Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Big ups to our fangy friends lurking in your local bellfry

My apologies, dear reader, for not updating with the promised vampire goodies as soon as I would have liked. I was distracted by Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, quickly followed by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I’m sure you understand.

Well, dear reader, this has been a very enlightening post-project. I finally found some sites that list more than just Underworld and Interview with a Vampire as “the greatest vampire films E-VAR!” I rediscovered some old favorites and a few films that could be just as good as Let the Right One In. So let’s get to it, shall we?

First off, I’d like to trot out some of my favorite 80’s and 90’s comedy-camp-vamp films.

My Best Friend is a Vampire
Oh my, this takes me back.
Is it time to bring back the giant shoulder-pads and crispy hair that is supposed to look wet?

Starring Robert Sean Leonard of Dead Poets Society and grizzled-beardy television hit House, Rene Auberjonois (probably best recognized as Odo from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but who has a very extensive voice-over credit list, including many Disney favorites), and David Warner (the perpetual bad guy, including THE LOBE!), this 1988 gem would actually be a great pairing with Buffy the Vampire Slayer; they follow a similar storyline formula where you have unsuspecting, “normal” teen who has a critical event and gains a new status: Vampire/Vampire Hunter, as well as gaining an arch-nemesis: Vampire Hunter/Vampire, and a dusty mentor. I haven’t seen this movie in far too long, but as a kid I would rent it over and over again from the local video store, so essentially I’ve had a crush on Robert Sean Leonard long before any of you schmucks.

Once Bitten

This 1985 breakout for Jim Carrey is one of the decade’s many notches in the sex-comedy genre. The plot hinges on the ancient vampire Lauren Hutton seeking out a virgin’s blood to drink to keep her young, but in this modern age, teenagers are sluts and virgins are scarce. Enter goofy loser Jim Carrey, who is woefully unbesmirched thanks to his prude of a girlfriend. It pretty much explains itself, and you get to see glimpses of Jim Carrey’s comedy evolution. Spoiler: He gets laid.

Love Bites
::shrug::He likes it with the brace on.

Holy cow, this movie is pretty bad, but still so good! Released in 1993, we’ve hit the age of Wall Street yuppie-ism, coasting on a booming market, cell phones, and LOTS OF HAIR GEL. Crashing directly into it is 1800s British vampire Zachary Sims, played by Adam Ant (the musician, not a children’s book character). The plot: quintessential 90’s lady accidentally falls into his crypt from her apartment built over said crypt, makes friends, and helps him adapt to the twentieth century, eventually helping him become human again (bet you didn’t know vampires could do that, huh?). Guess what? She falls in love with him along the way!

You guys, this movie is so cheesy, you’re going to need plenty of tortilla chips and salsa handy, but Adam Ant makes it more or less pretty awesome. He’s adorable, people, and he has an ACCENT, we women are putty in his dainty British fingers. His electro-synth-pop is pretty kick-ass as well, check it out!

Dracula: Dead and Loving It

This 1995 spoof has a fantastic cast: Mel Brooks, Leslie Nielsen, Peter MacNicol, Steven Webber, Amy Yasbeck, I tell you it’s SO GOOD. Occasionally, there will be a joke that falls a little flat, but oh my crap, it’s Mel Brooks, it’s pretty damn funny.

Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter
Delightfully low-budget, the tag-line for this film is The first testament says "an eye for an eye." - The second testament says "love thy neighbour." - The third testament ... Kicks Ass!!! The second coming of Jesus is fraught with renegade vampires and motorcyclin’ lesbian ninjas, blaspheming and small explosions. You’ll laugh so hard, the consecrated wine that is the blood of Christ will shoot out of your nose.

Tip: You will probably have to hit up NetFlix or a local independent video rental store to find this corker.

So! I suppose it’s on to some serious business!

Night Watch and it’s sequel Day Watch

This breakout hit from Russia single-handedly revived the Russian film industry. Set in present-day Moscow, we follow Anton, a member of the Night Watch and the side of Light, who must keep an eye on those of the Dark side to keep the uneasy truce struck between the two hundreds of years ago. However, the head of the Dark side is looking for a way to tip the scales of power via the child Yegor, a Great One, a being of great potential power who could help swallow the world into darkness should he choose to join the Dark side.

These films are best watched in Russian with English subtitles, which are actually rather creatively used at certain points in the movie, dissolving like blood or revealed in the wake of a character’s path. And though the film isn’t strictly “vampire” or completely wrapped up in vampire lore, there are vampire members on the Dark side who play a part in the downfall of mankind. BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT THEY’RE HERE FOR. JUST LOOK AT THE TWILIGHT FRANCHISE.

Dracula’s Daughter and Nadja

Dracula’s Daughter, released in 1936, was a sequel to 1931’s Dracula. With some lesbian overtones (who doesn’t love those?), the film follows Dracula’s daughter Countess Marya after her father’s death as she attempts to shed her vampirism and become human again. Included in the plot is Van Helsing, who has been arrested for murdering the Count. Though it didn’t do too well at the box office, it received positive reviews, and is at least worth seeing as source material for Nadja.

Nadja (1994) may only appeal to people like my pal Kyle, who revels in the strange, the bizarre, and the David Lynch. A post-modern reworking of Dracula’s Daughter, Lynch acted as producer and has a cameo as a morgue receptionist, so if you’re the kind of person that enjoyed trying to untie the Gordian knot that was Muholland Drive and watched every episode of Twin Peakes, then you just may want to check this out.

Immortality, also known as The Wisdom of Crocodiles

This movie probably sucks. However, it stars Jude Law as a vampire. Ladies, and a few of you gentlemen, decide for yourselves.


I adore chubby writer/director Guillermo Del Toro, and was unaware that he and Ron Perlman go way back, before Ron was our favorite brick-red and horned superhero, all the way to 1995 where they worked on this intriguing commentary on old age grasping at any promise of youth. Instead of a vampire bite, the “disease” is introduced via a mechanical golden scarab housing an insect that produces a solution that makes the infected person young again. However, the price to be paid is a hunger for blood.

The main character is horrified, but unwilling to part with the magical scarab. Ron Perlman portrays a thug sent to steal the youth-giving device, which looks like a marked improvement than that episode of Beauty and the Beast I saw recently. (Linda Hamilton, I hate you.)

Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary


Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, I’m intrigued by this 2002 take on the original Bram Stoker novel as portrayed by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Complete with title cards and other tricks of the silent film trade, this film seems like a delightful combination of old and new, including a Chinese Dracula and selective use of color. Who doesn’t want to see a Chinese Dracula dancing on his toes, wooing a chick straight out of Swan Lake?

Near Dark

As a card-carrying feminist, I have to applaud writer/director Kathryn Bigelow. It’s hard enough getting backing for a movie written and directed by a woman, not to mention a film that’s a western vampire horror fest. Starring the underused Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, and the then-unknown Adrian Pasdar (devilishly handsome Nathan Petrelli on Heroes), this movie stretches the conventions of the classic western and horror genres. There’s a traveling band of criminal vampires wreaking havoc on the small towns remotely scattered throughout the west who bring forced vampire-in-training Caleb into their fold; though Caleb is now a vampire, he clings to his humanity, and can’t bring himself to kill to eat. The fanged gang commits more and more depraved acts to force Caleb to become like themselves (an initiation ritual to cement Caleb to them and ensure his trustworthiness), which actually serves to push Caleb further away. The critical tipping point for Caleb occurs when his “new family” runs into his actual family, and Caleb must choose sides.

Granted, I haven’t seen this movie, but Bill Paxton is so crazy, I absolutely must. Of all the places in America for these vampires to roam, they choose…the desert. That small fact lets you know right off that these guys are BATSHIT. Not to mention Lance Henriksen is one of the most sinister Civil War vets I’ve seen in a while.

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens , Nosferatu the Vampyre, Shadow of the Vampire

We’ve all heard of Nosferatu, but I was unaware of how extensive its influence is on the vampire genre. Directed by F.W. Murnau in 1922, this expressionist film was an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but had to make several changes to the story because they couldn’t secure the rights to the novel. Shot on a shoestring budget, the film created one of the two vampire archetypes: the vile and repulsive rat-like count versus the more common Dracula-type: the sexually charged aristocrat with a heightened power of seduction. In Murnau’s film, Count Orlock is a slithering, sneaking corpse with elongated fingers and fangs, huge eyes, and no hair.

When he travels to Hutter’s home to capture Ellen, he brings with him a ship full of rats chock full o’ the plague. Everything about him is so vile and lowly, one could almost feel pity for him for having to live such a wretched existence. In this respect, Count Orlock has more in common with Frankenstein than Dracula.

The other historic detail of vampire lore created by this film is the Count’s fear of sunlight. Prior to Nosferatu, vampires disliked sunlight, but could tolerate it; Stoker’s Dracula even takes a stroll through town during the day (though I’m sure the constant English fog and canopy of coal smoke helped screen out the direct rays). But in Nosferatu, Ellen offers herself to Orlock to distract him while the sun comes up, causing him to disintegrate. For a creature that is such an antithesis to light and goodness, it’s a natural fit, and I find it surprising that no one thought of it sooner.

A point of interest, this definitive vampire movie was almost lost forever; despite changing names and plot, Stoker’s descendents still sued for copyright infringement and won. Part of the settlement was that all copies of the film be destroyed, but by that point, the film was so far-flung, it had been copied by enthusiasts and continued to live on. Suck on that, Stoker!

Now then, Nosferatu was a gold star in what could be called a troubled history for Germany, so, naturally, German director Werner Herzog (Vehr-nahr Hair-zog) made a tribute version, combining Nosferatu and Stoker’s original Dracula. Collaborating with the intensely insane, but intensely intense Klaus Kinski (Klowse Kin-skie) in one of five epic projects, Herzog expands the plot and delves deeper into the Count’s pitiable pathos of loneliness in the face of immortality. If you’ve never seen a Herzog/Kinski film, do yourself the favor; as a side-note, this movie was shot both in German and in English, but most critics lean towards the German version as the actors are more confidant delivering their lines in their native language.

If you know anything about Herzog (the man who ate a shoe in front of an auditorium full of film students on a bet), then this shouldn’t surprise you: in the city where they were shooting, Herzog was forbidden to release the 11,000 rats that were collected for a particular scene. So they relocated to another town, released the rats and shot the scene, but the population of rats exploded to 30,000. Children of the town skipped school for weeks to collect rats in exchange for the bounty placed on their tiny heads.
Fun Fact: Herzog is terrified of chickens, but has them in his movies, probably for some obscure, artistic reason. See if there are any in this one.

And the final block in this trifecta is Shadow of the Vampire, starring John Malkovich as F.W. Murnau and Willem Dafoe as Max Schreck. The plot: Murnau, with his crew under the impression that Schreck is just a very dedicated method actor, has hired a real vampire to star in his movie with his female lead as payment, provided Schreck cooperates and finishes the film. However, as the filming goes on, Schreck becomes increasingly erratic and hard to control, munching on crew members between takes.

Personal story-time: this movie was billed as a “black comedy” when it was released, and when I went to see it with my mom (my faithful movie-going companion), I was expecting lots of laughs. I WAS SO WRONG TO EXPECT THAT. While there are a few chuckle-worthy moments, this is foremost a horror-psychological drama-type thing, and you will be sorely disappointed if you think it’s going to be giggle-times. Also, Willem is fucking terrifying. He is even more so in this movie. (Just joshing, Willem, I love your craggy face)

So, gotdamned, kids! That was a lot of movies! We actually just barely scratched the surface here, but you know, it’s my blog, I’ll do what I want. I’m sorry for the delay, but this seriously took me a week to research and write. So be grateful.

For further vampire interest, check out these sites:
Snarkerati’s Top 70 Vampire Movies of All Time
Collection of Vampire Filmography: for all those delicious Christopher Lee Dracula flicks!

Oh man, next time, This ‘N That Tuesday!

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