Eclipse

I saw two eclipses recently. One was Twilight: Eclipse, which Firecracker had to see “because she saw the other ones.” I said she was just a glutton for punishment. I saw Scary Movie 3, and had no desire to see the rest. And while I did enjoy Hellraiser, I managed to avoid most of the sequels. You know, fool me once, shame on, shame on you. Fool me you can’t get fooled again.


As expected, the Twilight movie is pretty awful. A vampire whose hair and eyebrows make him look like he’s a twitchy bomb technician, and a shirtless heartthrob who turns into a wolf when he backflips are both fighting over a third supernatural being, a girl born without a personality. I can forgive a lot of stupid if a movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, or has some fun action scenes, but sadly this movie is as serious as cancer and about as fun to watch.



Fact: Vampires are make of petrified wood and can be broken if you’re emo enough when you hit them.


But hey, it’s teen twaddle, meant to teach girls to save their virginity for a weird stalker who wants to alienate her from her friends and family, so what’s the harm.


The real eclipse worth seeing happened last night at 3 AM, and I set my alarm to wake up and see it. The temperature was below freezing, and I went outside to take shaky photos of a blood red moon eclipsed by the earth’s shadow. According to science, this occurring on the winter solstice is truly a sign of the end times, because a black dude is President, and old white people are rising up in a wrinkly, zombie apocalypse. Except shooting them in the brain is illegal, and they can only be stopped with tax breaks for millionaires.

I have a better pic on Firecracker’s camera but I left it at home. Oops. I’ll add it here later. I like this one, it’s all arty, like green Aurora borealis.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Let the Right One In

The last time I saw a vampire movie set in a wintry clime I was kind of bored. This time, I was riveted. Let the Right One In is a stunner from Sweden, a coming of age tale about Oskar (Kare Heerbrant), a bullied 12-year old boy who makes a friend one night when he sits outside, sticking a knife into a tree. Sitting on the monkey bars is Eli (Lina Leandersson), a quiet child who watches him with interest and no fear. Her eyes speak of a deep loneliness, something Oskar understands, and they each see a kindred spirit.

And yeah that’s a traditional Scandinavian knife.

Oskar has no one to turn to; his mother seems harried and unable to deal with him. She’s of little comfort, and his father is not at home. When he does visit him, Dad is immediately distracted when a friend comes over for a drink. Oskar is pushed aside, and indeed seems to shrink into himself, trying to disappear. When he meets Eli, things change. She solves his Rubik’s Cube overnight (the movie is set during the ’80s), and delights and intrigues him. Soon she intrigues us as well. These are two child actors who are naturals, and we are swiftly drawn into their tale.
It is a grim tale, in the same way Twelve and Holding is. It sets us in a childhood so dark and real that we question our own; could it have gone this way? Well, if we met a vampire, perhaps. We expect Eli to deal with the bullies, but a vampire has more than power, but the wisdom of age; the advice Oskar gets is from someone who knows the tyranny of the strong. The movie’s title comes from a vampire’s weakness of legend; they must be invited in. There are no stakes or garlic here, but Eli does live inside during Stockholm’s sparse winter daylight, solving puzzles, waiting for the sun to go down. It’s refreshing for such power to be tempered with weaknesses, something vampire stories have been loathe to do for a long time.


While there is blood and gore, and grim happenings both human and supernatural, what makes this movie gripping is the simple story of friendship between two outsiders, and their quiet dialogues. Oskar is fragile but no fool; Eli is cold, walks barefoot in the snow, and says she flew to his window. He knows what’s going on, and asks directly. It matters not, for they are friends by then, lonely ones, and the bond is already there. So when Oskar asks Eli to be his girlfriend, it matters little when the reply is “I’m not a girl.”

John Ajvide Lindqvist’s original novel has much deeper detail, and there’s a brief scene you might find gratuitous if you don’t pay close attention. Other subplots are sheared away, and I think the movie is better for them; you can read wikipedia and decide for yourself. The movie is dark enough. It is written by someone who understands bullies, and not just to use them as a plot point. There is even some laughter, but I’m not sure I’d call it Stand By Me meets Nosferatu, but if you need that sort of description, it’s as apt as any. It the mingles meat and bone brutality of a predator with quiet scenes of tenderness, such as when they tap in Morse code to avoid the sunshine (look at the IMDb trivia to find out what they say to each other).

The ending is utterly perfect. Vampires are left a mystery, with powers beyond our understanding and limitations even they cannot explain. Unlike 30 Days of Night, where they stomp around like T.Rex-toothed Russian mobsters, here director Tomas Alfredson masterfully gives us hints of hideous strength without showing us directly. The Lost Boys might be fun, but seeing vampires fly and hang from their toes like bats was hilarious, and took any fear out of it. In this movie, you’ll be terrified of a 12 year old girl who might be tapping at your window, beckoning to be let in.

30 Days of Night, 2 hours of boring

100 minutes of boring, 5 minutes of half-way decent movie.

The premise is a great B movie- vampires attack one of the northernmost oil outposts in Alaska during the long Arctic winter, when the sun disappears for 30 days. Imagine being trapped in a desolate wasteland of ice and snow shrouded in darkness, being hunted by hungry creatures of the night intent on feasting from the ragged, steaming slash of your torn out throat. Pretty scary, huh? Now instead imagine The Diary of Anne Frank with a bunch of Alaskans in the attic, and a bunch of loitering shark-faced emo kids as the Nazis, and you’ve got 30 Days of Night.

“Maybe we should start a diary.”

The vampires begin their onslaught as the town is preparing for its yearly shutdown. They burn up all the cell phones, kill all the sled dogs, and no one thinks anything is strange until a grimy Stranger in dire need of a toothbrush shows up at the bar muttering imprecations. He’s Ben Foster, slumming in a useless role. The sheriff (Josh Hartnett at his least interesting) locks him up, and then sits around until the power goes out. By then it’s too late. The vampires, shark-mouthed albinos who come out of nowhere and dress like Russian emigres, start pulling people under houses, out windows… all jump scare nonsense that creates zero tension. The vampires huddle around with their mouths open and hiss a lot; a much better movie with a toothy creature was Dead Birds. This one just expects them to be scary as they hulk around and stare. It does not work.

Welcome to Wal-Mart


One impressive scene was the overhead shot of the vampires sullenly walking from victim to screaming victim in the snowy town, leaving bloody corpses in the snow. It has the quality of a painting, and was probably a 2-page spread in the graphic novel. The film looks very good, mostly; the CG snowstorms reminded me of Frank Miller’s inked snow in his “Sin City” stories, and director David Slade (Hard Candy) wisely gives us little color but black and red on the snowy backdrop.

Our plucky survivors hole up in an attic like Ann Frank, but we never see the vampires hunting for them anyway; they’re just out there whenever the plot requires it, such as when the Crazy Old Man wanders out , or they need batteries, or decide to move to a “better spot.” We later learn that vampires can smell our blood, but they don’t go sniffing around after they apparently slaughter the rest of the town on its first Day of Night; they just sort of loiter in the snow and stare, slack-jawed. You’d think after isolating a town you’d want to savor your 30 day killing spree. I guess frozen blood keeps.

Vampire, motherfucker! Do you speak it?

The whole middle of the film is intolerably boring except for a cliche attack as they go for supplies, where they have to kill an infected girl. The killer child has been scary since The Omen, and has been used in the also boring Interview with the Vampire. Here it’s reminiscent of the killer-kid opening in the superior Dawn of the Dead, which may not be better than Romero’s original, but is certainly better than this snoozer. It becomes apparent that the vamps can be killed with an axe, or a shot to the head, or UV grow lamps, or trucks, but only one guy decides to strike back. Beau Brower the mountain man (Marke Boone Jr., the grimy cop from Batman Begins) goes on a brief killing spree with the trencher we saw in the beginning of the film. It ends all too soon.

There’s a another good fight at the pumping station, and then the sheriff finds a dramatic and silly solution to their problem. The final fight is terribly anticlimactic, and we don’t care about the sacrifice our hero eventually makes, because we don’t care about him. Sure, he’s got his estranged wife the fire marshall trapped with him, but 30 days of hiding in attics isn’t enough to re-ignite the spark of their relationship. Sheriff also has a whiny younger brother who I wanted to be vampire fodder, but no such luck.

Shrinkage!

I really liked Hard Candy, but Slade utterly fails to create suspense, scares, or generate proper pacing here. The movie is 1 hour and 53 minutes long and you feel every second of it. They shoot day for night, which gives the town an eerie glow at times, but ruins any suspension of disbelief when the sun glares in the windows and no one has frosty breath, ever. These technical gaffes are minor compared to the unfocused and messy script that fuels it all. There’s about one chilling scene in the entire movie: “No God.”

No one will question why all the charred corpses are beheaded.

While I’ll agree with those who say it was refreshing to see monster vampires instead of the brooding whiners we’ve endured since Anne Rice wrote her homoerotic romance novels, declaring this anything more than mediocre really hammers the stake home: recent vampire stories have been pretty horrible. The little I’ve seen of the HBO series “True Blood” only convinces me that maybe the neck has run dry.

80’s Trash of the Week: Lifeforce (Space Boobies)

A modern Hammer film with gobs of nudity, this is one of the most expensive B-movie productions ever made. It never rises above vulgarity, but it manages to be an entertaining diversion. It begins as 2001: A Boob Odyssey and ends up part Sexorcist, part zombie apocalypse, with a touch of Highlander.
Originally titled “The Space Vampires,” based on the book by Colin Wilson, it was given a high-concept title for U.S. release and re-cut to be more of a blockbuster sci-fi flick. It was trounced by Cocoon of all things, and its failure helped put the final stake in the heart of Golan-Globus films. (Sorry. Cold iron. Through the abdomen, the old way). It’s a shame, really- for while it is awful, it is a good sort of awful. Directed by Tobe Hooper with incredible effects by John Dykstra, with Mathilda May (The Tit and the Moon) walking around naked all the time, some scenery-chewing by Steve Railsback (Cockfighter, Barb Wire) and Patrick Stewart possessed by a lusty female vampire, it is endlessly entertaining, albeit confusing and rather like a teenage anime in its story.

Screenwriter Dan O’Bannon also wrote Alien

Another movie influenced by the coming of Haley’s Comet, Hooper altered the original screenplay to include it. The space shuttle is having a rendezvous with the comet and finds an enormous, 150-mile long vessel behind it. It is organic in nature, sort of like the ship from 2001 crossed with a crusty umbrella. The shuttle is conveniently blocked from communicating with Earth by the comet, so they go investigate the ship. Inside they find thousands of dessicated bat-like creatures, and three naked humans- or at least what appear to be humans. The crew unwisely brings them back to the shuttle, and– after an annoying flash forward– we lose contact with them. A rescue mission finds everything barbecued except the 3 humanoids, and Colonel Carlsen (Steve Railsback) who’s a bit unhinged by his experience.


Back on Earth, the humanoids are kept for study at a government lab. There the female awakens, hypnotizes her guard with her perfectly formed D-cups and some unworldly powers, and sucks the energy out of him, leaving a lifeless husk. She escapes, and soon her escorts follow suit. They can also jump to other people’s bodies if they are killed, or even if they’re not. Carlsen is brought to London, and we learn he has a psychic bond with the female, and they track her using him. He can sense when someone is possessed by her, and likes to beat it out of the women, and sometimes the men. Patrick Stewart, the director of a mental hospital, gets possessed by the girl and starts talking in her voice, and even wants to get it on with Carlsen. This, along with his role in Jeffrey, probably doesn’t help the gay rumors. It’s hilarious to watch.

Did I fall asleep in the tanning booth?

Shortly thereafter, they learn that the dead guard isn’t really dead, and has to suck the life out of people, in the form of pretty blue lightning, every few hours or he’ll explode into dust. By the time they realize this, a space zombie epidemic is overtaking London, as the space vampires beam our lifeforce up to their ship, to revitalize their doomed race. There are some quite spectacular effects for ’85, including some very realistic looking emaciated zombie puppets, Patrick Stewart puking up gallons of blood which reform into the Space Girl from the inside out, and some lovely bat creatures when we finally see their true form. And of course, Mathilda May’s buxom form strolling about nude is enough to forgive the severe shortcomings of the story. That and the performance of Peter Firth (“Spook”) as the cop turned vampire hunter; he acts so naturally that we forget the confusing and bizarre jumps the plot will take.

Headshot works on space
zombies
vampires too.

As a 14 year old, I could not comprehend how feel-good dreck like Cocoon with Wilford Brimley, Don Ameche and Steve Guttenberg could trounce such fare at the box office. The old-folk demographic must have watched it in droves. 1985 was probably the last year you could depend on gratuitous boobs at the movies, and Lifeforce tried to corner the market. Just look at them. When the Space Girl (she has no name) tells Carlsen that she modeled herself after his desires, we believe it. But the movie does have problems-it tries to be too many things at once. At first we have a quiet space mystery, then a supernatural thriller, then a horror movie, then a zombie movie, and finally an attempt at science fiction. The aliens are compared to the vampires of legend, but they really don’t resemble them at all; it’s hinted that they visited before, but we see no evidence of how these soul-stealing aliens could have inspired the vampire myth.

Baby, you got real ugly.

The author of the book thinks the adaptation is horrid, the comet was shoehorned in without the usually dependable screenwriter Dan O’Bannon’s approval, and thus the story is a huge mess. When you find out what the source of Carlsen’s psychic bond, you’ll wonder if M. Night Shyamalan was a script doctor. The tone varies from creepy in a good way to silly to creepy in a bad way, when Carlsen tries his sadomasochistic interrogation methods. But despite all its flaws, the movie has a certain kind of charm beyond boobies- it really does feel like an updated Hammer film or silly pseudo-science fiction film like Island of Terror; as the scientists discover the nature of the invaders, and Peter Firth’s set jaw in the face of a zombie-infested London. Not bad fare for a late night.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 1
Could it be remade today? Not with all the nudity.
Quotability Rating: Only ironically.
Cheese Factor: Stilton
High Points: Mathilda May
Low Point: Patrick Stewart mimicking Mathilda May
Gratuitous Boobies: My god, it’s full of boobs!