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Sunday, October 21, 2007

30 Days of Night

Vampire movies suck. I’m sorry. That’s lame, but I just had to say it. I am tired of them and can’t remember the last good one I’ve seen, or even the last bad one for that matter. Blade doesn’t really count because even though he is a vampire, he is a goodie-two-shoes good guy vampire and that’s just eye-rolling sad. Vampires are supposed to be neck-chomping zealots with no consciences and a blood lust that rivals that other type of lust in even the hardiest of adult film professionals. Even the “Big Kahuna” of vampires Count Dracula has fallen on hard times (or a wooden stake). It seems like the last time he made a big screen appearance was in Wes Craven’s less than stellar Dracula 2000 and before that it was way back in 1992 as an aged drag queen in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, an odd take on the legend as re-interpreted by Francis Ford Coppola, who apparently found his inspiration in the idea that the vampire was actually a 400 year old Michael Jackson, who looked every year of his age. That brought more giggles than gasps and the movie cast a pall like bright sunlight upon the genre.
Let’s face it. In a world where movie monsters have been blessed with CGI-enhanced powers, they can now do so much more damage than a simple nick to the neck and so the vampire looks as intimidating as a shaving cut next to the likes of chest-bursting Aliens, the body-ravaging zombies of 28 Weeks Later, and even the human carnage inflicted by a homosapien monster like Hannibal Lecter in the gourmand delight Hannibal. Maybe that is why it came as a surprise to find that anybody was brave enough to take a chance on the lowly bloodsucker one more time, but I’m glad they did. 30 Days of Night is a tad bit different than the usual fare, and it makes for some great jump-in-your-seat moments.

Writer Steve Niles, who wrote the original graphic novel with Ben Templesmith, has joined Stuart Beattie (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) and Brian Nelson (Hard Candy) in creating a smart script that for once does not make the people in the story look stupid by having them constantly walking into dark rooms without flipping the switch to turn on the lights. In this case, there are no lights, and that is a key problem facing the residents of little Barrow, Alaska.
This dare-we-guess fictionalized version of Alaska’s northernmost town (played on the big screen by a set built in the Cadrona Valley, Wanaka, Otago, New Zealand for what it’s worth) is nearing
the end of its season of light and the 592 residents in town are departing rapidly as about 300 of them are packing up and heading south by plane before a month of total darkness envelops the area. One of those hoping to get out is Stella Oleson (Melissa George; Turistas), who is breaking up with her husband Eben (Josh Hartnett; The Black Dahlia), the local sheriff, who is still madly in love with her even if she is fed up with his over-the-top devotion to his job. Unfortunately for Stella, an accident stops her from making it to the airport before the last plane departs, and, so, miserably, she returns to Barrow with plans to spend the month with Eben’s Deputy Billy Kitka (Manu Bennett; The Condemned) and his wife.

It doesn’t take long though for things to start going terribly, terribly wrong as the usually low-level of criminal mischief in Barrow turns vicious. First there is the slaying of several dogs and then within minutes comes Eben’s discovery of the decapitation of a local disc jockey.

After that, the full-fledged vampire attack begins as a ship full of the creatures descends on Barrow looking at it like a month-long buffet. These are not your granddaddy’s vampires either. No one’s wearing fluffy sleeves and suggesting a glass of “vine” to their victims before they pounce. No, these are human, but barely, and they are just downright nasty. Heading up the tribe is Marlow, played with superb creepiness by Danny Huston (The Kingdom), Angelica’s brother, giving him a great costume to wear when pairing up with her “Morticia Addams” come Halloween. These folks are no Anne Rice inventions. They are really “old school”, speaking Romanian, grunting in what one can perceive only as the result of manners forgotten hundreds of years ago, and they stalk their prey with faces covered in blood and with their clothing stained red. They don’t stand on much ceremony.

Equally as freaky is the human stranger (Ben Foster; 3:10 to Yuma) who wanders into town before the onslaught as a prophet of warning that nobody takes seriously, but, then again, who could listen to someone who was so nasty looking. I swear I could smell him through the screen he was so skanky. Well, it was either him or the couple groping one another four rows down who obviously had not embraced the concept of personal hygiene sprays.

The gore is unnerving even in the darkness, made worse once the vampires have destroyed the power station, the phone service, and the one helicopter available, thus assuring that nobody will be contacting the outside world in the days and nights ahead. What follows then could be a typical one-by-one knock-down of the innocent but it becomes much more clever than that as a small band of residents end up pulling an “Anne Frank” by hiding for days on end in an attic which then prompts the vampires to resort to tricks of their own to root out their missing meals.

Eventually, of course, in the last day before sunrise, a final confrontation is inevitable, sort of a High Noon before noon becomes toxic once more, and you just know it will involve the reconciliation of estranged couple Eben and Stella, but, and here’s a big Kim Kardashian-sized BUTT, there is an awesome twist that makes the “happy ending” more bittersweet than actually happy even though the lovers do fulfill their promise to see the next sunrise together.

It’s nice to see the vampire make a comeback, even better to see that he is not hampered down with all that Christian rigmarole about the cross, the Holy Water, and even the stake through the heart. These guys have only got two enemies ~ sunlight and decapitation~ and 30 Days of Night offers a whole lot of the latter, so if you are looking for some “cutting edge” cinema, here it is.

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