Vampire Movie Countdown Eve

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!

Sinking My Fangs into a Vampire Movie Countdown

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.