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Sunday, January 27, 2008

See You in the Funny Papers (originally published 5/02)

When movie directors get down to the business of laying out the specific shots they will use to tell their script's story, they often make use of a visual aid called a storyboard. It consists of a series of drawings intended to illustrate the camera angle of each shot, with relevant descriptions and dialogue written out underneath the corresponding drawings. In other words, the storyboard is in effect a comic strip version of the movie, drawn to serve as a kind of blueprint for the creative team that will put the director's vision on film.

With this in mind, it is hardly surprising that the funny papers have long been a source of inspiration for moviemakers. This year's release of "Spiderman" is the most recent of a long string of movie adaptations drawing on the rich tradition of action-adventure comic strips. Naturally, the producers of this new movie version of the web slinger's exploits were able to spice up their film with imaging technology that could scarcely have been imagined by filmmakers 50 years ago.

On the other hand, the old timers had an advantage of their own: they could adapt popular comic strips as serials rather than as feature films. These episodic "chapter plays" were a much better fit with the similarly episodic comic strips. Also, the typically lightweight story lines were relieved of the necessity of sustaining dramatic interest for the full length of a feature film. If you enjoy the action strips in the funny papers, look for these serial adaptations on home video.

"Tailspin Tommy" (1934). What you have to remember here is that we're flashing back to a time when Charles Lindbergh was a national hero, and all aviators were regarded as daredevil pioneers, much like astronauts were in the 1960s. It is perhaps appropriate, therefore, that this strip, the first to capitalize on the public's hero worship of pilots, was the first comic strip to be adapted as a movie serial. Its success guaranteed that Hollywood would be back to raid the funny papers again. Maurice Murphy plays the title role, defending Three Points Airline against the menace of Tiger Taggart through 12 high-flying chapters.

"Ace Drummond" (1936). This aviator strip had the distinct advantage of being drawn by Clayton Knight, an honest to goodness Royal Air Force aviator, and endorsed by Eddie Rickenbacker. It was supposedly loosely based on Rickenbacker's own exploits; in fact, the claim was that he wrote the story lines. The 13-chapter movie version stars John King as Drummond, who seems to have picked up the habit of singing as he flies in making the transition to the screen.

"Flash Gordon" (1936). Cashing in on the aviator craze and at the same time raising the ante, Alex Raymond's classic science fiction strip puts its aviator in a rocket ship bound for the planet Mongo, where Flash (Buster Crabbe) and his companion Dale Arden (Jean Rogers) face the evil of Ming the Merciless. Unlike most movie adaptations, this 13-chapter serial sticks rather closely to the story line of the original strip.

"Dick Tracy vs. Crime, Inc." (1941). Forget about Warren Beatty. The real movie incarnation of Chester Gould's rock-jawed detective is Ralph Byrd, who appeared in a series of four Dick Tracy serials. Of these, the first is not as good as the last three, which were co-directed by the renowned serial production team of John English and William Witney. In this 15-chapter finale of the series, Tracy tangles with a mysterious, invisible criminal known as "The Ghost."

"Terry and the Pirates" (1940). With its rich cast of characters and striking visual style, Milton Caniff's tales of Terry's adventures in the Orient may well be the best adventure strip ever. The 15-chapter serial version features William Tracy as Terry, Granville Owen as Pat Ryan, and Sheila Darcy as the Dragon Lady.

Now, before you go out looking for these serials, I should caution you about a couple of things. First, don't try to watch them straight through. They were never meant to be seen that way; the repetition will drive you nuts. One or two chapters at a time is plenty. Second, don't expect Spielberg megaproductions. These things were shot in days, not months, for less money than Spielberg spends on lunch. But remember, they also inspired Spielberg to make "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

Love Across the Years (originally published 4/02)

Throughout most of the history of the cinema, onscreen romance has been largely the province of the young. As the baby boomers age, however, we are likely to see more films like the recently released "Crush," in which a middle aged school headmistress becomes romantically involved with a former student who is half her age. This is not to suggest, however, that chronologically mismatched lovers have never appeared on the screen before. Quite the reverse, in fact. Stories involving May-December courtships have always been a popular subcategory of the romance genre. Here are a few of the more memorable examples available on home video.

"The Blue Angel" (1930). We begin with the dark side of May-December romance. Emil Jannings stars as a respected German schoolmaster who falls under the seductive spell of a cabaret singer played by Marlene Dietrich. She marries him for his money, and in short order he loses his teaching post and is reduced to selling risque pictures of his young wife to the cabaret customers. This classic tale of the erosion of human dignity was the beginning of a celebrated collaboration between Dietrich and director Josef von Sternberg. Dietrich's throaty rendition of "Falling in Love Again" is one of the most famous scenes in all of world cinema.

"Cass Timberlane" (1947). As in "The Blue Angel," a respected older man falls for an attractive young woman, but there the similarity ends. In this adaptation of the Sinclair Lewis novel, Spencer Tracy plays Cass Timberlane, a judge who marries a young, sexy woman from the wrong side of the tracks. The young wife is played by Lana Turner at the height of her youthful allure. Although the Timberlanes are happy with each other, they soon learn that the judge's snobbish friends disapprove of his choice. The film's promotional trailer appears below, courtesy of Turner Classic Movies.

"Limelight" (1952). Charlie Chaplin plays Calvero, a fading vaudeville star who befriends a young dancer named Terry (Claire Bloom). They meet when Calvero interrupts the despairing Terry's suicide attempt. Through his nurturing kindness, Terry regains her health and resumes her dancing. Inevitably, they fall in love. Calvero, however, worries that Terry's gratitude has blinded her to her true feelings for a younger man who also loves her. Chaplin, of course, knew a thing or two about May-December romance from personal experience, having married Oona O'Neill when she was 18 and he was 54.

"All That Heaven Allows" (1955). Jane Wyman stars as a middle aged widow living in material comfort in her small-town home, but also withering in emotional isolation. She meets a young man (Rock Hudson) some fifteen years her junior and falls in love with him. Her social peers and even her grown children are horrified, and urge her to end the relationship. Director Douglas Sirk specialized in melodramas of this kind. Although they tended to be dismissed as "mere soap operas" at the time, Sirk's films are now looked back on with considerable respect by students of the cinema.

"Daddy Long Legs" (1955). This sentimental tale has been filmed several times, most recently in this musical version. Fred Astaire plays a rich playboy who anonymously finances a college education for a young orphan girl, played by Leslie Caron. Naturally, when they meet she falls for him without knowing that he is her benefactor.

"Harold and Maude" (1971). On the perverse side, there is this intensely eccentric story of a young man named Harold (Bud Cort) who falls in love with a lively octogenarian named Maude (Ruth Gordon). They meet through their shared interest in funerals. He attends them because he's morbidly depressed; she goes because she sees them as part of the glorious cycle of life. It sounds bizarre, I know, and it is in many ways a deeply strange film. Even so, it ends up as a charming and strongly life-affirming story, one that I return to often.

As with most aspects of the human condition, it was Shakespeare who best summed up the appeal of these stories of chronological odd couples: "The course of true love never did run smooth; but either it was different in blood...or else misgraffed in respect of years." Small wonder that Cupid is typically portrayed as a mischievous child. Still, as movie producers know all too well, the trials and tribulations of Cupid's mismatched targets can be money in the bank to a clever dramatist.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Wild Children (originally published 4/02)

For centuries, philosophers, scientists, and artists have grappled with a tantalizing question: what makes us human? Is it merely a matter of biology? What if a human infant were kept apart from all contact with other humans? Would he or she be recognizably human in ten or fifteen years? Obviously, scientists can't perform such an experiment. To subject a child to such abuse deliberately and under controlled conditions would say more about the humanity of the scientists than about the humanity of the subject.

Occasionally, however, a crude and uncontrolled form of this experiment occurs naturally. Documented cases of feral children, raised in the wild or otherwise cut off from human contact, are rare but not unheard of. When such cases come to light, scientists are left to wrestle with the ethics of capitalizing on the situation for research purposes.

Storytellers, on the other hand, are free to explore the question by creating fictional characters whom they may exploit as they please or by fictionalizing the lives of actual people while availing themselves of literary license. The literary tradition of "wild children" goes all the way back to the myth of Romulus and Remus, the fabled founders of Rome, who were nursed and raised by a wolf, according to legend. Other literary feral children include Tarzan of the Apes and Mowgli from Kipling's "The Jungle Book."

The recently released film "Human Nature" draws on this venerable tradition by following the tribulations of a research scientist, played by Tim Robbins, who is attempting to humanize a feral man who was raised in the wild. If you're intrigued by stories of this type and by the moral questions they raise, there are two foreign classics that you should look for on home video.

"The Wild Child" (1969). In January of 1800, near a village in the south of France, a boy who appeared to be about 12 years old was discovered living in the wild. He was mute and showed no sign of having ever known the society of other humans. The experts who examined him believed him to be unteachable, but a young doctor named Jean-Marc Itard believed otherwise. He arranged to care for the child, along with a hired housekeeper, and to undertake the task of teaching him. Although he wasn't entirely successful, the teaching methods he developed would later become, in part, the basis for the Montessori educational program. This film version of the true story of the "Wild Boy of Aveyron" was written and directed by French filmmaker Francois Truffaut. It was a personal film for Truffaut, who had himself been the product of a miserable childhood. He had been rescued from an almost certain life of petty crime by film critic Andre Bazin, who exploited young Truffaut's love of cinema to turn his energies into more productive avenues. In "The Wild Child," Truffaut seemed to be acknowledging his debt to the man who had tamed his own wildness.

"Every Man For Himself, and God Against All" (1975). Like Truffaut's film, this German picture is based on a true story from the 19th Century. The film's subject, Kaspar Hauser of Nuremberg, Germany, didn't grow up in the wild, however. Instead he was deliberately kept confined in a dark room by a shadowy figure who brought him food but never spoke to him. No one knows why this was done, although there has been speculation that Hauser might have been an unwanted royal offspring, who could have claimed the throne of Baden if he were allowed to live a normal life. In any case, he was mysteriously released in his late teens, utterly unprepared to fit into society. He proved to be quite teachable, but he never fully adapted to social norms. The film version of Hauser's story is by Werner Herzog, one of the fiery and driven young filmmakers who breathed new life into the German cinema during the 1970s. Interestingly, his viewpoint is different from Truffaut's. Hauser is presented as a kind of noble savage, whose unspoiled spirit is in many ways preferable to what society would impose on him. Truffaut, on the other hand, comes down clearly on the side of the civilizing process as the greater good for his wild child.

Damsels in Distress (originally published 4/02)

From the beginnings of the movie industry right down to today, most studio executives, film directors, and scriptwriters have been male. One consequence of this near total male domination of the industry is that roles for women, with the occasional shining exception, have fallen into a rather limited set of categories.

One of the most common ways of using female characters in movies has always been in the role of the victim: the damsel in distress. The recently released Jody Foster vehicle, "Panic Room," carries on this tradition, raising the ante by placing both a mother and her daughter in peril, a device that has also been used to good effect in the popular Fox television series, "24." For a sampling of how earlier filmmakers have handled the theme of the damsel in distress, look for these titles on home video.

"Wait Until Dark" (1967). Audrey Hepburn plays a blind woman who, like the women of "Panic Room," is menaced by three bad guys. It seems that these fellows are dope smugglers who have planted a quantity of heroin, hidden inside an antique doll, on the woman's husband. Now they want to retrieve it, so they contrive to have the husband called away so that they can search the apartment. Alan Arkin is absolutely terrifying in the role of Harry Roat. The other two are just your basic crooks, but Roat is a full-blown psychopath, loathsome and intimidating. Naturally, he's the one who ends up pursuing the blind woman through the apartment with homicide on his mind in the pulse-raising climactic scene.

"See No Evil" (1971). Once again, a blind woman faces a psychopath all alone. This time, Mia Farrow plays the menaced woman. This film, however, doesn't bother with any elaborate plot about drug smuggling. Here the formula is stripped down to its bare essentials. The bad guy is just a violent, boneheaded jerk who escalates a chance confrontation with the blind woman's family into a vendetta. Of course, she ends up alone in the house with him. The script was written by Brian Clemens, who wrote most of the scripts for the British television series, "The Avengers." He's in his element here, providing the viewer with a tight, well-crafted roller coaster ride.

"The Spiral Staircase" (1946). Dorothy McGuire plays a young household servant in the employ of an invalid older woman (Ethel Barrymore). Their small New England village has recently been plagued by a series of murders. All of the victims were young women, and all had some sort of physical handicap. This makes McGuire's character the object of some concern, because she happens to be mute. Will she be the next victim? The film was directed by Robert Siodmak, one of a number of outstanding filmmakers who left Germany to take up careers in Hollywood when the Nazi party came to power. Here he creates a moody, visually stylish film, with some real white-knuckle suspense.

"Sorry, Wrong Number" (1948). Barbara Stanwyck stars as an invalid woman who has been left alone for the evening by her husband. The phone by her bed is her only connection with the outside world. While trying to call her husband's office, the wires cross somehow and she overhears two men discussing a murder that is to be committed that night. It seems that one of the men has been hired to enter a woman's home and kill her at 11:15. Understandably upset by this, she tries to notify the police. (Of course, the police don't believe her. The police never believe citizens who report crimes in suspense thrillers. If they did, the movie would be over.) As she continues to make phone calls to try to track down her husband, an ugly picture begins to come together. More and more, it begins to sound as if her husband is not the docile, henpecked fellow she believes him to be. In fact, it begins to sound as if this murder plot might have something to do with her personally.

Naturally, I can't reveal how any of these films ends. It would be the worst kind of breach of movie etiquette. But just in case you're smugly saying to yourself, "You can't kid me - the heroine always comes out okay in the end," let me assure you that one of these endangered women doesn't survive. Which one? I'll never tell.

The Undisputed Queen of Drag Comedies (originally published 3/02)

Of all the formulas for making a successful movie, one of the most fascinating is to put one or more heterosexual male characters in a dress. From "Charley's Aunt" to Uncle Miltie to "Tootsie," audience appeal is virtually a foregone conclusion. I wouldn't dare to speculate on the sociological implications of this fact. I merely point it out by way of suggesting that the recently released "Sorority Boys" will in all likelihood make a nice profit.

Even so, all drag comedies from the last forty-odd years have shared one nagging problem: they are all standing in the shadow of a giant. His name is Billy Wilder, the writer/director of the all-time champion drag comedy, "Some Like It Hot" (1959). This is not, by the way, the only film category in which Wilder set the benchmark for later generations to aim at. His "Sunset Boulevard" (1950) remains the yardstick against which all movies about Hollywood are measured.

Wilder, who was born in Austria, was one of the many talented people who fled to America when the Nazi party came to power. His early success came as a scriptwriter, mostly in collaboration with Charles Brackett. Their scripts were filled with sparkling, clever dialogue and were textbook examples of careful craftsmanship. Like all screenwriters, they quickly discovered that writers in the film industry get less respect than the studio's janitorial staff. But unlike so many others, they did something about it. Playing off their sterling box office track record as writers, they became a producer/director team. Thereafter, when they co-wrote a script, Brackett would produce and Wilder would direct.

Thus, they became the most dangerous thing on wheels: writers with clout. When they wrote a brilliant script, there was no danger that a dim-witted producer would dumb it down or that a ham-handed director would drop the ball, because the writers themselves were the producer and director. What a concept.

By the time he made "Some Like It Hot," Wilder was no longer working with Brackett. He wrote the script with his new collaborator, I.A.L. Diamond. The film is set in the late 1920s, at the height of Prohibition, when speakeasies raked in money and gangsters collected the rent. Two jazz musicians, Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon), inadvertently witness a Chicago gangland execution. To elude the mobsters who are pursuing them, they dress as women and join an all-female band that is headed for a gig in Florida. Joe passes himself off as "Josephine," while Jerry calls himself "Daphne."

Both of them immediately fall for the band's singer, a stunner named Sugar. In a shrewd casting move, Wilder signed Marilyn Monroe to play the part of Sugar. As if the two counterfeit women don't look ridiculous enough, Wilder places them next to Hollywood's ultimate icon of femininity for contrast. As they arrive in Florida, Sugar announces her intent to look for a vacationing millionaire to marry. Seeing an opportunity, Joe sheds his Josephine identity to adopt yet another alias. He appears on the beach as the heir to an oil fortune, affecting an upper crust accent. The accent is actually a devastating parody of Cary Grant's distinctive speech patterns. Sugar is taken in by Joe's masquerade, and there is little that Jerry/Daphne can do about it without exposing his own duplicity as well.

Meanwhile, "Daphne" has attracted the amorous attention of a genuine millionaire named Osgood, hysterically played by Joe E. Brown. Lemmon is a joy to watch as he progresses from revulsion at these advances to being flattered, then to elation at being showered with expensive gifts, and finally to guilt over not marrying Osgood.

To further complicate matters, the gangsters who are after the boys happen to show up at the same hotel where their band is playing. Wilder and Diamond juggle all these plot elements with apparent ease while milking the gender role reversal premise for its rich comedy potential without crossing the line into poor taste. Building on the foundation of an outstanding script, the excellent cast rises to the occasion with virtuoso performances all around. Reproduced below is the film's promotional trailer, courtesy of Turner Classic Movies.

If you went to see "Sorority Boys" because the idea of a drag comedy tickled your fancy, I can't recommend "Some Like It Hot" highly enough. Let Billy Wilder show you what a brilliant writer - with the clout to carry his ideas through intact - can do with such a premise.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

On the Road, Part 2 (originally published 3/02)

I pointed out last week that road pictures, like the current Britney Spears vehicle, "Crossroads," have long been a favorite of filmmakers. This, it seems to me, is only natural. In a medium called "movies," what narrative strategy could be more instinctive than to get your main characters on the road and keep them on the move throughout the film? So many filmmakers have taken that approach, in fact, that it was impossible to do more than make a start at listing them in last week's column. Here, then, are some additional classic road pictures to look for on home video.

"Easy Rider" (1969). At a time when Hollywood was struggling to connect with audiences, sinking more and more money into white elephant epics that only became bigger and bigger flops, along came this strange little road picture. It was made for less than half a million dollars, yet it became one of the biggest moneymakers of the year. Producer Peter Fonda and director Dennis Hopper co-wrote the script, along with Terry Southern, and played the leading roles. As Wyatt (Fonda) and Billy (Hopper), they cross America from California to New Orleans on motorcycles. Their characters are among the earliest sympathetic portrayals of the Sixties counterculture in a major studio release. Hollywood, dubious but impressed with the box office receipts, would spend the next couple of decades trying to duplicate the film's success.

"The Reivers" (1969). The title derives from a variant spelling of the archaic word "reave," meaning to rob. It survives in common usage only in the word "bereavement," which we use to refer to the scythe-wielding thief who sooner or later robs us all. In this adaptation of William Faulkner's last novel, the reivers are car thieves. In the rural South of 1905, two men, one white and one black, take a young boy for a ride in a "borrowed" car so that he can "learn a little something about life." The joyride turns into a journey all the way to Memphis, where the youngster learns more about life than his companions had originally intended.

"Harry and Tonto" (1974). Art Carney gives a virtuoso, Oscar-winning performance as Harry, an old man forced out of his condemned New York apartment. With nowhere in particular to go, he and his cat Tonto hit the road, traveling from New York to Los Angeles by bus because the airlines cannot accommodate Tonto. Along the way, he encounters a fascinating and amusing collection of characters, played by a top notch cast that includes Larry Hagman, Ellen Burstyn, and Geraldine Fitzgerald. Writer-director Paul Mazursky is one of American cinema's cleverest satirists. In this film you can see him at the top of his form.

"Fandango" (1985). Once upon a time, writer-director Kevin Reynolds made a promising student film called "Proof," which Steven Spielberg liked so much that he helped Reynolds expand it into a real live feature film. The result was "Fandango," an engaging look at five college buddies who decide to hit the road for one last fling before graduation. The film is set in the Vietnam War era, which explains the sense of dread from which the boys are seeking escape in their wild road trip across the Texas Badlands.

"Around the World in Eighty Days" (1956). I've saved the ultimate road movie for last. It's based on the Jules Verne novel about Phileas Fogg, an English gentleman of the 1870s who is so impressed with modern advances in transportation that he is moved to make the startling claim that he can circumnavigate the globe in a mere 80 days. Backing his boast with a sizable wager, he sets out with Passepartout, his manservant, to accomplish the remarkable journey. In 1946, Orson Welles had mounted a huge, elaborate stage production based on Verne's book. Ten years later, producer Michael Todd picked up the idea, creating an equally elaborate film version. He shot it in a 70mm widescreen process called "Todd-AO," and recruited an astonishing list of top stars to do cameo appearances throughout the picture. David Niven stars as Phileas Fogg, along with Mexican comedian Cantinflas as the faithful Passepartout. Reproduced below is a promotional trailer for a 1960s re-release of the film, courtesy of Turner Classic Movies.

Needless to say, I'm still leaving out reams of outstanding road pictures. In particular, I haven't mentioned the legendary series of road movies made by Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. That's another column for another time.

On the Road, Part 1 (originally published 3/02)

There are some forms of storytelling that move easily from one medium to another. Murder mysteries, for example, work well in novels, on the stage, on the screen, and in radio drama. Other types of stories are more particular about how they get told. If you're a brooding Frenchman looking to cast a philosophical eye back over the course of your life, you pretty well know that you're going to write a novel, which is why the seven parts of Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past" stand as monuments of that form. If you've got a great idea for a musical, even though you know that movies can do an acceptable job with the form, you're going to produce it on the stage first. That's because you know that there's nothing quite like seeing a dynamic performer step down to the footlights and belt out a great song to a live audience.

Similarly, if your story involves a road trip, a journey that carries the main characters from point A to point B as the story unfolds, you're probably going to do it as a movie. "Crossroads," the recently released Britney Spears vehicle, is a prime example. If you're curious about other cinematic road trips, you'll find that the shelves at the corner video store are loaded with them. Here are a few of the best to look for.

"Detour" (1945). This dark cult classic combines the road picture genre with the relentlessly gloomy genre known as film noir. Tom Neal stars as Al Roberts, a down and out piano player who is thumbing his way from New York to Los Angeles to marry his fiancee. Along the way he is picked up by a fellow named Haskell. During the trip, Haskell suddenly and unexpectedly dies in his sleep while Al is taking his turn at the wheel. In a panic, Al makes the fateful decision to assume the dead man's identity. With the tough break inevitability that is the hallmark of film noir, Al soon falls in with an incredibly unpleasant woman named Vera who happens to have known Haskell. Knowing that Al isn't who he claims to be, Vera proceeds to make his life a living hell under the threat of exposing him to the authorities.

"A Canterbury Tale" (1944). The original road story, of course, was Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales," which means that the pedigree of the genre extends as far back as English literature itself. In this fascinating tale of World War II, the famed British writer/director team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger borrow Chaucer's title to tell a new Canterbury tale. It isn't the stories of Chaucer's travelers that they update here, only the idea of travelers on a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral. The movie's pilgrims are three Brits - a justice of the peace, a farmer, and a soldier - and an American G.I.

"La Strada" (1954). The title of this early masterpiece by Federico Fellini translates as "The Road." It tells the story of Zampano (Anthony Quinn), a brutal traveling strongman, and Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina), the slavishly loyal waif who travels with him. Fellini, typically, renders the road as a metaphor for life, and the world of the traveling circus as a metaphor for its absurdity.

"The Rain People" (1969). Shirley Knight plays Natalie Ravenna, a restless housewife who has just learned that she is pregnant. She doesn't know how she feels about the pregnancy, and isn't even certain that she wants to have the baby. Feeling trapped, she leaves her husband and takes to the road without really knowing where she's headed. Along the way she picks up Jimmie Kilgannon (James Caan), a former football player whose game injuries have left him brain damaged. This unlikely pair travel through West Virginia, Tennessee, and finally Nebraska in search of a job for Jimmie. Ironically, in her increasing concern for Jimmie, Natalie takes on just the sort of maternal responsibilities that she had been running from. This was writer/director Francis Ford Coppola's last film as a relative unknown. Next time out, he would turn the movie world on its ear with "The Godfather" (1972).

The road, as Paul McCartney observed, is long and winding, and we've only begun to explore its peregrinations through the landscape of the silver screen. Next time, we'll look at more classic road pictures.

The Undead (originally published 3/02)

If there are any skeptics left - anyone who doubts that vampires really are immortal - they need look no further than their local box office for proof positive. With Anne Rice's Lestat once again stalking the silver screen in "Queen of the Damned" and doing very nicely, thank you, with audiences, the cinematic staying power of the undead has once again been vindicated.

Throughout the long and richly varied history of vampire movies, it has, of course, been Count Dracula who has occupied center stage. I suppose he's been portrayed in more different ways by more different people than any other horror icon. Still, as "Queen of the Damned" demonstrates, Dracula isn't the only vampire who can attract an audience. Here are some other non-Dracula vampire films to look for on video.

"Mark of the Vampire" (1935). Following the success of Universal's 1931 "Dracula" with Bela Lugosi, MGM executives tried to capitalize by hiring Lugosi to do a vampire film for them. Recalling that director Tod Browning had made a silent vampire film with Lon Chaney Sr. called "London After Midnight," they asked him to remake it in sound with Lugosi. As the creepy Count Mora - the bullet hole still plainly visible where he had ended his life by shooting himself in the temple - Lugosi is magnificent. So is Carroll Borland as his equally creepy and equally dead daughter, Luna. The film's ending is famously controversial, delighting some and infuriating others. See below for a clip from the film, courtesy of Turner Classic Movies.

"Brides of Dracula" (1960). Despite the title, Count Dracula doesn't appear in this British horror film. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Hammer Films made its bid to become the new brand name in cinematic horror. Its series of Dracula films featured Christopher Lee as the Count and Peter Cushing as his nemesis, Dr. Van Helsing. For a moment, this film made it appear that the series might veer away from Dracula to focus on Van Helsing as he encountered new vampires in each film. The trend didn't last, but "Brides of Dracula" is a fine, atmospheric effort, with David Peel as a vampire who preys on young women at a boarding school.

"Martin" (1978). Inexplicably little-known these days, George Romero's modern-day vampire tale is fascinating. Martin is a young man who feels compelled to attack women and drink their blood. Lacking a vampire's charms and fangs, he has to use drugs to render his victims helpless and razor blades to open their veins. Nevertheless, his elder cousin is convinced that Martin is a real vampire and threatens him with garlic and crosses. So, is he a vampire or isn't he? Romero leaves that up to you.

"The Vampire Lovers" (1971). One of the most famous vampire tales is Sheridan LeFanu's "Carmilla," in which a female vampire preys on young women. The story has been adapted for film several times, with "The Vampire Lovers" from Hammer being the most traditional and straightforward. For more adventurous interpretations of "Carmilla," you might want to look for Roger Vadim's "Blood and Roses" (1961) or Carl Theodor Dryer's poetic and fascinating "Vampyr" (1932).

"The Night Stalker" (1971). Written by fantasy master Richard Matheson - one of the principle writers from the original "Twilight Zone" television series - this TV movie explores what would happen if a vampire turned up in modern day Las Vegas. Darren McGavin stars as newspaper reporter Carl Kolchak, who pieces together the incredible evidence that points to a vampire as the source of a string of unexplained murders. Matheson's script expertly walks the line between humor and horror as Kolchak tries to sell his incredulous editor on this absurd but true story. McGavin was so good as the fast-talking Kolchak that ABC actually created a TV series in which the luckless reporter would discover a new occult menace each and every week.

"The Hunger" (1983). Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie play an elegant vampire couple living (or at least residing) in contemporary Manhattan in this stylish variation of the undead theme. Indeed, director Tony Scott's approach to the subject was a bit too stylish for some tastes, but if you like inventive visuals and don't mind if all the loose ends aren't quite tied up, it's well worth a look.