Curiously Unscary Vampires Can’t Compete With Mamet’s Nonviolent Nailbiter

A few nights ago our family watched The Spanish Prisoner. Greg and I first saw this excellent David Mamet film a few years ago, at home, sans kids. I remember watching white-knuckled as the intricate story unfolded, developed, and twisted back on itself. The film’s PG rating, for mild swearing and one off-screen murder, demonstrates that suspense is not about blood and guts.

Serendipitously, on the same evening we first watched The Spanish Prisoner, Greg had also rented another movie, which he planned to watch after I went to bed. It was The Underworld, about vampires and werewolves at war. Vampires were the bogies of my childhood, troubling my imagination and disturbing my sleep for years, and to this day I can’t sleep with my neck uncovered. I had no desire to watch The Underworld, but somehow it happened that I was still in the room when Greg started the movie. I saw a little—and, moved by curiosity, saw a little more, and a little more. I kept wondering when it would get scary. I ended up watching the whole thing, and it never did get scary. There were grisly moments, as of a desiccated old vampire brought back to life (such as it was) to aid in the war against the werewolves, and of some star-crossed (and cross-species) lovers who perished gruesomely after being exposed to sunlight (or at least one of them did—the details are hazy in my memory). But all was for naught, as the story had zero tension. I mean zilch. Scenes which labored to be scary and suspenseful were instead quite funny, at least to me.

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