Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Halloween 2015: October 24

Interview with the Vampire (1994)

For years, horror fans would debate the merits of the sexy vampire. For a long time, I felt pretty, sexy vampires were an affront to everything the vampire stood for. They’re undead, blood sucking monsters, not goth teenager’s imaginary boyfriends! Many other fans felt this way. However, since the rise of the sparkly vampire, it’s become easier to defend the sexy vampire. Yes, pretty boy vampires with flaxen hair, blemish-free skin, and romantic eyes are ridiculous. But at least they still kill people. At least they’re still monsters. Take, for example, “Interview with the Vampire.” When Anne Rice’s book first became hugely popular, I blamed her for the proliferation of the romantic vampire. (This is silly, since the vampire genre has always been awash with romance.) Now, in a post-“Twilight” world, “Interview with the Vampire” looks way better then it did twenty years ago.

In 1791, Louis de Pointe du Lac lost his wife and daughter, along with his will to live. His acceptance of death led him into the fangs of Lestat de Lioncourt, a hedonistic vampire. Lestat bites Louis, transforming him into an immortal vampire. The two vampires debate, about the ethics of killing humans, about what to do with their adopted vampire daughter. Soon, Louis flees to Europe, in search of an older breed of vampire. And now, two hundred years later, he tells his story to a young journalist in a San Francisco hotel room.

“Interview with the Vampire” has one of the cleanest three act structures I’ve seen in a while. The first third of the movie focuses on Louis’ early adventures with Lestat and, eventually, Claudia. The second part details his journeys in Europe. The final part has him returning to America. The first part is probably the least compelling. Brad Pitt is slightly flat as Louis. Moreover, the character is extremely whiny. He spends far too much of the film brooding about his desire to drink blood. We all know he’s going to give in and kill people eventually, making the endless debates meaningless. No wonder Lestat, played by Tom Cruise at his most glamorously theatrical, would become the series’ flagship character. Anne Rice willingly embraces the gay subtext of the vampire archetype. Lestat and Louis basically have a contentious but nevertheless romantic relationship. When Claudia enters the picture, the three become a family, two homosexual fathers raising a daughter together. This is a parallel the film itself makes. Claudia’s entry into the story certainly perks up the first act, thanks to Kristen Dunst’s fiery performance. Still, there’s only so much to be mined from Lestat’s decadence contrasting with Louis’ reluctance.

Weirdly, once Lestat is temporary taken out of the picture, “Interview with the Vampire” picks up considerable speed. (His quasi-death certainly provides the film with its goriest moments.) By exploring Europe, the story is given a nice scope. More focus is given to Claudia and her conflict, of living forever in a little girl’s body. Mostly, the introduction of an older society of vampires provides a much needed adversary. Stephen Rea as the clownish but sinister Santiago gives the movie a colorful villain. The entire “Theater of the Vampire” sequence, where vampires feed upon victims on a stage but frame it as performance art, is fantastic. The scene where Armand, played by a smoldering Antonio Banderas, seduces the female victim best illustrates how vampires are both frightening and alluring. Mostly, this subplot gives the film a more concrete conflict then just Louis and Lestat’s philosophical differences. A vampire killing another vampire is the only crime the order recognizes. Thus, Claudia and Louis are punished. When Louis escapes, he goes on a roaring rampage of revenge. It’s a fantastic sequence and, honestly, the story could have ended there.

However, I am glad the movie continues. As the story reaches it ending, the plot moves into the modern age. The passing of time is brilliantly shown in a montage where Louis watches various movies in a theater. The final encounter between Louis and Lestat is more tragic then intense, the elder vampire becoming somewhat pathetic in his old age. The framing device, featuring Christan Slater as the interviewer, don’t add much but does root the story in as specific place and time.  “Interview with the Vampire” was directed by Neil Jordon, whose films are always gorgeous. Accordingly, the film is elegantly and beautifully shot. Jordan’s use of colors are warm, rich, and sensual. Naturally, the period costumes and sets are fantastic.

“Interview with the Vampire” is perhaps too long and Brad Pitt is still kind of a drag. Anne Rice is very inconsistent with what abilities her vampires are given. Some can read thoughts, for ill-defined reasons. They can’t shape shift or hypnotize but can move at super speed, a special effect that hasn’t aged well. The characters in-film dismisses the pop culture version of vampires yet sunlight is the only thing that easily kills them. It remains an adsorbing film throughout, even up to that goofy, sequel-hook ending. I can understand fans dismissing its prancing, glamorous, queer vampires. I like the film and it’s too glammy for me at times. Even though it might have launched a damnable subculture, “Interview with the Vampire” is still a pretty good movie. [7/10]

The Day Mars Invaded Earth (1963)

We’ve always been fascinated by the possibility that life exists on Mars. That our nearest celestial neighbor may contain life has fired the imagination for centuries. Even into the sixties, as the Space Age began and scientists became increasingly certain that there wasn’t life on Mars, sci-fi writers continued to look towards the Red Planet. The precisely entitled “The Day Mars Invaded Earth” was written by Harry Spalding, a minor genre scribe who would go on write “The Earth Dies Screaming,” “Curse of the Fly,” and “The Watcher in the Woods.” It is the only science fiction film made by Maury Dexter, who otherwise specialized in studio programmers. The movie has mostly been forgotten but is notable as a late example of the old school alien invasion story.

Dr. David Fielding is a scientist in charge of a program to land a robotic probe on Mars. As Martian probes are wont to, the latest one has disappeared on the surface of the planet. Fielding returns to his spacious California home, to his wife and two kids. Afterwards, everyone in the family begins to notice something strange. Odd-acting doppelgangers have seemingly appeared around the home. Soon, Dr. Fielding discovers that these doubles are the first wave in an invasion of Earth by insidious Martian forces.

In his review of “Earth vs. the Flying Saucer,” ever-true genre reviewer Dave Sindelar noted that most alien invasion films don’t deliver on the promise of their premise. My mini-marathon of invasion films has certainly made that apparent. “The Day Mars Invaded Earth” doesn’t feature any Martian doom fleets marching on Earth. Instead, it’s another variation on the body snatcher idea. The Martians make copies of their intended victims. Once the original is scratched out, they can replace them and facilitate their take-over. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the body snatcher concept is the cheapest type of alien invasion to create. It requires no make-up or special effects beyond the actors themselves. There’s no doubt that “The Day Mars Invaded Earth” was a very cheap production. Its idea of a spooky special effect is the camera going blurry over an actor’s face.

“The Day Mars Invaded Earth” is an intensely slow-paced movie. Most of the film, for that matter, is made up of people wandering the mansion grounds. That is Greystone Mansion, by a way, a frequent presence in TV and movies. Dr. Fielding walks around the building, the camera tracking him at every turn. Next, his wife walks around for a long time. Before the movie is over, we see the son take a trip around the house. The most exciting thing to happen in the first half of “The Day Mars Invaded Earth” is a car careening off the road, the actual crash happening off-screen. “The Day Mars Invaded Earth” is so low-key that the building’s gate not opening is a major dramatic incident. Actually, there’s a lot of talk about the gate being forced closed. Someone crow-barring the gate open is shot with the intensity of a chase sequence. Not very much happens in “The Day Mars Invaded Earth” is the point I’m making.

There is at least one memory thing about the movie though. No, it’s not the performances. Kent Taylor is a snore at the doctor. Marie Windsor is melodramatic as his wife. Gregg Shank is so squeaky-clean as the son that it strains believably. The film ends with a confrontation between the humans and the Martian doppelgangers. No, not the doctor or any of his family members. It’s an associate of his, a minor side character. Anyway, using their powers, the Martians burn the man down into ash, an outline of his body left on the ground. The next scene shows four more smoking, ash silhouettes, each one corresponding to a member of the family. As the film ends, the family seemingly leaves in their car. Considering most of “The Day Mars Invaded Earth” feels like an undistinguished fifties B-movie, it’s bleak, downbeat, sixties-style ending comes as a real surprise.

If only the whole movie was as moody and effective as that conclusion. There are other interesting ideas floating around inside it. An alien race that is so advance that it’s non-corporal could’ve been better deployed in a less chintzy, cheap movie. As it is, “The Day Mars Invaded Earth” is one slowest, soggiest sci-fi B-flicks I’ve ever seen. You’ll be fighting to keep your eyes open the entire time. [5/10]

Suckablood (2012)

There’s such a thing as doing too much. “Suckablood” fancies itself a “gothic fairy tale.” In rhyming verse, the story is related. A young girl won’t stop sucking her thumbs, despite her mother whipping her hands as a deterrent. She is told that, if she doesn’t stop sucking her thumbs, a monster called the Suckablood will appear and attack her. Seeking comfort but frightened, she resists. The ending of the short plays out in exactly the way you’d expect.

“Suckablood” is built upon ridiculously overwrought visuals. The short begins with a spooky mansion on a dark and stormy night, fog billowing outside. It continues on with high-contrast shadowy shots. I should love this, right? Yet everything in “Suckablood” is generated in a computer. There’s no weight, warmth, or interior reality to its universe. It feels like a Hallmark Halloween card, cobbling together the clich├ęs of the genre. The decision to tell the story via rhyme was an incredibly irritating one. Many of the rhymes are painful, bludgeoned into fitting. The titular monster is a generic goblin with elongated ears and nose. The moral of the story is easily, obviously predicted. Thankfully it’s only six minutes. I’m imaging a feature length version of this story and it would be painful. “Suckablood” has all the right ingredients but none of the heart and soul necessary to pull something like this off. [4/10]

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