It worked for Bella Lugosi, and he's probably the first person 90% of cinema-viewing people think of when you say "vampire," but let's face it, it's lame.
I like horror movies, I do. I haven't been scared by one in longer than I can possibly remember, but I keep trying, keep looking. Vampire movies are a staple of the horror genre, but honestly they're worse than most at scaring me. These days if a horror movie can at least show me something, a single scene or an actor of moderate skill, hell, if it can show me a zombie fighting a shark underwater then I'll happily take that and move on.
30 Days of Night did it for me.
Gordo brought it back to my attention in a post a while back, but it'd been lurking there for a while. When Hellboy came out the wife fell in love with the character and promptly dove into the graphic novels which spawned the movie(s). She filled her head with Hellboy lore, and I read a few. Meh. Didn't hold me, no big deal.
Then 30 Days of Night came out. We didn't see it in the theater but promised ourselves we'd put it in the DVD rental que, and forgot about it pretty promptly. Mrs. I bought quite a few of the original graphic novel series and declared it good, scary and so forth. I haven't opened them yet to read but it remained in the back of my mind. Then the DVD showed up a few days ago, to coincide with Gordo mentioning it in his blog and he gave it a passing high review, so it was with some interest I watched.
No offense to Gordo or his taste, but it was...meh. The idea was interesting: a town so far north that they endure thirty days of no sun. Prime hunting time for...wait for it...creatures who can't stand the light, yes? Works out beautifully. The follow through was okay, the blood and violence pretty average buckets-of-blood stuff, but I have to say this: the director did some interesting things for his creatures, and it's that which has been floating around my battered old head.
1) Evening dress. The creatures all wore some variation on black and white. The men seemed to tend toward black suits with white shirts, the ladies had white or black dresses, but the colour palette was pretty standard fare. TOO standard. Iconic, one would be tempted to say. The point being, the whole "Vampire Lestat" finery was ignored. They wore plain black and white clothes, but it seemed to be more protective camouflage or a weird sort of uniform rather than the "I live forever therefore I can amass wealth and dress really spanking nice." On the surface it was a sour note but watching it for a while, especially in a snow-and-night-heavy movie sort of made an eerie, 'urban camo' sense.
2) Language. The creatures didn't speak English. They didn't speak in any sort of a cultured manner at all when they did speak, and when they did it was a harsh, vile, gutteral series of growls and grunts and throaty noises. VERY bestial, and a very neat treatment of the idea that vampires are a separate race from us, not of human stock at all, and the vampirism thing passed on by the blood is simply a lucky (?) break. It makes sense that another race would have their own method of communication other than fey looks over a particularly pale and choice neck.
3) Behaviour. The vampires were smart, at least as smart as the town-full of yokels they were rending and thrashing their way through, but they still behaved like pack animals. They crept around on all fours at times. They lurked behind cover like wolves hunting bigger prey. They crawled around on roofs and under buildings and so forth, rather than parading through New Orleans in a horse-drawn trap. When they did prey on someone it was more often a snatch-and-grab attack with the intent of dragging the victim off into the shadows to dispatch then rather than a frontal assault, tho there were plenty of those too. The writer/director/visionary really played up the "these are animals" side of the vampires, and I really liked it. It further pushed the idea that this was not Christopher Lee seducing a farm girl in a Hammer House Of Horror movie, it was as gruesome and normal as a bird attacking and eviscerating a lizard.
4) Glamour. This was the kicker for me. From Bella's time on, vampires have been beautiful. Eerie, but oh so seductive. Pure evil but damned delicious. The lure of evil, their particular power, whatever the reason vampires are almost always portrayed as beautiful. Not these. These had strange haircuts, had features that were enlongated and vulpine, and they did things like sniffing the air with mouths open, or standing about with their jaws slack, like a cat using it's Jacobson's organs to draw in more sensory data. They were pale, yes, but they were ugly. The individuals were all either very emaciated or very heavy-set, never average. Their features were irregular, as though the actors were chosen solely on the basis that they DIDN'T have actor's generic good looks. They seemed to ALMOST meet the standard of how an average person should look, but not quite.
No one had an outrageous or bizarre haircut but the leader of the pack looked like his 'do had been done to him by an enthusiastic but untalented barber student. The rest seemed to follow suit in so many small ways--almost but not quite normal. It was unnerving. It also didn't help that the vampire leader looked a lot like Billy Bob Thornton in Slingblade. He was thick featured, spoke thickly if at all, and seemed quite filled with revulsion over his human prey.
5) Teeth. A small point but an interesting one. The critters didn't have two pronounced canines, nor four. They had a whole MOUTHFUL of small, filthy, needle-like teeth, so many that it often seemed the reason they held their mouths open was because they had too many teeth to fit behind their lips. It gave them a look like a species of ultra-deep-sea fish whose adaptation had gone so far off the beaten path that it could only exist in it's tiny niche, nowhere else. They had so many teeth poking forward and out you were given the impression that if they were to sneeze suddenly they'd accidentally gnaw their own mouths off. Their method of shaking their heads violently back and forth when opening a neck vein seemed at first a little over the top, but it seemed to play along with the animal theme, and with teeth like that they could just about sever a head without trying too hard.
All that being said, it still wasn't all that. The plight of the humans hiding out was more annoying than suspenseful, the hero and heroine weren't very smart nor likeable and the inevitable end of most of the survivors was a yawner--you didn't much CARE about them anyway, so why shed a tear when they were harvested. The thing that most drew me, as you can tell, is the whole development of the creatures. At least the writer of the original stories and the folks who developed the script from the novels took it upon themselves to make their creatures different, rather than following the accepted stereotypes.
Vlad would be proud.