Friday, January 14, 2011

Bloody Nightmares #29: Vampire Hunter (2004)


Well, here's something a little different. Actually on the surface Sean Gallimore's Vampire Hunter appears to be a particularly cheap knock-off of any number of late-90s vampire properties - from Blade to Buffy the Vampire Slayer - except it was originally lensed all the way back in 1995 (though not completed and released for nearly a decade). But what really sets this movie apart isn't its prescience, it's Gallimore himself who might be the only martial artist/actor/director/writer/cheesecake nudie artist/animator that we're likely to see in this collection. This was obviously a labor of love (and extreme geekiness) for Gallimore, and what its missing in technical aptitude (which is a LOT), it makes up for in enthusiasm and a commitment to ridiculousness.

Gallimore stars as Sean O'Ryan, a bad-ass who trained in martial arts in Japan, but now spends his days surrounded by super-hero action figures selling the sort of art you see on the cover of Heavy Metal magazine. We're introduced to Sean as he demonstrates his abilities with a variety of weapons (including a particularly impressive nunchuku display) in his garage, which has everything from swords to throwing stars mounted on the wall. O'Ryan's wife books him a meeting with a local gallery owner, the mysterious Ramone (Frank Suarez) who immediately rubs Sean the wrong way by hitting on his girl before being attacked by vampire hunter Morgan Bane (Leonardo Millán) sporting a super-soaker full of holy water. Later returning to the gallery to track down a misplaced portfolio, Sean is attacked by one of Ramone's many frumpy mid-90s looking vampires which sets up the vampire warning bells in his head. After his wife is kidnapped by Ramone, it's up to Sean to team up with Bane to take down these tie-died, mom-jeans wearing creatures of the night. This involves a lot of kicking, punching and crossbows, as you might expect.


To have any hope of enjoying Vampire Hunter, you're going to have to ignore some pretty glaring flaws right off the bat. For one, the whole thing was shot on video - not a rarity in this collection - but it's particularly poor looking due to its age and it obviously being transferred from a VHS tape (there are tracking issues and a big purple mark that goes along the right side of the screen). Even worse are some serious sound issues which persist through most of the film, the audio sometimes being totally unintelligible - particularly in the early scenes - which can be a bit tough to tolerate. To give up at this point would be a bit of a shame, however, as a patient viewer can find a lot to enjoy in this ultra low-budget action/horror flick.

Gallimore is bland but perfectly fine in the lead, but the rest of the cast - particularly Frank Suarez as the vampire leader - stumble a bit. The vampire minions (many of whom dress exactly like you would expect people in 1995 to dress) are forgettable, but do manage to get their butts kicked convincingly, which I suppose is most of the reason they are there in the first place. Even considering the low standards of shot-on-video vampire movies (and I've seen my share) the performances are pretty dire - and certainly not helped by the technical issues.


The film's greatest asset is obviously Gallimore himself, since no technical limitations can hide the fact that he's a very skilled martial artist, and as an exhibition of his impressive abilities the film succeeds. Aside from his own physicality, he also does a strong job on the fight choreography and the direction of the action scenes. Don't expect Shaw Brothers level (or, heck, even Godfrey Ho) fights here, but it generally looks fairly smooth and makes great use out of a wide variety of weapons on display. A big step up from most of the "action" scenes featured in the films in this collection. You'll still see the occasional punch or kick miss by a foot, but some obvious time was spent putting these scenes together and it pays off.

Gallimore is also obviously a genre fan, and there's a lightness to the proceedings which helps ease through the rockier acting moments, including a classic "gearing up for battle" montage that could have been ripped right out of a mid-80s action film. Special effects focus mostly on various projectiles embedding in the cast, but they look fine and - unlike Suburban Sasquatch - ambitious (awful) special effects don't become a distraction.


As mentioned, the version of Vampire Hunter available in the Bloody Nightmares collection is obviously sourced from a VHS copy (available for sale on Sean Gallimore's website) and is presented in sometimes shaky fullscreen. The soundtrack music feels like it's right out of a videogame, which suits the cheesy action atmosphere on display. 

As per usual, there are no extras. A shame as I'd love to hear more about what made him decide to complete and release the film after so many years. Gallimore is self deprecating about the film on his youtube account, but I'm sure there are some great behind-the-scenes stories.


Rampant technical problems and a generic plot make for a sometimes tough watch, but some impressive action and a strong lead performance (as well as a 71 minute runtime) reward those who stick with Vampire Hunter. The cast and crew are obviously trying very hard, and Gallimore's passion for what he's doing (and his obvious fighting skill) help the film overcome its limitations and become surprisingly entertaining. Shaky, but fun.

3 comments:

Burgundy LaRue said...

Glad to see you still review these. I'm watching the 12-movie Blood Bath set right now. I see now why it's takes you so long to write these reviews. It can be a long, hard road to get through these movies. :-)

Doug Tilley said...

It's definitely a labor of love. :) I'd love to be able to review them back-to-back-to-back, but I find alternating with films that have more obvious qualities helps to take the edge off. I think I'm fairly forgiving, but even I have a breaking point. :)

Though I need to speed things up, since I got a 44 pack of Spaghetti Westerns that I really need to be getting to.

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