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Archive for the ‘Vampires’ Category

Stake Land

With the summer blockbuster season in full swing the big release of the week is The Green Lantern in 3D or 2D, having seen the trailer I’m in no rush to see the movie, fortunately there is a plan B. B for B movie! Five years ago director Jim Mickle gave us the direct to DVD classic Mulberry Street about an infection spreading through New York City that turns people into homicidal zombie/rat-mutants. His second feature Stake Land is similar in theme but larger in scale and has been rewarded with a cinema release. As with Mulberry Street Mickle co wrote the script with Nick Damici who is also the star of the movie.

Martin (Connor Paolo) is a normal American teenager until the world is overcome in a vampire apocalypse and his family is killed. Saved by a maverick vampire hunter known only as Mister (Nick Damici) the pair travel north towards “New Eden” north Americas last hope for humanity. Along the way they encounter other waifs and strays trying to survive any way they can on the road and in the locked down towns. They also discover something far more dangerous than the vampires themselves, a cult who believe the vampires are heaven-sent.

The Twilight movies have their detractors, surprisingly I’m not one of them. Although they have their faults and aren’t exactly brilliant movies, they are harmless and aren’t terrible either. Regardless of your thoughts on sparkly vampires, one thing is certain they are not horror and that’s where vampires belong, horror movies. And that’s what you get here, a monster that is more frightening because it is more believable. Vampire movies of recent years have varied hugely, Let The Right One In is gritty and benefits from realism (within a fantasy genre), as does 30 Days of Night that adds a high concept. On the subject of high concept they don’t come much more bold than Shadow of the Vampire. The simplicity of Thirst is countered by its meaning, subtext and dark humour. Underworld forgoes all these things but is slick, sexy and action packed. So ho does Stake Land fit into all this? With its simplicity and brutality it shares more DNA with 30 Days of Night than any of the other recent vampire movies but it actually has more in common with apocalyptic road movies like The Road and The Book of Eli or even Zombieland and Carriers.

The story is told through voiceover (from Martin) but there is surprisingly little dialogue between the main characters, this creates an interesting tone. The only fault of the movie is its reliance on the voiceover to tell us where and when we are, the passage of time and space would not be clear without it. The inclusion of The Brotherhood, a fundamentalist Christian militia led by Jebedia Loven (Michael Cerveris) who believe the vampires are sent by God as a sort of Plagues of Egypt or Great Flood brings a further dimension and extra depth to the story. The context of the story is always against these people, our heroes are outsiders who are dragged into their world and insiders rebelling against it as in dystopian film. The cast is perfect with recognisable faces but no big names. Danielle Harris is well know within the horror genre but has never fulfilled her early potential and Kelly McGillis been virtually MIA since her heyday (1985-88). I can see Connor Paolo moving on to bigger things in future.

Like The Road, the colour palette of the movie is cold combining earth tones with blues and greys, this is a dying and decaying landscape that is dark, dull and autumnal at best. This is a reflection of the movie as a whole, vampires have been with us in fiction for along time, certainly since the origin of cinema, they have always reflected the era in which they were made. This movie is no exception to the rule the tone is bleak with a small but vital glimmer of hope, in other words a reflection of the world today. Like any movie that exists in a fantasy or parallel universe the movie is enhanced by a strong subtext; whilst this is largely left to the interpretation of the viewer there are clear comments on race, religion, war and politics as well as the economy. For those looking for a scary horror movie, it isn’t scary in a cheep make you jump way but it is truly frightening in its depiction of “The Brotherhood” in the real world we don’t have vampires but we do have zealots and they are a lot more scary than fanged monsters.

Intelligent and thoughtful whilst still being entertaining, it does all a horror movie should. A film that benefits from its low key, low budget approach and is easily the best horror film I have seen recently and certainly the best vampire movie since Let The Right One In. I hope to see more movies like this from Jim Mickle and Nick Damici.

Four Stars Out Of Five

★★★★

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The Strain (2009) Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

With an opening that is a huge nod to Dracula’s arrival in Whitby from Bram Stoker’s seminal vampire novel, The Strain is the first novel of a vampire trilogy by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. Concentrating on a small groups attempts to stop the spread of the infection of vampires that are presented as parasitic creatures. The book is very cinematic in its structure giving rise to speculation that del Toro intends to adapt it into a movie. I for one would be very happy to see this happen.

Already Dead (2005) Charlie Huston

Written in the style of a pulp detective novel Already Dead is the first of the Joe Pitt Casebook series of novels. The Manhattan underworld is run by vampire clans, independent of the clans Joe Pitt is a Vampire and a detective, he must find a missing rich girl and get to the bottom of a zombie epidemic that is sweeping through the city whilst facing the age old vampire problem, the need for blood. At a risk of turning him into a specialist vampire movie director I would go for David Slade in the directors chair and James McAvoy to star as Pitt.

Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter (1993 – ongoing) Laurell K. Hamilton

Making her first appearance in Guilty Pleasures in 1993 Anita Blake has appeared in 20 novels to date. A necromancer who works as a professional re-animating of the dead, a licensed vampire hunter/executioner and a consultant for the Regional Preternatural Investigation Team (RPIT, pronounced Rip-it) her life revolves around werewolves, vampires, and other supernatural creatures. To add to this she becomes involved in a love triangle with a werewolf and the cities “master vampire”. Casting could go a few ways on this one; a character with serious emotional issues, frequently flippant and sarcastic and always stubborn Lena Headey or Rhona Mitra would be perfect. Sticking closer to the character in the book (Anita’s mother was Mexican) Michelle Rodriguez could also work.

Night Huntress Series (2007 – ongoing) Jeaniene Frost

The Night Huntress Series by Jeaniene Frost consists of five novels to date (#6 is due out later this year). Catherine “Cat” Crawfield is half human, half vampire, she was conceived when her mother was raped by a vampire. Having the idea that all vampires are evil drummed into her by her over protective mother, Cat is a on a single minded quest to kill every vampire she comes across. Then she meets Bones who forces her to question everything she thinks she knows. Its all a little too Buffy, but far worse things have made it onto film.

Glittering Savages (1995) Mark Burnell

There is something about the mysterious beautiful new tenant in Robert Stark’s apartment block but is her interest in him purely romantic or something more sinister? A modern day take of the gothic horror/romance that is perfectly constructed with a great premise and a devastating payoff. Mark Burnell was already flirted with Hollywood, it was announced back in 2005 that he had been hired to write a screenplay based on his 1999 novel The Rhythm Section, then in 2009 the people behind the James Bond movies purchased the rights to his as yet unpublished novel Remote Control; neither project has seen the light of day yet.

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Horror is in many ways the purest genre, whilst it may overlap with other genres and have many sub-genres, some dig into your subconscious, whilst others are happy to just make you jump or disgust you with gore all horror movies have the same purpose and addenda, to scare the shit out of you!

Like many other art forms movies and particular horror movies often follow trends that change over time. The great thing is the way movies can use or ignore what has gone before to follow their own path. In this article I have attempted to chart the evolution of trends in horror movies and my favourite movies that go with them.

 

The Silent Era

Nosferatu (1922): Directed by F.W. Murnau, this silent German movie set the benchmark for vampire movies. The names are changed to protect the innocent  filmmakers from breach of copyright, but the movie otherwise follows the basic story of Dracula. Max Schreck plays Graf Orlok aka Nosferatu is Dracula in all but name. Interestingly it is the first time vampires were killed by sunlight, a characteristic that has appeared in most vampire movies since. Not to be confused with the 1979 remake directed by Werner Herzog and starring Klaus Kinski. Also check out Shadow of the Vampire (2000) for a great fictionalised account of the making of the movie, with a twist.

Monster Movies

King Kong (1933): For me there are two classic monster movies: Ishiro Honda’s Gojira aka Godzilla (1954) uses a man in a rubber suit and a subtext warning against the dangers of weapons of mass destruction. Over a decade earlier King Kong utilised stop motion animation to create the most memorable monster. Famed for its Empire State Building finale and the presence of “scream queen” Fay Wray. Even at an early age the thing that struck me about the movie is the way the boundaries between heroes and villains easily blur. Copied and remade but never equalled.

Classic Horror

Bride of Frankenstein (1935): Frankenstein (1931) was a great movie, but Bride of Frankenstein was even better, answering the age old question “what is the best sequel ever made”. Both movies were directed by English filmmaker James Whale who took the idea of a masterpiece to heart, having taken the genre as far as he could, he didn’t make another horror movie. The movie is a perfect blend of horror, action and comedy that isn’t afraid to make its monster the hero and not the villain. Horror movies don’t get much better than this, movies don’t get much better than this!

Psychological Thriller

Les diaboliques (1955): Kubrick and Hitchcock both made supremely good examples of psychological thrillers but Henri-Georges Clouzot’s French thriller Les diaboliques is probably the best example. A meek wife conspires to kill her husband with an unlikely accomplice, her husbands mistress. After the murder is committed things take a strange turn. A much copied movie (including a terrible remake) and imitated movie is capped by a wonderfully ambiguous ending. 

Post War/Cold War Paranoia

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956): Directed by Don Siegel (yes Dirty Harry Don Siegel) Invasion of the Body Snatchers tells the story of a small-town whose population is being replaced by emotionless alien duplicates. With a subtext full of cold war paranoia the movie is genuinely frightening, not through cheep scares but through a sense of inevitability, dread and helplessness that is created. The movie has been remade numerous times, only 1978 version starring Donald Sutherland (and featuring a cameo from Kevin McCarthy, the star of the original movie) lives up to the original.

Hammer Horror

Dracula (1958): Hammer were the mainstay of British cinema for many years and possibly the greatest name in horror, they created a unique moment in film history that has had a lasting effect on horror. My personal favourite of their movies were the Dracula series. They were not the most faithful to Bram Stokers novel instead taking aspects of the novel, previous movies and stage plays as well as some of its own ideas. It was directed by Hammers best director Terence Fisher but the real victory of the movie is its star, the greatest actor to take on the cape and fangs of Dracula: Christopher Lee. There were numerous sequels, although they all have some merit, only the first sequels Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) (also directed by Fisher) comes close to the original.

The Modern Horror

Psycho (1960): When did the modern age of Horror begin? Possibly with George A. Romero’s reinvention of zombie in Night of the Living Dead (1968) or John Carpenter’s reinvention of the slasher movie, Halloween (1978), for me the first modern horror was also the first slasher films, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). As much a thriller as a horror, the scariest thing about the movie is how down to earth and realistic it is, unlike monster movies this could really happen. And only Hitchcock has the balls to kill his star half way through the movie.

Demonic Possession

The Exorcist (1973): The perfect horror movie, I can think of mo way this movie could be improved upon. William Friedkin’s movie is compelling and terrifying in equal measure. The photography is atmospheric and sublime. The acting economic and believable. Copied many but no film in the genre has come close.

Spaghetti Horror

Suspiria (1977): I don’t think the phrase spaghetti horror was ever used but I like it so I am claiming it for European horror movies of the 70s and 80s! After a successful career making influential thrillers, Italian director Dario Argento turned his attention to violent supernatural horror/thrillers like Suspiria. Often criticised for style over substance Suspiria and Argento films on the whole are bloody, violent and frightening, what more could you ask for in a horror movie. Whatever you thoughts its hard to argue with Argento’s credentials as the master of European horror.

The End Of The World As We Know It.

Dawn of the Dead (1978): As the world is overrun by a zombie outbreak four people turn to what they know in order to hang on and try to survive. With a subtext about the evils of modern consumerism not only is it a terrifying display of desperation but a damming indictment on society. I suggest that Bride of Frankenstein is one of the best movies ever made and the best sequel ever made, Dawn of the dead gives it a run for its money on both counts.

The Slasher Movie

Halloween (1978): coming nearly two decades after Psycho the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween led to many more slasher movies including the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises. They are amongst the most enduring horror movies with sequels and remakes still in cinemas more than thirty years later. With a seemingly relentless killer that can come at you at any time from anywhere and who just won’t die the slasher movie isn’t for the faint hearted. In many ways the essence of horror is captured in these movies.

Sci-Fi Horror

Alien (1979): The Quatermass movies of the 50’s and 60’s are classics of the genre but Alien is a whole different level. When you strip away the setting the movie is basically a haunted house horror but supreme direction, an iconic monster make as much a horror as any other movie in the list. There have been other great examples such as Lifeforce (1985) and Event Horizon (1997) but one thing they don’t have is Ripley, cinemas greatest heroine.

Comedy Horror

An American Werewolf in London (1981): as mentioned above James Whale incorporated comedy ionto his horror movies in the 30’s but the true master of the genre is John Landis. With An American Werewolf in London he created not only the greatest comedy horoor of all time but also possibly the best Werewolf movie ever. A decade later he did it all again with vampires with (the less successful but also great) Innocent Blood (1992).

Post-modern Horror

Scream (1996): Halloween reinvented the slasher movie, a subgenre of movies that went on to eat itself with numerous remakes, sequels and rip-offs. Scream came to the table with a satirical approach and a knowing nod to what had gone before, a clever blend of irony and social commentary that doesn’t forget it’s a horror movie. The film has a certain credibility lent to it by director Wes Craven, the man behind A Nightmare on Elm Street, one of the aforementioned slasher movies. A third sequel on its way next year, its will be interesting to see how relevant it is today.

The Asian Invasion

Ringu aka The Ring (1999): The plot is simple, there is little in the way of special effects but Hideo Nakata’s Ringu changed the world of horror cinema. Based on a novel that in turn was based on a Japanese folk tale it has been remade and copied by Hollywood countless times in the past decade. The story surrounds a videotape that kills whomever views it a week later. I am rarely scared by a movie but with its spooky atmosphere and disturbing visuals this one really got to me.

Recovered Footage

The Blair Witch Project (1999): Italian horror Cannibal Holocaust (1980) predates The Blair Witch Project by nearly two decades but the later movie found its way to the mainstream. Presented as a documentary pieced together from “recovered footage” the movie tells the story of three young student filmmakers who go missing whilst shooting a documentary about a local legend known as The Blair Witch. After an inical lull the genre is taking off with movies like [Rec] (2007), Paranormal Activity (2007) and Cloverfield (2008).

Torture Porn

The Devil’s Rejects (2005): “Torture porn” is basically a reinvention of the splatter movie. As censorship relaxes sadism combined with nudity, torture and sometimes mutilation come together to create this new subgenre. Although Saw and Hostel (and their sequels) better represent the genre, The Devil’s Rejects is a more compelling movie. Directed by Rob Zombie, it is a sequel that is considerably better than the original movie (2003’s House of 1000 Corpses). Like other movies of the genre it replaces genuine scares with gore resulting a film that isn’t as scary as classics like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Hoodies

Eden Lake (2008): The hoodie is a is a sweatshirt with a hood but certain right wing newspapers in the UK will have you believe they will be the downfall of society. This paranoia has led to a series of nasty little movies, most famously last years Harry Brown and most recently F, but the best of them is Eden Lake, the story of a young couple whose romantic weekend camping at an Idyllic remote lake is ruined by a group of “hoodie” kids.

 

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Groovers and Mobsters Present is back and its our biggest one yet. October is the month of Halloween and a time for horror movies. Look out for the Halloween horror special later in the month but for now we give you the ultimate creation of horror movies and literature, The Vampire. So many bloggers wanted to take part this month that we have expanded from the usual five blogger/movies. When asking people to pick vampire movies we placed no limitations on the movies other than that they be about vampires, interestingly there are two major omissions, the glittery, sparkly teen-angst vampires of the Twilight Saga and the granddaddy of the movie vampire Dracula. Despite this we have a great and eclectic selection of movies for you:

My selection wasn’t a difficult one, as a big fan of vampire movies I give you my favourite vampire movie of all time:

Near Dark (1987)

“Caleb, those people back there, they wasn’t normal. Normal folks, they don’t spit out bullets when you shoot ’em, no sir”

With a score from German electronic group Tangerine Dream this movie is pure 80’s but unlike The Lost Boys (also from 1987) Near Dark is a cold calculating and deeply dark thriller. The initial setup is similar to The Lost Boys: a young man is lured into the circle of a “family” of vampires by an attractive young female vampire. Once bitten the young man begins the process of turning into a vampire but is reluctant to take the final step, drinking human blood. Whilst I love the Lost Boys (both because of and despite its 80s cheesiness) Near Dark is in another league and is amongst the best (and certainly my favourite) vampire movies ever made.

More grounded in reality than most vampire movies Near Dark deals with supernatural, fantasy creatures but dispenses with the myth, mysticism and quasi religion of other vampire movies. In other words it was the first modern vampire movie that reinvented the genre for ever. But greatness isn’t achieved without a cost, the movie was a box-office failure, this can be attributed to two things, firstly it was the final movie produced and released by DEG (DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group) before they went under, this resulted in a criminally small release. The second and possibly more significant reason is that the movie is so far ahead of its time that audiences and critics just didn’t get it at first. Depending on your point of view the movie deconstructs or reconstructs the genre. At no time in the movie is the word ‘vampire’ used and symbols of purity (crucifix, holly water, garlic and silver) are not used moving away from the Victorian origins of the vampires in literature and the early to mid 20th century vampires of the movies and towards a more practical and scientific ideal. Through the character of Homer the movie explores the idea and issues of a child becoming a vampire two decades before Let the Right One In.

Seamlessly blending genres this modern day horror/western is also a road movie and a love story as well as a missing person drama. It may not be director Kathryn Bigelow’s best know movie, but it may just be her best.

See the whole post over at Movie Mobsters

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2010: The year of the Vampire

You couldn’t move for vampire movies last year, will 2010 be any different? No!

We have already had Daybreakers and it was pretty good. An interesting twist on vampire movies set in a world where most of the population are now vampires. Written and directed by the Speierig brothers who were responsible for the Australian zombie horror comedy Undead. The great cast includes Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill.  It looks prime for a sequel, if they do hopefully the surviving characters will return and be played by the same actors.

30 Days of Night: Dark Days is obviously a follow-up to 30 Days of Night (2007), it retains the main character from the first movie Stella Olemaun, however Melissa George has been replaced by Kiele Sanchez who you may remember as Gina, Timothy Olyphant’s girlfriend in A Perfect Getaway. She also appeared in Lost, although mainly a background character one really good episode centred on her character Nikki and her boyfriend Paulo. Anyway back to the movie; the story relocates to Los Angeles that as far as I am aware doesn’t suffer from 30 Days of Night in the winter. It is directed by Ben Ketai whose previous film was 30 Days of Night: Dust to Dust an online sequel to the original film. I suspect this one is more likely to crop up on DVD than in a cinema anytime soon.

Original 30 Days of Night director David Slade is busy working with glittery vampires on The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. Moving away from the autumn/winter release of the first two movies this one is coming out in the summer with the blockbusters, and why not they have taken shit loads of money.  Lets hope it has a bit more bite (bad pun completely intentional) than Chris Weitz lame New Moon.  All the main cast are set to return except Rachelle Lefevre whose character Victoria will be played by Bryce Dallas Howard.

Following the success (please note use of sarcasm and irony) of Lost Boys: The Tribe (2008) a third film is on its way. Lost Boys: The Thirst. Corey Feldman returns as Edgar Frog as does Jamison Newlander as his brother Alan Frog. Newlander was in the second movie too, his character not only had to suffer with now being a vampire, but he also had his scenes deleted. Again this will be direct to DVD trash.

Anyone who knows me knows my thoughts on Hollywood remakes of great European and Asian films. That’s why I really don’t want to see what a mess they make of my movie of the year from last year Let the Right One in. Just to prove how original they are they have changed the name to Let Me In (the name the book the original film was based on went under in America). One of the great things about the original movie was the great performances by the two young actors. In the remake the most interesting casting could be of Abby (renamed from Eli in the original) who will be played by Chloe Moretz who you may recognise as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s young sister in (500) Days of Summer.

Priest is a vampire/western due for release in the summer. Based on a Korean comic book by Hyung Min-woo, I understand the movie is only loosely based on source material. Paul Bettany plays the priest of the title who along with young sheriff (Cam Gigandet in what could be a rare none villainous role) and Maggie Q as a priestess track down a group of vampires who have kidnapped his niece. I know a few fans (especially female ones) are upset that the casting of Gerard Butler fell through but the presence of Maggie Q promises a certain amount of ass-kicking action (she was the best thing about Die Hard 4). Also look out for a rare big screen outing for Mädchen Amick (Shelly Johnson in Twin Peaks). Directed by Scott Stewart, just his second feature, his first Legion also stars Paul Bettany and has just opened in America to mixed reviews and will be released in the UK in a march. This is one of those movies that couple be brilliant or terrible depending on the execution.

Stake Land is directed by Jim Mickle who has real low budget B movie credentials following Mulberry Street (2006). Little has been published about this film but internet rumour suggest it will be a brutal, bloody and violent movie. A couple of notes on the cast, top billing goes to Danielle Harris who appeared in the Rob Zombie Halloween remakes. It also feature Kelly Top Gun McGillis.

The Bleeding also has real B-movie credentials in the shape of Vinnie Jones, Michael Madsen and Armand Assante. It is also the feature début for Katherine von Drachenberg, who I hear you say, Katherine is better known as celebrity tattoo artist extraordinaire Kat Von D. The story features a family of vampires who live in a nightclub in a former chemical weapons factory, when they say family I somehow think they will have more in common with the Manson family than the Cullen’s.

As well as all these there are also numerous TV programs, internet movies and minimal budget B movies.

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Review of Daybreakers

Written and directed by the Speierig brothers who are probably best know for the Australian zombie horror comedy Undead. Approximately ten years from now most of the population has turned into vampires following what they refer to as a plague. As human numbers dwindle the blood supply is drying up. Without blood the vampires are mutating into mindless feral creatures. Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) is researcher looking for a synthetic alternative to human blood. A chance meeting with a group of humans including Audrey Bennett (Claudia Karvan) leads him to Lionel ‘Elvis’ Cormac (Willem Dafoe), a former vampire who has found a “cure”. Obviously some vampires including Edward’s employer Charles Bromley (Sam Neill) don’t want to be cured.

The film creates a realistic vampire world; underground walkways are created to allow vampires to move around during daylight hours. Cars have blacked out windows and video cameras/monitors to allow them to drive during the day. The vampires are still living regular lives, living in houses with families and commuting to work. The only real difference is that the working day has moved to the night. The society still has its ruling classes and its homeless and most likely all other classes between. The film is set in America (filmed in Australia) but TV news reports explain the same things are happening in the rest of the world. The only problem I see with the plot is the whole issue of farming humans. Whilst vampire soldiers track down humans for the blood banks they seem to miss a vital part of farming: breading. The film is also really well shot making good use of its relatively low budget. The use of bright daylight scenes contrasts well with blue tinged interiors. The vampires have pale faces, yellow irises and pronounced teeth as you would expect of traditional vampires. When the vampires venture out into sunlight they burn and die, there a no glittery sparkly vampires here, this is a blood and guts vampire movie. The lack of reflection is probably a myth to far as other than this the rest of the vampires are more science fiction than supernatural fantasy, it is also irrelevant to the plot. Far more could have been made of a subplot involving Bromley’s daughter (Isabel Lucas) but these are minor complaints.

At its core the film is little more than a B movie, but a good one. The reason it works is a combination of a great concept and a good execution. The plot is a little thin but the action works well, there is just enough humour (provided by Willem Dafoe), plenty of blood and gore and most importantly likeable well acted characters. Although completely devoid of pretension it doesn’t stop it from having a deeper message. The inefficient farming of humans for their blood that threatens both the human and vampire races could easily be described as an analogy for our own misuse of the planets natural recourses. The film offers nothing particularly new to the genre so probably won’t bring any new fans to vampire movies but the already initiated should enjoy it.

Despite the two years it has taken to make it to the cinema and the graveyard release date the film is going okay at the box-office and should go into profit in its second week on release despite the competition from Avatar , Sherlock Holmes and Alvin and the Chipmunks. For this reason it may just be inline for a sequel. The story is such that a follow-up film could go various ways.

 

 

When I started star ratings last week I didn’t intend to give half marks but this film isn’t original enough for four stars but is too good for three. So three and a half stars out of five it is! I have made a decision to only award full stars. This movie has been relegated to three out of five.

 

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Following my review of The Twilight Saga: New Moon I decided to take a look at its place amongst vampire movies. Undead creatures that drink blood to survive have been part of folklore for as long as people have told stories. The Term vampire probably dates back to the 18th century with the influx of literature on the subject, the most famous but not the firstof these was Dracula by Bram Stoker. Vampires have also appeared in countless films for nearly 100 years. 

Since the Twilight novels have started to be adapted into films, vampires have become hugely fashionable but at what cost to the genre? The vampires in these films are very different to what we are used to seeing, and the films are very different to other vampire films. Twilight has been praised in some quarters for its moral subtext promoting abstinence amongst teenagers (didn’t Britney Spears to do that for a time? worked out well for her!). The films display sexual tension amongst adolescents without being in any way sexual. The  main characters are portrayed as being abstinent despite being deeply in love, it isn’t exactly subtle! It isn’t a problem for a film itself but for a vampire film it doesn’t sit well with me. So what is the problem? To be blunt sex! Vampires have always being portrayed as sexual creatures. The drinking of blood is basically an exchange of bodily fluids and has been sexualised in vampire literature since Victorian times. Look at the classic days of horror, Christopher Lee’s Dracula in the Hammer films very much favoured young buxom females when he was thirsty. During the 70’s there was a plethora of lesbian themed vampire movies such as The Vampire lovers, Twins of Evil, Vampyres and Requiem for a Vampire. Some more overt than others but they tend to follow a theme of  lust and not love. Fast forward to 1983 and The Hunger explores the relationship between a vampire and a mortal lover who ages. This is touched upon in New Moon and in both cases borders on the philosophical point of what it is to be human. The Hunger however retains the sexual nature of vampires. Vampires in other films such as Near Dark, The Lost Boys and Innocent Blood all use sex to attract both companions and food. To love but not lust is a great betrayal of the beast and the complete opposite of what we have come to expect from vampire movies.

The film also has a very poor portrayal of woman, with Bella constantly needing to be rescued my male characters. In the face of supernatural creatures it can easily be argued that Bella’s weakness is directly attributed to her species and not her sex, but it is still sending a message that it is easy to interpret negatively at a time and in a film that would be an ideal opportunity to demonstrate empowerment; Buffy v Bella as role model is an entire blog in itself.  The other criticism is the myth created for the characters; the vampires sparkle in sunlight instead of fry. They are nearly impossible for anyone other than a werewolf or another vampire to kill them. The invulnerability destroys lots of the danger the characters can ever be in therefore reducing any suspense. The glittering in sunlight is actually amusing more than anything as the audience reaction to New Moon is anything to go by! I don’t have a problem with this change in the myth especially when you consider vampires aversion to sunlight was only invented by the movies in 1922 in Nosferatu, I am not aware of any previous reference. It just feels so contrived, I have often wondered if Stephenie Meyer sat down and said to herself, how can I get over the sunlight problem so I can send my vampire to school.

There is also a problem with the Cullen’s, they don’t kill people making them a part of society. But this is against their character; the other vampires of the film are killers. What message are we supposed to draw from this? These people who are different from us are inherently evil killers but some of them try really, really hard to emulate us so they can pretend to be like us and live amongst us, but they are still killers deep down. To make the Cullen’s the exception to the norm of the species creates a different dynamic than if they had been the norm and there where a few rogue killers. This would have made them inclusive and prevented any kind of xenophobic connotations. If you don’t drawn any meaning from the characters and take them as just that characters within a piece of fiction this is fine but the film loses something as a result.   By presenting the vampire as a “good guy” changes the overall focus of the genre. Without a monster to play off against, how heroic can the hero be? That is what reduces the film to a romantic drama. There is nothing wrong with a romantic drama as such, but it really doesn’t need a mythical creature to enhance it, if anything it hinders the films ability to function. To resolve this issue the film must create an adversary, in the first film it was the killer nomadic vampires but in the second film we get a new opponent. Unusually it is in this opponent that the films may find their redemption and justification. The chosen adversaries are werewolves; one of them also acts as the final part of a love triangle. Presenting both the werewolves and the vampires as enemies but both on the side of good makes for an entirely different scenario.   The two groups could be considered to simply misunderstand each other. If they can find some common ground, possibly through Bella the subtext would play out as a story of acceptance. Or I could be reading too much into it and it is just a film about the difficulties of first love!

There are no simple answers but the conclusion I have drawn is that Twilight will do no lasting damage to vampire movies. I suspect as we reach saturation point they will go out of fashion forcing writers and directors to come up with something fresh and original to rejuvenate the genre. It has happened before. Blade moved vampires away from Horror and reinvented it as action. This continued with Underworld and culminated in 30 Days of Night that successfully blended horror and action and benefitted from an ingenious use of location. There will also be other filmmakers who take a different view, Let the Right One In is not one of the best vampire movies of recent years it is one of THE best movies of recent years. Daybreakers due out early next year also promises to have some new and interesting ideas; it certainly has a concept that although not completely original appears to be taken further than ever before. So those people who dislike Twilight or are becoming disillusioned with the genre, don’t worry, the genre is as hard to kill as the creatures it portrays. Vampires will be back as bloody and seductive as ever and they won’t sparkle in sunlight, we just may have to wait a few years!

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Inspired by The Mad Hatter from The Dark of the Matinee who recently published his Top Five Vampire Movies I decided to publish my top ten. And in the spirit of Hatters original post there are not vampires who sparkle on the list 

 

TEN) 30 Days of Night (2007): Based on a graphic novel, the premise of a group of bloodthirsty vampires descending on an Alaskan town as they shut down for a month of perpetual night is nothing short of geniuses. The film isn’t without its problems, the plot is so simple that it drags a little in the middle and there is a very poor sense of time and space. These are small concerns as the action scenes are really well handled and the good verses evil element is played out well with fearsome vampires and likeable leading characters.

NUEVE) Cronos (1993): Moving further from the usual myth than other movies Cronos creates its own. The visuals range from mundane to sumptuous director Guillermo del Toro achieved this with the help of cinematographer Guillermo Navarro in the first of many collaborations. The setting is contemporary but this doesent detract from the style of the film giving totally visceral experience.

EIGHT) Underworld (2003): I have always described this film as a guilty pleasure rather than a great film, but I may have been unkind to it. Making the most of its relatively small budget it is possibly the most stylish/stylised vampire movie ever. The sets and the costumes (particularly Kate Beckinsale’s are amazing) and the Budapest locations are used to full effect giving the film a perfect blend of modern and gothic horror. But the real victory for the film is the premise, the war between vampires and werewolves gives an extra dimension to the plot and means that the vampires have a worthy advisory. And if you still don’t like it watch it for Kate Beckinsale, to say she looks amazing is an understatement, I said it was a guilty pleasure.

SEVEN) Innocent Blood (1992): When you mention John Landis’s and horror in the same sentence An American Werewolf in London is usually the subject up for discussion but Innocent Blood is a little seen gem of the vampire genre. Combining horror, mafia and comedy it really should be a mess of a film but amazingly really works. The main reason for this is a slickly directed film with a good script and a great cast.

SECHS) Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922): Essentially an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. As the studio failed to obtain the rights to the novel the film changes many details, mainly character names, Count Dracula is called Count Orlok. They don’t even use the term vampire. As well as the style of the film that has inspired horror movies ever since, the film is also widely believed to be the origin of the part of the vampire myth that vampires are killed by sunlight. There are some questionable video and DVD transfers kicking around, but if you get a good version it is must for horror fans.

FIVE) The Lost Boys (1987): Accusations of being dated are misguided, The Lost Boys is only a film of the 80’s in the fashions and the soundtrack. Look beyond this and what we actually get is a very traditional vampire movie that explores what it is to be human. Some of the acting is questionable but the film is really stylish and well shot with likable characters and effective vampires. And did I mention the dialogue is really funny.

FOUR) Blade (1998)/ Blade II (2002): Wesley Snipes is perfect in the lead role of Blade, a half human /half vampire, vampire killer. A departure from horror, Blade moved the genre into action adventure with just enough deadpan humour. Vampires are portrayed in a Godfather like family structure, presenting the gangster like families. Then came Blade II, visionary director Guillermo del Toro who presented an even more bold and sumptuous film that retains the action but also introduces a morel subtext.

THREE) Dracula (1958) Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966): Very loosely based on the original Bram Stoker source material the original Hammer Dracula is moody, atmospheric and extremely watchable, not least because it stars the best Dracula Christopher Lee and THE Van Helsing, Peter Cushing. The first sequel Dracula: Prince of Darkness has little original to offer but is still a great film (and incidentally the first vampire movie I ever watched way back in 1986). Lee’s Dracula doesn’t speak in the second film, allegedly because the dialogue in the script was so poor he refused to speak his lines. Whatever the reasons the character is all the more menacing for it.

TVÅ) Let The Right One In (2008):The grim and gritty feel give the film a sense of realism despite the supernatural subject matter. The title (abbreviated to Let Me In, in some countries) refers to the aspect of the vampire myth that says a vampire can not cross a threshold without being invited. Going a step further than other films it shows what happens when a vampire comes in uninvited. It isn’t pretty but it is effective! Just like the films photography, using mainly fixed cameras and no noticeable steadicam instead opting for simple pan and dolly tracking. Although not particularly violent or gory, it  is brutal in places. There is a certain amount of ambiguity of the androgynous young cast and the morals of their actions. A strangely beautiful film that may be about kids but it certainly isn’t a film for kids.

ONE) Near Dark (1987): Directed by Kathryn Bigelow Near Dark 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 modern western. A bleak but enjoyable film, possibly one of the best vampire films ever made, certainly may favourite.

Also worth seeing:

  • Interview With The Vampire (1994)
  • Shadow Of The Vampire (2000)
  • The Hunger 1983
  • From Dusk Till Dawn 1996
  • Drácula (1931)
  • Martin (1977)
  • The Brides of Dracula (1960)
  • From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
  • Twins of Evil (1971)
  • The Vampire Lovers (1970)
  • The Wisdom of Crocodiles (1998)
  • The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)
  • The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)
  • The Addiction (1995)
  • Nadja (1994)
  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
  • Paris, je t’aime (2006) segment “Quartier de la Madeleine”
  • Ultraviolet (1998) not to be confused with the crap Milla Jovovich film from 2006

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True Blood

Having previously been screened on the FX channel, last night saw the UK free to air premier of True Blood on C4.  Based on The Southern Vampire Mysteries series of novels by Charlaine Harris, it was created and produced by Alan Ball.  Following a great cretit sequence of old looking and sometimes disturbing visions of the south the show opens with a TV interview.  This explains that vampires live amongst us and people are now aware of them for the first time.  This is an effective if somewhat lazy way of jumping directly into the narrative without a complicated build-up.  It explains how vampires “came out of the casket” two years before when the Japanese developed a new totally synthetic blood called TruBlood.  The appealing thing about the show is that it presents vampires in a more adult (I mean grown up not a euphemism for porn!) way than other television and movie vampires of recent years.  Their appearance and retractable fangs have a more realistic look than many vampires who go through over dramatic transformations.  There is very little action and the show is very dialogue heavy.  As the series develops this is something that could make or break the show depending on how it is handled.  As a strongly character driven program it should be okay.

 True Blood

Set in Bon Temps, a fictional small town in Louisiana the principle character is Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) a waitress with a gift/curse of being able to hear other people’s thoughts.  It is difficult to say at this stage how bigger part many characters will have in the show so I will just mention the main ones.  

  • Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) is a vampire who comes it the bar where Sookie works.  She appears to fall in love with him almost immediately.  Something her friends put down to vampires ability to hypnotise people.  At this stage we don’t know if that is true.  Some facts about vampire’s powers, abilities and weaknesses are revealed in the first episode but there is lots more we are not told. 
  • Sookie’s best friend Tara Thornton (Rutina Wesley) takes a job at the same Bar as Sookie.  With a huge chip on her shoulder she provides great comic relief.  She is very loyal and protective of Sookie who seems to be her only real friend as her explosive and untrusting nature drives people away. 
  • Tara has a huge crush on Sookie’s older brother, Jason (Ryan Kwanten) who despite being a chronic womanizer doesn’t seem to notice she exists. 
  • Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) owns the bar where Sookie and Tara work.  He is also protective of Sookie who he has a crush on.  This I suspect will push him and Tara together as Sookie’s relationship with Bill develops. 
  • Finally we have Sookie’s grandmother Adele (Lois Smith),  Sookie and Jason appear to live with her.  No explanation for this has been given yet.  Her reaction to Sookie meeting a vampire suggests  she may have had contact with them before probably many years before they “came out”.

 Tara and Sookie

It isn’t clear if each episode will be stand alone or have a continuing narrative.  The ending (that I won’t give away) and the fact the first episode ends with a murder from earlier in the episode remaining unsolved suggests that it will have an ongoing narrative.  If they do, this murder could well be a key plotline along with Sookie and Bills fledgling relationship.  From what I have seen so far the main themes that are explored are acceptance and tolerance for people who are different.  This could relate to race, religion, sex and sexuality.  As the vampires are new to the people in the show and the viewer does not yet know the characters very well the themes could develop or change over time.  I’m already looking forward to next week.

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I recently came across this article about the sequel to Donnie Darko, I had have also commented on the same thing here. I haven’t seen it yet but I have just seen Lost Boys: The Tribe, the sequel to the classic 80’s teen/comedy/horror.

Warning this review contains plot spoilers, but lets be honest you probably won’t see the film.

Lost Boys: The Tribe starts with a group of surfers jumping a fence to get onto a private beach and surf the break beyond. They are confronted by a vampire. At this point my first reaction was it would be so much cooler if the surfers were the vampires. Then we discover they are also vampires, good start. We then get a group of establishing shots of the town during day reminiscent of the first film, they even contain a few decent surf shots. The film is full of references to the original film (look out for the saxophone player). The brother and sister coming to town and immediately getting involved with the “tribe” of vampires is far less contrived than you would expect. So all in all it is a good film? No its rubbish.

lost boys the tribe

Although there isn’t a great deal wrong with the film there is very little that is good about it and the there is nothing outstanding or original. It also suffers from two of my pet hates. First, the vampires are very different in their look, abilities and the way they act to those in the original film. Secondly in the true tradition Autumn Resser at the age of 28 plays a 17 year old, older than Tad Hilgenbrinck who plays Chis her supposedly older brother. I can see beyond all of this but not the biggest problem, it just lacks the comedy of the original film.

The one good thing is an alternative ending on the DVD special features. Sam (Corey Haim) makes a cameo appearance in this scene that didn’t make it to the final cut that is far better than his cameo in the actual film. This is supposed to be an ending but would have made a better start to the film. Here is is so you don’t have to buy/rent the film and sit through an hour and a half of crap.

In conclusion if you like the look of this film don’t do it, watch the 1987 original instead.

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