Aside from Blade, you probably never heard of this MCU vampire. Famously delayed for over two years because of you-know-what, it was pulled for more reshoots in 2020 & 2021, which is never a good sign. Can its attachment to Spider-man and Venom help at this point?
His name is Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto), a brilliant scientist suffering from a rare degenerative blood disease that has weakened him to the point of death. In a quick flashback backstory, we discover that he and his surrogate brother, Milo (Matt Smith) as children shared equal fates. Seeking a cure at any cost, Morbius discovers that cross-breeding human and some rare bat DNA might work. After all, he invented artificial blood, this should be easy for him. Along with his faithful colleague, Dr. Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona), Morbius finally finds a cure. . . but a terrible price! He becomes stronger, faster, and has a bat’s echo-location, BUT he also has a blood-thirsty desire like a vampire and needs to feed every six hours. Drat!
All things considered, it’s not a bad trade-off, except for all the dead bodies he’s left behind. Oh, then there’s Milo. Under strict instructions not to take the bat super-serum, Milo goes ahead and becomes a vampire too, but he revels in his newfound life and bloodlust, unlike Morbius who just wants to be human again. Naturally, these two friends butt heads (and fangs), getting into fights and trying to out-think and out-kill each other. Meanwhile, on the body-count case is New York’s finest, FBI agents, Simon Stroud (Tyrese Gibson) and Al Rodriguez (Al Madrigal). Oddly, they don’t question Dr. Morbius being a vampire in their city. I guess with Spider-Man and Venom around, what’s so unusual, right?
One thing is for sure, keeping this movie on the shelves for over two years did not help things. First off, the movie is choppy, unfocused, and fractured as if this was originally a three-hour movie that someone edited down to 102 minutes. It has a fast pace alright, but many scenes seem disjointed and out of place. In fact, many of the scenes in the trailers are not in the movie. Screenwriters Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless (Gods of Egypt) know their vampire tales, having written the far superior Dracula Untold in 2014. In fact, this movie borrows heavily on that film and Batman Begins in style and tone, right down to the use of bats and the identical soundtracks.
Another problem is the strange direction, handled here by Daniel Espinosa (Safe House, Child 44). It flip-flops from being genuinely excellent in all the action scenes, where the movie excels like a horror flick, but shifts to mediocre and sometimes amateurish in other quieter scenes. There are terrible edits, plot holes, tonal shifts, and jarring tacked-on scenes that doom this movie. Thank God the actors aren’t phoning in their roles! Jared Leto, who always commits 100% to whatever he does, doesn’t disappoint here. He takes this outrageous Marvel anti-superhero and treats him like a tortured Shakesperian king.
The same goes for Matt Smith, who looks like he’s having a blast as a killer vampire. He really takes a bite out of his role and savors every moment. Hopefully, we’ll see more of Arjona, as she’s underused here. Funny thing, it’s said she has “two little girls” in the movie. . . and we never see them! Yeah, one of many of those gaping plot holes, LOL! Jared Harris has a nice role as Milo’s doctor, but Tyrese and Al, as the two FBI agents, just sleepwalk through this. Still, with all the faults this movie has, it still delivers a decent amount of fun, action, thrills, scares, and some surprises. Hey, maybe one day we’ll see the complete, uncut version? #releasetheEspinosaCut!
**Now showing only in theaters
Blood of the Vampire (1958)
There are over 150 movies about vampires, give or take. THAT is quite a lot! From Universal’s iconic Dracula in 1931 to the Hotel Transylvania franchise for the kids, there are all types of plots, styles, tones, and storylines. This one is the closest to Morbius I could find!
They say that imitation is the most sincerest form of flattery and in this case, British filmmaker Henry Cass loved the rich, stylized, and highly profitable Hammer Studios films (eight Dracula films, seven Frankenstein films) that he decided that his film should look just like theirs! In fact, it fooled many people when it came out! In one of the most un-vampire-like vampire movies I’ve seen, this movie stars off promisingly, set in 1874 Translyvania with a murder, grave robbery, and a suspicious doctor doing an illegal heart transplant. Okay, so far, so good. Then we fast-forward six years where the tone dramatically shifts and we have the story of Dr. John Pierre (Vincent Ball, looking like a young Peter Cushing), who’s just been sent to prison for accidentally killing a patient.
BUT! This prison (like the infamous Chateau D’if in The Count of Monte Cristo) is no picnic. Pierre soon learns from his cellmate (William Devlin) that this prison/penal colony is run by the cruel hand of Dr. Callistratus (Donald Wolfit), a strange and powerful man who does experiments in his underground laboratory with the help of Carl (Victor Maddern), his hunchbacked, mute, and killer assistant that looks like Quasimodo’s brother. Recognizing the talents of Pierre, Dr. Callistratus allows the imprisoned doctor to help him with his crazy research. . . finding certain blood cells that won’t attack others.
Could this have anything to do with all those transfusions he keeps giving himself from all the bodies he’s been snatching? Hmmm? It seems Dr. Callistratus is a vampire, but unlike the regular fang-faced, bat-winged, coffin-dwelling, afraid-of-the-daylight variety you see in every movie, this guy has zero of those traits and just wants to be human again. Dr. Callistratus seeks a cure through his many repulsive blood and body experiments, while Pierre just wants to escape this hell hole at any cost. Meanwhile, Pierre’s fiancée, Madeleine (Barbara Shelley), sneaks into the prison under the guise of the new cleaning woman, even though Carl recognizes her and, of course, is smitten with her.
The unconventional and anti-climatic ending is dull and listless as Pierre & Madeleine, about to sliced ‘n’ diced by Callistratus, get saved by the suddenly reformed Carl. Callistratus does die, yes, but NOT by any stake through the heart or sunlight, but by four hungry Doberman dogs. What. The. Hell. Written by Jimmy Sangster, who made a living writing tons of horror films (The Crawling Eye, The Terror of Frankenstein, Nightmare), this lackluster, dull, and slow-moving unhorror movie lacked what all Hammer films had. . . greatness! Director Henry Cass (The Crooked Sky, Booby Trap) had a nice handle on the mood, but that script destroyed any chance for a truly good vampire film. Why? NO freakin’ vampires!! At least the kind we want to see!
Wolfit as the deranged ‘vampire’ doctor, who must satisfy his cravings with blood transfusions instead of biting the necks of people, is different, I’ll give you that, and Wolfit plays him completely opposite as a vampire. C’mon, guys! The title of the movie is Blood of the Vampire, remember? Ball is very low-key and Shelley is your typical 1958 damsel-in-a-dress, but Maddern gives his murderous, mute, one-eyed hunchback, Carl, some depth of character that you actually care about by the end.