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Synapse Films presents
Cold Hearts (1999)

Seth: You have a cold hand.
Viktoria: Yeah, well I'm dead.

- Robert Floyd, Marisa Ryan

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: October 20, 2002

Stars: Robert Floyd, Marisa Ryan, Amy Jo Johnson
Other Stars: Jon Huertas, Christopher Wiehl, Fred Norris, Christian Campbell, Fred Norris
Director: Robert A. Masciantonio

MPAA Rating: R for (language, violence)
Run Time: 01h:28m:33s
Release Date: October 08, 2002
UPC: 654930302194
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-B-B B

DVD Review

Imagine the hip, dark flipside of a universe similar to the one Joss Whedon created for Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but one where it is not the humans who are the focus, but rather the vampires, and you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Cold Hearts; mix in a little well-dressed Dawson's Creek-style romantic angst, some vampiric anorexia, and you're there, my friend. Historically, vampires in films are just the fangy bad guys, largely a clan of pale-skinned types who are eventually vanquished by some good, just person by the time the final credits roll.

In this refreshing, low-budget vampire revival from writer/director Robert A. Masciantonio, the chilly shores of Ocean City, New Jersey becomes the replacement for Buffy's stomping grounds of Sunnydale, where he introduces the personal problems of a good-looking gaggle of the undead (apparently there are just no unattractive vampires in Ocean City). Cold Hearts, which won the Best Feature award at the 1999 Atlantic City Film Festival, has moments of genuine greatness alongside predictable B-movie machinations.

In Cold Hearts we meet tough girl Viktoria (Wet Hot American Summer's Marisa Ryan) and sweet-as-can-be Alicia (one-time Pink Power Ranger Amy Jo Johnson), a pair of close friends, different as night and day, who share the common bond of vampirism, though that plot point is introduced very gradually during the first 20 minutes of his film. The fact that Ryan is pictured on the DVD cover sporting a full set of fangs in an all-out vampire scowl (in a shot that, coincidentally, doesn't appear anywhere in the film) pretty much telegraphs this point, as does the trailer.

Viktoria, Alicia and their campy non-vampire gay pal Darius (former Sabrina The Teenage Witch regular Jon Huertas) spend their nights clomping around the boardwalk, and living in nicely-appointed beachfront homes that always seem to have an endless number of candles burning. Viktoria's nasty former boyfriend, Charles (Christopher Wiehl), is the leader of a Lost Boys-like group of trendy young vampires, and we can pretty much tell he's trouble even before he levels her with a shot to the jaw during a confrontation early in the film. Not that she really needs it, but Viktoria's salvation and rescue comes in the form of mysterious frat boy Seth (Robert Floyd), a newcomer to the boardwalk, who takes a special interest in the brash girl after witnessing Charles coldcock her.

Masciantonio has littered his Cold Hearts script with a number of little pop culture movie references, some subtle (a neat Clerks throwaway line from a couple of soon-to-be vampire victims), while some are a little more obvious (the aforementioned The Lost Boys). The guy seems to have a knack for easy-flowing dialogue, and while some of the lines Charles utters are a little ham-handed, the bulk of the chatter has a cool, B-movie ring to it. The strength in Cold Hearts really comes from the dialogue, which is even more noticeable when the special effects are so obviously cheap, with the exception of a neat sequence featuring a crispy, sun-exposed vampire, courtesy of the great Tom Savini.

Most of the performances are on par with what you would get in a typical low-budget horror film (i.e. nondescript), but the whole thing is stolen by Ryan's Viktoria. She has an Eliza-Dushku-as-Faith (yep, another Buffy reference) swaggering personna, and gets a couple of chances to nail it by delivering moody and captivating chunks of Masciantonio's dialogue. Her moon-bathing scene with Johnson, where we get a bit of backstory on the two, is acted extremely well by both, and is one of the film's stronger passages. And if anyone can ever make smoking look damn cool, it will certainly be Ryan.

There aren't any big scares in this film, nor were there any really intended. You can tell that from the script, which wobbles back and forth as a vampire relationship saga more than a traditional gorefest. A film like Cold Hearts presents vampires from their own perspective, and I found that approach to be rather enjoyable, even with the what-the-heck-was-that ending. Masciantonio has not necessarily reinvented a genre, but he has certainly borrowed enough familiar elements from different sources to come up with a pretty cool amalgam. Plus, any film that features Amy Jo Johnson covered in blood is automatically cool in my book.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Cold Hearts comes from Synapse in a respectable 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen, and during the commentary, Robert A. Masciantonio openly mentions a couple of times how the DVD transfer actually cleaned and enhanced the colors in a few specific scenes. I'll take Masciantonio's seal of approval on the transfer as being good enough for me, though it's a shame the print is speckled with so many tiny nicks, which are sometimes distracting in a film that spends the majority of its time in night scenes. Colors are a little soft, far from vivid, though in many sequences it seemed that Masciantonio was intentionally going for a cold, antiseptic look to augment the narrative.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The sole audio option here is a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix, and obviously it lacks any major razzle-dazzle rear channel fireworks. Dialogue is clean and evenly mixed, and the occasional rock song in the soundtrack sounds just fine, for the most part.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Robert A. Masciantonio
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Original Audition Tapes
  2. Jerks
  3. Photo Slide Show
Extras Review: Don May, Jr. and Synapse (hell, he IS Synapse if you ask me) generally treat their under-the-radar releases lovingly, and usually include a fair amount of extra goodies. Cold Hearts sports a scene-specific commentary from Robert A. Masciantonio, along with a couple of his non-movie related pals, and while it doesn't offer a great myriad of info, the participants seem to be having a good time chit-chatting, so it's subsequently pretty easy to listen to. Masciantonio drives 99% of the content, understandably so, and spends much of the time discussing the typical topics, like location info and how he boosted the look of the film on a minimal budget. This commentary doesn't really reveal any great, earth-shaking truths about Cold Hearts, but I particularly liked Masciantonio's humorous anecdote about filming the touching moon-bathing scene between Johnson and Ryan; I suspect Marisa may not find it quite as funny, though.

The Original Audition Tapes (20m:27s) segment highlights individual read-throughs from Amy Jo Johnson, Jon Huertas, Christian Campbell and Robert Floyd. I'm always intrigued by audition footage for some reason, and while none of this is especially mission critical, I find it a treat to see actors able to turn a character on and off like a switch. The automated Photo Slide Show (05m:59s) features a large collection of cast and behind-the-scene images, set to a truly beautiful, and more than a little ironic, song entitled Hollywood Wouldn't Lie by Wise and Foolish Builders. Maybe it was due in part to the strength of the song, but I found the collection of images here to be a bit more stylish than most of the run-of-the-mill stills galleries found on DVDs.

Best forgotten, however, would have been Robert A. Masciantonio's short film Jerks (09m:51s), which is an homage/parody of Clerks, one that sadly lacks any actual humor. It stars Masciantonio as a harried convenience store clerk who is hassled by a quartet of obnoxious teens, and it just proves to me that Kevin Smith is actually a clever writer.

A spiffy theatrical trailer and 18 chapters round out the extras, which is packaged in a silver Alpha case, adorned with some nice foil cover art.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Vampires have fallen out of cinematic favor in recent years, though Robert Rodriquez and Francis Ford Coppola have done their best to keep them alive in their own special way. Robert A. Masciantonio's low-budget Cold Hearts puts a fresh spin on the bloodsucking genre, while still maintaining a moderately hip Buffy The Vampire Slayer-friendly vibe.

Recommended, especially if you're a Buffy fan.


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