Reviewed by Debi Moore
Starring John Carpenter, John Landis, Cheech Marin, Greg Nicotero, Joel Schumacher, Stan Winston, Len Wiseman
Written and directed by Barry Gray
Narrated by Richard Roeper
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
I’m not sure where I was last October when Starz originally aired the documentary Bloodsucking Cinema; typically if I hear even a hint of a project involving vampires, I’m there. But not to worry. If you missed it, too, you’ll have a chance to examine “the origin and evolution of the vampire movie” once the DVD is released by Anchor Bay — and it’s just in time for Halloween! I only wish there was a little more meat on the bones of the doc to ensure satisfaction.
I assume Bloodsucking Cinema‘s short runtime (a few minutes shy of an hour) is due to its made-for-TV pedigree. But even so, that’s no excuse for the DVD to be so skimpy. There’s not an extra to be found, not even outtakes, which surely had to be abundant considering the people involved and the subject matter at hand. It opens with one of the final interviews of a true icon, Stan Winston, who links our love of vampires to the bloodthirsty nature of our own selves. We then get a couple of comments from Stuart (Queen of the Damned) Townsend and Len (Underworld) Wiseman, to whom credit is rightly given for ably meshing old world vampire conventions with new world sensibilities. John Carpenter’s up next, and he matter-of-factly sums up the fans’ affection for both the vampire subgenre and horror as a whole: It enables us to be scared, yet in a totally safe place. Kristanna (BloodRayne) Loken, John Landis, Joel Schumacher, Cheech, F/X expert Greg Nicotero, and Stephen Sommers add a few choice comments in quick succession, interspersed with clips from some of the granddaddies who started it all, Tod Browning’s Mark of the Vampire and, of course, Nosferatu. As you’d expect, mention is made of Vlad the Impaler, whom many believe was the inspiration for Dracula.
The one theme that runs through everyone’s remarks is the eroticism of the children of the night. You want to talk about evolution? We’ve gone from the hideous, rodent-like Nos of yesteryear to today’s sexy, rock star god Lestat of QotD. From Dracula’s supreme powers of seduction to Selene’s alluring dominatrix get-up, no one can deny the vampire’s appeal. And it’s international. As Marin says, the Mexican Dracula pushes the titillation boundaries further than its English counterpart; yet, it’s also permeated with a sense of Catholic guilt, enabling it to more aptly portray the dichotomy of our love affair with these dangerous degenerates.
Leonard Maltin, Harry Knowles, makeup/effects guru Everett (The Lost Boys, Blade) Burrell, writer Marv (Blade, the movies and the series) Wolfman, and surprise drop-ins Corey Haim and Uwe Boll round out the participants. The tone shifts a bit as we proceed with in-depth (or at least as in-depth as time allows) looks at 11 films that influenced the subgenre we lovingly refer to as Bloodsucking Cinema. I have no problem with most of them, but a few … well, we’ll get to them shortly.
First up is the universally highly regarded From Dusk Till Dawn, followed by John Carpenter’s Vampires, which bleakly transitions the vampire from a dreamy Gothic figure to a hardened Western-influenced bad guy. Hammer is given its due for skillfully combining evil with romanticism in its choice of the incomparable Christopher Lee to portray Dracula in so many films. Brief discussions of Coppola’s terrific Bram Stoker’s Dracula, both Interview with the Vampire and Queen of the Damned, and Schumacher’s beloved horror/comedy hybrid The Lost Boys fly by. The inclusion of Landis’ Innocent Blood is one I was most happy to see. This underrated, darkly humorous tale of a classy female vampire with a conscience remains to this day one of this reviewer’s all-time favorites and most recommended off-the-beaten-path examples of how to successfully mix divergent subgenres like horror, comedy, and crime.
More current flicks Underworld, BloodRayne(!?!), and yes, even Sommers’ much maligned Van Helsing have their turn in the spotlight before we’re back on track with Blade, the first really successful Marvel film. In Blade’s street-smart, modern attitude we found a superhero/vampire hunter we could root for. He picked up the torch first wielded by Stoker’s Van Helsing and brought it blazing into the current day. Things are wrapped up with a discussion of the pros and cons of immortality, the vampire trait that’s seen by most as both a blessing and a curse.
All in all, it’s a tight little package, but Bloodsucking Cinema is far from fulfilling. The most insightful comments come from Marin, Nicotero, and Carpenter while a good portion of the other contributors appear to be just going through the motions. Maybe it’s because their comments were edited down so much, but no one seems especially excited to be there, and Roeper’s narration is about as dry and uninspired as it gets.
Much is made of the seductive, irresistible qualities of the vampire species, but the only woman included is Loken, and she didn’t even portray someone who fell under a vampire’s spell. One would think that the female point of view would be particularly pertinent considering how much lip service is paid to the notion that we are virtually powerless against a vamp who sets his sights on us. Where is Kathryn Bigelow for instance? She only co-wrote and directed one of the most original vampire tales ever to hit the silver screen, Near Dark. Hearing her take on the topics covered in Bloodsucking Cinema would have raised the bar significantly. How about a female journalist like Jovanka from Rue Morgue? She has a tattoo of Christopher Lee for god’s sake; it’s likely she has something to add. And what about other nationalities and other interpretations of the mythos? Films like del Toro’s Cronos, Aswang from the Phillipines, Japan’s Vampire Hunter D, or the stylish Russian sensations Night Watch and Day Watch. What about Blacula, Romero’s Martin, or even Dracula 2000 with its Biblically based twist ending?
Another glaring omission is the brilliant Shadow of the Vampire. BloodRayne is here but not something as inventive as SotV? Are you kidding me? Who wouldn’t want to hear from Willem Dafoe what it was like to play the guy who played the guy known as Nosferatu? It’s these things that keep Bloodsucking Cinema from being elevated to the level of, say, Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film (review). Another half hour or so of more comprehensive content would have gone a long way toward remedying a lot of what’s wrong with this little documentary that could.
Nonetheless, at the end of the day, even if it is flawed, much too condensed, and lacking in estrogen, Bloodsucking Cinema is good enough to be a part of every vampire lover’s DVD collection. Its heart is in the right place as it explores the fear and desire we feel upon encountering the ever-fascinating creature known as the vampire and should tide you over until a truly definitive take on what these legends are made of comes our way. After all, even a little sip of their magic elixir is better than no taste at all.
3 out of 5
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