Friday, 9 March 2012

Guesty's Cult/Arthouse Movie Club

Just like Grandpa in the 1987 cult classic horror  The Lost Boys The one thing about living in Santa Carla I never could stomach, all the damn vampires!

Thinking back over all the great cinematic Monsters the Vampire has been one of the most enduring iconic characters for generations along with The Wolf Man Frankensteins Creature and Brendan Fraser the horror genre has always attempted to enthral and terrify in equal measure.

Once upon a time, being a vampire was seen as a distinguished profession stalking the night sky, stopping only to nap in coffins and to gorge on Balkan peasants for tea. Now, thanks to the f@*king Twilight saga, today’s vampires are whimpering Dawson's Creek wannabees. Where their ancestors once fearlessly slayed mortals at will, these brooding f*ck wits now just squeeze spots in the shadows.

So where do we begin? what are the origins of these so called chil-dren of d'night? well probably the earliest incarnation that can be found on film is Nosferatu an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. It was directed by the German director F.W. Murnau in 1922. There was no permission from Bram Stoker’s estate to use the story so, despite the fact that all names were (cunningly) changed, Stoker’s widow, Florence Stoker was able to successfully sue for copyright infringement. The court ordered all existing prints of Nosferatu destroyed, but luckily the film had already been distributed so copies survived.

There are a number of changes from the Stoker novel, the most obvious being that the heroine sacrifices herself in order to distract the vampire until dawn at which time he then vanishes in an understated non-CGI'd puff of smoke (take note Lucas!!). The Harker character is almost unbearably useless, but that is not entirely distinct from the book, where you sometimes wonder if he and Van Helsing actually want Mina to be attacked. Dracula is called Count Orlok and is far from the charming villain we’ve learnt to expect from years of Bela Lugosi and others.

I’m not sure what it is that makes a film iconic, but the imagery and direction in Nosferatu can only be described this way. What can sometimes take a full paragraph to express in the text of Stoker is communicated within a few brief seconds. It’s elegant and economical, but most of all, it seems to stir something in our minds a kind of dream state where only the vampire lives.

The next most notable on screen adaptation of Bram Stokers creation was in Dracula_(1958_film) One of the many Hammer horror movies which dominated the late 50's, 60's and early 70's. The main protagonist was played by none other than British horror movie legend Christopher Lee.  

Although a classic movie Directed by Terrance Fisher it does tend to revert to type and could be described as a very ordinary and standard plot. Van Helsing, investigating the death of his friend concludes that Jonathan Harker was the victim of a blood-sucking vampire. When Harker's fiancée, Lucy, becomes trapped by the terrifying force and hypnotic power of Count Dracula, Van Helsing releases her tortured soul by driving a stake through her heart. But Dracula persists in seeking revenge against Harker, targeting Lucy's beautiful sister, Mina. Van Helsing swears to exorcise this evil forever by confronting the vile and depraved Count himself. What really makes this movie stand out is the charismatic performances from Peter Cushing as Van Helsing and obviously Christopher Lee who is seen by many as the complete embodiment of 'Dracula'.

Up until the early eighties the vampire genre was very much on it's last legs, however like all great monsters it just wouldn't die. All of a sudden Hollywood was given an unexpected kick up the proverbial backside, and out of the blue we saw the release of great movies such as Fright Night (1985) & Near Dark (1987) the later of which follows a mid-western farm boy who reluctantly becomes a member of the undead when a girl he meets turns out to be part of a band of southern vampires who roam the highways in stolen cars. Directed & written by none other than Kathryn Bigelow of Point Break and Hurtlocker fame and staring eighties stalwarts Lance Henriksen & Bill Paxton (who coincidentally also starred along side one another in James Cameron Aliens a film produced by Bigelow). Near Dark is stylishly directed, well written, and enjoyable to watch. It's very easy to 'sink your teeth into' and you soon find yourself immersed in a velvety world of the night.

Here is a vampire film which was both refreshing and innovative operating outside of the standard 'once upon a time' vampire rules. These bloodsuckers do not bare fangs, avoid garlic, or shun the Christian cross. In a sense, the "Near Dark" vampires are a continuation of the genre's evolution. This movie does provide something interesting to the vampire tale, and that's how Caleb is able to stop being a vampire, yet still manage to live. And, it doesn't have anything to do with killing the head vampire.

Slow moody shots and explosive action sequences are almost equally spellbinding. The film is paced beautifully, and can be forgiven for some moments where it becomes difficult to suspend disbelief. Now you could draw parallels with Twilight in that this film could be considered more of a love story than a horror story, however Near Dark differs greatly in that it actually manages to gel both genres together in a way that the films of the saga that is Twilight do not.

Another film released during this time was The Hunger (1983) the directorial debut from Tony Scott who as I'm sure you will be aware subsequently went on to direct major Hollywood movies such as Top Gun (1986), Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), Days of Thunder (1990), The Last Boy Scout (1991) and the Last Picture Show favourite True Romance (1993). Staring The thin white duke as a vampire caught in a bad cycle of blood sucking addiction which ultimately leads to a tragic end. The opening is slow, but well worth sitting through as the rest of the film is not so much horror and gore, but erotic and intellectual. Susan Sarandon and Catherine Denueve are both excellently cast. Catherine Denueve spends the majority of the movie acting like she's been freebasing Valium and at times Susan Sarandon can be only described as well a little bit annoying. The Hunger is definitely one for fans of art films, as there is little action but many themes and ideas to be explored. The narrative is carried not only by the visuals and the script but also by using such techniques as classical music, this all combines to produce an impressive arthouse classic which encapsulates the unique style of its time. 

This is an awesome piece of artwork used on the cover of UK film magazine Little White Lies issue 22. 

The illustration is for the movie let the Right One In, a truly awesome Swedish horror movie. The movie sees Oskar, a bullied 12-year old, dream of revenge. He falls in love with Eli, a peculiar girl. She can't stand the sun or food and to come into a room she needs to be invited. Eli gives Oskar the strength to hit back but when he realises that Eli needs to drink other people's blood to live he's faced with a choice. How much can love forgive? Set in the Stockholm suburb of Blackeberg in 1982 this really is a very profound movie exploring the nature of good and evil but through the eye's of a child where both pure evil and pure goodness are somewhat discernible, and it achieves an astounding array of contrasts that allow us to see that good and evil can coexist side by side.
The reason this movie differs from the more traditional horror film is where most horror movies might opted for either endless ultra violence or else cut everything out in favour of a PG friendly rating. Director Tomas Alfredson manages to tread a fine line right down the middle. When the violence comes it is brutal and horrific, but it is never dwelt upon. We are often left to question what we just saw rather than be subjected to a multitude of mutilated human organs on display. 

In conclusion: Twilight' glamorises and softens being a vampire, whilst films like those made by visionaries such as Alfredson take us down a darker road toward more authentic daytime nightmares. If you love beautifully dark vampire stories, I'd recommend "Låt den rätte komma in" or Let the right one in. Let's only hope no one in Hollywood will get the stupid idea to remake this movie........ oh bugger wait a minute they f@*king did!!

Until next time like Father McGruder said 'stay back boy! This calls for divine intervention!'


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