Off and on for the past several years I have presented a countdown of My 100 Favorite Horror Films leading up to Halloween. What began as a series of Facebook posts logically made the leap to this here blog. In one post that I penned, I wrote about Dan Curtis’ Dracula, which was the first adaptation of Bram Stoker’s seminal novel I had ever watched. And in my most recent missive I paid tribute to Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which Curtis just happened to produce. All of this got me to thinking. Since I won’t have any new favorites to add to the overall countdown, why not count down my favorite vampire films? I posed the question in a Facebook post, and it met with positive response.
So why vampires? I first saw Jack Palance as Dracula in Curtis’ adaptation when I was roughly four years old. Don’t ask me how, don’t ask me why. I found the film and watched it again more than 40 years after the fact, and I was surprised at how well it held up. This singular production sparked a life-long fascination with the character and vampires in general. As I mentioned in Remembering Kolchak: The Night Stalker, my dad and I watched Darren McGavin as gruff Las Vegas reporter Carl Kolchak some years after it originally aired. We often watched horror or Godzilla films, or even old Benny Hill shows (after mom went to bed of course), late Friday or Saturday nights, or on USA’s Groovy Movies with Commander USA on Saturday afternoons. I thoroughly enjoyed them, and many happened to be vampire movies.
When I was nine or 10 years old, I had my parents order Dracula and Frankenstein through the tried-and-true Scholastic Weekly Reader circular. Regardless of what else I read or watched, I always drifted back to horror, and vampires in particular. If I had to put a number on it, I have probably dressed as a vampire for Halloween, Dracula in particular, more times than any other character, most recently in 2019.
I have spent quite a bit of time, probably more than is wise, chronicling the Universal Studios Monsterverse (1925–1956), which includes several Dracula and vampire films. I have yet to sink my fangs into Hammer Studios reboot of Universal’s horror movies, but Christopher Lee’s numerous turns as Count Dracula are highly regarded.
As far as reading material is concerned, I haven’t read as much vampire fiction as I would like to believe I have. It’s more likely I own more than I have read. However, from Dracula to Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot and many arteries in between, I have read novels, short stories, comic books, and graphic novels featuring vampires and their “kith and kin.” I always said if I were to ever write a book, it would be a vampire story. I have written four, three have been published and one is on the way. And I have a pretty good idea for another vampire story outside The Dark Passage Series involving an Irish vampire legend. My copy of Dracula is one of my most prized possessions and is certainly the most important book in my collection.
So, what’s the point? We have been fascinated by vampire stories for centuries, most notably Gothic tales of the undead. The Victorian era is when the fiends were truly popularized. Commercially produced novels, Penny Dreadfuls, you name it, vampires quickly became interwoven in popular culture, and movies only furthered the fascination. But why?
It starts with sex, forbidden sex not to put too fine a point on it. Infidelity, courtly love, classism, racism, homosexuality (homoerotic if you will), all kinds of forbidden sex is metaphorically carried out by the machinations of the vampire, symbolized by the creatures’ very methods of survival and procreation. Power is another common element, the ability to hypnotize and command victims and creatures of the night alike. The allure of immortality, on the surface, who wouldn’t want to live forever? The seduction of darkness and the night, all kinds of deep, dark, and presumably wickedly fun things happen under the cloak of blackness. Even shapeshifting abilities have been attributed to some vampire legends. Certainly, some combination of these elements has appealed to me as I have made my investigations more than pure passing entertainment fancy. There are many kinds of vampires with all kinds of imagined abilities, and there are vampiric creatures in the folklore of just about every country and civilization, past and present, on Earth.
I own books that would be considered reference material. The Encyclopedia of the Undead and a couple of volumes written by Montague Summers spring to mind. I collected these tomes thinking that one day I would write a book featuring vampires only to find that by reading them casually, along with fiction, and watching dozens of vampire movies, the most common elements and characteristics were imprinted on me, and I didn’t need the reference materials at all to craft my tales. I knew the material cold.
I will launch the countdown October 1 and introduce a new entry every day until Halloween. Most of the films I am sure you are already familiar with, some will undoubtedly be new to you, and a few I’m sure you have forgotten. And in my inimitable way, I will find a way to include more than 31 films.
As Bram Stoker wrote in Dracula, “The blood is the life.” I have found vampire fiction and lore to be a lifeblood of a type and I hope you enjoy this year’s version of the countdown and find it worthy of those that have come before.