Three more vampire flicks that I watched at the weekend.
Van Helsing (2004)
Directed by Stephen Sommers, it has more in common with the films in the Mummy franchise than it does the Dracula canon. In fact, with a ’12’ rating it seems aimed at the younger demographic – there’s little, if any blood showing, but plenty of icky things going splat in a green gunge kind of way – and dependent on in your face sfx rather than any atmospheric chills. Hugh Jackman plays Van Helsing as a turn of the century James Bond in the employ of a secret Catholic organisation dedicated to wiping out the monsters. He’s sent to Transylvania, there joining forces with Kate Beckinsale, who at the time was making a career out of playing leather corseted characters involved with vampires. They get to take on a werewolf and three vampire brides, before finally foiling Dracula’s plot to infest the world with his progeny using the Frankenstein monster as a power source. As far as all this goes, it sounds rather like one of the old Universal monster mashes, but after a promising black and white start, it devolves into the usual superhero slug fest, albeit nobody is actually wearing lycra long johns, culminating in Van and Drac going head to head while the castle falls down around them. Lots to look at, lots to make ya go ‘golly gosh!’, but none of it especially memorable or stuff that we won’t have seen before in a more viewer friendly package. It aims for style, but manages only excess. There are various hints about Van Helsing’s background that suggest a sequel was planned, but if so it didn’t materialise.
Right from the off, with its scenes of an underground club where the vampire clientele shower in blood, this film is all about attitude, as personified by a sneering Wesley Snipes, dressed in black body armour and shades, wielding a katana. Based on a comic book character, Blade is a man in two worlds, part vampire himself, but keeping his hunger in check with chemical help and able to walk in the sun. Like Robert Neville of I Am Legend he is the monster the vampires tell their children about to give them nightmares, the fearsome Daywalker. With the help of Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) Blade pursues his personal mission to wipe out as many bloodsuckers as he can, but there’s a new force in the vampire world. Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) is moving against the vampire elders, with their pure blood derived sense of entitlement, and plans to raise the blood god, which is definitely not a good thing for mankind. Everything comes together in a climax where Blade meets his mother before fighting Frost to the finish. Again, there isn’t much here that’s concerned with scaring the viewer, but it does have a lot more guts than Van Helsing with characters who are three dimensional and about whom we can care, even the eponymous anti-hero given a human side in the confrontation with his mother. There are some believable fights and the closing slug fest with Frost is a showstopper, even if we’re never in any real doubt as to how it will turn out (but the other characters are vulnerable, even if Blade isn’t, as witness the death of Whistler). It’s Snipes’ movie though, and he milks the part for all it’s worth, the sense of unbridled power and personal bitterness coming over well. There were two sequels, though I don’t think they quite reach the quality of this first outing. The third one certainly doesn’t, despite the presence of Jessica Biel.
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
With half the Texas police force after them and a trail of dead bodies in their wake, escaped criminal brothers Seth and Richard Gecko (George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino) cross the border into Mexico with the forced assistance of preacher Jacob (Harvey Keitel) and his children (Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu). Unfortunately the bar where they’re supposed to meet their underworld contact – aptly named The Titty Twister – is being used as a front for a veritable army of vampires, who come out at night to feast on the patrons. Directed by Robert Rodriguez, this is rude and crude, loud and proud, and a hell of a lot of fun. For much of the film vampires aren’t really an issue – Tarantino as the sociopath Richard, who hears women telling him to do things to them, is more of a menace than any bloodsucker, with the calmer Clooney trying both to keep him in check and ride roughshod over everyone else. Until they arrive at The Titty Twister it could almost be described as a road movie come thriller, with Keitel’s efforts to protect his family from these madmen who have wandered into their lives at the heart of the plot. Post Titty Twister though, the respect that’s grown between the two men, is the foundation on which their fight for survival against the vampire hordes rests, and also the prompt for Keitel to recover the faith he lost when his wife died. And it is, quite literally, a case of all hell breaking loose, as humans and vampires square up against each other, with the blood flowing and flesh torn on all sides. In addition to the three leads, we get great supporting performances from Lewis as daughter Kate, Tom Savini as Sex Machine and Fred Williamson as Frost, to name just a few of the most notable characters. And, of course, no guy with a heterosexual bone in his body is going to forget Salma Hayek’s turn as the wonderfully named exotic dancer Satanico Pandemonium, big, yellow snake and all. If I have a reservation it’s that, after doing this for quite some time (as revealed by the final shot of an abyss behind The Titty Twister filled with vehicles of previous victims) these vampires don’t seem very proficient at tackling their prey. I mean, couldn’t they simply drug their victims rather than putting themselves through all this nonsense simply to get a feed. There are, I believe, two or possibly three sequels, though I haven’t seen any of them.
But, fun as these last two films were, especially From Dusk Till Dawn, do they deserve to be counted among any Top 10 of vampire films? I’ll have to think about that.