Chris Alexander has taken a passion for film and transformed it into a multimedia career: stints editing the magazines Rue Morgue and Fangoria are his best-known achievements but he’s also written books, started his own magazines, run a website, recorded commentary tracks for cult fave horror titles, taken part in film conventions and recorded soundtrack-inspired music (he’s performed that music in concert, too).
That said, making movies is the ultimate prize for the cinema-besotted and Alexander has cranked out a series of micro-budget horror films in recent years. They wear their influences on their sleeve, specifically a love for the narcotic artsiness of Jesus Franco, and downplay traditional narrative filmmaking niceties like dialogue and plotting in favor of an all-encompassing attention to mood expressed purely through visuals and music. These scrappy, seat-of-the-pants affairs tend to divide fans of cult and horror fare with their insular, film-fetishist take on Euro-horror motifs.
Blood Dynasty is Alexander’s latest venture down this path and continues his exploration of the character of Irina (Shauna Henry), a ghostly female vampire. At the film’s outset, she emerges from the waters of an anonymous city in decay and takes up residence in a seedy motel with a young woman (Cheryl Singleton). She initiates the woman into vampirism and uses her as a go-between to select new victims. A cycle of stalking and feeding is initiated that is as close as this film gets to a plotline.
Like Alexander’s other Irina films, Blood Dynasty is a personalized catalog of obsessions – female vampires, water as rebirth, empty city streets, squalid motel rooms – that forces the audience to decide how much they want to get engaged in its impressionistic, druggy rhythms. It also continues an interesting quirk of Alexander’s Irina films: despite being inspired in part by the fleshy, carnality-driven work of Franco, it avoids nudity altogether and carefully skirts its way around any kind of overt sexual content.
That said, if you’re interested in experimental horror, Blood Dynasty shows Alexander sharpening his aesthetic approach. The photography shows a new carefulness in how shots are framed and composed. The editing displays a sharper command of rhythm, with certain shots and patterns of shots artfully revived throughout the film like the visual equivalent of motifs in a musical composition. The score also has a new sense of grandeur, with some score cues having a heavy, prog-rock feel that brings a surprsing oomph to certain sequences.
As for performances, Alexander’s mostly silent approach – there are exactly two words of dialogue in the entire film – aids the film in maintaining its dreamlike feel and allowing the cast to figure as visually intriguing ciphers rather than traditional characters. Henry remains the key figure amid a group of alternative-look Canadian amateurs. She seems to enjoy the “dark force of nature” role and brings an unnerving intensity to her work.
Both Henry and Singleton deserve kudos for how they handle the vampire feeding scenes, which Alexander lavishes lots of attention on: the lovingly-filmed sequences of neck-biting, blood trickling down skin and blood passed from mouth to mouth suggest this is the filmmaker’s way of expressing the sexuality of the vampire film. Cast and filmmaker give these moments the kind of feverish focus that communicates that idea with vigor.
In short, Blood Dynasty is every bit the specialty item that Alexander’s previous vampire films are – but if you find that style of avant-horror appealing, you’ll notice how he is bringing a new specificity and style to his austere aesthetic.