If there is one genre that often fails to grab my interest it’s Vampires. Over the course of their existence on celluloid they’ve grown stale from cliched and trite examples to reimaginings that just come across as silly and uninteresting. You can fill in whatever examples you want to fit that statement. On occasion though, there are bloodsucking films that manage to bring the right balance of myth and modernity, a combination that holds my interest. Phil Messerer has managed to make a film that finds a pretty good balance and channels a retro visual style that, despite a low budget, is one of the more interesting vampire flicks. I say Phil Messerer has made this film and I’m pretty sure that’s never been more true, considering this guy wrote it, directed it, edited it, produced it, and did just about everything else you can think of, short of starring.
The Vampire Diaries Part 1: Thicker Than Water follows the Baxter Family as they deal with a strange case of vampirism. Much like any other traditional family, the Baxter’s are composed of a religious mother, a quiet father who quickly leaves the family, a gay son, a goth daughter and her picture perfect sister. After their shared 16th birthday Lara, the Goth, is full of hatred over her perfect sister, on whom she casts an anal acne curse – no joke. When a nosebleed suspiciously ends Helen’s (the sister) life, Lara realizes the mistakes she made in hating her sister. Luckily, she gets the chance to atone for her sins when her recently deceased sister arrives at the house a few days later, newly undead and covered in blood. What follows is a study, like the title would suggest, on how far a family will go to remain together and protect their own. Helen has returned a reluctant vampire and it’s up to her family to bond together and secure her supper while keeping her safe.
Acting wise, everyone does well despite the fact you’ve never heard of them. Particularly effective is Eilis Cahill as Lara, though she is given the most to do. JoJo Hristova portrays the mother and acts through some rather convincing old lady make-up. You believe her age, despite the fact she’s actually younger than her son. The cast is small, mostly revolving around the four family members, which keeps things simple but lets the story drag a touch here and there. One of the film’s few faults would be the pacing, as it slows considerably around the 45 minute mark, owing mostly in part to the type of film it is. Without a strong, objective driven plot, there really is no place to go and no hurry to get there. Rather, this film is more along the lines of a documentary or a slice of life piece, so if you disconnect from the characters or situations at any point, you’ll feel the tinge of boredom, though the film does reclaim your attention before long.
The special effects are excellent for the most part and there are some fun things, like eye balls popping out, a great torn throat, and a face getting filleted off. There is even a few seconds of nudity for all you fans of that sort of thing – like me! Mythology wise, in this world vampires can not be made, only born. They all contain a gene that causes their red blood cells to die and need to be replaced by consuming blood. If they don’t eat constantly, they turn savage within just a few days out of hunger. In case you’re wondering, sunlight or chopping their heads off still seems to do the trick.
Overall, the film is pretty enjoyable. There are slow moments, though compared to some other recent vampire tales, you’d be hard pressed to put many of them above The Vampire Diaries. The budget is clearly low, which gives the film sort of a 70s look in terms of picture quality, which I didn’t mind. A shot or two comes across as amateurish and at times the lighting is off, but far more often the film is technically proficient. If I had one more gripe, it would be how well the film was moving along without falling prey to any cliches until a walking stereotype of a Southern Gentleman vampire arrives, complete with top hat, pony tail, frilled ascot, accent, and cane. Luckily he’s not around for too long and doesn’t play much of a role. Thicker than Water also has a pretty eclectic soundtrack, bouncing from heavy stuff to rock and roll to rap. Most of the time it’s pretty rocking, though it does play throughout a very significant portion of the film.
At the end of the day, The Vampire Diaries Part I is a different and enjoyable take on the vampire subgenre, a low budget attempt that manages to outshine most of it’s big budget competition. If you get a chance to view this film, take a shot on it if you don’t mind low budget horror.
*UPDATE* Just a few moments ago we got this message from writer/director Phil Messerer:
Just wanted to let you know that as of this Friday the film will become available online for free as part of the Moonworks Virtual Film Festival.
So now you have the ability to catch this flick without spending a dime of your own hard earned weekly allowance from dad!
What are your thoughts on the current crop of Vampire films?