One of the most venerable strains of the horror genre, you just can't keep a good werewolf movie down. Ever since Claude Raines' seminal 'The Wolf Man' in 1941, Hollywood has continued to churn out endless permutations of the subgenre with cyclical regularity, from the campy parodies of the '50s ('Abbott & Costello Meet the Wolf Man'), through an early-'80s rebirth led by the graphic make-up illusions of 'The Howling,' to such failed attempts to reinvent the genre in the '90s with efforts like 'An American Werewolf in Paris.' But like fellow classic monsters Dracula, Frankenstein and the Phantom of the Opera, the cinematic lycanthrope has had a bit of a dryspell of late, with the only notable recent werewolf movie being Wes Craven's high-profile 2003 flop 'Cursed.' It seems if Mr. Fangs is not entirely out, his relevance in the new millennium is in serious question.
Hoping to reverse the trnd and revive the werewolf legend once again for modern audiences was last year's 'Blood & Chocolate,' a very ornate genre curiosity that also floundered at the box office. Even as a huge horror fan, the film registers as barely a blimp in my memory -- it came and went so fast that Sony could probably re-release the movie as brand-new and no one would notice. But having now seen the film, I have to say that while 'Blood & Chocolate' is far from a great movie, at least it's an intriguing and ambitious one.
Based (very loosely) on the young adult cult novel of the same name by Annette Curtis Klause, this is another tale that asks us to believe that werewolves live among us in modern society, creating their own underground communities (all populated with gorgeous, wealthy young specimens that would, of course, not normally be homogenous in the same social group). But the most interesting proposition in 'Blood & Chocolate' is that to be of loup-garoux heritage (hip-speak for shapeshifter) is actually a blessing, not a curse. Nevermind that these beautiful creatures of the night need to pray upon the flesh of innocent humans to survive -- why look a gift horse in the mouth?
Not so appreciative of her "blessing" is 18-year-old loup-garoux Vivian (Agnes Bruckner). After her parents die in a car accident, she moves in with her aunt Astrid (Katja Riemann) and uncle Gabriel (Oliver Martinez) in Romania. There, she also meets her cousin Rafe (Bryan Dick) and his group of four other fellow shapeshifters (known as "the Five"). Secretly desiring to be human, Vivian begins to pursue the desires of a local homo lupus Aiden (Hugh Dancy), even though her werewolf ancestry declares it forbidden to mix with humans. The plot soon turns into a bloody, very furry version of "Romeo & Juliet," with Vivian torn between her human lover, and the advances of Gabriel, who longs to mate with his niece as part of a seven-year mating cycle long ago foretold that will bring the "age of hope" for the loup-geroux
Stories like 'Blood & Chocolate' either draw you in, or you laugh right through them. Admittedly, I chuckled through much of the movie, but it also has such a strength of conviction that I couldn't help but admire the sheer gumption with which it was made. I am not familiar with the work of director Katja von Garnier, but she admirably respects her characters, and plays all of this stuff absolutely straight. She also has a nice, fluid visual style -- 'Blood & Chocolate's greatest asseta are its lush photography and snappy editing, which make the film always compulsively watchable, even if it often teeters on the brink of Zalman King soft-core territory.
Unfortunately, attractive actors, nice sets and slick visuals aren't enough to elevate 'Blood & Chocolate' beyond a mere footnote in the werewolf genre. Despite some fun wolf-chase scenes, and Martinez practically chewing the scenery with his CGI fangs, the narrative is relatively inert. Bruckner seems spacey and distant -- bored, even -- and never roots the story enough to really make us care. Sure, there's lots of silky hair blowing in the breeze, characters making steely monster-eyes at each other, and suggestions of simmering passions so intense they're ready to boil over at ant moment, but the result, alas, is never erotic or scary or wild -- just tame. Ultimately, 'Blood & Chocolate' is an ambitious and elegantly staged yarn that never truly excites.
'Blood & Chocolate' comes to Blu-ray in a 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p/MPEG-2 transfer (the first from Sony in a while, after going AVC MPEG-4 for the majority of their recent titles). The film has a nice, classy look -- one that's a cut above most cheesy horror movies. Shot more like an "art movie" than 'Final Destination XVII,' quite frankly this transfer is probably better than the film deserves.
The source is rock solid, with deep blacks and smooth contrast that doesn't look too over-processed. The film is a bit grainy (apprently on purpose), although oddly, brightly-lit scenes often look more busy than darker shots (usually it is the other way around). The visual look is also slightly soft, which gives 'Blood & Chocolate' a pleasing film-like look, even if it lacks the ultra-sharpness of the cleanest high-def transfers. The richness of the photography also certainly helps, with a lovely color palette with deep browns, crimsons and blue-greens. I could have used a tad bit less filtering in the nighttime scenes (it looks too obvious) but hues are nice and clean throughout. Fleshtones often also have a lovely shade of deep orange, which serves to make the lovely-looking cast look even lovelier.
Sony delivers another uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround track (48kHz/16-bit/4.6mpbs) for 'Blood & Chocolate,' and while it's not quite as strong as the video, it is certainly good enough for a movie of this caliber.
A relatively low-budget production despite its visual sheen, the cost limitations are more apparent with the audio. Dialogue sounded to me as if it was obviously recorded during post-production and looped in later. Volume balance is also off -- the effects (and especially the use of ethereal pop-dance songs) are often loud enough in the mix to overpower dialogue. The surrounds are also spotty. Relatively engaging during the werewolf attack scenes and other action moments, they completely revert to the fronts for any scene without action. A movie like this really needs atmosphere, but unfortunately 'Blood & Chocolate' is lacking. At least dynamic range is healthy, with fairly deep low bass and a good amount of heft and presence to the upper range. There are also no major audio problems (hiss, dropouts, etc.) to detract.
Befitting the poor box office performance of 'Blood & Chocolate,' Sony doesn't appear to have invested very much in its Blu-ray release. As such, there are only a couple of decent goodies included here.
After a trio of Sony previews for 'Ghost Rider,' 'The Messengers' and 'The Covenant' (but sadly no trailer for 'Blood & Chocolate' itself), there are eleven minutes of Deleted Scenes. Only three in total, they offer no extra gore or action. Instead, it's all character-building bits, and unfortunately none are notable. The quality is also weak, presented in fuzzy 4:3 windowboxed 480i video only.
The main attraction is the screen-specific audio commentary with director Katja von Garnier and actor Oliver Martinez. Garnier is a very likable, smart presence, but quite frankly the pace of this track is slow as molasses. There are frequent quiet gaps, and Martinez barely says anything, aside from banal comments like "That location scared me!" in his thick accent. Garnier focuses mostly on working in Romania with a crew that spoke "eight different languages," and barely touches the controversial topic of the extensive changes made to the book (which upset many fans). Sadly, this commentary is bloodless.
'Blood & Chocolate' is a pretty silly movie, but it isn't an entirely bad one. The film boasts a rich visual look, and a dedication to taking its story seriously that I found a welcome change in this age of wink-wink, post-modern horror. I'm sure just as many genre fans will hate it as will love it, but you can't say it isn't something different. This Blu-ray release is a pretty standard effort from Sony, but that's not a bad thing. The transfer and soundtrack are both solid, and there are even a couple of (fairly disposible) supplements. 'Blood & Chocolate' is for very specific tastes only, but it's certainly worth a look for werewolf movie fans.