Since the publication in 1819 of John Polidori’s novella titled “The Vampyre,” the blood-sucking beasts have enjoyed a rich and storied history in both literature and films, but the guy who really gets credit for writing the book that established the vampire genre in fiction is Bram Stoker, who published “Dracula” in 1897.
The first bona fide film based upon Stoker’s famous novel was “Nosferatu” in 1922 starring Max Schreckin the role of Count Orlok. The names of the vampire and the setting were changed because of copyright ramifications, but in 1931 “Dracula” flew onto the big screen with Bela Lugosi in the role of the blood-swilling count from Transylvania. And as they say, “The rest is history.”
Myriad vampire films have been produced throughout the history of cinema, and each one perpetuated its own image of the creatures’ physical appearance. As you would expect, computer-generated imaging has had a profound effect upon creating vampires for the screen, but I find some of them more ludicrous looking than frightening. Do you find the vampire below from ‘Salem’s lot scary or funny?
The most recent contribution to the vampire genre is “Priest,” a dark and gloomy tale, set in an undisclosed time in the future, of one rogue priest’s quest to save a young woman from the fangs of the monsters that have abducted her. As the film opens, a voiceover informs us of the following: “This is what is known. There has always been man, and there have always been vampires.”
At one point the conflict between man and the vampires became so intense that the Clergy created a race of vampire killers known as priests with special fighting skills and abilities. The priests ultimately defeated the vampires and incarcerated them in “reservations” where they are supposed to reside forever. Then the Clergy disbanded the priests, stripped them of their authority, and made them promise to live the rest of their lives in peace. But when one of the former priest’s (Paul Bettany) niece, Lucy (Lily Collins), is kidnapped by a vampire, he decides to forsake the will of the Clergy (“To go against the church is to go against God.”) and attempt to rescue her before the vampires infect her.
Joining Priest in his quest is a small-town sheriff named Hicks (Cam Gigandet), who is engaged to Lucy and who informed Priest of her abduction. The two of them jump onto a couple of jet-powered motorcycles and go roaring across the wasteland to check out the house from which Lucy was taken.
In the meantime, Monsignor Orleas, who has strictly forbidden Priest to go after Lucy, is enraged by his disobedience and dispatches a band of priests led by Priestess (Maggie Q) to go after him and bring him back.
Now if you are expecting “Priest” to be a frightening film, you’re going to be sorely disappointed because this movie packs about as much fright power as a ride on the train at the Good Zoo. The main reason for its embarrassing failure to frighten is that the vampires are so incredibly silly looking that they inspire laughter rather than horror. As you can see here, they look like a mutated cross between Gollum from “Lord of the Rings” and the monster from “Alien.” What a joke!
What is interesting is that the priests are much scarier than the creatures they set out to kill. These are not the stereotypical priests who go around waving crosses at vampires. In the film’s production notes director Scott Charles Stewart (“Legion”) explained the difference.
“The priests in the film are not like priests in our world. They are more like Jedi Knights. They’re the soldiers for the church. They’re trained in the art of killing vampires and they have special abilities. It might seem cool to become a warrior priest, but in fact, you are taken from your family and forbidden to have relationships. You become a kind of monk.”
And Bettany explained the special powers his character has and why he disobeyed the Clergy.
“The priests can stretch the boundaries of what human beings are capable of. Through prayer, we are able to slow our surroundings down whilst moving at the same speed. Everything appears to be happening incredibly quickly, but in reality, the surrounding world has become slower.
“Priest has to do what is in his heart. He knows the Clergy is corrupt. There is an imminent threat and they deny it. He asks their permission, and they refuse it. But he is going anyway. He is also driven to save somebody he loves. The war has changed him to such a degree that he is unable to do anything else for Lucy, but he can kill people to save her.”
The major surprise about this film is the quality of the cast. Bettany, Plummer, and Q all are outstanding performers, and it’s interesting that they agreed to star in a film like this because overall it is an excellent example of a bad horror film. But Bettany really sinks his teeth into the role of the strong and silent priest bent on revenge, and Plummer is beautifully cast in the part of the curmudgeonly monsignor. And of course anyone familiar with Q knows that her martial arts moves are gracefully balletic, and she has ample opportunity to show them off in this movie. In fact, her fight against multiple opponents near the end is one of the few highlights of this otherwise forgettable film.
While we’re on the subject of fight scenes, credit also must be given to the one between Priest and his major adversary at the film’s conclusion. It’s both exciting and nicely choreographed using some impressive special effects.
As a classic vampire film, “Priest” (It gets a bloody five.) fails miserably because it never establishes and sustains any semblance of horror. However, it does contain some good fight scenes and the acting is surprisingly credible for this kind of a movie. But the most disturbing thing about it is that the ending is an obvious setup for a sequel. I can just hope that the filmmakers will forget about it. Now that would be a real blessing!