Saturday, September 20, 2008

BLOODSUCKING CINEMA (2007) d. Barry Gray

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Of all the creatures spawned by horror writers and film makers, none is as popular as the vampire, and that pretty surprising considering how little they look like their original portrayals from long ago. Werewolves, mummies and zombies have all remained much the same as they have always been, while vampires have taken on aspects of the culture from which they’ve sprung when their movie was produced. As a result, vampires in the 1950s still had the old Gothic appeal, while 1980s vampires began to wear “guess jeans” and sported punky haircuts. Modern vampires are often clad in even wilder fashions and sometimes are packing pistols. Despite the changes which can often leave older fans behind, vampires evoke images of power and profundity, lethality and laconic apathy as well as savoir-faire and sensuality. BLOODSUCKING CINEMA: THE ORIGIN AND THE EVOLUTION OF THE VAMPIRE MOVIE takes a look back at vampire films using an interesting focus and filter and finds some success doing it.

BLOODSUCKING CINEMA is a documentary that looks at a series of successful modern vampire films like VAMPIRES, THE LOST BOYS, VAN HELSING, UNDERWORLD, INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, FROM DUSK TIL DAWN and BLOODRAYNE but more interestingly, looks at the films and film makers that inspired these recent additions to the canon. Using a wide variety of modern clips, older film segments and movie posters/lobby cards, vampire imagery is paraded across the screen while film industry folk discuss the merits of films past and present. To name just a few of the dignitaries, there are iconic directors like John Landis and John Carpenter, less well-known directors like Uwe Boll and Len Wiseman, special effects wizards like the late Stan Winston and Greg Nicotero, actors and actresses like Stuart Townsend, Kristanna Loken and Cheech Marin as well as erudite scholars like Leonard Maltin all discussing cinematic vampire lore. In the end, a surprisingly comprehensive retrospective of vampire films spanning more than 80 years is presented over the one hour run-time.

When I watched the opening segments of this documentary and saw that it was going to focus on modern vampire films, I was nervous at best and at worst ready to hate this film, but I changed my mind and am willing to admit my prejudice. I am not a big fan of most of the modern films explored, FROM DUSK TIL DAWN being the big exception. However, BLOODSUCKING CINEMA was a fair and balanced presentation, going back to the roots of vampire cinema with NOSFERATU and DRACULA, and then proceeding through Hammer Films’ many versions of Dracula including Christopher Lee’s portrayal, Mexican Vampire films, and groundbreaking efforts like BLADE, among others. When older films were referenced, they were done so with exceptional use of old movie posters, movie stills and clips from some of the best sequences in vampire movie history. What also worked was the mix of seasoned professionals lending their knowledge and experience that any movie-goer can benefit from. The reverence of the younger industry professionals for the older fare also aided in adding an air of legitimacy to BLOODSUCKING CINEMA. It was during this segment of the documentary that my fears were allayed and I was able to really enjoy the production.

Sadly, I had my problems with any dealings with the modern films. The panel of experts was entirely too kind to films that either haven’t held up especially well as the years have past, or films that will drop to the bottom of the motion picture pond without leaving a ripple. There is a big difference between a film that leaves a lasting impression because it is well made and a film that is a commercial success but will be forgotten after a decade or a generation. I can’t imagine that BLOODRAYNE or VAN HELSING will ever have the kind of cachet that Bela Lugosi’s or Christopher Lee’s portrayals of DRACULA still have today. To give some of the modern films any space on the Tablet of Fame and Immortality just seems wrong. In addition, whenever BLOODSUCKING CINEMA cuts to scenes from the modern vampire flicks, the many reasons why I don’t like those movies was evidenced, whether it be rapid editing, poorly shot sequences, too many close ups, a reliance on gaudy special effects style over atmospheric substance and vampires that are far more effeminate than they are frightening. For those who like most vampire films that are post 1990, this documentary will probably delight and since it pleased people like me who think that vampire cinema peaked before 1980, I suppose it can be said that BLOODSUCKING CINEMA will reach a fairly wide audience and find reasonably broad approval.

Since BLOODSUCKING CINEMA was a “made for Cable TV” documentary and it is all about interviews and analysis, there is no extras menu to be had. Usually when such is the case, I ascend into a righteous state of indignation, but in this case it makes sense. In some cases, BLOODSUCKING CINEMA might actually be an excellent “bonus feature” to add to a future vampire film release that reaches the kind of classic status that some of the older films have attained. That would be nice.

If you are a fan of silently stalking, pale-faced, undead villains who prowl the night seeking fresh human blood to assuage their hunger, BLOODSUCKING CINEMA is worth your time. It is not the “end all-be all” of vampire documentaries, but it covers a surprising amount of ground in a short time, has some smart and talented people say a few words about films they like and/or admire and to my mind, the more we get the word out there regarding the artistry and creative minds needed to create horror cinema, the better. Horror films continue to be treated like the weird step-sibling to dramas and thrillers. Hopefully documentaries like BLOODSUCKING CINEMA: THE ORIGIN AND THE EVOLUTION OF THE VAMPIRE MOVIE will tear the throats out of such Philistines.

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