To celebrate the new edition of his brilliant take on the Dracula mythos, Anno Dracula, as well as the re-release of his seminal critical analysis of horror cinema, Nightmare Movies, Kim Newman was kind enough to take the time to write a guest article for Horrorview.com! So, without further ado, I give you Kim Newman’s Ten Favourite Vampire Movies
The first real vampire movie, the first (if unauthorised) screen version of Dracula, and still the film most likely to be imitated if modern make-up men want to creat a scary (as opposed to seductive) bloodsucker. Max Schreck’s rat-eared, hollow-cheeked, insect-bodied, glittery-eyed, spider-handed, rodent-fanged, independent-shadowed Graf von Orlok is one of the movies’ great monsters – like a lot of silent fiends, he can afford to have a look which would have prevented him delivering dialogue if it were a talkie – and director FW Murnau stages a great many magical, creepy moments in which he appears or disappears in the frame. Murnau seems to have invented the business about vampires fading away in daylight.
Sure, it’s mostly drawing room staginess, more indebted to the Broadway play than Bram Stoker’s novel … but it has a wonderful prologue in which Renfield (Dwight Frye) visits the cavernous Castle Dracula and is driven mad by the experience (his cackle is the most lastingly chilling thing here) … Tod Browning’s camera creeps about a crypt as the white-shrouded brides of Dracula emerge and various vermin (including an unlikely armadillo and a giant bug) creep in the shadows … and Bela Lugosi’s slick-haired, snappily-dressed, voluminously-cloaked Count Dracula set a vampire fashion trend which persists. Lugosi’s curious cadences came from not knowing English and learning the role phonetically. Eighty years on, it’s his voice and lines (‘children of the night … listen to them, what music they make’) that get done whenever anyone wants to imitate Dracula.
Daughters of Darkness (1971)
Harry Kumel’s Belgian arthouse horror movie offers Delphine Seyrig in a silver sheath dress and marcel-waved blonde hair as a vampire Countess who cruises an off-season Ostend hotel with her sexy secretary-lover, and sets out to seduce a young bride away from her frankly thuggish husband. The best of the sexy shockers which proliferated in the 1970s, it has style, humour, sado-erotic thrills (both verbal and physical), an interesting rainswept melancholy, and an ending that has been imitated over and over (see The Hunger, for instance).
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)
My favourite out-of-the-way horror film offers an unusual, American take on the vampire. Here, Emily (Mariclare Costello) is a red-headed, manipulative hippie squatter who’s also a 19th Century bride drowned in the lake from which she emerges to prey on a town of scarred senior citizens. Or is she just a phantasm in the mind of the cracked heroine (Zohra Lampert)?
Dracula AD 1972 (1972)
There are better Hammer vampire movies, notably the 1958 Dracula which introduced Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing as Dracula and Van Helsing, the Dracula-less follow-up Brides of Dracula, the eerie and suspenseful The Kiss of the Vampire and the spirited, gruesome Taste the Blood of Dracula. There’s even a first-rate parody of Hammer, Roman Polanski’s Dance of the Vampires aka The Fearless Vampire Killers. But I’m fond of this unredeemed 1970s effort in which the Count (Lee) is revived in a black mass by thirtyish teenage Chelsea swingers (including Christopher Neame, Caroline Munro and Stephanie Beacham) and clashes with a Van Helsing descendant (Cushing). The direct sequel, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, which mixes in spies, Scotland Yard, political corruption, a biker gang, property development and a genocidal genegineered plague is even cooler.
Grave of the Vampire (1974)
Years before he created The Sopranos, David Chase wrote this undervalued, tough-minded little movie which was one of a 1970s trend for modern-day vampires (The Night Stalker, Count Yorga – Vampire, Dracula AD 1972) but also introduced the kind of half-vampire hero who would show up more and more in the genre. Caleb Croft (Michael Pataki), one of the nastiest vampires in the movies, rapes a victim in a 1940s prologue, and her stillborn child suckles its mother’s blood and grows up to be a vampire hunter (William Smith) who tracks his father to a small college where he is teaching history.
Near Dark (1986)
Kathryn Bigelow’s vampire road movie opened the same day as The Lost Boys, which has a similar plot, and eclipsed the bigger-budgeted film in everything except box office receipts. Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein, the support cast of Aliens, play a clan of biker-cowboy-outlaw wanderers who prey on redneck bars, stick up tarpaper over motel windows, and try to recruit the reluctant hero (Adrian Pasdar) into the gang. Also with the sickest kid vampire in the genre (Joshua Miller), an outstanding barroom massacre scene and Henriksen’s put-down of Anne Rice style historical introspection (‘I fought for the South … we lost’). If ever a movie needed a prequel …
The Addiction (1995)
Abel Ferrara’s cool, clever, confusing black and white New York City vampire movie is among the most direct treatments of vampirism as a metaphor for drug addiction … but also delves into interesting philosophical, religious angles as its grad student heroine (Lili Taylor), bitten in an alleyway by Casanova (Annabella Sciorra), tries to find meaning in books, lectures from an abstaining blood-junkie (Christopher Walken – who ought to be typecast as vampires) and massacring students and faculty alike at the party to celebrate the conclusion of her thesis.
Dracula Pages From a Virgin’s Diary (2002)
Dracula has been made and remade so many times that it seems half of the vampire movies ever made are based on the one book … the highest-profile recent version from Francis Coppola (nearly twenty years old now) strikes me as pompous and beside the point, if not without interest. Canadian auteur Guy Maddin here stages a ballet version of the tale, in black and white silent movie style, with dancer Zhang Wei-Qiang as one of the cinema’s most sensual Draculas and an interesting interrogation of the racial, sexual and class politics of the original in a witty, sexy, magical manner that proves there is a point in going back over this story every few years.
Let the Right One In (2008)
The breakthrough vampire franchise of the 2000s was Twilight, in which a vampire is exactly what a sensitive high school girl needs in a gallant lover … but the best vampire film of the decade was Tomas Alfredson’s Swedish picture, based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindquist, in which a lonely, maladjusted, bullied little boy is befriended by the bored immortal next door (‘would you like me if I weren’t a girl?’) and enters into an affecting, if troubling relationship. Eli (Lina Leandersson) is at once a waif and a predator, unprepossessing (Chloe Moretz in the remake is good, but too cute even with stringy hair) yet enchanting … and the film itself turns around conventional morality enough to climax with a massacre of children (staged in a single, perfect underwater shot) which seems heart-warming and life-affirming.