Fiends on Film: Screenland’s Most Terrifying Vampires
It’s getting dark out; the last sliver of light recedes into the Western horizon like a mouth closing. Or opening. Better get home soon, because at night the bats come out to play. And you don’t want to hear the rustle of a cape just behind or warm breath on your neck … or do you?
Here are some of our most memorable encounters with the seducers of eternal night:
The 1922 silent German Expressionist flick Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror told the Dracula tale minus a few details (the film didn’t obtain the rights from Bram Stoker’s widow). Max Schreck played Count Orlok, a gaunt creepy geezer who entices a real estate agent to his castle and then purchases a house in the agent’s Wisborg, Germany, neighborhood. Why? The agent’s wife “has a beautiful neck,” the ghoul notes. Plague seems to strike the town — many denizens are found dead — and though the burghers run, they can’t hide from the bitesy shadow with the saber-long fingernails.
My, What Choppers!
In London After Midnight (1927), a wealthy man is found shot in his house and his death is ruled a suicide. Five years later, the new tenants are bewitched and bothered by a frightening man (Lon Chaney Sr.) in a beaver hat with glaring eyes and rows of sharpened teeth. An inspector suspects foul play but is shocked to discover just how foul. Chaney’s bravura makeup and performance as both Inspector and the Man in the Beaver Hat set the standard for chilling entrances.
With his thick Hungarian accent and darkly devilish eyes, Bela Lugosi’s Dracula in the 1931 Tod Browning film was looming, seductive, ominous and smooth — a hit with audiences. Unfortunately, it closed more doors for Lugosi than opened them, for afterward, the only work he could find was suited up in the old vampire drag. He paired up with Frankenstein actor Boris Karloff often. Cue bats on a string.
In 1936, Universal released Dracula’s Daughter. Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden) has daddy issues; she’s a vampire like Dracula and would like to be free of the old man’s curse. But thirst eventually takes over, and she seduces her victims with the help of a glowing jeweled ring. One of her prizes is a young woman (Nan Grey), a beauty lured to her lair in a film with subtle lesbian undertones.
Christopher Lee rose from the dead to play Dracula seven times for Hammer Films, from Horror of Dracula (1958) to The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973). Much as he was considered an icon of the role, Lee himself didn’t seem much to like the job. He hissed throughout one of the movies, since he thought the dialogue was so insipid. Still, who can forget the resurrecting power of a dapper dude with Shakespearean teeth?
Yes, But We Like It, Too!
Female vampires like Ingrid Pitt and Mary Collinson got their fair share of blood in ’70s movies like The Vampire Lovers and Twins of Evil. These gals were just as thirsty as the male undead, and in the age of women’s lib it felt like payback, tearing out chauvinist throats and then reapplying lipstick.
In Blacula (1972), Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) is transformed into a vampire by Dracula and locked in a basement crypt. Eventually the estate is sold, and the coffin makes its way to Los Angeles, where it is opened by two gay decorators. Ah, California. Blacula’s predations were scored with a rhythm and blues soundtrack, making it a badass contribution to the coffin canon.
Gore Is Funny!
Poor Count Dracula (George Hamilton) in Love at First Bite (1979). In search of an eternal bride, he’s forced to relocate to New York in the ’70s, which simply isn’t a place where you can easily get a “bite to drink.” The comedy also starred Susan Saint James as his love interest, the flaky fashion model Cindy. An even funnier update was Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995), a Mel Brooks film starring Leslie Nielsen as the Count. Battening on London Town is complicated by trying to have the last word — in Moldavian, of course — with vampire hunter Van Helsing.
Monsters Of MTV
The Lost Boys (1987) was a serious vampire update with a tribe of young male bikers unliving on the wrong side of California. Preying on the living, they present a serious existential crisis for young Michael (Jason Patric) and his younger brother Sam (Corey Haim). Led by the mysterious David (Kiefer Sutherland), the Boys look like an ’80s big hair band who have partied way too long and late. Waking up is so hard to do.
Francis Ford Coppola resurrected the godfather of vampires in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) starring Gary Oldman as Vlad Dracula, the original 15th-century ghoul. Now residing in underworld London, Dracula pines for Victorian lily Mina Harker (Winona Ryder), who is the very incarnation of his ancient love Elisabeta. Opposing him is Professor Abe Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins) and Mina’s husband Jonathan Harker, played by hunk surfer-dude Keanu Reeves. The costumes, makeup and lurid gothic vibe in Coppola’s remake went a long way to redeem this hell-spawn romantic from so many bloodless Hollywood incarnations.
Talk To The Fang
Poor Louis (Brad Pitt), dead for centuries and still squeamish about human blood. His maker Lestat (Tom Cruise) bears no such compunctions, feasting on the innocent in campy glory. It’s enough to make a fella want to publish his memoir, which is why Louis decides to spill the bloody beans to a journalist (Christian Slater). Interview With the Vampire (1994), the film adaptation of Anne Rice’s novel, brought the whole ’90s Brat Pack into play, with Antonio Banderas as a troubled old vampire and Kirsten Dunst as the child monster Claudia.
Thirsty In Yonkers
Vampire in Brooklyn (1995) was a strange cousin of Coming to America, Eddie Murphy’s 1988 comedy. In the former he plays Maximillian, a Caribbean vampire who must woo a budding woman vampire named Rita (Angela Bassett), who by day is an NYPD cop. Even though there’s heat between Max and Rita, things are just too complicated for that love to win in the end.