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Greatest Films of Halloween #5 Dracula (1992)

“How did Lucy die? Was she in great pain? ”
“Yeah, she was in great pain! Then we cut off her head, and drove a stake through her heart, and burned it, and then she found peace. “

I would argue that of all the versions of Dracula out there this is the closest yet to the original book. Dracula by Bram Stoker is probably the 2nd best horror novel in history (the best being Stephen King’s It, but there are not good movie versions of It). As a side note there is only one correct way to read Dracula: with a group of two or more people, taking turns reading it aloud by candle light, preferably on Halloween night. But enough about the book and how this is the only film version where the screenwriter seems to have looked over more than the Cliff notes one page overview…

Why is the movie a great Halloween film?

Gary Oldman as Dracula is just creepy. As the pale and creepy old man. As the bat/wolfman thing. Even as the regenerated younger man he still has that horrifying magnetism. For the most part he revels in his debauchery and villainy. The slight problem is that the screenwriter and director did humanize him a little too much. This is not the creature of the night hell bent on world conquest and destruction–this is more a tragic figure who through loss and pain has come to hate the world and wants it to suffer if he has to suffer. And this is kind of the weakest point of the movie…they tried to humanize him, give him a actual relationship with Mina Haker, bring some human drama into the story and have a title character who wasn’t just a lecherous piece of scum and embodiment of all the dark sides of sexuality (keep in mind vampirism is in many ways a metaphor for rape, for venereal disease, for lovers who use and abuse women). Still Dracula is a villain in this film (especially his shadow which seems to have a twisted Peter Pan thing going on, creeping up on people when Dracula himself is stationary).

Oh and then there’s Keanu Reaves. Sometimes I will actually defend casting Keanu in certain movies (Much Ado, Matrix, Lake House); however, this is not one of those cases. Coppola was going for that bland emotionless look that the Victorian middle class so admired…but it doesn’t work in a story of good versus evil.

But this is made up for by Anthony Hopkins’ Abraham Van Helsing, He’s a little crazy and certainly enjoys his job as vampire hunter way too much. But he is the only one in this film without fear; he actually enjoys pitting himself against the forces of darkness. It’s good he found something he enjoys. Van Helsing in the novel had an offbeat sense of humor, but Hopkins takes it to a wonderful extreme.

But overall the movie is true to the book (at least by Hollywood standards). All the characters which Hollywood usually leaves out are there (especially Lucy’s three suitors), all the main plot points are included (even if they did add some unneeded character development for the Count) and just the general horror of Dracula is there (especially when he’s feeding small children to his vampire brides).

While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that no Halloween is complete without this movie (that only applies to the #1 movie on this list) it does come close.

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Top 10 Halloween Films #9 Interview with the Vampire

Interview with the Vampire
“God kills indiscriminately. And so shall we.”

Interview with the Vampire is a classic film of vampires. And although I think this did begin some of the trends of having whiny sparkling vampires, it’s a good one. But the morose vampires that Louis and Armand are still not the spineless wimps vampires have become. They may be honing their brooding skills to a fine art (of course as a precursor to Angel they’re amateurs at brooding) but they can also engage in vicious acts of hatred and destruction. These are still vampires that can kill and will do so. Pitt’s Louis does so out of need and vengeance and can be very cold about it. Banderas’ Armand even more horrifically does it because he finds it an amusement to put on shows because he’s bored with his near eternal life.

Evil with a capital E

And of course there is Lestat. In this version (the Lestat of book The Vampire Lestat is a very different character) Lestat is something you very seldom see in literature: evil for the sake of evil. He’s not a psychotic or a psychopath who doesn’t quite grasp the difference between good and evil. He’s not a sociopath who just doesn’t care. He’s not on a vengeance kick feeling that if he has to suffer then everyone has to suffer. He’s not even really bored. No, he knows he’s evil, he knows good from evil, and it’s not that he doesn’t care; it’s that he delights in being evil. Iago, Ledger’s Joker, Dracula (in the original novel and The Historian), it’s a short list. Knowingly willing evil for the sake of evil. It’s a horrific thought and thankfully something I’m convinced exists only in fiction. But an instructive one to show us what we are not and should not be. It’s all of our worst qualities stripped of all our best qualities, our egos given free reign of madness and evil. Few things are as frightening. (Although even Cruise’s Lestat falls short sometimes of the pure villainy with which Louis imaged him, as when he mentions it’s easier to kill the guilty and his constant complaining about having not being given a choice when he became a vampire).

And I believe I have mentioned this before but it bears repeating—stories about those who are immortal help clarify the fear of death. The normal person doesn’t fear death as much because they know it is an inevitable fact…the fictional construct of the immortal vampire is far more afraid of death, partly because they trade in it, they’re already half in the grave, and they are afraid of what is not a fact for them. If the fear of death is the fear of the unknown for the average mortal…how much more an unknown is it to someone who doesn’t have to die. You see this mostly clearly when Louis returns to New Orleans and sees Lestat huddled in the corner of a house, afraid to move, afraid to find how the world has evolved; afraid to be himself for fear that he may not be able to survive.

Something else came to mind while watching this movie; you could never get it made today. This movie was made before being PC came into its full stride culturally so I think it got away with things you probably couldn’t now as today people read slights to special interest groups where there are none (while strangely letting real threats to society go without a word). The fact that there are some pretty clear homoerotic overtones between Lestat and Louis, and Louis and Armand coupled with the fact that Lestat is evil and Armand is just short of evil you would probably have numerous groups complaining about how the movie is showing gays in a poor light. This of course would be missing the point that the story was showing all the vampires to just be hedonistically decadent and willing to get hedonistic pleasures anyway they could get it, it has nothing to with orientation, it has to do with a lack of ethics (in just the same way a guy who sleeps around with hundreds of women without any meaning is unethical). And these would ironically be the same people who have next to nothing to say about the fact that actors who come out as gay will often find fewer jobs after coming out. Have to love double standards. Gives you moment’s pause at how many other films haven’t been made because of a fear of being called PC.

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Top Ten Films of Halloween #10 Fright Night

“Apparently your generation doesn’t want to see vampire killers anymore, nor vampires either. All they want to see are slashers running around in ski masks, hacking up young virgins. “

So observes Peter Vincent, Vampire Hunter, in the great horror classic Fright Night.  If only he had known that worse movies were coming after that…

But back to Fright Night

It takes a lot to make a teenage boy ignore his girlfriend who is in his bed and willing to go all the way…but seeing your neighbors move a coffin of all things into the basement might be one of the few things strange enough to do that (although probably for most teenage boys that wouldn’t be enough)…but this is the story of Charley, who was unfortunate enough to have a vampire move next door.  And worse yet, his friends don’t believe him, the police don’t believe him and all he can rely on is the help of a washed up B-horror movie actor.  Sucks to be Charley.  Oh, and the vampire has a thing for his girlfriend.

One of the things that makes this movie so good is the vampire himself—Chris  Sarandon (who also played another one of my generation’s most hated villains) as the vampire Jerry Dandrige.  Nonchalant, bordering on arrogance, in almost every scene he is in, it just gives you chills at how comfortable he is at being a mass murderer.  He’s evil and he doesn’t really care what you think about that.  And the director does an excellent job of constantly focusing you on the fangs and blood sucking habit even when not showing them by having him constantly eating or drinking something in every scene.  And thankfully someone remembered that vampires are supposed to be a symbol of sexuality.  Not that Sarandon is the best looking actor in the history of the universe, but almost every scene shows him being the desire of the women in the room.  (And when being turned into a vampire, the girlfriend Amy, seems to also magically go under a transformation from mousy plain Jane to near professional model looks…no explanation is really given for this transformation, especially since it seems to involve a makeup and lighting choices which should have nothing to do with becoming a vampire).  And they continue the darker side of the metaphor further with several overtones of rape (as there is quite a bit of mind control and loss of willpower).

From this…

…To this. Bite of a vampire offers one hell of a makeover.

And we finally get to a vampire movie that plays by the rules.  Sunlight.  Stake through the heart.  Needing to be invited into the house.  Holy Water.  Crosses.  Can turn into fog, bats and wolves.  It’s nice to see somebody play by all the rules.

And obviously the fear felt by Peter Vincent and Charley is a central point to this film.  Vincent comes also with the fear that his whole life is nothing but a long sad joke (which may at some level be a comment on Roddy McDowall’s long career as a chimp).  This near paralyzing fear permeates the second half of the film, and leads to our admiration of our two heroes as they are able to overcome their fears and defeat the vampire.

This is a classic horror film.  Not exactly the greatest film of all time, but certainly one that couldn’t be improved.  In fact it would be sacrilege to ever even think of redoing this movie, and if anyone even thought about it I would advocate for a total boycott of…wait…what…they did what?…Colin Farrell, are you f’ing kidding me?  And that twerp who played Chekov in that other crappy remake?  This means war….

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Best Halloween Films #28: Underworld (and sequels)

“…all that is certain is that darkness is still ahead. But for now, for the first time, I look into the light with new hope.”

Let me say up front, yes this is brain candy; it would never even make a top 1,000 list of movies if I were not limiting it to Halloween specific films. We all know the utterly preposterous flaws of both films so there is really no point to go over them. But let me at least sing its often overlooked praises that make it at least a fun film.

First off, unlike some movies and TV shows this was before vampires and werewolves stopped being badass. No glitter power vampires or werewolves who moonlight at Chippendale’s here. These vampires and werewolves will kill you without a moment’s hesitation and do it in superb Matrix style.

Second, just look at the cast. Bill Nighy, Michael Sheen, Derek Jacobi. It looks more like a Shakespeare review than a cheesy action film. It makes me wonder if the script looked a lot better on paper. I mean you have all the classic markers of great drama: betrayal and deception, star crossed love, generational intrigue, battle of good and evil. I’m not saying that Underworld is a truly great movie, it’s not…but I wonder in 20 or 30 years if you tightened up the script (especially the dialogue) and made the visuals a little less over the top, a remake might be a significantly better film…but I’ll admit any discussion of a remake is decades away.

Kate Beckinsale. Yes she’s easy on the eyes, but you also have to give her credit for bringing some depth to her character, which is quite a feat given how flat all of her lines are. It’s not an Oscar winning performance, but she does a lot with so little to work with.

It’s just stupidly fun. Admit it. It is. The action scenes never make the flaws that we are far too often these days of nonstop shaky cam chaos. Yeah they’re over the top, but compare it to Resident Evil, the Matrix sequels, or Revenge of the Fallen…all movies that if I have to watch I just fast forward past the action scenes because it’s all chaos, pointless and rather boring. The director, Len Wiseman, may not be able to save the bad dialogue but at least he doesn’t commit the sins of other actions directors of the last decade (which is probably why his Live Free or Die Hard is also so stupidly enjoyable)…(okay that most recent one was overusing the bad 3D effects, but so if everyone).

I have no illusions about how flawed these movies are, but they’re still enjoyable and a great set of Halloween films.

Now is there any deeper value to these films?  I’ll admit I’m going to be reaching and am probably just putting my own spin on this, but, hey, maybe they were trying for some depth.

Of course you have the fear of death that is the definition of the entire horror genre (it’s hard to not touch on this theme when you have immortal beings).  But again you have characters who don’t give into that, who see that there are things worse than death (like betrayal, lies, and making something false your life’s goal).  It also shows that life, even immortal ones, is rather shallow and pointless if you don’t have something to live for.

Unlike a lot of films nowadays it does manage to lay down the idea that there is good and there is evil, but that in dealing with any human (even if they’re supernatural beings, they’re still human in their behavior) action there is gray.  Usually I only get either pure black and white, or all gray.  It’s nice to know that some writers still know that you can have both.  But it also makes clear that evil needs to be opposed, I know it’s a radical concept that many people have a problem with, but it’s a fact, you need to kill the monsters (whether literal or metaphoric because of their complete lack of ethics and humanity) before they kill you because they can’t be reasoned with.

One could argue that there is some moral here about the corrupting effects of power and decadence, as seen in the overly exaggerated habits and lifestyle of the vampires in the first film, but I think they were just going with the Victorian feel of traditional vampire stories…and they have Derek Jacobi’s character in the second film being far richer and quite incorruptible, so it would be an imperfect theme.  Also being surrounded by that for centuries doesn’t corrupt Selene.  You might go as far as to say that this shows that corruptible people are corrupted by decadence…but that really isn’t that surprising or all that deep.  (Like I said, I’m reaching here and fully admit it).

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Halloween, Movies, and Death

HalloweenIt’s October and that means Halloween. And Halloween means I pull out all of my favorite horror movies, which means I am suddenly surrounded by vampire movies (well I am surrounded by vampires all year long, but Buffy is hardly pure horror). But this brings up why is society so overly inundated by the undead lately. Vampires and Zombies are everywhere. Walking Dead, True Blood, Vampire Diaries, Twilight, another Dracula, American Horror Story, World War Z, yet another Paranormal Activity, Resident Evil Part 8000: (subtitled: Jovovich really hopes someone will think she can act and give her a real job), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies…do I really need to continue? Be it TV, books, movies we are literally surrounded by the undead. And it seems like there are a lot more of the nosferatu now than there ever has been. I remember growing up with the Lost Boys, Fright Night, that Dracula with Gary Oldman, Interview with the Vampire, and of course who can ignore Buffy (and of course there were a lot of other films and books that were ignored) but you can’t deny there does seem to be a lot more vampires and zombies now than ever before…and they’re certainly making obscene amounts of money. Now it could be that Hollywood just has found a formula that makes money and are running it into the ground like they do with anything…but it still just seems like it’s more than just that. So the question becomes why are people so enthralled with the undead?

I think I may know what it is. Society’s obsession with death. Now I know I’ve brought this up before, but I feel it needs reiterating. More and more people seem to have a bizarre, infantile obsession with death and as Stephen King once pointed out horror is the genre that deals with the fear of death. They fear it more and more. And I don’t mean in a rational, life is certainly better than death, sort of way. I mean in a way where death becomes an obsession. You see it everywhere else. You see people grieving over the departed far longer than can possibly be healthy. You see them clamoring for healthcare as if it’s a right like they were dying of a terrible disease this minute. It’s irrational. And it’s being manifested in this obsession with the undead, those who have eluded death, no matter what the cost. It’s not a conscious desire to cheat death in such a fashion, but it the subconscious association with the idea of not dying….

So rather than go into my usual rant against the preposterous fear of death (do you know there is Buddhist meditation that asks you to daily imagine a new way you could die in as much depth as possible so you will be able to handle the transition without a shock?). Instead I’m going to take my love of film and go over my 30 favorite Halloween pieces of cinema (I say cinema because some of these will be TV shows) and discuss how they aren’t the usual vicious obsession with death that most horror does.

Why 30 because I did want to save one day in which I deal with why some of the movies that won’t be making the list.

Zombie movies: Philosophically possibly the worst thing I’ve ever seen (even worse when you consider that there has never been a zombie movie with even a half decent plot.) Zombies are more or less a metaphor for what people are like at our most basic level, an expression of pure violence and eating. (When actually if you want to see what people act like when their souls aren’t in control and just letting the body work on autopilot I would suggest you look at pop culture and OccupyWallStreet and certain political parties known for groupthink, yeah that one.). This is part of a large belief that we are all base animals at our core and I do not subscribe to that. On a side note, the only time I have ever seen the character of a zombie used well was in the TV shows Firefly and Dollhouse and the movie (Serenity) where the zombies (called Reavers and Butchers) were not the traditional zombies but described accurately as a perversion of humanity, not the thing we are all trying to keep at bay.

Old horror movies: They’re just too campy for me to respect. Yes, Lugosi and Karloff have their rightful place in history, but I just can’t take them seriously. (Especially since I know the books they’re based on and those movies butcher their source material).

Movies where vampires sparkle: Vampires have always been and are supposed to be metaphors for sexuality. There is just nothing sexy about a vampire who has been playing with glitter.

Slasher films: At their best they’re cheap morality plays which were best summarized by Seth Green in Scream. There is not much more to them than that. At their worst they’re just an obsession with gore and the worst in humanity. (There will be some notable exceptions to the list in the 30 movie countdown).

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Greatest Films of Halloween #4 Dracula (1992)

“How did Lucy die? Was she in great pain? ”
“Yeah, she was in great pain! Then we cut off her head, and drove a stake through her heart, and burned it, and then she found peace. “

I would argue that of all the versions of Dracula out there this is the closest yet to the original book. Dracula by Bram Stoker is probably the 2nd best horror novel in history (the best being Stephen King’s It, but there are not good movie versions of It). As a side note there is only one correct way to read Dracula: with a group of two or more people, taking turns reading it aloud by candle light, preferably on Halloween night. But enough about the book and how this is the only film version where the screenwriter seems to have looked over more than the Cliff notes one page overview…

Why is the movie a great Halloween film?

Gary Oldman as Dracula is just creepy. As the pale and creepy old man. As the bat/wolfman thing. Even as the regenerated younger man he still has that horrifying magnetism. For the most part he revels in his debauchery and villainy. The slight problem is that the screenwriter and director did humanize him a little too much. This is not the creature of the night hell bent on world conquest and destruction–this is more a tragic figure who through loss and pain has come to hate the world and wants it to suffer if he has to suffer. And this is kind of the weakest point of the movie…they tried to humanize him, give him a actual relationship with Mina Haker, bring some human drama into the story and have a title character who wasn’t just a lecherous piece of scum and embodiment of all the dark sides of sexuality (keep in mind vampirism is in many ways a metaphor for rape, for venereal disease, for lovers who use and abuse women). Still Dracula is a villain in this film (especially his shadow which seems to have a twisted Peter Pan thing going on, creeping up on people when Dracula himself is stationary).

Oh and then there’s Keanu Reaves. Sometimes I will actually defend casting Keanu in certain movies (Much Ado, Matrix, Lake House); however, this is not one of those cases. Coppola was going for that bland emotionless look that the Victorian middle class so admired…but it doesn’t work in a story of good versus evil.

But this is made up for by Anthony Hopkins’ Abraham Van Helsing, He’s a little crazy and certainly enjoys his job as vampire hunter way too much. But he is the only one in this film without fear; he actually enjoys pitting himself against the forces of darkness. It’s good he found something he enjoys. Van Helsing in the novel had an offbeat sense of humor, but Hopkins takes it to a wonderful extreme.

But overall the movie is true to the book (at least by Hollywood standards). All the characters which Hollywood usually leaves out are there (especially Lucy’s three suitors), all the main plot points are included (even if they did add some unneeded character development for the Count) and just the general horror of Dracula is there (especially when he’s feeding small children to his vampire brides).

While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that no Halloween is complete without this movie (that only applies to the #1 movie on this list) it does come close.

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Top 10 Halloween Films #10 Interview with the Vampire


“God kills indiscriminately. And so shall we.”

And so we begin with the top 10 Halloween movies….

Interview with the Vampire is a classic film of vampires. And although I think this did begin some of the trends of having whiny sparkling vampires. But the morose vampires that Louis and Armand are still not the spineless wimps vampires have become. They may be honing their brooding skills to a fine art (of course as a precursor to Angel they’re amateurs at brooding) but they can also engage in vicious acts of hatred and destruction. These are still vampires that can kill and will do so. Pitt’s Louis does so out of need and vengeance and can be very cold about it. Banderas’ Armand even more horrifically does it because he finds it an amusement to put on shows because he’s bored with his near eternal life.

Evil with a capital E

And of course there is Lestat. In this version (the Lestat of book The Vampire Lestat is a very different character) Lestat is something you very seldom see in literature: evil for the sake of evil. He’s not a psychotic or a psychopath who doesn’t quite grasp the difference between good and evil. He’s not a sociopath who just doesn’t care. He’s not on a vengeance kick feeling that if he has to suffer then everyone has to suffer. He’s not even really bored. No, he knows he’s evil, he knows good from evil, and it’s not that he doesn’t care; it’s that he delights in being evil. Iago, Ledger’s Joker, Dracula (in the original novel and The Historian), it’s a short list. Knowingly willing evil for the sake of evil. It’s a horrific thought and thankfully something I’m convinced exists only in fiction. But an instructive one to show us what we are not and should not be. It’s all of our worst qualities stripped of all our best qualities, our egos given free reign of madness and evil. Few things are as frightening. (Although even Cruise’s Lestat falls short sometimes of the pure villainy with which Louis imaged him, as when he mentions it’s easier to kill the guilty and his constant complaining about having not being given a choice when he became a vampire).

And I believe I have mentioned this before but it bears repeating—stories about those who are immortal help clarify the fear of death. The normal person doesn’t fear death as much because they know it is an inevitable fact…the fictional construct of the immortal vampire is far more afraid of death, partly because they trade in it, they’re already half in the grave, and they are afraid of what is not a fact for them. If the fear of death is the fear of the unknown for the average mortal…how much more an unknown is it to someone who doesn’t have to die. You see this mostly clearly when Louis returns to New Orleans and sees Lestat huddled in the corner of a house, afraid to move, afraid to find how the world has evolved; afraid to be himself for fear that he may not be able to survive.

Something else came to mind while watching this movie; you could never get it made today. This movie was made before being PC came into its full stride culturally so I think it got away with things you probably couldn’t now as today people read slights to special interest groups where there are none (while strangely letting real threats to society go without a word). The fact that there are some pretty clear homoerotic overtones between Lestat and Louis, and Louis and Armand coupled with the fact that Lestat is evil and Armand is just short of evil you would probably have numerous groups complaining about how the movie is showing gays in a poor light. This of course would be missing the point that the story was showing all the vampires to just be hedonistically decadent and willing to get hedonistic pleasures anyway they could get it, it has nothing to with orientation, it has to do with a lack of ethics (in just the same way a guy who sleeps around with hundreds of women without any meaning is unethical). And these would ironically be the same people who have next to nothing to say about the fact that actors who come out as gay will often find fewer jobs after coming out. Have to love double standards. Gives you moment’s pause at how many other films haven’t been made because of a fear of being called PC.

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