“Now I must feed.”
Vampirism has long-been a staple of western culture, and has been especially popular with cinema audiences since the Hammer films of the sixties and seventies. With Dark Angels, director Nic Andrews presents a contemporary incarnation of the mythical blood-sucker, burdened with craving sexual desires. In it, Sydnee Steele leads a gang of leather-clad urban beasts on the rampage through Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the cover she’s so keen to maintain is jeopardised when a young motorist – Jewel De Nyle – witnesses her attacking an anonymous male. The authorities are duly alerted, and a square-jawed detective (Dillon Day) takes up the case.
Dark Angels received critical plaudits and numerous awards at the time of its release, all of which causes me a degree of despair. It’s not that the film’s a total disaster, but leaving superficial factors to one side, it is entirely routine. A simple but potentially engaging narrative is relegated to a supporting role, and a great deal of money is spent facilitating half a dozen sexual set-pieces. In the last decade or so – possibly due to the success of Michael Ninn’s groundbreaking movies – several of the larger studios have adopted a policy of increasingly elaborate ‘blockbuster’ productions. Of course, most of them are simply expensively packaged, formulaic porn – and so it is here.
One of the most common objections to adult films is that their narratives exist solely to support a series of sexual encounters. In the overwhelming majority of cases, this is absolutely true – and it doesn’t especially bother me. Most genres could be subjected to similar criticism, and it certainly doesn’t preclude the possibility of engaging cinema. Much more damning is the claim that adult movies are stupid. In Dark Angels, noise coming from within a mortuary fridge alerts a pathologist to the presence of a shivering, naked woman and within seconds the two are making love amidst the cadavers. Later, a detective, having followed the same, seemingly-resurrected woman to a rundown neighbourhood in the middle of the night, is happy to drop his guard, strip naked and have sex with a complete stranger – a stranger sporting dark glasses, no less. I realise we’re discussing an adult film about vampires – and that watching feature films requires the viewer to suspend their disbelief – but it’s just too stupid to ignore.
Sadly, the limitations of the source material are exacerbated by some pretty ropey acting from the star-studded cast. The usually-reliable Sydnee Steele fails to convince as a creature of the night, and Evan Stone’s portrayal of a wise-cracking vampire is predictably hammy. Dillon Day does a reasonable job as the detective, but Jewel De’ Nyle is out of her depth as the bystander drawn inexorably into a nightmare. Add in the unnecessary prosthetics and laughable CGI, and you have a feature that wants to run before it can walk. An unconvincing slow-motion shot of a travelling bullet is never going to compensate for an idiotic script – or at least, it shouldn’t. In the end, Dark Angels looks like an adult film pretending to be something it’s not.
Of course there are many worse movies, and certain sequences are quite effectively rendered. As Jewel De’ Dyle’s character slowly transforms from earthly cadaver to fang-toothed ghoul, she suffers from nightmares which provide some of the most memorable images in the film. At times action sequences are unintentionally comical – as our perfectly-proportioned creatures hiss at the camera and totter around on high-heels – but elsewhere the depictions of vampirism are quite well-handled. Indeed, Andrews is quite the artisan – he just appears to have over-indulged himself here. In addition to directing, he’s credited with (co)writing and producing – the latter being especially significant. I can’t help thinking that the presence of an experience producer would have made a big difference; someone to reign in the technical fetishism and focus attention elsewhere.
“You have no idea what you’re dealing with.”
According to one of the commentary tracks on the DVD, the director’s intention was to make a film which just happened to include hardcore sex – a noble enough aspiration, and one shared by many of his predecessors: of course, it’s easier said than done. Most films don’t incorporate ten minute sex scenes into their durations, but this is an adult movie and Andrews is unwilling to forego them – he wants to ‘have his cake and eat it’, to ape the mainstream without transgressing the norms of his chosen genre. That said, Dark Angels is close to the mainstream in ways he probably hadn’t envisaged: it’s competently-made, vacuous entertainment relying on conspicuous expenditure and good-looking people who can’t act. To misappropriate Screw’s comments regarding The Opening Of Misty Beethoven, ‘Hollywood Porn is here’ – a mixed blessing if every there was one.