A low-budget vampire movie with ambitious ideas that tries hard to entertain while being a bit different from the norm, Umbrage: The First Vampire has some style, some intelligence and a big draw for horror fans in the shape of Doug “Pinhead” Bradley (I’d be very surprised if he hasn’t changed his name to that by this point in time). Sadly, the good is outweighed by the bad and the end result is a movie quickly forgotten.
Jacob (Doug Bradley) is looking forward to time in his new home with pregnant partner Lauren (Grace Vallorani) and his step-daughter Rachel (Rita Ramnani). Domestic bliss really isn’t on the cards, however, as young Rachel resents the presence of Lauren and hints at some dark secret regarding her stepfather and the past death of her mother. Meanwhile, two young men are a-camping in some woods. Travis (Scott Thomas) is trying to help his mate Stanley (James Fisher) get over his recent heartbreak and the two men are surprised and pleased by the appearance of Lilith (Natalie Celino), a woman who tells them that she’s been trying to watch owls in the woods. It’s not long before things take a turn for the worse in the woods, it seems as if shadows are attacking people and trying to kill, so the outsiders end up imposing on the unhappy family and together they try to figure out just what the hell is going on. Could it have anything to do with the cowboy (Johnnie Hurn) in the shed or the precious mirror that’s also in there?
Writer-director Drew Cullingham shows potential here but makes many mistakes in his first full feature. There are times when the script works (especially with the inclusion of a number of little movie references, from Army Of Darkness to, strangely enough, City Slickers II: The Legend Of Curly’s Gold) but there are far too many times when it doesn’t. After a slightly clumsy beginning we get the core of a decent genre outing but then the classic beginner’s errors begin to show themselves – too much repetitive bickering, dialogue that sounds false when the situation needs to be couched in some semblance of reality and, worst of all, a complete halting of the action for approximately 15 minutes of backstory/exposition at one point.
The direction tries every trick in the book to pad things out but it doesn’t succeed in covering up the fact that so much of the stuff onscreen IS padding. Slow motion moments, extended sequences clumsily edited, a “halfway point” that feels like a musical interlude.
In the acting department we have a bunch of people working hard with weak material. Doug Bradley will always be loved by horror fans (myself included) but lacks some essential gravitas when given a more normal role that doesn’t require him to have pins in his head. Grace Vallorani and Rita Ramnani both do well, Scott Thomas and James Fisher are likeable lads and Johnnie Hurn is good but, sadly, saddled with all of that backstory/exposition that I mentioned earlier. Natalie Celino has other problems – she’s stuck in the role of worryingly unconcerned person during the first half of the movie but gets to do a bit more in the second half. When required to do more with her character, she does so. And she’s a pretty-looking Scottish lass, to boot.
Some decent music is overused, as with most of the good stuff in the movie, and there’s a finale that could have been good if only Cullingham had known just when to stop building on the mythos he was trying to create and that really covers all I need to say about the thing.
Drew Cullingham has potential and I’m sure he can one day provide horror fans with something smart and entertaining. Sadly, this is neither though it certainly wants to be.
Umbrage: The First Vampire will be released on DVD here in the UK on 17th October. The disc should also have, judging by the bonus content I was sent, a trailer, a music video (a decent song but it goes on too long and the video mixes in lots of footage from the film), a decent “making of” piece that runs for about 30 minutes and an interview with Doug Bradley. The final two are the best extra features and, overall, it’s not too bad a selection of extras if you can pick up the disc for a cheap enough price.
DIRECTOR: DREW CULLINGHAM
STARS: DOUG BRADLEY, RITA RAMNANI, NATALIE CELINO, JOHNNIE HURN, GRACE VALLORANI, SCOTT THOMAS, JAMES FISHER
RUNTIME: 90 MINS APPROX