New from Sarah Welch-Larson on Substack: 22: Vampire Movies

It’s spooky movie season. I like watching horror movies year-round, but the moment the weather starts to sour and my hands start getting cold, my desire to curl up under an afghan blanket and watch something that makes the pit of my stomach drop a little kicks into overdrive.

I also didn’t get into horror movies until a few years ago, around the same time that I wrote my book about the Alien series. I’d seen a few, sure, but the act of close reading Alien flipped a switch in my head. Horror wasn’t all that fun until I realized that I could think critically about it, and once I knew that that door was open to me, I let down my guard a little and found that I like the catharsis of seeing something scary—and that I like seeing the results of a lot of highly technical work. Practical effects and a lot of fake blood go a long way in my book.

I’m still a little picky about the horror movies I watch, and about where and when I watch them. I have to be in the right headspace; I have to brace myself for movies about home invasions or demons. So when October rolls around and I’m in the mood for monsters, I have two reliable options: vampires and classic Universal horror. I’ll get into the classic horror—and my favorite player in the space, Boris Karloff—in the October paid issue of this newsletter. This weekend I have vampires on the brain, thanks in part to a recent watch of Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre.

Vampires work for me better because they’re so singular, and so adaptable. Vampires channel fear of the Other (most vampire movies, but especially the 1931 Dracula), fear of sexuality (Twilight), religious fear (Ganja & Hess), fear of loneliness (Let the Right One In), fear of aging (Tony Scott’s The Hunger), fear of the loss of non-renewable resources (Daybreakers) class anxiety (Horror of Dracula), anxieties about youth culture (Dracula A.D. 1972). They can be repulsive (Nosferatu) or romantic (Bram Stoker’s Dracula—the 1992 one directed by Francis Ford Coppola). They’re petty and hilarious (What We Do in the Shadows) or else alien and terrifying (Carl Theodor Dryer’s Vampyr). In a cinematic climate where so many horror movies function as bald metaphors, I like vampires, because with vampires, the metaphor is malleable. Even when the metaphor is obvious, the execution can be frightening—and surprising.

Thanks for reading! If you have strong feelings about vampires vs. other movie monsters, or if you have a favorite vampire movie, I’d love to hear from you, either in the comments or in a direct reply.

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What I talked about:

Kevin and I reviewed David O. Russell’s Amsterdam for the latest episode of Seeing & Believing podcast. It’s got a lot going for it on paper: a stacked cast, Emmanuel Lubezski as director of photography, and a story based on a pretty wild conspiracy that actually happened. Literally none of it worked for me, and we got into why in our review. We also talked about Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye for our Watchlist segment—a movie that I’ve always liked, and is always growing on me.

What I watched:

Werewolf by Night on Disney+ is a TV-special-length experiment in porting Marvel properties into other genres. On paper, I like the idea of transforming Marvel superheroes into something other than their house style, but I don’t think Werewolf by Night works—it’s all still the same formula, albeit with slightly better set design, with a gray filter slapped over it in post-production.

What I’m reading:

I’m in the early chapters of A Little Devil in America: In Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraquib. It’s a terrific piece of criticism, the kind that folds personal experience into rigorous analysis with no visible seams in a way that clarifies the world.

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