Monday, December 15, 2014

Vampire Junction (2001)

The weird west subgenre is one of the most fascinating in fantastic fiction. While the term “weird west” is a blanket term that can be used to describe works that blend westerns with various other fantastic genres, it’s the horror genre that makes the perfect tag-team partner for westerns. The mythology of the American old west with its ghost towns, mysterious nomadic drifters, things of that nature along with the consuming nature of the frontier landscapes are tailor made for horror, and one facet of the horror genre that works particularly well within a western environment is vampires. In film the most famous example would of course be Kathryn Bigelow’s brilliant Near Dark (1987), a film which set a new standard for not just horror/western hybrids but for vampire films in general. John Carpenter also masterfully fused vampires and westerns together with Vampires (1998) and Carpenter has admitted that Vampires was his excuse to finally do a western. No stranger to westerns having directed one of his own, Jaguar (1963), Jess Franco made his entrance into the weird vampire west during his divisive days with One Shot Productions. The resulting film was 2001’s Vampire Junction, a film that is so utterly bewildering not only is it unlike any other vampire western to come before or after it but it also achieves something astonishing by being of the oddest films in Franco’s entire oeuvre.  

Upon arriving in a small southwestern town affectionately refereed to as “Shit City” attempting to interview a famous doctor, journalist Alice Brown (Lina Romay) is immediately taken aback by the fact that the town seems to be almost entirely abandoned. After finally meeting the doctor, she becomes even more perplexed by his odd behavior, as well as the odd behavior of the few locals she encounters. Not long after settling in, Alice begins to have strange dreams, the only constant being the appearance of two mysterious vampire women. Alice’s dreams soon cross over into realty as she discovers that the town has been overtaken by vampires who intend to add Alice to their ranks.

Vampire Junction is a perfect example of the idea of Franco’s films existing within their own universe. The concepts of time and space are completely alien to a film like Vampire Junction. In fact the entire film seems to be taking place outside of time in an alternate dimension in that “Shit City” seems to be stuck in the old west, yet modern technology such as cell phones and lap tops are featured prominently throughout the film along with characters dressed in old west attire driving modern cars. Its an interesting clash of visual styles and neither one cancels out the other, in fact it only adds to the feeling of “Shit City” being some kind of netherworld of sorts trapped in between time periods. The pink punk rock wig, a mainstay of Franco’s One Shot days, worn by one of the two vampire women is also quite the sight when seen in an old west styled town. While nowhere near as visually excessive as Vampire Blues (1999), Vampire Junction does at times see Franco continue to experiment with filters and image distortions and the digital look of the film has a certain charm to it and actually works in the films favor by piling on to the surreality especially whenever the vampire women are on screen. It also has to be pointed out that this film does yet again feature Spanish actors speaking heavily accented English although its never completely unintelligible, Lina does especially well and turns in a good performance as well.

For some reason Vampire Junction was first released in the States by Sub Rosa in an edited 84 minute version on VHS. It wasn’t until 2004 when they finally released the 97 minute uncut version on DVD which featured a memorable and entertaining segment featuring Linnea Quigley giving a sneak peak at DVD’s for Mari-Cookie and the Killer Tarantula (1998) and Blind Target (2000). Actually that DVD can still be found for decent prices which is amazing in itself considering how much some of the original DVD’s of Franco’s other One Shot films tend to go for ever since going out of print. Naturally Sub Rosa also released the film as part of the “Vampire Lovers” double feature along with Vampire Blues and again in the “Deviant Lust” multi-film set along with Mari-Cookie and the Killer Tarantula, Red Silk (1999) and Blind Target. To say Vampire Junction is one of Franco’s most unpopular films would be a massive understatement. While Franco’s One Shot films tend to get thrown under the bus most of the time, reactions to this one have been particularly harsh with most being unable to look past the miniscule budget and limitations associated with such things, some even naming it Franco‘s worst film. Of course there are exceptions and the select few that can appreciate this period of Franco’s might want to take a chance on braving this junction’s waters.

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