Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Vampires can be cool, too

The Monster Chronicles, Part One

Halloween is just around the corner, and I thought of starting a new tradition and blogging about certain horror movie sub-genres each year. And I'll begin with vampires, as they are a sort of corner stone of cinematic monsters.

At first I thought of doing a sort of top ten list of best vampire movies, but seeing as I've got enough to watch already to have a list of the Best Horror movies of the 2000s ready by sunday, I scrapped the idea. I can do a hasty list here but won't comment too much about it. It would look something like this:

10. Blade (Stephen Norrington, 1998)
9. Fearless Vampire Killers (Roman Polanski, 1967)
8. Lost Boys (Joel Schumacher, 1987)
7. Let The Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in, Tomas Alfredson, 2008)
6. Near Dark (Kathryn Bigelow, 1987)
5. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Jack Fletcher, Tai Kit Mak, 2000)
4. Thirst (Bakjwi, Park Chan-Wook, 2009)
3. Martin (George A. Romero, 1977)
2. Dracula: The Prince of Darkness (Terence Fisher, 1966)
1. Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des grauens (F.W. Murnau, 1922)

Actually, I usually don't like vampire films that much. Part of the problem is that the genre has started so early, at the age of silent films. Thus, there is so much re-imagining, parodies and post-modernism it has made the subgenre stale and uninteresting.

In today's flood of vampire-related entertainment, vampires are more often seen as human beings with allegorial problems, mainly their unrelenting bloodlust. This bloodlust can represent anything, but more usually it is some kind of metaphor for aggressive sexuality, that is supposed to be kept smothered. This culminates in the fucking Twilight Saga, which as made the once noble, but horrifying creatures of the night into personality-free emo-boys that glitter in the sunlight. Zombies may be even more over-exposed in pop culture, but at least they still kill people.

Vampires have always been deeply sexual beings, which makes it a shame that they don't use their full potential as lethal love-makers any more. Twilight is nowhere near an original story, as most of this kind of vampire fiction tends to focus on a love story between a human and a vampire. This has been more or less emphasized according to the times. For instance, in Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula (1992) the otherwise pretty straight adaptation of Bram Stoker's book differs the most from the source material when it's giving emphasis to Dracula's relationship with his victim Mina Harker. The relationship is shown to be some kind of undying love that lasts over multiple lifetimes.

I vaant to loove youu foreeveer. Bleh!

The problem with this sexually tensional love story is that the vampire becomes too romanic a character. Bela Lugosi's Dracula may have an unequalled romantic charm, but that doesn't change the fact that the film Dracula (1931) is an almost comically theatrical one. A vampire should not be cuddly but in addition to sexual, also otherworldly, cold and a merciless creature. In my opinion, no one else has quite got the idea as good as Christopher Lee, the perfect cinematic Dracula.

He may charm you, but could also very easily destroy you.

As you can see from the list, I have actually liked some re-imaginings of vampires that are deeply tied to the point where they were made. I like the late-90's leathercoat version of Blade precisely because it seems ludicrously old-fashioned today. Some motherfuckers always try to ice-skate up the hill. Maybe today's vampire hits such as 30 Days of Night (which for a change actually had a mystery surrounding the vampires) will seem equally silly in the coming decades.

Kathryn Bigelow's cult classic Near Dark (1987) should be a measuring stone for today's vampire films. For Bigelow knew exactly what works in the genre. There is a certain allure to the vampiric lifestyle, but as the creatures are bloodthirsty monsters, who will kill just for kicks, it is also a very frightening prospect. That creates a better tension for the sexual relations than having eternal abstinence.

Nevertheless, the film is so very 80's by today's standards. Bill Paxton's vampire punk is still cool, though, and worked as a clear model for one of comic book's best vampires, Garth Ennis' and Steve Dillon's Preacher's Cassidy.

But the best vampire performance ever will never seem out-dated. F.W: Murnau's silent classic Nosferatu is a truly poetic, beatiful film that all its successors can only hope to achieve. Max Schreck as Count Orlock might look silly in stills taken out of context from the film. But in the film itself, the vampire is weirdly creepy and otherworldly down to even its movements. It seems so strange to talk wheteher this creature is in any way sexual, but one must acknowledge that it has a certain fascination around it. Enough so that the heroine is willing to keep the vampire with her until the dawn breaks.

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