Crash Analysis: DEMON UNDER GLASS (2002)

Great addition to the vampire mythos 

Scientists capture a vampire for study

Seems that Jon Cunningham’s first feature comes under some scrutiny for falling short of the mark, but don’t let that discourage you from taking a bite. The director co-wrote this wonderful script with Deborah Warner. It’s clear from the beginning the pair hoped to create an intelligent genre film, and they succeeded.

A serial killer nicknamed Vlad (Simon Molinar), murders and drains the blood from his prostitute victims. Law enforcement sets a trap, and undercover officer, Detective Gwen Taylor (Denise Alessandria Hurd), reels in the unsuspecting killer. But his strength is almost insurmountable, and he takes out two of the team before he’s delivered to a secure hospital facility for scientific study.

The film, though shot poorly on early digital, is definitely a low budget, B-horror, but Cunningham and company did a fantastic job in doing their damnedest to make us forget about the movie’s shortcomings. Other than the visual quality, some weak acting from minor characters, and excruciatingly lame music from Gottfried Neumeister (this was his only score for a feature film), the rest of the movie rises to the dramatic occasion.

Jason Carter portrays Simon Molinar, the thousand year old vampire caught in a government trap with Dr. William Bassett (Jack Donner) as his overlord handler. Molinar, and his stern, British looks, have appeared in many television and film projects, and veteran character actor, Donner has been active in film since the early sixties. Both men step up in grand fashion, along with the remarkable Garett Maggart as Dr. Joe McKay, to ride the twilight between the philosophical notions of good and evil, predator and prey, and how far science should go when it comes to experimentation. The best part about DEMON UNDER GLASS, one of the best horror titles to come along in years, is that the filmmakers raise the questions, and do not interfere with their own musings. One can easily see a resemblance to the philosophy laden THE ADDICTION (1995) by Abel Ferrara.

Besides the excellent efforts of Maggart, Carter and Donner, classically trained Hurd, as well as veteran David Jean Thomas as a grieving father, and ever helpful nurse, Jean St. James, bring their best. Fans of Kira Reed will certainly not be disappointed by her extended scene with Carter.

The strongest element of the movie, beyond the noteworthy queries, is the scientific and methodical approach to research, as if vampire Molinar is a simple lab rat. Rarely in any movie do talking head scenes offer much to the viewer, but the strong dialogue, and subsequent delivery proves captivating. Even better, Molinar, the doctors and every other character have a path to take where their own ethos drives them – much like the character’s in the fantastic, dramatic horror GRACE (2009). The moral underpinnings cause some characters to act, while others freeze, and others simply want to retreat and reflect. This last bit does lead to a couple questionable scenes in the film, though it’s hard to determine an alternative as to where Cunningham and Warner should have taken the narrative. Regardless, we are left contemplating who is good, bad or otherwise, making it a joy to have a horror that stimulates gray matter. Granted, the tale could have penetrated deeper, but the overall effort is much appreciated.

Cunningham either reshot the film with Carter, Maggart and Reed in 2010 as VAMPIRE, due to the aforementioned shortcomings, or this was simply a re-release for the UK market. Locating any copy in any form, however, has been impossible.

DEMON UNDER GLASS is a far cry from perfect, but cast and crew gave it their best. Not only is it definitely worth a viewing, but vampire fans might want this one for their collection because of its intrigue and nuance.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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