Posts Tagged ‘vampire’

Vampires Done Right

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Yes, vampires are “in” now, thanks to the series-that-shall-not-be-named.  Or maybe not.  Agents seem to be pretty anti-vampire when it comes to their submission wish lists.  I don’t know.  Trends are weird.  What I do know is that vampires have been cool for a long time and now they’re kind of weak.  I mean it’s not all epic-fail material, but pretty dang close.

As a child of the 80s, I consider the vampire quite a different animal in a sense.  None of this sparkling, tweeny pining BS, but tragedy and horror, films that made you question whether or not you’d actually go through with the whole thing if Mr. Vampire Hottie Pants showed up at your door and said, “Come on, baby!”

So, I give you my top five vampire films from my lifetime (40ish years).  In no particular order:

Near Dark

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Say wuuut?  Kathyrn Bigelow directed a vampire movie?  You bet your sweet bum she did.  Near Dark is one of the best vampire movies out there with a truly stellar cast: Lance Henricksen, Bill Paxton, Adrian Pasdar, Jenette Goldstein.  (Whoah, half the cast from Aliens?  Well, Bigelow was married to James Cameron who directed Aliens in 1986, then lo and behold, Near Dark comes out in 1987.  Why break up the dream team?)

What was so great about Near Dark was that the vampires weren’t all slick, Wall Street, Gucci-wearing studs, they looked like they walked out of a Hell’s Angels biker bar.  You could almost smell the stink and sweat on them and when they targeted you as a victim, there was no lusty exchanges where eyes met and someone licked their lips, pure, undiluted fear.  “This guy is going to tear my throat out.”

In a sense, this is vampire-meets-western.  You walk into the wrong bar and you’re dead.  Bill Paxton, “This is some pretty shit” kind of dead.

The Hunger

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Sensual, refined horror, but not in the eye-rolling, shiny kind of way.  I always loved Tony Scott’s The Hunger.  Beautifully filmed, superbly acted.  It’s a story based on Whitley Strieber’s novel of the same name.  (The same Whitley Strieber who wrote Communion and other alien abduction literature.)  The book is a fabulous read and quite different from the movie.  These vampires are genetic, born into their race.  When Miriam, a vampire born in Egyptian times, tries to create progeny, things go smoothly for a few hundred years before her “children” (and lovers) begin to decline rapidly.

David Bowie plays Miriam’s recent lover, David, and Susan Sarandon plays Sarah, a young physician who is studying age and immortality.  Sexy scenes, frightening revelations, another story that makes you ponder whether or not vampirism is truly worth it–given what happens to Miriam’s companions once they begin to diminish.

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In the 80’s this movie became so coveted in video rental stores that you had to slap down a $50 deposit just to rent it. People were stealing the movies.  It was also around this time that Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles were really picking up steam.

Interview with a Vampire

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The Hunger leads nicely into Interview with a Vampire.   Sure, the film had flaws (one of which was not Tom Cruise, imho.  I thought Cruise nailed the role of Lestat.)  But, again, this wasn’t the pretty little high school vampire who pranced around looking broody.  Living the life of a vampire was kind of shitty in Rice’s world.  The transformation was grueling, the fear of exposure and danger was omnipresent.

Vampires had their mystique, certainly, their lavish lifestyles, their clothing, their mannerisms, but there was also something quite grotesque about them as well.  The film does a great job of letting you see them in their fine clothes, but look close enough and you see the pale skin, the protruding veins, the preternatural form.

Kirsten Dunst made a wonderful Claudia–a character in the first book that I had a hard time with as a reader.  Something about her rubbed me the wrong way, but Dunst made me feel for her, sympathize for this wise woman trapped in a little girl’s body.  Mood, cinematography, music.  All came together nicely.

Salem’s Lot

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I had nightmares about this kid (at the window) for years after first seeing Salem’s Lot.  Stephen King takes on the nosferatu: more beast than beauty.  This is the monster in the closet.  Nothing romantic going on here.  Just death.  And blood.  And old cellars and musty smells.

Salem’s Lot utilizes the ghost story trope.  The creepy old house in a small town.  Things go bump in the night.  When we do finally see the big bad vampire, it’s scary, it’s exhilarating.

Side Note: Check out Silver Bullet as well, King’s take on the werewolf.  Gary Busey and Corey Haim!  You can’t get more 80’s than that.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

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Rich and gothic, Coppola’s adaptation brings the source material to life in truly remarkable way.  Like Interview with a Vampire, this film has its flaws (cough: Keanu Reeves), but Oldman nails his role as Dracula–from the early scenes as Vlad the Impaler, to his powdery-pale, blood-licking Methuselan.

Ryder was hit or miss for me, but Sadie Frost’s portrayal of Lucy seemed to make up for it, as did Anthony Hopkins’ stint as Van Helsing.  This isn’t a story that makes you think, “Hmm, vampirism, sounds cool!”  You’re given the romanticized perspective in one hand and the foul horror in the other.

Honorable Mentions:

Let the Right One In: This almost made my top 5.  It probably should have.  Read the book.  Watch the film.

Fright Night: Great, fun, campy vampire story.

The Lost Boys: Funny and humorous, but vampires are still sinister in this flick.

Final Notes:

One has to wonder why we’ve turned vampires into fluffy, sparkling unicorns.  Perhaps society is becoming better equipped to embrace the Other when it’s dressed up like one of the guys from N’Synch.  What makes a great vampire story (and a great vampire character) is the pain and suffering that comes with it all.  HBO’s True Blood touches on this to some extent.  The Vampire Diaries as well.  But overall, vampires have lost their bite.

In epic fantasy, the “grimdark” pendulum seems to be pretty far into the dire, horrible, awful realm.  Nobody wins.  Nobody gets what they want.  Vampire literature?  Direct opposite.  It’s all too clean.  The above movies remind us that vampires are not, in fact, human, and that being one of the undead isn’t full of daisies and cotton candy and high school crushes.

It will be interesting to see if the pendulum swings back anytime soon.

 

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07 2013