Favorite Vampire Films [Snob Seven]

Here's a list to sink your teeth into.
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Alhough there has been considerable backlash against the Twilight series and its fans since the release of the first film in 2008, and Tim Burton and Johnny Depp's version of Dark Shadows hasn't fared well with critics or at the box office, nothing will ever put a spike through the love affair filmgoers have with vampires.  Since the very early days of the medium, this creature of the undead has been a popular figure and here are some of our favorite films where they appeared.

Nosferatu (1922) selected by Mat Brewster

I grew up watching movies.  Some of my first memories are sitting inside a theatre engrossed in whatever was flickering across the screen. Nearly every weekend my parents would either take me to the cineplex, or when VCR (or Betamax) became available we'd sit at home watching films as often as we could. As a teenager, when my relationship with my parents become strained we would still go to the movies and for those few hours at least we were at peace with one another.

As a kid movies were nothing more than entertainment - a few hours of laughs and excitement. As I got older I realized that film could be more, it could be insightful, moving, thought provoking - in other-words it could be Art. There were two films that created that understanding: To Kill a Mockingbird and Nosferatu. The first time I saw Nosferatu was when I was a teenager. I was flipping the channels and I caught the last few minutes of it, where the vampire is coming to kill the lady in the bed. At that point in my life I never watched black and white films and certainly I didn't sit still for silent pictures, but my god was I entranced by Nosferatu.  Max Schrek is creepy as hell as the vampire with his bald head, pointed ears, elongated fingers and sharp teeth.  He moves in this structured manner that gives an otherworldly aspect to his character. The music adds atmosphere like a thick fog and the director FW Murnau forms shadows like they are another character in themselves.  The scene is only about ten minutes long but it created an impression that has lasted my entire life.

It would be several more years before I would watch the entire film.  I have to admit I struggled with bits of it as even with more maturity I have a hard time watching silent movies, and an hour a half was almost more than my attention span could handle, but even so there were still lots of really fantastic bits.  That last ten minutes though, I just watched it again before I wrote this, that last ten minutes still scares the crap out of me.


Dracula (1931) selected by El Bicho

Currently, Wikipedia states Bram Stoker's story has been adapted over 170 times and the character of Count Dracula has "been the subject of more films than any other fictional character," yet Bela Lugosi's iconic performance is the one that casts a shadow over all others.  He first played the role on Broadway in 1927 and made history when the play was adapted to film.  His piercing eyes and Hungarian accent made Dracula a compelling figure and are much a part of the character as anything Stoker wrote.  Though Universal made sequels and other films featuring the character, he played the part only one other time in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).

As the film opens, British solictor Renfield (Dwight Frye) heads to Castle Dracula to meet with a client, Count Dracula, looking to lease property in London.  He is so focused on his work he ignores the warnings of locals and his concern over seeing a bat driving his stagecoach to his detriment, soon finding himself forced into Dracula's servitude. Upon their arrival in London, Renfield gets locked up in a santarium run by Dr. Seward (Herbert Bunston).  Dracula meets the doctor at the theater as well as his lovely daughter Mina (Helen Chandler), who becomes the focus of Dracula's desires.  Though considered insane, Reinfeld makes a believer out of Professor Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan), who vows to kill Dracula.

Aside from Lugosi, Dracula also impresses with Karl Freund's atmospheric cinematography and its production design. 

Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) selected by Chad Derdowski

Regarded by many as the worst of the Hammer Dracula films, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing reprise their roles as Count Dracula and Professor Van Helsing in this groovy update of the Dracula mythos amidst the psychedelic backdrop of swinging '70s England.  Despite its faults, this movie is a lot of fun. It still has that gothic Hammer style that I love so much, and it's also got that cheesy 1970's wanna-be cool style that I love even more.

I recognize that my tastes may not be shared by everyone, so I'll bring up the most important point again - it has Christopher Lee as Dracula and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. These men, in these roles, can do no wrong. No disrespect to Bela Lugosi, but for my money, no one can touch Christopher Lee's portrayal of The Count. Granted, he is woefully underutilized in this film, only appearing in a handful of scenes, but his presence is still felt. Cushing, of course, is suave and debonair as the anthropologist/vampire hunter.

Throughout a lot of this movie, I felt like I was watching the film version of the Marvel Comics' Tomb of Dracula title. It's more than just a bit cheesy, and strays a tad into the ridiculous, but by no means do I consider either of those things to be negative. If you share those sentiments, then maybe you'll find this movie to be a good time. If you like your horror movies gory and deadly serious, this probably isn't the film for you.

Love at First Bite (1979) selected by El Bicho

The character of Dracula looms so large on the cultural landscape, it's no surprise he crossed over from horror into comedy.  After meeting Abbott and Costello, Dracula was the comedic lead in the offbeat romatic comedy Love at First Bite, starring George Hamilton.

Accompanied by Renfield (Arte Johnson), Dracula relocates to New York after getting kicked out of his castle by the Romanian government.  Once there, he pursues fashion model Cindy Sondheim (Susan Saint James), but he runs into a stumbling block, her boyfriend/psychiatrist Jeffrey Rosenberg (Richard Benjamin), who is revealed to be the grandson of Van Helsing.  Although fueled by jealously and family tradition, Rosenberg is bit inept and not up on his monster folklore because anyone who knows better wouldn't bother shooting a vampire with silver bullets. 

I haven't seen it in ages, but it still stands out in my mind as the funniest take on Dracula.


Near Dark (1987) selected by Mule

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, Near Dark is one of those hybridized genre bastard vampire movies. The young reluctant hero Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) is suffering from a bad case of smalltown itch when he meets the fascinating beauty Mae (Jenny Wright) one night. They spend enough time together for her to kiss and then bite him before the sun goes up. As Caleb stumbles back home toward the farm where he lives, he gets progressively more nauseous. He never makes it to the door before being kidnapped by what looks like a bunch of scruffy outlaws that name themselves Mae's "family". Things get more complicated for Caleb from there on out.

Near Dark is a clever counter genre-convention take on the vampire myth. It takes place in the American Heartland and draws inevitable parallels between the itinerant band of vampires and the outlaw mythos, while exploring all the common and interesting topics of humanity and family and loyalty that usually crop up in vampire fiction. There is also violence, gallows humor and gore. Lance Henriksen plays the patriarch of the vampire band, the charismatic Jesse Hooker. When asked how old he really is he answers "Let's put it this way: I fought for the South. We lost." Jeanette Goldstein is the "mother", Diamondback, and like her namesake she is deadly. Homer (Joshua John Miller) embodies the ultimate abjection, a child that has been turned before physical maturity and Bill Paxton is the "older brother" Severen.

Bigelow's vampire western with its deep subtext of family issues and mirrored doubles has obvious visual influences from the mise-en-scène of the classical western, but it relies just as heavily on traditional horror. The word "vampire" is never mentioned, no one sparkles and it has the customary vampire movie ending, as in all the vampires die or get "cured". All this is underscored by the strangely haunting music of Tangerine Dream's atmospheric soundtrack. It is in its slippery slide between the genres that Near Dark creates all the allure that makes it a cult classic that has stood the test of time.

The Lost Boys (1987) selected by Michael Nazarewycz (@scribehard)

Since I am a sucker for the '80s, it only stands to reason that I am also a sucker for '80s bloodsuckers.  So when The Sentries put out the call for Favorite Vampire Movie, choosing The Lost Boys (Joel Schumacher, 1987) was a no-brainer for me.

The story is a simple one: Lucy (Dianne Wiest) and her sons Michael and Sam (Jason Patric and Corey Haim, respectively) relocate to a SoCal town after her divorce from their father, looking to start a new life.  After moving in with Lucy's dad (Barnard Hughes), that new life gets off on the wrong foot when the boys learn that the town is crawling with vampires.

Really.  Pretty.  Vampires.

Those vampires, led by David (Kiefer Sutherland), attempt to recruit Michael into their group.  Michael unknowingly becomes a half-vampire, but when he hooks up with David's girlfriend, Star (Jami Gertz), his chances of becoming a full-time member of the Really Pretty Vampires Gang are pretty much shot.

Meanwhile, the Frog Brothers, Edgar and Alan (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander), enlighten Sam to the vampire crisis and recruit him to help kill the vampires while saving Michael from an eternal fate.  Oh, and something isn't quite right with Lucy's new boss, Max (Edward Herrmann).

There are other vampire movies that came out of the Decade of Decadence that are worth a mention - movies like 1985's Fright Night, 1983's The Hunger, and 1985's Once Bitten, to name three.  But The Lost Boys is the quintessential '80s vampire movie because it is quintessentially '80s.

It starts with the film's tagline: "Sleep all day.  Party all night.  Never grow old.  Never die.  It's fun to be a vampire."  You cannot get more decadent than that.

It continues with the film's young cast (no offense, Dianne and Edward).  Everyone is pretty.  Some are prettier than others (Patric and Gertz out-pretty everyone else combined), but even the second-shelf actors would be the prettiest people in other movies.  And their style - that combination of hair and clothes and attitude - seems less about a vampire gang and more about a hair band.  And, with the exception of The Coreys, it's a cast of 20-somethings passing themselves off as teenagers.  How very '80s. 

The soundtrack is one of those '80s soundtracks with a collection of good songs by unknowns and big names alike, including INXS, Lou Gramm, and Echo and the Bunnymen (whose cover of The Doors' "People Are Strange" is pitch-perfect for this film).

And finally, it stars The Coreys.  Say what you will about them, The Coreys are second only to The Brat Pack as the poster-kids for mainstream '80s movies.

As vampire movies go, The Lost Boys isn't the best.  As '80s movies go, The Lost Boys isn't the best.  But when you combine the two, The Lost Boys will never grow and will never die.

Blade Trinity (2004) selected by Mary K. Williams

Are there better Vampire movies than the third installment of Wesley Snipes' action vehicle? Of course. Better written, directed, acted - yeah - there are better offerings in this supernatural thriller genre.

But yet, there is something quite charming about the combination of Snipes' grumpy, fierce grunting and kung fu action skills paired with Ryan Reynolds' glib and profane banter that makes this flick enjoyable despite its improbable outcome.

Reynolds also provides more than wit, he and co-star Jessica Biel can hold their own in the area of kicking ass, and their sculpted sinewy-ness is a draw for fan boys and girls as they fight the snarling nastiness of bad vamps Dominic Purcell, Triple H, and Parker Posey.

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