My daughter and I, in our never ending quest to scare the wee out of ourselves, checked out two pretty good vampire flicks recently, praise be to Netflix (may their profits ever grow.) The first one, Fright Night, is a recent remake of the 1985 film–the original was more a spoof of the genre, while this one balanced the funny and scary quite delightfully. It’s got Colin Farrell as the vampire, and was directed by Craig Gillespie. I don’t know much about the director, except that he’s mostly been a TV guy, but he also directed Lars and the Real Girl, one of my all-time favorite movies ever. The premise is that these two high school nerdy kids, Charley (Anton Yelchin) and Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) come to suspect that Charley’s next door neighbor, Jerry, is a vampire. Turns out, he is. And terror ensues. Charley enlists the help of vampiric entertainer Peter Vincent (David Tennant), who purports to be an occult expert, and who has built a successful Las Vegas act around said expertise. Naturally, he’s a fraud and poseur–also inevitably, he ends up overcoming his innate smarmy prat-ness and helps win the day.
But it’s Colin Farrell’s film. He’s just great as a kind of suburban handyman Lothario, who turns one of those Vegas tract house neighborhoods peopled by lonely, cougar divorcees into his own personal vampiric playground. He’s Jerry the vampire, a toolbelted heartthrob, a lithe and meaty predator. He’s charming and funny and lethal, and he carries the film. Interesting take on vampires–not the decaying Mittel-European aristocrat, like Drac and Nosferatu, but blue-collar, all muscle cars and wife-beaters. Yelchin’s fine as the putative hero, but you never really sense a guy who could possibly stand up to Jerry. But add the creepazoid Peter Vincent to the mix, and we do actually buy the obligatory happy ending.
Can I also express my endless admiration for the effortlessly flawless American accents sported by actors from across the pond? Farrell’s Irish, Toni Collette (who plays Charley’s Jerry-besotted Mom) is an Aussie, and Imogen Poots (Charley’s girlfriend) is an impossibly lovely British lass, but they all sound pure American Southwest.
A very different take on vampires comes from a low-budget American film Stake Land. It’s a post-apocalyptic vampire film, reminds me a lot of The Road, and The Book of Eli, but I liked it a ton more than either of those very good films. The director, Jim Mickle, has only made one other feature, Mulberry Street, which I haven’t seen but which is apparently a lot like this: an urban post-apocalyptic tale, only with ginormous rat things instead of vampires.
In Stake Land, the world as we know it has been destroyed by vampires, and people wander around, trying to survive. The film follows two such people: Mister (Jim Damici), a grizzled, gnarly, tough old vampire hunter, and a kid he sort of adopts, Martin (Connor Paolo, from the TV series Revenge). They drive around in a battered old car, hunting for vampires, who in this film are sort of insensate predators, incapable of strategy or tactics or any vestige of humanity–pure, desperate killers. Mickle’s vision of vampires is actually a lot closer to most movies’ take on zombies, until the end of the film, when we finally do meet an intelligent, though completely evil, vampire. We also see hints of what little human civilization that has survived. We see a couple of old West-y towns, and we hear of something called New Eden, which Mister seems to be seeking. But there are also The Brotherhood; a religious cult, who conquer through rape, and have helicopters, which they use to airdrop vampires into the towns.
The plot, such as it is, involves Mister adding, one by one, other survivors to his gang, who then, one by one, die tragically. Damici is quite brilliant as Mister. He lives to hunt–he doesn’t just kill vampires who happen upon him, he trolls for them, he actively hunts. For much of the film, he seems half-vampire himself–we see hardly a sign of kindness or compassion or humanity. But he does befriend a few stragglers, and fights just as hard to protect the new additions as Martin.
The new additions include a nun (Kelly McGillis), who Mister saves from Brotherhood rapists, Belle (Danielle Harris), a pregnant teenager who survives by playing guitar and singing in towns, and a lost Marine, out of touch with his command (Sean Nelson).
The film’s very episodic, driven by voice-over descriptions of the devastated landscapes this small group of travelers struggle through. But the acting is tremendous, especially from Damici, who I’ve never heard of (and who also gets a writing credit), but who is a consistently compelling presence in the film. It may seem strange to talk about a thoughtful, well-made post-apocalyptic vampire film, but this genuinely is one. I liked it better than the more critically acclaimed The Road. It’s almost as bleak, but it has more going on–it was just more compelling, I thought. Anyway, my daughter and I both recommend it highly.