More bloody vampires

Marianne de Pierres is scoping for readers’ (and viewers’) favourite vampires at her blog, while Nicole Adams has assembled a dubious top 14 vampire stories at hers. Good to see Dracula and Nosferatu made the Phlebotomy cut, despite their lack of supplementary cross-media tie-ins that seem to inform the rest of the selection. Nothing like a list to get tongues wagging, eh?

To whit, I’ve already listed my favourite vampire movies, so, riffing off MdP, here’s my pick of the screen vampires:

Bela Lugosi’s Dracula

Max Shreck’s Orlok

Klaus Kinski’s Orlok

Gary Oldman’s Dracula

Christopher Lee’s Dracula

Ingrid Pitt’s Carmilla

Near Dark’s vampire gang

Buffy’s Drusilla (and Spike, and Darla)

Catherine Deneuve’s Miriam

Willem Dafoe’s Shreck

Tom Cruise’s Lestat

Kirsten Dunst’s Claudia

Udo Keir’s Dracula

That’s 15 and quite a mouthful. I wonder if Kiefer Sutherland and David Boreanaz are unjustly omitted? And you know better than to mention Edward here, right?

So what is it about these screen portrayals that makes them stand out for me? Let’s see. Udo’s a maniac, Cruise excelled where no one expected him to. Shreck is impossible to forget and both Kinski and Dafoe paid amazing homage (Kinski in Vampire in Venice was also divine). Lugosi and Lee are likewise iconic. Near Dark is gritty and nihilistic. Dunst, Oldman, Deneuve and Pitt all offer nuances of characterisation you just don’t often get in a screen vampire. Buffy’s bunch are simply damn good fun, each in their own way. If there’s a theme running through these portrayals, it might be one of dealing with immortality – there’s a loneliness to these vampires, an otherness, that strikes deeper than the usual predator of the night depiction. They might be sexy, zany, insane, downright nasty, but all seem to suffer from the common malaise of being more-or-less alone in their timelessness. Maybe that’s part of why their performance lingers long after the credits have ended.

  • I’ll be rabbitting on about the evolution of vampires in literature and screen at the Melbourne Science Fiction Club’s mini-con on May 22. More details when they’re available.
  • Shudder, er, Shutter Island

    Shutter Island is director Martin Scorsese’s new baby, and I finally caught it, late in the season, after being enticed by its Gothic whodunit trailer.

    The island is an asylum for the violent criminally insane, back in 1954, with the impact of World War II and the Cold War adding undercurrents to what begins as an investigation into an escape and quickly develops into a far deeper, and more complex, mystery.

    Leonardo DiCaprio is the investigating Federal Marshall who brings a whole baggage train of issues to the case as he faces off against the head psychologist played by Ben Kingsley.

    The acting is uniformly superb, and I’m pleased to be able to vanquish thoughts of the execrable Titanic (just drown, won’t you?) while watching him work.

    And Scorsese works up some delightful atmosphere with his bedlam visions.

    But the movie falls sadly short of the mark that it could’ve and should’ve reached, and a damn sight sooner than its almost 140-minute running time.

    There were a few warning signs that things were going pear-shaped from the get-go: unnecessary info dumps and a strange meeting between two cops, an overwrought score that thankfully settled down as the story progressed, and then the unnecessary expositions mounting up as the increasingly obvious (and slightly dubious) conceit was unveiled. I kept hoping for a further twist in the tail to unravel the conceit, but it wasn’t to be. There was, however, a very enjoyable and rather pointed, I mean poignant, closing scene.

    And poor Max Von Sydow was wasted — he’s right up there with Christopher Lee on the list of actors who deserve chunkier roles, in my book — and an entire subplot told in flashback seemed all but irrelevant to the story in hand.

    Good, but not great.

    Among the trailers was the new ‘reimagining’ of a Nightmare on Elm Street: it looks tasty.

    Top five vampire and werewolf movies

    With Daybreakers (review) and The Wolfman (review) chewing up the big screen, here’s my pick of five vampire and five werewolf movies that are ahead of their respective packs. Feel free to chip in:

    5 must-see vampire movies

    1. Near Dark (1987): Director Kathryn Bigelow takes a vampire gang on the road – the v-word is never mentioned – and mayhem ensues, with help from a superb cast. Tangerine Dream provide the soundtrack.

    2. Dracula (1931): Bela Lugosi helps imprint Bram Stoker’s Dracula as the archetype for decades to come, with gorgeous atmospheric cinematography.

    cf Dracula (aka The Horror of, 1958) in which Christopher Lee adds his indelible stamp on the character in the first of Hammer’s long series of Dracula flicks.

    3. Nosferatu (1922): A German silent film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, not suffering at all from copyright conflict with Stoker’s widow.

    cf Nosferatu The Vampyre (a 1979 riff by Werner Herzog with Klaus Kinski in the title role: glorious!) and Shadow of the Vampire (2000) in which John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe have far too much fun bringing a behind-the-scenes tale of the making of Nosferatu to amazing life.

    4. The Hunger (1983): Whitley Strieber’s novel is made all the more classy with Susan Sarandon, Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie caught in a sunlit net of love, blood and death, beautifully directed by Tony Scott.

    5. Vampire Lovers (1970): Ingrid Pitt is sensational as Camilla in this Hammer take of Sheridan Le Fanu’s classic lesbian love story.

    cf other Hammer standouts Vampire Circus (1972, in which a travelling circus comes to town) and Twins of Evils (1971, a sexy tale of a vampire seeking to tempt — you guessed it, twins in diaphanous gowns — to his way of life. er, death).

    * You’ll notice my cop-out with the ‘see alsos’: just couldn’t decide on five from such a vast field that includes worthies such as Interview with the Vampire and Lost Boys. Maybe I should’ve gone for a top 10.

    5 must-see werewolf movies

    ginger snaps werewolf movie

    1. The Wolfman (1941): Lon Chaney Jr does for the werewolf what Bela did for the vampire.

    cf The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), another ‘traditional’ man-becomes-monster scenario given gravitas by Oliver Reed (who quite possibly was a werewolf; he was certainly a wild man!).

    2. The Howling (1981): Psychiatry meets the beast within. No guesses as to who wins in this stylish attempt to move the werewolf into modern society.

    cf Wolf (1994) with Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer for a similar attempt with a great latrine moment.

    3. Ginger Snaps (2000): Puberty is truly blue for two sisters caught up in the change. Two sequels are also notable for actually taking the story somewhere new.

    4. The Company of Wolves (1984): Neil Jordan directs Angela Lansbury in a fairy tale about men who are hairy on the inside. You’ve been warned, Red!

    5. An American Werewolf in London (1981): great soundtrack, cool corpses and Jenny Agutter. What’s not to like in this fine balance of pathos and humour?

    * While we’re in shapeshifter mode, feline-lovers should head over to Cat People, both the 1942 original and the 1982 remake for some quality time.

    Trivia bonus: David Bowie was a vampire in The Hunger and contributed this lovely song to the 1982 Cat People soundtrack.

    Australian vampire movies

    With Daybreakers about to hit the big screens, here’s a quick round-up of other Australian vampire movies:

    Barry McKenzie Holds His Own, 1974. Directed by Bruce Beresford. Stars Barry Crocker, Barry Humphreys and Donald Pleasance.
    : Barry, reprising his role from The Adventures of (1972), must save Dame Edna Everage from European Count von Plasma.

    Bloodlust, 1992. Directed by Jon Hewitt and Richard Wolstencroft. Stars Jane Stuart Wallace, Kelly Chapman and Robert James O’Neill. Windhover Productions. [Videorecording: VHS]
    : A low-budget vampire heist flick with cult appeal (banned in the UK) in which quasi vampires encounter gangsters and religious extremists on the streets of Melbourne.

    Outback Vampires, 1987. Directed by Colin Eggleston. Stars Richard Morgan, Angela Kennedy and Brett Climo. Somserset Films. [Videorecording: VHS].
    : A quasi-comic take along the lines of Rocky Horror Picture Show in which three travellers find themselves hosted by vampires in an isolated mansion near a decrepit outback town.

    Queen of the Damned, 2002. Directed by Michael Rymer. Stars Aaliyah and Stuart Townsend. Los Angeles: Warner. [Videorecording: DVD].
    : An American movie adapting two Anne Rice books, The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned. Shot in Victoria (substituting for the US and UK) with numerous Australians in the supporting cast. (My account of being an extra on the film is here.)

    Thirst, 1979, directed by Roy Hardy. Stars Chantal Contouri and Shirley Cameron. FG Films. [Videorecording: DVD, Umbrella].
    : The descendant of Elizabeth Bathory is seduced by a blood-drinking cult using brainwashing techniques, causing hallucinatory footage.

    This list of movies is taken from a survey I made of Australian vampire stories published before 2007. It’s comprehensive but not complete. Additions are welcome.

    Cracked plot holes

    A chum sent me to Cracked mag’s website to check out the structure of an evil empire — recommended research for thriller writers, by the way — and I got a little lost in the zany but erudite observations the writers had to make about storylines, and stuff. This section about 6 movie plots made possible by bad decisions is laugh out loud funny, often because it’s true. They saved the best for last: 28 Weeks Later and The Matrix. Read, learn and laugh!**

    28 Weeks Later review at Cracked magazine

    A sign that could have saved the day but would have killed the sequel

    ** WARNING: the site is highly addictive. Make your coffee first.

    Ewoks fight better than Na’vi

    I finally succumbed to the allure of James Cameron’s 3D SF extravaganza Avatar, partly because of all the mixed reports about it, primarily because it was really hot here today and three hours in air-conditioning (with choc-top icecream!) was not to be sneezed at.

    Don’t really want to dwell on it, the thing has been hashed around all over the net (for instance, at Talking Squid), but my quick reaction is: thank goodness for the 3D effects. I thought they were handled so very well. The depth of field is the real highlight of the format for me, rather than things popping out of the screen at you, and the scenery shots and even the live action stuff provided plenty of this kind of immersion.

    And Sam Worthington and Sigourney Weaver were pleasures to watch, too.

    Regrettably, the storyline was thin and hackneyed, the theme overly overt, the indigent aliens the same old patois of Earth tribes minus any of the nasty stuff — some kind of Jamaica meets Native America. And their tactics, even with a Marine at the helm (because you need a Great White Hunter to save you when you’re a native), woeful. Honestly, the Ewoks did better using bows and ropes against mechanised troops. And the Empire at least had a reason for staging a ground assault. Anyhow, I guess I shouldn’t knock the good old Gaia message too much; friends in the northern hemisphere are dodging blizzards while we’re dodging forest fires.

    If Cameron had chopped the film back to even two thirds of its length, and used the money he’d have saved to fund some truly alien aliens and a storyline with a little more moral complexity, Avatar could really have been something.

    In other words, it delivered pretty much what I expected. And the cinema was cool.

    You can see the Avatar trailer here for a taste.

    Another flick with some groovy special effects I saw recently was The Lovely Bones. I’d had high hopes for it, because Peter Jackson also directed Heavenly Creatures, which used special effects brilliantly to convey two girls’ fantasy world. (And, um, that little Lord of the Rings movie. All three of ’em.)The Lovely Bones showed us images of a pre-Heaven limbo, which were striking. Largely irrelevant to the story, but striking. Sadly, this movie also left me feeling a little underwhelmed, mainly because the narrator has so little to do with the story. She’s an observer for the most part, after her death sets balls in motion, and so we’re always kept at a remove from the characters and the action. It was too sweet and had too many endings for my taste.

    So, who’s up for The Wolfman (out in Oz February 25) – trailer here?