30 Days of Night (2007) – Gruesome, Ruthless & Bloodthirsty Vampire Rampage.
Adaptations of graphic novels are almost as common these days as big screen outings for more traditional comic book heroes. 30 Days of Night is not as ambitious as Sin City or Watchmen, but it makes a solid genre entry. It’s a commendably unpretentious, good old-fashioned video nasty.
Grumblings about the gradual pussification of the vampire movie have gathered momentum since this most venerable of horror sub genres got Starbucksed in The Twilight Saga. These grumblings usually come from horror buffs brought up on Fright Night, The Lost Boys, and Near Dark, or a younger generation reared on the gory excesses of Blade and From Dusk Till Dawn.
The truth is, there has always been scary vampire movies, but many of the most popular film portrayals, starting with Bela Lugosi as Dracula (1931) have capitalized on the sex appeal of vampires.
The vampires of 30 Days of Night, however, have more in common with Murnau’s Nosferatu – fanboys might get juiced up, but it’s unlikely the girls will get the hots for these bloodsuckers.
Luckily for them, 30 Days of Night stars Josh Hartnett as Eben Oleson, the young sheriff of Barrow, Alaska. A remote outpost supporting an oil refinery, it is the town farthest north in the US, plunged into polar night for thirty days each winter.
Most of the population leave town for the month of darkness, leaving a skeleton crew of hardy locals behind. Also cut off as the winter sets in is Stella (Melissa George), Eben’s former girlfriend, who misses the last plane out.
Such favorable conditions attract a coven of vampires, who arrive by ship and send a straggly, rotten-toothed Stranger (Ben Foster) ahead to slaughter the town’s dogs and sabotage the communications. Cut off from the outside world, the vampires descend to glut on the terrified townsfolk’s blood.
The population is rapidly massacred, and the few remaining survivors hole up in an attic, hoping to hold out until the sun finally rises again.
30 Days of Night is tight and gruesome, although played for thrills rather than chills. Slade admirably avoids the use of cheap scares, and is all the more effective for it. The film gets more gratuitous as it progresses, but the initial attack on the town is genuinely frightening, featuring a brilliant aerial shot of the chaos in the streets.
Another standout scene involves the use of a young girl as bait, as the coven try to draw the remaining survivors out. Shivering and terrified, the vampires are almost unseen as they scuttle along the rooftops ready for an ambush.
The horror of Barrow’s plight is most effective out of sight, with gunshots and screams in the distance. While there is plenty of gore, Slade wisely cuts away from most of the throat tearing and decapitations at the last moment, preventing overkill.
The vampires are a disgusting bunch. Arriving on a ship, they look like Eurotrash gangsters and their molls, led by Marlow (Danny Huston), who manages loathsome and scary despite resembling an evil, undead Neil Tennant from the Pet Shop Boys.
With mouths brimming with filthy, pin-sharp teeth, inky black eyes and long, dirty brown claws, they are untroubled by remorse or pity. Shrieking and snarling, they view humankind as a plague, and delight in tormenting their victims before savaging them to death. Their chins are constantly soaked with blood, and they tremble with the ecstasy of the kill.
It is unlikely any teens will want these vampires on their bed sets or lunch boxes.
30 Days of Night loses its way in the third act, as the survivors attempt to reach a power station. Populated by largely unknown or journeymen actors and actresses, the back-of-a-postage-stamp characterization simply isn’t sharp enough to survive the mayhem.
Although the enemy are vampires, the film most closely resembles a zombie survival horror. With a band of characters to etch out quickly, each personality needs to be sharply defined, otherwise the audience won’t recognize them, and worse still won’t care when the carnage kicks in.
That is exactly what happens in the last half hour of 30 Days of Night. Some characters wander off, and it is never explained what happened to them. Others are attacked and they are swiftly left for dead without it quite being clear who it was in the first place.
After the pleasingly brutal shocks of the build up, the film fades out rather than cranking it up for the finale.
Hartnett makes for an appealingly vulnerable hero, Huston a thoroughly revolting nemesis. Of the supporting cast, only Ben Foster as The Stranger, the Renfield of the piece, and Mark Boone Junior as the town’s burly snow plough driver leave any impression.
A decent Friday night horror, which should delight gore hounds.