Review Date: October 24, 2013
Released by: Anchor Bay
Release date: October 15, 2013
Codec: AVC, 1080p
Widescreen 1.78 | 16x9: Yes
The biggest complaint against remakes is usually some version of: “you can’t improve on a classic.” While that’s true, I don’t think most remakes realistically intend to improve on their source material. At best they’re affectionate tributes looking to pay homage to established and influential classics. At worst they’re crass cash-ins made with little effort or style, just looking to make a quick buck before they disappear from multiplexes. This argument doesn’t really fly when the original film wasn’t all that good to begin with, though. Take Amityville Horror
, for instance. There’s a ton of goodwill and nostalgia associated with the name but there was also tons of room to improve on the original (I believe they did. Opinions vary).
Or, as another example, take Embrace of the Vampire
. The name is fairly well known in certain circles, there’s quite a bit of internet infamy associated with it that gives it a bit of cache, but the movie itself is flat-out terrible. At first look it may seem an odd choice for a remake but these are exactly the kinds of movies that should be updated and remade. The question is, does the Canadian-made new millennium version of Embrace of the Vampire
improve on the 1995 version? The answer is a resounding and unequivocal: “Yes, in every way imaginable.” Not that that’s a particularly high bar to clear. Embrace 2013
isn’t necessarily a great movie in and of itself, but directly comparing it to the original is going to come off as a rave review.
The broad strokes of the story follow fairly closely to the 1995 original; timid Charlotte Hawthorn (Sharon Hinnendael
) arrives at the impossibly swank, impossibly rustic North Summit University fresh from an all-girls Catholic school. An orphan whose mother died of a mysterious blood disease that she also has, Charlotte’s studies are being paid for by a fencing scholarship. This is the naïve, sheltered Charlotte’s first experience with the pressures of a co-ed environment, and especially with romance. As quickly as she makes a friend of her new roommate, Nicole (Kaniehtiio Horn
, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Emma Stone), she makes an enemy of Nicole’s best friend, bitchy fencing teammate Eliza (C.C. Sheffield
) by showing her up during fencing practice. This makes Charlotte the target for hazing by team captain Kelly (Olivia Cheng
) who resents both her unassuming beauty which seems to draw men to her, and her scholarship.
Not all the members of the fencing team have it out for Charlotte, though; free-spirited Sara (Chelsey Reist
) assists Charlotte through a particularly vicious hazing incident, helping her stumble drunkenly back to the dorms after being forced to drink for the first time. She also leads Charlotte into her first sexual experience: a lesbian encounter in Sara’s dorm room. Unfortunately this encounter is cut short by one of the gory hallucinations Charlotte started suffering from since she got to North Summit.
Despite being on a scholarship and having a full course load, Charlotte decides to get a part time job as a barista. Going for an interview at the Zephyr Coffee Shop, she catches the eye of Nicole’s other friend, coffee shop manager Chris (Ryan Kennedy
). He’s a nice, unassuming guy and romantic interest between the two blossoms almost immediately. Occult shop owner and coffee shop regular Daciana (Keegan Connor Tracy
) is less enthralled with Charlotte’s natural charm, and sees ominous portents surrounding the young woman, but Daciana’s admonition that Charlotte come to her occult shop for a psychic reading falls on deaf ears.
At school, Charlotte has also caught the eye of twitchy Dr. Duncan (Robert Moloney
), who is suspiciously light adverse as well as fighting off the advances of hunky fencing coach and English teacher Professor Cole (Victor Webster
), whose methods of motivating Charlotte have distinctly romantic overtones. Could one of these men be the vampire that haunts Charlotte via the waking nightmares threatening to drive her crazy? Does the strange Daciana possess knowledge that can explain the hallucinations plaguing Charlotte? Is there a connection between Charlotte’s mysterious blood disease and the vampire that haunts her? Does a bear shit in the woods outside Vancouver?
Barely six minutes into the remake, and the main characters and their relationships to and with one another are already better established and developed than in the entirety of the 1995 film. If the rest of the film were as efficient and well-structured as the first act, we’d really have something here. Unfortunately, the movie flounders with a sluggish middle section that just iterates points already established while the final act fails to pay them off. Much screen time is burnt setting up an antagonism between Charlotte and the captain of the fencing team (Olivia Cheng
), but this conflict winds up being for naught. One or two scenes, okay, whatever, but the rivalry crops up again and again, and becomes a major plot point. There’s also a scene where Eliza plants the seeds of doubt in Charlotte’s mind as to Chris’ intentions towards her, yet not two scenes later they’re all camping together, apparently best of friends. There’s an admirable attempt third act double twist that’s easily spotted and totally undone by a herring that’s way too red. The script by Andrew Erin and Sheldon Roper is leagues better than the 1995 film, but it’s still pretty sloppy and could have benefitted from additional rewrites. Credit where due: they give Charlotte a far strong arc than swooning and waiting to be rescued, though I hope they wrote Joss Whedon a letter of thanks (or apology) after they turned in their final draft.
Most unforgivably, despite having the word “Vampire” in the frigging title, barring a brief prologue and some flash cut hallucinations, the movie is nearly two thirds of the movie is over before the titular creature finally makes his appearance. When the vampires do make an appearance their makeups are very cartoonish; with their silly oversized fangs, bright lipstick and kohl smeared around their eyes these bloodsuckers seem more apropos for a Halloween party than a feature film. It’s kind of embarrassing, really. On the plus side the gore, however scant it maybe, is well executed with some deliciously gruesome flesh ripping, gallons of blood being pumped everywhere, and a truly gross teeth-falling-out scene that hit me at the base of my spine. Really, I can watch just about any kind of damage filmmakers can think to inflict on the human body but leave the teeth alone. That shit gives me nightmares.
But I doubt most people will be watching this movie expecting a compelling vampire thriller. They‘re here for T&A and low grade, cable-friendly sex scenes and on those fronts, Embrace of the Vampire
delivers far more successfully. The film has no shortage of good looking young women willing to take their clothes off and features of couple love scenes that beat the original film in overall sexiness. The lesbian scene, in particular was impressive, because it was so centred on the pleasure of the two women involved. In the Alyssa Milano version there was a discomfort in the staging that gave the scene a distance. Milano was going along with it, but at times her reluctance almost felt like she was being coerced (and she might well have been; at that point in the movie the vampire exerting some kind of influence over her, but what exactly that influence was I couldn’t tell). The remake is certainly not free of the leering, “male eye” camera perspective, and the scene is capped with a shock cut that, while effective, seems unnecessary. Let’s just say that the scene in the remake – and the movie itself, actually - is far more effective at fulfilling its raison d'être and leave it at that.
Embrace of the Vampire
makes it Blu-ray debut sporting a nice 1080p transfer. Given the low budget and that fact it was shot digitally, I was fairly impressed with the lack of digital noise throughout the movie, though the picture is a bit softer than I would have liked. I’m not sure if this is a deliberate attempt to affect the soft filter look sported by so much DTV cheesecake, a fault of transfer or limitations of the source material itself but throughout the film small object detail is lacking. Colors, too, are muted except for the scenes put through heavy post production processing: these scenes, drenched in yellow, are a nice respite from the overall mediocre visual palette on display.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital True HD track is a bit surprising in how active the surrounds were. I often find myself complaining about dead back channels on these low budget surrounds mixes and expected more of the same here. To be sure, I didn’t get a blockbuster-level soundtrack filled discreet effects, but the surrounds remained active throughout the film, providing presence and ambience where appropriate. The back channels are occasionally used to good effect with the faint whispering of phantom voices haunting Charlotte popping up at unexpected moments.
There are no extra features included but, honestly, Sharon Hinnendael and Kaniehtiio Horn are the only special features I need.
How much you enjoy this film will really depend on your perspective. On one hand, it’s pretty low rent and filled with holes, the makeups are subpar and even at a trim 91 minutes it can feel slow at times. However, it is an improvement over the 1995 film in every way possible: it’s better shot, better acted, better written, sexier and just more entertaining. I enjoyed watching it, but I have the sneaking suspicion I would have enjoyed it less had I not just watched the awful Alyssa Milano version. It’s not ambitious in any significant way but it’s skillfully made and, for the most part, not a bad way to spend 91 minutes. Compared to the original it’s an A+ but, on its own merits, I’d generously give it a C. I’ll average those two to a B- and call it a day.
Movie - B-
Image Quality - B-
Sound - B
Supplements - N/A
- Running time - 1 hour and 32 minutes
- 2 Discs (1 Blu-ray, 1 DVD)
- Chapter Stops
- English 5.1 Dolby True HD Audio
- English SDH subtitles
- Spanish subtitles