I read Dracula for the first time when I was ten years old. It kind of made me feel weird about sex — at least, I realize now it made me feel weird about sex. But I still got up at 6:00 one morning to watch the Hammer Horror version of Dracula on Turner Classic Movies, starring Christopher Lee as Dracula (it’s great!). My mom was into Dark Shadows and Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles—although she never shared my interest in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, big mother-daughter opportunity missed—so vampires were kind of a thing in my house.
Once I tried to convince my little brother and my cousin I was becoming a vampire. I wore bat earrings my mom got me for Halloween every day and slept in them every night until one day I woke up and they had to be physically cut out of my hair. And vampires may also have been or currently be a thing for you, it’s OK. But I am betting money right now you have not watched enough of the Blade movies.
Context is pretty key here. The first Blade came out in 1998 and its visual aesthetic can only be described as The Late ’90s. It was written by David S. Goyer, back when his only credit worth talking about was Dark City, way before Batman Begins. Before the Mayor of Hollywood decreed that we will view six comic book movies per annum whether we want to or not; before Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and Bryan Singer’s X-Men, which spawned franchises that have already been rebooted. And Blade was great, but what I really want to talk about is Blade II, the sequel and easily the best entry in the trilogy. Still written by David S. Goyer, but this time directed by Guillermo Del Toro, whose genre-specific greatness is pretty universally recognized at this point.
Blade II is not really a comic book movie the way we think of them now, in this darkgrittygrittydark post-Batman Begins world. And it’s not a vampire movie in the sense of, well, any vampire movie ever. This might be the most sexless vampire movie ever made. It fails the Bechdel test pretty spectacularly (named female characters: two; number of times those female characters speak to each other: zero), but also steers clear of any overt sexuality in general, aside from everyone’s predisposition towards leather pants and shirts and masks and vests. Vampires have historically and painfully obviously served as a metaphor for sexual enticement and the corruption of pure, virgin women through sex. But Blade II pretty firmly decides that no, vampires are just really cool monsters in sunglasses that run very sketchy blood drives and like raves.
And Blade II has a vampire lady named Nyssa who is a love interest in the sense that Blade eventually stops telling her he wants her to die, but that’s pretty much it. And it’s not perfect, but at least our female character options aren’t helpless love interest/harpy demon-bitch, for once.
The movie centers around a forced truce between the vampires and Blade—a part-vampire with none of the traditional vampire weaknesses but all of the strengths, plus the unending thirst for blood—to address a new “breed” of vampires called Reapers, who feed on other vampires and have been making raves less pleasant for everyone. The Reapers’ only weakness is sunlight (or, more accurately, UV light), and they are strong, fast, and have terrifying monster mouths. They very obviously intentionally resemble Nosferatu, which presents an interesting visual contrast between the Stoker-style sexy, aristocratic vampires and the feral, ghoulish, perhaps more folklore-derived Reapers.
I’m not going to recap this movie in-depth because it’s really just a linear depiction of (very, very good) action sequences. But I will highlight these very good reasons for watching it:
1. It’s like watching a comic book movie wireframe.
Very specifically, a Batman Begins wireframe. The hard-science gadgetry, lengthy action set pieces, supporting character after supporting character after supporting character. It’s all here, but you can see the gears grinding behind it a little more clearly. Action movies, to me, are best when devoid of pretentiousness, and Del Toro is the anti-Nolan.
2. Blade the character is pret-ty great.
Blade’s blackness is overtly acknowledged exactly one time, when Ron Perlman’s skinhead vampire Reinhardt tells Blade that his vampire gang was wondering if Blade can blush (which, WHOA). Blade puts a remote-detonated mine on the back of Perlman’s head. He cares about his old buddy Kris Kristofferson and killing vampires and lives in a combined dojo/garage/aircraft hanger. Wesley Snipes’ portrayal of Blade is awesome enough that Marvel ultimately retrofitted the character to match the film version in backstory, abilities, and personality.
And Blade II DOES pass the Racial Bechdel Test. Nyssa is played by Latina actress Leonor Varela, and nice-guy vampire Asad is played by Cat from “Red Dwarf” Danny John-Jules, and they both talk to Blade, mostly about The Plot, which is not technically a white person, although pretty much every other vampire is white. And John-Jules’ character still hews a little close to the “magical, all-knowing, black hero-helper” idea; but then, that dynamic shifts a little when the hero is black as well. Guillermo Del Toro: doing better on race/gender issues than most of Hollywood.
3. It’s a non-scary scary movie.
Nothing jumps out of the darkened doorway, nobody gets possessed, vampires fight with martial arts. Perfect alternative to your friend’s persistent suggestion to watch something actually terrifying.
But what of the other two Blade movies? What do they have to offer you? I have made the below handy venn diagram of all the awesome things in the Blade movies, which you may use to determine the Blade movie most appropriate for you.
Jessie Guy-Ryan is an aspiring comedian and expert sleepwalker. She lives in New York with her husband, two cats, and day job. You can follow her on twitter at @ex_liontamer.