Somewhere between cheesy, 1950’s drive-in horror show and polished home movie lies Raven, a silly no-budget vampire thriller and the latest DIY production from GruntWorks Entertainment (“specializing in the creation of masterful motion pictures,” according to their website). You can’t blame director and GruntWorks honcho Gregori J. Martin for trying to cash in on the current craze for the undead. But in the days since Twilight, the vampire suspenser has become such a bandwagon genre that now every Tom, Dick and Nosferatu looking for an easy marketing hook is hopping onboard. Raven, unfortunately, won’t be seen by enough people to drive a stake through the heart of audience’s appetites for such tiresome fare. But it’s increasingly obvious that the more vampire movies we get, the more vampire movies will, apologies in advance, suck.
There’s plenty of historical precedent for filmmaking of such a low order to still be entertaining (entire film movements were based on it). But this is pretty bad all around. Writer Aaron Pope utilizes the standard touchstones of the vampire myth to create a serviceable concept and story layout. Yet too much overbaked dialogue and undercooked characters sink the film almost immediately. The main attraction of vampirism, especially in something like this, is its sexuality. You know, all that Elvira-sized cleavage, seduction and neck sucking. And so it is with Raven (Meadow Williams), a fang-toothed beauty on a campaign to vampirize a small Arizona town with the power of her large breasts. The only person who can stop her is John Salem (what a deliciously clever last name!) a vampire hunter with a heavy heart and, based on our first glimpse of him in a drunken stupor, a compromised liver. It’s not to the movie’s benefit that John is played by Roland Kickinger, a muscle-bound, Austrian-born clone of that other muscle-bound Austrian, right down to the marble-mouthed line readings that made director James Cameron realize the only character Arnold Schwarzenegger could effectively play is a robot. John’s somber state comes not only from his lonely one-man war, but from the fact that Raven was his lover before she succumbed to the Harlequin charms of the vampire, Lazar (Rudolf Martin).
You always wonder why a screenwriter creates scenarios that a film’s budget can never support. Director Tomas Alfredson’s terrific vampire flick Let the Right One In cost about $4 million. Obviously that’s a lot more than Raven cost. But the point is, the requirements of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s story never outpaced what the budget could effectively convey onscreen. Here, we learn of Lazar’s plan to start a second vampire war. But if it’s anything like the first vampire war (represented by a sorry troop of long-ago vampire hunters dressed in Halloween costumes, traipsing around the forest with bows and arrows), it should be a pretty lame little conflagration. And why even include a modern day human vs. undead smackdown, when all you can afford are about ten extras jumping around an empty warehouse. Plus, Martin can’t even choreograph a decent fight. Combatants stand around waiting to get hit and, at one point, Raven’s first victim (Steven Bauer from Scarface) floats down on wires to attack John. Bauer is the most experienced major player here, but he’s in survival mode, surrounded by very unconvincing performers, poorly steered by their director. But the best part about the second vampire war is that it takes place in Los Angeles, where vampires can “attack those who live on L.A.’s underside.” The logic there, as elsewhere, is fuzzy, but maybe they chose Los Angeles because the silicone breasts of those vampire beauties blunt the impact of wooden stakes. Or maybe it’s the availability of black leather. For some reason, when women are bitten by a vampire, not only do they grow fangs and crave blood, but their clothing is magically replaced with form-fitting latex.
At the film’s climax, though, I began to wonder whether I had Raven all wrong. Maybe this is a comedy. The way Williams bares her claws like a B-movie siren and jumps out a window with an obvious eye towards not getting hurt. The way Kickinger spreads his arms and screams in existential angst. The way Martin never realizes that time-lapse photography requires enough change in cloud formations for it to look like, you know, time has elapsed. Or the way an outdoor party crowd dances with an energy and rhythm inconsistent with the lone acoustic guitar they’re supposedly listening to. Or, my personal favorite, watching Raven try to fight her way indoors before the sun comes up, looking like a pouty schoolgirl reluctantly drawn into a game of keep-away against the boys on the playground. Indeed, like the monster whose tale it tells, maybe Raven will be resurrected similar to The Room, an unsuccessful drama whose makers reinvent it as a comedy.
Distributor: Grunt Works
Cast: Meadow Williams, Steven Bauer and Roland Kickinger
Director: Gregori J. Martin
Screenwriter: Aaron Pope
Producers: Cherie Johnson, Meadow Williams and Gregori J. Martin
Running time: 87 mins
Release date: March 12 LA