In the three years I’ve been writing my “Horrors of Netflix” posts, it’s only recently dawned on me that I’ve never written one about a vampire movie. Sure, I’ve sat through my fair share of ghosts, serial killers, and other paranormal entities (and there was also that one incident with Gary Busey), but the most classic of horror figures- Dracula and his ilk- are scarce.
I decided to rectify that gross oversight this year- and skimmed through the “Vampire Horror Movies” category on Netflix (it’s a real thing!) to find a bottom of the barrel bloodsucker film. To my surprise, I came across a one-star rated flick from 2011, “Twixt”, which was written and directed by none other than Francis Ford Coppola.
While Mr. Coppola is undoubtedly one of the finest writers and directors of all time- he’s also been responsible for some Godawful contributions to the cinematic world (hello, ‘Godfather: Part III’!) and judging solely by the synopsis for ‘Twixt’, this is another one to add to his scrap pile of movies he probably wants to forget about. Unfortunately for him- the internet forgets nothing.
“In this gothic horror film from Francis Ford Coppola, a has-been writer becomes embroiled in a murder mystery during a stop on his book tour.”
While reviewing the synopsis, I also noticed that this movie stars Elle Fanning, and- wait for it…
… Wait for it…
… Val. Kilmer.
I didn’t choose this movie for that reason. I swear.
As usual, I’m putting my break-down of this movie behind a “Continue Reading” tag. If you don’t want to be spoiled and would rather see this movie for yourself- DO NOT PROCEED. You’ve been warned!
“Twixt” begins with exterior shots of a run-down rural community known as Swann Valley (that is eerily reminiscent to the more questionable sections of Ware, Massachusetts.) While we’re treated to views of boarded up buildings and run-of-the-mill shops, liquor stores, cottages-for-rent, etc. a narrator who sounds like he just ripped through a pack of Newports explains that the town was designed by and for those who just wished to be left alone- and that there was something very evil afoot there based on a number of factors- like their clock tower with several faces (each that tell a different time), or the murder that happened there a few years prior- or the teenaged goth kids who have taken up residence across from a lake within Swann Valley and who are led by a kid named “Flamingo”
Yes, “Flamingo”. You read that right. The raspy-voiced narrator describes him as “a seducer of innocent youth” and I lost it right then and there.
We’re barely two minutes into this.
Enter Val Kilmer and his glorious ponytail, who plays author Hall Baltimore- who is visiting Swann Valley on a book tour to promote a fictional novel he’s written about witchcraft. Since Swann Valley doesn’t have a book store (which raises the question as to who exactly planned this tour and why they included a stop there), Hall sets up a table in the local hardware store- where he unsuccessfully proceeds to try and pique customers’ interest in his novel while they shop for hammers and tarps and the like.
Hall finds a fan in the local sheriff, who wants the “Bargain Basement Stephen King” (that’s what he calls him. I’m not even kidding) to take a look at some of his own work- inspired by a mass murder that took place in Swann Valley some time ago. Hall is reluctant, until the sheriff informs him that he has something in the morgue that might interest the author. In what I imagine is in no way standard or professional protocol, the LAW OF THE COMMUNITY proceeds to bring Hall to the station to look at a dead body they’ve essentially stored in the back of a refrigerated tractor trailer truck.
The victim, marked as Jane Doe, has a gigantic wooden stake through her chest- a calling card that the sheriff insists is from a serial killer that terrorized the area. He wants to write a book about it- and he wants to team up with Hall to do so.
Hall visits a nearby coffee shop for a caffeine re-fill when he sees a flyer advertising a local inn that boasts a stay from Edgar Allan Poe as it’s claim to fame. Intrigued, he stops by for a visit (while day-drinking straight from a bottle of what I think is whiskey)– only to find the inn practically caving in on itself in it’s state of abandonment and decay. Hall pours some of his booze out on a still intact plaque on the side of the inn bearing Poe’s name as a sign of respect (dick move on his part) before he makes his way back to the actual functioning motel in Swann Valley where he’s staying for the night to drink some more and Skype with his wife.
Hall confides in his wife that he’s unhappy with his writing and wants to pen something more personal to get his career back on track. His wife insists he continue to write the same witchcraft-centered books in order to get their mounting bills paid and keep food on the table. There’s also a brief mention to their daughter having been in some sort of accident- but I’m sure it’ll come up again later on. It always does in movies like these.
I digress. The couple fight- and Hall hangs up on her to continue drinking until he’s interrupted and consequently distracted by the clock tower across the street chiming loudly. He goes to check it out (and for some reason the surrounding scenery is suddenly and very obviously being superimposed onto a green screen) and ends up in the middle of the thick, CGI woods with some CGI birds flying around.
The entire walk feels like it drags on for ten minutes until a very pale girl in a very white dress (and very bad eye makeup) appears in the forest alongside Hall (it’s Elle Fanning, by the way) and the two have a brief and awkward exchange where we find out three pieces of information- only one of which is useful: her name is Virginia, she’s self-conscious about her teeth, and she’s a big fan of Hall’s books.
The two come across the dilapidated inn from earlier, although it’s not boarded up and falling down anymore. It’s lit up and operational, and Virginia is adamant about not going in when Hall- who doesn’t seem remotely fazed at the fact that a building that was caving in on itself mere hours beforehand is suddenly in decent condition and occupied- offers to buy her a soda inside.
By now it’s obvious that Hall is having some sort of secondhand version of ‘Sin City’-esque dream (the only colors visible are black, white, and red at this point) as he orders a beer from the hostess and listens to one of the crazy locals talk about a bunch of random shit that doesn’t really matter until he casually brings up the fact that underneath the floor of the inn lies a mass grave of a bunch of murdered children (great conversation starter.) The hostess goes on to explain that one of the children- a girl- escaped, and was damned as a result. Considering Virginia had refused to come into the inn and is suddenly nowhere to be found- it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that she’s probably the damned girl in question.
The hostess decides that it’s as good a time as any to pick up a guitar and start singing some random song while the crazy local begins dancing, and it’s some of the most unintentionally hilarious shit ever. The music attracts Virginia to the window even though it’s terrible- and when the hostess catches sight of her- she goes outside to try and drag Virginia away. Virginia proceeds to bite her to get away while Hall- who is visibly uncomfortable with the awful singing, acting and overall pacing of this development- follows behind and heads back outside.
While outside, Hall sees a group of little ghost children emerging from the inn- followed by a sketchy looking fellow in glasses who is playing with the kids until he catches sight of Virginia and Hall. As he creepily ushers the little dead kids back inside (even though they literally had JUST come out to play,) Hall gets inspired to write a book about what he’s seen. Virginia seems just as unimpressed with his idea as I was, and she takes off. Hall follows behind- losing sight of her- BUT finding the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe, instead. This movie makes absolutely zero sense. None.
Before Poe can tell Hall that he should probably just get the hell out of Swann Valley and never look back- Hall wakes up to the noise of Skype’s lovely incoming call notification. He’s back in his motel room, and his wife is attempting to video chat with him. She’s found a very rare edition of Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’ locked away in Hall’s safe in his absence- and she’s going to sell it even though he’s pleading with her not to because of it’s rarity and sentimental value. Now that the worst person in this movie has officially been identified- I’m hoping she meets a grizzly end.
Hall heads back to the abandoned inn to break in and explore- which leads to him just staring at the floor where he’d seen the ghost children emerge from in his dream for a few minutes before he heads to the local library to conduct some research on the inn and- wait, hold on a second…
… You mean to tell me that Hall had to have his book signing in a hardware store because there was no book store in Swann Valley, but they have a functioning library? And no one thought to have him do the signing there, instead? WHAT?
Anyway, Hall finds some newspaper clippings from the 1950s that tell of the murder of a bunch of children (as mentioned in his dream) by the local pastor who seemed certain that the devil was lurking in the clock tower and would come to claim the kids eventually anyway. The photo of the minister shows that it’s the same creepy guy with the glasses that Hall envisioned the night before- so that mystery is solved.
In order to get more information about the crime and further help him with his book, Hall reaches out to the sheriff under the guise that he’s interested in hearing more about the previously proposed book collaboration. As the two men talk more, the sheriff reveals his theory of how the still-decomposing-body-in-the-police-station-why-hasn’t-anyone-picked-it-up-yet ended up with a wooden stake through her chest. His theory is that the stake was driven through Jane Doe’s heart with some sort of machine built to kill vampires- a machine he’s think he’s figured out and demonstrates for Hall on a poor, unsuspecting Bratz doll in a model mechanism he’s created himself.
Having just enough inspiration and background to get his story started, Hall retreats to his motel room where he contacts his publisher and begs him for an advance to be wired to his wife’s spoiled, selfish ass before he begins the rough draft process- which is essentially just shots of Val Kilmer making funny faces, talking to himself, and drinking. It’s admittedly pretty comical, especially as Hall struggles for a gripping opening sentence in the first chapter of the book and his ideas just get more and more insane. I’m genuinely curious how much of it was improvised by Val Kilmer on the spot.
Unfortunately, the comedy comes to an abrupt end as Hall thinks about his daughter- who we discover was killed in a boating accident. Womp wommmmp. What a downer.
That night, Hall sneaks back to the sheriff’s office to take a more thorough look at Jane Doe’s body WHICH IS STILL THERE IN THE ICEBOX. WHY IS IT STILL THERE? Okay, sorry. Hall nearly gets caught- and stealthily returns to his motel room before he gets detected in order to take a bunch of sleeping pills he had the sheriff pick up for him to help him to return to his ‘Sin City’ like dreamland and get more material for the book.
It works- and Hall is back in the black and white woods where he is met by Edgar Allan Poe. Again. The two share a drink and have a long conversation about the writing process (it’s painfully boring) before Poe finally reveals to Hall the tale of the murdered children at the old inn despite the fact that he only stayed there once and died long before the incident took place so why he’s suddenly the authority of the mystery is beyond me.
According to Poe, the local pastor in Swann Valley took care of and raised a group of orphaned children in the community. One child in particular, a boy- fled across the lake to join the rebellious teens living there (remember ‘Flamingo’, who was mentioned earlier? Yeah. That’d be him and his friends)– who are revealed to be vampires. The loss begins the pastor’s downward spiral into madness, and from there- he goes on to (presumably) assault Virginia- another child in his care.
Before Poe can finish the story, Hall wakes up to fax from his publisher looking for an outline and an ending to the book before he stops payment on his advance. Hall doesn’t seem to give a shit, and instead heads to the sheriff’s office to fall into the worst horror cliché of them all- using a Ouija board to communicate with the dead. It doesn’t take long for the spirit of the dead body that is STILL JUST SITTING IN THE GODDAMNED POLICE STATION to reach out to Hall and Co.
When Hall asks the spirit who killed her- all signs point to the sheriff- but the sheriff pins the blame on the teenaged “vampires” living across the lake, prompting Hall to go investigate that night. The “vampires” are pretty much the stereotypical Hot Topic mall goth teens- dressed in lots of black leather and dollar store makeup. Hall asks to speak with “Flamingo”, who is off reciting haikus or spells or whatever.
“Flamingo” admits he knows Virginia but hasn’t seen her in a while when Hall presses him for information- and he even sounds concerned for her well being- until the sheriff shows up unannounced to try and arrest him for the murder of the young girl back at the police station with no real concrete evidence and purely on suspicion alone. Brilliant police work.
“Flamingo” flees- and for some reason there’s a time-jump where we suddenly see Hall climbing the stairs to the clock tower? What? How and why? Anyway- while he’s up there, the body from the police station is suddenly in there with him. He removes the sheet from over her head- and it’s revealed to be his daughter. This rightfully alarms Hall- enough to cause him to fall DOWN THE CLOCK TOWER. He doesn’t die- but he does get knocked out- and suddenly he’s back in the woods with Edgar Allan Poe.
Alright, Mr. Coppola- you’re losing me here. What the hell is this pacing and where is this story even going? Is there even a point? Did you make this up as you went along?
Poe continues his story about the pastor, who- fearing the rest of the kids in his care would eventually join the vampire cult across the lake, too- decides to just drug them and kill them all instead. Seems like a fail-proof plan if you ask me. Virginia catches on a little too late to save her siblings- but she still makes an attempt to save herself. As she runs from the pastor, “Flamingo” hears her screams of terror and comes to her aid on his CGI motorcycle in front of a cheesy green screen background. He rescues her, and brings her back to his camp to rest- but even though he’s a vampire- he can’t seem to stop the pastor from sneaking in and stealing her back right from under his nose.
The pastor buries Virginia alive, chaining her to a wall inside a crypt in the forest and sealing it shut with brick before he hangs himself. As Poe sadly tells Hall the conclusion of the story- he then reveals that Virginia was actually his cousin (and his wife.)
So- let me get this straight- just so I’m clear: Virginia is actually supposed to be Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe- who died in 1847- but somehow lives until the 1950s in this movie where she is killed by her adoptive father/pastor after being rescued by a vampire on a motorcycle.
… And Francis Ford Coppola wrote this? He actually wrote this and thought it made sense?
What the actual shit?
Virginia appears to Hall and Poe as a bloody, glowing entity- and she starts to float away before Hall is awoken by the sheriff banging on his motel room door, raising the question as to how he got from the bottom of the clock tower and back to his bed without so much as a hospital visit in-between. The sheriff has heard about Hall’s cash advance for the book, and wants his share- and as he prattles on about his story and ideas and how great a detective he is- it becomes more and more obvious to Hall that the sheriff is not only batshit crazy- but super guilty of that still unsolved murder, too.
The sheriff seems to know Hall is onto him- and knocks him out- sending him back into his dream world where he’s back outside the old inn. This time, he’s with the pastor. I admit I have no fucking idea what’s happening at this point- as the shoddy editing makes the story (or lack thereof) hard to follow. The pastor is getting slapped around by Virginia’s ghost or something- before Poe shows up again and gets a tearful confession out of Hall about how his daughter died because he was too drunk to accompany her to a boating event or something.
Jesus Christ- can this mess just end already? Please? None of this makes any sense.
Hall wakes up in his motel room with a pretty bad cut on his head and is rightfully pissed off about it. He goes to the sheriff’s office to confront him, only to find him hanging from the ceiling with a hand-written “GUILTY” note stuck on his body. Well that was… Very anti-climactic, but okay. Hall goes into the ice box to look at the dead body with the stake through it’s heart that has been there for literally DAYS. It’s no surprise by now that the body is Virginia’s- and Hall removes the gigantic hunk of wood from her chest as a final act of mercy and/or compassion.
With the stake no longer lodged in her torso, Virginia is suddenly up and moving. She has fangs- and seemingly does not give one single shit about Hall’s good intentions or the fact that he was nice to her. She attacks him- violently- before the screen cuts to black for a micro-second.
Suddenly in his publisher’s office being praised for his outline of his upcoming vampire book, Hall shows no signs of distress. The final scene, before the credits roll- gives a summary of events:
I’m actually speechless. I am stunned at how unbelievably bad this movie was- especially coming from a director who made some of the greatest and most celebrated films in movie history and starring two successful actors in their own right (Kilmer and Fanning). How did this happen? Why did this happen?
What did Edgar Allan Poe have to do with vampires? What did vampires have to do with the gang of clearly not-vampiric Hot Topic teens? What did the clock tower have to do with anything? Or Hall’s dead daughter? Why were there eight plot smashed together without a reasonable means to connect them?
This is quickly becoming “Horrors of Val Kilmer” series right before my eyes.
I’m done with vampire movies. DONE with them.