Vampires, Vampires Everywhere: Fright Night and Daybreakers Double Feature


Fright Night Daybreakers_poster


I don’t use the word “trounced” nearly as often as I should, so here goes. The base of vampire lore has been trounced by watered down literary and cinematic iterations of the iconic monsters. It was a process that’s happened over decades and reached it’s peak with the abysmal Twilight series. I understand the desire to use the, purely evil, monsters as sympathetic and mysterious protagonists, it was a concept that was original back in the day but has since become an increasingly common theme. I consider Dracula (the novel) my personal home base on how I view vampires and what rules they should follow (again, it’s a completely personal base, I understand people have complete creative license to display them however they want.) There is something entirely appealing to me in going “back to basics” when a particular genre or device has strayed so far from it’s origins. That’s why I would like to talk about two such movies in recent cinematic history that go back to basics and show that it works extremely well when done correctly. One is a drama the other is comedy, and both are, naturally, horrors.


      Fright Night is a 2011 remake of a 1980s horror comedy. The film centers around a high school student in Nevada who comes the conclusion that his new neighbor (Colin Farrell) not only has everything to do with the murders being committed in his community, but that he’s a full fledged vampire to boot. Naturally no one believes him, so he implores the help of Las Vegas magician, Peter Vincent (The 10th Doctor himself; David Tennant), whose entire show centers on him killing vampires (the stage kind, not the real kind). The film boasts an incredibly well cast array of actors to portray their respective roles. In particular Farrell plays a great quintessential vampire, he brings in the seductive nature that has been a real winner for screen vampires over the years, but must abide by all the old rules, including not being able to enter homes without being invited. Tennant also brings his magnificent charm to the film as a grittier, jaded and more crass version of the titular Doctor that he successfully brought back into the lime-lite.


Switching gears to Daybreakers, we’re treated to a much darker, almost noir film about vampirism being a disease that, with few exceptions, the entire world has succumbed to. The plague, rather than being a curse, is viewed as the key to eternal youth. Those that become infected become vampires in every sense of the word. They can’t go into the sunlight, they have no reflection and they have an insatiable lust for human blood. Ethan Hawke plays Edward Dalton, one of the few Vampires that regrets his transformation. He works tirelessly to create a synthetic form of blood in order to sustain the population. The world’s supply of human blood is dwindling, with a deficiency of the crucial food source, the populace slowly starts to mutate into horrific monsters with no self control. Those that haven’t been infected find themselves hunted and put into farms where their blood is humanely harvested. The film becomes a race to find a cure when Dalton meets up with a group of rebels led by a man that claims to have been infected but accidentally cured himself.


Both films have very different tones, despite sharing such a huge central force. Fright Night allows for plenty of gross out and slapstick humor throughout the whole film, while Daybreakers has very little humor; rather it takes a slick and cool approach, every frame is beautiful and futuristic, giving a glimpse into an evil society that is cutting edge on the surface but rotting from within. Fright Night’s take on the genre offers a single threat to the larger community, conversely Daybreakers is just the opposite. The two are easily grouped together being “vampire movies” but their separate approaches to the story is refreshing to see. However the similarities that they do share is what set them apart from most of the vampire drivel that’s cursed the audience lately.


In both movies, the idea of vampires is established as an evil that is forced to abide to certain rules that resonate strongly throughout the history of vampiric lore. Sure, Daybreakers allows room for some sympathy among the Vampires, Dalton doesn’t drink human blood and hates what he’s become, but the majority of the populace has completely turned into near amoral monsters. Though Daybreakers is more dramatic and serious, I can respect Fright Night more for it’s strict guidelines for following those rules. Fright Night gives us a purely evil vampire. His demeanor is closer to that of Edward from Twilight but far better in that he uses his natural ability to attract women purely as a method of obtaining a meal, and he uses his smolder as a form of humor instead of trying to impress the audience. He is smooth and calculating in his ability to gain the trust of his neighbors, and he is ruthless when he turns into his monster self.


Rarely do you find two films that are simultaneously incredibly different and incredibly similar. Both have managed to rise above the white noise generated by the vampire sub-genre. They stick true to what literally everyone knows about vampires, while each taking their own creative license to make something original, funny, exciting and interesting. Daybreakers proves itself to be a dark and visually impressive dystopian noir with plenty of blood and gore. Fright Night uses cleaver writing and exciting action sequences to provide a tense and hilarious horror comedy. Their respective world building allows the viewer to experience a vastly different array of emotions, which is a large part of why these movies stand out. It’s not that we necessarily needed to have more vampire movies pumped into the over saturated market, it’s that it is refreshing to see them done, not only right, but well.


The Orphanage

The foundation for modern horror films can often be linked directly to two elements; 1) Shock: Movies that set out to scare people often rely heavily on the jump-out-of-the-dark-and-yell-real-loud types of scares. While often very effective, they ultimately leave one shaken for only a few seconds. If it’s not the AH!” type of shock, it’s shock through excessive use of  2) Violence: Violence and the gore that goes along with it is almost a necessity in the horror genre. It’s amazing how many franchises are built around the concept of how gruesome and creative a death can be. It is because of this standardization of violence in horror films that the audience has become desensitized to the point that it inflicts a sense of light repulsion, but a very small amount of fear. With shock and violence being the two largest ingredients, it’s important not to forget the others. Atmosphere, music and acting. These tend to take a back seat in the modern horror market. While the genre is fun, it all too often leaves one unfulfilled in their search for fear. A deep understanding of where fear stems from is needed to make an exceptional horror movie. It must be patient, laying the groundwork in which the seeds of fear can germinate in the minds of those viewers willing to engage with it. Violence, shock and gore can certainly be used, but their use is secondary to it’s primary objective; the objective to make people afraid. The Orphanage is an exceptional horror movie.

The 2009 Spanish horror film produced by Guillermo Del Toro follows a woman, Laura, who is haunted by a group of childlike specters. Our protagonist returns to the orphanage in which she grew up, in order to renovate it into a home for disabled children. Laura is forced to face the consequences of her sons “imaginary friend”. Her son, Simon, runs away with this imaginary friend, leaving the remainder of the movie to be comprised of the search for both Simon and the truth of what happened to Laura’s childhood companions. The film is a classic ghost story with a haunting atmosphere and cinematography that more than adequately conveys the sense of gut-wrenching terror that is so familiar with losing someone you love. The film has a dark and supernatural tone. The ghost-children haunt Laura, not in a way that is violent or even all that malicious (though certainly scary). For the most part they haunt her just to play with her, sending her on a scavenger hunt that leads to a truth that lies in the past. The thought of losing a child, even in temporary situations like having them wander off while at the grocery store, is a powerful emotion. Even if you don’t have children of your own, you are no doubt familiar with the sensation, perhaps you were the child that wandered off. This is the sensation that gradually grows throughout the film, however instead of finding the child just around the corner, Laura is led on journey that becomes a steady descent into something truly horrifying.

This is not your scare-a-minute horror film, a fact that becomes apparent by some slow pacing towards the center of the movie. It’s a slow-burning horror that allows the viewer to become familiar with and learn to care about the characters. It’s more of an assault of the idea of terror rather than the actions associated with it. We’re not watching teens get slashed up on a camping trip in the woods; we’re observing something terrifying being discovered piece by tiny piece. We feel the fear in Laura as her fear turns to desperation and her desperation into horror. The Orphanage is one of the most emotionally  powerful films of it’s genre to come along in recent memory. There is no tongue-in-cheek humor; there is just fear, which is something increasingly hard to find in movies by these days.