Oct 29 – Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994): When Twlight hit it big a couple of years ago, the main complaint about the series was that it sissified vampires. After all, Stephanie Meyer’s brood of moody nightwalkers is an attractive bunch, one that sparkles in the sunlight and pines over high school crushes—traits that don’t really cut an intimidating figure. But when you look back on vampires in popular culture, they have always been an effete bunch of nocturnal dandies. So complaints that Robert Pattison was too pretty and too teenie-bopper to play an effective vampire never held much water, especially when you consider the success of Interview with the Vampire, a film that stars three of the prettiest men of all time: Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and Antonio Banderas—not exactly Nosferatu we’re talking about here.
The funny thing about Interview with the Vampire is that its alternate title could be easily Brad Pitt Burns Down Buildings. It follows the vampire Louis (Pitt) from vampiric conversion in the late 18th century all the way through to the 20th century, and, sure enough, whenever Louis gets himself into trouble he gets himself out of it by setting everything around him on fire. He burns down his mansion when the locals catch on to him being a vampire, he burns Lestat (Cruise) after he gets a little churlish, and he burns up a whole troupe of Parisian vampires after they try to wall him up in a crypt. And oddly enough, the movie never really gets predictable. You may say to yourself “surely after setting two huge fires Louis won’t end this third conflict by setting another huge fire,” but then there he is throwing oil around and tossing a match over his shoulder. This isn’t particularly enlightened critical analysis of an otherwise pretty good gothic romance, but, I mean, come on. Stop burning down houses, Louis.
Oct 30 – The Stuff (1985)
Larry Cohen is the master of the high concept horror movie. This is the man that gave us Q, the story of a winged serpent preying on New Yorkers; It’s Alive, the killer baby movie; and Maniac Cop, which is about, well, yeah a maniac cop. He loads his movies with a troupe of cult favorites like Bruce Campbell, David Carradine, and Tom Atkins, and is generous with the kind of goofy good humor that cult movie fans die for. So, it was surprising for me when I realized that Cohen’s movies felt like such a dull slog. His visuals leaned towards flat, he never gets much out of his actors and his premises, as great as they are, were too thin or poorly realized to flesh out a whole movie.
But then there’s The Stuff. Like a cross between Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Blob and Soylent Green, The Stuff is about a mysterious new calorie-free yogurt-like food product called the Stuff that becomes an instant sensation across the country. But when the Stuff’s more addictive qualities start to become clear, and when folks start to see it move around on its own, a small group of skeptics discover that the Stuff has a mind of its own and is slowly turning the whole country into its personal army. The Stuff tackles both mindless American consumerism, and irresponsible corporate advertising—featuring commercials for the Stuff that creepily reminded me of those new “corn sugar” ads that are bombarding the airwaves. The movie clearly has a higher budget and production value than most of Cohen’s work, which allows the director to actually fulfill the promise of a schlock-fest that actually works as a comedy and a monster movie.
Oct 31 – Hostel (2006)
To close out this year’s 31 Days of Horror, we’re going back to Eli Roth with his crossover hit Hostel. I had never intended to watch Hostel based on its less than stellar reputation, but because I rather enjoyed its unofficial sister movie Saw, and I also enjoyed Roth’s first movie, Cabin Fever, I figured that I could be missing out on something worth my while, and, by and large, I was right. Hostel is cleverly plotted and well paced, and Roth has a richer visual style than the bulk of modern horror directors whose movies end up looking too much like music videos to be scary. Roth’s even handed visuals are especially good when you compare Hostel with something like the overly kinetic Saw.
Like Quentin Tarantino, who produced Hostel, Roth has clearly spent countless hours learning his craft by watching the work of the masters. Aside from obvious Texas Chainsaw Massacre influences, there are shades of Alfred Hitchcock mixed in Hostel’s unrelenting bloodshed, as well as some surprising obscure references to movies like Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s Who Can Kill a Child. I think Roth likely fancies himself as a Tarantino for the horror genre, and it’s true, at least partially. He works in the same post-modern, hyper-aware school of filmmaking that Tarantino popularized, but he lacks the wit and skill of Tarantino. Roth’s talent is pretty apparent when watching Hostel, and he’s a surprisingly skilled actor as well, but he still hasn’t totally proven himself as a filmmaker. Hostel is a good start, but I’m not too sold on watching Hostel 2, which seems like a witless re-hash. Maybe we can find out next October.