The vampire: that harbinger of everlasting life and eternal damnation. From the cloaked gothic majesty of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” to the down and dirty night-crawlers of Kathryn Bigelow’s “Near Dark”, vampire’s have formed the basis for more literary and cinematic horror than any other fictional creature.
Early cinematic incarnations of the blood-sucking sun-haters were based on Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. Infamously, Friedrich Murnau made “Nosferatu” in Germany without acquiring the rights to film the novel. After a lawsuit, all copies of the film were ordered to be destroyed. The film now survives thanks largely to a 1990s restoration of one print that somehow survived the print massacre. “Nosferatu” is one of the best early horror films and laid the foundation for German expressionist cinema. It has become one of the most widely known silent films ever made.
It wasn’t long before Hollywood got its mitts on the character with Universal producing a series of films that made Bela Lugosi famous as the refined but diabolical Count Dracula. Several sequels were made including “Son of Dracula” which starred classic monster movie star Lon Chaney Jr.
Lugosi would appear for the final time as Count Dracula in the comedy-horror hybrid “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein”. There was a brief period of hiatus for the fanged, Freudian construct before British production company Hammer Film Productions started making their own interpretation of the Universal horror characters. These were the films that made Christopher Lee the pin-up poster child of Count Dracula, appearing in countless Hammer films about the blood-sucking menace.
By the 1970s, the modern vampire was beginning to show itself. Flirting with the contemporary world, the modern vampire shredded its gothic roots and its even its male-centric persona. We’d already seen a few lesbian vampires by the time “The Vampire Lovers” made it a distinct sub-genre of its own in 1970.
Kathryn Bigelow re-imagined vampire traditions by presenting them as outlaws in the guise of the classic western in “Near Dark”, while Joel Schumacher saw his vampires through the conventions of an eighties teen-movie in “The Lost Boys”.
And it wasn’t long before filmmakers post-modernised the genre with Robert Rodriguez’s “From Dusk Till Dawn” and E. Elias Merhige’s “Shadow Of A Vampire”. Roman Polanski showed us one of the first instances of vampire parody with “The Fearless Vampire Killers”, John Carpenter used a humorous turn from James Woods to entertain his audience in “Vampires”, and John Landis amusingly did Vampires-meet-Goodfellas in “Innocent Blood”.
Our top ten modern vampire films seek to contemporise the gothic bloodsucker, and see him or her in a modern world where the vampire does not have a monopoly on society’s evils. The vampire is instead a part of the violent, corruptive and dangerous underclass that preys on the night with every other mugger, murderer, and rapist.
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NEW ENTRY at #2: Let The Right One In
Unfortunately, I hadn’t seen Tomas Alfredson’s brilliant modern vampire film Let The Right One In when I wrote and compiled this list. In fact, the film had not had a wide release in the UK at that time. But thankfully time has allowed me to catch up with this unique take on the vampire myth. Let The Right One In is icy, restrained look at the circumstantial friendship between a 12-year old boy and a vampire child. Superb in so any ways, the film slots in at number 2 on our list. It would mean that 30 Days of Night drops off the list.
10. 30 Days of Night
Who made it: David Slade
Who’s in it: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George
Produced by Sam Raimi, “30 Days of Night” promises a lot more than it delivers. It’s a shame because there’s a good premise here. Set in an Alaskan town preparing for thirty days of darkness – a town that just so happens to have a few vampires about the place – we are set up for a frenzy of bloodsucking feasting.
Who made it: Stephen Norrington
Who’s in it: Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson
“Blade” remains one of the most successful comic book adaptations, paving the way for Marvel to pursue more comic-to-film transitions with the “X-Men” and “Spider-Man” franchises. The title character Blade is a half-human, half-vampire who protects humanity from pure-blood vampires. It’s an original take on the traditional story. Blade, the classic anti-hero, is given a humane moral compass through his part-human lineage. He is therefore the vampire with virtue, a powerful protector in the night.
8. Vampires – See also Top 10 John Carpenter Films
Who made it: John Carpenter
Who’s in it: James Woods, Daniel Baldwin
John Carpenter’s tongue-in-cheek vampire film is another that reinterprets western convention within a horror film premise. James Woods is fantastic as the wise-cracking vampire slayer. Carpenter does draw on gothic vampire traditions but post-modernises the story with the Catholic Church’s armed response to their threat.
Who made it: Guillermo Del Toro
Who’s in it: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman
Guillermo Del Toro’s 1993 horror film loses the generic trappings of the vampire film in favour of the vampire’s inherent characteristics. So we have old antique dealer Jesus being injected with an unknown substance instead of being bitten, which makes him appear young again, gives him a renewed appetite for sex, and, unfortunately, a need to drink blood. The film then becomes a power struggle between Jesus and an aging businessman, whose knowledge of Jesus’ condition makes him hungry for similarly renewed life.
6. Innocent Blood – See also Top 10 John Landis Films
Who made it: John Landis
Who’s in it: Anna Parrillaud, Chazz Palminteri, Anthony LaPaglia, Robert Loggia
John Landis’ “Innocent Blood” takes the vampire film into the world gangsters ala “Goodfellas” or “The Godfather”. When a vivacious female vampire, whose moral code allows her only to feed on the blood of criminals, fails to kill mob boss Salvatore ‘The Shark’ Macelli after feeding from him, he turns into a vampire too. The film mixes humour with horror, reminiscent of Landis’ greatest achievement “An American Werewolf In London”.
5. Martin – See also Top 10 George A. Romero Films
Who made it: George A. Romero
Who’s in it: John Amplas, Tom Savini
Romero’s “Martin” takes the vampiric fascination with blood and plays with it in a very realistic setting. The film wryly parodies gothic vampire traditions but steers clear of the supernatural element of the monster.
4. Fright Night
Who made it: Tom Holland
Who’s in it: Chris Sarandon, Roddy McDowall, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse
One of the most entertaining modern vampire films, this comedy-horror boasts a cracking performance from Roddy McDowall as television’s best-known vampire killer. When a young boy comes to him asking for help disposing of a vampire who has taken up home next door, Vincent tries unsuccessfully to disprove his theory. “Fright Night” was one of the most successful horror films of the 1980s.
3. The Lost Boys
Who made it: Joel Schumacher
Who’s in it: Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Patric, Corey Haim, Corey Feldman
One of the most popular teen horror films of the 1980s, Joel Schumacher’s “The Lost Boys” took the coming-of-age drama and added vampire lore. Boasting a killer 80s soundtrack including theme song “Cry Little Sister”, “The Lost Boys” is a funny, entertaining hybrid of traditional vampire conventions and the modern trappings of youth angst and small town Americana.
2. From Dusk Till Dawn
Who made it: Robert Rodriguez
Who’s in it: George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, Tom Savini, Selma Hayek
At once a traditional kidnap crime caper and a conventionally derivative vampire film, Robert Rodriguez’s “From Dusk Till Dawn” gets its inventiveness by combining two genres like two disparate pieces of jigsaw, wrongly forced together. Rodriguez makes no attempt at premising his film’s change of direction at the halfway point. It works so well because he’s introduced us to a group of characters that by now we’ve come to know. We are with them in a realistic world that quickly changes to a gothic underworld. How they deal with this new threat is what makes the latter half of the film so enjoyable.
1. Near Dark
Who made it: Kathryn Bigelow
Who’s in it: Bill Paxton, Lance Henrikson, Adrian Pasdar, Jeanette Goldstein
Kathryn Bigelow’s “Near Dark” is still the best of the modern vampire films. Her vampires are down and dirty – they’ve lived for centuries and survive as outlaws, feeding by night on anyone who happens to come their way.
See my full review of “Near Dark” here
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