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Friday, November 20, 2015

QUEEN OF BLOOD -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle

Described by its writer-director Chris Alexander as an "impressionist underground art film" and by one IMDb contributor as a "minimalist vampire moodpiece", QUEEN OF BLOOD (2014) challenges viewers to stay with it during its long, slow passages of atmospheric visuals and navel-gazing contemplation in order to reap its rewards. 

Alexander isn't interested in feeding the filmic needs of the typical Jason and Freddy fan, nor those of just about any other average horror fan.  His take on the vampire genre is, as he puts it, more of a "tone poem" which should be viewed as one views a painting. 

To that end, the film is sumptuously photographed (despite a rock-bottom budget) in a lush rural setting which seems to be a thousand miles from any kind of civilization, by a camera that lingers over each image even more languidly than the Kubrick of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY or David Lynch at his most ERASERHEAD-centric. 

The absolutely barebones story--if one can even call it that--begins with the enigmatic vampire Irina (Shauna Henry) emerging naked from the fetid waters of a swamp in a scene that reminded me of Virginia Christine's haunting entrance in THE MUMMY'S CURSE.  It seems as though this unnatural creature is being born or reborn in some way although no further explanation is given. 

Irina is taken in by a woodsman (co-producer and cinematographer David Goodfellow) who cleans and dresses her and trims her flowing mane.  We see a photograph on his shelf of a woman who resembles Irina, hinting that the man is a widower who's remaking Irina in his late wife's image.  But he succumbs to the spell of the vampiress, who silently mesmerizes him before ripping out his throat with her bare hands (her preferred method of killing).

For much of its subsequent running time, QUEEN OF BLOOD shows us Irina stalking very slowly through the woods or across vast pastures, intercut with shots of her future victims as they stand around contemplatively or stroll hither and yon.  The actual killing scenes are equally impressionistic, bloody yet shot and edited with an artist's eye.

We also see the black-clad Preacher on her trail, strangling Irina's unfortunate victims before they themselves can return to life as the undead.  As the Preacher, Skinny Puppy's Nivek Ogre (SCREAM PARK) is the most animated thing about the whole movie. 

One sequence in which he goes into blood-spewing convulsions has to be seen to be believed--it goes on too long and took me out of the movie for a while, but is fascinating nonetheless due to the way Ogre throws himself with abandon into a total state of wildly-thrashing hysteria as he lurches, flips, and rolls around on the forest floor.

But the most riveting element of the film, aptly enough, is Shauna Henry herself.  Looking like a soiled china doll possessed by some dark spirit, she wanders wraithlike through the film's idyllic Western setting with piercing eyes (she has a great "creepy face") and a compelling presence. 

Her charisma in the pivotal role of the ever-ravenous vampire who goes through victims like Homer Simpson goes through doughnuts almost compensates for the long stretches which tax our patience and will, no doubt, have many horror buffs giving the fast-forward scan button on their remotes a workout. 

Still, the artful execution and evocative atmosphere of QUEEN OF BLOOD should appeal to certain viewers who favor the offbeat in their cinematic fare, especially those willing to settle in and patiently indulge the film its eccentricities as it slowly unfolds its story as though painting loosely in watercolor. 

The excellent New Age-y musical score by Alexander and castmember Carrie Gemmell is fitting for a movie that is itself a kind of visual equivalent to New Age music--and which, incidentally, is utterly free of dialogue, essentially making it a silent film with music and ambient sound effects. 

The Blu-ray from Intervision Pictures Corp. is in 16x9 widescreen with Dolby Digital sound. No subtitles, since there's nothing to subtitle.  Bonus features include an introduction by Nivek Ogre, bloopers, 2 alternate endings, the featurette "Directing Ogre", a trailer, a director and cast Q & A from the Toronto premiere, and a director commentary.

Most notable is the inclusion of Chris Alexander's previous film BLOOD FOR IRINA (2012) in its entirety.  The precursor of QUEEN OF BLOOD, this feature recounts Irina's vampiric exploits in modern times and is even more deliberately paced and dreamlike than the latter film. 

Willfully experimental and often deliberately obtuse, QUEEN OF BLOOD is hardly the sort of thing one would add to an evening's fare of FRIDAY THE 13TH and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET flicks.  But if you're in the mood for something completely different, this is one horror movie that will definitely fit the bill. 

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