Ever since Max Schreck starred as Nosferatu back in 1922, vampires have been reimagined and adapted to film for decades. Well-known features and actors such as The Last Man on Earth (Vincent Price, 1964), Fright Night (Chris Sarandon, 1985), The Lost Boys (Kiefer Sutherland, 1987) and Blade (Wesley Snipes, 1998) have left their mark in horror history depicting vampire monsters in various ways. They were typically been portrayed with brutal darkness. Unfortunately for hardcore horror fans, vampires have begun to take a lighter, more sparkly tone with films such as Twilight (Robert Pattinson, 2008). While he may not have staked a claim among the classics, Scottish filmmaker Grant McPhee brought vampires back to horror with a uniquely artistic and fresh spin in Night Kaleidoscope.
Following a brutal murder, Detective Pollock (Craig-James Moncur) calls on the help of Fian (Patrick O’Brien), a freelance investigator with psychic abilities enhanced by a psychedelic drug. Fian takes on the role of a modern day Van Helsing as he discovers that he’s pursuing Emma (Kitty Colquhoun) and Tommy (Gareth Morrison), two deranged lovers who slash their victims and drink from their wounds. Driven by a thirst for vengeance, Isobel (Mariel McAllan) joins Fian to avenge the death of a former lover who was feasted on by the vampire couple.
Despite a low budget, Night Kaleidoscope takes an artistic and abstract cinematic approach that is driven by performances of a cast of relatively new faces. While McAllan does an outstanding job portraying a troubled young woman on the rebound, Morrison and Colquhoun give equally fantastic performances as a sadistic couple with a thirst for blood. However, O’Brien dominates the screen portraying a driven and tortured character with a dark past that appropriately bares a personality resemblance to Harry D’Amour, a fictional occult detective created by Clive Barker.
The on-screen performances are heavily supported by the off-screen talent to further propel the audience’s attention into the dark underbelly of shadowy streets, alleys, and nightclubs where the vampires lurk and seek their prey. Filled with dark, kaleidoscopic lighting and jump cuts, Fian’s psychedelic visions are brought to life in surprisingly graphic special effects. This creative use of locations, as well as practical and cinematic effects, create a dark and menacing atmosphere serving a film of bloodthirsty vampire’s justice.
Though this vampire tale is told in a dark and twisted way, making it more admirable than Twilight’s sparkling monsters, it isn’t without its faults. Night Kaleidoscope seems to struggle between finding a balance of telling the story through plot and character development and incorporating psychedelic cinematography. While they are engaging, the frequent use of gritty visual scenes risks confusing and losing the audience while overshadowing the rest of the film.
Despite its flaws, Night Kaleidoscope is a great concept flick using unique filmmaking techniques with an outstanding cast of fresh talent. In an age where vampires were beginning to sparkle, this entertaining vampire film steers bloodsucker features away from the lighthearted genre and back into the darker world where they belong.