In the recent DOA comic-book movie, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, Sam Huntington plays Marcus, a motor-mouthed paranormal investigator who gets killed off early on in the film and comes back as a zombie. Marcus' postmortem plight – his diet consists of worms and maggots – got me thinking about some of the unhappier undead movie characters. Here are some of my all-time favorites:
Louis de Pointe du Lac, Interview with the Vampire
On my ancient DVD copy, director Neil Jordan introduces Interview with the Vampire as "a movie about the saddest vampires you've ever seen." The saddest of the sadsacks is Louis (Brad Pitt), a bloodsucker with a conscience who feeds on rats, chickens and poodles because he refuses to kill another human being. A close second is Claudia, a prepubescent immortal played by Kirsten Dunst, who laments that she will "never ever grow up." These milquetoast vampires are almost TOO melancholy; when Louis and Claudia's gleeful maker, Lestat (Tom Cruise, in a flamboyant, expansively entertaining performance) exits the picture, the movie pretty much falls apart.
Jerry, The Prophecy
I remember being really excited to see this when it came out my sophomore year of high school. I'd seen Pulp Fiction about 20 times by then, and The Prophecy features three Tarantino alums (Eric Stoltz, Christopher Walken and Amanda Plummer). In addition to Walken's homicidal archangel Gabriel, the character I was most struck by was Jerry (Adam Goldberg), a sardonically depressed young man who's kept in limbo by Gabriel after committing suicide. Ol' Gabe has nothing but disdain for the human race, but he keeps Jerry not-quite-alive because "it's a big universe and some things in it are talking monkey work." Walken and Goldberg have a very funny onscreen rapport; they provide the only comic relief in this otherwise grim horror picture, one of the ickiest cinematic Bible stories to come along before The Passion of the Christ.
Ray Lynskey, The Frighteners
The main thing you need to know about Ray Lynskey (Peter Dobson) is that he's the only person who cries at his own funeral. "It's a goddamn tragedy!" he sobs, even while he's remembered as "less than generous" by those he left behind. A skeptic who has to become a ghost to believe in ghosts, Ray refuses to take the Corridor of Life to heaven because, as he explains, he's "only 29!" As an earthbound emanation, he ultimately gets to redeem himself; he clearly loves his wife, Lucy (Trini Alvarado) and tries to save her. Unfortunately for him, no good deed goes unpunished in this wicked Peter Jackson-directed horror-comedy, the second-best genre mashup of 1996 (after From Dusk Till Dawn, of course).
Moaning Myrtle, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Poor, poor Moaning Myrtle. She's destined to haunt the girls' bathroom at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. (As haunting places go, bathrooms must be among the most unpleasant.) A bullied teen who was murdered by Tom Riddle himself, Myrtle is a genuinely tragic figure, but as played by the pixieish actress Shirley Henderson in the movies, she's mostly a source of annoyance and bemusement for Harry and his friends. Technically speaking, Myrtle plays a bigger part in Chamber of Secrets, but the Chris Columbus-directed Harry Potter movies are dead to me. Besides, she's a much more well rounded character in Goblet, as she helps Harry decipher a riddle that will lead him to winning the Triwizard Tournament.
Zia, Wristcutters: A Love Story
"Soon after I killed myself I got a job here at Kamikaze Pizza." Thus begins one of my favorite black-comic visions of the afterlife, right up there with Albert Brooks' Defending Your Life. Zia (Patrick Fugit) slits his wrists after his girlfriend dumps him and ends up in a dreary place populated by people who have committed suicide, where there are no stars in the sky and nobody ever smiles. (Sounds like South Florida - zing!) Like Moaning Myrtle, Zia was unhappy in real life and he's unhappy in the afterlife, suggesting that people are not only the same backwards and forwards but also alive and undead. But, as the title suggests, Wristcutters is a love story, and with Cupid's Arrow comes an opportunity for rebirth.