This Friday will see Neil Jordan return to the Vampire genre with BYZANTIUM. Set in Britain, it sees two mysterious women (THEY’RE VAMPIRES) arrive in a coastal town and try and conceal their identities. Jordan has previously sunk his teeth into vampiric territory with the incredible INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, but what is it that makes vampires so damn alluring? After all, vampires are popular the world over, so grab your passport and a hefty lot of garlic, and join us on our world tour of vampire classics (Dracula Not Included). Will your country make the list?
PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965)
Director: Mario Bava
Although an Italian production, the majority of the film was dubbed into English. Nowadays there are at least three versions doing the rounds and each is worth checking out. PLANET OF VAMPIRES is one of the main influences for Ridley Scott’s ALIEN, as a crew of space explorers land on a planet where bodies are gradually possessed by some kind of alien force. The production design may look cheap by today’s standards, but it is still mightily impressive. The spacesuits seem to be the inspiration for those worn by the X-MEN, and the planet is a dark and brooding entity in its own right. Despite the title, vampires in the traditional sense of the word are absent. In fact, the term vampire isn’t even used in the film. However, the extinct alien race is attempting to possess human bodies in an attempt to attain immortality, which ties in nicely with many themes surrounding vampire legend. Unfortunately, the giant skeletons that decorate many of the scenes never get to move around or have any fun. A remake I cry!
NIGHT WATCH (2004)
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Russia weren’t really known for their blockbusters back in 2004, but NIGHT WATCH certainly made the international world of film stand up and take notice. NIGHT WATCH blends horror, action and fantasy to give us a THE MATRIX style supernatural film. As the forces of light and darkness go up against each other to decide the fate of The Chosen One, not only does the film include some badass vampires, but also people who can change into tigers. Now that’s cool. The early 2000s saw many films try and mix tales of vampires with extensive CG and action, such as UNDERWORLD and VAN HELSING, but for my money, nobody quite had the visual flair of Bekmambetov.
Director: Kaneto Shindo
Japans love affair with the vampire world often comes through in animes such as BLOOD and HELLSING. KURONEKO is a jidaigeki in which a mother and daughter in-law are raped and murdered by samurai. Their bodies are soon resurrected by a stray black cat, and they must suck the blood from the throats of samurai in order to live. Unbeknownst to them, their long lost son/husband has become an honoured samurai and is given the assignment of slaughtering them. Shindo’s visuals are magnificent and have both a dreamlike quality as well as being haunting. Once again the vampire theme has been twisted, but the essentials are still present. Like many a grand vampire tale, this is essentially a tragedy that deals with love, lust, and redemption.
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
In Del Toro’s first and most successful attempt at a vampire film the director explores the curse of eternal life and how an inability to accept inevitable aging can eventually make your life not worth living at all. Del Toro finds unique and imaginative ways to add a bit of gentle fantasy to this horror story, but it’s the quiet and introspective relationship between grandfather and granddaughter that is the key here. The film looks at the sad desperation that some people will go to to hold onto their youth, which is summed up in a scene where the main character licks blood off the bathroom floor. Del Toro would once again journey into the world of vampires with the completely different in tone, BLADE II. Once again he would add a few welcome flourishes, but nothing compared to his sensitivity and confidence on display here.
Director: Vincent Lanoo
Well someone was bound to do it, but I doubt anyone could have done it quite as well. This Belgian offering takes on the found footage format as a documentary crew incorporate themselves into the vampire underworld. The film follows one family, as they show us all the cultural differences and quirks the vampire world has to offer. VAMPIRES is also highly inventive, and doesn’t just recycle common law. The politics are fascinating as are the individual characters. Fleur Lise Heuet is fantastic as the family’s rebellious daughter, but how does a vampire rebel? She wears pink and attempts to kill herself so that she may feel human again. What starts off as some comical conflict soon turns into powerful emotional scenes. The film also takes us to the likes of the UK and Canada. VAMPIRES is a confident and well thought through faux documentary.
MR VAMPIRE (1985)
Director: Ricky Lau
This Hong Kong comedy classic mixes the legend of the undead with humorously choreographed martial arts. Those thinking that sparkling vampires in TWILIGHT were going a step too far, how about this, the vampires in MR VAMPIRE hop everywhere. I’m not exactly sure why, but it certainly creates a monster somewhere between traditional vampires and slow shuffling zombies. This is one of those films that really destroys the language barrier in terms of comedy. There is always a well calculated misunderstanding, quick dialogue, or a visual gag that may be at the forefront or seamlessly integrated into the background. The characters are impossible to dislike, and the slapstick set pieces punctuate the action well. MR VAMPIRE is a wonderful union of traditional folk tales, martial arts, fantasy and hilarity.
THE LOST BOYS (1987)
Director: Joel Schumacher
The good old US of A has given us vampire film after vampire film, and although recent years have played up the romantic side of our undying sharp teethed brethren, it was in the 1980s when vampires were sexy, cool, and really dangerous. FRIGHT NIGHT and NEAR DARK came close to making the list, but in the end I had to go with THE LOST BOYS. The use of an unforgettable soundtrack, brilliant fashion (Seriously! I’d dress like that today if I could), and some of the best lines in cinematic history, “Death by stereo!” make this a film that captures the seductive side of the vampire lifestyle. Obviously it deals with the curse as well, but for the majority of the film, you probably want to be one of THE LOST BOYS, and no one’s going to blame you. A house under siege finale adds to the action quota of this funny, sexy and exhilarating ride. Schumacher really can make great films.
Director: F.W. Murnau
Germany got an early start with their vampire films thanks to this unofficial (so this isn’t cheating) adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1922. Even those that haven’t seen the film will have had some kind of exposure to its cultural significance over the years. Whether it be Werner Herzog’s remake or the meta fictionalised account of the making of the film, SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE. Murnau’s masterpiece of German Expressionism is a visual feast, and it’s amazing to think that so many films today fail to be creative with the look of their bloodsucking antagonists. Max Shreck is so convincing in the role of Cont Orlok, that SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE looks at the belief that he was in fact a vampire. This is also the film that popularised death by sunlight for vampires, one of the few changes Murnau made from DRACULA in an attempt not to be sued. It didn’t work and all copies of the film were ordered to be destroyed, but like a vampire itself, the film rose from the grave.
Director: Park Chan Wook
Park’s exploration of the vampire mythos is another surprising tale in which every aspect has an aura of originality, despite vampires being around for yonks. We are given the protagonist of a priest, who becomes infected, not via a neck bite, but thanks to a blood transfusion he received while risking his life allowing doctors to study a deadly disease. His vampiric powers soon lead to him facing the lust and temptation which ring true throughout religion. Making him a priest makes it all the more harrowing to watch. He soon becomes embroiled with a young woman, who after becoming a vampire, shows her true colours as an uncontrollable and maniacal bitch. It’s the scary thought of the meek and downtrodden suddenly given a lot of power. Seeing the irrepressible hunger contrasted with the attempted self-control neatly sums up the human condition. Park focuses on the characters and gives us a dark tale of infected love adorned with unforgettable subtle visuals, such as a barefoot woman being lifted effortlessly off the ground and placed into a pair of shoes. The incredible score by Jo Yeong Wook doesn’t hurt.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008)
Director: Tomas Alfredson
In what is, in my mind, the greatest vampire story ever told. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is a coming of age tale in which one of the characters will never grow up. We’re given a love story on its purest and most gentle level, mixed with scenes of horrific violence. Everything is done right including the snowy and lifeless landscapes, the 1980s setting, and a brave handling of mature themes from a child’s perspective. Alfredson captures exactly what it is to be an outsider, from the perspective of a bullied schoolboy and a 200 year old 12 year old girl. Their relationship is at the centre of the film and it is gradually unveiled as to how other events will play into their friendship. Every scene is essential and it all culminates in an unforgettable bloodbath (or should that be swimming pool?) which makes the audience both fulfilled and empty at the same time.
So that’s it for now! Time will tell if BYZANTIUM will one day make the list, and was it unpatriotic of us not to include Tony Scott’s THE HUNGER? Agree, disagree, have some other suggestions to make? Keep ’em to yourselves or stick ’em in the comment section below.
BYZANTIUM is released 31st May in the UK and 28th June in the US. Check out our review here!