Starring: Joseph DeVito, J. Scott Green, Joshua Nelson, Masha Sapron, Jocasta Bryan, Shannon Moore, Livia Llewellyn, Giovanni DeMarco, Robert M. Lemkowitz, Steve Gonzalez and Gina Ramsden
Director: Marc Fratto
Rating: Five of Ten Stars
Jimmy Fangs (DeVito), a Brooklyn-based mobster who also happens to be a vampire, has discovered a way to impregnate marijuana with his blood and thus turn potheads into flesh-eating zombies under his mental control, but the cash he was going to use to create his unstoppable army was stolen by another vampre, Marcel (Green). Never one to let a slight go unpunished, Jimmy hires vampire hitman the Reaper (Gonzalez, voiced by Lemkowitz) to make an example of Marcel and retrieve the cash. Meanwhile, a mysterious woman with vast knowledge of how to kill vampires (Sapron) has everyone in her sights. Can this end any way but badly?
"Strange Things Happen at Sundown" can best be summarized as a cross between "Pulp Fiction" and "Near Dark", as created by Quentin Tarantino, Charles Band, John Carpenter, and George Romero. (It was actually directed and co-written by Marc Fratto, but I think that, in time, we will see his name along side those greats I just compared him to.)
The film's three biggest weaknesses is one that is often present in independent films from first-time directors.
First and foremost, Fratto has a tendency to let scenes go on for too long, or doesn't cut shots close enough. There literally isn't a single scene in this film that wouldn't have been stronger if it had been trimmed anywhere from a few seconds to a minute, and if some of the individual shots had been edited a bit tighter, the second problem might have seemed a little less evident.
Then there's the issue of some scenes feeling stagey. Too often, the actors seem to be waiting politely for the other person in the scene to finish their line, even in some heated situations. This is less of a problem in this film than in most indie films helmed by a first-time director, but when it's present, it's distracting. Despite the occassional staginess, though, all the principal actors do excellent jobs in their roles. Much of the time, the characters seem believable and the lines seem like they are spoken in earnest instead of recited--but then the loose editing comes into play in certain spots and undermines that sense of reality.
For all my complaining, though, I did enjoy this movie. I got a big kick out of the quirkiness of the characters and I loved the mashing together of humor, horror, and mob cliches that run through the film. (There is one character in particular who must be seen to be believed and who must be experienced cold to have its full impact. I'll just alert you to watch for the vampire who seems like she's a housewife just walked off the set of a 1950s TV show. Played with great flair by Livia Llewellyn, this character is by far the funniest thing about the film.)
While I personally found the vampire victim scenes increasinlgy tiresome as the film went on--particularly after it was explained why no one seemed to go into shock or pass out from bloodloss--I suspect viewers more into gore and "torture porn" than I am, won't mind them. The gore effects are mostly well done for a film at this level, and, unlike some films, there is a valid reason for the suffering going on other than the filmmaker just wants to gross out the viewer.
"Strange Things Happen at Sundown" is a quirky vampire movie that has a few weak spots but that still entertains. It's a film fans of vampires and mafia stories alike should get a kick out of. (Also, if you're still playing the old "Vampire: The Masquerade" RPG, you might be able to steal a few adventure ideas from the film.)