Reviewed by Debi Moore
Starring Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley, Ian Somerhalder, Steven R. McQueen, Katerina Graham, Candice Accola, Zach Roerig, Michael Trevino, Sara Canning, Matthew Davis
Created by Kevin Williamson
Distributed by Warner Brothers Home Video
If you’re one of the many horror fans who dismissed “The Vampire Diaries” as a Twilight-type TV show aimed solely at the tweener crowd (and their mothers), then you couldn’t be more wrong. Yes, it does have a little of the same “angst” factor due to star-crossed lovers Elena Gilbert (Dobrev), a wise beyond her years high schooler, and Stefan Salvatore (Wesley), a 162-year-old vampire, working through their issues; but most of that is resolved after the first handful of episodes. And, damnit, people DIE on this show — characters that you’d never expect to in fact. Plus, there’s the incredibly charismatic and engaging Ian Somerhalder as Stefan’s older, meaner brother (who’s also a vamp), Damon, in a performance that verges on being over-the-top but never crosses the line into campiness. It’s quite something to see.
Even with that ringing endorsement, I can still hear the naysayers muttering, but might I remind those of you who said similar things about “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Supernatural” how quickly you changed your tune once you gave those shows a chance. Now, I’m not saying “The Vampire Diaries” is quite as rich in mythos and depth as those two series (at least not yet), but I am saying that it deserves a shot at opening your minds and proving you wrong.
If, on the other hand, you’re one of the lucky (and smart) ones who watched “The Vampire Diaries” from the “Pilot” episode all the way through to its multi-cliffhanger season finale, “Founder’s Day”, then you already know most of what I’m going to say next and can skip down a few paragraphs to the special features discussion.
As mentioned, “The Vampire Diaries”, which takes place in the fictitious town of Mystic Falls, Virginia, primarily revolves around the budding romance between Elena and Stefan with Damon running interference and putting up roadblocks every chance he gets. You see, there’s more than meets the eye here as Elena is a dead ringer for Katherine, the vampiress beloved by both Salvatore brothers who turned them back in 1864, and she’s none too happy when she finds a picture of her predecessor among Stefan’s things before he’s had a chance to explain the situation. That’s the cause for a good bit of the on-again/off-again nature of their relationship, but once Elena gets on board with working with Stefan to finally get Damon off their backs by helping him release Katherine from the tomb in which she’s imprisoned (along with a big batch of other bloodsuckers from the good old days), things really pick up and “The Vampire Diaries” begins coming into its own as a viable offering for genre fans.
Added into the mix are Elena’s BFF’s Bonnie (Graham), a budding witch who has a bone to pick with the Salvatore brothers, and Caroline (Accola), who gets tangled up with Damon early on in the season; Elena’s younger brother, Jeremy (McQueen), who really doesn’t have much to do until he, too, falls under the spell of a vampire with ulterior motives of her own for opening the aforementioned tomb; and two more male members of the group, Elena’s ex, nice guy Matt (Roerig), and his friend Tyler (Trevino), son of the mayor of Mystic Falls, who has a family curse of his own to deal with. Lest you think this is a kids-only saga, there’s also Elena and Jeremy’s Aunt Jenna (Canning), their legal guardian following the death of their parents a year or so prior, who becomes involved with substitute teacher Alaric Saltzman (Davis), an enigmatic character with a connection to Damon — and Elena — that’s not fully revealed until close to the end of the season. As Season One winds down, the town gets a visit from Uncle John Gilbert (guest star David Anders), who has history with just about everyone, including Katherine. Other recurring roles are filled by the always welcome James Remar as Papa Salvatore, Mia Kirshner (who does a fine job of making us love to hate her), Kelly Hu, Malese Jow, Arielle Kebble, and Jasmine Guy, although I wouldn’t look for all of them to return in Season Two if you catch my drift. (As an aside, some sort of vampire history has probably been made what with Kebble also appearing in “True Blood” and Vampires Suck – talk about a toothy trifecta!)
So as you can see, it’s a tangled web that executive producers Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec have woven from the Young Adult novels written by L.J. Smith (six so far with number seven due in March of 2011), and while it was a slightly bumpy road from Episode 1 to 22, the way was filled with enough carnage and character development to keep it from getting anything close to too uncomfortable or unexciting to continue. What’s more, considering how amped up the action was by the time we rolled around to the final half dozen eps, this reviewer already has the DVR set for September 9th, when Season Two debuts. Based on what we’ve seen so far, things can only get better … and Williamson has already promised a werewolf transformation or two. There’s a shitload of evil in Mystic Falls, and we’ve only begun to tap into it!
Speaking of tapping into something, the amount of special features Warner Brothers has provided fans represents a near embarrassment of riches. The only thing keeping them from meriting a perfect 5 out of 5 knives is the lack of a commentary (or two) with assorted cast members, especially Nina, Ian, and Paul. Maybe next year.
Things kick off with the lone commentary that is provided, which is for the first episode and showcases Williamson and Plec (who shared writing duties on “Pilot”), accompanied by director Marcos Siega. They start right in with tidbits about Stefan’s opening voiceover, leading into a winning dialogue that covers all the right bases from the score to the actors’ chemistry, how they came up with the “vamp out” special FX (no passé black eyes on “TVD”), the locations, the editing, even the aspect ratio — we’re talking the whole nine yards. It’s honest, fresh, and fun, exactly what you’d expect if you’ve caught any of the numerous promotional videos Kevin and Julie have made. Their chemistry is just as palpable as that of their stars, and Marcos does a good job playing off them. Definitely worth a listen.
The nine deleted scenes that are included don’t, per usual, add much except for one (from Ep. 17, “Let the Right One In”) that shows us something about a character that wasn’t revealed during the regular season. Whether or not it’ll ever be addressed again is anyone’s guess. Next comes the meat of the extras: the 25-minute Into Mystic Falls: Bringing Vampire Lore and the High School Experience from Page to Screen, a look at the origins of the show and how it evolved from concept to “Pilot” to full-fledged successful series. It’s an above average day-to-day peek behind the scenes of “The Vampire Diaries” that all the hardcore fans are going to love.
It’s followed up by When Vampires Don’t Suck!: The Popularity of Vampires and the Fans Who Love Them, an 18-1/2-minute analysis of how “TVD” fits into the current vampire craze among other topics like the effect of new media such as Twitter and Facebook on the show, the fans, and even the cast and crew. I’ve certainly read more than a few tweets from Dobrev, Williamson, Plec, and the equally socially active and hilarious Somerhalder. When Vampires Don’t Suck! also includes some well deserved appreciation for the Internet fansite Vampire-Diaries.net, which is not only a great resource for information but also provides a means for fans of the books to connect with fans of the TV show and interact. Not surprisingly the sex appeal angle of why vampires are so admired is addressed here as well but thankfully not beaten into the ground.
The four “A Darker Truth” webisodes pop up next on the menu, and they’re probably the weakest link of what’s offered. They serve as a prequel and follow a guy, Jason, who’s tracking Stefan because he knows what Stefan is and thinks he killed his sister. Nothing to write home about but an okay time killer. Luckily things improve immediately when the Second Bite gag reel starts rolling. It’s not quite a “Supernatural” quality gag reel (after all, they set the bar pretty high), but it’s a fast and funny four-minute segment that shows potential to only improve over the coming years.
Like audiobooks? There’s an option to download author L.J. Smith’s The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening, the first entry in the franchise, and hear how it all began. As for how the cast members began what many of them say is the highlight of their careers, there’s A New Breed of Vampires — Casting the Series, which describes the casting process and shows audition footage of just about everybody. It’s certainly worth a look, but by far the highlight of the package is Vampires 101 – The Rules of the Vampire, an almost seven-minute multiple choice quiz-type feature that lays out the laws and natural order of the vampire world constructed in “The Vampire Diaries”. Definitely a case of saving the best for last.
I should note that this review is based on the four-disk Blu-ray set, which of course looks and sounds fantastic. Better even than watching the series the first time on The CW’s HD Channel. The extras are identical in the five-disc DVD box so at least you won’t be penalized if you don’t have the tech for high-def.
Whether or not I’ve convinced anyone to give “The Vampire Diaries” the benefit of the doubt, it’s been a helluva good time revisiting its freshman season and checking out all the bonus materials. After churning out 22 episodes, Williamson and Plec have this show down to a science and know what it takes to keep the quality — and ratings — high. I predict a long, healthy future for “The Vampire Diaries”, especially as the word spreads and the party poopers of today become the cheerleaders of tomorrow. It’s simply inevitable.
4 out of 5
4 1/2 out of 5
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American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo
Directed by Colin Bemis
Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.
The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.
As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!
Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.
Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.
In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.
On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.
In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.
Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)
We’ve all heard the old saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, I’m here to tell you that’s only partially true. It seems there is a third certainty that had been omitted from the original quote, “It is certain, if you enjoy a movie, at some point someone will remake that movie.” Now is the time when one of my favorite movies gets reimagined, “for an American audience”.
In the late 2000’s an explosion of “French extreme” horror films was released. Martyrs and or High Tension can often be found on any number of lists of the “most fucked up horror movies ever”. Unfortunately, the vastly superior Inside is often forgotten (as well as Frontier(s), but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). Now, ten years after it’s initial release, Inside has been Americanized. Don’t worry, we watched it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true? It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 148!
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Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View
Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as
17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?
What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.
Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?
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