Blood and Donuts

Director: Holly Dale

Canada - 1995

   Hoff! Hoff!  


Vampires. I’ve always loved vampires. Yes, yes, I’m aware of the Goth-chic attitude, where vampires are darkly beautiful but tragically damned, and there is a kind of bleak attraction to that, regardless of how cliché it might be. However, I could easily imagine plenty of more fun ways to spend eternity than brooding around the empty streets of the city, late at night. Or hanging around in Goth clubs, making fun of any who aren’t as darkly beautiful or tragically damned as myself. I mean, I’m only mortal, but that seems like too much of a drag, man.

All the same, vampires can be fun, both as villains, comic foils, or antiheroes. The innumerable Draculas. Innocent Blood. Love At First Bite. I Was A Teenage Vampire. Near Dark. Fright Night. And, of course, Blood and Donuts.

I always used to call them doughnuts, by the way. After all, they’re made out of fried dough, right? But it seems like nearly everybody these days calls them donuts. Guess it’s easier, without the silent "ugh."

(Side Note: Now, I’ve been catching a lot of teasing from my darling wife, George, for my meandering openings. Like it’s bad to set the scene, or something. Bert and Ernie go badI mean, it’s not like we really have any previews in a print review, to get you warmed up for the main feature, like my opening musings tend to do. But out of deference for at least trying a different way, I’ll skip the lengthy set-up, dear reader. Let’s go right to the film. And feel free to write in with an opinion about structure.)

The movie opens with telemetry audio and video of the moon landing, moving on with a nice orchestral track behind the old-TV clips… a somewhat arty touch, which tips you that this is definitely not a Hollywood Blockbuster. To clear things up, it’s a Canadian film. That means it’s bound to be innovative and creative, with little "commercial appeal." This is a good thing, friends, at least in terms of "different" film fare. As Buddy said once on The Kids In The Hall: "It’s great! It won’t make a dime!"

Where was I? Oh, yes. On-screen text comes up. "In 1969 Man walked on the moon… and Boya crawled into a bag." Yes, this will make sense in a moment.

Now we get odd. "Mr. Sandman" starts playing, one of a host of ‘50s and ‘60s favorites on the soundtrack. Spiffy steel-toed cowboy boots walk onto a rocky beach-type area, some distance in front of the Toronto skyline. Then whack, he starts hitting golf balls. Toward the city, of course. Wouldn’t want to asphyxiate a whale or anything. Anyway, remember those boots, kiddies; you’ll see them again.

As credits appear on the black screen, we cut to flashes of action. One golf ball smacks into an old building, knocking things over and causing the ceiling to collapse. Thus is Boya Zsekely (Gordon Currie) introduced, with many simple details showing his age, not the least of which is his bad suit. He’s a mousy-looking guy with shoulder-length hair, and he staggers about, cracking joints back into place much like McLeod in Highlander II: The Quickening, after he fell down the elevator shaft. Remember, if you wake up after 25 or so years of sleeping in a ceiling, go to a chiropractor or whatever the temporal equivalent is right away. It’ll save time in the long run.

Then we are introduced to a middle-aged beautician (Fiona Reid), who senses a presence she has not felt since… She goes to the bathroom, and tugs at her throat-scarf. Bite marks. Are we getting a picture of the set-up? The nice touch is that it’s painted so elegantly, with simple imagery and a few touches. Very little need for introductory narration or captioning, nor expository lumps of stage-setting. Just remember Occam’s Razor: given two options, the simplest one is usually the correct one. It works in art, as well as in science.

Boya stumbles around, allowing Currie full leave to act like a freak. He seems to have fun with it; Boya resembles more like something out of George A. Romero than out of Anne Rice. He bends like he’s made of cardboard. Unearthly grace of the undead, terrible and swift predators of humanity, my butt. Here’s a guy just woken up after about 30 years, still trying to get his body to work properly. He needs time to limber up, but he’s on a mission, has to travel.

But he’s not helpless. When he senses prey, he doesn’t need to be swift or agile; he’s got strength enough to pick up a man like a he’s made of sponge. Dry sponge; David Letterman and his sponge suit proved that wet sponge weighs ever so much more. In any case, yeah, he could kill, but you find he’s got a heart. ADark-haired cutie with a still my heart! tortured soul? Predator with guilt? Well, yeah, that’s a common trope. It’s usually more entertaining when the vampires know they’re evil, and have fun with it. Witness Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But this does have some potential. I mean, they’ve hardly been treating Boya like a classic vampire, they’ll do something interesting with this, too.

We’re now introduced to our next main character, Earl (Justin Louis) the taxi driver. He’s got an odd accent, but I think he’s supposed to be Quebecois. I don’t know for sure, myself. In any case, he’s a mild kind of guy, talkative. Our vampire remains polite, and asks to go to a local graveyard.

This next bit is probably my favorite, out of a number of runners-up, and it’s the only one I’ll describe in any detail. Earl sees Boya’s face, and while he’s at first paranoid, he mistakes Boya’s reactions for grief. "It’s cool, you know, I’ve been there. Guys got this thing about crying. Man, it’s just emotion." He flips down his visor, revealing a picture of a poodle, and taps it, getting misty. "My dog died… you know, I wouldn’t trust a guy who couldn’t cry, no, because I think that we’re just human, huh? That’s all, that’s who we are, we’re human." Ah, the caring, vulnerable soul of the taxi driver. Those zany Canadians! In an American movie, the man would have his glove compartment full of left thumbs…

Of course, there is such a thing as being too Canadian, like when they make a Canadian money reference. I don’t know what that’s about (I think Boya’s money is old-style, but I didn’t know that they switched currency) but a good Queen reference is always good for a chuckle from me. Call it a weakness.

Boya’s out for his personal items. He buried them, naturally, before he went to sleep. When he digs them up, we again see Canadian whimsy. A vampire who plays the accordion. Mind you, it’s not in the same class as a Terrance and Phillip joke, but then again, what is? And we see that, yes, in addition to being humane, Boya is also sentimental. He keeps a scrapbook, and a wallet with a picture of his old sweetie, now the beautician, in it. And he’s masochistic; he sticks the picture into his scrapbook with his own blood, whispering "Rita" while he does so. Now, I’m no adhesivologist, but I would expect the binding qualities of blood to be less effective, than, say, mucilage. Which, let the record show, does not taste like sweet honey, so ignore the assurances of untrustworthy robots on that score.

Okay, after the rather graphic scrapbook scene, we are introduced to the next characters in a tiny 24 hour donut joint. Two thugs amble in, tall Pierce (Frank Moore) and slightly greasy Axel (Hadley Kay), and start to harass the pretty counter-girl, Molly (Helene Clarkson). They’re looking for Earl, who is a regular here, but Molly’s not going to help. She’s like a tall, darker Laura San Giacomo, which is a good thing. She talks tough enough, and the thugs don’t press it.

When Earl does come in, later, he banters with Molly about crullers, and finally settles on a glazed. Donuts are actually a very central part of this movie, living up to their role in the title, Earl’s insistence on his donut of choice is hardly unusual, as the movie goes on. It seems Earl is a loveable loser, and Molly puts up with him. We all know people like that, who are sometimes more trouble than they’re worth, but are just charming enough that you let them stick around. Heck, I’m one of those people, just ask my George.

Pierce and Axel show up just as Earl is leaving, and they press him into service. Seems they need a wheelman, and Earl apparently owes them, so they’re going to use his cab to go about their nefarious thuggy business. As opposed to Thuggee business; that would be Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which this movie certainly isn’t. Not that it’s not charming, but an action movie, it doesn’t even try to be.

Our vampire wanders through the bad part of town in his leather coat and toting his big suitcase. He still hasn’t loosened up… which is obvious when he straightens his neck with the sound of popping vertebrae. He hasn’t loosened up enough to speak well, but he manages to get a room in a cheap hotel, and is marvelously attuned to the sounds and scents of the rats and the other patrons. He again has the urge to feed… and this time, he does this weird scenting/hunting thing at the wall. I can’t really describe it, but it’s fascinating. He reminds me of our cat, Proton Accelerator, when he gets into a hiding mood. Though, of course, Proton doesn’t punch through a wall and drag out a rat to suck dry with disgusting sound effects. More’s the pity.

After that snack, Boya gazes out his window, and sees… the donut shop.

Back to Earl and the thugs. It’s the little pieces in the movie that just endear Would you trust this man?themselves to me. Earl sits in his cab, trying to regain some self-respect after being intimidated by the thugs, and he looks in the mirror, and mangles the classic line. Sometimes, it just doesn’t pay to be too polite, Earl, you have to remember that.

Now, if Earl were just going to do his job, he would be free and clear, and we would have very little plot to move us along. So, naturally, he panics, and drives off, leaving Pierce and Axel behind. But he’s so honest, he has to stop at a red light. He uses the time wisely, thinking up an excuse. But as he’s putting his story together, Rita gets into the cab, and asks to go to the old cemetery. Funny, that.

Boya meets up with Molly, trying to talk small, but not really doing a good job of it. He does seem fascinated by the sheer variety of donuts, and the importance that is placed on them by the patrons. To be frank, I like it, too. Reminds me of the fixation on coffee and pie in Twin Peaks, which may not have been Canadian, but probably should have been.

I do love this Boya. I mean, he’s moving a bit better, but is still clunky, turning at the shoulders rather than the neck, having difficulty with expressions and facing people directly. It’s a great performance, very odd, not entirely unlike Jeff Bridges’ Starman in the movie of the same name, except it’s not that he’s alien to human mannerisms, it’s that he’s dead and not put all the way back together again. Not something you see every day.

Pierce and Axel show up in a bowling alley, talking to their boss in the alley bar. Their boss is Stephen, played by David Cronenberg. Yes, the director of eXisTenz, Crash, The Fly, Naked Lunch, M. Butterfly, The Dead Zone, and innumerable others. I still get the occasional Videodrome nightmare. Regardless, they’re having this little philosophical discussion about why people wear bowling shoes. It’s fascinating. You know Cronenberg is playing a crime lord of some sort, but his is the educated kind. He’s smart, and while he’s not afraid to be brutal, he’s got standards, at least about footwear. You get the feeling that he’d justify his essentially parasitical profession as being Social Darwinist necessity or being an example of the success of human individuality over the limiting constraints of legality.

He’s telling them to deal with Earl, because he rolled out when they were still dealing with business. Then he gives Pierce money to buy Axel some decent footwear. Ah, those Canadians. I want to be Canadian. Oh, Canada… bum bum bum bum BUM baaaaa…

At the graveyard, Earl has déjà vu. Rita gets out, and Earl talks to himself. "Must be tourist season."

They do a good job with the moody shots, throughout. The cinematography is rarely truly inspired, but has its moments, and is always more interesting than the workmanlike efforts of most studio efforts these days. They spend a good deal of time in the graveyard, later, as Rita remains there until she meets up with Boya, later on. One day, I hope to find a graveyard that is as consistently spooky in real life as this one is in this movie. That’s where I want to be buried. No, wait, I’m being cremated (with luck, only after I die), so I guess I’m lying. Sorry. I’d still like to find that graveyard, though, and just hang out there. With all the Goth kids.

Earl banters/bickers with Molly, back at the donut shop. We find out that "Bernie, owning the place, has the firm belief that any jerk off the street deserves at least a well-made donut and a safe place to eat it." It’s a wise and noble sentiment. When later we see Bernie (J. Winston Carroll), in his few on-screen appearances, he gives the impression of a wise man, a philosopher in his own right, whatThis man controls your crime. Fear him. No, really... Cronenberg might have turned into, had he directed himself toward donuts rather than crime, or filmmaking. But alas, what is done is done. Bernie can continue to seek enlightenment through pastry-making, but for the others, they must find their own paths.

Boya sits and watches from the corner, until Pierce and Axel show up. They take Earl outside, brooking no objection, and Pierce gives Boya the Hairy Eyeball. Frankly, if I saw someone who looked half-dead but still gave me that stare that Boya had, I’d give him the eye, too. Particularly if I was a thug up to no good. There are the sounds of beating, and our vampy boy is having a hard time dealing. There is a particularly cruel use of lemon juice, just before Boya steps in, acting appropriately freaky, tossing Axel around and intimidating the hell out of Pierce.

Then Earl must, naturally, bond with the man. He rambles on, and on, while Boya’s attentions are elsewhere. Actually, we get to see them as they roam, in a neat little bit of swooping camera work and sound effects. His senses swing around the shop, finally fixating on Molly’s breathing and heartbeat… forming a connection. What is it with these undead horn-dogs? I mean, sure, he’s been out of circulation for 30 years, but I’d at least look around a bit before latching onto a pretty woman. Granted, Molly is eminently latchable, but still, come on, guy. There’s a lot of bats in the belfry, fella, no need to pick the first one that looks like she might have rabies. No, wait, that’s not really a good analogy. Well, anyway, you get my point.

Boya’s still all twitchy, as if wanting to act swiftly and then clamping down on those impulses. He does offer his floor-space to Earl if he needs it, since the thugs are probably trashing Earl’s place as they speak. Actually, he seems more like he’s coming on to the taxi driver, what with his odd, unmoving hair and the half-still, half-twitchy way he moves.

Woah, as I think of that, a Kids In The Hall sketch suddenly gains a bit more relevance!

Regardless. This begins a kind of homosexual ambivalence that echoes throughout the movie. At times it seems like Boya’s a simple soul, not realizing how his displays of friendship might be interpreted in another way. On the other hand, at least once, he seems to make a kind of joke about it. It’s hard to say what the movie is trying to say about vampire sexuality. He’s certainly predominantly hetero, but it’s not to say that he doesn’t have bi leanings. Should we even put labels of sexuality on a creature that’s no longer strictly human? At least, that’s what we usually term vampires. Though once they were human, they have changed. And that’s the curse, isn’t it?

In any case, after we see more of Boya’s entertaining hunting methods, and watch some bad cover lying, Boya offers to walk Molly home. She’s a big bookworm, it seems, and he does all but offer to carry her books for her. It is on this walk that "I'd crawl all the way to Montreal for an eclair!"he reveals his deep-seated belief that every human life is special. Man, everybody’s a philosopher in this movie. Even the vampires are getting into the act. Next thing you know, Earl will be spouting off about the honesty of human emotion… oh, wait, he already did that.

So, exactly how textbook does the rest of it unfold? Well, we’re aware he’s A Vampire With A Conscience™, so it’s bound to be some sort of redemption game. We know there’s a building tension between Boya and Molly, so that’s got to come to some sort of resolution. Not to mention the continuing bitterness of Rita; that’s going to have some kind of effect, as well. And, naturally, there’s Earl, Pierce, Axel, and David Cronenberg to worry about.

They manage to pull off some effective cheesecake, naturally, but being equal-opportunity Canadians, they manage to put in a little beefcake, as well. Boya spends an inordinate amount of time in the bathtub (are vampires aquatic?). Molly turns out to be smarter than most in this kind of movie; she figures things out early, and doesn’t waste time with "this can’t be happening" crap. Earl is much more amusing, on the other hand. And Rita would make exactly the kind of vampire that the Goth kids so love. It’s great fun.

And, of course, people get their rewards. There is one part, however, that really does kind of stick in my craw. Okay, so, they’ve got this mortal dying of, like, internal injuries. And they do some emergency McGuyver stuff involving a car and some donuts. Oh, yes, we get to the point where donuts help save a life. So they do this thing, and then all of a sudden, woah, apparently the internal injuries are gone. The hell? I mean, that kind of thing just doesn’t go away, you know? A collapsed lung isn’t going to un-collapse just because you did some freaky special effects sequence. And, of course, when it gets down to it, it seems like Boya is just too willing to let death happen. Sure, he’s been living with it for so long, it may be old hat to him, but we, the living, can’t give it up that easy.

Ah, but who am I to complain? I got a good solid vamp movie out of the deal, with some fun twists and changes on the vampire myth, and probably the least slick vampire I’ve seen on film. Hell, you’d have to have Urkel as a vampire to get a less smooth bloodsucker.

In any case, it was solid, and the quirky musical selections make it even more surreal. I know, I know, a vampire movie is supposed to be surreal (not necessarily as surreal as John Carpenter’s Vampire$, mind you…), but this worked even better. Each character, or at least each relationship in the movie, seemed to have its own little theme, echoing opera in a way similar to the Star Wars trilogy. However, the music was arranged by a person billed as Nash the Slash, so I’m not going to assume anything for certain.

It was relatively low budget, made on a shoestring, regardless of Cronenberg’s involvement. And yet, and yet, such well-done short sketches of characters, so effective. It’s got some art to it, yet not so much that the art is the only thing going for it. There are a few inventive visuals and techniques, but the greatest bulk of it"What manner of man are you, who can summon fire with neither flint nor tinder?" is about average. It’s the details that make it, though. Sure, a little Hoff would have done it good, maybe speeded it up when it dragged just a tiny bit in the middle or so, but on the whole, a small touch of Hoff is all it could have used.

On the other hand, I’d love to have given it Four Cronenbergs. I can’t get enough of the man. He’s like the James Woods of directors, in the Simpsons way of viewing it. And he plays his crime boss role with the casual arrogance of a man who’s too smart for his job, yet with the frustration of middle management. Maybe he has a sadistic streak, which makes his current profession the right one (this would be in the film and out, alike), but he still approaches it with little more than a mild annoyance. Mind you, there is a moment when Mr. Cronenberg is getting medieval, so to speak, and he really seems to be getting into it. But then, Boya gets Gothic on his ass, and that trumps him.

In any case, my Cronenberg fascination aside, it is a good and quirky movie. Not mainstream, not "cool" in the recent awful direct-to-video vampire movie kick (remind me to write about Razor Blade Smile sometime), but funny and quite well done. True, they placed it in Toronto, which, I believe, is where they placed Forever Knight, which I think was out at the time this was made, but at least they didn’t make Boya French. Had enough of those French vampires, running around and… you know… being French, and regretful, and all that.

Blood & Donuts. Not the breakthrough vampire hit of 1995, but a worthy entry in the vast red-tinted panorama of vampire films.

"First, you take me to a Leafs game, now this..."


These are the times of which to cherish...

- Boya on the hunt. All the times he’s on the hunt. I just like the way he goes about it, all twitchy and stuff.

- The slow pan that reveals Molly’s research and the realization that she’s clued in.

- That hair, man. Both Boya and Earl. And, of course, Molly, but in a different way. While Earl has that slick buzz, Boya’s got probably the first vampire mullet I can recall seeing on film. Gotta love that.

- Cronenberg, Cronenberg, Cronenberg. See, while some folks I know have an attraction to certain beefy Australians, I’d pay money for a David Cronenberg Revue. It’s true, he’s a bony man, but he’s also most assuredly cute, in a striped-haired, hatchet-faced sort of way. I like that.


Mmmm-mmm-mm. Ain’t nothing like a good donut.


-- Copyright © 2000 by E. Mark Mitchell, spend some of your hard-earned cash!

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Heheh..."The Slash"...