Vampire popularity goes through waves. A coworker of mine was writing a paper on just such a rise in popularity as of late and used me as a non-official source to sort of get a kick start on his actual research. I never in my life felt as proud as I did at that moment for squandering a good portion of my life away on the abstruse knowledge of the evolution of the vampire and just how every generation (or rather, into every generation is born a….nevermind) uses the vampire as a symbol for their own problems/desires.
However, with all of the popularity vampires are getting right now, I feel I must share some rather obscure — and much bloodier — interpretations in the lovely genre of film. Let us now share the limelight of The Lost Boys, Interview with the Vampire, and Underworld with some of their lesser known brethren, shall we?
Most of these are foreign flicks which explains away some of the obscurity, in that some have subtitles, but most don’t have a Hollywood ending, so even if most of the population could bear reading subtitles — or really bear reading anything but the backs of cereal boxes — they still would sweep these into the dust-bins of history for their rather unique and non-standard (at least the somewhat-standard broody vampire goody goody image that’s infected mainstream vampires, and I’ll admit, myself) perceptions of the children of the night.
Let the Right One In (2008) — Crafted in Sweden off of the book of the same name, this is quickly becoming one of my favorite movies of all time, let alone vampire movie. The atmosphere is dark and sticky, like sweating in a coffin, but at the same time carries a sweet resonance between Oscar, the main protagonist, and his rather off-color partner, Eli, the next-door-neighbor vampire. Such dialogue from Eli — “Would you like me anyway?” — after trying to tell Oscar the truth makes it bittersweet and chilling. Also one of the few times where I’ve liked the movie as equally as I’ve liked the book.
Bonus! Watched this movie on my 22nd birthday. Best. Birthday. Ever. Unlike my 23rd birthday, which was spent watching New Moon. I’ll let you make a pithy comment.
Thirst (2009) — Director Park Chan-Wook (Old Boy) is a favorite of mine for being incredibly twisted and Thirst is no different. I found it to be alternatingly hilarious — the scene where Father Hyun and Tae-ju are haunted by a ghost while having sex cracked me up so hard my roomies thought I had been body-snatched* by a happy person — macabre, and bloody. It’s slow moving, but also deals with the dysfunctional relationship between a former-priest-turned-vampire and his Lady Macbeth-type lover. Who corrupts whom? Much like Lolita, untangling just who exactly bears the brunt of their sins makes this gory mess a dramatic interpretation of passion, bloodlust, and damnation.
Fearless Vampire Killers Or, Pardon Me But Your Teeth Are in My Neck (1967) — An early Polanski movie that is much more comedy than horror, but I’ve always loved camp in my movies and humor with my terror, so I can understand if this isn’t everyone’s cup o’ tea. Polanski plays a young, fearless vampire killer who finds out that he’s bitten off more than he can chew after trying to save a young, fearless peasant Sharon Tate. The old professor is a mastermind of slap-stick comedy and great timing, and the rather flamboyant son of the Count Dracula-figure almost steals the show. Of course, I always get the wiggins (scale of 6.1) when I think of the real-life tragedy that struck Polanski and Tate shortly after this movie came out.
On a lighter note: there’s an even more hilarious, if not better, interpretation of this movie in the form of a German musical by the same name — Tanz der Vampire. All of the parts, with English subtitles, are on youtube and I highly recommend watching it. I’ve heard the translation’s a little wonky with the link I’ve provided, but eh, I don’t speak German, I just play one on the Internet.
Blood for Dracula (1974) — Udo Kier is the best Count Dracula, hands down. Unfortunately, this movie is not really anything but a pseudo-pornographic, surrealist adventure in crazy-land, but provides some of the best lines I’ve ever had the pleasure to hear. One of them is the ubiquitous, “The blood of these whores is killing me!” that I’ve quoted before and the other is below, since there isn’t a trailer for this way-under-the-radar film. Dracula needs the blood of “wirgins” to survive and has depleted his supply in Transylvania. He goes to Italy and tries to find purity in three sisters who have been deflowered by the strangely-New-York-accented gardener. The ending is very Monty Python-esque and it’s worth seeing if you’re like me and watch strange, strange movies dealing with vampires.
Near Dark (1987) — Kathryn Bigelow directed this kind-of-a-western-but-replace-the-cowboys-with-vampires film before she made it big and it stars a young and somewhat blonde Nathan Petrelli before he made it TV-big. Bill Paxton has, arguably, his best performance ever as the brutally violent, chaotically anarchist, Severen who turns the afterlife of a small-town boy (living in a lonely world) upside down. The soundtrack makes this stark, deserted thriller into a masterpiece, weaving tension and dark ambience throughout the entirety of the film. I learned from this movie how to kill vampires with a semi-truck. Handy skill, that.
The Wisdom of Crocodiles (1998) — A (relatively) bloodless vampire movie that falls perfectly into the categorization of high-brow horror. Jude Law (oh, Jude Law) is Steven Grlscz, an is-he-a-legit-vampire-or-is-he-a-crazy-path modern vampire who doesn’t need just blood to survive, but love as well, so he becomes a twisted Diogenes, looking for the perfect woman in order to satiate his hunger. The Dostoevskian Raskolnikov-Porfiry Petrovich relationship between Grlscz and the police officer who starts sniffing around too closely intersects with Grlscz’s seduction of lady after lady. Heart-breaking, sorrowful, and thought-provoking, this extremely dark and brooding film needs several viewings in order to fully appreciate its reptilian wisdom. In the States it’s known as Immortality because apparently we can’t appreciate a vampire movie unless there’s something very Nosteratu-esque about the title. Jude Law’s portrayal, however, is probably the most haunting on-screen performance of a charming sociopath to boot. It doesn’t hurt that he’s ridiculously hot.
Night Watch / Day Watch (2004, 2006) — You really can’t watch one without the other as Night Watch is creepy and atmospheric, setting the mood for the modern-day Russian saga of Anton Gorodetsky, an Other, who works for the good guys, fights vampires, but at the same time questions his own (and his superiors’) motivations. Day Watch, on the other hand, is much more coherent, at times wonderfully amusing and intrinsically Russian. Anton is almost an anti-hero, pondering just what exactly is the difference between his work as a force for good and the doings of those that have been deemed “evil.” It’s both a special-effects masterpiece that echoes Hollywood big-budget movies, but at the same time, has the heart of a non-Western movie that isn’t afraid to wax philosophically. Also, the hottie-next-door, the vampire Kostya, just might be my future husband. Just sayin’.
If you can, watch the Russian versions of these movies, as the American edits are slightly different. As a warning, though, the Russian edits are a bit jarring and don’t really stop to explain much. This wildly popular series — the highest grossing movies ever in Russia — is based on the novels of the same names by Sergei Lukyanenko and all of them have been translated into English and can be found in most bookstores. Timur Bekmambetov — noted for directing Wanted with Angelina Jolie — is a visionary and one of my favorite directors.
Honorable non-movie mention: Being Human (BBC version) (2008–) — And you thought Jude Law was the hottest vampire ever, right? Wrong. Mitchell, the darkly handsome vampire scene-stealer might take the cake as being hotter’n’Jesus, as a friend of mine likes to say. This sounds like a bad joke — a vampire, werewolf and ghost all share the same apartment — but is oh, so much more. The humanity displayed by each non-human character and the oddly specific supernatural problems they deal with are correlated with real-world problems. Much more similar to a True Blood feel than a Vampire Diaries or Moonlight environment, this violent, sexy, intense series is well-worth watching. The Syfy channel is reworking this as an American series under the same name, but I have my doubts about the merits of any stolen-from-foreign-countries-and-remade mentality, as it often seems to dumb-down and scrub clean the original until it’s an unrecognizable pulp. Season 2 just aired in Britain and I’m profoundly jealous as Season 1 has yet to hit DVD State-side.
*I’ve watched enough TV (er, Buffy and Angel) to know that a person has been body-snatched if they start wearing black leather pants. I’ve told my roomies to tranquilize-on-sight if they ever see me wearing said pants.