Grindhouse Review: 'Heartstopper' (aka 'Dark Craving')

“Heartstopper” (1991) (aka “Dark Craving”)

Directed By John Russo

Starring Kevin Kindlin, Moon Zappa, Tom Savini, John Hall, Tommy Lafitte and Michael J.Pollard.

From John Russo, one of the creative minds behind the original masterpiece of terror, “Night of the Living Dead,” comes the film adaption based on his powerful and original novel, “The Awakening.”

In 1776, colonial physician Benjamin Latham (Kindlin) is wrongfully accused of practicing sorcery and is hanged from the gallows. To prevent his unholy resurrection, his body is desecrated and buried at a nearby crossroad.

Two hundred years later, the condemned doctor’s burial site is accidentally unearthed and he rises from the grave as a vampire in present day. Upon discovering his new, unnatural thirst for human blood, Latham decides to track down his contemporary descendants with the aid of a museum photographer, Lenora Clayton (Zappa).

While Latham only feasts upon the dregs of society to quench his crimson cravings, a deranged copycat killer goes on a rampage that skyrockets the city’s terror alert level. With detective Ron Vargo (Savini) hot on his trail, the heroic superhuman vampire confronts the savage serial killer in a fog-shrouded twist ending.

To start my review off, I must admit that I’m not a huge fan of the vampire genre. Most of the movies are populated with predictable plot twists, tongue-in-cheek special effects, hot teenage stars who seem like they’ve never been to acting school and minor adaptations of the mythology that creates these nocturnal creatures of the night. However, it doesn’t shy me away from viewing and enjoying them as a filmmaker and filmgoer.

What impressed me about “Heartstopper” was the riveting plotline that Russo created for his vision of the classic antagonist. Unlike my last review for George A. Romero’s indie masterpiece, “Martian,” which shied away from any of the vampire conventions, Russo uses some formal conventions to his advantage and twists them into a unique matter that creates a thin line between reality and fantasy.

When Latham is initially resurrected, one of the first series of scenes that explains to the audience the nature of his “awaking” is a conversation between him and Father Ed (Duncan). What started off as a confession in a booth at the local church turns into a twisted history lesson based on the mythology of what we know as the typical vampire.

Latham speaks about the past events that eventually bring him and the viewer to his resurrection 200 years after his death sentence. The confession scene is broken up into two parts. The first segment sets up the backstory, while the second part is more of the pinnacle moment in the film’s backstory.

Latham and Father Ed are having a drink in the back room of the church. Ed spends most of his time listening while Latham is speaking about how he came to be in his current state. In the following passage, through Russo’s constructive writing of dialog, you understand the actions and emotions that Latham has gone through without succumbing to seeing the visuals painted across the
silver screen.

Action is being told through dialog rather than visuals. Usually in a story like this, you see visuals with narrations explaining the actions. Although there are some minor segments that use this technique as a storytelling device, in this scene it’s quite the opposite.

First of all, Kindlin gives a solid and reasonable performance through the entire film, but in this scene he fluctuates between the blood-crazed fiend that he’s become and his sympathetic side through facial expressions and tone of voice.

“I would ratter be a harmlessly deranged man, than an acluistic killer,” Latham said. “But unfortunately, this second life of mine is not a disillusion. Let me show you what I discovered when I first examined my new flesh.”

Latham pulls up his shirt to show Father Ed that he has no navel.
“I have no navel, because in this lifetime, I was not born of woman. No navel, no umbilical cord connecting me with the mother of flesh and blood. My original flesh decayed and fell from my bones, so did the stake and the necklace of garlic, and even the iron shackles rusted to bits. Then a bulldozer unburied me from the crossroads. Then after two hundred years, my moldering skeleton pieced itself back together, and a new body formed over it. And now I am what that mob accused me of being. Superstition has created a monster.”

When you read or listen to this passage, you can see the typical vampire conventions that are weaved into the films storyline. But instead of having the structure of a coherent vampire storyline, you can see that Russo took his time in developing an original concept instead of following the same old formality that has been told countless times.

Although, I do think that some of the missing material that exists in the novel was more effective than what was portrayed in this adaptation, the film did have a solid three and a half star rating from yours truly until I viewed the film again to do a comparison between the book and the film.

In the book, the love story between Latham and Clayton was more flushed out, giving it a believable build up to their relationship that makes the story more three dimensional.

In the film, I felt that build up didn’t even exist, let alone the fact that it wasn’t there until near the end of the film. It had the sense that they met, and then fell in love on the same day with no reason behind the emotions between them. I know there’s that old saying that you can fall in love at first sight, but yours truly is not a firm believer in that aspect. Plus, that follows along the line with the typical vampire conventions.

Also, the Ron Vargo character in the novel was more convincing than Savini’s one-dimensional performance. To make a story like this work, you have to take it very seriously because if everyone who’s involved with the production doesn’t take it to that level, it’s not going to work.

I’m sure if Russo and the rest of his crew had a little more time and money to perfect this gripping and original twist on the genre, it would have been more than what other reviewers see as just another vampire film. However, despite the limited resources, some minor moments that involved some of the supporting cast and watered down versions of the characters relationships, “Heartstopper” does work as an experiment in manipulating the genre and is not afraid to show these classic creatures in a new light.

Two 1/2 out of Four Stars

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