Friday, October 19, 2007

On Zombies and Vampires

Well, I was initially planning on titling this post "In Loving Memory of Zombies". But, well, I'm happy to report that I don't think zombies are dead yet (on a completely unrelated note, I take no responsibility for any and all of the stupid, entirely intentional puns contained in this post).

For the past couple of months, I've been telling anyone who'll listen that vampires are going to be the new zombies (not surprisingly, no one has listened yet). I've been predicting this because the number of really cool upcoming zombie movies has dropped to zero (Resident Evil: Extinction doesn't count, trust me, I saw it). At the same time, there are/were two cool upcoming vampire movies (30 Days of Night and I Am Legend). Now, admittedly, it's a well known fact that it actually takes 3 movies to call it a trend, and there are some cool zombie-ish movies coming in the distant future (the independent movie The Signal and Eli Roth's next project, Cell, would be two examples).

However, what is further contributing to my belief that vampires are the new zombies is that 30 Days of Night is very similar to the movie that started the whole zombie craze, 28 Days Later (I'm going to call the similarity of the names a coincidence, though).

28 Days Later was directed by popular indie film maker Danny Boyle, who had directed the popular Trainspotting. He created an extremely cool, very atmospheric zombie movie that redefined what a zombie could be. For one, he made them fast. Equally important, though, he made turning into a zombie really fast. In exchange, he got rid of that whole "Shoot them in the head!" thing. The result was a very different kind of fear where you didn't have time to say goodbye to your loved ones once they were bitten. Also, thankfully, this got rid of the stupid requirement for close quarters with lots of doors, because that's the only way a zombie can take someone by surprise (since zombies are fast now, they don't need to be conveniently hiding where the camera can't see them).

Obviously, this was a huge hit and I swear it was barely a year later that we saw the remake of Dawn of the Dead, which continued the fast zombie tradition (but kept "Shoot them in the head!"). This was also a very decent hit and so the fast zombie tradition was born.

Now, skip to 2007. 30 Days of Night was directed by popular indie film make David Slade, who had directed the popular Hard Candy. He created an extremely cool, very atmospheric vampire movie that redefined what a vampire could be. For one, he made them really fast. Equally important, though, he made turning into a vampire fairly slow. In exchange, he added this whole "Chop off their heads!" thing. The result was a very different kind of fear, where vampires are actually kind of scary. Also, thankfully, this got rid of that whole seduction thing where the victims willingly give themselves to the vampires (since vampires are fast now, they don't need to be conveniently ridiculously good-looking for the camera).

Okay, so maybe they're not that similar, but there's definitely a lot of similarities (like the name). But seriously, this movie really intended to de-romanticize vampires and actually turn them into something scary. I swear, it often seems like the servants of the vampires are scarier than the vampires themselves in most vampire movies. Vampires only real source of scariness comes from their ageless wisdom and power. And the fact that they typically steal your cute girlfriend and send her to seduce you, which sucks. And so, their ageless wisdom and power makes them arrogant and so typically the scrappy group of heroes manages to defeat the vampire (in case your curious, that would pretty much be the plot of Dracula, the book).

Now, personally, I've never found that especially scary (which is a little weird, because in book form, it is pretty decently scary). Also, this is hardly the first attempt to de-romanticize vampires. The Blade Trilogy immediately comes to mind, but maybe that's just because I'm weird since those are stupid action movies and don't count for the same reason that Resident Evil doesn't count. On the other hand, Guillermo del Toro's work with vampires has attempted to redefine vampires, but in a very different way (he actually directed Blade II, which was easily the best, which obviously isn't saying much). In Blade II, he created super crazy awesome vampires that feed off other vampires and they were totally crazy cool (their mouths had multiple breaks so their mouths opened into multiple parts which could easily fit an entire head into the mouth...which is just a little bit cooler than might have to see it to understand). In Cronos, he reimagined vampirism as a way to achieve immortality, but at a terrible price (drinking blood).

Now, that I've actually seen 30 Days of Night, I can honestly say that I was really amazed at how heavily influenced it was by zombies. This honestly felt more like one of the new generation zombie movies, than a vampire movie. In fact, almost every complaint I might have about it, arises from the fact that we're dealing with vampires, when it feels like we should be dealing with zombies.

This movie portrays vampires, most of the time, as little more than unthinking, hungry animals that tear their prey apart as they consume the blood (which, obviously, spills a massive amount of blood, but apparently the vampires aren't too worried about that). They kill the vast majority of the town in the first night (of 30, remember, not 28), in a massive rampage. And, personally, I think that's a really interesting way to treat vampires. I thought that made them a lot scarier and more violent, and well, evil. I like them as hungry creatures that have found the perfect hunting grounds.

In fact, if I we're making this movie, I would have set the town as the formerly second northernmost town of Alaska, after a mysterious accident destroyed the farthest one last year. I mean, why not let the vampires be experienced in the cold? Have the movie start with news crews at the wreck of that town (and introduce Ben Foster as the only survivor). Boom! We've already got a better opening.

But, this theme of vampires as animals is only skin deep, because for some pointless reason the vampires have their own language and they use it to say pointless stuff and make fun of humans. I swear, every scene of the vampires talking would have been better without the subtitles (in fact, I wonder if we might be able to check that option in the DVD version, that would be cool). I like the vampires portrayed as animals, but, as a general rule, animals don't get to have their own language and make fun of humans, unless the movie is rated PG or below and is animated (this movie is disqualified on both counts). At the same time, I loved the things they said in English, which gets spoiled in the trailer, but whatever.

So, I'm disappointed to say that 30 Days of Night is no 28 Days Later. This treatment of vampires was really interesting (and very zombie like, which I like). But, the movie itself wasn't very good, which is too bad. On the other hand, I Am Legend will definitely be good (I don't think it will be possible for that movie to be bad). Also, Richard Matheson's vampires are another very interesting take on vampirism. I don't know how closely the movie is going to follow the book (considering The Omega Man, I wouldn't be surprised if the answer was: not very), but Mr. Matheson did not write an especially romantic last man on earth against the vampires book (which is, in all honesty, a very zombie like theme if you think about it). Of course, assuming they're keeping the title because they plan to follow his themes, then these vampires will be very human (a fun middle ground between the not scary vampires of the past and the vampires of 30 Days of Night).

So, yeah, vampires could still be working towards becoming the new zombies, but they're not there yet. But, I'm excited. 30 Days of Night was really fun...almost as much fun as 28 Days Later, and I've never encountered a vampire movie I thought was as fun as a good zombie movie.

That is all.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just watched 30 days of night and this essay is right on the spot. The vampires were done very poorly however. The entire reason that vampires are scary is because they are Thinking monsters. Unthinking monsters are the realm of the zombie. These vampires while at times seemed intelligent in their tactics were totally stupid in important other ways. Why go to a place with 30 days of night, cut off the population which is your food source only to be done "feeding" in the first night. And then spend the next 29 days standing around in the cold staring at one another?

The vampire "society" is non-existent. Their reason for living is nothing more than frenzied killing. Where would such a group hide for hundreds of years and not be discovered? They had no ability to act human much less look human. I can't see them existing in any human society at all.

Finally the vampires were simply annoying. Their constantly tilted heads splattered with blood and dropped jaws looked alien and scary but it was a baseless visual that came off as dumb. On a zombie it works but they looked like vampire rejects. Finally their goofy language and screeching was totally annoying.