Sunday 1 January 2017

Life Blood (2009)

Director: Ron Carlson
Writer: Ron Carlson
Stars: Sophie Monk and Anya Lahiri

Index: Horror Movie Calendar.

Every time mankind conjures up a day of celebration, a horror filmmaker introduces a massacre to make it memorable. That trend has held true for a long time, especially at Christmas, which I’ve never quite understood. Why are we so drawn to make Christmas horror movies? Are all horror filmmakers traumatised by elves as much as they’ve persuaded us to be traumatised by clowns? I’m not sure, but we seem to get a dozen new Christmas horror movies each and every year. However, while Christmas does dominate the horror calendar, many other holidays are represented too and I’ve felt like exploring them for quite some time. So, during the coming year, I’m going to celebrate holidays by reviewing the horror movies that are set on them. I’m going to attempt to avoid the obvious choices (though that’s not entirely possible, of course) and include some surprising holidays too. If only Eben McGarr would finish his film, Hanukkah, about the son of the 1983 Hannukiller, before we actually get there.

So here’s the first picture in this new project, because what better way is there to celebrate New Year’s Day than with a couple of lesbian vampires? In this instance, they’re also both models and members of girl groups, which suggests the level of acting that’s going to be on offer. One is Sophie Monk, born in London but raised in Australia, where she made two albums with Bardot, which was created out of the Popstars reality TV show. She won The Celebrity Apprentice Australia in 2015 and served as a judge in 2016 on Australia’s Got Talent. The other is Anya Lahiri, also born in London but of Indian and Finnish heritage. She represented the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest, singing with the band Precious, who also recorded two top ten singles. More recently, she’s worked as a fitness instructor, working at Barry’s Boot Camp to train celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Natalie Imbruglia. Both are well known as models, Monk being a mainstay in various lists of sexy women in Australia for over a decade.

I can hear you wondering: what sort of horror movie is going to star a couple of ladies with those credentials? Well, you’ll be right a little but wrong a lot, if you’re anything like me. Ron Carlson, who wrote, produced and directed, clearly didn’t want to do what so many other exploitation filmmakers had previously done. I did have a whole slew of problems with this picture, but originality wasn’t one of them. Carlson had some good ideas and he managed to get some of them up onto the screen for us to see. There are sections here that I didn’t just enjoy, I actively felt gratified that someone chose to put them in a film. Now, to be entirely fair, I’m not convinced that all those were due to great judgement on his part, as some of them may tie more to who’s always willing to act in his movies. I’m thinking that some ideas, like the casting of Danny Woodburn as a deputy sheriff, are a combination of both. He is possibly the best actor here, but he’s also four feet tall and surely doesn’t usually expect to play someone in law enforcement.

The most obvious idea, though, revolves around the presence of God, or the character who’s described here as the ‘creator of the universe’. In Carlson’s world, that’s a woman, played by the lovely Angela Lindvall, who emerges from a whirlwind of cloud to be the angel of death for Rhea’s girlfriend. You see, Rhea is pure and honest, so God has plans for her, but her girlfriend Brooke, isn’t, so God disintegrates her on the spot. As a red-blooded male, I’m hardly going to complain about the visuals here, but I’m still not a hundred percent on the theology. Sure, purity and honesty would appear to be good subjects for God and I have no problems with Him being a Her, but I’m not sure how purity applies when we’re staring at her boobs through her flimsy see-through blouse and she’s kissing a lesbian on the lips. Aesthetically, I have no concerns; theologically, I think we’re on rather shaky ground. Purity is something that ought to run a lot deeper than whether you murdered someone in the previous scene or not.
And here’s where New Year comes in. We begin at a New Year’s Eve party in 1968 (even though it says 1969; continuity is not this film’s strong point), as Rhea and Brooke are making out in the bathroom. Topless girls dance to Mellow Yellow and arrogant pricks attempt to convince them into bed. The most arrogant of these pricks is surely Warren James, apparently an important actor. He’s full of himself and guys watching should not copy his pick-up lines. ‘Ladies, don’t let me choose someone else. Who’s it gonna be?’ is not charming, trust me. Fast forward until almost midnight and he has a mostly naked Carrie Lane asking him to ‘Please stop’ as she cowers in the corner. He sounds like Donald Trump in that video. ‘You may suffer some emotional damage,’ he suggests as he places a bar of soap inside a sock, but, ‘Who would believe you?’ That’s when Brooke finds them, sees what’s going on and, right as Auld Lang Syne begins, she stabs him in the throat with one of Carrie’s hairpicks. Eighty-seven times.

That’s why Rhea and Brooke are chasing down the empty Pearblossom Highway in the wee hours of New Year’s Day like a couple of grindhouse heroines. That’s why it feels ominous when other bad things happen, like the possum that comes out of nowhere to be crushed under the wheels. That’s why Rhea insists that Brooke pull over because she doesn’t want any more death. And that’s why scantily-clad God shows up in a personal dust devil, gives Rhea a lingering kiss on the lips to endow her with eternal life and explain how she’s going to become an angel, tasked with destroying the wicked. Being that pure and honest soul, Rhea asks God to bring Brooke back and she does, with the observation that, ‘She ultimately will be your true test.’ Into the ground they both go, to wake from glowing cocoons in the desert forty years on as New Year’s Day continues for them in 2009. Again, I’m for this idea but wonder how their dresses are gone but their lipstick is pristine. Preservatives? And how does Rhea know what year it is?
More than anything, when did angels gain the traditional characteristics of vampires? I’m all for mashups of mythology but that’s an odd one indeed! Rhea and Brooke also figure things out rather quickly. As one of the film’s producers stops his pickup to see if they need any help, out there in the desert in the middle of the night, Brooke quickly feels the urge to bite his throat out. And the hitch-hiker who shows up conveniently at the exact same time? Yeah, him too! That’s when she finds her super-speed. And, once they get to the Murder World convenience store just as the sun’s coming up, they both realise that they should get in there quick and sharpish if they don’t want to turn into crispy critters. And so that’s where they spend New Year’s Day, with the blinds down and the drama threatening to take them with it. This time, I’m sure you’re way ahead of me. I’m all for the concept here. What a great idea to lock us into a single location, but who the heck calls their convenience store Murder World? I mean, what?

I’ll quit running through the synopsis here and introduce you to some of the many recognisable actors who join our story. Who’s that as the chauvinistic local lawman, Sheriff Tillman? Why, that’s Charles Napier, in movie number one hundred and something for him but still not looking too different from the Russ Meyer movies he made forty years earlier like Cherry, Harry & Raquel. His deputy, Felix Shoe, is Danny Woodburn, who is a revelation here, highlighting how he deserves to be remembered for more than just Splinter in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot or Mickey on Seinfeld. Rounding out the department is Jennifer Tung, a well experienced actress who’s one of the least recognisable actors in this film, even if many are faces we know that belong to names that we don’t. The biggest star today is probably Scout Taylor-Compton, who plays Carrie Lane as a very believable rape victim; it isn’t a big part for her, compared to that of Lita Ford in The Runaways or Laurie Strode in Rob Zombie’s Halloween remakes.
At points, watching this movie became a game of, ‘Where do I know him from?’ I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen Iranian actor Marshall Manesh, on TV and in film, though I’ve probably never referenced his name until now. He’s one of those character actors who are always reliable, whatever the quality of the material they’re given to work with. Here, he’s married to Gina Gallego, who’s also guested on every TV show known to mankind. They’re a couple who stop off at Murder World (oh, that name) and thus end up in our story. Even the young man arguing with his girlfriend in the middle of the desert at the end of the film is someone I know from a short film called Black Gulch, shot here in Arizona back in 2003, which I’ve screened at a few Apocalypse Later events. He was Stephen Taylor then and he’s Stephen Monroe-Taylor now, but he’s yet another recognisable face. The exception to prove the rule is Patrick Renna, who is really the male lead, as Dan the clerk at Murder World (I so want to see the commercials).

Now, you probably figured out some of where we were going three or four paragraphs ago, right? Rhea’s our heroine and Brooke is our villain. If that’s a spoiler, you should avoid reading the back cover blurbs of DVDs because you’re going to be frequently and sorely disappointed. The value here really doesn’t come from the leads, because they’re far from the greatest actors in the world, probably not even at Murder World (hey, is that trademarked?) and certainly not in this movie. They’re surely here because they have substantial fanbases, for more reasons than because Sophie Monk has fantastic breasts and Anya Lahiri has magnificent eyes. I have to say that I much preferred the acting of the latter in this picture; she really tried and managed to carry much of her part. Monk made Brooke come across as annoying, which I don’t think was what Carlson was going for. Evil? Sure. Seductively twisted? Absolutely. But annoying? I don’t see why he’d go for that. I didn’t need much reason to stay on Rhea’s side but that helped.
Of all things, I left this lesbian vampire movie thinking that Carlson had created a rather refreshing police department. It isn’t just the actors he cast to build this team or the dynamics of pairing a politically incorrect old John Wayne wannabe with a little person for a deputy and and a Chinese American lady for an officer. It’s the sheer routine of their work, even when dealing with a rather unusual crime. Deputy Shoe, in particular, has to spend his New Year in the sun directing Pearblossom Highway traffic around the crime scene we saw Brooke create in the wee hours. I remember Danny Woodburn in comedic roles or in minor parts like Bad Ass or Watchmen. It was great to see him in something more substantial, especially playing a character whose size wasn’t ever brought up. He was great running through police routine out on the road and he’s even better when he finally ends up at Murder World (let's come up with a jingle for this place). No, the police department isn’t the core of this film but they’re arguably its grounding.

So there’s Life Blood, a horror movie set predominantly on New Year’s Day. Its leading ladies, Rhea and Brooke, are ended with the old year and begin the new year as something different, albeit forty years later. It’s a confused picture and one with enough that doesn’t make sense that it won’t take eagle-eyed goof trackers to start constructing mental lists. However, it does aim for a rather different take on a lot of things: God, angels and of course, the exploitation sub-genre of lesbian vampires. I enjoyed it, not just for the glimpse of God’s boobies, and even though I mentally threw my hands up in despair on a number of occasions. What don’t you name a convenience store in the middle of the desert? All together now! Murder World! You also don’t leave the door unlockable just because you never close. At times, Ron Carlson, the director, should have slapped Ron Carlson, the writer. It’s not a good film but it tries and it’s a good way to kick off a new year and a new project together. I hope you enjoy my Horror Movie Calendar!

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