Yeah, that old chestnut…
Dir: Mark Beal
Starring: Cory W Ahre, Joel Jeremy Herrera, Jessica Bell, Seraluna Sanchez, William Myrick, Tam Jackson, Dustan Costine, Larry Boozer, Damlon Wallace
SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here, but read on at your own risk.
Father Noah Gregory (Ahre) is a priest who, one day, finds himself approached by two Federal Marshals (Boozer and Costine) to assist with a top secret project. He is given a mysterious manuscript, an Enchiridion or handbook, written in Latin, that alleges to give the history of (plus guidance for) vampires in western society. Noah is understandably sceptical, until the Marshals tell him that they have the author in custody.
From here they give Noah a bloodpack and escort him into a dark, locked room where the malevolent Condu (Herrera) awaits. With piercing terrifying eyes, a smooth and hairless scalp and a mouth full of jagged, needle sharp fangs, Condu's appearance is nightmarish, but, upon starting to speak with Noah, he reveals himself to be surprisingly erudite and intelligent, albeit with a predatory twinkle and knowing smirk. Noah is startled as he realises that Condu seems to have some psychic abilities, but is also fascinated by the conversation and the Marshals are overjoyed that they have found somebody who can get the Vampire to open up.
In between conversations through which Condu discusses the birth of vampires through Vlad Tepes and the demon Moloch (told through some wonderfully atmospheric stop-motion puppetry) we see that Noah still lives with his mother (Jackson) and leads a mostly unfulfilling life.
However, one day Condu is able to escape and Noah is dismissed — only to reveal that this man of the cloth has a childhood sweetheart, Edie (Bell), with whom he shares a passionate night.
However, the following morning he awakes to find Edie missing and a note demanding that he bring the Enchiridion to a set destination. Following a bizarre trek across the city in which he meets cocktail sipping flamingoes and violent, toad-licking addicts, and an extremely aggressive ape, Noah meets Nurse Barbara (Sanchez), who introduces him to talking greyhound private detective Valentine (voiced by Myrick).
Will the unlikely duo be able to rescue Noah's girl? What toll has his interaction with Condu taken? And why is that pterodactyl in the bar????
THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Enchiridion is one of the most imaginative and unique films I've seen in a very, very long time. It comes across as David Lynch meets China Town via Salem's Lot… with some The Singing Detective thrown in for good measure. It exudes a Sixties coolness and at times feels like a visual Beat poem (an image that is embraced as we see a beret-wearing, goatee-sporting beatnik reciting jazzy poetry later in the film). Combined with visually-arresting black-and-white images, this is a truly stylish movie. Credit must go to director Beal here, as he also handled the cinematography and editing duties. Great work!
Quirks such as the stop-motion beasties, some nicely interspersed interpretive dance (seriously!) and the awesome puppetry history of vampires segments mean that the film is always interesting and always captures the attention.
The plot more than matches the imagination of the flick's imagery. With a compelling protagonist and a wonderful antagonist, the stage is set early on for a great story. The early scenes seem much more subdued than the craziness that follows, yet they are still utterly captivating. The scenes that simply feature Noah and Condu in their Silence of the Lambs-like interviews are arguably the best in the film.
Cory W Ahre (who also received praise here at the House for his work in The Pick Axe Murders Part III and Sacrament) is excellent, sympathetic, likeable and more than capable of dealing with the more complex parts of his character's arc. He is fast gaining a fan here at Hickey's House of Horrors and I hope he continues his sterling work in the West Texas indie horror scene.
Herrera is relatively inexperienced (this is his only IMDB credit) yet he is absolutely fantastic. He is charming, witty, utterly believable as an ancient and manipulative creature of the night and incredibly creepy. I found myself looking forward to each of his scenes and cannot wait to see more of him in the future. As an aside, I was also extremely impressed with the way in which he was able to perform with a mouthful of large prosthetic fangs. It couldn't have been easy but he was incredible.
There are no duds in this cast with minor characters — including the cute and likeable Bell — all well up to standard. She adds a more human element to proceedings and is very much one to watch in the future.
I also loved the voice work from Myrick as grizzled PI Valentine. I think it says something for the quality of the performance that he garners significant sympathy and you can't help but root for him during the violent climax of the film.
Valentine was just one of a host of interesting special effects in the movie and the team of Shelia Robinson, Richard Svensson and Beal (him again) produced some extremely stylish and polished effects shots throughout the film. These really added to the fascinating viewing experience.
Chief among these may well be the cool-as-hell Tepes vampire history segments. These were far more fun than they had any right to be and used the creepy, jerky quality of stop-motion to superb effect. These were some of my very favourite parts of the film and I'd love to see the team attempt another movie or short entirely in this style. It's a form of moviemaking that has fallen by the wayside in recent years and is well overdue a revival.
Finally, the plot itself has one particularly great twist that is very well-executed. I loved it as it made perfect sense within the story and really had an impact. Fantastic stuff.
THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Now as much as I loved Enchiridion's wackiness, this may not be to everybody's tastes. It's totally bizarre and goes to some odd places with a few borderline Arthouse flourishes. Much like Coyote before it, this isn't a film for those who want their horror full of blood, boobs and jumpscares. It's much more like a very dark fantasy by way of a fever dream, and might just be a little too out there for the Ouija crowd.
Also, while I've praised the writing of the movie, some of the characterisation is a little less well-rounded than that for the interesting leads. Obviously this is symptomatic of Film Noir, with female characters in particular often reduced to fairly two-dimensional roles. Enchiridion is less guilty of this than the likes of Sin City, but it would have been nice to see the talented likes of Bell, Sanchez and Jackson given a little more to do.
Finally, while I've praised the great production values and effects work for a limited budget, every now and then there is the slight lapse. The jerky nature of the stop -motion (while so wonderful in the flashback sequences) jars a little during the action sequences and robs some of the scenes of some of their threat and menace. Luckily, this isn't a particularly big problem and does not occur with enough regularity to impair one's enjoyment of the film.
THE VERDICT: Wow, Enchiridion really is a cool flick. It's interesting, unique and imaginative and features a couple of great performances with enough visual flair to make it endlessly watchable. I'm already looking forward to sitting down with it again and I'm pleased to tell you all that a sequel/prequel (it's complicated!) Sanguisuge is in the can and coming soon. I think it's safe to say that I'm well and truly ready to 'embrace the weird' and I recommend that you give it a try too.
The dvd is available through Amazon, as is the streaming digital version of the film. Also be sure to check out (and Like) the Enchiridion official Facebook page for more news on the sequel!
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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.