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August 18, 2005

Russian Horror Double Feature

Georgi Kropachyov & Konstantin Yershov - 1967
Ruscico Region 1 DVD

Night Watch
Nachnoy Dozor
Timur Bekmambetov - 2004
Russian Region 1 DVD

My significant other loves vampire movies. She asked me if I knew anything about a new Russian vampire film that 20th Century Fox was to distribute in the United States. I did a little research and found that the film in question, Night Watch, was indeed available on DVD. This is a good thing as Fox has no release date set for the U.S. and because there are questions as to the if the film will be altered for the U.S. market. The first part of a proposed trilogy, there is conflicting information regarding whether there will be a third Night Watch, or if the story concludes with a reshot Part Two.
In any event, for those interested, the Russian DVD is available for those who either can't wait for the official U.S. version, or like me, would rather see a movie in the comfort of your own home.

Night Watch isn't really a vampire film, though it does have vampires. It's Russia's entry in the good versus evil genre with the conflicted character doing his best to prevent the apocalypse from happening. There are bits of Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, and the Satan is coming for Y2K movies. What makes Night Watch somewhat amazing is that it was done only a little more than Four million dollars. Yes, I am as stunned as the guys at Fox probably were when they found out some Russians made their own version of Constantine for less than it cost a American to make a film about two middle aged guys having a road trip around California vineyards. It should be no surprise that director Timur Bekmambetov has a background in commercials and music videos just like some of the American directors making CGI heavy films.

The story is a bit confusing. Good and evil are at a standoff as of the year 1342. The forces of light and the forces of darkness keep each other in check in the present day. As it turns out, the good guys aren't always good, and the bad guys aren't always bad. There's a virgin witch who brings trouble just by showing up, kind of like the cartoon character with the cloud over his head. An owl turns out to be a bird of a different feather when she transforms herself into a woman. While the story centers on the emergence of "The Great One", the choice is simply between light and dark. Unlike many of its American counterparts, Night Watch is not a replay of God versus Satan or a variation of that theme. In spite of the sometimes unclear narrative, Night Watch is very watchable, kind of like Constantine without the religious trappings. At its best, the film as a couple of Keanu Reeves moments where you marvel at the action and go, "Whoa".

I figured that while I was watching a recent Russian film, I should check out an old school horror film. Viy is based on the same story that was the basis for Mario Bava's Black Sunday. The Russian story is about a less than devout seminary student who is asked to pray for three days over the body of a recently deceased young woman. The young woman is actually a witch who tries to break through the seminarians devine circle of protection. Most of the film is devoted to showing the student, Khoma, getting drunk on vodka. The film, shot in color, as some pretty good low tech special effects in some scenes that would almost make it in Bava's Black Sabbath or Roger Corman's Poe films. There's lots of dizzying circular pan shots. The scene with the witch conjuring all manner of creatures to terrorize Khoma is more funny than scary. The viy, which is suppose to be the most horrible of creatures, looks more like a large, deranged teddy bear. I'm assuming the filmmakers of Viy were hoping to compete with Bava, Corman and Hammer Studios. Their big scene of horror made me recall instead Mexican horror movies like Brainiac.

The Viy DVD also has excerpts from three silent films made between 1915 to 1918. For me, it was interesting to see examples of Russian filmmaking that were closer in style to Griffith, as opposed to the usual film history examples usually centered on Eisenstein.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 18, 2005 06:15 PM


could you please let me know where u got the night watch dvd from as i wish to buy it thank you

Posted by: emmanuel ma at September 13, 2005 03:41 PM

I saw Night Watch through Nicheflix.com as a rental. They may have a purchase link on their site.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at September 13, 2005 06:42 PM