Monday, March 22, 2010

Bloody Nightmares #21: This Darkness: The Vampire Virus (2003)


This Darkness is a film filled with potential, and in a few moments spread throughout it even manages to reach it, but too often what was almost a fresh spin on the vampire myth gets bogged down with production problems. Director, writer, producer, and lead Dylan O'Leary does an admirable job, but spreads himself much too thin, making the bigger set pieces fall flat until the entire thing gets exceedingly messy in the final twenty minutes.

O'Leary stars as Dr. Van Helsing VII (sigh), a University Professor being funded handsomely for his work with DNA and vaccines, apparently in trying to create a working AIDS cure. Meanwhile, guess what mysterious creatures of the night are beginning to randomly attack surfers and cheerleaders in broad daylight? If you guessed Vampires, than you've obviously read the title of the film. In fact, the title gives a lot of information that the film dances around for a good 45 minutes. Y'see, Van Helsing (his friends call him Van) has really been working on a cure for death as a whole, but a side effect of his research has brought some vampires out of hiding - leading to them slaughtering his family for reasons that i'm still a bit sketchy on. Oh! And Van's friend Ron Little - a Vietnam vet who runs a martial arts studio - is out for revenge on the vampires who killed his daughter. Also, there's a sassy black friend, a Vietnamese FBI agent, various lab assistants, and a young man who aspires to be a drummer. It's a rich tapestry. It all comes to a very Shakespearean head with just about everyone dying, and Van finding out that he had sex with his mom. Eww.


Let's start with the good. This Darkness is actually, considering its pedigree and the films that surround it in this collection, quite well written. The plot is sometimes a little confusing, and there is lots of scientific jargon that gets a bit tiresome, but the material feels fresh and the characters tend to be amusing throughout. Even when it gets a bit corny - as in every scene that features a vampire speaking - there's a sense of humor that keeps things from getting too bogged down. Van Helsing is written as a bit of a loveable goof-ball, and while I derided O'Leary's choice to play the lead himself he actually pulls it off fairly well. He gets most of the difficult dialogue, and seems to be unafraid to make himself look silly or less than heroic (a scene of him "training" at the dojo may exist solely as padding, but is pretty funny nonetheless).

I also admire the ambition of the project. While most of the films in this collection only make use of a handful of locations, This Darkness includes some unique scenery - most notably some really visually interesting caverns in the climax - which gives the whole thing some much-needed production value. There's also a "let's put on a show" attitude that I really respond to in low budget movies, with the filmmakers obviously using everything at their disposal, whether it be the dojo (which leads to some amusing fight scenes), extended scenes of butterfly knife prowess, surfing, or awful rock bands there's a willingness to include anything that might possibly be of interest. Of course, there's also a sprinkling of gore (vampires eat internal organs? Who knew?) and some boobs for those who enjoy such things (i.e. me).


But remember when I mentioned O'Leary stretching himself too thin? This comes out rather heavily on the production side of things, as while it's a fairly tight production compared to, say, Nightmare Asylum (1992), there is the usual iffy sound, dark photography, and often choppy editing that really should have been tightened up a bit. A number of the locations are quite spacious which might explain some of the sound problems, but the lack of continuity between sound as camera angles change is distracting. And for a movie with a credited cinematographer, there's really no excuse for some of the murky photography and grainy, underlit scenes. It doesn't make things unwatchable, but getting someone to watch a no-budget shot on video vampire movie is a difficult proposition in the first place, so minimizing technical problems is really a necessity. As with a number of other films in this collection there are also a few odd digital glitches, but i'll chalk that up to problems with the mastering.

It's getting a bit repetitive to complain about acting quality, but the problem here lies more in inconsistency rather than persistent badness. As I mentioned, O'Leary is shaky but obviously giving it his all, while David Everritt as (sigh) Tarquin the Vampire thankfully camps things up with his delivery. The rest of the cast tend to be either bland or wooden, especially Amanda Cook as the eventual damsel in distress, who spends most of the film talking like an android. Son Nguyen as the skeptical FBI agent does a good job as a typical stick-in-the-mud, and gets some of the film's best lines.


The process of packing four movies onto each disk of the Bloody Nightmares collection plays havoc with the presentation of some of the films, but This Darkness holds up quite well and - when the lighting is good - looks pretty decent for a shot on video production. The sound problems I mentioned pop up quite often, but the post-production soundtrack, which includes quite a few actual songs, sounds decent. Incidental music if forgettable, but gets the job done. 

There are a few fun outtakes during the closing credits which imply that this thing was a blast to make, but as usual you're not going to find any extras here. Not even chapter stops. Lame.


A step up from some of the recent films in this collection, This Darkness: The Vampire Virus is a strong effort that is hampered by production issues and some jerky plotting, but still has some fresh ideas and an entertaining script. The acting won't win any awards, but there's obviously some love for the genre on display and it certainly makes me interested to see more of O'Leary's work. Lots of potential, but doesn't quite make it. 

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