Director/Screenplay – Justin Timpane, Guest Segment Director – Gary Ugarek, Producers – Liz Burgess & Michael Mead, Music – Tuomas Easton, Visual Effects Supervisor – Brian Anderson, Practical Effects – Michael Mead. Production Company – EndLight Entertainment/ADF Studios/Digitalshoe
Jay Saunders (Aaron), Daniel Ross (Kyle), Cory Okouchi (Cole), Devon Marie Burt (Alex), Carl Okouchi (Lily), Kurt Starstedt (Seth), Melissa McConnell (Ann), Liz Christmas (Lorna), Daniel Mascarello (Manson), Justin Timpane (Reefer), William Stendeback (Maximilian), Paul Sieber (Majordomo)
Aaron is fooling around with a video camera with his best female friend Alex when he confesses to her that he wishes they could be more than friends. Just then, they are attacked by vampires, only to see them driven off by a team of ninja. Afterwards, Aaron finds that Alex’s memory has been blanked of the incident and continues to be every time he asks her about it. In trying to find out more about the incident, he is directed to check out the comic-book store owner Cole. After surveying Cole’s house, he is attacked by vampires but is saved by Cole and his friends who are the ninja team. The group consists of Cole and Kyle who are ninjas, the witch Ann and the good vampire Lily who have been transformed into monster fighters by the powers of an amulet. With Ann unable to blank Aaron’s mind as they did Alex’s, they decide to induct him into their group. Meanwhile, the head vampire Seth wants the amulet in order to become more powerful. He sends his vampires to the house where they abduct Alex in order to force the others into a showdown.
Ninjas vs Vampires is a film from Justin Timpane, a new and rising director who hails from Virginia. Timpane made his debut with the low-budget Ninjas vs Zombies (2008) about a group of friends who are inducted into a ninja team and end up fighting the undead. Timpane reunites most of the cast from the first film for Ninjas vs Vampires. The ending of the film also leaves things open-ended for a trilogy, which Timpane subsequently delivered with Ninjas vs Monsters (2012).
Ninja vs Vampires is clearly made by a group of fanboys who, to quote their own press kit, have drawn “inspiration from pop-culture, cult-classic films, and energy drink induced insomniatic fits.” They delight in packing the film with in-references to their favourite movies, tv and comic-books, even in-jokes about Kevin Smith films. Jay Saunders describes his intent towards Devon Marie Burt in term of pop culture referents: “I want you to be more than friends. You’re my Mary Jane, my Winnie Cooper,” namedropping both Spider-Man comics and, in one obscure reference, tv’s The Wonder Years (1988-93). Even the end credits reflect the fanboy slavishness with dedications such as “To Kevin Smith who kinda knows we exist … and Joss Whedon who still doesn’t know we exist.”
One of the best parts of the film is Justin Timpane’s amusingly snappy dialogue. There is a good deal of comedic mileage derived from the scenes where Devon Marie Burt forgets everything out of the ordinary that she witnesses or is said to her. The conception of vampires and their internal politics is perhaps just a little too drawn from recent tv shows, in particular tv’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) and True Blood (2008-14) – the film even uses the term ‘glamour’ to refer to a vampire’s mind control ability that was introduced by the latter. The deference to True Blood is denoted in one of the frequently sarcastic lines at one point: “You’re not exactly Vampire Bill with his mind control.” There are also some amusing lines about why the vampires don’t sparkle viz Twilight (2008) and sequels. The clear conception of the team of people with various powers – ninja, a vampire and a witch – seems to have been modelled on the X-Men and there are a number of lines thrown in this direction comparing the shaven-headed Cory Okouchi to Professor Xavier or lines like “Thought you were going all Dark Phoenix on us there for a second.”
Justin Timpane is serviced by a fine cast, which is especially notable given that all of them are unknowns. Particularly good is Daniel Ross who is almost a dead ringer for James DeBello from Cabin Fever (2002) and Transylmania (2009). Ross has DeBello’s horndog frat boy role down pat and as such one expects him to play the role this way, only for Ross to turn the part around into one that has some surprisingly strong and sympathetic depths to it. You never expect such worthwhile acting to emerge in a low-budget film cast with unknowns.
One of the better aspects of the film is that Justin Timpane has taken some effort to choreograph convincing martial arts scenes where the cast have made a good deal of effort to practice these so that the scenes come across convincingly – it is clearly them blocking moves with one another rather than stuntmen or actors pretending to. On the minus side, there are times that Ninja vs Vampires undeniably shows that its low budget. One of these is the killing of the vampires who, a la Buffy the Vampire Slayer, disintegrate into animated puffs of dust when staked, although here these are very cheaply animated, which only serves to show up the film’s B-budget origins.