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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Van of the Dead Commentary: Vampire Films to Get Real With

Schreck's Orlok remains the most fearsome neck gnawer of the genre.

With vampire lore being watered down for bedroom wall worship these days, I feel it's best in the interest of Halloween to excuse ourselves from the Twilight and Vampire Chronicles teen 'n tween fodder and get real. Though vampire films have frequently been sensuous over the years, we've lost sight of the darkness, so to speak, in the interest of creating hipster love and angst fang bangs for a current MTV generation raised on melodrama instead of music.

The vampire film today has become slick, metro and focused on exploiting the same teenage social subdivision syndrome which has spoken to 13 to 18 year olds since The Blackboard Jungle in the Fabulous Fifties. Kids ostracize one another even without a hidden pair of incisors, so enough already, I say. Let's get back to the primitive. Vampires were once frightening. Now they're cleverly used as pitch-Nosferatu.

Vampire films have been coming at us for nearly a century now and there have been many attempts to deviate from the stalk and suck motif by utilizing comedy like Once Bitten and Love at First Bite or going to absurd extremities, i.e. Blacula. Malcolm McDowell portrayed a whimsically skittish vampire doubling as a night watchman in a blood bank in Tales From the Crypt's "The Reluctant Vampire." Batman and Dracula have squared off in animation land and then there's the space sucker gallavanting in zero G through Lifeforce.

But honestly, the true vampire tale is one trying to provoke or titillate, not one plying for Moon Man Awards. Here's a generous handful of vampire films to get real with...

The original Nosferatu from 1922. Still the vamp yarn to beat.

What else needs to be said? For the ages.

Is that Emily really a vampire or is Jessica F-ed in the head?

One for my Danish sista across the pond, Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1932 classic, Vampyr.

One of George A. Romero's earlier films, this vampire is perhaps more insidious than your average as he drugs up his victims then slices their wrists to drink their blood. Is he really a vampire, though? Sick.

Another of Bela's runs in the vampire mire. Legendary only due to a cutting of 15-plus minutes of footage that reportedly suggested incest back in 1935 when this film was released. Dogs willlll hunt!

I nearly pissed my bed as a young 'un watching that kid's best friend come back from the dead, scratching on his bedroom window. Zoiks and away!

It may have bombed theatrically in '87, but Near Dark has earned a major cult following, deservedly so. One of the best vampire films of the modern age.

Too bad this one's being remade. Who can possibly outdo Roddy MacDowell's Fear-Laden Vampire Killer in Fright Night? One of my personal favorites.

Not much of a story, but it's stylishly filmed (come on, it's Hammer!), attractively lit and oh yeah, the delicious Ingrid Pitt shows her yabbas. That alone earns a thumbs up.

Next to Bela and Max, is there a more iconic Drac than Christopher Lee?

A loose interpretation of Bram Stoker's classic yarn Hammer-style, it holds up due to the tag team awesomeness of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

The film poster for Dracula Has Risen From the Grave is funnier than the content. Hard to believe it came out rated G in the U.S. back in '68.

Love it or hate it, 30 Days is one of the coolest fang frolic concepts ever.

Yeah, this is a vogue film, but seldom few have matched the lushness of Interview and how can you not be impacted by the emotional sunlight dispatching of their adopted "daughter?"

Turning a so-so Marvel comics character into a major league vamp buster, the Blade series lost sight of itself on the second film after delivering a high-impact first installment. Blade Trinity is pretty good, too. The opening scene with the vampire rave and Traci Lords' banging techno in the original Blade is one of the most visceral moments in vampire cinema.

Red hot Lucy Liu tears some up in this excellent vamp-action vehicle also featuring a cameo by Marilyn Manson.

Alright, admittedly The Lost Boys was the Twilight of the eighties, but it still packs a wallop.

The Subspecies series was done on the cheap by filming all three films in the same location in Romania. A direct-to-video phenomenon courtesy of Full Moon, Subspecies holds a captive cult audience because of Radu's badass-ness, plus those little minions are such nasty buggers!

The best of the numerous attempts to convey Richard Matheson's I Am Legend. Two words: Vincent Price.

Yet another retelling of Stoker set in Virginia. The cover's juicy, anyway.

The undead takes on the mob! This one's a bloody riot.

They wanted to develop this Hammer fan favorite into a regular t.v. series. Imagine the possiblities...

Bringing things full circle, the brilliant Shadow of the Vampire, a fictional account about disturbing events surrounding the filming of Max Schreck's Nosferatu. Bold and provocative, a must-see.


tarleisio said...

AWESOME list! I found all my favorites! Especially..Murnau's 'Nosferatu', Dreyer's 'Vampyr' (literally, a killer flick!), oh, and in my book, Christopher Lee in Hammer anything is the apotheosis of all things blood-sucking and nocturnal. I also like that you included 'Shadow of the Vampire', which I was thinking about just the other day and will definitely watch tomorrow night!

Walk softly. Eat candy. And don't leave the house without garlic! ;-)

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Glad you approve, my dear, thanks! If not for Lugosi and Schreck, Lee would El Vampo Supremo, but you're right; he's gold in every Hammer flick he appeared in.

There are so many vampire films out there it's hard to consolidate to a paltry list like this, but I think it should hopefully get people to check out these flicks from all eras of film.

Metal Mark said...

You are right about the Lost Boys and Near Dark. Monster Squad from 1987 showed a Lugosi type Dracula in this Goonies meets monster type movie.

"Malcolm McDowell portrayed a whimsically skittish vampire doubling as a night watchman in a blood bank in Tales From the Crypt's "The Reluctant Vampire."

I thought that you were just talking about movies here or was it too difficult to resist mentioning McDowell because I know that you like him. If you talking about tv then there have been a lot on interesting portrayals of vampires and vampirism in that medium too.

I have that poster for Dracula has risen from the grave. I think lots of people in the UK think that Christopher Lee is the definitive Dracula.

John Carradine and Lon Chaney Jr. both played Dracula for Universal too. Chaney's film was entitle Son of Dracula, but he turned out to be Dracula.

Blade was a bit too slick and polished for me.

I would recommend Hammer's Kiss of the vampire which shows vampirism as a disease instead of romanticizing it.

Twins of evil is a much better than Vampire Lovers, but ties in some of the same elements.

The Vampire segment of Mario Bava's Black Sabbath is worth seeing too if only to see boris Karloff as a vampire.

Matthew Bradley said...

What a treat to see a mention of LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH, which scare the crap out of me as a kid (it was filmed in our area) and still wigs me out. Love the Hammer vamps as well, especially THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, DRACULA--PRINCE OF DARKNESS, and ...HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE. Good on Metal Mark for mentioning the great Mario Bava, although I would submit that his BLACK SUNDAY surpasses BLACK SABBATH as a vampire tale (since its reincarnated witch was also a bloodsucker). Of course, as the author of RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN (, I have a major soft spot for THE LAST MAN ON EARTH. Nice list!

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Mark, of course I'm going to mention Malcolm whenever I can, hahahaha...I love that episode and it's one of the more left-of-center vampire yarns I just had to go there. Great pull on Bava, as Mr. Bradley said. This list could've been far more comprehensive than this but I wanted to get a quick historical overview of vampire flicks we all should be touching on and let the viewers dig deeper if they wish.

I didn't know you have that poster, Mark, that's awesome! I still laugh that it got a G over here, even if G and PG were totally different standards back then. Even in the '80s, I remember the movie Ragtime had a scene with a full-on naked woman in dad was so embarassed when he took me to see it, lol...

Vampire Lovers is a generic story but it capitalizes on its assets, and I'm not just talking about Ingrid Pitt's. It's a beautiful movie to watch, but yes, Twins of Evil is superior. Another good call, Mark.

And to you, Mr. Bradley, thank you for dropping in and gracing my site with your presence. Matheson and Serling have influenced me in so many ways. The original Twilight Zone to me remains the pinnacle of all television shows and I envy you for having had the opportunity to write about Richard. That show will always be my favorite and I just rode the TZ Tower of Terror in only disappointment was the lack of TZ merchandise there! :) I did get a funny shirt with Mickey and Goofy in three panels where their profiles look at each other before the third panel drops their floor down...great stuff.

Jessica is a forgotten classic, so I felt obligated to mention it. Please return or drop me a line off-site.

Matthew Bradley said...

So glad we have a chance to compare notes, Ray. I've been blessed with the opportunity to write about Richard in many forums: articles and interviews with him and his colleagues for FILMFAX; introductions to limited editions of his novels for Gauntlet; editing his book DUEL & THE DISTRIBUTOR; co-editing THE RICHARD MATHESON COMPANION (revised and updated as THE TWILIGHT AND OTHER ZONES); and, of course, writing RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN. Throughout, he has been very gracious and appreciative of my work. I also post Matheson-related items periodically at my blog, Bradley on Film. As for JESSICA, it inspired a real feeling of dread that so few films do. The only recent example that did it for me was THE RING. Of course nothing will equal the chill of that first youthful late-night viewing, but it's still effective. --Matthew

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