VAMPIRISM, SEXUALITY AND DEATH -
LEGACY OF F.W. MURNAU’S NOSFERATU
Fredrich Wilhelm Murnau’s original
silent classic version of Nosferatu
(1922), offers an influence only rivaled by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1926) in the cannon of German Expressionist
cinema. Thanks to Murnau’s illegal
version of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula,
only Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes have come close to the title of the most filmed
character in world cinema. Add the many
non-Dracula Vampire films and you have a picture that is one of the most
important films of all time. In the
United States, Kino International had issued the most pristine copies of the
film in decades, on its 80th Anniversary.
We will look at the landmark film in three ways: 1) behind the scenes,
2) in its influence, and 3) how the Vampire Cinema that it began always seems
to remarkably correspond with the way sex is dealt with in society.
Murnau (real last name, Plumpe), was a
major director in the Expressionist movement, and it is only in recent years
the ugly Nosferatu has been re-associated with Dracula as the “romantic” image
burned out in the AIDS-era. The German
Expressionist era began with Robert Wiese’s 1919 version of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu was the first major film to
play against the conventions of artifice the cycle offered. Metropolis
was the peak and end of the movement a mere seven years after it all began. There has been an uncanny link between modern
(and post-modern) culture and trends in the way Vampirism is portrayed
cinematically. We have come just about
full-circle with the Murnau version.
Jack Kerouac believed that “Murnau may have drawn a lot of
information for the great vampire dissertations of Romft and Calmet written in
the 18th Century. Vampire is a word of
Serbian origin (Wampir), -- meaning blood-sucking ghosts”. The Stoker equivalent, “blood is life”, is
used to back up a text that is pro-laborer insofar as it concerns the people
who give their blood and sweat to a society that does not always compensate for
their troubles and hard work. That split
is the key to understanding the pendulum nature of the Vampire in pop culture
and cinema in particular. The Murnau
version deals directly with death, while the Stoker version deals with romanticism
perverted by an evil, decaying elite who must gut out the innocent to
survive. This gives an interesting
amount of wiggle room, both helping to explain the endurance of such films, and
the various classics that some very talented filmmakers managed to come up with
According to William K. Everson,
Murnau embraces the death motif by presenting to his audience a sick-looking,
dead bloodsucker, developing “expressionism drawn from naturalistic rather than
artificial devices”. As noted, Nosferatu
is notorious in the German Expressionist cannon for breaking those standards of
artifice. In E. Elias Merhige’s Shadow Of The Vampire (2000,) much is
made of this. Murnau (played by John
Malkovich) is obsessed with his camera work in and out of the studio. Not only are the technical bugs and personnel
problems getting in his way, but these problems seem to be manifesting
themselves further in his lead actor, Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe in an Academy
Award Nominated performance). The
biggest joke of the film is that Schreck’s Count Orlock is so good that he may
be closer to being a real Vampire than Murnau suspects. A general in-joke involves how real method
and character actors can get, but the biggest point may be that Nosferatu
haunts the history of cinema so much, that it practically has a supernatural
life of its own outside of the diegetic narrative it offers.
inside piece of information that exemplifies this about Nosferatu, also
evolving into a joke, involves Bram Stoker’s widow successfully suing Murnau
over copyright violation of the Dracula
novel. The most interesting legal result
gave her the power to destroy all the prints of Nosferatu. She acted upon this, but she was fortunately
not totally successful, as if the film itself had some supernatural
protection. This joke is one Merhige
missed out on in Shadow Of The Vampire.
Lotte E. Eisner perplexedly wondered
about a motive for the exterior shooting.
She asks why Murnau went from discovering “such moving natural images”
that he “should have been satisfied little more than a year later with a few
dull snapshots of rocks or a conventional picture-postcard sea” for his very
next film. Donald F. Glut counters
“locations in Nosferatu may have displeased some of Murnau’s peers, but they
gave the film an authenticity lacking in most studio-shot vampire movies”. As a result, the fake look of the indoor
studio and its sets do not negate the deathly presence of Murnau’s Orlock. Although there are interior shots that do
suggest a place of wealth gone badly, Murnau is far more interested in the
death part. He demonstrates this by
simply being persistent in pointing out that this Vampire is the respectable
Orlock (or Orlack, various spellings exist, but the compound word this
alternate version offers suggests the vampire more clearly) as a way to point
an accusing finger at the source of evil.
Murnau’s other big contribution to the
light-as-good/dark-as-evil duality offers sunlight’s power to vaporize a
vampire. It is also his greatest contribution
of all, as the Vampire is (as Glut points out) “always defeated by some force
of Good – or light”. Just before the
Bela Lugosi/Tod Browning Dracula
(1931) brings the character into mainstream, legally-approved and sound-era
filmmaking, Carl Theodore Dreyer’s Vampyr
(shot 1930, distributed 1932) takes this idea much farther. The ideas of light and dark become less black
and white, more complex, and this allows Dreyer to delve much deeper into the
dreamlike and deathlike realms that make it a masterwork in its own right. Though produced as a silent film, some copies
would be made with various soundtracks after the fact. The boom of sound and the phenomenal success
of the Lugosi/Browning film only encouraged further interest in the more
comparatively attractive version of the Count.
After his performance in the 1931 Dracula, the Lugosi’s name became
shorthand for the hypnotic and the seductive (heterosexually), and his early
iconic status delivered then-smaller studio Universal’s reputation from silent
era has-been to the home of Horror films.
In this way, it was more easily assimilated to the audience and that
meant big box office. Those prints that
did survive from the Nosferatu post-lawsuit were many incomplete copies of the
film, which Glut points out did not get widely booked until the 1960s. That is when the Lugosi model finally began
to fall. He reigned from 1931 to 1957,
but both Nosferatu’s resurrection and the British Hammer Horror studios first
Dracula film in 1958 marked a significant shift for the character.
Christopher Lee’s portrayal of the
title character retained the heterosexual/wealthy old man style, but brought a
new menace that challenged Lugosi for the first time. The very fact that his Dracula films are highly stylized color productions that (as in the
goal of all Hammer films) restore British hierarchic values by their
conclusion, offered a formula that made that studio legendary. The denial of the darker, more death-like
Nosferatu is also obvious.
One reason Nosferatu resonated with
later audiences who saw it had to do with the fall of the Enlightenment
resulting from the terrible realities of World War I and World War II (and the
Horrors of Nazi Germany itself foreshadowed by the “something’s wrong” feel of
Expressionist films). Nosferatu was ever a film ahead of its
time, fresh and challenging in an era when most filmmakers were unwilling to
explore the darker side of the mythos.
They were content to let the Lugosi/Lee models of the Vampire dominate. In all this time, other concepts of sex and
alternate sexualities were just as suppressed.
Richard Matheson’s book I Am Legend also was issued in the late
1950s and gave rise to three films in a short period of time. The “official” versions so far are The Last Man On Earth (1964) with
Vincent Price and The Omega Man
(1971) with Charlton Heston. The leads
in both play a man who must face a worldwide disaster in which the rest of the
human race has succumbed to disease. In
the book and the Price film, it is actual Vampirism. The Heston version gives it a science fiction
twist as the two Communist/Socialist superpowers (the former Soviet Union and
China) turn human race into a race of night-dwelling mutants hunting-down and
assimilating any uninfected humans left.
Ridley Scott attempted to remake the book as a film for a third time in
the 1990s, finally under its original title with Arnold Schwarzenegger, but
that project fell through when Scott and Warner Bros. ran into conflicts about
it. It is still in the works with a new
director and star.
In the same circumstance that produced
Nosferatu, the original 1968 Night Of
The Living Dead puts director George Romero on the map by being an
unofficial version of I Am Legend down to copying the look of Last Man On Earth to a great
extent. However, his knock-off also
takes the next big step after Vampyr by dealing with race, sexuality, power,
and has golden timing (as did the Roman Polanski masterwork Rosemary’s Baby the same year) of being
released as America’s Vietnam involvement and civil rights explosions marked a
major return of the repressed. Romero
would more explicitly take on Vampirism in his 1978 film Martin, even though the title character is not a supernatural
Polanski himself had just sent-up
Vampirism with his previous 1967 effort The
Fearless Vampire Killers or Pardon Me But Your Teeth Are In My Neck (also
known as Dance of the Vampires). This effort would later be intertextually
tainted by the real-life horror of the film’s female lead (and Polanski’s
girlfriend) Sharon Tate, brutally murdered not long after, in the
ever-notorious Manson killings. The
1960s also saw the end of the Lugosi model in TV’s long-running soap opera Dark Shadows, shot on videotape and
turning the perversion of the capitalist elite into an almost-sexless
melodrama. It would go on to spawn two
feature film versions and other revival series.
A golden era of reactionary and
innovative films on Vampires followed up until 1979, and the edgier, more
disturbing Nosferatu (and Vampyr to a lesser extent) Vampire
images were embraced by a rising Pop culture.
In June 1970, the Batman comics saw the introduction of the monstrous,
Nosferatu-like Man-Bat, a creature born from a scientists' lab experiment (ala Dr.
Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Murnau’s other Horror work) that turned him into a
flying, human-sized bat. With this kind
of doppelgangering around, Batman (hero figure) must confront an aspect of his
own darkness while trying to tame/stop Man-Bat.
With Batman almost Vampiric himself and often portrayed as such in the
early days as “The Bat-Man”, it becomes one of the key forerunners of his Dark
Night Returns revision in the 1980s. He
is a nearly sexless psychotic about to crack-up again after years of retirement
and in ways he may never have before.
Such darkness may even be a reaction to the campy Batman series and
theatrical film of the 1960s, despite being decades later.
Matheson would again prove to be vital
to the rise of the more frank Vampirism when he teamed up with Dark Shadows’ Dan Curtis and writer
Jeff Rice to create the teleplay to The
Night Stalker. This TV movie was
produced in 1971 and broadcast in January 1972; it quickly became one of the
highest-rated shows in TV history and a classic. In it, middle-aged reporter Carl Kolchak
(Darren McGavin) is a reporter on vacation, called back to his current job in
Las Vegas to cover a series of murders that turn out to be committed by a real
Vampire, Janos Skorseny (Barry Atwater).
The most important thing about the film is that it is the first ever to
explicitly admit to the perversion of the power structure and how that
structure will do anything to stay in place, no matter the toll in human lives
or in suppression of the truth. In this
respect, it is a forerunner of Polanski’s Chinatown
(1974) and would span a great TV Movie sequel a year later (The Night Strangler), a near-classic
single season TV series the year after that (Kolchak: The Night Stalker), countless imitators, and the 1990s hit
The X-Files. Curtis even does his own Dracula telefilm with Jack Palance in the title role with Matheson
writing when they both pass on participating in the Kolchak series.
Polanski would again be linked to
Vampire cinema by simply making a cameo in Paul Morrissey’s Blood For Dracula (1974), which went
even farther with gore, blood, politics, comedy and oddball violence than any
other Vampire film has ever gone nearly 30 years later. The film received what was then an X-rating,
but would now get an NC-17, or be released unrated. The once-glamorous Dracula (Udo Kier in a
great performance) is on his way to “Nosferatuville” if he does not get the
blood of “wirgin” girls and will remain in a very sickly state until that
occurs. Here, one old elitist preys on
another in the form of a family that consists of an old married couple, their
three beautiful and developed daughters and a Communist/Socialist farm boy
worker-stud (Joe Dallesandro). Dracula
and his assistant are the only ones who know their mission, but the streetwise
and politically wise hired help and poorest of all of them catches on
quick. As was the case with the 3-D and
X-rated Flesh For
Frankenstein that Morrissey directed, and
finished days before this film began shooting, the Hammer films take the brunt
of this film’s satire. There are also
sexual situations in Blood For Dracula that one would NEVER see in Hammer or
In the face of all of this, the old
Lugosi model of Dracula becomes impotent as Horror image, transforming instead
into a Marvel Comics superhero with his own Tomb Of Dracula comic book that runs for much of the 1970s. Though it is not explicitly Lugosi, the
message and point are obvious. This also
became a classic comic series of its time.
More horror titles came along at the same time (Werewolf By Night, the original Swamp Thing,) that crossed into anti-hero territory like nothing
since the comics code arrived in 1955.
This would have been unthinkable without Vietnam, or excluding Vampires.
Returning to the big screen, two films
from 1979 complete this era’s cycle: John Badham’s Dracula and Werner Herzog’s unusual remake of Murnau’s Nosferatu. Badham was coming off of the success of Saturday Night Fever (1977) while
Herzog had received international acclaim for Stroszek, so both men were facing
unusual scrutiny with their vampire projects.
For Badham, Dracula was not
the commercial success that he, his stars and Universal Pictures had hoped
for. Frank Langella did score as one of
the screens more memorable Counts, a role he had pulled off on stage that won
him the film. With Sir Lawrence Olivier
in his thriller cycle as Van Helsing, a Star Wars-hyped public wanted a
throwback to the Bela Lugosi. Instead,
they got a more challenging variation with unexpected twists that went against
expectations. As Robin Wood points out,
the film’s idea of the Dracula/Lucy relationship is so boldly heterosexual, it
negates the bisexuality and other subversions typically associated with
Vampirism to the point of adding an implicit Fascist tendency. I would add that the conclusion might suggest
a flaw in the conclusion of Stoker’s original book (repeated, oddly, in the
Coppola version) that the only way the world can survive is the overthrow of
the perverted old elite guard. Badham,
as if to respond to the Morrissey Blood For Dracula, suggests ways how that
elite could be reborn in a new way.
Herzog’s Nosferatu The Vampyre also had to live up to the Murnau film, but Eine Symphonie Des Grauens (A Symphony Of Shudders) was not
retained as the subtitle of the film as Murnau had used. Instead, we get Klaus Kinski as the title
vampire as total victim. A more
sympathetic variant of Kier’s starving Dracula in the Morrissey version, the
film also has its share of humor and would be followed by similar films that
reflected more deeply and explicitly on Vampiric needs. Tony Scott’s The Hunger (1983), Katherine Bigelow’s Near Dark (1987, dubbed a “redneck vampire film”) and Abel
Ferrera’s The Addiction (1995, in
black and white) would be among the most noteworthy of these and the themes of
various sexualities would not be held back.
Of course, as noted with Polanski, full-length comedies
have been done about Vampires. While the
Disco-era Love At First Bite (1979)
was the hit Badham had hoped for with his serious Dracula, later attempts at
humor with the subject in Mel Brooks’ awful Dracula – Dead And Loving It and Wes Craven’s Eddie Murphy vehicle Vampire In Brooklyn (both 1995) bombed
critically and commercially. The Murphy
film wanted it both ways, scary and funny, but not even Craven could pull that
off. It did lead to Craven’s quickly
tiresome, but financially viable (non-Vampiric) Scream franchise.
Badham’s commercial failure discouraged an increasingly
commercial Hollywood from doing more Dracula films and Vampire pictures in
general during the 1980s, but the films that did get made continued to
fascinate. A Vampire film is being made
within the gruesome happenings of Brian De Palma’s Body Double (1984), a purposely-sleazy film about sleazy
existence. By association, the Vampire
film was totally relegated to B-movie status as the Reagan years fostered a
media culture that suppressed and denied any type of alternative lifestyle or
non-heterosexuality. However, such Conservatism only encouraged De Palma to go in
the opposite direction. Up to that time,
Blood was always considered a good thing, but not any more.
The late 1970s slowly began a
transition into an era we now known as the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. Body
Double is the last film involving Vampirism to be able to ignore this. The advent of AIDS would change the context
of Vampirism forever, and with Hollywood avoiding AIDS like they had originally
avoided Vietnam, the genre would be explicitly revived by Warner Bros. and
producer David Geffen for The Lost Boys,
Interview With The Vampire and Queen Of The Damned. Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys (1987) was a modest hit that has had a growing
following ever since, crossing teenagers, their groups (the title references
Peter Pan) and pop culture. Despite
their age, suggestions of the films’ homoeroticism still haunt it beyond the
sexual preference of some of its creative participants. This becomes much more explicit in Neil
Jordan’s film of Anne Rice’s Interview
With The Vampire (1994), featuring Tom Cruise controversially cast as the
Vampire Lestat (initially against the hopes of a distressed Rice) and Brad Pitt
as “lovers potential.” The prequel, Queen Of The Damned (2002) took a very
long time in production, and then had the real-life tragedy of its lead die in
an unexpected plane crash. That was the
R&B vocalist Aallyah, who finished just enough work for the film to be
issued, but it still felt somehow incomplete.
Tim Burton, with many retroactive
images of old Hollywood Horror films haunting practically all of his work,
would revive Batman (1989) with a
Nosferatu-like look (though not as far as Man-Bat) and his Ed Wood (1994) would literally have Bela Lugosi (as played by
Martin Landau, finally receiving an Academy Award for his acting efforts). Batman was more promiscuous than in previous
incarnations, while remaining heterosexual, but Ed Wood had gender issues that
seemed to play in well with Lugosi’s Horror-molded persona.
Francis Ford Coppola boldly entitled
his film Bram Stoker’s Dracula
(1992) and it would be the first to implicitly deal with AIDS, even if the film
itself ran into a multitude of problems.
Coppola, one of the most cinematically literate filmmakers of all time,
even references the flame from Murnau’s Faust
(1924) and allows his Van Helsing (an over-the-top Anthony Hopkins) to identify
his Dracula as Nosferatu! What would
Murnau’s widow have thought? Combining
many visual references to silent and early sound classics with religious
symbolism and a sense of Italian Neo-Realism, the film remains his most
commercially successful since the ever-brilliant Apocalypse Now (1979). This
does not mean it is entirely successful.
Very little, if any, of the alternate sexuality survives in this telling
of Dracula, but it goes further to say that love will survive AIDS and
death. It is played as optimistically
romantic, but that has some major problems.
Besides ignoring the finality of death AIDS offers, but Vampirism does
not, the film runs the risk of trivializing the crisis unintentionally. This is furthered by the fact that the group
that gets the disease the most is not at the center of the film. Then, the idea that the undead and the living
must merge into the semi-dead to survive is not exactly the epitome of
Romanticism. However, the film still
continues the thesis that Vampire films reflect sexuality in society and
Coppola had his Dracula (a Lugosi-sounding Gary Oldman) alternately in handsome
“Lugosi/Lee/Langella” mode and a modified version of the Nosferatu ugliness. The film’s ambitions are more impressive than
Around the same time, the growing
influence established of filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese
parallels the arrival of newcomers like Quentin Tarantino, Brian Singer, Todd
Haynes and Danny Boyle. The next stage
of Vampire films currently involves Vampires arriving in large groups,
participating in battles to destroy them that play out like the Professional
Westerns like Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild
Bunch (1969) and Sergio Leone’s brilliant cycle of the so-called “Spaghetti
Westerns” from that same period. Tarantino, a fan of such cinema, co-produced
and co-starred in Robert Rodriguez’s From
Dusk Till Dawn (1996), the better of these films and the first. Two criminal brothers (George Clooney and
Tarantino) find themselves in an unexpected alliance with a priest (Harvey
Keitel) and his daughter (Juliette Lewis) to battle Aztec Vampires. Two (so far) poor sequels have been made and
Hollywood rolled the dice with John
Carpenter’s Vampires (1998) and the extremely pointless Dracula 2000. Carpenter’s film disappoints by not picking
up on the implicit Vampirism of his last great film to date, 1988’s They Live.
That brings us to the last explicitly
Vampiric classic of this over-80-years period.
It has influenced The Matrix
(1999, and it 2003 sequels), Charlie’s
Angels (2000), Mission: Impossible
2 (2000), the look and style of the Nightcrawler character in X-Men 2 (2003), and all of their many
sequels, while taking the next step forward into the maturity of comic books
finding their way to the big screen.
Steven Norrington’s Blade (1998)
finally proved a Marvel Comics character could be a critical and commercial
big-screen success. After many failures,
mini-major New Line Cinema did it and Wesley Snipes (an underrated dramatic
actor) was right on the money as the half-human, half-Vampire superhero that
owed as much to Batman as it did to the original Shaft (1971). Sex was not a
major issue, but reproduction and infection of the blood was.
To backtrack for a moment,
African-Americans finally found themselves in the forefront of Pop Culture of
the time in the early 1970s. As far as
the Horror genre was concerned, there were supernatural doings in the otherwise
unlikely place of a James Bond film with Guy Hamilton’s Live And Let Die (1973), plus outright Vampirism in William Crain’s
stylish and humorous Blacula (1972),
its sequel Scream Blacula Scream a
year later and writer/director Bill Gunn’s Ganja & Hess from 1973.
Though the Bond lacks any Vampires, these films comprise a landmark
period for the genre, sparred on somewhat by the African American hero in
Night Of The Living Dead.
The Blacula character is
obviously an exaggeration of the Lugosi Dracula, but Ganja & Hess offers something different.
That film, in its full-length cut, has
the most explicit nudity and language of just about any film in the genre,
rivaling Morrissey’s X-rated Horror films.
Yet, the sexuality is always tinged with the specter of death, never
feeling explicitly erotic. This has much
more to do with the distance of the camera and cold lighting schemes than
anything else. The Vampirism, bloodlust,
and even quasi-cannibalism come across with the authenticity of
documentary-style filmmaking and recall Dreyer’s Vampyr more than any other
film of the era. Likely an influence on
Romero’s Martin, the film casts the actor who played Romero’s hero Duane Jones
as Dr. Hess, and has all the ethnic authenticity of the non-Horror Reggae
classic The Harder They Come (also
1973), but also offers quite a different and innovative music score. African-American sexuality realized on
celluloid, which is a metaphor for all suppressed sexuality on film, offers a
new landmark moment for Vampire films up there with the Murnau classic.
With its smart, pounding Electronica
soundtrack and fascinating wide-screen camerawork, Blade was not a blockbuster
and print critics (as usual) missed the boat, but its reputation grew and it
became a huge home video hit. The army
of Vampires was there, but this time, they had a new foe to contend with. Snipes has the perfect timing and pacing with
one-liners and exceptional martial arts action that is not overly staged like
so any a Hollywood film that wishes it was as hip as a low-budget Hong Kong
action import. It becomes the cumulative
return to where those early 1970s films (Morrissey’s included) left off. The science fiction of Omega Man had also finally arrived again in this film and even Udo
Kier plays a Vampire!
League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) would be Norrington’s next big
commercial film, having turned down any Blade sequel, yet it did not allow him
to totally escape Vampirism. Mina, now a
Vampire, is among its motley cast of would-be heroes. For the 80th Anniversary of Murnau’s Nosferatu, New Line released that first
sequel, Blade 2. The film ran into some glutting, repeating
too much of the original installment, but whether they had Murnau in mind or
not, the sequel is haunted more so by him that the original. Thanks to Blade, a Nosferatu-like overlord
has taken over as the worldwide leader of the species, but members of an elite
hit squad in training for several years to hunt down Blade are sent to notify
him that a new mutant species is on the loose and They will need to pull their
resources together, as it feeds on both Vampires and humans. With Blade being a combination of both, he
reluctantly agrees to participate.
The other twist is that all the
mutants also look very Nosferatu-like, but also owe something to another one of
his descendants: H. R Giger’s Alien that
debuted in Ridley Scott’s 1979 film of the same name. It to is gender-ambiguous, either seen as a
giant running and hunting phallic symbol, or as a mad mother on the loose. Either way, the German Expressionist
influence is undeniable and Blade 2
tries to throw this in too, if not successfully.
Like its predecessor, Blade 2 did poorly at the box office,
and then was rediscovered on home video.
The studio might not have liked that kind of repeat performance, but
there is one thing even they could do nothing about. Blade
2 will hold the distinction of being the last Vampire film to be made
before an event that is the most shattering since the advent of AIDS, the
terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
The sequel backed off from the themes of blood, death, sex and
existential reflectiveness that made the first a genre classic and decided to
go broader for more commercial success.
It will gain Blade new fans, but that proved to be a bad move, as the picture
was already in production and it was not escapist enough in the face of such
dread. 2004 saw writer David Goyer (who
wrote the first two installments of the series) taking over as director, making
it one of four scheduled Marvel Comics feature films due all year. Blade
– Trinity brought us a new team called The Nightstalkers, a vampire who was
supposed to be Dracula (more of a wrestler type than Nosferatu) and was such a
mess that the franchise imploded and was spun into a far more inept TV series. Suddenly, a new infantilism had befallen
Earlier in 2002, another overlord-type
in the Nosferatu mode showed up. This
was a much bigger surprise, since the film was Star Trek – Nemesis. Despite
the many alien creatures the previous series and nine prior feature films
offered, Vampirism rarely crept into the franchise. This was the final of four features with the
entire cast of The Next Generation
series. Their big screen stint had been
very disappointing, not doing nearly the business of the weakest four films
financially with the original cast, nor having the critical impact of the
better of those films.
The militarizing of the series with
the second film sadly planted the seeds for the franchise to go overboard with
such ideas, which put Gene Roddenberry’s classic so far off his original
intents that the general public never cozied up to The Next Generation
cast. The show itself took forever to
get started, with its first few seasons sticking the tired stories in a virtual
reality section of their version of The Enterprise called the Holodeck. The cast was thus rendered plastic and happy
with few challenges or little of substance to do. That impression handicapped the feature films
they did, though they had eventually developed their TV series and cast of
characters into something worthy of the original. Of particular statue was Patrick Stewart as
Enterprise Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
Stewart is one of those vocally great stage actors. Add that he’s British and the seal of
prestige is complete. This bolsters the
Picard character well, with his goodness and professionalism constantly
challenged throughout the TV and film series.
Nemesis great twist is a bold undermining of this.
Along with the Klingons that William
Shatner’s Captain Kirk had to help The Federation make piece with in the
vintage cast’s last feature film (Star
Trek VI – The Undiscovered Country in 1991,) Picard and crew are asked as a
wedding is taking place amongst them to broker peace with a new ruler of the
Romulans, the other main alien race the franchise has offered clashing with
Federation Starships since the original series.
Picard has no hatred of the Romulans, but it turns out they had
attempted to create a clone of him, who would replace him once he was kidnapped
and likely, killed. The Romulans got as
far as a cloned likeness named Shinzon (Tom Hardy,) but then abandoned
him. With the assistance of an evil
Viceroy (genre favorite Ron Perlman) who retrieved him from the living hell
they dumped him in, Shinzon has been snuck into the Romulan high command,
intending to feign peace so he can destroy Earth and The Enterprise with a
weapon on his ship, which is three-times the current Enterprise’s size. He also intends to take Picard, gut him out
and drain him of what makes him so Shinzon can stay alive. For now, Shinzon must suck the blood of the
Viceroy every time he becomes weak, which gets homoerotic (even counting the
characters as alien) and recalls both Herzog’s Nosferatu, and Morrissey’s
Dracula in Blood For Dracula.
Though not noted at the time, the link
between cloning and Vampirism had not
been presented this way before, while the film just does not throw the Horror
elements in just to make the film different.
The ins and outs of how vampirism is applied to this film are
impressive. This went unnoticed by just
about all the critics and writers of the time.
Even the concepts of Fascism and vampirism that Badham presented in his
1979 Dracula come out here, as
Picard must ask how much of this lone monster of himself really reflects
him. How much does this Fascist side
possibly make him such a success in his militaristic occupation? How much farther does this delve into him and
his private space, than the horrors of The Borg?
Add some smart dialogue, great action,
and a story that gets better as it goes along, and you get the possibly most
underrated film the franchise will ever produce. This one will hopefully be rediscovered as it
circulates through various video outlets.
To reveal other clever Vampiric elements in the film would defeat the
purpose of this work, and ruin the film for the majority of those who have not
seen it. However, we are at a point that
even in the far-flung future and beyond the Horror genre, the figure of
Nosferatu continues to thrive with no end in sight.