As much as I was raised on the eighties slasher boom (or, the remnants of it), I’ve always been profoundly interested in the mythic qualities of the vampire. Losing your eternal soul to live forever is a prime example of giving what you have for what you might lose and caving in to the worst of kind of temptation. I’m not picky when it comes to vampires, all types are great in my book, but I generally side with the classic versions of the character where they were highly romantic but at the same time devilishly focused on obtaining blood by any means necessary. Then there are the films where the character struggles with the state of vampirism in the way a heroin addict would jones despite internal struggles, which I enjoy for completely different reasons. It’s a very intriguing internal crisis, but the kid in me always ends up reverting back to the good old days where the vampire was a creature to be despised. In translation, the vampire was really cool and I bit the blood capsule and went as a Dracula (not the Dracula because that’d be an insult to Lugosi) for Halloween almost every year. In honour of every actor who ever donned the cape or fangs (or conversely, every Eurobabe that bared it all to portray a luscious lesbian vampiress), I have compiled a list of my ten favourite vampire films of all time. It was a really tough thing to do and before anyone chews me out too bad; yes, I do love Near Dark and it pained me a lot to not have it featured on this list. Without further ado, here are the best vampire flicks I've sank my teeth into so far...
10. Vampires (1998)
My fellow reviewer Wes R. often describes John Carpenter’s Vampires as the film that best equates what a vampire would truly be. As poetic as the early gothic versions and Stoker’s novel are, one can’t help but think he’s got a point. I prefer the gothic era vampires, but I believe bloodsuckers would adapt with the times much like we do as human beings. And just like society, they've gone mean as hell here. The badass protagonist, Jack Crow (played by James Woods), lets us know that this is 100% truth in the movie, with a cornucopia of fucks thrown in for sheer rebel appeal. Carp’s Vampires begins and ends with a bang and there’s a ton of action, gore and interesting plot twists to be had in between. Ever wondered how fucked we’d be if vampires could live in the daylight? Well, if Jack and his crew can’t take down master vampire, Valek, we’re soon going to find out. All in all, this is the one on the list that is completely adequate in scripting and direction, but gets most of its thrills from incredible action and Jack’s switchblade sharp monologues and vampire rants. With all due respect to Van Helsing, if the shit was to go down and I had vampires on my ass, I’m going to Jack Crow for help. “I killed my own father, padre. I got no trouble killing you.”
As much as films like Blood & Donuts and Interview with the Vampire are struggles with the sadistic life that entails being a vampire, this flick light-heartedly dements things up and shows you just how desperate Count Dracula can become to get a sweet swill of the red stuff. Udo Kier plays the Count in what has to be the most faint and run-down Drac of all time, although he does have the thickest accent. He’s starving for the blood of virgins, but the kids are very promiscuous in Transylvania, so he takes off to Italy to try his luck at a few cherries in the land of Catholicism. He finds a man that’s willing to marry off one of his daughters to him and after getting assurance that one of the man’s daughter is a “whirgin”, he moves in for the kill. After sucking her blood, Dracula turns green and viciously dry heaves the impure blood out of his system; daddy’s little girl has a thing for the greasy family handyman (played by Joe Dallesandro)… and her own sister to boot! It only gets sicker from here and all taboos are thrown out the window in this gore drenched, rape-filled shocker. You will never guess what happens between Dallesandro, Kier and a fourteen year-old virgin… but you will be vomiting in your throat when it’s done! “Zee blood uv zees who-ers izz keeling me!”
We’ve covered Jack Crow and we’re soon to get into major Van Helsing territory, so now is the perfect time for Roman Polanski’s classic gothic vampire spoof! Count von Krolock is up to his old tricks when he abducts a young girl named Sarah from a local tavern, and luckily for him, vampire hunters are hot on his trail! Wacky old kook Professor Abronsius and his young apprentice Alfred happen to be at the very inn he stole the girl from. Alfred, in all of his awkwardness had taken quite a shine to the cute redhead, so it's off to to play hero! They head to von Krolock’s castle where the two encounter vampires of every possible incantation. Hell, there’s even a Jewish vampire, so you can throw your fancy cross out the window! We’ve seen plenty of lesbian vampires and here we’re treated to the first officially gay vampire (although I suppose all the male on male biting could be considered homoerotic) I’ve ever come across! All the typical vampire staples are here for our amusement from the coven to the weird, misshapen servant and a gothic winter setting, which is very refreshing. All in all, the antics are hilarious and the famous ballroom dancing scene is spectacular. It’s just like the trailer says, "Two men on a vampire hunt. Simple? They certainly are!"
I will admit that when I first got my hands on this one, I didn’t expect much. The original Dracula is a favorite, but as a whole it doesn’t have the same power that the Frankenstein series would later possess in terms of story and morality. When people started saying that this version was better than Tod Browning’s attempt, I brushed it off as some smarmy fans that weren’t interested in giving Lugosi and Browning the respect they deserve. Then, I watched the movie and my jaw dropped. This Spanish language version was shot at nights when the American Dracula crew had gone home and in terms of direction, sensuality and special effects, completely blows the classic we know to be Dracula out of the water. Unlike the American counterpart, this Dracula is visually exciting, risqué and many scenes are done in a different tone than those of the Browning’s, but are equally as impressive. It’s neat to watch this as a companion piece to the original because, like Halloween 6: The Producer’s Cut, it’s akin to opening up a book you are incredibly familiar with, but reading it for the first time. Carlos Villarías plays the immortal Count and I must say he does a fine job, but at the end of the day, there’s only one Bela Lugosi. With that said, if you aren’t a fan of Lugosi’s performance, you will most likely enjoy this movie a lot more than the one I inevitably prefer. “The next morning, I felt very weak as if I had lost my virginity.”
You never forget your first time, and my very first Hammer film came in the form of The Brides of Dracula. The first sequel to Horror of Dracula doesn’t actually have Count Dracula in it at all, but Peter Cushing reprises his role of Van Helsing perfectly. The film reeks of mystery and vampires and the characters are all interesting, which turned out to be a rarity in Hammer’s Dracula series beyond this effort. As much as I’ve enjoyed the twists and romantic overtones of this flick over the years, I’ve always loved the action-filled climax the most. It also features a couple of my favorite Cushing scenes ever when he throws holy water in the shape of a cross onto a bloodsucker and one that I’d never dare spoil for any potential viewers. Save for a few films, Brides is one of Hammer’s most ambitious and exciting films and it has more vampires, coffins and bats than you can shake a stake at. “Only God has no fear.”
If you just did a double-take, no, it’s not a misprint. David Cronenberg’s second feature film truly is one of the best vampiric movies of all time. No, there are no fangs, capes or bats; instead the master of venereal horror comes through with his own unique twist on the undead. To cut right to the chase, this was iconic (and sugary sweet) adult film star Marilyn Chambers’ first legit feature and she absolutely steals the show. Rabid is a commentary-filled affair involving a botched plastic surgery experiment that leaves Chambers with a new phallic stinger under an orifice in her armpit as an unexpected side effect. When she dines with much succulence and orgasmic passion on blood, her victims turn into stark raving mad zombies who further spread a plague across Montreal. Chambers must struggle with her vampiric tendencies and even when she does break down and feast, you feel a sense of triumph for her. For once, she’s doing the insertion. AIDS (not to mention, the West Nile Virus) hadn’t yet reared its ugly head and the film proves to be a prophetic tale into the most devastating of STDs; a truly gripping classic that no horror fan should ever be without. That, and I’ve had a thing for Marilyn since I was about 10 and David Cronenberg does everyone right by having her appear topless in the flick. Old habits die hard.
There’s no way I can run through a vampire list that doesn’t feature Christopher Lee, and his performance here is nothing short of legendary. Tackling the old Bram Stocker novel in startling color, Hammer Films could do little wrong with Horror of Dracula, especially with Lee and Cushing in tow. By the time of its 1958 release, people must have been clamouring that finally a reputable Dracula film has some fang flashing complete with bloody snarls from the pits of hell. Things are a little bit different as one of my favorite secondary characters of all time, the fly-chomping lunatic Renfield, isn’t featured in this version of Stoker’s classic, which is about my only gripe with the film. Lee appears large, imposing and looks to have the devil in his eyes throughout the picture. The battle between Van Helsing and Dracula is as legendary as ever and it’s great to see the icons really duke it out. Terence Fisher’s direction is top notch and the use of fog, lighting and all things that make gothic films the classics of tone they truly are prove to be immortalized even further by the rich story and performances. And, who could forget that amazing sizzle the cross makes when pressed upon the flesh of a vampire?
What can I say; I love the eighties! With a stellar cast consisting of my favorite childhood stars, the Two Coreys themselves, Haimster and Feldog along with the great Kiefer Sutherland, this tale of suckmonkeys had me from the opening credits. An amazing score accentuates action-packed direction and that lovable eighties charm that has seemingly slipped through the cracks of today’s horror film. The decade was home to a very unique concept; it took advantage in the audience not only routing for the heroes, but also our tendencies to look at the villains as a sort of anti-hero. The vampires in The Lost Boys are of the badass, mullet-sporting variety and it’s basically a private club. You either do the sucking or you do the screaming. Teenage vampires are a very interesting concept because popularity and rebellion is such a huge part of how most adolescents go through life and what better way to act out than to be in a motorcycle gang with you’re your eternally damned buddies? Compared to that, what’s the harm in a little pot and a few Iron Maiden albums? The Frog Brothers are excellent barely-teenaged vampire slayers while Haim is quirky in his role as Sam and it is mostly because of their hilarious antics and struggles that the film succeeds in combining eighties comedy with old-style vampire tradition. “My own brother, a goddamn, shit-sucking vampire! You wait 'till mom finds out, buddy!”
If Udo Kier gets the honor of having played the sickliest Dracula, then Max Schreck undoubtedly gets the medal when it comes to the freakiest looking vampire ever. Count Orlok is very much like a beast in this rather terrifying and eerily believable silent film. I’ve always found it surreal with silent films; even though a film like Dracula is only nine years older than this (yet seems so normal due to it being a talkie), the silent pictures from the really early days of cinema play out in my head like a ghost from the past. It’s a feeling I can’t describe, but when I see these films from the twenties it’s as though I suddenly become superstitious and anxious. I guess expressionist films like Nosferatu were just that good. I love how the silent film is really a moving picture book, and it can portray beautiful descriptions and anecdotes with words to add striking importance to the scenes being shown. Lugosi’s Dracula is entertaining and iconic, Lee’s has more fury, but Schreck’s Orlok has ghastly black eyes and claws are to this day unnerving. As great as the film is, the haunting use of shadows will stick with you long after your viewing time is over and there are at least ten genuinely epic and hauntingly surreal scenes. Watching the wiry Orlok haul a coffin under an arm blows my mind to this day. The direction is just so odd that of all the flicks on this list, this one impacts me the most in the scares department. A Symphony of Horrors, indeed. "Is this your wife? What a lovely throat!"
No fangs? No problem. At the top of the list to virtually no one’s surprise at this point is the Universal classic, Dracula. As much as giant spider webs, candles, coffins and crypts remain the startling background on the canvas, the stylish Bela Lugosi brings the portrait of Dracula to life. With inexperienced yet rhythm infused English and a glare that will pull you right into the picture, Dracula can’t be topped when it comes to the world of the moon bathers. Sure, the direction is a tad plain, but the way Lugosi delivers his lines is something out of this world. Unlike Hammer’s Horror of Dracula, this version does indeed contain the character of Renfield who is portrayed in all of his nutcase glory by Dwight Frye and it adds a whole new dimension to Dracula’s extraordinary powers and the allure of his lifestyle. There are few scenes in horror cinema that are as powerful as Lugosi staring down Van Helsing, both of them picking at each other’s emotions and thoughts. Like a true villain that is so charismatic and cocksure that you see light in his dark eyes, Lugosi ends the conversation with a confident and challenging smirk; "For one who has not lived even a single lifetime, you are a wise man, Van Helsing.”
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