As we near the April 2009 release date of my vampire novel Blood Groove, I'll periodically discuss favorite vampire-themed books and movies, looking at what makes them special.
One of the strengths of the vampire concept is that it can symbolically represent almost anything else. It's been used to represent disease, nihilistic freedom and even the dignity of past eras. In Stoker's Dracula it stood for unbridled sexuality, which the stolid Victorian heroes eventually re-bridled. But Glenn Standring's 2006 film Perfect Creature may set some sort of record for audaciousness: it uses vampires to comment on the Catholic Church's abuse scandal.
In the alternate, vaguely steam-punkish world of the film, vampires are in fact another species of human, born at random to human mothers (the newborn babies with tiny fangs are one of the coolest/most disturbing visuals).
These exclusively male blooddrinkers are dedicated to benevolence and play the same societal role as the Church: they become black-clad "brothers," there are special vampiric rosaries, and the church rituals include a literal blood sharing that requires no supernatural transubstantiation. The main vampire character Silas is played by Dougray Scott in a carefully controlled performance that stresses his status as an outsider: he repeatedly observes human beings with a cock of the head and a slightly perplexed squint, and never raises his voice.
In this other reality, the science of genetics has been outlawed, but the Church practices it in secret in an attempt to increase the number of brothers born. One of these experiments goes awry, creating a form of insanity that turns Edgar (Leo Gregory) into a traditional neck-biting, leave-'em-dead vampiric killer. The Church, with the complicity of the police, attempts to contain Edgar, the disease he carries and any potential scandal. As in the real life Catholic attempt to silence the victims of pedophile priests, it doesn't quite work out.
The film rips along (it's a brisk 88 minutes), but never feels rushed or truncated. My only real complaint is that the final confrontation between Silas and Edward is choreographed like any other modern fight scene: characters who are never shown training or even engaged in physical conflicts suddenly become leaping, flying martial-arts masters. A super-powered vampire version of this fight would have been more appropriate, and certainly more entertaining.
Still, that's a minor caveat in the face of so much originality. Twentieth-Century Fox dumped this New Zealand film on the DVD market with a terrible generic cover and no publicity, but it's well worth seeking out (I found a used copy for $4.99). It stands as more proof that the vampire can be basically anything we want it to be.
Here's the trailer: