Welcome back to Friday Nightmares Review, wherein I tell you about what you could be watching instead of wasting precious minutes of your life scrolling through the internet. Tonight we’re going international with a film from South America because I’m pretty sure that everyone is sick of my penchant for finding shitty Canadian films. Don’t worry, though, I have plenty more of those to amuse you with in the future but that is then and it is currently now. With that incredibly well written and utterly natural transition, let’s take a peek into the dark, dangerous, mysterious world of what goths do when no one is looking. Are you all ready to gaze into the sinister world of table top gaming? Before you wander off in fear of hearing about someone’s incredibly mind meltingly detailed D&D campaign, I assure you that this film goes to places that you didn’t count on and then some. Stick around for the snacks and let me tell you the tale of Sangre Eterna, known (sort of) in the English speaking world as Eternal Blood!
Now before I get started here, I do have to ask if anyone out there has ever thought to themselves, I sure do wish that someone out there would make table top gaming scary? And before anyone mentions it, I don’t mean the games themselves. I had the opportunity of getting a very shallow glimpse of the world of horror table top games at a local convention and while I walked away without a clear idea of what games were available, I did get a nice little look at the techniques and ideas that people had for making the game play experiences scary. If the world of table top games is a foreign one to you and generally something you’ve seen shoved in a dark corner that you don’t frequent, I will say that it is an environment built for horror and being scared. Like a video game, it’s immersive but there is the added element of not necessarily knowing what you have in store for you, depending on what the DM has planned. There’s also the added bonus of each game being unique and that any given campaign is as much based on player input as it is about the creativity of the people in charge of challenging them. The idea of being a part of the horror and helping to dictate what’s going on, especially for LARPers, is actually pretty cool and has amazing potential to be scary for players of the games. In fact, the idea itself is pretty awesome for a story and was used and abused mightily during the days of the Satanic Panic.
If you aren’t familiar, this was a stupid time back in the 80s when a group of overzealous parents leveled their panicked all-consuming fear of evil lurking in hidden corners at everyone’s favorite way to spend an afternoon prior to the advent of video games and the internet: Dungeons and Dragons. There is a much larger story behind the real life issues and events that sparked the panic in the first place but the gist was that a group of parents, many of them fueled by religious ideologies, took aim at table top games after a university student, suffering from depression, committed suicide and a private investigator fabricated a link between the young man’s interest in D&D and his death. This was all it took before religious groups latched on to the idea that table top games were a gateway to demonic possession, murder and suicide, making this incredibly nerdy hobby into something that it absolutely wasn’t. When the Satanic Panic calmed down, people began to just accept that the people playing these games weren’t interested in anything that nefarious and the only danger they might pose to anyone was in overwhelming non-players with those previously mentioned mind meltingly detailed accounts about campaigns that they were playing, had played or were going to play.
Because the frontrunner for these games was D&D, most people had come to associate the idea of table top with the realm of fantasy stories. This was fine in the 80s but as we edged our way into the later 90s, fantasy as a genre for adults was something that had long lost its appeal to the mainstream world. There were other games, however, and among them was the very popular Vampire: The Masquerade by White Wolf but by this point, table top still carried the stigma of being a hobby of the stereotypical antisocial nerd. So now that the Satanic Panic was over and these games were associated (unfairly) with the idea that players were nerds with limited social skills, how to make such games scary for onlookers was challenge that seemed ill advised for serious films. Well back in the year of 2002, a Chilean filmmaker by the name of Jorge Olguín decided to tackle this exact challenge and the end result was Sangre Eterna.
Released in Chile originally on Halloween of 2002, this film begins by introducing us to Carmilla, a gothy student who is taking classes on what appears to be a university campus and she is enamoured with a group of local goths she sees hanging around. If you are not a goth or don’t know any, this little trio might have well looked imposing and slightly mysterious but wait! They aren’t just better dressed than literally everyone I’ve ever met. They also play a table top RPG game (complete with character sheets!) that is totally not at all based in any way that might be construed as something that might be legally indistinct from Vampire: The Masquerade. We get a truly baffling moment wherein we see the characters embroiled in combat only to find out that it’s all part of the roleplay. Or is it? Answers are not really provided because we have a narrative to get to! The plot contrives a means of introducing our lead character to one of the young men of that group who is inexplicably only named M. (This might be a nod towards the 1931 film by Fritz Lang but, much like the film Strangeland using only the most famous western horror icon’s name for its central villain or even the use of Carmilla’s name in this film, it never acknowledges a source in any meaningful way. Though I seem to recall that at some point, there was a poster for said film on the character’s wall. Maybe that counts? In any case, it plays no role in plot so let us move along.) After getting a chance to chat with each other, M invites Carmilla to come over to his place for a rousing, sexy, intense opportunity to fall asleep on the couch after eating sandwiches and complaining about parents. Also there’s the promise of table top gaming which he swears to her is not devil worship. This incredibly not awkward date is interrupted when the other players arrive and thus we get a chance to see more of our supporting goth characters, Elizabeth and Martin. Saying they are characters might be a bit of a stretch as neither of them do much except exist but they look cool so there’s that.
From here, the group introduces our wide eyed heroine into the game world they’ve created for themselves. Lest anyone think this is highly representative of actual table top gaming, M does have a few throw away lines about how they play the game in their own way and thus we can all be assured that this is going to be less watching people cast magic missile and more the rogue (of sorts) version of role playing with character sheets and dice rolling. And yes, they do both of those things. Because watching people role play around a table is really not much fun for a film going audience, particularly when they’re interested in watching a horror film, the movie replaces most of the table top action with the actors playing as their characters in the game. Mostly, it’s a chance to dress up the cast in badass vampire makeup and throw every weird sound effect into the mix of what they are supposed to sound like. I’m not going to lie, the switch in tone and the fact that we have no idea what the hell is going on or what the rules of the game are makes for moments that just seem to happen like strange fever dreams with creatures and ideas that never come up again. This isn’t an exaggeration at all. We get these weird priests and nuns with heavy artillery firing at our vampire characters and a bunch of weird creatures that have these weird tongues and a lot of vampires flying on wires and some odd rules and it’s just bizarre. Normally I wouldn’t be poking fun at this but given that the film is actually named for the game that they are playing and it does kind of act as the entire catalyst for getting the main character involved in the action of the film, I would say that we should probably know more about it, even if just a little bit.
I suppose this is as good a time as any to let you know that I sure hope you enjoyed the awkward fever dream vampire action because we won’t be seeing them again for basically the rest of the film. Sure they crop up in moments where people think they are seeing vampires but if you were itching for bloodsucking action, you will be sorely disappointed. From here, our foursome decide to cement their friendship by going to some weird house party at an abandoned building where our heroine gets sucked into the non-existent underbelly of gothic table top. And what does our little group of players find in this mysterious underground world of people who hang out in places with no running water? Why, a real vampire, of course! Maybe. At least one of them thinks so, anyway. And what of this potential vampire, you might be wondering. He’s cunning and malicious and he tricks our gamers into wandering into his dark lair by giving them free drinks and offering them drugs. They’re so enthralled that they basically just act like stoned idiots except for M who just turns into that miserable wet blanket friend who sits in the corner and whines about something that gets increasingly more difficult to understand for the rest of the night. Basically they attend a house party full of people who are over dressed led by someone who looks like he’s trying to channel the spirit of Baudelaire by way accessories on sale at Hot Topic. And what does our master vampire do once he has them under his spell? He waxes pretentiously about a whole lot of nothing before our point of view character gets super drunk and stoned and begins making out with M. For his part, M is miraculously still a complete downer during the whole affair but according to Carmilla, swapping bodily fluids with him still seems like a better time than having to sit and listen to Martin’s attempts to be funny.
And with that, we’re officially over our protagonist. Sure, we’ve only been getting the whole of the film perspective from our innocent-ish heroine up to this point but let us drop her like a sack of rocks and move on to that charismatic DM that she’s hooked up with instead. Unfortunately, M, much like the rest of the cast, really has no character to follow. Like Carmilla, we get to see aspects of his life and some of his background but it never really amounts to much of anything other than “parents just don’t understand” and “my life is so difficult as a college student with all my needs paid for by the parents who just don’t get me” kind of pandering. Funny enough, from here M moves from being the mysterious vampire wannabe and to the wide eyed innocent one as he becomes more and more convinced that his friends have succumb to vampirism. If we ignore that the characters up to this point have been partaking in some regular to heavy drug activity and are basically spending all their time in a haze of intoxication, then I suppose we could almost believe that they are becoming the overdressed undead and not, you know, drug addicts.
Lest you think the film is trying to make some kind of statement, The Reflecting Skin this is not and the movie isn’t even trying to Jack Chick this one out because the table top part now also comes to an end. No, the others ditch the world of table top in favor of their new abandoned building parties and Carmilla only really pops in for what amounts to something of an anti-sex scene before M decides to take his wet blanket ways to new lows. If his friends are now vampires, he is going to do something about it and clean up their souls. He gets some minor points for at least asking about his research topic and trying to go look it up at the library for a few minutes instead of relying on good old Wikipedia articles but in the end, he decides that murder is the best solution to his problems. This ends poorly for everyone involved.
I find that reviewing this film is both exceedingly easy and a little more difficult. The easy part is that there’s a lot of parts to this that are unintentionally hilarious and have to be seen for the full effect of the film. There’s minor mistakes in framing and some bad acting and some areas where the budget is definitely showing and all that stuff is easy enough to have fun with. Where things get tricky is in the dialogue because while much of it is horrible, it’s also dubbed and poorly at that. The only copy of this film that I’ve ever seen only offers the awful dubbed version and because of this, it’s really unfair to judge the quality of the writing because it’s obvious in some instances that there is context missing. Added to the fact that this is also coming from another culture, there are scenes and symbols that don’t make the jump to North American audiences that I’m certain would be a no-brainer to people in South American countries. I do feel like the film has to be given some slack for that alone because there’s some interesting moments in this movie that lack any context and in a film from Canada or the US, I would know that it’s either nonsense or a nod towards something else but since this film is from Chile, I could only really guess. That said, there are also elements that are not culturally based, such as the electronic cat noises that come out of characters who are in vampire mode and get a nasty case of sun stroke. Or things like the moment when we see the international version of Kids Today™ in how they react to their parents telling them to turn down their music or to get good grades or clean their nails.
If it hasn’t become apparent already, allow me to bluntly say that this is a terrible movie and it’s one of my all time favorites. I love this film so much that I’ve subjected every friend I can convince to come over to watch it with me. I’m not sure if I love this film because the Plan 9 From Outer Space level of acting or because of the aesthetic or even if I just love it because of the strange roadtrip the plot goes on but I truly love this movie. I think, if pressed, I will say that I love this film for everything it aspired to do, even if it didn’t quite stick the landing. There was some decent potential in there and I think that the filmmaker was hampered by a lot of elements, not the least of which would have been the budget. I should also mention that for as much as I make fun, the movie does take a pretty dark turn towards the end and though it’s still in low tech vision, it’s actually fairly competently shot and when the film briefly breaks the rules of narrative by switching from M to Elizabeth’s point of view, it’s actually kind of gruesome to see the differences in their perspective.
So does this make table top roleplaying scary? Emphatically, I can say no. No it does not. While it doesn’t lean on the nerd stereotype that was associated with table top RPGs, it also doesn’t exactly paint the most balanced or kind picture of it. In fact, you could make the argument that this film is everything Jack Chick’s Dark Dungeons wanted to be but magnified in a way that usually requires the abuse of cold medication and long bouts of sleep deprivation. In that way, I guess you could say that to a very select group of people, this film might indeed be terrifying but I’m pretty sure most of those people were left back in the Satanic Panic days of the 80s and they can stay there. And to its credit, this film is heads and tails a million times better than Dark Dungeons and actually has some aspirations to be better than it was. Maybe with better dubbing, it would have been. In any case, it’s still one of my favorite movies and if you find a copy, do yourself a favor and enjoy the spectacle tonight!
As always, I am grateful to all of you who tune in each week for my Friday Nightmares. I update with a new horror review every Friday and, if you’re so inclined, you can also catch my fiction series Hello Dolly about a horror host and her monstrous friends every Monday. Until next time, thank you muchly and I wish you restless nights and pleasant Nightmares!