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Embrace of the Vampire (2013): Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack Review

Embrace of the Vampire (2013) Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Embrace of the Vampire

Video Debut: October 15, 2013 / Running Time: 91 Minutes / Rating: Unrated

Director: Carl Bessai / Writers: Andrew Erin, Sheldon Roper (screenplay); Alan Mruvka (story)

Cast: Sharon Hinnendael (Charlotte Hawthorn), Tiio Horn (Nicole), C.C. Sheffield (Eliza), Chelsey Marie Reist (Sarah Campbell), Victor Webster (Professor Cole/Stefan), Robert Moloney (Dr. John Duncan), Ryan Kennedy (Chris), Keegan Connor Tracy (Daciana), Olivia Cheng (Kelly), Claire Smithies (Sorina), Sarah Grey (Young Charlotte), Aleita Northey (Young Woman), Andrew Wheeler (Heavy Man), John Shaw (Groundskeeper), Steven Richmond (Mark), Travis Nelson (Ted), Maya Massar (Gyspy Woman)

1.78:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic) / BD: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish / Not Closed Captioned
Suggested Retail Price: $26.99
Two single-sided, single-layered discs (BD-25 & DVD-5) / Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available as DVD ($22.98 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

Buy Embrace of the Vampire (2013) from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD DVD Instant Video

The majority of today's horror movies seem to be remakes or sequels. Still, there's a little bit of outside-the-box thinking in the decision to update a direct-to-video 1995 movie best known for Alyssa Milano nudity.
Its title may be vaguely familiar, but the 2013 Canadian film Embrace of the Vampire doesn't have a proven brand to rely on.

This remake opens in Eastern Europe in the year 1735 and by the time this short prologue is finished, this version has already exceeded the original in graphic violence. With no opening credit acknowledging the source film, you might think this version is simply applying the same title to its own vampire tale. In fact, though, it quickly proves itself to be a fairly faithful remake.

That fidelity means this too unfolds primarily on a college campus. Charlotte Hawthorn (Sharon Hinnendael) is a freshman at North Summit University, which she is attending on a fencing scholarship. An alumnus of an all-girls Catholic school, she arrives with no parents and just two small duffel bags of possessions. She soon gets a job at a local coffee shop, where she is hired by recent NSU grad and love interest Chris (Ryan Kennedy).

Charlotte Hawthorn (Sharon Hinnendael) arrives at the North Summit University campus as an orphaned virgin freshman. Bisexual fencing teammate Sarah (Chelsey Marie Reist) is disappointed to learn her lesbian encounter with Charlotte was just one of those things.

Devoted fans of the 1995 version (and those who just watched it) will recognize that this remake hangs on to the first names of characters from the original and gives them each the same function. Nicole (Tiio Horn) is a sympathetic roommate, while her friend Eliza (C.C. Sheffield) is an "acquired taste." There's also a pretty fencing teammate named Sarah (Chelsey Marie Reist), who provides our protagonist with a random lesbian encounter that's true to the original movie's photography session.

Between the fencing and the job, this Charlotte is actually given a little more personality and depth. She's a good girl and a virgin who is determined to succeed, but she is on lots of medication from the hereditary blood disorder that killed her mother. She is also prone to disturbing hallucinations, flashbacks to Eastern Europe, waking up outside on a bed of rocks, and a burned spot on her upper chest where her necklace touches.

Professor/Coach Cole (Victor Webster) is a big believer in slide projection. It's almost as if he prefers the dark. Chris (Ryan Kennedy) isn't just a barista and her boss, but a decent love interest for Charlotte (Sharon Hinnendael).

Beyond these obvious hints, the vampire angle is actually delayed for just over an hour. It uses that time to depict Charlotte's tough hazing (the girls are pulled out of bed just before midnight
and forced to drink and undress if they can't answer fencing trivia questions posed by the team's snotty leader, played by Olivia Cheng) and to develop and delay a chaste romance with Chris.

The film seems to take pleasure in developing two potential vampires on campus (Victor Webster, Robert Moloney), giving each suspect excuses for spending all their time out of the light. It's not much of a surprise that it's the more focal and handsome of the two who comes to assume greater prominence in the fantastical final act.

This Embrace is almost as bad as the 1995 version but it stumbles in different ways. For instance, it dials down the weirdness and religious references. It also opts for a clearer narrative, albeit a fairly routine collegiate one involving a reserved and socially challenged outsider. It easily matches and probably surpasses the original in nudity, as it places much of its predominantly female cast in a state of undress at one point or another. It's more casual and less softcore-y about its sexual content, which doesn't seem as big a deal, since none of these actors carry the image, fame or experience that Milano did back then. The hoarse-voiced Hinnendael seems pretty clearly cast more for her looks and nudity willingness than for her acting, which pales next to everyone she shares the screen with.

This version embraces its horror classification a little more readily than the '95 one did, repeatedly doling out bloody, gross imagery and dabbling in some passable visual effects (a mix of practical and digital) as needed.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Even if you don't agree with me that this remake is a slight improvement over its predecessor, you'll have to concede that this one has the nicer-looking Blu-ray. That's no surprise, since it's a new film and new films, even cheap ones, generally look great in 1080p. This 1.78:1 widescreen presentation definitely meets and surpasses that definition with its pristine and sharp visuals. The disc's Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack also demonstrates the advances you expect of 18 years. The mix makes an immediate impression, with the rear channels' creaky doors commanding notice from the olden prologue. It maintains that high quality throughout with mostly crisp and intelligible dialogue (outlandish Eastern European-accented psychic notwithstanding) and nice atmosphere.

Charlotte (Sharon Hinnendael) gets an undesirable shower on the "Embrace of the Vampire" DVD main menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Paralleling the film it remakes, these discs open with trailers for I Spit on Your Grave (2010) and Lovelace,
then adds a promo for The Lords of Salem. (Again, there is curiously no indication that the original film, which the rear cover dubs a "cult classic", is now available in a Blu-ray and new DVD from the same distributor.)

And, just like the '95 version's new discs, 2013's Embrace is otherwise devoid of bonus features.

The main menu plays clips in the gemstone at the center of a pentagram, a design that doesn't strongly resonate with anything in the film.

Bad news for those expecting one of Anchor Bay's coupons for those doubling up on both Embraces: no inserts (or slipcover) accompany the eco-friendly keepcase, which places the plain silver DVD and full-color Blu-ray discs on opposite sides.

Charlotte Hawthorn (Sharon Hinnendael) discovers the horrors of mid-night college fencing team hazing in 2013's "Embrace of the Vampire" remake.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Though it's easy to question the need for a new version of Embrace of the Vampire, this remake does fall a little more in line with today's horror movie designs. That might sound like a bad thing, but this direct-to-video production is a little more coherent and watchable than its less gory predecessor. It still primarily serves as an excuse for a new generation of young actresses to bare their breasts, but the market for that sort of thing seems unlikely to dry up anytime soon.

Anchor Bay's combo pack is oddly barren, but the Blu-ray's feature presentation is basically unfaultable, which is nice.

Buy Embrace of the Vampire (2013) from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD / DVD / Instant Video

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Reviewed October 24, 2013.



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