Vampire Wars: Battle for the Universe DVD Review
Written by Eric Strauss
A Nu Image DVD
Written and directed by Matthew Hastings
Approx. 100 minutes
Rated R for grisly violence and gore
A.J. Cook as Fiona
Michael DeLuise as Gilles
Joe Lando as Churchill
Natassia Malthe as Quintana
Dominic Zamprogna as Damian
with Michael Ironside as Muco
Cable-TV fans know the label “a Sci-Fi original movie” is usually a euphemism for “flee while you can.” But back when Vampire Wars: Battle for the Universe went by the much shorter and better name Bloodsuckers, that’s exactly where it caught my eye, on the network that brought you “Battlestar Galactica” and “Stargate: SG-1.”
Indeed, writer/director Matthew Hastings’ Vampire Wars plays like a mix of a made-for-TV movie and a wannabe series pilot. Yet, despite a definite B-movie feel, a that-guy cast and the Sci-Fi network pedigree, it’s a fun little film. Not especially good, but fun.
And I could see a VW series finding a niche as the goofy space drama on a throwaway cable channel — which is, come to think of it, what Sci-Fi is every night that isn’t Friday.
VW has a simple premise: As the humans of the future made their way across the universe, they encountered extraterrestrial life — all of it vampiric.
As a result, corporate bigwigs employ mercenary “V-San” teams — vampire sanitation — to clean up the bloodsucker problems on far-off worlds and pave the way for humanity’s manifest destiny. VW follows one team, the crew of the Hieronymus, as it brawls its way through its missions… and into a trap that will shake the team to its core.
The cast, with the exception of slumming, scenery-chewing vampire lord Michael Ironside (Total Recall), is made up of veteran TV actors. Joe Lando and Dominic Zamprogna lead the cast as the beloved Capt. Churchill and his tortured executive officer, Damian Underwood, while Leanne Adachi and Aaron Pearl play the team’s grunts, the bitchy Rosa Wong and the gunslinging Roman Kuchinsky.
The monkey in the wrench is Quintana — a vampire hunting her own kind, played by Norwegian model Natassia Malthe. The source of endless tension among the crew, she proves Underwood’s staunchest ally when the blood hits the blade.
And as what passes for a mystery deepens and the hunters inevitably become the hunted, the question is what will tear the team apart first: the vampires or their own problems.
Of course, that makes the movie sound a lot more serious than it is. It’s not that VW isn’t professionally done, or the actors aren’t taking it seriously (well, except maybe Ironside). But the B-grade CGI and effects are compounded by that sort of underlying tongue-in-cheek feel that “Stargate” has elevated to an art.
VW isn’t anywhere close to the competence level of that venerable series, but it does capture a little bit of that magic.
Oh, and as an added bonus, despite the made-for-TV language (“You want me to be an a-hole?”), the R-rated movie is bloody as hell.
Movie grade: C+. Vampire Wars is not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s 100 minutes of cheesy entertainment.
Video and Audio:
The good news is the anamorphic picture is big and colorful and bright.
The bad news is a soft source image is compounded by some shaky compression.
The result is mediocrity — video that looks surprisingly good in one scene, until a closer look reveals moiré issues and weak blacks in the next.
Give VW bonus points for the 16x9 enhancement, though.
Video grade: C. Strong color is a plus in a bloody movie, but VW is colorful and underwhelming all at once.
The relatively unexceptional 5.1 surround track is mostly front-oriented, but the surrounds get some use from the music and effects. As with the video, give Nu Image credit for trying; no one could have complained about a TV movie released full-frame with 2.0 sound.
There is also a DTS track for those with top-line systems and a 2.0 track for those without.
Audio grade: B-. Hardly a reference track, but it brings out the “squish” in the fights.
The primary extra is a 15-minute making-of piece that features behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with most of the cast. It’s nothing that hasn’t been done before, but it’s a welcome addition to a DVD that could easily have been bare-bones. As with most such featurettes, it’s a little too self-congratulatory given the level of the material, but the participants’ enthusiasm and a bit of the film’s self-awareness come out.
There is also a trailer and some DVD-ROM content.
Features grade: B-. Just one real extra, but as with any small film, something beats nothing.
Vampire Wars is an entertaining mix of sci-fi action and gory horror. It won’t win any awards, and probably won’t even make it to cult-classic status, but I grinned my way through it, and that’s more than I can say about plenty of bigger, “better” films.
Overall grade: C+. Don’t come looking for a great film, come looking for a fun one, and you won’t be disappointed.
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