Sitges Review: Stake Land


At one point in fabulously envisioned Stake Land, the loner-hero takes a brief snatch of down time from kicking up road dust and vampire killing to relax on an outdoor recliner chaise. It is the moment that you realize that the film has far more in common with a classic American Western than the current craze of Vampire movies. But this is only one of the revelatory delights that the film is stacked with chock-a-block to the point where you sit back and smile that genre films can be made so well. In a year where John Carpenter has a new film that is as unsatisfying and generic as oatmeal, it is nice to see that others have taken up the mantle to resurrect the no-nonsense, bad-ass, Snake Plissken type (here named simply “Mister”) and drop him into an interesting and wide open space – a post-Apocalyptic america that has returned to its frontier roots in the wake of a Vampire epidemic. But these are not your Bram Stoker, Anne Rice or Stephenie Meyer Vampires. A stake through the heart will finish them off, assuredly, but there isn’t much going on upstairs beyond the extreme feeding instinct. They are sort of a hybrid of rage-zombies and rabid (foaming) nocturnal pack-animals, not far off the were-rat creatures featured in the director-writer-star combo’s (Jim Mickle and Nick Damici) first film Mulberry Street. Certainly, this peculiar (and quite gross) brand of vampire is something something you do not want to be caught surrounded with on a moon-less prairie night after being robbed and dumped by religious fanatics with a vindictive sense of road-justice. This is, more or less, taken in stride by Mister – one more speed-bump on the road out of a sadly compromised and brutally over-stretched America that has seen the final monster sized Katrina-disaster which has pushed it back to the 19th century.

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Thoughts on the LET THE RIGHT ONE IN Remake

You go on vacation and it is a relatively slow movie and news week, but my interest perked up upon glancing at the two released stills from Matt “Cloverfield” Reeves’ english language remake of Let The Right One in. First off, if you average out the Row Three contributors’ picks on 2008 films, Låt den rätte komma in was probably the most loved, so most people writing for the site have some sort of emotional stake in seeing it redone for a North American Audience. You know the part where they polish off the rough edges, take out the emotional depth and thematic resonance, and make it a thrill ride (for any or all of the above, see: The Vanishing, Bangkok Dangerous, Nine Queens, [REC], La Femme Nikita, etc. etc.)

But, oddly enough, I am rather interested in such an immediate do-over in spite of the high water mark set by the Swedish version of the film. There is the casting of the two leads, Chloe Moretz who kicked ass in, well, you know, and Kodi Smit-McPhee who give stellar performances in two dark films, The Road and Romulus My Father. Also, the producers are being rather clever in using the title of the first edition translation of the Novel, Let Me In, which at least tells me they took the time to do a bit of looking into how the book and film have been processed over here, and are not slapping it with the same title (causing some confusion due to the proximity of the releases) or giving it some focus-group moniker. Furthermore, I thought Cloverfield was a fairly solid both in the writing department and the directing department, and Reeves is doing both the remake (albeit Reeves did not write Cloverfield). Lastly, the novel has a number of twists and turns that were polished out of the original movie. The author of the novel, John Ajvide Lindqvist, wrote the screenplay and I’m sure he knows his own material, but having an outsiders interpretation, particularly at some of the more graphic elements in the novel, if the producers are willing to go there, would be enough to get me in the cinema.

Really, there is bound to be some disappointment with the remake, due to how familiar I am with the source material and the original movie, but at this point I am not flat out against an English Language production. After all, there have been some good remakes done out there, Gore Verbinski’s The Ring has that knock-out addition with the horse on the ferry, Martin Scorsese’s The Departed was entertaining and added a gritty Boston atmosphere to the story, and lest we forget that both The Thing, The Fly and Invasion of the Body Snatchers all got it right on the second whirl around.

Vampire Double Bill: “Thirst; Vampyr”

Thirst (Park Chan-wook, 2009)

With New Moon madness now upon us here in North America, I thought the best way to put an end to my recent hiatus would be a fresh attack against the Stephenie Meyer-penned, dreamy teen boyhunk vampires ‘n’ werewolves phenomenon, hitting it with a double-shot of alternatives for the jaded, sick and tired vampire fans of the world. Of course, avoiding vampires altogether is an effective option that many have probably taken at this point – and I don’t blame you. But reconsider giving up the fanged figures completely if only to give these interesting works a chance. Without further ado…

I’m a huge admirer of Park Chan-wook’s work. He is one of those filmmakers who truly knows how to use and develop his own cinematic style, resulting in films that are visually splendid, thematically fascinating and quite often downright brilliant. Ever since “Cut,” his segment of the Asian horror omnibus film Three…Extremes which opens with a film crew shooting a vampire film, fans have been teased with hints and rumors of his full-length, fully-fledged horror film. Now we have Thirst, which just recently came out on DVD (in Region 1) and tells the tale of a priest (Park regular Song Kang-ho) who volunteers for a medical experiment and ends up receiving blood from a transfusion that turns him into a vampire. As he adapts to his new “condition,” he meets the sexually provocative Tae-joo (Kim Ok-vin), with whom he forms a complex and dangerous relationship while grappling with feelings of guilt from the evil deeds he is driven to do.

I have yet to see Park’s eccentric comedy I’m a Cyborg, But That’s Okay, so this was essentially the first new film of his I was seeing since the excellent Lady Vengeance – and boy was it good to come back to his world. All of his recognizable visual trademarks are there – creative transitions and camerawork, vivid colors, beautifully grotesque displays of violence. However, the mood of the film was something that occasionally threw me. There are, of course, moments of real dramatic weight and horror, but every so often, Park takes a swerve into comedy, the most obvious (and disappointing) example being Tae-joo’s husband who, after being drowned by the vampire-priest, haunts the couple by appearing on their bed, sopping wet, grinning a huge, dopey grin. It’s hard to believe this is from the same Park who used another drowned ghost – that of a little girl – to such chilling effect in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, a film so stark and hard-hitting that one wouldn’t imagine there being any room for visiting spirits. Thirst also sports some of the dark, deadpan humor that Park used so well in certain moments of his Vengeance trilogy, but it ultimately lacks the driving focus that anchored his previous explorations of the dark side of the soul, instead going from intriguing to sexy to funny and back again.

While not one of Park’s best, Thirst still has plenty to good stuff to sink your teeth into (pun not intended), including sumptuous visuals (the film is a blue- and white-hued wonderland), an excellent performance by Kim Ok-vin and a quite satisfying conclusion.

Vampyr (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1932)


I now jump from 2009 all the way back to the last days of silent cinema for one of the very first vampire films ever made – and still one of the finest. For what better filmmaker is there to combat the wave of inept filmmaking that the Twilight film series is producing so far (I’m hoping David Slade doesn’t hit strike three with Eclipse, if only because I like Hard Candy so much) than Carl Theodor Dreyer, the Danish master who gave us The Passion of Joan of Arc? For Vampyr, he applied his unique style to the horror genre for the first time – are you detecting a pattern here? But unlike Chan-wook Park, Dreyer just about pulls it off flawlessly, producing a truly eerie atmosphere of misty fields, isolated houses and shifting shadows.

The narrative follows a young student of the occult named Allan Grey (Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg AKA Julian West, who also helped finance the film) who becomes enmeshed in sinister goings-on surrounding an old man and his two daughters Gisèle and Léone who are tormented by a vampire named Marguerite Chopin and her servant. Yet the plot is only secondary (and in fact leaves a number of things unexplained) compared to the mesmerizing realm into which Dreyer draws his audience. Just in the opening moments, with Grey’s arrival at his strange inn and the sight of an old ferry rider carrying a scythe, the film begins casting a spell through its imagery alone. The cinematography by Rudolph Maté seems to carve the shapes and figures out of pure ebony, and Dreyer, with a barrage of wallpaper patterns, silhouettes that move on their own and painting-inspired compositions, fashions a purely Gothic visual scheme (helped along by Rena Mandel’s black dress-clad, heavily eyeshadowed Gisèle). The film’s events are brilliantly accentuated by Wolfgang Zeller’s ominous score.

While containing certain elements that anyone familiar with vampire movies should recognize, Vampyr certainly belongs in a class of its own, not a film so much as a strange, surreal fever dream bound to linger in viewers’ minds.

The Vampyre Chronicles: Vampyr (1932)

Criterion Edition: Vampyr

They say never judge a [DVD] by its cover. Well, with Criterion’s recent release of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s (Passion of Joan of Arc) Vampyr (IMDb), I just couldn’t help myself. As a big fan of Murnau’s Nosferatu, just looking at images from Dreyer’s film, I couldn’t help but be captivated and intrigued. Criterion seemed to realize it is the perfect film for this Halloween season if you’re in the mood for a classic and tired of the same old same old.

Vampyr is the simple story of a young man, Allan Gray, who takes refuge in a country-side inn during an aimless journey. As a study of the death and occult, Allan is a bit of a dreamer, maybe even overly paranoid about spooks and the like and possibly sees things that aren’t really there… or are they?

From nearly the opening moment of the film we have several ominous and ambiguous creepy shots that really play well with lighting and angles. As Allan walks around the interior of the inn, he follows a man’s shadow throughout the house that seems to have no source and which leads him to attic area in which an entire parade of human-like shadows are dancing and singing. While in the middle of the room lies an open coffin that has obviously been lied in recently. Later that night, Allan is suddenly awoken when a strange old man enters his room without a word and drops off a mysterious letter that is only to be opened in the event of his death. All of these little set-ups lead to Allan’s fear and interest in the possibility of a haunting of some kind or a vampire “infestation.”

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The Vampyre Chronicles: Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Unlike Neil Jordan’s Interview with the Vampire, the majority of vampire films (at least those that achieved any level of notoriety) have been presented solely from mankind’s perspective. F.W. Murnau’s 1922 horror classic, Nosferatu, wasn’t so much the story of the evil Count Orlok as it was that of Hutter and his long-suffering wife, Ellen, who found themselves suddenly coping with the threat of having to live across the street from a monster. Tod Browning’s 1931 version of Dracula possessed a dual personality, mixing in equal parts the tale of Mina Seward’s fight for survival with that of Dr. Van Helsing’s quest to defeat the Dark Prince. Despite the fact that the vampires themselves were usually the title characters, their existence in these films was little more than a means by which to challenge the human condition. This is one reason I was so utterly fascinated by Interview with the Vampire, a film in which the bloodthirsty undead finally take center stage. Mankind is barely a supporting player in this film. In fact, we’re little more than the main course.

Louis (Brad Pitt), a 200 year old vampire, longs to tell his story to the world. To this end, he grants an interview to reporter Daniel Malloy (Christian Slater), during which Louis conveys the dramatic details of his plunge into darkness. The year was 1791, and Louis, a New Orleans plantation owner whose wife had just passed away, decided, in despair, to take his own life. Before he has a chance to end it all, however, he meets Lestat (Tom Cruise), a vampire who, with a solitary bite on the neck, grants Louis the gift of eternal life. Shortly after his transformation, Louis begins to question whether such an existence is indeed a gift…or a curse. Plagued by the memories of his life as a mortal, Louis can’t bring himself to kill another human being, and chooses instead to feast on the blood of rats and other small animals. Lestat taunts Louis for his “misguided” morality, yet Louis never forgets what it was like to be human, leaving his ‘life’ as a vampire depressingly unfulfilled.

In Interview with the Vampire, Brad Pitt delivers an extraordinary performance as the monster who can’t escape the memory of his life before the darkness. His Louis despises the fact that he must draw the blood of innocents in order to survive, a direct contrast to Tom Cruise’s treacherous Lestat, who takes pleasure in the kill. When Louis lures a wealthy socialite (Lyla Hay Owen) out into the darkness with the intention of attacking her, he instead winds up murdering the woman’s two poodles, drinking their blood as his intended victim screams for help. While the failure to ignore his own humanity works against Louis at the outset, this very quality will eventually make him the envy of others of his kind, including Armand (Antonio Banderas), the leader of a band of vampires whom Louis encounters one year in Paris. Armand recognizes that Louis, despite his feelings of inadequacy, is, in fact, the perfect vampire; a being who has achieved immortality, yet continues to maintain a very mortal frame of mind.

When it comes to movie monsters (in particular any of the ‘classic’ creatures), it’s usually the pathetic ones, such as Frankenstein’s monster, that gather up most of the audience’s sympathy, while vampires, symbols of the true harbingers of evil, are reviled the world over. In Interview with the Vampire, we get to know these children of the night who were once, and not long ago, mortals just like us. We discover that the craving for blood does not entirely wipe away the guilt for having to spill it, and that, even among the eternally damned, there remains a glimmer of humanity, no matter how many hundreds of years may pass.

The Vampyre Chronicles: 1st Bite

1st Bite CaptionOh, how to resist writing a review on Hunt Hoe‘s unusual, often frustrating, but just as often satisfying cultural-cuisine-genre fusion without resorting to facile food metaphors or puns? Maybe I should indulge. 1st Bite (opening on one lonely screen in the Greater Toronto suburbs after a two year run on festival circuit) often does, throwing everything and the kitchen sink at the screen is a diaspora of mythologies, philosophies and visuals. If you are looking for consistency or restraint, this film is not it. However, there is a certain charm in its earnestness that hearkens back to the Hammer Studios or those Roger CormanEdgar Allen Poe productions on display here that seeps around the Club Med slash Celestine Prophesy aesthetic.

The movie opens with a master chef, Gustave serving up haute-cuisine in an upscale restaurant in Montreal. He is good enough, his Thai boss, Om, explains that he hired him, a white-french-Canadian as head chef of a highly reputable Thai restaurant. All the while a drop of the same bosses blood ends up in the food going out to the local crime boss. In the middle of a toast to the chef, the boss is carted off to the hospital to have his stomach pumped, and his somewhat goofy goons are hunting down Gustave for a bit of the ole acid reflux. Om, ever the sympathetic boss, gets the beleaguered Gustave (it is notable that David Le Haye spends the film looking like a seriously hung-over Tim Roth, and the state of his hair tells more about what is going on than his blank-slate expression) a plane ticket to Southern Thailand and the address of Zen-master of cooking who resides on a small island. There Gustave vacillates between the sex-tourists and the twenty-something-super-hot niece of the Zen master (who is absent) and here little brother.

And herein lies the crux of the film. Either a strength or a weakness is how cliche both sides of the coin are represented. On one hand, the western tourists are represented in broad (but likely valid) strokes by a boorish Australian clod and a few hard bodied twenty somethings amongst the locals who are either fire-throwing beach dancers or prostitutes. On the other hand, the local dose of cultural exoticism is played by young Thai actress Napakpapha Nakprasitte (infamous for staring in Thailand’s own gore-masterpiece Art of the Devil 2). She provides a particular sinister and sexy performance under the most painfully cliche circumstances, reminiscent of another westerner-directed Thai supernatural horror film, Paul Spurrier‘s difficult to find 2005 film P.

Meanwhile, the spoiled-but-sensitive western tourist (call him Neo, er, Gustave) who gets private access to her little beach cave home and is educated in the local lore, cuisine and philosophy while bedding her down, and ultimately heart-breaking her in the leaving. Of course, when she has lines like “We kill, we eat, what we love,” you have to question the sanity of Gustave sticking around her little cave paradise. It takes a poisoning (or is it simply too much of a good thing) which sends him via a hallucinatory train-ride into the arms of famous Indian character actor Dr. Mohan Agashe who runs some sort of religious/cult/wellness compound where the global village really digs on the ancient art of shadow puppetry. While detoxifying there, Gustave does indeed gets both barrels of indoctrination via a fish-eyed lensed litany of religious-philosophy that is equal parts James Redfield , The Mahabharata and Hell’s Ground. Finally back in Montreal, Gustave finds Om has flown the coop and so he falls in the restaurants current owners. A rich couple played by Gordon Pinsent‘s daughter Leah, and her sinister sugar daddy and always entertaining Michael Ironside (here a bit against type as a pragmatic intellectual). The picture at this point morphs into something between a lurid adultery melodrama and an episode of the Outer Limits (on binge eating of all subjects) where the Montreal is made to look both gothic and sexy. Through a baffling and late act plot contortion the picture wraps up in a mystical pastel-palletted divine intervention that cannot be adequately described here in its sheer oddity. 1st Bite, at the very least, does boast of the strangest collection of behind and in front of the camera talent which perhaps adds to the many shifts in tone.

All that plot detail is telling in that the strength of 1st Bite is not the scripting or thematic depth, but rather a fun unpredictability in what genre or style it is going to leap to next. There were expectations a foodie-vampire flick going in that would display a lot of sumptuously prepared meals contrasted with some artful and erotic bloodletting and world-hopping thrown in for good measure. In the end, the film didn’t quite deliver expectations, and that is not a bad thing; like Peter O’Toole in Ratatouille, I want directors, even (especially?) Canadian-Malaysian ones, to “Surprise Me.” While never quite attaining the divinity tourist Lynchian mind-fuck achieved with Dune (or for that matter Mulholland Dr.) nor the subtle walking of the line in terms of exploiting cultural exoticism of say Kim Ki Duk. But compared to the blase straightforwardness of something like the Can-Asian ghost story They Wait, 1st Bite does succeed in a novel enough way. By comparison, it is Gore-met, even. Ugh, told you I couldn’t resist.

The Vampyre Chronicles: Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

In the early 1920’s, director F.W. Murnau set out to make a movie based on Bram Stoker’s classic novel, Dracula. The resulting film, titled Nosferatu and starring Max Schreck as the vampire, remains to this day a masterwork of horror.

Shadow of the Vampire, released in 2000, is a fictional account of the making of Nosferatu, with one small modification. This time around, the roles of vampire and actor have been reversed. Nosferatu’s Max Schreck, so effectively frightening as the undead bloodsucker in the original, is no longer merely an actor portraying a vampire. In a twist that could be among the most ingenious in recent memory, a real-life vampire (Willem Dafoe) has been hired by director Murnau (John Malkovich) to play the role of an actor named Schreck who is, in turn, playing a vampire in his new film. And exactly how did Murnau convince a real vampire to star in his movie? By promising him the throat of the leading lady (Catherine McCormack) once filming was completed. For Murnau, it’s the perfect arrangement, the ultimate truth for his artistic endeavor. But can he control the beast he has so callously unleashed on his unsuspecting film crew?

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The Vampyre Chronicles: Horror of Dracula (1958)

Produced in England in 1958, Horror of Dracula was Hammer Studio’s take on the legend of the world’s most famous bloodsucker. Interestingly enough, the film’s title was changed upon its import into the United States, having been released simply as Dracula in its native country. The reasoning behind this change was that the distributors didn’t want there to be any confusion between this film and the classic 1931 Bela Lugosi version, which was experiencing a revival of sorts in select cities across the U.S. at the time. While I can understand the concern, the fact remains that any “confusion” between the two would be highly unlikely. For example, due to the strict regulations governing film production at the time, 1931’s Dracula was made without the spilling a single drop of blood on-screen. In Horror of Dracula, the red stuff starts to splatter during the opening credits.

Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) travels to a remote region of Eastern Europe to do battle with the evil Count Dracula (Christopher Lee). Unfortunately, he never returns. Back in London, Harker’s good friend, Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), informs Arthur Holmwood (Michael Gough), the brother of Harker’s fiancé, Lucy (Carol Marsh), that Harker has died abroad. But the sad tale doesn’t end there. Soon after, Lucy falls seriously ill, suffering from a strange case of anemia, which has Van Helsing convinced that Count Dracula has made his way to London, and is about to bring poor Lucy under his spell.

For Horror of Dracula, the coveted role of the infamous Count was awarded to actor Christopher Lee, who would go on to play the vampire six more times for Hammer over the next several years. Much like Lugosi before him, Lee was born to play this role, successfully conveying both the Count’s sophisticated nobility and his savageness. This is evident right from the start, when Harker first arrives at Dracula’s castle. At this initial meeting, the Count, who is ever so polite, acts more like a professional butler than the Lord of the Undead, and even carries Harker’s luggage to his room for him. The next time we see Dracula, however, will be under much more intense circumstances. Having been lured out of his room that first night by one of the Count’s wives (Valerie Gaunt), Harker finds himself cornered, and seconds away from receiving a bite on the neck. Suddenly, Dracula bursts into the room. With blood dripping from his teeth and wild, bloodshot eyes, The Count does battle with his deranged wife, quickly subdues her, then carries her off to another part of the castle. Only two scenes in, Horror of Dracula has set everything in motion, showing us all we need to know about Count Dracula.

As mentioned above, Lee would go on to star in a string of Dracula movies for Hammer Studios, including Dracula: Prince of Darkness in 1966 and Dracula Has Risen from the Grave in 1968. More often than not, he appeared alongside Peter Cushing, who was the perfect Van Helsing to Lee’s Dracula. They would star together in a string of Hammer ‘Horror revival’ films, including The Curse of Frankenstein (in 1957), The Mummy, and The Hound of the Baskervilles (both 1959). But for fans of Hammer’s unique take on the classic tales of the macabre, these two fine actors will be forever locked in mortal battle, Lee’s Dracula on one side and Cushing’s Van Helsing on the other, fighting it out for the future of humanity.

The Vampyre Chronicles: Nosferatu (1922)

In 1922, F.W. Murnau directed his gothic masterpiece, Nosferatu, the first ever feature-length version of Bram Stoker’s classic vampire novel, Dracula. Unfortunately, Murnau failed to purchase the rights to the novel before doing so, and was therefore forced to alter his story ever so slightly. He had hoped that, by changing the character’s names and moving the central location from London to Wisburg, Germany, his film might slip by unnoticed. It didn’t. Florence Stoker, the author’s widow, sued the filmmakers for the unauthorized use of her husband’s work. Ms. Stoker eventually won her case, resulting in a court order that every existing print of Nosferatu, negatives and all, be gathered up and destroyed.

Fortunately for us, they missed a few of ‘em.

Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim), a young real estate agent, has been sent by his maniacal boss, Knock (Alexander Granach) to the castle of Count Orlok (Max Schreck), where he must negotiate a contract that will bring the mysterious Count to Wisburg. Leaving his new wife, Nina (Greta Schrõder), behind, Hutter makes the long journey to Orlok’s castle. Once there, Hutter comes to realize the Count is, in reality, an undead monster, and must be prevented from ever leaving the grounds of his dilapidated castle. However, the Count moves quickly, and seals Hutter up in a room in the tower. Setting out for Wisburg alone, the Count plans to take up residence in an abandoned building, one situated directly across the street from Hutter’s home.

Despite the many years that have passed since its production, Nosferatu remains a truly frightening marriage of story and atmosphere. The character of Count Orlok, as portrayed by Max Schreck, is easily one of the most recognizable monsters ever committed to film. and, 80+ years later, his vampire is still the most chilling in cinematic history. When we first meet the Count, he’s emerging from a darkened tunnel to greet the newly-arrived Hutter, an initial appearance that is as sinsiter as it is shocking. Schreck’s vampire resembles a giant rat with a pair of deep, hypnotic eyes, and even the child-like Hutter, so carefree in the film’s early scenes, shrinks in terror at the sight of his host, as if suddenly sensing the evil that has descended upon him. Later that night, Hutter is cutting some bread for dinner. His hand slips, and the knife slices into his finger, drawing blood. Orlok’s eyes widen. He jumps from his seat and approaches Hutter with a crazed look in his eyes, once again causing his guest to withdraw in fear. Schreck’s performance, in this scene and all others, is positively creepy.

In 1924, Béla Balázs, a German film writer, wrote that the experience of watching Nosferatu was like a “chilly draft from doomsday”. That’s still true today. Thanks to the talents of F.W. Murnau and Max Schreck, Nosferatu remains an undeniably spine-chilling masterpiece.

The Vampyre Chronicles: The Hunger (1983)

The Hunger - David BowieWelcome to another experimental RowThree column. A bit of a free form flow of ideas and observations of vampire movies. It turns out that a lot of folks around here dig on the blood-sucking set. No, not the MPAA, but rather the movie monster/legend that has probably spawned more films than any other: Nosferatu, Vampyre, Tom Cruise. While you could make a minor case that the Vampire film is an offshoot of the cannibal film in general, as it is the consuming of another’s flesh to retain ones own — it is the romantic trappings and upscale-society European elements that are probably more palatable to audiences than jungles, African tribes and boiling pots (I’m trafficking in cliches, but you get the idea). Plus, it is the innate sexual imagery that drives many a vampire film. Think of the whole Lucy/Dracula/Mina thread woven throughout Bram Stoker’s Turn of the Century novel Dracula. Heck, think Sadie Frost, Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 version; a film that had the foresight to cast a young Monica Bellucci as Dracula’s Bride#2. Sexuality is ripe within the genre. More interestingly, this is often entwined with a curious melancholy stemming from having to prey on what you once were in order to fuel endless immortality. A thread in many a vampire yarn involves the difficulties of grasping and the impossibility of embracing ‘living forever.’

This brings us to the kick-off version of the new semi-regular column which does little beyond having a look back at older Vampire movies. Tony Scott‘s 1983 film, The Hunger. Known mainly then for the hundreds of British TV commercials he made for his brother Ridley‘s Ad company at the time, it is curious to see that The Hunger resembles music videos as much as it does perfume ads. The film opens with Bauhaus lead singer, Peter Murphy, singing the iconic goth anthem, Bela Lugosi’s Dead. If that ain’t foreshadowing in both plot and theme, then, well, I don’t know what is. The opening sequence, lasting upwards of 10 minutes, is told 100% visually and aurally – no dialogue. It is a great introduction to the aristocratic vampire duo of David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve as they hunt/seduce/slum in the goth clubs before wholesale slaughter and feeding. Cut to the ‘team of scientists’ section of the film and introduction to third principle, Susan Sarandon. The film is less interested with introducing characters as it is between visually connecting a savage and dying monkey to Bowie’s vampire. The connection of the two is not particularly subtle, but it has a grand and savage magisterial quality to it (appropriate to any vampire film). You see both the monkey and the vampire are going through periods of rapid aging. The monkey on on a video tape and soon the vampire in the waiting room to the same research lab. Bowie‘s aging is a triumph of practical make-up effects and solid editing. I’d go so far to say that other than one badly lit scene, its probably the most convincing on-screen aging ever accomplished, and this in almost a single sequence lasting about 10 minutes.

Sarandon‘s researcher, seeing Bowie before and after his wait outside the laboratory gates (in a very stately 1940s art deco styled waiting room – did I mention the production design here is posh?), follows him back to his Brownstone lair and meets Catherine Deneuve who, upon quite short notice, is looking for her next companion. Questions lead to flirting lead to the controversial (at the time) lesbian sex scene. Put it side by side with the Wachowski BrothersBound and neither are particularly graphic, both are almost even tastefully erotic, which is certainly the goal in The Hunger. Post-coitus, Sarandon‘s character has to come to grips with the biological changes going on and the position that Deneuve has put her in with her husband. This segment of the film certainly provided some inspiration in the more earthy eighties vampire flicks, The Lost Boys and Near Dark.

Make no mistake, The Hunger is a triumph of production design and style that was anticipated by Tony‘s brother Ridley‘s sci-fi duo Alien and Blade Runner (particularly the latter). It has a fair bit of restrain when it comes to post-production though. All the crazy filters, text, film-stock manipulation of Tony Scott‘s 1990s and 2000s work (Domino being the extreme example) has not been discovered here. It certainly give The Hunger a visual purity, occasionally marred by the excess of candles, curtains and doves – Scott’s practical equivalent (compared to digital) of masturbatory excess. The ending may be a bit abrupt, and slightly contradictory, even nonsensical – yet there is a loud visual symmetry that continues the cycle (I’m guessing this image struck the production designers of Ghostbusters, particularly the Sigourney Weaver/Gatekeeper segment of the film.)

In the end, buried beneath all the goth-glamour and raw meat, there is an interesting motif of love, aging, and the price of companionship when one is immortal. That this is told visually instead of through dialogue certainly qualifies Mr. Scott giving a worthy contribution to the genre. In other words, gems like this one are the grist that keeps the mill turning.