A blog about movies and filmmaking.

Teenage vampires, don’t mess with ’em!

In drama, Horror, romance on April 1, 2009 at 3:47 am

Teenagers and monsters go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Teens have been stalked by psychopaths, undead beings from the dream-world or the old campgrounds and even more classical monsters, like werewolves and vampires. The first movie of teenage vampires I remember seeing – and obviously setting the standard for this  sort of thing – was THE LOST BOYS. Stylized, dark and violent and creating vampires that seemed like they could be real and how they could totally fit in with other teens, this movie became a classic and while the fashion and music (some) is very dated, Kiefer Sutherland is still scary and I’m still drawn in by Jason Patric and Jamie Gertz’s roles. 

Following that – actually within the same year – was MONSTER SQUAD, which was more of a comedy and placed all of the classical movie monsters let loose into the real world. I don’t really remember much of the movie, but I recall there being moments of frightening stuff – including the Wolf Man attacking a kid, only to then be undone by being kicked into the “nards”. 

And my favorite movie, involving both vampires and teenagers – when I was a kid – was one of the first starring roles for Jim Carrey, titled ONCE BITTEN. Jim Carrey falls in with a woman vampire, played by Lauren Hutton, and is basically about being turned into a vampire and was just good cheesy fun – from what I remember; I don’t know that I’d recommend seeing it now.

But, in 2008 there were two movies that had lots of word of mouth – either through the mainstream or the more indie-cinema veins – one is a pop-culture event, the other is a small movie from Sweden. Both are based on books, and since I’ve read neither one I can’t comment on the detail of adaptation. 

First, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is a Swedish movie about young Oskar – in the 1980’s – who is sort of an outcast and is bullied by a group of boys. And in the opening moments of the movie, before we’ve seen any images we hear (who we do not yet know is the star) him making threatening comments. Then we see this pale, almost malnourished, looking kid in his underwear talking into a mirror in his room. 

Soon, he meets a young girl outside his apartment building. They talk a couple of times, and she mentions a few times how she can’t be his friend. Then one night when she goes back into her apartment, where her (seeming) father is getting ready to go out for the night, we discover that something is just not quite right about her – and him. 

When we then discover that what her father, named Hakan, is doing when he goes out; chloroforming and tying up people and draining their blood, we discover that there’s not only something wrong with them, but it’s something sinister. After a failed attempt to do this, Hakan returns home to apologize to Eli, she then gets this ill-looking face and soon has to venture out on her own, to the detriment of a man passing by her under a small bridge. And thus, we know that Eli is a vampire. Which explains why she only goes outside at night, and how she doesn’t need to wear shoes in the snow of  the Stockholm suburb. 

The rest of the movie, directed by Tomas Alfredson and written by the author of the (2004) novel John Ajvide Lindqvist, is about Oskar and Eli forming a bond and the troubles of being a kid, and dealing with those issues as well as being a monster and what happens when people come hunting for you. The finale is amazing and before that, there are a number of great, horrific moments throughout. And part of the…I hesitate to say “charm”, but appeal of this movie is that it’s low-budget and fully uses its (around) $4 million dollar budget. This movie is scary, without being gory and it’s effects – when it needs them – are all really great, with one major – but forgivable – exception and it involves cats. (You’ll know when you see it.) 

The crux of the movie is all on the laps of the two young performers portraying Oskar and Eli – Kåre Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson, respectively – and they really succeed. Oskar, pale and sickly looking has a sorrowfulness in his eyes and there’s a stewing rage beneath his skin that we wait to see boil up and in a few instances that he does let go, he is not happy with perpetrating violence, whereas Eli as a vampire forever stuck around 12-ish years old. And she seems to have learned to survive, whether it’s exploiting the kindness of people in wanting to take care of children; or in the case of the man who is her care-giver – someone who might have a lesser-acceptable relationship with children. But, when she must become a hunter, she is deadly. And then, of course there is the twist about Eli’s history, which I wouldn’t even think about spoiling. The other major character in the movie is Hakan, played by Per Ragnar, who seems like he’s reached an age where he’s no longer really of any use to Eli, and perhaps that is a reason why Eli has started befriending Oskar.

There are definitely a number of things in this movie that are left to interpretation, which are more definite and explored in the actual novel. So, below I’m going to do a first for the blog, and attempt a Spoiler section – where the text will be whited out, and you’ll have to highlight the space to see what is written. I’m not sure that I’ll do this often, but this movie’s spoilers are so amazing that I wouldn’t want to reveal that to people that don’t want to see. So, without further ado: 

First, Hakan – in the book – is meant to be a pedophile that apparently was fired from his job as a teacher and chosen by Eli as her caretaker and someone that can go out in daylight and do things easier like rent an apartment. In the movie, it’s left more open for us to decide what their relationship is, and I personally thought – and have seen a number of responses that read that came to the same conclusion – that Hakan actually had been someone like Oskar, who has been with Eli for years, since he was a kid and has now grown to old to continue being of use to her. So, he sees Oskar being sort of brought in to replace him and he continually blunders attempts to get the blood for Eli. With his last attempt leading to him attempting suicide – and failing at that too. I can see the different interpretations, and I understand what the original story was, but I think that the conclusion that I came to works and is kind of reinforced at the end, when Oskar is on a train with Eli, now being in the position as caretaker. 

The other major revelation is about Eli, and her gender. Continuously through the movie she says to Oskar that she isn’t a girl – which is lead to make us think that she’s referring to being a vampire. But, in one moment, after Eli has taken a bath and is putting on a dress, Oskar sees her nude and sees a large scar on her pubic area, instead of any actual sort of genitalia. In the novel, apparently there is a scene – before Eli is seemingly made into a vampire – where a young boy is castrated with all of his genitalia being cut off, and this is Eli. So, with him being a pre-pubescent boy, and with no genitalia, it is pretty easy to then portray himself as a girl. The revelation – which in the movie, is never really clarified, but again drawing from her continual saying that she isn’t a girl, it is pretty obvious what is being implied – is one of those gender twists which really is almost as interesting, and misleading, as in THE CRYING GAME, and in the original SLEEPAWAY CAMP – a 1980’s horror movie, which I wouldn’t expect anyone to have seen, and I believe there is a contemporary remake, but I haven’t seen it.  

The only other thing, I wanted to mention with this, is that currently apparently, the DVD release of this movie has had it’s subtitles altered from the theatrical version, but ought to soon have a newer version (although it might be unmarked which version it is). Also, there is a rumored remake in the works with Matthew Reeves, who directed CLOVERFIELD. 

The other movie, starring teenage vampires – although, really they’re not teenagers any more having lived for a long time – is TWILIGHT. This movie, based on the books by Stephanie Meyer, directed by Catherine Hardwicke and a screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg is about a young girl named Bella, who moves to Forks, Washington, to live with her father after he mom has remarried and is going on the road with her minor-league baseball husband. 

Once in Forks, Bella meets a small group of kids that befriend her and introduce her to the town. She’s also introduced to the Cullen family, a group of five kids, who are the foster children of a local doctor and his wife. They are all pale – possibly more so than Bella – and stick only to themselves. When Bella comes into her Biology class, she is seated next to the seeming outcast from the Cullen group, named Edward – who acts very odd like he’s about to be sick and runs out of the classroom. And we next see him in the school office trying to change his class schedule, apparently to get away from Bella. Then he’s gone from class for a number of days, only to return and act pretty normal and even a little friendly – if still distant – to Bella.

Soon, Edward is revealed to be something special to Bella when he saves her from being crushed by an out of control van. And soon, it is revealed that Edward along with his “siblings” and “parents” are all vampires. Although, this family all feed only on animals, trying to remain being a part of humanity. Of course, soon a group of bad vampires show up and the action is set off concluding in a face-off between these two factions. 

The story of this series (referring to the book as well as the movie, and it’s soon to come sequels) is Bella and Edward falling in love with each other, and yet not being able to ever fully commit to one another. Obviously, the reaction from people – not in love with the series – has been one of derision and flippantly disregarding it as crap and adolescent, “romance-novel” type plots. I have to admit though, that I wasn’t as put off on the movie as I thought I would be, and I thought that the cheesiness and eye-rolling scenes really weren’t much worse – even though it’s a lot more “family-friendly” – than the HBO series TRUE BLOOD. Both are about a girl that falls in love with a vampire; both are special and “unreadable” to the vampire that is the object of their obsession. 

The vampires in this movie, other than seeming to still need blood, differ a lot from conventional vampires. First, and most interestingly, is that in this series the vampires can indeed survive being in sunlight – but if exposed they twinkle, bright like diamonds, as Bella says in the movie. Also, in the Cullen house there seems to be a giant crucifix – it wasn’t fully visible, so I’m not sure, but it seemed to hint that was also a myth that isn’t effective. The other thing, and how it differs from LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, is that these vampires don’t need to be invited in order to enter your house. In fact, we’re only given one explanation on how a vampire can be killed – and in a climatic moment, are given a great visual peek on how this is done. 

The performances in this movie are hard to gauge, because the story is very stilted and cheesy. The leads, Bella as played by Kristen Stewart and Edward played by Robert Pattison, do well for what they’re given, I think. Stewart, whose character is meant to sort of be self-conscious and clumsy, but also strong and independent does a moderately good job. Pattison is given a harder task in trying to present a character that is both drawn to this girl, but also has to restrain himself from following his instincts. For instance, at the beginning in the scene in Biology class, it really seems silly how he seems like he’s about to be sick by the presence of Bella could have been done better. I also kind of think that maybe this movie might have benefited from a voice-over – although with how the dialogue is presented, I kind of am hesitant to say that it would make the movie better. Some of the other actors are Peter Facinelli, who plays Dr. Cullen, the “foster father” to the Cullen kids. I have to admit that it was odd to see him in this movie – other than Stewart and moderately Pattison (who had a role in HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE), no one else in this movie is really a recognizable actor, so it was then odd to see someone that I recognize. The other two actors, both playing Bella’s parents are played by Sarah Clarke – who was in a couple of seasons of 24 – as her mother; and Billy Burke, who was in UNTRACEABLE and an episode of FRINGE – and although, I don’t remember him, apparently he was in 24 as well – as her father. 

I thought that Hardwicke’s direction was actually pretty good. There’s an airiness and wonder to the camera movement, that I think works for the story and I found that it worked really well. The special effects, for the most part are a little hokey and not the best – particularly with showing how fast the vampires move. I do think that the final confrontation, and disposal of the “bad” vampires is very dark and gritty – and gave a couple of the vampires that don’t get much to do another level to their character. Also, fun was a scene where we get to see the family getting to go out and have fun. Set to a Muse song, this scene is pretty well done, is cute and works really well; even if it’s comparable to the Quidditch scenes in the Harry Potter movies. The music in general works. 

There are sequels already in the works for this series, and apparently we’re set for three more, to correlate with the four books. Also, there was a controversial departure of director Catherine Hardwicke, to be replaced by a series of different directors. I don’t really know whether this bodes well for or to the detriment of this movie franchise. I don’t know who the other people are being considered, but Hardwicke really seemed to have a perspective on the series, and did as well a job with this movie as was possible. So, we’ll see, and like with this movie – I’ll not see them unless my friend who wanted to see this movie rents them on DVD. 

So, while I can’t say that TWILIGHT is good; I do think that people should see it and take from it whatever they will. It’s not the worst movie ever made and it’s not as bad as I was really expecting it to be. The movie is definitely not meant to be made for me – or my general demographic. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, though is right up my alley and I recommend it to any and everyone. It’s definitely an R rated, mature-audience movie, but it is very well done and portrays young vampires in a refreshing – if not altogether new – way. 

Also Recommended:

  1. […] In Horror on September 30, 2010 at 2:49 am I previously reviewed the 2008 Swedish movie, LET THE RIGHT ONE (in the same post as I talked about TWILIGHT – will the movie Gods ever forgive me?), a […]

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