It’s the spooky season, and Halloween is nearly upon us! What better way to celebrate than lining up a handful of horror movies – since I outgrew trick-or-treat, my favourite way to mark the holiday.
Vampires are a Halloween mainstay, and for my Halloween post, here’s my Top 13 Movie Vampires (many more could have made the list, but I decided to stop with the spooky 13).
Where it all began
Nosferatu (Max Schreck) Nosferatu, 1922: One hundred years old this year, the first major screen vampire in this not-quite adaptation of Dracula is still horrifying. Apparently some people even thought Schreck was a real vampire! The movie is brisk and terrifying even after a century, and features several shots that are among the greatest in horror history. Sure, you could argue this Nosferatu doesn’t really have a character, but who cares when he’s this scary?
Dracula (Bela Lugosi), Dracula, 1931: The ultimate interpretation of Dracula, so iconic that Lugosi spent the rest of his life both chasing and running away from it. It’s hard to look at a role like this that’s passed into legend with fresh eyes, but watch it again sometime and see how Lugosi sinks his teeth (sorry) into his sexy, strange vampire. Everyone from Anne Rice to Twilight owes him a debt.
Dracula (Christopher Lee) Lots of Dracula movies, 1958-1973: The thing about Christopher Lee is he looked great as Dracula in a whole series of Hammer Films vampire flicks even when the movies themselves were rather sloppy and stilted and had titles like Taste The Blood of Dracula. They even made the mistake of having Lee – one of the best horror voices of all time – nearly mute in several of the movies and his character and competence seemed to change from film to film. None of that really matters, because besides Lugosi, Lee is the finest dark prince ever to play the role.
Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden) Dracula’s Daughter, 1936: It seems weird in these days of never-ending franchises, but Lugosi did not return for a proper Dracula sequel. Instead, this ‘sidequel’ introduces his supposed daughter, the gloriously goth Holden. It’s one of the many bashed-out Universal Horror cheapies that barely run over an hour, but Holden’s sultry Zaleska is a striking, strong and modern creation – witness the barely concealed lesbian subtext in one famous scene.
Lestat (Tom Cruise) Interview With A Vampire, 1994: Man, there was an outrage back in the day about Tom Cruise playing Anne Rice’s bratty vampire, but every time I watch this, he seems a little bit better – preening and smug, he blows a sleepy Brad Pitt off the screen. I still haven’t seen the new TV reboot yet, but for my money this flick captures the lush absurdity of Rice’s prose very well.
Blacula (William Marshall) Blacula, Scream, Blacula Scream!, 1972-73: William Marshall was better than the material in the Blacula movies, which are a silly blaxploitation hoot with few moments of real terror. But boy, did Marshall act the heck out of Blacula, giving a wounded dignity and majesty to his cursed African prince that lifts the movies themselves. His grand booming voice alone ensures a place on this list.
Totally ‘80s Vampires
David (Kiefer Sutherland), The Lost Boys, 1987: Come on, who didn’t want to be a Lost Boy after watching the hooligan vampire gang led by Sutherland’s David storming around Santa Cruz, where weightlifting saxophonists wail away the night? Flashier, sexier vampires became a big thing in the ‘80s, and the hair-sprayed, sultry crew led by David were among the vanguard.
Jerry Dandridge (Christopher Sarandon), Fright Night, 1985: As this list shows, the ‘80s were a terrific time for vampire reinventions. Here’s the yuppie vampire, smooth scarf-wearing Jerry Dandridge, played with memorable charm and snark by Sarandon. The meddling teenager next door is sure Dandridge is a vampire – needless to say, the kids are always right.
Severen (Bill Paxton) Near Dark, 1987: The white trash dark reflection of that same year’s Lost Boys, Kathryn Bigelow’s vampire western is a magnificently tense and gorgeously filmed story of a band of roaming vampires and the young cowboy who falls in with them, but the whole dang movie is nearly stolen by the late great Bill Paxton’s swaggering, sleazy Severen, a member of the vamp gang who honestly does not give a damn and storms through every situation like a pure creature of the id. He’s terrifying, and hilarious.
Darned weird vampires
‘Space girl’ (Mathilda May) Lifeforce, 1985: She’s a kind of space vampire, and she spends about 95% of her screen time utterly naked in Tobe Hooper’s bizarrely grandiose sci-fi/horror epic. It’s a trashy movie but it’s also so determined to be weird, from an overacting Patrick Stewart to its swirling, cosmic climax. It’s not a very coherent film, but May’s stoic, creepy otherness makes her nude dark creature fascinating.
Jiangshi, Mr. Vampire, 1985: Chinese vampires are weird. This insane Sammo Hung comedy horror introduced mass audiences to the Chinese folklore “jiangshi,” hopping corpses who are somewhere between zombies, vampires and leapfrogs. The vampires in this movie are creepy because they’re so far from what Bela Lugosi made us think of, more animal-like than anything, and its success led to an explosion of wild, weird films.
Not quite vampires
Blade (Wesley Snipes) Blade, Blade II and Blade III, 1998-2004: Wesley Snipes’ attitude-filled vampire killer who’s also a reluctant vampire himself was the first Marvel comics character to actually star in a hit film, and the blood-splattered, over-the-top Blade series is still a heck of a lot of fun, combining action movie energy with gory horror.
Peter Loew (Nicolas Cage) Vampire’s Kiss, 1989: Cage is well known for going over the top. In Vampire’s Kiss he not only goes over the top, he launches himself into outer space. In this unhinged, extremely black comedy, he’s a yuppie sleazebag who apparently is bitten by a vampire. Cage goes “full Cage” as his character gradually loses his mind, eating cockroaches and screaming through the streets of Manhattan. It’s hilarious, but it’s also one heck of a piece of method acting. You’ll never forget it.
Honourable Mention: The vampires from What We Do In The Shadows; The Hunger; Let The Right One In; Nosferatu (Herzog remake); Only Lovers Left Alive; Count Yorga; Buffy The Vampire Slayer.