That time of year has come again, of pumpkins being carved into lanterns and all manner of scary decorations and costumes being put on display. Watching scary movies is part of Halloween and there are many to choose from. Night of the Living Dead usually appears somewhere on the dial. George Romero’s low budget flick delivers the goods. Seeing reanimated corpses feeding on the living has spawned countless imitators, most of them forgettable except the original Dawn of the Dead which still delivers. Dracula has spawned many movies too though few actually tell the original story. Most often the story is shortened, characters changed or deleted, and even the ending altered. That does not mean the movies are bad just telling the story in a different way.
Here is my list of favorite vampire movies (in no particular order):
1. F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922)
This classic silent was the first Dracula movie but due to legal issues, the script was rewritten with a different story and a different vampire (Count Orlock). Only Mina and Jonathan Harker remain. However Stoker’s widow sued and Prana Films went bankrupt as a result of the judgment. The negatives were ordered destroyed but bootleg copies were shown. It is now considered a film classic.
2. Dracula (1931) is famous for Bela Lugosi. Tod Browning changed the story (using the Renfield character for Jonathan Harker for one) but Lugosi fit the bill standing six feet tall with an aquiline nose and high cheekbones, and speaking with a thick accent since he was born near Transyvania. The movie cemented the depiction of cinematic Dracula with the cape and other features. For Lugosi, it typecasted him and his was never able to get past it (not unlike George Reeves of the Adventures of Superman).
3. The Horror of Dracula (1958)
Jimmy Sangster’s script for Hammer Films brought Dracula into technicolor and an erotic element where women want Dracula to kiss them. Christopher Lee became the new Dracula (and for several Hammer movies) depicting him as a tall, thin, and ruthless vampire. Once again the story is altered from the book but the story and acting quality is superb as is the ending. Peter Cushing plays Van Helsing becoming Dracula’s nemesis in a few other Hammer films. Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968) was a good sequel but nearly all the Hammer Dracula movies after that were not so good and mostly forgettable.
4. Love at First Bite (1979)
A comedic turn that became a success because it was funny. George Hamilton plays Dracula who is driven out of his castle by the Communists and heads to New York. There after some misadventures with his coffin, he meets Cindy Sondheim (Susan St. James). The Van Helsing character is portrayed by Richard Benjamin in the role of Dr. Rosenberg, a psychiatrist. He fumbles countering Dracula and Cindy ends up the count in the end. The movie has great lines like “Children of the night, shut up!”
5. Dracula (1979)
Frank Langella continues the notion from Horror of Dracula that the count seduces women and they accept it. Langella’s performance was pretty good in this regard though the movie was far from scary like other Dracula movies. Lavish in using actual locations in Cornwall, it has a mixed reviews among Dracula movie buffs. Many like the romantic Dracula while others find the movie boring and its ending unsatisfactory (Dracula is killed by sunlight after being hoisted above deck on the ship while trying to flee).
6. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Francis Ford Coppola’s treatment connects Dracula with the historic Vlad Tepes who fought against the Turks. His wife dies falsely believing him dead in battle (due to a forged note) and commits suicide. Since she cannot be buried since it was suicide, Dracula renounces his faith and blasphemes God desecrating the chapel. His desecration results in blood coming out of a crucifix which he drinks turning him into a vampire. Mina Westenra is a reincarnation of his dead wife which explains his interest in her. Coppola depicts Dracula in a number of ways from the old man greeting Jonathan to the young one that meets and seduces Mina. We also see the very dark side where he appears as a wolf (to attack Lucy) and a demonic figure as well. Coppola uses special effects well to show Dracula’s many ways of getting about. One criticism is how Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins) is depicted. Hopkins depicts him as slightly mad, eccentric, and the suggestion he lusted after Lucy. The death is different as well for Dracula.
7. The Lost Boys (1987)
This a good movie in which a relocated family finds themselves in Santa Carla where the boys are drawn to an amusement park where vampires also hang out. Michael, the oldest boy, ends up falling in love with a girl who is part of a vampire gang (though not yet one herself) while the other boy gets drawn into the anti-vampire crowd. The ending is great with a surprise twist as to who the head vampire really is.
8. Near Dark (1987)
Outlaw vampires traveling around the country and Adrian Pasdar meets one of them. They are a vicious gang and Adrian is not quite ready for it. The ending is good for him (and the girl who brought him in) and bad for the vampire gang.
9. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV series, not movie)
The first three seasons, which deal with high school, are pretty good. A combination of horror, high school, and bits of comedy tossed in. The vampires and other monsters are generally scary and people die in the course of the show. Sunnydale is unlike any other place being a Hellmouth (where an entrance to that dimension exists) drawing all kinds of beasties. Buffy and her Scooby Gang are kept pretty busy. The college years (seasons 4-7) are not as good. It gets more dark, gothic, and in parts just plain boring. A few bright lights are Hush (perhaps the best horror episode ever and won an award) and Buffy vs. Dracula. When the show veered into an X-Files story arc (the government runs a secret program that seizes demons for study and an evil doctor is making her own monster from various demon parts) it went downhill but did get itself out of the mess but never recaptured what it achieved in the first three seasons.
10. Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
An excellent movie starring John Malkovich as Frederich Wilhelm Murnau, the director of Nosferatu. Instead of just playing the vampire Count Orlock, Max Schreck (played by William Dafoe) is the real deal. At first most think he is just creepy and scary always wanting to appear in character. But Murnau made a deal with him to give him the actress at the end. It is a very interesting movie with scary moments (especially at the end). Worth watching.
Some honorable mentions:
1. Count Dracula (1978, BBC)
A mostly faithful adaptation of the Stoker story. Louis Jourdan plays Dracula but is miscast here. He is too old and does not fit the part. Likewise the special effects are not that good either. However it does show things the others did not, like Dracula’s brides feeding off a baby. The script and acting is decent building it up the way Stoker did.
3. Salem’s Lot (1979)
This adaptation of Stephen King’s novel has some generally scary moments. The vampire is different from the book (a nosferatu type) and changes to King’s story also are problems. James Mason is excellent as Straker, the vampire’s assistant.
Salem’s Lot (2004)
When the remake was planned by TNT, I hoped it would follow the book more closely that first. While having the tone of the book and Barlow (Rutger Hauer) done right, it is less scary and more suspenseful than the first. Major changes to the story as well (where it begins and ends) cause problems. However the special effects are better than the original. Also Donald Sutherland as Straker was a mistake. Straker comes across as a loon rather than the ruthless and cunning assistant to Barlow.
In short neither are great and just okay. If you want the scare, go with the first. Avoid the movie Return to Salem’s Lot. A terrible movie.
Well that is it for this year. Have more vampire movies you want to add? Send us your comments.