Thursday, 7 August 2014

Vampires vs Zombies

Director: Vincent D’Amato
Writer: Vincent D’Amato
Producer: Damien Foisy, Rob Carpenter
Cast: Bonny Giraux, Maritama Carlson, Brinke Stevens
Country: Canada
Year of release: 2004
Reviewed from: UK DVD (Hardgore)

Sometimes you just want to relax with a shitty horror film, but bloody hell, does it have to be quite this shitty? Vampires vs Zombies is, despite my best efforts to find something good to say about the thing, a pile of muddled, boring, amateur rubbish whose sole saving grace is a small role for everyone’s favourite marine biologist, Brinke Stevens.

Aside from Brinke, this whole thing is a sorry mess, not least because it singularly fails to feature the promised ‘vampires vs zombies’ schtick. It has vampires, it has a few zombies and it has some things that can’t decide if they’re vampires or zombies or both. But at no point do vampires (or even a vampire) fight zombies (or even a zombie).

Bonny Giraux (who played Ophelia in an indie version of Hamlet) and CS Munro star as Jenna and Travis Fontaine who are supposed to be father and daughter although both appear to be in their early thirties. Jenna has a weird trout-pout and muscular man-arms; Travis is a thin guy who close-shaves what little hair he has left, leaving him looking like the lead singer in a not-very-good REM tribute band.

They are driving nowhere in particular when they meet a mother (Brinke) and her two daughters, one of whom (Melanie Crystal) is bound and gagged because she has ‘the plague’ and the other of whom, Carmilla (Maritama Carlson) - isn’t because she doesn’t. The mom asks the Fontaines to take Carmilla with them so that her sister won’t infect her. Or something. And this they agree to do, for some reason.

A long and tedious scene at a gas station - though to be fair, it’s not that much more tedious than anything else in this movie - involves a goth chick with a dog called Bob. That is, the goth chick (Ligaya Allmer) is called Bob; we’re never told the dog’s name. Producer Rob Carpenter is the gas station attendant who gets vampirised by Carmilla when he unlocks the toilet door for her and who then vampirises Bob in turn, and also some other unnamed guy in a jeep (Derek Champion).

Brinke and the other girl later arrive at the same gas station, or possibly a different one, where we discover that the girl, Tessa, isn’t her daughter but has been kidnapped, though she makes absolutely no effort to escape. An old guy with a white beard called ‘The General’ turns up. That is, the old guy (Peter Ruginis) is called The General; we’re never told the beard’s name. (Seasonally typecast, Ruginis and his beard have only three other IMDB credits, all as Santa Claus.) He thinks that Tessa is Carmilla, who killed or attacked his daughter, or something, so he takes her and she doesn’t bother telling him who she really is.

The General is in phone contact with Travis who says that he has the real Carmilla. So The General lets Tessa go, whereupon she attacks him because she is a vampire. Or something.

The Fontaines’ car breaks down so they flag down a passing jeep which turns out to be the guy we saw before who is now a vampire who they have to kill. Carmilla and Jenna take off in the jeep with Travis in the car, now repaired by the addition of a small bottle of water to the engine. They’re heading for some meeting point with The General, which turns out to be an ‘old church’ that has been converted into a ‘convent’, despite the fact that neither the outside (huge, late 19th century municipal building) nor the inside (huge, 20th century municipal building) looks like either a church or a convent.

A frankly bizarre line of dialogue about, “They converted lots of these churches into convents,” made no sense until much later when I realised that the bozos behind this film don’t actually know what a convent is. They think it means a Catholic girls’ school. Which it doesn’t.

Carmilla and Jenna, who had a completely unerotic topless sex scene in the (parked) jeep on the way here, have another in a room which they both describe as creepy and weird even though, like every other interior, it’s just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill room with featureless, painted walls. There is absolutely nothing creepy or weird about this location whatsoever so the film is reduced to shooting characters in tight close-ups and hoping that we’ll believe them when they talk about what a spooky place they’re in, in defiance of what we can see over their shoulder.

Half a dozen vampire/zombie girls then turn up from nowhere for no reason, dressed in white blouses and check skirts like rejects from the auditions for a Britney Spears video (this was when I finally twigged that the film-makers don’t know the difference between a convent and a convent school). Travis appears, also from nowhere, shouting “Look what I found:” and spends a couple of minutes hacking the zompire/vambie girls up with a convenient and unexplained chainsaw.

There’s something in the crypt about Carmilla’s coffin and there’s a scene back outside where The General reveals that he has found his dead daughter in the back of Fontaine’s car, leading to a chaotically inept fight between various people which ends with Travis suffering mild injuries from a wooden stake through his shoulder (like most people in crap vampire films, his boneless, muscle-free torso must have the consistency of mashed potato). The General’s daughter (Erica Carroll, whose TV credits include episodes of The Outer Limits redux, Battlestar Galactica redux, V redux, Supernatural, The 4400, Smallville, Fringe and Masters of Horror) is despatched when Jenna picks up some stuff from the floor of the car, sellotapes it together and dangles it in the other girl’s mouth, causing her to cough up blood and expire.

For some reason and in some way.

Mixed in with all this half-witted nonsense are random scenes of Jenna in a hospital or at home with a doctor (Roy Tupper) who turns up eviscerated in a bath in his early scene but later appears fine. I think, perhaps, maybe, this is supposed to suggest that the entire Carmilla storyline is taking place inside the head of a mentally ill Jenna. Or something.

And zombies? There are two scenes on the road when grey-putty-faced shuffling individuals are deliberately ploughed down by cars and there’s a final scene (possibly a dream) when Jenna and Carmilla, having killed Travis and The General, escape to a motel room which is suddenly, inexplicably filled with zombies. Who then eat them.

Absolutely not one shred of this makes the slightest bit of sense. An appallingly bad script, amateur-ish direction, wobbly camera-work, occasional random inappropriate music and minimal production design combine with some of the most wooden, two-by-four acting I’ve ever seen in my life to turn this entire film into a huge, stinking pile of crap. I bought this from Poundland and frankly I think they overcharged me by about 75p. It’s not even entertainingly bad, it’s just dull. Despite the amount of throat-bitings, stake-stabbings, chainsaw-hackings and other bloody mayhem, this is the dullest film I’ve sat through for ages. It is entirely devoid of tension, excitement, thrills or any smidgeon of interest. It’s 77 minutes of boring stuff happening slowly to people we don’t care about for no apparent reason.

This only avoids a D- through the presence of the ever-reliable Ms Stevens whose acting talents (and knowledge of undersea ecology) are, I fear, sadly unmatched by any discerning judgement in what projects she chooses. Brinke also turns up as a state trooper shortly after the jeep guy is killed and it’s a toss-up between whether it’s dumber that she doesn’t spot a dead body hastily hidden under a couple of bin liners or that none of the others spot that she’s Carmilla’s mother. Or is she meant to be a completely different character who just looks the same? Who knows? (Other titles in Brinke Stevens’ 120+ filmography reviewed on this site include The Naked Monster, Dr Horror’s Erotic House of Idiots, Witchouse 3, Invisible Mom and Caesar and Otto’s Summer Camp Massacre. All of them are much, much better than this, even Witchouse 3.)

Incredibly, Vampires vs Zombies claims to be based on J Sheridan LeFanu’s 1872 novella Carmilla. Well, it has a lesbian vampire called Carmilla whose mother leaves her with a father and daughter, the latter of whom she seduces. And there’s a guy called The General, but really I think that’s about the closest the film gets to anything LeFanu ever wrote. On the other hand, it’s a lot closer to LeFanu’s story than it is to what’s written on the back of the sleeve:

The battle between the living dead and the undead has begun!
Jenna, who has fallen victim of a strange vampiric/zombie plague, sets out with her father to find and destroy the source of the vile infection. Only then will she be saved.
Along the way, they agree to provide safe passage for a mysterious woman, unaware she is actually Carmilla – a centuries-old baroness and the source of the plague! to make matters worse, the countryside is infected with armies of ferocious zombies.
In order to survive, they ally with The General, who has his own score to settle with Carmilla, as well as the weapons and means to do it. As the men battle endless attacks from the living dead, Carmilla slowly seduces Jenna in mind and body.

Nope, there’s nothing like that in the film. Not any of it.

Now, to be fair to film-maker Vincent D’Amato, he wrote this as Carmilla 2000, shot it (on 16mm in Vancouver) as Carmilla the Lesbian Vampire and then saw it distributed by The Asylum (when they were handling pick-ups rather than producing their own mockbusters) as Vampires vs Zombies. On his website, he reckons that he and partner Nicole Hancock agreed to what they thought was just a video sleeve strapline and were shocked to find out it was the new title.

But even as a strapline it would be a lie. And under its production title the film would still be massively unsatisfying because, instead of wondering why there are hardly any zombies, viewers would be wondering why the hell there are any zombies at all in a vampire picture. The trailer has a voice-over saying that “after the zombie-vampire wars left the cities destroyed, the conflict moved to the country” which doesn’t explain anything and isn’t alluded to in the film.

While I’m giving this a good kicking, it’s worth pointing out that, although the driving scenes indicate that there are very few cars around on these lonely roads, during the gas station sequences vast amounts of traffic can be seen driving past outside.

Really, what can you expect from someone whose pseudonym expresses an admiration for the works of Aristide Massaccesi? ‘Vincent D’Amato’ indeed. Many of the cast and crew have also appeared in or worked on other features or online serials by D’Amato and friends including Corpse-O-Rama, Hell Hath No Fury, The Renfield Syndrome and Heads are Gonna Roll, a short which was shot during the production of this film.

Apparently D’Amato has now restored both the original title and some cut gore but dude, that’s not going to be enough to save this. Embarrassingly poor on every level, Vampires vs Zombies should be avoided under any title and in any form even if you have a 77-minute shaped hole in your near future when you would otherwise be self-harming or abusing animals. Anything - anything - is better than this.

MJS rating: D

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