Unique Vampires and the Devil in a Can

I do love vampire films, books, and TV shows. Two of the three films submitted for your approval tonight are of the blood-sucking variety. The third is a highly-underrated John Carpenter film that gets overlooked.

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2003

Ah, the film that launched Kate Beckinsale’s career and a movie franchise. Beckinsale stars as Selene, a vampire “death dealer,” a soldier in a trumped up war against werewolves (lycans). Bill Nighy, Scott Speedman and Michael Sheen star. This atmospheric film has its issues. You have no idea exactly where the movie is set, somewhere in the Czech Republic if I had to hazard a guess. The genre rules get bent a bit, but director Len Wiseman makes it all work somehow as he creates a mythos that really doesn’t go sideways until the most recent films.

I don’t know if I would so much call this a horror film as some kind of supernatural thriller. There are vampires and werewolves, so I suppose it qualifies. There is plenty of murder and mayhem and betrayal and blood.

The sequels are hit or miss. They aim to tell a complete story arc of the origin of the two species and the war between them and carry that into the future. You would be fine if you quit after Rise of the Lycans. Shane Brolly’s horrible overacting as Kraven damn near derails this movie. But it has plenty of redeeming qualities.

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1985

Another from the 1980s, Fright Night is an iconic and well-loved vampire film starring William Ragsdale, Chris Sarandon and Amanda Bearse. Lest we forget the great Roddy McDowell. Sarandon’s Jerry Dandridge moves in next door to Charlie (Ragsdale) and his family, and Charlie immediately begins to witness strange goings on leading him to believe that Dandridge is a vampire. “A vampire named Jerry?” Charlie enlists the aid of McDowell’s late night horror movie host, Peter Vincent, to vanquish the bloodsucker next door.

Full of 1980s cheese, comic relief and memorable performances, Fright Night is one of those right of passage horror films. If someone tells you they love horror movies and they haven’t seen Fright Night, just walk away.

Sarandon is wonderful as Dandridge – handsome, charismatic and downright sadistic. McDowell is well, Roddy freaking McDowell. The remake with Colin Farrell was abysmal. Again, this is another case of leaving well enough alone. I recently tried to watch Fright Night II. Skip that too.

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1987

Do you have Satan in a can? Well, you better let him out. Har-dee-har-har. Devil concentrate is what we have here in this Donald Pleasence vehicle written and directed by John Carpenter.  A group of researchers investigate a mysterious canister that just happens to contain … Satan? Sorry, I couldn’t resist a Church Lady reference.

It may sound like a ludicrous premise, but the mix of science and religion and strong performances from Pleasence (as usual), Victor Wong, Dirk Blocker (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and Lisa Blount, plus a cast of deranged, possessed vagrants led by Alice Cooper of all people, makes this a thoroughly creepy, watchable movie. It is a bit of a slow burn, but it’s worth it.

If you like John Carpenter and 1980s horror, this one is definitely worth your time.

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