The Film: 1/5
I don’t know Chris Alexander personally, but he always struck me as a guy after my own heart. A true blue horror fan, a lover of visionary cinema, and someone who is incredibly knowledgeable and respectful of his creative influences, the former editor-in-chief of Fangoria launched his independent filmmaking career in 2012 with the eerie vampire feature Blood for Irina. Critical reception was mixed, but the general consensus was that Alexander had tremendous promise as a director even if he had yet to successfully translate his ambitious ideas into an original and cohesive narrative. Though I never saw Irina, the chance to check out the Blu-ray release of Alexander’s sophomore effort Queen of Blood, a spiritual sequel to his directorial debut, was too good to pass up (especially since Innervision’s Blu was going to include Irina as a bonus feature).
We first meet Irina (Shauna Henry) crawling naked and bloodied through the woods. A local hermit (David Goodfellow) finds her, takes her back to his place, cleans her up, and dresses her in a lovely white dress. She repays his kindness by draining him of blood. With her strength returned, Irina ventures back into the woods to feast on the wandering populace. Meanwhile, a crazed preacher (Nivek Ogre of the industrial rock band Skinny Puppy) appears to be tracking Irina’s movements while indulging in his own bloodlust. A pregnant widow (Carrie Gemmell) walks around and stares off into the distance. A lot. People die, and somehow Irina herself ends up carrying a child, which she quickly gives birth to and then proceeds to carry around with the umbilical cord still attached.
In his commentary that accompanies Queen, Alexander is enthusiastic in listing filmmakers such as David Lynch, Werner Herzog, and Nicolas Winding Refn that were tremendously influential on his own cinematic works. But the only thing that he has in common with the fearless visionaries of the screen he hoped to emulate is his willingness to follow his every instinct as a storyteller and see his creation through to the bitter end, regardless of the consequences. Alexander didn’t have to sell his body to science or haul an ancient steamship over a mountain to get to accomplished. He went into the woods with an iPhone, a small cast and crew, and a modest supply of fake blood, and came out with something that barely passes for a movie.
I’ve seen a lot of vampire movies. No doubt Chris Alexander has as well. That experience likely helped to prepare him well for the task of getting his vision of a vampire horror story on film, but by choosing to shoot Queen of Blood without dialogue, Alexander crippled that vision before a single frame could be committed to digital video. It is possible to make a film without dialogue as long as you take advantage of other narrative-building devices to ensure that your audience is never confused as to what exactly is transpiring on screen. Unfortunately for him (and us), Alexander made the decision to tell his story in a way that ensures we are always being kept in the dark. How many people will watch Queen of Blood having not seen its predecessor, Blood for Irina? Both movies are included on this Blu-ray, but potential consumers will doubtlessly check out the main feature first since Irina is basically treated like a supplement.
Queen starts out by reintroducing us to Irina, played with dead-eyed grace and grit once again by the lovely Shauna Henry, as she wakes up from the events of his previous adventure in Alexander’s expressionistic depiction of a 19th century rural community. She spends several minutes crawling on her hands and knees through mud and muck, all captured with grimy digital clarity, before the humble woodsman rescues her. We don’t know who this man is or where he came from, but that matters little because after a few more minutes of agonizing slowness, Irina makes short work of the poor slob and heads back out into the world to do what comes naturally to her. Other characters are introduced without giving us even a faint sense of who they are, so when they inevitably get killed, their deaths carry no weight or importance. Irina meets each one of them, takes their life, and moves on, and we feel nothing for them or her. That’s Queen of Blood in a nutshell - sound and fury signifying both jack and shit.
Queen of Blood was shot with an iPhone by Alexander and actor/co-producer David Goodfellow, and not shockingly it really shows. Innervision’s AVC-encoded 1080i transfer is framed in the 1.77:1 widescreen aspect ratio and looks about as good as we could hope for given the quality of the method with which Queen was filmed. The transfer boasts a wide array of lush greens and warm browns in the many forest scenes and achieves a grimly dark red hue for the plentiful blood flow. Grain content remains balanced and never overwhelms the photography. But overall the location photography is bland and no amount of visual tinkering could make it come alive. Same goes for the English PCM 2.0 audio track, which showcases the backwoods ambience (most of which was probably added in post-production) and Alexander and Carrie Gemmell’s music score to strong effect, but doesn’t do much to elevate the film it accompanies. All in all, the picture and sound are merely fine. No subtitles have been provided.
The supplements provided for Queen of Blood prove that quantity never trumps quality. The only worthwhile inclusion is Alexander’s solo director’s commentary track, which brims with intelligence and enthusiasm for the art of filmmaking and the great movies and directors that influenced his own works behind the camera. Anyone who has ever listened to Alexander’s commentaries for Arrow Video’s Blu-ray releases of the Italian genre flicks Contamination and Nightmare City can tell that the man knows what he’s talking about. Since Queen itself doesn’t have any dialogue, you could watch it with the commentary on and not miss a thing.
Next up is Queen’s predecessor, Blood for Irina (69 minutes), which was also shot with an iPhone and is presented in an MPEG2-encoded widescreen transfer. It mostly features Irina hanging around a motel room and occasionally venturing out to get her drink on while flashbacks interrupt the glacial narrative. Nivek Ogre shows up in a brief introduction for Queen and a featurette titled “Directing Ogre” (5 minutes) that is comprised of on-set footage of the Skinny Puppy rocker at work and goofing out between set-ups. “Gore Gaffes” (3 minutes) is a series of outtakes from the making of the death scenes and contains nothing exciting or revelatory.
The Blu-ray always features a pair of alternate endings; the first (3 minutes) merely extends the existing conclusion by about a minute or so, while the second (2 minutes) was either filmed for Blood for Irina originally or was meant to give Queen an even more infuriating close. I’ll leave the interpretation up to you. A Q&A with Alexander from the film’s Toronto premiere (23 minutes) and the trailer (1 minute) close out the extras.
Chris Alexander could very well have a promising career as a horror filmmaker ahead of him. However, if his first two entries in the genre are any indication, it is not off to a good start. Blood for Irina and its spiritual sequel Queen of Blood would be insufferable even if they were merely amateurish student films, but the fact that they’re made by a guy who knows his horror cinema history and is not without talent behind the camera makes the experience of watching both slightly worse than having wisdom teeth pulled without the benefit of having anesthetic administered in advance. I hold out hope that one day, Alexander will finally give us terrifying celluloid greatness. In the meantime, it’s best to avoid Innervision’s Blu-ray bundling of his first two movies that fail spectacularly even as passionate experiments.