Year Of The Vampire: Underworld Is A Deceptively Simple, Stylish Classic

(Welcome to Year of the Vampire, a series examining the greatest, strangest, and sometimes overlooked vampire movies of all time in honor of "Nosferatu," which turns 100 this year.)

When it comes to weird movie obsessions, early 2000s vampire flicks tend to be my particular vice. There's something about the Hot Topic-inspired, BDSM-lite aesthetics mixed with healthy doses of camp and gore that make vampire movies from this era so spectacularly fun, even if they're not for everyone. 

The 2006 vampires vs. werewolves goth extravaganza "Underworld" is one such film, leaning hard into its goofy premise and campy dialogue while playing it totally straight. "Underworld" is a movie by vampire dorks, for vampire dorks, complete with enough inspiration from tabletop role-playing games that Sony was served a lawsuit, skin-tight faux-leather costumes for everyone, and even a forbidden love story between a vampire and a newly turned werewolf. It's vampire wish-fulfillment fantasy fluff, much like "Twilight," just for people who grew up with "Blade" and "Vampirella" instead of Stephanie Meyer. 

The first "Underworld" movie stars Kate Beckinsale as Selene, a vampiric "Death Dealer" who hunts down werewolves, with whom the vampires have been engaged in a centuries-long war. When she discovers that the leader of the werewolves, Lucian (Michael Sheen), has found a way to possibly create a half-vampire, half-werewolf, she raises her vampiric maker, Viktor (Bill Nighy), from his slumber a century early in order to combat the threat. Things get complicated when she catches feelings for Michael (Scott Speedman), the descendant of the original vampire/werewolf sire who happens to have just been chomped on by Lucian. He's going to turn into a werewolf, Selene's greatest enemy, but they fall into almost instant love. They're like Romeo and Juliet, just a lot more bloodthirsty.

What it brought to the genre

"Underworld" takes some pretty obvious inspiration from the other vampire films of the era, riffing on both the leather trenchcoats and cool-toned color-correction of "Blade," immediately making its genre leanings clear. Despite having some well-choreographed fight scenes and some big action moments, however, "Underworld" is at its core a love story that's comparable to romantic comedies or coming-of-age stories in its simplicity. Girl meets boy. Boy and girl fall for one another. The girl's father (in this case, Selene's maker Viktor) doesn't like the boy, and forbids her from seeing him. Sure, the boy is turning into a werewolf and descended from the father of all supernatural creatures and the girl is a werewolf-hunting vampire, but at their core, they're still just two people bound by a forbidden love who decide to pursue it against all odds.

The film kicked off an entire franchise, following the war between the vampires and the werewolves (called Lycans because of their lycanthropy). The rest of the franchise is somewhat of a mixed bag, though Beckinsale stars in almost all of them and is continually excellent at being beautiful, badass, and carrying the franchise on her shoulders. (The one film she doesn't star in, "Rise of the Lycans," is a prequel starring Beckinsale look-alike and fellow action and genre great Rhona Mitra, and it's better than you might expect.) 

Gory gross gorgeous goth goodness

The story behind "Underworld" may be very simple, but it gives every other aspect of the movie's production ample opportunity to shine. The performances are all great, campy fun, though no one chews up the scenery quite like Nighy, who scowls, growls, and slinks his way through the gothic scenery like Vincent Price doing Shakespeare. Michael Sheen is also a standout as Lucian, the leader of the Lycans who is less of a monster than the vampire lords who enslaved him and his people centuries before. They're all dressed to the nines, too, and the designs of their outfits and accessories would influence goth fashion for a big chunk of the early aughts. The sets are equally fun to look at despite being entirely shade of blue and gray, proving that brutalist architecture and concrete can look cool if you get creative with it.

It's worth noting that "Underworld" was created by Len Wiseman, Kevin Grevioux, and Danny McBride (no, not that Danny McBride), who are all multi-hyphenate creatives that brought their unique skills to the filmmaking process. Wiseman is a writer-director-producer, Grevioux also writes comic books and stars as one of the Lycans, and McBride is a stuntman in addition to a screenwriter. Their wide variety of experience helped them make a vampire movie that was so much more than the sum of its parts. There are some bad moments of outdated CGI, but a great deal of the effects are practical and still look great, and the action sequences are a blast. 

If loving "Underworld" isn't cool, then I'm proud to be deeply uncool.