Eternal (NY, LA)

For all its lofty ambitions, “Eternal” is just about my least-favorite kind of horror movie: the “gorgeous and boring” kind. You know the kind I mean – those horror films that look like issues of Architectural Digest shot from the world’s slowest dolly. The kind where vacuous, beautiful people languish in vacuous, beautiful locations despite the fact that they are vice cops and babysitters and have no right whatsoever being there. The kind of horror movie where the only horror is a misplaced vase.

“Eternal” tells the updated (and predictably so) story of Countess Bathory, the woman famed for bathing in women’s blood in order to attain immortality. These days she’s apparently living in Montreal (hell – why not?), where she spends her days lounging about while her maidservant trolls the internet for anonymous hookups to feed her. When Elizabeth (who conveniently uses her Hungarian name ERZEBET as her handle – very sexy) kills a cop’s wife and he comes knocking, a series of lushly-lit soap opera scenes and fully-clothed simulated sex naturally follow, and the cop creeps ever closer to discovering the truth despite his own deviant sexual tastes (he likes being dominated) and uncanny resemblance to Billy Zane. After a series of clumsy, staggeringly unerotic interludes and a few murders, things stumble along until we reach a non-ending that makes us question the existence of a God that could let this kind of thing happen in the first place.

Yes, this is the hell that “The Hunger” hath wrought. While I’m actually a big, guilty fan of the Catherine Deneuve/Susan Sarandon new-wave vampire pic from the 80s, it did admittedly introduce the concept of “vampire arthouse” to a legion of people who hate horror movies but love velvet drapes. All of a sudden, women could be at the forefront of the vampire mythos, and dusty old standards like Dracula and the tacky set-dressings of the Hammer renaissance could be tucked back in the closet in favor of a fresh new visual paradigm; bloody horror could be beautiful, and sensual, and “classy”.

In other words, dull.

While “The Hunger” managed to be all these things and still feature some good scares and FX, gore, and a rare appearance by Bauhaus’s Peter Murphy, its imitators more often than not are heavy on set-dressing and light on just about everything else. “Eternal” features a similar premise (centuries-old, French-accented vampire hottie rattles around a big old house and messes with young perverts) but much less intrigue and virtually no thrills. Take the first scene, for example. WILDCAT (aka Mrs. Horny Submissive Philandering Hotrod-driving Vice Cop) pops over to ERZEBET’s mansion for some forbidden woman-on-woman action. Despite Erz’s being as cold as ice and oddly confrontational, Wild hangs out and stammers about how she’s never done this kind of thing, blah blah blah. It feels like the beginning of a bad porno. Erz eventually sits on Wild’s lap and they make out in unconvincing rock-video fashion, and then Erz kills Wild nearly bloodlessly, a harbinger of the dullness that is to follow. Wait – this is a sexy vampire movie without sex or blood? In terms of turn-ons, gore, or thrills, “Eternal” is basically cinematic blueballs in expensive silk boxers.

The dialogue is incredibly disappointing, and the actors aren’t able to do anything with it – particularly those involved in the police investigation. Pope (Conrad Pla) and his partner, Dean (Nick Baillie) aren’t even one-note characters – I think they have to share a note between the two of them. The scene where Dean confronts Pope about shtupping his wife is like something out of a bad minor-network cop drama. The erotic scenes aren’t erotic (think Skinemax without any nudity), and either the near-nonexistent plot is hinged on a monumental lack of knowledge about police procedure, or they just do things REALLY differently in Canada (um, an easily-acquired search warrant in scene 2 would have spared us all 80 minutes). The action then shifts randomly to Venice (we know it’s Venice because there is a completely inappropriate tourism-board-ready montage of Venetian sights – a la the port-of-call sequences from “The Love Boat” – that yanks the last drop of immediacy from the chase plot and spills it onto the dusty ground like so much dead seed), where Pope easily finds his muse performing in a community theatre production of “Eyes Wide Shut” (at least, that what it looks like). He shoots her dog (leading to the only laugh in the film), the cops bust in, and things look blissfully finished until a tacked-on ending in a monastery invites us to become furious with the film one last time by once again establishing that our “hero” is an utter idiot who would make far better vampire lunchmeat than a policeman of any sort.

The flick does have a thing or two going for it: Irina (Victoria Sanchez, who was fantastic as the beleaguered wolf-girl of “Blood Moon”) has a nasty set of fake choppers that the Tooth Fairy from “Red Dragon” would have been proud of (it’s just a shame that we don’t really get to see them in action); lead baddie Caroline Neron is quite beautiful (it’s just a shame that she doesn’t really have anything to do); and the photography is at times quite lovely (it’s just a shame that there’s nothing happening aside from the loveliness). There is a somewhat creepy scene involving Pope’s babysitter (it gets fouled up by the presence of a random stoned girl in her underwear – but then again, what doesn’t?) that turns unintentionally hilarious when the cops mention that the victim was fifteen (the actress is more likely in her mid-twenties).

While I’m sure that all this beauty and repressed sexual desire is supposed to mean something, it’s just so poorly executed that it fails to be interesting on any level. I can’t say this is the case for sure, but “Eternal” feels like yet another horror movie made by people who don’t particularly care for horror movies. If watching slow dolly shots of impeccably-decorated homes is your thing this might be right up your alley. Otherwise, any number of shows on HGTV will offer the same imagery without all the bad dialogue.

If you click here you can read a positive review from FanTasia Festival 2004.

Official Score