Lots of “Ten Best” lists for vampire films wait for the would-be reviewer or simple researcher on the web. Almost as common are “Ten Worst” lists. Plenty of debate then follows, about which title deserves its placing and so on. But this list goes after something different. Not best or worst anything. Rather, which vampire films tend to be overrated–that is, praised far more than they deserve?
Almost every one save the most rabid twihard would agree “Twilight” belongs on such a list. Not because the flick is particularly bad (in fact, for its genre–a type of romance–the film rates well above average) but because its fans are sometimes…well…ridiculous. Some of them, anyway. Remember the infamous comment that made its way through the web from a twihard who felt insulted that “The Wolf Man” was such an obvious rip-off of her favorite story? Or more recently, a post by some other fan who thought Harry Potter a weak attempt to cash in on “Twilight”? This reaches levels of embarassing. One wonders precisely how some of these folks will react to seeing Romeo and Juliet? Or Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” (the plot of “New Moon” echoes it in some ways)? Of course, most of those who so enjoy Stephanie Meyers’ books are no sillier than your average follower of a given professional sports team.
Seems fair to point out “Underworld” can be just about as silly. While performed by a truly stellar cast and shot with an interesting, even beautiful aesthetic, the three (soon to be four) films are seriously flawed. For one, the films are sexist. So far only the first film has even had more than one named, speaking female character, and those two when interacting speak of nothing but men. For another, the plots are nearly as obvious as those of “Twilight,” even to the point of naming one of the villains Kraven (he’s basically a bully and a coward–get it?). Michael, the male lead, has good looks and eventually awesome power. What he lacks is a personality. Yet the excitement generated by fans of these films permeates all kinds of other fandoms! It is now taken as de regeur that vampires and werewolves despise one another (in folklore they were usually synonymous). Slicked back hair has become a cliche, along with long dark coats and a vaguely Matrix-esque image for the undead. Meanwhile, Victor remains a short-sighted idiot, Selene a cypher, Michael a nonentity, Kraven a villain worthy of a video game, and in an entire trilogy about vampires we have yet to see a single vampire bite even one human being!
Next is “Lost Boys,” which continues to have its avid advocates. But think about it–our hero (again named Michael) once more has zero personality. His dramatic crisis is relentlessly upstaged by the silly antics of Grandpa and the Frog brothers. While visually stunning beyond doubt, the flick’s story is pretty much by-the-numbers and at the end doesn’t feel as if it does end so much as stop. Insights into being a vampire? None. A compelling love story? Nope. Comments on humanity? Not that I could spot. Frankly, any music video by P!nk manages to be a better film that this movie.
The 1931 version of “Dracula” likewise gets far more praise than it deserves. Bela Lugosi himself gives a fine performances, as do Dwight Frye and (barely) Edward Sloane. But the rest of the cast comes across as mediocre. The film barely has a single camera move in it. Cuts to the flow of scenes are often bewildering (like, what happened to Mina? What was Renfield about to do to that nurse?) while the attempts at comedy summon not grins but cringing. All one has to do is watch the Spanish-language version made at the same time to see what this film could have been, with effective direction and a better cast in the supporting roles. Plus–what was with the armadillos? Honestly!
“Van Helsing” seems a special case in some ways. The movie did not do that well at the box office, but nevertheless earned a hard-core fanbase who continue to write fanfiction, create music videos and the like. Often, crossovers take place. When someone wants to make (for example) Hermione Granger entranced by a vampire, a lot of the time they proceed to use Dracula in this flick. In message boards and on Facebook mention of Richard Roxburgh’s Dracula comes up often. Others actually go around thinking Van Helsing in the novel is this dashing action hero (a good friend of mine seemed shocked at film versions that show Van Helsing as an old man). Yet the movie is a mess from start to finish, played with near-slapstick humor and a bewildering plot and a backstory that crossed my eyes trying to figure out (okay, so this Vladislas guy–he created a castle out of thin air? Or did someone actually build a castle somewhere inaccessible–so how did the workers get there to build it?). Plus a so-called expert on occult weapons going off to fight vampires who cannot suss what use a grenade that creates sunlight might be????????
The silent classic “Nosferatu” on the other hand, is one of two films on this list that is actually very good indeed. The problem is, that only applies to the scenes involving the vampire. Every other scene in the flick is deadly dull, poorly acted, and completely eclipsed by the scenes made (rightfully) famous. Max Shrek was a fine actor. Most of the rest of the cast were nowhere near his standards (especially the so-called leading man–notice a pattern here?).
Likewise the Swedish film “Let The Right One In” is a genuinely brilliant motion picture, an adaptation of what many rightfully feel one of the finest vampire novels ever written. Its story–about the relationship that develops between two sad children, one of them a vampire–almost instantly became a new classic in the genre and won wide praises from critics and viewers world-wide. I am one of them. It easily belongs on virtually any “top ten” list of vampire films. And yet–some of its fans behave almost like Twihards do! Most often this takes the form of despising the American adaptation, “Let Me In” to the point of casting aspersions against the cast. I’ve read posts by fans of LTROI greeting the news that Matt Reeves (writer/director of LMI) with hopes the man becomes homeless! A small cadre of fanatics actually scour every moment of the special features in the DVD, looking for any statements that might conceivably indicate getting the slightest nuance of a fact wrong, then go around announcing to the world as proof of the producers’ dishonesty. Of all the overreactions on this list, surely these folks deserve some kind of award. It takes an unusual effort to view one of (if not THE) finest vampire films ever made and then OVERRATE it. A bizarre kind of congratulations seem appropriate.