In readiness for Halloween, Tom Jolliffe takes a look at the essential Vampire films…
With that thing coming up that takes place on the last day in October. You know the one? Yeah, candy sales go through the roof, your house gets egged and toilet papered. Meanwhile you sacrifice a chicken over a Ouji board in the hope of getting Kevin James to stop making films. It never works and you just unleash hell on Earth (or to put it another way, a new Kevin James film comes out). With that in mind, I thought it’d be a good time to look over the best Vampire films around.Why Vampires? Well I was watching a film (that will appear on this list) and had a brainwave.
So without further ado, and not in any particular order, here are the essential Vampire films!
This iconic piece of cinema remains timeless and its visual influence can still be seen today. If you’ve seen anything from Tim Burton, you’ve seen run off from films like Nosferatu.
German director F.W Murnau, blazed a stylistic trail like a lot of directors coming out of Europe at that time. Think Robert Wiene, Fritz Lang, Sergei M. Eisenstein, et al. One of the earliest examples of the vampire film and the one that really triggered a fascination with the legend. Even if you haven’t seen Nosferatu you will know of certain iconic images like the looming shadow of Orlof stalking his victim before he’s even in view.
Dracula (1931, 1958)
I’m cheating here. This is a double entry. You cannot think of the classic image of the count without envisioning two distinct and legendary actors. For starters, there is Bela Lugosi, star of Todd Browning’s 1931 incarnation of the legend.
Again, much like Nosferatu, this is one of those films with a lot of iconic imagery that people have seen, even if they haven’t necessarily seen the film. However it’s there in reference, almost persistent throughout cinematic history since. Lugosi became synonymous with horror but as Dracula he left his most lasting impression.
Then we have Christopher Lee. An absolute iconic of horror cinema. A gargantuan CV, largely populated with villain roles and he was particularly prolific during the Hammer horror era. In Terence Fishers excellent version of the Dracula tale, Lee is joined by another Hammer and horror icon, Peter Cushing. The first thought when you think of Van Helsing is Peter Cushing (unless you’re weird and think of Hugh Jackman).
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Putting aside the flaws in this, such as Keanu Reeves being horrifically miscast as Jonathan Harker, this is an epically grandiose and lavishly stylish film from Francis Ford Coppola. It may have come at a point in time where his CV was beginning to hit more and more bumps in the road after such a cinematically important period in the 1970’s. By the end of the century it seemed like a foggy memory the last time Coppola made something defining.
The film is gorgeous. It’s lack of substance is fully compensated with an over abundance of style. Gary Oldman is on fine, scenery (and neck) chewing form as Dracula too.
It’s not a great film if you go in expecting something Godfather level, but after all this is horror genre fare and what Coppola does is paint a picture as pretty as anything you’re likely to see in the genre. It’s beautifully shot, dressed and scored. Pure, unadulterated eye candy. It almost borders on trashy at times (to an extent like Branagh’s Frankenstein) but it’s great fun.
The Lost Boys
One of the best years in cinema for the vampire film was 1987. Not one but two classic and inventive takes on the genre. The first of which, was The Lost Boys. This cult classic directed by Joel Schumacher is cool, hip (okay, it probably was in 1987) and looks fantastic. There’s also a really excellent soundtrack too.
The film is also a who’s who of 80’s youth cinema. The two Corey’s, Haim and Feldman both star and Keither Sutherland is on fine form as the villain. The mix of genre thrills, slick style, great visuals and wry humour makes The Lost Boys an absolutely essential vampire film. The fashion alone is monumentally dazzling to the eyes.
The second entry from 1987 to make our list is a change of pace from The Lost Boys. It’s also a film not enough people have seen. It’s an odd film but it you’ve ever watch Twilight (then you need to question your life) you’ve essentially watch an inferior, soulless version of Near Dark.
Kathryn Bigelow’s breakout film is typically stylish, compelling and features a beautifully atmospheric score by Tangerine Dream. If you want to see a Vampire film with a difference in which our leading man encounters a strange rag-tag gang of roaming vampires, led by Lance Henriksen, then this is the film for you. It’s not as iconic, cool or energetic as Joel Schumacher’s film, but there’s something a little more melancholic and atmospheric.
Okay…this one pushes the definition of vampire film somewhat. Chances are you’ve seen parts of this in memes or Nic Cage overacting compilations. Vampire’s Kiss is one of the oddest films ever made. It’s actually got a very similar arc as American Psycho, as a sociopathic and cold 80’s businessman (Cage) begins to struggle distinguishing between fantasy and reality (believing in this case, he’s turning into a vampire).
It’s not a brilliant film by any stretch but Cage is a complete force of nature here. He is unrestrained energy, constantly exploding with mannerisms. If you think you’ve seen overacting or scenery chomping, you’ve seen nothing in comparison to Nic Cage here. It’s iconic, trashy and unique. Double bill it with American Psycho.
A mid-80’s staple. Straight out of the John Landis school of horror with body transformations and wry comedy which infuse well in the horror shell. Writer-director Tom Holland delivers one of the most enjoyable horror films of the era. The film is campy, fun, atmospheric and visually dynamic.
Along with a great soundtrack and a solid synth score which is unashamedly 80’s (in the best possible way) from Brad Fiedel, Fright Night is also bolstered by a mesmerizing and dashingly charismatic performance from Chris Sarandon as the villainous vamp. The whole concept, “what if your next door neighbour is a vampire?” is a great set up and duly delivered with tongue in cheek and genuine dramatic effect.
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