Jay Saunders - Aaron
Daniel Ross - Kyle
Cory Okouchi - Cole
Devon Marie Burt - Alex
Carla Okouchi - Lily
Kurt Skarstedt - Seth
Melissa McConnell - Ann
Daniel Mascarello - Manson
Genre - Action/Horror/Vampires/Ninjas/Comedy
Running Time - 89 Minutes
The "Vs." aspect in action and horror films have really been finding their niche for the past few years. FREDDY VS. JASON set the box office on fire back in 2003. ALIEN VS. PREDATOR, while a flawed attempt, still managed to create an audience for itself. And those Asylum films, like MEGA SHARK VERSUS GIANT OCTOPUS and MEGA PYTHON VS. GATOROID, have garnered the SyFy Network millions of viewers many Saturday Nights.
You just had to know that vampires would want to get into that piece of the pie. After all, they've taken over television. They've taken over film. They've taken over Hot Topic while buying the newest A.F.I. album while stocking up on black eyeliner. These fanged freaks want to be part of everything so we can continue to talk about them. So who can they feud with? Werewolves? Been there, done that. Zombies? Lack of blood supply. Ninjas? That's just sil---
Wait...someone actually made a film about NINJAS VS. VAMPIRES? Well, why should anyone be surprised? If people still want Chyna making porn movies [excuse me...I vomited in my mouth there], then NINJAS VS. VAMPIRES, distributed by Breaking Glass Pictures, can make total [not really] sense. What I'm really surprised about is how well the film works, even if director/writer Justin Timpane's ambition far exceeded what the small budget could present.
Awkward, wanna-be director Aaron (Jay Saunders) has huge feelings for his longtime best friend Alex (Devon Marie Burt). Unfortunately, Alex doesn't feel the same for Aaron. Aaron tells Alex that he can't be friends with her if they can't move their friendship to a deeper level. Before Alex could respond, she and Aaron are attacked by a group of vampires. Lucky for them, a group of Ninjas save them and slay the vampires.
Apparently, there now seems to be a war between these Ninjas and these vampires, run by a pretty boy named Seth (Kurt Skarstedt). Like most villains, he wants the vampires to rule the world by eliminating the Ninjas who protect it. They also have a huge interest in both Aaron and Alex, who are being protected by the Ninjas. Eventually, Alex gets kidnapped and Aaron has no choice but to join the Ninjas - training, learning strategy, and reaching his full potential - before fighting the vampires, including Seth's crazy strong brother Manson (Daniel Mascarello).
NINJAS VS. VAMPIRES is the sequel to 2008's NINJAS VS. ZOMBIES, a film I haven't watched so I can't compare the two. It's obvious that Justin Timpane loves Ninjas and he loves horror monsters, which means we'll probably see more of these NINJAS VS. films. To be honest with you, I wouldn't mind seeing more installments with these characters. I honestly believed this would suck [no pun intended], but I ended up liking it for the most part.
I think the clearest inspiration for NINJAS VS. VAMPIRES is 1998's BLADE, where Wesley Snipes would use swordplay and martial arts moves to battle vampires. Unfortunately for Timpane, BLADE actually had a budget to work with to achieve what it wanted to present to its audience. NINJAS VS. VAMPIRES does what it can with a $15,000 budget, but its these limitations that stop the film from truly becoming what Timpane probably wanted it to be. Thankfully, we don't have vampires that sparkle - they also don't get harmed by garlic and it seems blood gives them info from and about their victims. These vampires do die via sunlight, decapitation, and stakes through the heart which results in them turning into ash. This is done with really cartoonish and cheap CGI, to the point that even the skeletons look animated. We also have supernatural stuff, like a witch and her powers, plus a portal that takes the characters to another realm. The CGI for this isn't too horrible, but it does look cheap. But for $15,000, it's the best CGI they could use. I think if Timpane had a bigger budget to work with, the special effects would have looked pretty amazing here.
Thankfully, we actually have a story or two here to distract us, even if it doesn't make a whole lick of sense for the most part. The main story, obviously, is in the title. The vampires want to take over the world by gaining some amulet that will grant anyone who holds it great power and the ability of the holder to steal the power away from any victim. The Ninjas want to make sure this doesn't happen, even if they end up sacrificing their own lives. It's a pretty simple tale of good vs. evil, with the usual betrayals, deaths that inspire the group to work better as a unit, and the all-out finale where people fight, die, and make sure the world is still safe until the next threat arrives. There's nothing new about this type of plotline, but Timpane makes it work well. Sometimes you get a title as epic as that, yet the only time we see the two groups battle is at the end for a unsatisfying three minutes [see MEGA SHARK VERSUS GIANT OCTOPUS]. You get exactly what the title promises you here from start to end, so I can't really complain.
The sub-story are the characters' relationship with each other. We have Aaron and Alex's friendship-turned-romantic relationship that is the centerpiece of the film. Aaron's love for Alex, and the knowledge that the vampires want her, motivates him into reaching his full potential as a Ninja, fitting right into their group. So we have a love story and a coming of age story all rolled up into one. We also have tough Ninja leader, Cole, and his relationship with bad vampire turned good, Lily. There's also comic relief Kyle's budding romance with witch Ann. And of course, vampire leader Seth has his own kooky girlfriend who spouts one-liners as if they were out of style. While it's nice to see these interactions, they honestly don't mean much as a viewer because there isn't enough time to really get to know these characters. Cole and Lily's relationship doesn't do a thing for me, and Kyle and Ann's seems to be going somewhere until tragedy happens. I guess I needed to see NINJAS VS. ZOMBIES to really get the full effect here, but their relationships felt forced rather than natural. Aaron and Alex's relationship is build up better, but Alex's feelings from friendship to girlfriend status aren't believable. It just seemed to happen because it had to happen. To be honest, the only love story I bought was Seth and his girlfriend. They were both power hungry, thirsty for blood, and just all around insane. In other words, they were your typical evil couple. And I bought it.
Speaking of the characters, the vampires are pretty lame here. I'm not talking about their abilities or their actions. I didn't mind that. What I mean is that they're portrayed pretty silly to me. Seth is nothing more than a Deacon Frost wannabe, but with bigger muscles and a monotone voice. Then there are these three other vampires - one looks like Doctor Doom and the other two are like his cheerleaders or something. I guess it's supposed to be funny, but it didn't make me laugh once. I thought Seth's girlfriend was cool though, only because she had a personality. The main vampire attraction is Seth's brother, Manson, who looks like an oversized dude in a gimp costume. Supposedly he was trapped in some dungeon for years for doing something bad and Seth releases him in order to kill the Ninjas. There wasn't enough about the backstory to make me care much about Manson's background, but I thought the character was pretty alright. He looked intimidating and acted like a bad ass, which is more than what the other vampires got portrayed as.
The script is also helped by the fact that it seems self-aware of itself at times, mentioning certain moments of pop culture that relate to what's going on. From things like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, to POLTERGEIST's "They're Here" line, to comic book references, to characters dressing like Freddy Krueger and Princess Leia, and to a blood-soaked moment inspired by CARRIE, NINJAS VS. VAMPIRES knows exactly what it is and embraces it. I thought these moments were pretty funny when they popped up. My favorite was the first victim wearing a shirt that said "I Love Edward" on it. I guess we know what Timpane thinks of the TWILIGHT franchise. Sometimes the pop culture references can be a bit too much for some films, but I had no problem with them here. It added to the film's charm.
The direction by Justin Timpane is actually well done for the most part. Besides some editing and lighting issues [the dark scenes were a bit too dark], the visuals were nice. The CGI is kept to a minimum and only used when it needs to be. The composition and framing works. The fight sequences, while not the greatest or most exciting, still pack a punch. I admire Timpane's ambition for wanting to create a spectacle with such a tiny budget. I can only imagine what he can do with a bigger one. Hopefully he gets that chance one day.
The acting is okay. Jay Saunders, as Aaron, was probably the best actor for me. He played the nerdy guy well, and his evolution into a bad ass ninja worked for me since Saunders definitely had the martial art moves to pull it off. Cory Okouchi, as leader Cole, is cool and tough. He kept the film together, I thought. Daniel Ross was pretty funny as Kyle, who is the comic relief of the film. He's really the pop culture guy and Ross seems to be having fun with the role. His more serious moments were decent as well. Devon Marie Burt, as Alex, as okay for me. She was very cute and played her character well, even though her memory loss got annoying after a while. Carla Okouchi as Lily played a nice mysterious vampire. Kurt Skarstedt as Seth was kind of bland though. Maybe that was how the character was written, but he was pretty stoic through most of the film. I could use some of his fitness tips though. And Daniel Mascarello as Manson was a standout. Besides the silly gimp costume, Mascarello was really the only interesting villain of the film. I think he should have been in the film more.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE PULLING A MUSCLE AS I TRAINED IN NINJA
- Alex wondered if Aaron was shooting her chest on camera. I wouldn't concern myself with it, unless he starts shooting your booty as well. In that case, he's probably a pirate.
- Alex, having some short memory loss, couldn't remember being attacked by vampires. Arnold Schwarzenegger wishes everyone else could share the same condition, ever since Mildred and the love child destroyed him more than Skynet could ever do.
- Aaron had a dream where he was naked while Alex, his mom, and a group of other women chanted "Lil' Dick" at him. That would have been a nightmare if the stereotype wasn't most likely true...
- Vampires had a bunch of tied up and blindfolded girls in a circle, slicing their throats one by one. Looks like the challenges are pretty fierce in this edition of America's Next Top Model. It still needs more smizing though.
THE FINAL HOWL
For $15,000, NINJAS VS. VAMPIRES from Breaking Glass Pictures is an above average action-horror film that I think fans of both genres should try and check out. While the results don't fully satisfy, at least the ambition and the love for filmmaking is present, which is more than most films I've seen and/or reviewed. It's pretty clever and pretty funny, with some decent fight choreography and decent acting. The CGI and the villains could have been better, but this film exceeded my expectations. Judging my the ending, it looks like Timpane and company aren't done with this potential franchise yet. I won't complain about that - I just hope a bigger budget and a stronger story comes along with it as well.
2.5 Howls Outta 4