My notes on the Bloodrayne series
I held out of the Uwe Boll-is-the-worst-director-in-the-world movement for longer than most – I thought his early Backwoods was okay, and honestly enjoyed House of the Dead (I know I know) more than the average Paul W.S. Anderson film … then came a truly dire run, kicking off with the agonisingly dull Alone in the Dark and continuing through the grim Seed and the would-be jocular Postal. BloodRayne, like many Boll films, is based on a computer game I have no knowledge of, and evidently had a big enough budget to secure more extras, costumes, aerial shots of horseback rides across nice Romanian scenery and I-can’t-believe-they’re-in-this cast names. It’s terrible in a bigger, clunkier way than Alone in the Dark and – as with the worst of Boll – surprisingly not fun even on a schlock level.
In some undefined historical period between the Middle Ages and the Napoleonic Wars when belly-revealing shirts and uber-tight trews were acceptable dress for some European women, a small group of adventurous sword-slingers, led by shaggy-haired Vladimir (Michael Madsen, who I can believe is in this), spend their time hunting and killing vampires, but for some reason leave Kagan (Ben Kingsley, more in Hood than Gandhi mode) — the local big bad bastard King Vamp — alone. Kagan’s half-human, half-vampire daughter Rayne (Kristanna Loken), a ‘dhampir’, is suffering as a caged circus freak but can wear a crucifix and mostly lives off animal blood – though she’s just massacred her nasty showfolk masters when the ‘Brimstone Brotherhood’ show up. Rayne wants to kill her Dad to avenge his rape and murder of her mother, but some plot tokens need to be collected first to boost her good guy prowess – the eye, heart and rib of a once-more-invincible-than-regular-vampires vampire which are hidden in monastaries (Udo Kier runs one). Rayne warms up a bit to Vladimir’s sidekick Sebastian (Matthew Davis) but not Katarin (Michelle Rodriguez), who turns out to be a traitor working with her vampire father (Billy Zane) and gets bitten to death after an underwater catfight. En route to Kagan’s castle, there’s a stop-off at the lair of decadent aristo vampire Leonid (Meat Loaf Aday), who looks like a 300 pound Anne Rice fan dressed up for a masquerade and is surrounded by naked vampire babes (like Rodriguez, Aday tries for a nondescript British accent). Also in the mix are Kagan’s chief human thrall (Will Sanderson), a fortune teller who gets the plot rolling (Geraldine Chaplin!) and a blacksmith who manufactures anti-vampire gear (Boll regular Michael Paré).
The thudding dialogue was written by the seriously overqualified Guinevere Turner (American Psycho, The Notorious Bette Page), and it’s a shame she seems to have brought nothing to the gig. Loken, the T3 robo-babe, makes a poor impression as a heroine and isn’t attractively shot – the get-up she has to wear probably wouldn’t flatter any non-cartoon grown woman, and she doesn’t do much except whirl with awkward-looking scythe-swords in both hands. It ends with all the supporting cast dead and Rayne on a throne – perhaps going bad and assuming the dead villain’s position, though that’s not the direction the sequel (a Western) goes in. The messy, CGI-augmented effects are the work of German Olaf Ittenbach (Legion of the Dead, Dard Divorce), who probably is a contender for the Worst Director of All Time title. As yet, no genre movie with a long list of ‘escu’ names in the end credits has really worked, and this is no exception; it is to vampire movies what Eragon was to fantasy.
BloodRayne Deliverance (2007)
Because this film exists, there’s a whole novella – which I set up in an aside in my novel Anno Dracula, back in 1992 – I won’t be writing about Pat Garrett and a female vampire tracking down a bloodsucking Billy the Kid in the Old West. I doubt if Uwe Boll has ever heard of Anno Dracula and this is a sequel derives its mythology (of course) from a computer game — but the premise is pretty much what I had planned. Franchise heroine Rayne (Natassia Malthe, taking over from Kristanna Lokken) is only a dhampir (half-vampire), and the film doesn’t give a shit about the Kid history and lore I was taken with. I wanted to make something of the guy who loaded his shotgun with ground-up silver coins because he didn’t think regular bullets would do for the Kid, but had his gun turned on him (as in The Left-Handed Gun and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid). Thank you, Uwe Boll. If I can write something which stops you making Postal 2, please tell me now.
Though there’s never really been a wholly satisfying vampire Western, something about this particular crossgenre hybrid is appealing – this, sadly, isn’t even up there with Curse of the Undead, Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat, From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter or even Billy the Kid vs Dracula. Here, Billy (Zack Ward) sports traditional Western bad guy snappy black duds (with an occasional Lugosi accent), and takes over the town of Deliverance, holding all the local children hostage, intent on spreading vampirism West when the railroad comes through in a few days’ time. Enter Rayne, who seems to be working as a bounty hunter and guns down a vampire outlaw (Mike Dopud) with garlic-smeared silver bullets – which gets her locked up (along with plot-explaining Brendan Fletcher, of the werewolf Western prequel Ginger Snaps Back) and sentenced to hang at ‘high midnight’. Pat Garrett (Michael Paré) is set to shoot through the rope, but she’s got hold of her swords and makes a Blade-like break, cutting up some minor vampires and convincing Billy he has a fight on his hands. She gets shot a bit while escaping – through running water, which convinces Pat she’s not like the kind of vampires he’s met – and, in a scene that’s been done quite often since I wrote it in Anno Dracula – the good guy cuts his own arm and drips blood into the girl’s mouth so she can get her moxie back.
Then, the film gets into the familiar Magnificent Seven business of recruiting some new gunhands – all bizarre weirdoes in the spaghetti tradition: a ranting con-man preacher (Michael Eklund), a horny asshole called Slime Bag (Michael Teigen). The foursome ride across country and stride into Deliverance at the stroke of midnight (‘Billy the Kid, the Brimstone is callin’ you out!’) for a scrappy gunfight with the non-speaking members of Billy’s gang (Boll even skimps on vampire disintegration effects). Rayne barges into Billy’s lair, only to find she’s shifted a weight attached to nooses round all the kids’ necks and has to hold it up to prevent them from hanging – one child actually does die, and Billy feeds off him, before giving the heroine the standard ‘reign by my side’ evil tempter speech she pays no attention to. Meanwhile, the heroes’ example persuades the cowed Mayor (Michael Robinson) and the townsfolk to take a stand and join in the vampire-killing. Rayne and Billy go at it with swords and snarling dialogue, but it takes a gatling gun from Pat – who historically shot an unarmed man while he was asleep – and a broken spade-handle stake from Rayne to settle the baddie’s wicked hash. Then, Rayne rides off to Tombstone, where Wyatt Earp is having trouble with vampire Clantons, and Garrett delivers a poetic sign-off line, ‘Newton, life is like a penis, when it’s hard you get screwed, when it’s soft you can’t beat it …’
To hold up the unfamiliar end of the genre blend, Boll and screenwriters Masaki Takei, Christopher Donaldson and Neil Every sprinkle in bits and pieces from mostly recent Westerns – profane ‘cocksucker’-heavy dialogue in the spirit of Deadwood (‘Jesus Titty Fuck Christ’), a chubby mythmaking journo (Chris Coppola) like the Saul Rubinek character in Unforgiven (maybe a distant echo of Hurd Hatfield in The Left-Handed Gun?) and a pastiche Morricone score from Jessica de Rooii, while Rayne cops some wardrobe and posing choices from Sharon Stone in The Quick and the Dead (albeit with the now-traditional, if wildly impractical action chick midriff-bearing mini-waistcoat). Malthe is sort of the bargain-basement Rhona Mitra – she looks reasonably hot, but is unconvincing whether making stalwart heroic statements, in the grips of vampire bloodlust or (especially) impersonating a saucy whore. Ward is similarly uninspiring as the antagonist – it takes quite a lack of talent to make a vampire Billy the Kid seem ordinary, but Ward manages it. Even given the wildness of the premise, this shows little grasp of history – Jesse James was the outlaw who duded up in black and masterminded a gang, Billy was a white trash tearaway who dressed like a saddle tramp. Billy is also the only villain in the film with much of a character – his posse are basically stuntmen – which makes him a less fearsome fiend than he would be if he had some decent minions. Only Paré, who has the poor luck to have become a Boll regular, has anything like the presence for his role, and he isn’t given much to do. The talented Jodelle Ferland (Tideland, Silent Hill) continues her pre-teen career slide as an underage victim. BloodRayne at least had some scale, and a superfluity of quality guest stars humiliating themselves, but this is a cramped, unspectacular effort which is about as disposable as Lost Boys: The Tribe.
BloodRayne The Third Reich (2010)
‘And here we were, Vasily, worried the dhamphir would just be a humourless killing machine …’
The original BloodRayne video game put its ‘dhamphire’ heroine into a World War Two setting, pitting her against (as she describes them here) ‘fucking Nazis’. For some reason, Uwe Boll opted in the first two episodes of this series to go for a vaguely 18th Century setting (BloodRayne) and a 19th Century wild west (BloodRayne Deliverance). So, this ought to have been the culmination of a grand design and an epic pay-off with spectacular battle scenes and the climax of the heroine’s centuried quest to do the right thing by wiping out vampires who are riding the trends of historic evil. In the event, this is undone by its cheapness – all we get are skirmishes between Nazis and partisans, and a running time (barely 75m on DVD) that suggests ambitious plans set aside. Indeed, as short threequels with Nazis go, this is a lesser work than Puppet Master III.
Rayne (Natassia Malthe, who took over from Kristanna Lokken in the last film) is on the Eastern Front somewhere – though we only see non-specific local partisans rather than the Soviet army – and taking her sword to minions of the Third Reich in partnership with Nathaniel (Brendan Fletcher, not reprising his BloodRayne 2 rolw). She wears a fetish bodice and has contemporary red streaks in her hair, and also finds the time to have a lesbian massage and a make-out session with a grateful hooker after she’s stood up to a German who’s beating the girls in the local brothel. In a fight in the train-yards, Rayne gets shot just before she puts the bite on Commandant Ekart Brand (Michael Paré in his third series role) and her blood splashes on his mouth, which means he rises as a vampire (or daywalking dhamphire, it’s not clear) and starts thinking about spreading this gift to select other Nazis (in a dream sequence, Rayne imagines she fights a fanged Hitler – an idea the film is too timid to go with). On hand is Dr Mangler (Clint Howard), a rasping mad scientist creep in Herbert West mode, who is torturing a feral vampire for study, and eager to work on Rayne’s blood.
All the elements are put in play – including a partisan who’s a great codebreaker (Annett Culp) and a Nazi tracker who is made into a vampire (Steffen Mennekes) – but then everything is hurried through with a few explosions and fights and stakings and the whole show’s over. I’ve never bought into the notion of Boll as a worse director than, say, the hacks who turn out SyFy originals or even Michael Bay or off-their-game Wachowskis (few of his films are as annoying as Speed Racer or Sucker Punch, though some are pretty bad) – here, it seems that lack of resources defeats him rather than anything else. Nazis. Vampires. Mad science. Lesbian massage. Sword fu. Vampire Hitler. Terrible lines (‘Your aggressive encounter better not be problematic for me.’) With all that, the film ought to offer something more than it does. The first BloodRayne is nonsense, but ambitiously cast – with similar funding and guest star villainy (Paré is miscast and flat in what ought to be a juicy ham role) this could at least have matched that. The ending suggests another sequel in the works. Who knows, maybe it’ll all come right. Written by Michael Nachoff.
You nailed this one, Kim – LOL
Did you review ‘Dungeon Siege’ yet? I’d love to see that..
Pleased to read “honestly enjoyed House of the Dead (I know I know) more than the average Paul W.S. Anderson film” as it is nice to know I’m not the only one…
‘Dungeon Siege’ practically comes off as high art compared to ‘Bloodrayne’. There have been only 2 movies in the last 10 years that I couldn’t stand to watch all the way through to the end. ‘Bloodrayne’ was one of them.
What was the other?