Let the right one in, indeed

I’d say you were within your rights to bite
The right one and say, “what kept you so long?”
“What kept you so long?”

– Morrissey “Let the Right One Slip In”

I must admit right off the bat (pun only partially intended) that I am not a big fan of vampire films, generally speaking. At least not in the way that I am a zombie film fan, the way that allows me to watch even the most horrendous tripe, rife with predictability, poor FX and lazy, painful dialog without hesitation or regret. There is something inherently frightening to me about zombies, the loss of humanity, and the sheer volume of them, along with a certain level of childhood attachment to that fear. Their very presence can rekindle it. Since I have neither a childhood attachment nor fear of vampires I require much more from a vampire film than the mere presence of the creature.

The first vampire film? Not hardly. The most influential? Now that's debatable.

The vampire film has been around since the early 1900s, but many point to F.W. Murnau’s silent classic, Nosferatu (1922), based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker, as the birth of the subgenre as it is known today. Universal Pictures and Hammer followed suit, each putting their own spin on the tale of young Jonathan Harker, who, after an ill-fated meeting with the Count involving real estate (spooky), loses his love to the vampire’s kiss. Originally those films were brimming with dark, gothic mood. Ominous castles backlit by a full moon, a wolf howling in the distance and more fog than a Cinderella concert (Yeah, I went there).

In the 70s vampire films began to focus more on the creature’s undertone of sexuality (Most films made in the 70s tended to focus on sex, actually). The vampire’s bite became (more) erotic, his concubines became more obvious tools of seduction and, well, Vampyros Lesbos (1970) and The Vampire’s Night Orgy (1973) got released. All of this is well and good for a teenage boy (or girl) looking for some cheap thrills, but were these films actually good?

You've got something on your chin

The 80s saw the rise a more fun, tongue-in-cheek vampire film that actually works a bit better for me than the soft-core skinimax of the 70s. The Lost Boys (1987), Vamp (1986), and Fright Night (1985) are all good fun, some playing off the themes of their predecessors and some forging a path soon to be mimicked (1996’s From Dusk Till Dawn owes a fair amount to Vamp, both in setting and tone). Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce (1985) put a nice spin on things, replacing Transylvania with outer space and blood with energy, and Near Dark (1987) (brought to you by future Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow) was a slick-looking vampire western. Still, vampires are vampires, right?

In the 90s From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) featured vamps via Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino (‘nuff said) and Bordello of Blood (1996), Tales from the Crypt‘s second foray into feature films, brought us a wise crackin’ Dennis Miller as a vampire hunter and a wise crackin’ Corey Feldman as a vampire, crackin’ wise (‘nuff said, again). Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Blade (1998), and Interview with the Vampire (1994) all made a decent dent in the box office and, in the straight-to-video market, we were blessed with a little Alyssa Milano nudity (A lot, actually) in Embrace of the Vampire (1994). But these films were mostly style (and nudity) over substance.

Then in the late 2000s a film finally did what Vampiyaz in the early 2000s could not: start a vampire revival. That film, unfortunately, was Twilight (2008). But amidst the brooding, sparkling and inanity of the Edward versus Jacob debate the first vampire film I can, without hesitation, add to my list of favorite films was released. That film was Let the Right One In (2008).

A budding romance

The film concerns a boy named Oscar who is largely ignored by his mother and relentlessly bullied at school. One day a little girl and her “father” move into the apartment next to his. The first time the two of them speak Oscar is repeatedly thrusting a knife into a tree in his complex’s courtyard. She asks him what he’s doing then tells him that she cannot be his friend.

These meetings continue and they do become friends. Oscar learns that her name is Eli and that she likes puzzles. He also notices that she is consistently shoe-less, despite the frigid weather. We learn that there is a reason I put quotation marks around the word “father,” as Eli’s seems to spend his free time killing people and collecting their blood. Anyone who has seen a vampire film knows what’s up, but what makes Let the Right One In so impressive is its handling of these normally clichéd concepts. We even get to see what happens when Eli enters someone’s home without an invitation. It’s not pretty.

At heart of the film is the budding relationship between Oscar and Eli and how it helps Oscar find his confidence. The fact that Eli is a vampire is almost secondary or, at least, not terribly important until the second act when Oscar must make a decision. The weight of that decision is made all the more heavy when we realize that the nature of Eli’s relationship with her “father” is perhaps not so different.

A budding romance, American style

In 2010 an American remake called Let Me In was released (the original is Norwegian). It was directed by Matt Reeves who had previously brought us the shaky cam monster movie Cloverfield (2008), a far cry from the slowly paced, elegantly filmed Let the Right One In. There was cause for concern, but the remake turned out to be a near duplicate of the original, sometimes shot for shot.

Let the Right One In transcends its genre by using a vampire as a means to tell the story rather than making the vampire the story in and of itself. It is about adolescence and first love. It is about addiction. It is also a great tragedy. Sometimes it’s fun to see some over-the-top, cheeky vampire action, but if you’re looking for a truly great vampire film you’d do well to let this one in.


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