30 DAY OF NIGHT: DARK DAYS (2010)

Directed by Ben Ketai
Screenplay by Ben Ketai & Steve Niles
Starring Kiele Sanchez, Rhys Chioro, & Mia Kirschner

I was a huge fan of 30 DAYS OF NIGHT the comic when it first came out. Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith had a winning concept; a town in Alaska (Barrow) for one month of the year is sunless, which made it a perfect place for a clan of vampires to go a huntin’. The concept was gold and coupled with Ben Templesmith’s beastially surreal art, the series was the shot in the arm that horror comics needed. The comic spawned quite a few sequels and to this day, IDW is still publishing 30 DAYS books.

The first of those sequels, DARK DAYS, followed Stella, the only survivor of Barrow, as she attempts to educate an unbelieving world that vampires are real. It also pulled the lens back a bit to reveal the vamps as a secret society living in secret among humans and it took the action out of Barrow and into the dark streets of Los Angeles. This was a ballsy move on Niles’ part, since one of the main things that set his story apart from other vamp stories was the barren, snowy locale. But riding on the success of the original, DARK DAYS was still pretty popular, though, in my opinion, not nearly as good as the first series.

Director Ben Ketai’s 30 DAYS OF NIGHT: DARK DAYS has a lot of similar elements as the comic book sequel with only a few of the hang-ups. Ketai’s film is a worthy successor to the original film. The vamps are still toothy and bizarre looking with their shark-like maws. Stella (this time played by Kiele Sanchez, best known as the other chick in THE PERFECT GETAWAY and Niki “Razzle-Dazzle” Fernandez from one of the lesser popular subplots of LOST) is still tough as nails. But again, the barren landscape which was such a character of its own in David Slade’s original, doesn’t show up in DARK DAYS and it’s absence is definitely noticed.

Ketai does a good job though creating a landscape just as barren by making the city of Los Angeles look more like a seedy BLADE RUNNER-esque landscape. The movie is filled with dark corridors, steaming pipes, wet back alleys, and dingy trash filled streets. If the story is guilty anything, it’s of trying to be too different from its predecessor, which is gutsy not only for the comic, but also a Hollywood film which often calls for carbon copies of successful properties. For that, Ketai should be applauded for trying something different.
But the only way that ballsy move would work is if the new concept is just as good as or better than the original. Here the film comes close throughout most of the first half of the flick. Stella team-ups with a group of vamp hunters which includes former LOST co-star Harlod Perrineau, hottie Diora Baird, and ENTORAGE’s nutty director Rhys Chioro. They argue a lot. They kill some vampires gruesomely. Stella gets her groove back with one of them, which kind of takes a bit of the impact away from the subplot of her desperately missing Eben, her dead husband from the first film. And they all end up on a boat full of vampires on its way back to Alaska.

For me, this is where the fun starts for this movie. The last half of the film takes place on said boat and they’re by far the best minutes of the movie. Humans are hung like cattle below deck. Buckets of blood provide sustenance for the vamps. More dark corridors and steamy pipes make for a truly moody backdrop for the climax to take place. Mia Kirschner takes center stage here as Lilith, Queen of the Vampires and does a fantastic job of looking freakish with her tiny little pointy teeth and jet black eyes. Though she doesn’t have many lines other than screeching and barking in an ancient vampire language, her moments on screen are definitely creepy.

As Alaska looms across the ocean ahead, there’s real tension in the final moments as Stella and her vampire hunters try to stop the Barrow Massacre from happening again. This is where the movie is most successful. Though Stella’s uneasy partnership with the vamps is a prominent plot point in the comic, here the final moments of the film as Stella attempts to bring her dead husband back to life seem more like an afterthought. The money shots were done on the boat and this sequence turned out nicely full of gore, scares, and other forms of creepiness. This makes for fun action, but takes some of the heft out of the final moments. Had the film focused more on Stella’s yearning to bring back Eben rather than fighting vamps with machine guns, I think it would have been more effective though.

Though not as good as the original, DARK DAYS was a decent movie, especially considering that the comic book sequel wasn’t as good as the original comic either. In fact, I liked this film better than the comic book sequel. Still, there’s nary a twinkling teen, and compared to some of the other vamp flicks out there these days, DARK DAYS is a worthy successor that goes in brave new directions and doesn’t shy on the gore.