Director Mickey Reece’s Climate of the Hunter isn’t your standard vampire movie. Sure, it features a smooth-talking fiend who casts a spell over women. But even when he bares his fangs, there’s little blood. Instead, the film is a dream-like throwback to 1970s films with visuals that shimmer like a disco ball. The few sequences that lean into the horror mostly occur in dreams. These resemble the black and white visuals of Eraserhead. Climate of the Hunter may confound and frustrate some viewers, but its images are a visual feast.
While the film’s imagery may be its most memorable factor, there is a storyline at stake. The vampire, Wesley, played by Ben Hall, serves the role well. His character is an eccentric fellow who cites 19th Century French poet Baudelaire and has a writing career of his own. After committing his wife, Genevieve (Laurie Cummings), to a mental institution, he stays with his childhood friends, sisters Alma (Ginger Gilmartin) and Elizabeth (Mary Buss).
Like Wesley, Alma and Elizabeth have their own issues. Alma, recently divorced, self-medicates. After selling her city condo, she retreated to a vacation cabin. Elizabeth, meanwhile, works excessive hours in DC practicing family law. She swoons over Wesley, who spins tales about his time in France and other parts of the world at the dinner table. It’s the type of romantic and adventurous lifestyle that Elizabeth longs to have.
Other than his silver-tongued seduction, Wesley doesn’t come across like one of the blood-sucking undead. He even moves about in the daylight during certain scenes. Percy (Sheridan McMichael), his son, casually drops hints when he visits. He quips about his father’s age, for instance. The tension between the father and son feels a bit undercooked and had potential as a greater conflict. Percy refuses to forgive his father for committing his mother to a mental home. He gets back at him by feeding him a garlic-topped meal. Yet, nearly as soon Percy arrives on the scene, he leaves. Their relationship is never really revisited. It feels like a missed opportunity in terms of the storyline. How many vampire movies feature a father and son dynamic?
Likewise, Alma’s daughter, Rose (Danielle Evon Ploeger), feels like another throwaway character. She visits and tries to snap her mother out of her funk, only to have a steamy scene with Wesley. But then, she’s gone by morning. It again feels like another parent/child relationship that is never explored deeply enough. She exits not long after she’s introduced.
The dynamic between Wesley, Alma, and Elizabeth anchors the film. Tension among the three plays out primarily over dinner scenes. In fact, so much of the film revolves around food and conversation. It’s where the richest dialogue-heavy scenes occur. The women, especially Elizabeth, are enamored with Wesley and his stories, a contrast to their bleak lives. From the dialogue to the close-ups of the food on the table, these moments are simply a delight.
Eventually, Alma suspects that something’s wrong with Wesley, and her dreams grow weirder and weirder, with black and white sequences that resemble a David Lynch film. Other than the one time that Wesley bares his fangs, these dreams are the only horror-rich elements in the film, and they’re fascinating to watch, bizarre and surreal.
Some of the film’s other visuals recall peak Dario Argento, especifically the costumes and color choices. It makes the film work well as a period piece, even though there is never any specific mention that the film occurs in the 1970s.
The Climate of the Hunter doesn’t contain a Bela Lugosi-like character running around in a black cape, though Hall does have his own charm. Nor does the film have the blood and gore of a Christopher Lee-era Hammer film. It’s simply not that type of vampire movie. Rather, it’s a film more concerned with stunning visuals that razzle, dazzle, and show off a 1970s aesthetic. Most of the story plays out through dialogue. It’s both a slow and at times heavily philosophical movie, especially during its closing minutes. Reece is an indie film auteur and his work isn’t for everyone. But if you want to experience a film that soaks vampire lore in an arthouse aesthetic, while still maintaining some of the usual mythos, then check out Climate of the Hunter. At the very least, your eyeballs will pop from the visuals.
Climate of the Hunter opens in select theaters on December 18 and releases on digital and On Demand on January 12.
Brian Fanelli is a poet and educator who also enjoys writing about the horror genre. His work has been published in The LA Times, World Literature Today, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Horror Homeroom, and elsewhere. On weekends, he enjoys going to the local drive-in theater with his wife or curling up on the couch, and binge-watching movies with their cat, Giselle.