Recently I got my hands on one of those collection boxes: 4 vampire B-movies on one DVD (double-sided). There is always one oddity or other to discover on these things. When I received this box and looked at the descriptions on the back, one name immediately caught my eye: Natassia Malthe. Yes, that’s right. The living, breathing antithesis to acting, who managed to stand out as sub-par in Uwe Boll’s BloodRayne II: Deliverance. And I am sure I do not need to tell you how difficult it is to deliver a performance that is of even lower quality than Boll’s filmmaking. Malthe also graced BloodRayne III: The Third Reich with her amateur antics, but at least that film was so unbelievable bad that her acting matched the film’s quality precisely. Malthe fits that film like a glove (or, in that case, like a really silly leather-cap).
So when I saw that Malthe was the female lead in Bloodsuckers, I knew I had to see this film right away. Especially since it was shot before either of the two BloodRayne sequels.
Bloodsuckers introduces us to a future in which space travel has become a normality. All over the galaxy, humans have established research and mining colonies as well as space stations and transport hubs. Of course, this expansion of horizons has brought humanity in contact with intelligent alien life forms. Problem is: most of these life forms are vampiric.
Enter “V-SAN”, earth’s Vampire Sanitation Squad. Made up of small ships with small teams of vampire hunters. These hunters are a cross between soldiers and mercenaries, each with their own back-story and their own reason to be on these missions. And you need a pretty good reason for doing this job – because everyone agrees that it is the worst job in the universe.
These V-SAN crews are dispatched to investigate and fight whenever a distant colony sends a distress signal. But Captain Churchill’s crew arrived too late on its latest rescue mission, because somehow the vampires overpowered the mining colony’s automatic defence systems quickly and with ease.
This film has a “space trucker” aesthetic, meaning this future resembles Alien much more than it resembles Star Trek. Captain Churchill’s crew of misfits are practically space cowboys, and there is no doubt that the writers as well as the set designers have seen Firefly before undertaking this project. One of the characters, a redneck Texan by all accounts, is modelled after Firefly’s Jayne – with very limited success. There is also some western music in some scenes that would not be out of place on Firefly, and the space station the crew visits early on in the film also echoes the space stations we see on that show (just much, much cheaper).
There are echoes of other vampire films as well. In laying down the film’s lore, the narrator tells us that crosses, Holy Water, garlic, etc. do not work. “That stuff’s for kids with comic books”, he explains, which I take as a nod to The Lost Boys.
Of course, telling us that these vampires are aliens and have nothing in common with vampires from earthly fiction only goes so far if you have vampires that can apparently be hurt by sunlight, wear light medieval battle armour, and speak with Eastern European accents.
Captain Churchill’s crew consists of a new first officer, who is overqualified and only does this job because (despite claiming his innocence) he had been dishonourably discharged from the regular military forces; the aforementioned Texan guy who carries around the big guns (on one of which he has used a pen to change “V-SAN” to “iN-SANe”); an Asian woman who is constantly bad-tempered; and a vampire with telepathic abilities.
In a very shrewd casting move, this vampire role has been assigned to Natassia Malthe. That way, Malthe’s completely unatural “acting” can be used for good by having her portray an alien vampire who is constantly acting weird when being around the humans she works with.
The film’s opening is hamfisted, but very effective in introducing us to this world. And while the character constellation may be somewhat generic, it would certainly offer a good basis for a solid B-movie. Even the premise and plot are half-way decent (even if it seems better suited for an episode of a SciFi series than for a whole film). The plot is also rather well-structured and well-paced, if you ignore the many pointless montage scenes. On top of that, having a world with different vampire species that all have to be killed in a different way allows the filmmakers to employ some variation – a freedom which they shamelessly abuse. And this is what ultimately flushes this project down the toilet: bad execution. Most notable are the poorly written dialogue and the bad acting.
Not all of the dialogue is bad. Some thought has been put into having an ongoing theme about honour and loyalty. But there is also a lot of “tough-guy” talk – lines that sound so stupid that you think surely they must be meant as irony; until you realise they are not. Some of the sets and most of the CGI looks okay-ish in a SyFy-channel sort of way. But there are also a number of sets that look just cheap. There is also a major reliance on gore, as many of the vampires do not simply drink blood, it seems, but eat human flesh and/or organs. And as far as that element is concerned, the practical make-up stuff – including the vampire make-up – is mostly done well, even if I do not agree with the designs behind the vampires’ appearance. That is to say: it is not the fault of the practical effects guys if writer/director Matthew Hastings makes them do stupid things. There are actually sock-puppets used as alien life-forms in this film – honestly.
I mentioned the pointless montage scenes before. One of these offers you way too much landscape that, for being somewhere in outer space, looks remarkably like British Columbia. The action then returns from the montage to a soundstage which has very little resemblance to the landscape we just saw. There is also a scene where I have to assume that we have returned to a location we already saw earlier in the film – but it looks nothing like before. However, these shortcomings on the “craftsmanship” side of filmmaking are not the elements that hurt this film the most, but certain artistic decisions are. I just mentioned the sock-puppet – I can say no more for fear of spoilers, but the scene is absolutely hilarious. Then there is a “sex-scene” idea which is also really bad. Elements like that really hurt the film, possibly more than the acting does.
Speaking of which: I did not expect to ever utter these words, but: Natassia Malthe is not the one delivering the worst performance in this film. The acting of the entire cast is all over the place. Something that you have to pin on the director, I guess, not on the actors. Because these are all people with experience and a decent career in television. Captain Churchill is played by Joe Lando (Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman), his first officer Damian Underwood is played by General Hospital’s Dominic Zamprogna. The V-SAN crew is completed by Leanne Adachi and character actor Aaron Peral. Other supporting roles in this film are played by famous character actor Michael Ironside, A. J. Cook (Criminal Minds), and Michael DeLuise (Gilmore Girls).
With the exception of DeLuise, Lando, and Zambrogna, none of these experienced actors delivers an even halfway decent performance. Lando and Zambrogna are also the only people on the ship’s crew who do not constantly mumble. Combined with a score music that was drowning out the dialogue in some scenes, watching this film on a DVD without subtitles proved to be a real challenge for me.
Aaron Peral does a rather fine job as the redneck crew-member, but his character has no depth and is lacking in personality. Given little to work with, he never manages to shake off the impression that his character is merely a poor man’s Jayne.
Ironside, Cook, and several others all act as if they were in different films. Ironside hams it up to eleven. While Cook makes the mistake of simply imitating a person fighting for a course she believes in – however irrational and misguided it may be. She does not embody that character, and you therefore never feel any of the passion that would be vital for this role.
The worst performance comes from Leanne Adachi. Again, the script does not give her anything to work with. She is the tough Asian woman that has become something of a stock character on TV: the loner who holds an unspoken, ill-defined grudge against life itself.
So, while her character’s only defining trait is that she is full of resentment, seeing her in all those scenes where she resents having to work with this or with that crew-member you can’t help but think that this is actually not a character, but Adachi herself, resenting to having been dragged into a mediocre vampire sci-fi film with sub-par dialogue. Not that that sub-par dialogue matters in her case, by the way, because she mumbles more than anyone else in this film and so you can hardly understand a word she is saying.
The film’s ending is fine, but seems to indicate an intended follow-up franchise. And the way the relationship between the characters has been established and developed throughout the film is very reminiscent of a TV-show pilot. So Bloodsuckers has just the same vibe as failed TV-pilots that are later released as “films” on DVD to unsuspecting customers, like Midnight Chronicles or The Osiris Chronicles. But unlike in these two cases, I could find no information about Bloodsuckers that would confirm my suspicion that this was indeed intended as a pilot for a TV-show.
Bloodsuckers is a mix of a generic general basis with elements copied from other shows as well as misjudged artistic decisions. So, for a film that is based on a relatively solid idea, is using a decent main plot, and has a core group of characters that (at least on paper) is interesting, Bloodsuckers has surprisingly little to offer as a whole. There may be worse vampire films out there, but this one has a number of striking WTF-moments that do not allow me to rate it much higher than 2 out of 10.