Mar 10, 2008

White Makeup And Evening Dress

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.


Gordo said...

I was actually quite pleased with the restraint on said buckets of blood, Irr. Given what passes for "horror", this 30 Days is remarkably blood free. Well, arterial spray free.

Upon further reflection, I guess I'd scale back my initial enthusiasm a bit. Let's call it hopeful for a vampire-infested future? I only realized after reading this post that I probably wouldn't bother watching it again.

I loved the separate species aspect of the vampires as well. I didn't see Billy Bob in the leader, though.

Point taken about not giving a damn about the townsfolk. Very good point.

Nancy Dancehall said...

You want to know a good vampire movie? 'After Dark'. It came out about the same time as Lost Boys -- was the Anti-Lost-Boys, actually. Redneck vampires. Quite an interesting take.

I don't know. I prefer werewolves. Vampires have gotten too precious and fey.

Clowncar said...

I believe you're thinking of "Near Dark," Nancy. And I was gonna recommend it as my favorite vampire movie ever.

The last movie to genuinely scare the f*ck outta me was The Ring. Good movie. And there are some deeper themes luring in there too, but mostly it just scared me silly.

Nancy Dancehall said...

Right! "Near Dark." That's it. Beautiful combination of a vampire movie and a Western. And I loves Westerns.

Tarantino's 'From Dusk til Dawn' falls under this too. Loved it because I had no idea where things were going.

Gordo said...

The Ring was excellent, yes. Near Dark ring a bell, but I'm pretty sure I haven't seen it ...

From Dusk till Dawn was pretty decent, too. Goofy, but decent. :-)

renegade knits said...

These were some of the most wasteful vampires on record though. Come on, they walked around covered in blood from their lower jaw down once they started to feed. No wonder they couldn't find the hidden townspeople, they couldn't smell them over their own stench. Imagine how many fewer people they'd have to kill if they'd not used the blood as a fashion statement.

The skinny, really pale one with long hair was creepier than the others even when the leader spoke his only two recognizable words and I loved Beau. He was a trip, when he finally had enough he'd had enough and that was all there was to it. Then there was the insipid Warren Worthington as the weird little Stranger? How off were they with him in X-Men?

And what are the odds none of those surviving ijits moved somewhere there is sunlight 24/7 as soon as they could get transport the hell out of town?

Irrelephant said...

Gordo, you're right, you know. The blood cannon WAS used with some restraint, all things considered.

I'm still seeing old boy as BB Thornton in Slingblade, though. *lol*

Nancy, it sounds so familiar, but I can't place it. Gonna have to put it on the que now. *g* You're quite right, though. Frankenstein's monster and vampires, both done to death. At least werewolves ("Werewolf?" "There wolf. There castle.") have some basic animal dignity built in.

Clowncar, correction duly accepted. *G* And yes, The Ring did have it's moments, but you know what stays with me long after the horror of the movie is gone? The video they played, that wonderfully surreal bit of film with the twirling chair and the woman brushing her hair in the mirror. THAT appealed to me more than the rest of the movie.

Sys, yes they were. I kept wondering aloud why they were wasting so much blood, but I think the director was trying to imply that they were on a killing spree rather than feeding, sort of a blood orgy thing. The Skinny Guy DOES stand out, doesn't he, that lanky dude? He was another I kept thinking about as being almost but not quite right.

As for the Renfeld-ripoff? *snort* The creepiest thing about him was that he seemed to be able to froth on command.

J. tells me that the homely blonde heroine goes on, in the graphic novels, to a) WRITE 30 Days of Night and b) return to Barrow to set it back up as a trap and set herself up as vampire hunter. *shrug*