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Archive for the ‘Vampires’ Category

The Twilight Saga (2008 – 2012) is loved and loathed in equal measure, it does however give us a different type of vampire in a different type of vampire movie. Here are a few more vampire movies with original ideas.

Sunlight in Nosferatu (1922)nosferatu

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens translated as Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror; or simply Nosferatu (1922) directed by F. W. Murnau and starring Max Schreck was adapted from Bram Stoker’s Dracula the names were changed, not to protect the innocent, but because the studio did not obtain the rights to the novel. They didn’t even use the word vampire, instead replacing it with Nosferatu. Despite being an adaptation, Nosferatu has some original ideas, one of them has become a mainstay of vampire movie ever since (except Twilight). Sunlight. In the original novel Dracula avoids daylight as he is weakened by sunlight. Orlok (as he is called in Nosferatu) is destroyed by sunlight.

Kung Fu vampires in The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires

Blade (1998) reinvented the vampire movie, not as a horror but as an action movie. The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974) was a co production between Hammer Studios and Hong Kongs Shaw Brothers Studio. Having lost its way from Scars of Dracula(1970) onwards a change was needed and in The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires was certainly a change. Relocating the story to China and utilising the skills of both legendry Hong Kong action director Chang Cheh and Roy Ward Baker, a veteran of several previous Hammer films. The result is a bonkers 83 minute action horror that is both brilliant and original.

Realism in Near Dark (1987)near_dark

Vampire movies are fantasy as any movie containing a fictional species is, however vampire stories tend to be more complicated than that. With stories of good and evil, darkness and light, they are often more religious or spiritual stories. The weapons that destroy vampires often signify purity, they include crucifixes and holly water. Near Dark takes a different approach. Essentially a modern day western, a dustland fairytale were salvation comes not from a mysticism but from a blood transfusion.

It’s fun to be a vampire in The Lost Boys (1987)jun 52

Those who only know Joel Schumacher as the director that killed the Batman franchise in the 90’s will be surprised by his pop culture credentials. As a twelve year old , The Lost Boys was amongst my favourite movies. Although the conclusion is the usual good over evil scenario we have come to expect from a vampire movie, the hour leading up to the conclusion is exactly what the tagline promises: Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a vampire.

Melancholy in Interview with a Vampire (1994)Interview with the Vampire

Based on the novel of the same name by Anne Rice is the story of Louis de Pointe du Lac (Brad Pitt), a man who following the the deaths of his wife and child has lost the will to live. Offered death by the mysterious Lestat de Lioncourt (Tom Cruise) he instead asks to live and in return is given the eternal “life” of a vampire. What follows is a an existential story based around the melancholy of an unusually long life. Not a completely original idea but probably the best example of the idea.

30 Days of Night in 30 Days of Night30 Days of Night

Ever since Nosferatu vampires have seen vulnerable to sunlight so why did it take so long to set a vampire movie in a place with no sunlight? 30 Days of Night was originally an unsuccessful film pitch, in 2002 it became a three issue graphic novel mini-series written by Steve Niles and illustrated by Ben Templesmith. Five years later it became a movie directed by David Slade. Both comic and movie tell the story of the fight for survival as a group of vampires descend on Barrow, Alaska during its month-long “polar night”.

What happens when the food runs out? in Daybreakers (2009)daybreakers elvis and edward

Vampires are mysterious creatures that exist in the shadows, it is often the case that they appear in movies without the other characters knowing of their existence. But what happens when vampires are take over the world and become the dominant race? Simple they run out of food and that’s the premise of Daybreakers (2009).

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We Are the Night isn’t a particularly original take on the vampire movie and falls into the too cool for school trap of not using the word vampire. It does however have a certain charm that makes it worth watching. A stylish look and a suitably melancholic tone reminiscent The Hunger (1983) make it an enjoyable watch.we-are-the-night-movie-poster

The opening credits feature a montage of images starting with from colour photographs then black-and-white ones and finally paintings. The pictures depict key moments throughout the history of Germany going back three hundred years. Each image features the same blond woman who has witnessed it all through the ages. Cut to present day, three female vampires are on their way home to Berlin from Paris living out a decadent, hedonistic and bloody but ultimately empty lifestyle. Louise (Nina Hoss) the leader of the group is looking for something, more precisely she is looking for someone. She thinks she has found that in young petty criminal Lena (Karoline Herfurth).Karoline Herfurth We Are the Night

In a lot of ways Charlotte (Jennifer Ulrich) is the most interesting character (An actress from the silent era, she appears to have appeared in Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler (1922)) who has grown tied of the lifestyle and longs for the daughter she had to abandon when she became a vampire. It is however a character we have seen many times before, most notably Louise (Brad Pitt) in Interview with the Vampire (1994). She doesn’t provide the same conscience that Louise does in Interview with the Vampire, but does help ground the characters and with it the film. According director to Dennis Gansel, the three initial vampires each represent a time key times in German history: Louise, the lat 1700’s, Charlotte the 1920’s (the golden age of German cinema) and Nora the 1990’s after the fall of the Berlin wall. The era they are all from is mentioned, but it goes beyond this, the characters retain.Jennifer Ulrichwe are the night

Like The Lost Boys and Near Dark (1987) the movie introduces an established “family” of vampires just as a new member is reluctantly recruited. The rebellious nature of the character belies her humanity, as this manifests itself she threatens the existence of the family. Although all the usual ideas are explored, Ultimately the potential downfall of the characters isn’t a noble redemption or the despair folly of unrequited love, it is simply the emptiness of their lives. This is as bigger message about today’s modern disposable society as any of the historical ideas in the movie.Nina Hoss we are the night

With its lack of original ideas and the fact it is subtitled means that it is never going to be a film for everyone, however for fans of the genre it is better than a lot of the English langue vampire movies that have jumped on the Twilight/Underworld bandwagon.

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Movies seen in May:

Dead Man Down: Two damaged people (Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace) looking for revenge find each other. A disjointed crime thriller that has its problems but gets away with them because they are outweighed by the charms of the leading actors.IMG_5538.CR2

Star Trek Into Darkness: Kirk, Spock and the crew of the Enterprise go after a terrorist (perfectly played by Benedict Cumberbatch). Lots of well placed nods to the original series but the movie feels a little hollow and undoes some of the great work of the excellent first reboot movie.Star Trek Into Darkness

Mud: Two young teenage boys find a fugitive living in a boat stranded in a tree on a river island. They agree to help him despite the obvious dangers. Further proof that given a decent movie Matthew McConaughey is one of the most underrated actors of his generation coupled with the emerging talent of Tye Sheridan who you may have seen in The Tree of Life.Mud

The Great Gatsby: Baz Luhrmann’s take on the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel is as good as it can be for a story that belongs on the page not the screen. The best things about it are the visually stunning party scenes and the stunning performance from Leonardo DiCaprio. Sadly the best things about the film work against each other not with each other making a good and stunning film but not a great and mesmerising one.The Great Gatsby

Fast and Furious 6: Dominic Toretto, Brian O’Conner (Vin Diesel & Paul Walker) and their crew are once again hired by Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). This time they are after British thief Shaw (Luke Evans) who is working with (back from the dead) Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). The story is rubbish leavening the film feeling flat after the surprisingly good previous film. There is enough car action for fans of the series and the fight between Michelle Rodriguez and Gina Carano is good.Fast & Furious 6

Byzantium: After being discover by a mysterious organisation who is tracking them a pair of female vampires (Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan) flee and end up in a rundown English seaside town. Neil Jordan returns to the vampire movie in the atmospheric and melancholic British horror that may just be the antidote to twilight.Byzantium

The Purge: Set in a near future America where on one day every year there is a 12 hour window when murder is legal. A suburban family get caught in the crossfire when the son decides help a man fleeing from a mob. What could have been a great sleazy B movie or a classy allegoric tale tries to be both and ends up being neither. Interesting and fun but flawed.The Purge

Byzantium Just misses out as movie of the month to Mud:Mud Poster

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After being discover by a mysterious organisation who is tracking them a pair of female vampires (Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan) flee and end up in a rundown English seaside town. It quickly becomes clear that the duo are mother and daughter (posing as sisters) and they are being hunted by other vampires. Living a lonely existence they do what they can to survive, in Clara (Arterton)’s case them means reverting to the only profession she knows, prostitution. Meanwhile Eleanor (Ronan) forms a bond with young local man Frank (Caleb Landry Jones).byzantium poster

It is interesting that in a month when biggest cinema release (The Great Gatsby) tries to get to grips with a character wishing to relive the past that there is a better film that will go largely unnoticed that has a more telling angle on the same idea. While Clara is always looking to the present and the future trying to forget or deny the past, her daughter Eleanor wallows in the misery of the past and is chained to the limitations of it preventing her from enjoying the present and planning for the future. This is explored in a particularly well handled scene when a character who is clinging on to what life he has mocks Eleanor for the desperation and unhappiness she carries with her into immortality. Like Gatsby, the prison the characters create for themselves is in the lies that live by hiding their past, and like Gatsby the freedom that may come honesty is fraught with danger.Byzantium Gemma Arterton

Every vampire story has to create its own “lore” whoever it by Nosferatu’s (1922) invention of sunlight killing vampires (that’s right it wasn’t in Bram Stoker’s novel) or Twilight’s glittering vampires. Other than the drinking of blood Byzantium does away with most conventions of the genre. These vampires don’t even have fangs. They do have another more subtle but equally as effective way of taking their preys blood. They are also more human and vulnerable than we have seen in other vampires in other years, making them more interesting. This vulnerability and humanity along with the tone of the movie and lack of cliché’s helps create a fantasy setting that feels closer to reality and more believable than many other vampires. The difficulty of introducing this lore is handled with the lightest of touches. There is almost no exposition, it is all implied of neatly worked into the plot of the movie. There is a scene where we see Eleanor watching Terence Fisher’s classic Hammer Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), interestingly they show a scene not involving Christopher Lee as the eponymous Count. This is a scene that like the rest of the film is handled supremely well. With a more heavy handed aproch it could have come across as either exposition or could have been an alienation device. These pitfalls are avoided, instead we get to see a nice juxtaposition of the perception of vampires and the reality of them (within the confines of the movie). This is further explored in aspects in reaction to things the characters say for example: When Eleanor explains that she learnt to play piano so well (she plays Beethoven’s complicated Piano Sonata Opus 2, No. 3) by practicing for 200 years, frank brushes it of as it feels like 200 years when you are practicing.Saoirse-Ronan-In-Byzantium

When you see Neil Jordan’s name attached to a vampire movie, you immediately think Interview with the Vampire (1994), while it may have plot similarities, Byzantium feels closer in tone to his earlier film The Company Of Wolves (1984). The story of lonely vampires travelling through a world where they have no place looking for love or acceptance chimes with many other vampire stories. Notably Tony Scott’s movie The Hunger and Mark Burnell’s novel Glittering Savages. Let the Right One In (2008) is certainly (in my opinion) the standout vampire movie of the generation, there are lots of parallels that can be drawn between the movies both in theme and tone. There is something about the seaside in winter that feels bleaker than any other place, this is used to full effect in what is essentially a melodrama of extreme melancholy. The charred remains of Hastings Pier (that burnt down a couple of years ago) give us a foreboding feeling of an inevitable ending. This has a similar effect as the snow and concrete architecture of Let the Right One InGemma Arterton Byzantium

Arterton and Ronan are both perfectly cast and play of each other brilliantly. Arterton is brash, loud and overtly sexual, Ronan is quieter, more reserved and introverted. The difference between the characters forms the crux of the plot and had we not believed in them the whole movie would have fallen flat. As it is the movie works supremely well. It isn’t going to bring any new fans to the vampire genre and those who come with certain expectations will be disappointed. It doesn’t have the action of Blade, the comedy of From Dusk Till Dawn , the sexuality of The Hunger, the horror of Near Dark and it certainly isn’t Twilight, but it does have the tone and style of Let the Right One In. And it is on that level that the movie works, it is beautifully shot, perfectly acted, expertly directed modern gothic melodrama that may just be the antidote to twilight and its imitators.  It lacks the depth or clear subtext that enervates some films to greatness, but don’t let that put you off, it is still a very good movie in a genre that hasn’t had many really good movies in recent years.   

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The Defence of Twilight

Today I witnessed the end of an era, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, the final installment of a movie franchise that has taken more than $2.5billion and counting. A controversial series that has acolytes and detractors in equal measure. Whether it be Transformers, Star Wars or any number of super hero movies there has always been a trend towards boys/men when it comes to big budget event movies. I’m not sure if Twilight is the first movie of its type or scale to be aimed at teenage girls (and their moms) but it is certainly the most successful and the one that everyone has an opinion on. For this reason if for no other, it has a place and a relevance in today’s cinema. As a thirty something male I should be so far out of the demographic to be able to give and balanced view on the matter, but I may not be for two reasons. Firstly there are a lot of people of a similar age to me and whose opinion I would normally trust who are happy to dismiss the movies without even seeing them. Secondly I have to confess I actually quite like the movies. Back to the people who dismiss the movies, it is reminiscent of something that happened in the late 90’s, I read and loved Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. The books were not on my radar and I would not have considered reading them even if they were, until I heard that people were burning them. I took the point of view that anything that can cause such passionate hatred must be worth reading, it was. So I came to Twilight from a similar angle, the films were not being burnt but the vitriol that they were creating in people who hadn’t seen them was of near biblical proportions. I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. On top of all this, Catherine Hardwicke, the director of the first film is a good director whose work I have enjoyed in the past.

It is not by chance that I mentioned Transformers at the top of this article, as that is the touchstone of the comparison. Looking at the target demographic, Twilight is a good mirror of Transformers and however you look at it, it is hard to argue with the opinion that Twilight are better and less cynical films. Michael Bay’s franchise started with a surprisingly good film but went downhill from there. I have heard people accuse the films of being, sexist, misogynist, raciest, but worse than that they have been dull. Twilight on the other hand prides itself on its morality and empowerment. From a sexual point of view it gives mixed messages, but morally, it portrays ideals of truth, justice and honesty. All this is insignificant in comparison to how enjoyable the movies are, many people refuse to give twilight a fair chance, but to be honest all but the dull first sequel New Moon are actually decent films. Things took an upturn as the franchise reached a pinnacle with its third film, Eclipse directed by David Slade who had previously made Hard Candy and the bloody vampire film 30 Days of Night.

Criticism of the cast is unfounded and unfair, both Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson have proved in other roles that they can act, I would even go as for as to say they are perfectly cast here. The great thing about the cast though, is the supporting cast, the latest film features the always brilliant: Michael Sheen, Dakota Fanning and Lee Pace and the delightful MyAnna Buring. All five films feature Nikki Reed who had never lived up to the promise shown in Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown but is undoubtedly talented. Anna Kendrick is always watchable but a little wasted here. Billy Burke is always dependable and often provides a great straight man for the comic moments. I struggle to defend the wooden Taylor Lautner, but you have to respect the kid, when it was suggested his character would be recast to reflect the developing and growing character he hit the gym and reportedly gained 30 pounds of muscle and was retained.

It isn’t perfect, I have a problem with the effect the movies have had on vampire movies. I have been a huge fan of vampire movies ever since I saw Christopher Lee as Dracula in Dracula: Prince of Darkness when I was ten or eleven years old. The problem with Twilight is the imitators that they have tried to cash in, diluting the genre. The films are also often slavishly loyal to the books leaving the odd flat moment that may work on the page but not the screen. Having said all that it does handle body horror quite well in Breaking Dawn: Part 1 in its depiction of a vampire pregnancy, all kept within the constraints of the target demographic and the essential 12A certificate. Writing in The Observer, Mark Kermode, a self confessed fan of the series suggests the film should have been offered it to David Cronenberg but praises the “safe pair of hands” Bill Condon as doing “his best to keep things on the right side of respectable, although I struggle to remember another 12A certificate film being quite this twisted”. it is also worth remembering that the stories are teenage romances before they are action or horror stories and as such they need a certain amount of moody and moping teens. I often hear the same people complain about this side of the movies celebrate similar ideas when framed within a real world set indie movie.

I have previously speculated on the gender politics of the movies with Bella constantly needing the protection of a man (be it vampire or wolf) but that was earlier in the series. As the plot has developed although physically week, Bella has proven to be the strongest character in the story, before metamorphosing literally the strongest. As all the questions are answered the story arc reaches its conclusion it has proved to be a solid series of films. Plot holes are minimal and the characters actions were largely within character making the story believable within the fantasy parameters it has set itself. In the same article I mentioned before Mark Kermode claims to have “had a lot more fun watching and arguing about the Twilight movies than I ever had with the Star Wars saga”, whilst as a Star Wars fan I disagree with him, it is a well thought-out and grounded opinion I respect unlike if anyone had suggested Transformers was better than Star Wars. He also makes the point that without Twilight The Hunger Games would not have been made. I don’t know how Suzanne Collins’s came to write the Hunger Games novels but wouldn’t be surprised if she is one of the legion of writers inspired by the success of Stephenie Meyer and J.K. Rowling.

But fans of these books/movies don’t get too excited the housewives haven’t taken over Hollywood yet. The Hunger Games’ budget is estimated to be around $78million. This is a big increase on the $37million (estimated) for the first Twilight movie but a lot less than the $125million (estimated) of the first Harry Potter and the monumental $150million (estimated) spent on the first Transformers movie. Are studios scared of investing too much money in an action adventure fantasy/sci-fi film whose main character is a teenage girl? Probably, it isn’t that long ago that we had the $180million (estimated) disaster of The Golden Compass that underperformed (to use the industry euphemism) in the UK and North American markets. As a matter of interest, it was directed by Chris Weitz the man responsible for New Moon the weakest (but most profitable) twilight movie.

Ultimately most of the things that are wrong with the Twilight Saga can trace its roots back to the source novel but I find it hard to criticise Stephenie Meyer as like Harry Potter, the books have got kids reading, that can’t be a bad thing. They aren’t classics that I will revisit the way I do with Star Wars but they an important moment in the evolution of cinema and they are more fun and more entertaining than most of Michael Bay’s output for the past decade. Anyone who hasn’t seen the films take a look before you rush to judgment.  

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165 years at 15 Marino Crescent in Clontarf, a coastal suburb on the north side of Dublin, Charlotte Mathilda Blake Thornley gave birth to the third of her seven children. You have probably never heard of her of her six other children, but you may now the third, Abraham “Bram” Stoker. In 1897 at the age of fifty, he published his fifth and most famous novel Dracula. Over 200 actors have played Dracula in around 300 films and TV episodes. My favourite of these has always been Christopher Lee. The English Knight played the Transylvanian Count numerous times mainly in Hammer movies. Is it because he is the best or just the first actor I saw play the part, probably a bit of both! When I was about ten years old I was introduced to Christopher Lee, I had no idea who he was. A few months later Channel 4 started showing a series of old Hammer Horror movies starting with Dracula: Prince of Darkness. Not only was this my introduction to Dracula, but to horror movies in general, for that reason, I can think of no better way to celebrate Stokers birthday that to talk about one of my favourite Hammer Horror movies.

Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

“There’ll be no morning for us”

The movie starts with a prologue made up of the closing scenes of the previous film (the first Hammer Dracula) complete with a voiceover explaining the destruction of Dracula (Christopher Lee). We cut to a group of English tourists including Charles Kent (Francis Matthews, a sort of low rent Cary Grant type) who are stranded by a superstitious coach driver whist on their way to Carlsbad. After a coach and horses turns up out of nowhere, they find themselves rescued and accepting the “hospitality” of a dead count in his mysterious castle. I won’t give the plot away but I think you can guess that the castle belongs to Dracula and it is no accident that they have found their way to his castle.

An interesting movie, the story is original but holds many similarities with the original, this is evident in the characters. The traditional Van Helsing character (played by an un-credited Peter Cushing in the prologue) is replaced by Father Sandor (Andrew Keir who went of to play Prof. Quatermass in the Hammer movie Quatermass and the Pit). Charles and Diana Kent (Francis Matthews & Suzan Farmer) are a good stand in for Jonathan and Wilhelmina Harker. Ludwig (Thorley Walters) fills the Renfield part. The movie did two things for the genre: it set the template for the Hammer Dracula movies and also opened the floodgates for Dracula (and vampire movies in general) to move away from the original Bram Stoker novel. Directed by Hammers greatest director Terence Fisher the film has a perfect blend of carefully manipulated tension and just enough gore and horror to make this a great atmospheric movie that only Hammer could have made. There has been some contention as to why Christopher Lee’s Dracula is mute, whatever the reason it just makes it more sinister. A Must for all classic horror fans. The significance for this movie for me goes beyond the film itself, had I not seen it, I would not have become interested in Hammer Horror and certainly would never have read Bram Stokers original novel.

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Legend is a word that is used too lightly but with a career that has spanned eight decades and a Guinness World Record of 275 films, Knighted for services to drama and charity in 2009 and receiving the BAFTA Fellowship in 2011, it is a title that fits Christopher Lee very well. As I mentioned a couple of years ago I was introduced to Christopher Lee when I was about ten years old, I had no idea who he was. A few months later Channel 4 started showing a series of old Hammer Horror movies starting with Dracula: Prince of Darkness. This is when I first got interested in horror movies. So today, his 90th birthday here is the briefest overview of his movies.

In the mid 1940’s Lee joined the Rank Organisation and was given a seven-year contract (as was the norm of the day), during this period he made numerous movies. His first significant roles came a decade later when in 1957 he played the monster in Terence Fisher’s The Curse of Frankenstein alongside Peter Cushing as Frankenstein. The following year Fisher made Dracula (1958), he cast Lee in his most iconic role Dracula and Cushing as Van Helsing. He reprised the role in sequels: Dracula Prince of Darkness in 1965, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1969), Scars of Dracula (1970), Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) and The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973). Lee’s other work for Hammer included The Mummy (1959), Rasputin, the Mad Monk and the little known classic Taste of Fear (1961). Possibly his best Hammer movie and one of his (and my) personal favourites was the occult adventure/horror/thriller The Devil Rides Out (1967) based on a novel by Dennis Wheatley. He also appeared in two versions of the Jekyll and Hyde story The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960) and I, Monster (1971) (only the former being made by Hammer).

Having already played Sir Henry Baskerville (to Cushing’s Sherlock Holmes) in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) Lee went on to play Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace (1962), and Mycroft Holmes (Sherlock’s smarter brother) in Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970). He played Holmes again in the TV movies: Incident at Victoria Falls (1991) and Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady (1992). A step-cousin of author Ian Fleming, he was rumoured to be in contention to play James Bond, he was offered the part of Dr. No in the movie of the same name (1962) but was vetoed by the movies producers. He did eventually play a Bond villain, Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) and was the best thing about the movie. As cinema, particularly horror cinema changed in the 1970’s the gothic horror he was most famous for became outdated he appeared to be moving with the times making one of his best horror films The Wicker Man (1973). Sadly the quality of his roles dried up with a lot of TV movies and lesser work in the decades that followed.

More recently his career has gone through a renaissance with a small part in Sleepy Hollow (1999) leading to further collaborations with Tim Burton: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), Corpse Bride (2005), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), Alice in Wonderland (2010) and Dark Shadows (2012). Following Peter Cushing and Alec Guinness who appeared in the original Star Wars (1977) Lee plays Sith Lord, Count Dooku in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005). But his most notable role in recent years came in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. A great fan of The Lord of the Rings Lee has stated that it was a life long dream to play Gandalf, the Peter Jackson film trilogy came too late for him to realise this ambition but he did get a significant part in the movies playing Saruman. Later this year he will be reprising the in the prequel film The Hobbit. Retuning to the studio that made his name Lee had a small part in the new Hammer movie The Resident (2011). More significantly for a actor who has made so many movies he appeared in Martin Scorsese’s love letter to cinema Hugo (2011).

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Whilst discussing his new book Monsters in the Movies on Kermode and Mayo’s Film Reviews (aka Wittertainment), John Landis suggested that zombie are bigger and more prolific than vampire movies at the moment. He suggested that there are nine zombie movies in production at the moment including one starring Brad Pitt (World War Z). It could well be that zombies will be the go-to monster of the near future but there have been plenty of vampires movies recently:

Vampire Movies

The new century began with one of the most original vampire movies in years, Shadow Of The Vampire (2000) is a high concept movie, the premise; the actor Max Schreck who played Graf Orlok/Nosferatu (Dracula in all but name) in F.W. Murnau classic Nosferatu (1922) was really a vampire posing as an actor playing a vampire.

It is impossible to overemphasise the importance of Blade (1998), not only was it an early entry into the current trend for vampire movies but it was also the first credible comic book movie in a long time and the movie that started the Marvel phenomenon. Its sequel Blade II (2002) directed by Guillermo del Toro took a big step forward reintroducing the idea that the monster in the movie may not be the monster of the movie.

Before the battle between vampires and werewolves in The Twilight books and movies there was Underworld (2003), like Blade it is more action orientated than scary but also explores the idea of who the real monster are. It is also incredibly stylish and has a well thought-out back-story that has helped it spawn a sequel (Underworld: Evolution (2006)), a prequel (Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009)) as well as a further sequel Underworld: Awakening due next year.

Directed by Uwe Boll Blood Rayne (2005) is loosely based on a video game of the same name, it isn’t very good, neither are its sequels: BloodRayne: Deliverance (2007) and Bloodrayne: The Third Reich (2010).

Ever since the release of Nosferatu in 1922 vampires have been destroyed by sunlight (unless they just glitter and sparkle), with this in mind, where would you go if you where a vampire? How about Alaska in winter where the sun doesn’t rise for a month? That is exactly what happens in 30 Days of Night (2007). An original and entertain vampire with scary and bloody monsters.

Probably the most successful vampire movies of the century but far from the best, Twilight (2008) and its sequels tells the story of “vegetarian” vampires in a Mormon inspired morality tale. Not as bad as many would have you believe but not a classic vampire movie.

Also based on a novel, the darker and more subversive Swedish movie, Let the Right One In (2008) (original title: Låt den rätte komma in) exploring themes of childhood and bullying, the vampires are almost secondary to the plot. By far the best vampire movie of recent years.

The obvious and overt concept of Daybreakers (2009) is that of a world where vampires outnumber humans who have become little more than food. Behind this, there is a story of hope and humanity.

Thirst (2009) Bakjwi (original title), Oldboy (2003) director Chun-wook Park’s take on the vampire movie is thoughtful and original as well as being full of very dark humour.

Combining a road movie with an apocalyptic story, Stake Land (2010) at times has more in common with zombie movies than vampire movies. There is also a well crafted subtext about fanaticism, one of the best and most original vampire movies of recent years.

Priest (2011) is an underrated action horror that does little to expand the genre but is good fun.

Vampires on TV

Based on a poorly received 1992 movie of the same name, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003) had a perfect blend of comedy, action and horror; its spin-off Angel (1999–2004) was more of the same if a little darker. Lasting 145 and 111 episodes respectively and having the opportunity to develop their characters, both series can be considered a success and are greatly missed by their fans. A movie version is often talked about but has never materialised. A further spin-off based on Eliza Dushku’s character Faith was proposed but never happened. Far less successful but also worth a look Blood Ties (2007– 2008) lasted just 22 episodes over two seasons. The similar themed Moonlight (2007–2008) had just one season of 17 episodes. They were both well made and enjoyable shows but offered nothing new. That is where True Blood (2008– ) succeeded, like Buffy before it, True Blood combined some original ideas with a great cast of varying characters, at times there is so much going on it is almost like a soap-opera, and not in a bad way! Having just finished its fourth season and with a fifth scheduled for next year it is still going strong.

Zombie Movies

Okay lets kick of with the big question, what is a zombie? For the purposes of this post the simple answer, if I say it’s a zombie, it’s a zombie. I know a lot of people don’t agree that “infected” are zombies, but they are closer to Romero zombies than Romero zombies are to the witch doctor zombie slaves of 30’s/40’s cinema. There is another reason, the zombie side of this debate would be a bit light without the inclusion of the infected.

When people are killed and buried in “The Forest of Resurrection” they come back from the dead thanks to an evil Sprit. If you put a group of gangsters in the middle of this, that’s that happens in the bonkers but brilliant Versus (2000).

28 Days Later… (2002) is so good that I am sorry to say its downhill from here, but it does set the bar pretty high, Following a group of survivors after an zombie apocalypse, its as much a road movie as a horror, the key to its success is putting likeable characters that we care about in (surprisingly believable) dangerous situations.

Less well received but surprisingly good, the video game derived Resident Evil (2002) is the start of a franchise, the fifth part of which is due out next year. The classic fight for survival against a zombie hoard is given a little extra edge by setting that amounts to a claustrophobic underground maze but the success of the movie hangs on the appeal of Milla Jovovich.

Don’t dismiss Shaun of the Dead (2004) as a comedy horror, it is a knowing and cleverly constructed story from a team well versed in zombie movies.

If you take Dawn of the Dead (2004) on its own merits it is a great movie, it does feel a little lightweight and less relevant than the classic 1978 original but it will make you jump more often.

If subscribe to the philosophy that people infected by a virus aren’t zombies, you really won’t like the idea of aliens turning people into zombies as they do in Slither (2006). A silly and insignificant movie elevated by a charismatic and funny performance from Nathan Fillion.

The Spanish horror [Rec] (2007) is one of the few found footage movies that really works. Filled with jumpy and scary moments and anchored by a fantastic performance from Manuela Velasco. The sequel [Rec] ² (2009) picks up where the original left off, it isn’t as good but is still far better than your average Hollywood movie. Speaking of Hollywood, [Rec] was remade as Quarantine (2008), I haven’t seen it so can’t comment on how good it is, but understand it follows the story of the original film pretty closely relocating the action from Barcelona to an unnamed American city. Interestingly, its sequel Quarantine 2: Terminal (2011) takes the story in a new direction telling of a new outbreak on a passenger plane.

28 Weeks later (2007), the sequel to 28 Days later tries to be bigger and more expansive than the original movie but actually suffers for its grander scale. Well worth seeing but not as good as the original.

Planet Terror (2007) is for me, the weaker half of Rodriguez and Tarantino’s Grind house project (although it has a higher rating on IMDB than Death Proof) it is a real throwback to the 80’s toxic waste zombie movies like The Return of the Living Dead (1985).

Pontypool (2008) where does this one come on the is it, isn’t debate? A zombie virus spread by “infected” English words forcing the inhabitants of a Canadian town to communicate in French. There is probably some political statement that goes over my head, putting this aside, as a film it is original and brilliant.

The French movie, The Horde (2009), isn’t a great movie but it is a effective one. There is no explanation of where the zombies come from but killing them follows all the genre “rules”, the escape from a confined space is also an archetype.

George A. Romero is still making zombie movies more than forty years after his first, Night of the Living Dead (1968). Land of the Dead (2005) is a good addition to the “of the dead” series. In keeping with the social commentary of the earlier movies it is a good allegoric tale of the distribution of wealth. Diary of the Dead (2007) is less successful, using mocumentary/found footage as a basis it is a stand a lone story. Not a bad movie but the format has been better used in [Rec]. Set on an isolated Survival of the Dead (2009) has good concept but is all a little lightweight. He is also credited as an executive producer on The Crazies (2010), a remake of his 1973 movie of the same name. Not a zombie movie but it does share a lot of similarities with them, a surprisingly good movie even if it lacks the killer ending of the original.

Zombies on TV

The Walking Dead (2010– ) is the only zombie show on the list, but what a show, based on a comic book series of the same name, the story follows a small group of survivors and presents a gritty almost realistic aftermath of a zombie apocalypse.

As I started writing this article I had no idea if there had been more vampire of zombie movies in recent years. I was of the opinion that recent vampire movies where better than their zombie equivalents. What I soon came to realise is that they both have a few great movies, a few rubbish ones and lots of mediocre ones. The whole zombie issue is further clouded by the debate of what is and isn’t a zombie movie. For me it is a genre that is as wide or as narrow as you want it to be. As for what is coming soon, the vampire movies of note are: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 and Underworld: Awakening. Far more interesting is World War Z. Based on the novel World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks that was inspired by The Good War, an oral history of World War II by Studs Terkel as well as the movies of George A. Romero. The movie that is in production now is set for release this time next year, directed by Marc Forster and starring Brad Pitt whose Plan B Entertainment reportedly won a bidding war over Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company Appian Way. Only time will tell which genre will be best or most prolific and you will have to make your own mind up as to which has been better so far, personally I am happy to watch many more of both types of movie.

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Back in January 2010, with all the vampire movies in production I suggested that it could be the year of the vampire. Looking back at the old article I suddenly realised that I have now seen all (but one) of the movies I wrote about, but were they any good?

By the time I wrote the article I had already seen Daybreakers and was impressed with the original and high concept.

30 Days of Night: Dark Days was a sequel to 30 Days of Night (2007) (a movie I really like), it retains the original character from the first movie Stella Olemaun, however Kiele Sanchez is a poor stand in for Melissa George who turned it down. The film also suffers from a rubbish story.

The director of the original 30 Days of Night, David Slade took a second stab at the vampire movie when he took over the reigns of The Twilight Saga. Not as good as 30 Days of Night but The Twilight Saga: Eclipse was certainly an improvement on the lame and unfocused New Moon.

Lost Boys: The Thirst is the one movie on the list I haven’t seen.

Let Me In, the Hollywood remake of Let the Right One is well made and well acted but all a bit pointless. It looks great but lacks both the heart and the edge of the original, a good movie for those too lazy to read subtitles.

Priest didn’t make it to the UK until May this year as it went back to the f/x drawing board to retrofit it with ineffective and pointless 3D. The film itself is actually surprisingly good and certainly better than most reviews would have you believe.

Another movie we had to wait for here in the UK was Stake Land, it was well worth the wait. I was lucky enough to catch it during its blink and you miss it seven day theatrical release. The best vampire movie since Let The Right One In. 

The Bleeding is a cheep looking, poorly directed, terribly acted, direct to video movie. It is utter rubbish but still sort of entertaining.

Not included in my original list but also released in 2010, Bloodrayne: The Third Reich. The third in Uwe Boll’s computer game based film series sees Rayne fighting against Nazis during World War II. Its about as good as the first two movies, yes that bad!

So what’s next for fans of Vampire movies? The first half of the final Twilight movie Breaking Dawn opens next week. January 2012 will see Kate Beckinsale return to the underworld franchise in Underworld Awakening. Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D, currently in post production is yet to receive a release date but will probably see the light of day some time in 2012.

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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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