• Vampire Journals



    Released by: 88 Films
    Released on: December 5, 2016
    Directed by: Ted Nicolaou
    Cast: Jonathan Morris, David Gunn, Kirsten Cerre, Star Andreeff, Ilinca Goia, Constantin Barbulescu, Mihai Dinvale, Dan Condurache, Mihai Niculescu, Petre Moraru, Rodica Lupu
    Year: 1988

    The Movie:

    On November 9, 1989, the unexpected happened: The Berlin Wall, which had been built in the early 1960s to separate the communist and non-communist sections of the German city of Berlin, was torn down. As Cold War tensions eased throughout much of the year, the government of East Germany had announced that it would allow travel between the two sections of the city beginning at midnight on the morning of November 9. At that time, some people came to cross the wall; others came with a variety of tools and began to tear it down. The destruction of the barrier symbolized something much greater than relaxed travel, however; it represented the swift and inexorable fall of communism, and soon other nations began to open their borders to people, trade, and ideas as well.

    The following month, Romania followed suit when people began to rebel against the nation’s communist dictator. Thanks to Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula, the country had long been famous for its folklore, much of which had been expounded upon and enlarged by Stoker. As a communist country, the nation had been hidden behind the Iron Curtain, with little travel allowed into or out of its borders. With communism gone, travel restrictions lessened, and the country began to capitalize on its dark history, pushing the various locales for the historic and fictional Draculas as hotspots for tourists.

    Given how inexpensive it was to film there and how many actual historic locations there were to shoot in, it’s no wonder that Full Moon struck upon the idea of making a vampire film in the country. (The recent remake of The Phantom of the Opera, 1989, had been able to establish an expansive feel not belied by its budget thanks to location shooting in Budapest, Hungary.) Allegedly reluctant at first, filmmaker Ted Nicolaou became convinced of the idea after scouting the locations. The first feature shot there, Subspecies, told of three college students who encounter a vampiric conflict in a Transylvanian castle. The film proved a success for Full Moon Entertainment, thanks to a smart screenplay, Nicolaou’s assured direction, and beautiful cinematography that made the most of the Carpathian backdrop. Two sequels, Bloodstone: Subspecies II (1993) and Bloodlust: Subspecies III (1994), followed. By the late 1990s, it was decided to spin off a new series of films, this time inspired by Neil Jordan’s megahit Interview with the Vampire (1994), which had cast Tom Cruise against type and made stars of Brad Pitt and Kirstin Dunst. The new film became known as Vampire Journals.

    The film’s plot is as follows: The vampire Zachary retains conflicted emotions as he wanders eternity in search of his bloodline. Armed only with a magic sword furnished by a former vampire hunter named Laertes, he has killed his vampiric forbears one by one, leading him to the vile Ash, an ancient vampire who lusts after a beautiful young pianist named Sofia. When Ash tries to claim Sofia, he is prevented from doing so by Zachary; Zachary befriends the young woman, but he is unable to protect her when Ash hires her to play for him at his castle-like estate (which also doubles as a nightclub). After a couple of nights of this, Ash puts the bite on Sofia, taking her blood and infecting her with his own. In an effort to save the pianist, Zachary steps up his game but is thwarted by Ash, who promises to allow the young man to see the girl if he relents in his quest. However, unbeknownst to Zachary, Ash has set Zachary up, hoping that when Sofia sees his true nature, it will send her into Ash’s arms. The plan only partially works.

    Released directly to video, Vampire Journals is solid entertainment. This shouldn’t be surprising given the strength of Nicoloau’s hand, as evidenced by the previous films in the Subspecies series. While it’s true that Vampire Journals had nowhere near the budget of Interview with the Vampire, it still looked more costly than it actually was, and the locations were only partly the reason. The costume department worked overtime to give the characters a classically Gothic look and feel. Though the film may be set in modern times, there are moments when that fact is forgotten. If not for the occasional intrusive automobile or ‘90s hairdo, the film could easily pass as a period piece.

    Overall, the performances are good if not great, with Jonathan Morris dominating the proceedings as age-old vampire Ash. Manchester-born Morris got his start in British television before making the jump to the big screen with Torn Allegiance (1986). His film career didn’t exactly take off, with his next film, The Fantasticks (1995; Twilight Time’s Blu-ray release has also been reviewed by Rock! Shock! Pop!), proving a resounding disaster. Vampire Journals just may be the height of his acting career.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    88 Films brings Vampire Journals to Blu-ray in the United Kingdom with an MPEG-4 AVC encode in 1080 high definition at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Placed on a single BD25, the transfer is the same used for Full Moon’s release in the United States and is quite good, if not perfect. The movie, which was released directly to video in 1997, has a nicely filmic look. Detail isn’t startling but is solid, particularly in the ornate locations. Most of the movie takes place after dark or in ambient interior lighting, and there’s an unprocessed patina of grain that provides a robust foundation for the imagery. Colors are often gorgeous, particularly reds, yellows, and ambers. Darks are often inky and deep, with only occasional minor crush. Contrast is nice, setting the tone for the spooky Gothic atmosphere so integral to Nicolaou’s work. Dirt and debris is minimal to nonexistent.

    On a positive note, 88 Films has swapped out Full Moon’s lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 track for a lossless English LPCM 2.0 track. It’s a sweet track, with clear distinction between dialogue, sound effects, and music that is quite pleasing to the ears. Unfortunately, like the Full Moon release, 88 Films has opted to not provide subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired. There is, however, an audio commentary by producer Charles Band and director Nicolaou, ported over from the U.S. release. Band reveals up front that they are watching the film and recording the commentary sans the film’s dialogue. Band acts as moderator, with Nicolaou providing most of the background information, beginning with an anecdote about the opening credit scene. The two men interact well together, sharing a give and take in which neither compete to be heard nor dominate. They discuss the actors, the locations, some of the shots and set-ups, the props, the effects, and some of the crew. There are innumerable fascinating anecdotes (for example, some of the actors were Romanian and could not speak English; therefore, they had to learn their dialogue phonetically, which might explain some of the stilted performances). As with so many commentaries, the two commentators are reacting to the scenes as they unfold, yet they never come across as flippant, confused, or unprepared. There are a couple of moments of silence, but the men quickly realize that they’re getting caught up in the film and correct their course. All in all, it’s an entertaining and interesting commentary.

    There are two other extras, both of which are worth noting. The first is a “Videozone” episode titled “Behind the Scenes: Making of Video Journals.” It lasts for approximately 20 minutes and acts as an extended ad for the film. It has some nice background shots and contains interviews with Nicolaou and actress Kirsten Cerre. The episode is surprisingly informative and, when taken with the commentary, the perfect addendum to the film. Cerre comes across as a complete sweetheart. The program concludes with trailers for Stuart Gordon’s Castle Freak (1995) and Charles Band’s Head of the Family (1996).

    The final extra is an original trailer for Vampire Journals, which lasts exactly 2 minutes.

    Vampire Journals also comes complete with a reversible cover. The primary image features two scenes from the film, one stacked above the other with the film’s title separating the two. The alternative image features the original poster art of a book containing the upper part of a vampire skull in relief.

    The Final Word:

    Vampire Journals may not be great art, but it’s an entertaining film nonetheless, a passable time-filler that stands out against the more teen-oriented horror of the period. 88 Films presentation utilizes a superior transfer from Full Moon, which features attractive colors, moderate improvement in detail, and nice and inky blacks. Sound is also strong, and there are a few extras that should turn on longtime fans.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out later this year.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!



















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