J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Embrace of the Vampire: Fencing with the Undead

There’s one thing vampires dig almost as much as blood.  Lurking about a hormonally stoked college campus is as good a place as any to find it.  It isn’t even spring break yet, but college life is distinctly feverish for one innocent freshman coed. There will be blood and nudity.  The details will sound vaguely familiar to those who fondly remember the erotic cult favorite that forever changed how film geeks thought about Alyssa Milano.  Remade for a new generation, Carl Bessai’s unrated Embrace of the Vampire (trailer here) releases today on DVD and Bluray (where it so obviously belongs).

Right, if you’re still with me after that, then sweet, let’s do this.  Like so many disadvantaged orphans before her, Charlotte Hawthorn is determined to fence her way to a better life.  However, the scholarship student feels out of step with the hedonism enjoyed by her trampy roommate, Nicole and her mean girl BFF, Eliza.  At least Hawthorn has a nice barista job lined up, working for her sensitive frat boy café manager.

Strangely, as soon as she arrives, Hawthorn starts experiencing sexually charged dreams and visions.  It gets so bad, so quickly, she soon has trouble distinguishing reality.  The fencing team hazing rituals do not help either.  However, one upper class teammate is willing to shield her from the worst of it: Sarah Campbell, the bisexual nymphomaniac.  Every fencing squad should have at least one.  Meanwhile her coach and mythology professor seems to take an intense interest in her “stance.”

Add in a bit of warmed over vampire slayer mumbo jumbo and there you have it.  Except, Bessai’s execution is better than you would expect.  Granted, the flashbacks to the old country look like outtakes from a Syfy Channel original movie, but the contemporary campus sequences sort of work.  The location is perfect.  Every building seems to have an exterior staircase and surrounding woods encroach on every corner.  It is a bit unusual for the women’s fencing team to be at the top of the school’s social pyramid, but the film’s student power dynamics are as well realized as that in the overrated All the Boys Love Mandy Lane.  The new Embrace is also less of a tease, pretty much delivering what it promises.

Be that as it may, this is not the film that will establish Sharon Hinnendael as the screen thespian of her generation.  It is not really her fault though.  Most of her scenes involve her groggily coming to after falling into various states of altered consciousness. Unfortunately, Victor Webster’s Prof. Cole is a pretty cheesy excuse for a Byronic brooder.  Still, C.C. Sheffield, Chelsey Reist, and Olivia Cheng play the catty fencing femmes to the hilt.

Embrace commits one cardinal sin.  At one point, Cole refers to Hawthorn’s foil as a “sword.”  That is a big no-no.  Still, the target market is not apt to notice and even less likely to care.  Bessai has some legit credits to his name (most notably Emile starring Sir Ian McKellen) and keeps the silly indulgences moving along at a decent pace.  By now you should know what you’re getting, but it is still more entertaining than many of the genre underachievers limping in and out of theaters this month.  Recommended for those who enjoy horror movies with plenty of naughty bits, the new Embrace of the Vampire is now available for home viewing.

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