Oh Yes It's Ladies Bite and the Feeling's AR-R-RGH!


What we have here is a small selection of recent vampire movies (or movies with vampires, anyway) that prominently feature female vampires.  I suppose this is something of a response to the whole (ugh) Twilight thing in some way.  The good news is that at least 3 of them take much more thoughtful and mature approaches to the subject & theme, and the other 2 are at least willing to have a sense of humor about themselves.  I find it somewhat interesting that they all feature female vampires as protagonists, rather than mortals facing vampires as deadly foes.  I don't have a theory about that yet.  I just find it... interesting.

Let Me In - 2010
Written & Directed by Matt Reeves
from the book by John Ajvide Lindqvist

I'm pretty sure that I'm legally obligated to mention that Let Me In is adapted from the Swedish book and movie Let The Right One In.  I am not, however, required to care or to complain that the original was better.  The elitism of people who are satisfied with subtitles has been greatly over-inflated and accepted.  The fact is, a layer of text can and does create an emotional distance between viewer and film-world, and I, personally, like to feel what I'm experiencing.  It has nothing to do with intellectuality.  It's a visceral experience.  So, Let Me In, as its own film with its own experience is truly wonderful. 

Owen is a scrawny and evidently friendless 12 year old boy who lives in an apartment with his recently separated mother.  She works a lot and is emotionally preoccupied with the divorce and her own issues.  He's bullied relentlessly at school.  He's a silent outsider, satisfied to observe the lives of others with his telescope.  Being ignored is preferable to most of the attention that he gets.  While watching the courtyard of the apartment complex one night, he sees the arrival of the people who will be his new neighbors, a barefoot girl about his age, and her father.  When he meets the girl, Abby, one of the first things she tells him is that they can't be friends.  Later, he hears them fighting through the wall.  To an adult, it would look and sound a lot like an abusive situation.

Obviously Owen and Abby DO develop a relationship, or it would have been pretty silly to include them both.  They both need something that they find in each other.  Let Me In combines the emotional potency of classic young adult lit with the savagery of a vampire tale that doesn't hold back (but also doesn't show off for gore factor alone).  It manages the discomfort of both components skillfully.  It's not uncomfortable to watch, but it creates a sense of worry.  It makes sense that director Matt Reeves gained his seasoning in television.  He's not over-urgent to fill his allotted screen time with flashy moments.  He fills his moments, instead, with humanity.  I hope he hangs onto some of that as he moves on to bigger and more spectacular things.

Vamps - 2012
Written & Directed by Amy Heckerling

It is vitally important that one go into Vamps with the appropriate expectations.  If you go in looking for a vampire movie that is funny, you're going to get upset.  If, however, you're prepared to accept that Vamps is first and foremost a very silly girl-centric (yes they are women, but very girly ones despite their ages) comedy that just happens to use a little vampire mythos as a conduit for its "be yourself" ethos, then you just might enjoy it.  It's not like it deliberately misleads anyone.  It's more-or-less exactly what one should expect with Amy "Clueless" Heckerling writing and directing for Alicia "Clueless" Silverstone and Krysten "the B---- in Apartment 23" Ritter.

Silverstone & Ritter play Goody & Stacy (respectively), a couple of nutty young "gal-about-town" roommates who just happen to be vampires.  But of course they're really good vampires.  I don't mean they're good at being vampires, but they're creatures of the night with hearts of gold.  They take classes, belong to a support group for vampires who eschew human blood, feed only on mice and still feel badly about it.  That's the closest vampires can get to vegan, who of course are the only truly decent people in the world, or so I've been told.

Much of Vamps hinges on one of the more optional Vampire Rules -- that killing a sire will remove the curse from all vampires descended from them.  You see, when Stacy is impregnated by a mortal, the only way to insure the baby's survival is to lift the curse by slaying their mutual sire -- the vampire that made them both.  Two twists; they don't know where their sire, Cisserus (Sigourney Weaver) currently lairs, and lifting the curse will cause them to physically become their natural age.  Goody hasn't told Stacy that she was born in 1840.

What will happen?  You can probably guess.  I can't really recommend Vamps, but I can give you a couple of tips with which to guide yourself.  If you're someone for whom "cute" is considered a valid compliment for a movie, then you might have some fun with Vamps.  If, however, you demand ANY amount of horror from your vampire movies or out-loud laughs in your comedies, you're just going to end up griping on the internet, and haven't we all had enough of that?

Byzantium - 2012
Written by Moira Buffini from her play
Directed by Neil Jordan

I almost don't want to explain what Byzantium is about, because its narrative reveals itself so beautifully piece by piece.  Clara (Gemma Arterton) and Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) are vampires posing as sisters.  Clara works as a stripper and sometime prostitute.  Eleanor, being younger, is a perpetual student who writes their story out again and again then releases it to the wind, because no one can know what they are.  They're forced to move to a new town when their past catches up with them, and their patterns of behavior begin anew.

Without going into detail, I still want to discuss how important those patterns of behavior are to Byzantium's narrative.  Being dead things, they're not particularly prone to personal growth.  They both continue to behave much as they did in their lives.  Clara had plenty of reasons to despise men, and she treats them as tools and/or food because they have so little else to offer her.  Eleanor is an eternal teenager, feeling outcast and afraid of the world's capacity for betrayal.  She empathizes deeply and feeds only upon those near death, often releasing the old and infirm from their suffering.

Byzantium takes a unique approach to vampire mythology, and despite the standard elements which it eschews, it doesn't feel arbitrary the way it often can when writers take liberties.  It has its own internal consistency which is revealed along with, and in the context of the story.  This is a strong contender for my favorite vampire movie ever.  That's how beautiful and thoughtful the narrative and the performances are.

Kiss of the Damned - 2012
Written & Directed by Xan Cassavetes

Kiss of the Damned isn't for everyone, but the people who it is for will be grateful for the consideration.

Djuna is a ridiculously gorgeous vampire, living in a huge country house in Connecticut.  The housekeeper comes during the day, takes phone messages, and mops up the occasional stray bits of blood.  Djuna rents videos and hunts deer by night to sate her thirst.  It's an existence that benefits from a low profile.  Then she sees Paolo, a handsome young screenwriter while browsing for movie rentals.  Her immediate sense of attraction frightens her and she struggles to keep away from him, while powerfully compelled to consume him in one or more ways.  She finally succumbs, and after a furious torrent of passion, Paolo finds he suddenly has an eternal girlfriend.  Things are good for them, exploring the exciting early stages of a relationship and for Paolo, a new consciousness.  That's when Djuna's sister Mimi shows up.

Mimi is an undying trainwreck.  She's been sent to stay in the house by its owner, their mutual friend Xenia.  Xenia is an actress, staying in the city while starring in a hit play.  She's also something of a dame in their vampire community, and Mimi was stirring up too much trouble, killing humans and leaving messes as she recklessly careens through undeath.  Naturally this arouses considerable conflict between Djuna and Mimi and puts Paolo in some difficult positions as he is processing everything new in his life.

This didn't necessarily need to be a vampire movie, but the vampirism serves as a catalyst for exploring different themes.  It is loneliness.  It's sexual yearning and risky promiscuity.  It's addiction.  It's the venue for meeting a loved one's insufferably self-involved friends.  It's the good & evil of action versus identity.  It's betrayal.  Someone could have made a very similar film without vampires, but it would have taken a lot longer.

Those who should particularly enjoy Kiss of the Damned are fans of 70s horror.  Particularly in the first act, the film powerfully evokes the slower, quieter building of unease.  Strange behaviors often go unexplained until the context establishes itself.  This isn't a vampire movie for teens on spring break.  It's for adults, and not just because it's intensely sexy.

Speaking of vampire movies for teens on Spring Break...

Vampire Academy - 2014
Written by Daniel Waters
from the Book by Richelle Mead
Directed by Mark Waters

I hope you're not chomping your popcorn too loudly or trying to do that yawn-arm thing with your date too early while watching Vampire Academy, because it's going to throw a lot of exposition at you pretty quickly.  There are 3 kinds of vampires.  The Strigoi are the savage ones that will tear a human's throat out, and they're pretty much excluded from polite vampire society (polite being a relative term here).  The Moroi are the arrogant, classist vampires who cling to royal bloodlines and only feed on voluntary vampire groupies, but they're essentially peaceful.  They also have a bit of magic going on, but this varies from individual to individual.  The Dhampir are half vampires who can handle their sunlight and protect the Moroi.  Why the Dhampir even bother with the Moroi is a question that Vampire Academy would prefer you to ignore.

Our primary players are Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch), a teenage Dhampir and not-yet-fully-sanctioned guardian of Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry), the last surviving member of one of the noble Moroi bloodlines.  Honestly, it's Rose's movie, or rather, there wouldn't be a reason to care about the movie without her.  As we join the story (already in progress), the two of them are living life on the downlow in Portland, Oregon, having ditched the Montana-located academy, St Vladimir's, and who can blame them?  Jeez, just trying to explain the set-up if becoming overly complicated, that's how much they throw at you.  VA is adapted from a series of young adult novels and was brought to the screen in part of that post-Twilight-post-Harry-Potter wave.  It's more watchable than, say, Twilight or Beautiful Creatures, but the school setting really serves to highlight the ways that it falls short of Harry Potter's achievements or even I Am Number Four's more economically and deftly delivered narrative.  The screenwriter is pretty guileless about the narrative choices he made, and it becomes painfully obvious where he decided to just lay a chunk of exposition on us that could have been casually glossed over and would have only bothered the books' most obsessive fans.  Six -- six books, I checked.

This is not to say that it's not an enjoyable movie.  Zoey Deutch as Rose really makes it work.  She's the wisecracking center of their self-serious world.  She gives us someone to root for and fills the film with enough personal appeal to keep us engaged.  While everyone around her poses with tragic gravitas and seethes with conspiracy Rose leads the chorus of snickers at all the melodrama, and allows us to join in on the fun.  So, yes, Vampire Academy is clearly targeted at teenage girls (well of course the big dance is a big deal), but it does have enough action and humor to make it a good time.  Just don't worry if you don't catch ALL the exposition or keep up with all the names of secondary characters.  It's ultimately not as important as the screenwriter thought it was, and the director seemed to understand that.

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