Horror. Worldview. Faith.

Daybreakers – Review

Daybreakers – Review

Apr 15, 2011

reviewed by hallo
directed by the Spierig brothers, 2009

With an all-star cast, a significant budget, and the support of Lionsgate Entertainment, Michael and Peter Spierig had everything to lose.  Clinging to a directorial track record of exactly one low budget zombie flick, these two brothers found themselves playing with the “best of the best” because of a well-written story that brought a new take on the oldest of monsters – the vampire.

In the year 2019 a pandemic disease has caused most of the world’s population to become vampires.  Instead of living in dark caves and in coffins, these vampires act like humans; going to work, playing in the park, and buying a cup of coffee at their local Starbucks (with a splash of blood mixed in of course).  Less than 5% of the population are humans, causing the blood supply for the vampires to become sparse.  Hematologist Ed Dalton (Ethan Hawk) is working to discover a blood supplement that will provide life and health for vampires without the need for human blood.  Dalton is radically opposed to the drinking of human blood and finds himself in a very small minority of vampires who seek to find a supplement or, better yet, a cure to vampirism.  Most, however, are quite content with their immortal status and are in no rush to find a cure, including the most powerful man in the “human farming” corporation, Charles Bromley (Sam Neil).  Dalton finds himself in an ethical dilemma; he must work for Bromley in order to pursue the blood supplement, but by doing so is uniting with the corporation which also farms human blood.  Bromley is not concerned with a cure, despite his own daughter refusing to become a vampire.

Dalton joins forces with a team of humans who believe they have found a cure but need a scientist to piece everything together.  Elvis (Willem Devoe) was once a vampire who turned back into a human after a torturous experience with sunlight and water.  Dalton is able to duplicate the conditions and turn himself back into a human.  The race is on to avoid the vampire army and restore humanity to the world before Bromley can bring an end to their parade.

Daybreakers is a semi-political film that scratches the surface of supply & demand and the world’s apparent desire to destroy ourselves.  So long as there is enough blood supply, everyone seems to get along just fine without too much interruption.  However, a lack of blood turns the “normal” vampires into a sub-species called “subsiders.”  These horrific looking creatures are vampirism at its worst and are a physical reminder of the depths to which humanity can sink if things no longer go our way.  The movie demands its viewers to recognize our own tendency to use freely all the resources we need for life, typically the ones we take for granted, and the consequences of those resources being depleted.

The subsiders look terrific, the effects are wonderful, and the film is beautifully shot.  Although Hawke and Defoe provide strong performances, it is Sam Neil who steals the picture.  His love and desire for his daughter to be safe, ironically by turning her into a vampire against her will, ultimately leads to her own self-destruction.  Dalton’s brother, Frankie, provides the love-hate character who is loyal to the vampire army, but desperate for a close relationship with his brother.  In the end, he saves the day.

Daybreakers is a very good vampire movie that flip-flops the conventional paradigm of blood-suckers into a world where humans are the minority.  At one point Hawke comments that he “has forgotten what it’s like to be human.”  Heaven forbid that happen to us.

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Cronos – Review

Cronos – Review

Dec 27, 2010

reviewed by hallo
directed by Guillermo del Toro, 1993

The word “vampire” is never uttered throughout the emotional and gut-wrenching directorial debut of Guillermo del Toro known as Cronos.  Yet, there are few vampire movies better than this.

Several elements of the film could cause a careless viewer to become irritated and even bored.  For example, the action is deliberate and slow-moving.  There is a fairly random mixture of English subtitles for the Spanish dialogue and spoken English, often times within the same conversation.  The film is much more interested in presenting a sympathetic victim in Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi) and his relationship with his granddaughter than it is falling prey to the temptation of presenting the epic, romantic version of vampirism that we have come to expect.  Finally, the end is not triumphant for any party and leaves the viewer with a heavy, melancholy feeling.

Of course, all of those things can also be why the film excels in so many ways, and for this reviewer, beautifully captures the true tension of vampirism; is this a blessing or a curse?  Del Toro rightly examines how difficult it is for one who is deeply thrust in their own lust for youth, health, and renewed energy to appreciate the danger associated with such a quest when that journey involves flirting with evil.  Even the young and innocent granddaughter, Aurora, was able to discern the destructive nature of the cronos device.  Interestingly, Jesus Gris never sought immortality.  He simply wanted to see a glimmer in his wife’s eye one more time, he wanted to feel more alive and energetic, and he wanted to feel confident enough to unbutton the top buttons of his shirt when going out in public.   The cronos device offered that.  And we are all susceptible to it.

The story goes that a 16th century alchemist was determined to find the secret to eternal life.  His solution was the creation of the cronos device, a golden, scarab looking device that housed a insect which would suck the blood from its victim, providing continued life for the insect and, after the immediate sensation of pain, would provide the victim with a wonderful and thrilling feeling of youth and vigor.  Unfortunately, that feeling came with two requirements:  the eating of human blood and the continued reliance on the cronos device.

The device finds its way into Jesus Gris’ antique shop where he and Aurora discover its power.  However, there is another player in town, De La Guardia, who has been searching for the cronos device for years because of his weak health.  He dispatches his nephew, Angel (wonderfully portrayed by Ron Perlman) to find the device at Gris’ shop.  From there, it is a struggle between Gris, who is determined to hold on to the device, and La Guardia, who needs it to stay alive.

Cronos is a film all about dependence, and perhaps one could argue, slavery.  As the great musician Dave Mustaine once said, “I’ve seen the man use the needle, seen the needle use the man.”  In all avenues of the film the viewer is confronted with dependent relationships.  The nephew is in “slavery” to his uncle’s bidding.  The granddaughter is dependent on her grandfather.  Jesus is dependent on the cronos device.  The insect inside the device is dependent on Jesus.  And so on.  As many great horror movies will depict, the allure of the “dark side” is not so appealing once you find yourself trapped inside its web.  At the end of Cronos, Jesus is begging to be restored to how things were previously.  The cost of immortality is just too great.

The film was a huge success in Mexico and certainly launched the brilliant career of del Toro.  His ability to blend the subtle with the extravagant is highlighted in this film as is his remarkable ability to touch the heart; some of the scenes between Gris and Aurora are truly touching.  He would use Luppi again both in Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, forming a successful bond between the two.  I hold Cronos in the top 10 of my favorite vampire movies, perhaps even higher than that.  I recommend it without reservation.

Click Here to purchase Cronos

Horror of Dracula – Review

Horror of Dracula – Review

Oct 18, 2010

reviewed by hallo
directed by Terence Fisher, 1958

Horror of Dracula (as it is known in the USA) is the first and probably the best of a series of Bram Stoker inspired Dracula movies created by legendary British movie studio Hammer Film Productions.  During a period in the late 50’s through the 70’s, Hammer Films and horror movies went together like Dracula and Van Helsing – one was virtually synonymous with the other.  Horror of Dracula remains my favorite vampire movie thanks in part to the performances of two movie icons:  Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

Although the actor who has best portrayed the legendary role of Count Dracula might be a debatable discussion, I can think of no one who comes remotely close to the performance offered by Peter Cushing as the great Dr. Van Helsing.  One the one hand, Cushing comes across so tenderly and compassionate that we feel like have known him as a close personal friend for many years.  On the other hand, he presents an icy-cold demeanor and is unwilling to stop his pursuit until the “unholy terror” of Dracula is dealt with once and for all.  Take, for example, Van Helsing’s dealings with Arthur Holmwood after the surprising and disturbing realization that his sister, Lucy, had become a vampire.  Helsing wishes to allow Lucy to lead them to Dracula.  Arthur is repulsed at the idea of leaving her in the wretched condition of the undead any longer than necessary.  Although Helsing knows this is the best course of action, and in fact pursues this course when Arthur’s wife Mina is turned to a vampire, he nevertheless drops the issue with compassion and proceeds to relieve Lucy of her misery (which is another incredible scene where Arthur is beside himself as Van Helsing stakes Lucy, but at Helsing’s gentle prodding, Arthur is relieved as he looks in the coffin and sees Lucy resting in peace).  I say with all confidence that without Peter Cushing, Horror of Dracula is a mediocre movie at best.

And then there is Christopher Lee.  What you get in Horror of Dracula is classic Lee, with his quick, pointed dialogue, simple smile, and overbearing presence.  I don’t think Lee is my favorite Dracula, yet his presence brings the final “nail in the coffin” that creates a perfect rivalry and spectacular picture.  One thing I appreciate about Lee’s performance is that he does not over-do it.  With the successful and iconic imagery we have of Bela Lugosi and the 1931 classic Dracula, many have created more of a caricature with their performance than a realistic, terrifying villain.  Lee does not make that mistake; the person of Dracula is very believable in this particular film.

The movie is certainly a product of its time, with forced and at times awkward dialogue and strange transitions from scene to scene.  Yet, it remains fresh and very re-watchable.  Horror of Dracula is on my “watch” list at least twice a year and is one of those films that you will find playing in the background in my downstairs den all the time.  The movie does alter slightly from the novel, as most Dracula movies do, but the story is solid, the supporting cast is wonderful, and the final confrontation between Dracula and Van Helsing is classic.  The demise of Dracula is still effective today despite the special effects available in 1958.

So, Horror of Dracula is one you should certainly watch, especially during the Halloween season.  I give it a strong recommendation.

Click here to purchase Horror of Dracula

Let The Right One In – Review

Let The Right One In – Review

Jan 19, 2010

reviewed by Hallo
directed by Tomas Alfredson, 2008

The haunting DVD cover of Let The Right One In caught my eye as I passed by the  new release section of Blockbuster Video and boy am I glad it did.  This dynamic and thought-provoking Swedish film (based on a novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist) makes a genuine connection with its viewers on a number of levels, including themes such as loneliness, revenge, love, and justice.

The story takes place in Stockholm during the early 1980’s.  Oskar is a twelve year old boy who is bullied in extreme ways by his schoolmates, a reality that is coldly overlooked by his mother despite Oskar’s beaten and bruised body.  However, the boy’s troubles are not dismissed by a new resident in Oskar’s housing community, another twelve year old girl named Eli.  Eli is accompanied by an adult male, the status of whom is not entirely clear.  This could be a father, a mentor, a friend, or a random guy who has fallen under Eli’s spell.  However, the role of this companion is quickly revealed as he sets out to find teenage boys, slits their throats, and brings back a feast of blood for young Eli.  Yes, we discover she is a vampire.

The relationship between Oskar and Eli mirrors the indwelling longing of all humanity – the desire to feel connected to another human being.  For Oskar, the difficulty of relationships is bred from his own dismal experience with both friends and family.  For Eli, the secret of her true identity keeps her from truly and fully connecting with anyone.  Yet, the two find a common bond that is both surprising and moving.  Even after Oskar learns the truth about Eli’s vampirism,  his loyalty to their relationship serves as a harsh commentary on our society’s tendency to abandon those we love in times of distress.  Oskar and Eli find themselves in an interesting role reversal when Oskar has to turn into the stalker in order to save Eli from an angry family member of a previous victim.

The relationship continues to be affirmed by the viewer when not only does Eli help get revenge for the mistreatment of Oskar, but we see Oskar himself begin to stand up for himself.  Again, the markings of a healthy relationship are noticeable; looking out for the other partner while at the same time helping them to grow and mature.  And on a more simplistic level, who doesn’t love to see justice carried out for a shy, vulnerable 12 year old?

All these things aside, the beauty and skill of the director are seen in our continued love for Eli even after watching her brutally attack and kill an innocent human for her own survival.  Although we sympathize with her victims, the on-screen carnage does not cause us to turn against Oskar’s new friend.  Whether it is Captain Spalding in House of 1000 Corpses or Neil McCauley in Heat, I am always impressed when we can watch a character brutally kill someone in cold blood and still find ourselves identifying with them.  Although we don’t wish to be them, and we know their actions are wrong, the character relates to us in certain ways that can’t be ignored.  That is the mark of a great story, great directing, and a great movie.

The relationship, of course, was destined to fail from the outset.  Such is the curse of being a vampire.  The cost of immortality is the spilling of human blood and that always tends to disrupt what might otherwise be a promising relationship.  So, Oskar must move on eventually without the continued presence of Eli, but his life will never be the same.  I think of a young John Connor watching his best friend, a Terminator, descend into a molten-lava death.  The relationship was destined to fail, and yet Connor will never be the same again.  So we have great hope for Oskar and for ourselves, that we can learn from and grow in all our situations, even when they are not designed to be permanent.  Eli, on the other hand, must continue her painful immortality by wreaking havoc on the innocent and leaving, once again, someone she loves behind.  In this way we see an interesting parallel to the doctrine of death as recorded in the Bible.  Although we understand death to be an enemy and not the original purpose of God’s plan, He nevertheless uses it as a great gift as well.  For a life of immortality housed inside a sinful, cursed body can only create an eternity of continued sorrow, frustration, and hurt.

Let The Right One In works on all levels; I am hard pressed to find much negative criticism on the film.  Rent it and enjoy.

30 Days of Night – Review

30 Days of Night – Review

Jan 16, 2010

reviewed by Hallo
directed by David Slade, 2007

It would be hard to imagine a better setting for a vampire movie than a city in Alaska that experiences 30 straight days of night.  That is exactly the setting of the 2007 film 30 Days of Night directed by David Slade.  Eben Oleson (Josh Harnett) is the sheriff of a small Alaskan town called Barrow.  The town is preparing for a 30 day period in the winter when the sun will not be seen by the residents – some opt to leave the town during that time which leaves only a few “hardcore” residents behind.  Of course, once the darkness sets in, the vampires attack and the remainder of the movie follows the attempts of a small group, led by Oleson, to survive for the 30 days until the sunlight will drive the vampires away.  The love interest is Oleson’s estranged wife Stella (Melissa George) and they naturally rekindle their love for one another during the 30 days of hiding.

The film is beautifully shot and a pleasure to watch; the colors of the Alaska countryside are stunning and provide an inviting yet cold and lonely feel to them.  The vampires also look pretty good, and Slade attempts to give them an “other world” feel by providing them with their own special vampire language, for which subtitles was used.  I’m still trying to decide whether or not this contributed to the film.  Some of the kill scenes are effective and there are a handful of tense moments that work well with the “hiding out” theme of the movie.  As you watch, you see the days begin counting down and it feels like day number 30 will never get there.

What is bizarre about the film is the random decision making on the part of the 4-5 residents who are still alive.  More than once they will be hiding out in what seems to be a pretty darn good location, at which they have survived for a few days, until Oleson or someone else will declare, “we have to keep moving.”  I kept wondering. . .why?  That spot seems to be working pretty good for ya, what advantage is another hiding place going to give them?  Another curious aspect of the film is why the vampires, of which there are many, spend so much time (multiple days) trying to find a group of 4-5 people.  It’s not like they are out for revenge or anything, they just want blood.  So move on for goodness sake.  It would be different if the “30 days of night” setting were in New York City or another location where there are hundreds of thousands of people, but who cares if it is even 100 days of night if there are only 5 people to eat?  I know it’s awesome that the vampires don’t have to go into hiding for 30 days, but the reward is not near worth that luxury.  Finally, the ending is a major letdown.  After surviving for 29 and 1/2 days, Oleson decides that the only to defeat them is become one of them (granted, he is also trying to figure out a way to save Stella who is trapped under a truck).  So, he somehow figures out that if he injects a certain amount of their blood into his veins, he will develop most of their powers but still have his own mental faculties.  A fight between him and the “head” vampire ensues, a fight that is fairly lame and an ultimate let down.

30 Days of Night is not a bad movie and a decent watch if you are into the vampire genre.  I found it to be a bit of a letdown when taken as a whole from start to finish.