So, my vampire film fest this weekend took in ‘action’ flicks, where the vamps don’t just suck blood, mesmerise their victims etc, but do martial arts as well. (Anybody know when and where this trend started? I’m thinking Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, but there’s almost certainly something earlier than that.)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
Buffy is a Valley Girl, prised out of her life of shopping and cheerleader practice by the mysterious Merrick, who tells her that she is the ‘Chosen One’ and destined to fight vampires or die trying. And, after about five minutes training, fight vampires she does, with hench-vampires dispatched pretty smartly as warm up for the showdown with King Vamp Lothos.
Kristy Swanson does okay with a mostly two-dimensional character, albeit she could do better, but the rest of the cast seem hopelessly adrift. Donald Sutherland as Merrick looks as if he’s wondering who farted, while Rutger Hauer plays Lothos like a revenant Liberace, and Paul Reuben as his right hand man is a freak in a fright wig. Double Oscar winner Hilary Swank has probably erased this movie from her résumé.
With the possible exception of Batman and The Avengers during the Blackman/Rigg years, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is my all-time favourite TV series (at least until I remember something else I’ve forgotten).
So why, apart from the ‘big names slumming’ cast, is the film such a train wreck?
Well, for starters, and never mind how shallow this makes me look, in the TV series they give Buffy a believable wardrobe for a teenage girl, instead of couture excess, so that she looks the part, rather than like a clown escaped from the circus in polka dot leggings.
Not only is Sarah Michelle Gellar a better actress than Swanson, with a more expressive face and greater range of emotions, but the character of Buffy is more fully rounded. Buffy in the movie is the equivalent of the Cordelia Chase character in the TV series, played by Charisma Carpenter, a spoiled rich girl who gradually learns to care about others and falls in love with the boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Seeing this transformation of Cordelia over a couple of series was one of the pleasures of the TV series, but Buffy in the movie goes from archetypal mean girl come airhead to self-sacrificing heroine in five minutes flat. There’s no denial, no angst about her role – Merrick tells her she’s the Chosen One, and that’s it, more or less.
As a side issue to that, in the TV series Buffy has a strong supporting cast, with Cordelia, Xander and Willow, affording the opportunity for character development and story arcs, but in the movie all we get is a gaggle of airheads who don’t seem to serve any purpose beyond showing how vapid they all are. I didn’t really care about any of these creatures, and the vampires would have been welcome to put them out of my misery.
Perhaps the most important difference though lies in the comedy horror balance. The TV series is never anything less than a horror show, even though there’s plenty of sharp dialogue and situational humour. Contrarily, the film appears to be a comedy with vampires, only it’s never really that funny, and most of the time seems to be erring on the side of badly staged slapstick rather than wit. As part of that, the vampires are simply embarrassing, with Lothos the worst of the lot, bouffant hairstyle and all – Spike would tear the guy apart in seconds.
The Lost Boys (1987)
Despite being directed by Joel Schumacher, this vampire flick does nearly everything right, even down to the Peter Pan reference in the title.
Mother Lucy Emerson, sons Michael and Sam, move to Santa Carla, billed as the ‘murder capital of the US’, but Michael’s attraction to a young woman he sees on the boardwalk one night, leads him to fall in with Kiefer Sutherland’s gang of vampire bikers. Sam hooks up with the Frog brothers, Edgar and Allan, to kill the vampires and save his brother.
There’s plenty of humour here, as for instance the scene where Sam and the Frog brothers are trying to prove Lucy’s suitor is a vampire, involving force feeding the poor guy garlic, throwing holy water over him etc, and the adults think it’s just a teen acting out, but the humour is incorporated seamlessly into the story, never losing sight of the fact that it’s about vampires.
Kiefer Sutherland appears to be having a ball hamming it up as peroxide blond David, oozing menace and a ruthless amorality with every glance, and the rest of the vampire gang look the part, tapping into our fears of rebellious youth. If Sam and the Frog brothers, riding on their bikes to fight evil with water pistols, bring to mind The Goonies then the vampires have all the casual arrogance of a rock band on tour, determined to have fun and take whatever they want, and never mind anybody else, with blood as their narcotic of choice.
Add to that engaging characters, such as the eminently likable Lucy and the cantankerous grandfather with his romantic aspirations, some striking special effects, particularly in the final showdown between the vampires and Sam and his allies, plus Michael’s attempts to retain his humanity when the hunger for blood is burning within him, and a minimalist love story between him and vampire girl Star, then you have a vampire flick that pretty much touches all the bases.
On the down side, I nearly always have a mild aversion to films in which precocious kids take on evildoers (I put it down to exposure to Home Alone at an impressionable age), and there’s some of that in play here with Sam and the Frog brothers. They veer close to unbelievable, but don’t quite tip over, mainly because of the humour – I mean, how can you not chuckle about characters called Edgar and Allan Frog, who read comic books to keep up to date on vampire fighting techniques.
In the final analysis, the film belongs to the bad guys, and they are impressive (possibly the role models for Spike, Angel etc).
But does The Lost Boys rate as a Top 10 vampire film? I’ll get back to you on that, but at the moment I’m thinking not quite.