Sex, Leins & Videotape #43. Paignton film critic Tom Leins ventures out into the DVD wasteland!
Movie vampires are firmly back in vogue thanks to the ridiculously successful Twilight franchise, so it is no surprise to see all manner of bloodsuckers queuing up for a place on the big-screen. Eschewing Twilight’s teen-romance template for something more leftfield, Daybreakers (Lionsgate) is a loopy dystopian action-thriller!
Set in plague-ridden 2019, Daybreakers depicts a world where vampires rule society and humans are hunted for their blood. The narrative follows the quest of vampire blood doctor Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), a haematologist who is determined to combat dwindling supplies of blood by inventing an artificial replacement, thus sparing the lives of any remaining humans. However, the waters are muddied (or should that be bloodied?) further when Edward is approached by Elvis (Willem Dafoe), a reformed vampire claiming he knows a fail-safe cure for vampirism.
Directorial double-act Michael and Peter Spierig imbue Daybreakers with a slick, gloomy palette that suits the action down to the ground. Regular dollops of gloopy shlock horror will keep genre fans hooked, and the gothic intensity gives the proceedings a darker edge. Unfortunately, the formulaic script sometimes lacks excitement and Daybreakers doesn’t quite deliver on its arresting premise. Effectively a B-movie with an A-list cast, Daybreakers makes for a slightly dodgy spectacle, but it is still infinitely more appealing than the anaemic Twilight saga. Until Edward Cullen and co start farming humans for blood in a subterranean laboratory I’ll stick with Daybreakers!
Taking place in a ravaged future society, The Book of Eli (Entertainment In Video) follows the exploits of Eli (Denzel Washington), a lone traveller heading West in search of salvation. With nothing more than a leather-bound bible and an impressive arsenal of weapons at his disposal, Eli scavenges for food and mutilates any bandits who try to come in his way. Eventually he arrives in a frontier town ruled by the sophisticated but manipulative Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who recognises a kindred spirit in the eloquent Eli. His curiosity is piqued even further by Eli’s bible – the last known book of its kind – and he invites Eli to stay on in his ramshackle kingdom. When Eli refuses, a bullet-strewn cat ‘n’ mouse game ensues, and Carnegie and his thugs pursue Eli across the desert, determined to get their grubby hands on his bible.
The Book of Eli is unlikely to be remembered as one of Denzel Washington’s finest moments, but he has fun with the brooding anti-hero role. Gary Oldman is in scenery-chewing form as the villainous Carnegie, but the eclectic supporting cast – including Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson and Tom Waits – give the film a refreshing edge. The bleached-out production design is stylized but stunning and reinforces the Hughes Brothers’ (Menace II Society, From Hell) visual flair, even if the heavy debt towards the Mad Max Trilogy sometimes threatens to swallow the film whole. Some viewers may baulk at the overt religiosity and cheesy Denzel-centric twist, but The Book of Eli is a passable action movie that offers more hits than misses. Flawed but appealing.
Bringing up the rear this week is The Graves (Anchor Bay), a slap-dash horror movie written and produced by award-winning comic book creator Brian Pulido. Before self-assured Megan Graves relocates to New York she takes a road-trip with her pop-culture loving sister Abby. Determined to scour the deepest, darkest corners of the Arizona desert for kitsch roadside attractions, the intrepid duo stumble across Skull City, an abandoned mining town, rumoured to be haunted. However, their first steps on the tourist trail don’t quite go as planned, and Megan and Abby witness the slaughter of a group of fellow visitors. It soon becomes apparent that Skull City is ruled by a psychotic redneck family with a penchant for butchery, and the sisters have to dig deep to survive.
Writer/director Pulido is clearly well-versed in the last 30 years of horror filmmaking, but he fails to bring anything new to the party. In fact, The Graves doesn’t even compare favourably to the dubious assortment of Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequels that leaked out after the original. The by-numbers narrative lacks both menace and surprises, and The Graves feels too tame for widespread consumption. That said, horror aficionados will enjoy the involvement of genre veterans Tony Todd (Candyman) and Bill Moseley (Devil’s Rejects), who star as a demented preacher and a savage redneck respectively. Coming soon to a bargain bin near you…