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Archive for October 28th, 2011

Vampires

leeThe first vampire I remember was Dracula. Depending on your age this may be Gary Oldman or Bela Lugosi (or any one on the other 206 actors listed on IMDB to have played him in film and on TV) but for me Dracula will always be Christopher Lee. The film was Dracula: Prince of Darkness, the second of the Hammer Dracula films from 1966. As I remember it was 1986 and it was shownpitt on Channel 4 as part of a double bill with one of the Hammer Frankenstein films. A few weeks before seeing the film I had been introduced to Christopher Lee but as a ten year old who had never heard of Hammer let alone seen one of its films had no idea who he was. Following that I watched many Hammer films particularly Vampire films including the other Dracula films and a few others including Twins of Evil, Countess Dracula, The Vampire Lovers and The Brides of Dracula. I loved all the old Hammer films but anything with Christopher Lee and/or Peter Cushing was my favourite.

lostAs I approached my teenage years I started watching more modern horrors like Sam Raimi and George A. Romero’s zombie films as well as the slasher films that where popular at the time. It is worth mentioning at this point that Romero also made a sort of vampire film in 1977, Martin. It isn’t up to the standard of his zombie films but worth seeing all the same. The only vampire film I remember seeing at the time was The Lost Boys in 1987. I think this was the first comedy vampire film I had seen but loved it. It wasn’t until about five years later that I discovered the 80’s masterpiece Near Dark also form 1987. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow it was like nothing I had ever seen before. It moved vampires away from the supernatural and closer to the real word with victims saved with a blood transfusion and not a prayer or ritual. The nomadic family of vampires combined elements of road movie, serial killers and a darkmodern western. The main character Caleb is played by Adrian Pasdar who is probably best known as Nathan Petrelli in Heroes. A bleak but enjoyable film, possibly one of the best vampire films ever made. It was also around this time I first saw Tony Scott’s The Hunger from 1983. A film I enjoyed at the time but seeing it again years later I appreciated it even more. It explores the same themes of the loneliness of immortality as Interview with The Vampire that I will mention later. On the same subject there is a great book on a similar theme called Glittering Savages by Mark Burnell. It has been out of print for about 10 years but a copy often comes up on Amazon. Unfortunately it isn’t cheep, second hand paperbacks goes for £10 and hardbacks anything up to £200. I was lucky enough to pick up a hardback copy for £4 but haven’t seen it that cheep again!

The early to mid 90’s saw a wide variety of vampire films. Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 1992 was horrendous, failing to work as a horror or a comedy. It did however spawn a successful TV series a few years later. From the same year and far better but not very well know is John (An American Werewolf in London) Landis’s Innocent Blood staring blood3Anne Parillaud (Nikita). It combines two genres vampires and the Mafia, sounds strange but it works! Bram Stoker’s Dracula also 1992 went back to Bram Stokers novel and created a story that was supposed to follow he book more closely than previous efforts. Unfortunately it introduced the love story that completely changed the tone of the story. Skilfully handled by Francis Ford Coppola it is still a good film if not a great one. Interview with the Vampire form 1994 also started life on the page. Adapted from Anne Rice’s 1976 novel. After Johnny Depp (who had previously auditioned for the part of Caleb in Near Dark) turned down the role of Lestat, Tom Cruise was cast much to the annoyance of the author and many diehard fans. As it turned out he was excellent relishing the role of carefree killer while Brad Pitt portrays a more lonely melancholic part. After that things got a little more art house as Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction (1995) and Michael Almereyda’s Nadja (1994) provided a cool stylish post modern take on the old themes. Look out for a cameo from David Lynch in Nadja.

The late 90’s also proved to have a varied crop of films but before I get onto them a TV series is worth a mention. In contrast with the slick American comedy Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the British Ultraviolet (1998) was a stark, clinical and serious mini series that treated the subject matter as a more science fiction than a supernatural origin concentrating on blood and labs rather than wooden stakes and crucifixes. From Dusk Till Dawn from 1996 starts duskout as a sort of crime comedy road movie staring George Clooney, Harvey Keitel and Quentin Tarantino (who also wrote the screenplay) half way through it turns into a bloody violent vampire shoot-em-up! The film is memorable for two reasons, the first collaboration between Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino and an unforgettable entrance by Salma Hayek. The Wisdom of Crocodiles in 1998 provided a now rare British entry into the genre but is a grim tale that is largely forgettable. In the same year director Steven Norrington and writer David S Goyer reinvented the vampire movie when they turned the Marvel comic Blade into a movie. Blade moved vampires from either camp or creepy gothic horror to a slick modern action film. What they did wasn’t completely new, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires combined marital arts with vampire killing back in 1974 and the more comic Buffy the Vampire Slayer was already on TV with an all action approach to the vampires. Where Blade seems to differ from the predecessors is that it has caught on with films like Van Helsing and Underworld and Arnold Schwarzenegger taking on an action horror in End of Days. In 2002 a sequel directed by master filmmaker Guillermo del Toro improved on the original (we won’t talk about the third film or the TV spin-off!). The by-product is that it has been much imitated leading to a lot of action/horror films that frankly aren’t very good.

kateThat moves us into the current decade. The big franchise of recent years is Underworld from 2003 and its sequels in 2006 and 2007. The second two films are utter rubbish but the first one is worth seeing if you haven’t already if only for Kate Beckinsale’s outfit. It is also a very slick stylish film that makes the most of its relatively small budget with great Eastern European locations and moody photography. It also introduces a great theme of a war between vampires and werewolves. In recent years that strange phenomenon of video games being adapted into movies has reached the vampire movie in the shape of BloodRayne (2005), unfortunately it is a terrible film! But the recently reliable source material for films, the graphic novel provides far better viewing with the first rate 30 Days of Night (2007) there are a few problems with the plot and there is a very poor sense of time and space but the action scenes are really well handled and there are some real make you jump moments as well as a completely new look for the Vampires.

raveThis virtually brings us up to date. Last year saw a great old name return to vampire films; Hammer released the film Beyond the Rave in short episodes on the internet. Hopefully a precursor to new Hammer vampire film with a decent budget and a theatrical release. The big release of the year posing as a vampire movie was the teenage romance/drama Twilightbased on the hugely successful Stephanie Meyers novel. Despite not being the target audience I have to say it is a well made and surprisingly enjoyable film if not a truetraditional vampire movie.  Have you ever wondered what would happen if Vampires really did take over, outnumbering humans; what would they drink? that’s exactly the question Daybreakers (2009) asks.  Surprisingly the high concept works and it is actually a surprisingly good movie.

I have clearly only described a tiny percentage of vampire films and haven’t even mentioned classics like Nosferatu or popular put overrated Salem’s Lot and I have only given Bela Lugosi’s Dracula the briefest of mentions. There isn’t space to describe every vampire film I have seen and have probably forgotten some of them! This is merely a look back at how I started watching vampire films and the ones that have stood out to me good bad or indifferent.

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