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The Immortal Lure of the Vampire Film

Feature article by cult film director Allin Kempthorne


Dracula by Bram Stoker
Dracula by Bram Stoker

"Vampire movies, much like the stalking, odious creatures of the night they portray, will never die."
claims Allin Kempthorne, writer and director of the cult vampire comedy 'The Vampires of Bloody Island'.

"Dracula, the first vampire in modern literature, was very much a product of the Victorian age in which both he and his creator Bram Stoker lived.

This was a time when enormous leaps were being made in science, evolution and exploration of the unknown, bringing a creeping fear amongst the chattering classes that science would innevitably overtake religion and lead mankind into all kinds of unknown horrors.

Because of this, much popular literature of the time dealt with the macabre and the inhuman, and it's from these supernatural stories of vampires, Egyptian mummies, werewolves and Frankenstein monsters that most of today's horror films have evolved.

The first vampire movie to really sink it's pointy teeth into the necks of early cinema audiences was a creepy black and white silent movie, nearly a century ago in 1922. 'Nosferatu' was in fact a near identical copy of the Dracula story, and director F. W. Murnau really understood the horror and revulsion of the Dracula novel, giving his film a strong, pervasive feeling of creeping evil that keeps it an enthralling and movie even today, almost a century years later.

So strong was the imagery and central character of this first vampire film that the vampire movie as a genre was now truly out of its coffin and destined to live forever in popular cultures darker dreams.

The revulsion of the ungodly remained the central theme of vampire films as they thrived and flourished throughout the American B-movie boom of the 1950's and 60's. Due to the difficulties of creating monster make-up that looked good on the rapidly improving movie cameras, the bald head, pointy ears and giant claws of Nosferatu were replaced by vampires with a much more human look. Hungarian born actor Bela Lugosi, who had previously played Count Dracula on Broadway, reprised the role in a succession of movies, gaving Dracula his cape, noble baring and lilting Eastern European accent. Vampires became rather suave.
Nosferatu the Vampire
Nosferatu the Vampire

Taste the Blood of Dracula
Taste the Blood
of Dracula

However, as the world entered the Space Age, B-movies shifted their focus to a new evil from the depths of space. Alien invasion was a metaphor for the Cold War and the very real fear the West had of Communist Russia and the nuclear bomb. Against this backdrop of real life paranoia vampires were suddenly seen as 'last seasons thing' and, so it seemed, had lost their bite.

But while American movie studios toyed with dangling model spaceships on bits of string, a British film studio took over the vampire mantle and for the 60's and 70's Hammer Studios knocked out a steady stream of popular low budget vampire thrillers. Dracula was still a central character with Christopher Lee continuing in the same stylishly aristocratic vein as Bela Lugosi's cape wearing Count. Later films from the Hammer pool broke away from the now well worn Dracula theme and audiences were treated to a snarling and seductive range of new vampire characters, with lesbians, Satanists and Chinese warriors all baring their fangs in a continuous cascade of ever more bizarre films. Towards the end of the 70's the idea of the vampire as being a figure of revulsion had become so watered down that they were now seen as a bit of a joke. When Hammer Studios finally called 'Cut' on their last film at the end of the 70's there was little excitement left in the genre, Dracula had had his day and the American studios were left shuffling out an uninspiring trickle of cheap vampire comedies.

However, amongst the bubblegum pop of teenage comedies 'Once Bitten', 'Vamp' and 'Fright Night', one film in particular was to have a surprising influence on what was yet to come. 'The Lost Boys' portrayed its vampires, not as old school aristocrats, but as a wild, exciting and very modern gang of teenagers who just wanted to have fun. The film struck a heartfelt chord with the rebellious 'lost generation' of the late 1980's and teenagers began to look at vampires as something aspirational, a free license to break societies constricting rules.

This was new. Instead of being revolted by these monsters, audiences now chose to empathise with the vampire. This admiration for the 'dark-ones' escalated a few years later with the tremendous success of the blockbuster 'Interview with the Vampire', which further humanised the immortals with its central theme of the vampire as a poetic, romantic and vulnerable lost soul.

The needle had swung as far as possible from Bram Stokers original view of vampires as revolting monsters. With Tom Cruise and Brad Pit as the new vampire heros, vampires had become sexy!
The Lost Boys

Blade
Blade

With this new lease of life, the 1990's saw several vampire films making big waves at the box office and an even bigger impact on the new home video market. Movies like 'Blade' made vampires cooler, sexier and modern, wearing black leather and listening to industrial Goth music. This image ran through into the new century with 'Underworld' and 'Queen of the Damned' keeping that sexy, black leather clad edge, while the decades fascination for 'video nasties' saw vampire horrors become bloodier and more horrific. Meanwhile television jumped on the new modern vampire trend with 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer' (remade from the unremarkable 80s comedy movie) making its angst ridden leather coat wearing vampires the TV hit of the decade.

Eventually 'Buffy' and its spin-off series 'Angel' ran their course. The Canadian TV series 'Blood Ties' and the British 'Demons' both failed to get recomissioned. Cinema moved on to the special effects blockbuster and vampire films had once again grown tired and passť.

With Hollywood giving up on the genre, vampire fans had to look further afield for their blood-fix, with Russia's 'Night Watch', Sweden's 'Let The Right One In' and Koreas 'Thirst' all proving surprising international hits.
The genre needed something new.

When it came it proved more explosive than anyone could have imagined.

Gathering dust at Paramount Pictures for three years was an unexciting screenplay adapted from a teenage romance book by the name of 'Twilight'.

The rights were bought by Summit Pictures who rewrote it and knocked it out as an innexpensive film. 'Twilight' took the romantic concept of vampires which had started with 'Interview with the Vampire' and further sanitised it into shy teenage obsession, opening up the floodgates to a huge and overwelmingly obsessive audience - young girls.
Thirst
Thirst

Twilight

The huge impact of 'Twilight' on a world that had seemingly almost given up on vampire films has quickly thrown us into a very interesting place with vampire films spinning off into two very different directions. On the one hand we have 'Twilight' fuelled teenage girls sobbing into their hankies over a vampire's impossible love. While on the harder side of the coffin there's the inevitable backlash by those who see the sparklingly beautiful mannequins of 'Twilight' as a cringe inducing opposite to how they imagine vampires should be, and wanting harder, bloodier and sexier stories.

Meanwhile, not wanting to miss a valuable band-wagon, Hollywood is now rushing into production on an enormous slate of vampire movies with gory slashers, gothic fantasies, knockabout comedies and of course more teenage romance, gambling that the renewed vampire obsession will bring them rich rewards from a vampire bloodthirsty public.

So where does it all go from here?
My personal guess is that in three to four years the two halves will come back together. We'll see shy love maturing into hard sex, with vampire cutting their swathe through the small rural communities suggested by 'Let Me In' and 'Twilight' and the vampires themselves continuing as 'monsters with souls'. I think the TV series 'Trueblood' has many of these elements already and is quite ahead of its time. Yet there are so many strong influences from the past that a hit from any one of these differing styles could push the whole continuously evolving genre hurtling off in another unexpected and vigorously exciting direction.

And as in any film genre I think there's always room for the twin elements of comedy and nostalgia. When we wrote 'The Vampires of Bloody Island' we did so with the style and mood of the old English Hammer vampire movies, the films I remember seeing on late night TV in my formative years. Of course we modernised it , drawing on the strong Goth soundtrack of more recent films, the sexiness of the modern vampires and slipping a wink to the colourful and witty worlds of 'Buffy' and the 80's vampire movie resurrection, also throwing in our own unique take and wry British humour.
Let Me In
Let Me In

The Vampires of Bloody Island
The Vampires of
Bloody Island

'The Vampires of Bloody Island' has been getting a great press and it's a thrill to see it securing its own small part in this rich vampire movie history.

To have so many magazines and newspapers referring to us as a 'cult vampire film' is high praise indeed when you look at those other wonderful and iconic vampire films which have also received that label.

With 89 years of vampire film history to draw on and its uncountable thousands of films, it's been clear from the very start this is one movie genre that's never going to die. It may creak and get a bit dusty every decade or so, but like the epitimous Dracula himself, it will always be there, lurking in the shadows, always coming back when you least expect it, stronger, wiser, sexier and more modern than before.

Vampire films are immortal and have truly proven they are here for good."
Allin Kempthorne
'The Vampires of Bloody Island' is available on DVD
from cult movie label The Weird World of Wibbell.

See the trailer and find out more at
www.bloodyislandmovie.com





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