Thursday 6 October 2016


So, this month we move on to the really big issues – the ones at the heart of modern culture and human existence, the ones that resonate through time and help define who we are as humanity - the central, pivotal questions facing us all. Namely: why are '80s vampire films universally recognised as the best?

This canon of films – 'The Lost Boys', 'Fright Night', 'Vamp', 'Near Dark', 'The Hunger', 'Vampire's Kiss', 'Salem's Lot' (giving ourselves slight leeway with the decade), 'Once Bitten' (OK, maybe not that one) – not only set a strange new, cool blueprint for the vampire film but they have remained many people's favourite films decades later. So what has made them so appealing and enduring?

The first point to make it that they were all so different in tone and context to the previous post-Hammer generation of vampire flicks. Rather than being set in a historical setting involving German accents and castles they were set in the present day, in the gloriously cheesy hysteria of Reagan's USA of the 1980s. Not a Burgermeister nor frock-coated dandy in site (with the possible exception of Peter Vincent, of course). These were a whole new attempt by Hollywood at making fang-themed-fun for the modern age, and in retrospect no matter how dated the context seems now it could have been at least 80 years more dated than it actually was if that contemporising effort hadn't been made.

The second aspect was the rise of the '80s generation of youth, raised on punk, post-punk, disco, funk and metal, and used to the packaging of teen rebellion & the cool outcast. In a way that generation's most entitled and privileged elements had more in common with their parents in the 1950s, and the vampire was the new 'rebel without a cause' for the eighties. The protagonists in these films were generally kids or young adults, facing the looming threat of the vamp as the more-or-less equivalent to personal or sexual awakening – in fact several of these films put this rather more directly ('Near Dark' and 'The Lost Boys' both start off with the hero chasing the 'unobtainable girl'). They were all set either in high schools, holiday resorts and night clubs where the drama of adolescent life unfolds. And because we were all kids or young adults when we first watched them that connection still lingers, like a big-haired bloodsucking parasite ('Buffy the Vampire Slayer' would revisit this particular idea in the next decade, albeit with a much more modern morality).

The third element linked to the above was the birth of video culture. These films had soundtracks and videos from the soundtracks that got rotation on MTV, showcasing the latest fashions and segments from the movie, and merchandise was sold in stores so that people could proclaim their love for their favourite characters. And then later they could rent the movie on VHS and watch it at home, possibly with a date This also worked the other way, too: as the music video took off their glossy sheen was replicated in the movies; music video directors had gone from making videos that looked like movies to making movies that looked like music videos (hello, 'Highlander'!). The joy of a film like 'The Lost Boys' is how relentlessly poppy and irreverent it is – almost like several music videos stitched together, with added gore.

So this Halloween season you know what to do – settle in for a marathon session of Yankee Vamp junk, popcorn and beers and remind yourself that it is actually true – they really don't make 'em like this anymore....

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