Reviews

Bloodsucking Cinema

Kiefer Sutherland in The Lost Boys

Surely there has to be more interesting things to say about vampires than that they're "cool" and "scary"?


Bloodsucking Cinema

Director: Barry Gray
Cast: John Carpenter, Stan Winston, Leonard Maltin
Distributor: Anchor Bay
MPAA rating: Unrated
US DVD Release Date: 2008-09-23
First date: 2007
UK DVD Release Date: 2008-09-23

Everyone loves Vampires. Just their stylized existence invites endless intrigue. They survive on human blood by extracting it from the neck – with fangs! – many times not choosing their prey based on inherent strength, but robust sexuality. They’re humanoid in shape, but house a demeanor so other-worldly that they can transfix you with little more than a gaze.

Their mythology is constantly expanding and shifting, whether it be into Blade-like vampire/human hybrids (apparently the stock evolution for all monsters nowadays), or their natural inclination to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (X-Files Season 6). Their concept is so elegant, they can take just about any form of mutation and still come out better for it. But I don’t know if they can take this.

Bloodsucking Cinema, the STARZ Original documentary, is so painfully stilted, reductive and, well, draining, it’s hard to imagine even vampires enjoying this ego trip.

With interviews from most of the filmmakers who’ve taken on the vampire myth in the last couple decades -- Jon Carpenter, Jon Landis, Joel Schumacher, Greg Nicotero, Stan Winton, Uwe Boll, and others (though Francis Ford Coppolla and Robert Rodriguez are conspicuously absent) -- the hour-long primer-doc highlights the evolution of the vampire film and its place in our culture.

Although a comprehensive history on vampire cinema would be interesting, only marginal time is devoted to any film pre-Lost Boys. Each moviemaker simply points to the same inspirations: Nosferatu, Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, and the movies of Hammer Films. After that twelve-minute diversion, the rest is left to the people talking about their own work, and the work of the other interviewees. Granted, it’s always interesting to listen to John Carpenter and Stan Winston, but the subject matter is all very basic. Rather than diving headlong into lore, they discuss the rockstar-vampire persona of recent films, like Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire and Joel Schumacher’s Lost Boys.

Perhaps this cynicism comes from the fact that many of these idealized, hip vampire films aren’t that good. Sure, Underworld took the star-crossed lovers pattern and applied it to the ten-year-old boy fantasy of vampires and werewolves, and Van Helsing had fun with the '50s monster-mash-up idea, but do either of these films offer anything new besides glitz? Sometimes it appears vampires are just that -- the epitome of stylization.

But vampirism is such an allegorically rich subject, it’s amazing how perfunctory the idea tends to remain. Immortality at the price of your soul is a classic tale, and vampirism is one of its more overt physical manifestations. Although B-sucking breaches this topic lightly near the end, it fails to explore such films that express a denser vampire representation, save Coppolla’s Dracula.

Guillermo del Toro’s Chronos might not be a vampire film in the strictest sense, but it expounds greatly on the cost of immortality and the power and influence of human blood. Additionally, though not exactly “cinema”, the most influential recent evolution to the Romanian-born mythos has to be Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, right? Consistently defining and redefining the contrasts between vampires and humans, and our relations with their strength and soullessness, Joss Whedon’s television hit has practically reached Biblical canonization in current vampire lore. Also left out is Andy Warhol’s biting parody, Blood for Dracula.

Using the Christopher Lee Dracula films as a base, Blood for Dracula uses vampiric power as an absurdist representation of the cultural divide between aristocracy and the lower class. Admittedly, expecting this movie to appear in anything more than a poster montage is unlikely, but I can dream. Many of the talking heads do their best with the films they are given, but often there really just isn’t that much to say outside of the amazing special effects. Most of the discussions revolve around the simple nature of vampires’ perceived cultural impact: they are scary.

About the only person (outside of special effects crews) to offer any depth to the vampire discussion is Cheech Marin. As the representative of Robert Rodriguez’s 1995 From Dusk ‘Til Dawn, Marin discusses the hyper-sexualized Mexican vampire films of the '60s, to which Dawn is an homage. He also relates vampirism to the sins of Christianity; we all know vampires are evil, just like sin, but their allure, mystique, and power make us want to be with them and to be them.

This idea explains why hip vampires are the current craze -- rocking full-length leather trenchcoats, Oakley sunglasses, and a decked-out kitana. (“Current” being relative to this documentary, not taking into account Alan Ball’s new series, True Blood.) And perhaps that’s where to find the revelation in Bloodsucking Cinema. Not in Joel Schumacher asserting that even though no one else likes Nosferatu, he still does. Not in Uwe Boll telling us why videogame movies are the best thing to happen to film since celluloid. But in our culture’s realization that we want to be vampires.

Sure you thought Dracula was cool growing up, but did you consciously wish you were him? The more recent “superhero” vampires, like Blade, or the oft-impersonated Lestat, bring to the foreground that being a vampire is desirable. We want to suck blood; we want to live forever.

Of course, it’s the Blade comic creator, Alan Wolfman, who brings us back with the assertion that living forever without a soul would be awful. “What do you have to live for? What are your motivations?” To Wolfman, vampirism truly is a condemnation and a curse not to be taken lightly. In many ways, it seems not enough emphasis is placed on that burden in the post-MTV outings showcased in the film (such as Boll’s own BloodRayne). Though the heroes generally appear conflicted in some way, their stellar actions overshadow this important character flaw.

Balancing those two desires -- the desire to be a cool and animalistic vampire, and the desire to be a regular, boring human, is what makes a stronger vampire character, resulting in a stronger film. Brooding for the sake of brooding just doesn’t cut it anymore. And a cult-genre documentary for the sake of an hour on premium cable doesn’t do it either.

4
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