‘Night’ hits the jugular

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Vampires are the big screen’s oldest horror icons. From the moment Max Schrenk reared his ugly fangs in F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu” way back in 1922 (which was not the first vampire film, by the way, just the most iconic of the silent era), to the caped Bela Lugosi lurching in the shadows, to the more recent addition of Russian vampires in the “Night Watch” trilogy, those pesky artery-tappers just keep coming back for more.

But let’s face it, on recent on American screens, the figure that was the focus for many a nightmare, has become as threatening as Count Chocula.

Campy, overproduced (and digitally enhanced) films like “Vampires,” “Helsing” and “Underworld” have – pardon the expression – sucked all the life out of the franchise.

And while “30 Days of Night” does not reinvent the genre, it certainly restores its bite.

All right, I’m sorry. There is something about vampire films that brings out the puns, but that is a testament to just how common – and tired– a genre it has become.

Much like Zack Snyder did to zombies with his 2004 remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” director David Slade (“Hard Candy”) makes vampires an object of fear, rather than bogging them down with centuries-old lore and legend.

They race with the speed of a speeding car.

They leap with the agility of a squirrel in a tree.

And, most importantly, the attack with the ferocity of a famished crocodile.

There’s little new, storywise, except for a rather intriguing concept, courtesy of screenwriter Steve Niles’ graphic novel on which the film was based. In the town of Barrow, Alaska, the sun sets for a month, in which many a resident packs their belongings and heads for more hospitable climes. The remaining denizens hunker down for the requisite chilly temps and blustery weather that pervades the particular period of time.

Unfortunately for them, Dopplar radar can pick up systems of high and low pressure, but comes up short on blood pressure. For a roving syndicate of suckers have slapped themselves in their centuries-old foreheads, realizing this locale is a veritable buffet for their bloodlust.

The town is left under the guard of Sheriff Eben Oleson (his last name an anagram for no sole, Italian for “no sun”… or English for “no underside of the feet,” but the latter’s not as spooky, really). He and a few choice neighbors decide to ride out the darkness together. He is joined by his estranged wife, his younger brother and a group of ethnically diverse soon-to-be vampire fodder (sorry, I don’t think I’m spoiling this for anyone).

As stated before, the story is secondary to the carnage. And during these 30 days, heaps of hemoglobin are sprayed across the screen. Interestingly, while there are some memorable scenes of gore (axes – they’re not just for breakfast, anymore!), the majority of the violence is relegated to off-camera sounds of cracking and squishing.

The cast is serviceable, with Josh Harnett taking the lead as the town’s sheriff and impromptu vampire hunter. As the town begins to shutter its doors for the month, he happens upon a strange series of crimes – a heap of burned cellphone, the murder of the town’s population of sled dogs and the arrival of a grubby, babbling, shifty soothsayer (played by Ben Foster).

Before long, the tow is besieged by these unwanted visitors, who, unlike their cinematic brethren, are not witty wordsmiths or tortured romantics. They are a wolf pack – circling, waiting and ready to pounce. And while these nimble little humanoids can deliver quite the cinematic shock, they can be quite goofy to behold.

They’re all given names and their own little vampiric dialect ( a mix between what appears to be Hebrew and Swahili), but I remember them only for their closest Hollywood doppleganger. There’s Marilyn Manson Vampire, a skinny little goth kid that looks as though he’s dressed up for a Cure concert; Angry Samoan Vampire, who seems to be better suited for a steel cage match with Stone Cold Steve Austin; and Wednesday Addams Vampire, who first appears all cute n’ cuddly before baring her fangs.

They are led by elder statesman of the undead, Marlow, who is played by Danny Houston. Those familiar with film will undoubtedly recognize Huston, who has played scurvy businessmen in the past and looks like he was ejected from “The Apprentice – Vampire Edition.”

But director Slade does not spend too much time with getting to know this morbid motley crew and wisely keeps them in the shadows until it’s killing time.

And that is what “30 Days” is most skilled at – following these relentless jackals as they corral and pounce on their prey.

For those seeking a little more than the tired, hemorrhaging horror offerings this Halloween, “30 Days of Night” draws first blood.

~ by usesoapfilm on October 22, 2007.

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