Blood for Irina (2012) d. Alexander, Chris (USA)
I’ve been a fan of Chris Alexander for a long time. I first became aware of the inglorious bastard during his tenure at Rue-Morgue magazine where – among other achievements – he was one of the few brave journalists to step in the boxing ring with Uwe Boll as part of the “Raging Boll” exhibition match. After he jumped ship to Fangoria, I followed the exploits on his Blood Spattered Blog, which subsequently led to our first collaboration with me serving as copy editor on Midnight Marquee’s Blood Spattered Book. Not long afterwards, he was named the new Editor-in Chief for Fangoria when longtime ghoul Tony Timpone stepped down. No TT disrespect intended, but the magazine took an immediate upswing with this injection of fresh blood – like him or hate him, Alexander brings his distinct personality to whatever he does. I don’t always agree with his opinions or passions, but I respect the fact that he feels them as deeply as he does and staunchly (and articulately) defends them. So it goes without saying that when I heard he was going to be writing, directing, producing, editing and scoring his first feature film, Blood for Irina, I knew the end result would unequivocally be “A Chris Alexander Film.” The real question was, would I like it?
Irina follows a century-old bloodsucker (Shauna Henry) now shacked up in a desolate hotel in a dead-end town. Her vampiric existence depicted is not a glamorous one – in addition to the requisite loneliness of enduring beyond one’s allotted time absent any true companions, Alexander’s predators have the misfortune of chronic vomiting spells following each nightly feeding, a kind of undead bulimia. We witness this pattern to a point of deliberate monotony; we come to anticipate the ritual, sympathizing deeply with our central figure with each painful retch. (In Paul Morrissey’s Blood for Dracula, Udo Kier only had to deal with it when getting “non-wirgin” blood.) Irina is constantly watched over and cared for by a dedicated familiar (David Goodfellow), a haunted presence as seemingly exhausted by life as his charge; no giggling Renfield he. Their relationship, dictated by supernatural compulsion or human compassion, is joyless and miserable, grinding out the days with no end in sight. When Irina encounters an equally empty prostitute, Pink (Carrie Gemmell, Alexander’s wife), and brings her home, the decision alters all three of their destinies.
If the plot outline above seems somewhat conventional, the execution is anything but. The psychedelic, reddish-orange liquid swirls (food coloring shot through a Brita pitcher with an iPhone) that open the film set the drifting dreamlike tone that Alexander sustains throughout. Ostensibly taking a cue from the leisurely paced European genre efforts of the 70s, narrative action takes a back seat to imagery, plot giving way to atmosphere (though it’s worth pointing out that no succulent female flesh gets any play, one of the key attractions for many of those early Rollin and Franco efforts). Further heightening the alien feel is the absence of dialogue, the aural soundscape constructed entirely of electronic warbling and manicured effects (also by Alexander, literally a one-man band). I can only recall one other recent narrative feature that attempted a similar gambit – Mark Savage’s Defenceless (2004) – but Irina’s hypnotic visuals and style support the decision much better. A feat made even more surprising and impressive upon discovering that the choice to excise all speech was made during post-production.
On the commentary track accompanying Autonomy Pictures’ recent Blu-ray release, the effortlessly enthusiastic auteur spills about the trials of filming a true no-budget feature whose principal photography was completed over the course of a week in and around Burlington, Ontario. He is joined by Goodfellow, Henry and Gemmell, although the ladies contribute little but background giggling and the frequent recollection of how cold they were during the shoot. Alexander isn’t shy about revealing his cinematic inspirations for his debut feature, rattling off a litany of titles that include Death in Venice, The Keep, Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu, Shivers, Near Dark, The Hunger, Let the Right One In, Daughters of Darkness, Eyes Wide Shut, The Fountain, Angel Heart and Videodrome. The guy knows his movies, and seems justifiably pleased with how he’s been able to emulate those established masterworks with his low tech approach (the aforementioned iPhone, pro-sumer camera equipment, home computer editing software). Paul Jones gets a credit for the blood effects, although we learn that the f/x veteran’s contributions consisted of passing along a couple of leftover buckets from his Resident Evil: Retribution shoot. Burlington’s dilapidated Riviera Hotel, demolished a month after shooting, provides the vampire’s sketchy lair’s interiors.
This is very much a niche film for a niche market, but it possesses a vision that elevates it above its more splattery indie brethren. As with his writing, Alexander is well armed with an artist’s eye and accompanying courage of conviction, seeking to satisfy his soul more than the general public. Blood for Irina is a strong debut born of minimal resources; it’ll be interesting to see what more coins in the coffer bring to the equation.
Autonomy’s Blu-ray release also includes a featurette entitled “R.I.P. Riviera Motel,” several outtakes and deleted scenes (many with dialogue intact), and two promotional trailers. For more information, visit www.autonomypics.com
--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine