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[Audio] Andy Black Reviews Cinema International Film "What We Do in the Shadows"

Andy Black of the Murray State University English Department reviews American-New Zealand mockumentary horror comedy "What We Do In The Shadows," showing this weekend at MSU's Cinema International.

From Dracula by Bram Stoker: 

"Within, stood a tall old man, clean shaven save for a long white moustache and clad in black from head to foot, without a single speck of colour about him anywhere. He held in his hand an antique silver lamp, in which the flame burned without chimney or globe of any kind, throwing long quivering shadows as it flickered in the draught of the open door. The old man motioned me in with his right hand with a courtly gesture, saying in excellent English, but with a strange intonation:— “Welcome to my house! Enter freely and of your own will!”

That’s not the first time in the history of literature that we see a vampire, but this moment described by Jonathan Harker from Bram Stoker’s 1890's novel Dracula is the most iconic and significant. Vampires had hit the scene in James Malcolm Ryner’s not very scarily titled Varney the Vampire in the 1840s, and in the 1820s a doctor named John Pollidori wrote a play called The Vampyre. Vampires have their origins, not – as always suggested in the monstrous tyrant Vlad the Impaler (whom Stoker never mentions) – but in superstitions about But Stoker’s book was a smash hit, and every vampire story before and after has owed it a debt. But the description of Dracula here isn’t what we think – normally he’s a dark, romantic, handsome, even suave count whose female prey can be forgiven for being attracted to him. But here he’s an old, mustacheod man – he’s polite but not exactly enticing. Harker is turned off by him from the start.

That’s a sharp shift from the hunky and sexy vampires on True Blood and The Vampire Chronicles, or even Gary Oldman’s performance in the quote-unquote faithful 1992 film Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The most famous vampires of the last fifteen years or so – take ‘em or leave ‘em – are Wesley Snipes’ butt-kicking Blade and Robert Pattinson’s moody, sullen, beatific Edward from Twilight. Before that, we had the dashing and amoral Lestat from Interview with the Vampire, the angry punks of The Lost Boys, and the hip psychos of Near Dark. How did we get from the old and mustacheod Dracula to the young and brooding Edward Cullen?

The answer lies in adaptation – something, ironically enough, crucial to vampires themselves. In the 1920s, Dracula was adapted into a play that made the story even more of a hit. More important than its radical revision of the plot, the character of Dracula underwent a transformation from unremarkable old man to monster. It began in the American production of the play, when Bela Lugosi added an air of mystery and exotic otherness to his performance. The dark, thin Hungarian was strangely good-looking; he moved like a dancer. In Stoker’s novel, Dracula is nothing but villain. Lugosi made him darkly sympathetic, and – at least – more interesting than the Victorian lords and ladies who would end up hunting him. Thus began the curious tradition of rooting for Dracula in his quest to corrupt humanity because, hey, maybe humanity needed corrupting.

The remnants of Dracula could be seen in F.W. Murnau’s 1922 film Nosferatu, where the count is grotesque and looks like what can only be called a human rat. But the thing that makes vampires such an interesting subject is that they are the seemingly perfect mix between man and monster. Modern vampires are romantic, seductive, and radical – they’re fierce individualists whose rejection by society is made a virtue. Being a vampire means giving over to your lusts and darker fantasies and rejecting the societal conventions that see vampires as monsters. Vampires are now tragic, and they’re also fun. The struggle at the heart of being a vampire is a decision of whether or not plain old humanity has less to offer than becoming . . . a creature of the night. Even if vampire movies end with a character (as Mina Murray did in Stoker’s novel) escaping their vampiric state, Twilight is only the latest version of the narrative to suggest that being a vampire might be better than being human.

This weekend for Cinema International, join us for the wry, funny, and smart take on the vampire genre: What We Do In The Shadows. This movie about New Zealand vampires shows a couple of blokes having more fun than we do, but they also just want love, companionship, and to hang out with an IT guy named Stu. But they also get bored easily, which leads to bickering and complaining – which is to be expected from 200 year olds going stir crazy in a dilapidated castle. From the brilliant comic mind of Jemaine Clement – one half of the duo Flight of the ConchordsWhat We Do In The Shadows is a welcome, funny edition to vampire movies, and as smart in its own way as the best movies its making fun of. Bram Stoker would have liked it. But I don’t know about Dracula himself.

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