Monday, December 4, 2023

“Just Because You’re a Vampire Doesn’t Mean You’re a Superhero” - The Last Vampire on Earth (2010)

Let us continue our exploration of modern classic films with a treatment of The Last Vampire on Earth (2010), a vampire romance between young people set in rural America, a highly original if not unique premise. Directed by Vitaliy Versace, the film is a visionary story about good vampires and evil churchgoers.

Some of your universe's critics, as usual, downplay the success of the film, and even the self-published novel upon which it is based. For example, film reviewer Jesusloveselvis jokes, "I would advice [sic] anyone who is blind to watch this with the sound turned off for maximum pleasure." Reviewer KMRocky writes, "There is no story and no plot to this film at all unless you like watching two teens have unmindful conversations about nothing I wouldn't waste your time watching this." And reviewer floraposteschild writes, "this film is not even good enough to have on in the background at your Hallowe'en party."

Read on for the truth about The Last Vampire on Earth...

The film begins with a shot of the full moon as a young woman supplies a profound monologue (or perhaps reads from a term paper): “There are all kinds of people and creatures in this world. Generally, we can distinguish between the real and the fantasy. But what happens when that fantasy creeps into our reality? What if we start believing in the things that lurk in the night? In previous centuries, we’ve taken the ideas of monsters, witches, and vampires to heart. We have hunted and killed people to satisfy our need to rid the world of evil. Who are we to condemn what we see as evil? Have we stopped to listen to the accused? If witches and vampires are real, and the particular powers we associate with them are real, who are we to extinguish them from existence?”

After opening titles appear over shots of nature and outlines of blood cells, we find ourselves at a high school (or perhaps a college) where students are arriving for class. Two young men serve as our Greek chorus as they explain current events and complain about other students they see. “Oh my God, this is gonna be like the best party yet this year,” says one teen.

“I know,” replies his friend. “Everyone who’s anyone’s gonna be there.”

The screenwriter’s authentic dialogue continues: “Dude, look at that. I wouldn’t go anywhere looking like that.” (He is referring to a young woman, Chloe, with dark hair dressed like everyone else on campus.) Then his friend says, “Take a look at this guy. He totally needs a tan. He’s like the palest person ever.” (He is referring to a young man with the exact same complexion as the speaker.)

The filmmakers cut to an English classroom, where a bearded teacher writes the word “DRACULA” in gigantic letters on a whiteboard.

The teacher turns to the class and introduces the topic of Bram Stoker’s novel, awkwardly saying, “There’s more to this novel than…bloodthirsty and horror.” He tells the students they need to perform the novel in costumes as their final project. Then he immediately assigns the part of Dracula “randomly” to Aurelius, the supposedly pale young man. He assigns a teen named Noah to be Jonathan Harker and Chloe to play Mina Harker.

After class is over, Chloe and her friend Melissa (who is playing Lucy Westenra) talk about the project in the hallway. Chloe, despite sounding half asleep, says, “Personally, I’m thrilled about this. We’re gonna have a lot of fun. Besides, at least we won’t be stuck listening to professor drone on for an hour.”

Her friend intones even more sleepily, “Well, I’m happy with my part. I’ve always wanted to play a sultry female vampire. Who knew that lit class would bring all my fantasies to fruition?” Nobody responds to this provocative statement, and nobody asks why she used the unnecessary word “female” in her statement.

After school (or college), Aurelius casually strides up to a blood mobile parked on the side of the road. He introduces himself to Wayne, the driver, and offers the man a proposition: “I’d like to buy some of this blood from you.” He tosses several dollar bills into the cab of the van.

“Okay, Aurelius, you’re speaking my language. How much do you want?”

Aurelius buys five gallons (gallons being the standard unit of measure for blood, of course) from Wayne. He writes an address on a piece of paper and hands it to Wayne. “Nice doing business with ya.”

There follows a five-minute sequence where Aurelius’s path is blocked by Chloe as he walks through the school’s halls, followed by Chloe saying, “Sorry.”

In lit class, the students begin a read-through of Dracula — although the professor indicated they would perform the novel as a play, the students begin by simply reading the text of the novel.

In the library, Chloe initiates a conversation with Aurelius. “Are you taking biochem too?” she asks.

“Yeah,” he replies, and jokingly adds, “It’s a killer.” He agrees to meet with Chloe and others in the lit class to prepare for the reading of Dracula.

In the next scene, Chloe has her blood drawn for a medical test. The lab tech tells her, “Enjoy the rest of the day, and remember to drink a lot of water.”

Chloe responds, “Okay, you too,” in what is a response out of a nightmare — perhaps the film’s most frightening line of dialogue.

Over coffee, Aurelius tells Chloe his major is hematology: “I’d love to try to help find cures for blood diseases that are really stumping scientists. Like diabetes and AIDS.”

Chloe reveals her father is a minister, and she asks if he wants to go to church with her.

“Sure, why not?” he says, adding, perhaps needlessly, “Sunday morning?”

Indeed, they attend church together and watch Chloe’s father give his sermon on different kinds of love, including romantic love. He also encourages his congregants to reach out to people they do not know, or who they recently met. (It must be noted that, even though he is described as pale and wants to be a blood doctor, Aurelius is not importuned in any way by the church or its various crucifixes.)

Aurelius visits Chloe’s house for dinner. When he tells everyone he is majoring in hematology, everyone falls silent. Chloe’s father, Reverend Melvin, explains: “In our religion, we believe that blood is sacred and we’re not allowed to eat blood of any kind or seek blood transfusions. If we were to do so, we would be shunned from the church.”

Aurelius responds innocently, “If you were in a bad accident and lost a lot of blood, you’d be in a real predicament then. That’s a shame.”

Chloe changes the subject to reading Dracula in lit class. 

After dinner, Aurelius drives away and spits out the chicken he has eaten. He drives immediately home, where he meets the driver of the blood van (actually a blood minivan). The driver brings styrofoam containers into Aurelius’s house, then starts investigating the place while Aurelius is in another room. He sees nothing unusual, though he is startled when Aurelius appears seemingly out of nowhere to explain he’s conducting a study of leeches, which is why he needs the blood.

After a montage in which Chloe and Aurelius fall in love, and a vocalist on the soundtrack sings about wedding bells, he entices her to come back to his house where he downloaded some notes about vampires and “printed them out online.” Of course, she agrees to go home with him at night. While looking for his bathroom, she finds the styrofoam containers of blood. Saying nothing, she takes his printed notes and he drives her back to her dorm.

By reading the notes (which she now sees on her computer screen), Chloe comes to the realization that Aurelius, shockingly, is a vampire. At school, she explains her reasoning to Aurelius. “Hematology, pale skin, cold hands, the coolers of blood in your house. YOUR HOUSE! You have no family and seemingly no friends. Why me? Why would you want me to know this? I’m just a girl going on about her life, trying to make the world a better place. This is insane.”

“Stop. Look at me. I want you to know, because you are just a girl trying to make the world a better place.” He adds, “I feel this magnetism to you that I can’t explain.” He makes her tell him she thinks he’s a vampire, and he says, “Yes.” She replies that it makes her admire him more.

“How old are you?” is the first question she asks him.

“Twenty,” he replies.

“How long have you been that old?”

“For about two thousand and twenty-eight years.”

(The language some might find “awkward” is no doubt a clever way for the filmmakers to avoid the criticism that their film depicts a romantic relationship between a teenage girl and a 2,028-year-old man.)

“Wow. That’s a long time to be by yourself. Did you see Jesus?”

“I heard him speak a couple times. He was a great man.”

“That’s amazing,” she gushes. “I’m so jealous.”

Later, Chloe has a reaction to the medications she’s on, resulting in her vomiting water into a toilet. She lies in a hospital bed while her doctor explains how they will try to keep her disease, AIDS, at bay.

At night, Chloe and Aurelius lie on the ground looking up at the stars. Aurelius mansplains (or, more accurately, vampiresplains) both constellations and the myth of Pegasus to Chloe as heavy piano chords play on the soundtrack. Then he says there are events in history he wishes he had changed. Wisely, Chloe comforts him: “Just because you’re a vampire doesn’t mean you’re a superhero. You still have to accept your limits like everyone else.”

“When I’m with you, I feel like I could die,” he admits, “And that would be all right, because I know there’s another person out there who cares enough about the world to do something.”

They kiss and bump noses awkwardly.

In school, the little class rehearses their version of Dracula in the auditorium. The student playing Jonathan Harker reads the text of the scene with Dracula’s vampire brides, while other students read the dialogue of Lucy and Van Helsing. 

After Sunday dinner with Chloe’s family, Aurelius vomits his chicken into the toilet. Chloe enters the bathroom, having heard his vomiting. In a scene whose mise en scene might be considered odd, we watch as Chloe speaks with Aurelius in the bathroom, only to be overheard by her little brother Chad, who is leaning halfway into the room.

“I know as a vampire you need blood and all, but I didn’t think eating normal things would make you sick.”

Despite hearing all this, Chad throws a football around with his dad and Aurelius for a few minutes before Aurelius announces he needs to go home. 

At home, Aurelius drains a plastic sack of blood into a glass in real time, a process that takes several minutes. He drinks the blood, then feels so energized he plays ping pong with himself at super-speed a la The Flash, somewhat controverting Chloe’s claim that being a vampire does not make him a superhero.

Later, Chloe visits the hospital because she notices a bruise on her back. The doctor believes the bruise is a sign of advanced HIV status, so he thrillingly refers her to a dermatologist. 

Meanwhile, Chad speaks with his parents, stumbling over his words because he is so emotionally distraught, possibly. “Sunday, when Aurelius was over for dinner, after dinner I heard him and Chloe talking. And I’m pretty sure, I mean I don’t see how she could have said something else or I misunderstood her…I heard Chloe say that he’s a vampire.”

His father, Reverend Melvin, says sensibly, “I’m going to get to the bottom of this.” He drives to Chloe’s dorm, but first he arranges to meet someone at the church. Having arranged that meeting, Melvin confronts Chloe as she sits on her bed. “I need to know. This is very important. If Aurelius is a vampire, we need to take action. We can’t let him wander around bringing evil into the world.”

“Dad, how can you say that? You’ve spent time with him. He’s a good person.”

“So it is true.” Reverend Melvin leaves the dorm and heads to the church. 

Then, perhaps as we might expect, Chloe goes home, picks up a handgun, and heads to Aurelius’s house. When she finds it empty, she too drives to the church. Though all the church doors are locked, she hears her father’s voice in the nearby woods, where various churchgoers have tied Aurelius to a stake.

Reverend Melvin orates as if he is running some kind of sacred ceremony. “Jesus shed his blood for us on the stake so that we might be saved, and for this reason we do not share or ingest blood. This creature has violated that gift in the most profane way. He feeds off our human blood so that he might live.” (One might question why the church is full of crucifixes if they believe Jesus was staked rather than crucified.)

Chloe has no choice but to interrupt the deadly ceremony, whipping out her gun. “Stop or I’ll shoot,” she intones, beginning one of the finest monologues in the history of cinema. “This is a good man, and if you took the time to get to know him, you would find that out.” She adds, “He wants to help find cures for diseases. He wants to help find a cure for diseases like AIDS. Maybe that doesn’t mean much to you, but it means a lot to people like me who have it. That’s right. I have AIDS and it’s advancing very quickly. I don’t have that much longer to live, and I will not hesitate to shoot someone for trying to kill Aurelius. I’m not afraid of punishment, death, or things I do not understand. All of you are afraid of him not because you truly think he’s evil, but because you don’t understand what he is. What kind of Christian spirit is this? Would you do this to someone who has cancer? No. You would help them because they have a horrible disease. What makes him so different? Do you think he revels in what he’s become?”

One of the churchgoers moves and Chloe shoots him. Then she forces them to untie Aurelius. He says to her, “Come on, let’s go.”

Before they walk away, Chloe waves her handgun and says, “Shame on you all.” Thunder cracks, though the sun is bright.

At night, the rain has started. Chloe and Aurelius sit in his living room. “Why didn’t you tell me you have AIDS?” he asks.

“Because…I didn’t want you to think less of me.”

She explains that she got AIDS on a mission trip in Africa when her clinic was attacked. She rescued a young girl who was bleeding, and some of her blood entered a cut on Chloe’s arm.

“Wow,” says Aurelius. “You don’t deserve this.” (He says nothing about whether the young girl who had previously been infected deserves her situation, though Chloe mentions her.)

Chloe asks the question the entire film has been building to. “If you were to bite me and make me into a vampire, would I be free of this disease?”

He answers affirmatively, indicating she would be immortal like him.

“We can spend the rest of our lives trying to help people and trying to find cures for horrible diseases.”

“That would be nice, but you don’t want this. You don’t know what it’s like to live through centuries with all the people you know and love dying around you.”

“I would like it, so long as I were with you.”

He refuses to bite her, telling her to go to sleep because she’s exhausted. He uses his superspeed to bring her a blanket. (There is no indication why he did not use superspeed to avoid the gaggle of churchgoers, however.)

Of course, the climactic scene occurs at the performance of Dracula. They perform dialogue only, and there is only one vampire bride, but the performance is quite effective. When it is time for Dracula to bite Mina, Aurelius asks, “Are you 100% sure?”

She says “Yes,” so Aurelius bites Chloe’s neck onstage. Artistically, the image fades to monochrome, and the film simply ends. 

Much of The Last Vampire on Earth is concerned with sophisticated dialectical arguments about good and evil, as well as truth and falsehood. One example is the film's title. Some pedantic filmgoers might argue that the title does not need "on Earth," as "The Last Vampire" is a more punchy title, but perhaps the more serious criticism is that there is never an indication that Aurelius is in fact the last vampire on Earth, and by the finale he is joined by Chloe as a vampire. Perhaps The Second Last Vampire on Earth would be a more accurate -- and therefore better -- title.

In any case, The Last Vampire on Earth is a distinctive film both narratively and visually. Narratively, the film is a love story that uses the fictional story of Dracula to frame the difficult, age-old decision about whether one should become a vampire to avoid dying from AIDS. Visually, the entire film has a vignette filter applied, so the edges are dark and blurry. Together, these innovations make The Last Vampire on Earth another modern classic, fit to be mentioned in the company of Deadly Lessons (2006) and The Last Inn (2021).