Vampire Sisters DVD Review
Written by Eric "The Hitman" Strauss & Steve Pattee
A Timewarp Films Production
Directed by Joe Ripple
Written by Don Dohler
Runtime — Approx. 80 minutes (although the box says 100 minutes)
Rated — Unrated
Darla Albornoz as Dawn
Jeannie Michelle Jameson as Stacy
Syn DeVil as Tasha
Mark C. Lassise as Det. Sonny Renko
Leanna Chamish as Det. Jennifer Hunt
James J. Waltz as Brent Sommers
Nathalie Taborda as Lisa Carmen
George Stover as Donald Ackerman
Vampire Sisters, the third offering from Maryland's TimeWarp Films, is the story of three beautiful vampires who use a sex-themed Web site to lure victims into their lair. Dawn (Darla Albornoz), Stacy (Jeannie Michelle Jameson) and Tasha (Syn DeVil) promise big contributors "special bonuses," but deliver death instead. That is, until vice cops Sonny Renko (Mark C. Lassise) and Jennifer Hunt (Leanna Chamish, Stakes) get wind of the sisters' operation and set out to shut it down for good.
Alien Redrum: Vampire Sisters is a positive step forward in Timewarp's growth as a competitor in the "B-movie" field. While the story's implementation isn't quite as good as Stakes and Harvesters, the acting is far better and the production is sleeker than the previous movies.
The Hitman: For me, the fascinating thing about Vampire Sisters is, of the three TimeWarp films, this is probably the weakest story line, and yet it turns into the most well-rounded DVD. Director Joe Ripple and producer Don Dohler freely admit on the included behind-the-scenes featurette they were trying to put together an inexpensive, simple film in a short time frame, and that manifests itself in a one-theme story — albeit an interesting theme. Nonetheless, a case can easily be made that the improved acting and production values make this the best TimeWarp film to date.
I completely agree. I found it a little disappointing that, of the three Timewarp productions, I liked the actual concept of Vampire Sisters the best, but as a finished film form, it was the worst. It looked the best and had the best acting, but there was a lot of meat missing.
One of the unfortunate things is that TimeWarp has grown so much, in so many ways, over the course of three films, this one disappoints somewhat, because I have come to expect so much from them.
With the elevated acting and production values, it's time for Timewarp to decide what road it wants to take. It can continue to make above-average B-movies with gratuitous nudity, decent acting and a good story, or it can raise the bar. For instance, I think it’s time for Timewarp to start thinking about doing its films in widescreen format — even if only matted. Going widescreen will lend more of a major motion picture credibility. I have asked Ripple why fullscreen, and he said a survey found most home viewers do not like the black bars.
The thing is, these are genre films. And genre films appeal to genre fans. Genre fans expect widescreen DVDs, and that is what separates the B-movies from the "B-plus" movies. And if Timewarp wants to take that step — a step it is capable of making, it should be doing everything in its power to lure those genre fans, the kind of fans that can give it good word-of-mouth and help make a regional company into one with a wider appeal.
Exactly. Widescreen gives the impression of a “film,” where fullscreen…
…Says “straight to video.”
Right. Timewarp has every opportunity to step up to a bigger plate. Whether the better acting is due to Ripple's growing as a director, the experience of the actors he and Dohler chose or a combination of both, the improvement is noticeable.
There certainly is a strong cast at work here. Lassise may be the best actor in a Timewarp film, handling the macho Sonny Renko with the right mix of cockiness and subtlety...
...and Albornoz is just as good as "Dawn," the vampire who has more than a touch of sarcasm in her personality...
... In fact, all three “sisters” do well in making their characters’ differences evident, plus Chamish always gives a good performance. And the many subtle looks and influences at key moments — whether heightening humor or suspense — are one of the best things about Vampire Sisters.
This is a credit to Ripple's growth as a director. These small touches were not as frequent in the earlier films, and their inclusion in Sisters not only makes the characters more believable, but also show Ripple's increasing directorial skills.
Unfortunately, some of these fine players don’t get the screen time they deserve...
...Chamish and Lassise, for instance, have great synergy, but they were not on screen nearly enough. Here they are in the office for two minutes; there they are in a car for two more; here they are in the sisters' house for the last 10 minutes. The film would have benefited from more time spent with the two detectives...
...And that gets to the film’s biggest flaw: It is a one-note tune, and that note gets played over and over and over, until it loses it punch, its power and the audience’s interest. The premise — vampires luring victims using a sex Web site — is certainly novel, and leads to some funny sequences with the victims and some gory, inventive kills. By the time the fourth victim is dispatched, however, the plot has drifted from novel to predictable. But, the final sequence, involving the cops’ efforts to take down the sisters, is vintage Timewarp. Exciting, gripping, with the just the right mix of humor, combat choreography and surprise. Everything I have come to expect from Joe Ripple and Don Dohler. Everything I spent 60 minutes waiting for.
That sort of filler was my biggest problem, too. But my problem with several of the killing scenes is a little different from yours. Mine is the nudity. Now, before I am accused of being a prude…
…I should explain. As I see it, there are three different types of nudity in films. The first type may or may not further the plot, but is done in a tasteful manner. The second type does nothing to further the plot, but is done in such a way that it is fun to watch. The third type is nudity for nudity's sake. This is generally reserved for the kind of B-movie in which the nude scenes rarely — if at all — fall into the above categories. These scenes are either difficult to watch because they are uncomfortable (due to bad directing, emotionless actors, etc.) or border on soft-core porn.
I don’t have so much of a problem with the nudity, because most of it is related to what little plot there is — the sisters are, after all, running a porn site. But, compounded by the repetitious nature of the film, Vampire Sisters begins to wander away from the B-horror genre and into the territory of lesser, sex-based B-movies.
There is, however, a huge difference between Sisters and Sandy Hook Lingerie Party Massacre. Sisters dances the line between the second and third types of nudity. It would be easy for Timewarp to move into the first type. But when my roommate comes home and asks me if I'm watching a porno, it's a little off-putting when I'm watching a horror film. By the time Sisters got to a French lesbian scene, it was painfully obvious it was set up for two reasons: Because they could; and because they could do some interesting CGI.
Conversely, it is the kill sequences without the nudity that really bother me. Two extended sequences, one involving a captive girl and another involving the brother of a victim, feature cannon fodder spending several minutes on screen — a lifetime in film terms — wandering the house that is the primary location, without doing a single thing but sneaking up and down the stairs, waiting to be eaten…
…And that is exactly where more on the relationship of the two detectives and the further investigation of the case could have been placed.
Here, two good actors giving good performances are left on the sidelines too long. Harvesters featured a similar law-enforcement angle, but even when that film’s two cops were a step behind the bad guys, they were often on screen, conducting an investigation.
Nonetheless, after saying all of that, the bottom line is Vampire Sisters is a pretty decent movie. The kills look better than the previous films and the CGI blends into the film seamlessly. As said before, while the story line is not quite as good as the ones in the previous two films, the production, directing, acting and special effects are much, much better and I am already looking forward to Timewarp's next offering, Crawler.
I am, too, because I very much want to see what Timewarp can do when it combines its much-improved production values with a script that harks back to Harvesters and Stakes — a script with the strong plot and interesting twists that marked those two films. Timewarp’s first two efforts set high standards, and although Vampire Sisters entertains, as a film, it doesn’t quite measure up. Joe Ripple and Don Dohler are real men with real lives, so their desire to spend less time on post-production is understandable, but sometimes their haste does the film more harm than good.
I love the concept of the film. Of Timewarp's three films, Vampire Sisters has the best idea. It’s the implementation that makes it somewhat disappointing.
At its best, Vampire Sisters is a fun film that blends the humor and gore I’ve come to expect from TimeWarp. Unfortunately, it lacks the consistent level of entertainment Harvesters and Stakes had. While I have no doubt Ripple and Dohler put forth their best effort on Vampire Sisters, they wanted to make a quick, inexpensive and simple film, and sometimes that is more evident that I suspect they would like. I can’t help but compare Vampire Sisters with Harvesters and Stakes, and compared with the excitement of bank robbers clashing with organ thieves, and a cop tracking alien vampires across Baltimore, this is a throwaway piece of fluff. Entertaining, funny and often sexy fluff, but fluff all the same. So much is better about this production, sometimes it leaves me wondering what the film might have been — but looking forward to what may yet be in Crawler.
One area where Timewarp’s increased production values are really evident is in the image. Although the picture has a general softness to it, the digital noise and compression artifacts have been cleaned up dramatically. Night scenes suffer from some lighting and noise issues, but the blacks are deep and full — something many independent films can't claim. Overall, the picture quality is a tremendous improvement over TimeWarp's other two films.
The Dolby 2.0 sound is good, though perhaps a bit underwhelming in this era of 5.1 surround. Still, given the low-key nature of the film, the stereo track is more than acceptable. Voices are sharp and the atmospheric music never drowns out the dialogue or effects. If TimeWarp wants to take the next step, like converting to widescreen, this is another area where upgrading could pay dividends.
Timewarp has refined its special features since its first release, and Vampire Sisters offers a commentary track, a making-of featurette, a blooper reel, a photo gallery and a trailer.
Ripple and Dohler's commentary on Vampire Sisters offers a look at what goes into the making of an independent horror film. The two men have worked together on several films now, and their familiarity makes for good chemistry — always important when multiple participants are recorded together. And this commentary is an absolute hoot. Dohler and Ripple seem very laid back and there are parts that are laugh-out-loud funny. In addition to the antics, there are some great behind-the-scenes tidbits — such as how a scene originally slated to be filmed outside had to be moved indoors after a snowfall. (One odd footnote: During the quiet parts of the commentary, the regular soundtrack can be heard — but the audio and video aren’t synched properly.)
The 23-minute behind-the-scenes featurette offers a nice look at the making of Vampire Sisters, with a variety of interviews and great segments on two of the major effects, the “Iggy” makeup and one sister’s CGI tongue. Timewarp on-screen regular Leanna Chamish doubles as the company’s “historian,” and as a result, she has a tremendous amount of access to the production, giving the piece a real on-set feel, including interviews with the cast and crew and a funny scene that leaves Ripple locked in his backyard shed. Ripple and Dohler seem very giving of their time — even if it is in their own best interest — and are more than willing to offer up some of the secrets of B-movie filmmaking.
The five-minute blooper reel has plenty of funny moments, and shows that while the folks at Timewarp clearly work hard and take pride in what they do, they’re not afraid to laugh at themselves.
An extensive photo gallery offers some extra looks at the lovely ladies and bloody effects, including some publicity stills and the shots used for the VampSisters.com Web site. Unfortunately, the last 10 percent or so suffer from a kind of digital flicker, taking the luster off the otherwise crisp images.
Timewarp still hasn’t shaken its tendency to promote the gore in its trailers — thus spoiling the fates of many characters — but it is less of a problem for Vampire Sisters, as most of the characters are expendable anyway. On the downside, the audio and video quality of the trailer is nowhere near as good as the film itself.
There are also trailers for several other releases from Brain Damage Films, Timewarp’s new distributor (replacing Key East Entertainment). Few of the films look especially promising, and these, too, suffer from pretty poor A/V, implying Brain Damage, rather than Timewarp, is to blame for the quality problems. The menus, too, look very amateurish — another little, annoying authoring issue that does not affect the movie quality in any way, but may be reason for Timewarp to consider finding yet another distributor for its next DVD.
Hitman: C+ — A shallow, but entertaining film is saved by the enthusiasm and humor that are becoming Timewarp's hallmarks.
Alien Redrum: C+ — While it did not reach its full potential, Sisters is still a novel idea and enjoyable movie.
Hitman: B+ — This is graded on a bit of a curve, as it is undoubtedly the best-looking Timewarp film to date.
Alien Redrum: B+ — The video was such an improvement over the previous films it was a pleasant surprise when I first saw it.
Hitman: B- — The mix is clear and gets the job done.
Alien Redrum: B — The 2.0 sounds good. No complaints.
Hitman: B+ — A well-rounded package that probably should have garnered the disc a "special edition" label. This would have been an "A," but for the quality-control issues.
Alien Redrum: A — Again, Timewarp comes through with the goods. While the authoring lacks in some areas, I do not blame Timewarp for it. The commentary is a must-listen and the documentary is a must-watch.
Overall Disc —
Hitman: B- — Timewarp Films has come a long way in three years, and Ripple and Dohler’s latest effort is head and fangs above Stakes and Harvesters in terms of overall quality.
Alien Redrum: B- — This is where the authoring actually hurt the disc. I would have given the overall disc a "B+" or "A-" if the menu was a little sharper or there were no problems within the special features. The authoring hurts this disc. However, aside from the authoring of the features, the movie itself looks and sounds good and it definitely worth a purchase.
(Reviewed in March 2004 on a Sony 27" WEGA with a Sony DVP-CX850D DVD player and Sony STR-K750P HTS and a Mitsubishi 1080 series 42" TV with a Sony DVP-CX875P DVD player and Bose Lifestyle 25 Series II speakers.)
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