Vampires Vs. Zombies
Let me tell you something right off the bat, it's not easy writing about a film you saw over a month ago. A little peek behind the scenes here. The more recent a film is, typically as a theatrical release, the higher precedence I give it, simply because by the time I see the film, collect my thoughts, write about it and publish it, the film is at least a week old. Hey, we don't get advance screening passes, but we'd like to. So, I have a backlog of films which fortunately, I have notes to jog my memory. Sometimes it is an absolute necessity, usually when a film is terminally mediocre. Other times, the notes are just there as a reminder and the film is still very fresh in my mind.
Such is the case with VAMPIRES VS. ZOMBIES. When watching this film, the first thing you notice is that the film does not deliver the knock-down, drag-out fight promised by the title. There is no big war to figure out which undead army gets the bragging rights. My guess is that they had a film that incorporated both entities and there are certainly moments where the two meet up. Also, the whole "Vs." thing is big again. I mean, just look at that poster. Remind you of anything?
Instead what we have is a film that purports to be based on Sheridan Le Fanu's short story, "Carmilla." I've read that story more than once, and although this is a loose adaptation, it's more faithful than some other filmmakers who adapted Le Fanu's work, seemingly without reading it.
VAMPIRES VS. ZOMBIES offers a twist in that the events take place amidst the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse. We don't know how it started and it really doesn't matter. We've seen these things before, after all and are pretty familiar with the rules. This fresh bit of Armageddon is recent enough that much of society is still trying to come to grips with what is going on. Not so for the Fontaines. They know exactly what's going on, and at times it even seems like they may have suspected the dead were going to get restless for a while now. This is why Travis (C.J. Munro) and Jenna (Bonny Groux) are driving through the back roads of Idaho. They are going to meet up with some survivalists who hope to shut themselves off and wait for things to blow over.
Along the way, they come across a stranded motorist (veteran scream queen Brinke Stevens), who begs the two to take her daughter Carmilla to safety. Carmilla (Matarama Carlson) finds it a little awkward associating herself with these two distant people. Nevertheless, she strikes up a strong friendship with Jenna. Friendship reaches a whole new level in a wonderful seduction scene, the two park by the side of the road, Jenna's sweater hits the asphalt and well, they become much closer.
The only thing is that Carmilla is a vampire and now Jenna is in her thrall. While Carmilla makes the moves on the plucky gal, Stevens puts the bite on a number of other passers by. Meanwhile, we meet a foul-mouthed character named the General (Peter Ruginis). This is the man running the survivalist camp where he will meet up with the Fontaines. The General wishes zombies were his biggest problem, but he's more concerned with the disappearance of his daughter. She was last seen in the company of a vampire named Carmilla.
The zombies in the film are most background characters who make nuisances of themselves at the most inopportune times. What we have is a group of people who are in a major bind, one with supernatural overtones but personal consequences. The zombies just want to eat them. So, they pop up and try to feast on our heroes at several points along the way. The protagonists and antagonists alike try to deal with the zombie problem as best they can. Each seems skilled enough in hand-to-hand combat and improvises some clever corpse-whacking tools when the need arises. While driving, folks have developed a comfortable past time in hitting the gas and playing DEATH RACE 2000 with ghouls who refuse to use the crosswalk.
There are a few trippy twists that as usual, I won't spoil for anyone. What VAMPIRES VS. ZOMBIES has going for it is tons of originality. We've all seen zombie movies, we've done the vampire thing, we've even seen "Carmilla" adapted for the big screen (most successfully in THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, in my opinion). But we haven't seen all three brought together with such quirky tweaks and with some psychological spiraling that comes in later.
Director Vince D'Amato exploits the fact that this is unlike 99 percent of the other horror movies out there. He tilts the camera at odd angles and makes odd color and scenery choices. Things get especially trippy around the time he starts throwing curveballs into the plot. The film then has an odd juxtaposition in that it repeatedly switches from the open roads of Idaho to some very claustrophobic interiors.
D'Amato also infuses quite a bit of off-beat humor into the film. There are tiny little quirks like a beautiful yet mysterious Wiccan-type gal who goes by the name of Bob. Not Bobbi Sue, not Bobbie Jo, just Bob. Likewise, the General also gets his share of choice dialogue often laced with his favorite adjective. A favorite line of mine, "You know, you're kind of a snot even if you are a beauty queen." And of course, the hilarious mid-battle exchange in which a female vampire incredulously yells, "You broke my fucking tooth!" Nonplussed, the General responds, "That makes us even. You broke my fucking cigar."
D'Amato's major flourishes are so neat that it's a shame some minor plot holes are pretty much ignored. It seems as if Jenna and Carmilla argue for hours what to do with a zombie corpse they liquidated. In all their debate of how to transport the thing, no one simply brings up the fact that they are in the middle of the woods on a deserted road and could easily dump it in the brush. As the twists and turns keep coming, I would be lying if I said it made everything crystal clear. Moreover, while most of the acting is solid, some of the minor players need to put a little more heart into their films. And oh yeah, the musical score is also way too loud.
Still, even without a Helm's Deep-sized battle and with some head-scratching, VAMPIRES VS. ZOMBIES offers quite a bit. It is much more skilled and original than most films out there, even on the SOV market. Place your bets on whomever you like, this film winds up being a winner overall.
- Scott W. Davis