Strigoi: The Undead
August 2, 2011 (US DVD)
Constantin Barbulescu as Constantin Tirescu
Catalin Paraschiv as Vlad Cozma
Carmella Maxim as Mara Tomsa
Dan Popa as Tudor (The Priest)
Roxanna Guffmann as Ileana Tirescu
By James “Crypticpsych” Lasome
Strigoi: The Undead Handles Horror-Comedy with a Subtle Hand.This is a British tale of Romanian undead unique because it’s also a tale of conspiracies, rituals, real-estate feuds, and massive eating binges.
Vlad (Catalin Paraschiv) returns to his home in Romania from Italy to find that the townspeople seem to be hiding something. They’re keeping the traditional death watch over a man’s corpse meant to prevent the rise of the person as a Strigoi, or undead. However, they also seem to have taken some of his belongings and are suspiciously ignoring bruising on the corpse’s neck that seems to indicate strangulation. Vlad is told that various officials including the mayor and priest (Dan Popa) could help him answer his questions and allay any concerns. In addition, Vlad decides to check in with a friend on the police force and with Constantin (Constantin Barbulescu), a high-ranking landowner in the town. Unfortunately, Vlad discovers Constantin and his wife Ileana (Roxanna Guffmann) don’t exactly look healthy. As Vlad digs deeper into the conspiracy Constantin suggests exists, he finds out there may be a darker, more sinister side to his fellow townspeople than even he knew.
Outside of the fact that Strigoi contains what amounts to hybrid vampire/zombies, it’s less a standard horror movie and more a subtle black comedy. It’s still entertaining because of its well-handled humor and unique spin on the mythos. However, it’s also not going to scare almost anyone because of a confusing storyline and an overlong runtime.
Most movies that fall into the horror-comedy subgenre tend to use a very upfront style of humor that can sometimes verge on slapstick and punch lines. While this isn’t a bad method of making a film of that nature, it does highlight how refreshing Strigoi’s more subtle, storyline-based humor is. For instance, a part of becoming a Strigoi is insatiable hunger. This leads to a hilarious few scenes in which Constantin’s wife breaks into people’s houses at night and ravenously eats them out of house and home. It doesn’t feel like she’s doing it to be funny. Rather, she does it because that’s just what Strigoi do. Thus, the comedy comes from the act and the response to it, not a standard “joke”. There are some examples of more standard humor as well, of course. The opening credits, for instance, are set to the classic rock song “Spirit in the Sky” and are effectively light-hearted given the prologue that precedes them. Vlad’s father, perpetually paranoid of communists and gypsies, is a delight. Finally, the way the townsfolk react as the effects of their shady dealings become more apparent is well-done, particularly a confrontation between Vlad and the townspeople in the church. The overall blend of humor definitely helps lend the movie a sense of originality and quirkiness that’s becoming more and more rare in the genre.
Also unique is the fact that these Strigoi are unlike the vampires and zombies in typical stories. The film goes out of its way to claim that its undead are not “full” Strigoi, meaning garlic doesn’t really affect them and that they don’t have special powers like animal transformation and invisibility – and they don’t look all that different from the average, everyday human. True, they look a little ill and “deadish”, but there aren’t really the standard, stereotypical elements like fangs, capes, decaying flesh, or a lack of spoken vocabulary. These changes are definitely a touch of fresh air in a slightly stale subgenre.
There are some elements of this film which prevent greatness. For one, Strigoi is filmed in English. Hopefully the final DVD release will have closed-captioning subtitles as the cast’s heavy Romanian accents have a tendency to be tough to understand. For another, while the basic storyline is understandable, its finer points either confuse or unnecessarily pad the runtime. For example, for a person who knows as much as Vlad claims to about death and forensics, he sure seems to refuse to believe the blatantly obvious truth about Constantin’s nature for far too long. This drags the movie out badly because it is clear what has happened to Constantin very early (it’s shown in the prologue!) so waiting for Vlad to figure it out is a bit frustrating. There’s also a strange subplot about Vlad’s past and secrets being kept from him by his father that doesn’t really add much to the final film and probably could be cut.
Overall, Strigoi is worth seeing at least once because of the unique brand of humor and different take on vampires and zombies. The confusing and overlong story reduces the enjoyment of the final product though, and if the story were more tightly told this would be a far easier film to recommend.