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Fist of the Vampire

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Release Date: 
Brain Damage Films
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Directed by: 
Len Kabasinski
Brian Heffron
Darian Caine
Brian Anthony
Deanna Visalle
Bottom Line: 
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In 1977 a business man inadvertently stumbles upon a small clan of vampires in a city alleyway, feeding from the torn throat of a recent victim. They notice him but he somehow escapes, and makes it back home to his wife and three children ... but unknowingly leading the evil vamps back with him!  The family try and fight their undead aggressors but a mass slaughter is the inevitable result. Cut to 'the present day', and undercover cop Lee Southward (Brian Anthony) has been transferred to Pennsylvania on a secret mission. It seems straightforward enough at first: a gambling ring is a front for a drug and prostitution racket and Lee is to penetrate the gang by joining one of the friday night underground fight clubs they regularly hold, where baying crowds cast bets on the winner of no-holds-barred bare-knuckle dust downs -- with the aim of finding out who is at the head of the organisation. The group turns out to be made up of the kickboxing vampire clan -- unaged since the nineteen-seventies and prospering from their underground vice activities. Lee's mission is soon complicated by the revelation that there is already another vice cop (Deanna Visalle) undercover with the group, investigating their prostitution ring (these vampires have chosen a field of criminal activity that was sure to bring them to the attentions of the authorities sooner than later!). The two unwillingly pool their resources, but their liaison to discuss the case brings them unwanted attention from one of the suspicious fight organisers (Len Kabasinski). When the two cops finally discover the gang's unbelievable secret, the scene is set for a stake-thrusting, martial arts, law enforcement versus vampire clan, smack down.    
Three low budget flicks into his career, writer-director-producer-actor, Len Kabasinski seems to have firmly pitched and set his stall in the Martial Arts/Horror camp: all his films have been distinctive Heavy Metal flavoured slabs of squelchy low grade indie horror, fuelled by frequent and prolonged bouts of kick-ass martial arts action. Or at least that has been their aim. Kabasinski is definitely still finding his feet as a film maker, despite very obviously seeking to immerse himself in its art. Thus, this film looks significantly better than ninety per cent of the indie dreck that chokes the life from the clotted DVD market. The opening 1977 prologue in particular is given a very stylised visual makeover -- like an old 8-millimetre home cine-film that's just been dug out of a box in someone's attic. It proves very effective method of evoking a sort of hallucinatory flashback quality, and looks quite intriguing and convincing. Elsewhere though, Kabasinski seems to have been detrimentally enamoured with that whole Matrix-influenced, CGI-based animated fighting thing, and consequently peppered the whole film with bargain-basement CGI effects that often look both intrusive and amateurish. The fight scenes themselves soon become repetitive and rather too frequent to be as effective as they should've been. Kabasinski's recognisable (if you've seen his former movie, "Curse of the Wolf") repertoire company cast of kickboxers-turned-actors seem to be running through their moves in demonstration mode and the editing is not strict or sharp enough to inject any venom or verve into their far too carefully rehearsed moves and shapes.
Which leaves the film relying on plot and basic storytelling technique. And that's where Kabasinski really seems to come a cropper, unfortunately. What little plot there is segued between the constant scenes of tribute to "Fight Club" is garbled beyond coherence by the midway point of the film. It often seems as though the writer-director must have been making it all up as he went along, banging out a rudimentary plot-line to fill the gaps between his beloved CGI-caked, punch-by-numbers Martial Arts routines with little real regard or care as to where the film is meant to be going. Characters are needlessly introduced that turn out to have absolutely nothing to do with the plot at all (does Kabasinski feel he needs to find a role for all his Martial Arts buddies, one wonders?), threads are constantly left trailing and the film seems to jump about all over the place between numbingly dull fight workouts. And it's not as if there really is much of a story here in the first place! This is a problem that first began to make itself evident in Kabasinski's last feature, "Curse of the Wolf" although that film, in my opinion, had enough going for it in the end to overcome some of its script problems, although it always was that much pacier in parts than "Fist of the Vampire" ever becomes. The one plus point (which also lifted "Curse of the Wolf") is Kabasinski's porn star wanna-be actress, the raven-haired Darian Caine, whom the director is always sensible enough to give at least one big set-piece nude scene in each of his films. She resembles the classic euro-sleaze icons of yesteryear, Soledad Miranda or Lina Romey in her prime, and the vampire theme is perfect for her, of course.
Len Kabasinski is definitely onto something with his films' heady mix of Martial Arts, Horror and sleaze, but he needs to calm down, maybe let someone else write the scripts and concentrate on clear simple direction; there is certainly strong evidence of film making talent here, and I mostly enjoyed his last film, but this one becomes very hard to sit through as it goes on. UK's Brain Damage Films offer the flick in yet another of their cheap & cheery letterboxed, non-anamorphic transfers, which is adequate enough, I suppose, given the shot-on-video nature of this film. As is always the case, the only extra is a trailer reel of other current Brain Damage Films titles.

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