Tuesday, 16 November 2010



Personally, I'm a bit fed up with vampires in movies. Either you have to stick to the existing lore (holy water, sunlight, garlic), in which case it can end up staid and old-fashioned, or you can ditch all the standard tropes entirely, but then they're not really vampires any more. The best way, I guess, is to stick to about half of the existing lore and fill what's left with something else entirely - perhaps drippy teen soap opera if you're in Twilight mode, or, more excitingly, plenty of blood, teeth, limp-lopping and severed heads. Because if all else fails, you can still score a few points with needless gore and nifty monster effects (at least in horror movies; I don't think it works in romantic comedies and courtroom thrillers).

Pleasingly, that's the road the makers of the manga-based Higanjima have travelled: when in doubt, do the splattery thing. Ordinary kid Akira meets a mysterious woman who tells him his absent brother is actually alive and fighting vampires on a secret island; he agrees to go and rescue him. Along with some friends (the chubby one, the slightly simple one, the fearlessly heroic one, the cute girl who Akira secretly fancies but who has a crush on the fearlessly heroic one) he finds a largely deserted town, the island ruled by Miyabi, a vampiric Little Lord Fauntleroy type, and the surviving humans camped out in the woods, ostensibly as a resistance force but actually too scared to do anything. Meanwhile Miyabi is keeping prisoner some kind of mad scientist who's creating a monstrous "perfect being" in his castle basement....

At two hours, Higanjima (subtitled "Escape From Vampire Island" on the box but not on screen) is far too long and does drag in places, particlarly in the latter half when they meet up with the resistance army and have to do a bit of training rather than rescuing the girl. Also, maybe it's just me being old-fashioned but I'd prefer more prosthetic and animatronic effects and less in the way of soulless CGI. Blood squibs have always looked much better than superimposed splats that have so obviously been pasted on afterwards. That said, the "perfect being" is a genuinely impressive effects job: an enormous, semi-skeletal creature with massive fangs and claws, though I'm not sure what use this creature actually is in terms of the plot.

It does go on too long and a lot of the second half could be safely hacked down, but it's visually striking, with plenty of blood and swordplay, some good effects, a nicely characterised villain in Miyabi, and a group of heroes you can root for (if this was an American movie they'd be a bunch of moronic frat boys and you'd be on the side of the bloodsuckers from the start). I missed this when it was shown in the Discovery screen at FrightFest, and it's actually better than the two movies it played against (the okay Red Hill and the almost-okay The Pack). Generally good fun and worth a watch.


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