Warning: This article contains violent images. Viewer discretion is advised.
The vampire has proven to be a hugely popular figure throughout cultural history, and its success and stock in present movies has never been so high. It is easy to see the appeal in a vampiric entity: the immortality and sex.
Since death is the fate that awaits us all, a creature that we invent and imbue with an indeterminate lifespan captivates the imagination like no other. In ancient Greece, the figure of the Lamia served as an early vampire-like demon. In medieval times, the vampire was linked to historical figures such as Vlad Tepes and Elizabeth Bathory. And Gothic and Romantic literature provided a real springboard for the vampire, with John Polidori using his former patient Lord Byron as a template for the highly influential novella “The Vampyre.” Sheridan Le Fanu gave us lesbian vampires in “Carmilla,” and his Irish compatriot Bram Stoker consolidated all various elements of the aristocratic bloodsucker in “Dracula” (1897).
In cinema, the rat-like features of a heavily made up Max Schreck in “Nosferatu” (1922), soon evolved into the suave, intense theatrics of Bela Lugosi in Universal’s “Dracula” (1930). Then it was Christopher Lee’s turn to become an icon. Let’s call those chaps an unholy trinity.
The vampire has kept evolving with each generation by recreating the myth amidst new contexts, ideas and narratives. Today we have in “Twilight,” a vampire figure that sparkles in the sunlight and isn’t too keen on drinking the blood of the living. Recently, Xan Cassavetes made “Kiss of the Damned,” which married hipster cool with cheesy “Twilight” romance.
In the “Vampire Kiss,” Nicolas Cage ate a cockroach. Not once but twice! Why? Well, in his old mad method acting days, he wished to emulate the insect-eating figure of Renfield from Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula.” It is a grotesque, albeit, thrilling moment in one of Cage’s most underrated performances and films. Don’t ask him about this now, because he’s very bored with people bringing it up. But, dude, you ate a cockroach… twice!
Robert Bierman’s brilliant satire on 1980s New York uses the iconography of a vampire movie to chart a man’s mental breakdown. From the start, it is quite clear that Peter Loew (Cage) is barking mad. He is more a paranoid schizophrenic than creature of the night, but this guy’s descent into madness is utterly compelling as he buys plastic fangs, turns his sofa into a makeshift coffin, and runs through the streets screaming: “I’m a vampire! I’m a vampire!” In the end, the eccentricities have developed into serial killing, and Loew gets his comeuppance in a splendid denouement that the character, no doubt, finds very satisfying.
Directed by one-time David Lynch collaborator and all round cinematography genius Freddie Francis, “Dracula Has Risen From the Grave,” is one of the Hammer studios most enduring films.
After Hollywood turned Count Dracula into a parody, it took a British studio to reclaim him and re-invent the genre. Christopher Lee brought a new kind of vampire to the screen. He was noble, frightening (with his fiery-red eyes) and had buxom femmes falling at his feet. The mixture of night-for-day scenes, lush cinematography bursting with primary colours, and cheap set design help develop a querulous, dreamlike atmosphere. “Dracula Has Risen From the Grave” is undoubtedly a film masterpiece.
Murnau’s landmark expressionist feature ”Nosferatu,” is loosely based on Bram Stoker’s novel and heralded the cinematic birth of the vampire proper. The widow of Stoker prevented an out-and-out adaptation and bizarrely asked for all copies of the film to be burned. Of course such ludicrous over-reaction was not acted upon. (Thankfully.)
Max Schreck’s sinewy, rat-like Count Orlock is as unsettling today as he was back in the 1920s. With its mixture of location shots and heightened use of shadow-play, this iconic picture will always be remembered as a major step forward for the horror genre.
There is a mercilessly pessimistic air prevalent in pretty much all of Polanski’s work. At the same time, there is a dark sense of absurdity and humour. He is a notorious filmmaker for several reasons, and in the late 1960s, he produced one of his best (and silliest) films of all times.
“The Fearless Vampire Killers” delivers an excellent pastiche of the Hammer studio aesthetic (although a comedy, the film is very creepy). It focuses on an eccentric professor (Jack MacGowan) and his apprentice Alfred (Polanski), who both battle Count von Krolock, a vampire who has kidnapped the beautiful peasant Sarah (Sharon Tate). The film is filled with pratfalls, jokes on necrophilia, and inspired visual gags. Director Stephen Sommers paid homage by lifting the “Dance of the Vampires” scene for his own use in the bloodless “Van Helsing” (2004).
George A. Romero may be “King of the Zombies,” but his contribution to the vampire genre is just as groundbreaking. Like “Vampire’s Kiss,” Romero insinuates mental illness into the setup, offering a more psychological horror aspect as opposed to solely fantastical elements. “Martin” is shot on a very low budget, it is a compelling slice of cinema, and Romero has fun toying around cliches relating to vampire legends.
Mexi-can Guillermo del Toro had visited the vampire flick with his excellent feature “Cronos” (1993). However, given the chance to recalibrate a superhero-vampire-hybrid (after a ropey first one), del Toro turned in one of the best and most kick-ass films to a disappointing franchise.
“Blade II” is a great action movie with the brilliant idea of including a new species of vampire known as “Reapers,” who are even a threat to your average bloodsucker. It gets a big lift from the addition of Ron Perlman’s snarling vampire killer Reinhardt, too. This is not Del Toro’s best movie by any stretch, but it showcases his inventiveness in comic-book/fantasy-based outings that would be seen later in the “Hellboy” series.
Swedish cinema is known for its dour, existentialism dramas where everybody is on the verge of suicide. It now has the distinction of creating one of the most original and beautiful vampire films ever made. Not even a crappy remake by Matt Reeves could sully its reputation.
Based upon a novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, “Let the Right One In” is a story about a lonely and bullied 12 year old named Oskar, who befriends Eli the typical girl next door. Well, it turns out that she’s a vampire. But that’s okay because they fall in love. The title refers to the fact vampires can only be invited into a person’s home, as well as a notice against falling in love with the wrong person. There’s also a very interesting subtext (for me), about how gullible sorts can fall under the influence of absolute evil. Yet, Alfredson’s flick is a tender, if bloody relationship movie. The US remake changed the title to an R.E.M. song, which should tell you everything you need to know about how much it… sucks!
Quentin Tarantino plays havoc with the vampire genre by splicing together the road-movie and gangster flick. It should be a total mess (and it has its critics), but Robert Rodriguez’s sure-fire directing and memorable dialogue make “Dusk ‘Til Dawn” a total blast. George Clooney, with his iconic (and much copied) tattoo, is a fierce presence, announcing to all the world: “I’m too big for television!” Charming killer Seth Gekko is easily the coolest of the gang. Delivering his dialogue with relish and well-timed comedic threat: “You touch my brother with that stake, biker, and vampires won’t have to suck your blood. They’ll be able to lick it up off the floor.” The whole film is a hoot. Also, featuring a wonderful performance by Salma Hayek, who must be one of the sexiest vampires of all-time. Until she turns into a prosthetic monster, of course.
“Nadja” is a quirky prospect. Shot in moody black and white with a soundtrack consisting of tracks by the likes of Portishead, it is a re-imagining of the vampire legend with a 1990s indie vibe that’s a bit “too cool for school.” Produced by none other than maestro David Lynch (who features in a cameo as a morgue attendant), and starring Martin Donovan and Peter Fonda, it will not be everyone’s cup of tea (or blood), but it remains a pre-hipster take on the Dracula myth.
Imagine if a vampire moved next door? Whilst the similarities to “Let the Right One In” end there, Tom Holland’s “Fright Night” is one of those films that gets by on its dazzling central premise. It is a very 1980s styled film that has dated somewhat. Hollywood remade it into a sucky rehash starring Colin Farrell. The 3D was so piss-poor the film looked like it was shot with the lens coated in mud. It’s difficult to care if it’s difficult to see. (Take note, Hollywood.)
“Fright Night” starts with Charley (William Ragsdale) convinced that his new next door neighbourhood is one of the undead, and he sets out to prove it with his best friend Evil Ed and a television presenter of the eponymous “Fright Night.” The movie produced a bad sequel which pits the hero against the sister of Chris Sarandon’s vamp, proving the original had more bite. Sarandon is beaming as the vampire with serial killer-like tendencies. Plus, when he says, “Welcome to Fright Night: for real,” it’s delivered so much better than when Colin Farrell mouths the same line in the remake.
Credits: Film stills © respective studios Article republished from Cinemart