Friday, July 2, 2010




This movie has incredible atmosphere. I know that word gets thrown around a lot. But in this case it is palatable. Remember the cursed videotape in The Ring? Vampyr is that movie, in the flesh.
When you watch this movie, you enter a surrealistic vacuum, where the ordinary passage of time and the traditional rules of causality have little relevance. This film is so masterfully shot that it is easy to forget that a person was behind the camera, despite the innovative, artful angles and the best shadow play outside of a German expressionist movie. This film sucks you in. The thick atmosphere of Gothic gloom and claustrophobia, of dislocation and irreality is unshakeable, even hours after a viewing. It sticks with you. It nags you with feelings of unrest and existential malaise.
The only thing I can recall affecting me in a similar way was Robert W. Chambers collection of short stories entitled The King in Yellow, and certain H.P. Lovecraft passages.
It is the unnameable horror of something that is alien and yet horribly familiar. It is the atmosphere of unrest. David Lynch's Eraserhead also manages to pull off this sort of cacophony of distress quite masterfully. But Vampyr has something Eraserhead does not. True, unshakable, gut freezing eeriness. It is a true original and it is infinitely re-viewable since its one of those movies that seems to reshuffle itself every time you see it.


This movie has an interesting concept that actually works. John Malkovich plays F. W. Murnau, the director who will stop at nothing to make his masterpiece, Nosferatu. He does not even shrink from hiring a real vampire to bring authenticity to his film. Who cares if his staff is in danger, the film must be completed. Willem Dafoe plays Max Schreck, the creepiest vampire I have ever seen. He's ugly, he's a creep, and he doesn’t try to hide it.
I love this film because of the parallels it draws between the obsession of the artist, the drug addict and, of course, the vampire. The power struggle between director and vampire is ironic and intense, as is Murnau's deadly struggle with heroin addiction and his drive to make this film no matter who or what is destroyed along the way. This film is truly inspiring and chilling as well as beautifully shot, with great reverence for its source material. Re-created shots from Nosferatu are especially rewarding and pitch perfect.


This film is like The Rocky Horror Picture Show meets Eyes Wide Shut, in 1963 Hammer style, of course.
A young couple, on their honeymoon end up shacking up at a near abandoned motel, when they run out of petrol, which just happens to be next door to a wealthy family of vampires who take advantage of the cartoonishly proper and naive young couple. They are seduced by the seemingly elegant family, who wine and dine them till they manage to separate the two and take the woman for themselves and leave the poor man, confused, utterly disoriented, and hung over after being plowed down with champagne.
This film is elegant, deliciously satirical, sadistically twisted and genuinely eerie. The costumes and sets are rich confections of velvet and spirals(respectively), the nights are foggy and moonlit, the encounters with the blood-drinkers, brutal. This is classic Hammer at its best.
“It often happens in life that the most beautiful things are made from the most unpromising of materials.” The patriarch vampire bitterly notes when giving the guests a tour of his home, mourning his existence inside its metaphorical coffin.
Their seduction of Marianne is soulless and clinically choreographed, using the son as bait. They take advantage of the fact that the newlyweds are so young and uncertain of themselves and each other.
Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans) plays the only nemesis of this powerful vampire clan. After his own daughter was claimed by them, he tirelessly watches and does what he can to put back down their newly risen vampire ladies. Tormented by his pain, he's often drunk, and the townspeople assume him to be a lost cause. With such an uncertain adversary and such a perfect pair of vampire bait walking blissfully unaware into their doom, the air of hopelessness is powerful throughout much of the film, adding to the palpable fear and claustrophobia. The inn itself is haunted by the memory of the innkeeper's lost daughter. Another victim of the vampires. It is mentioned how they own the land and there is very little anyone can do against them.
These vampires are able to go about during the day, but only if it is overcast. Mercifully, they do not “sparkle”.


This haunting and gritty gem set in Stockholm really breaks the traditional mold. The vampire, in this case, is a 12 year old girl, Eli, who is more alone than any girl could be. She meets a boy her age, Oskar, who has been bullied and is becoming increasingly alienated. They slowly warm up to each other and form a touching bond that is challenged by his discovery of her true monstrous nature. This story resonates and is shot beautifully in the barren wintry landscape of the city.

This was an innovative and refreshing treatment of vampires set in a natural state of perpetual night, in Alaska. The movie had a cool noir vibe and was very stylishly shot. I was also very happy with the look and the brutality of these tough vampires. They seemed somehow more primal, more like something out of our folkloric or mythic past. I loved the artwork in the comic as well, and was pleasantly surprised at how closely the director came to capturing that vibe and look despite the lack of Ben Templesmith's extraordinary artwork.



This will always be the quintessential werewolf film to me. The moody cinematography is impeccable. But I think its greatest power lies in the achingly human portrayal of a man losing the battle with the beast within by the lumbering, awkward, and always lovable Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot, the returning estranged son and new heir to the Talbot estate, as a result of the tragic and accidental death of his brother.
Estrangement, a big theme for monsters of all kinds, is established right off, as son a father attempt to patch up after years of absence. You get the feeling, though, that Larry Talbot is never going to fit in anywhere. He is a man followed by shadows he can never shake. Yet he is charming, especially in his moments of supreme awkwardness, as in his first meeting with Gwen(Evelyn Ankers). He is about as subtle as the wolf in Little Red riding Hood in his attempts to seduce her. She is annoyed, affronted, but yet is amused, even a bit seduced, despite herself. Even when he confesses to her, later that night, that he has been peeping at her through her bedroom window with a telescope, she doesn't tell him to get lost, despite the fact that she's engaged.
There is a great air of sadness to this film. A pervasive gloom that is not heavy handed, but it is heavyhearted and somehow almost elemental. This is about a man, alone with his curse. There is no cure and he must face his beast and try his best to not harm those he loves. He must face the judgments of the ignorant and ill informed townspeople, he must hide his pain even though it consumes him. And he must exist in a state he barely understands the nature of.
Lon Chaney embodies the noble qualities of wolves as well as the monstrous. His instinct to protect his own is, in fact, what leads him to being bitten by Bela, the werewolf fortuneteller played by Bela Lugosi. He has an honest and loving heart that he practically wears on his sleeve. Perhaps this is his biggest mistake, but yet it is also his salvation, not for his life, but for his soul. He can't win, though, he's screwed no matter what. As Gwen's fiancee observes: “There is something very tragic about that man.” I think we can all identify with someone who is not entirely beast or man, good or bad, just all too human, cursed and blessed whether we like it or not. Screw Jacob and Edward, Larry Talbot is the original tragic heartthrob.


I appreciate the freshness and honesty with which Mike Nichols tackles the idea of a man turning into a werewolf within a sociological context. When the office politics of a major publishing house cause aging editor in chief Will Randall (Jack Nicholson) to get kicked to the curb in lieu of his much more dishonest and cutthroat protegee Stewart Swinton(James Spader), followed by the discovery that his wife has been sleeping with Stewart, it kicks off a hell of a midlife crisis, and brings out strength and rage he never knew he had, as his whole life spirals out of control.
The bite of the wolf is not entirely a curse for Will. In fact, it enables him to see past the illusions that had barred his success against his backstabbing colleagues in the past. No longer self-doubting, he goes after what he wants. He is essentially quite human, and in fact, the “curse” of the wolf has a humanizing effect upon him. When the animal begins to take him over, he realizes how numb and false he and everyone else around him had become, in a way, this film is about how much socialization robs us of our raw humanity. Initially, Will is a man who plays by the rules(even if they make no sense), a man who debases himself as a matter of course. When the wolf begins to take hold, Will begins to grow a pair, much to everyone's surprise.
Mike Nichols biting social satire is something to sink you teeth into. But inevitably, with the good and the noble also come the darker aspects of the beast trailing close behind. The predator, the murderer inside struggles for dominance also as the light (Will)and dark(Stewart) personifications of the wolf struggle against each other for the woman they both desire(Michelle Pfieiffer). The nature of the man colors the nature of the beast.


Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon) is a perfectly nice Serbian girl. All she wants is a normal life, but that is not to be. Descendant from a race of evil cat people she can keep her murderous instincts bottled up, but not forever. Trouble comes to her life when she falls in love with a nice young gentleman named Oliver Reed (Kent Smith). She is terrified that passion will bring out the beast that has for so long remained dormant.
Her only comfort is her regular visits to to local zoo, where she stares at the black panther for hours, sometimes sketching him, sometimes just watching. Most animals are terrified of her, but the panther doesn't complain.
At the end of his rope, her new husband sends her to a psychiatrist. Unfortunately, he is more interested in her as a specimen and parrots her husbands words, that it is all in her head. He is also developing a fetishistic obsession with her to boot.
When she sees her husband eating out with his friend, Alice, she snaps. In a spiraling series of events that lead to her own demise, the beast takes hold till the bitter end.
This tragic story about a misunderstood woman at war with her dark side will always be one of relevance, just as evocative and powerful today as it was in 1942. It is an atmospheric and haunting psychological and spiritual exploration of the dark side of the moon we carry within.


Despite the cheesy werewolf makeup I find this to be so classy and haunting that I forgive it for that. I like the focus on the moon flower, who's quest leads Dr. Glendon(Henry Hull) to being bitten, and which he then grows with the aid of artificial light. This is the ultimate civilized man succumbing to his obsessions and coming unraveled, owing perhaps more to Jekyll and Hyde and even Victor Frankenstein, than anything having to do with lycanthropy.

Though heavy-handed and overly decadent I still find this to be a delicious feast for the eyes. Angela Carter's dark retelling of the Red Riding Hood myth is exciting, irreverent, and thick with dark fairy tale atmosphere.


  1. 'Kiss of the Vampire' is indeed a wonderful film, and so often overlooked. Great to see it getting a little recognition. Good choices.

  2. It was actually really hard to pick amongst the Hammer classics. I love so many of them. But 'Kiss of the Vampire' blew my mind when I first saw it and will always have a special place in my heart.

  3. I the only person who noticed a huge discrepancy with Shadow of the Vampire?

    He wouldn't show up on film. If you're gonna go old-school on SOME conventions, courtesy should dictate that you use the rest!