11 years ago today, my favorite horror movie was released. Yes, you were right, it is David Slade’s seminal work, 30 Days of Night. It is a commonly-maligned vampire flick – criticized for its plot holes, weird time skips, and quasi-idiotic characters. But none of that fazed a younger me. Unaware of Rotten Tomatoes and other movie review sites, I convinced my dad to rent the film from Blockbuster. Little did I know how much it was about to change my horror-loving life.
For those of you unfamiliar with this masterpiece, 30 Days of Night begins in Barrow, Alaska on the last day of sun. There is an entire month each year in Barrow where the sun doesn’t rise, hence giving them 30 days of night. Many the town’s residents pack up to leave for the month-long nighttime, fleeing towards the sun. Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) preps for the month of darkness, responding to strange calls about stolen satellite phones and murdered sled dogs.
He comes to find that these crimes are all linked. They were all committed by a Stranger (Ben Foster) who is preparing the town for some visitors who don’t want anyone to escape. The stranger tells Eben, in Foster’s strange Creole-esque accent, that this perpetual darkness has piqued the interest of an ancient race of vampires, led by the dapperly-dressed, Marlowe (Danny Huston). What follows is a story of survival in the face of a vicious band of vampires who want nothing more than to feast on the blood of the living.
Director David Slade adapted 30 Days of Night from the graphic novel of the same name, written by Steve Niles and illustrated by Ben Templesmith. Templesmith’s art style is something absolutely unique. It is almost indecipherable at parts, but conveys the confusion of snow and blood in a beautifully horrific way. Yes, the graphic novel is objectively better, we won’t get into that here.
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Say what you will about the plot, but 30 Days of Night is a beautiful film. It begins with vast shots of the freezing Alaskan landscape, showing just how isolated Barrow is. As the Stranger trudges across the snow, you can’t help but shiver at the sight of all that snow. Another brutally gorgeous moment is the bird’s-eye view of the town being absolutely decimated. Previously, this sequence is shot in closeup, getting the viewer intimately close to the vampires chomping on flesh. Then, in contrast with these closeups, comes this bird’s-eye-view shot. It’s harrowing because we really get a sense of the scale of this attack. The carnage is laid out for us to see in pools of blood-stained snow and mangled corpses.
I also want to talk about the vampires. Niles created a phenomenal version of the vampire and I think it translates well to the screen. These vampires are dressed in what I would call formal business wear: dress pants, blazers, the whole shebang. However, this is contrasted with mouths full of shark-like teeth and long nails used to rip open flesh like it is silk. They let out the most ungodly, high-pitched screeches. Their mouths, full of sharp teeth, are constantly dripping with blood. Smirks dance on their lips as they toy with their next victim. These vampires are evil. There’s nothing glamorous or beautiful about them. They exist to destroy and consume.
But, from a more cultural-analysis perspective, 30 Days of Night is a fascinating piece of post-9/11 horror cinema. In a nutshell, post-9/11 horror film arose, as you probably guessed, after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. These films were concerned with invasion from ‘foreign’ outsiders, and the need to restore ‘normative masculinity’; basically, men needed to step up and defend their families.
Well, the group of ancient vampires who speak a strange language fit the bill for foreign outsiders. They destroy a small American town full of modest, everyday people. The vampires also, importantly, destroy the pipeline running through Barrow. What’s more American than the liquid gold we so depend on? As the oil leaks through the streets and stains the white snow black, images are conjured up of our dependency on the product and the conflict in the Middle East.
That brings us to our hero, Eben. He’s a cop, a figure of authority and protection, an all-American man decked out in a parka and furry hat. As disaster strikes Barrow, he is naturally deemed the leader of the survivors since he is both a cop and the hot guy. His dominant masculinity is also emphasized throughout the film, as he is contrasted against the other male character who are seen as weak, unable to survive, and afraid. They are not manly enough to survive 30 Days of Night and fight back against the foreign invaders of their town.
At the end of 30 Days of Night, Eben sacrifices himself to save his family and his town from utter destruction. He becomes one of these monsters by injecting vampire blood into his arm (yes, ridiculous, let’s move on from that). Through his sacrifice, he is able to restore order to his town, and also to his marriage. He’s able to prove his love and devotion to his estranged wife, Stella (Melissa George), through sacrifice, therefore completing this idea of somehow repairing domestic life post-9/11. This isn’t to say that 30 Days of Night is some kind of propaganda film, but its cultural context can help explain its impact, its choices, and why it is a fascinating cultural object.
If I haven’t screamed my adoration about 30 Days of Night quite enough for you, here’s the cherry on top. For years I proudly declared that I wanted to name my first child, Eben. Yes, it’s excessive, but I own my absolutely ridiculous obsession. I have loved horror from a young age, but for some reason this is the one film that has stuck in my mind. It is the one that I tell everyone is my favorite. I could say something that makes me sound like a better horror fan, like The Shining or The Night of the Living Dead or even the original Frankenstein. And yet, here I am, proudly declaring my passionate love for a deeply-flawed vampire movie from 2007.