Saturday, August 27, 2011

Vampire Movies!

Blue and I went to see the new Fright Night last week, and I must say it was a pretty-damn-decent vampire movie. A fun, fresh-feeling riff on the whole "vampire thing," neatly sidestepping the squeaky-clean modern vampire crap we get in Twilight or True Blood.

Ingenue Imogen Poots has nothing on Amanda Bearse's turn in the 1985 original, but otherwise I prefer the new cast. Anton Yelchin works great as an ex-nerd trying to be cool, Toni Colette is (as always) engaging as his mom and Colin Farrel in particular is very entertaining as the hottie next door / douchebro vampire menace.

Jerry (Farrel) is so casual and so well-versed in navigating the humans he wades through. He's not beset by the crippling depression and self-hatred that so many modern vamps seem to suffer, and the result is a pleasant, pleasing flick that's more interested in having fun than anything else - and it succeeds.

Worth watching? Yes. Worth buying? Meh. When you find it cheap.

* * *

Let's talk about the state of vampire movies, shall we?

Fright Night adheres to this schism that seems to have evolved in modern vampire tales. On the one hand we've got the fun, tongue-in-cheek horror-bent movies like 30 Days of Night and From Dusk Till Dawn. In these films, vampires are simply predators. Vicious, disgusting human-shaped beasts that provide a reasonable threat for our human heroes to overcome.

On the other hand, there's the melodramatic romances that so distress so many of us.

It's important to note that this separation between the two central tenants of vampirocity is a modern invention - the problem is that it's far too rare we see a mix of them. It's either beautiful young people in love-lust or savage horrors with gore dripping from snaggle-fanged jaws.

Bram Stoker's Dracula was so successful in the early 1900s because - through its central character - it acknowledges and explores these dual natures we find so seductive. The vampire isn't simply a monster in the guise of a man - it's symbolic of all the desires and appetites we subjugate in the name of an operable society.

It's important to note that, back when Dracula was written (1897), the world at large had not yet converted to the Church of Science. Christian morals were still widespread and very much grounded in the intestine-coiling fear of the eternity of suffering that would befall you, should you stray from the lit path - and Dracula embodied all the indulgences the people would not permit themselves to acknowledge or explore. It was one of the last gasps for capitalizing on "religious terror," which modern times (and literature) had been slowly eroding as science took its place as the new mysterious, dark woods we should fear (Frankenstein - 1823).

That's what was so appealing, seductive and terrifying about the first (famous) vampire. He wasn't merely a monster - he was everything that we perceive to be monstrous within ourselves. How yummy that this dark image of humanity does not cast a reflection of his own.

There are modern vampire stories that have not forgotten what made Dracula such a compelling character and Dracula such an arresting narrative. I was, recently, very impressed with Park Chan-wook's Thirst (2009).

Thirst is based on an 1867 French novel called Thérèse Raquin in which a scheming wife enters into a passionate affair with her husband's best friend, and together they murder said husband before going mad with guilt. In adapting the novel, Park realized that the central story was not merely the lover being seduced by the wife, but the lover being seduced by all his baser appetites. To feed, to fuck, to kill.

There is no vampiric imagery or symbolism in Thérèse Raquin, but in (loosely) slipping its plot into the lattice of a vampire story, Park demonstrates his canny appreciation for what this supernatural sub-genre is truly discussing.

Let The Right One In (2008) remains, I feel, the best vampire story I've ever seen. It's better than the 2004 novel on which it is based and better than the (actually pretty good!) 2010 American remake.

As the movie principally concerns a twelve year-old boy and the prepubescent predator who lives next door, it abandons the sexual themes so prevalent in vampire lore and replaces them with an even more widely-appreciated theme; young love.

When we were kids, this totally happened to us. Someone came into our lives who made everything okay, and we fell straightaway in love - the sort of untainted, pure adoration and affection that we'll be hard-pressed to uncover in ourselves again. Let The Right One In leverages this universal experience to great rewards.

The tender ages of its protagonists allows the story to highlight what has always, perhaps, been the vampire's greatest strength : to seduce. To strum a chord in the human heart that makes us follow them into the darkness - and not merely as some voodoo-zombie slave, but as a willing companion.

The child-vampire Eli, who savages the local population and drives grown men to die for her doesn't just embody the standard vampire threat, but cries out for our understanding. What's worst in vampires has always been what's worst in ourselves - but somehow Eli makes even the viewer accept the horror in her and, eerily, in ourselves.

The end of the film is either a triumph of love of a gut-punch of terror, depending on how you choose to view it. It maintains the romance and evil-from-within dichotomy that has always laced the greatest vampire stories, and marries them in a finale that captures the best of both : like all good vampires and like us, it is beautiful and it is terrible.


  1. You should check out The Addiction and Shadow of the Vampire, though the first one was never released on DVD.

    But it has Christopher Walken in it as a vampire, making it worth the extra effort to 'obtain' it.

  2. Never saw The Addiction, but Willem Dafoe was awesome in Shadow of the Vampire. God it must be ten years since I saw that one. (Checks Wikipedia). Eleven.