Review: ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’ (an Iranian Vampire Western at last)

Everything in the Iranian ghost-town of Bad City is for the taking, but it can’t always give you what you want.

Arash (Arash Marandi) is a diamond in the rough. He works hard for a rich woman, bought his own car with his savings, and takes care of his junkie father. In a dying town where oil, drugs, and prostitution are the only businesses booming, it is a lawless place where people either disappear or their found bodies are dragged into the local trash pit. For all the temptation, however, Arash’s attempts to do the right thing haven’t gone unnoticed – a vampire (Sheila Vand) has taken up residence in their little town, and she knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men, women, and foolish little boys.

Writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour describes her film as the first Iranian Vampire Western, a moody and monochromatic film inspired by the spaghetti western style of Sergio Leone. Right down to the music cues, there is a Tarantino feel about the way the film flows but with far less dialog – it’s all subtitled, by the way. In spite of all the death and despair, the story is really about loneliness, whether your life is on hold taking care of an ill parent or you’re a centuries-old vampire mistaken for a young girl out on a stroll. How much are you willing to risk or forgive to make a human connection?

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Review: ‘Byzantium’ (girls crash a boys-only vamp club)

Femme fatales vs. the gentleman’s club – vampire style.

Clara works at a strip club; Ella goes to school. They live together telling neighbors and co-workers that they’re sisters, but the truth is that these two young women are centuries old – and on the run. While Clara survives any way she can to take care of Ella, Ella is more discerning with her life and the lives she subsists upon. Clara thrives on secrets, but Ella can’t help but tell her story and make as many connections as she can. Unfortunately, the secret to their immortality is not only a closely guarded secret but a forbidden act for their gender, and the ones who keep it for themselves will stop at nothing to make their ancient order pure again.

This slow-burn story takes a few leisurely turns in revealing its plot, evenly split between a character piece and a mystery thriller. Unlike Only Lovers Left Alive, this story is more secretive concerning how and when these vampires were created; while we get a glimpse into how they exist day-to-day and decade to decade, there is a constant threat of discovery that keeps things a bit hectic for our protagonists. Working against this dynamic is Ella’s constant need to tell her story and the consequences of someone actually believing her. An interesting thing about this film is the misogyny among the vampires, that their biggest crime the women are accused of is being female, as if only a man can make a decision about taking a life.

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Review: ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ (the world is a vampire)

Two lovers living their story over and over again for all eternity, but this round we get to watch.

Adam lives in Detroit; Eve lives in Tangiers. In spite of their marriage, they keep to themselves. Eve is always looking for that new discovery and is content to consume ideas; Adam seeks to create but craves reflection, periodically losing faith in “the zombies” that populate the rest of the planet for failing to echo his contributions to art. In his time of need, Eve risks the debilitating effects of travel to be with her Adam is his time of depression, an event that seems to happen every few decades or so. With clean blood in shorter supply in the world, they must remain vigilant to survive – wait, you did know they were vampires, right?

Set slightly in the future, this is primarily a character piece but has surprisingly little plot. What makes this work as a stand-alone film is that it feels familiar, a story is repeated every few decades. It doesn’t matter which one you’re seeing because they are all likely resolved the same way, but it’s an interesting take to see two dead people who live forever in danger due to the rest of the world dying. Adam seems connected to the physical world and relates to music and science, while Eve is in tune with the metaphysical, experiencing the art of words and able to sense the way of things by touch or precognition. You could build an entire series off of these characters interacting with others, but this is their story, and “the zombies” are incidental in their world.

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Review: ‘Bubba the Redneck Werewolf’ (a horror comedy with teeth, hair, and claws)

A big shout out to a special first screening at Spooky Empire’s Ultimate Halloween Weekend for letting this dog off the chain and into our little black hearts.

Bubba Blanche (Fred Lass) is a small town, backwoods Floridian who works at the local dog pound when he isn’t drinking his sorrows away or worrying about his hair falling out. With a big heart and a small brain, he’s lost the love of his life; all Bobby Jo (Malone Thomas) wants is for Bubba to defend her honor and stand up for himself. Careless words summon Old Scratch (Mitch Hyman) to offer Bubba everything his heart desires, but Bubba will have to use his newfound power to save the simple folks of Cracker County and send the Devil packing…assuming Bubba doesn’t get distracted by anything or everything else first.

In the twenty years since “Bubba the Redneck Werewolf” first appeared in comics, opportunities to make theatrical and televised versions have come and gone. Where the studios have failed, the creator and a handful of industry folks found the time to realize the character concept and make something special. Maybe it was fate that independent filmmaking tools have caught up to studio-level technology in the time Bubba has languished, and the results are dead solid perfect. Horror, humor, and hubris make this wing-eating, cigar-chomping, whiskey-swigging werewolf the hero we all deserve; even Bubba’s theme song is unashamedly addictive. Seeing this production come together in small teases online was fun, but watching the finished film shown for the first time anywhere felt very special indeed.

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Review: ‘Dracula Untold’ (vampires that choose)

If Dracula became a monster for a noble cause, could his dark power be used in the name of the light?

Raised by the Turks as a royal hostage, Vlad Tepes (Luke Evans) returns to his homeland years afterward to rule. With a wife and child of his own, the peace of his kingdom is threatened when the Turks demand not only their regular tribute of coin but also a thousand children to fight in the Sultan’s army…including Vlad’s own son. With no standing army, Vlad makes a Devil’s deal with a cursed monster (Charles Dance), but can the prince defeat his enemies with borrowed power without falling victim to the curse himself?

Attempts to make Dracula merely a monster at the box office the last two decades have gloriously failed, so why not restore his nobility as a man of hope rather than yet another villain obsessed with a Scooby-Doo plot to do evil? Enter Dracula Untold, a low to middle-budget monster movie with high aspirations. True, the idea isn’t without precedent: the killer with a conscious, the gun with a soul, and the monster more noble than a man. In the name of Hollywood, of course, power must be demonstrated, and what better way than with special effects? Fortunately, a tight plot that plays to its running time weaves a tale of people who choose to become monsters, even if it does lean heavily on computer-generated imagery to tell it.

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Review: ‘Annabelle’ (stock plot but still damnably creepy)

Annabelle rides on the coattails of The Conjuring but distinguishes itself only as well-executed jump-scare flick.

In the late 1960s, young couple Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and her husband John (Ward Horton) are expecting their first child. Annabelle is a rare doll presented to Mia as a gift to complete her collection, but the sanctity of the object is desecrated when a pair of Satanists enter the couple’s home and makes an attempt on Mia’s life. A series of incidents begin to occur in the presence of the doll, the only connection being that one of Satanists took her life while holding the object. Before long, it becomes clear that something is very wrong and that Annabelle is inexplicably at the center of it.

From the paranormal case files of the Warrens (kind of) comes the (possible) story of a doll manipulated by an evil force. Was this film as good as The Conjuring? No, and the worst thing about that movie was the unfortunate title. For folks seeking an above-average Halloween flick, however, it’s fun and effective, even for a period piece. For those interested in the true account of the actual doll, you can read it online at Warrens.net, but this also reveals that the film is pure speculation since Ed and Lorraine Warren only came into contact with the doll after another couple acquired it. That said, the filmmakers manage to take a stock plot and infuse it with enough atmosphere and original scares to satisfy your Halloween craving.

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Trailer: ‘Bubba, the Redneck Werewolf’ (Werewolf Wednesday!)

The Devil is in town…and only Bubba the Redneck Werewolf can save it! This looks both fun and horrific, folks, based on the comic creation of Mitch Hyman.

Cracker County is under attack and lovesick dog catcher Bubba Blanche has been transformed into a ferocious, cigar smoking Werewolf in order to save the day. But first he’s got to conquer a beer or two. And maybe a plate of chicken wings.