I’m not just a fan of vampires. Yes, shocking, I know. I also fancy steampunk. Yes, all right, I admit it, I dig the Victorian era, and DRACULA is by far my favorite novel of the era. I’m actually shocked that there aren’t more steampunk vampire movies or books. There are a few, if you are willing to dig a bit. If I may, though, let me qualify what steampunk is, or at least what I consider to be steampunk.
Steampunk is a form of speculative fiction that deals with an alternate history of late 19th century. It is usually a setting which has steam-powered technology overall but some folks have been able to harness steam to power devices or technologies that did not exist in history, or have somehow managed to acquire more modern technologies earlier.
Authors like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are sometimes considered fathers of the genre because they wrote in the Victorian era about technologies which did not exist yet. Truly though, these are progenitors of Science-fiction — forward thinking speculators of what was to come. No, steampunk didn’t really emerge until about the 1970’s when authors were setting their works in the past but giving them sophisticated technologies, many of which could have been possible, but just weren’t discovered then.
Perfect Creature (2006)
This is one of those movies that sneaks up and surprises you. I wasn’t sure what to think when the movie started. I quickly came to love the steampunk alternate world and was happy that the movie didn’t depend on that feel throughout.
The story is fairly simple as plots go. In an alternate world, 300 years ago, a race of vampires was created after some very early genetic experiments. This technically means it is not steampunk, because it isn’t clear what era the movie takes place, or if it is even our world. However, it has all of the technological trappings of steampunk, including dirigibles.
These vampires have coexisted peacefully with the humans and even formed a church known as the Brotherhood. (It should be noted, for some reason, only males were born as vampires.) As the story opens, however, one Brother has become insane and violent and has started killing humans. The chase to stop him is the core focus of the movie.
I really liked this movie. The atmosphere hooks you and the unique story keeps you. The acting was quite good as well. My only complaint might be that the plot was a bit simple, even if it was different. If you can find this one in stores, I recommend buying it.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)
This is not a vampire movie, but it does have a vampire in it — Miss Mina Harker after her attack by Dracula. It is definitely a steampunk movie, and a fun romp, even if it has nothing to do with the graphic novel that was its namesake.
Starting in 1899, this movie features lots of steampunk goodness and a grand collection of Victorian era anti-heros coming together to prevent a world war. The League consists of Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery), Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), Rodney Skinner — an invsible thief (Tony Curran), Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), and is led by “M” (Richard Roxburgh). Along the way they recruit Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend) and capture Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng). For some reason, they throw in Tom Sawyer (Shane West) for some young American blood.
Just some of the steampunk elements in the movie are armored tanks, Zeppelins, Nemo’s infamous Nautilus submarine, with an automobile and a missile tracking device. Also, there was genetic research and samples taken with cloning being the ultimate goal.
The movie was generally panned by critics, but I find it to be a fun action flick with a cool twist, an awesome vampire, and some neat steampunk. Am I easily amused? Perhaps, and as such I consider this worth renting if nothing else.
Van Helsing (2004)
This one is the only “Dracula” movie I know of that is also a steampunk movie. Though, calling this a steampunk movie is a stretch, as is calling it a “Dracula” movie. However, the tell-tale signs are everywhere, specifically in the gadgets. The movie begins in 1887, and is really an action hero movie set in Victorian era Europe. It stars Hugh Jackman as Gabriel Van Helsing, a loose canon amnesiac who works as a monster hunter for a secret division of the Vatican. After killing Mr. Hyde in France, he is assigned to Transylvania to help the Valerious family deal with their vampire and werewolf problem. The vampire in question is none other than Dracula, played exquisitely by Richard Roxburgh. (Quite possibly my favorite Dracula by the way.)
This movie is an homage to Universal Studio’s movie monsters Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman. It weaves these core elements quite well into a fun story that seems almost plausible, while providing non-stop action, and Kate Beckinsale in a corset. This is not your grandfather’s Dracula.
The steampunk is provided by Carl the Friar, played by David Wenham. Not only is he the comic relief as the bumbling sidekick, but he is also the brilliant scientist who gives Van Helsing all of his wonderful toys. Amongst his chief weapons are an automatic crossbow, squeeze and release buzzsaw projectiles, and of course, the sunlight bomb. This lovely device is the result of a dozen years tinkering with “bottled magma from Mount Vesuvius and pure alkali from the Gobi desert” to create a huge burst of light as bright as the sun.
The movie was generally panned by critics, but I find it to be a fun action flick with a cool twist, an awesome vampire, and some neat steampunk. Did I repeat myself? Yes, but then again, in many ways this movie is similar in theme and substance to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It’s worth a rental as well.
(By the way, the Richard Roxburgh Victorian era hat trick can be found in Moulin Rouge!, which has no vampires, but is a musical, so bonus points there, kids. Dude, the man sings Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” — how can you not like that?)
My fellow Whedonites, I have been pondering the idea of a “hero” lately. I think the Watchmen movie is partly to blame for this. I’ve been asking myself what defines a hero. More interestingly, I began to wonder about specific examples and comparing them. For example, if such a thing could be judged, who is more heroic: Buffy or Angel? Or is Angel an anti-hero? What about Spike?
There has definitely been a trend lately to fashion vampires into heroes. Vampire stories originally served as cautionary tales. Live your life the right way and have a good death, or else you could come back from the dead to torment and feed off of the living. In Victorian times, the vampire became the bad-boy of the day. He was an apparent gentleman on the outside, but that was merely a charade that masked a vicious, bloodthirsty killer deep inside. This dark menace however became seductive in the twentieth century and now they are sex symbols. Ultimately, they embody everything that humans wish they could be and can never be without severe circumstances… and consequences.
There is much discussion by some learned people about the state of our society today. They would have us believe that these are darker times. It seems to me, however, that these times are no darker than any other period in history. Everything works in cycles, and the course of mankind is no different. We have good times and bad. War, famine, pestilence, and death are our ever-vigilant curses. But the beauty of mankind is seen in our attempts to try to make things better.
These same doomsayers would also have us believe our modern life is susceptible to darker influences. We have become a nation not under one god, but tolerant of things our ancestors gladly burned at the stake. They would chastise our romanticizing of the vampire myth, especially the recent conversion of vampires into tortured heroes.
To them I have only this to say: we need all the heroes we can get! Our society values a hero, someone who goes beyond their nature, human or otherwise, and fights to champion a greater cause than themselves. Heroes are also usually given powers that separate them from the very thing they try to protect and defend. When they fail, they are chastised and persecuted. When they succeed, they are promoted as the pinnacle of hope and glory.
Why then is the vampire not allowed to fit this same model? It seems to me that it fits it perfectly. Our society has not “turned a blind-eye” to evil — it has opened its eyes to the truth. Watch any movie, read any comic book, and you will find that the hero is becoming a tortured soul just as the vampire seems to be. The sins of the past are heavy, as are the hopes of a demanding fragile humanity that needs a hero.
Furthermore, there is no new, modern fascination with all things vampiric; this is a natural impulse, and one that has been a part of the human condition for a very long time. This is not a fad nor a fashion, or even a lifestyle. It simply is, and no irrational human fear will make it disappear. The vampires are out of the coffin for good.