Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review: Bloodsucker’s Handbook

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet

Bloodsucker’s Handbook [aka Enchiridion]
Written, shot, directed and edited by Mark Beal
Trenchfoot Productions / Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Visual
81 minutes, 2012 / 2017

Just to get it outta da way, an Enchiridion (the original name of the film) is the Latin term for a primer, or handbook. Personally, changing the title to its present name was a wise choice. “Bloodsucker” is bound to come up in a genre keyword search more than that. Hell, I have a Master’s and had to look it up.
Cory W. Ahre
The story, which takes place at the end of the 1960s, is essentially broken up into two segments. At the first, it’s almost like a joke: “A guy walks into a bar…” Here we are introduced to the main protagonist, a campus minister (priest) named Father Gregory (Cory W. Ahre, who looks a lot like Kyle Mooney from “Saturday Night Live”). He’s a bit slovenly, wearing an oversized gray suit jacket over his collar and black shirt, and his hair is shoulder length and a bit scraggly. He also smokes and drinks, so you know he’s going to be conflicted about whatever is coming his way; after all, this is a genre film. Did you see The Exorcist? But I digress…

A mysterious Federal government agent enlists him to talk to a prisoner, the titular bloodsucker named simply Condu (Jeremy Herrera) – perhaps meaning “conduction,” for the passing along of an evil current? He has apparently been writing the “handbook” of the history of vampires in Latin (why not Romanian?), starting of course with good ol’ Vlad the Impaler (aka Vlad Dracul). There is a question of whether or not Condu actual is Vlad. Gregory is also asked to translate the book.

As a sorta sidebar, Vampire teeth seem to fall into two categories: there are the classic large incisors a la Dracula, and then the Nosferatu-ish extended and sharp two front teeth. This film plays with both. While Condu’s lean towards the Nosferatu (though all uppers seem to be big and sharp), other children of the night have the more Dracula-like choppers. Mixing it up seems like a smart way to handle that.

As for the other vampire tropes, well the story wants to keep with the legend, but bends the rules just a bit. For example, crosses, sunlight, holy water, dirt from graves, and blood-drinking of course, all are employed. However, what they leave off is that vampires are shape-shifters, and can turn into animals such as wolves or bats, or even mist. Of course, that would not work with this story as Condu is chained up in some dark room, so that’s conveniently (and rightfully) left out.

Gregory and Condu seem to hit it off, as we see them in cat-and-mouse dialogues that actually are quite interesting and decently written. While the acting is questionable at times (more on that later), the story manages to hold the film together, along with the other… stuff.

Jeremy Hererra
This interaction leads to the second half of the film where Condu is out has escaped, and the hunter-hunted takes the storyline beyond the verbal into the physical, as Condu tries to get his book back and Gregory searches for the mysterious Edie (Jessica Bell). She is seemingly an ex-girlfriend, though the Father seems to have conflicting issues between religion and lust.

As polar opposite stories like to point out, well as conflict we also see that both Gregory and Condu have some similar issues, mainly with drinking, as one sucks at hard alcohol, the other the sticky red liquid of life. Both have a strong desire towards their fluids, but they also have a kind of detachment to it, as well – even though Condu is probably more self-honest about the need.

What I meant earlier by stuff is the framework of the film. Mark Beal makes some interesting artistic choices that take it to another level. For example, the second half is almost a noir mystery, with a wild jazz score and a private eye named Valentine. And here is only part of why I said stuff: Valentine is a stop-motion dog puppet (literally) in a jacket. He is a “loyal” – err – puppet (figuratively) of the Gregory side. On the Condu end, there is a stop-motion puppet baboon (both nicely created by Richard Svennson).

Animals play a big part in the film. For example, many of the bars that are visited either are named for them (especially birds), but also have them inside the establishments, such as a flamingo. Then there is the whole subplot about toad licking (which we get to witness), reminding me of a Mason Williams poem. This is all part of a surrealism that crops up regularly.

Now, most of the time surrealism is used, it is so symbolic that its meaning can get lost. For this film, well, sure you could ask why a dog or baboon, but generally speaking the surrealism doesn’t get so far out there that it become opaque, for which I’m grateful. Other examples include using stop-motion dolls to play out Vlad’s history, or the use of angles and jump cuts to make it just a bit jarring at times. The use of lighting is really interesting and stands out in a good way. Yes, it’s a bit distracting, but it also raises the film to a higher plane. It’s this feature, as well as the story, that rises above the acting issues I was discussing earlier. But even that over-the-top-ness seems to work for this because of the sporadic surreal nature. That being said, even with all the issues, Ahre comes across as likeable, and Herrera makes a compelling foil, nicely working with the large teeth rather than tripping over them (impressive for a first film, I might add).

Extras include about 8 minutes of some meh bloopers and a feature-length commentary track. Normally I would whine if there are many speakers on a single one, and here there are the director, four key players and a crew member. But everyone seems to be respectful of others so there is no taking over and showboating, and even better is that not only are there interesting anecdotes about the filming, we get to hear what the actors thought was happening. Better still, we get to hear the director/writer discuss his own ideas. In a film like this, that can be crucial in helping to fill in story blanks (I had a couple that were satisfied).

Filmed in Bryan-College Station, Texas (about 90 miles north of Houston), we see both the sunny and darker sides (alleys, etc.) of the area, representing both Gregory and Condu, relatively speaking. While this is an obviously micro-budget film, and it certainly has its issues, I do have to say it kept my interest throughout. A pleasant surprise, I really enjoyed it quite a bit, especially the interplay between its two lead characters. Worth checking out on a rainy weekend.


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