Pulpmovies Cult Film Reviews
Rutger Hauer is a great actor. But he has appeared in some truly terrible films. Blind Fury - an Americanised version of the Japanese Zatoichi series of movies - is one such film.
The premise is that Nick Parker (Hauer) is blinded while fighting in Vietnam. As so often happens in this situation, he is taken in by a Vietnamese village who teach him, not only to rely on his hearing alone, but also the art of blind swordfighting - evidently a common skill in Vietnam.
We then jump forward twenty years to find Frank Devereaux in trouble with crooked casino owner and wannabe drug dealer, MacCready. MacCready wants Devereaux to run his new designer drugs operation and forces Devereaux to comply by threatening his ex-wife and son.
By sheer coincidence, as this is happening, Parker is knocking on Lynn Devereauxs door. Parker explains that he is an old friend of Devereaux and Lynn lets him in and gives him a cup of tea while she explains that she and Frank are no longer together. This also gives us a chance to meet Deverauxs annoying kid, Billy (Brandon Call), and means that Parker is around when a pair of crooked cops, along with a character going by the name of Slag, turn up to try to kidnap Lynn and Billy.
So Parker and his amazing swordstick save the day and send the cops to the great precinct in the sky. Slag, being a Major Villain escapes so he can harass Parker until the Climactic Battle at the end of the film.
Unfortunately, Parker doesnt entirely save the day and Lynn Devereaux gets shot and fatally wounded during the battle. In her dying breath she makes Parker promise to take Billy to his father…
So Parker and Billy set off to Reno, Nevada to find Devereaux. There is an attempt to build an uncle/nephew relationship during this journey, but it doesnt really gel and instead we have a series of comic set-pieces interspersed with action sequences as Slag and his various unsavoury cohorts attempt to intercept Parker and the kid and take them to McCready in Reno… the direction theyre already headed in.
At the start of this review, I called Blind Fury a truly terrible film. This isnt entirely fair. For a start, it has Ruger Hauer in it - and he does pretty much carry the entire film, bringing and enjoyable wry humour to the character of Parker. The fight scenes are well choreographed and the stunts are impressive - especially the all too well telegraphed Jacuzzi of Death scene (trust me, you have to see this!)
On the downside, I found the premise a little too far fetched for me to be able to buy into it. The plot was entirely predictable - with the next stunt or action sequence being telegraphed well in advance. As for kids in films… they have to be damn good to avoid just being annoying. Billy is annoying - so much so that even with all that he is going through in this film, I still had no sympathy for him.
Cast your mind back, if you will, to 1935 (No I wasnt around then either, but its worth recognising the context of this film). This is a time when the film studios were churning out vampire films and it is against this background that Mark of the Vampire attempts to bring a new twist to an already jaded formula.
The film starts traditionally enough, with a western couple - Irena Borotyn and her fiance - sitting in a Central European (as this film was also known as Vampires of Prague, well assume that they are in Czechoslovakia and that Prague has suddenly become a lot smaller) inn refusing to believe the warnings of the superstitious peasants. Then Irenas father - Sir Karell Borotyn - is found dead. The local doctor, Doskil, a character who is superstitious beyond belief, promply diagnoses Death by Vampire.
The investigating officer, Inspector Neumann, is - not surprisingly - unsatisfied with this diagnosis (this is 1934, after all) and calls in Professor Zelen (Lionel Barrymore in a wonderfuly campy Van-Helsing performance) for a second opinion.
Much to Neumanns chagrin, Zelen pronounces Dr Doskills diagnosis completely correct and warns that Count Moran (Bela Lugosi) - the vampire beieved to have attacked Sir Karell - will return for his daughter, Irena.
What then follows is a pretty traditional vampire movie as Zelen and Sir Karells household divide their time between trying to keep Irena safe from Count Moran while and trying to find the coffins of Moran and his fellow vampires so they can lift the curse once and for all. So far, so traditional
What really sets Mark of the Vampire apart is the ending, which spins the film around from a gothic horror into something completely different
I have to admit to having mixed feelings about Mark of the Vampire. As a vampire film, the plot runs along pretty familliar lines - Its a well made film and does a great job of conjuring up a very eerie atmosphere. Director, Tod Browning, had a great feel for mood and atmosphere and, had Mark of the Vampire been a straight vampire film, it could well have ranked alongside Dracula as a case study in how to build a satisfyingly unnerving atmosphere. Bela Lugosi makes for a wonderfully menacing Count Moran and even Lional Barrimores over the top performance adds to the overall mood of the film.
The ending of this film also tries to move it into new and more interesting territory - effectively demonstrating how fear has more to do with the state of mind and what one is prepared to believe than what really is out there. Had this worked, Mark of the Vampire - I am sure - would be regularly making it onto many of the all time greatest movie lists that so often circulate nowadays.
Unfortunately, it doesnt quite work and leaves enough inconsistencies and unanswered questions for me to find myself unable to buy into the ending and, therefore, the film as a whole.
All in all, a nice try, but one that doesnt quite work.