30 Days of Night
"Im a huge vampire fan," Niles said. "And in talking with Ben we wanted to make vampires scary again. I mean weve turned vampires into Count Chocula and teenage girls are dating them. Theyre not scary anymore. One thing Ben and I agreed on was that our vampires had to be feral vampires that look at humans as nothing more than something to feed on. "
The comic 30 Days of Night (IDW Publishing)
IDW Publishing, a San Diego based company, released 30 Days of Night and its sequels to great success. Now the story comes to the big screen by way of Sam Raimis horror label Ghost House Pictures. The films directed by David Slade who delivered the nasty Hard Candy back in 2005.
The film replaces the Inuit lead character of the comic with hunky Hollywood star Josh Harnett. Hartnett plays Eben, Barrow's Sheriff. Normally he doesn't have to deal with much of anything in his small town, but as night approaches for its annual 30 day stay, there's a sudden wave of crime. Someone has burned a pile of cell phones, the local sled dogs have all been slaughtered and a stranger promises more horrors to come. Those horrors arrive in the form of a pack of ancient vampires who see Barrow as a perfect place for winter feasting.
Visually, Slade stays close to the comic, especially when it comes to the violence.
"Violence is ugly and violence is horrible," Slade said. "And part of this film was a sense of reality, so when violent things happen, I didnt want to be cutting away. At the same time, I didnt want to be exploiting that violence. It just had to be there as a part of life. As a result there are some very nasty things that happen. Its important in a horror film where nasty and horrible things happen that they appear nasty and horrible and not superficially cheery, like Whoo-hoo, heads chomped off."
Silly humans in 30 Days of Night (Columbia Pictures)
Plenty of heads get chomped off and the film has no qualms about involving little children in the violence either. Slade does a great job of making the vampires feral creatures like they were in the comic. They hunt in packs and treat humans as mere livestock. These vampires are creepy and seem particularly clever and vicious.
Slade draws heavily on the comics for the visual look and style of the film but he fails on two key points: creating a sense of horror and making the humans sympathetic. First of all, for a film called 30 Days of Night, Slade overlights everything. Granted we need to be able to see what's going on but when all power to the town is cut and people are relying on generators, the town should really be darker or at least exist in eerie heavy shadows. Slade's visual style for the film never makes us feel like we're trapped in extended darkness. Like so many filmmakers, Slade seems afraid of using true blacks and deep, rich shadows because of how that might play on home TV screens down the road. This is a film about night and darkness that fails to create an appropriate atmosphere.
We also fail to feel what should be a growing sense of terror as the creatures reduce the population. The film jumps from the initial invasion to Day 7, then to Day 18, then to Day 27. We never feel the difficulty of just getting through each day. Part of the problem is that the vampires are made so powerful and effective in their opening scenes that we can't believe that anyone would survive past Day 1. I mean vampires that can pick up SUVs, leap through walls and smell the tiniest drop of blood should have no trouble tracking down a few humans. The vampires are too menacingly drawn for us to buy that they would be ineffective in killing the last few humans in the town. There was a certain point at which I was rooting for the vamps to just pick off those last humans more quickly so we could get to a movie just about them.
Vamp Danny Huston taunts his human bait in 30 Days of Night (Columbia Pictures)
Slade had succeeded in creating a very claustrophobic thriller in Hard Candy, so I thought he would be good at creating a tense horror film about people trapped in a small town for 30 days of night. But he makes the survival of the humans seem relatively easy so you never feel the tension and fear you should. But he does remain true to the comics' clever ending, which is good.
As a lover of the vampire genre, it truly saddens me that 30 Days of Night (rated R for strong horror violence and language) was not better. I loved the comics and was hopeful after the Comic-Con panel. But the bottom line is that Slade simply appears to have been the wrong director for the project. He approaches the material with a weighty somberness. I'm not asking for the tone to be jokey, but Slade has to let us know that he realizes how this film fits into the genre. There has to be an awareness about what references are being made. I have to admit that while watching the film I wondered what it would have been like if producer Sam Raimi had taken on directing the project. Oh well, I guess I will just have to look forward to the final chapter of the Russian vampire saga, Dusk Watch. Final analysis: vampires cool; humans suck. Go read the comic.
Companion viewing: Blade, The Addiction, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Lost Boys, Roman Polanskis The Fearless Vampire Killers or Pardon Me But Your Teeth are in My Neck