Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Festival of Vampires (aka Vampyre Weekend)

Cinephiles, are you paying attention? Those of you not wowed by the prospect of seeing Dario Argento's Suspiria on the big screen at the Cinematheque for Hallowe'en should definitely make tracks to the Vancity Theatre for Vampyre Weekend, where there are a dozen vampire movies, all of them unusual and significant and many utterly brilliant, playing over three nights. Capsule comments follow:

Let The Right One In: Alienated? Bullied? Weak? Turn to the dark side! A young male victim of elementary school persecution befriends an equally young female vampire. The novel's disturbing pedophilic elements are mostly excised to lend an elegant circularity to the relationships described; the bleakness of the Swedish suburbs is much emphasized and is quite chilling - and it looks cold, too. I am shocked at how durable this film is - I keep feeling like I'm done with it, but then I see it again and enjoy it even more. I've viewed it four times already and plan to see it again. 'Nuff said.

Near Dark: I saw two really promising films of Kathryn Bigelow's, back in the 1980's: Blue Steel - a female cop genre exploration with Jamie Lee Curtis that seemed stylish and fresh, investigating what it means for a woman to don a uniform and take up the role of authority; and this, a noirish contemporary vampire/western about a band of roving vampires headed by Lance Henriksen - one of whom, a fetching young woman, falls for a virtuous cowboy-type in a small town, who doesn't get along very well with her friends. It was a must-see in my 20's, but I haven't revisited it in a long time, partially because after the success of Blue Steel, Bigelow then went for more commercial fare (Point Break, Strange Days) that rather spoiled my enthusiasm for her work. Her recent arthouse hit, The Hurt Locker, didn't do much for me, though it beat the hell out of watching surfing bankrobbers, and many critics loved it. I'm very curious to see how Near Dark holds up.

Vampire's Kiss: I've never seen it, but I've heard many people praise it as a quirky, strange film about a yuppie convinced he is becoming a vampire. Sounds like a perfect vehicle for Nicolas Cage to chaw on some scenery, or maybe some costars.

The Hunger: the pale, bighaired Goth Wiccan object of my affection in my teens and early 20's loved this film and watched it repeatedly. It features Bauhaus performing "Bela Lugosi's Dead" and has a lead role from David Bowie, looking appropriately pale and gaunt - for some, this is enough. Personally, rather than any of the above, I was more into watching Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve make out (see Roger Ebert's rather horny, if unequivocally negative, review of the film). The first film by Tony Scott, it has style in abundance, but not a single carchase or gunfight. For all the blood, I'm really not sure it has much meat to it, but what can I say - Susan Sarandon, sickly and pale with blood on her mouth, making out with Catherine Deneuve? I'll see you at the movies.

Martin: My favourite film in the fest and my vote for the greatest vampire film ever made, it's arguable if Martin is even a vampire - or just a lonely, sexually confused young man carrying around the troubling heritage of old country superstitions (which could easily be paralleled with the sort of sexual guilt that some young Christians inherit - possibly why I like it so much, since I was raised Catholic). The opening murder is one of the most squirm-inducing things I've seen in cinema; it's truly unsettling, and I cannot wait to see how it feels to watch it with an audience. A very intimate, human, and ultimately sad film; and director George A. Romero is hilarious in his cameo as a young hip priest.

Habit: Ain't seen it. Much praised - a vampire-as-addict movie, akin to The Addiction or I Pass For Human. I think Larry Fessenden is the homeless guy who rants and raves at a sleeping Michelle Williams in Wendy and Lucy; no relation, as I recall, to gay indy horror filmmaker Jamie Fessenden, whom I interviewed here.

Rabid: The late Marilyn Chambers gives a great, non-pornographic performance as a young woman who receives an experimental form of plastic surgery and develops a strange craving for blood, which she gratifies via a tube in her armpit. Her predations lead to a one-woman plague of a rabies-like disease that sweeps Toronto and, I guess, the world. A Cronenberg film I have not seen in some years, I believe it's one that Canadian critic Robin Wood repudiated in his essay ("Cronenberg: A Dissenting View") in The Shape of Rage, and I rather argee with him that this film, as well as The Brood, is probably - if you get right down to it - uncritically anti-female, anti-science, anti-sex and reactionary - tho' contra Wood, that makes it no less interesting for me. As to whether these are textual (that is, intended and authorised) or subtextual tendencies of the film (Cronenberg's vast dark backward asserting itself), I cannot say; I never really understood what Cronenberg thought he was doing with this film. Mostly I just have a great time watching Marilyn Chambers do her thing - my recollection is that she's absolutely terrific in this film.

There are various films in the festival that I have not seen and have little to say on, though they sound promising: Vampyr; the reconstruction of the lost London After Midnight and its remake, Mark Of The Vampire; and a 1970's vampire film starring the black guy from Night Of The Living Dead, called Ganja And Hess, which I'm told is great (Adrian Mack has sung its praises and has been invited to comment on the film; DVD Beaver review with screen captures here). Not sure I'll make Friday, but Saturday and Sunday seem like essential nights for a horror buff to be present.

Now... whose couch can I crash on?

1 comment:

Mackula said...

Reluctantly, I have to admit that I originally fell in love with Blood Couple, the butchered version of Ganja and Hess that was re-issued by its producers weeks after the film debuted in 1973, and which eventually emerged on videotape in the 80s.

Blood Couple looked like an art film with huge chunks missing from it – which is exactly what it is. It happened to suit my taste at the time for mangled narrative and incompetent filmmaking. But in this case, the mangled narrative and incompetent filmmaking had been imposed upon images of such arresting beauty that I could barely believe what I was seeing, further enhanced by an extraordinarily rich and complex soundtrack, and a powerfully sexy and nuanced pas-de-deux between two actors better known for toiling in exploitation. Seriously, it was like the perfect film – completely unlike anything else; an impossible collision of genius and ineptitude, a full descent into delirium.

Then I saw the restored Ganja and Hess and realized that it was indestructible; that you could shove it an a blender and have it reassambled by a psychotic child and it would still work, because Bill Gunn’s feel saturates every sound and image so thoroughly, and his vision consumes everything. And I realized that it was a masterpiece – the delirium was still there, but the ineptiude wasn’t.

Ganja and Hess is a vampire film about the African American experience, but my God, it’s not Blacula. When it played to a standing ovation at Cannes in 1973, Ganja and Hess was named one of the 10 best American films of the decade. I believe they got that right.