Tuesday, March 30, 2010
THIRST: AN UNUSUAL SPIN ON THE VAMPIRE
(Kate considers the offer of an hors d'oeuvre in Thirst)
Anybody else remember this 1979 Australian movie? Directed by Rod Hardy, it's one of my favorites.
Kate, a beautiful English career woman (Chantal Contouri) is kidnapped from her home. She's taken to a spa for rich folks in the countryside, where a handsome doctor (David Hemmings) and various other people try to convince her to accept and embrace her "artistocratic heritage." The problem is, the heritage is drinking blood. Though she didn’t know it, Kate is a descendant of the infamous real-life vampire Elizabeth Bathory, a Hungarian Countess (1560-1614) who bathed in the blood of young girls to preserve her youth.
Her hosts -- an organization called The Hyma Brotherhood -- want her in their ranks so she can marry one of their kind, to join two great vampire families together. The wedding will highlight a festvial to be attended by vampires from all over the world. These bloodsuckers are polite, articulate, and surprisingly human – they lounge outdoors in the sun all day. But Kate isn’t buying it, and eventually one faction in the vampire camp decides to play hardball with her, while Hemmings’s character appoints himself as her protector. But though he treats her reverently, his mentality is so different from hers that some of his efforts on her behalf horrify her even more.
The film is big on dialogue, and while the vampires are chatting by the pool, these frail, pale, bandaged "donors" in hospital gowns wander by. There's a "dairy" where "donors" are hooked up by the throat to a big gurgling machine that drains and "pasteurizes" their blood; the scene where the visiting vampire dignitaries tour the dairy, led by a perky female guide while Muzak plays in the background, is darkly funny. There is some action, suspense, and violence, but it's a very different kind of horror film -- more like a drama. The really creepy thing about it is how plausible it seems.
The whole cast is perfect, but my favorite performance is Shilrey Cameron's as the haughty Mrs. Barker, who runs the dairy and her fellow vampire's lives. BTW, crime film vet Henry Silva is also one of the bad guys, and the film’s most shocking moment involves him. (Pardon the pun – you’ll get what I mean when you see it!)
This smart and original film is pretty much to vampires what “The Howling” is to werewolves – and it was released two years earlier (1979). Well worth seeing, especially if you're up for a real change of pace.
The running time is 98 minutes, and it is available as a DVD.