Most of my Unseen entries are about films from decades past, but this one is recent... just a few years ago. So I won’t exactly call this one “unseen” yet... just “overlooked.”
Back in 2007, I was working as a researcher for Fangoria Entertainment. This meant that I spent copious amounts of time screening relatively unknown horror films for coverage. On a particular day in June, the temperature was in the upper 90s in New York City. Coincidentally, it was on this day that the air conditioning at the office died a very smoky death.
It was hot. Damned hot. And while many employees decided to work from home that day, I had several friends from out of town staying at my tiny apartment. I knew that if I journeyed home, I would end up getting very little work done in lieu of playing tour guide. So I sat in the office watching indie horror flicks and sweating buckets while half asleep from the heat. I finally made it to the last film of the day: Perfect Creature. The cover looked like just another run-of-the-mill vampire flick. Sigh. I popped in the DVD and soon realized this was not the typical vampire story. I forgot the heat, I forgot my sweating, and forgot my out-of-town visitors. I became captured in this creative tale that presents a completely new twist on vampire lore involving genetics and religion, all wrapped in an innovative steampunk presentation.
Perfect Creature is a product of the New Zealand film industry. Shot for $11 million dollars and using the high-caliber effect styling of WETA Workshop (best known for providing the FX on the Lord of the Rings Trilogy), Perfect Creature glistens on screen. It is a very “over-produced” film, and the high budget is demonstrated specifically in the setting and textures.
Set in an alternate universe where vampires are worshiped as religious icons and influenza has become a decimating plague, a single renegade vampire goes insane and begins attacking the humans that vampires have sworn to protect. I’m inclined to call Perfect Creature a steampunk story. For those who don’t frequent fan conventions or comic book shops, steampunk defines a genre of media that is set in an alternate universe. This universe is like ours, but during Victorian Times society pursued steam as an active source of energy over fossil fuels. In the steampunk environment, many styles and elements from the Victorian world are still preserved. Yet technology has advanced to the same point as today, just taking a different steam-based path. This is the world in which Perfect Creature is situated. Victorian-looking cars, air ships, televisions, and toys surround the space. The characters still have advanced science, genetics, disease control, and weaponry. I know this may seem a bit difficult to grasp, but just trust me that it is rather beautiful and captivating to watch on-screen.
I have heard many film critics speculate on why Perfect Creature was such an ignored and quickly forgotten film. Some feel that being New Zealand’s 6th most expensive film in their history, audiences were expecting something epic (like Lord of the Rings), but instead got a quirky little vampire story that isn’t even about vampires as we historically know them. Others feel the slow burn and intentionally lethargic pacing drew people out of the thriller-style story and just bored them. I’m inclined to agree with both of these theories, but I’m also going to point a bony vampiric finger at the box art below:
Featuring just a single vampire mouth, the art tells very little about the movie aside from the fact that it has vampires in it. Perfect Creature is so visually driven, it's almost insulting that the image chosen to represent it is so boring and trite. I’m going to strike this film’s forgotten nature up to a number of items, but at the top of my list are some very poor marketing and graphic design choices.
Perfect Creature is neither expensive nor hard to find. Actually, when Blockbuster went out of business recently, I saw stacks of copies sitting untouched on the barren store shelves for just a few dollars. This is a great example of a film that was everywhere, and just remained relatively unseen.