Blade (1998)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #12

The power of an immortal.
The soul of a human.
The heart of a hero.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 120 minutes
BBFC: 18
MPAA: R

Original Release: 21st August 1998 (USA)
UK Release: 13th November 1998
First Seen: TV, c.2001

Stars
Wesley Snipes (White Men Can’t Jump, Demolition Man)
Stephen Dorff (Backbeat, Immortals)
Kris Kristofferson (Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, Heaven’s Gate)
N’Bushe Wright (Zebrahead, Dead Presidents)

Director
Stephen Norrington (Death Machine, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen)

Screenwriter
David S. Goyer (Dark City, Batman Begins)

Based on
Blade, a Marvel comic book character created by Marv Wolfman & Gene Colan.

The Story
When hospital haematologist Dr. Karen Jenson is bitten by a living corpse — actually a vampire — she encounters Blade, leather-clad badass vampire hunter. He mercifully takes her to his lair, where she hopes to create a cure for her impending vampirism. Meanwhile, mid-ranking vampire Deacon Frost aims to take over the world, for which he needs Blade’s unique blood…

Our Hero
The Daywalker — half-human half-vampire Blade, who can go out in sunlight (hence the nickname) and controls his bloodlust with injections. Passes his time helpfully killing vampires.

Our Villain
Being born human, turned vampire, and consequently looked down on by the purebred elders, probably gave Deacon Frost a chip on his shoulder, which may be why he believes vampires should enslave humanity. Which, despite his betters’ disapproval, he sets about doing.

Best Supporting Character
Blade’s mentor and Q-like gadgetmaster, Whistler. According to Wikipedia he was created for the film, but made his debut two years earlier in the Spider-Man animated series (voiced by Malcolm McDowell, no less). 20 years hence, apparently he still hasn’t appeared in any comics, which is very unlike Marvel.

Memorable Quote
Blade: “There are worse things out tonight than vampires.”
Karen: “Like what?”
Blade: “Like me.”

Memorable Scene
The opening action sequence sets the tone: a vampire nightclub, where the music pounds and blood pours from sprinklers, as the Daywalker slaughters everyone inside in a display of gleeful ultra-violence. Hard R indeed.

Letting the Side Down
Computer-generated liquid is still hard to do, so in 1998 it must’ve been a nightmare. Some CGI blood plays a key role in the climax — it looked terrible then, and I bet it looks worse now.

Next time…
Two direct sequels, the first directed by Guillermo del Toro, the second designed to launch a spin-off (it failed). A semi-related live-action TV series lasted one season in 2006, and an unconnected animated series was part of the Marvel Anime project in 2011. The rights have since reverted to Marvel, so there’s talk (largely from fans) of Blade joining their Cinematic Universe, with or without Snipes and possibly on the Netflix side of things.

Awards
2 Saturn nominations (Horror Film, Make-Up)
1 MTV Movie Award (Best Villain, tied with… There’s Something About Mary.)
1 MTV Movie Awards nomination (Best Fight, for “the fight against vampires”. Oh, that one!)

What the Critics Said
“Sure, the story is pretty standard, and the dialogue is laughable or worse. But creative cinematography and non-stop, decently choreographed gratuitous violence make watching this comic-book movie — Blade is a minor, almost-forgotten Marvel comic — entertaining. In fact, it’s arguably the best comic-book movie of the year” — John Krewson, A.V. Club

Score: 54%

What the Public Say
“Stephen Norrington’s direction is superb here, and he handles most of the action scenes very well, mixing some beautiful establishing shot with tighter, jumpier shots during the film’s immersive fight scenes. Fight scenes are well-choreographed and never feel like they are going on for too long, and thanks to the superb stunt work, feel thoroughly brutal.” — thatfilmbloguk

Verdict

Before comic book movies were the all-conquering box office behemoth they are today, Blade was a Marvel Comics adaptation in technicality only. A violent, dark, appropriately bloody (’cause, y’know, vampires) horror-tinged late-’90s actioner, Blade isn’t big or clever, but it has style and a glorious commitment to its extremeness. Some say the Guillermo del Toro-directed sequel is even better, but for me that came a little too far into the era of CGI dominance and comic book movie popularity — the original has a kind of analogue purity that can’t be beat.

#13 will have… moments lost in time, like tears in rain.

Flesh for Frankenstein [3D] (1973)

aka Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein

2009 #75
Paul Morrissey | 95 mins | TV | 18 / R

Flesh for FrankensteinFlesh for Frankenstein is thoroughly daft. But it’s also in 3D, so let’s start there.

The best thing about the extra dimension is that it provides some genuinely impressive visuals throughout, and not in the gimmicky, thrust-stuff-into-the-audience way — naturally there are some of those shots, but they seem to work quite poorly here. That could be the fault of Channel 4’s chosen 3D system, or perhaps of watching on a TV rather than a huge screen. Either way, there are also shots that demonstrate why 3D could be genuinely valuable, to visuals if not necessarily to storytelling. For example, early on the wife/sister (a discussion for another time) and her kids go for a picnic. It’s shot from a distance through branches in the foreground, which highlights that there’s a realistic sense of depth to every element of the frame that just isn’t present if you see the same shot in 2D — I know, I checked. For perhaps the first time, I got a sense of why some people harp on about 2D flattening composition.

Unfortunately, while the 3D system used is sometimes flawlessly brilliant, at others it seems to have gone wrong. There’s an odd green ringing in some shots, while at others it appears they’ve used the wrong shade of blue for monochrome-depth because it shows up (in scenes that work, the blue is clearly visible if you take the glasses off, but invisible with them on). Such problems are intermittent in the stuff shown during 3D Week, leading one to suspect it’s as much a fault of the age of the film elements.

I can also now see why people have been complaining so much about 3D — it feels like a constant struggle and strain to watch, like you’re always having to make it work. Perhaps that’s partly down to the technical flaws described above though, because I didn’t suffer as much during an hour of Derren Brown’s Magic Spectacular, whereas here I could feel the strain after just 15 minutes.

As for the film itself… The plot doesn’t make any sense for about 20 minutes, then Udo Kier’s Frankenstein (I presume he’s Frankenstein, I don’t think he’s ever addressed as more than Baron) has a bit of a monologue to explain his Hitler-ish Cunning Plan — to someone who already knows it, naturally — and suddenly most of what’ll happen for the rest of the film is abundantly clear.

The acting is uniformly atrocious. Despite that, it also provides the film’s best moments: the European cast are unable to pronounce “laboratory” — every time it’s uttered it comes out as “lavatory”. Childish I know, but it’s one of the film’s few enjoyable moments. “I had to work for two years before I could even stick my nose in the lavatory” is an instantly classic line. (As is “To know death, you have to fuck life in the gall bladder” — literally, apparently.) Continuing the accented madness, the good-guy serf sounds to be from Brooklyn. At least he can say “laboratory”.

Gratuitous nudity and gore belie some critics’ apparent view that it’s only with the emergence of torture porn that operation-level gore has become a selling point of horror movies — it’s only become more realistic. Just as the gore’s silly, so the sex seems misguided — whoever cast the whores seems to have found believable rather than attractive ones. Oops. That said, whoever in the sound department thought the most realistic sound effects for various sex acts could be found by having someone suck on a balloon, loudly, was even more misguided.

Apparently it’s all meant to be satirical or Pythonesquely humourous. Well, maybe, but it sails too close to the winds of genuine crapness to let such a defence fly — though, as noted, that certainly makes it laughable. Weak in just about every way imaginable, if you’re after a horror, gore, porn or 3D fix, look elsewhere. For “so bad it’s good” value, however, I’ve kindly given it an extra star.

2 out of 5