My life, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.
As I’ve mentioned before, before this whole endeavor started, I spent the majority of my life not giving two shits about vampires. I knew the basic gist of most of the classic stories, but beyond that nothing about them seemed very appealing. I spent my high school years devouring Terry Pratchett and Monty Python, not gothy poetry and sales at Hot Topic, and though I did have a black trenchcoat, it was only cause my tech-nerd friends and I got into The Matrix in a big way. The result of this is even though the 90’s and early 00’s were a big time for vampire stories, I am barely familiar with any of them. Thus, even though many of these works directly influenced Vampire the game, the game is what I experienced first.
Jim and I were discussing this fact recently and how funny it would be to go back and view these things through the lens of someone more familiar with World of Darkness. I kind of already started that a couple years ago when I started watching through Buffy with Chris and immediately started assigning clans to all the characters (Drusilla: Malkavian, or MOST Malkavian?) The last straw came when I mentioned that I had never seen Blade. Jim put his foot down, saying that I, player of Tom, definitely needed to see it, so finally this weekend we sat down to watch.
In that evening was spawned many snarky commentary, and from that snarky commentary spawned this:
But I couldn’t let it stop there. More thoughts and comments ran through my head until I spent most of the next day writing up a full-on review of the whole movie, complete with screenshots grabbed direct from our ripped copy of the movie.
I share the review with you now.
And, just in case anyone else out there is just as much of a troglodyte as I am…spoilers alert.
As the movie begins, I have to admit that, despite the film’s vague info and intentionally-obfuscating edits, I did basically know what was going on. Although we didn’t watch it, we discussed this movie in my “Race and Gender in Science Fiction” class in college, in the context of the mystical pregnancy trope. So yeah, I know that this is clearly Blade’s mother and she got bit while she was pregnant with him and that’s why he’s some sort of half-vampire. But what I was not expecting was such an intense scene, the frenetic activity of the doctors overlaid with Vanessa’s bewildered stare and erratic breath, and the clear message that neither she nor the doctors knows what the hell is going on.
This is the reality of living in a world with vampires, I thought, the confusion and powerlessness of being used and discarded by forces you don’t understand and can barely even see. Whether or not you use this in a game, this is the exact sort of theme World of Darkness is aiming for, and one I can respect. Alright, I nodded to myself, maybe this movie is going to be more serious than I thought, as it cut into the title credits.
I was wrong, but this remains a stellar opening scene nonetheless.
My hopes were dashed in the very next sequence, as we follow some predictably-oversexed vampire and her predictably-oblivious prey through some predictably-awkward flirting and into a predictably-douchey vampire rave. “These guys,” I groaned. These guys were basically my mental image of vampires for the first thirty years of my life, about as appealing as going to an actual club, and why I couldn’t be bothered to give anything vampire-related the time of
But clearly my priorities have changed, since the minute they turned on the blood sprinklers, Jim and I sat up and started yelling about what a goddamn waste of blood that was.
Fortunately, the plot shows up just in time in a tableau of dramatic lighting and fabulous costuming.
At this point I have two observations:
- Late 90’s were definitely the time for long black trenchcoats.
- I don’t care how low-gen 1337 you are, in a tight room filled with vampire mooks, you’re gonna get fucking dogpiled unless you start dropping some AOE defenses.
But fortunately the ravers are as stupid as they are douchey and panic like rabbits as Blade starts mowing shit down with a shotgun (as is proper).
I watched the scene with a professional’s eye. “That’s not dragonsbreath he’s using,” I commented, “So…how are they dissolving so quickly?”
“It’s silver,” Jim said.
I turned to him. “…Really?”
I sighed resignedly as Jim laid out the base mechanics of the world. Silver kills, but fire doesn’t, and stakes either will or won’t depending on where they hit. Fine, fair.
I should also mention that watching a scene with a lot of blood-gore violence while eating Indian food probably isn’t the best choice.
More world-building details come up next as we meet Karen staring at a slide of red blood cells taken from the vampire “corpse” and she and Curtis mutter about them being “biconvex” and “double-nucleated.” Okay, I thought, they’re clearly going for a scientific explanation for vampires, which is fine, but in traditional Hollywood fashion it’s not really explained, so let me try to interpret for you: Normal human blood cells, as I’m sure you’re all aware, are like donuts with a concave depression in the middle. This is because the nucleus in human red blood cells dies and withers away after it’s formed, creating a gap that the membrane sinks into, which creates more membrane surface area for hemoglobin to bind to oxygen within the bloodstream. In this case, I think what they’re saying is the vampire blood cells are convex rather than concave (aka, round), which may be due to having not zero but two nuclei within them.
That…actually makes a little bit of sense. Point one to Science.
But let’s not linger too long cause hey the plot is back. Jim and I laughed pretty hard at, “Motherfucker are you out of your damn mind?!” because that’s what we were yelling as the cops continued to shoot at Blade through crowded hospital hallways and while he’s carrying a hostage. I mean, I know it’s the 90’s, but seriously, guys?
Anyway, after this we finally get to the character I’ve been most looking forward to: Kris Kristofferson. See, my alma mater is a small liberal arts college called Pomona College, one so small that the list of alums you may have actually heard of can be counted out on one hand. But at the top of that alumi list is Kris Kristofferson (’58). Traditionally, Pomona only invites alums to be the graduation speakers, and the year I graduated (’05), Kris was put forth to the student body as an option for us vote on. Unfortunately, we wound up with a civil rights lawyer who ended up ranting about Bush the entire time. But if you’re out there reading this, Kris, know that I voted for you. Also know that your character is just as gruff and no-fucks-given as I was hoping for.
In this scene, we also learn a little more about the world mechanics, and how apparently there’s no embracing process and anyone who gets bit and survives becomes a vampire, which as Jim pointed out has got to lead to a population problem, but luckily they seem to largely be idiots who get themselves picked off as fast as they pop up.
Speaking of idiots, it’s about time we get some real villains in this piece, and as the movie cuts to shadowy shots of some sort of Primogen council I initially have high hopes.
…But they’re rapidly dashed as the focus immediately drags over to The Most Punchable Face in the Universe
I instantly haaaaaaaaate Deacon Frost. Not because he’s a villain, but because he’s a fucking prick. Everything about him shrieks whiny entitled brat, and the fact that the elder vampires seem to be indulging his attitude only pisses me off more. “This guy is useless, fucking eat him or something!” I yelled, but no, not only do the elders let him leave, but for reasons I absolutely cannot fathom, they actually seem afraid of him.
Why? Why are the elder vampires so wary of him? I think we’re meant to assume it’s because he’s younger and understands the modern world better than they do, but they’re clearly not idiots. Hell, at that very table they’re discussing international trade deals and investments. They tell him to his face that they don’t value him because he’s a half-breed (more on that in a moment) and that his actions are threatening their very existence, and they just let him wander off with nothing more than a stern look? WHAT THE HELL KIND OF ELDER VAMPIRES ARE YOU!????
Right, okay, so the Archbishop of this Pack of fools, this guy Dragonetti (lol, really?) mentions that he was, “born a vampire,” whereas Deacon–I’m going to call him Deacon rather than Frost cause it’s a punchable name to go with his punchable face–apparently came to vampirism by being bit. Okay, so there’s vampire reproduction in this world? I mean, okay I guess, but considering they’re immortal, how the hell does that work? Does that mean they age? Kris Kristofferson kind of touches on this later, mentioning offhandedly that they do age, just very slowly, and all of this together seems to tie back into the Scientific Explanation track, but it all leaves me with far more questions than it answers. To remedy this, I immediately layer World of Darkness canon over this, assume they’re all weak-sauce 14th or 15th gen thin blood vampires, which…actually fits surprisingly well, I may stick with it.
Anyway, the main cast has all been introduced so let’s move on.
Motivations start coming into play as Dragonetti meets up with Deacon in a datacenter that probably contains less total information storage than the SSD harddrive we were streaming this movie from. Apparently there’s some sort of vampire prophecy Noddist-bullshit text that Deacon has wrote some algorithm to translate, but the things that strike me about this scene are two-fold:
- Once again we’re sort of thrown scraps of worldbuilding. Ancient texts, dead languages, sacred knowledge locked up in elite houses; I find myself more and more curious about what the vampire culture is and how it has evolved over time, but it continues to feel like these elements were dropped in to serve the plot at any one particular moment rather than woven through.
- WHY THE HELL DON’T YOU JUST FUCKING KILL HIM????
Speaking of worldbuilding, in the next scenes we learn that the vampires keep ghouls. They don’t call them ghouls, but fuck it, that’s what they are. They apparently brand their ghouls with certain marks, which is a really good idea actually, both practically and narratively. My mind immediately jumped back how “half-blood” vampires are scorned. Ghouls who reach vampire-hood would still have these tattoos on them, so might they simultaneously be a symbol of pride and shame? Was Deacon once Dragonetti’s ghoul and that’s why he’s so loathe to kill him? Did the plot introduce this point as foreshadowing for some big reveal?
Answer: No, not really. Clearly I forgot that worldbuilding elements are only important about five minutes after they’re introduced and are then never heard from again. I need to stop overthinking this.
The cop–Krieger–gets away, Karen convinces Blade to let her hang around with him because Reasons, and they track him down to–naturally–another fucking nightclub, this one adorably skinned in the theme of The 90’s Idea of Sleazy Asian Businessmen. Also please add the club’s entertainment coordinator to this movie’s hit-list.
Blade kicks Krieger’s ass and finds out that oh hey, 516MB datacenter is located right here, in the basement beneath the club, so he and Karen head down to check it out.
Meanwhile, we cut to Deacon’s penthouse pad, which has a couple nifty features, like the giant receding panels over the windows and the titanium-paneled coffin-bed thing. Clearly this guy isn’t fucking around with sunlight protection, which I will give to him. Deacon’s algorithm has evidently finished and given him some version of The Sims done with Bryce animation, which he watches rapturously.
I have to say, though, as I watched it, the first thing that came to my mind was:
Krieger, apparently never having read anything about any matter of decorum for dealing with immortal creatures more powerful than you, runs right into the middle of Deacon’s party to bitch and whine, which leaves literally no one surprised when the inevitable happens.
Son, what did you THINK would happen? (Also, clearly these are all vampires of the Key and Peele canon)
Back at the datacenter, we discover that the vampires’ sysadmin is apparently Fat Bastard. Now, I’m willing to give the movie this, since I love creepy Tzmitscian flesh-beasts as much as the next guy (who is Jim, who loves them a lot) but the problem with this whole dude is where the hell did it come from??? Blade talks to the…ambiguously-gendered creature like it’s some major reveal, and the thing is apparently already on the phone with Deacon even though we just saw him in the midst of a blood-orgy not ten seconds previous. Once again, an odd bit of the world pulled out of nowhere to service the plot, which then disappears without another comment.
Some of the world-building confusion might be explained by the next room, where Blade and Karen find Shroud of Turin-like pages of something called the Book of Erebus, artfully displayed without historical context or discernible order.
We get a brief mention of some sort of blood-god named La Magra before Deacon’s goons show up to destroy the priceless artifacts and only incidentally catch Blade in the process. Props to Quinn for thinking to replace his missing hand with one of Pearl’s (that’s something we’ve had to use a few times in our dismemberment-happy game) but the real winner of the whole scene is Kris Kristofferson when he shows up with easily one of the best movie one-liners ever. Team Blade escapes and returns to the shop, where Karen is caught up on Blade’s backstory and we get some much-needed sullen brooding time.
Team Douche, however, is making their move, and we next see them on a beach in the early light of false-dawn, where in the most WTF moment in this movie so far, they apparently have captured Dragonetti.
Seriously, this cluster of fuckheads who can’t even capture one half-vampire and a disabled old man somehow, without any explanation, grabbed the leader of the elder council? I mean, I want to be mad at the movie, but honestly I’m just mad at Dragonetti. It’s called SECURITY son, have you HEARD of it!? I know you have it cause we’ve seen your tramp-stamped ghouls running about, but what the hell do you actually use them for if these fuckers were able to grab you without warning? And at NIGHT, apparently! Then, faced with the imminent dawn, you don’t even try to run? You have literally surrendered without a fight to these creatures you’ve spent half the movie deriding for being lesser than you, for no goddamn apparent reason!
Also, while I like the idea and imagery of Deacon’s dudes protecting them from the low-level UV of morning light with sunblock–backed up with motorcycle gear once light hits full-strength–I refuse to believe that the sunblock alone is enough to protect from full-day, as we see in the next act where Deacon confronts Blade in a park. And even if it is, I refuse to believe that literally no vampire would have figured it out before them. Yes, elder vampires are set in their ways, but as established, they have young humans working for them, so surely in the then-two decades sunblock has been around someone would have suggested it, if nothing else but as a way to curry favor. Also, if just sunblock is enough to protect you during the day, then why the hell do you have two layers of steel protection on the windows and bedrooms of your house, Deacon? Surely just some curtains would do!
Honestly this bugs me more than the sun rising over the ocean in west-coast LA. Or…wait, are we in LA? Since the opening sequence stated LA and no other location card was given, you can see why one would continue to assume….
…I don’t know, whatever. On to Act Three!
Karen uses her dots in Nursing and Science to come up with a new chemically-based weapon against vampires, which is actually super awesome. Unfortunately, she didn’t roll well enough to develop a cure for herself and the ticking clock is introduced. Blade meets Deacon in a park under full sunlight and seems a lot less concerned about this than I think he probably should be. But that’s fine because their confrontation erupts into more masquerade violations anyway.
Cutting back to Karen and Kris Kristofferson, we learn that vampires drink blood because they, quote, “can’t sustain hemoglobin.” This actually is very interesting and ties back to my observations at the beginning, on how a bulging cell wouldn’t have as much surface area for oxygen-binding. Karen points out that it could simply be a genetic defect, like hemolytic anemia, which are actual words actually being used correctly. Thus, she says, the cure could simply be genetic therapy.
“No biggie,” I said, “Just hold the vampires off for a decade and a half until CRISPR gets invented.”
But all this seem to support an interesting idea touched upon at a few points, that what we’d consider “vampires” essentially boils down to being another evolutionary branch of humanity, one which has adapted ways of dealing with its genetic weaknesses. It’s a novel idea to me, and I like it. But it doesn’t explain why bites seem to pass their genetic condition on.
Anyway, Karen apparently attempts a re-roll to cure herself and it’s a partial success, we think? But before we can confirm it, Deacon and his goons show up in the lab to kidnap her and fuck shit up. Blade shows up just in time to find a dying Kris Kristofferson and have him confirm there’s a prophecy and a blood god and all that shit. (I got a little confused after Kris Kristofferson died, since I thought he was in the other Blade movies too, but Jim just patted me condescendingly on the head and said to wait and see :|) Blade then goes through meditative montage, loads for bear, and hits the road.
At the penthouse, Deacon has a monologue where he reveals that this La Magra blood-god he’s trying to raise is going to either embrace or destroy everything in its path. Which…honestly doesn’t seem like the best plan, considering how–by Deacon’s own admission–they kind of need humans around as a food source.
“He’s kind of mustache-twirling,” Jim pointed out.
“More like, frosted-tips twirling,” I muttered.
My roommate, Ben, who had gotten sucked into the movie too by this point, chimed in, “He’s really not scary, though. He’s, like, the Nickelback of vampires.”
We laughed pretty hard at this, then laughed even harder in the next scene where we see Deacon sporting a headset mic to coordinate his security forces (since he apparently has heard of security) and something that had been bugging me in the back of my mind for an hour suddenly clicked: Deacon is basically the ShamWow Guy.
He even kinda sounds like him. For proof, check out this clip of the movie, and then listen to the ShamWow commercial.
Anyway, Blade fights his way through the penthouse with some pretty good action-movie choreography and eventually tries Karen’s new chemical vampire-weapon to spectacular effects. He loses his momentum, though, as he hits a twist that I admit I had no idea was coming: his mother, Vanessa, is still alive, is a vampire, and has been with Deacon this whole time.
While he’s in shock, Deacon and his guards jump him, knock him out, and drag him and Karen to the super-secret nearly-forgotten ancient vampire temple which is conveniently located under LA. Here we find out that, despite throwing huge resources into finding Blade for nights now, Deacon has also somehow managed to capture the entire rest of the elder vampire council and they are all just as afraid of him as Dragonetti was.
Why. Why. I just…at this point it is full suspension of disbelief. This isn’t about vampires, this is about good writing. Why do you have almost a dozen characters essentially surrender without struggle and allow themselves to be shoved around without the tiniest indication as to why? It’s not making Deacon look strong by comparison, it’s making them look like even more useless tools. Seeing these people, supposedly the most powerful vampires in the world, shoved around by a handful of methed-up club-bangers totally flies in the face of everything Blade said about shadowy forces and the dark underbelly of the world. It turns the vampires and their culture into a joke and ruins any mood and scene set up by the first half of the movie.
Deacon gets moving, pulling the classic bad-guy mistake of shoving Karen into a monster pit to be destroyed instead of just doing the job himself. This time, the monster is Curtis, her co-worker/ex-boyfriend who got bit back at the start of the movie and is now apparently some sort of zombie-wight thing. Sucks, but that’s what you get for trying to have a serious relationship discussion over a charred corpse. No worries, though, cause she escapes.
Blade, meanwhile, gets shoved into some sort of iron maiden–
–Because his blood is the key to start this whole blood-god summoning process. In fact, we discover that Blade was essentially made for this very purpose when–dumdumDUM–Deacon himself bit his mother all those years ago. It’s a nice bit of story continuity, but it doesn’t explain why Deacon let his mother go to the hospital after being bit and let Blade disappear off into Kris Kristofferson child services for thirty years instead of, you know, locking him up so he’d have him on hand for the ritual when the time came.
Karen escapes and finds Blade in his overly-elaborate exsanguination chamber–which honestly any Tremere would probably be proud of, not gonna lie–and then things get…a little awkward. In what seems to be a new trope in modern vampire stories, a human volunteers blood to help save a vampire. In this case, Karen tells Blade to take some of her blood to regain his strength and go kick ass. But, much like the similar scene in the third season of Buffy, it gets…a little too close to rapey–as Karen moans for him to stop and he just drives harder–and probably goes on for too long.
So…look. Although it doesn’t come up too often in our game, I am all for the sexual-metaphors instilled in vampire mythos, even the rapey implications (it is horror after all). However. In this case, as well as in the Buffy scene, it unsettles me that two main characters can both willingly enter into a scene that’s clearly representative of sex, one then decides to stop but the other one doesn’t listen, then the scene ends and both characters move on without ever addressing the clear breach of trust that just happened. I’m not saying you can’t have scenes like that, but you need to at least indicate some of the emotional weight they would have if they happened in real life. Not commenting on it implies that such behavior is normal, and showing such behavior as normal affirms toxic cultural beliefs that a) sometimes no doesn’t mean no and if you ignore her it will be okay in the end, and b) men can’t control their sexual behaviors.
All that said, though, both Buffy and Blade are texts of a different time–the long-long ago of 1998–so I won’t hold it against them. I bring it up mostly because it’s important to look at scenes like these to think critically about what they are actually representing, and how you can write them better while still maintaining themes of submission and power-exchange and other things (which I kind of maybe admit can be kind of pretty interesting….>.>)
But, hey! Blood gods! How’s that going?
Yeah, so apparently this temple is built on some sort of TARDIS technology. Once Blade’s blood hits Deacon the shit hits the fan. Vanessa shows up and starts fighting Blade, while a weakened–but apparently not exsanguinated, because Blade alone seems to be able to drink conservatively and actually get the blood into his mouth–Karen stumbles down to the main temple where vampire bat skeletons are climbing out of mouths and everyone’s all electrocuted and shit. The skeletons–ostensibly released souls–zoom around and eventually all fly into Deacon, whose eyes rush with red and he falls into shadow. Cool, I think, now we’re gonna get some blood-god bad-assery for the final fight.
Blade kills his mom in a poignant act of symbolism and leaps down into the temple to land in superhero stance. He starts smoking mooks in once-again well-choreographed martial arts, finally leading up to the reveal of Deacon’s final form…
…Which is just Deacon with blood red eyes.
“I think the effects budget ran out,” Jim said.
Just like with regular-Deacon, it’s hard to see what’s so frightening about blood-god-Deacon. He does pull out some creepy Tzmitsce-like blood-form shit to keep from splitting in half, though, so…can’t say he didn’t learn anything. In fact, it looks like all the regular anti-vampire tricks aren’t going to work against him at all. But luckily Blade has an entire new one, and shoots him up full of Karen’s new blood-toxin chemical weapon, leading to an explosive final-boss death.
I admit, I do kind of like the symmetry of that. The guy who (supposedly) took over the vampire community by being more modern and adaptable than the elder vampires got himself taken out by technology so modern it hadn’t even been FDA approved yet.
Blade and Karen escape the temple to greet the rising sun and Karen offers to use her new vampire cure to try to cure him. Blade declines, though, apparently having accepted his hybrid status and asks simply for a better serum to help control his blood cravings and rides off into the sunrise to kick ass another
Yes, the movie is cheesy, but overall I did enjoy it quite a bit. The martial arts are great, the cinematography is well-constructed (as I noticed while grabbing stills for this project), and for all my frustrations with the worldbuilding, it’s only because I see so much promise in it. There are far worse insults than, “You have some really interesting base ideas I wish you would do more with.” Perhaps that–and the multi-million dollar box-office take–is why they went on to make two more movies.
Jim promises me, though, that they are a vast disappointment. I literally cannot wait to see them.
So, will these reviews be a regular thing? I don’t know. Certainly the last thing I need at the moment is another writing project on my plate. But it’s fun to play around with, and is good non-narrative writing practice for me, so we’ll see.
Till then…um…catchy sign-off phrase here.
Other Movie Review Posts:
It’d be nice to have an actual Vampire: the Masquerade show or movie, since the narrative lends itself to House of Cards-esque plotting, globe-trotting adventure, and everything in between. Plus, need something to make up for ‘Kindred: the Embraced’.
Omg I know right. I haven’t seen K:tE yet, I’m honestly scared to, considering it’s also set in SF. 😉 But yeah, modern-style serial storytelling in tv shows would make for an excellent vehicle for this type of story. There’s talk that with the new transfer of the IP they’ll consider new projects like this.
And if any of them are looking for writers, tell ’em to hit me up 😉
I remember seeing this movie when it came out. I thought it was pretty awesome at the time, the second one was alright and the third one was… The second one was alright.
I really like what you said about the faux-rape scene. A lot of (especially but by no means exclusively young) people who are coming to terms with critical analysis seem to think it exists in a binary; if it depicts something problematic, it must be endorsing it. Which is obviously ridiculous. But by the same token, scenes like this do seem to endorse those problematic themes because they don’t treat it with any gravity-or even realism.
Exactly. I think having depictions of such things in the context of external stories can be very important for helping people come to term with them **IF** they are then subsequently dealt with in a rational way. A story basically is an emotional model walking us through how to react to certain stimuli, which makes the storyteller an emotional teacher, in a way. That’s a big responsibility, especially for the thorny issues, and we need the nuanced critical analyses to help us get better.
The problem, the way I see it, is really the mixing of two metaphors. Vampires needing blood has always been presented as a kind of heroin addiction. They want blood, they *need* blood. They’ll forcefully take blood if they don’t get it and revel in it the moment they do. In that light, Blade/Angel not stopping the drink when the other person says stop is like asking a drug addict to stop injecting when the syringe is only half empty.
Now, the whole thing gets weird because the act of drinking said blood is often made a sexual scene. That makes the syringe a person, in this case, and a person can give/take consent. So it frames the act as a sexual act, while it’s actually a junkie getting his fix. And junkies have a terrible history of responding well to “stop doing that” which turns it kind of rapey. Viewing it as pure sex ignores the addiction factor, while viewing it as pure drugs negates the consent issue, making it kind of a shakey metaphor to use.
That’s a really good point.