Monday, April 19, 2010
Hall of Strangeness Part XXXII: Vampire Edition
I’ve been watching several interesting vampire films lately (a subgenre that seems in no danger of going out of style any time soon) and I thought it would be nice to update the vampire series I did a while back. The Twilight series is notably absent, but I don’t even want to get into that. Instead, I’m going to talk about a handful of vampire oddities from around the world in my old “Hall of Strangeness” format, which is relatively undemanding both to write and to read.
Let the Right One In – (Tomas Alfredson) John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Swedish novel and Alfredson’s film adaptation have been somewhat surprising critical and popular successes. The story follows a young boy who befriends a vampire child and their difficulties dealing with bullies and an insatiable craving for blood, respectively. Shot in cold dark hues, riddled with unsettling implications and unfolding with unusual elegance and maturity, “Let the Right One In” is nevertheless a little rough around the edges. Some of the horror scenes overshoot the slow-burning mood (CG cats especially) while at other times showing too much reluctance to explore the controversial source material. Still, the film is both ominously beautiful and effectively creepy; it will doubtlessly and deservedly enjoy a cult following.
Artistry: **** Fun: *** Strangeness: **
The Living Corpse – (Abdul Baqi) Not long ago I was amused to see “Zibahkhana (Hell’s Ground)” (2007) being hailed as “Pakistan’s first horror film,” which seemed odd considering that the same description was used to promote “The Living Corpse” (1967), made four decades earlier. I’m not nearly qualified to say whether even this film really holds that title, but it certainly doesn’t hold much else. Ostensibly a retelling of the Dracula story in Hammer Horror fashion, the filmmakers couldn’t resist the requisite Lollywood musical numbers and end up with a discombobulated mess that can be unevenly enjoyed with the right mood and the right crowd.
Artistry: * Fun: ** Strangeness: ***
Thirst – (Park Chan-wook) About a third of the way into Park Chan-wook’s (best known for “Joint Security Area” and his revenge trilogy) South Korean bio-horror epic I realized that the film was really an alternate-universe adaptation of Emile Zola’s 1867 adultery fable “Therese Raquin.” It takes a fair amount of guts to modernize a 19th century French naturalist classic, but to change the main character from a petty clerk to a vampire priest is a special type of brilliant. The rather long film covers a lot of narrative ground, indulges in Park Chan-wook’s peculiar gallows humor and addressed themes of lust, repression, sacrifice, guilt and revenge. Not all of it works, but maybe it doesn’t need to.
Artistry: **** Fun: *** Strangeness: ***
Trouble Every Day – (Claire Denis) I’m really glad I have a chance to say something nice about Claire Denis, especially after being possibly the only person to dislike “35 Shots of Rum” when I saw it at SLIFF last year (so it is fitting that her oft-ignored mainstream-maligned “The Intruder” is amongst my all time favorites). With “Trouble Every Day” Denis made an unlikely entry into the vampire genre, but characteristically reinvented everything. By rhythmically alternating between several disturbing subplots featuring an inspired cast (Vincent Gallo, Beatrice Dalle, Tricia Vessey and Alex Descas) and a lot of oblique imagery, Denis weaves a Lynchian nightmare dense with atmosphere and allegory. The power of any given scene is inversely proportional to the amount of talking that occurs, so it’s fortunate that much of the film is near wordless. The soundtrack, not to mention the cannibalistic rape scenes, haunted me for weeks after viewing.
Artistry: ***** Fun: * Strangeness: ****
Vampire Ferat – (Juraj Herz) When I learned that Czech New Wave iconoclast Juraj Herz (The Cremator) had a made a horror movie about a vampire sports car starring Dagmar Havlova (16 years before she became the First Lady of the Czech Republic), I knew I had to see it no matter what. That said, going without subtitles was a tough slog and though the film is more conventional than his gothic burlesque “Morgiana,” it certainly wasn’t as easy to follow as, say, John Carpenter’s “Christine” (if you know where I can get subtitles, please link me in the comments section!). From what I could gather in-film and online the car is fueled by blood it sucks from the driver’s foot whenever the acceleration pedal is pressed. A hapless doctor turned detective (played by director Jiri Menzel) investigates the enigmatic car company Ferat (as in Nosferatu), run by an evil lesbian kingpin (queenpin?), after his ambulance-driving nurse become addicted to racing the titular vampire vehicle. Highlights include the hand-drawn opening credits, the brooding industrial soundtrack and a delightfully gory dream sequence. Herz admits that the best scenes were all destroyed by the censors.
Artistry: ** Fun: ** Strangeness: ****