Curses, Demons, and the Occult. While most commonly found in horror films, these elements can also be found in other genres. Their meanings vary from culture to culture. There is a new film from Japan that deals with all three subjects, but not in a way that you might be used to.
In The Divine Protector - Master Salt Begins, members of a high school occult club discover a way to summon “Master Salt”, a protector of the Divine, repealer of evil, and eliminator of curses. One of the members of the club has had a number of strange and scary incidents that the club determines are due to a curse. They summon Master Salt to help get rid of the curse. Master Salt does as advertised. The club decides that there are many people who could use Master Salt’s help and they work together to help eliminate curses and heal those affected by them.
The Divine Protector - Master Salt Begins is a Buddhist morality play. It is a female driven story that is well acted, excellently crafted, and solidly written. I am glad that I watched the subtitled version with the original dialog. Rin Kijima delivers a skillful performance as Master Salt, played with such passion and strength that you can’t wait for her to appear. Her theme song is catchy too. By the third time I heard it, I was happy as I knew Master Salt was about to lay the smack down. There is a wonderful balance and honesty to her character that is amplified by Kijima’s performance.
The story plays out like an anthology with four self-contained subplots dealing with different curses. These curses take various supernatural forms and carry out selfish, evil deeds. There is a man who uses a phone scam to prey on the elderly, an abusive husband, an egotistical playboy, and a jealous classmate. These curses are exposed by Master Salt and removed from the people they are plaguing. In many movies, we would see the hero just kill the evil, but Master Salt rarely takes that path. Instead, she teaches the curse what it is doing wrong. She also teaches the person about what they did to allow the curse to inhabit them. The strong religious overtones may be hard to relate to, particularly in Western culture, but the story’s intention is one of positivity and redemption. The special effects were a bit campy but given the budget and type of film this is, I found amusement in their quality. The cinematography and color usage was beautiful whether it was just a scene in a hallway or someone walking through a park. It is a gorgeous film.
With all that is going on in the world, we need more positive films and The Divine Protector - Master Salt is definitely that. Director Hiroshi Akabane takes care in addressing dark subjects without turning bleak. While some may not enjoy the film due to the religious foundation, many will find a lot of fun with this fantastical tale. I know I did and so did my wife. The Divine Protector - Master Salt Begins is out in select theaters now and will soon be on VOD.
Romance, Vampires, and Groundhog Day collide in the latest horror comedy from Mark Allen Michaels called Vampyrz on A Boat. Max and Del are former military operatives who are asked by Del’s cousin to come out to his ship and keep an eye on a group of individuals who seem to be up to something. While keeping watch, Max crosses paths with Sara and there are immediate sparks, but Max isn’t the only one who is interested in Sara. Soon Max finds himself on a mission to rescue Sara from a dark force on the boat. Along the way, he meets an eclectic group of folks on the ship, kills vampires, and realizes that sometimes you do get a second chance…or more.
Vampyrz on a Boat is a crazy ride that has lots of laughs, blood, and scares. The design of the vampires is creepy, and the practical gore effects were really well done. They also use some old-school techniques such as using the sound of a mosquito to convey the idea there is something present that you can not see. Vampyrz was filmed on the SS Lane Victory, an actual ship, which resulted in a visually appealing setting and lent authenticity to the atmosphere.
The entire cast has great charisma and chemistry, and the performances were effective. I especially enjoyed Dalla Valdez as Max and I would love to see more of this character. Max is the not-perfect hero who still can kick some ass and figures things out very quickly. Even when things get intense, Max stays fairly chill. His buddy Del, played by Curt Lambert, is the loyal and more expressive best friend. The two characters play off each other very well with a believable friendship and sharp banter. Carrie Keagan’s performance as Sara is solid. You could tell that she really got into the role and was having fun, particularly later in the story. Her scenes with Valdez are great, and it felt like there were some real sparks there.
Mark Allen Michael’s script doesn’t hold its audience’s hand, sometimes to a fault. I don’t need everything spelled out for me, in fact I prefer it not be, but my impression of the second half of the film was that it had missing scenes, with pretty big jumps between events. The gaps are filled in with a bit of dialogue, but it can be a challenge to follow the plot in a few places. The story plays around with time quite a bit, and the director may have done this on purpose to help the audience feel the confusion the characters were feeling. Just be sure that you’re paying attention when you watch.
If you are looking for a bit of a bloody, tongue in cheek, wild horror cruise then you will want to check out Vampyrz on a Boat. What it may lack in story it makes up for in high production value, solid performances, and plain old fun. I give it three and a half stubs.
Vampyrz on a Boat will release on September 27th, 2022 on all major streaming platforms and select cable stations.