You might be familiar with St. George’s Night (May 5). As Bram Stoker wrote in Dracula, “It is the eve of St. George’s Day. Do you not know that to-night, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway? Do you know where you are going, and what you are going to?” Famously changed in the dialogue in the 1931 film to Walpurgis Night, which happens a week earlier in Germany, I mention them because this is the eve of the start of my Favorite 31 Vampire Films countdown. St. George’s or Walpurgis coincide with Jonathan Harker’s (or Renfield’s if you prefer) journey to Transylvania to meet with Count Dracula.
For several years now I have counted down my favorite 100 horror films, and as I have written previously, I don’t see any new entries hitting the list this year. We won’t even talk about Malignant, which just came out recently. When it comes to horror, vampires are my first love. As much as we might say that the genre needs to spend some time buried in the coffin so it may reemerge with some fresh blood, I will present my favorite vampire films. I thought this would be a good way to take a bit of a larger bite into each one rather than encapsulate them.
One of the oddest things I find in the genre is the complete misrepresentation of the titular vampire, Count Dracula. I wrote a few thousand words on this subject. The funny thing is, the progenitors of the modern monster movie, the creators of the first cinematic universe, Universal Studios, are some of the biggest offenders. Bram Stoker created the greatest literary villain of all time, yet the character has only been faithfully represented on the big screen a handful of times. But, as we well know, Count Dracula isn’t the only vampire in Gothic literature. And he certainly hasn’t been the only one created since 1897.
The list of actors who have donned the cape is as equally as impressive as the number of times the character has been brought to a-hem life on screen. Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Louis Jourdan, Frank Langella, and Gary Oldman top the list.
We’ve had vampires of all types, genders, persuasions, ages, and proclivities. The movies have varied from avant-garde and chic to downright cheesy and/or insipid. We’ve had traditional slow burn Gothic horror stories and rock ‘em sock ‘em rage vampires. We’ve had tuxedo clad well-to-do European gentlemen and amusement park and boardwalk cruising teenagers. In some films, the vampire hunters are worse than the vampires. And we have seen every (s)take imaginable on vampire lore.
Moviegoing was once an experience like no other. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to see Dracula on the big screen at the Paramount Theater in downtown Oakland, California. They did a great job of simulating the atmosphere those who saw the film in 1931 would have experienced. I can only imagine what those theater patrons would have thought when Bela Lugosi as Dracula first appeared on screen.
At that time, borrowing from the theater production, Edward van Sloan who played Professor Abraham van Helsing, would appear on screen at the conclusion of Dracula and deliver an epilogue. Unfortunately, the full-length footage of this has been lost to the sands of time.
“Just a moment, ladies and gentlemen! A word before you go. We hope the memories of Dracula won’t give you bad dreams, so just a word of reassurance. When you get home tonight, and the lights have been turned out, and you are afraid to look behind the curtains — and you dread to see a face appear at the window — why, just pull yourself together and remember that after all, there are such things!”— Edward van Sloan, Dracula, 1931
Prepare yourselves, faithful readers. Gather your garlic, your crucifixes, your holy water, your host wafers, whatever talisman you believe will protect you from the undead, lest you become one of the blood drinking undead yourself.
The countdown begins tomorrow night!