So, some thoughts on a couple of vampire flicks I caught at the weekend, each with a strong female lead.
Razor Blade Smile (1998)
Eileen Daly is the evocatively named Lilith Silver, who was accidentally killed back in 1850 when she got in the way of a duel between her lover and the vampire Sir Sethane Blake, who decided to turn her. In the present day she hangs in Goth clubs and bars, taunting the locals with her controversial opinions on vampires, which of course are all actually fact. How would a vampire earn a living and keep the pangs of boredom at bay in the modern world? Obviously she would work as a professional hit woman, which Lilith does, killing a number of unsavoury characters with panache while wearing pseudo-bondage gear. But the men she so cheerfully dispatches are members of the Illuminati, a conspiracy with fingers in every pie, who put their pet policeman on her trail. And there’s one more big surprise as matters move to a conclusion.
The blurb from Total Film on the DVD box promises ‘Masses of sex, nudity and violence’, and with one of the three (violence) it’s not wrong, but I wouldn’t have said there was that much sex and precious little nudity. Your mileage may differ. According to some, with its martial arts/gun toting action and fashion sense, this film set the example followed in the likes of the Blade and Underworld franchises, and I can certainly see that La Beckinsale might have shared a corset or two with Ms Daly. It is very much a low budget affair though, with most of the fight scenes understated and lacking the technical finesse of what was to follow. Lilith is at the top of her profession, but lives in a terrace house and keeps her guns in a coffin, while the Illuminati hang out in rundown farmhouses and the sort of stately home that looks like it has to be hired out as a film set to make upper crust ends meet.
First time I watched this I wasn’t particularly taken with star Daly. She seemed to be continually posing for the camera, so that her PVC clad pertness could be captured on celluloid for posterity, while when out of ‘costume’ she seemed rather like somebody playing Catherine Tramell (much of this film reminded me of Basic Instinct)with the voice of Fenella Fielding. In the years since I guess I’ve mellowed, as I found myself enjoying her performance rather more than previously, with an awareness that the camp aspect was deliberate, albeit not as funny or post-modernly ironic as the makers seem to think, and her posing is, in fact, in line with who the character is. Other than that, I quite liked the twist at the end, even if it felt slightly like the punch line to a joke that had gone on a little too long in the telling.
Rise: Blood Hunter (2007)
Rise had a decent budget and a ‘name’ cast, with Lucy Liu as Sadie Blake (possibly a descendant of Sir Sethane), and it starts with her waking up bare ass naked in a drawer in a morgue, to find that she has no reflection. In flashback we get those all important details – Blake was an investigative reporter with a flair for sticking her nose in the wrong places that would have done Lois Lane proud, but she doesn’t have Superman to pull her butt out of the fire. Looking into the case of a murdered girl, Sadie stumbles into the clutches of Bishop and his vampire cult, who think it’s a hoot to turn her. At first Sadie wants to ‘kill’ herself, but then she’s taken in by Bishop’s rival Arturo who gives her the weapons and information she needs to track down and kill the other vampires, which she does with the help of an alcoholic cop played by Michael Chiklis, whose daughter was one of the vampires’ victims.
The vampires here are a pretty feeble bunch to my way of thinking. They have a little speed, but not much strength or invulnerability. Sadie gets knocked out by a teen thug and bundled in the boot of a car, while most of the other vampires roll over and die when she comes after them. Only Bishop and his human helper offer any real resistance, and even they don’t make it that hard for Sadie. Chiklis is the most interesting member of the supporting cast, a man torn apart by grief, not believing what Sadie is telling him when she attempts to make him see the truth. The way in which Bishop uses his daughter against him in the final showdown at some deserted stables is one of the nastier and more effective elements of the plot, along with the bodies hanging upside down and bleeding into buckets that are used as scene decor, while other splatters of gore throughout the story remind us that this is a horror film rather than a straightforward revenge piece.
Liu, who I’ve liked in all the wrong ways ever since I saw her as the sexually precocious Ling in Ally McBeal, does vulnerable very well when in human form, and convincingly portrays the confusion passing over into horror she feels upon discovering her condition as a vampire, with the attendant need to feed on human blood, though while Sadie attempts suicide consequent to her initial snack, after that she doesn’t show any restraint or seem particularly remorseful when she does bite somebody’s neck. She’s rather like a vegetarian falling off the applecart, regretful at first but soon coming to terms with the need to feed. As a femme fatale she excels, ruthlessly hunting down and slaying the other vampires, and there are nice touches of emotion such as when she says goodbye to her family that show she hasn’t lost touch with her humanity in contrast to the amorality and predatory nature of Bishop, or the sex and murder philosophy of lead female vampire Eve (Carla Gugino), who seems almost relieved to be killed. At the end Sadie too embraces death, though there’s a note of ambiguity, a hint that the character could return – what really hammered the stake through Sadie’s heart was a poor showing at the box office.
Two decent films and two different vampire ladies. I enjoyed them both, but wouldn’t place either in my Top 10. I’m such an ingrate.