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Filmmakers in the first decade of the new millennium brought their imagination to bear as they quietly revolutionized vampire storytelling. Whether reinvigorating a classic through dance, or using the film-within-a-film style to create a giddy, insider’s look at the industry as well as the vampire myth, moviemakers found interesting new angles for the bloodsucker.
E. Elias Merhige revisits F. W. Murnau’s masterpiece ‘Nosferatu’ with smashing results in ‘Shadow of the Vampire.’ Wickedly funny and just a little catty, ‘Shadow’ entertains with every frame.
This is the fictional tale of the filming of ‘Nosferatu.’ Egomaniacal artists and vain actors come together to create Murnau’s groundbreaking achievement in nightmarish authenticity. As they make the movie, they discover the obvious: the actor playing Count Orlok, Max Schreck is, in fact, a vampire.
The film is ingenious in the way it’s developed: murder among a pack of paranoid, insecure backstabbers; the mad artistic genius Murnau directing all the while. And it would have been only clever were it not for Willem Dafoe’s perversely brilliant performance as Schreck. There is a goofiness about his Schreck that gives the otherwise deeply horrible character an oddly endearing quality.
Eddie Izzard doesn’t get the credit he deserves, reenacting the wildly upbeat performance of Gustav von Wagenheim so well. The always welcome weirdness of Udo Kier balances the egomaniacal zeal John Malkovich brings to the Murnau character, and together they tease both the idea of method acting and the dangerous choice of completely trusting a director.
Director Guy Maddin went old school romance with his version of Dracula.
He filmed the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s adaptation of the Bram Stoker classic, but don’t expect a straight dance doc with this one. Maddin’s style – maybe best captured in his melancholy 2003 musical ‘The Saddest Music in the World’ – mimics the silent films and expressionism of a bygone Hollywood.
The ballet picks and chooses from Stoker’s storylines, but basically tells of a mysterious Easterner (Dracula, played here by Zhang Wei-Qiang) who comes to London to make ill-use of its women.
Maddin infuses his lovely black and white cinematography with touches of color to give the film a dreamy quality. Quick cuts, extreme close ups and frenetic camera movement give the fluid dance some urgency, while the effortlessly romantic ballet keeps the film warm and passionate.
It’s a beautiful effort, one that mines the oft-told tale for its xenophobic roots as well as its sumptuous sexual themes.
An epic hit in its homeland, Russia’s ‘Night Watch’ tells of a centuries-old truce between the forces of good and evil. A team of good guys, the Night Watch, keeps a vigilant eye on baddies during Russia’s dark hours; meanwhile the villainous Day Watch (also the name of director Timur Bekmambetov’s 2006 sequel) makes sure those light do-gooders don’t tip the balance during the day.
It’s a common enough apocalyptic SciFi set-up, based on Sergey Lukyanenko’s novel, but Bekmambetov doesn’t shy away from all that is familiar. He borrows brazenly from ‘Star Wars,’ ‘The Matrix,’ ‘Underworld,’ ‘Star Trek’ and about a dozen other fantasy series. But grounding it all in a gritty modern-day Moscow – one with a seedy otherworldly realm (the Gloom) that festers with nastiness – allows it enough of its own vision to help it stand apart.
There’s a backstory about a simpleton turned Night Watchman (Konstantin Khabenskiy) who tracks a young boy being telepathically called by vampires, and a cursed woman. Their stories come together in ways both predictable (the boy) and ludicrous (the woman), but somehow Bekmambetov earns all this self-seriousness and grimacing.
He throws so much at the screen – so many characters, each doing something bizarre and unexplained – that it’s tough to keep track of what matters. But no matter the details you miss and those you keep, ‘Night Watch’ will keep your attention and your imagination.
‘Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust’ is the sequel to Toyoo Ashida’s 1985 anime classic ‘Vampire Hunter D.’ The sequel tells of D, a dhampir (half man/half vampire). He hunts vampires because he cannot live a normal human life.
He’s hired to find a client’s daughter, who’s been taken by a nobleman and vampire. The girl’s brother simultaneously hires a more rag-tag group of mercenaries, and they race against each other for their prize. Meanwhile, the nobleman hires his own goons – one of them a werewolf – to fight off the mercenaries and D.
Though not the elegant piece of animation of its predecessor, Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s Bloodlust is a gory, gorgeous mess. The detailed animation matches the overlapping, often otherworldly threads to create a transporting kind of feature, heady and wild.
The new millennium started with vampire tales from all over the world. The decade would end with an even more international flavor as the best vampire films were imports from around the globe. Vampire mythology would work its way into the coming-of-age tale brilliantly, and a new crop of horror directors would stake their claim on the genre with their own spin on vampire mythology.