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.

The Wolfman – neither a howler nor a howling success

the wolfmanI’m halfway through watching The Wolfman — the new one, with Benicio Del Toro going all fur and fangs — and I’m thinking, I’m sure I’ve seen this movie before, but it was in black and white. I wonder if this new effort shouldn’t have been as well, just to make the point.

The delight (and dogged duplication) in the premiere werewolf movies of yore is clear in this effort, directed by Joe Johnson. Lots of moon shots, lots of foggy forests and silhouettes. Gypsies. Mobs with flaming brands. The village tavern that falls silent when the stranger enters. And absolutely nothing new.

But don’t let that put you off. It’s a solid, if uninspiring and strangely uncompelling, effort. The love story is such an undeveloped and fleeting thing, the tension between father and prodigal son so underplayed, the concentration on werewolfy rampaging with lots of gibbets so great, that it’s hard to get into the characters much at all.

The music, by reliable Danny Elfman, isn’t always used to best advantage, either. It’s not bad, it’s just used out of context at times, trying to make tension and jump! surprise! where there doesn’t need to be any.

But my goodness, there are other times when the suspense does kick in, and all those stereotypical Gothic scenes are portrayed in full cinematic glory: ruins, sweeping staircases, misty forests, gibbous moons through the spindly branches of trees. There’s even a decrepit, sprawling mansion in need of a serious cobwebbing and sweeping, complete with family tomb (I wouldn’t have been gobsmacked to see a headstone out the back with maybe Karstein written on it, or Usher, or Ligeia). Some not-too-shocking family secrets. Oh yum!

There are some adorable scenes set in old London town, and the whole is enlivened by Hugo Weaving as a Scotland Yard detective with a fascinating past, regrettably only mentioned in passing. I almost wish we’d seen more of his story: the echo with his previous, infamous case would have been delicious. And spare a thought for poor Art Malik, hidden in a beard as a servant with more silver bullets than he has brooms (neither of which he proves much use with).

I wouldn’t be cleaning my Universal and Hammer classics from the shelf to make way for this one, but lovers of that kind of werewolf movie will find something to appreciate in this recycled homage.

Ahem. Twilight. And on Being Human

While in New Orleans in October, I was asked by the Aussie ABC Online to offer some thoughts on the popularity of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga and the state of the vampire mythos today. The article has appeared here, in a preview of the latest movie’s opening.

If ever there was a city in which to talk vampires, it’s New Orleans, or at least the French Quarter, with its uneven, gas-lit sidewalks and classic architecture, and the legacy of Anne Rice never too far away.

Meanwhile, my local cinema is filled with Twilight posters, standees and even a merchandise table that includes, I kid you not, an umbrella for $50. Can someone please make it stop now?

Fortunately, as some kind of counterbalance, however unbalanced that balance might be, there are shows such as Being Human: cleverly scripted, well acted, an engaging take on the supernatural trying to co-exist with the mundane. The premise sounds a little like a gag — a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost all live in this house and… — but it’s not a laughing matter. Think Ultraviolet in a sharehouse. Yummy. Maybe there’s hope after all… even if it doesn’t have a brolly.

Here’s a taste, about how the show approaches its bloodsuckers:

And a trailer for Ultraviolet, truly superb viewing if you can get your hands on the series.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

The old blog has been a bit quiet this past week, on account of my actually doing some effing writing (woohoo!). How to get the wheels running again after a long period of abstinence? Check this excellent tip from the most excellent Kim Wilkins — it works for me 🙂

Meanwhile, though, we did slip out to take in the latest Underworld movie, Rise of the Lycans. It’s a prequel, fleshing out the history flashbacked in the first movie (I promptly forgot everything about the second movie, it was that atrocious; not as bad as the second Highlander movie *shudder, we do not call it by its name* but still pretty naff — what was it with that helicopter scene??).

It was done well, for the most part, especially once it got going. Rhona Mitra played the part well, and looked enough like Kate Beckinsale in vampire mode, far moreso than the *blonde* actress they used in the first movie. Bill Nighy was his spitting best. The werewolves looked cool. But I was left with the feeling, why? What did this movie tell us that we didn’t know already, and that we really needed to know to have a better understanding of the other movies? Answer: not a lot. And for my money, not enough vampire action. But that’s probably just me.

If you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about and have managed to read this far, check out the trailer.