A List of Movies to Freak You Out

Apocalypse by MayaslashWhen I say that this is a list of movies to freak you out for once I’m not talking strictly about horror. There are a lot of films about the end of life as we know it and with the Mayan calendar running out movies like Contagion, Perfect Sense and The Crazies remind me that Americans sure do love a good near death experience. It’s great when your target is a single individual or group of campers in the woods but the entire population of the world? Even better!

As our dependence on technology grows and the human race becomes even more sanctimonious about our right not only to exist but consume and dominate everything in sight it seems our movies like to remind us of just how quickly everything could go the hell in a handbasket.

Whether you prefer early post-apocalypses like The Last Man on Earth staring Vincent Price in 1964 and Mad Max from 1979 or more recent fare like Contagion you are not alone. There is a long list of movies that feature the world crashing down around our ears in one way or another. This trend shows up a lot in other media too like books, The Road, World War Z, and even the small screen, love the graphic novel turned AMC series The Walking Dead! Even Dexter jumped on the bandwagon with this year’s season.

For those of you who like to rejoice in the possibility that the human race as a whole will eventually make a right mess of things, here is a list of some of my favorites that are sure to get you sealing up your house with plastic, stocking up on canned food and hand guns only to lounge in a bath of hand sanitizer with your gas mask firmly in place wondering where it all went wrong. Personally, I am prepared for a zombie apocalypse. How about you?

The Last Man on Earth (1964)

The Planet of the Apes (1968)

The Omega Man (1971)

Mad Max (1979)

The Terminator (1984)

The Night of the Comet (1984)

Outbreak (1995)

The Matrix (1999)

Reign of Fire (2002)

28 Days Later (2002)

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

I Am Legend (2007)

Blindness (2008)

2012 (2009)

The Road (2009)

Zombieland (2009)

The Book of Eli (2010)

Contagion (2011)

Perfect Sense (2011)

juliaonreels – Review Style

juliaonreels.com is a blog dedicated to reviewing movies in a real way. No stuffy film critics here. Just opinions by someone who has seen a lot of movies, loves watching them and recommending them to others.

A note about my preferences. Everyone who reviews movies has a bias. There are specific genres you like more than others and you will favor certain types of movies over others. I’m going to tell you up front what mine are so that you can decide if you want to listen to my recommendations or not. Another thing, when I recommend movies I will reference others that I liked so you have a better chance to decide if you are going to agree with my recommendations or not.

My favorite genres are action/adventure, thrillers, suspense, drama, horror and comedy, musicals and science fiction/fantasy. I know that sounds like a wide variety but that is me. My tastes are eclectic and I enjoy a wide variety of movies.

Here are a few of my favorites. Asking me to pick my favorite film would be too much like Sophie’s Choice See what I did there? Movie reference. You should see that movie so you get what I mean. Anyway, here is sample of what I consider to be good films in no particular order.

Star Wars – The original Trilogy

Shaun of the Dead

Raiders of the Lost Ark

The Usual Suspects

Blade Runner

Fried Green Tomatoes

Psycho

The Matrix

L.A. Confidential

Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2

Jaws

The Princess Bride

Moulin Rouge

Ghost Busters

Rope

Up

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Die Hard

The Lost Boys

Let the Right One In

To take it one step further, here are some movies I’ve seen and think the world would be better off without. It’s not a big list because I try not to watch movies that I think are going to be horrible and I’m a pretty good at judging the quality of a movie from its trailer. But, sometimes even I get curious about just how low people can go.

The Happening

I Know Who Killed Me

Battlefield Earth

BloodRayne

Meet the Spartans

The Master of Disguise

Wild Wild West

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – 1992

Before there was Sara Michelle Geller , David Boreanaz, Alyson Hannigan , Nicholas Brendon and Anthony Stewart Head there was 1992′s version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with Kristy Swanson, Beverly Hills 90210‘s Luke Perry and Donald Sutherland.

Now I’m a huge fan of the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Huge fan as in rush home to watch the new episode before DVRs existed. Huge fan as in re-watch the entire series when I was home sick for an extended period of time. That being said, I feel sort of meh about the movie version.

So for those of you who are like me, love the TV series but are a little less enthusiastic about the movie, you may wonder how the brilliant Joss Whedon produced the light and fluffy, bubble-gum, extra dumb blonde version that is the movie compared to the hilarious, creepy and always entertaining TV version with witty dialog, memorable characters and just the right balance of horror, drama and comedy. The short answer is he didn’t.

Joss had a vision of what he wanted out of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the movie wasn’t it. In fact, Joss was so frustrated by how much of his script was being re-written and dumbed down it became that he eventually left the set and never came back.

At this point I would like to hate on the producers, executives and general hollywood types to continue to mess with Joss Whedon and is amazing work. Firefly was an incredibly original idea with awesome setting, loveable characters, stellar cast and a whole world of plot opportunities to explore. The network aired his episodes out of order and shifted his time slot around constantly until the rates dropped low enough to warrant cancellation. Dollhouse, another excellent example of an original idea with massive potential and wonderful characters and casting. It barely made it two seasons.

In short, Dear TV and Film industry, give Joss free rein when he has an idea. Don’t try to censor him, screw with his decisions, move his shows to crap time slots and cut his budget. After you’ve refrained from doing all that, sit back and watch the astoundingly awesome results. And P.S. if you haven’t seen the two series that I mentioned or Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog - you must. Drop what you are doing and go expose yourself to Joss Whedon. Wait, that didn’t sound right. You know what I mean.

Now, back to Buffy, the movie. The biggest issue I have with this version of the Buffy story is that it is really watered and dumbed down. The girls in the film are stupid, vain and thankless creatures that deserve to be eaten by Vampires with extreme prejudice. Even the way Buffy is played makes her nearly unlikable. Poor little clueless rich girl who now has to do something positive where her shallow shopping existence. Sheesh.

The character of Merrik played by Donald Sutherland is a little overly dramatic and stilted. The slacker love interest played by Luke Perry is pretty one-dimensional. The acting is…OK but it wasn’t necessary to make these characters so flat and the story so light and lacking the darker side that Joss brings to his work. That dark side is what makes the funny stuff even funnier. There is just so much fluff and air in this film it’s hard to care about any of it.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie was actually improved by Paul Reubens. Yes, that is right, Pee-Wee Herman himself. The actor, then suffering some bad press as a result of the theater incident, came up with a hilarious death scene that just goes on forever. He hams it up groaning, eeenn, unn and even kicking a wall at one point. Comedy gold! They even put some more of his death scene antics after the end of the credits!

Despite the movie’s teeny-bopper make over there are still some nice one liners that made the cut. And you can tell it’s Joss behind the better lines if you are at all familiar with his work.

David Arquette does a nice scene with Luke Perry when he shows up outside Perry’s second story apartment window and asks to be let in. In some ways this reminds me of the scary window scenes from Salem’s Lot, though, this is a much more comedic version.

Another reason to give this movie a watch is the numerous cameos from some notable stars. Believe it or not, Academy Award winner Hillary Swank got her first role in film as the super dumb Kimberly. Also watch for super young Ben Affleck as a basketball player who has a ball taken away from him by a newly converted Vampire. Rutger Hauer does a passable performance as the master although, the Master from Season 1 of the TV show would have kicked Lothos’ ass – fruit punch mouth or no.

Rounding out the fun cameos are Seth Green as a Vampire attacking the gym (watch closely – you only see him for about 3 seconds) and Stephen Root who may be a rival to use in a six degrees of Kevin Bacon game. He’s been in just about everything! He also makes for an awesome principal who hands out detention slips to the bodies of the stake Vampires laying on the floor at the end of the movie.

If you are planning to watch this and know Joss Whedon’s work you may be disappointed. If you are looking for a goofy, light-hearted, silly movie about Vampires and have no big love of Joss Whedon…you suck.

I recommend that if you watch this you treat it as a completely separate entity from the Buffy TV series. Also don’t expect a Joss gem and you may be slightly amused to mildly entertained. As a hardcore Buffy TV series it’s just hard to give this version major props. Let’s call this a couple of fangs for a few funny moments and leave it at that.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula – 1992

Bram Stoker’s Dracula from 1992 is one of my favorite films about Vampires, fangs down! Why? Well, this version is especially faithful to Bram’s original novel, probably more than any other film about Dracula. This movie has some serious amounts of blood, gore and disturbing images to sink your teeth into. In fact, the original version was so gory that it bothered test audiences which resulted in the filmmakers re-cutting the film and eliminating about 25 minutes of bloody footage.

My horror-hating mother braved this film for me because I wanted to see it so badly and she still remembers a few of the more disturbing scenes vividly even though she hasn’t watched it since we originally saw it nearly 20 years ago.

This flick has a big budget, and a cast full of great stars including Winona Ryder, Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, Cary Elwes, Richard E. Grant and Keanu Reeves. It was even directed by Academy Award Winning A-lister Frances Ford Coppola! If you are not up on your directors, this is the same man who produced The Godfather  trilogy and Apocalypse Now.

The movie was extremely popular at the box office and made enough money to save Coppola’s studio, Zoetrope, which was near bankrupcy. And although movies that are popular with the general public don’t tend to do well with the critics, this film even won a best costume Oscar for Eiko Ishioka. There are some amazing looks for the wardrobe in the film and despite their heavy Japanese influence the costumes work surprisingly well in the London and Transylvania settings. Look for more of Eiko’s eye-popping designs in The Cell, The Fall and Immortals.

So is that enough to convince you that this movie is awesome? If not, I’ll give you a few more details.

Many people who’ve never read Dracula don’t realize that the story relies heavily on letters between the characters and entries in diaries. The movie manages to work that in without boring you to death. The film also gives the proper backgrounds and relationships to the main characters. Rather than combining several characters into one the movie includes them all separately as Bram Stoker wrote them and they are not related to each other as  is the case with many Dracula films.

The trio of Lucy’s suitors made up by Cary Elwes, Richard E. Grant and Billy Campbell fit well together. That may have something to do with Frances Ford Coppola sending the three men on adventures together before filming so they would bond. Their spirit of brotherhood is easy to see later in the film when they team up to avenge Lucy and save Mina.

A couple more things that help establish this film as one of the best in the Vampire biz are the underlying love story between Dracula and his lost love Elisabeta who is reincarnated as Mina Harker. Also, the terrifying make up effects and many forms that the Count takes over the course of the film, creepy old man, wolfman, human bat combo, fog that glows in the dark, and handsome foreign prince about town in London.

Another original technique used in this incarnation is the concept that the laws of physics do not apply when Vampires are present. Something about their mystical presence sets the laws of nature on their ear. Watch for the vial of perfume dripping up instead of down for Jonathan Harker in Dracula’s castle and the rats running upside down across ceiling beams. It took me awhile to figure this out. I didn’t get it until maybe the 10th time I watched it.

In this movie we also have a willing Mina Harker. She falls for the prince hard and even when she finds out that he is the monster responsible for her best friend Lucy’s death, she still wants him. “Take me away from all of this death,” she says before she drinks from his chest in the intimate scene when they pair exchange blood.

Although this movie is straight up horror and packed with some disturbing scenes, there is the occasional scrap of dark comedy to keep you from being constantly petrified. The source of most of the fun comes from the excentric Van Helsing played by Anthony Hopkins and the trio of Lucy’s suitors who have cute interactions with each other when they are rivals for Lucy’s hand.

Some of the more unforgettable and disturbing scenes include Dracula offering a screaming baby to his three “brides”, the scene where Dracula has sex with Lucy in wolfman form on a cemetery bench, Dracula crying bloody tears with a bat face when Mina stands him up for a date, a white-faced Lucy dressed in her strange, lace wedding dress, vomiting blood at the group of Vampire killers as she laughs. Seriously – those are only the highlights!

The film has horror, love, action, comedy, more horror…what is not to love? Even the film’s tag line is cool: “Love Never Dies.” Any divorcee may argue that point but you have to agree, it’s a nice concept.

For those of you who haven’t read Dracula, I’ll point out that, while the film is pretty faithful to Stoker’s book, there are some major plot points that were invented for this version. The notion that Mina is the reincarnation of Dracula’s lost love was not in the book. Prehaps this idea was borrowed from 1985′s Fright Night. It’s a nice concept and gives a believable explanation to why the seemingly innocent good girl is drawn to the evil monster. Also, in Dracula, Renfield never went to Transylvania, he was just a convenient lunatic with a strange connection to the Count. Again though, the idea that he visited Dracula first and was driven insane is a more reasonable explanation for his madness.

Another big departure from the book is that Mina does not submit willingly to Dracula, but hey, good girls are boring. Obviously the sex featured in the film was something added for the worldly 1992 audience. The novel was released a few years before the turn of the century and the notion of flagrant sex being had was simply too taboo. However, it’s often been hinted that Vampirism and blood drinking is a metaphor for sex, a notion that seems to fit with the sexually repressed Victorian age.

Finally, it’s not Mina who kills Dracula in the book but the fearless trio of Vampire hunters. Dracula dies in front of his castle, crumbling to ashes as the sun rises after suffering a mortal knife wound from Quincy.

There it is people, a super fine example of Vampires on film. It’s not for the easily disturbed (sorry Mom) but the story stays pretty faithful to the source material which you have to respect, adds a hefty dose of horror and even some romance as John Badham did with his Dracula in 1979. Authors who successfully combine horror, romance and Vampires seem to do very, very well. Well done!

Fright Night II – 1988

As sequels go 1988’s Fright Night II isn’t half bad. Honestly I wasn’t even aware that there was a sequel until a month ago and though it falls short of delivering the emotional impact of the original, a couple of key characters return to do battle with the fanged forces of darkness once again.

Although Chris Sarandon doesn’t reprise his role as the seductive Jerry, William Ragsdale returns as Charlie Brewster and Roddy McDowall comes back as a braver Peter Vincent.  This time around there are a few more Vampires led by a female who hides her powers in plain sight as a performance artist.

If you can’t remember the events of the first movie don’t worry because the film begins with a nice little highlight reel from the original Fright Night.  This story takes place three years after the events of the first movie. Charlie is now a college man who has been seeing a therapist who has convinced him that Vampires don’t really exist. He now believes that Jerry Dandrige was merely a serial killer who posed as a Vampire. As the film begins he’s finally decided that he is ready to move on and tosses out a trunk full of stakes and crosses just in time for some new Vampires to come into town.

Peter Vincent is still hosting his Fright Night TV show but Charlie is a little nervous about a reunion with the Vampire hunter as he’s worried that Peter still believes in their Vampire adventure. As part of his therapy Charlie decides he must go visit Peter so he takes his new gal pal Alex for moral support. Peter does still believe in Vampires and he’s a little disappointed that Charlie is no longer a believer but they agree to disagree. While visiting Peter Charlie spots some of Peter’s new neighbors that favor a black limo and coffin-shaped crates. Charlie is suspicious but quickly convinces himself that there isn’t anything unusual happening as Vampires don’t really exist.

When Charlie and his girl Alex leave one of the non-existent Vampires follows and actually lands on top of Charlie’s car while the couple are making out. Charlie freaks out which brings an end to the romance and sends Alex stomping down the road alone. It’s clear that the Fright Night Vampires are continuing to put a kink in Charlie’s love life.

In addition to a glam rocker Vampire and the female head Vamp there is also a werewolf who hangs out with the Vampires and the muscle-bound, bug-eating character who round out the group of bad guys. The werewolf is a very fun charcter who is well played by Jon Gries who you may or may not recognize from Napolean Dynamite when he played Uncle Rico.

It looks like the female Vampire, Regine, has plans for Charlie as she shows up on his door room doorstep in the middle of the night pretending to be looking for another Charlie. Since Charlie no longer believes in Vampires and the woman he hot he foolishly invites her into his room. Regine seduces Charlie and while they are making out she tears open Charlie’s shaving nick with her fangs. Charlie wakes up screaming thinking it was a dream but he’s looking pretty pale and starting to act a little strange.

Once again, Charlie becomes obsessed with the people he thinks are Vampires. Deep down he knows something is wrong and misses a date with Alex to follow the Vampires. After witnessing one of his friends being fed on by the Vampires Charlie convinces Pete to crash a party at the Vampires place.

The Vampires are doing an excellent job of being Vampires who are pretending to be humans who are pretending to be Vampires. During the party Regine dances with Charlie to further put him under her spell. During the dance the film uses a rather original visual effect involving Charlie’s crucifix. Regine takes the crucifix and swings it between her and Charlie. When the cross nears her, her features change and she “Vamps out” but when the cross swings back to Charlie her features morph back to those of a beautiful woman.  By the end of the party Charlie is under Regine’s spell and convinced everything is fine but Peter knows better. Peter gets cornered by Regine and he learns that she Jerry Dandridge’s sister who has returned to take her revenge on the two Vampire hunters.

Charlie continues to show signs of his transformation into a Vampire until he and Alex have to face off with the werewolf at a library. Although the werewolf’s presence among the Vampires is never really explained the make-up effects uses are pretty good and the quick transformations he undergoes, sometimes on only parts of his body are fun. He’s a goofy but funny character and some nice comic relief from the main revenge story line.

Charlie is finally taken prisoner by the Vampires and they prepare to make his transformation into one of the undead final so Regine can spend eternity torturing Charlie for his part in killing her brother. After Alex rescues Peter from an insane asalym after he makes a ham handed attempt to kill the new host of Fright Night (Regine) Alex and Peter come to Charlie’s rescue but manage to get themselves captured as well. The trio bravely faces the army of baddies in a final showdown. Peter Vincent comes through in the clutch and proves that his character has grown a little braver since his last encounter with the Vampires.

Although the sequel didn’t have some of the major impact of the first film the plot, acting and overall effects are fairly well done. If you were a fan of the original Fright Night I’d recommend taking the time to see this second offering as it’s a nice follow up.

The Monster Squad – 1987

The majority of Vampire films tend to be targeted at adults or in more recent years, teenagers. Very few are aimed at pre-teens but 1987′s The Monster Squad is an exception to this rule. This little low-budget film targets the grade school crowd and with its unbelievable plot that is likely the only group that will be impressed with this movie.

I don’t mean to be harsh but in order to enjoy this film you have to suspend a lot of your logic and critical thinking skills. The plot has more holes in it than a hunk of swiss cheese but if you are looking for something that shows off the set of Universal Monsters for younger kids without much violence this may be your film.

The film opens with some blood red scroll text explains that 100 years ago Van Helsing and a band of freedom fighters had an opportunity to rid the world of evil and monsters but “they blew it.”  The text is followed by Van Helsing and his crew storming Dracula’s castle. Once they blow their way inside with the help of some dynamite, they sake a female Vampire who is snacking on a possum and make their way to a room where they find a glowing amulet. As the floor shakes beneath them and skeletons pop up from between the cracks they bring in a girl who starts reading aloud in German from a scroll. A portal opens and Van Helsing, the girl and some of the skeletons are sucked into the whirling vortex.

We jump to present day where we are introduced to several kids who have formed a”Monster Club”and hold meetings in their club house. After some bullies terrorize a hefty member of the club and let out a few homophobic accusations of “faggot” an older middle school student comes to his rescue. For his services to the club member the other members including the leader Sean decide to let him into their club if he can past the monster test.

The film jumps to the interior of an old bomber with two pilots who are carrying a load of “corpses.” This is where things start to get difficult for my adult mind. An explanation is never given for the strange cargo and why it’s being flown from one place to another. This will be only the first of many things that go unexplained in this little film. One of the pilots hears a strange noise and goes back to the hold to investigate. While he looking at the crate a bat flies at him and in the next shot Vampire who is obviously supposed to be Dracula is standing behind him. Dracula cuffs the pilot and goes to investigate the crate. The pilot attempts to get rid of the Count by opening the hatch beneath his feet. The crate plummets out of the plane but Dracula hovers above the hatch. After glaring at the pilot the Vampire transforms into a bat and follows the crate.

In the first of many unbelievable coincidences, the crate lands in a swamp near where the boys live. Dracula is seen hanging from a tree nearby in bat form beside the water where the crate landed. The fact that it’s the middle of the day and the sun is shining doesn’t seem to be a problem for the bat in the slightest.

The scene cuts back to the boys who are giving the their new friend Rudy the monster test. After quizzing him on the ways to kill Vampires and Werewolves he’s allowed to join. Sean is called in from the clubhouse for dinner by his mom. Once in the kitchen Sean’s mom gives him a book she recently picked up at a yard sale that happens to be Van Helsing’s original journal. Again, no explanation is offered for why the journal of the long dead famous Vampire killer would be part of a local garage sale. Sean’s thrilled with the gift but deflates a little when he realizes the book is in German.

We are given a little glimpse of Sean’s home life which looks uncomfortable. His father is a detective and is getting ready to go to a couple’s counseling session with Sean’s mom. When Sean’s dad gets a call about missing mummy and has to leave the exchange between Sean’s mom and dad is downright ugly. Again – this isn’t really explained or resolved. It’s just offered up as part of the story without much else to go along with it.

Meanwhile at the local police station a man is causing an uproar by screaming that he’s a werewolf and needs to be locked up because it’s the full moon. Several officers are trying to restrain him but he doesn’t seem to be cooperating despite his pleas for help. The man eventually beats up a couple of the cops, grabs an officers gun and fires it in the air which gets him three bullets in the chest. The man’s body is then transported via ambulance right by the swamp where Dracula is about to start some trouble. With the full moon out the man’s body transforms, he attacks the ambulance driver and conveniently joins up with Dracula and the escaped mummy.

Dracula points a wolf head cane at the water and the creature from the black lagoon lifts the fallen crate up and tosses it out of the water. It turns out that the crate contains Frankenstein’s monster who Dracula revives with some wires that pop out of the wolf head cane using a convenient bolt of lightning. Ok, for those of you who are keeping track, somehow Dracula was riding on a plane that was carrying the body of Frankenstein’s monster. The monster’s crate was conveniently dropped into a town with the main characters. Dracula followed and there happens to be a man who is a werewolf in the town along with a mummy who picked this night to get up and walk out of the museum. Do you see why I’m having trouble with this plot?

After finding a local German man to translate Van Helsing’s journal the boys find out the there is an amulet that condensed good. This amulet keeps the evil in the world at bay but every 100 years, the amulet is vulnerable to destruction on a certain day only at midnight. Once the boys find out that it happens to be the anniversary of the 100 year event and Sean miraculously figures out that Dracula is in town, a mummy is missing and there is a guy who was screaming about being a werewolf, he tells his club they need to form a “monster squad” to prevent the monsters from destroying the amulet and taking over the world with the balance of power swings over to the evil side.

The boys prepare for the showdown and systematically take out the bad guys one at a time, all except for Frankenstein’s monster. It turns out he actually likes the kids and joins forces with them against the rest of the monsters.

The kids manage to open the portal by the end and only Dracula and the monster are left standing. Both are sucked into the portal just before the army shows up (one of the boys sent a note in crayon addressed to the army earlier in the film saying that they needed help with monsters) and asks where the monsters are. Sean proudly tells the army men that the monster squad has dealt with them all and hands him their business card, which they printed up while they were busy making stakes and silver bullets.

Like I said, with the ridiculous plot the only audience this one is fit for are kids but oddly enough, throughout the movie the kids are swearing like sailors and ruthlessly killing so it’s hard to imagine parents willingly serving this movie up to their innocent tots. Maybe I’m too old to appreciate this one but as far as I’m concerned, it sucked!

Vamp – 1986

In the pursuit of good Vampire films it’s often necessary to watch many movies that…well, suck. Vamp from 1986 is one that really sucks. The best thing about this movie is the poster. If you don’t want to be disappointed, I recommend that you look at Grace Jones made up as a vampire with body paint and stop right there.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this movie as I’d never heard of it. That right there should have tipped me off that I was in for something I’d regret watching. However, as I’m determined to review a significant number of Vampire movies for my 31 Days of Fangs, I put it on the list. Now, let’s get this review over with so I can go watch something better to get this bad taste out of my mouth.

The opening scene features robed men who appear to be hanging themselves in a gothic building. After this I thought the film might have some potential but we quickly find out that this is a fake ceremony used by members of a frat house to initiate its pledges. Two of the pledges turn out to be cocky know-it-alls who have much better ideas on how to run things than the brothers. After two pledges named Keith and AJ shoot off their mouths they are tasked with getting strippers for the frat’s party.

We soon learn that AJ and Keith don’t have a car and are in the middle of nowhere so they have to approach a rich Asian student for help to get into the city. The Asian Richie Rich is played by Gedde Watanabe of Sixteen Candles and Gung Ho fame but don’t expect his performance in Vamp to be anywhere near the quality of his earlier films. His performance is so terrible it made me wonder if he suffered a blow to the head that knocked all of his acting skills right out.

After their car magically spins out of control the three college students end up in a bad neighborhood at a bar called “After Dark.” The movie even manages to make stripping look bad as girls make jerky movements on stage to some pathetic music without actually taking any clothes off.

Grace Jones appears as the main attraction “Katrina” and does some uninspired flopping around the stage as she makes faces and wiggles around in a very strange looking chair. At one point she unzips her bright red jumpsuit to reveal bizarre metal fans that are covering her naughty bits along with the stripped white body paint featured in the movie’s poster.

After the performance AJ breaks off from his friend and gets an opportunity to go back stage to meet Katrina. By the time AJ greets her Katrina has slipped into something more comfortable which turns out to be big metal spirals that she wears over her breasts and happy triangle. Without saying anything, Katrina rips AJ’s throat open and then laps his blood up while making pig-like snorting sounds.

Once the club manager finds out that Katrina’s victim wasn’t alone everyone starts looking for his friend to make sure there are no witnesses to the boy’s disappearance. In the meantime a waitress has recognized Keith and offers to help him find his friend who must have left the club. The two discover AJ’s body being dumped which sets off a series of chases, near misses and confrontations with gang members and Vampires a like.

The rest of the movie contains a lot of bad acting, horrible effects some very strange wardrobe changes by Grace Jones, though, she never utters a single line of dialog. Keith ends up mercy staking AJ who says he can’t handle being “a zombie” though he has fangs and wants blood. Eventually, Keith burns down the club to kill off most of the fanged fiends but Katrina kidnaps his gal pal to force a confrontation. Keith manages to defeat the mute, Egyptian Vampire by using a combination of an arrow, a stake and sunlight.

In the end, AJ shows up alive and kicking and informs Keith that staking him didn’t work because the “wood” he used was actually formica. Keith promises to get his friend a job on a graveyard shift then kisses the girl.

I’d recommend staying far away from this Vampire tale as the only things it has to offer are bad acting, low-budget effects and a barely there plot. Save your viewing time for worthier films, fang friends.

Vampire’s Kiss – 1988

If you are looking for a good Vampire film you won’t find it in 1988’s Vampire’s Kiss. After watching several of Nicholas Cage’s films over the years I’ve found that I tend to either love or hate his movies. Unfortunately, most of his films wind up in the hate category. His habit of playing over the top, larger than life, neurotic asshole characters may have something to do with that.

Another strike against this movie is that it doesn’t really have any Vampires in it. Like Martin from 1977 this is about a man who thinks he’s a Vampire. As a fan of Vampire films I find this really annoying. Don’t tease me with fangs then pull them out from under me and give me a crazy guy instead. That is exactly what this film does.

If you are a fan of films about crazy people and don’t care about Vampires at all…you might find this interesting but it just pissed me off. I have to admit that even though I didn’t like the film, there were times I found myself laughing out loud at how crazy the character behaved. But ultimately, you want to enjoy a movie because it’s good, not because it’s so bad it gets funny.

The movie opens with Cage’s Pete Loew talking with his psychologist about his unsuccessful encounters with women. From what he says it’s easy to tell that this character is a vain ass. It doesn’t help that Loew uses a high, prissy voice and pronounces his words with a strange accent to in an attempt to sound more intelligent. This has exactly the opposite effect. The character continues to prove he’s a pretentious jerk by telling a woman he’s about to sleep with that “he’s in literature” which is a rather high brow way of saying he works at a publishing house. He and the woman he picked up in a bar drunkenly stumble around his apartment while making out and pulling off their clothes. However, their fun is interrupted when a large bat flies in though a window. Rather than deal with the bat Peter runs out with his female companion to stay at her place for the night. Let’s add cowardice to the list of character flaws.

The next day at work Peter appears to be more put together than the vain drunk from the night before, but it’s clear he’s still putting on a show. He is absurdly formal, self-important and bullies a secretary named Alva about a copy of a contract he needs. Despite the airs that he puts on there are little signs that he’s not the intelligent, sophisticated man he thinks he is. Fore example, the secretary has to work hard to conceal her amusement when she notices that Peter isn’t wearing any socks with his suit while he’s lecturing her about the contract.

The next time we see him Peter is back in the club hitting on yet another woman. After complementing her earrings he gets her to come back to his place where they are making out half-dressed on the bed. Suddenly the woman, played by  Jennifer Beals of Flashdance, sprouts fangs and bites his neck. Peter resists at first but then allows himself to be overpowered by the woman.

The next morning Peter gets up in a good mood and offers coffee with a shaking hand to an empty bed. This exchange seems odd but it’s over quickly and Peter is back to going to work and visiting his shrink. Soon the character becomes ridiculously obsessed with having a poor secretary find a copy of a missing contract. Peter goes to great lengths to humiliate her even though we learn that the getting the copy of the contract isn’t at all a priory to the client. Peter continues to lie and harass the secretary going so far as to jump up on her desk at one point, then chase her into the woman’s bathroom where she threatens to shoot him with a gun in her purse.

Peter’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic as the film progresses. He shouts at a waiter in a diner, he sets up dates with the girl he slept with only to stand her up. He keeps harassing Alva and tends to torture her by first approaching her as if he’s ashamed of the way he behaved only to end up treating her worse than before. While he goes to work and visits his shrink he continues to have encounters with the female Vampire and seems powerless to stop her from drinking his blood.

Peter’s behavior continues to degrade as he interacts with people and it becoming obvious that he is mentally unstable. He freaks out when his shrink suggests that the contract he needs could have been misfiled. He starts wearing sunglasses at work and rudely touching people’s personal things. He insists that Alva stay late to look for the contract and insists that finding the contract is a horrible job but only she can do it. He has another conversation with someone who doesn’t appear to be there then snatches up a cockroach in his kitchen and gobbles it up.

Alva finally gets to the point where she’s so upset with how Peter treats her that she calls in sick. When Peter gets to work and finds out he looks up her address while whistling a happy tune then takes a cab to her house. Once there, he convinces her that he needs her help and apologizes sincerely for the way he’s treated her. Once again, she buys the act and gets dressed to ride into the office with him only to have him start berating her in the car.

Afraid for her safety, Alva asks her brother for some bullets for the gun he’s given her to protect herself on the subway. He is reluctant and insists the gun is only for appearances. When she continues to beg for his help he finally gives her blanks.

At the office Alva finally finds the contract but when she tells Peter he insists that it’s too late and comes running after her again. Cornered and alone she takes out the gun and shoots the blanks but Peter is crazed and thinks he’s now a Vampire. He rips her clothes and throws her down while asking her to kill him. Peter has finally reached the point of no return with his sanity and goes running down the street yelling he’s a vampire. Before returning to his apartment he grabs a pigeon off the street to take home as a midnight snack. Back in his apartment Peter breaks all the mirrors and uses his upside down sofa as if it were a coffin.

During the day we find out Alva has called in sick and she is in bed with a bruised face. She refuses to let her mother or brother in her room and her brother begins to worry about her.

When he wakes at sunset Peter goes to an occult store to get himself a pair of fangs. However, unable to afford the realistic looking fiberglass model he opts for the cheap $3.50 version that are hinged in the middle and ridiculous huge. Peter puts in his fang then calls his shrink and insists that he needs to see her sooner rather than later. The call to the doctor doesn’t help him though so he punches his way into a club wear he approaches a woman alone and actually bites her throat until she’s unconscious and spurting blood.

On his way out of the club he’s clutching his stomach because he’s nauseated from drinking human blood. The “Vampire” whose been feeding off Peter shows up and in his version of reality she calls him pathetic, spits in his face and takes his fake fangs away from him. After Peter imagines this exchange with the Vampire he spots the real woman in the crowd and grabs her and from her reaction it’s obvious that everything that’s happened with her was in his head. When Peter goes nuts and screams at her for making him a Vampire the bounces throw his ass out of the club.

Meanwhile, Alva’s brother has finally gotten through to his sister and it turns out that he actually raped her before setting off on his Vampire antics in the club. Alva’s brother drives her into the city and they park outside Peter’s apartment and wait for him to come home. Peter is busy walking the streets with a pice of wood, occasionally trying to stake himself. At one point he holds a conversation with the side of a building, thinking it’s his shrink and a new woman who is perfect for him.

Eventually the lunatic makes his way home where Alva’s brother confronts him. Peter once again, tries to shove the large wooden stake into his chest and Alva’s brother does everyone a favor and helps him. Peter dies gurgling on the floor of his trashed apartment with a giant piece of wood in his chest.

A ridiculous plot and serious over-acting combine with a unlikable character to make Vampire’s Kiss a terrible film. Vampire fans be warned, watch this at your own risk. Personally, I’d rather stake myself in the chest then see this one again.

The Lost Boys – 1987

Up next we have another all-time-favorite of mine, The Lost Boys from 1987. This film stands head and shoulders above other Vampire movies for a variety of reasons. It had a big budget, an excellent sound-track for the MTV generation, awesome performances by 80’s teen heat-throbs and an original story that covers both horror and comedy. Even if you are not a huge fan of Vampires this movie offers enough to entertain you.

Let’s start with the title. For those of you who don’t know, “The Lost Boys” actually refers to the group of parentless boys led by Peter Pan who refused to grow up. The title gives us another reason that these are not your typical fanged fiends. These Vampires are not stuffy, middle-age adults in formal wear but teenagers who are young, bad and dare I say it, cool.

This movie also took a bold step away from the silly plastic fangs and capes of other 80’s movies and provided a terrifying and bloody look for the Vampires in the film. This is one of the first times the “Vamp out” is used to great effect. This is a technique where the Vampire looks like perfect, beautiful human beings until the thirst for blood transforms them into the nightmarish creatures that they really are.

The original script actually called for the kids to be grade school age but, in a brilliant move, director Joel Schumacher decided to make the kids older so he could take advantage of the sexuality that is often part of the Vampire allure. That decision, along with making Star’s character a love interest for Michael instead of male buddy, helped make the Vampire tale wildly successful.

Something else that is unusual about these Vampires is that they don’t feel cursed, but blessed. They are undead and they like it! As the movie’s tag line proclaimed: “Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a Vampire.” It is refreshing to find Vampires who are actually embracing their undead lifestyle and looking to add to their ranks because they love what they do, not because they need a companion to share their lonely, sad existence.

The film begins with the Vampires making a hell of an entrance, oozing cool as they move among the horses on a carousel at night. These bad boys immediately get into a shoving match with some local surf punks and are ordered to leave. You can tell by their attitudes alone you can tell this this fight isn’t over. A lot of the success of the Vampires has to do with their leader, played by Keifer Sutherland. Even at this age he had a screen presence that made people sit up and take notice. His character David has very few lines in the movie but when you look and act as cool as he does, you really don’t need to be a chatty Kathy.

Later the carnival lights shut down and they place becomes dark and isolated. The security guard who broke up the fight is seen alone, walking to his car. Suddenly, he looks up and reacts to something after him and starts running. He franticly fumbles for his keys and the car door but something unseen grabs him from above. Not showing the Vampires as they flew was another inspired move that made things much more suspenseful and frightening. The funny thing about this is that this technique was due to a lack of budget rather than a conscious choice. Still, the result is much better than if we’d seen some low tech visuals of Keifer Sutherland swinging through the air.  When given a suggestion, the images that the human imagination can create are far more frightening than anything Hollywood could produce at the time.

After the exciting introduction to our bad boys we meet the good boys. The newly divorced mom named Lucy (a non to the Dracula character) played splendidly by Diane Weist and her two boys played by Jason Patric and the late Cory Haim drive into the sunny town of Santa Carla. The trio has nice chemistry and even through a brief exchange over the song on the radio we learn the boys have a fun, good-natured relationship with their uncool but loving mother. When Michael looks behind them as they pass the “Welcome to Santa Carla” billboard and he sees the spray painted “Murder Capital of the World” you know there is a story in this town that they are going to get tangled up with.

While Echo & The Bunnymen’s cover of People are Strange plays we learn even more about the little beach town. There is a montage of the beach and the carnival interspersed with images of strange locals and several missing persons posters. This odd juxtaposition gives more credit to the idea that on the surface the town is one way but there is another, darker story beneath.

When the boys and mom arrive at grandpa’s house we find out that he too isn’t your typical grandpa. He’s a hell of a strange character but like his daughter, he’s still lovable despite his eccentricities.

The daytime happy beach town and the dangerous, unknown night world collide when the Michael and Sam attend a concert near the carnival. Michael sees Star in the crowd as the thumping rock music plays in the background and he decides to follow her.

While the boys are off establishing their roles in this new place, Mom is walking the boardwalk and saving little boys who’ve lost their mother. She meets Max, a charming owner of the local video store who immediately helps her by recognizing what she needs, a job, and giving it to her based on his observation of her good character alone. The bad boys make a brief appearance in Max’s store and he tells David that he’s told them not to come in here so we know that Max is not down with these bad elements.  Oh you cleaver movie…setting us up like that!

After mom gets a new job we go back to the story with the boys. Sam is getting bored tagging along after Michael who is chasing Star and making them a “slave to his hormones.” Sam spots a store that grabs his interest so the brothers separate. Here we find out that Sam is clearly a comic book expert as he schools the Frogg brothers on their inventory. The Froggs also have some knowledge to share though Sam is very reluctant to believe them. The duo come right out and tell Sam that Santa Carla is plagued by Vampires and though the brothers seem silly we have a feeling that they are right based on what we’ve already seen.

This is the first of two movies that feature the “two Coreys.” Corey Haim and Corey Feldman. There is something about their chemistry in this movie that works well. Even though their characters are very different, Haim is a hip, comic book and MTV obsessed clothes horse while Feldman is a militant, anti-hippy who is infatuated with becoming a hero, it’s easy to believe that the two boys will gladly join forces to help each other later on.

After seeing mom and Sam’s characters get developed we get back to Michael who has followed Star right to the bad boys who are cooly sitting atop their motorcycles, waiting for him. The bad boy group extends a challenge to Michael and right away he knows he’s outmatched. When Michael learns all he has to do is keep up he doesn’t hesitate to compete for the right to continue spending time with Star.

The motorcycle chase across the beach at night set to the movie’s theme song is unforgettable. When David nearly kills Michael by running him to the edge of a huge cliff Michael hits him and challenges him. But, the bad boy only laughs and you realize that he has bigger plans for Michael.

This movie includes several excellent scenes and techniques for developing both the characters and story. The story builds to the point where the Vampires reveal themselves to Michael in an orgy of blood and violence on the beach. David doesn’t have many lines in the film so when he does speak everyone pays attention to what he imparts: “Now you know what we are. Now you know what you are. You’ll never grow old and you’ll never die but you must feed.”

Inevitability Sam joins forces with the Froggs in order to save his brother Michael from becoming transformed into a suck head. Another thing that works in this film is the relationships between the little family that has already been through a lot together. Though Sam is afraid of Michael’s transformation he knows he has to help Mike, just because he is his brother. Diane Weiss makes a touching attempt to reach out to her older son when she can sense that something has changed for the worse in his life. This movie works because you really care about these likeable and well-developed characters. You want them to survive the final showdown with the Vampires. And what a showdown it is.

We are rewarded with another montage set to music of the boys preparing for the final fight with the Vampires. When the boys combine modern technology with their knowledge of old Vampire lore the results are exciting and hilarious. Six words people. Super soaker filled with holy water. How about this one, “death by stereo.” When the Frogg brothers share that no two Vampires die in the same way it opens up the final fight so that things are not limited to once scene after another where a Vampire gets staked in the chest. The most interesting death is probably Paul’s who dies in a bathtub filled with holy water which causes every plumping connection in the house to erupt with dark, purple blood. Another note about that blood – it’s unique to this movie in its color and the glitter used to give it some shine and visual texture.

When David and Michael finally face off the results are worth the wait. One reason that David’s character dies so peacefully is that he really wasn’t supposed to be “dead” in this film. He was going to survive and create other Vampires which include a gang of girls in preparation for a movie called “The Lost Girls.” It’s probably a good thing that idea never saw the light of day even though there were two direct to DVD sequels to this movie. This first one – The Lost Boys: The Tribe was ok though nowhere near as good as the original. The third movie called XXXX sucked so hard I couldn’t even make it through the first 20 minutes.

At the end of the film we are treated to not one twist but two. First we learn that Max is actually the head Vampire despite all signs to the contrary. Second, when grandpa saves the day we find out that he knew about the creatures of the night all along. “The only thing I never could stomach about Santa Carla…is all the goddamned Vampires.” Best. Ending line. Ever.

As I said at the beginning, this movie has a lot to offer compared to the light and fluffy Vampire films of the 80’s so it’s easy to understand why it has become a classic that lives on in popularity. Because of all the reasons I’ve mentioned, The Lost Boys has a secure place among the best Vampire movies in the history of film.

 

My Best Friend is a Vampire – 1987

Ah, the 80′s. Decade of light-hearted, romantic comedies with large hair, sunglasses at night and movie music montages. How can you truly dislike an 80′s movie? What is that quote from Steven King’s Salem’s Lot? “…should be like a bowl of Campbell’s Alphabet soup: tasteless but not actively offensive.”

My Best Friend is a Vampire from 1988 is definitely not actively offensive. In fact, it’s rather cute and paints Vampires as the good guys instead of evil, blood-thirsty creatures of the night. This film stars a very young Robert Sean Leonard, an often underrated actor. His part in this film came long before his excellent work as Wilson on House M.D. and even a couple of years before his breakout performance as Neil in Dead Poets Society.

Jeremy, played by Leonard, is a typical, red-blooded american teen who is distracted by girls and works as a delivery boy for a local grocery store. When he makes a delivery to a crumbling mansion he meets a strange and beautiful woman who propositions him. Nora turns out to be a Vampire and she bites young Jeremy but before things go any further the pair are interrupted by a crazed Vampire hunting professor.

Jeremy makes a hasty exit thinking that the woman’s husband has discovered them but once he’s out of the house the mansion blows up. A white van starts following him and his friend around and they are worried it’s the woman’s husband again. In reality its the professor and his pudgy, bumbling assistant who are attempting to track down and stake the newly made Vampire. Fortunately for Jeremy the duo believe it’s actually Jeremy’s friend Ralph who is the blood-sucker.

In addition to being followed by the Vampire hunters, Jeremy also picks up a stalker in the form of Rene Auberjonois. Fans of Star Trek will recognize Auberjonois from his role as Odo on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Even older fans will know him from the popular political TV comedy Benson. Auberjonois plays Modoc, a 300-year-old Vampire who has come to help Jeremy adjust to his new lifestyle. He even gives the kid a book called Vampirism – A Practical Guide to an Alternative Lifestyle. I found this adorable and was instantly reminded of The Handbook for the Recently Deceased from Beetlejuice which would come out one year later.

Despite Modoc’s helpful advice Jeremy resists his change at first and nearly bites the geeky girl he loves on their first date. Eventually, the young deadster gets the hang of things and stocks up on pig’s blood which the local butcher happily sells to the Vampires in the area. He starts reading his handbook, works on using his powers and become a sharp dresser who favors black and red. Things even start going a little better for him and his love interest Darla although, Jeremy should have dumped her due her flat as a board acting skills. Watch for a brief appearance by Kathy Bates as Darla’s mom!

Everything is well in hand for the new Vampire whose mentor even gives him a new BMW with the vanity plate of “NITEMAN.” His future is so bright he actually starts wearing shades! Yes, the song is actually in the movie set to a nice little I’m-a-Vampire-and-I’m-OK montage. When things get too perfect the pesky Vampire hunters turn up again and kidnapping Jeremy’s friend Ralph to stake him. It’s up to Jeremy and his girl to save the day, uh, night so the chase begins.

When I was younger my Aunt and Uncle used to listen to have a police scanner going at all times in hopes they wouldn’t hear of their daughter’s recent escapades. Because of this I especially loved the scene in the movie where Jeremy’s girlfriend steals a cop car and, knowing her parents have a police scanner at home, she gives them a reassuring message over the CB to let them know she is fine.

In the end, Jeremy and his girl manage to stop the professor from staking their human friend with a little back up from Modoc and his Vampire posse. The posse does some nice shifting in to wolf form for quick travel! Ultimately the Vampires decide that the best way to deal with their enemy is to make him an ally. Some sexy Vampire girls take the crazed professor under their fangs and transform him into a Vampire. It’s a happy ending for this one and just like most self-respecting 80′s movies, it ends with laughter at a lame joke.

It’s light and fluffy but a nice way to spend an hour an a half reminiscing about the 80′s and Vampires. If that sounds good then this bloods for you! Stop groaning at me, it’s a quote from the movie.

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