Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Vampires at YBCA

In August, the YBCA had a vampire series.

I caught two of the three films in the series.

Near Dark starring Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright and Lance Henriksen; with Bill Paxton; directed by Kathryn Bigelow; (1987)
Vampyr directed by Carl Theodore Dreyer; German with subtitles; (1932)

Originally, the third film in the series was going to be Daughters of Darkness, a well known 1971 film which focuses on the more erotic aspects of the vampire myth. The print was damaged so the film was replaced by Vampire Hookers, a 1978 Filipino production starring John Carradine. I decided to pass.


Near Dark has achieved cult status since its release. Although Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) did not marry James Cameron until two years after the film was released, the casting seemed like a reunion of Cameron's stock company of actors from the 1980s. The film co-starred Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein who appeared in Cameron's Aliens (1986). Henriksen also appeared in Cameron's The Terminator (1984).

Near Dark stars Adrian Pasdar as an Oklahoma cowboy who is bitten by vampire Jenny Wright. Adrian Pasdar looked so young in the film. He was 23 at the time. I'm only familiar with Pasdar's work in the television series Judging Amy which was 16 years later. The difference in appearance is amazing. If I hadn't had known it was Pasdar, I don't think I would have recognized him.

The film mixes genres which probably led to its cult status. Ostensibly a vampire film, most of the action takes place in present day, small-time Oklahoma and Texas. The characters were described as rockabilly in the program notes. I thought they were closer to PWT. The main appeal of the film is intense performances by Henriksen as the leader of the vampire group, Jenette Goldstein as his jealous lover, Bill Paxton as the sadistic vampire and 12 year old Joshua John Miller as the most cold-blooded vampire of them all. Miller's performance could have served as inspiration for Kirsten Dunst in Interview with the Vampire (1994).

By contrast, vampire Jenny Wright is almost normal. Certainly she is the least blood thirsty of the vampires with the exception of newbie Pasdar who cannot overcome his disgust and confusion as to what is happening to him.

Most of the film is filled with the existential angst of the vampires, particularly Wright and Pasdar who resist their nocturnal urges to varying degrees. Eventually, Pasdar's sister becomes the intended victim and he casts his lot with his human family. What follows is some old-school sunlight-on-vampire-skin fu as Joe Bob would put it. In this telling of the tale, vampire skins burns black when exposed to direct sunlight. Prolonged exposure causes them to explode.

The film was entertaining. The interplay between Wright and Pasdar took a backseat to the antics of the vampires. A massacre scene in a bar stays in one's memory as does their escape from the police in broad daylight.


Vampyr was directed by Danish director Carl Theodore Dreyer. His film prior to Vampyr was the classic The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). The Passion of Joan of Arc with the iconic images of Maria Falconetti as Joan and the grotesque faces of her judges, is surely one of the greatest films ever made. Vampyr didn't live up to expectations, at least mine. I found the film ponderous and dozed off for a bit. The actual vampire elements of the film are ambiguous which leads to more implied horror than on-screen menacing. Dreyer's film is nothing like F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu which I was perhaps subconsciously expecting and comparing against. Some of the imagery is interesting. I particularly liked the drowning of the vampire's assistant in a grain silo or similar structure. The opening scene featured a man in silhouette with a extremely large scythe. Apparently Dreyer filmed with a guaze three feet in front of the camera to achieve the washed-out or dreamy appearance which characterizes the film.

Vampyr directed by Carl Theodore Dreyer

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