We definitely have a bounty of shows and movies that feature the paranormal, but that wasn’t the case ten or so years ago. Some of my current favorites include American Horror Story: Coven, True Blood (depending on the season), Sleepy Hollow, giving Dracula a try, Let the Right One In, The Revenant, Hellboy...but this post is not about the more current offerings. It’s about honoring the forbearers…the shows and movies that broke ground when the genre didn’t enjoy the same popularity as today. I could lose months of word count mulling over which shows or movies deserve mention, and decided on a few that made an impression on me and my writing, and some considered classics of the genre. Many are vampire centric, but vampires, or some semblance of, continue to dominate.
Starting with movies, well, we can go back to Nosferatu, Dracula, and the old Universal movie monsters. All classic. I would have loved to have attended the first movie theater showing of Frankenstein or Dracula. The special effects for that time must have scared the heck out of the audience. Fast forwarding, one of my all time favorites is Frightnight. I could write an entire blog post on that movie, discussing the non CGI special effects and tragic tone of Evil’s transformation back into a human after Peter Vincent killed him. The look of horror and despair on Vincent’s face as he realized the fearful wolf was really a young boy. You don’t see that kind of pathos in many movies these days. Roddy McDowell was great as Peter Vincent, and Chris Sarandon as Jerry Dandridge, the vampire.
Lost Boys anyone? Humor, good vampires, bad vampires, Jason Patric and Keifer Sutherland :) One of the first teen vampire movies, blending style with story, even if it was 80s style. Other great vampire movies: Near Dark; The Addiction, an indie flick staring Lily Taylor; the 1979 Salem’s Lot; Interview with the Vampire; the first couple of Blade movies; and I have to mention Vampire’s Kiss with Nicholas Cage. More of a supernatural thriller, black comedy, and definitely one of Cage’s best roles.
I do love me some werewolf movies, but much of the past movies focused on the horror aspect and not the type of werewolf hero we read about in urban fantasies and paranormals. But some great ones include American Werewolf in London and The Howling.
Of course, all these movies are classified as horror or thrillers, yet they definitely set the stage for urban fantasy/paranormal. Before the current craze, there really wasn’t another category. Interview with the Vampire was classified as horror/romance, and Lost Boys comedy/horror, but both had sympathetic vampires, and were not necessarily straight horror. On a side note, if you do a search for urban fantasy movies, stuff like Harry Potter and Ghostbusters comes up. So does Hellboy, which I absolutely agree with, but I wanted to look at movies that preceded Hellboy, which leads me to my next two movies: The Crow (1994) and Nightbreed (1990). Both movies twisted the previous classification of horror to something closer to urban fantasy/paranormal.
The Crow was actually labeled action/fantasy, which seems to fit. Its gothic stylings and story about a man that comes back to life to avenge the death of his wife truly hit on those supernatural, damaged hero beats. And it had a great soundtrack :)
Nightbreed is a very interesting movie and was completely misunderstood on release. The movie company sold it as a straight slasher type, but it was about a guy, who stumbles upon a community of monsters and outcasts, demon-like, known as the Nightbreed. They take refuge in an abandoned cemetery called Midian. Nightbreed is based off Clive Barker’s novella Cabal. Definitely B movie grade, but very interesting. For someone who features demons in my stories, I found Barker's exploration of the monsters a revelation, at the time. The Nightbreed were not the bad guys. Barker himself said: this picture is much more upfront about the fact we don't want to see the monsters die. We actually find them interesting. And sexy…we're actually on the side of the creatures of darkness. I think this movie would enjoy a second life with so many books featuring demons as heroes.
But really, urban fantasy/paranormal experienced its genesis on television, and Buffy reins supreme. (Dark Shadows absolutely deserves mention. I didn't watch it, but it's significant.) Not just for the wonderful supernatural world Whedon created, but for his exploration of the characters, the wonderful stories and writing. He built an incredible cast with Buffy at the center. She was a girl turned woman who took charge and dealt with her problems.
Before True Blood, in 2007, there was the sadly short lived, Canadian produced Blood Ties based off the Tanya Huff Blood Books. It centered on private investigator, Vicki Nelson, who teamed up with 470-year-old vampire Henry Fitzroy, bastard son of Henry the VIII. Blood Ties only lasted two seasons. Sigh!!! That’s one show that would have benefitted from the current vampire craze. You can find it around on the Internet. Before Blood Ties, was another Toronto based show, Forever Knight, about Nick Knight, an 800-year-old vampire, who seeks redemption for past crimes by working as a homicide detective. Forever Knight ran from 1992 until 1996. Lastly, I should mention Charmed, and I liked some of Charmed, but when they ruined Cole’s character (another demon), it all went downhill for me.
My little retrospective barely scratches the surface and I didn’t even go into zombies (which I write about) and lots of other stuff. So please join in and share some of your favorites that paved the way to the current paranormal craze.