A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 429 – The Case of the Whitechapel Vampire

The Case of the Whitechapel Vampire – May 3rd, 2011

I feel I must explain this movie and our purchase of it. A coworker of mine told me recently that her husband had purchased a large lot of DVDs from someone on ebay and had gone through them to weed out the ones he wanted from the ones he didn’t. She told me she’d get me the list of ones he was getting rid of. So our list has expanded by 25 titles tonight and this is one of them. I couldn’t pass it up. We got some classics we didn’t have yet and some cheese we thought would be fun. But we also got this. I mean, a non-canonical Sherlock Holmes story starring Matt “Max Headroom” Frewer as Holmes? How could I not grab it? So here we are.

This was, as might be expected, made for television. And as an aside, the previews on the disc were so fantastic we immediately added two thoroughly cheesetastic looking movies to our to-buy list. But I was saying this was made for television, and it shows. There are obvious commercial breaks peppered in at regular intervals and we’re definitely not looking at a theatrical feature. If the recent Robert Downey Jr. movie is Sherlock Holmes action and Young Sherlock Holmes is Sherlock Holmes junior, then this is definitely Sherlock Holmes lite. And well, so long as one expects that then there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. I’m not about to condemn non-canonical Holmes adventures, seeing as we own the two mentioned above and I quite like them both. But one has to go into something like this expecting that it’s just not going to be up to the standard of Doyle’s original stories.

I grew up watching the Jeremy Brett Holmes series and I admit, Brett will always be my Holmes, but I’m willing to entertain the idea of Matt Frewer in the role. He’s one of the key reasons I picked this out and added it to our collection. Because I’m far more familiar with Frewer as Max Headroom or that time traveling dude on Star Trek: TNG. But it turns out that he’s done four different Sherlock Holmes television movies. From what I can tell, the writing and directing team are the same and all for have Kenneth Walsh playing Watson, but the other three are all at least based on actual Holmes stories. This one? Apparently they decided to just go it alone. Very strange, and now I’m curious about the others because to be honest, I rather liked Frewer in the role.

Okay, so the accent dips towards the foppish every so often, but the mannerisms and attitude are nicely done for the most part. And he seems to have had some fun with the part, enjoying playing Holmes, who might not have figured it all out from the outset but certainly knows more than anyone else and revels in it. I also enjoyed Walsh as Watson, who is not only a staunch supporter of Holmes but who is given a bit to do here, questioning people and keeping watch. He’s not a baffled fool rushing to keep up with Holmes. He’s cheering him on the whole way. That’s my preferred dynamic between the two.

So I liked the lead performances, but I have to say I wasn’t terrifically thrilled with the plot. It revolves around a series of murders taking place at the abbey in Whitechapel. Monks have been found dead with two puncture marks in their necks, messages in written in blood found nearby. The monks and nuns at the abbey believe it’s the work of a vampire that’s followed some of them back from a mission in Guiana (British Guiana, I assume, now just Guyana). There are reports of bats in the abbey and a strange cloaked figure with the face of a demon. The residents of the abbey are divided amongst themselves, some believing it’s due to a curse Brother Marstoke has brought down upon the abbey. Others believe the source doesn’t matter and the residents need to stand together against it. Of course everyone but Holmes seems to believe there’s a supernatural source.

There are several suspects: Brother Marstoke himself; Dr. Chagas, a naturalist who studies vampire bats and who has quarrelled with Brother Marstoke; Brother Caulder, who wants Marstoke to leave; and Hector, the son of the abbey caretaker. And really, Holmes makes it clear he thinks it could be anyone in the abbey. There’s a lot of bickering and in-fighting going on amongst the abbey residents. The people of Whitechapel are nervous about the killings, wondering if they’ll start to target regular people, not just the monks and nuns. And okay, I’m fine with it all from there. Of course Holmes is skeptical. That’s his thing. Though I was interested to note just how vehemently the writer here had Holmes state his agnosticism, which I’d always assumed but never really bothered to dig enough to confirm. Skepticism is one thing. Proclaimed agnosticism in the Victorian era is another.

My problem here is that while the ending makes sense, the movie doesn’t give us much of a chance to follow its logic to the conclusion. Sure, when the villain dies and we pull his mask off it’s someone we know, but we knew it would be. And the reasoning isn’t really foreshadowed quite well enough for me. I said at the beginning “Oh hey, it could be him. Huh, or him. I guess it depends on the misdirection, but do I trust this movie to bother with misdirection?” And I guess it did. Unfortunately, it misdirected right past its own plot. The villain was both too obvious and not obvious enough. Ah well.

Overall, I’d have to say I had fun watching this. If it had been Frewer’s only attempt at Holmes I’d have felt bad, since he clearly had fun with it and I would have wanted him to have a better chance with a tighter plot. But then he’s done The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Sign of Four and an adaptation of A Scandal in Bohemia. And now I’d very much like to get those and watch them, because while this wasn’t a big budget attempt, or as detailed as the Jeremy Brett series, it was fun.

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May 3, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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