Currently pop culture is in the middle of a vampire craze, especially if those vampires are sexy. But long ago, vampires were anything but sexy -- they were strigoi.
And those are the kind of vampires that keep popping up in "Strigoi: The Undead," a tongue-in-cheek horror/comedy that takes us right back to the origins of vampire myth. Director Faye Jackson weaves together Romanian folklore with a murder plot and lots of dodgy land papers, as well as a heavy dose of morbid humor.
A young almost-doctor named Vlad (Catalin Paraschiv) returns home to the village of Podoleni, to stay with his slightly-crazy grandfather. He soon discovers that the town drunk Florin is dead, and it looks like someone strangled him. But for some reason, everybody in the town claims it was an accident, and most of them have fine new appliances and clothes. Even the priest is close-lipped about it.
Vlad also drops in to ask greedy land-owner Constantin (Constantin Barbulescu) about it... only to find that Constantin and his wife are flushed, growling and ravenously hungry.
Vlad keeps investigating the conspiracy, which seems to involve post-Communism land deals, forgery and corruption. But he doesn't know that bodies are being found drained of blood, and that the village's conspiracy of silence has led to the strigoi's presence. If the killing (and fridge-emptying) is going to stop, Vlad will have to do something himself.
"Strigoi: The Undead" is an odd sort of movie -- it's equal parts gory horror, murder mystery and coming-home-to-find-yourself indie comedy. But the film's real charm is in Faye Jackson's depiction of a traditional Romanian village in the modern age -- think Vlad sauntering forth to slay vampires, while chatting on a cell phone.
So there's a lot of off-kilter, tongue-in-cheek dialogue ("Do you have any other symptoms... apart from hunger, insomnia and wanting me to stick my finger up your ***?") and funny moments (the villagers almost bury Vlad, thinking he's a strigoi). But there are some deep emotional moments, such as Vlad's grandfather talking about his attachment to the land he had to wrest back from the Communists.
And... it's kind of refreshing to see a movie that dips back into vampire lore, instead of just recycling the same ol' Anne Rice/Dracula/Twilight stuff. These vampires are bloody, ruddy and eat anything they can chew. Including, but not limited to, people.
And Podoleni has a delightfully quirky cast of characters -- the pro-marijuana cop, the guilt-ridden priest, the harried housewife cooking for a ravenous strigoi, and an old man convinced that Communists and/or gypsies are stealing his cigarettes. And Paraschiv's Vlad makes a nice underdog hero -- he's sort of adrift in his own life, feeling like a failure. Nothing like vampires to give your life a little purpose.
"Strigoi: The Undead" is a delicious mix of murder mystery and traditional vampire lore, with plenty of blood, quirkiness and missing dogs. A must-see for fans of the undead!