Vampire

Priest (2011)

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Whilst this is my second vampire film in a row it is as different from Queen of the Damned as Stilton and Feta cheese (I’m not quite sure which is which in this analogy). Priest is loosely based on a Korean comic, Manhwa (Korean for Priest) by Hyung Min-woo, it is set in a dystopic future where humans have finally defeated vampires, a war that has been going on for centuries. Following the victory over vampires, human civilisation is ruled by The Church a twisted take on today’s Catholic church complete with confession booths, which were very reminiscent of the dodgy portaloos you find at music festivals. The film follows Priest, played by Paul Bettany (A Beautiful Mind), one of the warrior priests that were instrumental in defeating the vampires. However, Priest along with the rest of his warrior companions was cast aside after the war back into the general population.

The plot is a simple one, Priest’s brother and his family are violently attacked by a group of vampires who kidnap his niece, Lucy played by Lily Colins (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and coincidently Phil Colin’s daughter). On hearing this news, Priest seeks permission from The Church to go and hunt for Lucy but is refused. Priest sets out anyway and in doing so becomes a fugitive who is pursued by fellow warrior priests. Upon arriving at his brother’s home, Priest is joined by the local law enforcer (and Lucy’s paramour), Hicks, played by Cam Gigandet (Pandorum), complete with “witty” one-liners.

I would be hesitant to call the vampires in Priest vampires, they are not like your “usual” vampire (e.g Interview with the Vampire, Vampyr and Captain Kronos) rather they are more akin to Alien, lacking all facial features except a very large mouth. These vampires are a completely separate race (as opposed to humans turned into vampires) and whilst humanoid lack all human characteristics making it very hard to relate to them. Indeed their very society is more similar to that of ants than humans, living in a hive each with its own queen.

More alien than vampire?

More alien than vampire?

In director Scott Stewart’s (Sin City, Dark Skies) vision is clear to see the inspiration from a graphic novel, indeed the opening of the film is an animated history of the vampire war. There was the sense of some greater depth to the film bubbling under the surface which was unfortunately left untapped and I was left feeling the plot was very light and an excuse for some set action pieces. Perhaps if I was more familiar with the original manga I would have been aware of some more subtly but to me Priest felt very one dimensional.

I would recommend Priest only if you are a fan of action films and don’t want to think too much about a plot.

Rating: 2/5

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Has anyone read the manga? Does it give more insight into the film or are they completely different?

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Queen of the Damned (2002)

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Queen of the Damned (QOTD) is based on third book of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and takes some ideas from the second of the chronicles, the first of which, Interview with the Vampire was released in 1994. Unlike Interview however, QOTD is very loosely based on the novel, I would be tempted to say it is rather inspired by than based on them.

The film follows the vampire Lestat as he wakes in current day New Orleans after sleeping for two centuries where he decides to call the rest of the vampire race out of hiding by fronting a death metal band. Lestat is played by Stuart Townsend (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) who spends a lot of time topless in leather trousers. Through the film we learn the story of how Lestat was turned into a vampire by Marius (Vincent Perez, Cyrano de Bergerac) who as well as being a talented painter is the guardian of Enkil and Akasha the king and queen of the damned, the first vampires who ruled over ancient Egypt and are now ‘living’ statues.

It is not only the attention of vampires that Lestat has attracted but also the Talamasca, a secret cult that monitors supernatural activity, in particular that of apprentice Jesse played by  Marguerite Moreau (Runaway Jury). The film climaxes at Lestat’s concert in Death Valley, where a band of disgruntled vampires angry about their secrets being exposed plan to kill Lestat. Against the raging vampires stand Marius and a small band of vampires (who readers of the book may be able to recognise) and Akasha who has arisen and plans to make Lestat her new king. Queen Akasha is played by Aaliyah (Romeo Must Die), a well-known and respected R&B singer who tragically died in a plane crash shortly after filming. Aaliyah’s queen has the sensuous and seductive characteristics of a deadly snake and looks entirely otherworldly in slightly soft focus with glowing golden skin. Although she doesn’t have very many lines or much screen time compared with other characters, she is the undeniable centre of the film.

One of the best parts of QOTD is by far the soundtrack produced by Jonathan Davis (aka JDevil from Korn) and features performances from the likes of the Deftones and Marylin Manson. The songs performed by Lestat are primarily written by Davis and Richard Gibbs (not a Bee Gee) perfectly capture the darkness and anguish of the two centuries Lestat has felt wondering alone.  The accompanying music videos are highly influenced by early 20th century German expressionism (e.g. Der Golem) and particularly Nosferatu which adds to the gothic atmosphere. Indeed the whole film is very dark, partially due to the fact that most of the action takes place at night, but even the daytime scenes are lacking in bright colours except red, which subconsciously links to the vampires need for blood. The special effects of the vampires are well done, I particularly like the reflections of their eyes like that of an animal at night which hints at their supernatural nature.

I enjoy QOTD but not if I try and compare it to the book, or even the Interview film. It is a pretty quick paced film (it’s only 101 minutes long) with plenty of action and a great soundtrack but it has none of the depth and brooding gothic darkness of the books. Another issue with the film compared to the book is it wipes out any homosexual undertones (and some pretty blatant storylines) which I feel is completely unnecessary in this century.

Rating: 3/5

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Vampyr (1932)

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The full title of the film is Vampyr: the Dream of Allan Grey and follows Allan Grey a young man with an obsession for the occult and supernatural. Portrayed by Julian West, Grey is twitchy and slightly gormless looking and finds himself in a riverside inn in the French countryside. In his first night he is awoken by an old man unlocking the door from the wrong side who talks to him about death. Things continue to get stranger for Grey who then sees shadows about the village moving as ghosts with nobody casting them. These include dancing couples, a running figure reflected in the river and a soldier with a wooden leg climbing a ladder who Grey then observes to return to its rightful owner.

It is soon revealed that the old man lives in a chateau nearby with his two teenage daughters, Gisèlle and Léone, along with a handful of servants. All is not well in the chateau with both girls appearing to be ill with a lack of blood, and it soon becomes clear that both are the victims of a vampire. The audience learn a lot about the vampire folklore present in this film from “The History of Vampires” by Paul Bonnard that Grey is reading, from which we find out that once bitten by a vampire, the victim then develops a lust for blood and becomes a vampire, thus wiping out whole villages. Alongside the unfortunate family is the village doctor played by Jan Hieronimko, who looks like Albert Einstein who has been left to shrivel in a low oven for ten hours. It is clear from the subject matter of the books Grey (and thus the audience) is reading that he doesn’t trust the doctor with references throughout to previous examples of doctors joining forces with vampires.

Vampyr holds with many of the traditional vampire myths, for example being unable to be in sunlight and the presence in one scene of a shadowy bat. However, it plays much more on the relationship between vampire and victim, the hold that the supernatural being has over the victim, compelling them to commit suicide, but also the addictive nature of the victim’s blood and the vampires need for it.

Vampyr was the first sound film created and directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer (The Passion of Joan of Arc, Day of Wrath) and as such relies heavily on the use of title cards used in silent films. Based loosely on In a Glass Darkly, a collection of short stories from the nineteenth century by Sheridan Le Fanu, Vampyr is more a series of scenes connected only by the fact Allan Grey is viewing than a fully-fledged storyline. The unconnected feeling however adds to the dreamlike and ethereal quality of the film but also makes it hard to follow. The disembodied shadows and random shots of skeletons seem unrelated to the rest of the film and the ending providing more questions than answers.

Fun Fact: Vampyr was originally filmed in three languages, German, French and English and released in both French and German. Only damaged copies of the film survived and it was restored from both the French and the German in the 1990s.

Rating: 2/5

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Interview with the Vampire (1994)

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Brad Pitt (World War Z) and Tom Cruise (Top Gun, Mission Impossible ) head this all-star adaptation of Anne Rice’s novel Interview with the Vampire. The film does exactly what it says in the title, with reporter Daniel Malloy (Christian Slater, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) interviewing the vampire, Louis portrayed by Pitt an otherworldly being who tells his life (or death) story from the moment of his making. After the death of his wife and infant son (human) Louis was a reckless man with no care for his life when he meets the vampire Lestat played by Tom Cruise who takes up Louis on his wish for death, turning him into a vampire.

The film then follows the pair and their complex relationship through hundreds of years, with the mix of growing resentment  and loathing that Louis feels towards his maker and in return Lestat’s fear of being alone driving him to do ever more desperate things including creating Claudia, a child vampire played by Kirsten Dunst (Spider-Man, The Virgin Suicides). Whilst this serves to keep Louis with him, it eventually leads to his destruction and Claudia and Louis escape to Paris on the search for others of their kind where they meet Armand (Antonio Banderas, The Skin I Live In, Desperado) the leader of a vampiric theatre group.

Interview with the Vampire portrays vampires as creatures with an air of sadness and loneliness surrounding them that drives both Louis’s self-hating and Lestat’s constant attention seeking. Pitt’s Louis is resigned in the contemporary interview and full of self-loathing throughout the film and Cruise’s Lestat a narcissist of the highest order. Indeed in general the casting is tremendous, with one false step in the casting of Banderas as Armand, who is the antithesis of how he is described in the book. The vampire’s make-up is done well, with a subtle whitening of the skin and the prominence of a few veins lending them a marble-like appearance. The special effects are subtle and so well executed they are often almost imperceptible, for example Claudia’s transformation from a dying child into a ruthless vampire with her hair curling, complexion lightening and fangs slowly extending. Even the larger special effects, such as Claudia’s The large budget is obvious in the opulent and varied set design, from 18th century New Orleans to 19th century Paris through to modern day San Francisco.

This film is based one of my favourite novels and I think that director Neil Jordan’s (The Crying Game) adaptation does the book justice, expressing the gothic opulence and the feeling of oppressive immortality found in the book, possibly due to the fact that Anne Rice wrote the screenplay for the film. Inevitably there are differences between the two but the film stands on its own merit and is a definite must for any vampire fan.

Rating 5/5

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Fun Fact: To achieve the pale complexion, the actors were reported required to hang upside down during makeup which in total took up to three and a half hours.

Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974)

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Captain Kronos is set in indeterminate olden times complete with bare footed peasant girls, mobs of angry villagers and tavern wenches. The eponymous Captain Kronos, played by Horst Janson (Murphy’s Law) is a wandering, swashbuckling, often shirtless man who rides around hunting vampires (as the name suggests). We learn that Kronos has become a vampire hunter after returning home from (an unspecified) war only to find his family have been attacked by a vampire. He is accompanied by Professor Hieronymus Grost played by John Cater (The Abominable Dr. Phibes, The Woman in Black), a hunchbacked well-spoken vampire expert. Kronos is called to help a village by Dr Marcus (John Carson) an old friend when young women in his village start turning up as shrivelled old women with blood on their lips. On their way to the troubled village, Kronos and Grost come across a very pretty and feisty peasant girl named Carla (Caroline Munro) in some stocks for dancing on a Sunday. Carla then joins the two vampire hunters and swiftly becomes Kronos’ lover, providing the prerequisite boobs for Hammer productions. There is a plethora of supporting characters, from local bar bullies through to the creepy local aristocratic family with a mother who is never seen in public.

The vampire in Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter is not the usual Dracula type vampire as expected from the more widely known Hammer Dracula films starring Christopher Lee. Rather, the vampire drains the youth from its victims after mesmerising them. Kronos and his team use rather strange methods to catch the vampire, apparently based on old folk tales, including burying dead toads that are resurrected when a vampire passes close.

Originally filmed in 1972, Kronos was destined to become a TV series, however it was eventually released in 1974. Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter is one of the last films Hammer Films produced before being resurrected in the 2000s. The film was written and directed by Brian Clemmens (The Avengers) and is a fun romp through the olden time countryside. There are no slow moments and every scene seems considered of the story, however the outcome is predictable to anyone with any familiarity with films of this type. Some of the dialogue is quite stilted and over dramatic as Kronos has a penchant for one liners. Captain Kronos has a dark fairy tale like quality and is more creepy than all out scary. I think it would have lent itself well to the planned TV series (think The Three Musketeers meets Supernatural) however it still makes admirably good watching as a feature film.

Fun Fact: Captain Kronos was turned into a novel in 2011 by Guy Adams, I wonder how similar to the film it is? If any of you have read it, comment and let me know!