Movies: Vampire Ronin in Black… 3

In keeping with my tradition of oblique references to current releases: I saw Men in Black 3 last night. It was entertaining, and that’s pretty much the extent of what I took home from it. Josh Brolin’s Tommy Lee Jones imitation is a gas, and overall, it’s a far better Men in Black II than Men in Black II ever thought of being. Also, I guess Will Smith doesn’t do the rap for his own movies anymore? Huh.

Well, after our Memorial Day Crapfest, I continued with my movie watching, but attempting to switch gears to movies of (harrumph) quality wasn’t quite going to happen, so strong was the hangover from Crapfest. (Admittedly, while waiting to come down from my caffeine high that night, I watched Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. at 2:00am, a definite step up in value) My next Kubrick film is Barry Lyndon. It is sitting patiently by my movie-watching chair. I never got to it.

My wife took off to the beach with a friend and fellow teacher, and I settled in to watch one of those movies I had managed to miss for years (and was therefore on The Other List) John Frankenheimer’s Ronin. Man, John Frankenheimer. You watch The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May and Seconds, then watch, say Prophecy and The Challenge and wonder, “What happened?” (Due diligence: I have not yet seen The Island of Dr. Moreau, and so cannot comment on its quality with any veracity). Ronin proved that Frankenheimer still had it, even in 1998.

The Ronin of the title are mercenaries, specialists for hire in the extra-legal landscape of modern Europe. Robert deNiro is Sam, an ex-CIA strategist on the run, Jean Reno is Vincent, a “tour guide” who… appropriates things. Sean Bean is a Irish thug who gets tossed out of the team for being a jackass, which is startling, because I expected him to be killed, what with being Sean Bean and all. Stellan Skarsgard is Gregor, the electronics dude. That’s a solid core for a good cast, topped off by Jonathan Pryce as the man pulling the strings on the team. Their mission is to steal a metal briefcase from a heavily-guarded courier. They don’t need to know what is in the case, but they do know a lot of people, like “The Russians”, want it.

Ronin has a lot of cool espionage planning, supplanted by double and triple crosses, and a number of high-speed chases through crowded European streets. It’s a pity that Frankenheimer never got the chance to direct a Mission: Impossible movie, since Ronin feels like what the MI movies should have been, but rarely were (the return to a team dynamic in Ghost Protocol was, for me, very welcome).

You would think that after that, I would be more inclined to some Kubrick. But no, I felt I had spent long enough without seeing an actual horror movie, so I put a Blu-Ray of long-ago purchasing into the player, Vampire Circus.

Vampire Circus dates from a very troubled time for Hammer, a period where a lot of the movies felt like wheel-spinning. The gothic horror was feeling pretty tired, the dollop of sex appeal that made the 50-60s Hammers so notorious was now also so commonplace in the market that their movies were beginning to wallow in gore and breasts, upping the quantity in desperation.Vampire Circus has some new personnel at the helm – well, new to Hammer, anyway – and the fresh outlook and propensity for boobs and blood creates a perverse minor gem.

Our jerk vampire count this time is Count Mitterhaus, who is sleeping with the local Schoolmaster’s wife. She does unneighborly things like luring little girls into Mitterhaus’ castle so he can extremely creepy toward them and then bite them. This excites Mrs. Schoolmaster into doffing her clothes and bedding the Count. Into this cozy little scene comes the local villagers, who eventually manage to stake the count and burn down his castle, but not until after he cursed the village and the Mrs has run off.

15 years later, the village is being swept by a plague, and the neighboring villages have enacted roadblocks guarded by riflemen to keep the infected within. Nonetheless, a small gypsy circus manages to make it through and sets up to entertain the trapped villagers. If you paid any attention to the movie’s title, you know who populates this circus. The villagers aren’t so smart, though, even when a pair of acrobats keep turning into bats in mid-air.

The only other time I had attempted to watch Vampire Circus was on TV, and only a few minutes was enough to convince me that it had been cut to ribbons for that medium and I would be better off waiting until I could see it uncut; there are several instances of nudity, including the segment that you always see a photo of when reading about this movie: the tiger dance, featuring a woman who is almost completely naked except for green tiger-striped makeup. Since this is the only time we see the dancers in the movie (except for their dead bodies at the end), I have to assume that this was their act in real life. Um, wow.

Well, why break with tradition.

It’s a fun enough movie, one of the off-Dracula Hammer vampire riffs like Kiss of the Vampire combined with a few elements from 7 Faces of Dr. Lao. There are a few familiar faces: David Prowse as the Strongman, of course, and (shockingly) Lalla Ward as one of the vampire acrobats, and not looking very different from her run on Doctor Who as Lady Romana. A few other familiar character faces, and a Shakespearean body count. All the things one would want from a Hammer horror movie.

Well, my wife was back the next day, and found me watching, not Barry Lyndon, but Deadmau5 in concert. This, I think, puzzled her more than anything else.

That’s good. I don’t puzzle her near often enough. Also, my son: “How do you even know who Deadmau5 is?

Hmph. Punk kids.

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