Sunday, October 30, 2011

Vampire Movie Guide

Some film critics have compared the cinema to a vampire. A series of still images brought to life through the mechanical movement of the projector in an uncanny simulation of life much like... the undead. Maybe that's why there are so many vampire movies.

You may be wondering with so many out there where you should start. Don't worry, I've seen a lot of vampire movies and have ranked them for you. And no, I'm not claiming to have seen every vampire movie ever made, or even all the good ones. If there's one in particular you'd like to recommend, feel free to leave a comment.

Unless you're recommending that certain one (Or five. Seriously, two parts?? Really???) that I absolutely refuse to watch. And I'm not talking about Carl Theodor Dreyer's Vampyr.

1) Nosferatu, 1922, F. W. Murnau
Even though the names were changed to protect the copyright infringed, this silent classic, the first screen adaptation of Dracula is still the best vampire movie I've ever seen. Maybe it's just that silent films really creep me out (Ah! The uncanny!), or maybe it's that the production values don't seem as crappy as most old movies (despite the obvious day for night exterior sequences that are an obvious problem for vampires). Whatever it is, Max Schreck should give anyone nightmares.

2) Interview with the Vampire, 1994, Neil Jordan
Now, some of you might think this a travesty that a rather flashy adaptation of the beloved Anne Rice novel beat out the likes of Werner Herzog, or perhaps some of you can't stomach the idea of Tom Cruise befouling your precious Lestat? But remember, kids, this was when he was just a little crazy, and, to be honest, I thought he was dead-on as everyone's favorite Brat Prince. All in all, I thought this was well-done. Ok, so they did try to distance Brad Pitt's Louis from the book's homoeroticism a bit. Fair point. But Kirsten Dunst is excellent as Claudia. And I love the ending, different though it is from the book, though really, not out of character....

3) Dracula, 1931, Tod Browning
Though Nosferatu came first, Tod Browning's Dracula is the ur-text of all vampire movies, and arguably horror movies in general. In fact, so many other films have copied, parodied, or otherwise referenced it, that, if you haven't actually seen it already, you'll feel like you have anyway. Hugely popular--and controversial--in its day, Dracula remains a classic despite its staginess, its sometimes creaky production, and its out dated use of sound. This version of Dracula is one of the most clever uses of Stoker's novel, for it modernizes the story and allows the Count social interactions with his victims, thus making his threat all the more tangible. And then, of course, there is Bela Lugosi's performance--as the foreign yet intriguingly sophisticated vampire--that made Dracula a household name. Lugosi's Dracula is perhaps the most memorable character in film, if not pop culture in general. Face it, it's not Frank Langella kids impersonate on the playground.

4) Shadow of the Vampire, 2000, E. Elias Merhige
A very dark comedy that imagines Murnau hired a real vampire to play the part of Count Orlock. Probably best appreciated if you have a dry, twisted sense of humor. Wilhem Dafoe's performance really makes the film.

5) Let the Right One In, 2008, Tomas Alfredson
A cute little movie about a depressed Swedish boy who befriends a young, depressed vampire girl. Surprisingly (for a Swedish movie), it's not very depressing at all, and rather sweet and heart-warming. Well, for a Swedish vampire movie, anyway.

6) The Lost Boys, 1987, Joel Schumacher
A classic piece of 80s camp with not one, but two Coreys! Sure, it's not very scary if you're over the age of, say, eight, but it's hilarious. Don't take it too seriously, and you will have yourself a good time.

7) Horror of Dracula, 1958, Terence Fisher
The first of Hammer Studio's Dracula movies. Although there are a lot of major changes from the book (Mina is Arthur's wife? And Jonathan isn't a total pussy??), it does a pretty good job of staying true to the essence of Stoker's work. And there are a lot of little touches that remind one of the novel, the play, and Nosferatu as well. Although the film's low budget Technicolor production might seem a little dated and campy, the story's fairly engaging, and Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are excellent as the Count and Van Helsing.

8) Nosferatu: Phatom der Nacht, 1979, Werner Herzog
Ok, the credit sequence is probably one of the creepiest things I've every seen on film. And there are some really excellent visuals. Klaus Kinski isn't nearly as disgusting as Max Schreck (though those fingernails some close--bleh!), but this is still a good film, in it's arty German way.

9) Queen of the Damned, 2001, Michael Rymer
Film critics and hard-core Anne Rice fans panned this adaptation, but it really wasn't that bad, even though they did try to squeeze two books together. Ok, sure, I had trouble with a Lestat who wasn't blond, and, yes, I did nearly lose it and throw things at the TV when they had Marius be Lestat's maker (WTF???? NO!!), but, if you're not familiar with The Vampire Chronicles and haven't seen Interview, you'd probably enjoy it, if the film's slick style doesn't bother you.

10) Underworld, 2003, Len Wiseman
Not too bad. It has all your basic action movie stuff. And the concept was interesting. But I felt I was missing something. Was this a comic book that got made into a movie? I wasn't sure, and if it was, I know I shouldn't have felt that way. I mean, I've never read X-Men comics, but I could still figure out the rules. But here, I was lost.

11) Bram Stoker's Dracula, 1992, Francis Ford Coppola
Further proof that somebody needed to retire after Appocalypse Now. First, let's talk about this as an adaptation. I like to say that this is both the best and worst adaptatioon of the novel. For one thing, of all the Dracula movies, this one gets the most details right. However, it also overly romaticizes the Count, which I'm sure would probably give Stoker fits if he knew about it*. Now let's talk about the acting. I thought Anthony Hopkins made a good Van Helsing (unlike #19), and, despite the weird hair thing, Sirius Black--um, I mean, Gary Oldman does a decent impression of Bella Lugosi as Dracula. But I'm not sure how I feel about Winona Ryder's *ahem* "lovely" English accent, and, dude, casting Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker was, like, a totally gnarly bummer, dude. (FYI, if you've heard intellectual big-shots like Thomas Elsaesser call this movie "the end of cinema" or something like that, they're not talking about it being crappy.)

12) Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, 1968, Freddie Francis
After being accidentally revived, Dracula decides to get revenge on the Monsignor who exorcized his castle by seducing his niece. It's up to her athiest boyfriend and a drunken priest to find the faith necessary to rescue her. In this film we can see the turn toward making vampire movies more explicitly sexy, and, while no one will ever claim this is a great film (the acting is particularly awful at times), it is one of the stronger entries in Hammer's Dracula franchise.

13) The Hunger, 1983, Tony Scott
Mmm... David Bowie as a vampire. Sexy!... But now he's really, really old? Ew! And Susan Sarandon is having sex with Catherine Deneuve? What the...? Though a long-time favorite of goths (OMG! Bauhaus!), this movie is f-ed up. Let's just say I now understand what all the film critics on my exam list were talking about when they bemoaned postmodernism's emphasis on style over substance.

14) Scars of Dracula, 1970, Roy Ward Baker
Once again, Dracula has been brought back from the dead, this time to terrorize a young couple spending the night at his castle. Notorious for having the worst effects of the whole franchise (seriously, that bat is the epitome of cheesy), it nonetheless has some redeeming qualities, such as giving Christopher Lee more to do with the character than bite necks and hiss at crucifixes (though he does plenty of that, too). It also stars Doctor Who's Patrick Troughton, who turns in an unusually (for Hammer) good performance as Dracula's morally conflicted manservant.

15) Dracula A.D. 1972, 1972, Alan Gibson
Hippies, tired of Alistair Crowley bogarting their joints (or something), resurrect Dracula, who seeks his revenge on Van Helsing via his nubile great-granddaughter. Bad, but not quite as bad as it sounds, thanks to Lee and Cushing providing their standard performances. All in all, a lot of silly fun.

16) Dracula's Daughter, 1936, Lambert Hillyer
Starting immediately where the 1931 Dracula left off, with the Count having just been staked, this sequel follows his daughter, a painter, as she tries so hard to avoid the curse which plagues her family: vampirism. Though nowhere near as overt as theThe Vampire Lovers and other such contemporary vampire films, Dracula's Daughter is notable for its lesbian overtones. And... that's it. Seriously, it's a snooze-fest.

17) Dracula Dead and Loving It, 1995, Mel Brooks
Not exactly classic Mel Brooks. But it's still funny, especially if you hated Coppola's version. It's one redeeming quality is that it openly mocks the sexual repression that is an undercurrent in Stoker's novel.

18) Taste the Blood of Dracula, 1970, Peter Sasdy
Three Victorian gentlemen, bored with prostiutes and opium, turn to black magic for their next thrill, but when they leave Dracula's servant for dead, the count takes his revenge by going after their daughters. Dracula AD 1972 was essentially a modern day remake of this story, but, surprisingly, was much better than this slow-paced entry to the Hammer Dracula franchise. Although I found Dracula's victims acting like groupies hilarious.

19) Van Helsing, 2004, Stephen Sommers
Worst piece of crap I have ever seen in the theater. Seriously, the only way to enjoy this reeking turd is to forget everything you know about Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, werewolf lore, and, I don't know, LOGIC MAYBE?? The only reason to watch this move is to perve on Hugh Jackman and/or Kate Beckinsale.

20) Lesbian Vampire Killers, 2009, Phil Claydon
Supposed to be a spoof of Hammer studio's lusty horror films, it's kind of a cross between the style of the Scary Movie franchise and Shaun of the Dead. I laughed once.

So there you have it. Any comments to the effect of "OMG U HAVN'T SEEN TWILIGHT IT IS TEH BEST MOVIE EVAR!!!!1" will result in instant death. Lestat, David Bowie, and adorably depressed Swedish kids know where you live, and they are hungry.

*Considering Bram Stoker envisioned John Irving, on whom he supposedly had a huge man-crush, playing Dracula, I may have to take that statement back.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Coming to Terms with Slytherin

A few weeks ago, I finally got early access to Pottermore. I was so excited to be able to read exclusive content from JKR, get my wand, and, most importantly, be sorted into my House. Which, of course, would be Ravenclaw. Ever since I first picked up Sorcerer's Stone, I knew I belonged with the blue and bronze. I mean, it is the House for the clever people, and haven't people always been telling me how smart I am? It seemed a rather obvious fit.

So imagine my shock and dismay when I got sorted into Slytherin.

I spent a good portion of the evening telling myself "at least it's not Hufflepuff," but I finally lost my cool and nearly shouted "It's not right! I should be in Ravenclaw, not Slytherin! I'm smart, damn it! And everyone should know that!"

Ah. Hm, maybe the Sorting didn't go as awry as I thought.

Anyway, it's not like there weren't other hints that I might be more inclined toward good ol' Salazar's house. My wand, which, according to Olivander's notes, says that people can expect great things from me, for one thing. Scoring the same as Snape on this fun little Harry Potter-based personality test, for another. And, to be honest, it was kind of my second choice anyway. Gryffindors always seemed just a little too cool in my opinion and Hufflepuffs are too, well, Hufflepuff. So if you can't be the cleverest, you might as well be the evilest*.

And that's another thing. Thanks to Harry, we tend to stigmatize Slytherins as evil power-hungry racist psychos. But that's not a completely accurate picture. Merlin was a Slytherin, after all, although I have trouble understanding how that fits in with when the Arthurian legends should have taken place. (I also suspect that the other three houses also claim this.) We'll get to Snape later, but Professor Slughorn was an okay guy, and Regulus Black turned out to be a good guy in the end. (Plus he was nice to House Elves!) And sure, the Malfoys aren't exactly nice people, but would you really call them evil? Sure, some of the foulest characters in the books--Voldemort, Bellatrix, probably Umbridge--came out of Slytherin. All that proves is that Slytherins are fallible just like any other human beings. If you think the other Houses are perfect I've got two words for you: Peter Pettigrew.

Besides, for us Muggles who had to grow up in the real world, a House Sorting doesn't effect who you are or who you'll become. It just shows you an aspect of yourself. Example: Four Hogwarts students, one from each House, decide for some reason to go to college and get Muggle jobs. (Just go with it.) They all love to read and so they study English, and all graduate with honors. Rob the Ravenclaw becomes a librarian so he can be around books all day and have their knowledge at his fingertips. Hank the Hufflepuff, however, becomes a high school English teacher so he can give others the chance to love books as much as he does. Greta the Gryffindor sets out to write the Great Wizarding Novel. Sally the Slytherin also wants to see her name on a dust jacket but wants something with a little more job security, too, so she becomes a college professor and publishes academically. (And never misses an opportunity to criticize Greta's books. Hey, old rivalries die hard.) All four students have the same interests and abilities, but the differences between them is in their ambitions, attitudes, and approaches to life.

Being in a certain House doesn't suddenly redefine us, nor is it all we are. It's just the most dominant part of our personality when we take the Sorting test. I think we're all a little bit of every House, really. Just look at Snape. We know he's a Slytherin, and yet he could have fit very well into the other Houses. Inventing all those spells as a teenager: Ravenclaw. Spying on Voldemort: Gryffindor. Loving Lily all those years despite her hooking up with the guy who used to pick on him: Hufflepuff. That's why Snape is considered by many to be the most well-written character--he has a fully rounded personality. So, as real people, we're far more complex that just the few traits that define one Hogwarts House.

So, after working through all that, am I now proud to be a Slytherin?

You bet!

Am I going to throw away all my Ravenclaw merchandise or my Hermione costume? (I own nothing Hufflepuff.)

No way!

*It's more fun.