★ / ★★★★
“Transylmania,” directed by David and Scott Hillenbrand, is one of the dumbest movies I have ever seen. That’s saying a lot because I’ve seen my share of egregious films. A group of college friends decided to go to Romania for an international studies program. Little did they know that the school was a nest of vampires wanting to feed on their blood. The premise made it seem like it would somewhat be a fun spoof because of the vampire craze these days. Unfortunately, the movie started off bad and only got worse from there. Throughout the whole thing, I felt like I was watching a really bad play where all the actors were overexaggerating everything. Worse, I felt like the actors didn’t know their lines at all and made them up as it went along. There was no sense of consistency or even a minute effort to make a decent movie. Everything was random, everything was flying all over the place, and everything was beyond boring. I would rather watch a group of real life kids pretending to be superheroes as they try to save the world using blankets and toys because at least those kids would put imagination into their pretend play. (Not to mention children are generally cute.) “Transylmania” had no material to build upon at all so I was shocked that it was even made in the first place. The characters were devoid of intelligence but they did have high levels of libido. They should have made softcore pornography instead of running around acting like idiots and wasting our time. But the point where I thought I had enough was when a girl was decapitated yet she was still able to speak. I mean, come on, are you serious? But my complaining won’t do anyone any good so I’m going to propose how this picture could have been improved in the most basic levels. I think this film should have taken the “Scary Movie” or “Not Another Teen Movie” route. There are so many vampire flicks out there worth making fun of (not just the “Twilight” series) from smart (“Fright Night,” “Interview with a Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles,” or the cult classic “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” television show) to stupid ones (“BloodRayne” which also happens to be one of the worst movies I’ve seen); it’s just a matter of finding the right jokes and comedic timing. The main characters (or one of the main characters) should have been likable. Without anybody to root for, why would the audience care? I wish I could say that “Transylmania” was so bad that it was good. Unfortunately, it was just really bad and it was stuck on that level because no effort was put into it. Needless to say, one should avoid this movie at all cost.
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
I can always rely on the “Twilight” series to be consistently mediocre despite the fact that each movie released was better than its predecessor. In “Eclipse,” based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer and directed by David Slade, the love triangle between Bella (Kristen Stewart), Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob (Taylor Lautner) reached its peak but the vampire and werewolf camps decided to join forces in order to protect Bella from newly-born vampires led by Riley (Xavier Samuel) and Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard taking over for Rachelle Lefevre). Like the first two movies, “Eclipse” suffered from far too many ways Edward and Bella expressed how much they loved each other. I understood that the whole thing might have worked on paper or else the novels wouldn’t have been as successful but it just did not work on film because it quickly became redundant. Even when the movie tried to explore the romantic relationship between Bella and Jacob, the picture lacked energy and, to be quite honest, I started noticing the make-up, editing and the lighting. In other words, it lost my interest despite my best intentions of sticking with the story. The movie would have benefited if it had more action sequences. Maybe it’s because I’m a guy but I did enjoy the climax when the werewolves and vampires came head-to-head with the vampire army while Edward and Bella faced Riley and Victoria. Victoria was probably my favorite character since the first movie because I thought she was menacing but enchanting at the same time. Unfortunately, even though I could tell she was trying her best, Howard’s interpretation of her character did not work for me because she lacked Lefevre’s subtleties (which the series desperately lacked). In this installment, Victoria felt like a pawn instead of a rogue vampire who was full of malice and thirst for vengeance. I also enjoyed the tent scene when Edward and Jacob finally connected not because it was touching on any level but because it was very amusing to the point where people were actually laughing out loud in the theater. There was something purposely homoerotic about the very intense glares the two sent each other. Even though that scene wasn’t very effective, I admired that the material was aware enough to make fun of itself. Furthermore, I can criticize the film for not being a good example for teenagers in promoting marriage considering the characters’ ages but I won’t because it simply tried to remain loyal to its source. I can only hope that the final installment (divided in two) will have more suspense and action than romance. It needed less cheese and more bloodshed.
Salem’s Lot (1979)
★ / ★★★★
I have a lot of patience when it comes to miniseries, especially the ones based on Stephen King’s novels, because the first hour or so usually consists of slow build-ups. However, this one completely rubbed me the wrong way because it did not have enough small payoffs during the first nintey minutes of exposition. Clichés such as a man (David Soul) returning to his hometown to deal with his traumatic past, the husband and the cheating wife, and a strange man (James Mason) taking care of an even stranger home quickly began to pile up. The horror and the mystery became secondary which is always a bad thing when it comes to movies that are supposed to be scary. I haven’t read King’s novel of the same name so I can’t comment on how closely this film followed its source. However, having been familiar to some of King’s novels, I doubt that the book was as slow-moving, boring and hollow as this one. Perhaps Tobe Hooper, the director, is to blame because he directed the picture with such a lack of urgency. In my opinion, when people start dying in a small town, one would expect the residents to gossip, form outlandish guesses on what was really happening and all kinds of histrionics. In this movie, everyone stayed quiet at home and awaited being visited by a vampire. It just wasn’t believable even for a horror movie. After all, half the fun of watching a movie about strange happenings are observing the reactions of the individuals who are directly affected by such. I was also very annoyed with its use of soundtrack. Like in most horror movies, whenever the soundtrack would come blasting from the speakers when nothing profound was happening on screen, I’m immediately taken out of the situation and I start questioning why the movie is directing me to feel something. For me, a strong movie shows what it wants to show and it has the confidence to allow the audiences feel any sort of emotion. The soundtrack should only fascilitate the emotion and never force it down the audiences’ throats. I’d have to say that “Salem’s Lot” is a complete misfire for me. I really tried to like it because I enjoy most miniseries based on King’s novels. But the more I tried to like it, the more I ended up hating it.
The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
I cannot believe I saw this in theaters considering I wasn’t that impressed with the first “Twilight” film. However, since my expectations were low, I’m happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed (but I wasn’t happy about it either). I expected a mediocre outcome and got just that. Chris Weitz directed the second installment of the highly popular franchise. He tried to balance Bella’s (Kirsten Stewart) depression when Edward (Robert Pattinson) decided to break up with her due to an incident during her eighteenth birthday and Bella’s attempt at recovery when she finally got the chance to get to know Jacob (Taylor Lautner) who saw her as a romantic interest. And that was pretty much what the whole movie was about because I felt like this was more of a transition than anything. With that said, I found that this movie had no reason to be over two hours long. There were far too many scenes when Edward and Bella would talk and circumvent the main point they wanted to get across. For me, the sexual tension that worked in the first film simply wasn’t there anymore. Simply saying, “I cannot live without you” over and over is simply not good enough. In fact, I hated it when Bella and Edward were alone together because I knew I would hear an extended conversation that lacked gravity. On the other hand, I was interested in Bella and Jacob’s blossoming friendship. There was a certain brother-sister connection there even though Jacob wanted Bella romantically (and not the other way around). I was also happy with the new characters that involved a vampire royalty called the Volturi (mainly Michael Sheen, Dakota Fanning). I completely bought that they were menacing, powerful and very unstable group of vampires. One of the many ways this movie would’ve been more entertaining was having more action scenes. I loved the scenes that involved the diabolical Victoria (Rachelle Lefevre). Even though she barely said a word, her presence was mysterious and posed as a real threat. Granted, the film was based on Stephenie Meyer’s novel so it had plot limitations that were strictly designed for this sequel. However, there’s a certain way–an elegance, confidence, and ability to take risks–to make those limitations work for this project but I felt like it didn’t even try. With a much bigger budget than its predecessor, it should have been that much better, bigger in scope and more urgent. Regardless, I’m still curious with how the story would play out in the future installments especially with the way they ended this one. I cannot believe I said (more like yelled) “What?!” out loud when a certain line was said and it cut to the end credits. The fans of the novel probably looked at me and wondered why I watched the movie before I read the book.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
★★★ / ★★★★
Gary Oldman stars as Count Dracula, a man who found his love named Elisabeta (Winona Ryder) died after he arrived from the war. The priests did not want to give Elisabeta a proper burial because she committed suicide. This angered Dracula, denounced God and was cursed to live for eternity lusting for blood. Hundreds of years later, Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) was assigned to help Dracula to buy some property in London unknowing of the vampire’s true intentions. Eventually, Dracula set his sights on Harker’s wife (also played by Ryder) because she looked exactly like his former lover and Dr. Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins) stepped in to help. I’m not entirely convinced on whether to recommend this picture. While I did find the asthetics magnificent and the execution of the story to be just fine, some crucial elements did not meet my expectations. I thought it sacrificed a lot of the terror for the sake of romance. When I watch a movie about Dracula, I expect to be suspended in suspense instead of watching him yearn over a lover. I thought the best scenes in the film were in the first half. There was something extremely creepy about the whole vibe of the castle when Jonathan visited Dracula in Transylvania. Every shadow and dark corner of the room felt menacing as if something seriously wrong was about to happen. The soundtrack was used sparingly so that the audiences could hear every creak and footstep made in the castle. The second half of the movie felt exactly the opposite. There were overt sexual references, consistent loud noises and the pacing became static. While it still remained elegant, I began to feel more apathetic toward each character when I should have been rooting for them because lives were at stake. Regardless of its flaws, I was still curious on what was going to happen next because Francis Ford Coppola, the director, had interesting techniques when it came to presenting his audiences gothic imagery. Coppola spent too much of his time with the images and asthetics of the picture that he somewhat neglected his characters and where the story was going. I’m not sure how closely this followed Bram Stoker’s original 1897 novel because I haven’t read it. But I must say that it definitely took me back to that time period. So in terms of escapism, I think this movie did a good job. However, when I try to really analyze it piece by piece, I’m not that impressed with it. It’s the strangest feeling.
Interview with the Vampire (1994)
★★★★ / ★★★★
After being caught up with the “True Blood” craze, I decided to visit some of my favorite vampire movies. “Interview with the Vampire,” directed by Neil Jordan, was one of those movies I saw in early high school that I loved but forgot the details as years went on. I’m surprised this one strongly held up against other horror pictures, especially vampire movies. It’s something I didn’t quite expect because the movies I used to think were scary when I was younger turned out to be silly and vapid in storytelling. Tom Cruise stars as Lestat, a vampire who was as equally hungry for blood as he was with power. He one day decided to make Louis (Brad Pitt) into a vampire because, at least according to him, he wanted to give Louis a choice to relieve his pain of losing his wife and child. Despite turning into the undead, Louis still managed to hang onto his humanity by refusing to feed on humans. This bothered Lestat and thought that Louis’ loneliness would be eliminated by giving Louis a companion–in a form of a vampire child played by Kirsten Dunst. But this all happened in the past as the details which covered centuries were revealed by Louis to an enthusiastic reporter (Christian Slater). Although I did read the novels by Anne Rice, I only could remember three things: Louis, Lestat and the passion (both good and bad) between the two. What made me really engaged about this film was not because it was scary in content. I was actually more into Louis’ humanity, his efforts to abstain from human blood, and his eventual search for those who were like him. That romanticism was reflected into the elegant designs of each room in the 18th century to the dark corners of the catacombs. Another thing that was interesting was Kirsten Dunst. As an adult actress, she bores me to death because every emotion she wants to portray on screen feels the same. But in this film, she had range: she was quite magical, menacing, fascinating all rolled into one. For me, “Interview with the Vampire” is a great vampire film because it makes the argument that vampires have the capacity to choose to be good instead of just being one-dimensional fiends who crave blood and live for centuries. Although necessary to paint the nature of vampire, the gore, the violence, and the evil were secondary. It was consistent, thrilling, and very interesting.