Vampire Journals (1997)

Starring David Gunn, Jonathon Morris, Kirsten Cerre, Starr Andreeff, Ilinca Goia, Constantin Barbulescu, Mihai Dinvale, Dan Condurache, Mihai Niculescu, Petre Moraru, Rodica Lupu, Floriela Grappini, Diana Lupan

Directed by Ted Nicolaou

Expectations: High. The trailer sold me on this many months ago, but I wanted to get through Subspecies in order to see it in context.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-Movie scale:
threestar


After the rousing, impressive finale of Subspecies III, there aren’t too many ways to go with the series that would seem wholly plausible. So for the next entry in Full Moon’s premiere vampire series, writer/director Ted Nicolaou completely changed his focus, starting with a fresh batch of ancient vampires and the desirable innocents they pursue. This gothic group is only marginally connected to the Radu storyline (OK, besides one off-hand mention of Radu, it doesn’t seem to be connected at all), but the delicious backstory is enough here to satisfy fans of gothic cinema and Full Moon films alike.

Zachary is a rare beast, a vampire with a conscience. Drawn into the vampire’s world unwillingly and witness to the death of his love, Zachary vows to destroy the bloodline that created him. He arms himself with an enchanted sword and with a wonderful, bloody decapitation the movie begins. His main quest lies in Bucharest, where the devious Michael Bolton-esque vampire Ash stalks Sofia, a classical pianist. Zachary must remain vigilant and save the girl from his evil clutches!

This makes the film sound a lot more adventurous than it actually is. It’s actually mostly comprised of moody, fog-filled shots of ornate Romanian buildings and the cunning jockeying for power over Sofia’s life by Ash & his minions and Zachary. The film is definitely a slow burner and a lot more plodding than it needs to be, but I don’t hold this against the film as it’s very respectably made, looking as if Nicolaou was actively trying to make the best movie he possibly could with the budget and the resources available to him. That may seem like a given, but when dealing with Full Moon or low-budget movies in general, sometimes there are films clearly made quickly to make a buck. Vampire Journals seems to be made with a distinct love for the material though, and while it may not be the most exiting Full Moon film, it is easily one of their most beautifully shot. Nearly every frame is composed with a careful eye that perfectly balances the impressive architecture with the actors. The sets are carefully lit to capture shafts of light, while brilliant colored hazes add a wealth of mystery and atmosphere. Nicolaou also pulls off some very impressive instances of rack focus, where the focus of the camera shifts dramatically to reveal something in the background that was initially only a blurred swatch of color. He also continues using large shadows to great effect in conveying the supernatural movement of the vampires.

Vampire Journals is carried forward by Zachary’s narration throughout the film, essentially representing the journals of the title. Usually narration is looked down upon in film, as it’s a lazy way to get exposition across to the audience. Film is a visual medium so actively telling people things, or worse describing what we’re already seeing, doesn’t help much… usually. I found the narration in Vampire Journals to be an exception to the rule, as it enriches the film with lots of backstory and adds a wonderful storytelling vibe to the film. It’s unfortunate that the overall story is as standard as it is because the gothic atmosphere is so well done. For viewers that have seen Blacula, you may find yourselves reminded of the cat-and-mouse battle of wits between Blacula and Dr. Thomas when Ash and Zachary finally meet face-to-face, with both parties willing to converse. It’s not as tense as the scene in Blacula, as the combatants here both know each other’s nature, but it is an impressive little scene unto itself. Derivative sure, but the film makes up for it with a later scene where two vampires physically face off, one wielding the enchanted sword, the other a simple microphone stand. You wouldn’t think the mic stand could hold up in such conditions, but man, those things are built to last!

If this is truly related to the Subspecies films, the vampires of Vampire Journals are interesting to consider against the chaotic fury that is Radu. After watching Radu go apeshit and decimate his family throughout the Subspecies series, anything would seem ordered compared to him. The vampires in Vampire Journals are cool, calm, calculating individuals; giving into their lustful desires only in the moments they decide. Radu’s barely contained pandemonium is clear on the other side of the spectrum, and it makes me appreciate the character and Anders Hove’s performance all the more. In Radu he has created a truly interesting and unique portrait of insanity in a vampire. Another studio would never have the balls to put something as clearly batshit insane as Radu on the screen. Vampires reside almost solely within the romantic gothic space, and Radu is a total breath of fresh, manic air into the genre. It’s interesting that the film that doesn’t feature Radu in any way would make me realize all of this, but hey, I’ll take it when I can.

Vampire Journals isn’t a movie for everyone, but if you consider yourself a gothic soul, this one is right up your alley. It’s clearly within the more romanticized vampire genre and feels much closer to Interview With the Vampire than any of the previous Subspecies films. It might be a little slow overall, but Vampire Journals is thick with atmosphere and rewarding to the patient viewer. It’s also one of the best produced Full Moon films I’ve seen yet, almost to the point where a viewer unfamiliar with the company could watch it and be unaware of the fact that they are a low-budget horror company. Vampire Journals is a truly gothic vampire film and I applaud Nicolaou for going a different and interesting direction with the series.

Here’s the trailer! I’m considering doing this from now on if I can find a trailer. Your thoughts?

Next week on Full Moon Tuesday, it’s the final Subspecies film, this time incorporating a couple of characters from Vampire Journals, Subspecies IV: Bloodstorm! And Horrific October continues tomorrow with the Japanese horror classic, The Ghost of Yotsuya!

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