Box Office: Vampires have their day

30 DAYS OF NIGHT topped an anemic frame, coming out #1 at the box office with $15.95-million dollars. Making its debut in 2,855 theatres, the vampire flick managed to put the bite on the previous b.o. winner WHY DID I GET MARRIED. With those opening numbers, 30 DAYS will be lucky to pass $40-million at the U.S. box office, but when foreign sales and home video are eventually added in, the film should be a small profit-maker.
The only other genre title to generate much box office heat was TIM BURTON’S THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. The 3D re-release of the 1993 film (shot in 2D) earned $5.33-million, good enough for 8th place – impressive numbers for an old film screening in only 564 theatres.
RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION dropped out of the Top Ten this weekend. The zombie flick saw itself decay to #17 (down from #9 last week), where it earned a tad over $1-million. After five weekends, the film’s U.S. release has netted $49.96-million.
Read the entire Top Ten here.

30 Days of Night – Horror Film Review

With its exciting premise (a vampire siege upon an isolated town in Alaska, where the sun sets for thirty days), 30 DAYS OF NIGHT promises to deliver plenty of chills and thrills, but the promise too often goes unfulfilled. Although slick and entertaining, this eagerly anticipated film, based on the graphic novel of the same title, is a bit too typically modern in its use of rapid-fire editing and gory comic-book violence. In other words, it’s more action movie than horror. It’s cool, but seldom scary.

Things get off to a reasonably good start with glimpses of the town of Barrow shutting down in preparation for the long night. A few odd incidents hint at the growing storm on the horizon (the destruction of some cell phones, the death of some sled dogs), but the filmmakers seem scared of letting the build-up last too long, so they insert an early kill or two, to keep the restless audience from getting bored. These early scenes also neglects to truly convince us that Barrow will be totally isolated just because the sky will turn dark out for a month. Barrow has an airport but no airplanes apparently; a couple lines of dialogue tell us that a helicopter has been disabled, and we just have to assume that no spare parts are available.
This nagging neglect of the premise sends a ripple effect throughout the rest of the story, leaving us to wonder why the characters don’t get the hell out of dodge when the going gets rough. Surely, you think, there must be a snow plow, a snow mobile, or some kind of tractor that could carry the humans to safety across the snow, but the film just assumes that the characters have to stay put, no matter how helpless they are in the face of the vampire menace. In short, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT aspires to be little more than a movie-movie, where you’re supposed to enjoy the ride, without asking any questions.

Rather like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, the story eventually turns into a depiction of a handful of human survivors barricading themselves into a house for protection, but this time the debate is whether to hide in an attic, instead of a cellar. Unlike NIGHT, the human drama never catches fire, because the terms of the debate are never clear. The characters argue about the best hiding place, but they never give us much reason to believe that any place is more or less safe, so we’re not really invested in the outcome of their decision. In any case, when they finally reach their supposedly safe haven in the third act, no sooner are the through the door than they are attacked by a vampire, leaving us to wonder why they even bothered.
It hardly helps that you can barely tell the characters apart – even as their numbers dwindle, the survivors remains a mostly faceless crowd, and the film can barely be bothered with keeping track of who is left alive or where they are. On more than one occasion, we follow Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) and/or Stella Oleson (Melissa George) on a dangerous trek to some new location, only to find that the others have arrived before them (presumably having taken a short cut). When the story is premised on the idea that stepping outside is an invitation to violent death, suspense is seriously undermined by the casual disregard for how half the characters managed to survive a supposedly dangerous excursion.

PK-10 When the isolated town of Barrow, Alaska, is invaded by a group of bloodthirsty vampires – including their leader, Marlow (Danny Huston, pictured) – it’s up to an ever-shrinking group of survivors to do anything and everything they can to last until daylight in Columbia Pictures’ 30 Days of Night.

The film also falls down a bit in dealing with the 30-day time frame. Marlow (Danny Huston) exults early on that he and his vampire comrades should have taken advantage of Barrow’s extended night long ago, but he and his comrades seem to suck their way through almost the entire population in the first few hours of darkness, leaving us to wonder how they will sustain themselves for the rest of the month with so few remaining prospects. After that, if not for the subtitles telling you the number of days elapsed, you would think subsequent events occurred in a span of forty-eight hours or less. These 30 days really do seem to go by in hardly more than a single night.

The gore factor is pretty strong for a mainstream film, including a rip-roaring scene where a mechanized truck plows through vampires faster than a chainsaw through butter; the effect is hardly horrific, but it is exciting in a comic book way. Sometimes the bloodshed gets a bit silly – the vampires often seem more like blood spillers than blood drinkers, and you wonder why they waste so much precious food.

Nevertheless, the strong point of 30 DAYS OF NIGHT is its depiction of vampires as a ravenous pack of predators. Scenes of them attacking en masse may suggest a zombie flick, but these undead killers are intelligent and (at least in the case of Marlow) articulate; they hunt in groups like wolves, coordinating their attacks to bring down their victims. Although the performances of the supporting vampires sometimes suggests posing more than acting, Danny Huston (a character actor usually cast in intellectual or even prissy roles, as in CHILDREN OF MEN) is an utterly convincing standout as the alpha-vampire.

Every once in a while, director David Slade turns off the sound and fury long enough to deliver a dramatic body blow, as when one survivor reveals that he has been bitten and then begs to be killed before he goes from living to undead. Unlike similar scenes in George Romero’s zombie films, it would be too dangerous to wait until after he changes, so one of his friends has to behead him with an ax while he’s still alive. This delivers one of the few horror moments not of the “ain’t it cool” variety – more like “that’s messed up!”

In a somewhat similar vein, the ending deserves credit for an innovative and clever method of confronting the vampires – a great melodramatic moment of self-sacrifice that works as both a kick-ass final showdown and a two-hanky tear-jerker. It never hurts to save the best for last; even if 30 DAYS OF NIGHT stumbles around in the dark quite a bit, it does find its way to a rousing conclusion. Horror fans will love it, and the girl friends (assuming there are any) will, too.

PK-21 When the isolated town of Barrow, Alaska, is invaded by a group of bloodthirsty vampires – including their leader, Marlow (Danny Huston, foreground left) – it’s up to Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett, foreground right) and an ever-shrinking group of survivors to do anything and everything


“Marlow,” the name of the lead vampire, sounds like a nod to Barlow, the vampire from SALEM’S LOT by Stephen King. It is also the name of the narrator in Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness.

30 DAYS OF NIGHT (October 19, 2007). Directed by David Slade. Screenplay by Steve Niles and Stuart Beattie and Brian Nelson, based on the graphic novel by Stee Niles and Ben Templesmith. Cast: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Ben Foster, Mark Boone Junior, Mark Rendall, Amber Sainsbury.

30 Days of Night R-rated clip

Cinematical’s Christopher Campbell raves about the new R-rated 30 DAYS OF NIGHT clip, which you can view here. (You do have to log in and say you’re over eighteen.)
The movie hits theatres this Friday, but on Tuesday there will be a preview screening at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, as part of the Screamfest horror film festival.

Near Dark director negotiation

The vampire gang from the orignal NEAR DARK.Hollywood Reporter warns us that the NEAR DARK remake is taking a step closer to reality, with negotiations underway to sign music video director Sam Bayer to helm the project. Christopher Landon (DISTURBIA) is writing the script, based on the 1987 film about a young man who falls in with a dangerous gang of vampires travelling the roads by night.
The first NEAR DARK is quite a gem, but it is hard to see the potential for a remake, especially when the company behind the project, Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes, is the one responsible for this year’s lifeless re-do of THE HITCHER.
My theory about remakes is pretty simple: You can always remake Dracula, Superman, or Hamlet, because audiences will always want to know who will play Dracula, Superman, or Hamlet. I don’t think too many rabid fans are sitting in their parents’ basements wondering who will fill in for Lance Henriksen in a new version of NEAR DARK.

Moonlight: "No Such Thing as Vampires" – TV Review

Alex O'Loughlin as Mick St. John, vampire private eye.The debut of MOONLIGHT – a formulaic conflation of vampire and film noir motifs – is prosaic and static, never building any suspense and only slowly developing the action. The lead character is too busy striking a series of poses for the camera, which glides gracefully -and slowly – around him, in order to provide enough time for the narration to spell out details we would rather see dramatized. The result resembles less an episode of a TV show than an episode-length promo for a TV show – that, or a men’s cologne commercial. The hour running time (minus commercials) is front-loaded with exposition, but none of it is new or exciting; it simply bogs down the plot development, which takes a back seat to laying the ground work for the series to follow. The most perplexing mystery is the one regarding why the producers felt the need to famliarize their audience with an already overly familiar concept.
Stop me if you have heard this one: The lead character is a vampire, but he uses his supernatural powers for good. He’s a private investigator in Los Angeles, and he is not troubled by crucifixes, holy water, or even wooden stakes (although he does admit that fire and decapitation could be hazardous to his undead lifespan). Really, he’s just a guy trying to do the best he can while living on a very special diet (obtained from his “dealer,” a morgue attendant), while others of his kind chide him for resisting the blood-thirst, insisting he will eventually give up the bottled beverage and give in to the desire to bite into a nice juicy throat. Oh, and get this: the vampires talk about blood the way connoisseurs discus vintage wines.

The set-up borrows freely from shows like ANGEL and FOREVER KNIGHT (if you really want to stretch a point, the good-guy reluctant vampire thing goes back at least to the soap opera DARK SHADOWS). Non-traditional vampires have, ironically, become the new tradition, ad moribund and cliched as their old-fashioned counterparts, but as familiar as the material is, the producers seem to labor under the delusion that they are offering up something so new and radical that it must be explained – and explained again – to the audience, so that their poor, tiny minds can grasp the grand complexity of what they are seeing.
The very first scene of the very first episode consists of Mick St. John (Alex O’Loughlin) imagining himself giving an interview in which he lays out the rules of vampirism. This daydream is immediately followed by voiceover in which he explains even more, and the voiceover explanations continue throughout – apparently on the theory that no private eye show should be without its world-weary, hard-boiled narration. Unfortunately, the writing falls far short of the standard established by Raymond Chandler; instead of the poetry of back alleys, dames, and gumshoes, you get a dull running commentary telling you what you would probably figure out yourself if the guy would just shut up long enough to let you think for a moment.
The story has Mick meet up with Beth (Sophia Myles), a reporter for an online news site who thinks she is doing hard news when her outlet is really interested in sensationalism. When she picks up the case of a woman apparently murdered by a vampire, Mick reveals himself to her, and in surprisingly short time this supposed ace reporter is sharing information and treating Mick like a partner, totally unconcerned that her exclusive might be scooped if Mick talks to someone else.
Mick of course is interested in the case for his own reason: he and his kind want to keep vampirism a secret, and a high-profile case will draw unwanted attention if not solved soon. Mick realizes that the murderer is not a vampire but an imposter, and suspicion shifts on an anthropology  professor teaching a course in the occult, who has been using a vampirism shtick to seduce female pupils.  Along the way, we learn in flashback that Mick has known Beth since she was a child – when he rescued her from the clutches of his undead wife Coraline (Shannyn Sossamon).
The mystery about the murders never kicks into high-gear, even when Beth goes undercover, posing as a new student in order to dig up dirt on the professor. There is an obligatory last-minute twist regarding the murderer’s identity, but we hardly care, as the story is a mere excuse to introduce us to Mick and Beth, neither of whom does much to draw us into their world. Beth is too immediately trusting of Mick (even if we take into account that she sort, kinda recognizes the man who saved her all those years ago). Mick is just good-looking guy with a permanent five-o’clock shadow: typical for tales of vampirism, there is little attempt to create a character who is believably immortal, with all that implies. His dialogue and mannerism do not reflect a mentality that has left the human world behind, no longer concerned with death and disease and the passage of time.
The same could be said for Mick’s vampire friends, who come across as people with a peculiar craving and a penchant for cracking predictable vampire jokes (no one has said, “It’s your funeral yet,” but we’re sure it won’t be long).

Shannyn Sossamon as Carline, who turned Mick into a vampire.

Judging from the previews, future episodes will focus on the relationship between Mick and Beth (which, in an odd way, recalls the one between Woody Allen and Soon-yi Previn), with Mick looking out for her while trying to hide the truth about himself. The potential here seems severely limited. Reducing the mythic elements of vampirism down to the level of a vaguely troublesome addiction leaves little of interest; it’s just another excuse to feature a hero with super powers.  We can only hope that the series at least puts its murky film noir ambitions on hold long enough to rev up the action and excitement. As it stand now, the debut episode invites all the obvious jokes: it’s like a walking anemic corpse that needs an infusion of fresh blood to give it some life.

Goyer taps the vampire vein again

David Goyer, who scripted the three BLADE feature films and directed the third, has signed on to  helm yet another vampire film, an adaptation of Baltimore, or the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire. The graphic novel, Mike Mignola (Hellboy) and Christopher Golden (The Myth Hunters), tells the tale of Lord Henry Baltimore, bitten on the battlefield by a vampire bat during WWI. To fight the vampire curse, Baltimore assembles a team to confront the Red King, who is evil incarnate. Mignola and Golden will write the screenplay.
Goyer’s other credits include directing THE INVISIBLE and co-scripting both DARK CITY and BATMAN BEGINS. The film will be produced at New Regency, which is also developing another vampire-themed graphic novel to the screen, Virulents, which will be directed by John Moore from a script by John Cox.

Underworld (2003) – Film & DVD Review

This mostly mediocre movie is a painless enough time-waster, thanks to slick production values and some impressive stunt work, but it never lives up to the potential of its premise about a centuries-old war between rival clans of vampires and werewolves. The idea seems to have been to create a “Romeo-and-Juliet” narrative, with a couple (one from each clan) falling in love; instead, director Len Wiseman uses the film as an excuse to stage lots and lots of MATRIX-inspired shoot-outs that muddle the story. Fortunately, things pick up in the last twenty minutes, when the film finally gets around to revealing the essential details of what’s been happening – and why. Continue reading “Underworld (2003) – Film & DVD Review”

Sense of Wonder: Depp to cast Dark Shadows on the big screen

Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane in SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999).DARK SHADOWS fans – at least the ones I know – are rejoicing at the news (announced in Daily Variety and at a recent ShadowCon) that Johnny Depp has signed a deal to co-produce a feature film version of the 1960s Gothic soap opera.

Warner Bros. is teaming with Depp’s Infinitum-Nihil and Graham King’s GK Films to develop a feature based on the ’60s daytime supernatural sudser…
Depp has said in interviews that he has always been obsessed with “Dark Shadows” and had, as a child, wanted to be Barnabas Collins, the vampire patriarch of the series. The role was originated by Jonathan Frid.

I find my own enthusiasm considerably more muted, although I am willing to be pleasantly surprised. I suspect that, as a property, DARK SHADOWS truly is a relic of its era, and I’m not sure it can be updated without losing its appeal. Not for nothing have forty years of vampire cinema passed since the original show was an afternoon hit, and history provides a couple of reasons to suspect that turning DARK SHADOWS into a feature film and/or updating its story are far from surefire hit ideas. Continue reading “Sense of Wonder: Depp to cast Dark Shadows on the big screen”

Obituary: William Tuttle

William Tuttle, one of the pioneering greats in the history of movie monster makeup, has passed away. Tuttle spent most of his long career at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, a studio more known for glossy musicals than misshapen monsters, but when the opportunity arose he truly excelled at his work.

William Tuttle transformed Carol Borland and Bela Lugosi into vampires for MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935).

One of his earliest jobs was on the 1935 film MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, director Tod Browning’s unofficial follow-up to his earlier hits LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927) and DRACULA (1931). In it, Bela Lugosi played not Dracula but Count Mora, with a bullet hole in his head to indicate that he had died from suicide. Continue reading “Obituary: William Tuttle”