Vampire flicks come and go; the mythology itself seems to fall in and out of fashion with abandon. As my colleague Aimée noted recently, “Vampire stories aren’t about seduction and surrender anymore; they’re about blood.” (I’m paraphrasing) And it’s true. For the Victorians, the urge of sexual surrender was so strong and so taboo that only a “creature of the night” could enthrall a woman into giving in to him and enjoying arousal (such as the tender kiss on the neck).
But today’s vampire mythos has been revolutionized over and over again. In The Hunger (early 80s), David Bowie and Catherine Denueve seduce a boyish-looking Susan Sarandon into exploring some lesbitronic love action, which then was a compelling form of taboo surrender. Abel Ferrara’s haunting and brilliant The Hunger appeared at a time when heroin chic was robbing the culture (again) of our most talented musicians and made the link between drug addiction and blood lust that culminated in one of the most atrociously wonderful orgies of violence ever filmed—in celebration of a doctoral defense!
And today we have 30 Days of Night. It’s hard to make a film about blood that doesn’t call upon the AIDS crisis in some way, I think, and vampirism as an infectious disease is a metaphor we’ve seen before. But here, in this new film, I think vampirism has become a form of terrorism.
The isolated, nearly-uninhabitable town of Barrow, Alaska stands in for post-9/11 America in the film. Residents prepare to leave as their titular 30 days of night, a time of complete isolation for these residents, begins to fall. But something strange is happening: a pile of burned cell phones is found on the outskirts of town. The power is cut and all other telecommunications and data services go out. The town is, effectively, removed from the rest of the world as America itself has become increasingly politically rogue in its pursuit of terrorist cells. Who can we call for help now? No one’s listening.
The vampires rely on secrecy and disinformation to do their work. “It took us centuries to convince them we were just a bad dream,” the leader tells his army. “There can be no survivors.” American government would have us believe that terrorist cells run on this same philosophy. But are these vampires really so much like our goverment’s top enemies? These vampires behead their victims, plain and simple, to prevent them from “turning.” This strange departure from the traditional vampire lore is significant today, after we have been broadcast on the internet our own citizens beheaded by terrorists. It wasn’t so long ago.
The nature of the vampires’ modus operandi ties them to the communicated notions of insurgency. Although we are led to believe that insurgents are a small band of poorly trained civilians, they are in fact a fairly sophisticated form of guerilla warfare (itself a loaded term: guerilla is in the eye of the colonizer). And the vampires don’t break through doors with their teeth bared; they wait. They hunt. They attack swiftly, quietly, and efficiently. One shot in the film pans over the entire town, showing in horrifying omniscient detail how the attacks have disabled nearly every resident. Bodies litter the ground as attacks continue. Humans run for escape but are taken down in quick succession.
Unlike many horror films, 30 Days of Night resists resolution. It is fairly gory, but it gets high marks for “looking away” more often than not, for resisting the urge to create a spectacle out of violence. I wanted to barf after I watched it, but not from the gore. It was because I was entirely stressed out throughout the film. It’s a good film for Halloween.