Friday, October 1, 2010

Monster Serial: BLADE

Riddle me this: When is a horror movie not a horror movie?

More to the point, when is a horror movie a horror movie? The concept, from a cinematic point of view, has been fragmenting almost from the start, dating back at least to the moment when James Whale decided Frankenstein should be equal parts horror, science fiction and comedy.

By the 1950s the notion of a "horror movie" usually included aliens, giant bugs, x-ray vision and a host of other elements not traditionally associated with horror movies. Which brings me to Blade, the 1998 movie that launched the Marvel movie empire. Any movie about vampires should be a horror film, right? Then why is Blade almost always stocked in the "action" section of video stores?

The concept behind Blade doesn’t come across like compelling movie material. The 1998 film took a second-string comic book character whose popularity peaked in 1978*, merged the storyline with elements usually associated with martial arts flicks, and threw in a bit of Indiana Jones for flavor. This is the kind of film Joe Bob Briggs used to call an “outdoor movie,” which means it would have fit in fine between drive-in showings of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Porky’s.

What elevated the film above drive-in trash was its style, the director’s attention to visual elements and the charisma of its leading man. Sure, it had plot holes big enough to drive through, but it’s not like anyone goes to see a film like Blade to discover a deeper meaning in life.

Recap time: Wesley Snipes plays an angry vampire hunter on a mission against an international cabal of undead monsters. Along for the ride (and to provide exposition) is Whistler, played with surly glee by Kris Kristofferson. Both men are on personal missions to avenge the deaths of family members by vampires, and seem almost apathetic to human suffering. The only thing that qualifies these men for good-guy status is that the bad guys are so much worse.
The movie begins in the middle of Blade’s war, kicking off with a very literal blood bath in a vampire nightclub. When one of Blade’s undead victims is mistakenly taken to a hospital, a young doctor (played by N’Bushe Wright, who's great here in what would usually be an unrewarding role) is dragged into the conflict. Through her eyes we get a look at Blade’s nightly combat sessions and learn that there is something bigger on the horizon that even the heroes can’t anticipate.

Stephen Dorff plays Deacon Frost, a “young” vampire (though exactly how young is never addressed) plotting a coup of his own against the vampire ruling council. Frost hopes to conjure a vampire blood-god to overthrow his elitist elders, and begin a reign of terror on the entire planet. Dorff’s subplot is sometimes more interesting than what happens in Wesley Snipes’ half of the movie, and could have stood alone as a separate film.

The action sequences are genuinely exciting, choreographed like a violent ballet. To accentuate the rhythm of the sequences (as well as draw attention to the dance-like fighting) is a heavy techno soundtrack which pushes the film along. If you’ve got a good sound system, remember to crank of the volume.
Snipes is also excellent and portrays the most dangerous anti-hero since Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name.” Director Stephen Norrington does an amazing job of establishing the bad guys in a matter of minutes, making them so rotten that anything Blade does to them, no matter how vicious, seems justified.

*And I say that with all due affection. I've been a fan of the character almost my whole life and was one of those people who got excited about the prospects of a Blade film back in 1989 when it was first announced in the pages of Comics Scene.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...