Since the silent film era, the vampire myth has provided inspiration to great filmmakers. The myriad aspects of the legend to exploit provide the point of view for each film, whether it is the horror, the romance, or the existential angst of being fully aware of one’s own immortality. Certainly it is the latter of those facets that inspired prolific American filmmaker Jim Jarmusch with his most recent film, “Only Lovers Left Alive,” which opens tonight at Cinema Center and stars Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, as vampires going through a bit of a ‘what-does-it-all-mean’ period.
Being a bit of an eclectic director, drawing on influences from postwar Japanese dramas, as well as a bit of Shakespeare, and the lives of his rock star friends, Jarmusch has found a way to bring a completely fresh take on the vampire story. And because of that, he has also directed one of the coolest additions to the genre. After catching “Only Lovers Left Alive” this weekend at Cinema Center, take some time to go back to these interesting building blocks to the great wall that is the modern vampire film tradition available on Netflix streaming.
This silent film classic created the impact of almost every vampire motif that lasts to this day. When the Bram Stoker estate would not grant filmmaker F.W. Murnau permission to adapt “Dracula” to the big screen, he took matters into his own hands and renamed the characters and filmed it anyway. Max Schreck’s Count Orlok is the placeholder for Dracula, and never has the classic monster been so scary. Using lighting to elongate shadows, the creepy factor goes off the charts, while maintaining a beauty to the images.
The adaptation of Sergei Lukyanenko’s novel of the same name, was a huge blockbuster in its native Russia. The story is complicated, but basically everything breaks down to a secret truce between the warriors of Light and the forces of Darkness, and how the agreement is falling apart in modern day Russia. The scenes where these armies battle each other have never looked like anything else in a vampire film. This film should be appreciated for its strong visuals, as the narrative falls apart as the film progresses. Even the subtitles are incorporated into the imagery, not wasting any space on the screen.
“From Dusck Till Dawn” does not seem like a vampire movie. When director Robert Rodriguez read the script by Quentin Tarantino (who also stars in the film alongside George Clooney, Juliette Lewis, and Harvey Keitel), he dedicated himself to realizing it because he loved how much the film would have a “Pyscho”-ish feel in its storytelling. The movie begins like a lot of Rodriguez and Tarantino films do, with tough guys, played by Clooney and Tarantino, in over there heads after a robbery gone wrong results in them taking a hostage. The first half of the film is just about the duo hijacking an RV with Keitel’s family behind the wheel, into Mexico. Once they get over the border, things just get crazy, as the criminals and captives must become allies in a roadhouse full of bloodthirsty vampires. The film is silly in a lot of the ways that comic book movies, and vampire movies, used to be, and the practical effects still hold up in much the way they do in old George Romero films.
Jonah Crismore is Cinema Center’s Executive Director and always in a state of existential angst.
“Only Lovers Left Alive” opens Friday, June 6th, at 9:15pm.