30 Days of Night (David Slade, 2007)
Finally, a vampire film that is actually scary. Those were the excited words of the bespectacled teenager who saw David Slade's 30 Days of Night along with his pals, not mine. In this modern age wherein horror has lost all sophistication and eroticism and its greatness is measured by the intensity of the gore depicted, Bela Lugosi's iconic turn as the famed fanged count in Tod Browning's Dracula (1931) or Christopher Lee's eloquent bloodsucker in the many versions of the tale produced by Hammer Films would seem too dull and mannered. I disagree, the vampire is not only a blood-starved creature of the night, they are also sex or love-starved, preferring the long and gorgeous necks of females and merely puncturing two holes for elegant feeding. They are masters of seduction. They are scary precisely because of that; they not only want to prey on you for your blood, but would also want to woo you, lure you, and eventually, transform you.
The vampires in 30 Days of Night are hideous creatures. They either howl, scream or speak in an unidentifiable dialect (subtitled by our most gracious director) through a mouth crowded with razor-sharp teeth, primarily used for ripping open necks of anybody warmblooded who comes their way. Adapted from the graphic novel written by Steve Niles and illustrated by Ben Templesmith, the film details the sad tale of Barrow, the northernmost town in the United States which suffers around thirty days without sunlight, and its hundred or so citizens who are struggling to survive amidst the invasion of these ugly and ravenous vampires. Leading the townspeople is sherriff Eben (a miserable-looking Josh Hartnett) and his estranged wife Stella (Melissa George); they are not exactly the type of people you'd entrust your life with (marital distress would most likely skew their logical priorities), but the rest of the survivors includes a teenager, a grizzly man, a demented old fogey, and a bunch of other characters I can barely recall, so you're left with no real choice.
Slade, a music video director who breakthroughed with Hard Candy (2005), torture porn about a pedophilic internet lurker who literally gets what he deserves when he meets up with one of his supposed victims, struggles through the narrative. Burnt cellular phones, murdered sled dogs, trashed helicopters, a mysterious man suddenly appearing out of nowhere, and thirty days of absolutely no sunlight seem to be the proper circumstance for a perfect vampiric feast. It is a conceit that is to die for, and the possibilities of playing around with the concept of darkness and claustrophobia would seem utterly easy for any director to take advantage of. Sadly, that's not the case. Slade betrays the darkness, misconstruing night with drab, grey and blue to absolutely no effect; everything's in clear sight with hardly no opportunity for the mind to play its nasty tricks on you. It's just not scary; and to make matters worse, Slade uses the shaky cam for all the supposedly scary and violent parts, making the sequences unbearably confusing.
Richard Somes' Ang Lihim ng San Joaquin (The Secret of San Joaquin, 2005), a horror short about a town of aswang, the Filipino version of the vampire, who starts to prey on the newly arrived couple, came to mind while I was watching Slade's misdirected film. Somes' short, costing barely a fraction of 30 Days of Night's budget, also has a very simple story, mostly a concept, but expands its measly resources by being sophisticated, educated, and creative. The vampires in Somes' short are hungry too, but they never lose their inherent lust (amidst the filth and primitivity of the town, the monsters manage to turn their nightly coven into a circus-like, eerily seductive haven with the sumptuous Elizabeth Oropesa as their queen), their transformation wherein they pour mud all over their bodies can be likened to an obscene orgy. In comparison, Slade's vampires seem castrated, like a pack of rabid coyotes out for a piece of warm meat; not very terrifying, really.
Slade's vampires are more like zombies than bloodsucking predators. They have no will, no singular intelligence in their prowling (even delegating the duty of assuring the town's being trapped to a dirty bum), no memorable sophistication in their terrorizing. Yet, zombies, more specifically George Romero's zombies, are poetic monsters. Their slow and staggered marching represent an unstoppable impending doom, which makes them, with all their dimwitted hunger, very frightening (you can run, you can fight, but you're just delaying certain death). The vamps of 30 Days of Night are a silly and lifeless lot, they're in the bottom of the hierarchy of movie monsters (way below the classic vampires and the rotting zombies). Moreover, there's always safety knowing that the terror ends in thirty days, so (this question is directed to teenager who thinks 30 Days of Night is the messiah of all vampire films, or to anyone who feels the same way) why is it scary?