Setting vampire flick '30 Days of Night' in Alaska a novel idea

3 stars out of four

The first time he speaks in this movie, lead vampire Marlow (Danny Huston) remarks to his followers that he can't believe they've never been here before. The "here" is Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost town in the United States. Here, as the title implies, the town must endure a month's worth of uninterrupted winter darkness.

After watching the movie, many horror fans will echo Marlow's sentiments. During a month without their mortal enemy sunlight chasing them into caskets, vampires can have a field day - 30 of them, in fact. What a brilliant concept.

Along with the first two installments of the "Night Watch" trilogy, "30 Days of Night" is the most original vampire movie since "Interview with the Vampire." Screenwriters Steve Niles and Stuart Beattie need to team up more often.

On the last day of sunlight, a man known only as "The Stranger" (Ben Foster) walks into town and begins spouting doomsday prophesies. Scaring the tar out of the locals, he's quickly jailed by Sheriff Eban Oleson (Josh Hartnett) and his estranged wife Stella (Melissa George). When night falls, Marlow and his ghouls start their tear, confirming The Stranger's predictions.

Like his bloodsucking villains, director David Slade ("Hard Candy") goes straight for the jugular and never lets up. The action is fast and doesn't shy away from relentless, very graphic gore.

The pitch-black sky and snow-covered Earth offer excellent visual contrast, which is made all the more unsettling by the mounting pools of dark blood and mangled bodies. The vampires themselves are also made up to look particularly menacing. This is not a movie for the squeamish. If you don't have a real strong stomach, just plain avoid it.

After the initial attack, the dozen or so survivors find a safe haven where they must share cramped quarters for weeks, and this, of course, leads to claustrophobia-induced bickering. The filmmakers slip up a little at this point, but redeem themselves later by delivering a final act that avoids most horror conventions and offers a bittersweet closure. Not surprisingly, it also leaves the door open for a sequel.

You've read it in my reviews before and you'll likely do so again in the future: the movie's principal weak link is Hartnett. Mannequin pretty with next to no range, Hartnett was the wrong guy for the role of hero and group leader. Even when he tries to get "intense," Hartnett can't for the life of him eke out an iota of convincing emotion or believable drama. (Sony/Columbia)