If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s a shitty vampire movie. I’ve gone over this before in my reviews of A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Only Lovers Left Alive, and What We Do In The Shadows, all three of which are very good additions to the subgenre. These movies are all very different to each other, with vampires being one of the only two elements that connects them. This is the sign of a very flexible subgenre within horror, something I hadn’t explicitly considered before, though in saying that, I have maintained for years that horror itself is perhaps the most flexible of any of the genres. I feel that there are very few aspects of the human condition that cannot be explored within it, and it is my preferred genre to write in exactly because of that.
Specifically why I tend to focus on vampire movies is explained well enough by the three movies I mentioned – despite their very big differences, they remain first and foremost vampire movies. To this list I also add Let The Right One In, Near Dark, and George Romero’s Martin – another three movies wildly different from each other, as they are from the three I already mentioned. So here are six movies, all critical successes, and another pattern emerges. Easy to think it is violence, but deeper than that, more affecting, is melancholy. Each of these movies expresses at some point, whether through action or dialogue, a sense of deep personal sadness manifested through guilt, isolation, loss. In short, the best vampire movies have strong depth of character pertaining to the vampire’s self-perception, and the cost of the condition.
Of course, the Hammer movies had very little of that. Beyond the classier Christopher Lee Dracula movies, the Hammer productions were strictly about blood, sex, and violence. There’s a place for that kind of movie, and I have a lot of love for the best of them, but they’re exercises in style over substance, thrills over introspection, titillation over story and character. One of those movies stands out in the context of this review: 1970’s The Vampire Lovers, an erotic update of the classic Sheridan Le Fanu story Carmilla, starring Ingrid Pitt in her breakout role, and Madeline Smith. Bold in its time for showcasing some pretty daring scenes of lesbian sex in a mainstream movie, The Vampire Lovers created the trope of the lesbian vampire, which has survived to this day as a mostly lazy way to sell a bad movie. Going hand in hand with the trope of the “lipstick lesbian”, it dispenses with the need for character and motivation. “Hot girl on girl action” is now so commonplace you get to see it network TV dramas, and even in movie trailers. So daring, right?! While I’m not one to underappreciate the appeal of it, as a moviewatcher I just need more than fake, audience-manipulation sex.
Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all there is to see in the remake of Vampyres. I’ve seen the 1974 original twice – once in my teens when I literally only watched it for the sex scenes, and again maybe about ten years ago when I wanted to see if it was better than I remembered it (it wasn’t). I actually didn’t hear about the remake until a few weeks ago, and only then because I was doing a little research for a short story I’m about to start in the next week or so. The image was of two naked girls in a bath, kissing, covered in blood – and that was the movie poster! I was more intrigued by the remake aspect than the skin, but I appreciated the image too because of the visceral quality. Eroticism and horror can work together very well – it mostly doesn’t because both elements are unbalanced in favour of the sex. I thought with today’s sensibilities a serious moviemaker could take a piece of exploitative schlock like the original and put a modern, character-driven spin on it. I approached the remake with a hope that it could turn out to be like the original Martyrs. After all, why remake a movie if you don’t plan on making it better?
A good question, and clearly one that the moviemakers hadn’t asked of themselves beforehand. Vampyres 2015 follows the same plot of the original: two lesbian vampires live a secluded life in the English countryside, and make victims of any who happen to stray their way. This production, however, rarely rises to the level of competence, however. The vampire couple, while alluring, are played by actresses (Marta Flich and Almudena Leon) that can barely act, and their delivery is gruesome to listen to. Part of that may be due to English not being their native language, but there’s no feeling behind any of it. They seem to exist in the movie purely to be “sexy vampires”, but other than looking good without clothes they have very little sexual appeal. Also, they lack the fundamental element of what makes a great vampire movie – pathos. There is literally no depth to either of these characters. Unfortunately, that criticism also falls upon every other character in the movie, who are either woodenly portrayed by the actor, or terribly written by the writers. Many of the scenes and motivations make absolutely no sense whatsoever, even for a horror movie. Early on, the female protagonist Harriet (Veronica Polo) is greatly concerned about missing friends, but after that makes no mention of them. Ted (Christian Stamm), a bumbling fool if there ever was one, has numerous chances to escape but somehow never manages to actually try. A couple who realize they are in peril from unseen forces decide to spend the night in a tent right in the middle of it all. It’s all so terribly realized and painful at times to watch.
The only time the movie comes alive is when the vampires show some glee when mentally torturing a victim, finally showing that they possess some interests beyond getting naked and making out, drenched in blood. By then, the movie has petered out to a mostly embarrassing piece of underwritten, underperformed hackwork. If naked lesbians are your thing, chances are you already get your fix from less subdued material, and it’s literally the only part of this movie that is even of passing interest. For all that, the movie is still technically more of a horror movie than just a simple soft core porn knockoff, but that’s about the most complimentary that I can get.
© Andrew Hope, 2017
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