The Horror Zine
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The Horror Zine Review

Empress Vampire

A Film by Phil Condit

Director: Phil Condit
Actors: Ange Maya, Tom Cochran, Garrett Brawith
Studio: Sick Puppy Pictures
Format: HDV 1080 24p
Language: English (Mandarin sequences)
Release Date: December 2012
Run Time: 90 minutes

Empress Vampire

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Empress Vampire

A Film by Phil Condit

Review by James Potter

Empress Vampire gives a new and interesting twist to the modern day vampire genre because this vampire is not from Translvania, nor is she a doe-eyed teenager confused and in love. This a blood thirsty killer who happens to come from ancient China and enjoys her pastime.

The film opens in present day Los Angeles, where there is a party occurring at a private home. Suddenly two robbers enter and begin to threaten the guests. From the back of the crowd, a mysterious, cloaked figure emerges and attacks the robbers, killing one and causing the other to flee the house. The mysterious figure pursues him and kills him by ripping out his throat. The event is captured on a security camera that exposes the identity of the figure as a female vampire (Ange Maya).

The footage makes it all the way to America’s Secretary of Defense, Arthur Hayes (Tom Cochran), who upon viewing the security video, sees a unique opportunity to recruit her as an assassin. He wants to convince her to work for the United States.

But the Secretary of Defense has to find her first, and how can one find a vampire? They try by holding a séance, which reveals that the vampire is from ancient China and that for a thousand years, she had feasted on the blood of her sexual partners.

Before I go any further, I think it is important for me to mention that this film was done with a budget of only three thousand dollars. With such a limited budget, director Phil Condit did an amazing job. I enjoyed the film and was engaged throughout the entire viewing.

Phil explained that he wanted to make a film reminiscent of the horror films that scared him as a child. There are certain segments, as far as lighting, that remind me of the Hammer film days. The film also does not take itself too seriously and that works to its benefit. There is gore, but it is done to enhance the film, not to simply shock the viewer. There is one scene where Ange bites a young woman in the neck and the blood actually seemed pretty real.

The editing of the film was not simply a continual series of quick cuts that is so popular in many films today. Mind you, some quick cuts were used, but only when it is appropriate for the pacing of a scene. Overall, it was more of a tension-building process. 

The cinematography (Phil Condit) was sharp and crisp and the dramatic lighting used in the Vampire Queen's lair was impressive. You can tell that time was taken to produce the best quality possible with such limited funds and I think Phil and his crew exceeded those limitations. I also found the editing of Empress Vampire to be very well done. The pacing of different scenes in order to invoke tension or suspense was well thought out and effective.

Best of all, the storyline kept me engaged throughout my viewing. During the revealing of the vampires in ancient China, the script even called for some of the actors to speak in Mandarin Chinese, which was very effective. Once again, even with a limited budget, Phil added this to the film when he could have very easily filmed it on the cheap. He could have simply shown the scenes and used a voiceover to explain the events, but fortunately he didn’t.

The acting in the film was acceptable. It was probably a situation of two or three takes and let’s move on to the next scene. Having said that, I did find that Tom Cochran, Garrett Brawith, Laura Contenescue and Ange Maya all brought depth to their characters which made them more convincing.

I will say the Garrett needs to work on his Romanian accent a little. But Ange Mayas’ performance as the Empress Vampire really stood out. Her role as the vampire can be described as effectively disturbing because she brought a realistic, cold and calculating element to her character while at the same time an she created an alluring sexual excitement. Through only a look in her eyes, she came across as someone who is always three steps ahead of her adversary. Her Chinese accent, along with the soft tone of her voice, made her seem vulnerable which added to the delight of her.

The costume supervisor in this film was KeLan and the works he created can only be described as jaw dropping. The intricacy of detailing and the colors used for each costume were amazing. Candance Christen, who was the Special Effects Makeup Supervisor as well as Key Makeup Artist, and Mario Ascoli and Alexandra Storm did a superb job in detailing the makeup.

The only criticism I have of the film is that in some scenes, the audio fell short. There were echoes but again, this will happen when you have no budget and little time to shoot. So even that flaw could be overlooked, and I give the crew a pass.

Overall, I like this film and would definitely recommend it to anyone wanting a good horror film with a touch of nostalgia. I found it to be engaging and it left me wanting more.

I would like to see the empress somehow resurrected and a sequel created. The film made me come away with the sense that I wanted to see more. I am still thinking about specific scenes in the film, the vampire lair in particular, and so I can say that Empress Vampire made an impression on me.


See the website HERE

About the Filmmaker

Phil Condit

Phil Condit

Phil Condit started his movie-making career at the tender age of thirteen animating clay dinosaurs in his backyard.  That same year he bought his first issue of Forest J. Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland. A lifelong love affair began. All through middle school and high school he consumed as much horror, sci-fi and fantasy as time would allow between generating hours of 8mm (standard—not super—it hadn’t been invented yet) horror films. But he’s a Johnny-come-lately filmmaker being two years the junior of Steven Spielberg.

After college, Phil figured it was time to grow up and took a job with a documentary film facility that made films on psychiatry and the behavioral sciences. Over the following thirty years, the facility made more than thirty award winning documentaries. 

One of the first films was about Tourette’s Syndrome. Many people now know that Tourette’s Syndrome is a combination of uncontrollable tics and involuntarily uttering of curse words—but that is in large part due to this film. The filmmakers created the first diagnostic definition of exactly what the disease was and disseminated it worldwide.

Phil satisfied his love of horror films by watching as many as he could talk his family into going to see until cable and VHS opened the floodgates allowing him to feast on the genre. He has a particular love of horror films of such a low budget that you can see the seams around the edges.

When the economic downturn began in 2009, Phil’s usual business dropped off precipitously. Many people in that situation went back to school to learn a new profession. Phil decided to return to his teenage roots of making horror movies. Thus, he embarked upon a career change to make horror feature films.

After the first screening of his first feature film, Empress Vampire, Phil said, “There is no greater thrill than to sit in a darkened theater and watch an audience spellbound by your creation—laughing or cringing on cue to the action on the screen—and then applaud at the end. I’m hooked.”

About the Reviewer

James Potter

James Potter

James Potter’s entire career has been based in the creative field of advertising and film. He began as an art director and eventually became a creative director of ads for print, radio and television.

He feels that the single most influential experience in film was Ridley Scott's film Blade Runner. Shortly after that, he received his first exposure to feature films, working as an extra in Robert Altman's Kansas City. When the filming was complete, he was determined to start his own ad agency and concentrated on television commercials.

James does his own television storyboards, working out a refined concept. Doing his own storyboards eventually led him to creating illustrations which in turn led to doing horror artwork. Jeani Rector saw some of his work and asked to use it on the cover of an issue of The Horror Zine Magazine. After that, Jeani became aware of his background in film and asked him to review films for the ezine.