Based on a somewhat obscure supporting character who originally appeared in Marvel Comics' Tomb Of Dracula comic by Gene Colon and Marv Wolfman, the Blade films have been a fairly successful franchise for New Line Cinema. Unfortunately, when the third film failed at the box office it sent the character to television and Wesley Snipes' career to straight-to-video land. Snipes was offered the part for the television series, which lasted all of twelve episodes when it was broadcast on Spike TV, but he declined and the part went to Kirk Jones, better known as Sticky Fingaz from Onyx. This DVD, Blade: The House Of Chthon, presents the feature length pilot episode of that series in its full strength version.
The story follows Krista Starr (Jill Wagner), a former soldier whose twin brother is murdered. Krista takes it upon her self to investigate her brother's death and finds out that the person responsible for it is Marcus Van Sciver (Neil Jackson) but what she doesn't know is that Marcus is actually the head of the House Of Chthon, an underground vampire cult. Thankfully for Krista, Blade (Kirk Jones), the half human/half vampire martial arts vampire hunter, is chasing the same prey. He and his assistant, a technological wizard named Shen (Nelson Lee), have been after Van Sciver for some time now and as he's recently caught up to him, it goes to reason that he and Krista are going to cross paths and eventually team up to put a stop to the House Of Chthon.
Despite a substantial amount of sex and gore (mostly during the opening scene), it's not hard to tell that Blade: House Of Chthon was made for television - in fact, what really gives it all away is the pacing as there are spots where you almost expect commercials to appear. Thankfully they don't, but regardless, in terms of its structure and its pace the choppy nature of the movie makes it feel more like a six act play than a feature film. That said, the six acts at least fit together reasonably well and if the movie isn't going to win over those who don't already hold an affinity for the franchise, it'll at least entertain those who do. A small supporting role from Randy Quaid of all people in the part of a quirky vampire hating scientist feels a little out of place but that's not Quaid's fault so much as it is the story's - his part feels tacked on and unimportant.
Jones plays the lead with a little less attitude than Snipes brought to the character but he's not a bad replacement even if his Blade is a bit more subdued than the one we're used to. He handles himself well during the action scenes and he certainly looks the part, carrying himself with the kind of confidence and style that his predecessor made an important part of the character's persona. Wagner makes for a decent counterpart and actually winds up with as much, if not slightly more, screen time here than Jones does. Jackson is fine as the antagonist, playing the leader of the sect with an inspired malicious glee. Nobody here is looking to earn and Oscar for their work, but they play their parts well and that's what matters here.
The main problem with Blade: House Of Chthon is that despite the added blood and bonus boobs, it's still a television pilot and so there's not a lot of characterization here. Bit part players are introduced very briefly and not given much to do, with the intent of fleshing them out down the road as the series continued but because we're not watching this in feature form, this hurts things a little bit. New Line might have been better off releasing the pilot alongside the rest of the episodes from the short lived series as at least then we'd have the right context to put some of these characters in. That didn't happen, however, and what we're left with is a reasonably well made and brainlessly entertaining movie that feels like it's missing a real conclusion.
The 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer isn't bad, but it's far from perfect and the image tends to look a little too soft for its own good during some of the darker scenes. Lighter scenes fare better and show noticeably more detail. Skin tones look good and color reproduction is dead on but fine detail tends to become a little bit obscured at times and shimmering is noticeable more often than it should be. No problems with mpeg compression artifacts are found nor are there any issues with heavy grain or print damage. Again, not a bad picture, but definitely not as good as you'd expect from such a recent movie.
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track is very aggressive and the last half of the film really benefits from some clever surround use. Bass response isn't quite as strong as you'd expect given the dynamics of the rest of the mix but it's there and you won't have any problems noticing it. There are a few moments where the score is a bit too loud but aside from that, things are pretty well balanced and properly mixed. An optional Stereo track, also in English, is also included. Optional subtitles are provided in English and Spanish.
New Line has included a surprisingly extensive selection of supplements with this film, proving that they haven't given up on the franchise yet. First up is a commentary track with director Peter O'Fallon who talks about his role on the project, at times leaning towards the technical. A second commentary track from series writers David Goyer and Geoff Johns and it's obviously delivered from a different perspective as it covers where some of the ideas for certain characters and story points came from. Between the two tracks, despite the fact that there is a little bit of overlap (it's inevitable to a certain extent) you're going to learn pretty much anything you could want to know and more about how Blade: The House Of Chthon was put together.
Additionally, New Line has supplied a lengthy hour-long documentary entitled Turning Blade (1:01:41) which examines the genesis of the project and covers everything from casting to effects work. This proves to be a pretty extensive look at how the project was put together and it features some reasonably interesting behind the scenes footage alongside some talking head interviews with the cast and crew. Also on the DVD are some Blade TV Spots and trailers for a few other New Line DVDs. Animated menus and chapter stops are included and the disc is housed inside a slick slipcase that contains the exact same cover art as the keepcase.
While nowhere near as good (or at least as enjoyable) as the first two films in the series, Blade: The House Of Chthon is at least a reasonably entertaining action-horror stew with a few cool scenes and an enjoyable story. It's not without it's hokey moments or obvious flaws but it's a fun way to kill an hour and a half. New Line's DVD should have looked better than it does but the extras are pretty boss and the audio is solid. Recommended for fans of the franchise, a solid rental for the masses.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.