Vampires: The Turning (2005) Review by RevTerry

I hope this doesn't get taken the wrong way, but I'm hardly ever on the side of the vampires in a movie. They just don't click with me and never really have, at least compared to other monsters of their stature or fame. As a child, I was much more likely to pick Frankenstein's monster or a werewolf during any creature vs creature “ who would win” discussions or monster based role-playing game (i.e. running circles, yelling and magically dodging invisible projectiles) on the playground. In the classic Hammer or Universal films, I could always somehow find a way to relate to most of the monsters, if for anything--at least bad luck. Not so much with Dracula, the snobby undying rich dude. Don't get me fucked up, I have a love for bloodsucker based movies and literature of all kinds, and some badasses have portrayed various versions of Nosferatu. There is plenty of vamp-related shit that one would call “essential” viewing.  I just rarely find myself rooting for the leach-like predators themselves. As far as monsters go, they are usually less the misunderstood underdog and more some kind of overpowered aristocrat. When the classic Dracula preys on a young, ample town's person or an unsuspecting visitor, it's pretty much just a rich guy sucking the life out of some working poor asshole. If it's vampires versus werewolves, the furry guys are always depicted as some kind of shapeshifting hobos--who are only mad because they have been locked away from the benefits of rich, thirsty-goth living. Whenever it's some kind of monster all-star, supergroup type situation in a flick, the vampire is always placing themselves in a leadership position or as the mouthpiece--everyone else is just a mindless pawn. In a way, they effectively still represent the wealthy, heartless bastards Bram Stoker had in mind when making Dracula. We still have rich assholes who would drink your blood and kill you to sustain a life they have already had for a very long time. It is hard for me to root on that kind of dude even with some fangs and maybe a cool cape thing. Of course, because there are so many films that include the time-honored parasite, a few have tried to think outside the box when it came to its pathos, with a range of results. Since there's a chance that a dose of kung-fu will make anything better, we can include the surprise action film Vampires: The Turning (2005)  among that group.
 A couple on vacation in Thailand attend a rather large scale kickboxing event. Amanda (Meredith Monroe) isn't really digging the sport-violence, which leads to a spat between her and boyfriend Connor (Colin Egglesfield) outside of the arena. It doesn't go well, and she storms off into a crowd, leaving Connor to try and follow. The distance between the two grows amongst the dense pedestrians and in the frustration, Amanda loses her sense of direction. Sometime during the chase, she gains the attention of a local who also starts to follow behind (but more effectively). The tail approaches when she is mid-panic and, with a shifty smile, he politely asks if she would like to go down a creepy dark shortcut with him. She agrees (because that's the kind of shit you do anywhere let alone, in a foreign land), and the two make it about halfway through the alleyway before he surprisingly gets in her personal space to bite her. Connor catches up just in time to see some suspicious embracing and another assailant scooping up his girlfriend on a dirt bike. He gives chase, but this only leads to a hand to hand showdown with the initial attacker. During the fight, the kidnapper kicks it into vampire mode, and it begins to look like Connor might be pretty fucked--when out if nowhere, some bald dude lops the monsters head off. He tries to tell his new hero about the ordeal, but the mysterious stranger just tells him to take his ass home and bounces out. Still perturbed from seeing his girlfriend ride off unconscious on the back of a motorbike, Connor doesn't listen and instead follows the grumpy savior with the hope of figuring out what the fuck is going on. His snooping leads to an encounter with some apathetic vampire slayers and a group known as the Song Neng. The ancient order of vampires refrain from human blood, avoid senseless killing and were, in fact, the source of every vampiric species. Sang (Stephanie Chao), the group's uniformly old but still extremely beautiful leader, is on a mission of martyrdom, as it turns out it was her own mistake that created the whole lot of “bad” bloodsuckers worldwide. To reunite with Amanda and possibly get some fanged love on the side, Connor joins their cause. Motorcycle sword action and surprisingly brutal fight scenes follow as he battles his way through Thailand's neon goth underground in order to save his girlfriend from becoming a human Capri Sun.
Let's just get this out of the way. Technically, Vampires: The Turning (2005) is the third film in the Vampires film series that starts with the John Carpenter film in 1998. The first film, which starred James Woods, Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) and one of the shittier Baldwins, is a fucking classic in my book, along with most of Carpenters work. The second film, Vampires: Los Muertos (2002), was directed by longtime Carpenter collaborator Tommy Lee Wallace and starred pop-rock legend Bon Jovi as the main monster slayer. Wallace is proficient with the smaller budget (like always), and his entry has no trouble fitting into the world created by Carpenter in the first (who served as producer). Bon Jovi's cool uncle routine isn't really a great replacement for balls-out nutbag, James woods, but he seems to just lean into the cowboy thing and they make it work (deeadd or aaliiive). This film, Vampires: The Turning (originally called Vampire III: Throne of Blood) was the first in the series to be made independently from Carpenter. As a sequel to one of my longtime favorites (and it's mostly nifty Jovi-rific follow up), The Turning doesn't quite hold up. Any effort to connect to the rest of the series is minimal or forced, and it contradicts the established lore within the opening monologue. The tone clashes against that of the first two in an awkward way, and they make shitty companions. On its own, however, it's an engaging action flick with not only moody vampire politics but martial arts. I like to pretend it's autonomous, and luckily the generic title helps. I could have told you it was a sequel to Vampires: Out for Blood (2004) with Lance Hendrickson and it would have made just as much sense. Honestly, if you remove the intro and replace all the mentions of “vampire” with “immortal” then you could easily have a Highlander movie that fit better in that (fucked up) timeline than the original cut of Highlander II: The Quickening (1991). 
The film is a mostly made of kung-fu action sequences with attempts at bloodsucker drama. Horror elements are used as the set dressing, or merely flavor, for gang warfare and fancy sword fights in exotic locales. Think more like blood sucking Point Break (1991), or that one straight-to-video Fast and the Furious sequel. The vampire war (between mean vampires, nice vampires, and slayers) in Thailand is surprisingly civil. I mean heads get cut off and mass murder happens, but I remember only one instance of someone getting dragged screaming into the sunlight and exploding. Our main character quickly becomes one of the title monsters (hence “the turning”) and with additional flashy combat, each “slaying” is traumatic. The story is told completely from opposite the slayer faction, seeing them more as a heartless antagonist that puts money over everything. In this world, bloodsuckers meet up in a dirt bike circle like kids in Akira (1988), and peaceful vampires make tense deals with slayers as if they are high ranking mafia bosses. It passes through a few lulls as it attempts to realign with its characters original motivations, but nothing outside of the usual goofy action movie character development. Vampires and kung-fu isn't a wholly unique concept but manages to become memorable by taking both elements seriously at all times (with varied success, but that's less important). The film’s gung-ho pace benefits from the straight face it holds tight throughout the sillier moments, never taking time to break character. It really is more fun than it has any business being, even as it fails at establishing the character-driven revenge/rescue motives it goes for in the face of its predecessors. The main story gets kind of lost in some doomed love triangle that kind of just dies out before the conclusion, which is less than complete. As a third horror-comedy sequel, its existence is a hard fail in almost every regard. Instead, what transpires is entertaining kung-fu flick with ancient lore obsessed vampires and the poachers from Jurassic Park 2. A lot of it feels out of time, and it's hard to remember while watching, what time it was actually made. Large chunks feel straight out of a 90s Van Damme flick while a bunch of the dialogue could have come from something you would see between Jack of All Trades (2000) and Cleopatra 2525 (2000-2001).  In fact, (including its extremely soft ending) altogether, the whole mess has a lost 90s tv show vibe going on (but with better fight scenes). It never really gets boring. For what might as well be a backdoor pilot shoehorned into the canon of a perfectly simple film series, it's a surprisingly solid watch in its own corny ass way.
The film uses bad CG emphasis at uneven points throughout, that look they might lead into an episode of CSI (or one of its many sister shows). Outside of the awkwardly spaced computer generated bullshit, the majority of the film is technically sound and surprisingly proficient. There are scenes of capable practical lighting, and the overall direction pins together the mostly scattered plot with no issues. The locations and set dressing were inspired and hint at the larger underworld not fully explored. The fight choreography is by far the main draw for the film, and while it's nothing to call mom about (I mean...you can), it packs quite a few intense practical (as in no CG or shitty angles) one-on-one bouts. Some are better than others, and they are all sandwiched between hilarious slices of dialogue, but the no-nonsense throwdowns are worth a watch alone. The kung fu comes as a surprise, being that this is supposedly the third in a series about Catholic, cowboy vampire slayers (that kill shit with spike guns and a backhoe), but it all works out. The gore and nudity are a bit skimpy for an “R” rated vampire flick, adding more to the already strong TV show feel. The little bit of bodily harm that does make it in there is amusing enough, when it's not being dampened by CG. The vampiric features of the monsters amount to glowing blue eyes and if they get really amped--some facial get-up straight out of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It suffers from extremely generic and increasingly out of place canned tunes that mostly hurt any attempt at serious moments. There have been far worse musical choices in the history of both action and horror (including plenty of vampire films), but I was not digging it much. I felt the copy I was watching had its original soundtrack removed due to copyright concerns, and some intern replaced it with unused early 2000s video game music.
Because of the cheesy dialogue, Conner’s confusing logic and Colin Egglesfield’s cardboard acting, the devotion to finding Amanda feels hollow as fuck. The character is stripped a little of the classic (fancy pants) vamp feel that might have been in a film like this, but the result is more a whiny and unloved c-list X-Men character than anything better.  You follow him as the film’s default protagonist, but it's hard to give a shit about what he does after a certain point. He does, however, make up for many of the pitfalls in the fight scenes, of which it looks like he performed himself (so don't tell him I said he was a shitty actor). As Amanda, Meredith Monroe spends a lot of time laying around being pale, so I couldn't really speak on her abilities passed that. Most of the gangs on either side (both “good” and “bad”) seemed to be selected for their face kicking ability alone, and I'm fine with that (in most cases). Stephanie Chao plays Sang, the leader of the well-meaning crew (The Song Neng). Her ability is quite a few steps above most of the surrounding players, although that means little in this case. For whatever reason, even with a role that seems to teeter on eye candy, and despite feeling like she walked out of another film completely, her character is one of the highlights in the acting department.  Dom Hetrakul, seemed like a weird choice for the“king vamp” role at first. Far removed initially from the normal dapper Nosferatu, his unique route eventually gets to the right place for a bloodthirsty badass. I thought he looked familiar, and it turns out it was a hazy memory from a dark time in my life when I was drinking Jameson out of the bottle and watching Bangkok Dangerous (2008) on repeat (which he's in). Anyway he was cool, and I will have to keep an eye out for his other shit (and possibly rewatch Bangkok Dangerous, partially sober).
Vampires: the Turning isn't likely to become your favorite vampire flick, and it is a terrible example of a 2000s name-only sequel to a classic 90s film as well, but somehow it's still a nice watch all the same. Sometimes you have to just isolate the situation in your mind, get rid of the baggage and enjoy watching monsters rumble like its the fucking Outsiders on kung-fu inducing crack. I'm told there are far worse vamp flicks that involve a love triangle out there, and I have seen enough fucked up Fright Night rip-offs myself to know this is very far from the bottom of the blood barrel. It's in good shape for a film of its type, and it moves at a quick enough pace to be an entertaining play on a few overused themes. It didn't quite make me sympathetic to the plight of the vampires in the story, although the Muay Thai moves were part of a valiant effort. I'm glad I can still enjoy vampire movies anyway, because I hardly ever relate. Semi-immortal powers like life-stealing and an advanced eye for fashion are nothing special in my world--I can get that shit on reality TV shows about rich people's kids.
 1h 24min | 2005
Director: Marty Weiss
Writers: D.B. Farmer, Andy Hurst

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Review by:
RevTerry


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