying he is a bad actor by and stretch, but there’s some whitewashing going on here in the casting and that I cannot approve of on some moral grounds.

On a technical standpoint. Is the Bat scene from the trailers ridiculous? Oh by all the New Gods and Old and the Lord of Light YES. It doesn’t make it any less cool looking. The transformation to bat and the uncovering of his vampiric powers are well handled and honestly do look really cool.  They are used effectively, practically, and rather coolly through each fight sequence. The camera work is good. The CG is not god awful. The vampiric reaction to silver and sunlight is handled in a way I haven’t seen before and enjoy what I saw. Music by Ramin Djawadi didn’t help with the Game of Thrones links in my brain. The pacing is really well done and there’s little fat on this movie.


Let me be absolutely clear. This is not a good movie. Historical inaccuracies, geographic inaccuracies, costuming inaccuracies, the premise, and story all  combined present a rather silly reinvention of the Dracula films.

At the same time, it is also absolutely enjoyable. I was laughing. I was engaged. I was entertained. I probably wasn’t supposed to giggle through the first few minutes of the final act, but that doesn’t take away the fact that I was. I was getting more and more angry the longer the film went on during act I and finally realized that I need to stop taking this seriously. I had to stop expecting that there would be *any* similarity to real history beyond Ottomans and Vlad being in it. Once I embraced what the movie was doing I truly began to enjoy it. I like what it adds to the Dracula Mythos and vampires in general.

I even look forward to potential sequels from this. How strange is that?

So should you see it?

Well. If you want a silly fun actiony vampire movie? Yes. This is one of those beer and pretzels movies. It BEGS for it.

If you want a solid Dracula film, like we got with Oldman? Um No. just no. Save your money for halloween candy or something.

Darke Reviews | Dracula (1931)

Going back to the classics is fun. Watching how they were shot, how they were scripted and acted. Dracula is no exception to this. When I was a little girl my elementary school and the public library had books on some of the Universal Monsters. I devoured them with special attention to the Wolfman and Dracula, though unsurprisingly Dracula was the one that truly captured my attention then and forever. I tried to read the book around the same time, but as bright as I am told I was, the wording was too dense for me at the tender age of 7. I have long since fixed that and even managed to get my hands on the tome that is the Annotated version. So being able to review this movie, while not quite the best, it is definitive. All other Dracula and Vampire movies after owe something to this.

While not the first time the name graced the silver screen -I am not including the stage plays – , it was the first authorized time. Ok, there is also a little known Hungarian Film “Dracula’s Death” which has a character who thinks he is Dracula in it.  FW Murnau’s Nosferatu was the first film vampire, though this was unauthorized after a suit from Stokers widow and all copies were ordered destroyed. This can also be considered the first supernatural thriller, I will add the addendum, by American hands. Universal studios hit something special when they did it. Little known fact that a Spanish version of the film was shot simultaneously. Now you might be going “alright cool, they made a version in spain at the same time.” Yet, I return with “No! They filmed on the same set.” The american version shot on the stages during the day and the spanish version at night. The spanish version is sometimes considered technically superior and for the time a bit racier and sexier than its American counterpart.

The movie was directed by Tod Browning officially, though behind the scenes stories and comments made by cast and crew indicate there was either a total lack of direction or that Karl Freund, the cinematographer, stepped in. Browning was a go to director for studios having done dozens of films prior, including the Lon Chaney classic London After Midnight. His expertise was in silent film and outsiders. This explains much of the silence within the film and certain choices that were made. Freund for his part was just as important. Tracking shots , high camera dollies, and even the atmosphere within the movie are largely attributed to him. Horror movies in general owe so much to this, both good and bad.

Edna Mode does not approve.

Edna Mode does not approve.


Its hard to talk about a story and the writers since everyone knows it. Of course it is inspired by Bram Stokers novel from 1897. Stoker for his part had heard of the man Dracula and used him as a springboard with next to no research and never having been to Romania himself. This accounts for many of the descriptions of places and things within Transylvania not being remotely like how they’ve been filmed. His novel then was adapted for the stage, officially, by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston (Didn’t I mention him recently in the Mummy). Garret Fort has credit for a version of the play script. When it comes to the movie however, this one falls under the movie writer curse: 5 total writers, including the director. There are significant changes from the source material to this of course, no real change there from Hollywood, but the biggest and probably most impactful is the Lugosi look. Dracula was always described as off putting, yet here we have something and someone foreign and handsome.



Real vs Movie Borgo Pass

The Borgo Pass: Erosion the true terror of Dracula

Lugosi was not the first pick. He wasn’t even the second or third. The original choice was Lon Chaney who died, before production began, due to cancer. Called the Man of A Thousand Faces, his roles in Phantom of the Opera and the Hunchback of Notre Dame made him one an easy pick. I don’t know what he would have looked like in the make up, he was one of the rare actors who truly enjoyed the chair and the prosthetics. Lugosi however with his look, powerful and hypnotic eyes, and trade mark accent ended up with the role and the world has never been the same. Sadly the studio did not offer him a contract after the success of Dracula, as they did with Karloff on Frankenstein and he had trouble being seen outside of a certain genre after. Perhaps one of his greatest single work after shows the mans true talent for acting, The Black Cat, in which he starred  against Karloff himself.

The rest of the cast has Helen Chandler as the ever staring Mina, who was fantastic on stage but did not make much of an impact in movies. David Manners, who also appeared in the Mummy and Frankenstein as John Harker here. Edward Van Sloan as Dr. Van Helsing. Seriously all this man plays is the Doctor who knows it all!  Dwight Frye though is the standout. His Renfield defined the role for almost a century to come. It was as problematic for him as it was for Lugosi in the work field after. He shows the widest range of acting in the film with his eyes, vocal pitch, laugh, and mannerisms are truly iconic.

Even the movie magic of the day was amazing. While obviously not a lot of it holds up today, some tricks like Dracula walking through a spider web really do. Today someone would use some half baked CG work and give us something laughable, this wasn’t. This was alien and new and creepy.


I highly recommend any cinephiles to see this at least once in their life, if they have not already. If you are a fan of all things vampire like I am this is a must have in your collection.

If you want to see where it all began, absolutely watch this.

Modern movie goers will eye roll at the acting and some interesting flubs in the film, but it is a classic and worth watching – at least once






Darke Reviews | Vampire Academy (2014)

I am the Vampire Princess, when a vampire movie comes out into the theatres I have no choice but to see it. It’s a moral (amoral?) obligation for me, that means I even had to see all the twilights on the silver screen and did so. I find myself continually amazed at how a studio is completely incapable of understanding source material or the gem they have with a vampire property. The trailers for this film put that lack of understanding on a silver platter. watching the clips that were designed to make you want to see this film – I mean thats what a trailer is for right – told you there was a producer selling it as Clueless with Fangs. There was another one selling it as Buffy. Another selling it as City of Bones at school and with fangs.  When there is that lack of understanding from a producer and film editor level  it tells you what to expect all the while telling you not to see a movie. Even the posters fail to sell the film – “They suck at school?” REALLY?

So here we are, Vampire Academy based on the acclaimed YA series by Richelle Mead. Per usual folks, I have not read the book series. Unlike usual, I will be doing so. I need to know what I Was supposed to be getting, rather than what I got. Daniel Waters, elder brother of the director Mark Waters. I actually like the writing filmography of Daniel. Heathers, Hudson Hawk, Batman Returns and Demolition Man. The thing here is, none of them are really that good. They all show a distinct lack of subtlety and upon thinking of it further a hate for teenagers. You can tell he loathes them in how he writes their dialogue and gives them their personalities. This may be a trait shared by his brother Mark, who gave us Mean Girls, Freaky Friday (2003), and Mr. Poppers Penguins. Both of these men have a habitual way of treating the teen girl. So why were they given the writing and directing?

That probably can lay on Bob and Harvey Weinstein. Best known for delivering some of the cheapest films that appear to have a high production value. If you think of the Scream movies, Prophecy (all six of them), Dracula 2000, and so many others like it their fingerprints are on it. They like to pander to the audience and assume the worst of the intelligence level of the modern movie goer. This isn’t to say they don’t have a gem or two out there, but the reality is they don’t respect the art of movie making and it shows with each successive film.

What we were supposed to get, apparently, was a story of two best friends. Teenage girls with responsibilities that really no teen should have laid upon them. One,  the heir Lissa Dragomir to a vampiric empire and the other, Rose Hathaway, sworn to protect her. They’ve been running from this destiny for some time and are finally caught and brought back into the fold of a prep school with fangs. Reacclimation to school life doesn’t go well as Lissa begins to discover the limits of her powers and drags Rose along with her. The entire time still dealing with all the lovely teenage angst that high school brings with it.

The script is a painful mess of cliches and badly written language. I can’t lay all the blame on the actors for how it turned out. I can lay some of it though. Lucy Fry (Lissa) just can’t act. Then they gave her fangs which she never learned to speak around. Gabriel Byrne, seems to want to drain the scenery as he chews it rather than blood. It’s like he didn’t care and it shows in the performance. Going through it none of the performances deliver more than hollow schlock of people too young and too inexperienced to really give the movie any real weight. The closest to a good performance is Zoey Deutch (Beautiful Creatures) as Rose. She is at least somewhat capable of trying to emote. Sadly the lines she’s given and the direction she is given hampers any weight she might have been able to bring.

The only thing going for it is the fact that the vampires have fangs and the sets are somewhat beautiful. Vampires with fangs is under rated these days, and the design of the fangs is somewhat traditional. Most people don’t spend time on fang details but they are as important as any other character when dealing with vampire fiction. They can look ridiculous, they can impair speech, they can be threatening or they can be beautiful. These fall somewhere between the ridiculous and the beautiful. An apparent one size fits all approach was used which made the fangs look bad in some mouths and moderately ok in others.


Goddess I wanted to like this. I really did. I cannot in good conscience say this film is anything but a hot mess. It should have been better and probably could have. Even the pop cover of Bela Lugosi’s Dead, while interesting, came across  wrong.

I need, the world needs, a good vampire story again. I worry about Dracula Year Zero/Dracula Untold later this year.

Time to get to work on mine and order the books for this one. In the meanwhile, two more reviews coming later this week. 2014 has not been good so far with no signs on the horizon of change.

Darke Reviews | Nosferatu (1922)

The full title of course is Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens. I thought I should conclude my every other day vampire review with the first (available) of the films to feature Dracula. As always I watch the film prior to the review and while I have two copies of this in my collection it never ceases to amaze even now 90 years later at what they were trying to do with film back then.

It’s worth mentioning this film was unauthorized. The studio that produced it could not and/or did not obtain the rights to the film. According to stories Stokers wife was sent a copy of a playbill advertising the film and demanded it be stopped and destroyed. The courts agreed with her and all the work prints were destroyed. Or at least thats what was thought, obviously as I am reviewing this tonight a print survived to allow us to enjoy now. Curiously the original film had changed the names of all the principal characters prior to its release to try to make them “original”. Makes me wonder why Vanilla Ice thought he could get away with it musically 70 years later.

The copy of the film I watched tonight had the title & scene cards changed back to their intended (and more accurate) formatting rather than the release versions. The infamous Count Orlock was once again Count Dracula. It is Jonathan and Nina (not Mina) Harker rather than Hutter and Ellen Hutter. Jonathan’s good friend Westenra and his wife Lucy vs the ‘original’ Harding and Annie. In researching this review I looked for IMDB, Wiki, etc, that had these more current credits and they are not in any of the main resources. The script however is available, which had them. I think I might have to make a point to get my hands on a non americanized copy.

The movie was directed by F.W. Murnau (Faust – 1926) who filmed on location in various places within his native Germany and eastern Europe. In the fashion of many modern directors Murnau actually rewrote several pages of the script for the ending of the movie. Unlike modern directors it was because the pages by scripter Henrik Galeen were reportedly lost. The film is without a single line of recorded dialogue and instead has orchestral music playing over the hour and twenty minute running time.

The acting is that of the stage; which is to say its completely over the top and meant to emote at a distant audience. The make up on the principals is designed for the same, where every color and line is made thicker and richer. Looking at it now it is admittedly ridiculous but when you consider how many people had worked in film by that point it makes sense. Max Schreck deserves special mention as the infamous Count. He enters and vanishes into the part in a way that some actors today could try to learn from.

Story wise there are significant variations from the Dracula you know and love, but the core is still there. Orlock/Dracula’s death is still an amazing piece of effects work for a film to attain in 1922.

For the TL;DR – go back and read. This is history.

Nosferatu is a cinematic classic. It is not scary in any way shape or form now. It is however worth watching for its aesthetic and historical content. I honestly wouldn’t expect most folks who aren’t vampire aficionados or film students to get through it, but I would say try.

This really is one of the ones that started it all.
There will be no review tomorrow, but Halloweens review wants you to Put..the Candle…Back.

Darke Reviews | Bram Stokers Dracula (1992)

Of all the literary creations out there, Romeo & Juliet, Holmes, Hamlet, Frankenstein, none come close to appearing on screen more than Dracula. The character as we know him was created by an Irishman named Bram Stoker in 1897. So few characters evoke such imagery in both European and American cultures as the name “Dracula”. Think for a moment of what comes to mind, what thoughts you have when you say that name. High Capes & Collars? Fangs? Bats? A gentleman? A Monster? Sex? Seduction? Blood? So many more thoughts and concepts come with that name. It is safe to say while Stoker did not invent the vampire, their legends date back to ancient Sumeria (trust me on this), he created the modern version. He took them from monster to seducer. He made them an incubus (or succubus depending on the writing) that we want despite the danger, rather than the unattractive corpse. Nearly every author in the vampire genre has been somehow affected by this seminal work.

As the inspiration and basis of so much that came in the century since I found it interesting when the trailers appeared and people began to freak out. Sure Keanu couldn’t hide his accent no matter how hard he tried and people joked “Whoa! Its, like Dracula dude!”. Almost no one had heard of this Gary Oldman guy. Hannibal Lechter is Van Helsing? That chick from Beetlejuice is in it; ok thats almost expected. The guy who made Apocalypse Now AND the Godfather is doing Dracula? What? All of that got people, but the fact there’s a shot in the trailer with him in the sun had people lose their minds. Sad to say folks, sunlight didn’t kill Stokers Dracula, only annoyed him and so many people didn’t know and didn’t want to believe it after 90 years of Dracula that is killed by the sun.

Lets talk about that decision, which probably lays at the feet of writer James Hart. This is the same man who gave us Hook, Muppets Treasure Island, Contact and this years Epic. Yeah that’s what I said too, this guy is all over the place. He does however show a keen understanding of what was so attractive about the original work and made a point to use so much of the style that he could. Granted there’s a lot added to it as well, partially him and partially the director, but all of it is successful.

That comes from the experience of having such an acclaimed director at the helm. Acclaimed and insane. I’ve read the stories of things he did making Apocalypse now. Yeesh. He is however a visionary and used that vision to give us things we have never quite seen in film before. Intelligently using color (mostly reds), sound, lighting, shadow and atmosphere to its fullest. He goads his cast of well know names to places they had never quite gone and probably for many will never achieve again – even 20 years later. It’s a near perfect atmospheric film that tells the story in word, deed and look. A $40 million dollar budget being doubled at the box office and 3 academy awards show other people noticed too.

Behind the scenes is important, but then there’s the cast. This film had one of the most amazing casts of its day where nearly every actor was known for something and those that weren’t have become infamous since. The weakest performance is of course Keanu as Harker. He is trying his best at the time, but really never quite delivers. This could be due to four movies released in the previous year (Point Break, Bogus Journey among them) and just being tired. Ryder on the other hand had built a career so far on being in dark or gothic films, such as Heathers, Beetlejuice, and Edward Scissorhands. She seemed to take to the role of the prudish, repressed Wilhemina Murray fantastically. Her accent work is fairly good and she carries the natural transitions of the character through the film. My biggest gripe is that she comes across more waifish than Stokers actual Mina who was more active in her part in the story. One cannot talk about the actors without mentioning the great Sir Anthony Hopkins. Probably one of the wildest portrayals of the character he also plays the most menacing. Much of the dichotomy comes from Hopkins performance where he devours scenery as the Count devours blood. The movie even hints at a specific background for VanHelsing that is not touched on much in other releases where there are clear ties between Dracula, the Brides and vanHelsing. A lot of that comes through in the performance as well; which only goes to show what happens with a master at the helm of the character.

In 1992 the name Gary Oldman was barely known to American audiences. Few people had seen Sid & Nancy or recognized him as Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK (1991). So when faced with the amazingly manic range of emotions, expressions and body language delivered people didn’t know what to think. Since then he has proven to be one of the greatest actors of our time. We see hints of his genius in how he can change at the drop of a hat and put every ounce of emotion into the performance that you feel for him through the film.

Many people also forget that Cary Elwes (Princess Bride, Saw) makes an appearance as Lord Arthur Holmwood. Billy Campbell (The Rocketeer) plays American Quincy P Morris, who lives and dies as he did in the novel. It’s worth mentioning that the beautiful Monica Bellucci (Matrix 2, 3, BRotherhood of the Wolf) is one of the brides in only her 4th credited screen appearance.

The technicals are worth mentioning. I rant about post production computer imagery over practical effects all of the time. This film has almost none. Nearly every shot was done using elegant, if not old fashioned, camera tricks. Coppola actually fired the original FX crew when they said what he wanted couldn’t be done. Apparently he was right and they were wrong and the film was better for it.


This is, excluding the Twilight series, the 4th highest grossing Vampire film ever. 3 of which involve the character Dracula. If you haven’t seen it – you must. While some of it may come across corny at times, it is one of the vampire greats and should be enjoyed for all it offers, good and bad.
Tomorrows review – I am going to let my readers request below.