Friday, February 29, 2008
Camera Obscura: 30 Days of Night and Other Vampire Classics
It's seldom that I have high expectations for a movie which actually meet or surpass the final product. Especially a horror movie these days. Expectations are pretty low, really, for that genre after the gushing spurt of recent movie franchises like "Saw", "Hostel", etc.
But having read the original source material of the graphic novel for "30 Days of Night" and seeing that actor Danny Huston was playing the leader of a group of some brutal, nosferatu-style vampires who invade an Alaska town just about to endure 30 days without any sunshine -- well, I was hopeful. I finally saw the film this week and hope was fulfilled.
There are no joking characters, no re-invention of the vampire myths, just a relentless and bloody apocalypse where horrible nightmares have taken the form of flesh. This is no movie for the timid or squeamish, it is a visceral attack on the senses. Once the basic location and characters are provided, the town is devoured and survival is doubtful.
The vamps don't speak English, but there are subtitles for their toothy talk. The absence of recognizable language makes the non-human nature stand out even more. There's a scene where Huston dips his dagger-like fingers into a pool of blood and primps his hair with it which was understated but blood-curdling. If such ancient, powerful and deadly creatures existed and they decided to plot against us ... then yes, human survival is unlikely. One plot-line from the comic book which was dropped was a debate among the vamps about the wisdom of taking out an entire town, but towards the end of the film that idea emerges as an important aspect of what has been happening and how it will all end.
The music here is terrific - ambient tones which seem like the sounds of something freezing, slowly. And mention too should be made of actor Ben Foster's role as The Stranger who enters the town just ahead of the monsters. He's got a knack for creating deeply disturbing characters onscreen, as he did in "3:10 to Yuma" and "Alpha Dog." Not a guy I want to get to know.
For some time now, I have wondered if vampire tales would survive the bad movie, all-emo creations of Anne Rice, or the black leather emo version of "Underworld, or the god-awful and nearly musical comedy version of them in "Van Helsing". Thankfully, they have not died out - yet.
In the past, even the classic Count Dracula had to survive feasting on hippies and surrounded by blaxpoitation funk music, as in "Dracula A.D. 1972". The movie is like a time-capsule of silly post-60s trends, has it's own Wikipedia page, and even features a character called Johnny Alucard ... aka Johnny Dracula. Now there's a film title for you.
Sam Raimi's company Ghost House produced "30 Days" but they also made another vamp film which they decided not to release to theaters last year. Look for it on DVD - it's called "Rise: Blood Hunter" and does at least provide both Lucy Liu and Carla Gugino as battling/loving vampire chicks. Sounds like all they missed was having Johnny Dracula around. And maybe a scene in a go-go club.
Made in 2005 and still getting an unusual snub from Raimi's company and distributors, it may be one of the new so-bad-it-might-be-good movies. Background on the making and the snubbing are offered here.
Famous children of famous folks are at work on what appears to be another comedy vampire story called "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead". Jake Hoffman (son of Dustin) plays an out-of-work actor who is cast in a version of Hamlet being directed by a vampire. Sean Lennon (son of John) is working on the music and the movie also features Devon Aoki, Ralph Macchio, Lindsay Lohan, Asia Argento and Marilyn Manson. (No word on who is playing Johnny Dracula.)