*. Some opening text tells us we’re in Barrow, Alaska, where the sun goes down in the winter and then stays down for a month. A perfect vacation spot for vampires then. As their leader says on arrival “We should have come here ages ago.” This made me wonder how long these vampires had been alive, or undead, for. At one point centuries are mentioned. So why hadn’t they thought of this “ages ago”?
*. Maybe they just didn’t like the cold. And, in their defence, I don’t think any other vampires had thought of an active hibernation in the Arctic tunnel before. It took author Steve Niles to come up with the idea, which he pitched to various studios. After not getting any bites the story was picked up for a run of comic books which made it an easier sell. Sam Raimi, for one, was impressed and was originally slated to direct before taking a role as producer.
*. Fun facts: (1) Barrow is now known as Utqiagvik; (2) it actually experiences 66 days of polar night; (3) it has a population today of roughly 5,000 (not the 563 on the town sign).
*. Basically this is a zombie movie, as the vampires are undead flesh eaters (or vampire/zombie virus carriers) who can only be stopped by decapitation or extreme head trauma, and the survivors of the vampire/zombie onset do all the usual zombie-apocalypse stuff like barricading themselves indoors (“stay in your homes, lock your doors, and load your firearms!”) while the shit goes down outside. The action scenes also look a lot like what we got in 28 Days Later, which had come out five years earlier. Lots of that herky-jerky movement that helps sell the violence. Which is too bad, because there’s some decent gore here that I wish they had played straight.
*. Josh Hartnett (Eben) and Melissa George (Stella) are the cutest couple in Barrow, possibly ever. How could they be on the outs? So again with the cliché of the couple who are going their separate ways, though no one can understand why, brought back together by adversity. I seem to be seeing a lot of this lately. Totally by coincidence, because the movies I’ve been watching have all been made at different times. Sometimes that just happens.
*. This particular reconciliation is heavily weighted in Eben’s favour. Usually both parties admit to having made mistakes. Here it’s only Stella who says “I’m so sorry, baby. I should have never left you.” To which he has no reply. Apology accepted, I guess. Not that we have any idea what she’s talking about.
*. There are a lot of gaps like that in the plot. And I don’t think that’s a problem for the most part. I didn’t want to know any of the vampire back story, or who the guy was who arrived with them. In other places though it felt like big chunks of the film had been cut, leaving some confusing gaps. One case in particular is the scene where everyone is together in the diner and then the vampires attack and tear the town apart and then you see Eben and Stella coming back to the diner. It really feels like something’s missing there. Also I didn’t know why Eben’s asthma inhaler is introduced a couple of times and nothing at all is done with it. Maybe this is all explained in the comic book, which I haven’t read. So.
*. Another part that had me scratching my head was Stella pulling a gun and sticking it in the back of the Stranger’s head when Eben confronts him at the diner. Eben is impressed that someone working for the fire marshal’s office is packing. I wasn’t, but I was shocked at how quickly that escalated. Wasn’t Eben still in control of the situation? Was the Stranger armed? Pulling a gun on him like that seems like a huge overreaction, especially as Stella’s sure Eben could kick the Stranger’s ass.
*. I wish they hadn’t had the old man in there who was losing his marbles. He is the weakest link, and only introduced to give us an idiot to operate a bit of idiot-plot business. Why do they let him go to the bathroom by himself, telling him only not to flush toilet so he won’t make any noise? They know he’s not all there mentally. Being an idiot isn’t, or shouldn’t be, contagious.
*. Hartnett and George are young, attractive, and capable of looking very serious. That’s all they have to manage. Danny Huston, affecting a widow’s peak in homage to Lugosi, does quite well as his usual all-purpose, low-rent bad guy.
*. Huston’s character is called Marlow. I got that from the credits. Does anyone call him Marlow in the movie? It seems a literary sort of name for a critter that speaks some made-up language with little resemblance to English. I guess he was Marlow in the comic and we were just supposed to know that. That happens. Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange never says where the movie’s title comes from. You’ll only know if you’ve read Burgess’s book.
*. Ah, movie magic. They weren’t shooting out in the cold, which may explain why you can’t see anyone’s breath, and why characters can get away hiding underneath houses for days without freezing to death. The film was shot in New Zealand, and that’s not real snow. It’s not even real night either, as it was mostly shot day-for-night.
*. Nevertheless, it does score some style points. I love the appearance of the death ship (at least that’s what I assume it is) that the vampires arrive on at the beginning. And the overhead shot of the town massacre is a nice touch. Hey, they were trying.
*. It’s easy to poke fun at a movie like this, but to be honest I really enjoyed it. It’s rough around the edges, but for a splatter flick it’s tense, tight, and comes with a fairly original premise. Not a classic then, but I can call it a guilty pleasure.