Now more than ever we're remembering the pre-CGI sci fi horror boom of the 1980s as a golden age, thanks in a large part to the Scream Factory series of DVDs coming out, elevating to high art in their loving detail everything from old slasher films to oddball Dolph Lundgren Terminator riffs like Dark Angel (see my praise piece on BLAD: "Rated R for Retro"). The market was so big that in 1987 two semi-big budget films came out about vampire teens, with almost the same story: Near Dark and The Lost Boys. Both involve a vain teenage hunk--in a single parent family with a younger sibling-- ready for his first big mistake, falling for a hot young vampire who lures him into her weird pack. The pack in each film includes a small child vampire and a wild man shadow figure to the lead. And each lead wastes his gifts in lots of moral hand-wringing about drawing one's first drop of innocent blood. Ugh, there's the rub.
I refused to see either films in the theater at the time, because I hated seeing the 'brat pack' spill over into my favorite genres --me being around their same age. And seeing them now they're fun and brooding in their measure, but man, I've had it up to here with these brooding hunks who dig the percs of being vampires and don't mind drinking blood if a hot vamp girl feeds it to them from her own wrist after she does the dirty work, but won't go around killing humans for food, because that would be 'wrong.' Oh Prunella! Oh Heaven forfend! Son, that's called being a mooch, a lazy good-for-nothing boytoy - a K-Fed.
|The Cool Kids (Top 2: Near Dark)|
Both films assume we know and respect the hierarchy of attractiveness in boys but young male viewers who aren't doe-eyed hunks aren't about to identify with these clowns and we're the ones who watch these kind of movies, the ones who would kill some humans and drink their blood, and worry about our immortal souls at the proper time (after it was too late to do anything about it). That would be a good angle: the awkward shy kid uses his vamp gifts to bite everyone whoever wronged him and gets so high off the hottie vamp's attention and the sense of belonging to the cool kids for the first time in his 'life' that he doesn't eve have a second thought until it's far too late. Instead, in these two films, the doe-eyes just squirm and try to dodge their bloodletting responsibilities like Donnie Brascoe with a gun to a squealer's head, waiting for a deux ex machina to rescue them. We end up loathing these self-righteous mooches with a passion that lasts far longer than our ugly duckling phase, it lingers on the edge of our beautiful manipulative older male swan phase and re-surges in the old reprobate phase, when we begin to beam nondescriptly at their moody foibles as we would our own grandchildren's.
Jason Patric in Lost Boys is exhibit A: When he sees Star (Jami Gertz) in a big beachside crowd gathered around an open air stage (with a great burly rock sax guy), he starts following her around as if he's already pissed at her for walking away instead of falling onto her knees before his physical beauty, which he considers a sacred church and therefore no laughing or running around should be allowed in his presence. This overconfidence gets a comeuppance when he's goaded into a dangerous beach race to one of the cooler vamp cavern hideouts and manipulated into drinking vampire blood. These scenes are the best in the film, and director Schumacher ably captures the adrenalized swirl of energy around hooking up with a group of wild new friends, the need to belong weighed against the warning signs going off deep in your sacral chakra.
Star, it turns out, has chosen to initiate a new member to the clan, with Kiefer's approval - but dumbshit Patric can't figure out what's happening... chalking it up to some ecstasy or something in the blood wine he was given. Next day he's a pale, shaky mess who can barely keep his feet on the ground. Some of us back in the 90s had to fill our high heels with sand just to stop from floating away after nights of drinking weird potions in the basement with the boys, trippin out on Miles Davis' Live Evil and driving home at dawn on the back of undulating black asphalt serpents with yellow dash line dorsal ridges. We didn't blink! Patric's a pussy.
Almost the exact same plot serves Near Dark but instead of Schumacher's ingenuity with packed beach boardwalk scenes, thousands of coordinated extras, colorful taxidermy gardens, pumping anthem rock, and ingenious literalizing of common phrases of parents at the dinner table (if your new friends jumped off a bridge, would you?), there's Kathryn Bigelow's moody Badlands-esque emptiness: vast fields like a lover's skin, the few straight roads like arteries begging to be punctured with gas stations, phone booths, and silos; one of the more realistic looking biker bars caked with dust and the muted loneliness of the aging regulars, all the fight leeched out of them slowly, drip by drip from the numbness of time's passionless faucet and the emptiness of the landscape which the pack visits and rains terror on, almost like an angel of deliverance from this glum nothingness.
Near Dark wins the contest just because it at least thinks to critique its doe eyed hunk's willingness to literally leech off his girlfriend rather than nut up and get his own. One could conceivably view it as a metaphor for the hypocrisy of today's consumerist carnivores who get super indignant when confronted with evidence of their butcher's slaughterhouse crimes, wherein they'll eat all the meat you can serve, provided as they don't have to look into its eyes. Serve the calf's brains jellied inside the cow skull, you're a serial killer; serve the usual rump steak and you're simply a nice host. Serve honey roasted grasshoppers, you're a freak. Fried shrimp? A true surfside chef! Shrimp are just insects of the sea, dude. And killing humans is no different than choosing your own lobster once you're not a human anymore. If we all had to do a few days work in the slaughterhouse, co-op style, how much you want to bet this country would be easily 70% vegetarian? No wait, I don't gamble. It might send the wrong idea to children!
I feel guilty every time I leave my cat in the morning, or when I go to the zoo. I never got comfortable even fishing. Even throwing them back I wince at the pain from imagining a hook in my cheek. Rules of the Game (1939) is very brave in that - what other comedy shows dozens of bunnies and birds being shot, for real, and the hunters barely noticing, so wrapped up in their petty romantic intrigues? And though the characters don't flinch, Renoir does. But he doesn't blame them -- they are after all the very rich, the predator species of all cultures. It's what they do. That's real morality and if it leaves a strange taste in the mouth, savor it, that's the bitter tang of real art!
Going back to meat took its toll though, and now I'm blind in one eye again, so I don't have to think about the pain and bottom line-minded torture my dinner went through to reach me. Maybe the whole point of ignorance is bliss, there's a reason that Italian guy eats a steak in The Matrix and not a celery stalk.
|Tony Scot's parallel lines|
Looking at them now, they're still cool -- but what was so energizing about them has been forgotten by the skin deep imitations - and what was that? That the lead characters all got away with murder. They killed the innocent and robbed and arranged murders and in the end got away scot-free. And we rooted for them every step of the way.
There are no words to describe our exhilaration after having to suffer through so much leftist moral hand-wringing over onscreen killing. Superheros crashing Humvees through shopping malls like maniacs, probably wiping out dozens with collateral damage, but then braking to not hit the main villain; whole crates of ammo being fired by The A-Team without one guy being even wounded; Cameron having to show that the hundreds of cops Arnold shot in T2 are only clipped in the leg (Fatalities = 0, it says on his monitor), it all got to be a serious problem. But then came True Romance (1993), and the crazy couple got away with the loot, for once, and the girl didn't browbeat the man for killing her pimp! Hallelujah.
Naturally there has been some kickback. A couple of dumbass kids out in the boonies went on a killing spree after being inspired by Mickey and Mallory Knox, but their parents' lawsuit against Oliver Stone was unsuccessful!
Sadly, as they have always done, the Hollywood imitators of the Tarantino mythos got the surface right but missed the point. The skinny black ties and pop culture references didn't make the QT films great, it was the flatline savvy about death, about understanding that cinematic death doesn't equate to real life death, but that in realizing this the onscreen deaths actually become more real, more vivid; the more they are recognized as cinematic expressionism rather than glum social sermonizing, the more true they are. Audiences can be trusted to not all go home and kill Rodney Dangerfield. As Godard once said, it's not blood, it's red. When we want insincere Hollywood hedonists to lecture us about the sanctity of life and death we'll ask them. Go ahead and bite a neck or shoot a man, Billy! You've got nothing to lose but your fear of flying. Can't you ever let go of the handrails.. even in a dream?