Author’s note: Fellow blogger and cinema slayer Dom Coccaro kindly requested me to review this oddity of the prehistoric 90’s. Dommy, sweet Dommy, this was all for you. ❤
Beauty, no matter how remarkable always comes with a price, and “Tale Of A Vampire” pays it almost grievously because while aesthetically it is very sumptuous, it is also incredibly boring and far too slow to be considered contemplative. Considering the film runs for 90 minutes, it will feel like the eternity that Alex has been forced to endure.
There is no story to speak of in all honesty: the lonely, misanthropic vampire Alex (Julian Sands) has a fateful encounter with the beautiful Anne (Suzanna Hamilton), a young woman in mourning who reminds him of his lost innamorata Virginia who stokes a flame in him that he had long thought extinguished . Amid this revelation, Alex is being stalked by a mysterious individual (Kenneth Cranham) who is as violent as he, and incredibly sadistic. The stranger wants to use the unwitting Anne to destroy the vampire and Alex does all he can to ensure this does not happen.
Director Shimako Sato (who automatically upsets the cinematic patriarchy of being female AND Japanese) had a definitive aim when it came to making this film; it was not about the story (simplistic and uncomplicated), and it certainly was not about full-blooded acting (it was lukewarm at best thanks to Sands), what this film is truly about is being a visual work of artistry set to rival anything made by Terrance Malik and she succeeds enormously. Indeed, I felt without this boldly beautiful style, “Tale Of A Vampire” would have faded into cheap, emo-drivel obscurity because it’s images speak volumes louder than the lines uttered by the characters. If I had to choose a descriptor regarding this film’s identity it would be “true Gothic romance”. Alex is madly infatuated with Anne and when he discovers that his chance for happiness is in danger of being taken away by his mysterious hunter, he finds within himself a vicious spark that drives him into action. Death and bloodshed follows, but Sato adds a deliberate and lyrical quality about it, that is to say the carnage is ugly, but it’s composition is beautiful. On the level it sets out to accomplish success in, “Tale Of A Vampire” reaches a glorious degree.
However, everything else about the film is hardly memorable or even worth two looks. Julian Sands may draw in a sizeable crowd given his history in the horror genre and he’s a B-movie demigod, but as the vampire Alex, he doesn’t really offer anything distinctive. He sits, he broods, he fantasizes, he romances Anne and occasionally he opens a jugular for a nice hot tall drink of plasma. Hamilton is beautiful and she has a Waterhouse Woman look to her- untouchable yet vulnerable but there is nothing endearing about her character to make the audience care for her well-being or her burgeoning attraction to Alex when he begins to seduce her. In fact, I could not detect a moment of genuine chemistry between the two actors and that was a shame considering the basic narrative is a tragic love story- how is love to be felt if the love wasn’t there in the first instance? 90 minutes is a very short run time for a movie, but by God, the lack of connection between the two lead characters offer no comfort or brevity to the film. Every minute that ticked away, I started to feel incredibly bored and made me wish I could reach through the screen, shake Sands and Hamilton by the shoulders and demand they do something constructive. Do a dance, sing, jump up and down, something, anything marginally exciting! I don’t mind if a movie is a slow burn so long as my time is awarded with a respectable pay-off.
I’m certain if Sato has cast her desires wider than making an eye-popping, gorgeous film, “Tale Of A Vampire” could have been an engaging venture. Sure, it would have been ridiculous and unoriginal with such a done-over story, but that should not suggest that a cast of competent, interesting actors wouldn’t have been able to elevate it up several notches above “Meh” territory. I’m not sure if I can whole-heartedly recommend this one because it’s all style and no substance, but if you are a fan of visually gorgeous films, you may find some satisfaction. If you are a vampire fan, you may need to be in a particular state of mind to appreciate it from your own perspective. However, please don’t expect any originality, upfront engagement and solid and endearing performances you will most likely be disappointed.