Bloodrayne (2005) Bloodrayne (2005/2006) -**

     Ah shit. Is that maturity I hear knocking at my door? I suppose it’s about time, seeing as I’m old enough now to be the father of the guy I was when I started writing these reviews. Funny, though, that such a dismaying thought should be forced upon me by, of all things, my reaction to Bloodrayne. Surely nobody could be provoked to musing about personal growth and mortality by something as unserious as the third film in Uwe Boll’s mid-2000’s sequence of bafflingly bad video game adaptations? But you see, I remember how exciting Boll’s emergence seemed to me when I first watched House of the Dead, the movie that brought him to the attention of audiences outside his native Germany. With his combination of cracked showmanship, ludicrous egotism, and complete lack of aptitude for feature filmmaking— to say nothing of his bizarre insistence upon mining video games that he’d obviously never played for source material, or his production company’s business model, which was more or less openly an elaborate tax-evasion scheme— Boll struck me as a spiritual grandson to the Forty Thieves, the disreputable independent sleaze merchants of the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s who invented exploitation movies as a product and an art form distinct from mainstream commercial cinema. I never got around to Bloodrayne, though, during Boll’s brief heyday, even as I raptly followed the fiasco of its theatrical distribution. (Boll had boasted to the media that Bloodrayne would premiere on an obviously impossible number of screens, and when exhibitors inevitably made a liar of him by booking it into no more auditoriums than a realistic assessment of the market would bear, his Boll KG firm responded by shipping prints to hundreds of theaters that hadn’t ordered any!) And now that I have finally seen it, I surprise myself by pretty much just thinking it sucks. Eighteen years ago, I’m fairly certain I’d have been in the tank for this movie as a work of anti-art on par with House of the Dead and In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale. After all, Bloodrayne shares most of the preposterous defects that made me enjoy those films so much. Yet Bloodrayne left me cold, in a way that seems to warn against revisiting the other Uwe Boll films that I’d enjoyed in the past. Sure does sound like I must be getting old, doesn’t it?

     There is simply no telling which era this is supposed to be, beyond “definitely not the World War II of the Bloodrayne video game.” The best way I can think of to describe it is that it’s as if the 1760’s, the 1590’s, and the 1350’s were happening simultaneously, although the women’s skin-tight, low-rise pants are all unmistakably time-travelers from the year 2005. An international order of vampire hunters called the Brimstone Society has dedicated itself to thwarting the designs of Kagan (Ben Kingsley, from Robot Overlords and Species), a master vampire who rules as de facto monarch over “a lawless land beyond the Dark Mountains.” Kagan is after the relics of Belial, an even mightier vampire now centuries double-deceased, each of which is rumored to confer immunity against one of the elements lethal to the undead*. As formidable as he already is, even many vampires would prefer not to see Kagan in possession of such power, to the point that a former Brimstone agent, now undead himself, by the name of Erlick (Billy Zane, of Critters and Dead Calm) has opened back-channel communications with his still-living daughter, Katarin (Michelle Rodriquez, from Resident Evil and The Breed), to keep the society apprised of Kagan’s progress. So far, the villain has found only Belial’s rib, and hasn’t yet made any use of it. Evidently Kagan means to wait until he has the heart and eye as well, so as to install the whole package in one go. Katarin feels compelled to keep her correspondence with Erlick secret from the rest of the Brimstone Society, however, reckoning that none of her colleagues are big on nuanced moral understandings.

     There’s considerable irony in that, given what Brimstone Society leader Vladimir (Michael Madsen, of Piranhaconda and A House in the Hills) is up to right now. Together with a protégé by the name of Sebastian (Matthew Davis, from Aaah! Zombies!! and Below), Vladimir is pursuing rumors he’s heard of a dhamphir— a human-vampire hybrid— sired by none other than Kagan himself. Those exceedingly rare creatures are even more rarely the result of a happy union between the living and the undead, and it is Vladimir’s hope that Kagan’s mongrel child is harboring an exploitable grudge. In point of fact she is— but Rayne (Kristanna Loken, from Bounty Killer and In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale) isn’t exactly fond of humans either. She’s currently living in captivity to a Gypsy tribe that uses her as their traveling carnival’s star sideshow freak. The ringmaster (Constantin Barbulescu, of The Prophecy: Forsaken and Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis) inflicts ghastly but superficial wounds on her, then feeds her the blood of a sheep to wow the crowds with her superhuman powers of recuperation. Vladimir and Sebastian happen upon the tribe’s encampment on the morning after Rayne finally goes berserk, and massacres her way to freedom.

     The first little town Rayne comes to after making her escape is home to a fortune-teller (Geraldine Chaplin— Charlie’s daughter!— from Z.P.G. and The Orphanage), who explains to her for the first time what she really is. The old lady also explains who Rayne’s father really was, and thus the true meaning of the childhood memory that has haunted Rayne her whole life, tainting it with futile hatred. All Rayne previously understood was that she and her mother (Daniela Nane, of Dracula II: Ascension and Gargoyle) spent the early years of her life in hiding from a pallid, beaky-nosed man who ultimately tracked them down and murdered Mom while Rayne cowered unseen behind the kitchen stove. Now that she knows her mother’s killer was Kagan the arch-vampire, and that her unholy descent from him accounts for her abnormal abilities, Rayne has at last an actionable basis for seeking revenge. The old fortune-teller gives her yet more, too. She tells the girl where to find the Eye of Belial, which apparently works as well for dhamphirs as for full-blooded vampires, and explains how it can give her the edge she needs to take down her dad.

     The Eye of Belial is under guard at the Solambrium Monastery, which creates an opening for a lone thief to get close to it by exploiting the monks’ vows of hospitality to travelers. No sooner have the brothers all gone to bed than Rayne slips out of hers, and proceeds down to the subterranean vaults where the eye lies under the protection of both the Toxic Avenger and a deadly puzzle-trap that is far and away the most authentically video-gamey thing in Bloodrayne. Rayne defeats both, of course, but the Solambrian abbot (Udo Kier, of Iron Sky and Halloween) has no intention of letting her leave— especially once he realizes that she has unwittingly absorbed the Eye of Belial into herself, thereby gaining its power. Alas, it doesn’t really matter what the abbot intends, because Vladimir and Sebastian aren’t the only ones pursuing Rayne. Kagan has eyes and ears everywhere, and once word got back to him that a dhamphir girl was headed his way on some kind of revenge trip, he dispatched his right-hand man, Domastir (Will Sanderson, from House of the Dead and Seed), to intercept her. Domastir descends on the Solambrium monastery with a veritable army, and although the Brimstone agents are hot on his heels, the odds against them are just too long. Vladimir and Sebastian will have to resume the chase and rescue Rayne later, when Domastir and his remaining forces stop to rest through the day at the mausoleum of Leonid (Meat Loaf, from Americathon and Wishcraft), the Hugh Hefner of the fangs-and-coffins set.

     Naturally it throws Rayne for a loop when a couple of vampire hunters come to her rescue, and it throws her for an even bigger one when Vladimir tries to recruit her into a fight that she was already fixing to pick solo. Nor, for that matter, is she the only one taken aback. Most importantly, Katarin inexplicably fails to recognize that her leader has just done the next best thing to endorsing her wary alliance with her undead father. She leaps at once to the conclusion that Vladimir has gone soft (although that might not be quite the word for it…) in the face of a pretty redhead, and spends the whole third act (out of five by my reckoning) inching toward breaking with and betraying the Brimstone Society for reasons that make less and less sense the more time you spend thinking about them. In the aftermath, Vladimir, Rayne, and Sebastian carry on alone, infiltrating Kagan’s domain with a twofold strategy for defeating him in his very lair.

     As I said before, I can find no obvious reason why anybody who enjoys the other products of Uwe Boll’s tax-loophole-powered heroic age (myself included) shouldn’t also enjoy Bloodrayne. Its plot is as elaborately nonsensical as those of its fellows, its performers as egregiously miscast, its surprisingly lavish budget as thoroughly squandered. It features big-name B-listers doing things they’re very, very bad at, beloved cult icons slumming for a lark, up-and-comers who just flat-out suck in roles far too important to afford their incompetence, and, in the form of Geraldine Chaplin, a Serious Artist giving her full attention and commitment to a part that in no way deserves them. It displays bizarre fealty to the norms of video game storytelling, with side quests, power-ups, miniboss fights, and puzzle traps, even as it determinedly ignores the specific story of the game that it’s supposed to be adapting. Its characters behave in absurd ways, totally unmoored from their supposed motivations— when, indeed, they’re portrayed as having motivations at all. I ought to be having fun with this stuff, as I so often have in the past, but with this movie, I just can’t seem to do it for the most part.

     The problem is personified by Kristanna Loken and Ben Kingsley, both of whom are quite simply the wrong kind of bad to be entertaining. Loken is frankly useless here, on virtually every level on which it’s possible for an actress to be useless. She sounds like she’s reading all of her lines from cue cards, encountering them for the very first time. She’s completely defeated by the Hong Kong-flavored action scenes, displaying none of the fleet-footedness or agility that such choreography demands. It’s especially ludicrous whenever Boll throws in a bit of computer-enhanced wirework. Loken just goes limp as the rigging does its work, seeming more like a living marionette than an active participant in any of her supposed leaps, flips, and physics-defying judo throws. She’s never the slightest bit engaged when Rayne’s monstrous side comes out, either. Never have I seen anyone look more bored to be growing fangs and drinking the blood of her enemies! The one thing Loken can just about manage is to stand still and look pretty, but even there she comes up short of what she should be capable of given her modeling background. Kingsley’s failures are more curious, and more interesting to contemplate, if no more interesting to watch. He once said that he took this gig just because he’d always kind of wanted to play a vampire. You might therefore expect Kingsley to play Kagan to the cheap seats, perhaps as a cross between Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee at their most florid, but no. Juniper nailed it when she called his performance here homeopathic— it contains only the most infinitesimal trace amounts of acting. Pit Kingsley’s Kagan against Loken’s Rayne, and the conflict at the center of the film withers like a vampire stabbed through the heart.

     Nevertheless, there are a few moments, and even one entire scene, when Bloodrayne does manage to come together as an entertainingly bad movie. For instance, it amused me a bit when the Solambrium monks caught Rayne trying to escape with the Eye of Belial, and didn’t seem even the slightest bit perturbed about the fate of their Toxic Avenger— who, after all, was an employee of theirs just trying to do his goddamned job. Michael Madsen’s performance offers a wee bit of the fun I had with In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, insofar as there’s no reason on Earth why he, of all people, should be playing an old-timey Slavic vampire-killing paladin, but he genuinely seems to be trying to figure out some way that he can do it anyhow. And if you’re watching the unrated cut, there’s a wonderfully dumb bit where, instead of reinserting in the ordinary sense the extreme gore footage that had to be cut from the theatrical edit, Boll just piles it all up as part of the inexplicable “Well… how did I get here?” montage of flashbacks that Rayne undergoes in between the death of Kagan and the closing credits. Most of all, though, there’s the visit to Leonid’s Playboy Mausoleum. Meat Loaf, alone in all the cast, gives Bloodrayne the performance it both needs and truly deserves, hamming to the heavens from the bottom of a pile of half-naked Romanian prostitutes (who Boll figured were cheaper and easier to hire for a mass nude scene with no dialogue than actresses or extras). Alas, Leonid, like the deranged detective in Spawn of the Slithis, blazes but briefly across the screen before he is gone, never to return, but I promise you that nothing else in this movie will stick with you half as long, or one quarter as vividly.



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*The vampire lore in Bloodrayne is wonky as fuck, by the way. Sunlight burns vampires to ashes as expected, and piercing the heart shrivels them up into corpses in the state of decay appropriate to their age— although it doesn’t seem to matter what you pierce the heart with, since daggers and drinking horns are shown to work every bit as well as a stake of ash or hawthorn. Water, meanwhile— and not just running water, but any old water at all— erodes their flesh like acid, which really makes one wonder how they clean themselves up from all those arterial sprays. We’re also assured that the power of the cross can destroy vampires, even though none of the bloodsuckers we see appear the slightest bit inconvenienced by the one that the heroine wears prominently displayed in her cleavage throughout most of the film. And although a quick draught of blood will heal the undead of any physical injury, they die just like a human does in response to a well-placed sword stroke or an arrow in the vitals.