Rating: The Good – 63.5 Genre: Horror Duration: 118 mins Director: Jim Mickle Stars: Connor Paolo, Nick Damici, Kelly McGillis
“All that goodness destroyed by some crazy Christians dropping vamps from the sky.” Any movie that can make those words sound unremarkable must surely do a job in (err…) sucking you into whatever messed up world it’s created. In Stake Land, that world is a United States overrun by vampires, cannibals, murderous religious cults, and pockets of humans struggling to survive the bloodsucking apocalypse. Our narrator is Martin, a young man being shepherded though this nightmare landscape by a notorious vampire killer known only as “Mister”. Characters like Mister don’t allow for much in the way of sentiment so what follows is a cruel story where any warmth seems to fight against the wider reality and inevitably fade away. It makes for a rather compelling reflection of the movie’s themes of self-sufficiency and needs-based politics but a bleak night in front of the TV. Where things could’ve been lightened up is with the Mister character. Nick Damici’s atypical physical presence tantalises at the outset and writer-director Jim Mickle’s refusal to elucidate his backstory sets him up for genre defining greatness. But however nice it is to see a lesser known actor get the opportunity to impress, he undeniably lacks the personality of an effective lead. Connor Paolo is equally slight as the narrator and although there are some nice turns of phrase scattered about Mickle’s script, he really doesn’t deliver them with enough punch. Falling back on its moodiness and some marginally imaginative obstacles, Stake Land thus becomes a somewhat occupying if ultimately cold addition to the genre.
One of the most daring and original films to come out of Hollywood in the 90′s was this Rodriguez/Tarantino collaboration. The former directed while the latter wrote the screenplay and co-starred as the younger of two brothers (the other being George Clooney) who are on the run from the Texas police and kidnap a family so they can sneak over the Mexican border in their camper van. Clooney puts in an awesome performance as the menacing and hardened criminal while Tarantino does quite well as the unstable psychopath. Harvey Keitel plays the owner of the camper van and it’s his and Clooney’s dynamic that is the most fascinating feature of the film as the two very different alpha males play off each other. Of course, just when the film is turning into a damn good crime movie, they turn the tables on us and the film suddenly becomes a vampire horror flick. To turn your back on the first half of the story when it was going so well took guts but it pays off in spades as the uneasy alliance between Clooney and the family he kidnapped provides a great backdrop to the vampire killing action that unfolds. It’d be easy to dismiss this film as a gimmick but playing with genres and pushing their boundaries has always kept cinema from going stale and having a good story, some great action sequences, and some extremely slick and cool dialogue to boot makes this one hell of a cinematic experience. The crowning achievement of this fascinating project couldn’t have come at a better moment as right before the crossover occurs Salma Hayek takes to the stage in one of the most arresting dance sequences you’ll see in an action or horror movie. “Okay ramblers, let’s get ramblin.”
Rating: The Good – 74.2 Genre: Comedy, Horror Duration: 104mins Director: Tommy Lee Wallace Stars: William Ragsdale, Roddy McDowall, Traci Lind
While 80’s sequels traditionally attempted to rehash the plot and scenarios of the original, Fright Night Part 2 is a laudable attempt to do something legitimately different with the story but maintain the remarkable ambiance of its predecessor. The movie begins with an inventively brief montage of clips from Fright Night, at the close of which, we discover that Charlie Brewster, now in college, has convinced himself that his memory of his previous vampire encounters are mere delusions. However, after an array of bizarre characters arrive in town, he begins to recognise a quality in them that encourages him to team up again with his old friend Peter Vincent, Vampire Hunter (Roddy McDowell).
The special effects are more or less everything that the first film offered up and look a damn sight better than the CGI effects of the recent remake. The plot is strikingly novel and unpredictable relative to the original, while the dialogue nicely captures the spirit of that film. The central characters are also quite interesting and well acted by the four main players. William Ragsdale shines once again as the unlikely hero and his chemistry with the excellent McDowell is as good as ever. Traci Lind does well as the new love interest while Julie Carmen puts in a fine shift as the fanged seductress and leader of the vampire crew. For their part, Jon Gries and Brian Thompson form a nice double act which adds a welcome touch of humour whenever they’re on the screen.
Director Tommy Lee Wallace should be given most credit however, for he not only successfully replicates that magical atmosphere of Fright Night but made the concerted decision to build on the stranger dimensions to that film thereby tapping into the hypnotic vibe which defined it so successfully. The soft focus and nontraditional lighting balanced with the most exquisite use of sound combine to give one that same deliciously enchanted feel. In fact, it could be argued Fright Night Part 2 is the more enchanting of the two.
Whether Wallace went too far is difficult to say because while remaining enjoyable throughout, the film is perplexing at times. It feels rushed towards the end which suggests the large amount of time spent trying to get the feel of the movie right may have eaten into the time spent getting the story right. Therefore, Fright Night Part 2 is not as sophisticated a piece of work as Holland’s effort because the latter struck a near perfect balance between story and atmosphere. The unusual scenarios and set pieces of this sequel lack the polish and seamless story-integration of the original. Visually striking and forensically constructed though they may be (such as the bizarre but immensely affecting shot of the (err…) rollerblading vampire coming in for the kill), they sometimes come off as individual vignettes rather than progressions in the story. Likewise, the background and motives of the vampires could’ve been better accounted for which is a shame because each of them were intriguing in very different ways and so a lot of fertile ground was left uncultivated. Nonetheless, Fright Night Part 2 is a sterling follow up to a movie many would think too unique to follow up and counts as both one of the most interesting and underrated sequels of the 80’s.
Rating: The Good – 77.8 Genre: Horror Duration: 97 mins Director: Joel Schumacher Stars: Jason Patric, Kiefer Sutherland, Corey Haim, Dianne Wiest
The film that redefined the vampire genre by blending the traditional mythology with the swagger and verve of MTV Generation. Two brothers move to Santa Carlo with their mother to make a fresh start only to fall afoul of a group of troublemaking bikers who have a penchant for sleeping upside down and drinking blood. Although it’s over twenty years old now, The Lost Boys has lost none of its coolness thanks chiefly to its terrific soundtrack. The actors were a who’s who of up-and-comers at that time and armed with the witty script they give the movie a refreshing vibe. Jason Patric and Corey Haim are great together as the brothers, Diane Wiest is (as always) excellent as the mother, while Kiefer Sutherland chews the scenery as the charismatic leader of the vampire gang.
Rating: The Good – 78.8 Genre: Action, Horror Duration: 120 mins Director: Stephen Norrington Stars: Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson
Ultra cool vampire flick with Wesley Snipes in the form of his life as the eponymous day-walking vampire who suppresses his darker appetites in favouring of beating 10 bells out of every other vampire he comes across. Director Stephen Norrington gives the film a stylish but menacing look (check out those muscular scenes where Blade is driving through the city) and crafts action sequence after action sequence that will blow your socks off (so much so that the Matrix may have even borrowed an idea or two). Kris Kristofferson excels as Blade’s gnarly old right-hand man and mentor while Stephen Dorff revels in the role of the nasty Deacon Frost. Blade is as slick and original as it gets and it’s is easily one of the best comic-book adaptations and/or vampire films out there.
Rating: The Good – 85.6 Genre: Horror Duration: 112 mins Director: Tobe Hooper Stars: James Mason, David Soul, Lance Kerwin
It may be a miniseries but this adaptation of Stephen King’s novel is a lesson in atmosphere setting. David Soul stars as a writer who moves back to the small town he grew up in ostensibly to write a new book but in reality to face a childhood fear of an old house he could never shake. His arrival coincides with a new series of murders that have all the hallmarks of vampirism and he’s not surprised to find that it traces back to that house. Soul is terrific and he is surrounded by a top supporting cast which includes Bonnie Bedelia, Geoffrey Lewis, and the great James Mason as the man at the centre of all the dark happenings. Some of the make up effects have dated but thanks to Tobe Hooper’s brilliant direction, it doesn’t seem to diminish the film’s ability to scare. On the contrary, Salem’s Lot is one of the more frightening film experiences and it’s got the floating child vampires to prove it!
Rating: The Good – 73.4 Genre: Horror Duration: 113 mins Director: David Slade Stars: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Ben Foster
For a genre as tired as the vampire one, films that push the boundaries and enter new territory are always welcome. Such is the case with the sensational 30 Days of Night, an atmospheric tour de force about an extremely northern Alaskan town that is invaded by a horde of vampires during the 30 days of darkness it experiences at the height of winter. A major strength of this film is its original depiction of the vampires with regard to how they look, sound, and behave – much more animal than human. Director David Slade skillfully uses the geographical isolation of the town to augment the sense of desperation and panic and outdoes himself with a truly inspired aeriel shot of the town as it’s being massacred. The acting is uniformly excellent with Danny Huston giving us one of the most memorable and nasty vampires in the genre’s history. The most impressive performance, however, is undoubtedly Ben Foster’s portrayal of the desperately needy and grotesque vampire stooge. No review of this film would be complete without mentioning Jo Willem’s remarkable cinematography and Brian Reitzell’s inspired mechanical score. The ending gets a little Buffy-the-Vampire-Slayerish and really should’ve stayed closer to the ending of the graphic novel but the rest of 30 Days of Night is so entertaining you’ll forgive it.
Rating: The Good – 76.3 Genre: Horror Duration: 106 mins Director: Tom Holland Stars: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse
As is almost invariably the case with films that have been ‘remade’ in modern times, the original Fright Night is the definitive version and the only one worth seeing. William Ragsdale stars as a teenage boy who becomes convinced that a vampire (played with relish by Chris Sarandon) has moved into the house next door. To alleviate his fears, his friends cajole an old actor (Roddy McDowell), famous for playing a vampire slayer on tv, into giving his neighbour the once over and to everyone’s dismay the kid was right! Writer/director Tom Holland struck the perfect balance between humour and horror with no little help from his production designer (who was at least somewhat influenced by Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot), his effects crew, and his cast. The actors are all in top form and Holland clearly gives them room to improvise, a decision which paid off in spades as most of the fun is had in those moments between the lines as the actors play off each other often to hysterical effect. The creature effects are excellent and for the most part stand up today. Whether you’ve seen it in the 80′s or it’s your first time you’ll find this little gem to be as enjoyable as they come.
Rating: The Good – 74.1 Genre: Action, Horror Duration: 108 mins Director: John Carpenter Stars: James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee
John Carpenter finally gets around to the vampire theme and doesn’t disappoint as he crafts one of the tighter and more memorable vampire movies. That weird species of Carpenter-bashing movie cynic jumped all over this one as evidence that he was on the slide but there’s very little about Vampires that doesn’t work. James Woods is terrifically nasty as the leader of a Church-sponsored unit of bad-ass vampire slayers and even Daniel Baldwin finds a role that he is perfect for (and was perfect in). OK, the vampire make-up effects are slightly cheesy but that was always an endearing aspect to this low-budget auteur’s films. On the other hand, the special effects work nicely and so does Carpenter’s nifty action choreography and western laden score. Great fun.
Rating: The Good – 69.7 Genre: Comedy, Horror Duration: 109 mins Director: Fran Rubel Kuzui Stars: Kristy Swanson, Paul Reubens , Donald Sutherland
Original and hugely enjoyable tongue in cheek teen vampire flick which began a television phenomenon. Kristy Swanson stars as the ditsy high school cheerleader who discovers she’s destined to be a slayer of vampires while Donald Sutherland stars as the crusty old mentor sent to whip her into shape. Luke Perry is the layabout who falls in with the slayer while Rutger Hauer and Paul Reubens form an unlikely but irresistibly funny double act as the slayer’s ancient vampire enemies.
First thing’s first. This film is not meant to be taken seriously in the slightest way as it is an experiment in movie fun from start to finish. A young Joss Whedon wrote the script and his quick jibing wit is all over the dialogue. However, it has been said, he was far from happy with general tone of the film and it’s not difficult to see why because outside of the dialogue, the writing (i.e., character and plot development) is missing his preferred blend of sombre tones and irreverent comedy. In its place is a wacky and uniquely skewed sense of improvisation. Controversial as it may be to claim in these days of Whedon-mania, that may not be the worst thing in the world. With the exception of his sublime foray into science fiction in the shape of the peerless Firefly, Whedon’s take on the horror genre can be decidedly precious and it can become bogged down by a very idiosyncratic, uninspired, and just plain stiff notion of evil. The television series of Buffy The Vampire Slayer which Whedon did maintain control over is a testament to this as many of the evil-doers whom Buffy ended up confronting season after season were all rather bland and really just became vehicles for the actor playing them to stick their personalities into 5th gear for 14 straight episodes. Worse still was the earnestness which he seemed to treat the conveyor belt of Buffy’s emotional dilemmas. An earnestness which just flat out did not gel with the comedic ambitions of the show. That director Fran Rubel Kuzui went a different way with the feature film is therefore quite refreshing and offers us a much more fun and imaginative take on what remains a fairly daft but engaging concept.
The key to the Kuzui’s success is the licence he gave the actors. There’s an overtly wide degree of freedom to improvise afforded the likes of Hauer and Reubens in particular and it results in a tantalising energy whenever they are on screen. Hauer’s delivery is particularly halting given its sheer eccentricity and the quality of the dialogue they were playing with. Paul Reubens as his hysterical henchman (whose death scene alone makes this worth the watching) runs his own little side-show that offers less improvisation but more outright comedic skill.
However, for all the uniqueness of the bad guys, it’s still the three good guys that give Buffy its charm. Perry is surprisingly enjoyable as the rebel without a clue and he seems to relish the opportunity to turn his then slightly noxious Beverly Hills 90210 character on its head. Moreover, he and Swanson share an easy chemistry which gives their romantic angle more substance than most. Swanson and Sutherland are even better together and given the age gap between the two, they play off each other extremely well. It’s great fun listening to your typical 1990′s LA teenager trying to make sense of the world which this strange man is introducing her to through her crass but charming rich girl mentality and it sets the scene for many a witty repartee as Sutherland’s beleaguered and world weary trainer gives as good as he gets.
With such loose directorial control, the film can come off a little clunky at times. The cuts can come too slow and the sound mixer seemed as confused by the film’s overall eccentricity as the audience was. However, the payoff is certainly worth it, because it resulted in a movie every bit as playful as the television series that followed it but with none of the overcooked earnestness. “You ruined my jacket! Kill him a lot.”
The vampire genre is peculiar in that it is the most over-exploited yet poorly represented of all the horror sub-genres. Happily, Near Dark is not only an exception to that rule but it’s also quite simply the best modern representative of the genre. Director Kathryn Bigelow and Tangerine Dream’s brilliant score add a haunting and dreamlike quality to Eric Red’s excellent script about a small town boy named Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) who gets more than he bargained for when he takes a pretty girl (Jenny Wright) on a night-time drive. Before he knows it, he’s kidnapped by her “family”, which is led by the sensational Lance Henrikson’s Jesse and populated by an array of brilliantly fleshed-out (no pun intended) characters. The most captivating of these is without doubt Severen, played by Bill Paxton in one of the most explosively entertaining performances you’ll ever see. Paxton quite simply burns a hole in the screen as the deranged and incendiary vampire but it’s a testament to the quality of the acting throughout that a performance of that stature doesn’t overshadow that of the others.
Near Dark is a more mature and contemplative horror film than we typically see as it blends aspects of both the western and vampire genres together in ways that draw interesting parallels between the two. There’s a strong romantic theme running through the film which is fascinatingly skewed by Red’s more intimate take on the vampire mythology. There are no fangs on show, which makes the feeding all the more believable and indeed gruesome. The bar scene in particular (involving a great piece of ensemble acting from the “vampires”) will leave you seriously squeamish. The story takes a couple of logical leaps towards the end but they don’t really tarnish the overall experience because Near Dark is really about the lingering atmosphere it sets.
This was Bigeolow’s first great film (the more observant will notice the cast is full of regulars from her then husband James Cameron’s films) and her use of sound and awesome imagery (just check out that early shot of the family bearing through the desert in their RV) gives it an intimate yet appropriately otherworldly feeling which not many directors can achieve. Of course in that respect, credit must also be given to screenwriter Eric Red, whose previous film The Hitcher had a similar dreamlike vibe to it. Red’s script is quite minimal in parts which makes the words of the characters all the more relevant when they are spoken. Furthermore, at crucial junctures, he uses the extended moments of silence in between lines almost as lacunae which gives the audience a more tangible sense of the world of the “vampire”. It really is an extraordinary device which is only augmented by Tangerine Dream’s luminescent score riding somewhere in the background. In fact, that score and Red’s words work so effectively together, it’s like he wrote the script to their music. There are not many films coloured so strongly by their score and it’s yet another testament to the skill of Bigelow that neither it nor the script cancel the other out. In fact, it’s exactly that type of balancing act which makes Bigelow such a good director and Near Dark such a good cross-over horror.
Rating: The Ugly – 68.5 Genre: Comedy Horror Duration: 93mins Director: Richard Wenk Stars: Chris Makepeace, Sandy Baron, Robert Rusler
“You’re carrying my next meal around in your veins!” One of those unique comedy horrors which the 80’s was so perfectly geared towards creating. Colourful in both sound and appearance, making up the rules as it goes along, and some nice visual effects sprinkled here and there, it focuses on two frat pledges who head into the city to hire a stripper. When fate takes them to a deserted part of town and an unusual strip club, they come across a captivating performer whose more that she appears to be. In a Dusk-til-Dawn-like transition, the movie shifts from quirky college comedy to even quirkier comedy horror.
Like Fright Night, Vamp seems content to forge its own unique style. It proceeds in an “After Hours” manner where scenes are linked through a series of curious and compelling characters who appear, disappear, and reappear capriciously throughout its duration. Sharp, clever, mercurial dialogue is enriched through the interested performances which the lose plot scatters up. Grace Jones, in a role with no dialogue, is fine for what she’s given to do but Robert Rusler and Dedee Pfeiffer seem to be really enjoying themselves. They even make up for Chris Makepeace who is a little weak in the lead. The show stealer is Sandy Baron with a wonderfully sarcastic and creepy performance as the nightclub host.
Everything in Vamp from the soft electronic score, the understated but polished production design, the writing and direction, to the performances themselves seems just a couple of degrees off conventional and it makes the movie all the more refreshing. Impressive creature effects are sparingly used which adds to their charm though Jones’ vampire queen (on whom the best effects centre) could’ve appeared more often and she should’ve been tied into the story better. The dance sequence introducing Jones’ fanged seductress seems the inspiration for Salma Hayek’s Dusk til Dawn entrance and while not as arresting as that sequence, it is memorable and nicely filmed. However, her character only really makes two more significant appearances after that and given she’s the central bad guy, the film loses its focus because of it.
There are times when the uneven style seems more unintentional than on purpose and it adds to the drag which the lack of plot focus creates. However, there is still a lot to enjoy here, especially if you love the 80’s comedy horror.