30 Days of Night: Ten Years of Vampire Horror
The passing of time is strange to me. I still hear people talk about things that happened ten years ago and immediately think to myself about the 90’s despite that we’re pretty deep into the 21st century at this point. So, as I was looking through my collection of movies and books this week I came across a double whammy in the form of 30 Days of Night. Debuted in 2007, it felt difficult to accept that it’s really been ten years already since I went and saw this in the theater. The comic series had been one of my favorites during my senior year of high school and seeing anything I’ve ever read turned into a movie is both exciting and terrifying.
Ben Templesmith and Steve Niles –creators of the series- are a truly gifted duo and nothing better describes their genius than this graphic, three issue series from 2002. I can remember reading it when it first came out and feeling chills as I tried to immerse myself in the horror of not only being cut off from the world for a month of perpetual night in Barrow, Alaska but the thought that something so monstrous and wicked could leave one trapped at the hands of violent, blood sick creatures whose only real weakness comes from the sunlight that has been stolen. For fans of Templesmith the artwork is exactly what you’d expect. It’s gritty and chaotic, full of dark backgrounds contrasted by sharp shades of color that pierce through the otherwise bleak landscape and seem to glow from the page. It quickly became one of my favorites and opened me up to other works of his down the line like Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse and The Squidder.
In 2007, the film adaptation of the comics hit theaters starring Josh Hartnett and Melissa George. As a writer, I understand that not every little detail from the book can make it into the film and, in fact, certain things have to be changed in order to make that 80-90 minute runtime flow in an enjoyable and coherent fashion. Now, this film had a lot going for it before I ever made it to the theater, not the least of which being that the producers were Sam Raimi on Rob Tapert who were responsible for everyone’s favorite, gore saturated horror trilogy The Evil Dead. Combine that with the source material, the makeup effects, and some genuinely horrifying scenes brought to us by the trailers and I was excited. I’m not one to go to the theater unless it looks absolutely amazing to me but I was happy to put my cash on the counter and watch it opening weekend.
It opens with that ominous sort of tone that a good horror movie will give you. You get to know the characters, feel a connection with them all the while knowing thanks to the camera angles, musical score, and a since of uneasiness as you watch darkness slowly descend on the quiet, unsuspecting little town of Barrow. The black ship looming in the distance was haunting, darkness contrasting sharply against the pure white snow as the vampires’ harbinger slogged his way into town. Little details were changed throughout the film to appeal to a wider audience but the heart of the story remained the same. Eben and Stella (Hartnett and George) are two young lovers who have their troubles and learn all too late just how important they are to one another as their town suffers a terrible tragedy.
But it goes beyond that sort of tragic love story or survival tale, especially for horror fans. These were new vampires. Not those split chinned, long tongued, Guillermo del Toro Blade II vampires we were introduced to in 2002 that would later be cultivated and birthed into the strigoi of The Strain. These were primal, violent, relentless killers who had no qualms slaughtering everyone and everything to slake their thirst and keep their existence a secret from the rest of the waking world. They were ancient creatures, still very human in their looks despite black eyes, long, talon fingers and mouths full of shark like fangs that they used to chew people apart they were much different from any vampire I’d seen on film before. They wore semi-modern black clothes and spoke in the native tongue of the Slavic region that had been their home millennia ago though they chose a different means of communication throughout most of the film. Each and every vampire at one point or another used a croaking, shrieking, unnervingly guttural cry to alert its compatriots and paralyze it’s pray with fear.
Still, as if that weren’t enough, it was when they chose to interact with the living in slow, meticulous dealings that truly brought to life the pure, unrepentant evil inside of them. To kill something for food or even for sport is completely different than to kill it for the thrill of killing it. Most hunters who have designs on filling a freezer full of venison or mounting a buck’s head above their fireplace will express a deep appreciation for their prey. They treat it with respect and try to honor the sacrifice of its life. The vampires of 30 Days of Night are nowhere near as noble, choosing to toy with and torture some of their soon to be meals. No scene is more powerful in the film than when a young woman, surrounded by the ravenous living dead is on her knees crying and praying in the snow, begging for the help of god. The vampire leader Marlow (Danny Huston) kneels down beside her, looks up, listens to the emptiness of the wind howling through the empty town and, in a growling, heavily accented English looks into her eyes and says: “God? No god.”
Despite having so many outwardly human qualities, the vampires remind us scene after scene of how monstrous and terrifying they truly are, robbing people not only of their lives and security, but of their faith.
The cinematography captures Templesmith’s artwork masterfully with the pitch black sky and shadowed figures set against the while snow and blazing red of the blood splattering across it. Even the individual characters themselves have that gritty, washed out style that contrasts suddenly against the brightly colored focus of the scene. While the comic series has grown exponentially over the years with several off shoot storylines still revolving around the world established in the original 30 Days of Night, the film itself has only seen a single, lackluster straight to video sequel that did very little to further the original narrative. Still, after ten years, the movie holds up nicely and offers a genuinely entertaining and, at times, horrific experience for horror fans. It’s streaming on Netflix and is widely available for download and streaming from Amazon, Google, and other services.
Dan Lee is a horror fiend and freelance writer with a special place in his heart for monster movies and demonic possession stories.
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