by greg yolen

Greetings readers, and happy Halloween… Here’s to hoping this Friday’s a lot scarier than next Tuesday. Know what I’m saying?

When it comes to vampires, the laws are simple: sleep days, bite nights, steer clear of garlic, sunlight, and stakes through the ticker, and call it an eternity. These haven’t changed since Bram Stoker laid them out in the late 19th century, and though they have seen a few fascinating variations, for the most part, it’s hard not to find Dracula and his brood somewhat passé nowadays, even as vampirism, it seems, is currently “in.” Or at least that’s what the goth dude who bit me on the bus the other day told me…


Oh sure, vampires are perennial – more so than your Frankenstein or Mummy, surely. That’s mostly because the bloodsucking undead always seem so ripe for metaphor. The new HBO series True Blood draws the homosexuality comparison, for instance… But what a great vampire story needs isn’t metaphorical layering or sociological musings, no, it’s shit-your-pants terror. And because we all know the rules, it’s hard not to yawn these days when those old familiar fangs come out.

Enter Let The Right One In, a masterful Swedish film that hit festival circuits last year, and premiered in limited release this past weekend. Just when I thought I’d grown out of vampire stories comes a film that gets completely under my skin – a film that, though hitting all the classic tropes of the genre, defies expectations and manages to surprise at every turn.

Going into it, I knew nothing about Let The Right One In, and I’d like to pay that favor forward and keep my lips sealed on the plot. Suffice it to say, it involves a child growing up in a dark and snowy 1970′s Stockholm, and the mysterious young girl who moves in next door. To say more would be to risk spoiling one of the best films of 2008.

In so many tantalizing ways, Let The Right One In feels fresh. Its game isn’t metaphor, nor is it a comment on, or re-imagination of vampirism. It is content with being a scary fucking movie, and I, for one, was content being extremely, extremely disturbed. The classic rules remain in tact… which makes the palpable dread that director Tomas Alfredson conjures throughout, all the more impressive.

At the center of the film is a well-observed relationship between two adolescents, Oskar and Eli, which Alfredson handles with sympathy and detail. This isn’t the undead tween romance of the upcoming (and surely lesser) film Twilight, nor is it the overcooked melodrama of The Lost Boys. It’s a delicate trust between two wary, wounded kids. In other words, it feels entirely realistic… which makes the truth about Eli, the girl next door, all the more unsettling.

The pacing of the film, it should be noted, is distinctly European in feel. That is to say, don’t go in expecting a Blade-esque vampire rave in the open, and a monster orgy in the climax. (If you ARE looking for a monster orgy, however, I recommend the classic Dracula 69: Going Down on the Count.) This film is a decidedly slow build – but what it builds to, in its final scenes, is astonishingly suspenseful and wholly satisfying.

At a time when American horror films have worked themselves into a predictable and lucrative rut of torture porn and Japanese ghost story remakes, do yourself a favor this Halloween: skip “Saw,” and treat yourself to a truly original chiller. You won’t be sorry.

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