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Blood and Bone China
Tonight's Webseries Presentation

BLOOD AND BONE CHINA

Starring: Anthony Miles, Rachel Shenton, John James Woodward, David Lemberg, Lara de-Leuw, Ellie Astley, Lewis Brindley

Written By: Chris Stone, Stephanie Cooper Directed By: Chris Stone

See It Here: http://www.bloodandbonechina.com


What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

A WAX PROP.

My, that wedge of cheese certainly looks gorgeous.  Can’t wait to sink my teeth into- what the hell is this?!


Pairs Well With...

OLDE ENGLISH 800.

Yes, I know that the stuff isn’t really English.  But the nasty malt liquor will produce roughly the same effect that this webseries does.



“This is the part where you run away.  I give you a head start.  Go.”


I was really, really looking forward to Blood and Bone China.

I have always been a big fan of vampires and vampire movies, especially the old fashioned gothic horror that made Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee into household names.  And so, while I’ve been enjoying much of the modern vampire renaissance (with the understanding that this does not include anything wherein any alleged vampires sparkle), I was thrilled to discover a webseries that called itself a “Victorian Vampire Drama.”  Gaslight!  The last gasp of the Old World!  Hooray!

And then I watched it.

Now, after sitting through twelve chapters plus an epilogue, at times with mouth agape, I can say that I watched it so you don’t have to.  If not for you, dear reader, I’m not sure I would have bothered going past Chapter 5.

The first alarm bell goes off with the opening credits, which choose to evoke a sense of Victorian horror drama with… a very loud alt-rock speed number by a band called Birthrite.  To be fair, the song’s not bad, but it does not belong in the opening credits of a story like this one claims to be.  End credits, fine, but opening?  Wrong mood, wrong atmosphere; especially when played not just once but twelve times (repeating for each chapter).  It doesn’t matter if you like the song.  It doesn’t fit gothic drama, and it definitely does the show’s cliffhangers no favors.  Not once.

But hey; that’s easy enough to look past, right?  I certainly would have, if not for the fact that what followed was a jumbled mess that might have wanted to be Victorian gothic horror drama at one point, but instead became an amalgam of Scooby-Doo, Sweeney Todd, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, BloodRayne, and more than a few gods hiding in the machine.

This story simply does not benefit from the webseries format, especially in the hands of director Chris Stone (who also co-wrote with Stephanie Cooper).  The script seems compelled to have a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter, and Stone in turn feels compelled to draw out the act of telegraphing said cliffhangers for far, far too long.  Any possibilities of genuine tension or shock are always destroyed.  Imagine watching a Hammer-style flick (an obvious and worthy influence here) that gets interrupted by an extremely loud beer commercial every time something good may or may not be about to happen, with a little bit of overlap repetition on either side of the break.  It’s rather like that.

Only it’s not, because if Blood and Bone China had been consistently in the Hammer vein, it could still have worked in a drunken stumble sort of way.  But no; this story can’t decide what the hell it wants to be, save for the fact that’s it’s definitely not going to be a gothic drama.  It doesn't have that kind of power or tension for any longer than thirty seconds at a stretch. Let’s look at our hero, whose personality and story are an awful mash of “Scooby-Doo” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” that results in “Shaggy the Vampire Slayer,” only without anything funny about it whatsoever.  (There are a few moments in the series that might have been funny in someone else’s hands, but Stone’s lens seems to have a filter that blocks any traces of actual humor from getting through; instead, they’re simply cues to facepalm and remember that the drama doesn’t work, either.)  Throughout the entire series, he is portrayed as a coward and a doufus, even after he’s anointed unequivocally as Our Hope and Hero, so that when he’s got literally no other choice but to act like the hero, it’s impossible to believe him.  He’s gone to the dumbass coward well too many times, and the director has hammered that point home.  It just doesn’t work.

Rather like the needless and just bloody awful East European accents.  Realistically, there is absolutely no reason that the “foreign” characters in this story could not have been English; for the sake of our ears, they should have been, especially the ultimate villain.  Fake East Euro accents always sound terrible, and these make it impossible to take anything being said seriously.  The physical presence of Lara de-Leuw lets her get away with some of it (and no, I don’t mean her neckline, though I’m sure many would; I mean that she moves like a cat), but anything else about David Lemberg’s performance is completely lost in the ham and cheese of that accent.  When the dialect is a diabolical distraction, it’s time to just get rid of it.

Throw in the Sweeney Todd and the BloodRayne and the telegraphy and the predictability and everything else, and what you have at the end of the day is something in desperate need of a retool.  The combined sins of the script, the direction, and the inappropriate choice of format (at least based on what this director does with it) damn Blood and Bone China to being well-nigh unwatchable.

This is an incredible shame, because Blood and Bone China really does have a lot going for it.  Yes, the script needs help, but its general concepts could work after some touch-ups and being placed in the hands of someone else (especially as an uninterrupted film).  The cast is by and large fantastic, even if the direction largely negates their efforts.  It’s hard to imagine that anyone wouldn’t want Anthony Miles, Rachel Shenton, or John James Woodward on their cast lists; I know I’d be happy.  Ditch the accent, and the same holds true for Lara de-Leuw.  And even as leery as I tend to be of children in these stories, child actors Ellie Astley and Lewis Brindley do excellent work.

And then there’s the overall production value, which is astounding despite Blood and Bone China being made on a tiny budget.  I can’t say that I like his direction, but I can say that Chris Stone does a fine job indeed as a cinematographer.  The costumes and locations provide a beautiful period feel before the script and direction sink their teeth into things.  And the score selections would be great if only they were played at a lower decibel level.  The tools are there, but the execution is not.

And so, as much as I wanted to like Blood and Bone China, I can’t.  Truth be told, it became so annoying after a while that it gave me a headache.

Bottom line, I simply can’t recommend Blood and Bone China to anyone other than UK casting directors looking to spy talent that can stand out even in a mess.  I especially can’t recommend it to anyone looking for a “Victorian vampire drama;” in this case, having only two out of three is bad. 



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Full Series | Twelve Chapters, 5 – 17.5 minutes each


Chapter 1: “Oblivion and Paradise” – Sometimes, it’s a good sign when you watch something new and it makes your jaw drop… and sometimes it’s not.  My jaw dropped several times during this establishing chapter, and it was rarely good.  The production value here is extremely high – gorgeous settings and locations, lovely costumes, beautiful camera work, and a fine if too-loud score – but the story is another matter.  The lush gothic style of the production does not at all match the sheer idiocy of the human characters or what would be the high camp of the vamps if they weren’t being played so seriously.  This foolishness kills the drama while at the same time failing to be funny, leaving the story with nothing to stand on.  Having read the director’s notes immediately afterward doesn’t help my assessment, either.  He says that he wanted to tease the audience before revealing the monster in the style of Alien and Jaws.  He waits a total of two and a half minutes; three if you’re as slow as the human in the scene.  If he calls that teasing... this does not bode well, methinks.  The object of a first episode is to hook the viewer, but even though I’m a lifelong vampire fan, this one made me want to turn on my heels and run.

Chapter 2: “The Enigmatic Mister Pyre” – Okay; there’s some improvement here.  The characters no longer seem like idiots, and the drama of the scenes presented matches the décor this time around.  Perhaps there’s hope after all.  The only complaint here within the content of the episode itself is that toward the end, the score gets to be a little over the top with its “here comes the nasty!” cues, but at least they do eventually lead to a payoff, even if it feels a bit late.

Chapter 3: “Anna of the Six Towns” – The heroine is introduced, and the following scene feels more like something from a role playing game than it does from a film or series.  In the midst of it, we find that a suspected villain is guilty of… undercutting the local bone china market.  Doctor Who fans will appreciate a little joke at the tail end of this episode, but as for me, no hook yet.

Chapter 4: “The Devil in the Potteries” – And now the story takes on the feel of something from the old days of Hammer or AIP, only without the reliable hand of a Terence Fisher or a Roger Corman to keep things right.  The music, while good on its own, gets too loud and goes into cue mode way too quickly, and the director stretches the “you know it’s coming” moments for far too long.  (The last frames might have been effective if they hadn’t been telegraphed long enough in advance for the audience members to grow beards.)  For the second time in the series, a direct reference to vampires is made, and what follows, as before, is a long rant that feels like it came from an old penny dreadful, only this time the speaker doesn’t have the faux-Eastern European accent to carry it.  No, that character is off offering our heroine a threesome…  Once more: promising, this isn’t.

Chapter 5: “There’s No Such Thing as Vampires” – Okay, put a stake in it; without some serious redemption coming from the next seven chapters, this blooderball is done.  Few things are as annoying in a vampire story as the inevitable “there’s no such thing as vampires” scene, but at least the way it was handled in the previous chapter left room for hope.  Unfortunately, the well is run to a second time, and it plays very badly this go-round, especially since a vampire appears immediately after the words are spoken, just like she would in any “Scooby-Doo” episode.  And our hero turns into a cowardly fool who makes Shaggy look brave, and I look for my drink.  Your one highlight: the still shot of the lady vamp with the corset-enhanced plunging neckline that this webseries bases most of its promo art on gets its inspiration from the final frames of this episode.

Chapter 6: “The Sword of Silver” – My jaw’s on the floor again.  Apparently, our hero is the version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (gasp) that can’t even catch a runaway Yorkie to save his life, and our villain is too stupid to have discovered that the portrait painter he hired is an Impressionist until after the portrait is done.  But hey, the lift of the Al Capone baseball bat scene from The Untouchables might be called a highlight if you’re desperate.

Chapter 7: “The Gates of Wrath” – Patterns repeat.  It starts with an interesting enough puzzle (why a man would go to the trouble to make his room vampire proof only to kill himself within), and then leads to the one place anyone who’s been paying any attention knew the story had to go, to reveal something (actually, two somethings) at least half of the audience had guessed by the end of Chapter 3.  With that said, our two leads – Anthony Miles and Rachel Shenton – are doing very well with what they’re given.

Chapter 8: “Leonora” – After a quick dash across the courtyard, we start off with the best two minutes of the series thus far in the form of a very well-played tete-a-tete between the recently noted leads.  Alas, immediately after, our hero character has to run off and remind us what a doufus he is, and then Goldfinger gets to explain Operation Grand Slam – that is, Hemlock explains his operation – in full detail.  In that horrible.  East.  Euro.  Accent.  Make it stop.

Chapter 9: “Goodbye Happiness” – A ham and cheese festival followed by two minutes of needless slow motion followed by a thing or three that might have been poignant in a different story.  I’m pretty sure the vampires are winning, because I’m feeling drained just by watching this now.

Chapter 10: “Through the Eyes of a Child” – Things look bleak indeed for the first five minutes for all sorts of reasons that I won’t get into to avoid late game spoilers, and then we get a scene that the rest of the series should be like: not only is it very well played indeed by Anthony Miles and child actor Lewis Brindley, but finally, the writing of it is up to the performances being given.  It’s wonderful to watch… and then the deus ex machina shows up.  Oh, well.  Not like the hero was going to have a chance without it.

Chapter 11: “The Silver Lining” – So, the deus ex machina comes with a motivational speaker’s bureau that’s supposed to finally give our sorry hero a backbone since the last speaker evidently didn’t cut it.  Oh, goody.  And then… I’m just going to say that Gustav Holst deserves way better than to have his music paired with what happens next.  I refrain from further elaboration for spoiler avoidance purposes.

Chapter 12: “Of Gods and Monsters” – One deus ex machina wasn’t enough; apparently, we needed two more.  Ah, well.  The ending plays decently enough, despite being predictable even for its twists.  The appended epilogue jumps a very, very familiar shark, and then finally… finally… it’s over.

Remember, folks: I watched it so you didn’t have to.  There’s plenty better out there.

- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, May, 2012


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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