Reviews, articles, rants & ramblings on the darker side of the media fringe

Vampires are Back!

true-blood-season-6-bannerIt’s impossible to escape vampires these days. The Twilight movies are as insanely popular as ever; the HBO series “True Blood” has a large and dedicated fanbase; and Justin Cronin’s best-selling, post-apocalyptic vampire trilogy (the first two installments, The Passage and The Twelve, are currently in bookstores) looks poised to become the next blockbuster vampire franchise (the books have already been optioned for a planned series of film adaptations by Ridley Scott). The last piece of vampire pop culture to sink its teeth into movie audiences’ necks was the fifth and final Twilight installment, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 2. Hopefully that’s the end of ‘tween vamps…

The release of Byzantium and Only Lovers Left Alive, bodes well for what has been a bloodless few years. Here’s a selection of a few lesser known vampire films that put unique spins on vampire mythology. These are all creative, fascinating movies that definitely do not suck.

Black Sabbath (1963)
directed by Mario Bava

This creepy, eclectic anthology is an early work from Italian horror maestro Mario Bava, who has built up a sizable cult following over the years due to his Gothic, gorgeously photographed fright films, which have inspired the likes of Dario Argento and Tim Burton. Black Sabbath contains three atmospheric stories, the second of which remains one of the most chilling vampire tales ever filmed. Entitled “The Wurdalak,” the segment is based on a story by Aleksei Tolstoy and stars Boris Karloff in one of his last, most sinister performances. Unlike typical vampires, who feast on random human beings, those transformed into “wurdalaks” only prey on those they love most—essentially, their own families. With its haunting yet beautiful visuals, “The Wurdalak” is a masterful family tragedy that shouldn’t be missed.

Martin (1977)
directed by George A. Romero

One of the most underrated horror films of all time (writer-director Romero has said himself it’s his personal favorite of his work), Martin is a modern vampire tale set in a deteriorating Pennsylvania town. The title character (played by John Amplas) is a troubled, disaffected 17-year-old who believes, based on a family legend, that he’s an 84-year-old vampire. Yet Martin doesn’t behave like a typical vampire: He’s immune to garlic and sunlight, and instead of fangs, uses razor blades to drink his victims’ blood. After going to live with his elderly uncle, who strongly believes in the family vampire myth, Martin attempts to live a normal life, but his craving for blood continues to haunt him. Martin is a disturbing, utterly original take on the vampire mythos. Although there are a few creepy, violent scenes to keep horror fans satisfied, the movie is most compelling when we gain insight into the main character. Romero seems to be saying that the suave, seductive vampires we’ve seen in movies, as played by Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee, are of a past generation. This modern vampire works on a much more realistic, practical, horrifying level.

Near Dark (1987)
directed by Kathryn Bigelow

Before she became the first woman in Oscar history to win the Best Director trophy (for The Hurt Locker), Kathryn Bigelow helmed this unusual film, which fuses together the Western, biker and vampire genres. The film stars Adrian Pasdar as an aimless young man in a rural Midwestern town who becomes involved with a family of dangerous nomadic vampires (among them Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen and Jenny Wright). These aren’t your typical blood-suckers—they’re a group of dirty, unhinged drifters who roam the highways in stolen vehicles (during the day, incidentally), moving from town to town to satisfy their insatiable bloodlust. In fact, the destructive, amoral vampires of Near Dark seems to share more in common with the modern serial killer than the classic Dracula archetype. This gritty, genre-bending film put Bigelow on the map, and, 25 years later, it still has the power to dazzle and disturb.

Cronos (1993)
directed by Guillermo del Toro

This remarkably innovative Mexican film marked the feature debut of writer-director del Toro. The movie revolves around an elderly antique dealer (Federico Luppi) who comes upon the deadly yet enticing object of the title—an ancient mechanism that promises eternal life to its owner. When opened, the device painfully inserts a needle into the owner’s skin, yet the wound also brings about a sudden burst of youthful vitality, as well as a desperate craving for blood. Though the word “vampire” is never spoken in Cronos, del Toro’s bold vision provides a unique spin on the age-old vampire mythology. Especially unnerving is the sequence in which the infected old man discovers a puddle of blood (resulting from another man’s nosebleed) in a public bathroom. In what is surely one of the ickiest moments in vampire movie history, he lies down on the floor and proceeds to lick it up, much like a cat would spilled milk. From its fable-like beginning to its surprisingly tragic end, Cronos is full of disturbing yet unforgettable images.

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