‘Daybreakers’: Putting the bite into noir

Oh, I used to love vampires, back in the days of Christopher Lee, and have watched them done, and re-done, and re-done again over the years — each incarnation increasingly whiny, emo, and pathetically annoying. It’s been sliding downhill since the angsty Lestat and Louis, to the current … well, I shall not even utter the dreaded “T word.” But it’s pretty much remained a variation of the same old thing, vampire meets girl (or boy in Anne Rice’s case), vampire falls for girl, girl almost falls for vampire but is saved from turning at the last minute or turned back by some miracle. Vampire possibly or possibly not killed, depending on if the studio wants a sequel. I would have sworn no one could find a new twist.

I was wrong.

In “Daybreakers” the credits open with a desolate, apocalyptic cityscape, setting an all too familiar mood we’ve seen many times. But then the shades come up as the sun falls, and the city starts swingin’… this is a world where vamps rule the roost, and damn, they got style, baby, if in a rather cold, neo-noir kind of way. I was expecting “Blade,” but this is far more “Bladerunner,” right down to their glinty eyes.

Right away I knew this was going to be eye candy, but would it have substance, even with a heavy hitter like Willem Dafoe? And despite Ethan Hawke, who I have never been particularly moved by?

Hawke plays Edward Dalton, a somewhat angsty vampire (sigh) who also happens to be a hematologist shackled with the enormous responsibility of finding a blood substitute to save both vampires and humans alike. And, oh yeah … they need that by, like, next week. ‘Cause otherwise, if they drain the last of the human blood supply, not only do humans go extinct, but vampires get to mutate into some decidedly un-stylish, bat-crazy creatures that scare even the vamps. And with good reason.

Of course, Edward is sensitive and sympathizes with humans, and is a vampire vegetarian – he doesn’t do human blood, dammit! But then, being a vampire is a bit of a touchy subject with him, as he was turned against his will by his brother Frankie (Michael Dorman), a (little too) gung-ho soldier in the vampire military, who now specializes in hunting humans. There’s some dynamic tension for you.

After Edward gets tangled up and sympathetic with a group of humans, you get the usual romantic sideline, but unlike other vampire films, instead of him turning her, she is intent on helping him turn back to human form. And finding a cure for that whole vampire plague thing.

What does make this film different from most vampire movies is not only the noirish styling, but that someone finally explored on film the idea of vampires in crisis at the risk of running out of human blood. It is still a somewhat romanticized version of vampires, at least the non-mutated ones, but with a bit more of an edge than their frou-frou Victorian counterparts. And those nauseating emo teens falling in love. So maybe part of the reason I liked the movie is because I have to admit I set the bar pretty low for expectations as soon as you say the “V word.”

As expected, Willem Dafoe is a bit of a scene stealer, as a former vampire with a redneck drawl and a love of vintage hotrods. His name is Lionel, but you can call him Elvis – that sort of says it all, don’t you think? And Hawke is okay, which sounds like a slight, but my neutrality toward him is a step in the right direction. His performance isn’t Oscar material, but I didn’t particularly dislike it either, save the odd moments here and there.

“Daybreakers” is certainly one of the most stylish vamp flicks to roll around in a while, with a little dark humor, and a fresh twist in the usual vampire flick plot lines. I’m not sure of it’s long term place in the grand scheme of the genre, but maybe it will usher in a new neo-noir vampire trend. That would surely make the whole genre visually exciting again, and hopefully teen-free.

Let’s just hope if there’s a “Daybreakers 2″ it doesn’t star Robert Pattinson.

 

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The ‘Twilight’ hater’s guide to manly vampire movies

Brace yourself for the mad hordes descending on malls everywhere in a few days at the stroke of midnight. Expect a deadly stampede as the doors open to the most anticipated day in November, at least if you’re pre-pubescent or simply have no taste in men.

I’m not talking about Black Friday, silly, but “Twilight” Thursday. Yes, Thursday at midnight is the official launch of yet another installment of the cash cow, I mean, masterful study of the duality of man and how he (or she, as it were) comes to grip with the eternal question that haunts us all: vampire boy or werewolf boy?

Frankly, I can’t understand what’s taking so long because werewolf boy is way hotter than that whiny emo fang-boy. Of course, I also can’t understand why all those immortals and bad doggy types are so obsessed with one mopey chick from Seattle. But hey, that’s me. And if you’re reading this, it’s probably you, too.

For those of you who aren’t anxiously awaiting the next soap opera installment, I present you with some alternatives you can watch at home without the pricey popcorn and soda. Or the swooning 11-year-olds. Invite all your friends over and have an anti-“Twilight” party, and remind yourself of a time when vampires were manly and didn’t sparkle in the sun like diamonds, but ripped people to shreds and exploded into a thousand bloody pieces before your very eyes when the sunlight hit ’em — as a freakin’ vampire should.

Let’s start the party with the king of them all: Christopher Lee. Lee ain’t playing around when he sets his sights on a girl. There’s no courtship or waiting till you’re married. He stares you down and takes command in a way that screams “who’s your daddy now”? Hey, just because you’re the undead doesn’t mean you don’t still need to be a man’s-man, and Lee knows how to show those chicas who’s boss. Check out “Horror of Dracula” for how to do the vampire-as-ladies-man schtick right. But don’t show it to your impressionable daughters, if you know what I mean. Or if you do, don’t complain about the guys she brings home.

Next I recommend a little more action — and a lot more blood. Let’s see how bad those nasty vamps can be in “30 Days of Night.” This film just might hold the title of scariest vampires of all time, even more than “Nosferatu.” Mean, nasty, and seriously fugly, they rampage a remote Alaskan town in the grip of one of those infamous extended periods of night.

Being based on a comic book, you know it’s bound to be visually stunning. The movie may be eye candy, but in that town with those vampires, being pretty won’t save you, or even being a loyal servant. They ferociously butcher everything in sight. With the large body count, this movie also has serious drinking game potential.

After the big action and gore of “30 Days,” let’s visit a seriously underrated vampire film by a then-unknown director named Kathryn Bigelow, who went on to win an Oscar for directing “The Hurt Locker.” “Near Dark” features Lance Henriksen among a cast the former Mrs. James Cameron borrowed from her ex-husband’s films. And let’s face it, it’s hard to get more macho than Henriksen, who plays the patriarch of a sick “family” of drifter vampires in what Bigelow dubbed her attempt to make a vampire western.

I wish all my “attempts” were half as successful. The honky-tonk bar massacre is especially brutal, and if you haven’t seen this one, you need to rent it — nay, buy it — now. Right now.

Now, to finish the night, let’s take the vampire western to extremes, and who knows more about extremes than Quentin Tarantino. That’s right, let’s finish the evening with “From Dusk Till Dawn.” Tarantino, George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, Salma Hayek, Tom Savini, and the delightfully twisted Juliette Lewis. Booze, broads, and bloody vamp action in a bar in the middle of Nowhere, Mexico. Those stripper vamps would tear all the “Twilight” bloodsuckers to pieces with one hand tied behind their backs. And half-naked to boot. Can it get any better than that? That’s a rhetorical question, boys, because I know y’all know the answer to that one.

So come Thursday, send the girls out to the mall and invite the boys over for some real vampire action in the man cave.