Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Wendigo Meets THE INSATIABLE (2007)

After last weekend's dispiriting experience with Dracula the Dirty Old Man I was loath to try my luck with a film that my friend Wendigo assured me was dreadful. But Vampirella was waiting on the top of his to-do pile until he called me with an escape clause. The cable guide told us that Fox Movie Channel was going to be running The Norliss Tapes, a Dan Curtis TV movie he'd never seen before and one supposedly dealing with a "California vampire." As it turned out, The Norliss Tapes was an entertaining little show, but its monster was no vampire. It drained victims of blood but didn't drink the stuff. Instead, it mixed the blood with clay to create a statue of the evil god Sargoth which would come to life when the stars were right, or when the undead sculptor finished gibbering an arcane prayer. But our hero Norliss saved the day by setting a circle of blood on fire with the evil god trapped inside. As I said, dumb fun but no vampire.

Wendigo came through with another save. He'd DVR-ed a vampire movie off the SyFy (ugh!) channel a few days before and offered to run it as a new experience for both of us. Why not?

The Insatiable is not the darker, more serious version of Marilyn Chambers's famous star vehicle, but rather a kind of black comedy about a loser who keeps a vampire in a cage. I think that sums it up pretty well, but Wendigo wants to elaborate. He sees it as a modern vampire movie told from the viewpoint of a modern Renfield, albeit a reluctant one. There are fewer of those these days, if you think about it. Our loser protagonist Harry Balbo is determined to keep the sexy vampire Tatiana from killing people (the media has dubbed her the "Head Ripper"), but is hopelessly smitten by her when he finds her lying helpless in her lair. When she opens her eyes and softly begs for her life as he raises a chisel over her chest, he can't bring himself to do the deed. His alternative is to lure her into the basement of the apartment building where he's the super on the side and trap her in a steel vampire-proof cage. He lacks killer instinct (or moral sense, depending on your perspective), a lack that may mark him as a loser in the eyes of his rivals at the flange factory, and once she explains that she'll die without food he becomes her servant as much as her captor. It starts with bunnies, then gets more costly with hemoglobin ordered over the internet, until our hero finally succumbs to her temptation and lures his bullying rival into the basement for a more satisfying meal.

Wendigo describes The Insatiable as a kind of Stockholm syndrome scenario that works both ways. While the hero's gradual surrender to Tatiana's lures and guilt-tripping is obvious, the vampire herself gives in to a kind of co-dependent relationship with him. While I'm inclined to condemn the protagonist as once a loser, always a loser, Wendigo comes to his defense, noting that even the vampire sees something in him that stays her hand when he finally offers himself as her last meal. Like the live girl he pines for, Tatiana tells him he'd make someone a good husband. Actually he ends up as something other than a Renfield, and while it may be a happy ending for him, to the rest of us it's kinda twisted, though in my view the character never develops enough to make the ending tragic. It just occurred to us that the relationship of hero and vampire here is more like Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter than anything else, but you'd have to see the thing yourselves to judge.

The film's tone is inconsistent. Co-creators Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon seem to strive for something serious in the scenes between the hero and the vampire, but Harry's office enemy is a broadly-drawn buffoon of a bully (and poorly acted by Jon Huertas) whose scenes seem like they're meant to be comic until his gory demise. It's harder to determine whether the hero is comic. Wendigo thinks that Sean Patrick Flannery plays him more for pathos than anything else. He objects when I condemn the character as a loser, but I think my real problem is with Flannery's one-note hangdog performance, which ends up neither comic nor compelling for me. We agree, of course, that the main attraction is Charlotte Ayanna as Tatiana. She's sexy within the limits set by this commercial-TV presentation (whole lines of salty dialogue are blotted out at times, and she never needs to strip to seduce Harry) and comes across as a thoroughly modern vampire: some supernatural strength and speed, no transformations, no aversion to holiness that we know of, and enhanced capacity (despite her own protests otherwise) for emotional interaction with humans. Michael Biehn is also along for the ride as a paraplegic vampire-hunting webmaster who just happens to run the site Harry consults while living in the same building as our hero. He's entertaining when he's on screen, but his role quite literally handicaps him when it comes to deeper involvement in the story.

Of course, we saw a gravely compromised version of this movie. Wendigo would be interested in seeing a less compromised edition, but he has to admit that he doesn't really want to spend money on one. In his judgment it's worth checking out if you happen to come across it, on TV or in a cheap bin, but not necessarily worth seeking out.

To make up for the lack of screencaps, here's a trailer, uploaded to YouTube by derlolokar:

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