It is Halloween and I did promise to finish the countdown by tonight. I do hope you have enjoyed the COUNTdown of my favorite vampire movies and discovered some new films to watch and revisited some you may have forgotten about. Fangs for indulging me.
3. Bram Stoker’s Dracula – 1992
Oh, how I crave a faithful adaptation of my favorite horror novel. I’ve never gotten one. A couple have come very close. Francis Ford Coppola helmed this ambitious picture that tries to stay very true to the novel with a few major differences. I do not know why so many screenwriters and directors want to inject a love story into Dracula. There is no love story in the book. There is no reincarnated princess from Dracula’s days as the Prince of Wallachia.
I have done a fair bit of research into Bram Stoker’s process for writing the book and I can say with confidence that he did not “base” the Dracula character on Vlad the Impaler. He borrowed some elements, most notably the name, but the creature itself owes more to Countess Elizabeth Bathory, werewolf lore, and the Irish vampire legend of the Dearg Due than it does the one-time prince known for his sadistic methods for dealing with enemies.
An all-star cast featuring Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Cary Elwes, and Tom Waits bring Stoker’s story to life in ways never seen before. Too bad Reeves is not far enough removed from Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan. Hopkins seems to be in a different movie from everyone else. I love the film for its music, costumes, effects, and most of the acting. It is the truest adaptation of the book (in my estimation) and that’s probably why I like it so much.
2. The Lost Boys – 1987
Let’s see … Jason Patric (son of Jason Miller, The Exorcist’s Father Damien Karras), Kiefer Sutherland, Jami Gertz, the two Coreys, an awesome soundtrack, vampires … what’s not to like?
Set in Santa Carla, Calif., (actually Santa Cruz, along the beach boardwalk), vampires take up residence and they are recruiting. Well done in a manner that doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s heavy and dark with lighthearted moments. This film explores the seduction the life of a vampire offers and the struggle to maintain one’s humanity.
Soundtrack spoiler, this is a bit of a pet peeve – it’s Echo and the Bunnymen’s version of People are Strange over the closing credits, not The Doors. That being written, I think this film has the best horror movie soundtrack in movie history.
1. Dracula – 1931
I wrote about the genesis of this film in my piece about the Universal cinematic universe. As the title of the countdown stipulates, these are my favorite vampire films. I was very young when I first saw this, I read the book at a young age too. I have to remind people that this is a film adaptation of the stage play that was derived from the novel. Many characters are omitted, names changed, etc. A good bit of the story is reworked as well. However, there is one reason this movie is No. 1 on this list – Bela Lugosi. Many people argue that the Spanish-language version, filmed at night during the making of the English version, is better. It does have some good cinematography and technical elements that surpass director Tod Browning’s effort, however, Lugosi is masterful as Count Dracula.
There is so much to unpack with regard to how Lugosi came to play Dracula. He was fantastic in the stage production. And he is who we imitate when we think of Count Dracula today. I won’t go into all the differences between the movie and the book. The film is dark and atmospheric and almost plays like a Sherlock Holmes mystery movie.
Edward Van Sloan plays Van Helsing, and Helen Chandler and David Manners also star. Lugosi only played Dracula one more time on the big screen in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
As I have mentioned at various points during the Countdown of My Favorite Vampire Movies, I am a genre purist and I don’t care for breaking the “rules” as it were. I do, however, enjoy vampire stories that play around in the margins and try to add something to the mythos that seems to be a natural extension. A couple of films in tonight’s installment do just that.
6. 30 Days of Night – 2007
Josh Hartnett’s very short appearance in Sin City intrigued me. There was an oddly alluring darkness to his portrayal of “The Man.” Two years later he became an action hero in 30 Days of Night. 28 Days Later introduced us to “rage” zombies, and 30 Days of Night brought us “rage” vampires.
Based on Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s comic, David Slade directed this tale of a band of vampires who figure out how to beat the sun by descending on the town of Barrow, Alaska, where, you guessed it, the sun doesn’t rise for a month. Their arrival is heralded by “The Stranger” played by Ben Foster (X-Men: The Last Stand) who steals and torches cell phones, murders sled dogs, and does whatever else he can to prevent the local townsfolk from leaving or communicating with the outside world. The gang of feral vampires does the rest.
Hartnett’s Sheriff Eben Olsen, his estranged wife Stella (Melissa George), brother Jake, and a ragtag band of locals team up to not only fight to survive against Marlow (Danny Huston) and his pack of bloodsuckers but also to make sure Barrow’s story gets told.
This has become one of my favorites because of how vicious and violent the vampires are. The concept of preying on people where the sun is taken out of the equation as a weapon against the vampires is an interesting idea, except when you wonder why they haven’t thought of it before now. There are some great individual performances as well.
5. Nosferatu – 1922
Every schoolchild in America lit up when the teacher wheeled in the16mm film projector. I don’t remember how old I was or what grade I was in, but I had a teacher who screened F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu over the course of two or three days. I couldn’t tell you much of that first viewing other than Max Schreck’s performance as Count Orlock was mortifying.
We almost didn’t have this one, much like the lost London After Midnight. F.W. Murnau did not have the Stoker estate’s permission to use Bram Stoker’s Dracula for this movie, so Murnau changed the characters’ names and some plot details and scenes. Nosferatu is still basically Dracula. A judge sided with Stoker’s widow and ordered all copies destroyed. Fortunately, at least one survived. This film is atmospheric and suspenseful. The influence of German expressionism is evident throughout and Murnau’s cinematography is almost a character unto itself. What’s interesting is the opening credits of the restored English language version shows the character names as they would have been if Murnau didn’t have to change them.
Klaus Kinski takes on the role of Count Orlock, actually Dracula, in Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake of Murnau’s masterpiece. Kinski’s performance is nuanced and layered. Herzog was able to use the names of the characters from Bram Stoker’s novel since rights issues have been long resolved. So, Orlock is now Dracula. Bruno Ganz plays Jonathan Harker and Isabelle Adjani plays Lucy Harker.
4. Let the Right One In/Let Me In – 2008/2010
A young bullied boy befriends the supposed female vampire who moves in next door. The original Swedish version is phenomenal and the American remake is excellent. Kåre Hedebrant (Oskar) and Lina Leandersson (Eli) star in the Swedish version, while Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloë Grace Moretz star in the American version. Cara Buono (Stranger Things) plays Owen’s mom, while Elias Koteas (the original Casey Jones from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) plays a local detective who starts to figure things out.
The relationship between the bullied Oskar and Eli/Owen and Abby (U.S. version) begins as friendship and slowly becomes co-dependence and maybe even love as the two learn to protect each other, and even desire to do so. Although a bit slow-paced, these films are unusual and different and very well acted. It doesn’t take the viewer long to understand that Eli/Abby has a caretaker or guardian (Per Ragnar as Håkan/Richard Jenkins as The Father), and why they don’t tend to stay in one location for very long. A vampire passing as a 12-year-old girl feeding on housing project residents tends to draw attention, especially when the guardian fails in his cover-up duties. Oskar/Owen eventually realizes that he is destined to become that guardian and that he won’t be the last.
Based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, it’s a new-age tale of Gothic horror for the vampire and a coming of age story for the bullied boy, these movies are well-written and gritty. The original is pitch-perfect and well done, and the American version is pretty damn good too.
Everyone knows that I am partial to classic horror films and that will become more evident as we get to Halloween. Everything in the horror genre is cyclical – vampires, werewolves, zombies, and even mummies keep coming back around. You can’t keep a good monster down as they say. Tonight’s three-pack features three “newer” films. Whether or not they are destined to become classics remains to be seen.
9. Underworld – 2003
The film that launched Kate Beckinsale’s career and a movie franchise. Beckinsale stars as Selene, a vampire “death dealer,” a soldier in a trumped-up war against werewolves (lycans). Bill Nighy, Scott Speedman, and Michael Sheen star. This atmospheric film has its issues. You have no idea exactly where the movie is set, somewhere in the Czech Republic if I had to hazard a guess. The genre rules get bent a bit, but director Len Wiseman makes it all work somehow as he creates a mythos that really doesn’t go sideways until later films.
I don’t know if I would so much call this a horror film as some kind of supernatural thriller or action/adventure. There are vampires (which puts it on this list) and werewolves, so I suppose it qualifies. There is plenty of murder and mayhem and betrayal and blood.
The sequels are hit or miss. They aim to tell a complete story arc of the origin of the two species and the war between them and carry that into the future. You would be fine if you quit after Rise of the Lycans. Shane Brolly’s horrible overacting as Kraven damn near derails this movie. But it has plenty of redeeming qualities.
8. From Dusk Till Dawn– 1996
I consider this to be George Clooney’s best movie. It really is two movies in one – taut hostage drama/batshit crazy vampire film. Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Clooney and Quentin Tarantino play the Gecko brothers, a pair of violent fugitives on the run from the law. They kidnap Harvey Keitel and his family – played by Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu – and hatch a plan to cross the border into Mexico, where they are to meet up with Cheech Marin (who plays three characters in the movie) who is to take them to the sanctuary city of El Rey (all part of Robert Rodriguez’s interconnected movie mythos).
Everything goes smoothly until they head to the rendezvous, a bar called the Titty Twister. The band of border crossers meets up with Fred “The Hammer” Williamson (Frost) and Tom Savini (Sex Machine) at the bar, which happens to be run by vampires – Cheech, Danny Trejo (Machete), all the dancers, the waitstaff, the band, and the leader – Santanico Pandemonium (played by a vamped up Salma Hayek).
The vampires show their true colors, and all hell breaks loose. This is a fun, ridiculous movie. Michael Parks plays recurring Tarantino/Rodriguez character Texas Ranger Earl McGraw.
7. Blade – 1998
When Wesley Snipes wasn’t running from the IRS, he was hunting vampires as the vampire/human hybrid Blade in the first Marvel superhero film. Kris Kristofferson plays Blade’s trusty sidekick, Stephen Dorff stars as rogue vampire Deacon Frost and Donal Logue, and Arly Jover co-star as Frost’s right and left hands as it were. Former adult film star Traci Lords gets her name in the opening credits and lasts about 10 minutes. Stephen Norrington directed Stephen S. Goyer’s screenplay.
As the story goes, Blade was born a vampire/human hybrid when his mother (Sanaa Lathan) is bitten while she is pregnant with him. He meets up with Abraham Whistler (Kristofferson) as an adolescent and grows up to be a vampire hunter. Meanwhile, Frost discovers an ancient vampire prophecy with promises of the coming of the Blood God. He defies the vampire council, headed by Dragonetti (Udo Kier). Blade rescues a hematologist named Karen (N’Bushe Wright), who gets tangled up in the mess and even tries to cure Blade. Frost channels the Blood God and squares up with Blade, who has been trying to hang onto his humanity for decades, in an epic showdown with plenty of Samurai swordplay.
There are some excellent, if not campy, individual performances in this movie, including Eric Edwards as Pearl the recordkeeper and Logue as Quinn.
This has become one of my favorite movies in any genre despite the underdeveloped vampire subculture, mythology, and history. Blade II tries to explore the vampire underworld but doesn’t do a very good job, and Blade Trinity, well …
I do hope you are enjoying the countdown of my favorite vampire movies as much I am bringing it to you from beyond the grave. Whenever I explore these topics I am overwhelmed with a sense of nostalgia and I hope that sentiment comes across. So many of these films are woven into the fabric of my life, especially childhood and adolescence. I also feel like some movies and TV shows capture moments in time, lightning in a bottle, and distilled with a modicum of charm create a one-time-only, single-use potion. Tonight’s entry in the countdown is all that wrapped in my nostalgia blanket.
10. Fright Night – 1985
I have always been a fan of Roddy McDowell, ever since the Planet of the Apes franchise and things like The Legend of Hell House, as well as his distinctive voice-over work. I’ve also always been partial to horror movie hosts like Elvira, Svengoolie, and Joe Bob Briggs. McDowell combines all of these things in his Peter Vincent character. But I am putting the proverbial cart before the horse as it were.
Handsome, apple-chomping (there’s a clue) Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) and his housemate Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark), move in next door to young Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) and his single mom Judy (Dorothy Fielding). The only problem is, Jerry is, well, a vampire. Yes, a vampire named Jerry. After brazenly committing an act of atrocity in front of Charley, and nobody believing Charley’s accusations of murder, Jerry sets his sights on Charley’s girlfriend, Amy Peterson (Amanda Bearse).
Charley turns to recently fired horror movie host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell), who supposedly knows about vanquishing the undead, for help. Vincent agrees reluctantly, but only pretends to go along. Eventually, Vincent comes to realize that Charley was right and that Dandridge really is a vampire.
Comic relief in the movie arrives in the form of Evil Ed, a quasi-friend of Charley’s who is transformed into a vampire and causes all kinds of hell throughout the film. He is played by Stephen Geoffreys, who coincidently had quite the run as an adult film actor under the name of Sam Ritter. The things you learn when you’re researching these movies.
In 2011, Colin Farrell, horror movie royalty Toni Collette, David Tennant, and the late Anton Yelchin starred in a remake that I really didn’t care for. It had it’s moments, but it just wasn’t that good. In 1988, Ragsdale and McDowell reprised their roles for Fright Night 2, and to be honest, I can’t get past the first 10 minutes of that train wreck.
You may find it interesting that Fright Night is brought to you by the same Tom Holland who wrote and directed Chucky in 1988, wrote and directed Stephen King’s Thinner and The Langoliers (he also starred), and was involved in Tales from the Crypt and Masters of Horror. He also appeared in Stephen King’s The Stand mini-series in 1994, wrote and appeared in Psycho II, and starred in an episode of 77 Sunset Strip.
In 1925, Universal Studios launched the first cinematic universe, rather accidently, with the release of Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney. The unmasking of the Phantom kicked off a run of horror films that lasted all the way until 1956 with the third and final Creature from the Black Lagoon picture. Universal mined Gothic horror and early science fiction literature for much of their material with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, and Gaston Leroux’s Phantom as the most celebrated.
In 1957, a ragtag studio out of England called Hammer Films unleashed The Curse of Frankenstein starring Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein and Christopher Lee as the monster. Terence Fisher directed Jimmy Sangster’s screenplay. Since this countdown is all about vampires, I’ll reserve my take on this film and its sequels for another time. Much like Dracula kicked off the talkie era for Hollywood horror in 1931, The Curse of Frankenstein signaled the beginning of Hammer Films’ substantive reboot of the Universal monsters. This film paired Cushing and Lee, and introduced us to Hazel Court and Valerie Gaunt, and set the stage for their next monster reboot.
I’m calling tonight’s eight-film discussion No. 11 in the countdown. Again, this is how I get more than 31 movies into the countdown.
Horror of Dracula – 1958
Simply titled Dracula in the United Kingdom, Horror of Dracula stars Christopher Lee as Count Dracula and Peter Cushing as Doctor Van Helsing. Once again, Terence Fisher directed a Jimmy Sangster screenplay. Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling, Carol Marsh, and Valerie Gaunt also star.
Lee and Cushing set new standards for both characters as Lee emerged from the shadows to put his own spin on the Prince of Darkness after Bela Lugosi set the bar in 1931. Many find him to be the definitive Dracula, or at least their favorite. Michael Gough, who would go on to play Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred Pennyworth in Tim Burton’s Batman films, plays Arthur Holmwood.
What I don’t like about this movie is the plot. It strays too far from the source material. Although Tod Browning’s Dracula in 1931 didn’t adhere to Bram Stoker’s original novel either (it follows Hamilton Deane’s stage play), this film features an all-new screenplay. Characters are mixed up or blended or omitted.
Don’t get me wrong, it is stunning to see Dracula in technicolor for the first time and Lee is commanding as the Count. The film stands on its own with Jimmy Sangster’s original screenplay, but I would have liked to see a more faithful adaptation for Lee’s first turn in the cape. The funny thing is, when Dario Argento made his Dracula 3D in 2012, he used Horror of Dracula for inspiration for the screenplay and not the source novel.
Later on Lee would play Dracula in what was supposed to be a definitive and true to the source adaptation outside of Hammer Films, and the movie, to me, is almost unwatchable.
Brides of Dracula – 1960
Much like Dracula’s Daughter in 1936 didn’t have Dracula in it, the sequel to Horror of Dracula didn’t either. However, both had Van Helsing. David Peel takes a turn as the bloodsucking Baron Meinster. The plot is ludicrous, but Hammer was trying to find their footing as a major player in the genre.
But it is a Hammer vampire film and the cinematography and rich set design make it a very watchable film. Plenty of fangs and blood. The set pieces are gorgeous, something Hammer would become known for during their run as the top horror film studio of the time.
Jimmy Sangster, Peter Bryan and Edward Percy combine on the screenplay and once again, Terence Fisher directed.
Dracula: Prince of Darkness – 1966
Christopher Lee returned as Dracula in this one, but Peter Cushing/Van Helsing do not appear. Two married couples on vacation get adventurous and end up at Castle Dracula. Lee’s Dracula, who doesn’t deliver one line of dialog in the entire movie, needs to be reconstituted by his servant, Klove. How does he do this you ask? With the blood of one of the travelers, of course.
Lee is particularly menacing as Dracula in this because of the lack of dialog. He uses his eyes and facial expressions to convey his malevolent message. Suzan Farmer and Barbara Shelley star as Dracula’s female victims.
The story takes place in a vacuum despite the appearance of Father Sandor who chastises the townsfolk for continuing to believe in the local superstitions after Dracula’s supposed demise.
Dracula Has Risen from the Grave – 1968
Lee’s Dracula always seems to be out for revenge for some reason or another. In this film, Dracula seeks retribution for the exorcism of his castle by the regional monsignor. He turns a local priest to his cause indicating a level of corruption we have yet to see from the count.
One of the things I find interesting about the Hammer Dracula films, and perhaps it starts with Bram Stoker’s novel, is how Dracula has the balls to hide right under the noses of his would-be dispatchers. In the novel, he moves in next door to his intended victims. In Horror of Dracula, he takes up residence in the basement of the Holmwoods. In this, he invades the monsignor’s home and community.
Rupert Davies stars as the monsignor as Dracula sets out to claim his niece, Maria, played by Veronica Carlson.
Taste the Blood of Dracula – 1970
More freeze-dried Dracula. But this time, a trio of gentlemen thrill-seekers get bored with their run-of-the-mill debauchery and fall in with broke-ass Lord Courtley. Courtley convinces them to purchase the dried blood of Dracula and participate in a ritual to bring the count back to life. The gentlemen panic and kill Courtley, but not before Dracula is resurrected.
Linda Hayden stars as Alice, the daughter of the leader of the trio of gentlemen. Dracula takes his revenge on those who killed Courtley, for whom he has an affinity for thanks to the resurrection. The hypocrisy of the three lords who preach chastity and piety in their households yet engage in these occasional indulgences is the real ugliness in this film.
Apparently, Ralph Bates, who plays Courtley, was to be the next Dracula, but the American distributors insisted that Lee play the Count.
This is my favorite of all of the Hammer Dracula films, and probably all of Hammer Horror.
Scars of Dracula – 1970
This is the one of the series I have seen the least often and many regard it as underrated. I am not even going to begin to try to summarize this one in detail just to say it seems like more of the Stoker character is brought to bear here. Dracula’s ashes have somehow returned to Transylvania. Once again, Dracula has a servant named Klove. Shortly thereafter, we’re back in Kleinenberg, Germany. The story centers on Dracula’s torment of the locals and he is killed when lightning strikes a spike that protagonist Simon skewered him with.
This film was noted for being a possible reboot of the franchise but the Wikipedia entry for it mentions that it breaks the continuity of the previous Hammer Dracula films. This is where Hammer verily veers from the path Universal took with the character.
I need to watch this again before I comment further. I include it here because it is part of the eight-movie arc.
Dracula A.D. 1972 – 1972
Lee is back again as the count, and Peter Cushing finally returns as Van Helsing. Devoted disciple Johnny Alucard (heh) brings the Count back from the grave and Dracula then turns his attention to Van Helsing descendant Jessica. In the prologue/flashback at the beginning, the film shows a fight between Dracula and Van Helsing’s ancestor, and the Count’s demise by the spoke of a wagon wheel. This time Dracula dies in a pit of stakes after feasting on London’s “mod” set, including the venerable Caroline Munro.
Satanic Rites of Dracula or Dracula and His Vampire Bride – 1973
Hammer got the band back together one more time. Cushing plays the descendant of Van Helsing, who vanquished Dracula in Dracula A.D. 1972, and now must match wits with him again. Joanna Lumley stars as Jessica Van Helsing. Quite a few horror pictures in the late 1960s – early 1970s focused on Satanism and devil worship.
This one brings Dracula into the modern era as Scotland Yard gets involved in the fight against the legendary and infamous vampire who now finally appears to have some kind of end game.
Many vampire films up to this point, regardless of studio, were period pieces set in Victorian times. The fight between good and evil is brought into the bright lights of modern London in this and the previous as the Lee/Cushing franchise winds down. Hammer Films hit many marks with their Dracula story arc, and I plan on writing a treatise on their entire monsterverse soon. With Dracula, the casting of Christopher Lee as Count Dracula redefined the character for many and introduced him to others. Cushing’s Van Helsing became his signature character. The continuity issues are maddening, as they were with Univeral’s Dracula, but at least in this case they didn’t have to recast the two main characters. For us fans, Hammer raised the bar with technicolor, fangs, blood, and plenty of sex appeal.
I swear, life gets in the way and I get lazy. Apologies for the delay continuing the countdown, which was meant to be daily. Work and televised sports have not helped matters, but I am ever your intrepid and humble scribe. Without further ado …
17. Interview with the Vampire – 1994
Much ballyhoo surrounded the making of and the casting of this film based on the novel by Anne Rice. The wildly successful author had modeled the character of Lestat after actor Rutger Hauer and many were disappointed by the casting of Tom Cruise. In fact, it was the casting of Brad Pitt as Louis that bothered me the most. My disdain for Cruise in almost all things is well documented and yet, I found that he did a wonderful job. Antonio Banderas and a very young Kirsten Dunst round out the cast. Neil Jordan directed Rice’s screenplay.
As the story goes, a journalist named Malloy (Christian Slater) “interviews” Louis, who tells the story of his past, how he meets Lestat and becomes a vampire, and their subsequent bloody adventures. As they find ways to survive and entertain themselves, they turn young Claudia into a bloodsucker, which is apparently against the rules and subsequently condemns Claudia to a rather gruesome death. Louis eventually escapes Lestat and his machinations and finds his way to San Francisco where he meets Malloy.
Horst Janson is Captain Kronos, a mercenary vampire hunter roaming the European countryside with his faithful companion and expert assistant. Eventually he runs afoul of the Karnstein descendants. Caroline Munro also stars in this rollicking adventure written and directed by Brian Clemens. I bet you didn’t know she starred in Adam Ant’s video for Goody Two Shoes.
More than one vampire meets their demise at the pointy end of Kronos’ sword. Another example of an original concept, Kronos would go on to influence numerous other films, such as Van Helsing, helmed by Stephen Sommers. Kronos was refreshing after years of Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. Not that Cushing was bad, quite the contrary, it was simply a case of needing fresh ideas … fresh blood if you will. Unfortunately, it heralded the beginning of the end of Hammer Films run as a horror powerhouse.
I rediscovered this movie a few years ago and I had forgotten how much I enjoyed it. Munro, who also went on to become a Bond girl and then later star in the disastrous Starcrash, was a treat in this one as Kronos’ love interest.
15. Twins of Evil – 1971
Twins of Evil does feature Peter Cushing, but not in a role you’d expect, quite the opposite actually. He plays a religious zealot convinced that witchcraft is the scourge of his community. When his voluptuous twin nieces come to live with him, they fall prey to a vampire.
Played by the Collinson twins (Mary and Madeleine), Frieda and Maria are of two minds when it comes to Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas). You would think that blood was thicker than water when it came to the twins, but you’d be wrong. If there was a bus, one of them would have been thrown under it by her sister. And this is another Hammer Film that mined Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla for material.
This is an interesting role for Cushing and he plays it well. The Collinson twins were Playmates of the Month for October 1970. John Hough directed and Tudor Gates penned the screenplay.
14. Lifeforce – 1985
Naked. Space. Vampires. Do I have your attention now?
Steve Railsback stars as an astronaut who brings back three naked space vampires, two male and one female. Directed by Tobe Hooper of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame, this film combines science fiction and horror in a way not seen before or since. Mathilda May plays the leader of the trio of deep space bloodsuckers. Okay, well, they don’t drink blood, they drain the “life force” of their victims. Same difference.
Patrick Stewart also makes an appearance as scientists and government officials try to discern the invaders’ end game and try to stave off a global apocalypse.
May, who was all of 20 years old when this was released, and her compatriots are inexplicably nude throughout most the film. This seems to distract the authorities and May is able to mesmerize Railsback’s character. Loud, different, stylish and influential, Lifeforce is much more than naked space vampires running around London.
13. Thirst – 2009
With Squid Game all the rage right now, maybe you should give this Korean vampire flick a whirl. Written by Park Chan-Wook and Seo-kyeong Jeong, and directed by Park Chan-Wook, Thirst tells the story of a priest Sang-hyun (Kang-ho Song), who becomes infected during a vaccine trial and turns into a vampire of sorts. He eventually infects his girlfriend Tae-ju (Kim Ok-bin), of sorts, who become psychotic with power and bloodlust while Sang-hyun tries to maintain his morality and humanity.
A bit slow and muddled at times, Thirst is well worth the payoff to watch Tae-ju unravel as her mind and body are ravaged by her vampirism. Sang-hyun tries to keep his act together and survive without killing people.
If you’re looking for something substantive and different in the vampire genre, this gritty film is worth a watch.
12. What We Do in the Shadows – 2014
New Zealand’s Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords fame is becoming a Hollywood powerhouse. He has done some pretty good voice over work to go along with his acting. He is also a writer and a director. Perhaps his best work to date is the vampire comedy, What We Do in the Shadows.
Written and directed by Clement and Taika Waititi, this irreverent take on vampire myth and lore is filmed documentary style, a la MTV Cribs. A reality TV crew follows a group of idiot vampires who each has unique traits or abilities. The bottom line is, none of them really know how to vampire. IMDB describes the movie this way: “Viago, Deacon and Vladislav are vampires who are finding that modern life has them struggling with the mundane – like paying rent, keeping up with the chore wheel, trying to get into nightclubs and overcoming flatmate conflicts.”
It’s like Friends meets Keeping Up with the Kardashians, only with vampires. The film has spawned a popular TV series of the same name. The film and the series are hilarious, and this is the only comedy in the countdown.
As I was planning the rest of the countdown and doing some math, I realized that I was still one film behind, so I’ll be presenting two tonight as the Countdown of My Favorite Vampire Movies continues. I have been a Stephen King fan for more than three decades and I find it interesting that he hasn’t written very many vampire stories. When it comes to the second film in this post, well, Nosferatu was one of the first, if not the first vampire film, and this is an interesting take on what might have or could have happened while filming it.
19. Salem’s Lot – 1979
Stephen King has written stories about all kinds of oogedy-boogedies, from ghosts and zombies to werewolves and demonic clowns, but he has penned very few vampire tales and ‘Salem’s Lot would be the one full-length vampire novel, published in 1975. Two of his most famous film adaptations were made for TV productions – 1990’s IT and 1979’s Salem’s Lot. The prequel Jerusalem’s Lot appeared in the 1978 short story collection Night Shift and is now the basis for the EPIX limited series Chapelwaite starring Adrien Brody. Another related short story, One for the Road, also appears in Night Shift and serves as a bit of a sequel to ‘Salem’s Lot.
As the story goes, author Ben Mears (David Soul) returns to his hometown of ‘Salem’s Lot to write a book about the infamous Marsten House. Meanwhile, Richard Straker (James Mason) has opened an antique shop in town and is anxiously awaiting the arrival of his boss/business partner, Kurt Barlow. Mears strikes up a romance with Susan Norton (Bonnie Bedelia) while Barlow, a vampire as it turns out, starts taking out the local populace. Mears teams up with young Mark Petrie (Lance Kerwin), who is a horror and monster buff, to fight Barlow and his ever growing vampire horde.
One of the best scenes in the entire two-part series is the image of Ralphie Glick floating outside of Mark Petrie’s bedroom window. It is truly the stuff of nightmares. Geoffrey Lewis also does a great, creepy job as Mike Ryerson as Ryerson becomes a vampire.
There are a lot of great moments in this production and it stays fairly true to the novel. I have a few issues with it, however. I’ve always thought David Soul was too old to play Ben Mears, and I never liked Barlow’s Max Schreck Nosferatu look. It made no sense and bore no resemblance to the character in the book. However, for a 1979 made-for-TV mini-series, ‘Salem’s Lot holds up pretty well. As for the book, one particular character death hits harder than the rest.
There was a badly reviewed sequel that I haven’t seen in years and a remake starring Rob Lowe in 1994 that I barely remember. A full-blown theatrical release remake is set for next year with William Sadler, Alfre Woodard, Lewis Pullman, and Makenzie Leigh set to star.
18. Shadow of the Vampire – 2000
So, let’s say you are making a horror movie and the actor you cast to play the vampire actually turns out to be a, you know, vampire. That’s the premise behind Shadow of the Vampire starring Willem Dafoe, John Malkovich, Cary Elwes, Udo Kier, Eddie Izzard, and Catherine McCormack. Malkovich plays F.W. Murnau, the German expressionist filmmaker who made Nosferatu in 1922. Dafoe plays Max Schreck who is to star as Count Orlock, the film’s vampire. The only problem is, Schreck is really a vampire who enjoys snacking on the film crew. Murnau knows what Schreck is and has reached a macabre arrangement with his star.
Murnau famously, or infamously depending on your perspective, made Nosferatu without Bram Stoker’s widow’s permission, as it was considered an adaptation of Dracula. Stoker’s widow sued and won and all copies of Nosferatu were to be destroyed. Obviously, at least one print survived. The film, much like the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, was an example of German expressionism and the set pieces were as much part of the story as the characters. Nosferatu is considered a seminal film in the horror genre.
Written by Steven Katz and directed by E. Elias Merhige, Shadow of the Vampire is raucous at times and downright creepy at others. Malkovich is a treat as Murnau as he demonstrates that he’ll do anything, and I mean anything, to get his film made.
Merriam-Webster defines “meta” as “showing or suggesting an explicit awareness of itself or oneself as a member of its category : cleverly self-referential.” Shadow of the Vampire fits that definition to a “T.”
I am loath to repost or repurpose when I start new countdowns or pen new treatises, but this one is rather fresh, I wrote it in late August, and there isn’t much new material I can add to it. This isn’t the first made-for-TV entry on this list and it won’t be the last. So, apologies for a bit of recycled material, but that doesn’t make this any less of a worthy entry in the countdown.
20. The Night Stalker – 1972
In 1972, Darren McGavin starred as gruff, intrepid Las Vegas reporter Carl Kolchak in The Night Stalker. I saw this with my dad sometime in the late 1970s on the Late Late Show on a Friday or a Saturday night. I remember it sticking with me for some reason and recently I had the occasion to watch the film again for the first time in more than four decades. I had forgotten how good it was.
Many of you may know McGavin as Ralphie’s father in 1983’s A Christmas Story. For that role, he will forever occupy a place in my heart. He was even better as Kolchak. As I watched The Night Stalker, I noticed several other actors you may be familiar with – Claude Akins (Sheriff Lobo), Simon Oakland (Psycho), Elisha Cook, Jr., (The Maltese Falcon), and Larry Linville (M*A*S*H* (TV show)).
As the story goes, young women are being stalked and murdered in Las Vegas and upon further examination, the victims have all been drained of blood. Kolchak, ever the pain in the ass reporter, starts to piece it together as the police ignore the evidence and the obvious. Our scribe starts to think that the killer is a maniac who is thinks he is a vampire. Kolchak’s girlfriend, Gail Foster played by Carol Lynley, puts it in his head that the killer just might be an actual vampire.
The teleplay was written by prolific horror and science fiction writer Richard Matheson of I Am Legend and Twilight Zone fame (among hundreds of other things). The Night Stalker was produced by none other than Dan Curtis.
In 1973, McGavin reprised his role as Kolchak in The Night Strangler. I’ll have to go back and watch this one again too. Once again, the teleplay was written by Matheson, but this time Curtis directed. An all-star cast appeared alongside McGavin – Jo Ann Pflug (M*A*S*H* (film)), John Carradine, Richard Anderson, (Six Million Dollar Man), Al Lewis (The Munsters), and Simon Oakland returned as Kolchak’s newspaper editor. Kolchak was run out of Las Vegas in The Night Stalker, so he now resides in Seattle.
From 1974-75, McGavin and Oakland teamed up again, this time for a 22-episode series called Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Kolchak has taken his writing and reporting skills to Chicago.
The Night Stalker series was a huge inspiration for The X-Files creator Chris Carter.
“I just loved it. Kolchak was a newspaper reporter who would go out and find vampires and come back and tell everybody, ‘Hey, I found vampires!’ and nobody would believe him,” Carter told the New York Daily News in 1998. “So 25 years go past, and all of a sudden I’m in the business 10 years and somebody finally asks me what I want to do . . . and I say: ‘I want to do something as scary as The Night Stalker. There’s nothing scary on TV.’ And that’s how The X-Files was born.”
Kolchak was tremendously influential and I for one am glad I rediscovered it.
In the Universal Monsterverse, Universal Studios made numerous sequels and tried to get creative with the titles for these films, ostensibly to create buzz and a connection to previous entries. While this made sense for Son of Frankenstein, which featured the son of the original Dr. Frankenstein, it made no sense whatsoever for Son of Dracula and Dracula’s Daughter. I have written extensively about the Universal Monsterverse and the various character arcs, monster mashes, and crossovers. As many have remarked in Universal monster fan groups on Facebook, The Wolf Man didn’t get a straight-up sequel, and I posit that it did. It’s 1931’s Dracula that did not, unless you count tonight’s entry in the countdown, Dracula’s Daughter.
It took five years for Universal to make a sequel to their 1931 smash hit, Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi. Dracula’s Daughter was released in 1936. The studio had already brought Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and The Mummy (1932) to life in the interim, RKO had their own monstrous hit in 1933 with King Kong, and Paramount had jumped into the monster business in 1931, the same year as Dracula, with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring Frederic March.
Edward Van Sloan reprises his role as Professor Abraham Van Helsing, now called Von Helsing for some reason. Von Helsing feels the need to confess to the murder of Count Dracula, whom he staked in his coffin in the catacombs of Carfax Abbey at the end of the 1931 film. His friend Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger), a noted psychiatrist of some renown, comes to his aid. Meanwhile, a certain Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden) arrives in London.
The term “Dracula’s Daughter” is a misnomer. Zaleska is not Count Dracula’s traditional biological child, although she intimates as such, she is a victim turned vampire like Lucy (and almost Mina) in the original film. And like Van Helsing did with freeing Mina from Dracula’s influence in the first film, Zaleska thinks that if she can destroy her maker, she will be rid of her vampiric curse. With this logic, she would have been freed when Van Helsing staked Count Dracula in the first place, but I digress. She steals and burns Dracula’s body, to no avail. She turns to Garth who thinks he can treat her for her “addiction” as if she was an alcoholic or drug addict … to no avail. Zaleska, a portrait painter, lures her female victims in with the promise of modeling work and food and drink with her servant Sandor’s help. The fascinating thing here is Zaleska’s overt lesbianism and the fact that the film, directed by Lambert Hillyer and written by Garrett Fort, doesn’t shy away from it. Remember this is 1936, and the restrictive Hays Code went into effect in 1934.
During one scene set in a social situation, Zaleska distractedly deadpans the iconic line, “I never drink … wine.”
Zaleska kidnaps Garth’s assistant Janet, played by Marguerite Churchill, and races back to Transylvania, much like Dracula in the original novel. Garth follows but it is Sandor (Irving Pichel) who dispatches Zaleska as revenge for not making him immortal.
Presumably, Dracula was cremated in London, which makes the premise for Son of the Dracula somewhat ridiculous, but, as I have mentioned before, this sub-genre is full of absurdity.
Bela Lugosi appeared in 18 films for Universal but only played Dracula twice. Legend has it he didn’t want to be typecast in monster roles and tanked the audition for Frankenstein’s monster. Numerous websites give different reasons why Lugosi didn’t play Dracula again until 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. For whatever reason he missed out on four Dracula films – Dracula’s Daughter, Son of Dracula, House of Frankenstein, and House of Dracula. If he had chosen to reprise the role for a direct sequel, we wouldn’t have this gem of an avant-garde film.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is probably my favorite horror novel for numerous reasons. I have said on numerous occasions that I think Count Dracula is the greatest literary villain ever created. Unfortunately, with very few exceptions, the film adaptations have done the titular vampire wrong over the decades. The two I present tonight were pretty damn well done, plus I have a third film to get us caught up on the countdown.
24. Dracula – 1979
Frank Langella takes a turn as Count Dracula in this stylish, dramatic 1979 production. Langella’s Dracula is more romantic and devilishly handsome than seen before when it comes to Dracula adaptations, even more so than Louis Jourdan (see below). Sir Laurence Olivier plays Professor Abraham Van Helsing and Donald Pleasence plays Dr. Jack Seward. This is another instance, like the original 1931 film, where Seward and Van Helsing are contemporaries. Kate Nelligan (Eye of the Needle, Wolf) stars as Seward’s daughter Lucy and Jan Francis plays Mina Van Helsing. Once again, characters are changed around a bit from the novel. The Transylvania part of the story is completely skipped.
As much as I am a purist and an evangelist for the novel, there is a lot to like in this production. Langella adds a modicum of charm and sexuality not seen in the character before, yet there is an underlying malevolence. John Badham directed the W.D. Richter screenplay. Trevor Eve (A Discovery of Witches) plays Jonathan Harker.
23. Count Dracula – 1977
We go from one of the least faithful adaptations of Dracula to one of the most faithful. Louis Jourdan (Octopussy, Swamp Thing) donned the cape for this BBC two-part mini-series production billed as a “Gothic Love Story,” which you can find streaming on Amazon Prime right now. Philip Saville directed the screenplay written by Gerald Savory. YouTube channel Cinemassacre compared a slew of Dracula adaptations and scored them in an effort to discern the most faithful and this one came out on top.
Frank Finlay (Lifeforce) does a decent job as Van Helsing, Mark Burns is pretty good as Dr. John Seward, Bosco Hogan (The Tudors) is serviceable as Jonathan Harker, and Jack Shepherd (The Golden Compass) is understated and nuanced as Renfield. Lucy and Mina are now sisters, which isn’t that big of a stretch, and Arthur Holmwood and Quincey P. Morris have been combined into a U.S. diplomat/cowboy named Quincey Holmwood played by Richard Barnes. Barnes is absolutely awful. His attempt at portraying a Texan, let alone an American, is laughable at best and either he or the stuntman really struggles with horsemanship. Barnes almost ruins the movie. Almost.
This film, however, gets most of the salient details correct and Jourdan is excellent and malicious in the role as Count Dracula despite some very odd television visual effects.
22. The Vampire Lovers – 1970
Ingrid Pitt makes her second appearance in the countdown, and this definitely won’t be the last Hammer Studios production that’ll make the list either. Harry Fine and Tudor Gates adapted Sheridan Le Fanu’s famous lesbian vampire tale Carmilla for Hammer and Roy Ward Baker directed. Peter Cushing stars as General von Spielsdorf.
Pitt plays the lead character(s) Marcilla, Carmilla, Mircalla Karnstein, a vampire succubus who slinks her way into many a bedroom to seduce and murder. One of the more overtly lesbian stories in Gothic horror history, but also for mainstream cinema. Pitt’s character is a wolf in sheep’s clothing that no one suspects (sound familiar?) until it is too late (for many). Unlike her character in Countess Dracula, Pitt’s Carmilla can’t help what she is and does what comes natural to survive. It is the devious ways she and her mother go about it that make this an entertaining film.