Tag Archives: vampire movies



Format: Cinema

Release date: 31 May 2013

Distributor: Studiocanal

Director: Neil Jordan

Writer: Moira Buffini (based on her play)

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, Caleb Landry Jones, Sam Riley

UK, USA, Ireland 2012

118 mins

Eighteen years after filming Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, Neil Jordan has returned to undead mythology with another adaptation, this time of a play by Moira Buffini. Eschewing the usual clichés, Byzantium, set in a rundown seaside town, is a moody, melancholy film that focuses on the complex relationship between a mother and a daughter who became vampires two centuries earlier.

Saoirse Ronan is spellbinding as eternal teenager Eleanor, who seems condemned to be a sad, isolated outsider forever, while Gemma Arterton plays her more earthly, busty, gutsy mother Clara, with much vim and vigour (sometimes a tad too much). After a violent incident, Clara and Eleanor are forced to leave their tower-block apartment and move to an unnamed coastal town. Posing as sisters, they meet the meek and lonely Noel, who invites them to move into the dilapidated guesthouse he owns, the ironically named Byzantium. But tensions develop between Clara, who sets up to provide for her daughter and herself as only she knows how, and Eleanor, who is tired of hiding and yearns to share her secret, even more so after befriending sick teenager Frank (Caleb Landry Jones). As mysterious black-clad men try to track mother and daughter down, the conflict between them only increases the danger of their situation.

The focus on the mother/daughter dynamic provides an original, inventive angle on the vampire myth. There is great love between the two, but they have come to the heartbreaking moment when the daughter has grown up and is pulling away from her mother. Eleanor has become critical of her mother’s choices, but Clara will still ruthlessly do anything it takes to protect her daughter, as she’s always done. Their eternally youthful appearances add a strange twist that heightens the poignancy of a familiar situation. And although Gemma Arterton is not capable of the same emotional weight and expressiveness as Saoirse Ronan, her shortcomings may actually work well to convey the clumsy love of a woman forced into motherhood at too young an age.

Byzantium was the opening night film at this year’s Sci-Fi-London (30 April – 6 May 2013). Check out the full programme here.

There is also a little feminist touch to this vampire story: Carla is up against a male-dominated society (doubly so, both the society of her time, as well as a secret brotherhood), where her class and gender put her at a disadvantage. But with tremendous energy and spirited cheekiness, she fights and claws things back from the men who have maltreated her, raising herself and her daughter to a unique – and forbidden – position.

The film alternates between modern times and flashbacks to their past, contrasting today’s burnt-out pier, seedy guest house and grey skies with lush, candle-lit interiors, stunning coastlines and dark crypts. The vampiric transformation takes place on a sinister rocky island where a waterfall turns blood red once the change has been effected. It is a stylish, atmospheric film, with gorgeous cinematography and true visual flair, although it’s not without flaws. Gemma Arterton’s performance is patchy, while Caleb Landry Jones is totally overplayed. There are some jarring tone shifts and the pace does not always feel fully controlled, with the final showdown, most notably, ending too quickly. Despite these gripes, however, Byzantium is a thoroughly enjoyable, beautifully shot vampire film with a beating heart.

Virginie Sélavy

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Midnight Son

Midnight Son

Format: Cinema

Release date: 11 January 2013

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: Monster Pictures

Director: Scott Leberecht

Writer: Scott Leberecht

Cast: Shawn-Caulin Young, Tracey Walter, Larry Cedar

USA 2011

88 mins

The creepiest, sexiest and most romantic contemporary vampire picture is now out in UK cinemas. One of the 10 best films of 2011, this is a picture that deserves a hallowed place in any self-respecting genre geek’s movie collection.

Jacob (Zak Kilberg) is sick. Very, very sick. He leads a solitary existence in a basement apartment with all the windows sealed shut. By day, he is a brilliant young artist – painting variations on a similar theme: exquisite renderings of the sun. He pays his rent working as a night-shift security guard. He is so sensitive to the rays of the sun that his arm bears the horrendous scars of burned flesh.

Of late, he’s been extremely hungry and in spite of wolfing down as much food as possible, he’s becoming thinner and paler. One night he collapses at work – blacking out completely. A doctor examines him and expresses concern that he is becoming anaemic from malnutrition. This, of course, simply cannot be. He’s eating more than a 500 lb circus freak can ingest in a week.

The thing is, Jacob needs meat.


Pure and simple.

On his way home from the doctor visit, he buys a juicy steak from the butcher shop, fries it up and scarfs it down. Alas, he’s still hungry. Eyeing the Styrofoam platter his steak lay upon prior to ingestion, Jacob is especially drawn to the glistening droplets of blood dappling the white foamy surface. He voraciously laps up the treacly crimson goo.

This taste treat inspires yet another visit to his friendly neighbourhood butcher shop whereupon he buys an entire container of blood. He greedily guzzles the haemoglobin treat and feels energized like he hasn’t in some time.

Jacob knows now what he needs to survive.

Jacob needs blood.

Such are the opening minutes of Scott Leberecht’s Midnight Son, one of the most exciting feature-length directorial debuts in years. Given what passes for vampires in these dark days of the ludicrous Twilight franchise, it seems almost insulting to toss this original and affecting horror movie (also scripted by Leberecht) into the same putrid bucket containing Stephenie Meyer’s rank turds.

Still, we must call a spade a spade and a vampire movie Midnight Son most certainly is. As such, it’s one of the creepiest, sexiest and truly most romantic vampire pictures to grace the screens in many a new moon.

Its unique blend of gorgeously gritty camerawork and equal dollops of both neorealism and existentialism place the picture closer to the tradition forged by George A. Romero’s Martin, Larry Fessenden’s Habit and Abel Ferrara’s double scoop of the horror brilliance that is Driller Killer and The Addiction.

What Leberecht brings to the table that’s all his is a tremendous degree of heart. He manages to shock us, creep us out AND move us. This is an astounding achievement.

When Jacob meets the coke-addicted cigarette girl Mary (Maya Parish) they’re instantly attracted to each other – two lost souls in the big city, who deserve much more out of life and most certainly deserve each other. As played by the beautiful, sexy, but wholly real Parish, the character of Mary has what Twilight‘s Kristen Stewart is unable to bring to her vampire-loving heroine – a sense of humour and play. She’s a character that the audience falls in love with because she has a perfect blend of bigger-than-life and girl-next-door properties (albeit slightly tarnished by the cards life has dealt her).

Jacob too feels like somebody we could know, or even be. He’s trapped by circumstance and lonely out of necessity. That he should discover his potential soul mate at the worst possible time isn’t just the stuff of great drama, it’s rooted in realism – an experience so many have had when they find something or someone special, but the timing is so damned inopportune.

Leberecht’s mise en scène is superb. He captures strange corners and pockets of Los Angeles with the same eye for detail Larry Fessenden brought to the Manhattan of Habit. Leberecht’s choice of locations, shots and interiors never feel stock. Most of all, he delivers a side of L.A. we seldom see on film. It’s gritty, all right, but the picture plunges us into the sort of strange places David Lynch himself might be envious of.

My personal favourite is a toxic materials dump in the rear lane of a hospital wherein we’re introduced to one of the weirdest pushers we’ll encounter in any recent movie – the sleazy blood-peddling orderly (brilliantly played by Joe D. Jonz) who discovers a rare, but needy market for what he can provide – no clover, but plenty of crimson.

This is a mere appetizer of inspired casting.

Happily, Leberecht and his team had the exquisite taste to cast one of the greatest character actors working in American cinema today. Appearing as Jacob’s only living cohort in the office tower, Tracey Walter plays the kindly night janitor who dispenses humour, wisdom and assistance. Walter has been in a zillion or so cool movies, but in the context of Midnight Son, it’s especially cool to see him play a character that fondly reminds of the UFO-obsessed trash man Walter played in Alex Cox’s Repo Man (another great picture with a unique sense of place).

Visually and narratively, Midnight Son leads us confidently into territory we almost never see, but even when things start to feel familiar, Leberecht throws us a curve ball – not just for the sake of tossing one our way, but because it’s rooted in the emotion of the story.

One of my favourite trick pitches in Leberecht’s movie falls into a category I like to call ‘Scenes We’d Like to See, but Never Will’. Lo and behold, though, I was resoundingly gobsmacked when the insanely ambitious Leberecht delivered the unthinkable. Imagine a lovemaking sequence where a sexy lady has just snorted several lines of coke, then mounts her lover cowgirl style and vigorously rides that bucking bronco of vampiric prowess. In the throes of passion she’s overtaken by a horrendous coke-influenced nosebleed, which geysers mightily onto Jacob’s face. This would be a shocker for him in any context, but it’s especially delightful as he happens to be a blood-starved vampire.

To that, I say: ‘Top that, Stephenie Meyer!’

This review was first published on Klymkiw Film Corner.

Greg Klymkiw

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Format: DVD + 3D Blu-ray

Release date: 5 September 2011

Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Director: Scott Stewart

Writer: Cory Goodman

Based on the graphic novels by: Min-Woo Hyung

Cast: Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Maggie Q, Brad Dourif, Stephen Moyer, Christopher Plummer

USA 2011

87 mins

I’ve always been a fan of the weird West genre, which is to say Westerns that have an element of horror or science fiction added to them, such as The Valley of Gwangi (1969) or Back to the Future part III (1990). The most common element added to Westerns to tip them into the fantasy genre is vampire mythology, as seen in Curse of the Undead (1959), Billy the Kid vs Dracula (1966), Near Dark (1987), Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (1991), the From Dusk till Dawn trilogy (1996-2000) and others. However, I never thought I’d be able to describe a film as ‘a post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk, vampire Western’ until I saw Priest.

Surprisingly, the film manages to juggle all these disparate elements well and even fits in an animated sequence that tells the history of the Priest world before the events of the film. The cyberpunk cityscape that bookends the narrative is beautifully rendered, an even more dehumanising and desolate neon-lit conurbation than Blade Runner‘s, with the addition of a religious totalitarian regime that requires the inhabitants to visit street corner confessionals every day to admit their sins to a CGI confessor. This is the result of a thousand-year war between a religious warrior caste - the Priests - and the vampires, who have been present in every major conflict in human history from the Crusades to the World Wars and the inevitable nuclear conflagration that has scorched the Earth before the start of the narrative.

Vampires here are shown to be subhuman mindless beasts with brainwashed familiars that guard their crypts during the day. The only traditional vampire in the film - i.e. a superhuman with fangs - is played by Karl Urban in sou’wester and, as often is the case in modern horror, the villain is more charismatic than the taciturn lead played by Paul Bettany.

Adapted from a Korean manhwa that ran in 16 volumes from 1998 to 2007, the film adds the futuristic setting to the existing vampire Western genre of the comic. The result most closely resembles the American comic book Grendel by Matt Wagner, which also combined cyberpunk, vampires and a religious warrior caste in its latter instalments between 1988 and 1993. The casting of Urban also announces his forthcoming role as the lead in the new (Judge) Dredd movie, which also has Western, post-apocalyptic and cyberpunk elements based on British comics with those themes.

Moving at a brisk pace, the narrative follows Bettany’s excommunicated warrior as he travels into the desert to kill the vampires who have attacked his brother’s family, shunned by the church for defying their belief that the creatures have all been defeated. This is a traditional Western trope - exchange vampires for Sioux in other examples - but the first of many narrative inconsistencies that undermine the film’s achievements in the areas of special effects and world-building. Surely it would make more sense for the church to exaggerate the vampire problem outside the walled cities, to keep the populace afraid and faithful, rather than deny their continued existence.

Bettany travels on in his quest and encounters a varied cast of familiar actors, some reassuring in their presence - Brad Dourif, for example, a horror and Western regular - others who have been cast to give some gravitas to the proceedings, such as Christopher Plummer as a church elder. Stephen Moyer, lead vampire in True Blood, has a cameo as Bettany’s human brother (if this film had been set in the 19th century like the comic, it could almost be his TV character’s origin story) and Maggie Q reprises her reoccurring kung fu role from American techno-thrillers such as Mission Impossible III (2006) and Die Hard 4.0 (2007).

Although it is exciting, innovative and visually stunning - enough elements to recommend it - Priest is flawed in several other areas: absurd fight sequences defy the laws of gravity, even allowing for the priests’ superhuman abilities; the script, based on several issues of the comic, is overly episodic; and the open ending announces a sequel that presumably will never come, based on the film’s bad reviews and meagre profit at the box office. Overall, it is well worth a watch for fans of science fiction, vampires and weird Westerns, but it will frustrate fans and critics used to more mainstream fare.

Alex Fitch


George A Romero’s 1977 Martin offers a remarkably ambiguous, playful, disturbing and original take on the vampire. It has just been released by Arrow Video as a two-disc collector’s edition, including the Italian cut of the film (believed to have been re-edited by Dario Argento and missing some scenes from the US version), which is reviewed below.

Comic Review by Adam Cadwell
For more information on Adam Cadwell, go to his website.