Filipino director Khavn Delacruz's Vampire of Quezon City is a bold, experimental, experiential film. It is, however, also one of the most misogynistic films this reviewer has ever seen, which dwells lovingly over graphic depictions of rape and violence against women. It is not for the faint of heart.
There isn't really any story to speak of. What is shown alternates between two perspectives. The first is a jaded police officer, speaking directly to the camera, talking about the vampire killer, or aswang, that has been stalking through the streets of Quezon City the past few months, raping and disemboweling young women. The second is long sequences of rape, torture and humiliation of said women, often with no soundtrack, overlaid with Hammond organ music, dogs barking, warning sirens, compressors or other random sounds. There is very little actual dialogue, mostly the policeman talking.
The torture scenes are quite graphic and involved. The women are sodomized with crucifixes, made to eat filth from the floor, and forced at gunpoint to fellate the killer, to name just a few of the tamer examples. (No, really.) Several times, the killer's erect penis is fully visible, (here's hoping it's a prosthetic) including during the forced fellatio, though no female nudity is shown. Details of the killer's youth are revealed obliquely through flashbacks, and we see that he was abused by his mother (she whipped him while he held Bibles up in his hands and balanced a candle on his head) and kicked dogs to death for fun. No attempt at empathy or even explanation is made. He is never named (neither is the policeman) and it's probably just as well.
This is not a typical serial killer film, in which the troubled yet driven detective tracks down the twisted murderer. This is a full on torture film, whose main focus is degradation of women. There are no police procedural scenes. No interrogations. No philosophical reflection. Almost no plot. Just rape, murder and cannibalism. Hostel has nothing on The Vampire of Quezon City as far as brutality goes. This is not to say that Khavn (he seems to prefer to be known by his first name) is lacking talent. For a zero budget movie with a three day shooting schedule, things look remarkably good. The film is a grainy, shadowed black and white. The camera work is inventive and disorienting. Symbols and unrelated images are flashed on to the screen at intervals. Much of the film is from the point of view of the killer, giallo style, though this idea is subverted when the same POV like camera work is used when the killer clearly is not present. The performances are gonzo strange, but compelling, like the rest of the film. This is an exercise in intentional discomfort.
But to what end all of this creativity and style? The better to degrade women? The most apparent theme to come out of this film is hate, of pretty much everyone but the female of the species most particularly and intensely. It is significant that the only audible female dialogue is from the abusive mother as she is whipping her son the killer. This isn't a subtle undercurrent of distaste. This is a high pressure stream of hatred, with few of the standard filters between the audience and the film maker, such as say plot, characterization, etc. Vampire of Quezon City is almost unbearably difficult to watch, but it is the work of a talented auteur, with heavy dollops of genius mixed in. As such, it is a challenge to review this film. Should it be recommended? If perhaps Khavn had pulled back somewhat from the graphic brutality, implied instead of shown full on. If he had revealed the killer to us through an actual story, if he had couched the unfolding events in any kind of coherent narrative, that might be possible. But he didn't. This film is the equivalent of an eloquent yet emotionally unstable speaker standing in front of you in the subway and shouting in your face, explaining in intricate detail that you are a despicable person. It's all emotion with no intellect. This is one to rent, at most. And that with some trepidation.
The image is presented in 1.33:1 standard. It is shot in very grainy black and white, with the shadows often overwhelming the image and at times poor contrast. However, since all of this is clearly intentional, they can hardly be said to be problems. It is apparent that this film looks exactly like its director wants it to.
The sound is in Dolby 2 channel, and seems to work well. The odd sound effects and overlaying music envelope the space. What dialogue there is can be heard clearly. English subtitles are included, but cannot be turned off. No alternate language track is included.
A number of extras are included. They are:
Q & A Interview "Talk to Khavn"
This interview with writer / director Khavn, clocking in at just over eight minutes, is fairly interesting. Contrary to what the film would seem to imply, his is clean cut and well adjusted. He talks about the inspiration for the film, using limitations to his advantage, and how both he and the actors enjoyed filming the torture scenes.
Short Film "MondoManila: Institute of Poets"
This fifteen minute short film, also directed by Khavn, has a similar style to Quezon City, frenetic and disjointed. Bitterness and anger are also central themes. While it is less brutal than the feature, there is still quite a bit of violence. It is also fairly interesting.
Music Video "Dead Woman in My House"
This is a Khavn directed music video, using performance footage, clips from the feature and a few other shots not included there. Strange, but effective.
Simply a trailer for Vampire of Quezon City. Impressionistic and graphic, like the feature.
Trailers for other films available from Pathfinder: The Abortion, The Curse of February 29th, Bloody Beach, The Family that Eats Soil, Hera Purple Devil Goddess, Raw Summer and Squatter Punk.
Khavn Delacruz clearly has talent by the truckload, and Vampire of Quezon City shows it. However, the incredibly graphic and misogynistic content of the film undercuts any admiration or appreciation one might have for the film or its director. If Khavn can tone down the vitriol and violence, and focus on the narrative, he will be a director to watch. Until then, be warned.