Welcome to Psycho Drive-In’s 31 Days of Schlocktober celebration! This year we’ve decided to present the ABCs of Horror, with entries every day this month providing Director information, Best-of lists, Genre overviews, and Reviews of films and franchises, all in alphabetical order! Today brings us U is for Underworld!
It’s hard to deny the relevance of Underworld. While it lacks the bone-chilling fear we expect most horror films to instill, the series created what seems to be the first and still one of the finest histories for the vampire-werewolf feud now common in pop culture.
Released following Resident Evil and Blade, they along with Underworld make up the roots of an action-horror genre, taking creatures known well in horror and bringing them to a wider action audience. Underworld begins with a scene bearing clear influence of The Matrix, released only four years earlier. We see our hero Selene (Kate Beckinsale) perched on the stone balcony of a gothic style building- as we would expect of a vampire- tracking two Lycans on the street. Selene helpfully explains that these Lycans are werewolves who no longer have to answer to the moon to make use of their full power.
Selene and her comrades follow the Lycans through the pouring rain, past a very gothic fountain, and into the subway. As the Lycans notice their pursuers, the war seems almost like a gangland shootout when the elder Lycan Raze shouts “Bloods” as he pulls two submachine guns from his coat and sprays bullets towards the vampires, taking out plenty of bystanders in the crossfire.
The fight scenes are filled with everything we can expect from an action film in the wake of the Matrix — plenty of slow motion and things shattering with bullet impacts as long leather coats flip around in the battle.
What truly makes Underworld stand out, however, aren’t the fights or even the imagery — which the movies handle very well — but the deeper history the films weave beneath the surface of flashy action and star-crossed lovers. The narrative is given to us in pieces, through Selene’s investigation into the Lycans, stories told by various (if sometimes unreliable) characters, and flashbacks in the form of “blood memories” that can be shared by, well, sharing blood.
Selene’s belief that the Lycans are far from defeated, initially dismissed by the vampire aristocracy as the wild speculation of a Death Dealer at the end of her era, leads her to Michael Corvin, (Scott Speedman) a human she inadvertently prevented the Lycans from capturing in the subway. Against orders, Selene seeks out Michael just in time to save him from an attacking force of werewolves.
It’s here where the Lycan leader, Lucian (Michael Sheen), really makes his reappearance, allegedly long dead. Seeking Michael Corvin’s blood for some strange werewolf science, he bites Michael before Selene can get to him, obtaining his blood and leaving Michael with traces of Lucian’s own memories. These blood memories provide our first look at a firsthand, reliable account of events long past, and form the basis of the entire third Underworld, Rise of the Lycans.
In the Underworld story, the Lycan breed was created by a vampire, none other than Selene’s mentor and adopted father-figure, Viktor (Bill Nighy, and often considered the best-played role in the films, along with one of the most iconic.) The Lycans served as a manageable form of werewolf, with the original breed being uncontrollable monsters. With Lucian as the first Lycan, he and his species initially served as slaves, working for the vampires and guarding their homes during the day. The system functioned well enough until it was discovered that Viktor’s daughter, Sonja, was in a relationship with Lucian. Viktor, with his supremacist views, greatly feared any blending of the species, and sentenced his own daughter to death along with Lucian. Lucian escaped, and the almost 600 year vampire-Lycan war was begun.
This tale serves as the motivation for the hatred between each species that drives four films already, with two more being planned. The truly poetic angle of Underworld, however, comes into play when Selene begins to fall in love with Michael, who, as part of the Lycan’s master plan, is captured and transformed into Viktor’s own greatest fear.
If the plot of the first Underworld could be wrapped into one statement, it would be the saying, history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme. In the first film we watch the house of the vampires crumble, but in the second film we get to see it truly fall. The Elder Marcus, who truly is the first vampire, is awakened not by the blood of another vampire, as tradition dictates, but by the blood of a slain Lycan — and that is the wrong side of the bed for a vampire to get out of. Underworld: Evolution shows the final scattering of the once strong vampire coven as Marcus is also made into a hybrid, and relentlessly pursues Selene and Michael in his quest for personal vengeance.
Underworld, Underworld: Evolution, and Underworld: Rise of the Lycans show us the destruction of an empire, both the ends and the beginnings, so Underworld: Awakening continues on to show us the aftermath of so much brazen conflict in a society so long hidden from sight.
In what is a surprisingly good movie for the fourth film in such a varied series, vampires and Lycans both are pitted against an extremely numerous enemy. Formerly the prey of immortals, humans have discovered the extensive Underworld we’ve been aware of for three movies (six centuries!) and try to exterminate it. Selene is awakened twelve years after the near-destruction of her species with Michael gone and a scientifically-bred daughter in his place. Where this film lacks the intriguing history of the first three, it brings much more character to Selene, while also taking the series from a setting of presumed strength and dominance to a much-weakened state of mere survival.
Overall, the Underworld series tells an interesting and involved story that also furthered the popularity of the action-horror subgenre and even had a large impact in popularizing the vampire romance story that’s now become so cliché.