I'm pretty wiped out tonight, after substitute teaching a class on Ernest Becker's book "Denial of Death" at the New School tonight. I've taught a little bit before, as a teacher's assistant for a video production class, but this was sort of my first time really lecturing a class on my own, and it was pretty nerve wracking, but also exciting, fun and rewarding. It was a little weird, because I only finished the m.a. in media studies program a few months ago, and now here I am, presenting myself as, if not some kind of authority (I spent a fair bit of time studying Becker as part of my graduate thesis), then at least someone knowledgeable enough to lead a discussion, which is odd because, as you might have gathered from reading this blog, I'm not exactly Mr. Self-Confidence. I mean, I like myself, at least some of the time I like myself, but I tend more towards the introspective than the outgoing. But the class went well and I'm pretty happy with the job I did, which means something horrible is almost certain to happen to me soon, as pride goeth before the fall. Or something.
Anyways, last night's film was "The Vampire," a 1957 film directed by Paul Landres that was recently released as a double DVD feature with 1958's "The Return of Dracula" as part of an onslaught of something like 10 double features in MGM's awesome Midnite Movies series. This is especially cool since there haven't been that many Midnite Movies discs released in a while, so this Halloween season we really hit paydirt with titles like "Tales From the Crypt," "The Vault of Horror," and "Chosen Survivors." MGM, it should also be noted, has released several great somewhat underexposed vintage horror flicks recently, including "The Burning," "From Beyond," "Scarecrows," and a new edition of "Return of the Living Dead." Awesome.
Despite not being an American-International production, "The Vampire" reminded me of several of their teen-themed horror films of the same era, like "I Was a Teenage Werewolf," "I Was a Teenage Frankenstein," "How to Make a Monster" and "Blood of Dracula," the only difference being the main character is an adult, not a teenager. Like those films, however, "The Vampire" focuses on a protagonist who becomes a monster, yet is portrayed as sympathetic. This gives, or at least at the time gave, these films a subversive quality, as they ask the audience to view a transgressive character as ultimately human and deserving of understanding and compassion. It is no wonder that this and similar horror and sci-fi films of the 1950s resonated so strongly with that era's youth culture. At that time, youth subculture, and in fact the concept of the teenager as its' own demographic, was still fairly new (honest to goodness)...
Anyway, "The Vampire" is about a small town doctor who accidentally becomes addicted to pills synthesized from vampire bat blood, which cause him to black out and becomes a vampire-like creature at night. The horror aspect of the film is well realized, with moody cinematography and visual composition in shadowy black & white, and the vampire creature having an appropriately grisly, yet somewhat pathetic, visage. "The Vampire" really excels in terms of characterization, particularly the portrayal of the doctor's relationship with his preteen daughter (the mother is deceased). When he sends the young girl to live with her aunt, out of fear that he might hurt her during one of his blackouts, the film really resonates emotionally, and captures the pain and real human fear of the moment.
On pretty much every level, "The Vampire" is a top notch production and well worth a look. Until next time, stay spooky!