Welcome back to the Fields Point nightmare parlor and media room. Today we continue the Halloween Home Video series, recommending a weekly menu of ghastly delights for your screening and sharing pleasure.
These picks are for the adventurous gourmet, assuming you have enjoyed, or at least sampled the staples of the genre before. We avoid leftovers here as much as we can.
Brother, Can You Spare A Pint?
Following last week’s foray into the world of freaks and mutants, we turn our attention to a more classic figure in the horror pantheon, the Vampire. The Bloodsucker. The Wurdulak. The Caped And More Importantly Fanged One. Nosferatu, y’all. If you thought the plasma was flowing deep before, put on your bib for a real bloodfest.
So you’ve had the essentials, have you? Murnau’s Nosferatu? Tod Browning’s Dracula? A goodly taste of the Hammer vampires from swinging London? Near Dark? Let The Right One In, Swedish and American versions? Then try something rare from Column B Negative.
First Corpse: Thirst
(dir. Park Chan-wook, 2009)
Park Chan-wook makes movies in a way designed to leave blisters and welts. Director of the searing revenge thriller Oldboy and the perverted, nighmarish Stoker, he has no reservations about pushing beyond all comfort zones into the realm of the extreme. Thirst, though perhaps his most elegant film to date, is no exception. Deftly grinding the erotic, the romantic, and the profane against one another, Park creates a spicy, sticky, exotic delicacy reminiscent of Clive Barker’s early work.
Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho) is a Catholic priest with a well-established hospital ministry. Battling depression and loneliness in private, he provides kind-hearted service to the afflicted, and volunteers to test an experimental treatment for a mysterious blood virus called Emmanuel. Instead, he ends up a vampire. This, it turns out, is the only mystery of the disease. It creates an insatiable lust for blood and gives the victim powers beyond death. Now a fairly traditional vampire, in the literary sense, the moral and compassionate Sang-hyun must learn to balance his cravings with his will not to kill or unduly harm his fellow man. Meanwhile, having apparently defeated the Emmanuel virus, he becomes a cult figure in his parish, who believe him able to heal their illnesses. The unwanted attention makes his new life difficult.
Sang-hyun might have been able to find balance except for his attraction to Tae-ju (Kim Ok-bin), a married woman he meets in a chance reunion with an old friend. Temptations ranging from vow-breaking, adultery, and even murder begin to press on him, and combined with the pressure of vampiric thirst they cannot be held back forever. Sang-hyun and Tae-ju begin a harrowing descent into sex, violence and madness. Realizing the mayhem that his unlucky condition has wrought, Sang-hyun must weigh his continued life (in death) against the greater good of the human race. Morally convoluted, handsomely assembled, and disturbingly graphic, Thirst is a must-see for the serious vampire conoisseur.
Second Corpse: Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht
(Nosferatu The Vampyre)
(dir. Werner Herzog, 1979)
Director Werner Herzog speaks of the German Expressionist filmmakers as the true fathers of his generation, owing to the fragmentation of his country’s history during the rule of the Third Reich. He has categorized filmmakers such as himself, Wim Wenders and Rainer Werner Fassbinder as orphans in the history of a prominent cinema-producing nation, having to look back not twenty years but fifty years for true inspiration. Even so, most of the great German directors of the 20s wisely made tracks for Hollywood, including Fritz Lang and F. W. Murnau. There is a palpable sense of abandonment, or perhaps bereavement, in this historical view.
This is among the reasons that Herzog chose to make his own version of Murnau’s 1922 horror classic Nosferatu, itself a loose adaptation of Dracula now as iconic as its source material. Keeping the Count’s frightening appearance and building on the basic story of its predecessor, Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht expands its core ideas into a slow-burning odyssey of romance and terror.
In a now-familiar framework, Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz) travels to Trannsylvania to sell a house in his own hometown to the mysterious Count Dracula (Klaus Kinski), despite the ill health and premonitions of his wife Lucy (Isabelle Adjani). Harker soon discovers that the count is a bloodthirsty ghoul who means to bring plague and death to all he can. At the same time, Dracula is a tragic figure, tortured by loneliness and isolation but determined to live on in his accustomed, monstrous way. Those who know Bruno Ganz from Wings Of Desire or Downfall should see his strong leading performance here. Likewise, those hoping to see the volatile Klaus Kinski in a rare subdued (yet no less eerie) role should not miss this Nosferatu.
The full title of Murnau’s original film is Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horrors). Herzog clearly took this idea to heart, building a soaring score around this gorgeous film with selections from Wagner’s Das Rheingold and contemporary tracks by Florian Fricke (a.k.a. Popol Vuh), his longtime musical collaborator. This film takes its time, and looks absolutely splendid doing so.
Moving by at a contemplative pace like pieces in a well-appointed art gallery, the multitude of surreal and often shocking imagery guarantee a spellbinding experience. This is one of the most beautiful horror movies ever made, and as a solid genre piece one of the most accessible for those curious to enter the strange world of Werner Herzog.
Third Corpse: Vamp
(dir. Richard Wenk, 1986)
A full decade before Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez teamed up for their bloodthirsty fan favorite From Dusk Til Dawn, writer/director Richard Wenk explored his own seedy underworld of vampire strippers with the outrageous horror comedy Vamp. With a cast of players viewers are bound to recognize from somewhere else, this seldom-cited cult class reunion is required viewing for any B-movie scholar.
Keith (Chris Makepeace, Meatballs) and AJ (Robert Rusler, A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge) are a pair scheming fraternity pledges sent to procure a stripper for their initiation party in exchange for skipping the actual initiation ritual. Commandeering the car of privileged loner Duncan (Gedde Watanabe, UHF), they head straight for the bad part of town. After running afoul of a creepy street hood (Billy Drago), they end up in a seedy after-dark club managed by bug-munching wiseguy Sandy Baron but actually run by the featured entertainer, a voluptuous avant-garde stripper named Katrina (THE Grace Jones!), also a hungry vampire who preys on her friendless clientele.
In no time flat the college boys are out of their depth, and with a friendly cocktail waitress (Dedee Pfeiffer) in tow, they spend the next hour running for their lives, and possibly their afterlives. Raunchy, witty, comically violent and lit almost exclusively in wild neon pinks and greens, this film is mad enough to bolster its bare-bones plot into a memorable vampire caper.
A La Carte
In case of allergies or odd blood types, please consider…
French porno queen Brigitte Lahaie waxes dramatic in Jean Rollin’s racy blood-sipper.
Ganja and Hess (1973)
An exotic, erotic vampire love tragedy by Bill Gunn.
Dracula: Prince Of Darkness (1966)
The often overlooked second Dracula feature from the Hammer Studio, starring the great Christopher Lee.
Stay tuned for next week’s offering, entitled
We Gotta Get Outta This Place!