“Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” – No Place for Crybabies – 1 & ½ popcorns

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popcornBy Michael S. Goldberger, film critic 

The great thing about Patrick Tatopoulos’s “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” is that you really don’t need to pay attention. Sure, it’s complicated as logarithms, its dramatis personae a hodgepodge of vampires, werewolves and combinations thereof. But if you’re under fifteen you know all about it; over fifteen, you couldn’t care less.

Therefore, the latter should feel free to bring their needlepoint. There’s nothing like some lively crocheting while ghouls slice and dice each other in black-hearted content. And hey, here’s a chance to get a jump on those taxes…but a very, very little book light, please, and no calling your accountant/brother-in-law Manny on the Ameche.

Other benefits abound. Folks who routinely bring crying babies to this sort of fare rather than stay home and treat them to age-appropriate activities can be assured Junior won’t bore his psychiatrist fifteen years hence. I.e.: “Doc, I remember this big dark room; there were fiends salivating blood and stuff.” 

Diagnoses will be easy for future Freuds: “It’s as obvious as your nervous tic, Sherman. Doubtless, your parents took you to see one of the three ‘Underworld’ films…probably ‘Rise of the Lycans,’ which is actually the prequel. It’s R-rated. You were three. In their own way, they left the mark of the vampire on you.”

“Yeah, it’s coming to me now. The vampires were like the lords. They created this werewolf underclass to do their killing. But this one great half-wolf/half-human, Lucian, was good and loved the chief vampire’s daughter, Sonja. I think some people were doing needlepoint. Why’d they do it, Dr. Lipschitz? Why’d my parents let me see such horror?” 

“Because they’re selfish, uncaring idiots whose parents probably took them to horror films. Maybe they couldn’t afford a babysitter. But that’s no cause for rendering loony one’s own offspring. All the more reason why you must forgive them.”

“Forgive them for they know not what they do, huh Doc?

“No…they’re pretty stupid, but they knew what they were doing, alright. Recession shmecession. Some excuse! Bet they couldn’t afford a bluetooth for talking while driving, either. The thing is, if you let this gnaw at you, you’ll always re-play the movie, wolves and hobgoblins of every stripe forever eating you.”

“Yeah, but y’know, the vampires don’t eat people per se. The lowly Lycans Lucian scorns as animal cousins, they’ll eat you. The vampires, aside from angrily biting a neck or to instantly proselytize someone, prefer just drinking straight blood. Even after I’m cured I’ll always remember head vampire Viktor sipping that goblet of blood.”

Ah, what memories. Of course, dear reader, this extreme example isn’t to suggest that all tots dragged to horror movies by doltish caretakers will develop neuroses. Some will nonetheless rise to the ranks of U.S. Senator, lawyer, H.M.O. executive and Wall Street financier. Others might even mature into socially responsible humans.

But if they become discerning filmgoers it won’t be for seeing “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans.” Typical of the genre, it earns its R-rating via much more bloodiness than that one chalice of red dye #3. Director Tatopoulos twists mercilessly the creepy dial. The hopeless, dark world created is early fun house with a vengeance.

However, the truly scary thing is the absolute lack of comedy relief…how seriously this absurdity takes itself. Albeit a waste of talent, somber acting performances by competent thespians almost lend an insane credibility to the macabre doings. Veteran Bill Nighy, his eyes corked with otherworldly blue orbs, is frightful as Viktor.

Matching him fang for fang, epithet for epithet, Michael Sheen (David Frost in “Frost/ Nixon”) is rival but good monster Lucian…all five feet nine inches of him. The Alan Ladd thing aside, dressed in medieval motorcycle garb, he rises to the Che Werewolf  challenge. Rhona Mitra is sultry as Princess Sonja, the requisite forbidden fruit.

Others populating a troupe that could pass for a Shakespearean company exposed to radiation include Kevin Grevioux as Lucian’s right-hand man, Raze, and Steven Mackintosh as the opportunist/go-between, Tannis. But, their lore somewhat explained, we’re still not sure what gives.

We assume the baddies just want to be undead and let undead. Lucian’s another story. While one hesitates to credit the movie with a philosophical metaphor, you can’t help feel the hero’s ambition to install some sort of democracy among these vampires, while inherently ludicrous, is essentially a politically incorrect caution.

Not that it might matter to horror buffs. In their purview, this appraisal is beside the point. Unlike devotees of other genres, they have their own critics. My Van Helsing-like impetus is to prevent crossover by curious, otherwise normal viewers. If bit by “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans,” it could spell their movie-going downfall.

 “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans,” rated R, is a Lakeshore International release directed by Patrick Tatopoulos and stars Michael Sheen, Rhona Mitra and Bill Nighy. Running time: 92 minutes   


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