There will be blood: Vampires at BAM
A 33-movie series goes beyond teen heat.
Mon Aug 2 2010
Somewhere between the pallid pinups of the Twilight movies and the Southern-fried sex addicts of HBO’s trashy True Blood lurk the real vampires—cagier and more twisted than this high-profile moment would have you believe. In their best incarnations, these romantic, violent creatures do more than wait for college theses to be written about them; they embody cinema itself, a pleasure best consumed in the dark with others. BAM’s “Bela Lugosi’s Dead, Vampires Live Forever,” a smartly chosen, nearly two-month-long survey (one that might have benefited from some midnight shows), properly restores the exotic mystery of these toothy terrors. We suggest avoiding the biggies and going for the bizarre.
The dream is real
At the undead heart of any decent vampire movie (and Bram Stoker’s novel) is the potent idea of sleepwalking, which is why Guy Maddin’s balletic silent, Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2002, Sept 11), has my vote for the best version of the original tale. (Sorry, Bela.) Dance is the ideal medium for helpless bodily impulses and, dressed up in Maddin’s retro elegance, the lithe players become magical. The weirdest vampire films overflow with dreamlike mood: Italian maestro Mario Bava creates a fog-shrouded alien world for Planet of the Vampires (1965, Sept 4), an obvious—if uncredited—influence on Ridley Scott’s Alien. Local director Michael Almereyda will introduce his David Lynch--produced Nadja (1994, Aug 31), scored to the shoegazey tunes of My Bloody Valentine and Portishead. And gorgeous Mathilda May, traipsing through Tobe Hooper’s ridiculous Lifeforce (1985, Sept 4) without a stitch of clothing, casts a compelling spell of her own. “Don’t worry,” barks one London official, “a naked girl is not going to get out of this complex.” She does.
Type O, as you know, is on the menu, and in the gruesome Trouble Every Day (2001, Sept 17), Batrice Dalle and Vincent Gallo add some important bits of flesh to the meal, too. (Don’t ask.) Still, the overarching idea in the bloodsucker subgenre is unchecked consumption: Crazy Nicolas Cage eats an actual, wriggling cockroach in Vampire’s Kiss (1988, Sept 23) and scarfed down two other bugs in unused takes. In the enjoyably lurid L.A. fantasia Count Yorga, Vampire (1970, Aug 30), Michael Murphy comes home to find his girlfriend gnawing on their pet cat. Yet of all the modern-day entries in the series, it’s Abel Ferrara’s unusually disciplined The Addiction (1995, Sept 29) that plays most subtly to the idea of the insatiable craving: Dead-eyed grad student Lili Taylor, when not working on her philosophy dissertation, haunts nighttime NYC joints looking to score, like the junkie she is.
The vampire movie will always be important, not only for cementing careers (where’s Frank Langella’s 1979 Dracula?), but also for introducing provocative content under the guise of silliness. Lesbian-vamp subtext emerges for the first time in Dracula’s Daughter (1936, Tue 10), a chiller beloved by Anne Rice. A fusty male-driven studio picture, this Lugosi-free sequel nonetheless has a few tasty same-sex anxieties and a lingering bosom-to-bosom hover. You could say that a film like Tony Scott’s femmed-out The Hunger (1983, Sept 15), in which Catherine Deneuve seduces a ripe Susan Sarandon to the strains of Lakm’s “Flower Duet,” exists primarily to please men. But there’s no denying the transgressive power of The Vampire Lovers (1970, Fri 5), in which the voluptuous women of Britain’s Hammer Studios, led by force-of-nature Ingrid Pitt, completely dominate (and then ignore) a bunch of fops.
In many of these films, lonely characters bump up against the limits of polite society; maybe they’re not monsters after all, so much as misunderstood and thirsty. BAM shrewdly programs two vampire movies that work just as well as outsider stories: Near Dark (1987, Sept 14), from recent Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow, plays like a gory band-of-outlaws romance with a long sequence set in a bar that keeps topping itself for attitude. And in the acutely unnerving Martin (1977, Sept 13), the bloodlust may be completely in our young hero’s head—it’s hard enough for him to endure living with a suspicious grand-uncle in an economically depressed town. No less an authority than the film’s director, George A. Romero, calls this scrappy horror effort his finest—a stake through the heart of zombie fans, but an opinion to be reckoned with.