Friday, November 15, 2013

30 Days of Night: Dark Days - three reasons to see it.

I kind of love the Liquidation World DVD delete bins, you know?

The good stuff doesn't necessarily last that long, they don't refresh them that often (they seem to not bother restocking them during spring and summer) and there's a LOT of crap in them, which tends to linger, but every time they refresh, there are a few tiny surprises to be had. Case in point: 30 Days of Night: Dark Days - a sequel to a film I enjoyed, which I did not even know existed until stumbling across it at LW for $3. A friend had turned me on to the graphic novels previously, so I'd actually read the source text, by Steve Niles, who co-wrote the screenplay; I enjoyed that enough that I pitched the idea of watching the film to said buddy - he also had no idea it existed - and we settled down to it this evening. The film departs from the book in various ways, but also retains various elements, and is an entirely acceptable lower-budget horror sequel - not a great film, but not an awful one by far, and one definitely worth seeking out, for genre fans.

Beside it being a passably entertaining horror movie, people in whom this blog has an interest might care about three fun reasons to see it:

1. The film is set in LA but shot in Vancouver; and although the Vancouver locations are very, very well-effaced - there wasn't a single visible trace of the city that I could see - there are two casting choices that will entertain (some) people from this town. The first is Katherine Isabelle, whom I presume any horror buff in Vancouver knows and loves; she gets to have one entertaining line where she cusses out the vampire queen, Lillith (a Gothic, Bathory-esque Mia Kirshner), and then dies in a very colourful way - one of the best ever neck-bites in a vampire movie, since it greatly emphasizes the elasticity of human skin. Having Katherine Isabelle pop up briefly in a film like this is like a friendly hello to our city: surely someone involved in the production has seen the Ginger Snaps films and knew what they were doing in including her.

The other casting decision is for a much smaller role, that of an audience member in a scene near the beginning of the film, which may not have been deliberate, but is still a pleasant surprise. Stella, the female survivor of the attack in Barrow from the first film, has set out on a mission to prove to the world vampires exist, writing a book and launching a speaking tour. As she stands at the podium at one event, the camera cuts to an interested audience member, sitting squarely in the centre screen. Unless the guy has an identical twin out there, it's none other than Tony Bardach - of the Pointed Sticks, Victorian Pork, Los Popularos, Little Guitar Army, and Slowpoke and the Smoke, among other bands. I very much doubt that Ben Ketai, the director of the film, realized in including this shot of Tony that anyone would sit up and go "Holy shit, that's Tony Bardach!" - but there he is. Haven't seen him in any other films beside Dennis Hopper's Out of the Blue, the Watchmen movie, and Susanne Tabata's Bloodied But Unbowed;  but maybe he regularly does extra work, who knows? Sadly, he doesn't get to change into a vampire or anything cool like that.
Gord Nicholl and Tony Bardach at Vancouver Pointed Sticks reunion show at Richards on Richards, photo by Nicholas Jones of the Pointed Sticks!

I suppose, having written the above, that I owe an apology to the rest of the cast of the film, who all have bigger parts and actual dialogue and such: I have just let my regional bias place an extra and a bit-part ahead of the main members of the cast. I am sorry. You all did a fine job. I was particularly entertained by Harold Perrineau's death scene. I neither like nor dislike Perrineau - he seems like he might be a better actor than the films he's in usually allow him to be, and the only role I've ever really enjoyed him in is as the wheelchair-bound Greek chorus in Oz. Still, you don't get many good head-smash-ins in cinema; this one outdoes Irreversible, as Perrineau - one of the film's protagonists, a vampire hunter who has turned into a vampire - is dispatched with a cinder block to the face, which is then repeatedly raised and lowered by a very upset former colleague. This is the sort of gore effect where, if you watch it with an equally desensitized, shameless buddy, you might find yourself both laughing and clapping as it plays out, then replaying the whole thing in slow motion so you can see it in greater detail. (I am not saying I would do such a thing...). 

2. So that's another reason to see the film, for horror fans: the gore is pretty great! The two real standout moments are above, but there are also some decent beheadings, shootings, and plenty of savage vampire attacks. There's even a scene where a vampire is tortured with a sun lamp (or something), which is fairly entertaining. There are a few irritations, mind you - blood, taken from a fridge and poured into a glass, appears about the consistency and translucency of red wine, whereas real blood, refrigerated in packets, would be much thicker and darker. Someone should have noticed this screw-up, because my equally desensitized, shameless buddy and I sure did; the film gets the blood right in other scenes, thankfully. Also, there's a scene where people are to be kept alive and bled out into bins, for snacks; any serious student of horror (or anatomy) would realize that the logical way to bleed out anyone is to strip them naked, hang them upside-down, and slash their throats, but in the film, characters are kept clothed, hung from their wrists, then slashed on the arms - so the blood gets to trickle down their bodies, get stuck in their clothes, and mostly wasted on the way to the floor, while they suffer and struggle all the while. Pretty illogical, there: even if there is some motivation for making these people die slowly (to keep the blood fresh, say) - the only reasons I can see why they wouldn't be hung by their feet are that actors might want to get paid more for having to do such a thing, and if they were hung from their feet; the male protagonist would die before he could be rescued; and the heroine wouldn't be able to fight back by kicking... It's either a failure of imagination or a cheat or a bit of both, but it stands out.

Anyhow, there's lots else to quibble with in the film - it's filled with characters making "only in horror movie" illogical decisions, and paying for them - but like I say, the film has the best neck-bite I've seen ever, it's done on Katherine Isabelle, and it's fun to watch Harold Perrineau's head get smashed to a pulp, so I'm prepared to forgive it a fair bit.
3.  And besides being a reasonably faithful take on the graphic novel, having acceptable production values for a direct-to-video release, and clearly being made by people with an investment in horror, there's one other reason to see the film: there's something pleasing about its premise, which goes beyond the graphic novel to connect the grim mindset of Stella, the protagonist (Kiele Sanchez, replacing an absent Melissa George; no cast members are repeated from the previous film) with the grim state of affairs in America today. While, yes, much of the film exploits what is now a cliche of the genre (vampire hunters clearing out nests - think Blade and a certain John Carpenter film), there is something pleasingly hopeless about these protagonists: people who have lost loved ones to vampires, for whom no trace of a normal life is possible, existing on the margins of society, laughed at or flat-out invisible, despite their efforts to save humanity from a great evil. The film - released in 2010 - seems to connect with a very despairing, cynical state of mind that was flourishing throughout the second Bush regime, almost like the vampire hunters could be ciphers for 9/11 truthers. And shots of Los Angeles - of abandoned shops, slums, boarded up homes and such give the film a resonant hopelessness, which the ending (more or less the same as the graphic novel's) reinforces in spades. This is one of the bleakest vampire thrillers out there. It doesn't entirely succeed on this count, but it adds some substance to the film that is quite unlike anything in the original, which is basically your standard family in peril/ heroic male sacrifice movie, with a bit of Rio Bravo thrown in and lots of blood and snow). 30 Days of Night; Dark Days does not succeed in what it sets out to do anywhere near as well as the first film, but that is in part because its ambitions are bigger and its story much more complex. These factors deserve mention; the film may be a bit of a failure - I'm not saying otherwise - but even where it doesn't succeed or resorts to genre cliches - it seems to be trying to do something interesting. I'm prepared to reward the effort. 

Anyhow, it's not a great film, but you know, I still can scrape up $3 for a movie like this. And if you feel the same way, a trip to Liquidation World might be in order (most locations in the Lower Mainland seem to repeat the same stock so you can likely just go to the one nearest you... the new French extremism film Inside is also in the bins at present, also for $3....

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