So, Halloween, eh? The season of pumpkin-flavoured everything and dubious costumes returns anew and gives me ample excuse to watch a month-long festival of fright-based flicks on your behalf.
Everybody wins, I guess? Except for Mrs Rolling Eyeballs, that is, who doesn’t do horror, despite being an avid viewer of “Grimm”, “Fringe” and other telefantasy shows which dabble in things that go bump in the midnight hour.
Our first example of horrific entertainment this October is “30 Days of Night” (2007), adapted from Steve Niles’ grisly comic. It concerns a plague of feral, ancient vampires laying siege to the snowy, isolated Alaskan town of Barrow, where the sun never rises for the titular period each year.
“30 Days” is a classic, almost Western-like tale of law-enforcement folk and assorted survivors joining forces to ward off evil whilst struggling to prevent internal discord from letting the bad guys in. Josh Hartnett stars as fresh-faced sheriff Eben Oleson whilst Danny Huston plays the alpha bloodsucker Marlow, whose ferocity is only matched by his intelligence.
These are not your romantic vampires of the Lestat/Edward Cullen school – they’re more akin to vicious apex predators, using the geography of the town to hunt, grab prey and then return to the shadows to feed. Equally, the accepted touchstones of fiction are almost wholly ineffective – wooden stakes don’t work, garlic is a bust and even dismemberment provides only temporary respite from the fangs of the un-dead.
As the film draws to a climax, it seems that there’s little which can stop Marlow’s powerful horde from doing their grisly work unless the survivors are prepared to make an ultimate sacrifice to prevent the spread of this virulent vampiric cabal.
Director David Slade’s film is at it’s best when it shows the hopelessness besetting Barrow’s townsfolk – there’s a wonderful overhead shot from the air which follows the vampires cutting a bloody swathe through main street and overrunning the unprepared civilians. It’s an operatic moment which is never quite matched by the rest of the movie, which is more contained and content to focus in on the cabin fever which besets the ever-dwindling populace as the month draws on.
That’s not to say that it’s bad – rather that this is a horror movie with most of the sharp edges left on: Heroism goes unrewarded and a happy ending is conspicuous by it’s absence.
The best performances come from the dark side of course – Danny Huston is a fantastic antagonist, giving Marlow an aristocratic, old-world air, as though this vampire has lived for centuries and spilt more blood than he knows what to do with. He is matched on the creep scale by Ben Foster, wholly memorable as the mysterious newcomer to Barrow whose arrival is a cue for very bad things to start happening.
If your October fancy is for night-crawlers and be-fanged horrors of the darkest kind, the pervasive dread and desperation of “30 Days of Night” is hard not to recommend.