Tuesday, May 20, 2014

More Blood!

It's no secret that I'm a fan of vampires. I've written 2 vampire novels, 100,000 MIDNIGHTS and ACROSS THE MIDNIGHT SEA. I've mentioned vampires on this blog quite often too, reviewing other writers' vampire books, listing my favorite Dracula films, and praising the horror artwork of Gene Colan, who drew Marvel Comics' great series Tomb of Dracula in the 1970s.

It occurred to me today that I've viewed 3 vampire films in recent months, and that all 3 are very different types of movies, so I thought I'd share my opinions of those today.

Let the Right One In is a Swedish film from 2008 and just might be the most beautiful vampire movie ever made. It's the story of a young, lonely, bullied boy named Oskar who meets a young girl who's moved into a nearby apartment. She appears to be about the same age as Oskar and the two slowly develop a friendship. In reality, she's much older, and a vampire. I don't want to give away the rest of the plot, as this is a movie that should be experienced rather than read about. It's that good! It alternates between being emotionally moving and breathtakingly horrific. The cinematography is superb, the direction excellent. It's a beautiful film from start to finish and I can't recommend it highly enough. It's absolutely mesmerizing. There's also an American remake, Let Me In, which was released in 2010. This version is also very, very good, but I'd rank the original as being the better of the two.

Fright Night (1985) is a mix of horror and comedy that also shares stylistic similarities with 80s teenage movies. Like Let the Right One In, the plot revolves around a teenager who discovers that his new neighbor is a vampire, but in this case it's an adult vampire of the truly evil variety. To deal with this threat, the young man enlists the help of horror movie actor "vampire killer" Peter Vincent (played by Roddy McDowall), who has to find away to summon the courage that was previously just part of an act. This is a fun film, worth watching once. It's entertaining enough, and the look and tone of it will make anyone who was a kid in the 80s a little sentimental, but of course not nearly the same sort of masterpiece as the first movie I talked about today.    

The third movie is one I've seen before, though it had been, I'd guess, at least fifteen years between viewings. Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) is a film about which I have very mixed feelings.
This movie features wonderful visual designs, an excellent cast including some of the best actors working today, including Anthony Hopkins and Gary Oldman, and, unlike many Dracula movies, manages to keep all the novel's main characters without cutting any big roles or combining characters to save room. It also has most of the novel's key scenes. Taking all that into consideration, this should have been one of the best Dracula movies of all time.
So what went wrong? For some reason, it was decided that making a faithful adaptation of the world's most famous horror novel, which is about a group of people whose mission is to put a stop to a creature who is perhaps horror fiction's greatest villain, just wasn't good enough.
Instead, the decision was made to insert a love story into the movie, and, even worse, make it the core of the film, turning the evil Dracula into a sympathetic, tragic, misunderstood semi-hero, thus staining the whole plot, turning what could have been a great horror movie into a sort of grandfather to Twilight.
All the ingredients were there: beautiful sets, brilliant use of colors, excellent special effects, Tom Waits' maniacal performance as Renfield, Anthony Hopkins' interesting, eccentric portrayal of Van Helsing, and most of the elements that made Stoker's novel so great. But that extra, unneeded thing just had to be thrown into the pot to ruin the recipe and make the story into something it was never meant to be.
Is the movie worth seeing? Yes, it is. It's visually glorious and has much to enjoy. Yet it could have been so much more. In there are the bones of a faithful version of one of the classic horror stories, but, much like Peter Jackson did with his Tolkein adaptations, the makers of this film couldn't just go with what the author intended. They added themes and events that shouldn't have been there and ruined what came so close to being right.   

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