BLACK WATER VAMPIRE [2014]: on DVD 24th March

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Directed by:
Written by:
Starring: , , ,

USA

AVAILABLE ON DVD: 24th March

RUNNING TIME: 79 min

REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic

 

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As it says at the beginning of the film…..on December 17 2012, Danielle Mason led a documentary film crew to investigate a string of murders known as ‘The Black Water Killings’ and interview Raymond Blanks, the man convicted of the crimes. The following footage was recovered a year later….

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So here we have another Found Footage horror whose synopsis will immediately tell you that it’s on very familiar lines. It’s original in one way though, in that it is, as far as I know [I realise Matt Wavish, whose knowledge of this sub-genre exceeds mine, may correct me on this] the first Found Footage film to have a vampire as its monster, though for much of the time it doesn’t really make any difference what the peril is: it’s just Something Out There in the woods ready to scare any foolhardy filmmakers who make the decision to venture near where it lives. Black Water Vampire doesn’t reach the heights of the best Found Footage pictures, though it’s considerably better made than some. It does feel like a remake of The Blair Witch Project at times – in fact I would almost say that Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez deserve to have story credits – and it falls into the trap of quite a few Found Footage chillers in sometimes seeming to forget it’s actually supposed to be ‘found footage’ that people have shot, but it does end up being quite frightening, surely the first thing it should really be, so in that respect it is a success.

The back story, most of which, though not quite all, we quickly learn in the first few scenes, is pretty chilling, though actually if you think about it too much it doesn’t make too much sense [what does the vampire live on in the many years between its killings?]. Four young women disappeared, only to be found dead days later with the blood drained from their bodies, a strange, animalistic bite mark on their neck, two teeth ripped out, and no footprints. The tragedies occurred over the course of 40 years, beginning in 1972, each disappearance happening on December 21st. Raymond Banks, described as being a weirdo with: “A reputation for chasing after young girls”, was convicted of the crimes, which became known as The Black Water Killings, but local legends speak of vampires inhabiting the area and children grow up hearing of the bogeyman that may live in the woods. We first learn some of this in the very first scene where cops have just found a body in 1972, then, after some brief opening credits with some very creepy music, a whole lot more in the next scene where documentary filmmaker Danielle Mason is talking to a camera and we get introduced to the silly group of film-makers who exists in a universe where nobody has seem a Found Footage movie.

Our four-person team consists of Danielle, producer Andrea Adam, camera operator Anthony Russell and Rob Allen the sound guy. What impressed me immediately was how good the performances from all four main characters were. Of course the acting isn’t anything special, but it’s a cut above the usual level for films like this [though of course the lack of acting skill can sometimes help in giving the proceedings that necessary raw, unvarnished edge essential to Found Footage movies]. Danielle Lozeau, an actress who seems to have a huge number of credits to her name though has so far failed to break into the big time, is especially good in some scenes. Andrea Monier also has a great moment where her character tells the others she once thought she saw the vampire in her bedroom as a child: it’s delivered well enough to send a chill down the spine. Though we never get to know these characters enough, they register as real people and we like them [I still remember sitting in the cinema in 1999 having to stop myself from yelling at that hysterical bint on the screen stuck out in the Maryland woods to shut up for just a minute!]. The camera operator actually seems pretty good at his job too, except for the odd very contrived moment like when he first sees a strange figure standing still outside in the night and can’t seem to get into focus. Of course Found Footage is rife with stuff like this, and if you’re a fan of this type of movie you’ll just go along with it. One thing I will say that is that Black Water Vampire doesn’t get seriously into ‘shakycam’ mode until around two thirds of the way through, a blessing to this critic who is starting to consider the technique the bane of his existence, even if its use is definately justifiable in Found Footage. I suppose, as it often does, the climactic action may have made me feel a little sick if I had seen this film at the cinema, but on DVD it was just fine.

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Danielle and her crew spend a lot of time interviewing local residents including the retired police chief who dealt with the crimes and relations of some of the victims. They also go to speak to Raymond Blancs himself, and we get to enjoy Bill Oberst, one of the hardest working actors around at the moment and already a cult favourite but with a range exceeding many Hollywood stars, chewing the scenery in wonderful fashion. Of course it’s all more than a little daft: for a start, the character Oberst is playing seems to have an age similar to his own, which would make Raymond….seven years old when he supposedly killed his first victim. It’s not quite as stupid as those dumb age inconsistency issues in the awful Texas Chainsaw, but the whole scene with Oberst is a bit pointless, since we’re already almost certain that he didn’t commit the crime. Eventually our film crew venture out into the woods, and The Blair Witch Project really is shamelessly rehashed here with repeated usage of symbols, a rock, tampering with tents, walking round in circles and other things. I often surprise people when I say that the 1999 film didn’t do much for me, even though I recognise its importance in the history of the horror genre. It certainly didn’t scare me like, for example, Paranormal Activity did many years later. Black Water Vampire similarly seems to dawdle and not build up much tension, but for my money it betters its inspiration in one respect – its use of its monster. We get to see it half an hour before the end, hanging from a tree in a startling shot which made me jump, and quite a bit in the final scenes. The Nosferatu-inspired creature looks good and is well handled, us seeing just enough of it for it make an impact but not too much.

Some bits in the final quarter of the film are genuinely hair-raising. Sadly the final scenes, though adding some interesting complications and giving us the ‘bigger picture’, seem out of place and pilfer another classic horror film from, well, I’ll just say the latter half of the 1960’s, which any horror fan will notice. We also hear a pathetic nursery rhyme uttered early on by someone. It goes like this:

“One two three, Banks is coming for me. Four, five, six he’ll skin me alive”.
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Yeah, that’s it, in full. Hardly worthy of Mr Krueger is it? Elements of the script for Black Water Vampire needed fine-tuning, and yet there’s quite a lot in it that does work. A really bizarre-looking woman, who looks so much like one in a 1990 science-fiction actioner that I expected her to say: “Get ready for a surprise”, turns up at choice moments and adds some considerable uneasiness. Composer Richard Figone supplies some sinister, if quite subtle, background noise at some moments which isn’t quite music, though there is some music too, the filmmakers obviously hoping viewers will be so caught up in what is occurring on screen that they won’t ask what the hell music is doing in the film!

Evan Tramel directed, edited and wrote Black Water Vampire, and he shows a fair amount of skill with the first two jobs. He’s less good at the final one. His film doesn’t really have enough spark and originality to make it really stand out amidst the over-crowded genre in which it belongs, but it should definately provide enough entertainment value for fans of Found Footage to keep them going.

Rating: ★★★★★★½☆☆☆

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About Dr Lenera 1980 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

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