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degree of entertainment attained irrespective of critical worth
Blood, Teeth And Money Shots: Stuart On Vampire FilmsCreatures of the night.
They stalk the shadows, perch on the rooftops.
They walk the streets as men.
They traverse the skies as bats.
They walk around whingeing about their eternal damnation.
They don't give a damn about anything and they kill who they want.
They have kinky lesbian sex.
They invest in the stock market.
They're the neighbourhood bully.
They're the nurses that work at the blood bank.
They're hideously deformed.
They're more human than we'll ever be.
So what is it that makes a good vampire film?
I'll watch anything with vampires in it. It doesn't really matter if it received good reviews or not...if it features a sharpened bit of wood and some creative dentistry then I'm there. (That's why I can often be found watching such flicks as From Dusk 'Til Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money). As I'm sure you're aware there are a lot of vampire films out there. They never seem to go out of fashion.
That doesn't mean that they are always good films.
What follows is a little rant that attempts to identify what works in vampire films, and what doesn't...
My first complaint: everybody knows the standard stuff about vampires and what they do. A vampire is basically someone who got bitten... Now they like to drink blood and have extraordinary powers. So it's a waste of time pointing it out to us. Many vamp flicks spend too much time telling us what vampires are, when, for the majority of the time, we already know. Sure, when some interesting twists are introduced, or new rules put forth, then we need to know. I guess I just get annoyed when there are moments when the hero/heroine goes 'Oh my God! They don't have reflections! Oh my God, they move really fast! And they drink blood! But what are they?' It really pisses me off when films spend so much time and effort trying to amaze us with something we've seen a zillion times before (Near Dark and Innocent Blood: A French Vampire In America spring to mind).
Secondly, the aforementioned 'twists' to vampire lore can at times be great (sunscreen in Blade, genetics in TV's Ultraviolet) but they can also be ridiculously stupid (bloodlines in Underworld, the complete mess of mythology in Van Helsing). I'm not sure if I'll ever forgive Stephen Sommers. Breaking the rules is fine, as long as you've got something good to replace them with. He didn't.
Thirdly, picture this: a vampire about to drink blood, opening his mouth wide, eyes open, pausing just before the bite so that the camera gets a good look at his teeth. Seen it before? I would think so. This is so clichéd and tacky that it has very little place in modern vampire films (unless the whole point of the film is to be clichéd). This vampiric 'money shot' is simply a waste of everyone's time.
Number four: There are two distinct camps within vampiric law. One says that in order to make a child of the night a vampire has to suck the blood out of its victim and then let some blood be sucked out of them in turn. The second claims that a victim only need survive the attack to be turned into a vampire themselves. This second version has always been stupid, because if this were the case the world would be overrun by vampires. This lack of logic pisses me off (as opposed to immortal beings with supernatural strength, with which I have no problem at all ;-)).
So what do I consider to be a good vampire film? Well obviously there are many factors, but a couple spring to mind instantly: If you make a vampire film it doesn't mean that the film's genre is set in stone. There are some fantastic films that manage to blend the vampire mythos into another genre to great effect. Shadow Of The Vampire was a perfect example - that wonderfully post-modern film dealt with (among other things) the blurring of truth and reality that occurred during the early days of cinema (think the Lumiere brothers' train entering a station and audiences running from the cinema screaming). This was a time when moving images could suddenly not only be captured but transferred to other settings. Shadow Of The Vampire examined this as well as focussing on issues of blind ambition and superstition. Some other examples that have worked to a lesser degree are The Hunger and the original Buffy The Vampire Slayer (and a whole lotta soft porn flicks. Not that I've ever watched any porn... Um... Hi mum). Sometimes, genre experimentation doesn't work, though... and it's rare that you can make a good comedy film with vamps (Fearless Vampire Hunters, anyone?). In fact TV's Buffy is one of the only attempts that consistently succeeded in being funny.
Making a vampire film means that you have a good excuse to do some cool action scenes and stunts, but this doesn't mean you have to. Often the best vampire films are those that are subtle. A good example of this is Interview With The Vampire (which, naturally, also happens to be one of the best vampire films ever made). Neil Jordan's classic film features some fantastic special effects. And it's the really subtle moments (such as the statue blinking) that imbue this film with such magic. This is also a film that deals with the subject of vampirism with style and grace. (Interestingly enough, the book is almost unreadable).
Anne Rice's creation definitely set a standard for vampire films, but interestingly her two adaptations take their place in opposite ends of the Vampire film pantheon. Whilst Interview might be the ultimate vampire film, Queen Of The Damned is definitely one of the worst. Of course I realise that Rice supplied the screenplay for the former, and would have nothing to do with the latter, but it is a strange situation none the less... how could they screw it up so badly?
Since we're dealing with the classics, I might as well mention a couple of points about Bram Stoker's little book...
Let me be up front about this. 'Dracula' is not a good novel. It is a poorly written and badly constructed story that blunders about confusedly for much of its 300 pages. The fact that this character has become such an icon and paved the way for the hundreds of vampire tales that followed, both on paper and the silver screen, is astonishing. Of course it comes as no surprise that one of the most recent adaptations, Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula was a shitty film also (except for the muscle armour, that was cool! And it provided us with one of the best film scores of all time, courtesy of Wojciech Kilar). Don't get me wrong, I am eternally grateful to that wacky Irishman, as he has been responsible for the movement of an ancient myth into the contemporary consciousness, but Mary Shelley's book runs circles around his. Some of his images (the ghost ship moving through the water... Dracula crawling up the wall) shall never leave us, but that doesn't make up for the rest of the book. (Note: Dracula could walk about during the day in Stoker's book, so don't be too quick to criticise the daywalking featured in such films as The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen).
So what is it I'd like to see in the future in regards to vampire films?
There's a couple of areas that need to be explored, as well as some that need to be revisited.
Firstly another decent Anne Rice adaptation would be nice, cos otherwise I'm worried that goth gal will never forgive herself for allowing Queen Of The Damned to be made. I'm sure in attempting to move on from such a catastrophe she has made some therapist out there very rich. It never made sense to skip a book in the series anyway. Why not pretend that that horrible film was never made in the first place, and instead turn 'The Vampire Lestat' into a film? It could be done. Get an interesting director (Neil Jordan was an inspired choice), and have another go at 'The Vampire Chronicles'.
There's a veritable goldmine of vampire lore to be plundered from the role playing game Vampire: The Masquerade. If you adapted only a fraction of the material contained in the clan and rulebooks, you'd very quickly have a trilogy on your hands (at least). And if you do decide to adapt the Masquerade, don't even attempt to explain the setup to those outside the roleplaying community... Fuck 'em! Let audiences figure it out for themselves! Besides, you'll intrigue lots of people out there who'll want to go out and find more about the game.
What about the 'Anita Blake, Vampire Slayer' books? I know, people are immediately gonna think of the ol' Buffster when they see it, but Laurell K. Hamilton's series is a fantastically original world full of vampires, zombies and werewolves that could make for a very entertaining film. Just be sure to get a good scriptwriter - it could quite easily be tacky if you didn't.
How about a fantasy film that also includes vampires? I'm holding my breath, hoping that there will be at least a couple of fantasy films made now that Lord Of The Rings and Harry Potter have proven so successful. Of course, they have a hard act to follow with Peter Jackson's masterpieces already having attained the status of modern classics, but I'm sure there's a big ol' studio out there willing to throw some money at another fantasy saga (as long as it's not another Dungeons & Dragons sequel).
Finally, I'd like to see more films that have vampires as a subplot rather than the main focus. We've all seen them at their best so why not use them as narrative devices rather than repeating what's already been done? China Mieville's novel 'The Scar' springs to mind as a good example of a story that contained a vampire, rather than being a vampire story.
I've mentioned a lot of books here, but they don't need to be adaptations. Filmmakers just need to be aware that vampirism shouldn't constrain a film, rather allow it to explore some fascinating (and bloody) territory. Let's see a prison movie with vampires... a science fiction film with vampires... a western with vampires... an epic war film with vampires. Hell, I'd like to see a film where you don't even realise it has vampires in it until the closing moments.
To all potential vampiric filmmakers out there: I salute you. There's good work to be done. Now go out and do it...
The blood is the life.
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