"More" is most certainly what we get in the next film Poche submitted to me, a film he had mentioned right after my review of The Wanderer. The film is called Crimson and it's an original Vampire tale. It gives me no pleasure to state that after The Wanderer and the hope I had for a longer Richard Poche work I was let down by Crimson in a lot of ways. In this case, "more" didn't equal "better".
Now before I go on, this isn't to say that Poche is any less a film maker than I believed him to be back in October of 2006. Poche has demonstrated already what he can do and I will still be excited to see anything he comes up with. With the right budget, I believe thoroughly that he could come up with something great.
Crimson, on the other hand, for all its promise, feels altogether unfinished. To a great extent, a large amount of these issues are found in the post-production areas. However, there are a few things that are noteworthy issues from the filming itself.
Poche again packs the film with good (and very lovely) actresses (many of whom were also in The Wanderer). Even with these ladies there are acting issues to be found here. In the opening scene between Jade Tailor's Rosa and Stuart Brazell's Sammi feels a bit more like a rehearsal than a final take, suggesting that a few more takes might have been in order. To be fair the scene was shot in the middle of a very cold night so discomfort could have played a part.
Through this scene we learn that Rosa and Sammi have recently made a deal to become all night party girls forever by joining up with a Vampire Cult led by a very sexy creature of the night named Rachel (Erika Smith). The problem is that Sammi and Rosa don't play by the rules too well and they soon end up on Rachel's "to be bitten" list.
The film, at this point, changes focus to a boarding house filled with young, beautiful nursing students who also have their fair share of party hours under their belts. Katie (Sarah MacKay) is the sensible one, while Amy (Leesel Boulware) is the caring, sweet one. Both are needed exactly as they are, because the other two ladies of this Nurse-to-be Quartet are just this side of complete messes. Carla (Jaimi Paige) is working on taking the sorority house drunk role away from ol' Barbie from Black Christmas. Most tragic is the damaged Jodie, whose use of pills to make it through finals has left her an addled addict. The fact that Jodie is well-played by Elizabeth Di Prinzio makes her a really beautiful addled addict worth watching. She does a fine job of stealing the show in most scenes.
It isn't long before the ladies head out for the evening and find the beaten and bleeding Sammi lying in a field, not yet finished off by Rachel. Naturally the student nurses bring her back to their house for care, only to soon discover that they've been followed by Rachel. What follows is a vampiric version of Night of the Living Dead with the girls trapped inside, Rachel trying hungrily to get in at them and Sammi slowly regaining her blood thirst. Knowing that Rachel could turn any of them into a Vampire themselves, is any place truly safe?
The screenplay by Daniel Chant and Mark Grant (from a story by Chant and Poche) attempts to postulate a more scientific explanation for Rachel and her cult, that being that a Virus has caused their mutations. Still, this doesn't always feel quite fleshed out as the plot moves forward as so many of the tried and true Vampire motifs are used here.
The film goes from looking great to looking amateurish a few times over, usually in relation to the lighting and colors on the screen. There are areas in which color correction could have been better. Still others where lighting (or lack thereof) made for an unpolished look, less surreal than incomplete. In other places Poche makes excellent use of color, such as a scene in which Di Prinzio is crouched in red glow. The scene is beautiful.
Crimson's main issue is sound. There is no consistency to the soundtrack, which makes for a disconcerting viewing experience. The film started off far too loud, so I decreased the volume, only to find the dialogue far too quiet, so I increased the volume. As the film progressed I found the audio changing with shot after shot to the point that I considered attaching my Volume Knob to a Yo-Yo. At times the dialogue is nearly impossible to hear. The sad part about this is that I really did want to know what these ladies were saying.
I do commend Poche on his casting choices. Di Prinzio really shines here and looks absolutely beautiful. Even more so than she did in The Wanderer. Her portrayal of the troubled Jodie was canny and realistic. The one exception being that Jodie was supposedly strung out in detox and practically bed-ridden, while Di Prinzio looked incredible with perfect hair and make-up. (I can't believe I just implied that beauty was a flaw). This stretches throughout the rest of the film as well. All four Nursing Students and all three Vampires look like models which makes for a less likely reality (one I, quite frankly, wouldn't mind living in). Of course these are indeed actresses and they're overall quite good. They pull off each role well (even as some of the dialogue gets swallowed up) and seem to be having fun doing it.
Of course, Erika Smith has played Vampire roles before, such as her part in Sexy Adventures of Van Helsing in which she spent a fair amount of screen time naked. Crimson doesn't have nudity (from Smith or anyone else), but I had to wonder at times if this was the feel that Poche was shooting for. He seems to have worked hard on keeping the "camp" aspect as far away from this film as he could, but there are moments that do feel vaguely erotic in nature, including some lady-wrestling and even a bondage-for-your-own-good sequence. Does Crimson have the makings of a non-soft core porn soft core porn? I can't imagine that Poche would go in that direction... but the suggestion (intentional or not) was there.
Let me be completely and totally clear about Crimson although it is a let down and doesn't amount to a good movie, it's nothing that I could consider to be a "waste of time", or "unacceptable". Nor will Richard Poche find himself on that long list of directors whose names are so frequently dragged through the mud all over WorldsGreatestCritic.com. I've seen what Richard Poche can do and I know a fine film is in his future (particularly if he's given a bigger budget). What's more, the behind-the-scenes footage included on the DVD of Crimson shows how much fun he appears to be to work with and how much fun the actresses seemed to have making the movie. That counts for a lot.
Poche still shows that he has a way with the camera here and manages some interesting choices in framing, blocking and angles. Further, he makes very good use of his subject matter. I'm not simply speaking of the beautiful women like Stuart Brazell (well, actually, all of them). For example, after an initial attack by Rachel a small trickle of blood through a loose divot of dirt is zoomed in on, creating a disturbing yet very attractive effect. This sets the stage for our opening credits. The man still has it where it counts.
Two Stars out of Five for Crimson in its present form. Due to some of the issues with filming I don't believe this would have been a perfect film regardless of post production, but I'm sure it could be more. Perhaps if another pass at the editing, coloring and especially sound could be made, we'd be looking at a better cut. As it is, it's worth watching if for no other reason than to appreciate these actresses and their interpretation of this different take in Vampire Lore. It's an interesting mix of the biological Vamps of I Am Legend or The Hunger and the supernatural Vamp Clans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dracula. Given the chance, this mythology could shine. In this current form it simply needs more work. Unlike a lot out there, I know first hand that this particular work can be done by Richard Poche. I've seen it! And I'll see it again... in the next reel.
When the night has come
And the land is Dark
And the Moon is the only light you'll see
Click HERE for more reviews that will light up even your darkest night.
Then again, with Erika Smith around, I can't imagine the night would be cold!