Mention Vampires to any self-proclaiming Horror movie buff and they will rattle off a list of their favourites; the classic ‘Nosferatu’ (or the less aged ‘Nosferatu’) most likely thrown in with a ‘Martin’ reference is a likely response for some of the older generations. But what about my generation?
Introduced to Buffy as a young ‘un and with few other ports of call, the vampire genre has never really had a chance to stand out. And, frankly, Vampires have become sparkly. What Buffy started ‘The Twilight Saga’ has accelerated, snatching Vampires away from the horror genre and placing them firmly in the adoring grasp of early every female teen-fantasy fan across the globe. But, I think there’s a chance that the classic horror vampire can claw its way back in a way no-one has seen before.
Far away from the cross-Atlantic Twilight realm once known as the UK and US, Sweden and South Korea have changed the game; Let The Right One In and Thirst have both burst through onto the international movie scene in recent years with a new and unique approach to vampires and horror.
Sweden brought ‘Let The Right One In’ to the international film scene in 2008 and had a profound effect; Vampires, at least for a while, were real people and despite still being relentless in basic instincts were human in their everyday struggles. Despite the fact it is character driven and a huge step aside from the classic vampire films of old, it is more violent, more gripping and more challenging than anything released recently.
Set against a backdrop of snow-coated Sweden, 12 year old Oskar makes a friend in Eli, a strange and curious girl who appears to Oskar in late-night encounters in the playground. The unlikely and blossoming friendship formed between the two provides a stark contrast to the spate of violent murders in the area, and as Eli’s story unfolds the children’s lives develop in unforeseen ways.
The international acclaim and numerous awards the film received are justified, but understandably classic horror film fans will not be satisfied with the lack of evil and frankly, a lack of blood, despite the fantastic closing scene (in which a swimming pool is the venue for the most severe violence in the film, shot in a chillingly understated way) being more than a sufficient replacement to make the film a classic (The Americans certainly noticed the potential, and the remake ‘Let Me In’ has hit cinemas worldwide but to not quite the same effect).
However, if Vampires are going to be lured away from the glittery appeal of the fantasy genre, it’s going to take a film with a bit more of a kick, and this is where Park Chan Wook’s ‘Thirst’ fills the void. Since its UK release last year it has gained limited recognition, as is par for the course when it comes to South Korean cinema in the UK. But a Vampire movie from the director of a film as infamous as ‘Oldboy’ is nothing to be overlooked.
And in my opinion, it’s his best work yet. A priest, Sang-hyeon (played by Kang-ho Song, who also plays the lead in ‘Sympathy for Mr Vengeance’ and in Korean blockbuster ‘The Host’) grows tired of his work and decides to dedicate himself to helping find a cure for a deadly disease in a medical experiment. Instead, he contracts the disease and grows desperately ill, leading to him contracting vampiritus in a botched blood-transfusion as a result.
The story follows his journey as he develops unique ways of surviving without harming others, but every basic urge he holds as a Vampire is amplified by his prior innocence as a priest. As he falls in love and has to cope with his new-found blood-lust, he begins to lose control and let his base urges take over.
Although less out and out gory than the standard vampire outing, it holds the passion and grip of ‘Let the Right One In’ whilst, at times, being as difficult to watch as any of the horror films I’ve watched. The violence, when introduced, is pretty full on (I’m always caught off guard by full-frontal bone breaks) and there is a lot of what some would call unnecessary and gratuitous sex, but these just make the film all the more engrossing and challenging.
So, the classic blood-seeking missile Vampire that once roamed the horror streets may be a different creature today, but the horror-film buffs may appreciate the more subtle take on an old favourite that these two films have set the way for. After all, the elements of pure fear and evil that emanated from the Vampires of old are still being brought through in this newer titles. The fantasy fags haven’t won just yet…
This is a piece I wrote for a magazine a few years ago, but I believe it wasn’t used. That’s just an FYI. Seemed fitting since I just posted ‘Let The Right One In‘.