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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Frost: Portrait of a Vampire (2001)

"A lot of people don't know about evil. Real evil."
- Micah (Gary Busey)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: June 15, 2003

Stars: Jeff Manzanares, C.R. Lister
Other Stars: Gary Busey, Karen Bailey, Zoe Paul
Director: Kevin VanHook

MPAA Rating: R for violence and nudity
Run Time: 01h:30m:07s
Release Date: June 17, 2003
UPC: 012236140610
Genre: horror

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

DVD Review

Kevin VanHook created the character of Jack Frost for a series of darkly gothic comic books about a macho mercenary who "doesn't believe in anything he can't touch, taste or smell," and who is forced into tracking down a former soldier pal who has become a murderous vampire. In this low-budget film adaptation, which was written, produced and directed by VanHook, Frost comes to the screen in the form of actor Jeff Manzanares, and while the story parallels the comic rather closely in spots, something sadly is lost in the translation somewhere along the way.

During a mercenary mission in Russian-occupied Afghanistan in 1989, one of Frost's fellow mercs gets bitten by a crazed killer the locals have labeled a "demon." Nat McKenzie (C.R. Lister) is the chomped-upon soldier, and it is not long before he begins exhibiting some new, bizarre behaviors, including increased strength and the ability to move around a room really, really quickly. The story then jumps forward a few years to sunny California, where a series of grisly murders have somehow (don't ask) earned the attention of a blind art gallery owner named Micah (Gary Busey), who summons the permanently stoic Jack Frost to track down his vampiric former friend. In the comic, the all-knowing Micah was a mysterious, withered, and scruffy old crone, but Busey plays him as a slick, blow-dried hipster, and for me that immediately took some of the edge and appeal out of the character, and somehow made him less threatening.

VanHook spends a lot of time establishing the character of Frost, and remarkably little on the story of crazed vamp Nat, who at times looks like a cross between a wig-wearing Chris Elliot and Paul Ruebens' Amilyn from the original Buffy, The Vampire Slayer. So instead of getting immersed in dark vampirism (as the title might suggest), we get to follow gruff Frost around as he ever so slowly is convinced that his old friend is really a fanged beastie hell-bent on wanton murder. Jeff Manzanares certainly looks like VanHook's comic character, right down to the ever-present sunglasses (even at night), but a monosyllabic action hero often plays better in print than it does on film, and the overly macho posturing of Manzanares' portrayal of Frost looked horribly stiff and silly at times.

Frost: Portrait of a Vampire properly sets up the character of Jack Frost (including the requisite open-ended climax), but VanHook seems to have forgotten to give equal time to the film's main baddie. The lumbering mercenary subplot, which gets too much screen time early on in the story, could have been trimmed slightly in order to allow a darker exploration of Nat's vampirism.

You know, a portrait. Like the title implies.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: What's with the nonanamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer, Artisan? Or should I call it "4:3 letterbox" as it is described on the backcover? The print itself is peppered with moments of blocky grain, along with soft, muted colors and black levels that are somewhat on the overly dark side, though not completely unusual for a low-budget film like this.

The image grade (for what it's worth) might have been actually bumped to a B- had Artisan provided an anamorphic transfer. This is the 21st century, right?

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 Dolby Digital track does, if nothing else, use the rear channels quite a bit, and the sporadic gunbursts or discrete ambient sounds filled out the soundfield with some much needed depth. Dialogue is cleanly mixed and easily understood, with minimal directional imaging across the front channels. Not an especially booming .LFE, but a few explosions elicited a rumble or two from the sub channel.

A comparatively flat 2.0 English stereo track is also available.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Pool, Hell's Gate, Legion of the Dead, Dracula: The Dark Prince
1 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Kevin VanHook, Matt Steinauer, Chadd B. Cole, Vince Di Meglio
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: I wasn't looking for too much to round out my viewing experience of Frost: Portrait of a Vampire, but Artisan has done a decent job stocking this B-film with a few extras, including an often dry full-length, scene-specific commentary from writer/director/producer Kevin VanHook, director of photography Matt Steinauer, visual effects supervisor Chadd B. Cole and visual effects artist Vince Di Meglio. All four participants are very laid back, and treat the finished the product with what seems like great affection, though it was often difficult to know who was saying what, because their voices are so similar. We get some nutty production tidbits, like a San Diego beach just outside Sea World doubled as Afghanistan, and many of the same actors played Afghans, Russians and Americans, all within the same scene, but a lot of the comments center on the creation of the visual effects and set design.

A single Deleted Scene (01m:31s) is available with an optional director's commentary (always a nice touch) and while the scene is built primarily to establish a character who dies later in the film, its deletion was based on good old pacing problems. A set of approximately twenty Storyboard images are included, as are a set of four Special Effects Gallery pieces. These segments, none of which are longer than 25 seconds, quickly show how the visual effects team combined live action plates, blue screen, matte paintings and CG work together to create four specific action sequences in the film.

Wrapping things up are five trailers (Frost: Portrait of a Vampire, The Pool, Hell's Gate, Legion of the Dead, Dracula: The Dark Prince), while the disc itself is cut into 20 chapters, with subtitles available in English and Spanish.

Oddly enough, not a single mention of the comic book.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Not so much a usual vampire flick as it is a film that establishes what I'm sure Kevin VanHook hopes is the start of a possible franchise, centering on the adventures of sunglass-wearing, vampire-hunting, monosyllabic badass Jack Frost. The vamp element of the story almost takes a backseat to that of developing the history of the non-believing hero, and unfortunately forsakes more traditional horror elements that might have made this story more engaging.


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