Looking for Scares in All the Wrong Places

Recently I realized that I could break down my movie tastes into a simple equation:

Movie + Vampire – Love Story = Awesome.

Now you can replace the vampire with a werewolf, a horde of zombies, or a guy in rubber suit stomping on a model of a city, and I’ll still be happy.  I love my monsters, and when I sit down to watch them I want a few simple things:

  1. The monsters want to kill a human or a group of humans.  I watch these movies to experience fear.
  2. That the monsters are inhuman.  The best monster movies are the ones where you look at the thing and your gut tells you something is wrong that it shouldn’t exist.
  3. If the movie fails to scare me, it at least makes me laugh.

I was once willing to rent any film—major studio productions, foreign releases, straight to video and so on—because I never knew what surprising little gems I’d find.  The Subspecies series is awesome even if it’s campy, and while Never Cry Werewolf totally ripped off Fright Night it was fun.

However, that has changed with the popularity of a certain supernatural romance series that I shall not name here.  Vampires, werewolves and zombies are now presented as being emotional distraught romantic leads instead of something that you need to run from.  This change has been a long time coming.  Back in the days of my adolescence, I scoured the library for books on vampires and werewolves (this was before the recent Zombie renaissance).  Innocently I picked up books like Blood and Chocolate only to throw them at the wall in frustration.  I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with the supernatural romance genre (other than finding stalking behavior romantic), but I’m not fan of the genre.  When I pick up a book that is labeled as horror,  I want something that at least tries to frighten me.

I ended up reading folktales.  While most  these tales, as recorded by scholars, won’t scare you, they are, at least, genuinely uncanny.  I remember reading one were the woman discovered that a man was one of the undead, because he had the feet of a rooster and was munching on corpses.  These vampires rarely reside in castles or wear tailored clothes, but they are dangerous, otherworldly, and maybe a little smelly.  They are silly at times, which is fine.  As stated in the above list, if a monster does not scare me it at least needs to be funny.

I’ve noticed a few internet critics complain about the weird rules that people have in vampire films.  Suddenly they can’t cross running water or must obsessively count seeds.  The critics call bullshit, and complain about these new random rules.  Well, the thing is the filmmaker actually did some research; those rules come from folklore.  That’s right, the Count from Sesame Street is straight from the old legends.  If you want to know how silly those tales can get, just take a look at Cecil Adam’s Straight Dope article on the best ways to kill a vampire.  My favorite method on the list is the lemon in the mouth.

The other day I was delighted to discover the film Strigoi.  Strigoi by the way is the Romanian word for vampire.  In the film you enter the life of Romanian village that has recently developed a vampire problem.  The titular monsters are unsettling and threatening. This movie is not interested in cool actions scenes, over the top gore or suave creatures, but it does present story that reflects the often forgotten folklore.  While there are no straight out scares, it is creepy and darkly funny.  The best part of this film: no love story!


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