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14 March, 2009

Give Me Those Old-Time Vampires, They’re Good Enough For Me…

It’s become the trend, ever since the mid-‘90’s, to portray vampires and werewolves as members of huge, underground assemblages, with armies that do battle, governments and leaders, whole societies that exist sub-rosa. BLADE and UNDERWORLD are two recent franchises that popularize this societal view of these classic monsters. But how did this trend begin, and more importantly, how do we end it?

1987 was a big year in the shift towards this new vision of vampires as social creatures. Its true start was THE LOST BOYS, a seminal vampire movie. NEAR DARK, released the same year, continued the non-traditional view of vampires, even to the point that the word “vampire” doesn’t even appear in the film. That trend ran throughout the ‘90’s and into this decade, culminating in the two UNDERWORLD movies.

Speaking personally, while I more or less enjoyed most of these films, I’m quite frankly over the ‘societal’ view of our classic monsters. The sight of groups of vampires and werewolves doing battle with automatic weapons like a common street gang just doesn’t work for me any more. I’m not sure it ever did.

Vampires shouldn’t live in ritzy, million-dollar Manhattan condos, or travel around in executive helicopters. They certainly shouldn’t need Glock 23’s in order to deal with their foes. Did Lugosi ever feel the need to slip a Chief’s Special into the pocket of his tuxedo? I think not.

Reinventing the monsters does seem to be the big thing in Hollywood these days. Columbia got the ball rolling with their “Americanized” GODZILLA, known less than affectionately as “GINO”, (i.e., Godzilla In Name Only…) Beginning with Stephen Sommers’ blockbuster remake of THE MUMMY (1999), most of the great Universal monsters have received make-overs, with varying degrees of success. Sommers’ VAN HELSING gave us new looks for Frankenstein’s Monster, Count Dracula, and the Wolf-Man, as well as a rather Shrek-like Mr. Hyde. Now, I’m not jumping on the “Bash VAN HELSING” bandwagon here. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure that I’ll say it again—I believe that the people who were disappointed by the film were expecting something from Sommers they simply weren’t going to get, and that is a good, frightening Horror Film. Anyone familiar with this director’s work would know what to expect from him in this case: RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, with monsters. And that’s precisely what was delivered.

Moreover, it’s a continuing trend. Universal’s long-rumored remake of THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, originally due in 2009, has been pushed back to no earlier than 2011, but according to recent statements from screenwriter Gary Ross, it’s still on track. It’s not yet been decided whether the Creature will be live-action or CGI, but I doubt that he’ll look anything like the beloved Gill-man of our memories. And we should see a new version of THE WOLF-MAN this year, played by Benicio Del Toro, who most certainly won’t be the familiar Larry Talbot.

But these reinventions have dealt primarily with the looks and abilities of our favorite monsters. VAN HELSING’s Dracula, overwrought histronics and bad hair aside, was still recognizable as the greatest of the undead. He lived in a castle, and did his flying by bat’s wing, not Boeing. Arnold Vosloo’s Imhotep may have been, supernaturally speaking, far more powerful than Karloff’s Ardeth Bey, but they were recognizable as the same character. Without being told and with the sound turned down, would you realize that UNDERWORLD was a vampire vs. werewolf movie, or would you think you were watching MATRIX: REDUNDANCY? There may be a valid reason to have your vampires packing heat, waging turf battles with Mac-10 toting werewolves. There may also be a valid reason for eating Soy-burgers.

However, you can put me down as opposed to both.

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