Thursday, October 22, 2009

Suck It, Day 22 - My Best Friend is a Vampire

Before he was Greg House's best friend, before he was even a member of the Dead Poets Society, Robert Sean Leonard was a teenage vampire.

My Best Friend is a Vampire

Jeremy Capello is your average high school kid. Daydreaming about girls, shooting the crap with his best friend Ralph, etc. Until he delivers a bag of groceries to an abandoned old house in the neighborhood, where a beautiful woman just moved in. She invites Jeremy back, and Jeremy is thinking he's really got it going on. His friend encourages him to go, even though he ultimately has some misgivings, and the woman turns Jeremy into a vampire.

This is a movie that starts out pretty cool. There's some excellent location shooting in Houston, TX. And I like the idea of vampirism as simply another kind of lifestyle, one that has some serious adjustments. I can even tolerate the heavy-handed metaphor with the vampire hunters persecuting something they don't understand. The movie falls apart in the end, though, and the last scenes are especially painful.

If you're a fan of RSL, though, the first half is pretty watchable. This isn't a ground breaker, but it's kind of fun in its own way.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Suck It, Day 21 - Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter

Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter

When I found out there was actually a movie called Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter, I needed no further information. My heart had been won. And Jesus fighting vampires with the help of a luchador? That can't POSSIBLY be anything less than stupendously awesome, right?

Sadly, it can. Here's another example of what, at its core, was probably a good idea at one time. But it's executed so poorly that you can barely tolerate it. It starts off well. Jesus is chillaxing at the beach when suddenly he's beset upon by a bunch of daywalking vamps. He busts out his mad ninja skills and forces them to retreat before heading into town and shaving off his trademark hippie hair. It's game on, yo.

There is a fairly effective musical number. Kind of lame-larious, but better than you might expect given the production value of what has already passed. Jesus sings, dances, heals, and generally rocks. But there is business to attend to - the business of staking vamps. These vamps have been targeting lesbians ("they're deviants; no one will miss them"), which doesn't sit well with Jesus, who is like way liberal. I don't mean that in a condescending way at all, by the way - however, I do think that this movie tries way, way too hard on the "can't we all just get along" front.

And that's about all the plot there is. Jesus is helped along the way by a woman named Mary Magnum (get it?), who is far too forward with our Lord and Savior for my comfort (despite the fact that, as we learn at the end, she prefers the ladies). And, as I mentioned above, he also joins forces with a Mexican wrestler named El Santo. Oh, and he fights some atheists, which is kind of hysterical in a meta way, but ultimately kind of meh.

This kind of tries to be "so bad it's good," but it's ... really kind of horrible. It's not even the subject matter. The acting is atrocious, as if (and I suspect this may be the case) the director cast all his friends instead of people who had even a scrap of acting ability. It's shot very much like a YouTube fail video, and everyone in it seems to be varying shades of Goth. Ah well, I guess they can't all be winners.

A sample for you, the musical number, which is indeed better than anything else in the film. Watch, and make of that fact what you will.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Suck It, Day 20 - Buffy the Vampire Slayer (movie and series)

Since the dawn of man, the vampires have walked among us, killing, feeding... The only one with the strength or skill to stop their heinous evil is the slayer -- she who bears the birthmark, the mark of the coven. Trained by the watcher, one slayer dies, and the next is chosen.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (movie and television show)

You can't talk vampires without mentioning the name of Joss Whedon, the guy who wrote a pretty good script that became a not-so-great movie but inspired him to do a stake-TASTIC television show. I pride myself on the fact that, before it became cool to quote Joss, my college roommates and I used to quote this movie all the time. "Nice ensemble; what a homeless." ... "Excuse much, rude or anything?" ... and just imagine two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank saying "Ugh, get out of my facial."

There had been tons of vampire movies about teenagers, but none quite like this. There have been vampire slayers and hunters, most notably Van Helsing, but none who were destined from birth to do it, given special powers to help them do it. Not to mention forced to do it alone. The quote at the top of the post is from the opening narration at the movie, but it very closely resembles the voice-over that opened each Buffy episode of the first season. In fact, for all its high-school-movie cheese, the movie remarkably resembles the first season of Whedon's show. Aside from the regular vampires, there was an ominous Master Vampire who Buffy has dreams about, is psychically connected to, and is not immediately ready to fight. There are other echoes of the movie in the television show as well. From the superficial (Buffy as a cheerleader) to the stylistic (martial arts fighting style) to the relationships between certain characters (Buffy's watcher being annoyed with her, but recognizing her as special, more special perhaps than any of the others before her).

I do have an immense fondness for the movie, but you won't get any argument from me that the television show was leaps and bounds more satisfying and richly conceived. The "high school is hell" theme was a brilliant one, and the idea that the Hellmouth attracted not just vampires but all sorts of hellish creatures gave the show a wealth of sources for villainy - a witchy mom, praying mantis lady, hyena-students, zombies, the fishy swim team, the coma kid who makes everyone's nightmares come true, the Inca mummy girl, the evil robot stepfather, eggs that hatch arachnoid babies, Faith, the Mayor, the alternate universe where vampires rule Sunnydale, the Initiative, Adam, the creepy voice-stealing Gentlemen, Glory the god from hell, the demon who makes everyone sing and dance, the super-geek trio, a very mean and nasty preacher named Caleb, and the First Evil. Among LOTS of others. And the way evil intersected with these characters' lives and their relationships was (mostly) extremely well done. Never more so than when the supernatural took a complete back seat to reality after a tragic event in season five.

I'm one of the rare fans who pretty much likes all the seasons, even later ones. (I was least enamored of S4.) And there are several standout episodes.

"Nightmares" - Everyone's nightmares start coming true, and while some of them are scary and some rather funny, a few are rather poignant, such as Giles's fear of Buffy's death due to his failure, plus Buffy's fear that her parents' divorce is all her fault.

"Passion" - Great use of narration with Angelus here, and his revenge against a certain character is truly cruel on a lot of levels.

"I Only Have Eyes For You" - The ghost of a former student forces various people to reenact his murder-suicide, including Buffy and Angel. The role reversal at the end is especially interesting.

"Helpless" - (I thought this was called "Eighteen," but apparently not.) My favorite episode ever and one that tests and ultimately strengthens Buffy's relationship with Giles. Last scene ("father's love") kills me.

"The Zeppo" - Xander gets very few opportunities to really shine, but this episode belongs to him, while everyone else prepares for the apocalypse in the background and, for his protection, relegates him to a non-participant, allowing him to have his own deadly adventure.

"Hush" - Stupid Whedon tricks are rarely stupid, and this mostly silent episode is a real slice of genius.

"The Body" - Yeah. Just ... yeah.

"The Gift" - Nearly as emotional as "The Body," for different reasons. And oh man, Giles's scene with Ben is a thing of beauty.

"Once More, With Feeling" - Duh. It's on everyone's faves list. Everyone does a great job here with the song and dance thing, but standouts are Tony Head, James Marsters, and Amber Benson. And of course the Spuffy-lover in me digs the end. :P

"Normal Again" - The supergeeks send a demon to make Buffy believe that everything she knows is pretend. This was pretty clever, I thought, especially given Buffy's revelation that she had been taken to a mental institution when she first started seeing vampires. And the ambiguous ending is just brilliant.

"Grave" - Oh, Xander.

"Dirty Girls" - First appearance of Caleb (Nathan Fillion) and the point where "shit just got real," as they say. A lot of S7 blends together with all the Potentials and training and research and whatnot, but this was a rare standout.


Here's a fairly epic compilation of all seven seasons of the show, but be warned - 'TIS SPOILERY!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Suck It! Day 19 - The Fearless Vampire Killers

[Note: I put this on my list well before its director was recently arrested in Zurich. It's a pretty fantastic movie, and I see no reason I shouldn't write about it and about Mr. Polanski as a filmmaker and an actor. However, my opinions about him as a man and as a criminal are, I observe, unpopular at best and most likely unwelcome; and as such, I have no interest in discussing them in this post.]

The Fearless Vampire Killers, or:
Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are In My Neck

After the huge success of his psychological thriller Repulsion, Roman Polanski shifted gears completely and did a film that perhaps has more of himself in it than anything else he made. His work as a whole is generally seen as quite dark, and often bleak, but The Fearless Vampire Killers is a much sillier and fun Polanski than we're used to.

We begin with Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran) and his apprentice Alfred (played by Polanski himself), riding toward Transylvania, on the hunt for vampires. They stop at an inn in a small town - Abronsius having barely survived the cold ride. They meet the innkeeper's daughter Sarah (Sharon Tate), who frequently occupies their supposedly private bathroom to indulge in bubble baths and who the clumsy and shy Alfred falls in love with. This particular part of the story would repeat itself in real life as Polanski and Tate began a romance on the set which would eventually lead to their marriage.

Our heroes, the vampire killers, however, turn out to be very inept indeed. Far from eradicating a vampire problem, they in fact make it worse, and end up responsible for spreading the evil to the rest of the world.

Critics seem to measure this film, as a horror-comedy, on the Young Frankenstein scale, where it quite obviously falls short, as there are precious few films as perfect as that one. However, The Fearless Vampire Killers is great silly fun, with a slightly more subued comedic sensibility. No less funny, though, just perhaps in a different way.

Perhaps I'd feel differently about it if it weren't so absolutely gorgeous-looking, with sumptuous colors and sets and costumes. You'd think you were watching Doctor Zhivago. It definitely has a Russian fairy-tale quality to it, especially with the wintry setting, and I think that actually contributes to the humor. It's as if the movie is trying to be an epic, but much like its bumbling heroes, it falls quite short of its romantic ideals and makes you laugh at it instead. Which is, in the case of this film, the point.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Suck It! Day 18 - John Carpenter's Vampires

I know I skipped 17, but I'll get back to it. I wasn't quite prepared for what I had planned. This week I'm going to be looking at vampire films that focus on hunters and slayers. Starting with a slice of horror-master John Carpenter (best known for his masterpieces Halloween and The Thing).


So, the rough story is that Jack (James Woods) is the leader of a group of Vatican-sponsored vampire slayers. They find a nest of vampires in New Mexico and do their stake-and-bake routine, meaning that they stake the vamps, and then for good measure hook them to a wire and drag them out into the sunlight to burn to a crisp. And burn they do. None of this sparkle nonsense, they light up like gasoline on a bonfire. It's kind of beautiful. Until a super-duper master vamp (master vamps are kind of like Buffy's uber-vamps) shows up and makes with the blood and guts, killing the entire group of slayers (save two who are elsewhere), the priest who is part of their team (remember they're sponsored by the church), and everyone else hanging out with them at this hotel they've sort of commandeered.

Jack, along with the lone survivor of his team, Montoya (Daniel Baldwin), and a hooker named Katrina that survived (Sheryl Lee) hit the road to try and find the master vamp, named Valek. (Valek, by the way, is played by Thomas Ian Griffith, who was the be-ponytailed villain in Karate Kid III.) Jack has learned that Valek is the first known case of vampirism and that he was accidentally made a vampire by the church in a botched exorcism. He's looking for something called the Black Cross, which will make him impervious to sunlight, in other words unstoppable.

The plot of this film is less interesting to me than its concept of vampires. The regular ones are essentially vermin, no personality or charisma, more like traditional zombies. They don't even have super strength, and crosses and garlic have no effect. Then there's this higher level of vampires, the masters, who are strong and who also have a psychic connection with the humans they bite. Then there's Valek, who's more than a master; he's the centuries-old forefather of all vampires, and his strength is unreal. He sticks his hand in a guys belly and rips up, splitting the guy right in half up the middle.

I also like the notion of the slayers, not as these special chosen people, nobly carrying out their duty, but hard-living sumbitches who suit the wild west feel of the movie rather well. I also like that the movie ends before it's really over. I mean, the Big Bad has been destroyed, but there's still a lot of slaying to do.

This is not one of the better films of all time, but it is a rather interesting take on the vampire lore and the notion of vampire slayers. Check out the trailer below.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Suck It! Day 16 - Let the Right One In

I know I've gabbed about this movie a lot in the last year (well, twice, anyway), but it obviously deserves a place here, and so excuse me while I revel in my adoration for...

Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In)

Oskar is a twelve-year-old boy who gets bullied at school. What looks like a father and his daughter move in next door, and he makes friends with the girl, Eli. Eli is twelve as well, but she's been twelve a long time. Eli is quick to tell Oskar that they can't be friends, but they develop a friendship soon enough, and eventually Eli agrees to "go steady" with Oskar.

Eli as a vampire is not vicious or demonic most of the time. She's just a girl who has a sickness and needs a particular kind of medicine, as it were. When she feeds, however, something changes. She becomes like an animal. Oskar is afraid and a little repulsed when he finds out what she is and what she has to do to survive. And Eli is left alone when her "father" (not actually her father, but more on that in a minute) offers her his own blood because he can no longer kill for her (as he's been doing throughout the film). Oskar has a deep affection for Eli despite his misgivings about her abnormality, most memorably after he taunts her about having to be invited into his home and she shows him what will happen if she comes in without the invitation.

And Eli is a rather kind, compassionate friend for Oskar, which is something he needs. She encourages him to stand up to the bullies at his school, and he eventually does, hitting a particularly nasty little boy so hard he becomes deaf in one ear. This creates the conflict that comes to a head in the film's climax, where the kid's older brother seeks retaliation.

The vampire lore is treated rather loosely in this film and tweaked for the demands of the story in most cases. We're not told how Eli became the way she is - presumably she was bitten, as we see another character take on vampiric traits after being bitten by Eli. She's not dead, as many vampire tales establish the host body to be. But she is rather strong, and has an animal-like ability to climb.
On one level, this is a sweet love story, but there's another, much more melancholy layer to it that's not explicitly stated, but is obvious once you follow the logic through. See, Oskar is going to age, while Eli will not. Their relationship will cease to be a romance once the age gap widens, and Oskar will be just like the man Eli lived with in the beginning - appearing to strangers to be her father and forced to kill so that she can have blood. The ending seems happy and sweet, with Oskar on a train with Eli hidden in his trunk and the two of them passing Morse code messages to each other. But once you think about what the future must hold for them, the story takes on another tone altogether.

This is SUCH a wonderful movie. Perhaps the greatest film ever to be made about vampires, and I don't use that superlative lightly. It's being remade in English, and I'm glad they're at least casting kids the same age as the Swedish version instead of smexy 20-somethings. But I can't imagine a better version than this one.

For your viewing pleasure, the famous swimming pool scene, wherein we learn what happens when you mess with Eli's best friend. (Somewhat graphic, but mostly suggested, off-screen violence.)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Another great discovery in this bloodsucking journey, Guillermo del Toro's wonderful Cronos.


Do not believe the poster and DVD cover art for this film. There is no busty female who gets bitten by a gold bug. The gold bug is real enough, but the only people who use it are some crusty old men. *shakes head at silly movie marketing*

Okay, so first we get this prologue. It tells us about an alchemist/watchmaker in the 16th century, fleeing the Spanish Inquisition (apparently, you CAN expect it *rimshot*), who was trying to create a device that would give him the key to eternal life. 400 years later, in 1932, a building in Germany collapsed, and under the rubble lay a strange man with marble skin - the alchemist who had lived all this time. He had succeeded in making the device, but though many people looked for it, it was never found. Until...

Many decades later, an old antique dealer named Jesús Gris finds it in the base of a statue. Not knowing what it is, he dusts it off and examines it. He winds the device, a gold scarab, and its spidery legs suddenly pop out and clutch his hand while a sharp needle pierces his skin and injects him with something. We later discover that there is some kind of insect within the device itself, which is producing whatever substance is being injected.

Some familiar themes start to present themselves, but with interesting variations. Jesús starts to look and younger the more he uses the device - his hair becomes thicker, his wrinkles disappear, he's more sexual - though he never actually becomes a young man (perhaps he would have if he had used the device properly or for a longer period of time). Oh yeah, and he also starts to thirst for blood, though like many essentially good people who become vampires, he doesn't take to this at all. He and his wife have a granddaughter who lives with them, and she knows her grandfather is using the device and is concerned about him - at one point she even hides the device from him inside her teddy bear.

But someone else is looking for the device, and has been looking for it many years. A rich but very sick man named Dieter de la Guardia has collected all kinds of artifacts from the alchemist, in hopes of stumbling onto the device. He eventually buys the statue where Jesús found it, though Jesús has already removed it. This leads to a confrontation, since de la Guardia has the notebook were the alchemist wrote very specific instructions on how to use it and what the cost was of using it. Jesús, unaware all this time that there were rules, has just been using it as best he could decipher on his own.

There's a rather gross scene where Jesús, who is believed to be dead at one point, wakes up in a morgue and escapes, his mouth having been sewn shut. He also finds out that his skin, which was damaged and dead-looking, can be peeled off to reveal the marble skin that we saw on the alchemist when he died.

This movie is pretty spectacular. Probably my favorite aspect is Jesús's relationship with his granddaughter, Aurora. Del Toro's movies have the best movie children. He hates Hollywood movies with silly one-liner-spewing kids, and always makes a point to show how complicated children are, as well as how unsafe it is to be a child. See The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth for more awesomely complicated kids. He's not afraid to put kids in danger in his films. Aurora is like Jesús's little Gal Friday. She keeps his secret about the Cronos device. She's not afraid when she sees him after he's supposedly dead. She even tags along when he goes to confront de la Guardia. And it's Jesús's temptation to feed on her that convinces him to do the right thing in the end.

Fantastic movie. If you can stand a little grossness, I'd definitely recommend it (though it can be a bit hard to find).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Suck It! Day 14 - From Dusk Till Dawn

Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino bring you maybe the grodiest vampire movie of all time. With a tattooed George Clooney.

From Dusk Till Dawn

This movie is actually two movies, if you ask me. The first half is about Seth (George Clooney) and Richie (Quentin Tarantino), two brothers on the lam with the loot from their latest bank robbery, on their way to Mexico. They blow up a convenience store and take a father and his two teenage children hostage so they have a front until they cross the border and meet their contact. Director Robert Rodriguez (and his screenwriter, Tarantino) spend a lot of time here, getting to know these characters. And by the way, can I just say that there are very few people I find less threatening than George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino? Maybe it's just all the years since this film came out in 1996 and all the roles we've seen Clooney play, but it's quite strange to see him play a mean, badass criminal with a potty mouth.

And just when you've forgotten to ask "wait, wasn't there supposed to be some vampires in this thing?" the gang arrives at the biker bar I will not name because I hate the "T" word that is used to indicate breasts. The bar looks like a pretty rough and rowdy place - or perhaps your average Saturday night out in Austin. But when Salma Hayek takes the stage with her snake, things take a sudden - and I mean SUDDEN - turn. A suddenness that would not have been possible without that hour of a totally different movie.

The second half of the film is a fun house ride of blood, viscera, and severed limbs. I was somewhat surprised to find out that Tom Savini (who has an acting role in the film) was not involved with the gore effects. It's pretty gory nonetheless. Most memorable to me is the guitar made out of parts - the body is a human torso and the neck is a leg. While the bar patrons are being picked off one by one by the strippers and bartenders (among them Danny "Machete" Trejo), all of whom are vampires, the crowd whittles down considerably. There's a fun little scene where the survivors at that point go through the rules and what can kill a vampire, wondering at the same time if what they know is really true or if they've just gotten made-up lore from movies. A preacher (Harvey Keitel), who's lost his faith because of the death of his wife, regains it in the face of this nightmare, and soon it's down to Clooney, Keitel, and the two kids (the daughter played by Juliette Lewis). There's a pretty wicked showdown, and I love the last shot of the film - as everyone goes their separate ways, we pan back to reveal what's at the back of the biker bar. A mostly sunken ancient Aztec temple, which seems to have been the vampires' haven for hundreds of years, and where the wreckage of centuries of victims sits rotting.

Here's one of the trailers, which surprisingly includes Clooney dropping the f-bomb twice (must be a red-band trailer), but really gives you the feel for the two halves of the movie.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Suck It! Day 13 - Martin

From a vampire who makes zombies (Rabid, from a couple days ago) to a vampire film by the zombie guru himself, George A. Romero. Between making what are possibly the greatest films of the zombie sub-genre, 1968's Night of the Living Dead and 1978's Dawn of the Dead, Romero made, in turn, a romantic comedy, a movie about witches, a biohazard disaster film, and today's film - a subversive take on vampires.

I have to say, I've been seeing a lot of these films for the first time, and this film has been one of my favorite discoveries.


Martin looks very young, probably a teenager, but he's not. He tells us he's 84 years old, and that he needs blood. We watch him, in the first few minutes of the film, drug a woman, rape her while she's unconscious, cut her wrist with a razor blade (leaving a few more blades and an open bottle of pills to make it look like she committed suicide), and drink her blood. He repeatedly protests that he doesn't want to hurt anyone; he just needs blood, and he tells us he's always very careful, which is why he's been able to live so long without being caught.

He goes to stay with his uncle, a superstitious old man who is aware of Martin's "condition" and is determined to destroy this Nosferatu, hopefully saving his soul before he has to do so. He hangs crucifixes and garlic around the house, but they have no effect on Martin, who tells his uncle again and again that "there's no magic."

There are fantasy sequences in the film, where Martin and/or the uncle conjure more traditional images of vampirism. The fangs, the cape, the seductions, the stakes -- even an old-fashioned mob with torches. These serve as a kind of send-up of the classic vampire lore and make the film just as much a parody of many of our favorite films of the sub-genre as a genuine entry in the sub-genre itself. The film is also peppered with calls Martin makes to a radio station, calling himself "The Count" and - under the cloak of anonymity - telling everyone what his life is like as a vampire and how different it is from the movies.

The best part about this film is that it may, in fact, not be a vampire film at all. Is Martin really a vampire? Or is he merely a deluded psychopath? He certainly doesn't show any of the traditional signs of vampirism - no aversion to sunlight or garlic or crosses, no above-average strength (he really struggles to overpower the woman in the first scene), and he even eats regular food. Indeed, the only signs we have that would confirm he's really a vampire are that he drinks blood and that he claims to be much older than he looks. This ambiguity makes for an ironic and pretty brilliant ending, and one that fits well with the rest of Romero's works.

Fun fact: Special effects goremeister Tom Savini has an acting role in this, and also did the effects, marking the first collaboration of many between Savini and Romero.

This is a great little film, definitely one of Romero's best.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Suck It! Day 12 - Rabid

Man, nobody does horror like Cronenberg. The Fly. The Brood. Scanners. Videodrome. And today's movie, Rabid.

In 1977, when Rabid was released, Cronenberg had already established himself as a poet of what would come to be called "body horror." Characters in his films had things happen to their bodies that were beyond abnormal and into the realm of "dear God, why is this happening to me??!?!"


Rose (former porn star Marilyn Chambers) and her boyfriend are in a horrible motorcycle crash. She is critically injured and taken to the nearest medical facility, not strictly a hospital, more an experimental plastic surgery clinic. The skin-grafting goes surprisingly well, but there's an unseen side effect. She develops a brand new body orifice in her armpit which hides what I can only describe as stinger-penis. Let me run that by you again, an armpit-stinger-penis.

She rips off the IV that has been her only source of food, because of course she can only eat one thing now. Blood. But not only does she not have the fangs of a vampire, she doesn't bite and doesn't even drink the blood. With her mouth, that is. Her MO is that she hugs her victim super-tight, and the armit-stinger-penis stabs them and draws blood (but not enough to kill them). After each encounter, her victims cannot remember the incident at all, but they all eventually turn into rabid zombies. And suddenly, what began as a vampire body horror show has now become an apocalyptic zombie flick. The city falls into chaos until the virus can be contained and eventually Rose becomes just another body on the death heap.

I like this movie a lot, partly because it breaks pretty much all the traditions of the vampire lore (and manages to be half a zombie movie). And unlike The Series Which Shall Not Be Named, it does it in an interesting and meaningful way. Like most of Cronenberg's films, once you've seen it you see other people, you see yourself, and you see your own skin in a different light.

A Serious Man

A Serious Man

When you watch a film by Joel and Ethan Coen, you know you're watching a work of art. Every frame of their films is beautiful and full of detail, even when you're only looking at an actor's face in front of a blank wall. Even their not-so-monumental films are worth seeing, if just for their fascinating experiments with style.

I'm not sure how this film will stack up against the rest of the year - there's still so much to come (and I'm literally counting down the days to Precious) - but A Serious Man feels like the sparse feel of No Country for Old Men paired with the absurdity of Fargo. With the quality of both of those films. Certainly one of the best of the year.

Larry Gopnick doesn't have too complicated a life, but he soon gets the trials of Job heaped on him. It starts with a student who requests that his grade be changed from an F to a passing grade and spirals into you wouldn't even believe what. And just when it seems that things are starting to look up again in the final scene, there are hints at even worse trials to come. Trials we never find out about because the movie fades out and the credits roll, leaving the new trials to our imagination because they could probably be a whole movie unto themselves.

There's a little vignette at the beginning of the film, entirely in Yiddish, that seems to have nothing to do with the rest of it. This is a matter of no small consequence to the many critics who have reviewed this film. For my part, I link it to the first scene with Larry, where he tells his failing student that you have to get the math in order to get the physics. The story about the Schrodinger's cat is anecdotal; if you don't understand the math, you can't understand the physics. I think the Yiddish-language vignette is the math to the rest of the movie's physics. Both seem to be meditations on how we (or more particularly, the Jewish characters of the film) deal with Fortune or the things that befall us.

Speaking of which, yes, this is a pretty heavily Jewish-centric film. But I don't think it's alienating to people who are not Jewish, and I feel that, as a non-Jew, I can state that with some authority. There seemed to be several Jewish people in the audience I saw the film with, and I could observe that they were amused by nuances and layers that people less familiar with that culture likely missed. I'm okay with that, and I think the movie works accepting that that will be the case. These characters, like the characters in most of the Coens' work, speak their own cultural language, but in this case, I think you can understand the "physics" without fully understanding the "math."

An Education

Took a couple days off of the vamps and decided to see a couple of current movies. It's getting to be that time of year where everything seems to be essential viewing.

An Education

I saw this out of a sense of duty, not wanting to skip it and then have it show up in all the awards races, but I wasn't excited about it. All the hype about the film and the performance of Carey Mulligan had sort of crashed in on itself by the time I had a chance to see it.

I am happy to say, though, that this is indeed a wonderful film. From the outstandig opening credits sequence - Floyd Cramer Jr's infectious "On the Rebound" sets the tone and period of the story exceedingly well - I was in love. And all the praise for Mulligan's performance was not undeserved. I hesitate to join the throng proclaiming her the new Audrey Hepburn - comparisons like that bother me - but it's almost irresistible, watching her in those 60s costumes. Mulligan is asked to do a lot here. She must sometimes be very adult, while at other times still a child (her character is 16). And she's the kind of clever, precocious teenager that I wish I'd been (love affairs aside - or maybe not).

There are loads of juicy supporting roles. Peter Sarsgaard as David (though there's some argument as to whether - for the sake of award campaigning - to call him a lead or supporting player; I'd call him co-lead with Mulligan) is really phenomenal, and a quite convincing Englishman. Alfred Molina is outstanding as the overbearing priority-challenged father of Mulligan's character Jenny. And perhaps my favorite of the bunch, Olivia Williams (who I fall harder and harder for each week on Dollhouse) as one of Jenny's teachers, Miss Stubbs. Seeing her through Jenny's eyes, first as the speccy schoolmarm that's the last kind of person Jenny wants to be, then as an admirable and educated woman of independence, was possibly my favorite part of the movie. And don't miss Emma Thompson, whose headmistress character is only in a few small scenes, but her presence is fully felt - and oh, what a cold-hearted bitch she can be.

I love how reserved this film is, never stooping to show us the lurid details of Jenny's affair with David. And I love the layered meaning of the title. The movie is not just about Jenny being educated in the ways of adulthood and the sometime cruelty of love (not to mention men). Ultimately, it's about the value of an actual education, in Jenny's case potential acceptance at Oxford, despite the limited career prospects for women English scholars at that time. Also, I have to give some love to Nick Hornby for a very well-written script - delicious characters, pithy dialogue, and a well-constructed story.

My one complaint about the film is the very last scene, which I won't say too much about for obvious reasons, but which felt jarring (at least to me). There had been no voice-over narration up to this point, not that I have any objection to voice-over narration at all, and it just felt weird to hear Jenny suddenly commenting on the proceedings when she hadn't done so before the last 30 seconds of the film. What she's telling us would have played, I think, much better if the movie had simply found a way to show us instead of Jenny telling us.

It is a fairly exquisite film, though. Definitely on my Best Picture shortlist for the year (and may perhaps find its way onto my Top 10, though don't hold me to that).

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Suck it! Day 11 - Carmilla and Vampyres

There has always been an element of sexualization in vampire stories, and some of the stories featuring male vampires have had a homoerotic tinge, but lesbian vampires have been a genuine staple of the vampire canon, dating back further than you might think. Obviously, these tales were ripe for harvesting by the exploitation flicks of the 1960s and 70s. But they got their start in the 19th century and have found their way into more mainstream horror as well.

The source of this tradition is a novella by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu called Carmilla, preceding Stoker's Dracula by fifteen years. The story is told from the POV of a young woman named Laura, whose strange houseguest, Carmilla, turns out to be a vampire. Carmilla preys exclusively (in the novel, at least) on female victims, and she develops a very close friendship with Laura, so close that the lesbian overtones are unmistakable.

Le Fanu's novella has found its way into several films, and today I submit a lesbian two-fer. First, the pretty faithful 1970 adaptation of the story by the Hammer house of horror, The Vampire Lovers. Then, a film that is not so much an adaptation of the novella, but a more general exploration of lesbian vampires, called Vampyres (or Daughters of Dracula) - Bonus Factoid: This one was one of the films screened at the very first Butt-Numb-A-Thon.

The Vampire Lovers

I don't like to call this exploitation, though it does contain a fair amount of sensuality (most notably in the form of bared bosoms), because it lacks the seedy feel of most exploitation fare. It's also rather beautifully shot. It is, however, definitely a standard bodice-ripping, bosom-heaving melodrama. It's quite a faithful, perhaps even expanded, rendition of the book, and the performances are uniformly strong for this type of film. I mean, when you've got Peter Cushing, you're halfway home, am I right?

Some variations on the theme - Carmilla/Marcilla/Mircalla, the vampire, can freely walk about during the day, though the sunlight is too strong for her eyes. She doesn't eat, but she does drink wine - red, of couse. There's the usual aversion to garlic and crosses, and she even reacts rather strongly to the singing of Christian hymns. Something that makes me laugh is a line of voice-over in the pre-credits sequence, wherein the narrator matter-of-factly informs us of the two ways to kill a vampire - in this case, stake through the heart or beheading - as if he were reciting from a textbook. And, like Dracula, Carmilla has an almost Svengali-esque hold over her victims.

Vampyres (or Daughters of Dracula)

The only relation this film has to the Carmilla story is that it also explores the lesbian vampire trope. Vampyres' vampires, Fran and Marian, live in a rundown manor house with an excellent wine cellar, and they lure passing travelers back to the house, seducing them, plying them with wine, drinking their blood, and ultimately killing them. They don't bite. Instead they cut their victims with a knife or shard of glass, and drink the blood from the wound. And when we see it, the blood-drinking is very violent and sensual.

There is a subplot with a vacationing couple who have parked their camper near the house and see the women lurking around (it isn't explained, but the women seem not to be able to stray far from the house). The woman and man are the classic believer and skeptic, respectively. She is suspicious and afraid of the women; he thinks she has an overactive imagination.

An interesting element of the story is that the vampires don't really have any supernatural characteristics. They don't have special powers, and they don't have any sort of restrictions, other than being bound to the house and not eating (though like Carmilla, they do drink wine). And there's no knowledge base for how they can be killed. In fact, unless I missed it, I don't think they are even dead in the end.

This movie might strike some as little more than soft-core porn. It is very frankly sexual, but it's fairly intellectual as well. It raises all kinds of questions that it leaves the viewers to try and work out on their own. Is Ted the man who shot Fran and Miriam in the very first scene, did that bind them to the house as ghosts, and is that the connection he has with Fran? What's the connection, if any, between them and the vacationing woman (who, I might add, has one of the most intense death scenes I've ever seen)?

I can only imagine what a hit this must have been at BNAT 1 at around 6am.

See you tomorrow, when we'll see what a man named Cronenberg can add to the mix.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Suck It! Day 10 - Ceremonia sangrienta

Ceremonia sangrienta (Blood Castle)

Today's movie is a bit peculiar. I'm not fond of it, but aside from two more recent film projects based on its subject (one of which I can't get my hands on and the other of which has not been released), it's one of the few films widely available that's actually centered on this person. And I don't think a discussion of vampires is complete without covering the very real Hungarian countess Elizabeth (or Erzsébet) Báthory.

Even if vampires were real, Countess Báthory would not qualify, as even the most sensational accounts of her life never accuse her of drinking or otherwise consuming anyone's blood, the most basic element of vampire lore. But her story is often compared to that of Vlad the Impaler, the also real personage on whom the character of Dracula was based. This was more a marketing phenomenon than anything else, as the the most famous myth about her life - that of her having bathed in the blood of virgins in order to retain her youth and beauty - emerged into the cultural consciousness about the same time as the vampire scares of 18th century Europe, and when vampire stories gained popularity in the 1970s, it was common to promote a work of fiction by linking it to the Dracula story. Hammer films would release a film based on Countess Báthory and the blood bathing myth in 1970, called Countess Dracula.

The real Erzsébet Báthory was born into the 16th century and died in the 17th, and she might be the most accomplished female serial killer of all time. Reports of how many women she tortured and killed range from the nearly 40 she was officially tried for to 650, the names of which were supposed to have been written in a diary by Erzsébet herself. Over 300 witnesses gave testimony of all manner of atrocities she committed against young women, some of which was likely hearsay, but many of which were corroborated several times over among the witnesses. The girls were reportedly beaten, over long periods of time, often to death. Their hands, and sometimes faces and genitals, were burned or otherwise mutilated. Some were stripped naked, wet down, and forced outdoors to freeze to death. Some had surgery performed on them, many times resulting in death. And they were supposedly starved and sexually abused.

To say she was a nasty piece of work is an understatement, to say the least, but there is little of actual fact that is really known about her. I'm sure some of these things, or perhaps others just as bad, must be true, otherwise she wouldn't have the reputation she does. The blood bath, at least, seems to be a complete invention, though. There is a story about her slapping a young girl so hard that the girl's blood flew onto her skin, and that she remarked that the skin that was touched by the blood looked younger or something. Who knows if that's even true? The blood bathing, though, is probably not. It captured people's imaginations, however, and it's a part of her persona to this day.

ANYWAY, the movie for today, Blood Castle, purports to be about a descendant of Erzsébet (also named Erzsébet), not the cruel Countess herself (shall I call her Erzsébet Prime?). There is a reference to "the other Erzsébet," which is the inspiration for the current Erzsébet bathing in the blood of three or four girls in the village. There IS a vampiric element to the story aside from this. A man is accused of being a vampire, and there is a rather hilarious scene in which the court interrogates his corpse (I mean, what the WHAT?!?!). Erzsébet's husband, thought to be dead, is also accused of being a vampire, but it turns out Erzsébet faked his death and was forcing him to bring girls to her. There is also a strange scene where a couple of girls collect the blood of a bird because it supposedly firms the breasts.

On the whole, this Erzsébet is more sympathetic than her predecessor. She feels guilt about what she's done and confesses to everything, leading to her being walled up in the castle where we see her rotting corpse some time later.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Suck It! Day Nine - Black Sunday

Black Sunday

Before Dario Argento, there was another Italian maestro of horror named Mario Bava. Black Sunday was his directorial debut, and he would go on to influence a number of genres other than horror (the fantastic Diabolik was possibly the first film to bring an adult sensibility to comic book movies).

It was also the first major film for the iconic Gothic goddess Barbara Steele (pictured above). She plays a dual role in this - the vampire-witch Asa and her descendant Katia. Asa spends much of the movie lying in her crypt, causing all kinds of hell to break loose just with her mind. But Steele's performance, both as the wicked Asa and the virtuous Katia, is something to behold, especially for a first starring role.

This reminds me a lot of the story of Dracula, and perhaps that is more than incidental, since Francis Ford Coppola borrowed several set-pieces directly from this film for his Dracula film. But there are other similarities, such as the villain doing most of their nefarious deeds through others while they are too weakened to do much themselves.

Several of the elements of vampire lore are here. Asa's coffin has a window, over which sits a cross - to keep her from getting up and causing trouble. She has to be destroyed by fire. And of course she is dependent on blood. On the other hand, we're not shown she has any aversion to sunlight or garlic, and she doesn't seem to have the ability (or perhaps she just lacks the inclination) to turn other people into vampires.

If you ask people about this movie, the thing that will most likely leap to mind is the opening scene. Asa is about to be burned at the stake, but before that, she is branded and has a mask placed on her face. Not just any mask, The Mask of Satan, which has metal spikes all up on the inside. They place it on her face and lodge it into place with a huge hammer. Later edits of this movie would cut out the shot where blood spews out of the mask when the hammer meets it. Pretty intense stuff for 1960, as were many other gory (for the time) scenes in the film, and it was even banned in the UK for a long time. One critic wrote of the movie at the time "As a setting for unadulterated horror, it will leave its audiences yearning for that quiet, sunny little motel in Psycho."

I think that's a compliment, whether it was intended as such or not. The whole movie is on YouTube, if you're interested, but here's a little taste, along with some commentary by some well-known horror fans.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Suck It, Day Eight - Innocent Blood

Eleven years after writing the book on horror-comedy with An American Werewolf in London, John Landis turned from werewolves to vampires with 1992's Innocent Blood.

Innocent Blood

French actress Anne Paillaud (La Femme Nikita) plays Marie, and she tells us that in her condition - she never outright says "vampire" that I recall - she finds comfort in sensory pleasures, such as food and sex. She tells us she has very particular tastes, and we eventually surmise that not only can she only eat blood, she only feeds on criminals, never "innocent blood." She scours the papers looking for prey, and sees headlines about a crime boss. So she decides she's in the mood for a little Italian.

She kills one of his cronies first, and tells us her two rules - 1) Never play with the food, and 2) Always finish the food. By finish she means that she has to sever the spinal cord, so that the nervous system is dead. Otherwise the person shows signs of being dead, but will awake soon as a vampire. And herein lies the interesting twist on the vampire lore. Most other vampires' central organ is the heart - it's what pumps the blood and it's where you have to stab them in order to kill them. These vamps have a functioning nervous system as, simultaneously, their life support and their weak spot. It's almost like Landis is combining the vampire and the zombie mythology - shoot 'em in the head, you know they're dead.

The next night Marie goes after the big boss, Sal Macelli (Robert Loggia). This turns out to be a little more than Marie bargained for, and she ends up having to escape before she's able to fully kill him (but after she's bitten him and drained his blood). Which means Sal - after a trip to the morgue and a hilarious escape - is now a vampire. Cue twist number two. Sal is so impressed with his new powers that he decides to make all his close associates "made men," as it were. So now not only does Marie have to track Sal down and finish the job, she's also got to kill whoever else he's turned into a vampire.

She's not alone in her quest, though. She soon finds an unlikely ally in Joe Gennaro (Anthony LaPaglia), a cop who used to work undercover for Macelli's crew, but who has had to go into protection. He's after Marie as a perp, and he's royally ticked that she got to Macelli before he could be brought in alive, but she soon gains his trust, and they eventually have quite the smutty lovemaking session in a motel waiting for sunset. Speaking of which, that's a rather cool scene. Joe is afraid to trust her at first, but she lets him handcuff her so that he can be sure she won't hurt him. Of course, with her supernatural strength, she easily breaks the cuffs in the heat of the moment, so it was kind of a good thing that she had no intention of hurting him.

This is an incredibly fun film, fairly unique for the genre, and not shy about gore or nudity. As a lady with something of a crush on Anthony LaPaglia, I was glad to see him in a somewhat sexy role. There are some pretty good laughs as well, most notably in the person of Don Rickles, who plays a mafia lawyer. His death by sunlight is pretty amazing.

Below is the trailer, as I couldn't find any other decent clips online.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Suck It, Day Seven - Night Stalker

Night Stalker

This is much more a detective story more than vampire story. Our hero is reporter chasing a hot story, and instead of seeing the stalking and killing of victims, we follow the reporter around to several crime scenes as he slowly pieces together the horrifying conclusion that there is a real-life vampire loose in Las Vegas and killing showgirls.

Once again all the old vampire lore is taken as a given here, though some elements are left out. This vampire can only be killed by a stake through the heart, and you can only do that during the day while he's asleep and more vulnerable and weak. But the difference here is that we don't even see the vampire until at least halfway through the film.

Kolchack is a bigshot reporter who's been fired from all kinds of papers and is stuck in Las Vegas. He finally gets a big story, a murder which turns out to be part of a series of murders. All the victims are showgirls, and they have something else in common - all of the blood has been drained from their bodies.

Something I kind of like about this is that it deals with the reality of such an absurd circumstance happening in the "real" world. One of my favorite scenes is when he is telling the police how to dispatch the vampire with a stake. Everyone thinks Kolchak is crazy, even when they have no choice but to accept what he's saying, and he ends up fired from the paper and run out of town (along with his girlfriend) for his efforts in getting the bad guy.

This was made for television and was so successful they made a sequel and eventually a TV series based on it. Great slice of the 1970s. Click below to see the final showdown.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Suck It, Day Six - Lifeforce

This movie is about naked space vampires and the hick astronauts who love them, and let's face it, you're either going to be into that or you're not. As for me, I dig it. This gem is from the illustrious Tobe Hooper, who brought us The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist (along with another vampy selection we'll see a bit later this month, hint hint).


I find this movie all kinds of awesome, but it's not really a characteristic vampire movie. For one thing, there's not really any blood. The "vampires" don't really do the blood thing; they suck the, well, lifeforce out of people, kind of like J.K. Rowling's dementors. Only way sexier and more naked.

The movie starts a bit like Alien - there's something strange out there (in this case a giant shaft of a spacecraft that opens up like an umbrella) and people go and check it out. They find a bunch of batlike creatures who have apparently been dead a while, but they also find three caskets seemingly made of glass and containing three naked humanoid creatures.

The female awakens and takes the lifeforce of one of the officers, and soon the whole ship is zombified, absorbing each other's lifeforce and allowing the naked vampires to collect the energy on the ship where they were found. (Mad props to the makeup and effects people, by the way, for some pretty awesome zombie-like creature effects.) I should clarify that the whole ship is zombified save one person - Col. Tom Carlson (Steve Railsback). Carlson has a psychic link with the female vampire and has become infatuated with her, but not wanting Earth to suffer the same fate as his ship, he sets fire to the ship with the vampires still on it and gets the heck out of Dodge via the escape pod.

Sadly, this does not stop the vampires from arriving in London and causing all kinds of chaos and plaguey-ness with their lifeforce-sucking ways. Soon, martial law is declared in an effort to keep the plague contained in London. Carlson teams up with someone from the SAS, Col. Colin Caine (Equus's Peter Firth, who bless him is one of the several decent actors in this film who spends much of his screen time wearing a "what the crapping crap?!?!?!" expression), and the two of them try to stop the vampocalypse.

Oh, and it turns out that all the vampire legends we know and love started when these naked vamps came to earth that other time, a long long time ago.

The finale defies description. Here is the best I can do. Carlson and Caine find vampire chick in a church, and she and Carlson get (wait for it) naked and engage in the least sexy naked kissing I have ever seen. Carlson then sacrifices himself by impaling himself and the girl in a kind of naked-ke-bob, before the church explodes (from the sheer absurdity, I guess) and they're both sucked up into the spaceship. The end.

There's not much this story has in common with traditional vampire stories. No stake through the heart or aversion to sunlight. In fact, literally the only way to kill one of these creatures is by impaling them with lead, not a wooden stake. There are a lot more sci-fi type effects here than blood, and it looks like this movie single-handedly kept Spencer Gifts in business, because half of the lighting effects resemble those plasma globes. That's not a criticism, because it all looks rather awesome. But it's 80s awesome, if you take my meaning.

Anyway, it's still a lot of fun (though it's longer than it needs to be). Occasionally genuinely scary, even more occasionally hysterical, and naked with disturbing frequency. There's also a pretty cool score by Henry Mancini (of "Pink Panther," "Moon River," and "Peter Gunn" fame).

Check out the super-crazy finale, embedded below, if you dare. Um, I mentioned the nakedness, right? Okay you've been warned.

Monday, October 5, 2009

"Suck It!" Day Five - Near Dark

Like a Reese's peanut butter cup, today's flick is two great tastes (in this case, vampires and westerns) that taste great together.

Near Dark

Director Kathryn Bigelow is one of my heroes and maybe the most unconventional woman filmmaker working today. While most other female auteurs seem to focus on women and their relationships, Bigelow's resume is teeming with testosterone. Besides today's film, she also gave us the buddy surf/crime flick Point Break and the cyber-punk sci-fi thriller Strange Days. And her latest film, The Hurt Locker - a non-judgmental film set around the Iraq war - is on most people's Oscar short-list for Best Picture (and probably Best Director as well). But five years before Clint Eastwood wrote the book on western revisionism, Bigelow started chipping away at the John Wayne version of the West herself, while at the same time puncturing the traditions of another genre - the vampire film, which up to that point was still rooted in the school of Bela Lugosi.

Near Dark's "family" of vamps owes a bit to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I should think - the family that slays together stays together and all that. Like The Addiction, this movie also plays on the idea of vampirism a drug (or, perhaps more fittingly, alcohol) abuse - there's a real co-dependency and sense of enabling going on with these characters that's eerily like a group of strung-out drifters. Like Miriam and her lovers in The Hunger, these vamps don't have the characteristic fangs. As in most vampire stories, being bitten by a vampire but left alive is all it takes to turn a human into a vampire. But not all of the superstitions are true. We see no stakes here. From all available evidence, sunlight is the main thing they have to fear (along with, apparently, fire).

Our hero Caleb is out one evening and sees a girl he'd like to get to know better. But she's not like other girls. He persuades her to let him kiss her, and she kisses back. Hard. On his neck. She doesn't bleed him, which means her bite has made him a vampire, and he instantly feels the hunger for blood (not to mention pretty extreme sensitivity to sunlight - as in, OMG I'm on fire!). The girl, Mae, convinces the other vampires she lives with to take him in and let him try to adjust. They agree, but if he doesn't take to it in a week, they're going to kill him. Well, Caleb just doesn't dig being a vampire. He can't bring himself to kill, so Mae kills for him and lets him drink from her. Caleb's father, meanwhile, has been looking for him, and there's a familiar element that we saw in The Lost Boys of Caleb having fallen in with the wrong crowd and the pain that causes his real family.

There's some cheese in this movie, but in general it's a really well-made movie whose music is really the only thing that puts the 1980s stamp on it. There's some pretty wicked awesome violence - such as the famous bar scene. Lance Henrikson and Bill Paxton are standouts in the cast, along with Joshua John Miller, who plays the little boy vampire, and Tim Thomerson as the Caleb's father. And you Heroes fans would no doubt recognize a quite young and twang-talking Adrian Pasdar in the lead role of Caleb.

There was talk of a remake of this a few years back, from the guys who have sodomized nearly every cherished horror flick of my generation, Platinum Dunes. Bizarrely, it was decided that it was too similar to The Series Which Will Not Be Named, which makes me think the PD folks are not familiar with either story - because they're like the exact opposite in terms of themes and story. Far from a protagonist who wants to be a vampire, Caleb is made one from the beginning and doesn't take to the life at all, instead figuring out a way to cure himself and the girl vampire he loves so that they can both be human together.

This one is a cult classic, and for good reason. It works on pretty much every level. Here's a taste - the aforementioned bar scene. Bill Paxton rocks pretty hard here.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

"Suck It!" Day Four - The Addiction

The Addiction

Today's film from back in the heady days of 1995 very literally - heck, literarily - considers what it means to be a vampire. Lili Taylor is a philosophy grad student at NYU. One night she's approached by a strange woman who bites her neck. Vampireness ensues, she soon starts eschewing the sunlight and thirsting for blood, and if you were annoyed by her philosophical rambling before, you ain't seen nothing yet once she becomes immortal. It's kind of satisfying to see Christopher Walken, as an older vampire who has learned to blend in with the humans, put her so sqaurely in her place.

This isn't really a fun film, and I'd certainly not recommend it if you're fighting sleep, as I was when I first tried to watch it. But it's kind of cool in its own way. It does a great job drawing a parallel between vampirism and drug abuse. Part of the reason Walken's character has so much disdain for our heroine is that she's essentially a washed up druggie (as he must have been long ago). She might think her addiction makes her cool or gives her special knowledge or turns her into a Neitzschean superman, but she's nothing more than a junkie. It's also kind of interesting to see Lili Taylor in a role like this, where she's not so sympathetic.

Other notable actors in this movie - The Sopranos' Edie Falco and Michael Imperioli, as well as Law & Order: Criminal Intent's Kathryn Erbe.

A little taste, quite possibly all the taste you'll want of this, but it's Walken, so that ratchets up the awesome pretty significantly.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

"Suck It!" Day Three - The Hunger

A little late, but that's what backdating is for. :D

If a Bonnie Tyler music video were ever made into a movie, it would be this one. The incredible lighting, the fashions, the dancing, the doves ... Tony "Top Gun" Scott's The Hunger brought vampires to the 80s. And in true 80s fashion, our bloodsucking protagonists are the most fabulous, artistic, glamorous people in New York City.

The Hunger

We see David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve bring a couple of hipsters home and kill them with their matching amulets-cum-daggers. See, unlike other vampires you've seen, these guys don't have the traditional elongated canines. But they still have a unique mode of killing. We eventually learn that they've been together for a couple hundred years, ever since she was in a corset and he was in a powdered wig. John (Bowie) starts to notice that he's showing signs of aging, and though he's been outwardly 30 for a couple of centuries, in less than a week he goes from young to very, very old.

As it turns out, Miriam (Deneuve) has been around since the time of ancient Egypt, and John is the latest in a long line of her companions, all of whom were with her for two or three hundred years before aging just like John has. However, being vampires (though not pure ones like Miriam), they cannot die. Miriam keeps them, and eventually John, in coffins in the attic, still alive.

After John is, um, put into storage, Miriam strikes up a friendship - and soon more - with a doctor named Sarah (Susan Sarandon). And it's here that The Hunger joins the proud tradition of lesbian vampire stories. Miriam turns Sarah into a vampire, intending to make her the new companion, but Sarah doesn't take to the killing lifestyle. In a climax that doesn't make much sense, Sarah tries to kill herself, an act which for some reason destroys Miriam's powers and turns her into what all of her former lovers now are.

This movie is very highly stylized, like many movies of the time, and it's quite possibly the smokingest movie I've ever seen. As in every three seconds someone lights a cigarette. It's not exactly a great movie, but it has achieved a cult classic status, and for good reason. Much of that reason, now that I think about it, is probably due to the rather famous Deneuve-Sarandon sex scene. But it's an interesting take on vampire lore, as Miriam is the only really true vampire in the story and presumably the last of her kind. I also love the idea of the price of eternal life, as experienced by Miriam's lovers and ultimately Miriam herself.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Suck It! Day Two - The Lost Boys

Amazingly enough, the original script for this movie centered around a group of kid vampires and chunky eight-year-old boy-scouting brothers named Frog. I'd kind of like to see that movie, but I'm glad this one was made instead. Anne Rice's vampires were glamorous, but these vamps were rock stars.

The Lost Boys

Recently divorced Lucy Emerson (Dianne Wiest) and her sons Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim) move in with her father in Santa Carla, the "murder capital of the world." Michael, who just seems to want to get the attention of the lovely Star (an uncharacteristically sexy Jami Gertz), ends up falling in with a bunch of leather-wearing, motorcycle-riding badasses. They invite him to their lair - a rather awesome former hotel that sunk into the ground after an earthquake - and play with his mind a bit so that he's more thirsty to prove himself and take the risks they want him to.

This movie was one of several in the 1980s to take the old vampire stories and make them relevant to modern audiences, and in a lot of ways, this is more a teen movie than a vampire movie. Michael falls in with the wrong crowd, the ultimate gang of punk teens, and it turns out to be a lot more than he bargained for. This movie drew a lot on the traditional vampire lore, and gave us the Frog brothers to tell us all about it. All the vampire superstitions are true in this story, but they were also skewed a bit. One of my favorite little nuances is that, though a person will show vampiric symptoms after drinking a vampire's blood (sensitivity to sunlight, inexplicable urge to kill), they're not fully a vampire until they actually make a kill.

Speaking of kills, holy crap are there some awesome kills in this movie (did you know all the blood they made for the movie had glitter in it?). The scene where David and company reveal themselves to Michael doesn't actually show all that much on camera, but you still get a sense of how violent it is. And when it comes time to killing vamps - hoo boy. From the bloody, gooey mess of Marco in the cave to the melty garlic-and-holy-water death of Paul (which seriously frigs up the entire plumbing system in Grandpa's house) to Max's explosive staking to (OMG!) the most fantastic horror movie death since Johnny Depp got sucked into a bed in Nightmare on Elm Street - Dwayne's "death by stereo." Then, in stark contrast, is David's fairly simple impaling (preceded by a pretty wicked air fight), which always struck me as kind of sad, because he wasn't the head vampire (like they thought), just a kid who either made some bad choices or had bad choices made for him.

Warner Brothers, who produced this, was unsure about the combination of horror and comedy, a combination that incidentally has done rather well over the years. It's a bit more complicated than just some laughs to break up the scares, though. Michael's story and the mother's subplot are played straight, almost soap opera-like, while the whole element of Sam and the Frog brothers, not to mention Grandpa, is kind of an antidote to that, so that it never takes itself too seriously. This movie reminds me a bit of Galaxy Quest in the way that it makes heroes out of the comic book geeks who spend way too much time thinking about things that most people don't even believe are real.

Here's one of my favorite scenes, more for the song than anything vampiric, but I don't care. :P

This is such an awesome movie, even after all this time, and incredibly fun.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Suck It! Day One - Interview With the Vampire

I do so love a horror film when the weather gets colder and people start carving Jack-O-Lanterns, and a few years ago I did a bunch of posts about horror movies I loved. But this year, I thought I'd go for a more specialized set of films, given that this particular sub-genre has been experiencing something of a renaissance in the past few years and given that it's a practically a genre unto itself, more so than any other kind of monster films.

Yes, I'm talking about the vampire movie. There have been countless stories about vampires since they first started to appear in literature in the 18th century (though the notion of vampirism dates back thousands of years). And vampires on film are the quintessential movie monsters, in many ways the very foundation of the horror genre. Over the next five weeks, I'll be looking at (hopefully, if I can get to them all) roughly fifty notable entries in the vampire canon. Three particular characters of vampire legend crop up again and again in the genre. The first and foremost, obviously, being Count Dracula, who we'll see several times in the series. The other two being Sheridan La Fanu's fictional Carmilla and the real life (but endlessly fictionalized) Countess Elizabeth Báthory, both of whom we'll also meet over the course of the month.

Along with all kinds of other varieties of bloodsuckers. Gothic vamps, silent vamps, 80s vamps, space vamps, campy vamps, meta vamps, teen vamps, Mexican vamps, lesbi-vamps, Euro-vamps, and even ballet vamps. There is but one kind of vamp I'm keeping off limits, and if you know me at all, I think you know what I mean, so I won't even profane the illustrious vampire tradition by mentioning the name of the series that inflicted the (I can barely bring myself to type the word) sparkle on us all.

While MTV and other zeitgeist barometers are happy to give The Series Which Shall Not Be Named credit for the most recent surge in vampiric interests, there are two other authors that had a much (MUCH) bigger influence on our culture's fascination with the undead. And the one who is not Bram Stoker is who we'll look at today. Say what you want about her ego, Anne Rice created the modern vampire.

Interview with the Vampire

Back in 1976, before there was an internet she could use to accuse her readers of "interrogating the text from the wrong perspective," Anne Rice helped change the way we look at vampires. Sure, Dark Shadows was there first, in a way, but Rice made vampires glamorous, sexy, and downright fun killers. I'm still rather wowed by the eye candy for the ladies (and gay men, of course) in this movie - a pre-cuckoo Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt right (and I mean RIGHT) before he became a ginormous star, Christian Slater, Antonio Banderas, and (well, I think he's sexy anyway) Stephen Rea. (As a side note, can you imagine what this movie would have been like if Johnny Depp hadn't turned down the role of Lestat? Yeah, I'll be in my bunk.)

I have vivid memories of the anticipation of this film. On the day it was released, I couldn't go anywhere on my college campus without hearing people asking friends if they were going to see "The Movie" that night. My friends and I went to a packed midnight screening, where some members of the audience had even taken the trouble of dressing up in capes and fangs (a fairly new phenomenon for a trip to the movies at that time). And of course, right around the time it came out, there was this legendary Rolling Stone cover...

Attention Entertainment Weekly, THIS is how it's done.

Later entries in Rice's bloodsucking oeuvre would focus on the dynamic Lestat, but Interview is all about Louis. He's being interviewed (hence the title) by a guy named Daniel in the present day, and he tells Daniel about his life as a vampire, which began some 200 years before. After the death of his wife and child (in the book, it's his brother's suicide), Louis was numb with depression and longing to die when he met Lestat, who gave him a choice - die or become a vampire. Louis chose the latter, and the two of them became vampire companions until Lestat wore out his welcome in the lives of Louis and their vampire "daughter" Claudia (a then very young Kirsten Dunst).

If the relationship between Louis and Lestat sounds homoerotic, it's only mildly accidental, and maybe not even mildly. I can't help speculating whether the Tom Cruise we know today, the Cruise of South Park's "Closetgate" who has quite a history of litigation against people who claim he is gay, would have made the choice to do this film. I still remember the audience I first saw it with in Starkville, Mississippi cringing and wincing in the scene where Louis and Armand come dangerously close to kissing (and the en masse sigh of relief, followed by laughter at said sigh, when Louis broke away).

After fifteen years, I'm kind of amazed how good this still is. What really impresses me is how it plays in the current cultural obsession with vampires as tragic heroes. Lestat is such a great foil for Louis. Vampirism is just all kinds of awesome for Lestat, while it clearly tortures Louis, and it's fun to watch Lestat taunt Louis and mock his pain at taking human life. He's kind of like the no-soul version of Angel in Joss Whedon's Buffy series, only more likable, and his glee is such a great tonic to the Byronic stylings we've come to associate with modern vampires. What I wouldn't give for a crossover that turns him loose on an unsuspecting emo sparklevamp. I picture him saying what he says to Daniel's recording of Louis at the very end - "Still whining ... I've had to listen to that for centuries!"

Something else that amazes me is how freaking good Kirsten Dunst is in what was a rather chilling element to vampire lore - the child vampire. At twelve years old, she more than held her own with the megastars she shared the screen with. And maybe it's because she's playing someone who's internally an adult (and somewhat disturbingly, a lover of sorts to Louis), but she avoids that thing I can't stand about Dakota Fanning and other precocious child stars, who are way more mature and world weary than anyone their age is by any stretch of the imagination entitled to be. Hilariously, though, the main thing I associate her with regarding this film is an interview she gave during the press blitz where she talked about how gross it was to have to kiss Brad Pitt. She had me at "his lips were dry." Je t'adore, ma petite, but you will probably never live that down.

I'll leave you with a clip, which I think encapsulates the battle between Louis' suffering and Lestat's joie de (non)vivre quite nicely, as well as reminding us why Tom Cruise is a star.