MOVIE MONDAYS: CASTLEVANIA

Castlevania-posterOne comic book property (among many, many others) is lighting up our viewing of late. That would be the Amazon Studios original series THE BOYS (2019), which is based off the satiric, horrific, disgusting, but nevertheless fascinating comic by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson. Now, Ennis has long been one of my favorite scribes for comics, someone who balances offbeat and often macabre humor with effective emotional evisceration. For many, PREACHER is his standout sequential art series (co-created with the great artist Steve Dillon) and that has led to an interesting show of its own; I have soft spots as well for Ennis’ runs on various Big Company characters (such as Batman) as well as his original titles such as SHADOW MAN, HITMAN, and his various war comics.

He’s not the only UK comic book author who balances of offbeat and often macabre humor with effective emotional evisceration, however. The other one who is ever on my radar is the great Warren Ellis, whose work TRANSMETROPOLITAN (co-created with the same Darick Robertson who was responsible for art duties on THE BOYS) has long been on my short list of favorite works. Warren Ellis has gone on to write numerous wonderful comics, and a handful of projects that don’t really gel for me (his first novel is a great idea and shows delirious promise at times, but it’s a wee bit too episodic for my preferences), but when Trista and I were doing our Alamo Cinema Massacre column, we had the chance to catch the first season of a Netflix original series based off material Ellis had written. Of course, we jumped at the chance. Trista and I are both comic book readers from back in the day, and through our nearly twenty years of marriage we have shared a lot of great stories with one another through a variety of mediums. Film, prose, animation, comics, art, dance, cookery . . . We do not distinguish between the so called high and low forms of art, we tend not to describe anything as a “guilty pleasure”. Things work for us, or they don’t. They are judged on a spectrum between the extremes of fascinating or blasé.

Luckily, CASTLEVANIA turned out to be an interesting work. Of course, we went in with some bias—knowing Ellis’ work as we did gave us expectations. Hopefully, we could see the series for what it was.

Season 1 dropped back in 2017. Ellie was a wee one at the time (she had been born maybe six months prior to this series’ release), and it was a reward for us to put her to bed and then chill out with something more adult oriented. The language and mayhem? It was just what the doctor ordered . . .

Similarly these days, THE BOYS has been scratching the itch for something to enjoy as adults. The language, the mayhem, the delirious perversity, the send up of the current entertainment industry’s obsession with supes and their unlikely adventures holds me enchanted. It’s not quite as squicky as the comic book series was (the character of the Legend from the issues was a tad too offputting for me, and he has not yet manifested in the adaptation), it replicates some iconic images from that series (Hughie’s fateful final encounter with his girlfriend Robin could have used Robertson’s art as storyboards), and builds some new adventures for Billy Butcher and his gang of ne’er-do-wells to go through. A joy with teeth, that one is.

I could, of course, go on about THE BOYS. Likely, I will in a future update. However, this update is intended to revisit our take on CASTLEVANIA’s first season.

Roger Ebert famously opined that video games would never be considered art. While I can see his point, I think the medium can lend itself to artistic expression. While the RESIDENT EVIL series or MORTAL COMBAT flicks might not aspire toward that, I would defend CASTLEVANIA as a step in that direction. It’s got some things to say, it’s got an aesthetic, and it has a good sense of humor as well as emotional honesty. High art? Not my fight. Art? Sure thing.

I hope you enjoy our view from 2017.

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Alamo Cinema Massacre Presents: CASTLEVANIA

By: Daniel R. and Trista K. Robichaud

Synopsis: When Lisa approaches Dracula with hopes of convincing him to teach her science, which she might use for the betterment of the human race, she does not expect her interests to bear fruit. However, the lord of vampires is convinced, and she sets wheels into motion that will result in her own destruction. The church, you see, has no patience for science or its practitioners. It’s all witchcraft and those who perform it regularly are witches. When the church learns of Lisa Tepes’ “medicine” it sets out to destroy her, and in the process causes Dracula to unleash all the beasts of hell onto the countryside.

Town after town is destroyed by the monstrous hordes. The Belmonts, a noble family with a history of destroying monsters, might have been able to stand between the demonic forces. However, the church excommunicated them for mysterious reasons. One Belmont remains in the land, a drunkard and braggart called Trevor. Armed with his whip, his short sword, his familial knowledge, and his witty repartee, Trevor Belmont will have to collect some allies if he hopes to save the world. And his only reason to save the world seems to be: Who will fill his ale mug if they are all dead?

DANIEL

Adapted from the classic Konami video game franchise, CASTELVANIA (2017) presents an opening salvo of story, launching viewers into a world of gothic horror and graphic violence as only the witty Warren Ellis can imagine. This prequel to the games is divided into a series of four animated episodes, each approximately twenty five minutes long. Ultimately, all four shorter pieces tell one big tale, which is itself part one of a dark fantasy epic.

Readers familiar with Ellis’ comics work already have a hint of what to expect with this series’ scripts. The banter is solid, the jokes are rather profane (there’s a lengthy bit between tavern goers about an unfortunate goat, the man who sexually assaults it, and the goat owner’s proficiency with applying a shovel to the bastard’s face, which had me in stitches), the violence is brutal, and the hero has even chances between actually pulling off his heroic efforts or losing his footing and ending up on his ass. With an assembly of titles including, TRANSMETROPOLITAN, PLANETARY, FREAK ANGELS, BLACK SUMMER and more, Ellis knows a thing or two about telling an intriguing story. CASTLEVANIA has a lot of interesting stuff going on and several moving parts.

TRISTA

The world of Castlevania sits at a crossroads between a feudal society and a more Renaissance/Enlightened society, with magic and demons thrown in. It’s a great noir backdrop – the lights in this world are brighter, because the dark places are so much deeper. Most of the characters are pleasing shades of gray in this universe rather than simple warriors for Light or Darkness. Ellis’ dialogue is sharp and laugh-out-loud funny. I love his keen views on human nature in extraordinary circumstances. (See TRANSMETROPOLITAN for many many awesome examples of this.)

DANIEL

This appears to be director Sam Deats’ first project for Netflix, but he is a veteran of fan-made films such as DIRTY LAUNDRY (2012) and POWER RANGERS (2015). Sam Deats loved the material as a kid and has worked hard not to foul up this opportunity; indeed, CASTLEVANIA currently enjoys an unprecedented 90% Fresh rating at RottenTomatoes.com. Character animation is lovingly hand-drawn and beautifully done, atop color-saturated backgrounds. The characters look fluid and the angles are intriguing for the action sequences. I wish the back story parts were more interesting that a bunch of folks sitting in a room expositing and sniping back and forth.

CASTLEVANIA has plenty of great moments leading toward its conclusion. What it lacks is . . . well, a conclusion. I am not sure why there are only four episodes here. The show feels like a volume one in a lengthy graphic novel collection. Basically, by this installment’s end, we have the premise set in motion, we have some villains on stage, we learn about three factions (the Un-Dead, the Church, and a secret society called The Seekers) and we have our core team of protagonists . . . But viewers will get very little in the way of resolution.

TRISTA

I’d say there are four factions in play at present. We have Dracula and his Hellspawn army. There is a corrupt Church, with thuggish priests taking orders from a mafia-don Bishop (Matt Frewer). A group of wandering monks called Seekers are present in the city. Lastly, there is Belmont as a representation of the common people. (Which he does with humorous gusto.)

The Church is beleaguered on all sides, it seems. Even before Lisa’s death, Dracula was interested in sciences the Church regarded as heretical. The Seekers do not directly threaten the Church, but the Bishop responds to them as if to lance an infection – perhaps he fears their questioning natures as heresy? It may be that the Bishop seeks to remain a light of faith in a world gone mad, but this Church doesn’t seem to have the welfare of the common people at heart.

Into the Church/Seeker standoff walks Trevor Belmont, trying to find the honorable, merciful way to deal with these people as human beings and to protect human life from monsters of all shapes. No wonder he’s a drunkard in this mad world!

DANIEL

I wish some of the characters had actual names. The Bishop  has the ability to be a fascinating character, a real villainous douchebag who is a cog in a great machine (his Church) who aspires to be so much more with no concern about who he has to destroy to achieve his ambitions . . . Yet he is only known as The Bishop? Hmm.

TRISTA

Well, Daniel, to be fair in this series he has no equals to chat with who would NEED to know his name. Though someone calling him Big Britches at a Neo-Victorian high tea would be awesome.

DANIEL

Put a little more frock in his frock coat, eh?

Now, at this point, I think we can try to do a little speculation about what the subsequent seasons will have to offer. Warning! Spoilers will follow.

SPECULATION (SPOILER WARNINGS)

DANIEL

Well, it looks like Dracula is set up to be a big bad, but in reality I think old Drac will pale in the face of an even bigger bad. The Bishop (Matt Frewer) is an ambitious man, and his encounter with some demons who are grateful to him for ultimately giving them their release ends in an ambiguous way. I’m thinking the kiss the demon bestows is less about biting The Bishop’s head off and more about turning him into a Cenobite-like character. The Arch-Bishop of Hell. He might be a good big bad, as well.

However, the Church itself has been presented as a mystery overshadowing this and many other lands. I think there may be some kind of Soldier of God who will arrive and reveal him- or herself as the biggest bad of them all . . .

TRISTA

I’m thinking that there will be a fifth column that shows up late in the series to help out the heroes. We open the series with Drac as a man of science, and his wife convinces him to help people and give them a chance. While boss-man Dracula may have gone mad with grief, I don’t think he was the only scientist. It’s quite likely there are underlings toiling in the shadows for the betterment of humanity. I mean, who made all the light bulbs and the techy-toys that we see in Dracula’s strongholds? Wouldn’t they be interested in curbing their mad boss’s excesses, especially if threatened by an outside Big Bad like a demon-Bishop?

In other spoilery news, we know Dracula and Lisa had a son. Is that their only child? Could a daughter head the missing Makers?

Furthermore, It turns out that the Seekers have some magic at their disposal – who knows how common magic truly is in this world? I’m definitely interested in the Seekers as a group, especially if they train more secular mages.

DANIEL

One thing I dread will happen is the heroic Seeker Sypha will go the way of Lisa Tepes. Right now, Trevor and Dracula are presented as distorted mirror reflections of one another. Dracula was pulled out of his immortal funk when Lisa arrived and offered him a breath of fresh air. Likewise, Trevor seems to be returning to his heritage of monster slayer because Sypha is pushing him. I hope she won’t get refrigerated just to let Trevor become some apex predator of the monster world . . .

TRISTA

Yeah, that would be the least interesting path in my opinion. Unfortunately Sypha doesn’t seem to have any friends (female or otherwise), and the isolation of her character bodes ill for her survival. I’m hoping she saves Trevor from a monster and then literally kicks him in the pants for it. Maybe then she can run off with Dracula’s son. That would be more fun from a story point of view, IMHO.

My last question is this: Trevor says that he’s the last Belmont. But the lead characters in the original CASTLEVANIA games are Dracula, Alucard, and Simon Belmont. I wonder if Simon will turn up?

I can’t wait for the next installment of the series. Internet scuttlebutt says that although a release date has yet to be announced, an eight-episode Season 2 has been ordered. This is great, especially since I’m learning how to get Ellie to fall asleep by nine-thirty. Woohoo!

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Seasons 1 and 2 of CASTLEVANIA are running on Netflix, these days. DVD and Blu-ray editions of Season 1 are available for order as well.

THE BOYS is currently available on Amazon free for Prime subscribers. We just finished up episode 6, as I write this and, so far, it’s a wonderful series worth writing about.

“Movie Mondays: Castlevania (Season 1)” is copyright © 2019 by Daniel R. and Trista K. Robichaud. It incorporates material from “Alamo Cinema Massacre Presents: Castlevania” which is copyright © 2017 by Daniel R. and Trista K. Robichaud and appeared on the Cinema Knife Fight site in August 2017.

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