The Vampire Film: Thirsty for audience’s blood

You’ve not heard of tween sensation, ‘Twilight’, what rock have you been living under?

Written by Stephenie Meyer, the Romeo and Juliet style love story of Edward Cullen (vampire, gasp!) and Bella Swan (human) has pretty much taken the world by storm. First came the four books (Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse & Breaking Dawn), then the films and then the books again (once people realised that they were getting pretty big). As well as the going through the trials and tribulations of being a teenager in a small town (Forks!), the story starts by looking at the love between the vampire and human before bringing a werewolf into the mix (Are you Team Edward or Team Jacob?) and during the final books, the story sets a wider net by looking at the history of the vampires and the repercussions for their actions. The films have defiantly captured the imaginations of teenage girls (gosh, we love Rob Pattinson and/or Taylor Lautner) and both the films and cast have collected a wide selection of awards ranging from the MTV Movie Awards to Teen Choice Awards but surprisingly (or not so, for that matter) the films have intrigued a much wider audience and since the release of the first film in November 2008, people of both genders and of all ages have been waiting for the next chapter in the series.

So, the question on people’s lips is whether this franchise has given permission for the vampire film to come back with a bite! It’s not just cinema which has taken full advantage of this craze, just look in your television guide and you can choose from ‘True Blood’, ‘The Vampire Diaries’ and ‘Being Human’. Here are just some examples from the last two decades of films whose subject matter has dealt in blood.

1. Daybreakers

2010 started with this Spierig Brothers directed story starring Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill. Set in 2019, ‘Daybreakers’ tells the story of a world where most of the world’s population has turned into vampires due a pandemic. Taking a twist on the traditional formula of angry vampires attacking humans for their blood, this films looks at a world where blood is running out and the vampires turn into aggressive bat like creatures which attack anyone. While the remainder of the humans are being harvested for their blood, a pharmaceutical company, Bromley Marks are trying to find the correct substance for a synthetic alternative to keep the population happy. But everything changes when a vampire finds a way to transform back into human form again…

Despite the intriguing premise of the film and the oddly stunning steely blue look of the cinematography, the film doesn’t give itself much else to stand on. It’s fun for a couple of hours and does succeed in the vampire thriller genre, but for the most part does seem quite forgettable.

2. Thirst

Park Chan-wook who is best known for his Vengeance Trilogy (Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, Oldboy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance) returned in 2009 with ‘Thirst’ which is loosely based on the novel, Therese Raquin by Emile Zola. ‘Thirst’ tells the tale of a priest who volunteers for a vaccine trial which is meant to get rid of a deadly virus. The man, after receiving a blood transfusion for a vampire becomes the monster after he nearly dies and this changes the path of the priest’s life. He falls in love with the wife of his friend and he decides to live a life loving the flesh instead of the cloth.

The film won the Jury Prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival and debuted at Number One in the South Korean Box Office. Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film three out of a possible four stars, citing that the director was “today’s most successful director of horror films.”

3. Let The Right One In

This Swedish 2008 romantic horror was directed by Tomas Alfredson and was

based on the novel written by John Ajvide Lindqvist who wrote the screenplay for the film. The story follows the friendship between a 12 year old boy and a vampire child in a small suburb in Stockholm during the 1980’s. Interestingly enough, the director was unaware of the horror genre and particularly work with vampires and therefore instead decided to focus on the relationship between the two main characters instead of the supernatural elements in the story.

The film received worldwide widespread acclaim and won numerous awards including the ‘Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature’ at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. Matt Reeves (‘Cloverfield’) has signed up to direct an English remake for Overture Films and Hammer Films, who plan to release the film in late 2010 under the title ‘Let Me In’.

‘Let The Right One In’ has been celebrated as one of the best vampire films ever made, and I certainly agree with this accolade. The film which visually is stunning fully uses the mise-en-scene to create a claustrophobic world between the two characters as well as the narrative exploring more than just the usual vampire horror but instead what it means to be human.

4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer

This is where my fascination with the vampire genre first started and despite how laughable the original 1992 feature, written by Joss Whedon (who will go on to create the darker television version of ‘Buffy’ in 1997) and directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui, was it did bring to the audience’s attention the story of The Slayer, the chosen one in every generation (and all that spiel which Donald Sunderland first performed in this feature before handing the role of Watcher over to Anthony Stewart Head in the television show).

The film which starred Kirsty Swanson in the title role of Buffy as the teenage cheerleader who just wants a normal life presents Whedon’s original ideas of the tough female slayer but in subsequent interviews he has said that he was never happy with the the interpretation of his script and was never fully convinced by the girl he saw on screen in the film. It wasn’t under Sarah Michelle Gellar stepped into the role that he fully appreciated the role of Buffy for what he originally envisioned.

The film must be taken in it’s own merits as it does not follow the canonical mythology of the main show which ran on The WB from 1997-2001 before moving to UPN for the last two seasons until 2003. While debating the worthiness of the film in terms of representations of vampires, it is always notable that the film never took itself seriously and acted more as a parody or pastiche on the typical vampire horror. While only two years later, ‘Interview with a Vampire’ (directed by Neil Jordan and starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt) was released which boasted far superior visual effects as well as make up and design of the vampire, ‘Buffy’ always keeps contemporary audiences laughing (which unfortunately may not have always been the desired affect) at the complete lack of believable vampires.

In May 2009, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Fran Rubel Kuzui and Kaz Kazui who hold the rights to Buffy were thinking of relaunching the image on the big screen without original writer Joss Whedon and none of the cast or characters from the show. This seems like an odd move for a franchise which has always had a steady cult fanbase as for most of us, Buffy will always be Gellar’s presentation from the TV show.

So there you have it, just a few examples from the last two decades of vampires in film. It appears they have always been there, lurking in the shadows, but only recently have ‘human’ directors decided to look at the mythology more and explore what makes the vampire, more than the violence and torment they traditionally hailed against humans. For more examples of vampires just look to ‘From Dusk till Dawn’, the ‘Blade’ or ‘Underworld’ series or further afield to Russia for Timur Bekmambetov’s ‘Nightwatch’ and ‘Daywatch’.

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