Thicker Than Water: The Vampire Diaries Part 1 (2008)
Directed by Phil Messerer
With all the Twilight hoopla and Let the Right One In, I predict a big renaissance in the vampire genre. But you won't see this in Hollywood in a big BOOM overnight.
Where you will see it is the college radio station world of independent horror.
Mark my words. When Hollywood starts surfing the horror interweb and sees praise for a movie like Thicker Than Water from the indie horror blogs, they are going to think they've hit the fuckin pot of gold.
Because this movie is a damn good movie to sink your teeth into (sorry for the bad pun).
Thicker Than Water: The Vampire Diaries Part 1 is a black horror-omedy that puts the function in dysfunctional. It's a credit to Phil Messerer who was sort of of a jack of all trades (who wrote, edited and directed) this indie masterpiece.
It's a radical little horror Lifetime movie of the week that could be part HBO TV show (look out True Blood!) and part music video. All I can say is it's a damn good movie.
Thicker Than Water is the first part in the Vampire Diaries Trilogy. It tells the story of the Baxters, an ordinary suburban family whose world is turned upside down when their youngest becomes a vampire. Lara, a precocious teenage Goth, hates her wholesome sister, Helen. She envies her popularity, her looks and most of all, her mother's pride and affection.
One day, after their 16th Birthday party, during which she is particularly humiliated by her sister's friends, Lara performs an intricate ritual in front of her Anne Rice alter involving a Margie doll and calf's heart. The next morning Helen awakens with a severe nosebleed. Then she dies in her sister's horrified arms. The family is desperately grief stricken. Lara is filled with guilt, Mom with philosophical anguish and Raymond, the gay neuro-scientist brother, with curiosity, as he discovers a strange virus in Helen's blood: one that feeds on red blood cells.
Suddenly there is a knock on the door. Helen, still wearing her white body bag, is standing outside, covered in blood. It is clear that all is not well with their resurrected family member. For one thing, she requires human blood as sustenance. The family realize they must find 'sacrifices' to keep her alive. But the vegetarian cheerleader refuses to feed. She suffers gut-wrenching blood withdrawals until she blacks out and rips her victims to shreds. The first 'sacrifices' are a pair of Mormon missionaries doing the local rounds. After that it is pretty much up to Raymond, who cruises the local gay bars in search of prey.
With their world crumbling around them, the Baxters find themselves lulled into atrocity, the daily carnage destroying their sense of morality while bringing them closer together as a family. And how did Helen become a vampire? What exactly are vampires? Forget everything you think you know and get ready for a completely original retelling of the most ancient of myths.
For a movie that runs a little less than 90 minutes, Thicker than Water packs a lot into this little juicebox. The Cooperstown small town feel (it's Sugar Loaf, NY) , the believable yet quirky characters, the vampire mythos and the blood, splatter and gore are perfectly blended into a milkshake of horror goodness.
I originally expcted to see a possibly MST3K worthy, shot on video amateur, local theatre group kids making a YouTubey horror film. But TTW is none of that. Yes, there is a low budget, grindhousey feel of the movie. However, that's soon forgotten when you see how this movie is shot, tightly edited and performances by the cast that are not amateurish at all.
Throw your expectations out the window, this is one fun hell of a ride.
Welcome to the Baxter household. Let's meet the family.
We've got Lara (Eilis Cahill), our narrator and total outcast, goth Anne Ricey vixen. She's the vampire lore expert. On the total opposite end of the family spectrum is Helen (Devon Bailey), the cheerleader-ish, blonde, beautiful, popular girly girl. We also meet their brother Raymond (Michael Strelow), a gay scientist and part time mad doctor. Also, we meet Dad who goes divorce AWOL early on which leaves us finally with Mom (Jo Jo Hristova), the former Bulgarian ice skater religious momma.
It's your typical family not normal family but whose family is. These are not the Beavers or the Bradys. More so the Munsters on LSD.
After Lara goes all Voodoo weirdo (a great The Craft-y homage) Helen wakes up with a vicious nosebleed. Soon she's gone to the great beyond. Raymond soon discovers Helen's blood is gone all virusey (nope not Swine Flu) and tells the family. But a knock from the door sees Helen back, body bag covered and all and drenched in blood.
Let the hilarity ensue.
From here the movie gets into Heathers like territory. The family starts to feed Helen with a variety of victim fodder. Two Mormons, Raymond's gay one night stands and others become food for our hungry, bood thirsty Helen.
A lot of the "kills" are done montagey in that Rob Zombie music video sort of way. I must admit, it seemed kinda tacky but I didn't mind.
The performances by Cahill and Bailey are right on point. Cahill has that Winona Ryder Burtonized look to her and black humor logues her performance like Ryder's Veronica character in Heathers. Bailey, the unlikely vampire puts a nice, sweet virtuous spin on her character going all puppy dog eyes as she stares at a soon to be yummy victim. These were both top notch performances that could even make True Blood look cheesy.
Later, we get the Interview with a Vampire cameo when the mysterious Patrice Duchamp III (who looks like a 1800s throwback puffy shirt and all) to recruit our newborn vampire Helen.
This all leads to a Christmas dinner, a twisty twizzler and an ending that lives up to the dysfunction of this entire family.
Interspliced within the flick are explanations of the 1st vampire and the mythology of pure bloods, etc. This is probably a set up in the eventual sequels of this proposed trilogy. Even in these Wikipedia scenes I was still intrigued and interested by how this vampire lore will play out.
With all the heaping amounts of praise, there were a few gripes that seeped in. The look is definitely low budget and some angles were a bit too cinematically overused. Aside from Cahill and Bailey, the other actors were a bit cardboardy though mediocre at best. Even the gore and splatter had moments of FAIL. Though that can be forgiven as it's not like they went to the Tom Savini school or splatter.
But the biggest screeching tire is the slow pace of the first 30 minutes and some drag in between. Though, in some low budget movies, the filmmaker stretches what should be a 8-10 minute scene into a punch me in the face 15-17 minutes. Thank Lestat, Messerer didn't do that too much.
All in all, The Vampire Diaries is a complete and awesome debut from Messerer. If he can learn from his mistakes (which are few) Part 2 of the Vampire Diaries will be spectacutastic. I can't begin to applaud filmmakers who go after their dream and make a movie. This is why we should support the indie scene, horror or non horror alike.
It's rare when a movie like Thicker Than Water: The Vampire Diaries surprises even a jaded viewer like myself. And when you do, that's saying a lot.
The Jaded Viewer's Final Prognosis
The movie is on the film festival circuit and is kickin ass and winning awards. According to the official website it took 3 years to make.
If somehow you can see this movie, do so.
I first heard about this movie from The Bone Breaker and after watching the trailer I was psyched.
Thanks to the director Phil Messerer for sending me a screener of the film.
I guarantee I've totally Nostradamused this vampire boom. Trust me.
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