Saturday, 7 January 2017

The Vampires of Bloody Island

Director: Allin Kempthorne
Writers: Allin Kempthorne, Pamela Kempthorne
Producers: Allin Kempthorne, Pamela Kempthorne
Cast: Pamela Kempthorne, Allin Kempthorne, Leon Hamilton
Country: UK
Year of release: 2010
Reviewed from DVD

Since it was originally released, a full seven years ago, I have been meaning to watch this film, just to see for myself quite how awful it is. Self-released and self-promoted, the movie’s marketing screams ‘terrible’. The film’s website refers to it as a “hilarious cult vampire comedy movie” and “a vamptastically entertaining send-up of every vampire film you've ever loved!” Such hyperbole sets off a klaxon to any would-be viewer (or reviewer).

Comedy, as I think has been well-established over the years, is very difficult to do on a low budget. A few films have managed it - Stalled, Kill Keith, Evil Aliens, Take Me to Your Leader – but plenty more have crashed and burned: Le Fear 2, Stag Night of the Dead, Whatever Happened to Pete Blaggit, Zorg and Andy and many others so desperately short on laughs that I can’t even bring myself to review them. Here’s one thing I’ve noticed over the years though: genuinely good comedies rarely feel the need to tell people how ‘entertaining’ or ‘hilarious’ they are.

The film’s website has lots of laudatory, unlinked review quotes from sources I’ve never heard of. To be fair, it did get a positive review in Fortean Times, but that’s not really a journal of cinematic record. There are no external review links on the IMDB (except this one). All but two of the Amazon reviews are five-star raves; the remaining pair are one-star excoriations. The signs are not good.

Everything about The Vampires of Bloody Island just looks terrible. The website, the DVD sleeve, the trailer, everything designed to appeal to a potential audience has the absolute opposite effect. Even the character names on the IMDB page suggest this will be about as humorous as a root canal. Unless you’re an obsessive goth who thinks anything with a vampire in is an instant classic, one’s instinct is to stay away.

But my job (well, it’s hardly a job…) is to watch these things so you don’t have to. Cover me – I’m going in…

Thus, after seven years, I finally picked up a copy and watched it. And, because I write these reviews in a spirit of absolute honesty, I’ll tell you this. The Vampires of Bloody Island is nowhere near as bad as I expected. The cringeworthy marketing does this film a disservice. It’s not the worst comedy ever made. Not even the worst horror comedy ever made. Heck, it’s not even the worst British horror comedy about vampires ever made. A few minor aspects of it are moderately clever.

Let me be clear: in no way am I saying that this is A Good Film. The Vampires of Bloody Island is painfully unfunny amateur rubbish and I cannot with a straight face recommend it to you in any way unless you are obsessively completist about vampires and/or British horror. It’s awful. Just not as barrel-scrapingly awful as I previously assumed.

Hey, credit where credit’s due is my motto.

The set-up is this. Morticia de’Ath (Pamela Kempthorne) is a centuries-old vampire living in a castle on an obscure Cornish island, tended to by her mute zombie manservant Grunt. Her goal is to be able to go outside in sunlight, towards which end neighbouring mad scientist Dr N Sane is working on an elixir. The one remaining ingredient is the blood of a mortal, born of vampire, who has returned to their birthplace of their own free will.

To this end, some decades ago Morticia had a daughter by a mortal man, who then took the baby away and raised it alone. In London we meet Susan Swallows (also Pamela Kempthorne), a clutzy  employee at a soft drink company which produces, among other disgusting flavours, Garlic Cola. Grunt surreptitiously arranges for Susan to be sent off as a sales rep to Bloody Island, Cornwall. She is accompanied by her colleague Kevin Smallcock (Allin Kempthorne) who maintains that his surname is pronounced ‘Smelkirk’.

On arrival at the island, Kevin and Susan are welcomed as guests by Morticia but after a dinner party incident they are thrown into a dungeon along with tweed-wearing parapsychologist Professor Van Rental. Dr N Sane completes the elixir, then Morticia uses it to raise a small army of vampires, but Kevin, Susan and Van Rental escape and defeat the undead using water pistols filled with Garlic Cola. Susan spends most of the third act parading around in her underwear, adding a fur coat to her costume partway through.

You can see that there is some attempt at an original plot here, bolstered out by Kevin and Susan’s journey to Bloody Island. This includes a stop at a prehistoric monument where they first encounter Van Rental, an overnight stay in a guest house where Kevin gets vampirised by a topless Morticia, and an encounter with a ferryman who is terrified by the name ‘Bloody Island’ and refuses to row them across ‘Sheet Creek’.

There are some genuine attempts at humour on show, including unamusing, vaguely rude, sub-sub-sub-Carry On character names. The Garlic Cola stuff is original and justifies the denouement as assorted vampires disappear in a puff of computer graphics. The scene with the ferryman meanwhile is a self-contained sub-sub-sub-Python sketch, the sort of thing that might raise a smile in a village pantomime. You know, some ‘comedies’ I’ve sat through have been so bad that I genuinely couldn’t work out where the jokes were. All due credit to The Vampires of Bloody Island: it is very obvious where the jokes are. That’s because they are old, weak, laboured and for the most part desperately unfunny (and kind of have a metaphorical neon sign above them saying ‘comedy bit’). But at least there are jokes.

The attempted humour, as you can tell, is very broad and unsubtle. If I was asked to sum the movie up in one sentence, it would be thus: this is a film that wants to be Carry On Screaming but ends up as Carry On England.

Still, could have been worse. Could have ended up as Carry On Emannuelle. Anyway…

Speaking of things which are unsubtly labelled, Allin Kempthorne is one of those film-makers who feels the need to put a typewriter caption at the start of every scene telling us where it is, what day it is and the precise time. The first two are always obvious from context (assuming we haven’t got bored and started checking our emails) and the last doesn’t matter. The most extreme example is on the journey when Susan tells Kevin she wants to stop off at somewhere called Devil’s Lookout. We get a close-up of a map, Susan’s finger pointing to something clearly labelled ‘Devil’s Lookout’. Then we see the car pulling up next to a sign reading ‘Devil’s Lookout’. Kevin gets out of the car saying: “Here we are, Devil’s Lookout.”

And a typewriter caption clatters across screen to tell us that this specific location is… Devil’s Lookout!

Last time I saw anything like this was in Summer of the Massacre. And while The Vampires of Bloody Island isn’t anywhere near as bad as Bryn Hammond’s classic tale of ball pein hammers and rubber masks, these typewriter captions are another red flag that we’re dealing with people who don’t really understand how film narrative works.

This is a shame as Allin Kempthorne clearly does know how to make a film. The direction is perfectly competent here. The actual camera-work isn’t great but I’ve seen worse. The editing is actually rather good, particularly in scenes where Morticia and Susan appear together. Through judicious use of stand-ins, the director is able to make us completely forget that these are the same woman. Or nearly forget anyway. Probably the biggest hole in the plot, one that cannot be excused just because this is a low-budget silly comedy, is that that when Kevin and Susan meet Morticia they completely ignore the fact that (a) she looks exactly like Susan and (b) she has bloody great fangs sticking out of her mouth.

All the above notwithstanding, let’s get to the elephant in the room, which is Pamela Kempthorne herself. And I don’t mean that in a personal way, but some of what I’m about to type will seem very personal indeed. That is, I’m afraid, unavoidable. If you take the lead role (actually two lead roles) in a feature film and promote it heavily, and if you spend much of that film in a state of undress, you must expect people to comment on your physical appearance. And the simple truth is that Mrs Kempthorne has neither the figure nor the face to play either of these roles. When she gets undressed, flashing her boobs and her bum, frankly it’s more frightening than the last half-dozen serious vampire films I watched put together.

Morticia is supposed to be a seductive, sexy vampire. And for Allin Kempthorne to cast his wife in the role is pure vanity. If my wife decided she was going to make a film about Ancient Rome and cast me in the lead role as a gladiator, it would be utterly ridiculous. It would make me, and her – and by association anyone else involved with the movie – look like idiots. Because I’m an overweight, underheight, 48-year-old nerd with bad skin, a large nose, overgrown eyebrows, a speech impediment and a haircut that has barely changed since 1973. Kirk Douglas I ain’t. And Ingrid Pitt she ain’t, sorry.

Under her husband’s direction, Pamela Kempthorne swans through the film like she’s some sort of cross between Barbara Steele and Barbara Shelley. When in fact she’s somewhere on a line between Barbara Bush and Barbara Cartland. She thinks she’s Madeline Smith but she looks more like Madeleine Albright. And nobody ever wanted to see the Secretary of State’s tits, not even Bill Clinton.

Nor does Pamela Kempthorne convince as Susan Swallows (hoho, very amusing). Frankly, the daughter looks even older than the mother (which, to be fair, given that the latter is an ageless vampire, doesn’t actually break any narrative rules). While Mrs Kempthorne as Morticia is waving her bazongas about in one scene, seducing Kevin Smallcock (god, that’s funny) in the guest house, the sequence is intercut with Mrs Kempthorne as Susan in another room, curled up on the bed, squeezed into a pair of pink panties emblazoned with the phrase ‘Pretty princess’. I actually had to rewind and pause to work out what it said. I never, ever want to do that again.

We are supposed to accept that, after initial hostility at the soft drink firm office, Kevin keeps making moves on Susan and eventually they fall in love. I’ve no doubt that the Kempthornes are happily married (since October 1998) and blissfully in love with each other, and that’s lovely and wonderful and all. But this is cinema, not real life. And when you see them on screen together, honestly you’d assume they were mother and son.

Compounding the problem (yet somehow also ameliorating it) is that Allin Kempthorne himself is a good-looking guy, with his floppy hair and cheeky smile. When I watched this movie, I kept thinking: well, I wouldn’t climb over him to get to her. Look, when a male viewer who ticks the ‘straight’ box on diversity forms finds your male romantic lead more attractive than your female romantic lead, there’s something wrong with your casting. (Unless of course the male lead is Johnny Depp or Brad Pitt, in which case hell yeah! You know where you can stick your diversity forms then. Don’t try to deny it, you’ve all thought the same.)

On top of which, Allin Kempthorne is also a good actor, especially impressive given that he’s directing himself which always makes life harder. He’s had a few walk-on parts in things like The Colour of Magic, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and episodes of Black Mirror, Horrible Histories, EastEnders (as a clown) and Doctor Who (as a mime artist). He has also been a stand-in several times, including doubling for Rowan Atkinson on Johnny English, plus Cronenberg’s Spider, Julian RichardsSilent Cry and a brace of Harry Potters.

Mrs Kempthorne, on the other hand, is simply one of the worst actors who has ever crossed my TV screen. I know I’ll never win a Bafta (not for playing a gladiator, anyway) but that doesn’t mean I can’t spot an absence of acting ability in other people. And honestly, it’s embarrassing how awful she is. Especially when she’s on screen with her husband. The overall cast of the film range right across the acting spectrum from terrible to quite good.  Leon Hamilton mimes his way through a fine wordless performance as Grunt, while John Snelling as Dr N Sane is like a plank of wood. Oliver Gray as Professor Van Rental is somewhere inbetween.

It’s ironic that the best actor on screen is Mr A Kempthorne and the worst is Mrs P Kempthorne, but that’s the way it is. She was also a stand-in on Silent Cry, actually appears on screen as a witch in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and was a zombie in Shaun of the Dead. I suspect she can carry off non-speaking witch and zombie roles, but two lead roles, both supposedly sexily seductive – no, not a chance. Maybe, just maybe, if cast as some sort of crumbling, cobweb-covered, ancient vampire matriarch who spends the whole movie sat on a throne (and fully dressed), Pamela Kempthorne could have pulled off a bloodsucker role. But that’s not what we get here.

This is what happens when you make a vanity project. And make no mistake, The Vampires of Bloody Island is a vanity project. Allin Kempthorne made it for his wife. He manages his wife’s acting career. He marketed and distributed this film starring his wife. It’s commendable how much he does for her. But it would be untrue and unkind to suggest that the result is anything except a self-indulgent home movie. Keep your wife’s flabby arse in the bedroom Mr Kempthorne because no-one in their right mind wants it on their telly.

When not being film stand-ins, the Kempthornes run a mail order business selling goth/vampire ephemera (and signed copies of their DVD) from their home in the little town of Mountain Ash near Merthyr Tydfil. Which means that they know their audience and their market. If you’re the sort of person who will happily shell out £1.90 for a sachet of ‘Astral Cleansing Ritual Bath’ (“Remove astral debris picked up in everyday life, breaks minor curses and strengthens the auric field.” Which, incidentally, is a funnier line than anything in the script of this movie…) then you will probably freaking love The Vampires of Bloody Island and can safely ignore everything I’ve written here.

Since making The Vampires of Bloody Island, Mrs Kempthorne doesn’t seem to have troubled the screen again, concentrating on such challenging stage roles as Sally Skull in Skull and Crossbones, the Potty Pirates and Ping Pong in Santa’s Naughtiest Elves. Two of Ibsen’s lesser known works there.

A little digging reveals that these pirates and elves are part of a whole cornucopia of characters which the Kempthornes offer for children’s parties, corporate events, walkabouts etc. Allin does close-up magic, both family-friendly and more sophisticated (plus stand-up comedy as ‘Eddie Twist’). Pamela does tarot and palm reading. They both make balloon animals. Walkabout characters on offer include Baron Blood the Vampire, Wizzall the Wizard, Wanda the Wacky Witch, Runefungle the Sorcerer, the Giggling Ghost, Midshipman Arnold Poop-Decker, Jack Frost, the Mad Hatter, Sparkie the Clown, Ditzy the Clown, the Andromedans, the Space Tourists and a frankly terrifying giant humanoid rabbit.

There is also Lord Two-Head, a monstrous character whose second head sits upside-down on top of his regular head. (It’s creepy, but still better than the shitty version of Zaphod Beeblebrox in the Hitchhiker’s Guide movie.) This explains one of the mysteries of The Vampires of Bloody Island, which is that when we first met Dr N Sane he is treating a patient who has this curious double head and is never explained. It is a very good full-head mask and really one of the highlights (if such a term can be used) of the movie.

The other bit of the film that I really liked was when Morticia raises her vampire army and they all announce what year they were turned. Two of them were vampirised in the late 1960s so are hippy vampires, sticking to their principals of peace and love. When the big fight breaks out, they refuse to get involved, sitting on a blanket and waving placards (although that doesn’t save them from a deadly blast of Garlic Cola). The actors are Rebecca Finley-Hall (you may remember her as ‘Skank Hippy Crack Bitch’ in obscure 2006 social drama The Plague) and the surely pseudonymous Caspar De La Mare. This is a clever and original idea, well handled, and probably the closest the film ever comes to being genuinely entertaining.

The leader of the vampire army, played under impressive make-up with a plummy English accent, is a ‘war demon’ named General Valkazar. This is Marcus Fernando (also credited as fight director) whose stage career includes puppeteering for the RSC. It’s another good performance that veers towards entertaining. Also in the cast are Carl Thomas and Paul Ewen as ‘Catering Demons', serving at the dinner party scene. Ewen (also credited as key prosthetic artist) is a British horror regular with bit-parts in Cockneys vs Zombies, Zombie Undead, Three’s a Shroud, Blaze of Gory, Seize the Night, The Vicious Dead and Kim Wilde’s legendary goth-horror video Every Time I See You I Go Wild (google it!).

Tacye Lynette who plays the boss of the soft drinks firm (another good performance) does audio descriptions for Sky TV. There’s actually a borderline funny bit in the office sequence when three Chinese ladies are assumed to be customers from China but take offence because they’re actually Irish. Kaila Lee, Amy Ip and Carolyn Seet are ‘Miss Chang’, ‘Miss Wang’ and ‘Miss O’Leary’. Three sexy female vampires who make a move on Kevin (and these ones are genuinely sexy, even though they keep their clothes on) are credited as ‘Mina’, ‘Lucy’ and ‘Morgana’ and played by Sadie Sims, Lisa Pobereskin and Jennifer Grace.

There are also two werewolves chained up in Morticia’s dungeon. One is played by an actor hiding behind the pseudonym ‘Fritz Aardvark Bragpuss’ (sic) and the other is – crikey! – Mick Barber. You may recall Barber's recurring role as a non-speaking, bubble-permed background copper in Ashes to Ashes but you will definitely recall his most famous role as squeaky-voiced, bubble-permed foreground lunatic Tommy in Richard Driscoll’s Eldorado.

Of final note is the film's soundtrack which features a number of goth beat combos including Inkubus Sukkubus, Fever, Theatres des Vampires, The Suburban Vamps and Corpse Nocturna. The opening titles play under a song by Vampire Division called ‘Place of the Dead’ and you’ll have the catchy chorus stuck in your head for days after you watch the film. It goes:

Place of the dead! Place of the dead! Place of the dead! Place of the dead!
Place of the dead! Place of the dead! Place of the dead! Place of the dead!

Ah, they don’t write ‘em like that any more…

So that’s The Vampires of Bloody Island, a film I watched in order to tick it off my list, which proved that you can’t judge a DVD by its sleeve. Although you can get a pretty good idea. The Kempthornes self-released it on their Weird World of Wibbell label in January 2010 with an NTSC version following in August. There was a cast and crew screening back in 2007 and it was shown at the first Horror-on-Sea in January 2013 but seems to have otherwise largely left the big screen untroubled.

Now you might expect this vanity project to be the only Wibbell release but you’d be wrong. They also released something called Learning Hebrew: A Gothsploitation Movie which is synopsised thus:

"When criticism of faith and the freedom to offend is outlawed by the Politically Correct Militia, Bella and her gang of idealistic cyberpunks push Darwinism door-to-door. But with agnostic thugs in the street and the Atheist Revolutionary Army attacking the liberal establishment, Bella and her friends are driven underground into a dark fetish existence, where the future and past collide, allegiances are strained and old scores must be settled."

That was written and directed by someone named Louis Joon and released by the Kempthornes on DVD in 2012. It played Horror-on-Sea in 2014 although it’s not on my masterlist because I’m not convinced (yet) that it’s actually a horror film. Wibbell Productions has also given us Twisted Britain, a phone-shot web series with Allin Kempthorne in his Eddie Twist guise visiting various towns. Currently under development is The First Stars of Vaudeville, a compilation of archive footage of obscure music hall acts.

I absolutely love old music hall acts so if that ever gets finished I will be first in the queue to buy a copy. Seriously.

Just so long as I never have to watch The Vampires of Bloody Island again.

MJS rating: C-


  1. I'll admit that I have also watched this, and your review pretty much sums it up. I found it quite tiresome. It came out about the same time as my 'Adventures of a Plumber in Outer Space', and to I think my film gets a whole lot more laughs than this one... Horror comedy is such a hard genre to do well. Additional information for you: I put on a film festival at the Greenwich Picturehouse in about 2007 and screened a kind of traier/ work in progress clip of this film - I don't really recall the response it got though.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Fred. I really enjoyed The Adventures of a Plumber in Outer Space. For anyone who hasn't read my review of Fred's movie, it's back at the start of January 2013. (Wish these comments could do links!)

  2. In a funny sort of way, reading your review has made me want to watch the film again...
    Anyway - Shameless plug: The Adventures of a Plumber in Outer Space is now available to watch on You Tube in glorious low definition: