May 11, 2008

Bela Lugosi's Dead

The bats have left the bell tower
The victims have been bled
Red velvet lines the black box
Bela Lugosi's dead
- Bauhaus (1979)


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?

19 comments:

Slyde said...

ive been waiting for you to watch this one...

when i watched it last month, i was prepared to hate it, and i honestly thought it was pretty cool.

not a GREAT film, but much better than i would have thought it could be.

And i thought the portayal of the vampires in this movie was one of the creepiest that has been done in quite a while...

Tequila Mockingbird said...

30 days of night annoyed me slightly. not a whole lot, but enough that i was WTF, get more shotguns.

B.E. Earl said...

Slyde - Like I said...it was acceptable, but it could have been so much better.

Tequila - I don't believe that they could have survived without freezing to death, but yeah...I know what you mean.

RW said...

Big YES on Nosferatu. Big big yes. Still the definitive, and I've always wondered how the nature of the Lugosi-style Dracula would play - camp included - if the vampire came on like Kinsky's rather than Lugosi. That changes the whole dynamic - which is why I say the silent version remains the true ultimate presentation. Plus also I are a snob so that might have something to do with it.

Elise said...

Oh my God!

I had an obsession with Vampires when I was about 15. Honestly, Varney scared me to death. The way his finger nails and teeth tapped on windows...

Contemporary Vampire films lack a certain something. I like Interview with a Vampire because the story was good. It didn't scare me at all so I wouldn't call it a horror.

30 Days of Night left me very disappointed, as have so many recent vampire movies.

If "scary" is what the film makers are trying to convey then they should seriously go all out to terrify the audience.

I almost fell asleep xx

B.E. Earl said...

RW - so you like the Herzog/Kinsky version of Nosferatu more so than the original? It's good, but I prefer the Murnau/Schreck version.

Elise - I'd love to see a contemporary version of Varney. T'would be interesting.

RW said...

Nevermind me. I of course meant the silent version but interpolated the other with that one. I suck.

B.E. Earl said...

RW - So does Count Orlok. ;)

white rabbit said...

Dracula is hugely under-rated as a novel. The whole genre is known as 'diseased resurrection myth' - at least to me...

B.E. Earl said...

White Rabbit - Isn't "vampire" easy to say and type? ;)

white rabbit said...

vmaprie

piece of piss :D

Jon said...

I actually wish I was a vampire.

It would be cool. And sick.

B.E. Earl said...

Jon - You know they don't really exist...right? ;)

lotus07 said...

You left our Blackula....the best African American vampire of all time. Now that was scary (not becuase he was the undead, but because someone actually financed it)

downtown guy said...

What did you think of Shadow of the Vampire?

B.E. Earl said...

Downtown guy - I thought Dafoe was great as Schreck, and it added to the creepiness of "Nosferatu" that he may have been batshit crazy - thinking he was really a vampire, but I don't consider it to be a vampire movie per se. I guess it should be what with the ending and all. I dunno.

Pretty good movie however you categorize it.

downtown guy said...

See, I would say it is certainly a vampire movie. The ending - him not being reflected in the mirror - isn't particularly ambiguous. But yeah, great movie either way.

Dingo said...

I liked it so much better than I thought I would but I thought it squandered some moments that could have been truly scary.

I am more of a zombie person myself but have read a lot of vampire fiction for my graduate work in gothic horror. I recommend reading I Am Legend. The movie sucked but I really enjoyed the book.

B.E. Earl said...

Dingo - Welcome! And I've read a bunch of Matheson, including I Am Legend. Great stuff!