After his terrible experience with Mimic, Guillermo del Toro was understandably hesitant about making another American film in Hollywood. But when he was offered the chance to helm the sequel to the successful Blade, the lifelong horror comic fanboy couldn’t resist. With his unique handling of the vampire mythos in his debut Cronos, the studio knew he would bring something new and interesting to the table.
Blade II opens two years after the events of the first film. The titular antihero (Wesley Snipes)—a half-human, half-vampire also called The Daywalker—is searching for his father figure and mentor, Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), who was bitten before being snatched by their vampire enemies.
No sooner is Whistler recovered and cured of his vampirism before their base is infiltrated by a pair of bloodsuckers. The twist is that they haven’t come to destroy the hunters: they arrive bearing a peace treaty on behalf of the vampire nation. It seems there’s a new monster stalking the streets, a creature even the vampires fear, and in their desperation they are forced to turn to their enemy for help.
As this new strain of vampires, dubbed Reapers, poses an even more virulent threat than their cousins, Blade agrees to the truce. Joining forces with the Blood Pack, led by pureblood vampire princess Nyssa (Leonor Varela) and featuring the brutish Reinhardt (del Toro regular Ron Perlman), the hunt begins for the source of the Reaper strain: a mysterious figure named Jared Nomak (Luke Goss).
Unlike del Toro’s previous films, Blade II is squarely an action flick. There are horror trappings—vampires, secret labs, moody lighting and a heavy focus on night scenes—but the fighting sequences and macho posturing are the front and center focus.
This is hardly a bad thing. As an action film, Blade II is a whole lot of fun. There’s some great fight choreography and del Toro’s signature visuals make for a slick ride. All of the typical tropes are here: the slow-mo walks into danger, the quippy threats and one-liners, the badass suit-up montages and outlining of weapons and battle plans. It may not be new or ground-breaking, but it’s all handled deftly in an entertaining way.
The supporting cast is also great. Ron Perlman chews the scenery every moment he’s onscreen and his Reinhardt, a bulldog that’s always on the verge of attacking, is a satisfying antagonist for Blade. The ancient vampire Damaskinos is all the more malevolent with Thomas Kretschmann’s drawl. Kristofferson’s Whistler is the perfectly cantankerous father figure while Norman Reedus (who I’ve praised before for his more recent work as Daryl Dixon on The Walking Dead) plays a charmingly uncouth techie named Scud.
In the first film, there isn’t much to distinguish the vampires from any other bloodsuckers we’ve seen a dozen times before. They’re mostly young and attractive, frequently have exotic or Eastern European accents, are dressed stylishly and appear seemingly human. Only the elongated canines and cat-like eyeshine reveals what they really are.
And while there are plenty of vampires of that caliber in this, del Toro makes his Reapers properly unique and monstrous. These are not sophisticated gentlemen capable of seducing and beguiling—they’re pure monsters. Bald in a way that evokes one of cinema’s most classic monsters, Nosferatu, with darkly veined necrotic skin that reveals just how diseased they are, they scuttle across walls and lope down dark alleys while screeching with bestial hunger. If that wasn’t enough to unsettle, their unique way of feeding from their victims is the last nail in the coffin: the Reapers’ bottom jaws split in half, revealing a barbed and tentacled sucker-tongue that latches onto their prey.
It’s pure del Toro, a dash of Lovecraftian body horror that distinguishes his vampires from the rest of the pack. The director returned to this particular bloodsucker design in the trilogy of books he co-wrote with Chuck Hogan, The Strain, which will be hitting TV screens in July. After a preponderance of sparkly, romantic vamps in the media, it’s always nice to see the monster return to its nastier roots.
The Reapers are disgusting, repellent, and are clearly the biggest threat in the story, lethal to both human and vampire alike. But they’re also not unsympathetic, particularly in the case of Jared Nomak. Vampirism is, after all, a disease in this mythos, passed through blood and saliva; the Reapers are ill and cannot control what’s been done to them or how they react under the pressures of the disease. Nomak, the first carrier, seeks a much-deserved revenge against those who have turned him into a plague rat.
Del Toro is always quick to point out that even monsters deserve pity and justice. No one could blame Nomak—played brilliantly by Luke Goss, who balances between rage and agony in a visceral performance—for his vendetta.
When pureblood vampire Nyssa speaks with Blade about his own quest for justice, a quest that has killed hundreds of her kind, she forces him to see the world from her perspective. Blade has hated and hunted vampires for killing his mother and making him what he is; Nyssa acknowledges the monstrous aspects of her kind, but also accepts what she is while Blade continues to deny his vampire half. If you’re born a monster, must you constantly apologize to the world for being true to yourself?
In humanizing the monstrous and making the audience connect with them, del Toro gives Blade II enough heart to make it stand out in a way many action films don’t. This is still very much a by-the-books adventure; but the emotional moments between Whistler and Blade, Nomak’s pathos, and the family drama at the film’s climax gives the story resonance.
As a comic book adaptation, Blade II succeeds admirably. It’s an entertaining addition to the cinematic vampire canon and was my first introduction to del Toro—as such, it has a certified place in my heart forever. A highly recommended choice for any movie marathon with people who might be too squeamish for serious horror, but still want to enjoy some of the genre’s atmosphere and trappings.
Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. You can find her at Livejournal.com under the handle “zombres.”
Read all posts by Angie Barry at Criminal Element.