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Starz Annual Fear Fest usually delivers something all horror fans crave, a whole month of genre films, hour after hour of excellent, questionable, B-movie, amazing, disgusting, and enticing cinema that is both a guilty pleasure and some of the most memorable films of all time. This year’s Fest also includes the hour feature Bloodsucking Cinema, a look back at the history of the vampire film from the myth and legend to modern interpretations and genre bending engagements.

From F.W. Murnau’s original Nosferatu to modern films like Underworld and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the piece takes a careful look at the history of the film and peers into the window of what makes the vampire movie so enticing to movie-goers that it still remains nearly a century later.

Cory Haim in Bloodsucking Cinema

Starz Media manages to gather some big name director’s in the genre like John Carpenter (John Carpenter’s Vampires), Joel Schumacher (The Lost Boys), David Goyer (Blade: Trinity), and Stephen Sommers (Van Helsing) to relay their experiences with the genre, and how they tried to flesh out their takes on the legend. Commentary from Leonard Maltin, Ain’t It Cool News’ Harry Knowles, and Blade creator Marv Wolfman give a great reflection on how the sub-genre has really affected generations of filmmakers.

The special pays particular attention to several memorable entries in the vampire stable like Interview with the Vampire, From Dusk till Dawn, Blade, Underworld, Van Helsing, and The Lost Boys. Questionably added to that list is Uwe Boll’s BloodRayne which is easily one of the poorest entries in the special. Personal opinions aside of the filmmaker’s work, Boll’s inclusion is sure to turn off a great many of hardcore fans who may loath his writing and ‘filmmaking’ skills.

Stan Winston in Bloodsucking Cinema

Bloodsucking Cinema doesn’t quite spend enough time focusing on how the genre has branched off from the core mythology into other genres like the teen flick (Buffy: The Vampire Slayer) and comedy (Dracula: Dead and Loving It), instead just touching upon them with a simple screenshot of their respective one-sheets. It would have been nice to get some perspective from some of the director’s and special effects artists who shaped the genre on what they thought of the films coming to a point where they’re making fun of themselves because of overblown mythologies and sometimes bloated back stories and contradictory rules.

With all the movies included, the producers opted to go for the T&A wherever possible, which isn’t so much of a problem when it doesn’t feel as though they are trying to hard to entice the audience with talk of vampirism being a thinly veiled metaphor for sexual activity and eroticism. Sometimes the scenes just seem shoehorned and forced into the special to keep the audiences’ interest, which isn’t needed because Bloodsucking Cinema is an hour of horror pleasure in itself.

John Carpenter in Bloodsucking Cinema

Horror fans and especially vampire movie fans will find tons to love here, including some little trivia bits about some of your favorite films you might not have known (they added glitter to the blood in The Lost Boys, did you know that?). For those with Starz, you should be able to catch the special one of a dozen times over the next few weeks. For those without the premium channel, the special is worth the monthly payment, and the daily dose of horror is only blood-red icing on the cake.

If Van Helsing is what $170 million dollars buys you these days I can’t wait to see what $200 million will buy us next weekend when Troy opens. Van Helsing, starring Hugh Jackman as the title character, comes to us from monster movie mogul Stephen Sommers who delivered The Mummy and The Mummy Returns as well as the cult-classic Deep Rising. Yet, with Van Helsing, Sommers seems to falter on his penance for creating fun movies with shallow, yet involved characters and tons of great action. Make no mistake, VH is one of the loudest, biggest summer movies to come along this decade but after all the CGI monsters are reverted to wire frame, and the script is filed in a cabinet, we still have a completely average movie that shows only small signs of greatness.

The movie, as the title alludes, revolves around Gabriel Van Helsing, a man with no memory of his past but has been chosen by the church to rid the world of evil. Van Helsing is a troubled man who must kill creatures of the night as he sees them, but after they are dead, they revert back to their original form (as seen with the opening battle scene). This reversion has earned him the label of murderer and is wanted by many police forces all over Europe at the turn of the 20th century. Van Helsing is sent to Transylvania to seek out a well known guy by the name of Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) who, as we find out, is attempting to bring life to his offspring and create swarms of vampires to ravage the known world. Van Helsing will eventually met up with the beautiful Anna (Kate Beckinsale) who is the last of her family line sworn to destroy Dracula at all costs.

The story of the film draws parallels from many other vampire/werewolf movies of the past, including heavy influence from the Beckinsale headlined Underworld released last year. Dracula seems to be the enemy of choice at the moment, later to be seen as Drake in Blade: Trinity later this year, but is it really necessary for Roxburgh to overact the part to the point it becomes more comical than menacing? There was more than a few times when I cringed at the screen not only because of the cheesy lines, but the way they were delivered. I know Hollywood likes to keep things tongue-in-cheek, but this above and beyond.

The overacting isn’t the only problem with the film. Sommers decided that Dracula, a vampire that is almost impossible to kill, wasn’t evil enough so he gave him henchmen, but not just any henchmen, mutant-Ewok henchmen. These three foot things scamper around making growling sounds for almost the entire movie, yet they are only referred to once and that reference doesn’t explain who they are, or what in the world they are doing here.

One of the biggest draws of the film was using some of the back-catalogue of Universal’s movie monsters like Frankenstein’s monster and The Wolf-man. I give props to Sommers for writing a clever way to get all of these monsters in the same script, but I fear he wasted to many pages trying to explain how many of these monsters could interact together and left out the back-story we really would have liked to see. When we learn who Van Helsing really is it is only uttered once and the audience doesn’t even get a flashback to help explain what was just said. It seems odd that we get information on most of the monsters, Anna, and the organization the Van Helsing works for, but nothing on the man himself.

If I sound as though I didn’t enjoy the film, that isn’t fully true. I actually had a great time viewing the movie and didn’t stop to check my watch at all, but with heavy reliance on CGI effects and huge amounts of eye candy it makes it painfully obvious that there isn’t much to sustain the film as far as story goes. I’m sure Universal is already planning a sequel, but for the amount of money that was spent on this film I was expecting a lot more and came out of the theater being somewhat disappointed and almost insulted by the horrible, rainbow-coated ending. See the film, but leave you expectations at the door.

Wanted: An extremely hot vampire capable of leaping great distances, landing on her feet, and staring you down with hypnotic blue eyes. Tight fitting leather apparel is a plus, but not needed when wearing a beautiful, black evening gown. Applicants must have a general hatred for werewolves and weakness for medial intern humans. Some disregard for vampire canon will be tolerated.

So sums everything you could want from a vampire movie featuring the lovely Kate Beckinsale as Selene a Death Dealer whose only goal is to rid the world of the werewolves. While on a hunt to destroy werewolves Selene encounters two of her enemies trailing after a human, only they don’t want to eat him, they need him for something else. Vampires and werewolves share a common bloodline, yet when the body is infected with both viruses you die. The werewolves, on the losing side of the war, are trying to develop a werewolf/vampire hybrid, which would be invincible, and the ultimate weapon in the war. Seemingly by chance, Selene falls for Michael (Scott Speedman), the human the wolves were chasing, and the story branches off from there including internal treachery and backstabbing all around.

The film does a great job of presenting itself to the audience. Director Len Wiseman has a knack for the cinematic feel with a color-barren exposition of an ancient war in modern times. The movie does borrow a great bit from action movies released in the last 10 years. The gunplay and aerobatics of The Matrix are present; the story is reminiscent of Shakespeare, and throughout the film you will notice subtle, and blatant references to other films. Still, this doesn’t detract from the film in any way, as it is still a great way to kick off the fall movie season.

Underworld seems to play around with the established vampire canon seen in movies such as Blade and TV shows such as Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. Some things make sense, while others don’t seem to. While specifics may be getting a bit too nick-picky the film does a good job of staying within the reasonable bounds of believability based on the fiction. The most interesting part is the description, and origin, of Lucian (Michael Sheen) the werewolf leader who has supposedly been dead for hundreds of years.

The film does a lot of things right, and only a few things wrong. The movie does have a few slow moments, and there isn’t as much gunplay as you would expect to see after viewing the trailers and TV spots, but the final battle more than makes up for it. The last sequence had the audience roaring with delight. It has been a while since I actually heard a group of movie goers respond to an action film like that. Not even The Matrix Reloaded produced that kind of effect.

Underworld is a moderately budgeted (hence the Screen Gems banner) action film that should be very profitable for Sony. The movie knows what it is, but isn’t the action mindless romp you would have pegged to be released in mid-September. The lack of overused special effects only ads to the argument that traditional film making is far from dead, and actors, such as the talented Kate Beckinsale, make the movies for the audience. Of course I don’t think the tight leather pants hurt anyone’s opinion of the film.