Revival House: Deconstructing the Vampire

Written by Film, Revival House

It may be a remake, but Let Me In offers a twist on the venerable vampire genre. Jeff Johnson offers some other movies about more than just garlic and blood.

With Let Me In being released this week, I started thinking about its Swedish inspiration and then about other films that have taken this familiar horror staple and given it a unique spin.

The first film that comes to mind is Martin (1977). Director George A. Romero’s deconstruction of the vampire myth stars John Amplas as Martin — more of a serial killer than supernatural being — who drugs his victims before slicing them open with razor blades so he can drink their blood. Martin’s superstitious uncle believes him to be a true vampire and attempts to repel him with garlic and crucifixes, none of which of course have any effect. The vampire mythology is represented here by Martin’s recurring visions of more traditional vampiric exploits along with visions of being hunted down by torch-carrying mobs. In the end, it’s a fascinating examination of the duality of a man who thinks he’s a vampire but apparently doesn’t entirely believe the lore — yet at the same time claims to be 84 years old. Whether or not Martin is in fact an undead creature is brilliantly left ambiguous.

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I’ve always enjoyed the humor of Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys (1987) and also the notion that being a vampire could actually be fun and is not necessarily a cursed existence. Set in the fictional California coastal town of San Carla (the murder capital of the world), young Sam (Corey Haim, R.I.P.) suspects his older brother Michael (Jason Patric) has been turned into a vampire and enlists the help of a “vampire hunter” (Corey Feldman) he met in a comic book store. Michael meanwhile gets involved with Star (Jami Gertz) and a local gang headed by David (Kiefer Sutherland), who enjoy engaging in dangerous motorcycle races and dangling from elevated train tracks until they drop into the fog.

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In October of 1987, director Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark was released, a film much more serious in tone than the string of somewhat comedic ’80s vampire films, including the entertaining Fright Night (1985) and the aforementioned The Lost Boys. Near Dark takes the familiar horror genre and add elements of the Western to the mix, particularly in one scene depicting a confrontation between vampires inside a hotel and the law out on the street — the twist being that bullets are used to blast away the walls of the building to allow shafts of sunlight inside.

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Another noteworthy film, Shadow of the Vampire (2000), tells the story of the filming of F. W. Murnau’s 1922 German silent film Nosferatu. The twist here is the portrayal of the film’s gaunt star Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe) as being an actual vampire, deliberately hired by Murnau (John Malkovich) to make his film as realistic as possible.

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My own personal favorite take on vampire mythology is the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003). I know I usually write about movies here, but unfortunately the original 1992 Buffy movie isn’t very good. Besides it’s my goddamn article and the show is just that great. Pretty much no franchise has had as much fun simultaneously adhering to and screwing with vampire folklore than Joss Whedon’s seminal TV series. From the very opening of the series in which the girl-as-victim stereotype is turned on its side, to the character arc of Spike and the incredible way it all concluded, the series consistently managed to maintain a level of unpredictability throughout.

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Which brings us to Let the Right One In (2008), the inspiration for Matt Reeves’ Let Me In and perhaps the definitive coming-of-age vampire tale. This little gem from Sweden tells the story of Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) a 12-year-old boy who befriends Eli (Lina Leandersson), the girl next door who happens to be a vampire. The film ponders many things about the day-to-day existence of a vampire — notably what would it be like to actually exist? Eli’s “father” Håkan (Per Ragnar) occasionally brings her human blood to feed upon, but he must be careful about how often he hunts for her. However, the story’s uniqueness comes from the focal point of the growing friendship between the two kids. Director Tomas Alfredson’s film is perfectly shot (particularly the swimming pool sequence) which naturally begs the question of why attempt to remake it at all — other than the obvious observation that U.S. audiences don’t like to read subtitles. The good news is that Matt Reeves, director of the ingenious and ballsy Cloverfield (2008), just might have pulled it off — the early reviews of Let Me In have been overwhelmingly positive. I know in my heart that remakes are almost never better than the original, but the optimist in me always hopes for the improbable. All I know is my butt will be in the seat.

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