The HFA marathon is a wonderful blend of arty and popular films that span the decades and feature bloodsuckers.
By Peg Aloi
Leave it to the Harvard Film Archive to create Night of the Vampire, a marathon program of vampire films to memorably usher in the new school year (metaphors of greed, immortality, parasitism, seduction, and brutality may or may not apply). The slate of offerings begin tonight at 7 p.m. tonight and run straight through Sunday. (Why would you have a vampire movie marathon during daylight hours? Beware the sun!) The line-up offers a wonderful blend of arty and popular films that span the decades. The schedule is below, with some commentary from me on why these vamp movies are delicious and mesmerizing.
Directed by Lambert Hillyer. With Otto Kruger, Gloria Holden, Marguerite Churchill
US 1936, 35mm, b/w, 72 min
Classic terror in black and white: the daughter of Count Dracula seeks the help of a psychiatrist to free her from her dark desires! Gorgeous cinematography, wonderful Freudian imagery, and over-the-top acting help kick off this marathon in style.
Horror of Dracula
Directed by Terence Fisher. With Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough
UK 1958, 35mm, color, 82 min
Is Christopher Lee the best Dracula of all time? Well, he certainly played the role enough times, hitting his stride in the campy but hauntingly beautiful 1970s fare from the Hammer Studios. The color here is gaudier than one might expect (then again, it’s Universal) but the terror is top-notch, and Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing versus Lee’s Dracula is as sublime a classic horror cinema pairing as you’re likely to find anywhere.
Directed by Tony Scott. With Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, Susan Sarandon
US 1983, 35mm, color, 97 min
One of my favorite films of the 1980s! I had a black and white poster of David Bowie playing the cello in my dorm room in college; it was a still from a film (though it’s in glorious color!). Notorious for its music video aesthetics and its erotic content, the movie’s use of music and costumes is also stunning to behold. And seeing Deneuve, Bowie (whose performance is subtle and heartbreaking), and Sarandon get naked with each other, well, it’s not hard on the eyes.
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow. With Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen
US 1987, 35mm, color, 95 min
This entry helped make the 1980s the decade of cool vampire flicks. They can’t show them all, so it’s nice this one made the cut. A handsome drifter (Pasdar) meets a cute vampire (Wright) and his life changes…forever! Lance Henriksen (pre-Millennium and Dead Man days) is, as usual, a terrifying the vampire patriarch.
Directed by Michael Almereyda. With Elina Löwensohn, Peter Fonda, Suzy Amis
US 1995, 35mm, b/w, 92 min
Stylish, slyly humorous, and beautifully shot in black and white, I first saw this at the HFA in front of a really annoying guy who thought he should make loud inane commentary throughout. I remember what he said when he saw Peter Fonda make his first appearance: “He looks like an aging drag queen.” My thought at that moment was, “Oh, my, what a beautiful man.” Löwensohn is captivating in the lead role.
Trouble Every Day
Directed by Claire Denis. With Vincent Gallo, Tricia Vessey, Béatrice Dalle
France/Germany/Japan 2001, 35mm, color, 101 min. French & English with English subtitles
Is it about vampires, or cannibals? Could it be they are just really hungry vampires? This one is erotic and gruesome, folks; it has generated its share of controversy for its intense violence and not-so-subtle social commentary. But it’s visually intriguing (stark yet dreamy at times) and has a killer soundtrack.
Directed by Park Chan-Wook. With Song Kang-Ho, Kim Ok-Bin, Kim Hae-Suk
South Korea 2009, 35mm, color, 133 min. Korean, English & French with English subtitles
The plot is unusual and complex: a priest volunteers for a medical experiment that goes horribly wrong, and he is turned into a vampire. But even in his new bloodthirsty state he has a priest’s morals. This intense, beautiful film won the Jury Prize at Cannes.
I applaud anyone who makes it through this scrumptious marathon! And I wish you a delicious breakfast afterwards, at a sunny café in Harvard Square.
Peg Aloi is a former film critic for The Boston Phoenix. She taught film and TV studies for ten years at Emerson College, and currently teaches at SUNY New Paltz. Her reviews also appear regularly online for The Orlando Weekly and Diabolique. Her long-running media blog “The Witching Hour” has recently been moved to a new domain: themediawitch.com