The victims have been bled
Red velvet lines the black box
Bela Lugosi's dead
So, perhaps, is the depiction of the modern vampire in literature and film.
This has been on my mind since last night when I watched the film adaptation of 30 Days of Night. It was a perfectly acceptable vampire film, I thought. But like so many recent efforts in the genre, it fell short of what it could have been. "Scary" is the word that comes to mind. While the premise was interesting - vampires descend on the northernmost settlement in Alaska to feed on it's inhabitants during it's extended period of night - I thought it failed mostly for not accomplishing what John Carpenter did so well in The Thing. It didn't play enough with the crushing terror of the cold and isolation of the town while dealing with the worst monsters from our nightmares.
I'm a big fan of the genre...too much so, most likely, for my own good. I've read everything from the classics ("The Vampyre" by Polidori, "Feast of Blood - Varney the Vampyre", "Carmilla" and "Dracula"...of course) to the neo-classics by authors like Dan Simmons, Anne Rice, Brian Lumley, S.P Somtow, Tanith Lee, Robert R. McCammon, Nancy Collins, Stephen King, Suzy McKee Charnas, Fred Saberhagen and so many others. All have a certain appeal, but only a handful are truly terrifying.
I would single out King's "'salem's Lot" as one that succeeds on all fronts. Scary, smart and it works as a Horror story on so many levels. Vampires, haunted house, ghost town...you name it. Peter Straub's "Ghost Story" - not a vampire novel - works for me the same way. Probably my favorite works from either author, although King wrote so many great books back in the day that it's difficult to choose a favorite from his catalogue.
F. Paul Wilson recently wrote a violent and very scary vampire novel called "Midnight Mass". In his forward he mentioned that he was tired of reading about the vampire in modern literature as a romantic figure. A not-so thinly veiled jab at Anne Rice, if you ask me. He wanted to write a vampire novel that brought vampires back to their atavistic, evil roots. Even if that's not entirely true per the classics of the genre. I appreciated his attempt although he doesn't quite hold a candle to some of these other author's in terms of quality writing. It was still a scary ride.
It's a bit more difficult to find a truly scary film in the genre. The classics like Nosferatu (still chilling) and Dracula (still campy) set the tone for the following 70+ years of film vampires with most serving as blatant ripoffs. Some of the Hammer series of vampire films in the 60's/70's and their ilk were actually quite scary and atmospheric at times, but also campy and silly at others.
More recent offerings like George Romero's Martin, Near Dark, The Addiction, Fright Night, The Lost Boys and The Hunger all work on various levels, but none really scare the bejesus outta ya. Then there is the latest trend in vampire films...probably started by Wesley Snipes in Blade. The vampire as the sexy superhero in an action-packed CGI blockbuster. Underworld and it's sequel, the Russian Night Watch and Day Watch (much more human and interesting than their American/British brethren), Van Helsing, I Am Legend and the rest of the Blade films fall into this category. Like I said earlier...action films, not vampire films.
Where is the next scary vampire film or novel? 30 Days of Night was a game try, and the vampires were nothing if not evil incarnate. But I just wish that the filmmakers would have tried harder to give us the more complete feeling of isolation and terror that the premise promised.
PS - Remember to check out the the awful Alba-ness going on at the MovieGrenade. You'll be sorry you did. Huh?