November 01, 2011

Vampire Disappoints Area Man

At the risk of a pterodactylian reminiscence, I will now look back to an era before the YouTubes, prior to torrenting and VOD and even the humble VHS. (Though not so many years before the latter...)

Like many a monster-loving kid, my main school in cinematic horror was Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. One could hope for the afternoon movies from the Buffalo TV stations to roll around to kaiju flicks or go on a Harryhausen jag, but to learn the cultdom’s deep classics you had to consult its newsprint pages. I remember in particular a still from 1935’s Mark of the Vampire, with Bela Lugosi in Dracula outfit, accompanied by a white-clad, crazy-haired she-vamp. The text breathlessly extolled the rarity of this item, if nothing more. That only enhanced the coolness of the image. It was near impossible to see, so it must be great! And the movie was by Tod Browning, an extra point in its favor.

Flash forward * ahem harummph * years. Mark of the Vampire has been on DVD for a while now, as part of a collection of early horror rarities. I finally catch it on TCM. And you know what’s coming...’s utterly terrible!

To spoiler-alert a 76-year old dud, the first two acts are a charmingly clumsy elaboration on the Dracula structure, with a supremely hammy Lionel Barrymore taking on Van Helsing duties, and a larger-than-previous coven of bloodsuckers preying on our ingenue. Then comes the twist, in which the monstrous doings are revealed as a hoax. Almost all of the characters but one are party to a righteous Scooby Doo-ing, in which a faked vampire infestation provokes a murder suspect to give himself away. Here the rational explanation is way more implausible than the supernatural one.

It’s not the first time I built up an expectation for a work of art that fizzled when confronted with the real thing, but it’s doubtless the longest chronological gap between hope and reality.

Consider this your invitation to share your experiences of building up to a letdown.