VULTURE DROPPINGS OF THE WEEK: Vampire Flicks
Its Friday! Which means it’s time once again for the weekly roundup of my favorite pop culture atrocities, misfires and entertaining trainwrecks. This week’s theme: Vampire Flicks.
The very first incarnation of the vampire myth is credited to John William Polidori, an English/Italian writer. His short story, The Vampyre, was first published in 1819 to much fanfare. And so it began. From Bram Stroker‘s Dracula in 1897 to Buffy in 1997, people have been fascinated with the idea of vampires. What is about these fictional creatures that is so enchanting? The pale skin? The extreme cravings for blood? The sharp fangs? That perfect, unwavering mop of greaser hair? Oh wait – that’s just Robert Pattinson from Twilight, the 2008 movie that set off the current Vampire craze.
Oh, and what a craze it is. This year alone has seen countless vampire-themed books (Once Bitten, Already Dead), TV shows (True Blood, The Vampire Diaries) and movies (Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant, Blood: The Last Vampire). And, alas, we come to New Moon, the much anticipated sequel to Twilight that is set to make a gazillion dollars this weekend. Its reviews have been painful, though, which goes to show you that just merely having a movie about vampires isn’t enough to make it interesting (granted, it is based on the Stephanie Meyers novel of the same name…so part of the blame goes to her).
New Moon is not alone in this department. In fact, 99% of all Vampire incarnations are actually pretty terrible. A fact that the following movies can attest to.
1. ‘VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN’ (1995)
After a string of early 90s flops (Boomerang, The Distinguished Gentleman and Beverly Hills Cop III), Eddie Murphy decided to re-invent himself — sort of. He had one movie left on his contract with Paramount and, instead of doing another comedy, he opted for horror. At the time, Vampire in Brooklyn was to be his big box office comeback (which is laughable now, considering it didn’t even break the $20 million barrier). In the this clip from the movie’s promotional tour, Murphy seems excited at the prospects it might bring him and he is straining to appear humbled by it:
Murphy had everything in place for a sleeper horror hit: a modest, “doesn’t call attention to itself” $14 million budget, a sexy co-star in the always terrific Angela Basset and he even recruited director Wes Craven, the man who created A Nightmare On Elm Street and Last House on the Left. Unfortunately, the pieces didn’t end up coming together. In a 2007 episode of The Directors, Craven stated that he doesn’t care for Vampire in Brooklyn. He particularly dislikes the movie’s uneven tone, citing that he and Murphy had differing opinions about the project. Point blank: Murphy wanted to make a horror movie and Craven wanted to make a comedy.
Peter Stack, of the San Francisco Chronicle, shared the sentiment:
[Murphy] is strangely cumbersome, which could be because of the hokey makeup and special effects surrounding him. Vampire in Brooklyn is neither funny nor frightening and comes up [as] a tedious middle-road hybrid.
How Murphy thought his more bland-than-campy Vampire fable would catch on with audiences is anybody’s guess. For their next projects, Craven and Murphy would end up sticking to what genres they do best with Scream and The Nutty Professor, respectively. And – whad’ya know? They were both huge hits that effectively re-launched their careers. Needless to say, they never returned to the subject of vampires.
2. ‘DRACULA: DEAD AND LOVING IT’ (1995)
The funniest thing about Dracula: Dead and Loving It is the title. And it’s not even that funny. Coming off of the popularity of his previous project, Robin Hood: Men In Tights, Mel Brooks decided to do another spoof of a classic story. He kept the colon/subtitle, but discarded the wit. Brooks probably wanted to emulate his beloved Young Frankenstein as well, so he looked to Dracula.
You would think that the genius who so brilliantly spoofed Frankenstein, Westerns and even Star Wars would surely have a field day with the vampire legend. How could he lose? The melodramatic tale of Dracula is always ripe for parody. Or I should say: usually is. This adaptation turned out to be one of the dogs. Brooks might’ve had fun writing (along with four, count ‘em, four other screenwriters), directing and acting in it, but the end result is not fun to watch.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why Dead and Loving It is so awful. It’s intrinsically bad. Leslie Nielsen, who’s usually hilarious in spoofs, is given nothing to work with. What Brooks did is literally remake the 1931 classic, Dracula, and then add funny accents. He follows the story of the original movie so closely that there’s hardly room for any gags. And when there are gags, they’re excruciating. Take a look at this clip and see what I mean:
The cast, which includes such 90s staples as Steven Weber (Wings), Amy Yasbeck (The Mask) and Peter MacNicol (Ally McBeal), put their all into the material to no avail. Like I said earlier, the material is so thin that its in danger of disintegrating. And that essentially what happens because the lack of humor defeats the purpose of the movie. The Dracula story had already been done to death, and better, too. In USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna wrote, “If any movie proves that Mel Brooks’ genius for skewering creaky genres has evaporated, it’s this anemic attempt to draw new blood from low-flying vampire high jinks.” Sadly, she may have been right. To date, Brooks has not directed another movie. Of course, there was that whole Producers thing.
3. ‘BLADE: TRINITY’ (2004)
The first Blade from 1998, based on the Marvel comics by Marv Wolfman, is a solid actioner starring Wesley Snipes as the title character: a half-human, half-vampire antihero who lives for nothing but to destroy all other vampires. Kris Kristofferson plays Whistler, the badass who raises him. The movie, directed by Stephen Norrignton (The League of Extraordinary Gentleman), developed a cult following and made an action star out of Snipes. Blade II, 2002, was even better thanks in no small part to Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) who took over directing duties. His nightmarish vision and innovative film techniques (such as showing us the gory insides of the vampires) made for a unique, much-better-than-it-had-to-be sequel. According to IMDb, del Toro would have returned for the third and final installment of the saga had it not been for the fact that his dream project, Hellboy, was greenlit first. Good for him. Bad for the Blade franchise.
Mega producer and prolific action screenwriter David S. Goyer, who wrote all three movies, stepped in as the director for Blade: Trinity. To say he lost his groove is an understatement. To say he isn’t as good as del Toro is an extreme understatement. His script, about Blade’s plan to exterminate all of the remaining vampires on earth, loses the cool, dark tone of the other movies and achieves a level of corniness so high that it could only have been unintentional. The opening voiceover, which tries to distance itself from the vampire myth of yore, is particularly cheesy:
In the movies, Dracula wears a cape and some old English guy always manages to save the day at the last minute with crosses and holy water. (pause) But everybody knows that the movies are full of shit. The truth is it started with Blade and it ended with him. And the rest of us were just along for the ride.
I agree with those words. Blade: Trinity is most definitely full of shit. Joining Kristofferson and Snipes this time are Jessica Biel and Ryan Reynolds as the Nighstalkers, a rag-tag group of fellow vampire hunters. Their casting gives you a clue as to what direction Goyer wanted to take the movie in. What should have been a dark and gory finale turned out to be a ludicrous Matrix ripoff filled with ham-fisted humor (hell, the movie’s more of a comedy than Vampire in Brooklyn is). The following short clips capture the movie’s tone perfectly:
In the Washington Post, Stephen Hunter wrote:
Watching Blade: Trinity is like being rolled down a marble staircase in an oil drum. The movie is loud, dark, bumpy and not even a little fun. You emerge into daylight bruised and battered, suffering a case of movie abuse. You don’t need a film critic; you need a social worker.
At least it’s the last one. As of yet, there are no more Blade movies in the works (although there was a short-lived TV series in 2006). Like most of the other vampire incarnations, Blade‘s well has run dry. Or rather, its blood has been sucked dry.