One of those rare, micro-budgeted features that somehow manages to overcome its poverty row origins and really shine on the strengths of a solid cast and some fun and creative filmmaking. Don't get me wrong - this doesn't look, sound or feel like a multimillion dollar blockbuster but it is an entertaining and well made B-picture that manages to squeeze some originality out of a genre that's been flogged to death over the years, that being the vampire film.
The film follows an assassin for hire named Frank Ng (Dharma Lim) who is given a contract to kill a Chinese drug kingpin. When he accepts the job and shows up to take care of business, he finds out the hard way that his intended target was no mere mortal but actually a powerful vampire who has been running a pretty substantial criminal empire with his gang. Those accustomed to standard North American and European vampire films will be taken aback to further learn that these heavyweights are actually Chinese vampires, meaning they're as much like zombies as they are bloodsuckers, and the boss man makes Frank's life a living hell when he puts a curse on him that causes anyone that he comes into contact with to wind up dead!
When Frank's favorite watering hole gets devastated by a vampire attack, he decides to enlist the aid of a wise old man named Uncle Ping (Ben Wang) who, along with some help from some random people who hang out at Ping's Chinese restaurant, put their heads together to figure out how to best deal with this increasingly big problem.
Directed by Rob Fitz over the span of six years on weekends and random days off, God Of Vampires shows the director's experience as a makeup technician on films like Surrogates, Edge Of Darkness and Paul Blart: Mall Cop (hey, everyone's got to pay the bills, right?). While the small budget means that the effects are on a smaller scale than some might have hoped, every penny of the production's funding is evident in the finished product. As gory as anyone could hope for, there's plenty of bloodshed and carnage to ooooh and ahhhh over and it's all done with an eye for style and dark humor.
Written in the best stereotypical 'tough guy' style imaginable, the comedy in the film works better than it really has any right to and Dharma Lin pulls it off and makes it look easy. He's got an admirable sense of cool and isn't above hitting those suave poses when the movie calls for it. He plays the role perfectly straight, but it's obvious that the movie has its tongue placed firmly in cheek during certain key scenes. Ben Wang is just as good as Uncle Ping, and while neither he nor Lin are going to be up for an Academy Award any time soon, that's not a bad thing. The casting here do a much better job than your average shot-on-video thespian groups, and the movie is all the better for it. In short, they just suit their parts well.
What's likely to draw people to this picture is the gore - there is loads and loads of it on screen and it's all done really well. If you're a horror fan, check it out for that reason and then, once you get over that, take the time to appreciate the clever script, the solid camera work (this in spite of more than a few overly dark scenes) and the fun performances.
Note: This review is based off of a DVD-R test disc that obviously doesn't represent finished retail product.
God Of Vampires arrives on DVD in a 1.85.1 non-anamorphic widescreen transfer. The test disc obviously doesn't represent finished product so no grade is going to be assigned, but the transfer doesn't really look so hot. Colors are sometimes oversaturated as are skin tones, while some obvious compression artifacts are hard to look past and the image is frequently murky because of this. On top of that, some scenes are way too dark, making it tough to make out just exactly what's going on. For a micro-budget feature it looks okay and it's watchable enough, but hopefully final, finished product looks better.
The sole audio mix on this release is an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track and generally it sounds... okay at best, really. It's well balanced and you can hear the dialogue easily enough but there are quite a few scenes where the synth soundtrack buries the performers. No alternate language subtitles or languages are provided. Does finished product sound better than the test disc? Only Brain Damage Films know for sure.
The disc provided for review contains a gag reel (1:33) and a trailer for the feature (1:23) but more importantly a Behind The Scenes Documentary (18:18) which contains interviews with the cast and crew as well as some footage shot on the set of the production. Director Fitz is all over this piece, talking about the film and giving some welcome background information on it, but the actors pop up here as well as some assorted crewmembers, all of whom chime in on their different tasks in relation to the production. There's also aDP Interview (23:21) which lets director of photography Silas Tyler talk about his work on the film. There's some interesting content here but the decision to shoot him as a talking head against a repeating montage backdrop makes this one a bit hard on the eyes. That said, his take on shooting the picture is worth listening to.
God Of Vampires is one of those rare low budget horror films that should appeal to those who may not always appreciate such things. It's a whole lot of clever, goofy, and mind numbingly gory fun shot with style and quirky charm. Brain Damage's test disc doesn't offer a realistic view of what the DVD will offer, making it tough to recommend what with some transfer quirks and audio anomalies don't help either, but the movie is worth seeing. Rent it.
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.