ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘BloodRayne’ (2005), Part One
Chris Sims: Hello everyone, and welcome to a very special installment of CA's movie review series! We've counted the votes and are prepared to launch into a series of reviews on the '90s independents, but before we do that, we wanted to do something a little spoooooky for Halloween. And... hoo boy. Hooooo boy. Did we ever.
Matt Wilson: We should probably explain. We really wanted to cover the terrible direct-to-video Vampirella movie, but found it basically impossible to rent. And we were just plain not going to own that thing. So we opted for the closest thing: Uwe Boll's BloodRayne, which is streaming on Netflix. I almost wrote "steaming" just then, which would have been Totally Appropriate.Chris: In a way, this makes a lot of sense, since last year for Halloween, David and I decided to do Blade, another story of a half-vampire with a fetish for cutlery and a movie that managed to surprise everyone by spawning two sequels. But in another, more immediate and tangible way, watching this thing makes no sense at all, for anyone, ever.
Matt: We should probably be careful in just how we talk about this movie, though, else director Uwe Boll will haul off and challenge us to a boxing match. We will lose.
Chris: That more than anything else is what I think defines Uwe Boll: A guy who trained himself as a kickboxer so that he could literally fight anyone who said his movies sucked, because he knew this was exactly what was going to happen. In a way, I admire that Batman-esque sense of preparation.
Matt: A little additional background about Boll before we get going: Up until a few years ago, he was able to make all the terrible movies he wanted for next to nothing, because of a stipulation in German tax law that allowed investors in films to write off their expenses. If the movie lost money, that was good for investors, because they only owed taxes on profits. That's how we got such gems as Alone in the Dark, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, and the first and perhaps most hilarious Boll movie, House of the Dead.
Chris: I saw House of the Dead in the theater as a double-feature with Kill Bill, which almost gave me whiplash.
Matt: When I was in college, a professor of mine and I would routinely recite the voiceover from the HotD trailer, which warned of "zombies...HORRIBLE zombies."
Chris: Truth in advertising. What I don't get is how he kept making movies after that first one. I mean, I understand the thing with tax law and profits, but everyone knows those movies are really, really awful, including the people that are actually in them. You'd think the licensors would've figured out that a Uwe Boll joint wasn't exactly doing the BloodRayne brand any favors.
Matt: What's even more outrageous is the actors he's been able to snag for roles. Dave Foley embarrassed himself so thoroughly in Postal that he'll probably never recover. Jason Statham was in that Dungeon Siege movie. And BloodRayne? Has Ben F**king Kingsley.
Chris: ACADEMY AWARD-WINNER SIR BEN KINGSLEY, playing a vampire rapist in a movie with Meat Loaf and the Terminatrix! F**KING SERIOUSLY. One more thing before we start: I don't know about you, Matt, but I am completely unfamiliar with BloodRayne outside of this movie. I never played the games, although I'm planning on getting that side-scroller that WayForward made since there's no new CastleVania this year, so I have no idea if this movie actually does any service to the established BloodRayne mythos. I do seem to remember that the games involved Nazis, though.
Matt: I only really played demos, but all you really need to know is she's a half-vampire that kills vampires, and also Nazis. And most of the first game, she spends looking for her dad.
Chris: Her dad, Academy Award-winner Ben Kingsley. Just want to make sure everyone caught that.
Matt: Well, now we're all worked up. I guess that means we can get this movie going.
Chris: We could probably spend this entire column just talking about this opening credits sequence, which could not possibly look more like a SyFy original. In true Halloween fashion, we start off with the single most terrifying thing you can possibly see in a movie...
Chris: ...and then follow it up almost immediately with one of the best:
Chris: The only thing I don't like about that is it implies there are Billy Zane appearances that aren't special.
Matt: It makes it sound as though Billy Zane will just roll through one scene, say "Hey" to the camera and pop out. It's got my moods swinging all over the place already, this thing. I'm sort of amazed by how the credits use actual paintings from the Northern Renaissance and then occasionally throw in fake ones with pictures of Kristanna Loken and Ben Kingsley run through Photoshop filters. It's like the movie is immediately saying, "We want you to think we're classy, but...not really classy."
Chris: That's kind of a recurring theme for the whole movie, too. This thing is all over the map in how it wants to present its Strong Female Character. Rather than opening on BloodRayne (Loken) - or, I guess, Just Rayne? PlainRayne? - we instead kick things off with Actual Actors Michael Madsen and Michelle Rodriguez rolling through a Renaissance Faire, establishing that no one in this movie will be speaking with the same accent. Rodriguez actually tries to go for "Vaguely Europeanish," but Madsen could straight give a f**k. Dude was born in Chicago, how does he sound like he's from Alabama?
Matt: Boll and writer Guinevere Turner (who co-wrote American Psycho?!?) carry on Boll's wanton disregard for his source material by setting this about 200-ish years before the 1930s. And yet the voice track looks like it was matched to the action right in the heart of 1937.
Chris: Joining Madsen and Rodriguez is some Richard Dean Anderson looking dude (Matthew Davis). We could talk about this guy's mullet for at least a thousand words if we didn't want to get through this movie as quickly as we can.
Matt: Everyone's hair is hilarious in their own special, anachronistic ways. The group, all members of the vampire-hunting Brimstone Society, approach an open-air bar so the bartender can show them a poster about Rayne. A guy approaches the bar with a really specific order, and FakeGyver notices he can't see him in a mirror, so he stabs him.
Chris: I want to point out that, as you just said, these dudes show up and ask their informant if he knows about any vampire shennanigans cropping up, and his response is a cryptic, dramatic "I think I might know something..." before giving them a flyer for a circus that has presumably been hung up all over town. Meanwhile, a vampire literally just walks up and starts making orders without this guy saying a single word. He is the worst anti-vampire informant ever.
Matt: The bartender says stories about Rayne's abilities may only be the stories of drunks, though the next scene proves that giant crowds of people have seen demonstrations of them. And just what are those abilities? She can drink goat blood and it will heal her of cuts and water burns. (That's a burn you get from touching water?)
Chris: The water thing is never really explained at all. Like, at the climax, there's a big thing with a bottle of Holy Water, but this is just a dang bucket they got from the well and dipped her arm into. My favorite bit of this scene, though, is the Medieval / 18th Century mother who is perfectly happy watching this sexy redhead get tortured, but covers her son's eyes when the carnies start to kill the goat.
Matt: Priorities. Michael Madsen, who might as well be speaking Chinese for how well his dialogue matches his lips, pays the terrible bartender informant. Back at the circus, one of the performers is talking to Rayne about how she's going to help her escape. Kristanna Loken smiles like she's in an Aerosmith video and doesn't seem to understand a word her friend (I guess she's a friend) is saying.
Chris: This is the lovely Amanda, whose circus act consists of cutting things with some oddly shaped swords, which is not all that impressive when you consider that cutting things is what swords are actually made to do.
Matt: We first saw her cutting up a candle, and that's quite literally all she did. She cut a candle into pieces. It stayed lit, even!
Chris: Also, can we agree that since she can't touch water and she lives in a filthy cage where 17th century circus people hump her at their leisure, Rayne must smell terrible? Just awful.
Matt: Alcohol-based perfumes seem to be her only option.
Chris: Amanda gives Rayne her crucifix to wear (which will kind of be a plot point but not really), and after a visit with Sir Ben Kingsley and a dude who looks like the worst Bane cosplayer ever, it's time for a rape scene!
Matt: The CGI shot that leads from outside Kingsley's castle into his throne room is so insanely unnecessary. Did Uwe Boll just not believe that if he showed the outside of the castle, then the room, we'd know the room was inside?
Chris: Quick question before we continue: How many days do you think Ben Kingsley was actually on set for this movie? It had to be two at the most, right?
Matt: I'd say it was a maximum of two with very little time to get familiar with or perhaps even read the script. Every line Kingsley says comes with this sort of monotone, "I'm reading the words without thinking about what they might mean strung together" feel to it.
Chris: I wasn't sure if that was a choice or not. I mean, it's pretty clear that Kagan is a pretty cold, emotionless character to begin with, so I wonder if Kingsley was trying to get that across in his performance, or if he just could not be bothered to go for it. It's the Kristen Stewart Conundrum!
Matt: Speaking of Twilighty things, we flash from Ben Kingsley doing disturbing sexual things to someone to Rayne running around some nondescript woods. In a not-so-Twilighty touch, she is covered in blood.
Chris: I'll say this for BloodRayne: It does not skimp on fake blood. It doesn't quite get to Evil Dead 2 levels or anything, but you can't say they didn't live up to the title. But yes, if the flashback of Ben Kingsley vampire-raping Rayne's mother wasn't enough to let you know we're dealing with a Strong Female Character, we get one for Rayne, too! Flashback Rape is kind of this first act's signature element.
Matt: Before Carnival Guy can do much, though, Rayne smashes a bottle over his head and opens up a wound. His blood makes her thrash around like an angry cat before she bites him to death and jumps out of the wagon. She then basically does a speed run on what only can seem to be the movie's carnival level. Do you think BloodRayne the video game character moved like she was having a seizure, though?
Chris: Depends on whether they used that Mortal Kombat mo-cap technology for the animation. I was kind of expecting Rayne to be in on this whole carnival scam, but apparently these dudes were actually just torturing her every night with a matinee on Sunday, so I think we're supposed to be happy that she's brutally murdering them. Unfortunately, her berserker rage ends up getting Amanda, too.
Matt: She finds that upsetting, despite the fact we never heard her say one word to her. What I find upsetting is the terrible expository dialogue between the Brimstoners.
Chris: Expository dialogue delivered as they make the long ride of at least a full day to the carnival that is actually in the town where they already are. Turns out that CGI castle was the closest thing we're going to get to this movie having any kind of sense of place.
Matt: From this dialogue we discover that the Brimstone organization isn't what it used to be and Kagan (who I suspect used his connections to get one of his relatives appointed to the Supreme Court) is building a vampire army. Despite the fact they were JUST TALKING ABOUT A VAMPIRE ARMY, Rodriguez suggests they've "wasted enough time on fairy tales."
Chris: She's pretty skeptical for someone who is the actual daughter of a vampire and literally kills monsters for a living.
Matt: The fairy tale they're talking about is whether Rayne is "the one," which apparently means "the one who could be taken captive by carnies." But there's no time to harp on that! Vladimir and Sebastian need to cut the heads off corpses with aluminum foil swords while we flash back to stuff we just saw a second ago!
Chris: I watched this entire movie less than 12 hours ago and completely forgot all the weird prophecy stuff that comes up every now and then. It's the most halfassed "well, I guess this is a fantasy movie, we need to hit these checkmarks" sort of plotting.
Matt: A checkmark they don't hit? Anything found in traditional vampire myth. When the group discovers that Rayne has bitten poor Amanda, Rodriguez guts her with a sword. Just a sword. No stakes or anything needed. I guess they're silver swords and the silver is just...super?
Chris: To be fair, they do throw her onto a pile of corpses and burn her after they run her through, so it works as a preventative measure. But yeah, this movie is all over the map with that stuff. I still don't get why water is a problem for Stinky Ol' Rayne until she gets that weird artifact, although I suspect they were honestly basing the entire plot on CastleVania games.
Matt: We should probably also note that it is broad daylight.
Chris: And that Kristianna Loken has a very nice tan. But none of that s**t matters, because son, we are about to get IN-ZANE.
Matt: Her tan doesn't even compare to Billy Zane's.
Chris: Zane works this movie like a champ. He's playing Michelle Rodriguez's dad, who is also a vampire, whose bizarre machinations are virtually incomprehensible and add virtually nothing to the plot. I almost feel like he was just a big BloodRayne fan and wanted to get in on this, so he called up and they added him into the script halfway through shooting. Because why wouldn't you? He's Billy Zane!
Matt: In this scene, he chews over dictating a letter to Rodriguez, and I honestly have no clue what he's trying to tell her in it. But it's a delight to listen to anyway.
Chris: As near as I can figure, BloodZane wants to stage a coup to take over from Kingsley, who is one of those destroy-all-the-humans types. Zane is a little more laid back about the whole thing, but also wants Michelle Rodriguez to kill all her Brimstone Bros, so... conflict, I guess?
Matt: He's ostensibly the leader of the Brimstone Posse, and he lives in Brimstone Castle which houses...secrets! The vampire bite marks on his neck look kind of fresh, too. I still don't really know anything he's talking about.
Chris: Forget it, Matt. It's Uwe-town.
Matt: From Billy (come back soon, Zane-man!) and his hilarious lackey we move on to Rayne saving a family from a roving gang of vampire highwaywomen. I'll give this movie this much: It did figure out a reason for Rayne to have those arm-sword things from the games. I mean, the explanation of "someone she worked with gave them to her" isn't the best, but it's something.
Chris: A coworker that she never actually spoke to that we know of. In fact, this is where we get Rayne's first line, as she assures the people she saved that she only wants to kill vampires, and has no desire whatsoever to kill humans, even though we just watched her tear the throats out of a half-dozen carnies.
Matt: Her accent is one I can only describe as Troi-esque.
Chris: And once again, doesn't match anyone else's in the film, including her mom and Ben Kingsley. Also, this movie takes its sweet time explaining why she's so mad at vampires, since the only people we've seen her interact with have been regular humans, and they were real jerks. It would be perfectly understandable if she wanted to just kill people at this point, instead of this whole "oh btw, I hate vampires" thing.
Matt: The family she saves takes her into town, where we discover she's got her own version of Roddy Piper's sunglasses in They Live. She can "see" vampires disguised as real people. We know this because shots from her perspective have this morphing effect where regular people turn into people in bad makeup.
Chris: Am I just slow on the uptake, or did you think this was a little - and I can't believe I'm saying it - subtle? I thought at first that the vampires were actually just looking at her and vamp-ing up for a second to let her know what was up.
Matt: I took it as Rayne being the only one who could see it right away, because no one else reacts. Rayne reacts, though, by inviting one of the vampires over for an all-lady makeout session before biting her. Is it part of dhampir mythology that they can bite other vampires, or is that something this movie just made up?
Chris: No idea. I do think it's canon that all dhampirs are bisexual, though, at least according to all the Symphony of the Night fanfic I read. Alucard/Olrox OTP!
Matt: Can Blade bite vampires? I honestly forgot.
Chris: He can, but he doesn't feed on them, at least in the movies. The Reapers in Blade II can, though. Remember how that movie is all about Blade fighting a vampire vampire?
Matt: Right, right, yes. Well, that's probably enough of us trying to figure out this movie's mythology. A fortune teller lady watches the makeout-bite session and invites Rayne over to tell (and us) her backstory: She's Kagan's daughter, as the result of raping that human lady we saw in flashback earlier. Also: Kagan is "the most powerful vampire of all." Oh no!
Chris: Rayne watches all this with a look of mild confusion - join the club, sister - and then gets mad and tells the fortune teller that she plans on killing Kagan by LARPing her way through CastleVania II: Simon's Quest. I am not kidding. She literally has to wander around to various locations until she finds an eye, a heart, and other items that will level her up.
Matt: This fortune teller certainly has a lot of specific information, doesn't she? Not only does she know about the eye, she knows pretty much exactly where it is. It's as though she knows we just want to speed this wisp of a plot along as fast as it can go.
Chris: Even BloodRayne questions that, and the fortuneteller is just like "eh, it's what I'm here for!" Plotting, everyone!
Matt: One of Kagan's spies overhears the whole thing, which leads Kagan to half-heartedly tell his general to let Rayne find it, then kill her with about as much enthusiasm as if he was asking the guy to go pick up some Funyuns.
Chris: The best part of this scene is that everyone is in the same costumes and standing on the same marks as they were in the last scene on this set, even though days are supposed to have passed. It could not be more obvious that Kingsley was just knocking out his part one right after the other.
Matt: I wouldn't be shocked to discover someone off screen was just feeding him lines.
Chris: Jor-El style!
Matt: The Rodriguezless Brimstone crew sees Kagan's army charging out, because they apparently know where to hang out to see that happening. They then ride their horses for approximately forever to, as far as we can tell, nowhere, because the next scene is Rayne looking for the eye at a monastery.
Chris: She gets into the monastery by just walking up and asking if they'll let her in, and to be fair, very few vows of celibacy can stand up to Kristianna Loken's midriff asking to come in for a drink or two, even if she's doing a pretty poor job of hiding two gigantic swords behind her back.
Matt: The monks give her some food and something to drink, which raises the question: If just plain water burns her skin, HOW CAN SHE DRINK?
Chris: That... that's a good question. And one this movie doesn't bother to answer at all. Instead, we get a set piece where she beats up a big fat dude with a hammer, retrieves the eye, and is almost burnt up when the room starts flooding like a room in every first level dungeon from every D&D campaign ever. Fortunately for her, the eye is absorbed right into her skull, giving her the ability to withstand water and heterochromia, a very groovy mutation.
Matt: Also: She avoids some crazy CGI spinning blades with cartwheels and the water in the room burns her shoe! Oh man.
Chris: After Rayne gets the eye, character actor Udo Kier (who, as a cast member in Blade, has a lot of experience dealing with half-vampires) gives her another exposition-packed lecture about prophecies and finally explains what the Eye, the Rib and the Heart actually are. Hint: they're power-ups.
Matt: He also tells her she can't leave, because his order has been protecting the eye for centuries. Hey, wasn't Kagan's guy supposed to follow her and take the eye before she did? Because he failed really badly at that.
Chris: This whole thing is a mess, especially when you consider that they are protecting the Eye, which gives vampires immunity to the dangers of water, with a trap room that fills with water after someone takes the eye. I realize that monks were mostly just in it for the wine back then, but you'd think they would've waited to get drunk until after they'd finished building the deathtrap.
Matt: Kagan's Dumb Army arrives well after it should have and lazily fights the monks. Rayne and the Brimstoners also join the fray, and, man, everyone just seems so tired, in spite of copious and ludicrous blood being spilled. Everyone but Michelle Rodriguez. She's really going all out.
Chris: The blood in this scene is ridiculous. If you have Netflix, I'd suggest you check this scene out at your earliest opportunity, because it is just full of hilarious lurid shots of people getting stabbed in the face with these huge blood fountains erupting all the time. One guy gets cut in half at the waist! It's kind of the one thing this movie does well, and by "well" I mean "hilarious."
Matt: The shot of guys just slapping a mutilated fake corpse with the flat side of swords is basically comedy gold.
Chris: It's this weird kind of joyful ultraviolence. I would not be surprised at all to learn that this was the last day of filming and part of the wrap party was just this crazy "go nuts, we've got bloody slip-n-slides everywhere" setup.
Matt: And yet, no one seems to be having any fun. Udo Kier looks like he took 10 Ambien before his death scene. And Michael Madsen. Whew. His dialogue about warning the Brimstone people about what happened is bad enough, but he makes it WORSE. His delivery isn't just wooden. It's petrified.
Chris: The fight goes on until Fake Bane punches Rayne straight in the face, which also has the timing and presentation of a pie being thrown in a Marx brothers movie. He carries her off, Madsen and MacGyver elect to follow her, while M-Rod hangs out for... reasons?
Matt: She's got a thing for dead monks, I guess. The next scene is a minute or so of Ben Kingsley creepily biting a teenage girl. That is seriously all that happens. And yet, it's the first real emotion we've seen from Kingsley. His facial expressions say, "I played Gandhi. My agent is beyond fired."
Chris: The next scene, though. Oh boy. The next scene. I don't know if we're even ready for this. I don't know if we can be ready for this.
Matt: Kagan's general brings Rayne to an outpost where Meat Loaf, who doesn't look anything like an 18th Century person but instead just looks like Meat Loaf in a ratty Thomas Jefferson wig, is consorting with...consorts. He does at least look like he's enjoying himself.
Chris: I think you buried the lede there, which is: Meat Loaf on a throne of babes. And for those of you wondering, yes: I had to time out that screenshot to make sure everyone's bits were covered.
Matt: That sounds a lot cooler than it is.
Chris: This is another scene that has absolutely no reason to be in this movie. Fake Bane brings Rayne to Meat Loaf, Meat Loaf goes "Oh, I would like to rub up on her," and Fake Bane is like "By the authority of my chinstrap beard, you cannot." Again, that's pretty much all that's going on here, unless you count finding out that vampires drink human blood, which I think we got by now.
Matt: I can only figure Boll thought Meat Loaf was actually Prince, because he sure does insert a lot of Princely "ooohs" into his dialogue.
Chris: The best part is how deeply uncomfortable Fake Bane looks when Meat Loaf starts smearing fake blood on these naked ladies. Like, son is not that good an actor, so that is a genuine and completely understandable emotion.
Matt: I sort of feel like any emotion we see in this movie is genuine, and usually that emotion is anxiety brought on by extreme discomfort. Other times it is embarrassment. Despite there having been no real reason Not-Bane brought Rayne here, Brim and Stone are there too, interrupting the various debaucheries.
Chris: They make their way through Meat Loaf's torture chamber, where a bunch of extras are standing around despite having their throats cut. Like, they're not even leaning to the side. They are just standing with their arms kind of raised up a little so they can be in chains. Also: More lesbians!
Matt: They save one guy who has almost certainly had a ton of blood drained out of him. Where is he going to go to get that dealt with?
Chris: He's beyond the help of contemporary medical science (by which I mean "leeches").
Matt: The Brimstone guys burst into Meat Loaf's den, and apparently Meat Loaf and Michael Madsen have a history. What sort of history? It doesn't matter a bit, because within seconds Meat Loaf is defeated when the guys break some stained glass windows to let sunlight in.
Chris: This past is employed by Madsen literally saying "So, we meet again." That's some pretty cliché scriptwriting, but I'm not gonna lie: I find it pretty comforting. Also, I find it pretty easy to believe that he and Madsen have a past, if only because they both have inexplicable southern accents.
Matt: They played the vampire/hunter regional circuit before moving up to Kagan's WVE (World Vampire Entertainment). I'm more astounded by the stained-glass windows that completely block out sunlight. Wouldn't it be better to just...not have windows?
Chris: Natural light brightens up a room, Matt, and it's pretty obvious that Meat Loaf is the kind of vampire who cares about things. So, with Meat Loaf dissolved into dust, the Brimstone Bros are able to rescue Rayne. Guy Whose Name I Can't Remember wants to kill her for being a vampire, but Madsen laconically explains that no, she's probably just some prophecized dhampir savior or something. He has seen it all, this guy.
Matt: They're on a boat while they have this discussion. We should note that they were riding around in the mountains like, just a minute ago. Where in the world are they? Where'd they get a boat?
Chris: The ways of Brimstone are not ours to understand, Matt, but for now, we're done. Join us next week when we discover just where the hell they're sailing to in the spoooooky second half of BloodRayne!