Friday, October 10, 2014

13 FOR HALLOWEEN #4: Blood: the Last Vampire

Chris Nahon’s visceral pop art opus sets itself the challenge of melding a ‘Kwaidan’-style backstory of a peaceful villager’s transformation into a vampire hunter with a 1970s set main plot that mixes tradition, militarism and a Japanese/American culture clash melee of frenetic and hyper-stylized action.

Wait a minute, what the fuck am I talking about? ‘Blood: the Last Vampire’ is a hopeless bit of nonsense about a hot Japanese girl in a sailor suit who despatches vampires with a bloody big sword.

Or, only slightly expanded from the above synopsis, ‘Blood: the Last Vampire’ is about Saya (Gianna Jun), a three-hundred year old vampire killer (the longevity is due to the fact that she’s a vampire herself) who looks like she’s still in high school. Which is the perfect cover for her handler Michael Harrison (Liam Cunningham) to send her to a military academy on a US base in Toyko in the early 70s. Here she joins forces with the base commander’s rebellious daughter Alice (Allison Miller) while the shadowy organisation she works for – the Council – tears itself apart in a miasma of intrigue and treachery. Meanwhile, Saya’s centuries old nemesis, a demon named Onigen, waits in the wings.

The plot is at once stupidly simple and nonsensically overcomplicated, with the machinations of the Council ramped up to almost court-of-the-Borgias intensity for no other reason than to effect a Saya-goes-on-the-run plot point. The stakes are either world-shatteringly important or non-existent, depending on what scene you’re watching and how many proscribed substances you imbibed prior to watching the film.

What it all boils down to, though, is the entertainment value in watching a schoolgirl with a sword take down legions of the undead. Yet even with so basic an aesthetic driving it, ‘Blood: the Last Vampire’ falters. Jun certainly looks the part and she has a thousand yard stare that could make the entire cast of ‘Sons of Anarchy’ think twice about it, but her facility in the action sequences is painfully limited, and the more extended an intricate the action gets, the more desperate the editing techniques to disguise it. There’s so much of that speed-up-slow-down-speed-up nonsense that you’d swear you were watching a Guy Ritchie film on crack. Elsewhere, a scene where Onigen morphs from human form to demon and leads Saya on a rain-swept roof chase, the latter crashing through neon signs in pursuit, should have been edge-of-the-seat awesome … except that the neon sign looks like it was done in crayon by a five-year-old with no hand-eye co-ordination and Onigen resembles nothing more than a morbidly deformed wine gum.

The 1970s setting is completely arbitrary, the period evocation never convinces and the music cues are all over the place. A title card telling us we’re on an American base in 1970 is immediately superseded by a shot of some kids grooving in a corridor to Chuck Berry’s ‘You Never Can Tell’ (a big hit in 1964 that didn’t enter the charts again until Emmylou Harris covered it in 1978). The performances are uniformly turgid with even, sad to say, Liam Cunningham phoning it in. The action, as noted above, is ruined by the way it’s edited, and the gouts of CGI blood which accompany every swing of Saya’s sword look less like blood than pencilled-in motion capture of a carton of Ribena exploding.

All in all, it’s utterly dreadful, but dreadful in a way that’s strangely compelling. It’s a car-crash of a movie – mangled, broken, almost unrecognisable as an example of the form. You know you should show some common decency and look away but … you … just … can’t.

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