Finally, the film school nerds rounded things out with a few throwbacks. John Landis followed up his cult hit An American Werewolf in London (1981) with an equally subversive vampire film, Innocent Blood (1992), starring the French actress Anne Parillaud as a sexy (sometimes naked) vampiress who forms an unwanted connection with a Pittsburgh cop (Anthony LaPaglia) as she tries to bite her way through a selection of underworld gangsters. Though American audiences didn't quite take to the film, it has become a classic among French cinephiles.
Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez scored a major cult hit with their lowdown From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), a movie that starts as a kind of kidnapping/crime/road picture in which a pair of criminal brothers (George Clooney and Tarantino) hijack an RV full of family travelers (Harvey Keitel, Ernest Liu and Juliette Lewis). Halfway through the film, the characters stop at a seedy Mexican bar, run by Cheech Marin and featuring Salma Hayek, performing a sexy, siren floorshow. Unbeknownst to anyone, the bar is actually populated by murderous vampires, and heroes and criminals alike must band together to survive the night.
John Carpenter, who had established himself as a horror master twenty years earlier with Halloween, took on his first vampire film with Vampires (1998), a roaring action film set to a wailing blues guitar soundtrack and a mad dog centerpiece performance by James Woods as a take-no-prisoners vampire hunter. In Carpenter's vision, the vampires are not all that different from the zombies in George A. Romero's classics Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead - they're just wandering bands with no individual personalities of their own and good only for target practice. These vampires were a far cry from Lugosi's seductive, elegant Dracula.
Wesley Snipes in Blade
Arguably the decade's most influential vampire flick was Steve Norrington's Blade (1998), starring Wesley Snipes in his signature role as a "daywalker," a vampire hunter who is himself half-vampire. Wrapped in black leather and strapped with black guns, Snipes delivers all his lines in a stoic, growling whisper, instantly establishing himself as the coolest anti-hero of the new millennium. In Blade, as well as in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, vampires make up an underworld population all their own, slyly passing in the night among decent folks. Kris Kristofferson plays Blade's trusty, crusty sidekick and weapons manufacturer, banded together in a never-ending battle against all vampiredom, while Stephen Dorff plays the movie's villain.
Blade spawned two sequels in the new century, the excellent Blade II (2002), helmed by the talented Guillermo Del Toro (Cronos, The Devil's Backbone) and the unbearably stupid Blade: Trinity (2004), helmed by series creator David S. Goyer.
Indeed, the new decade has seen some of the absolute worst vampire movies yet made. Even the low budget clunkers like Billy the Kid vs. Dracula have more charm than monstrosities like Underworld (2003), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) and Van Helsing (2004). Set during a war between the vampires and the werewolves, Underworld told the story of a vampiress (Kate Beckinsale) who falls in love with a werewolf (Scott Speedman). Based on a graphic novel, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen bands together a team of characters from fantasy fiction, including vampiress Mina Harker (Peta Wilson). And Van Helsing recasts our famous professor as a crossbow-wielding tough guy (Hugh Jackman) who not only hunts Dracula (Richard Roxburgh - inarguably the worst screen Dracula of the past 100 years), but also Jekyll & Hyde, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein's monster. These three films burned through huge budgets full of special effects, but not one had any concept of terror, character or even a human soul. They were all noisy, unbearably stupid wastes of resources and utter betrayals of the carefully established vampire world.
In recent years, smaller-budget vampire films have not fared much better. Guy Maddin's art house Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary (2002) is really a thinly disguised version of a deadly dull PBS ballet, while Michael Rymer's Queen of the Damned (2002) is a half-baked quasi-sequel to Interview with the Vampire. Based, oddly, on the third book in the series (whereas the second book has not been filmed yet), this considerably lower budget film forgoes household names Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt for the likes of Aaliyah (her last film role), Stuart Townsend (as Lestat), Marguerite Moreau and Vincent Perez. Taken as low-budget camp, it's not bad, but it's not really a worthy sequel either.
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust
Fortunately, the amazing anime Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2001) points to greater things to come. Taking place, as most anime do, in a post-apocalyptic future, the main character, D, is a half-vampire vampire hunter (like Blade), who rarely speaks and wanders the vast, empty plains in search of prey, but also in search of himself.
The new century's most imaginative vampire film remains E. Elias Merhige's Shadow of the Vampire, reimagining as it does the cinematic birth of the bloodthirsty undead in Nosferatu. Blessed with a quiet, spooky mood as well as gorgeous production design and a memorable title sequence, Shadow of the Vampire completes the circle. It's the ultimate post-modern masterpiece for new legions of vampire fans.
Jeffrey M. Anderson has written for the San Francisco Examiner, the Las Vegas Weekly and several other publications, though he's surely best known for his own site, Combustible Celluloid, currently featuring over 1200 of his reviews.
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