NIGHT OF THE VAMPIRE HUNTER
NIGHT OF THE VAMPIRE HUNTER is awesome, simple as that. It's the type of film that looks like it might have a lot of heart but no bite and then proves you wrong in scene after scene.
Henry Gloom (Stefan Keseberg) writes a successful series of vampire novels. They haven't made him rich, but he's definitely one of the hippest writers in underground circles. Think Poppy Z. Brite or Edward Lee but catering to a very specific crowd. As he lounges about in his black leather jacket and shades, he talks about his approach to the genre. You won't see any Byron-quoting intellectual snobs in Renaissance Fair garb in his books. Glooms aim: "To demystify the vampires, so we can believe in vampires again. So we can be scared again." Then we find out the great truth, that although Gloom himself may be trying to extinguish the romanticized image of vampires, he himself is a romanticized image of the horror writer. His real name is Jens Feldner, and he's actually a very conservative-looking man who stays close to home. The Henry Gloom persona is something he believes in, but mostly an artifice to better communicate with the public and pay the bills. Superman would never confront Lex Luthor without putting on his outfit after all.
We learn that vampires are indeed among us, although not in terribly great numbers. No Anne Rice leftovers here, none of the vamps are intellectual snobs. Although existing in both the rich and poor circles, they are all basically parasites who tear into passing transients and rely on human gophers to get rid of the evidence. There is at least one person onto their secret, someone the newspapers have dubbed the Nightstalker. The media all thinks the Nightstalker is a serial killer. They aren't in on any vampire conspiracy and they only see dead bodies. The natural assumption would be that someone is taking Gloom's books seriously. Or perhaps that Jens/Henry is slaying the beasts himself and this is yet another face he puts on.
But you'd be wrong on both counts, as was I. Jens really is a stay-at-home type. The real Nightstalker is Selin (Nicole Müller), his average-looking, unassuming girlfriend. Jens is well aware that Selin is herself a vampire, but is also a self-loathing vampire. He has been searching old texts in a bid to find the antidote to her vampirism. But Selin already knows what to do. While Jens dutifully sits at home researching, he thinks that Selin is simply working at a photo shop. And he's right, some of the time. The rest of the time, she is making a list and checking it twice. But all the people on her list are vampires rumored to be in the areas. She pumps vamps for info, and then kills them, always searching for the one that made her and thus ending the curse.
This is a film that toys with our renovated perceptions of what the vampire mythos is. One adversary that pops up is a simple ghoul who wants to be made a vampire. He starts out talking about how they are the immortals, creatures of the netherworld, blah blah blah. But it quickly becomes evident that he just wants out of his meager blue collar existence. He doesn't want to answer to a boss for minimum wage anymore. To hear him talk, he sounds like someone desperate to lose his virginity, not understanding why no one will just give him a mercy lay.
NIGHT OF THE VAMPIRE HUNTER references, name-checks, parodies and honors various horror icons. At times, it's an almost Goddard-like deconstruction of the mythology. Images are revealed, exploited, demystified and torn apart to reveal more images until all that is left is a few very simple truths. The name "Nightstalker" is a homage to KOLCHAK, or most notably the TV movie that debuted the character and his first foe, a serial killer that was also a vampire. In the first scene, we even hear a radio broadcast that although the killer has not been caught, a TV movie is in production. In another spot, Selin is looking to lure a vampire into her trap. She introduces herself by successfully buying him a glass of red wine. Don't tell me they don't drink the stuff.
This kind of refreshing treatment would be good enough. But fortunately, NIGHT OF THE VAMPIRE HUNTER also happens to be entertaining as hell. The film is always enthralling and it will honestly keep you guessing. There are so many different characters with different motives, so many twists and turns that the whole film is a surprise. Just when it seems like the film should be over, it's just getting started. The movie also has a fantastic sense of humor. I laughed out loud many times. Still, it has a nice, witty, satirical edge that does not overshadow the fact that this is a horror actioner, and a damn good one at that. The comedic moments can't be called comic relief because both the clever lines and the great visual gags are seamlessly woven into the storyline.
Sorry if I worked anyone with standard players up, but NIGHT OF THE VAMPIRE HUNTER is not yet available in the United States. This Region 2 release comes from EuroVision on their Screen Power label. It is here that a frustrating problem comes to bear. The film has been shot on some really poor stock. Although no technical specs are available, it looks like a Super 8 transfer. Sometimes this adds to the ambiance of the piece, other times it hurts it. The picture is very grainy and blurry and because of the digital format, heavy pixelation is unavoidable. No real effort in cleaning it up for the format either, since black and blue marks are evident especially in the last third of the film. Still, I am not holding this against the production. If this is what they had to work with, fine. Everything else in the film, save for the camera it’s shot on, looks great. But people who want smooth polished films may find this one a nightmare to look at. Although the back of the German DVD does not specify, English subtitles are indeed available, a little small for my liking but still easy to follow. The disc is loaded with extras. It has a lengthy "making of" documentary, deleted scenes, outtakes, trailers and a short film. It also has commentaries for both the movie and some of the extras. I would love to report on the quality of these productions, but these were not subtitled in English, hence I have no idea what was being said.
Forget the people who blindly sing the praises of Olaf Ittenbach and his ilk. This is the best treat of German horror I've seen. It's smart, entertaining and funny. NIGHT OF THE VAMPIRE HUNTER is a cool reminder of why I love this genre so much. Even when you think you've seen it all, it can still surprise you.