Some of you have noticed that my regular schedule of a Monday and Wednesday reptile blog and a Friday movie review has been a bit askew lately. This is because my attention has been diverted lately to other tasks, including getting two new editors hired. Don’t worry, though, “Random Neural Firings” isn’t going anywhere. The appearance of new blogs may be slightly more erratic, and movie reviews may appear on days other than Fridays, but I’ll still make every effort to crank out new blogs every week. So keep checking back, loyal readers!
Vampires are all the rage these days, what with vampire novels everywhere and the tremendous popularity of the HBO show True Blood (which I enjoy) and the Twilight movie franchise. I saw the first Twilight and found it pretty blah. Of course, middle-aged guys are obviously not the demographic the filmmakers are shooting for.
I found Daybreakers to be a very imaginative and entertaining addition to the vampire movie canon. It reveals a future Earth with vampires as the dominant society, the result of a plague that, as mentioned briefly, “began with one bat.” Once vampires were in control, humans had a choice to either become vampires themselves or be hunted for their blood. The vampire citizens, mostly clad in black, conduct their lives much as we do now, working, shopping, etc., in a noir-ish atmosphere. Loudspeakers helpfully announce when sunrise is imminent, and cars come equipped with a daylight driving mode in which automatic shutters cover the windows and a camera on the roof allows the vampire driving inside to see where he’s going. A “Subwalk” is an underground warren of walkways that allows vampires to move about during the day.
Unfortunately for them, the vampires are facing a shortage of their preferred beverage. Any humans they can round up are tapped, literally, as unwilling blood donors, stacked up in rows within a giant futuristic blood dispensary. This was reminiscent of the human victims inside their pods who were being similarly used by the machines of The Matrix. Sam Neill plays the owner of the corporation that extracts all the blood, which is bottled in various concentrations for mass consumption. You have to pay big bucks for the pure stuff.
Faced with the dwindling numbers of humans the “Vampire Army” brings in (a vampire Uncle Sam poster encourages people to join), Neill’s vampire scientists, including Ethan Hawke as a hematologist, are working hard to find a blood substitute to placate the increasingly thirsty vampire public. Hanging over all their heads is the dreaded possibility of mutation. Vampires that are deprived of blood for too long degenerate into “Subsiders,” monstrous creatures that will attack anybody – vampires included – to satiate their ravenous thirst. This is what awaits the vampire populace, which is already beginning to sink into a mob mentality. As you can tell, everyone in this movie, both humans and vampires, finds themselves in quite the pickle.
Daybreakers’ notion of vampires as accepted members of society echoes the same plot device as True Blood, in that vampires are no longer supernatural creatures hiding in the dark. They’re out in the open. In True Blood vampires coexist with humans, and there are even products aimed especially at them – namely, the drink from which the show gets its name. The vampires of True Blood – in keeping with Charlaine Harris’ books upon which they’re based -- are liked by some people and only tolerated by others. Some even suffer discrimination. Daybreakers takes a different approach and makes vampires the ruling class.
Twin brothers Michael and Peter Spierig, who I had never heard of before seeing Daybreakers, wrote and directed the movie. They have a previous horror movie under their belt, a zombie flick called Undead (2003). Based on how much I enjoyed Daybreakers, I’ll definitely be adding Undead to my Netflix queue.
Since I’m writing about a vampire movie I thought I’d briefly mention some of my past favorites in the same genre. Let the Right One In (2008) was an interesting Swedish movie about a teenaged boy who befriends a vampire girl. At least, her outward appearance is one of a little girl. Remember, vampires never age. I thought 30 Days of Night (2007) was pretty good, and I liked the twist that it takes place in an Alaska town that will see no sun for a month. For a good mix of scares and laughs there are two that I really like: Fright Night (1985) is about a kid who discovers that his next-door neighbor is a vampire (Chris Sarandon, whose most popular role is probably that of the voice of Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas). Not surprisingly he has trouble getting anyone to believe him, including the great Roddy McDowell as a TV horror movie host he turns to for help. The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are In My Neck (1967,also known as Dance of the Vampires) is directed by Roman Polanski and features a bumbling pair of vampire hunters trying to wipe out a vampire family in Transylvania. If any vampire movie can be termed “beautiful,” this one can. The cinematography is eye candy, featuring snowy landscapes and the mouldering castle where the vampires live. A sad note is the presence of Sharon Tate, Polanski’s wife who would later be murdered by Charles Manson’s followers.
Salems’ Lot, the 1979 TV miniseries based on the classic Stephen King novel and directed by Tobe Hooper (creator of the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) is another favorite. What makes this such an effective tale is the fact that the vampires were previously friends and family of characters we’ve come to know. Before becoming vampires they were people just like us (of course the book was able to flesh them out much more than the movie). This really is a chilling thought. It’s one reason why the Will Smith movie I Am Legend wasn’t anywhere near as effective as the 1954 Richard Matheson novel upon which it’s based. Instead of the feral, animal-like mutants in the Smith movie, the plague in the book turns everyone into vampires, similar to Daybreakers. During the day the hero seeks them out and stakes them. At night he holes himself up in his house while the vampire hordes surround it, calling for him to come out. Among them are his friends and neighbors, and that allows the story to deliver an emotional impact than the threat of nameless, interchangeable monsters cannot deliver.
When it comes to movies featuring good ‘ol Dracula, my favorite is The Horror of Dracula (1958), with Christopher Lee as the Count. For the time, it was a more modern take on a character that up to then was more akin to a not-particularly scary foreign dignitary (sorry, Bela Lugosi). It’s very fast paced, and was one of the first vampire movies in garish full color, which was put to good effect. Lee gave Dracula power and cunning – and he never says a word! He proved so popular in the role that he went on to star in an increasingly cruddy series of follow ups. His nemesis in the movie is Peter Cushing, as the best Van Helsing to ever stake a vampire. I enjoyed much of Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula (1992), especially Gary Oldman in the title role, and some pretty creepy vampire scenes. Unfortunately, every time Keanu Reeves showed up with his awful fake English accent, it was pretty jarring.
And now I’ll end this blog with a trite double-pun: If vampire movies are in your blood, you’ll find Daybreakers bloody good entertainment.