Vampires, Film Stars and Monsters
Of all the many monsters of myth and legend, none make for better films than vampires.Enigmatic and deadly stalkers of the night, sourced from a thousand legends from a thousand cultures throughout history, with many conflicting accounts of their strengths, their weaknesses, and their origins. There are a few things that the majority of vampires have in common:
- Bloodlust – Mostly a direct need to feed on blood, but many vampire myths talk of full-flesh cannibalism, blood-rites, or simple anaemia or a blood-borne disease that carries vampirism.
- Aversion to Sunlight – No vampire likes the sun, not one. Even dhampyrs (half-vamps) like Rayne or Blade prefer the dark to the day. It varies between an irritation to a lethal reaction to the hard light of day, but it’s always there.
- The Bat Motif – Vampire bats are the most famous haematophages, with the possible exception of mosquitoes, but they’re not quite so scary. Vampires and bats all share the fangs and the night life, so they tend to get along just fine.
So many times the lords of darkness have been put to the silver screen, and in so many different forms that they can barely be called a single creature, and more a category. Werewolves are always werewolves, and Frankenstein’s monster will always be called Frankenstein by those with limited mental capacity, but vampires are a lore unto themselves.
The name Nosferatu rarely pops up when discussing the classic literary vampires, there is only one undisputed king of the night. Dracula!
I haven’t seen that many films depicting the classic monster, I find that I really want to watch the Garry Oldman film based a little more directly on the Bram Stoker novel, but I have a particular love of the 2014 film Dracula Untold starring Luke Evans (who you may recall is not Orlando Bloom). The tale of Vlad the Impaler, Son of the Dragon is a well known but rarely explored story, and this rendition hits all the vampire buttons without sacrificing on story, characterization or… well anything actually. There is a brief moment in which common bats become far more powerful than they really should be, but it’s a frankly forgiveable moment to pad the trailer a little.
Untold brings nothing new to the myth, but the portrayal lends a humanity so often absent from vampire stories. They make unquestionably superb villains, but I rarely like vampires so much as protagonists. I love a vampire who has given into the predatory creature that lurks within, but I enjoyed the Dracula I saw as father and prince shouldering a terrible curse for the sake of love.
Classic vampires are often the most charismatic, hunting prey with an inviting smile and beguiling stare, but there’s always room for a different take. However, I find myself hoping for a sequel that sees Luke Evans reprise the role in a more monstrous guise.
Perhaps more famous in this day and age is the slick, leather clad night warrior, popularised by Blade, Underworld and Nightwatch, the secret societies of bloodsuckers wage assorted wars that seem oddly dependent on nightclubs and looking really cool at all times.
However, as a genre they’ve spawned some pretty spectacular material. I for one enjoyed the first Underworld film, even the second a little. Being a 90’s kid, I’m naturally a fan of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, which struck a balance between classic and modern vampires in a manner similar to Interview With a Vampire, but did they pave the way for a far darker take on the vampire mythology.
Has Twilight tarred and glittered the children of the night passed hope of redemption? What can save us? Can the classic vampire be restored to their throne? Or can face be saved another way?
A Different Take
The name of vampire has been applied to some very different creatures. Here are a few of my favourites:
30 Days of Night – A most unusual blend of vampire and zombie. A pack of whispering vampires move with the night, slumbering whenever daylight is unavoidable. They have no guile, no charisma or cunning, only raw power, and darkness. A small Alaskan village is plunged into a month without sunlight and becomes little more than a hunting ground for the pack, most die in the first few hours, but as desperation increases and the survivors are forced out of hiding, they’re picked off a few at a time.
30 Days of Night is quite possibly the best horror film in existence today. It’s oddly Lovecraftian in the alien whispers of the vampires, the way they click, and scream, and the devotion they inspire from those fearful enough to serve them in daylight. It also offers my favourite Danny Huston performance.
Priest – In the film Priest, Paul Bettany leads a band of elite hunters in defiance of the church who deny the return of the vampires, oh but these are not the monstrous men of old legend! These are feral, inhuman beasts that live in ant-like hive societies, driven underground by a war many years before, but rising again to seize the cities from the despotic rule of the church, and turn them into bountiful hunting grounds.
If you ever read the Korean Manga you’ll know that the list of common factors between comics and film are that the title is Priest, the main character has a cross on his forehead, and there’s a distinctive hat. Oh and a train! No Ivan Isaacs, no Jarbilong, but there is Karl Urban! And that’s enough. It’s a cool film, that blends a lot of genres into a very dark world. It lacks a great deal, but it has jet bikes! And some very unique vampires.
Daybreakers – Should not the strong rule? Why should the strong, fast, and immortal slink about in the dark while the flock mill about blissfully in the day? So here’s the Matrix with vampires instead of machines!
Daybreakers turns the usual vampire story on it’s head, and does so with some style, I must say. We are farmed for our blood, they rule the cities, but the resistance are strong, and may have found a way to reverse the curse of vampirism, just in time to prevent the extinction of both races. The vampires themselves are of a more Modern style, but taken out of the shadows to rule the world they have a lot more flavour, and fall into fewer archetypes that those familiar with vampire films may have come to recognize.