Reading the Screen: The Shocking Tooth About Vampire Movies, Part Two
Posted by: David Pitt
In Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire (1976), a vampire tells his story — two centuries’ worth of love, hatred, life, death, and pulse-pounding excitement — to a young reporter. Rice puts her own spin on the vampire mythology, creating some truly memorable characters (primarily Louis and Lestat, the book’s central vampires) and telling the story in rich, elegant prose that is only very occasionally turgid.
The 1994 film version was directed by Neil Jordan. You know him best as the director of The Crying Game, but he also did The Company of Wolves (1984), a sort of revisionist werewolf story based on a trio of short stories in Angela Carter’s 1979 anthology The Bloody Chamber, and he was a perfect choice to turn Rice’s atmospheric novel into a movie.
Critics — those who didn’t like the movie, anyway — focused on the performances of Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise (as Louis and Lestat), and their ghoulish appearance, but they ignored something a lot more relevant: the movie is a solid, remarkably faithful adaptation of the novel. That might have something to do with the fact that Rice has screenplay credit. Here’s a look at the movie:
Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend has been made into a few movies: The Last Man on Earth (1964), The Omega Man (1971), I am Legend (2007), and I Am Omega (also 2007). I haven’t seen the last one, which is apparently an Australian straight-to-DVD release, but the other three are fun, and you should check them out.
But please, if you like a good vampire story, please read the book. It’s not very long, but oh boy is it scary. Matheson, who also wrote The Shrinking Man and Bid Time Return (both of which got turned into movies, by the way), was a genius at putting ordinary people into extraordinary situations — in Legend, a man finds himself the only survivor of a pandemic that has turned the citizens of Los Angeles into vampire-like creatures — and if you haven’t read the book you’ve really been missing out. It’s better than all of the movies: its plot is sharper, its protagonist vastly more interesting, its terror more vivid.
Then, of course, there’s ‘Salem’s Lot, Stephen King’s brilliant 1975 novel about a writer who discovers a vampire has moved into town. For my money it’s still King’s best novel: creepy, visceral, dark, funny, the stuff of nightmares.
The book has been made into two television miniseries. The first, in 1979, was directed by Tobe Hooper (after The Texas Chainsaw Massacre but before Poltergeist) and starred David Soul, James Mason, and the incredible Reggie Nalder as Barlow, the ancient vampire. Once you get a look at him, you won’t soon — if ever — forget him. I mean, take a look at the guy:
Like I said: the stuff of nightmares.
1994′s miniseries replaces Soul and Mason (who are both excellent) with Rob Lowe and Donald Sutherland (who are, um, fine). Instead of the massively frightening Reggie Nalder we have Rutger Hauer. I’m a big fan of Hauer, but there’s no way he can compete with Nalder. In fact there’s no way this pedestrian remake can compete with Hooper’s masterpiece, which is not only a splendid miniseries, but a first-class adaptation of a splendid novel.
By the way: if Nalder looks kinda familiar there, it’s probably because he looks uncannily like Max Schreck, in F.W. Murnau’s classic Nosferatu (1922). Which was, of course, an unauthorized adaptation of Dracula.
There’s more — lots more — we could talk about, and maybe we’ll come back to this subject somewhere down the road. For now, we’ll end, as so many things in life do, with an Elvis joke:
How did Van Helsing know the guy in the sequined jumpsuit wasn’t really Elvis? Because the guy said, “Fang you. Fang you very much.”