Let’s not get confused. This is not a review of the new teen vampire show on television that is grabbing a piece of that hot Christian vampire buzz that’s all the rage right now. This is a real vampire movie. No Mormons to be found anywhere near it (not true, actually). No sensitive new age vampires who won’t bite you before marriage. No mob of socially maladjusted teenage girls who so badly want to taste the dark side. No Team Edward. No Team Jacob. No sparkly undead wandering around in broad daylight. You’re going to find a lot in Thicker Than Water: The Vampire Diaries Part 1 but the most important element you’ll take home with you is a sense that you’ve seen something original and that’s a tough thing to come by these days. Particularly when we’re talking about vampires.
The old bloodsuckers have had the points of their fangs filed down in recent years thanks to a very specific model for vampire fiction that appeals to a massive demographic and as a result makes a fucking boatload of cash. What that means is that as long as there are alienated teen girls on this planet, you can count on Edward Cullen in the house where Lestat and Dracula used to live. Finding a vampire movie that actually embraces the horror of the living dead is going to be a tall order so I recommend that you dig in right now and surround yourself with some old-school vampire horror and make sure to include Thicker Than Water: The Vampire Diaries Part 1 because Twilight is going to be around for a real long time.
The sisters Baxter couldn’t possibly be any more different. Lara maintains a shrine to Anne Rice. She wears a lot of black and fishnet and has the sardonic sense of humor to match her wardrobe. Helen is a chirpy over achiever. She maintains a wall of trophies and awards. Her wardrobe is fashionably teenage. One of these is the black sheep of the family. Can you guess which? The answer will surprise you. The Baxter family, as a whole, is pretty fucked up and a dark family secret surfaces among a set of whole new secrets when a voodoo ritual kills Helen and brings her back from the dead as a vampire dealing with her addiction to blood much like a heroin addict. The family murders tourists to satisfy Helen’s hunger, but they can’t keep it up forever and they’ll have to deal with this sooner or later.
I haven’t seen many movies that let you know from the outset that they intend to be the first in a series. I’ve only ever seen one other flick that calls itself a part 1 and that was some kickboxer video that I can’t remember the entire name of that I spotted in some dirtbag video store back in the 9o’s. I’m also not sure if director, Phil Messerer, intends to make a sequel or tell another wildly original vampire movie. I’m not even sure where a diary comes into play here but if Part 1 means there’s more on the way, I say make it happen.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, low budget filmmaking is where the gold is. Often times the guys with no money are big on ideas. They can’t win you over with casts of recognizable names. They won’t be winning awards for cutting edge special effects, but that’s okay because they have a script that kicks ass! Phillip Messerer brought his A-game to the party with Thicker Than Water. The movie has some noticable flaws, obviously, such as some shaky acting here and there and what may be one of the worst CGI fangs I’ve ever seen, bringing me to wonder, why bother at all or why not get some of those great plastic stage fangs that cap over your real canines? You must understand, though, this is a black comedy that works in spite of some technical difficulties and some awkward dialog. Thicker Than Water also tends to pad itself. There are a couple of montages that seem like nothing but filler to pad out the running time. However, the film’s strengths outshine its weaknesses.
Our cast is a pretty likable gang of murderers. Brother, Raymond (Michael Strelow), comes off like he watched a lot of Jeffrey Combs to prepare for his role and sister Lara (Eilis Cahill) is pretty convincing as the gothy sister, often a tightrope to perform without seeming forced or out of touch. Devon Dionne steals the show, though, as sister Helen, a woman transforming into an animal. Though the script chokes toward the end on a strange, angular piece of the story that introduces another vampire and an out for Helen the vampire, it gives the wandering script some direction as it moves into the third act.
What sets Thicker Than Water apart from its vampire contemporaries, though, is its abandonment of Anne Rice conventions. Though she is idolized in the movie and a later player in the proceedings is a vampire of southern nobility, Thicker Than Water eschews notions of eternal youth in favor of real horror. Familial responsibility drives a group of people to kill in order to sustain their sister, whose unquenchable thirst is going to eventually destroy them all. It’s a refreshing break from a monster that has jumped ship in order to be front and center in a series of poorly written “paranormal romance” novels. It’s not clear when Thicker Than Water will be available for order, but if you keep your eyes open, it is now making the rounds on the festival circuit and is winning awards all over the place.