Today we welcome Sam Stone, award-winning author of The Vampire Gene series to This Is Horror to discuss ten of her favourite vampire films.
I love vampire films, and so to be given the opportunity to talk about them was not to be missed. This list is in no way definitive but is a short exploration of the vampire movies I’ve most enjoyed for the last few years. I have to give a nod to the ultimate Nosferatu (1922) and to the great performance of Bela Lugosi in Dracula (1931), but here are some of my personal favourites. The order is liable to change though, week on week, depending on my mood. So if you ask me tomorrow, it might be different!
10. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Starring: Gary Oldman, Winona Rider, Keanu Reeves, Anthony Hopkins
It might surprise you to find this film among my top 10. It isn’t without its faults but for me the good points far outweigh them. In this film Jonathan Harker (Reeves) takes an assignment to visit Transylvania and the ancient Count Dracula (Oldman). Once there he learns that the Count is not what he seems and is driven mad by the horrors of the castle, while being seduced by the Count’s vampire brides. Meanwhile, his fiancée, Mina Murray (Rider), waits for his return, never realising that the relationship she strikes up with a mysterious Prince is going to cost both her life and soul. Although both Reeves’ and Rider’s performances – and terrible English accents – leave a lot to be desired, I really enjoyed the alternate history and exploration of the loss which Dracula experiences that causes him to become a monster. This makes the character, although incredibly dangerous and vindictive, very sympathetic. Oldman is superb in the role, and Hopkins is fabulous as the somewhat damaged Professor Van Helsing. This film is very much a product of its time. Most of the then ‘in-crowd’ of actors were used, perhaps to its detriment. However, the sets are wonderful, as are the effects. Oldman made it for me and that sets the tone for this list: the lead vampire has to appeal or the film just doesn’t work.
Starring: Song Kang-ho, Kim Ok-bin, Kim Hae-suk, Shin Ha-Kyn
I like subtitled films a lot and there have been in recent years some very interesting ones coming out of Korea, Japan, and Russia. This one is Korean and the cultural differences are partly why I think this makes for such an interesting story. Priest Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho) offers himself up for medical experimentation taking place in a monastery and accidentally becomes a vampire as a result. Keeping his secret, Sang-hyeon learns to survive by feeding on the patients in a hospital where he works as a visiting priest. Then he falls in love with Tae-ju (Kim Ok-bin), the daughter-in-law of a local seamstress, Lady Ra (Kim Hae-suk), and the story takes a sinister turn. This is a very long film, one which I would refer to as literary in its execution (think Memoirs of a Geisha) because although the tale unfolds fairly slowly, it is littered with important detail. It is first and foremost, a vampire film and features content of an extremely violent nature. I like this as I prefer fierce vampires rather than wimpy angst-ridden ones. The characters are strong and sympathetic, while the story mixes in elements of fantasy as well as horror. The plot is also very different from any I’d seen before. The Koreans don’t shy away from sexual or violent scenes, and sometimes they openly explore taboos. Overall this film is very worthy of viewing.
Starring: Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Stephen Dorff, N’Bushe Wright
This is an exciting and action-packed film with a great deal of originality in both its execution and style. Blade (Snipes) is a daywalker. That means he is a vampire of a different sort. Born of a mother who was attacked during her pregnancy, Blade grows up and is taken under the wing of Whistler (Kristofferson). Blade finds his purpose in life: to use his vampiric powers to kill other vampires. Snipes is simply brilliant as the charismatic Blade and Kristofferson makes an incredible side kick. This story presents yet another, original, background for the vampires and at times it reminds me a little of The Matrix particularly because of the fighting action and use of technology to develop and present a modern, scientific world that is very believable.
7. The Lost Boys (1987)
This is a coming of age film for me. I recall seeing it first at an important time in my life and I absolutely loved it. Michael (Patric) and brother Sam (Haim) move to a new town following their mother’s divorce. The town is more exciting than the boys first imagined. Sam makes two new friends, Edgar and Alan Frog (Corey Feldman/Jamison Newlander) and learns about the existence of vampires, while his brother Michael falls prey to the charms of Star (Gertz) and is integrated into the dangerous teenage world of David (Sutherland) and his vampire gang. I love this film because the vampires are both sympathetic and dangerous (just as they should be). Along the way suspicion is thrown on various characters as Sam and Michael try to find out who the king vampire is. It’s well acted by Patric, and Haim is excellent in his role. This film has a wicked soundtrack and great sense of humour. I recently watched the film with my daughter, who was 18 at the time, and she loved it too. This proved to me that it has stood the test of time and has the same appeal to a modern teenager as it did for me when I was that age.
Starring: Jack MacGowan, Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate
I’m not sure that this film necessarily deserves to be ahead of The Lost Boys but it is certainly one of my favourites. Professor Abronsius (MacGowan) and his bumbling assistant, Alfred (Polanski), find themselves in the heart of cold Transylvania battling against a fearsome vampire. Alfred and the Professor are pulled deeper into intrigue when the innkeeper’s beautiful daughter Sarah (Tate) is taken by Count von Krolock back to his castle, and they are forced to follow. I like this film because there is a brilliant juxtaposition between humour and horror that leaves the viewer with a less than comfortable feeling behind the laughs. It’s fun, at times scary, and the musical score is brilliantly sinister. When I first saw it as a teenager I didn’t understand the humour which is quite adult at times, but the sense of threat, punctuated by the music, left a very strong impression on me. As an adult I love the camp element but can still feel that slight tingle of unease at the undertone generated by the monstrous nature of the vampires.
Starring: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen
This was a very unique film when it was released. Unsuspecting country boy, Caleb Colton (Pasdar), meets the mysterious and cute Mae (Wright) one night. Before dawn, Mae bites Caleb and he finds himself changing. He can no longer bear sunlight and feels an intense and unsatisfied hunger. Caleb soon learns that he has been converted into a vampire by Mae and that she is part of a gang of vicious blood suckers, ruled by Jesse (Lance Henriksen). Caleb joins the group, not counting on his father’s dedication to follow and save him. If you haven’t seen this film, then it’s a must. Henriksen’s vampires are brutal but still share love and loyalty in their family unit. We can both sympathise with and fear them in the way all effective vampires should be portrayed. There was a level of brutality in this film that showed the creatures enjoying what they are. They don’t angst, or feel guilty about their need for blood, yet they enjoy the kill as any good predator would.
4. Night Watch (2004)
As I said earlier I enjoy subtitled films and that’s why I’m pleased to include another in my top list. This is a Russian movie. Light and Darkness co-exist in a precarious harmony and have done so for hundreds of years. It is the job of the Night Watch to police the activities of the Dark others – vampires, shape-shifters and witches are just a few of these powerful beings. But the struggle between Light and Dark is rapidly coming to an end and the Dark intends to win. Anton (Khabenskiy) is a vampire hunter for the Light, and finds himself positioned between Geser (Menshov), the leader of the Light, and Zavulon (Verzhbitskiy), leader of the Dark. He is given a friend to help him, Olga (Tyunina), and they must find a solution to a curse placed on Svetlana (Poroshina) which threatens to destable the balance. This is a fast paced and unusual film that shows a believable dark world that is hidden from the unsuspecting humans – not a wholly original concept but the execution is. I like this film because of the fantasy elements. For example the ‘others’ can slip into an alternate dimension they call the gloom. All ‘others’ – anyone who isn’t human or who has a supernatural talent – must choose between Light and Dark or they are killed. A generally enjoyable plot and story with convincing performances from all.
3. The Hunger (1983)
To me this film is a classic. Miriam Blaylock (Deneuve) is an ageless immortal kept alive by her lust for blood. David Bowie stars as her vampire lover, John, and we see how their unholy union began in flashback scenes. Though their lives seem idyllic, the unthinkable happens and John begins to age. Afraid of being alone, Miriam begins her seduction of a doctor, Sarah (Sarandon), who may be able to help them. This is a very sophisticated and arty film with sensual use of music which accentuates the sense of threat. Bowie gives a wonderful performance and Deneuve’s portrayal of the vampire is sensual, classy and very sympathetic. Watch out for stunning classical music pieces such as ‘Dome Epais’ (The Flower Duet). This is an absolutely beautiful film, even when it is presenting some dark and horrible moments.
2. Underworld (2003)
This film is tremendous fun. The story follows warrior vampire Selene (Beckinsale). Vampires battle Lycans in this fast paced alternative, but recognisable, world. Selene has a job to do: kill Lycans; but she has a change of heart when an innocent human falls foul of a werewolf’s bite. Saved by Michael Corvin (Speedman), she feels she owes him a chance to escape his impending execution at the hands of the vampires. Fearing betrayal she calls her mentor, Viktor, back from his vampiric hibernation. The gothic metropolis is well defined and somewhat enduring. Beckinsale is convincing as the leather-clad action heroine, Selene. My favourite moment is her entrance: she drops from the top of a tall building, lands and immediately bounces to a stand and walks away. This scene presents her strength, character and power in one impressive moment. Bill Nighy is excellent as Viktor, the vampire leader, Shane Brolly is suitably vile as Kraven and Scott Speedman is a great choice as Selene’s love interest, Michael Corvin. Action-packed, violent and original all at the same time, I enjoy revisiting this film for the sheer fun and adventure of it all.
1. Fright Night (1985)
Starring: Chris Sarandon, Roddy McDowall, William Ragsdale
This is my favourite film beating all the others. Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale) loves horror movies and his favourite television programme is Fright Night, presented by waning star Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell). Then the suave Jerry Dandridge moves into the spooky house next door to Charlie and the teenager sees and hears things that make him suspicious of their charming new neighbour. Chris Sarandon plays one of the sexiest vampires on screen. There is a real sense of threat from him and he is as likely to kill you as he is to seduce you into his dark world. There is much to love here: Amy (Amanda Bearse) transforming from an ordinary and rather boring teenager into a sexy and terrifying vampire; Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) undergoing a similar transformation, is a brilliant character that viewers sympathise with, but recognise his innate strangeness. When Ed joins Dandridge you can understand his reasons for doing so completely. And of course, the scene in the night club: the dance, the fights and the final seduction of Amy; all so emotive…and I don’t believe there has been a scene to compete with it since.
I can’t mention this film without also talking about the 2011 remake. I saw this recently and didn’t enjoy it much, mainly because all of the elements that made the original film so good were absent. Colin Farrell made no attempt at all to be sexy, though there was a sinister element to his vampire portrayal. I found that I didn’t care about Charlie or Amy, they were missing the spark that enlivened the original film. I also missed the Renfield character, Billy Cole (played by Jonathan Stark). Without him, the plot struggled to survive on just Dandridge alone. Although the remake had good points it just didn’t cut it for me. I also far preferred McDowall as Peter Vincent to David Tennant – who played the character like a cross between Russell Brand and Doctor Who.
Fright Night (1985) is my top vampire movie and nothing has come along since to change my mind.
Love at First Bite, Dracula (1979) with Frank Langela, Twins of Evil, Vampire Circus, Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires and a final entry from Hammer Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter.