Ninjas vs. Vampires
May 3, 2011 (US DVD)
Jay Saunders as Aaron
Daniel Ross as Kyle
Cory Okouchi as Cole
Devon Marie Burt as Alex
Carla Okouchi as Lily
By James “Crypticpsych” Lasome
Ninjas vs Vampires Could Be So Much Better – it has the ingredients of a great fun movie, but is hurt by bad villains, nerd-cred and my sobriety.
One night best friends Aaron and Alex (Saunders and Burt) are fooling around with Aaron’s camera. Shortly after Aaron misses obvious signals and confesses his love to Alex, creatures attack them out of the dark. Suddenly, a group of people grab Alex and teleport away while Aaron is left unconscious on the ground. After he comes to, Aaron heads to Alex’s house only to discover that she’s still mad about his confession and has no recollection of the attack.
Deeply confused, Aaron acts on a tip from a friend and follows a local comic shop owner named Cole (Cory Okouchi). When he reaches his house, Aaron discovers Cole associating with an apparent vampire named Lily (Carla Okouchi) and is captured. They reveal to him that they are ninjas (and a “good” vampire) who have devoted themselves to fighting off a troupe of “bad” vampires led by their leader, Seth (Kurt Skarstedt). Then Alex comes looking for Aaron and she is captured as well. Aaron, desperate to prove to Alex and himself that he’s a brave person, allows himself to be turned into a ninja and joins the group in their battle to protect an amulet from falling into vampire hands.
A few years back at a convention in Connecticut, I bought a screener from an indie filmmaker. I intended to review it at some point, but never got around to watching it. That movie, Ninjas vs Zombies, is still on my shelf, unwatched. This movie, Ninjas vs Vampires, is its sequel (and also has a sequel hook). I can thus say unequivocally: it is not necessary to see the original first because I followed this story just fine. On a technical level, it’s better than many indies I’ve seen, and its problems surround a desperate attempt at “nerdcred”, initially unlikable main character, and terrible villains.
To be fair, Ninjas vs Vampires works on some levels. The fight scenes are decently choreographed and the comedy (particularly the awesome performance of Daniel Ross’s “Kyle”) hits the mark a fair bit. The story is also interesting and engaging. In addition, the ninjas are all great characters (though I want someone to explain where the hell ninjas learned to use handguns, semiautomatics, and assault rifles. I missed that page in ninja history). The video is mostly very clear and well-shot, though it suffers in nighttime shots and in the vampire manor when strangely-colored lighting schemes are used. The audio is also very good, maintaining sound quality of dialogue overall and matching the actors’ mouths perfectly throughout the film.
The visual effects are very good for an indie film. While I was not a fan of the “burning vampire” effect at first, I grew to appreciate it more and more as the film went on. A “portal” effect is also used to near perfection as are all the effects associated with Ann, the “witch” ninja’s, psychic powers and all the vampires’ fangs. The major exception to the decent effects work, though, is the use of CGI blood on multiple scenes, in particular a horribly done series of CG neck slashes that just look absolutely dreadful.
I wish I liked Ninjas vs Vampires more, but it just seems like the kind of movie that would work better for drunken party riffing than sober solo movie viewing. While there are legitimately funny jokes, Ninjas vs Vampires also develops a “nerd-joke” crutch and begins desperately throwing out geeky, nerdy references including Star Trek, Twilight, and True Blood. There’s even a moment where Aaron is taking part in a very well-done martial arts training session where the film awkwardly homages “The Touch” from the 80s Transformers movie in the score! It creates a sense that the film is trying way too hard to be “cool” and crosses over into just being cloying and annoying. There are also problems with the characters other than the main ninjas. The main male protagonist starts out so annoying that it digs the movie a hole from the start (even though I did grow to like him as it went on). Alex, on the other hand, is nothing more than a steadily more annoying “short-term amnesia” joke. The villainous vampires, though, are the worst offenders. Skarstedt’s “Seth” is easily the worst actor in the film, trying to be over-the-top and cheesy but just coming off as wooden. Also, while he is the “lead” baddie, there are just so many other villains to keep track of. There’s a strange mask-wearing leader of a group of mask-wearing acolytes, Seth’s brother “Manson” in a gimp suit, two HIDEOUSLY annoying frat boy idiot minions in rejected party supply store costumes, and Seth’s cute female sidekick minion who has a mildly irritating squeaky voice. Were they all really necessary?
Overall, Ninjas vs Vampires is recommendable with friends and alcohol. It has some decent performances and is technically sound and very watchable, but falls short by trying too hard to appeal to a nerd demographic and having too many badly-handled villains. It’s clear that director Justin Timpane and his ninja actors have some talent. They just need to reign themselves in a bit.