Yesterday gave us the tragic news that English actor Julian Sands, who had been missing since January after failing to return from a hiking expedition in the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles, has been confirmed as dead. Human remains found on the mountain were positively identified as those of the acclaimed actor, bringing months of tireless searching to an end.
Sands is perhaps best known for playing George Emerson in the 1985 period romance A Room With A View alongside Helena Bonham Carter, but he would, later in his career, become famous for appearing in horror movies and playing decidedly more sinister characters. In 1989's Warlock, he landed the role of the son of Satan (he would return for the 1993 sequel, which got a fairly average video game on Mega Drive / Genesis and SNES), and in the 1993 'body horror' Boxing Helena, he assumed the role of a surgeon who becomes so obsessed with a woman he holds her captive by amputating her limbs.
One of Sand's lesser-known roles is 1992's Tale of A Vampire, which is (apparently) loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe's poem 'Annabel Lee'. In the movie, Sands played a modern-day bloodsucker named Alex who lost his true love in the 19th century, only to discover that Anne (played by Suzanna Hamilton) begins working at his local library and is a dead ringer for his lost love. The story becomes complicated when Alex's rival, Edgar (Kenneth Cranham), shows up.
The movie was released in close proximity to Francis Ford Coppola's big-budget adaptation of Bram Stoker's original Dracula novel, and it's easy to suggest that Tale Of A Vampire was made in order to capitalise on the sudden interest in vampire love stories. It's by no means a classic (at the time of writing, it is so obscure that it doesn't even have its own Wikipedia page), but, as a kid, it fascinated me. I was a big fan of Coppola's Dracula, and this film seemed to inhabit the same thematic space – even if it lacked similar production values.
"Watching from a contemporary perspective, it’s hard to escape just how of its time Tale of a Vampire is," observes Alexandra Heller-Nicholes for Fangoria. "From Jane’s fashion (those divine shoulder pads!) to the overzealous soundtrack (are they synth pan pipes I hear?), there are probably calendars from 1992 less aesthetically dated than this movie. But bookended as it is by a voiceover reading from Edgar Allan Poe’s final finished poem Annabel Lee, there is something about this film that – almost despite itself – contradictorily feels entirely out of time while simultaneously of it."
When Sands went missing earlier this year, it wasn't A Room For A View which sprang to mind for me, but Tale Of A Vampire. Keen to learn more about this film I'd been so struck by as a youth, I ventured online – only to discover that it had an unlikely connection with Capcom's Resident Evil series.
Its director was Shimako Satō, who would study at the London International Film School before embarking on a massively successful career in directing horror movies, such as 1995's Eko Eko Azarak: Wizard of Darkness and its 1996 sequel, Eko Eko Azarak 2: Birth of the Wizard. She also penned the script for the 2010 live-action version of Space Battleship Yamato, which would gross $51.37 million at the Japanese box office. More recently, Satō wrote the Japanese TV horror series Siren, based on Sayaka Yamazaki's manga of the same name.
Tale Of A Vampire was Satō's directorial and screenwriting debut, despite being set in London and using an English cast. It's fair to say that this little-known film would have been a baptism of fire for the young Japanese director, but it's nonetheless remarkable that Satō was able to work with Sands so early in her career – and in a film that wasn't in her native tongue. Satō's career blossomed to the point where she was asked to lend her directorial talents to cinematic sequences in Capcom's Resident Evil - Code: Veronica and Onimusha: Warlords.
It's not unusual to find that video games and movies intersect in unexpected ways (Sands himself was not a stranger to crossing over into interactive entertainment; in 2013, he voiced the character of DeFalco in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2), but it was still quite surprising to me personally to see a connection between a film I'd almost forgotten about and Capcom's best-selling survival horror series.
Sands leaves behind a staggering body of work, even if he had long drifted away from the Hollywood mainstream by the time he so tragically went missing in January. I'm not for a second suggesting that Tale Of A Vampire is his best work, but if you're looking to familiarise yourself with his incredible range as an actor – not to mention his talent for playing weird, tortured characters – then it's worth a watch.